Sauerdough

Written by Zac on March 9th, 2011

Eva and I have fallen off the bread wagon since moving from our cramped Toronto apartment and coming upon a regular supply of quality bakery bread. After Eva broke out our bread maker and baked a dense olive loaf, I decided to take a stab at something new: Sourdough. Sourdough had long been something of a mystery – stories of sourdough cultures preserved through the centuries made it seem like a complicated art form akin to brewing, which does take some time to learn. I was wrong, sort-of.

Sourdough StarterSourdough starter, aka wild yeast culture, is REALLY easy to make. Get ready for it: water, flour, thyme (or was it time?). Went to a local organics store, Johannes, and picked up a few kilos of unbleached stone ground organic whole wheat flour which I later used with an equal volume of filtered water (1/2 cup each, though I later learned that a ‘Poolish’ sourdough starter should be equal weight, or about 2:1 flour:water). I poured them in a clean jar, lightly screwed on the lid so that it wasn’t sealed, and waited. I let this sit for about 24 hours before adding another ½ cup water and flour, doubling the total amount- this is repeated twice daily. Within the first day or two it had separated a bit, there were some tiny bubbles along with a middle layer of fluids that I proceeded to pour off (apparently I should have stirred this back in, oh well!). A battle begins between bacteria and yeast, but yeast tends to get the upper hand by acidifying the mixture and thus driving out the bacteria.

Hold up a minute: Yeast? Bacteria? Where the heck did they come from? Though both are inescapably ever-present around the house, the yeast in this case primarily comes from the unbleached flour! Wild yeast tends to stick to all sorts of fruits and grains – these little klingons were responsible for the ancient wines of Rome and Greece, the bezerker Mead of the Vikings, the Ciders and Perries of England, the mysterious soma of India, the Incan chichi, and a long long list of ancient hooch that most cultures discovered at some point or other.

Sourdough Starter 2

So, mix about 2 parts unbleached flour to 1 part unchlorinated water (let the water sit in the fridge for a day if you don’t have a filter), and get your own starter rolling! ‘Feed’ your starter with the same mixture twice daily, doubling it each time (discard excess starter before adding to it; flour is cheap). Do this for about 6-7 days, or until it’s doubles or triples within 3-4 hours and doesn’t have unpleasant smells (might smell floury, slightly sour, but not bad), then you can make bread or throw it in the fridge and leave it for weeks to months – just pull it out a day or two before you want to use it and feed it per usual! I move back and forth between whole wheat and white flour, though I believe the preferred option is white. Continue feeding, or refrigerate and start feeding it again a few days before you plan on baking! Also, rather than composting the excess starter, consider using it to make sourdough pancakes: 1 egg, 1 cup starter, 1 tbsp sugar, 2 tbsp olive oil, ¼ tsp salt, and then add ½ tsp baking soda RIGHT before cooking – they expand rapidly. Enough for 2 full pan-sized pancakes. You can also find recipes for pancake and biscuits online – though do wait until your starter is really rolling before trying these. Plenty of recipes online for making bread from this, and here’s a good youtube run-down once your starter is going.

As an aside – I also did a test run a bread using beer yeast.. It was much slower to rise (an extra hour or so) and had a distinctive flavour to it that I rather liked though Eva didn’t seem so fond of. Can’t put my finger on it, but a sort of hearty though lightly bitter taste.. I made it using whole wheat flour, though I think white flour would have been a better choice to showcase the unique taste. Opened my eyes to the vastness of possibilities here – Beer’s flavour and aroma are significantly impacted by the yeast used, and there are a WIDE variety of yeasts available.. Can only imagine the diversity of breads that could be made with all the little variations out there!

And on a completley unrelated note, here’s breakfast – gastronomical, no?

Breakfast Smiley Face

 

Brewing Notes added

Written by Zac on December 22nd, 2010

As the blog’s getting pretty cluttered with brewing stuff, I figured I’d add a new page
(available in the header) for brewing notes!

Chipping away at Life II entry, though it’s hard to find the time these days.

Cheers
Zac

 

The brewery is’a hoppin!

