Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Molecular Gastronomy: Panel discussion at Le Cordon Bleu

Molecular Gastronomy has always looked to me like science experiments or magic tricks.  I was leaning towards the magic trick perspective at the start of a panel discussion into Molecular Gastronomy  at Le Cordon Bleu (LCB) last Sunday.  When Martin Bosley referred to David Burton as 'Harry Potter' (a jibe at the academic robes he wore) it seemed that magic was the more appropriate term!

As the panel explained, joked and debated it became clear to me that science was at the heart of the conversation.  I came away with the impression that food science has not habitually formed great chunks of chef training.  One panellist noted that he had been told to add mustard every time when making salad dressing when training.  It took a long time for him to learn that it helped stabilise the emulsion between vinegar and oil.

Martin Bosley admitted that he had been an enthusiastic adopter of many practices of molecular gastronomy when learning about them during a collaboration with food scientists for some contract work.  What was basic knowledge to food scientists, and common in the processed food manufacturing industry was new to him.  Why wouldn't you experiment with this knowledge?  He enthusiastically purchased much of the very expensive equipment and ingredients.  He stated that he lost enthusiasm for it when doing stock take one day and observing that the shelves were full of packets of gelling agents rather than ingredients better representing food.

The costs involved are considerable.  The equipment is very expensive ($20,000 for an essence extractor) and you use twice as many ingredients to get the final result.  El Bulli, the restaurant considered the heart of the modern molecular cuisine movement had a lot of staff (including 20 unpaid interns) because the cuisine is labour intensive.  The restaurant reportedly never made a profit (and has since shut down, transforming into a foundation instead).  The panellists agreed that New Zealand was not quite prepared to pay the prices necessary to support full 'molecular cuisine' style meals.  It is also not the New Zealand way to have fussy food - if you start with good ingredients then why would you mess around with them?

Mike Egan (Part owner of Boulcott St Bistro, Osteria Del Toro and Monsoon Poon) felt that comparisons could best be made with various artistic movements.  The 1980's had Nouvelle Cuisine and the experimentation with molecular cuisine is currently waning.  Martin Bosley opined that the next big thing was 'note by note' cooking.  It is best that you follow the link for the explanation, it makes my head spin!

I left with the impression that the magic and showmanship involved in molecular cuisine provided a nice distraction - perhaps adding to the chef's toolbox and giving diner's an experience that was multi-sensory (like Heston Blumenthal's 'Sound of the Sea' dish served with an I-pod playing ambient beach sounds).  It was fun to experiment, but in the experience of these panellists, the molecular cuisine era has passed.  The promotion of food science will be a good legacy for the molecular gastronomy movement to leave.
My favourite molecular gastronomy (food science) discoveries:
  • A member of the audience discussed the Maillard reaction/ adding baking soda when caramelising onions.  Read this story carefully! It is a must read if you want to reduce the amount of time you spend caramelising onions.
  • For better caramelisation on your steak brush with a sugar solution (for example, the sugar could be part of a marinade).

I was very kindly given a ticket to this event by Le Cordon Bleu, as part of their sponsorship of the New Zealand Food Blogger's Association conference.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

More cheese

I have so much to post from this weekend's NZ Food Blogger's Association conference.  But while I'm sorting through all the photos and notes I thought I'd post a picture from my latest batch of cheddar cheese.  Last time I made it there was a tiny bit of moisture inside (probably from not air-drying long enough prior to waxing).

This batch was aged for about ten weeks - but at a lower than recommended temperature.  You can age at a lower temperature - it just takes longer. This cheddar is deliciously crumbly, has a very creamy colour and smells amazing.

Unfortunately, the variety of delicious treats that I sampled over the weekend means that I cannot face more than a sliver!  Maybe tomorrow....

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Sourdough blues

I really like making complicated food.  The steps involved in making hard cheeses for example, excite me.  Deciding on three complimentary types of stuffing to make turducken was also fun.

But I'm not quite sure I have the passion for sourdough bread.

In my previous post I mentioned that I found a book on bread making and was very enthused with the techniques I'd learnt.  I've enjoyed playing around with different types of flour, purple wheat being a favourite. And it wouldn't surprise anyone who knows me that I impulse-purchased a packet of sour dough starter when shopping for interesting varieties of flour.  The supplier can be found at Commonsense Organics or on Trademe.

If you are unfamiliar with genuine sourdough you spend a few days building up a starter (five or six days when using the sachet of sourdough grains).  Each day you weigh water and flour and add to the mixture.  Once you have your starter you are within two days of getting a loaf of bread!!!  You then need to create the 'mother' starter.  You add some flour and water to your starter and then leave it for about eight hours or overnight.

