Monday, 25 October 2010

Fife Diet Membership Drive

Our first encounter with the Fife Diet was a news story forwarded to me by my brother just before Christmas in 2007. It was a BBC story about Mike and Karen Small and their attempt to eat an (almost) exclusively local diet for a year. We had a jolly good chuckle about it, and then - well - the idea grew on us. But it seemed so barmy - in Fife! A Sicilian local diet might be one thing, but Fife?

And then we got to think harder about the food available around us. We already had a veg box, so we knew there was plenty of good veg available all year around. Fife is an amazing fruit growing area, with soft fruit farms and the orchards of Newbugh giving the potential, with careful storage, for year-round fruit. The Farmer's Market gave us chicken, beef, lamb, buffalo, the famous Fletcher's Venison. There was new artisan cheese production at the St Andrew's Farmhouse Cheese Company. The Fife Diet had encouraged us to look up and see the abundance around us.

We signed up, got involved, and began to see the potential and the madness that constitute the routes between field and plate in this country. We could see wheat growing from our windows, but could not buy local grain or flour. It was simpler for us to get to Edinburgh to the Farmer's Market than to any of the Fife Farmer's Markets, except for the once a month Dunfermline one five minutes walk away. By what route did the eggs from neighbouring Perth get to our local Marks and Spencers? The Fife Diet sought to find ways to have a more sensible local food economy.

Having gone through the year of a strict Fife diet, the Fife Diet project now aims to encourage people to eat more local and sustainable food. There's a good page here on their site with practical ideas to help. They're on a drive to double their membership by Christmas. If you're living in Fife you can register as an Active Member. If you live elsewhere, but want to support the Fife Diet you can register as a Friend. Here's the place do it.

And here are some beautiful Newburgh plums, now transformed into spiced plums waiting to be enjoyed with our local Christmas dinner.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Migraine, and focaccia.

Yesterday's baking was a bit precarious what with one thing and another. I woke up about an hour before the alarm with a proper migraine - dodgy vision, consuming nausea and a jackhammer in the temples. I feared for my bloomers.

Luckily, it was short lived. I was able to drift back off a couple of hours later and was functioning again by 6.30. But now the baking schedule was out by 3 hours. What to do?

Well, we had two more pieces of good luck. First, it had been a very cold night and the starter I had left to ferment wasn't ruined, and second, a last minute canceled order meant that I could redo the schedule to reduce the number of oven loads. I figured this meant I might just get everything baked in time for delivery.

As it turned out, baking went a little better than expected. The bloomers came out looking nice:

and delivery was only slightly later than we had hoped. Also, we got an extra treat out of it. There was all that dough hanging around from the canceled order, you see. It spoke to me of foccacia. Simultaneously soft and chewy from its long ferment, and delicious with extra oil and salt:

The household portion didn't last very long.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Fleeting pleasures

This is something which doesn't come together every year, but when it does, it's blissful.

This Saturday there were cob nuts under our local cob tree. The unpromising location of this cob tree is a closely guarded secret - squirrels have spies everywhere! We managed to pick up a couple of pocketfuls which, after some pleasant tussles with an adjustable wrench (why don't we have a nut cracker?), yielded a good handful of fat, sweet kernels.

The previous Thursday there had been russet apples in our veg box.

The Anster we got at the last farmers market had not yet all been scoffed.

We had whey and chicken fat, the critical ingredients for making outstanding oat cakes.

And there you have it. I think these things come together about once every three years, and when they do they make a local, seasonal, delicious lunch I love.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Autumn Spices

It's starting to feel very autumnal indeed here in Fife: cold mornings, mists, beautiful leaves, and - yes - mellow fruitfulness. We went over to Newburgh to the Orchard Group's fruit sale on Saturday. Came back with a lot of apples and pears, including the amazing all-red (and that includes the flesh) Bloody Ploughman. We'll be having a busy week this week at home with apple sauce, dried apples, chutney, mulled pears to make. Oh, and a new try-out - bramley lemon curd. I'm looking forward to that on a bit of Sourdough. Makes the fact that the nights are drawing in so much that we can have candles lit at supper time a bit easier to reconcile myself to.

The bakery has also been embracing the autumnal with last week's special - spicy Currant Buns. Toasted with a great deal of butter they made a fantastic tea-time treat. I think freshly ground spices are the secret of these buns. The spices get ground in one of our Spong coffee grinders.

