Thursday, October 25, 2012

Starch and Gluten 101: The composition and behavior of wheat flour

Often times as a cook, wheat flour has remained on of those elusive ingredients, the understanding of which is left to depraved genius bakers and pastry chefs.  They live in an elevated state, at least in my mind.

What is it though that makes flour so temperamental?

After a horrific failed attempt at making hand pulled noodles, this question was eating me alive, so I had to do a little research.  What are the major chemical components of flour, and what are their roles in its behavior?

Flour is one of nature’s incredible storage machines.  In it’s natural state, it is composed of starches and proteins, along with vitamins and other nutrients.

So what is starch?  Starch is an incredible complex carbohydrate (a polysaccharide) that is found in all plants to store as much glucose (one of three natural simple sugars, or monosaccharide) as possible in a compact granule.  Glucose by itself loves water (it is hydrophilic).  So, to maximize storage potential when glucose is bonded together into starch granules it is not water soluble in cold water (it becomes hydrophobic).

When starch is added to warm water, however, the magic starts to happen.  Starch is composed of two smaller polysaccharides, about 20-30% amylose and 70-80% amylopectin.  Amylose is hydrophobic and bonds with itself and other molecules in flour, acting as a gelling agent.  Its partner, amylopectin is hydrophillic and acts as a thickening or stabilizing agent. Amylopectin provides more pliability (think Play-Doh), while amylose provides more structure or spring-back (think Jello).  As these two components of starch break down and restructure themselves into a slurry of gel and paste the magical process is called retrogradation.

As this retrograded starch starts to cool off, a process called syneresis occurs in which water is expelled causing separation of the thickened gel/paste and water.  You see an example syneresis in everyday life as a layer of water forms on top of yogurt or sour cream.  This process is also partially to blame for bread becoming stale.

The other important component of wheat flour is protein.  The average protein content of grain is 10-18% and of this protein, 80% is gluten.  Gluten, much like starch, is a storage molecule but in this case it provides storage of amino acids.  There are two primary structures that compose gluten: gliadin and glutelin.  These structures are called prolamines and are essentially large amounts of amino acids that are bonded together into one molecule.

The most important role of gluten in bread is the elasticity it allows during the baking process, allowing bread to rise.  Now, here is where some of my confusion originated when attempting to make hand pulled noodles.  When I say gluten elasticity, do not think rubber band elasticity.  Think blowing soap bubbles elasticity.  Try to pull soap water into a noodle shape.  I promise that you will become very frustrated and punch your ball of dough in exasperation, just to see it bounce back to it’s original shape and not even give you the gratification of leaving the indent of your fist.

Here is chart to give you an idea of what happens to your bread with different levels of gluten and starch:

Flour type
Protein content
High Gluten
(High elasticity)

High Starch
Gluten Flour
Bagels, challah, pizza dough, pullman loaf

Pie crust, cake, filo dough, short bread
Bread Flour
AP Flour
Pastry Flour
Cake Flour

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Science Behind Kimchi

My attempts at making homemade kimchi have led to an interesting question: how long can it be aged, and why?

The origin of fermented food was dependent upon a few key factors: nutritional value and shelf life.  Kimchi itself is from Korea and Japan and comes in hundreds of styles.  It is categorized in several ways, of which there are a few important designations: base produce (ie. cabbage, radish, cucumber), season (ie. winter kimchi, summer kimchi) and region (ie. northern Korea, southern Korea).

To maximize the value and flavor of kimchi it is necessary to understand some of the contributing factors that determine how kimchi is preserved and at what point it becomes inedible.  Within a batch of kimchi, a unique environment is created based on the acidity, pH level, sodium level and temperature.  This environment creates a very restrictive ecosystem, which is preferred by Lactic Acid Bacteria (LAB). In the case of kimchi the primary bacteria family is Lactobacilius, a bacteria already present in the human digestive system.  A single batch of kimchi may have hundreds of different strains of LAB, each contributing certain characteristics to their environment, but most importantly producing lactic acid, which is the main preservation agent.

So what happens when kimchi is made?  Each of the unique ingredients which make up kimchi have important roles: salt regulates the speed of fermentation, sugar and starch provide the food for the bacteria to consume, the base produce provides the body of the kimchi, the ginger and garlic provide nutrition and antibacterial qualities that regulate the freshness and fermentation of the mix.  Each of these also carries their own set of ambient yeasts and bacteria.

The warmer the storage temperature, the faster the metabolism of the bacteria and the faster the fermentation takes place.  The best results are achieved when the bacteria begins to ferment the kimchi quickly, but are then transferred to conditions that allow for the slowest ripening.  This allows less time for other, less desirable bacteria, to affect the quality and flavor of the kimchi.  There have been studies on using sherry yeast or a starter from previous batch of cold fermented kimchi (41*F) to jump start fermentation, much like a sourdough bread starter.