Now you are ready to add the rest of the ingredients - more flour and water and a small bit of salt.  This needs to double in size and should take a couple of hours.  When I say a couple of hours if your starter isn't that great or not yet at full potency it can take most of the day to double in size.  I drew a line with a marker pen around the bowl so that I knew if it had risen (I need external validation - I am too impatient if left to me to guess)!

Once the dough has doubled in size you turn it out into a tin or tray for shaping and more growing.  You treat the dough gently (unlike other breads you do not knead again).  I found this step very slow, and the hour or two that the instructions suggested in reality took much longer.  In fact, I ran out of time so put the mixture in the fridge overnight and bought round to room temperature the next morning. 

Finally, about 2pm it was ready to cook.  I preheated the oven for the suggested time period but didn't take into account that I would probably run out of time due to school run requirements.  The bread was slightly undercooked.
Starter culture and 'mother' in the foreground

Second batch of bread - great flavour, heaps of work.

This was actually my second loaf of sour dough.  The first batch was very unspectacular and barely rose.  It also used a lot of flour - and then you only need 50grams of the mixture for the 'mother.'  Given that the original starter used 140grams of flour a day you either need a lot of friends wanted the culture, a lot of waste or a fridge full of starter. 

I suspect each batch gets better, but I'm not sure that I have the planning skills to be able to pull off the two-day turnaround.  I would seriously have to be making a loaf every day for it to be worthwhile, and we just don't eat that much bread!

I may just add some of the starter to a standard wholemeal loaf with a pinch of commercial yeast - this should provide some of the flavour - and it is a very tangy flavour but cut down production time to something a little more reasonable.  After all, I am 'Make-Do Mum' and I think that the daily palaver of genuine sour dough bread production is more than I truly care for.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Good children's meals

Speight's Ale House, Christchurch.

The cheese is covered by the eating hand. It was on the large side, but did solve the problem of snacks for the next day!

Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Baking bread

I'm having a bit of a bread love affair at the moment.  Earlier in the week I bought a book from the 'withdrawn' bin at the local library containing a random mix of bread recipes by passionate advocates of self sufficiency.  The book is approximately half sour dough recipes and each recipe has an accompanying story by the author of the recipe.  It is a world away from your typical, highly edited glossy cookbook.  I'm not trying to be mean about the book, just trying to describe it.  The passion this group of people have for good quality bread is patent and a little contagious.  Most home mill their own grain.  I'm not going to do this, but I am a lot more interested in the type of grain I use for making bread now.  I've also learnt a lot in a short time about improving the quality of home-made bread.

I made the most delicious loaf of beer bread using some of the tips that I gleaned from the book, so I thought I would share them here.

  • The second rise is the most important.  After you have risen the dough for the first time gently mix the dough (not a full-on knead) and then shape.  If you knead it too hard the second time you will knock out some of the air that has developed in the dough.
  • If you want a beautifully cooked loaf of bread then what you cook it in really does matter.  I find that my non-stick breadmaker makes kind of average bread.  That is because the tin doesn't really get hot, and a lot of steam is produced in a small crowded environment.  The bread is often very soft.  If you have proper metal tins, great.  I don't so I used my Le Creuset 'dutch oven' to cook the bread.  I put the pan and lid separately into the oven (i.e. the lid wasn't on the pot) and got them both really hot.  After twenty minutes I put the dough into the pan and put the lid on top.  After twenty minutes I took the lid off to get some great colour.  About ten minutes after that I flipped over the loaf of bread so that the bottom could crisp up.  It was my best loaf of bread ever.
  • You cannot just substitute white and wholemeal grains directly in recipes.  Wholegrain flours contain naturally present sugars so often an adjustment to the sugar in the recipe is required.  The more white flour you use, the more sugar will be required.
  • It is my experience that the best bread flavour (robust, earthy, nutty) come using at least a small amount of wholegrain flour.  I used wholegrain spelt flour in the beer bread I made - delicious. 
  • I found a really interesting range of wheat flours at Commonsense Organics.  I bought some NZ Purple Wheat flour as well as wholemeal spelt.  I'm currently using it to make a sour dough starter.  It looks slightly purple so I'm hopeful that a purple loaf of bread will be the result!
I've had the worst time with formatting my photos below!  I haven't felt much cooking mojo of late, but I was so happy baking bread that the rest of the meal followed.  We had mutton with lentils, beans and vegetables and a yummy walnut and pear salad.

Most beautiful beer bread.