The “Tall White”

The “flat white” is apparently the latest espresso milk combo sweeping the nation after erupting out of its Australian borders. It basically sounds like a certain style of latte and not particularly a new drink.

I make cappuccinos and lattes relatively frequently. Despite the decent amount of milk it contains, my wife notes that her latte can sometimes seem a bit too “concentrated” for her tastes (which can include Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, for context). So I recently decided to combine an Americano and a latte for a watered down version of the latte.

The basic approach is to add two shots of espresso to about 4-6 ounces of hot water, then steam some milk and add it on top. This preserved the ability to execute some killer latte art while offering your more sensitive coffee drinkers a milder alternative.

Lye Bagels

After becoming comfortable making bagels using a baking soda bath, I noticed several comments online that “real” bagels are made with lye. Of course I had to try this. Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, a reasonable alkali that serves to help give bagels their characteristic crust and chewy texture. Lye is sodium hydroxide, a much stronger alkali, and a bit harder to find in food grade quality (though not that hard: Amazon has it).

The key is that you have to be a bit more careful. Lye can be quite caustic when concentrated, and most online resources recommend using protective equipment (at least gloves and some sort of eye protection). While the concentrations used for bagels are not as high as those used for pretzels, it’s best to play it safe.

So decked out in latex gloves and my largest pair of glasses, there I stood with an 0.8% lye solution boiling in a stainless steel pot on my stove (that’s 8g, or about one teaspoon, per liter of water). Following my usual recipe, I added the bagels for a minute, flipping them after 30 seconds. It probably ended up being a bit longer because of my efforts to be extra safe. The bagels developed a yellowish hue that they didn’t have after being boiled in baking soda.

I baked my usual 5 minutes at 500° F followed by 6 minutes at 450° F. As expected, the crust was considerably browner, due to the facilitation of the Maillard reaction by the lye. However, the bagels were also softer and end ended up quite chewy. I’m not sure how much was the lye vs a slightly higher dough hydration this time around. At this point, I’d say I prefer the baking soda version, but I plan to try the lye again in the future with a shorter boil and a longer cooking time.

Popcorn

To think I used to buy popcorn. It is fantastically simple to make, and tastes far better than the store bought stuff.

Here’s the basic approach. Add a few tablespoons of oil to a pot with a few kernels of corn. Set the heat on medium-high and cover. When you hear the first kernel pop, dump in a half cup of kernels and a teaspoon of salt. Shake the pot vigorously until the popping slows in a couple minutes. Quickly dump the corn on to a baking sheet to cool. To make kettle corn, just add a third of a cup of sugar when you add the kernels and salt.

I have found that coconut oil works particularly well, but any neutral oil should be fine. I picked up a Whirly Pop, which reduces the number of burned or unpopped kernels.

 

Chocolate almond oatmeal

The combination of chocolate and oatmeal seemed like it should be slam dunk, but my initial attempts were somewhat less inspired than the combination of two great ingredients would suggest. After some exploration, I tweaked some recipes to come up with this variant.

In a small saucepan, toast about two tablespoons of slivered almonds until they begin to brown, then set aside.

  • Add to now empty saucepan:
  • 1 cup milk
  • 40 g (½ cup) old fashioned oats
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa

Bring to boil and simmer for about 5-7 minutes until the mixture thickens somewhat. Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla and transfer to bowl, topping with toasted almonds.

The result was delicious and fudgy. Maybe a bit too indulgent for breakfast, but definitely a satisfying starting point.

No kneed bagels

I’ve become a big fan of no kneed dough, not because I have anything against needing, but because of the practicality of the approach for casual bread making. The emphasis on lack of kneeding is a bit misguided. The basic idea is that you prepare a relatively high hydration (ratio of water to flour) dough, use a small amount of yeast, and let the dough rest for an extended period of time to autolyse and let gluten develop.

My approach is to prep the dough the night before I need it and let it sit overnight at room temperature. My basic dough is:

250 g flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
175 mL water

The next day I shape the dough (I make 4 servings from this amount), let it rise 30-60 minutes, then bake.

I have used this approach for baguettes, pizza, and breakfast buns, but I wondered if the same approach would work for bagels. The answer is: sort of. I shaped the dough as best I could into a bagel shape (rolling it into a snake shape, then joining the ends), let it rest for 30 minutes, boiled for 1 minute per side, then baked at 500 degrees for 5 minutes and 450 for 6 minutes. The result was an ugly but passable bagel.