The initial fermentation of kimchi takes place between hetero LAB strains.  These strains of bacteria primarily produce organic acids and carbon dioxide as byproducts.  After the first fermentation, the flavor profile is at its peak, with a target pH level of 4.2-4.5 and an acidity level of 0.6-0.8% (김치발효젖산균.pdf).  To maximize shelf life, the goal is to quickly bring the kimchi through this first fermentation and maintain the pH and acidity levels by monitoring temperature and having the right balance of salt and antiseptic/ antibacterial ingredients (ginger, garlic and optional green tea).

As kimchi ages, the pH slowly drops and the acidity level rises, this change happens quickly when the kimchi reaches its second fermentation between homo LAB strains.  These strains of bacteria produce excessive amounts of lactic acid.  This fermentation brings the kimchi out of the desired pH and acidity levels and closer to inedible acidity levels, introducing less desirable flavor profiles.  So, ideally kimchi goes quickly through its first fermentation and is then introduced to an environment that delays the secondary fermentation as long as possible.

If prepared and stored properly, a batch of kimchi may remain edible for as many as 3 years, although at this point it is well beyond the target flavor profile, pH and acidity levels.  All that’s left to do is make a hot and sour kimchi soup.  Let's take a quick look at the perfect environment for a batch of extended shelf-life kimchi.

First we need a very even and accurate level of sodium to initially dehydrate the base produce.  Applying granulated salt by hand tends to be less accurate, so a different technique serves very well.  A 15% saltwater brine (a ratio of 1:5 salt to water) provides even distribution and an accurate level of salt.  A batch of kimchi begins with a 6-hour brine.

After the ingredients have been put together and the kimchi is put in jars, preferably with a starter from a previous batch of cold fermented kimchi (41*F), the kimchi needs to spend less than 18hours in a cool (60*F), dark place and then be moved to the refrigerator.  This will allow the slow fermenting hetero LAB strains to get a head start without over acidifying the kimchi and then move into a cold environment that will allow the fermentation process to slow down and delay the second fermentation.

This is what you need to make Kimchi:

3 Large mixing bowls
Rubber Gloves
2 two-quart jars

Raw Ingredients:
2 Napa Cabbages
1 Korean Radish
¼ c. Green Onion
                        5 c. Salt
30 c. Water
Kimchi Paste:
1 c. Sweet Rice Flour (Tobiko)
3 c. Water
½ c. Sugar
1 tbs. Fish Sauce (I'll make this myself sometime soon)
1-3 c. Red Pepper Powder (grind yourself if you're up to it)
1 Large Onion
1 c. Garlic
3 tbsp. Ginger
Optional Additions:
1 c. Raw Oysters
1 c. Dried Shrimp
1 tbsp. Matcha green tea powder

First, create a 15% (1:5) salt-water brine by combining your salt and water and stir until completely dissolved.  Halve your napa cabbage through the heart and chop your radish into 1" cubes and rinse, retaining 1/5 of uncubed radish for the paste.  Separate the cabbage and radish into separate bowls.  Pour enough brine over the cabbage and radish to cover and let them sit for 6 hours, stirring once.  When this is complete, rinse the radish and cabbage thoroughly between each leaf at least 3 times and strain to dry.

Meanwhile, begin your kimchi paste: add your sweet rice flour and water to a small saucepan until fully dissolved.  Add the sugar and stir until the mixture just begins to bubble.  Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl.

In a food processor, combine garlic, ginger and onion and process into a paste.  Add to flour mixture with fish sauce, red pepper powder, green tea powder, chopped green onions and the rest of the julienned radish.

At this point you may add your optional seafood.

Mix the kimchi paste ingredients together and you are ready to start putting your kimchi together.  It is advisable to use some gloves for this step.  With your hands, apply the kimchi paste in between each of the leaves of the cabbage and on the outside.  Squeeze out any excess paste and you are ready to bottle your cabbage kimchi.  Add the radish to the remainder of the paste, stir and this is ready to bottle as well.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Empanadas Chilenas

To celebrate Chile's Independence Day I made a classic holiday food: empanadas.

There are a few variations on Chilean empanadas, most importantly wether they are baked (al horno) or fried (fritas).  The other important variations are the fillings.  The most common are Empanadas de Pino, made with ground beef, hard boiled eggs, black olives and golden raisins.  You can also fill the empanadas with cheese or "a la Napolitana" with cheese, prosciutto and basil.

The following is the recipe for Empanadas de Pino al Horno: (makes approx. 12 large empanadas)

First, prepare the accoutrements:

Hard boil 3 eggs.  I recommend the following method.  Place the eggs in cold water and bring to a boil.  When the water reaches a hard boil, remove from the heat and let rest in the hot water for 7 minutes.  Transfer to an ice bath for a few minutes, then peel.  These will be cut into quarters.