Written by Zac on September 21st, 2010

I’ve turned the cold room into a fermentation station – got about 45 litres of beer between kegs and bottles, just kicked off 23 Litres of Sumac wine, and I’m on my 9th experimental mini-batch (using various sugars, syrups, making cider, metheglin etc).

Sadly we’re down to a meager glass or two of plain mead, and there’s but a single bottle of sparkling mead remaining.. That said, I’ve got a lead on 60 liters of braggot – a mead-malt concoction that’s said to be quite good.. Now I just need to find the thyme.. oh wait – there’s a massive patch of that in the front lawn.. it’s time I need!

 

[...] if you try some times, you just might find, you get what you mead.

Written by Zac on September 6th, 2010

Some after-thoughts on the mead brewed nearly a year ago.. Opened one of the last remaining bottles of still mead last night, and polished the second last bottle of sparkling mead. I’m glad I made a very dry mead – it’s lighter on the palate and on the hangover.

The mead has certainly aged gracefully. My worries of infection are long behind me as I ease into a crisp glass of this lovely wine. In appearance it’s a very warm and inviting white wine – a lovely pale golden colour.  The aroma is described by some as reminiscent to pumpkin pie, and though I disagree on this point, the smattering of cloves and cinnamon sticks I added in have certainly started coming through more in the bouquet, though less so on the palate.

I’d worried for awhile that I had over primed the bottles of sparkling mead, and released a touch of pressure (Heineken type tops, not crowns).. End produce is GREAT, though unfortunately the yeast does impart quite a bit of undesired flavour, and though the taste of the mead is not put off, as you pour towards the bottom of the bottle and more yeast mixes in, the quality is somewhat compromised. That said, the first 2/3 of the bottle more than makes up for this. I must say that Champagne mead is a real delicacy; great tasting, not sweet at all, and a delightfully fine effervescence.

I’ve moved a couple times in the past few months, but am now settled in more long term.. Wasn’t able to kick off another batch of brew considering the moves, but I’m making up for it now!! Our house has a root cellar / cold room and I’ve taken it over, dubbing it ‘the brewery’.

Presently stocked with 7 different brewings (a number of those being experiments).. Will update on those later. Much more to write, but time is hard to come by these days! Until the next post!

-Z

 

toronto earthquake

Written by Zac on June 23rd, 2010

Wowza! That was interesting! Thought my ass was numb! End of the world? Welcome G20!

Update: appearently that was Quebec trying to seperate!

 

I mead you.

Written by Zac on March 22nd, 2010

Well, we’ve finally done it. The remaining 20 liters of mead are bottled, and it’s pretty damned tasty. Eva and I slurped down some leftovers last night, and tonight we cracked a bottle.

Smooth and very similar to a full bodied white wine – a little less crisp than most whites, but with a rustic essence to it, or in Eva’s words ‘tasty’. It’s got a hint note of honey to it and all of the tartness and unpleasant flavors are gone.

The mead continued to ‘fizz’, or bubble until recently (months after kicking off the initial fermentation), and it certainly had some residual carbonation upon bottling. I primed a few liters of the stuff to make a sparkling mead after sampling some of the perviously bottled and primed mead which was pretty damned good.

Anyhow, just wanted to give an update. Great experiment, some lessons learned, and a splendid end result well worth the efforts.
Z

 

Soda

Written by Zac on February 11th, 2010

A while back, I realized a strange predicament.. I like to serve nice cocktails, and soda water is a key contributor, but I always run out and can’t really justify buying a case of it for some unknown reason (the hauling, the storing, the fact that it goes flat so fast…). For awhile, I bought bottled soda, and I did pick up a great little device called the Soda Saver; for about $4 this little screw-on hand pump does wonders for keeping bottled soda and soft drinks from going flat by pressurizing the bottle and preventing CO2 from escaping the liquid, though in the end it still does go flat eventually. One day it hit me: ‘What’s Soda Water but CO2 and water?” I began looking into what I could do to fill plain water with bubbles (aside from farting in the tub of course).