It lacked the chew and density of a regular bagel, likely because of the lower gluten content and higher hydration. However, it was certainly fresher and tastier than most bagel chains. I plan to stick with my conventional approach most of the time; but it is good to have this as a backup option.

Toasted almond oatmeal

You can’t say I don’t like my oatmeal.

Today’s variant is perfect for a cold day. It’s not, here (60 degrees for some reason), but what the heck.

In a small saucepan, toast 2 tablespoons slivered almonds over medium heat until starting to turn spotty brown. Remove to a plate or small bowl.

Add 1 cup of water to the pot and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. When water is boiling, add 1/2 cup old fashioned oats. Cook about 5 minutes until desired thickness. Add 1 tablespoon brown sugar and a 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Transfer to bowl, stir in almonds and enjoy.

Homemade bagels

For years, I assumed it would be next to impossible to make bagels at home. They seem like a specialized bread, and surely require some unusual equipment or extraordinary effort. It’s not like bagels are particularly expensive or hard to find. Why not just head over to the local shop and be done with it?

The problem is that bagel quality is variable. I don’t mind the local Bruegger’s when their bagels are really fresh, but it’s easy to end up with baker’s dozen that tastes like they were made the previous day. If, like me, you buy a dozen and freeze what you don’t eat, you’ll be stuck with mediocre bagels for a while.

It turns out making great bagels at home is not difficult, and a bit of effort guarantees high quality, fresh bagels. I adapted my current recipe from Peter Reinhart, who I have found fairly reliable for bread making.

This recipe makes 14 bagels.

Start by making a sponge. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix:
500 g bread flour
12 g vital wheat gluten
1 teaspoon instant yeast

Add to this 560 g of lukewarm water and stir until all the flour is absorbed. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for about 2 hours. The mixture should appear to slowly bubble.

Mix about a tablespoon of non-diastatic malt powder in a tablespoon or two of boiling water to make a syrup and add this to the mixer bowl (if your powder hasn’t clumped, you can add this to the dry ingredients below, but I find this technique is easier).

In another large bowl mix:
1/2 teaspoon yeast
470 g bread flour
12 g vital wheat gluten
1 tablespoon salt

With the mixer running at the lowest speed using the dough hook attachment, slowly add in the flour mixture. Continue to mix until all the flour is absorbed then crank it up to kneeling speed (2 on my Kitchen Aid) and let it work for about 6 minutes. The dough will be a bit tough and smooth, and a bit tacky but not sticky or wet.

Take out the dough mass and form 14 balls of about 112g each. I like to stretch the outer surface to the bottom and roll the ball a bit on the counter so it’s smooth. Cover with a damp towel for 20 minutes or so.

To form the bagel shape, roll the ball into a snake shape about 8 inches long, trying to keep the thickness even throughout. Take the ends and loop the dough into a circle, overlapping the ends by about 2 inches. Pinch the ends together so the seams are closed, then stick 2-3 fingers in the middle of the bagel and roll the outer edge of the bagel against the counter to smoothen the exterior. Rotate the bagel as you go so the thickness is as even as possible.

Transfer the bagels to two baking sheets lined with parchment. I usually spray my parchment with cooking spray so the bagels don’t stick. Cover the bagels with plastic wrap. Let the bagels rest at room temperature for about 20 minutes then stick them in your refrigerator overnight.

The next morning, preheat the oven to 500° F and boil 3 L of water in a large pot. Add 1 tablespoon of baking soda to the pot.

Add the bagels to the pot for about two minutes each, flipping then halfway through. Don’t crowd them too much: in my large Dutch oven, I can fit four at a time. While the bagels are boiling, scatter some cornmeal on their spot on the parchment so they don’t stick when you put them back. I find a skimmer a useful tool to transfer the bagels from the water back to the parchment without traumatizing them too much.

If you want to top the bagels with, say, sesame seeds, the best time is soon after they have come out of the water. Scatter some seeds on a plate and put the bagel upside down onto the plate to pick up the seeds (just scattering these on top tends to make them not stick very well).

Bake the bagels for 5 minutes. Rotate and swap the trays then turn down the heat to 450° F and cook at least 5 minutes more until the bagels are as dark as you like. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 10 minutes.

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