Drain and rinse extra large black olives.

Soak the golden raisins.  I have been soaking the raisins in Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, it adds a nice touch of acid to the raisins (and gives you a reason to finish the bottle as you prepare the rest of the empanadas).

Then, it is essential to prepare a good dough (masa).

3 c. AP flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 c. melted lard
1 1/2 c. clarified butter
3/4 c. warm water
1 tbsp. salt

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together into a mound on a table top and form a volcano to contain the liquid ingredients.  Add the lard and butter and start to whisk the ingredients together from the inside to avoid the liquid escaping.  Knead the dough JUST until it is fully incorporated.  Over kneading will make the dough too tough.  When finished, place in a bowl, cover with a damp cloth and allow to sit for 45 minutes.

While the dough, is resting prepare the pino.

1 1/2 lbs. 85/15 ground beef
1 large onion
4 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tbsp ground cumin
2 tbsp salt
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper

Chop the onions and sauté with 1 1/2 tbsp oil on medium heat until they are nicely browned.  Remove onions from the pan to be added to the pino.  Heat a clean pan over high heat and add oil when HOT.  The pan should almost be at smoke point when you add the oil.  Add the ground beef, cumin, salt and pepper.  Lower heat to medium-high.  Stir until well browned and add the the browned onions.  Lower heat to a simmer to allow flavors to marry.  Do not be afraid to well season the Pino.

Now it's time to roll the empanadas.

Remove the dough from the bowl and cut into two pieces.  Roll each half out into a log and cut into 6 sections.  Roll each piece into a ball and then into a circle.  Into each circle add a 1/4 of a hard boiled egg, an olive, about 10 raisins and 2 well rounded tablespoons of pino to the top half of the dough.  Brush the edges of the dough with an egg wash, fold and pinch the bottom layer over the top layer ever 1/2 inch all the way around the edge.

Lay the finished empanadas on a baking sheet dusted with flour and brush the tops with an egg wash, and bake at 375ºF until golden brown.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Homemade Gingerale

In the spirit of the season... This is one component of a cocktail I am working on:

Homemade Gingerale:
1 c. cane sugar
2 tbsp peeled and grated ginger root
1/4 tsp. dry yeast
1 lime, juiced
cold filtered water

Combine the dry ingredients in a PLASTIC 2 liter bottle (make sure to use plastic so you can manually monitor the pressure in the bottle).  Add the wet ingredients and fill bottle to a little below the neck.

Leave the finished product at room temperature for 24-48 hours and monitor pressure occasionally.  When the bottle is firm, release the pressure and refrigerate.

I need to do some experimentation with the best way to filter my gingerale.  I will keep you updated.

For the next blog... Spiced Apple Kombucha Shrub

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Chablis Training Seminar Highlights - June 8th

Recently I had the opportunity to attend a Chablis Training Seminar produced by the Burgundy Wine Board.  The highlights of the seminar were the discussion of Chablis as one of the most iconic white wines in the world and the associated high demand and fraud; the 'climats' of the Grand Cru appellation; and the incredible diversity of vinification styles within Chablis.

Look at this map: Chablis.

<Climats> of the One-and-Only Grand Cru Appellation

That's right, there is only one Grand Cru appellation in Chablis.  So why are there names listed on the bottle after the Grand Cru AOC?  Within the vineyard there are seven different 'climats,' separated by elevation, slope and degree of south-facing sun exposure: Blanchot, Bougros, Les Clos, Grenouilles, Preuses, Valmur, Vaudésir.

The wines we tasted are as follows:

1. Petit Chablis, 2009, La Chablisienne  Clean, zippy lemon-lime juice and bitey, green apple tang with very slight vegetal and musty undertones. (Suggested Pairing: cheese puffs)

2. Chablis, 2009, Domaine Daniel DAMPT et Fils  Slightly more developed fruit, leaning towards the floral, sweet pear, green apple and vanilla qualities.

3. Chablis, 2009, Domaine des Malandes Sweet, aromatic lemon oil dances upon a seashell minerality with with an essence of delicate, toasty, grilled green asparagus.

4. Chablis 1er Cru, Montmains, 2009, Domaine VOCORET et Fils  This wine exhibited some of the vinification styles that are less expected from a Chablis.  Definite toast and butter notes with a lemony, stone fruit core.  With this wine, the ability to pair with creamy seafood really started to  jump up and down. (Suggested pairing: offal/ headcheese and thicker butter sauces)

5. Chablis 1er Cru, Mont de Milieu, 2009, Domaine SIMMONET-FEBVRE  Although it has the same structure of the Chablis and Petit Chablis, the fruit really changed on this one.  The fruit became much softer and really balanced the acidity.  White peaches and floral notes sang on the nose, and dissolved on the palate.

