Sunday, June 30, 2013

English Muffins, Reprised: Oat and Barley Varieties

Today it is 103 degrees F. Seriously. Even with fans and a little bit of air conditioning. The last few days have been a hot spell, which has given me more of a chance to experiment with English Muffins.
Barley English Muffin
While English Muffins are traditionally made with recipes that include fat and sweetner, any dough that isn't too wet to hold a clear shape is fine for English Muffins. If you want the English Muffins to have characteristic nooks and crannies, as I've mentioned before, the best way is to make sure that you have a fairly dry dough that yields and open crumb, such as baguette dough.

English Muffins, 2 options
These, as before, are based upon Susan from Wild Yeast Blog's Norwich More Sourdough, but with a modification of the method and the grains. These are wonderful. The barley ones (option 2) especially, although the oat ones are great as well. I think I might try making some with spelt at some point.

Option 1:
Oat English Muffins
  • 480g 100% Hydration whole wheat sourdough starter (red whole wheat)
  • 300g bread flour
  • 475g Red Whole Wheat Flour
  • 180g Oat Flour
  • 650g water
  • 23g Salt

Option 2:
Barley English Muffins
  • 480g 100% Hydration whole wheat sourdough starter (red whole wheat)
  • 300g bread flour
  • 475g White Whole Wheat Flour
  • 180g barley flour
  • 650g water
  • 23g Salt
Day 1:
  • Mix the sourdough starter into 625g of the water and then add the flour.
  • Mix until the dough forms a homogenous ball. You can do this either with a stand mixer or by hand.
  • Cover the dough with plastic ad let it autolyse for half an hour
  • Then add in the salt and the last 25g+ of water
  • Knead until medium development (passes the windowpane test). Should take about 10 minutes by hand or about 3-4 minutes by machine.
  • I found this wasn't sufficient, so I turned it a couple of times by hand and then put it in the refrigerator overnight to let the gluten develop the rest of the way on its own. 
  • It sat in the refrigerator for 12 hours. I turned it 2-3 times in the refrigerator before I went to bed with an 45-60minutes in between each term.
Day 2:
  • Take the dough out of the refrigerator and turn onto a lightly floured surface.
  • Spread it out a little, then cover it and let it sit for 10 minutes.
  • Then roll the dough out to about 1" thick.
  • Sprinkle the dough with flour and spread the four over it gently with your hands
  • Transfer the dough onto a floured cookie sheet, lightly flour the surface of the dough, and cover it with plastic
  • Let it sit for about 2.5 hours at room temperature (around 76 degrees).
  • Heat up a griddle or a cast iron frying pan, lightly oiled with spray oil to about medium-low heat
  • Cut muffins of the desired size. Squares, rectangles, or circles all work. If you don't mind ugly muffins, you can take the excess and push it lightly together. If you let it sit for about 5 minutes, this will make a delicious and perfectly adequate (although not aesthetically pleasing) muffin. Make sure that you dust a little flour on both sides of each muffin. Semolina is traditional, but you can use any flour.
  • When the griddle is hot, place the muffins on it and cover with a metal lid. You do not need to oil the griddle, but you may if you wish.
  • In about 3-9 minutes the muffins should be ready to flip over. They will puff up nicely and they will have a surface on top that is not crusty, but has a skin from the heat. Unfortunately, you have to judge this by your
  • Let them brown on the other side before cooling and eating. You can eat them hot, but they will have more flavor if you let them cool. You may also toast them.
These are delicious and won't heat up your kitchen. Keep in mind, this makes a LOT of English muffins. So, once they are fully cooled, place them in ziplock baggies and freeze them (except for the ones you will eat over the next 2-3 days).

I sent this into Yeast Spotting.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Serious Bakers, Serious Mistakes

Mistake Bread

Mistake bread

I think of myself as a pretty decent baker. I make a lot of bread, most of which is reasonably aesthetic (in a rustic sort of way) and pretty tasty. While I haven't made bread in a while (mostly making things like English Muffins more recently), I still figured that I would be able to make something decent.

