Making French baguette using the “No-knead Recipe”

In one of my earlier post, I talked about how to make bread using the “No-knead Recipe”  It’s a great way to make bread, and if you haven’t tried it yet, you should.  It’s so easy and versatile.  I make bread nearly every weekend (the kids beg me).  This weekend, I made French baguettes.

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The bread was just amazing.   Perfect with the crunchy crust and moist airy inside you expect with the French Baguette.

To make baguettes, use the no-knead recipe mentioned previously.   After mixing all the ingredients, let the dough rise for 12-24 hours and then take it out and place it on a floured surface, just as if you were going to make a loaf.  However, this is where things change a bit.   Once out,  don’t fold it a couple of times like mentioned for the loaf recipe.  You need to minimize the handling of the dough in order to keep it light and airy, so that when it bakes you’ll get the light airy inside and a crusty outside you expect from a baguette.  What you should do instead is cut the dough ball in half with a large knife, then softly separate and stretch each half into loaf shapes.  Be careful, do not manhandle the dough too much!  Next,  gently place them on baguette baking pans, cover with a towel, and let rise another 2 hours.

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Make sure to spray the pan with a little bit of cooking spray and place some corn flour on the bottom in order to prevent the dough from sticking to it.   After the 2 hour rise, preheat your oven to 475 degrees and place on the bottom rack a large pan filled with water.  Once the over is hot, place your loaves into the oven and bake for about 20-30 minutes.  The water in the pan will keep the humidity high in your oven, to help form the crusty crust you need.   And voila, you have freshly baked delicious baguettes!    Serve with your favorite meat, cheese, or dipping oil and enjoy!

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A tasting of Free Will Brewery

I found some beer from a brewery called Free Will on my last trip to the beer store.  I never heard of this brewery before, but checking out their website, I discovered that it was founded by 2 guys in 2010.  They started out making beer as a hobby and it has now grown into a fairly large operation in Perkasie, PA, brewing 11 types of beer.     The three beers I sampled were:  Destiny’s Wit, Techno IPA, and Uppercase IPA.

Destiny Wit

Destiny’s Wit is described as a Belgian White.  The website claims it has flavors of orange and lemon peel, coriander and white pepper.  I thought it lacked any character or flavor – to me it tasted like a generic ale with slight wheat in the background.  Very disappointing.

Techo IPA glass and bottle  Techo IPA

IPA’s are some of my most favorite beers so I was anxious to try out the Techno IPA and Uppercase IPA.  To give you a an idea of where I’m coming from, a couple of my favorite IPA’s at the moment are the Two Hearted Ale from Bell’s Brewery and the Southern Tier IPA.   Oh, was I disappointed.  Both the Techno and Uppercase IPA lack any flavor at all.  Imagine drinking a like a low end ale with no character at all and that’s what you get here. yes, there is a bitter bite at the end to remind you that it’s an IPA, but it’s weak and nondescript.

Upper case bottle glass  Uppercase bottle

So all in all, I was very disappointed with these three beers from Free Will Brewery.  I tried each of them several different times, as I really wanted to like them (I purchased a 6 pack of each),  but every time, I ended up junking half the glass in the sink – that’s how bad I feel they are.  There’s just no  flavor or depth at all.  I do not recommend them.

Thank goodness I still have some Southern Tier IPA in the fridge to save the day.

Souther IPA glass bottle  Southern IPA

Have you tried these beers before?  What did you think?

A tasting of Georg Schneider’s Eisbock, TAP 5, TAP 7

Since my last post, I’ve been able to sample several other beers from Georg Schneider’s brewery.   Here are my thoughts on each of them:

 

The Aventinus Eisbock is a dark,  rich and full of flavor wheat beer.  There’s a dark fruity essence to the beer that goes well with meat based meals.  You’ll taste some flavors of plums, banana as well as almonds.  It’s smooth,  with a hint of bitterness – overall well balanced I though.   I enjoyed it very much.  It has an alcohol content of 12% so it may not suit the light drinkers out there.

 

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The TAP 5, I liked the least.  It had the most “wheat” flavor of all the ones I tried.   It’s supposed to have a flavor of tropical fruit, but to me it lacked flavor and was very dry.  I did not find it refreshing at all.  It has an alcohol content of 8.2%

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The TAP 7 is an amber colored wheat beer.  I found it to be a very good, refreshing beer.  Light and flavorful – a little bit heavier than the TAP4 but not too heavy of a beer for a summer day. Very well balanced.  There’s some flavor of nuts, nutmeg and banana.  It has an alcohol content of 5.4%

 

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All in all, I was very pleased with Georg Schneider’s beers.  I particularly enjoyed the TAP5 and TAP4 which I think are good summer beers.  I also enjoyed the Aventinus Eisbock.   Even my wife enjoyed these and she’s not a big beer drinker.  We both found them to be full of flavors and well balanced.  Neither of us particularly like Hopfenweisse (TAP5) because it has such a dry finish.

 

Have you had a Georg Schneider beer?  What did you think?  Which is your favorite?

Georg Schneider’s Wiesen Edel-Weisse – a perfect beer for a hot day.

This evening, I was in a German mood and poured myself a glass of Georg Schneider’s Wiesen Edel-Weisse TAP4. Why did I wait so long to try it?  Probably because it’s a wheat beer, and I haven’t really liked those in the past. I’ve been missing out…

The TAP4 comes from a brewery in Bavaria called Schneider & Sohn.  It was founded in 1872 by…you guessed it, Georg Schneider I and his son Georg Schneider II.  They have a whole variety of beer with one thing in common –  they all are top-fermented wheat beers (fermented at warmer temperatures with air contact — vs bottom-fermented beers which are fermented at colder temperature and with little air exposure).

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The Wiesen Edel-Weisse TAP4 is an organic beer with an alcohol content of 6.2%.   It has a hint of citrus and no bitterness. It’s an easy to drink, very refreshing beer with excellent flavor and character.  Perfect for a hot summer day (Corona drinkers…you are missing out).   I haven’t been particularly found of wheat beers in the past,  but I must say that this one, along with a few others which I recently tasted during a trip to Belgium, are starting to make me realize I’ve been missing out.

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Grit & Grace

This past week, my wife and I checked out a new restaurant in Pittsburgh called Grit & Grace. It’s located on Liberty Avenue, steps from the Theater District and PNC Park. The chef is Brian Pekarcik (from Spoon). The stated goal is to “push opposites to the extreme to bring a unique and balanced dining experience”, hence the name Grit & Grace. The food has an Asian background, and sharing between everyone at the table is encouraged, especially at dinner time.

The restaurant has only been opened a couple of weeks, but already the place is buzzing with action. We went there for lunch on a Friday afternoon and would not have gotten a table had we not made reservations. The place is immediately welcoming and has a nice feel to it. It reminded me of a bistro, but with a modern vibrant, Asian style.

The staff was very friendly and had us at our table quickly. The lunch menu consists of salads and sandwiches, such as the spicy prawn salad with green papaya, kaykon, carrot, mint, cilantro, basil, garlic, ginger and cashews. There are also noodle dishes such as braised beef short ribs with flat rice noodles, bean sprouts, broccolini, mushrooms, onion and garlic. These dishes range from $6-15 for lunch, and up to $20 for dinner. Not to be forgotten, is a variety of Dim Sum which the staff carries around the restaurant with an option to sample anytime during your meal, for $5 a piece. There is a small, but good, selection of wine (by the bottle or glass), beer, and cocktails.

We first tried a Dim Sum – the Pork Belly bite with orange, chili, garlic and ginger to start our meal. Pork belly might not be healthy with all that fat, but who cares – the pork was perfectly cooked, and every bite a wonderful treat.

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Next we went for the crispy tempura eggplant with vegan mayo, smashed chickpea spread, arugula, and smoked cipollini onions. It came on a wonderful toasted foccacia that had my wife’s mouth watering. The flavors of the eggplant with the chickpea spread, mayo, and smoked onions was flavorful. Her only criticism was that the thick bread overpowered the eggplant. She felt that there needed to be more of the other ingredients between the buns to balance the sandwich.