It began with Soda Siphons (aka Seltzer bottles)– a classy old world bar essential that runs on single-use CO2 cartridges (food grade intended for Soda or Seltzer, NOT ones made for paintball or pellet guns as those contain oil). You will find these things kicking around in hotel bars and cocktail lounges, and it does seem that they do the trick . After doing some research, I found a great deal on Mosa soda siphons: $50 CDN on ebay compared to $120 in a local restaurant supply store who claimed to be selling them like wildfire, having delivered 4 to a local Four Seasons (ironic?) moments before my arrival. That said, it’s worth shopping around. After checking out Mosa’s website and skimming their patchwork mastery of English, finding nearly no details on the product, I started looking into ISI siphons (about $80-100 CDN), and a few other competing brands (Mr. fizz etc), all the while keeping my eye on periodic glass siphons on eBay selling pretty cheap and reportedly in working condition…

I read that any of the new age (i.e. made in the last few years) aluminum ones with plastic heads (ISI, Mosa, Liss, Mr. Fizz, etc) had overly protective safety valves that wouldn’t allow the water to get heavily carbonated; it might work for soda, but it’s probably not the best for mixing. The plastic heads ran the risk of breakage, and the protective coating on the aluminum would eventually wear out, rendering it unusable (unless you like sparkling bog-water). Stainless steel versions with metal heads were an improvement, and old world glass bottles  are reportedly some of the best options (depending on age and whether the head would work with modern CO2 cartridges.. oh, and then there’s the risk of explosion). Lots of people are satisfied with their siphons, but that just wasn’t enough for me!

While reading up on siphons, I saw that plenty of people were singing the praises of the Soda Stream system (there are notably a number of nearly identical systems made in china, but not readily available in Canada). These are in principal the same thing as a soda siphon, but come with a few twists… You’ve got to invest in the basic equipment, which is more expensive, bulkier, and less attractive than a Soda siphon. The CO2 canisters and distributors have custom fittings, so you can’t refill them just anywhere – you’ve got to go back to your Soda Stream dealer for refills (I need my fix, cracker! I’ll do anything!), and they’re overpriced for what you get (the same stuff you’re breathing out as you read this – CO2). The non-premium setups also come with plastic bottles, and no glass bottle option. That said, this system allows you to add as much or as little carbonation as you want, and the sodastream products do have a professional look to them. I would have further considered this option if their prices in Canada were as reasonable as those down south – sadly, this is not the case.

After pursuing the out of the box options, I stumbled across some discussions on the DIY options. Amidst all my soda siphon soul searching, there was this perpetual intuition that I could do better; if I’m carbonating water to add some sparkle to other things, and not for the sake of sparkling water (nice as it is), why do I have to water them down? Both of the above optionsonly allow you to make soda water, but what if I want to make soda milk? How about soda wine (champagne)? Why can’t I carbonate whatever the heck I want, and why do I have to be locked into these single-use cartridges or proprietary CO2 tanks with pricey refills when CO2 isn’t really a hot commodity these days (with all the talk of carbon caps, you’d think they’d be PAYING me to take their CO2!)?

Thanks to the wonderful world of home brewing , salvation arrived. One option is to buy a ‘keg charger’ that runs on single use food grade CO2 cartridges (i.e. Cornelius Keg Portable Co2 Charge) and can be ‘shut off without using the full charge, a fitting for a Cornelius or Firestone keg, and a fitting for a 2L bottle (such as the one sold by liquid bread). This would be a bit dangerous as your plastic bottle would be liable to explode if overcharged, but it would be a fairly inexpensive solution (about $40) that would allow you to carbonate more than just water.

If you can get your hands on a proper CO2 tank, a regulator, the right hosing, and a fitting for a 2L bottle cap (Liquid bread), you can carbonate just about anything water based with little risk of explosion so long as you stick to a few basic rules. You can look into the details further, though the gist of the story is that you fill a 2L bottle with whatever you want to carbonate making sure it’s cold and leaving some air space, screw on the liquid bread adapter, plug your tank in with your regulator on minimum, open the tank’s valve, attach the tubing to your liquid bread adapter, pressurize to about 30 PSI, turn off the tank, give your bottle a vigorous shake, and you’ve got bubbles!