I decided to make a version of my old favorite bread-- Bread Cetera's Pain de Compagne. I modified it by replacing the poolish with starter, but leaving the regular yeast in. I'm not sure what the problem was but the dough simply would not coalesce into, well, dough. It was a sticky mess. It also didn't rise quite as much as I had hoped.

As a last resort, I stuck the dough into a loaf pan and baked it at a low temperature. It did have some amount of oven spring, as you can see from the dome in the middle of the loaf. It also had a sort of sandwich-loaf-like texture, although it was a bit heavier (even though, oddly, the holes in it were a bit bigger). I didn't get a picture of the crumb--I forgot. It tasted reasonably decent with almond butter, but I'm still not sure what went wrong.

Maybe my commercial yeast is dying. Maybe my starter was too wet. Who knows what the problem was. I'll probably buy some new yeast and try it again when it's cool enough to use the oven. In the mean time, I think I'll make some more English muffins.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Dinosaurs Show their True Colors

Two articles came out recently in National Geographic that describe colors discovered by x-ray techniques of dinosaur fossils.

Archeopteryx, dinosaur that first solidified the genetic similarity between dinosaurs and birds, was not black as originally thought. It had a combination of black and white-- black on the outside of the feathers and white on the inside. Today's National Geographic article on the subject may be found here.

Depiction of Anchiornis huxleyi from National Geographic, 4 February 2010.
Scientists have been able to discern even more information-- a possible fully colored picture-- of the dinosaur Anchiornis huxleyi. According to National Geographic, it "looked something like a woodpecker the size of a chicken, with black-and-white spangled wings and a rusty red crown."

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Great Manuscript Heist

Usually it's a bad thing when people steal precious documents. However, this time, it saved hundreds of precious manuscripts. During the political unrest in Timbucktu, Dr Abdel Kader Haidara masterminded a gigantic smuggling operation that saved these precious documents from being destroyed in a fire set by the rebels. Instead of thousands, only a few hundred manuscripts were incinerated. It's a pretty cool story.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Pleistocene Park

So remember in Jurassic Park how they thought if someone uncovered dinosaur DNA we'd be able to clone dinosaurs? According to Jack Horner, that doesn't work. In fact, they actually tried it because some dinosaur DNA was discovered. But nothing happened. Instead, as I described previously, Horner argues that the way to reconstruct dinosaurs is to "fix the chicken." So far, scientists have managed to produce a chicken with teeth (although I don't think they've been able to reactivate most of the other dormant genes).

However, a new possibility for cloning and restoring extinct life has just arrived. Dinosaurs are just too old-- all we have left are fossils. We have bones (rather than fossils-- fossils being rock deposits that slowly take the place of bones) from the Pleistocene Era (which includes the last ice age). And now, we have a lot more than that. Scientists have recently uncovered a frozen mammoth that still has blood in it's veins. This means that we can learn more than ever before about these creatures, but it also means that there is plenty of DNA. And, if scientists can re-germinate a plant from 32,000 years ago, then there's a good chance that they can grow a baby mammoth. Maybe in the next 50 years, they'll make a Pleistocene Park.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

How to Procrastinate Like a Winner

As I've mentioned previously, I tutor a few different high school students. One of my students is a very talented artist. She sometimes sketches while we're talking and I've seen the oil paintings she does in art class-- they're really amazing. Since she's a primarily visual learner, she decided to make a visual study guide for her history final (instead of writing her English paper as she was supposed to). I'd never seen her comics before, because I've only seen her doodles (portraits) and her art projects from classes, but I think she has a promising comic style (the drawings are consistant and she's quite witty).

Just to give you a taste:
The rest of the comics can be viewed here.

Unfortunately, for the grand tradition of academic comics (such as the Introducing Series, etc), she wants to be a doctor. Maybe she'll write Introducing Bioethics.