6. Chablis 1er Cru, Vaillons, 2008, Domaine du Chardonnay  This was the most interesting wine in the flight.  It was pure olive or oyster brine.  The fruit was yellow, both apples and pears.  The culprit?  Bâtonnage.  The stirring of the lees left some warm brioche to suck up the sauce.

7. Chablis Grand Cru, Bougros, 2008, William FEVRE  This one was corked.  I would like to personally re-taste this Grand Cru, and I think I've seen it in the local wineshops.  Strong minerality and sweet vanilla notes persisted on the nose.

These were all pre-opened and were approaching room temp.  However the final Grand Cru was opened about 20 minutes before we tasted it and really showed some interesting characteristics from bottle aging.

8. Chablis Grand Cru, Grenouilles, 2005, La Chablisienne  I was a little overwhelmed with this one. It was definitely was tacked onto the uncommon delights list.  Previously, I have predominantly tasted older white wines of the Champagne and Riesling regions.  A true Chablis Grand Cru with some age on it morphs into some interesting pantry (or maybe special order) items: lanolin, beeswax and toffee soaking into the juicy bruised pineapple.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

2006 Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva DOCeG

2006 Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva DOCeG

I have been craving pasta in a light tomato sauce all week. Along with this craving has come the desire for a good Sangiovese.  Well, tonight I am eating pasta... Pasta fagioli with pork belly, kale in a tomato sauce. Thanks to my girlfriend who is running the kitchen, I had some time to run to grab a bottle of wine.

Here we go... another attempt at a readable wine tasting note:
The color was darker than I expected: a hazy garnet core, flowing into a softer red with defined staining in the legs, I was thinking, "Isn't this supposed to be a red fruit grape?"  I had to throw it in the decanter.  Wow, this 2006 is still young!  Needless to say, the red fruits are there.  The penetrating red cherry, tart pomegranate and cranberry flowed smoothly into the intense dusty, chalky minerality.  The phenolic structure on the nose was soft white pepper and licorice with a nice fennel vegetative quality.

On the palate, this translated into round, cherry, black raspberry and pomegranate acidity with a dusty mouthfeel.  The cherry pit and rhubarb tannins were mellowed out by the sweeter oak influence, imparting notes of cinnamon, cardamom and some grippy tobacco.  With a pretty big body and length on the tongue, this is a serious red-fruit wine...  not a dainty, delicate red-fruit wine.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Headed "north" with a 2006 Hans Lang Charta Trocken Riesling and homemade Borscht.

2006 Hans Lang Charta Trocken Riesling - Rheingau

I'll start with the wine because I've been excited to crack this one open.  Rieslings are one of my first loves when it comes to wine.  This goes back to when I first started reading about wine.  Almost all my studies have begun with Alsace, France and riesling.  Although they relatively come from the same part of the world, German rieslings have a unique character that can't be found anywhere else in the world.

This "trocken" (dry) riesling was true to its label.  There was no residual sugar on the palate, but there was still plenty of aromatic fruit to go around.  As I've been re-reading some of my older wine post I realize that my strict-to-ISG standard tasting notes are not the most user friendly, so I'm going to try something new: para-phrased, sentence form tasting notes (although I still have my notebook with ISG tasting notes if you ever want to see thorough, objective tasting notes).

With a beautifully faint, yellow tinge and swift but well-defined legs, my first impression was that this wine was going to have a little residual sugar considering its 12.5% alcohol (although that is fairly high for a typical German riesling).  On the nose the fruit is sweet and very ripe.  It almost reminded me of a basket full of delicate fruits that have been sitting out a couple days too long.  Another drag at the nose and the definite mineral backbone and sweet honey and petrol notes emerge.
Then it hits your palate.  Wow, this a dry riesling.  No residual sugar, crisp but in check acidity and low alcohol give this riesling some serious body and length on the tongue.  The fruit on the palate is less expresive than on the nose, giving more evidence of bruised, ripe yellow apples and tangy, sweet persimmons.  Again, there is that minerality that does almost as much for the structure of this wine as its acidity.  I would imagine that is why good riesling, and this is a good riesling, can take some bottle age.

Check out this interview with Mr. Lang:

So what do you eat with riesling?  (I guess most people ask what you drink with food, but often find myself a bit flip-flopped.)  Cold weather food of course!  My inspiration to make this Russian beet soup was inspired by the sour beets recipe in the book Wild Fermentation which was gifted to me by a friend.

First, I julienned a HUGE beet into long strips and fermented it for two weeks with caraway seeds in a saltwater brine.  Similar to my Porotos Granados recipe, I sweated the garlic and onions and then added the chopped potatoes, carrots, celery and beets.  I also added some ground, pan-toasted caraway seeds and about a tablespoon of fresh dill.  Then, I added boiling water, stired and lowered the heat to simmer for 20 minutes.

Topped with a nice quenelle of sour cream and some more fresh dill, here is the finished product: