Wayward Ham

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    Sunday, 24 May 2020 11:01
    Monday, 18 May 2020 02:49


    I think I need to create a section called "Rens corner", but she only made some non-committal noises when I asked her if she'd be interested. However, despite the fact that I didn't actually do this, I feel I can add a little bit of wayward experience, and advice.

    Back to the pretzels...

    When most people think of bread, and they think of loaves, or flat breads, or even rolls in one form or another. However, outside of Germany, pretzels often fall somewhere off the "mainstream bread" track.

    I think pretzels in Australia (and perhaps other countries as well) are often mistaken for the ones found in the potato chip aisle at your local supermarket. These are quite a bit different to the true fresh bread-like pretzels that are so popular in Germany.

    If I had to put pretzels in a "bread category", I'd probably be putting them into the same category as the humble bagel as both are boiled, then baked. So if you like the idea of a salty, freshly baked bagel, then real pretzels are probably appealing to you.

    Ren arbitrarily decided to make fresh pretzels yesterday as I was out in the workshop, so there weren't any photos of the process. Sorry.

    Side note: This is actually the first dough to be proofed into our recently emptied, defrosted, and retrofitted freezer that has been (temporarily) converted into a much larger bread proofing box and occasionally, higher temperature cheese cave. So I'm going to guess that testing the setup was part of her motivation... but it is weird to think we proofed our dough, which is usually best done at around 25oC... in a freezer. (Don't worry, I'll add another article about this conversion).

    So I came back in from my workshop to be hit by the smell freshly baked pretzels all cooling on a wire rack. Let's just be clear here, having poor impulse control when it comes to eating freshly made bread, I tried help myself to a pre-dinner snack.. but was thwarted by the rather unexpected security system....

    Those pretzels had fused to the rack, and were having the kind of issues "letting go", that some Jewish mother friends of mine have. Their words, not mine.

    In fact when slowly prised away from the rack, the non-stick coating was attached to the pretzel, rather than the rack... since I don't think non-stick coatings are healthy to eat, I simply opted to cut the pretzel away from the rack, and leave the base still attached to the rack, ready to be soaked and scrubbed away later.

    I don't know if it was the fact that I was really hungry, or the fact that it's pretzel-based deliciousness, but I was going to have a second one, no matter how hard it was stuck on. I guess I looked weird muttering again to the pretzel/cooling rack, sometimes gentle words of encouragement, and other times, using scarier-than-average knives.

    All in all, the humble pretzel is a delicious alternative in bread making that is great as a treat now and then. However, I strongly recommend that you use baking paper during the cooking and cooling stages to avoid similar problems if you want to try to make some.

    The recipe Ren used...

    Ren used the pretzel recipe found in "Germany" recipe book, part of the "Gourmet Pilgrim" series. Which is one of the few recipe books that comes shipped in a biscuit tin. The book is actually an interesting read, and shows you how to make foods found in various regions of Germany, a bit of history and culture is thrown in there too. In all of this self-isolation, perhaps a book like this is a good idea to others.

    More information about the book can be found here:


    Unfortunately, due to copyright, I can't share the recipe with you. However, there are plenty of freely available pretzel recipes out there on the web for you to try.

    So when making breads, don't limit yourself to what you think is "normal". Try the breads and treats made in other countries, and see whether or not you can avoid certain sticking situations I had to deal with.

    Stay safe and happy baking!

    Ham (and Ren by proxy).

    Tuesday, 05 May 2020 11:53

    A sous vide machine is something that may seem excessive or complicated at first but well worth the investment. I honestly think is one of the greatest things to have for a reasonably serious cheese maker. If you make cheese, you don't want to over shoot, or drop below desired temperatures, frantically adjust, then forget an important step, all because you're stuck trying to control the temperature of your milk. Imagine how much more time consuming it gets when you make two ore even three types of cheeses all at once. With sous vide devices in place, you simply set it up, turn it on, and get on with the actual cheese making.

    Star Wars and bad puns...

    I don't know if anyone particularly cares about "Star Wars Day" (which for people who haven't a clue, is "May 4th"). It comes from the Star Wars quote:

    "May the force be with you" (just exchange the word "force" for "fourth")

    However, being a bit of a nerd myself, with that pesky I.T./Scientific Instruments/Drone company career, years upon years working in academia, and living on campus for over a decade (as a staff member) I really didn't have much chance in nerdiness stakes.

    So how do I celebrate a fictional holiday for a fictional story? No, not buy buying a light sabre. Although, I decided I'd buy something that's shiny, somewhat cylindrical, and capable of burning flesh, and that is....

    By literally buying my fourth, sous vide machine on May 4th. To increase my functional cheese making capacity (factually) by a third over my previous capability.

    Sounds almost like a tongue twister, doesn't it?

    Sous Vide Explained:

    It has come to my attention that I really haven't given much explanation about what a sous vide is. Sous vide is a french term (Pronounced "Sue-veed") that translates as "under vacuum". It's a rather unusual way to cook things, that is becoming very popular of late.

    The general gist is this. You stick a piece of raw meat (maybe with some herbs, spices and/or butter) in a vacuum sealed bag. Then put that bag in a bath of water and cook it in extra low temperatures (generally somewhere between 51-90C (or 125-199F) for a very long time.

    If barbecuing "low and slow" (low temperatures for a long time) produces a more tender meat at 110-120 degrees Celsius, (compared to higher temperatures), then sous vide takes this to a whole new level. In some ways, it goes beyond slow cooking. So if you want your meat to disintegrate into flavoursome tenderness on contact with your tongue, this is probably the way to go.

    While the meat is cooked to delicate perfection, the down side of this is that you don't get that browned "bark" in your meat, so sous vide steaks are often seared with a hot pan for a few seconds after cooking to get that delicious, almost charred effect. Also, you won't get any "smokey" flavour.. because nothing really got that hot in the first place.

    If you're wondering... "Aren't we in the cheese making section?"

    Well I use my sous vide machines somewhat differently, in that I use them to control the temperature when making cheeses.

    When I first learned to make cheese, the instructor assumed that everyone would have a very basic setup. Namely, a boiling pot full of water. If you are managing your temperature manually, when the bath water cooled down, you'd scoop water from the boiling pot into the bath to increase the temperature, and then scoop some of the cold water and put it back into the pot to minimise waste/stop overflowing.

    It works, but it requires constant monitoring. You'll literally spend all day, scooping water from the pot, to the bath, and back again. If you've got several cheeses to make, you really can't manage several vat temperatures all at once and still make that many cheeses without help.

    By using a sous vide machine, I can just set the temperature I want for each bath, and let it do the rest. Once you have one machine, you'll never want to go back to the manual control method.

    Sometimes I like to make a few different cheeses (each needing a different temperature) I'll run several vats with their corresponding sous vide machine controlling that temperature. Other times, I want to make a lot of the same cheese, then I need to run multiple vats with multiple machines at the same temperature to ferment an appropriate amount of milk.

    Other times, if the stove is busy, I'll stick 2 or even 3 sous vide machines into the one vat to rapidly increase the temperature of my water bath. This can be very handy when making cheeses that involve cooking the curds. You need the milk temperature to rise by roughly 1-2 degrees Celsius per minute, and that gets hard for larger vats of milk. However, the stove and a very large saucepan/stock pot is still going to be a better method for rapid heating.

    Anyway, when this fourth one arrived at my door step, I was a little surprised when I opened it. The plug was clearly not designed for Australia. This particular one was a 220V model, but came with a European plug. You can get an adaptor, but when I have so many fluids around, I prefer to use an appropriate power plug, so my plan for May 6th or for another Star Wars pun, "Revenge of the Sixth" I got the plug converted to an Australian one.

    Now it works really well!

    So if I use four, 12L vats to culture my cheeses, heated by four sous vide machines. I can handle up to 48L of milk in any given session. Depending on the type of cheese(s) made, I can get a yield of 3.5-5Kg of a low-yield cheese like Parmesan, or up to 7Kg of Brie, perhaps somewhere around 10-12Kg of "fresh" cheeses like cottage or cream cheese.

    I have no idea what I would do with 10+Kg of cottage cheese... I'm more likely to make Parmesan, Halloumi, Cheddar and a small amount of Quark all at once. Simply because they stagger the finished time well, and can be used in a variety of differing meals.

    Anyway, I hope you are safe and well out there! I think I need to plan my next cheese making session!


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