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We also had the smoked brisket with kohlrabi kraut, thousand island sabayon, pickled red onions, corned beef tongue, and horseradish cream on a baguette. Simply put, it was delicious. The baguette was toasted perfectly and there was just the right balance between all the ingredients in every bite for a very satisfying sandwich.

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We weren’t planning to go for dessert, but when our waiter described the first one, we had to try it. I do not recall what he called it exactly, but it consisted of several chocolate truffles layered on ginger flavored Mochi (a Japanese rice cake) sitting on a bath of crème Anglaise and crunched fruity pebble cereal. Let me tell you, this was a perfect way to end the meal. It’s not uncommon for me to have a wonderful meal at a restaurant ruined by a poorly conceived dessert, but this was not the case as it was one of the best dessert I’ve had at a restaurant in a long time. The ginger, combined with the chocolate truffle, the crème, and the crunch of the pebbles was amazing. The only negative was that we had opted to share it between the both of us – big mistake, and next time we’re each getting our own.

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Grit and Grace is a wonderful addition to the Pittsburgh restaurant scene. Chef Pekarcik has created an innovative menu that takes common food out of the box. Everything is made with fresh ingredients and is well prepared. It’s a perfect place to meet colleagues and friends for lunch, after work or for dinner. I highly recommend it. Reservations are a must (opentable.com). To check out their menu, go to http://www.gritandgracepgh.com

La Chouffe Ale

For the holidays, I loaded up with various beers to try out and I thought La Chouffe’s golden ale would be a good one to get. I guess I thought the little gnome on the bottle reminded me of Christmas.

La Chouffe bottle

The Achouffe brewery is located in Belgium. While most breweries there have been around hundreds of years, Achouffe is quite young, having been founded in the late 1970’s. This is when two beer loving brother in laws got together to make beer as a hobby. Eventually the word got out that they were making some good stuff, and they were taken over by the Duvel Moortgat Brewery in 2006.

The Chouffe is a golden ale which contains a little bit of coriander. It is 8% alcohol.

La chouffe in a glass

As you can see, it has a beautiful color, but I was a little disappointed whith how it tasted. Perhaps it’s because I drank it shortly after Samuel Adams’ New World, but to me La Chouffe almost felt watery, with very little complexity and right now I’m not sure I’d purchase another bottle. Have you had this beer? What did you think of it?

Samuel Adams’ New World

I recently found several bottles of Samuel Adams’ craft beer, and of course, I had to try them out. The first one I sampled is called “New World”

Sam Adams New World

It is a Belgian style Triple. It has an amber color, and is 10% alcohol. I must say that I was very impressed with this beer. It has a wonderful balanced beer with a fruity aroma (due to the type of Belgian yeast used), a hint of sourness (just enough), and is very refreshing. I highly recommend it. Have you had it yet? If so, what do you think of it?

Sam Adams in the glass

Kwack Beer – fit for the mail man!

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This is a Belgian amber ale made at the Bosteels Brewery which was founded in 1971.  I really enjoyed this beer and highly recommend it.   It has a beautiful color and head, fruity aroma, with a taste that is mellow with a hint of sweetness and very little bitterness. It has a nice long finish. It’s an easy to drink beer, but watch out as It has an alcohol content of 8.5%.    As with all Belgian beer, Kwack has it’s own glass that should be used to drink it, and this one is quite unusual:  

 

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It is said that this glass was conceived by brewer/inn keeper Pauwel Kwak in the early 19th Century for mail coaches.   Back then, coachmen were apparently not allowed to leave their coach and horses during mail delivery.  Paul Kwak specially made this glass so that it could be hung on the coach to allow them to quench their thirst while delivering the mail.   If the USPS had something like that, I might consider switching profession! 

Baking bread – the easy way

There is nothing better than fresh bread.

I like crusty European style bread and to make this stuff can be a challenge.

I first tried a bread maker. Easy? yes. Crusty European bread? No, not even close!

Next, my wife tried various “old world” recipes. Oh, that was so good! …but it was so time consuming she stopped baking me bread. Disaster!

Luckily, one of my good neighbor introduced me to “no knead bread” making, as described in Jim Lahey’s book “My Bread: The Revolutionary No-work, No-Knead Method” . It’s so easy, and the results are simply amazing. A miracle!