A CO2 tank might seem a little bulky, especially when looking at YouTube videos and DIY instructions where they’ve got massive 20LB tanks to play with, though it doesn’t have to be any bulkier than what the Soda Stream uses! With the right adapter you can use a 12oz or 20oz Paintball CO2 tank (not the cartridges, but a refillable canister)!  Your CO2 tank can be refilled at a local welding shop, a fire extinguisher refilling shop, or potentially a paintball place (from what I’ve read there’s no oil in actual tank filling stations as it would ruin the tanks). As all of these locations are reportedly supplied by major industrial companies that distribute industrial grade CO2 that’s 99.999% pure, and most home brewers use these kinds of shops for their CO2 supply.  From what I’ve read, the risk of contamination should be negligible at best due to the standards that CO2 tanks are required to meet, though if a tank has been poorly maintained, that could be another story.

The best deal I could find on an all-inclusive CO2 tank and keg system (28L keg for homebrew or soda) was from KegWorks.com; considering the prices, their packages are a great solution for someone who may also consider making homebrew for parties someday! They have a store on eBay, and shipping to Canada is very reasonable (though I would talk to them before ordering). Don’t forget that you would want to order the LiquidBread bottle fitting for bubble-making purposes..

Some other sites that discuss and compare Soda Siphons:

http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/appliances/kitchen-appliances/soda-makers/a-missed-pop-ortunity-7-06/products/0607_soda-makers_ratings.htm

http://cocktailnerd.com/2007/06/fight-night-soda-siphons/

http://www.thekitchn.com/thekitchn/gadgets/good-product-soda-siphon-for-homemade-fizzy-water-053653

http://prairiemoon.biz/fuliofsosise.html

 

What do you know?

Written by Zac on February 6th, 2010

“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” – Donald Rumsfeld

 

Life, Part I

Written by Zac on February 6th, 2010

I have previously posted on the distinction between Life and Nature (at least as it exists for the purposes of this discourse), as well as provided an elaboration on Nature and the Universe, but it is prudent to continue this series by exploring the subject of Life.

tril

Life – a word that we pretend to know, using it in everyday speech, but yet when probed we find ourselves incapable of making the distinction between what is alive and what is not. Is a cut flower still alive, and if so, at what point does it die? If a man’s brain is removed while his body is kept functioning we might call him dead, though his body lives on, does it not? If a mountain could feel pain, could we consider it a living thing? Is an amoeba any less alive than a plant, or a plant less alive than a hog? Perhaps we could contextualize life based on the degree of environmental and self-awareness that a thing possesses, but we don’t tend to say that a man is more alive than a duck, for being alive is not a thing of degrees so much as it is a state that either is or is not.

dogWhat is it that makes the distinction alive between alive, dead, and nonliving? What is life and where does it come from? I shall make a vain attempt to answer these questions. To begin, let’s summarize the closest thing that we have to an agreed upon definition of Life: life is capable of self-regulation through some sort of metabolism, is structurally organized, grows, adapts, responds to its environment, and reproduces or self perpetuates. This definition would see self-replicating robots as living and viruses as nonliving as they cannot self replicate, and piggyback reproduction on the structures of living things (like a sand castle that gets rebuilt after the tide comes in – it doesn’t reproduce, something reproduces it). I am lead to wonder: do viruses not seem to operate with a sense of purpose? Is it strictly a chaotically random happenstance that they exist, thrive, self-replicate, and adapt, or might there be some driving force behind these seemingly purposeful actions? If there is no driving force, and the existence of viruses is strictly chance, what are the odds that they would come to exist, continue to exist for more than a few moments, and come thrive as they do?

This all begs the question ‘How did life begin?’ One theory is that a mishmash of the components of life just happened to be hanging around a few billion years ago. These bubbles of lipids and random RNA chains got together and somehow lucked out (or figured out) on ways of seemingly intentional movement, ways to find and use energy sources, and the capacity to make complete copies of themselves. A few billion years of totally random screw-ups in self replication guided by a harsh environment shaped the cells from a mishmash of ingredients that randomly got together into every form of life we see today, and every one that preceded and will proceed them.