We have a Spong No. 1 (the littlest) for coffee and one for spices. I'm rather hoping that the larger capacity of the new oven will mean we'll have to invest in a whopping great Spong No. 4 to grind the spices. Spong grinders can be a little addictive.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

DDT calculations

Desired dough temperature (DDT) is just what is says on the tin. The temperature you want your dough to be. Different temperatures have different effects on the dough. Cooler doughs take longer to ferment and different temperatures favour different kinds of fermentation. Controlling the dough temperature is important a) so that you have some idea of when it will be ready to bake, and b) so that the baked loaf has the flavour and texture you want.

Bigger bakeries than ours employ provers and retarders which are essentially large and expensive temperature controlled cupboards. For us, and for home bakers, the best we can realistically hope for is to get the dough to the right temperature in the first place, and then to keep it there. In his fantastic book 'Bread', Jeffery Hamelman explains how to adjust the temperature of the water in order to acheive the DDT. The difficulty is how to account for the temperatures of the bakery (or your kitchen), the flour, the heat introduced by friction in your mixer and any preferments you are using, all of which can vary by 20 degrees between summer and winter, and different times of day.

Hamelman provides a very simple calculation to work this out (on page 383 in my copy). You first multiply the DDT by 3 (for straight yeasted doughs) or 4 (for doughs including any kind of preferment). You then subtract the temperatures of the air, the flour and the preferment (if you are using one). The remainder is the required water temperature.

I have been using this method for a while, pretty satisfactorily. Recently, though, with the arrival of colder weather, I have found it rather over-estimates the required water temperature and producing to too hot a dough. The reason is quite obvious: the initial multiplication step treats all the ingredients as if they had the same impact on the dough temperature, but they do not. For example, one might use twice as much flour as preferment.

So here's my contribution - a means of taking different ingredient quantities into account, whilst still being able to do the calculation on the back of a baking schedule.

First, one must estimate the relative number of parts of the ingredients which will contribute to the overall dough temperature. One might use 400g of flour, 300g of water and 200g of leaven for example: 4 parts flour 3 parts water, 2 parts leaven. Add all of these together to make 9 parts for the whole, and add one for the air temperature, making ten parts in all. We then multiply the DDT by the number of parts, so if we wish for 24C we have 24x10=240. We now take the temperature of each ingredient, and multiply it by the number of parts for that ingredient. If the temperature of the flour is 17C we do 17x4=68, and if the air temp is 15 we do 1x15=15. We then subtract each of these products from the multiplied DDT, i.e. 240-68-15 etc. This remainder must be accounted for by the water - but we have three parts of water, so we divide by three to get the actual water temperature. If the remainder was 120, we would do 120/3=40, and then use water at 40C. The original calculation produces a water temp of 46C.

To work it all out, I draw up a table like this:

Ingredient    Parts      Temp        
Dough           10    x      24     = 240
Air                 1      x     15       =  15
Flour             4      x     17       =  68
Starter          2      x     18       =  36
Water            3      x     40       = 121  

I start by determining the 'Parts' column, then multiply the DDT, and then take the temperatures in the middle rows. Lastly, I do the multiplications, subtraction, and the division to get the water temp. This method takes a little longer to work out, but so has so far produced much more satisfactory water temperatures.

Monday, 4 October 2010

North Queensferry Food Festival

Saturday found the Steamie Bakehouse at the North Queensferry Food Festival.

The Festival was organised by the North Queensferry Transition Initiative. Transition initiatives are community groups attempting to tackle the potential impact of peak oil and climate change at a local level. Food resilience (what happens if we can't rely on cheap imports any more) is a major part of the concern of most Transition initiatives. The great thing about supporting food resilience on a local level is that it tends to be a lot of fun. People get together to create community gardens, ecourage seasonal eating and create local food networks.

The Food Festival grew out of last year's Apple Day, and we were delighted to help with our strand of a local food network. We sold out of our bread (well, a couple of bits of Haggerty might have slipped home with me!) and enjoyed ourselves at the festival. The other exciting outcome for us was that we're pretty certain from the level of enthusiastic sign ups, that North Queensferry will be our first new Bread Club after the new oven is finished.

Somehow I managed to leave without getting any of the gallons of apple juice which was being pressed. I'll just have to go again next year.