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What you’ll need (for 1 loaf)
3 cups of flour
1 1/4th teaspoon of salt
1/4th teaspoon of yeast
1 1/3 to 1 1/4th cup of water
A plastic container, roughly 5-6 quart size
Proofing basket (optional)
A dutch oven

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What you’ll need to prepare the bread. Far right is the dough after all ingredients have been mixed together.

I have 2 dutch ovens – one is the “Lodge 5 quart pre-seasoned dutch oven” (roughly $30 on Amazon). The other is from Le Creuset, which runs about $100. They both work equally well and thus I’d recommend purchasing the cheaper (Lodge) pot.
lodge preseasoned dutch oven 5 quart

Recipe:
1. Mix the flour, salt, and yeast together in the plastic container, then add the water. You have added enough water once there is no more dry flour, and the dough is sticky in consistency.

2. Cover the container, and let the dough rise for 18-24 hours at room temperature (about 68-73F)

3. Take the dough out and place it on a cutting board or other clean surface. Use dry flour to prevent the dough from sticking to your hands and the surface you are using.

4. Next, take the “corners” and fold the dough over itself (like you are folding a napkin in 4).

5. Turn the dough upside down (folds on the bottom), cover it with a clean towel and let it rise another hour or two. You can do this in a proofing basket if you’d like, or just keep it on the surface you used to fold it. (again remember to use flour to prevent it from sticking). The advantage of the proofing baskets is that it keeps the shape of the dough in a ball as it rises, but it’s not a necessary item.

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The dough, after it’s been folded and turned upside down

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The dough, after a 2 hour rest period.

5. Place the dutch oven, with the lids on, in the oven, and pre-heat at 475-500F for 15 minutes.

6. Place the dough in the pot
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Ready for baking!

7. pPut the lid back on, and cook for 30 minutes at 475F

8. Remove the lid, cook another 12-15 minutes

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8. Remove the bread from the pot, let it cool 15 minutes, and enjoy!

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With this recipe I now have fresh bread every Sunday evening — I mix the dough Saturday morning and have fresh bread by dinner time on Sunday. It’s now a ritual the kids beg for. We enjoy the bread with good cheese, salami, or dipped into olive oil. I’ve also used this recipe to make pizza (works great). Once you have mastered the recipe, you can start to experiment a little bit. For example, add rosemary to the mix, use whole wheat flour, or make sourdough (with rye flour).

 

Recently, what I’ve liked doing is add a heaping teaspoon of Red Mill’s Sunflower seeds, steel cut oats, and 10 grain mix.  This makes for a little bit heartier and healthier bread.   Note that when you do this, you’ll need to add a little bit more water (just over 1 1/2 cup) and yeast (I do a generously heaping 1/4 teaspoon).

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Which way do you like to make your no-knead bread?

Duvel – fit for a king

To celebrate Belgium’s independence’s day and the king’s coronation (21st of July), I decided to have a toast with a Duvel, one of Belgium’s most popular ale.   Duvel is produced by a brewery called Moortgat brewery which was founded in 1871.  The beer was originally called “Victory Ale” to  commemorate the end of World War 1.  Apparently the name was changed in the 1920s when someone described the beer as “nen echten duvel” (a real devil in Dutch) and consequently the name was changed to “Duvel”. 

The Duvel double is brewed with two hop varieties and has an alcohol content of 8.5% . 

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The Duvel tripel is brewed with 3 strains – the first 2 are the same as in the double, and the third one is changed on a yearly basis. This year, they added a Japanese hop called Sorachi Ace. The tripel has an alcohol content of 9.5%     

 

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It was interesting to be able to taste these two beers at the same time to see what the addition of the third yeast would do. When poured into their proper glass (a Burgundy glass), they both have similar color and a nice light foamy white head. Both are fairly dry. The double gives a quick bitter bite and a medium finish while the tripel has a fruitier flavor, seemed slightly less bitter but with a longer and what I feel was more satisfying finish. I think both would go very well with a hearty meal or as an after dinner drink – perfect for a king’s feast!

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Have you had a Duvel? What do you think of it?