GeeseThough this is an interesting theory that certainly bears some rationality, it seems a little far fetched to think that random events and mutations guided only by the environment (that being comprised of both the ‘natural’ environment and the ecosystem) was all that was needed for a beast such as Humankind to arise from a smattering of chemicals. There is also the question of that initial spark; at what point did the randomly organized cluster of compounds become a ‘living thing’, and how? What could possibly turn a lifeless pool of chemicals into something intentional, something self-organizing, something driven to adapt and survive? These are not properties that we tend to see in nature, yet we believe them to have risen up from nature; furthermore, we have made little effort to explain how mater came to acquire properties so divergent from its nature.

This change in the nature of nature from wholly lifeless to what we might consider life is by many attributed to a divine being; while this is not quite my sentiment, it is neither incompatible with my thoughts on the subject. Live is intentional; this is not an intrinsic property of matter, and so I believe that intentionality works to distinguish nonliving matter from life. Life searches out food and intentionally turns this food into energy and new life. Not only does it reuse the bio-friendly matter left behind by other life, but is also gradually “incorporates” nonliving matter into part of a greater living system, slowly but surely converting ‘nature’ into ‘life’.

IMG_1249Are we to say that intentionality evolved unintentionally, and that the precursor to life as we know it survived and reproduced strictly as a result of random events? That it made no efforts of any sort to survive, and did so solely by chance? The odds of this seem unfathomably small; it seems more reasonable to assume that life persisted by virtue its disposition to survive, for how could life persist long enough to develop a survival instinct if it wasn’t in the least bit motivated towards survival? Was it was purely by chance that the components of life got together, chanced upon energy sources and just happened to reproduce? If not, what was the driving force behind the development and perseverance of life? This I shall explore in ‘Life, Part II’.

 

Quick Mead update

Written by Zac on January 10th, 2010

Well, it would appear that I was hasty in souring my assessment! The mead is smoothing out quite nicely; the tart acidic taste must have been either the result of a second fermentation or it could have been from sediment / the lees getting mixed up with the mead during racking. Either way, it’s been quite drinkable over the holidays!

I primed two bottles with some honey and am leaving them to undergo another fermentation in the bottle, hoping for something along the lines of a Champagne mead, though I’m somewhat worried about sediment staying in the bottle, and after reading up on how this is removed from champagne, I don’t think I’m going to other removing it.

I bottled 8 Liters of mead and nearly all of that is gone, leaving me with another 20 litters ( I had a 20L carboy, so this worked out). When racking for this ‘sample’ batch, I initially filled the 20L carboy so that no sediment would get passed on to it, then I bottled what remained (a fair bit of sediment ended up in the bottled, causing me to later re-pour them into other bottled using a funnel and a turkey baster to minimize oxidation). Still working out some best practices in racking, as it seems that I’m consistently mixing in some sediment towards the end of the process. I used a special attachment for bottling which was supposed to make life easier by preventing overfilling etc, though I found that it kept losing pressure, causing me to get high on booze fumes from constantly having to restart the siphon, and causing a lot of extra sediment to get mixed into the remaining mead. The bottled I used were mostly empty liquor bottled with screw caps, though I had a few 500ml beer bottles and a ceramic bottle with an old school built-in stopper.. I quickly learned that not all beer bottled can be crowned using a conventional manual crowning device.. Had the neck of a bottle shatter while attempting to force it! Only bottles with an extra-thick fluted (bell-shaped) inch of glass at the top of the neck will do!  I decided to forego corks, as they seemed over complicated and I already had the crowning gear.

The mead is still sitting in the laundry room, which is cooler than the rest of the house during winter (hopefully this will slow the fermentation of the Champagne mead, giving it nicer bubbling, and help any remaining sediment settle in the remaining 20L). All things considered, this whole process seems to have been a success, though I fear that 20 liters of mead won’t last as I previously anticipated.

Sorry for such a quick, semi-disjointed update on this! I hope to add some photos later and further detail, though with a recent addition to our family (my darling daughter Gabriella), I’m somewhat strapped for time! Also working on an addition to the mini-series of blogs that I was working on discussing Life, Nature and the universe. We’ll see when that gets finished!

Cheers! -Zac

 


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