Sunday, March 25, 2012

Homemade Bitters - Infusing the Ingredients

Bitters Part II

After some discussion with my friend Ben, who's been involved with some people making their own spirits and reading various recipes, I've decided to begin my Bitters by infusing the various herbal ingredients I purchased at Kalustyans in individual vials in grain alcohol. I found a blog by Jamie Boudreau called Spirits and Cocktails he gives a concise explanation of what bitters are and how to make them. What impressed me most about this blog was how to control the flavor of your bitters. Each ingredient will release it's flavor at different rates and you don't want one herb over powering the rest. This is what lead me to using individual vials for each ingredient. He also gives two recipes, one for Cherry Bitters and the other for Bokers Bitters. I highly recommend reading this blog, it's got some great cocktail recipes on it as well. It looks like he also opened a bar in Seattle in June of 2011

I used some of the ingredients listed in the recipes on Spirits and Cocktails along with the ingredients my friend Ben gave me and went shopping at , Kalustyans hahahaha ~ it's hard not to buy more than you came for. This is a great place to get a vegetarian lunch, upstairs they have a cafe. Here you can find 100's of types of hot sauce, dozens of bottles of bitters, 100's of herbs in various sizes, dozens & dozens of different types of rice, the best pine nuts you can buy anywhere, homemade hors d'oeuvres  size vegetable samosas, dry chili peppers, oils, beans, grains, specialty flours, citric acid, tapioca and other additives for all kinds of things, incense, soaps, candy and sweets etc etc etc.

I purchased 8 different ingredients: Calamus RootCinchona Bark , Wormwood,  Quassia chips , GentianDandelion Bark , Sassafras Root , and Elderberries.  I chose the first 5 ingredients because I found them either listed in bitters recipes I found online or as an ingredient listed on some of the dozens of bottles of bitters sold at Kalustyans. Most of these ingredients also have historical medicinal properties and great bitter flavors. I bought the dandelion because I thought it might be a good flavor, Sassafras because I like root beer and some bitters have a coffee like flavor but I didn't see anything with Sassafras in it. Over the past 4 years when I feel a scratchy throat coming on Elderberry aka Sambucus Syrup to be the best thing (along with Zinc lozenges). All winter I like to drink Elderberry leaf tea, whether it's psychosomatic or not I don't care, it makes me feel like I'm boosting my immune system (as any cold I feel coming on goes away within a couple of days). I also like the flavor a lot!

The infusion process has begun and as you can see in some cases the alcohol has already taken on the color of the herb within the first hour.

Before crushing grinding or just breaking apart, I tasted all the ingredients. It's amazing how different bitter can taste. Each one is special in it's own right.  I found that Quassia (the bottle in the photo with the bark looking stuff) tastes like Tonic. I have no idea if it's like quinine which is what gives Tonic it's flavor but I like it.

The process will be to shake each bottle every day for one week. Then using a dropper I'll see if I can taste whether each has been infused enough. At some point I'll strain each one. I'll have to figure out how to blend them but I'll figure that out after I strain them.
Stay Tuned......

Have Fun & Enjoy

Friday, March 23, 2012

Chocolate Chunk Cookies

If I could stay home all day today and not work I'd be blogging all day!  I still have to update my developing Bitters!! But right now I can't wait before I go to work I must tell you about a great chocolate chip/chunk cookie recipe I found. BrownEyedBaker whom I must contact and thank profusely for posting this recipe.
It's chewy and soft and incredibly satisfying. I made 2 minor changes one was to chop my own chocolate because I didn't have chocolate chips in the house. I used Trader Joes 72% the other was to scoop the cookies with an ambidextrous ice cream scoop because I like the look of uniform cookies and it's faster and easier for me. I don't press them down at all. I leave the balls to melt in the oven and they come out fine for me.

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chunk Cookie Recipe
Adapted from the Brown Eyed Baker's Blog who found the recipe on page 434 of Baking Illustrated.

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip/Chunk Cookies

Makes about 18-24 large cookies.

These large cookies are chewy and thick, and just what I was looking for. Unlike the recipe on the back of the Toll House bag, these cookies aren't greasy but they have all the flavor you desire.. They rely on melted butter and an extra egg yolk to keep their texture soft. These cookies are outstanding served warm from the oven but will retain their texture for days even when cooled. For the best results bake them in batches and cool the cookies on the baking sheet. 

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons (10 5/8 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled until warm
1 cup packed (7 ounces) light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups of chocolate chips (1 bag) or about 1/2 a pound chopped

1. Adjust the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. I don't recommend using cooking spray unless you don't have parchment paper.
2. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl and mix together with a whisk; set aside.
3. With an electric mixer, mix the butter and sugars until thoroughly blended. Beat in the egg, yolk, and vanilla until combined. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed just until combined. Stir in the chips to taste.
4. The original recipe says: Roll a scant 1/4 cup of the dough into a ball. Hold the dough ball with the fingertips of both hands and pull into 2 equal halves. Rotate the halves 90 degrees and, with jagged surfaces facing up, join the halves together at their base, again forming a single ball, being careful not to smooth the dough’s uneven surface. Place the formed dough balls on the prepared baking sheets, jagged surface up, spacing them 2 1/2 inches apart.

I think it's much easier to scoop the cookies using a 1/4 cup scoop or larger. You can judge the cookie doneness based on the size you make and the temperature of your oven.

5. Bake until the cookies are light golden grown and the outer edges start to harden yet the centers are still soft and puffy, 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking time. Cool the cookies on the sheets. Remove the cooled cookies from the baking sheets with a side metal spatula.

Please check other recipes on the BrownEyedBaker Blog !  I'm looking forward to trying The Chocolate Babka Recipe !

Have Fun and Enjoy!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sourdough Starter ~ Cold Weather

I've added the tiniest pinch of dry yeast to my starter. It's been fed about a dozen times already. I've made 2 batches of pizza dough with it and I've got 2 new doughs in the fridge and I'm about to feed it.
I start with 1 part of the starter, throw the remainder away and wash the glass container.

Then I add the starter I've saved and add 2 parts of water to this.
I then add a little more than 2 parts of flour and mix it all up, cover it with plastic wrap and let it sit out until I see foamy yeasty bubbles in the mix. Now it's ready to use.

You can make your own starter but you can also get a small amount of an existing one, just like I did, and eventually make it your own. It becomes your based on the wild yeasts in your kitchen as well as your water source and the quality of the flour you feed it.

The 2 batches of pizza dough I've made will sit in my refrigerator for 4-5 days.  During the summer using the starter not fed a tiny bit of dry yeast, the dough is ready in 3 days. I suspect during the colder months it may need a 4th day and possibly a 5th day. Keep in mind that during the hottest days of summer I let the dough sit out for a minimum of 6 hours before cooking it and it was fantastic. But letting the dough sit out for a longer period in the colder months has not yielded similar results. Hence my experimentation with dry yeast and longer fermentation process.

Have Fun & Enjoy

Friday, March 9, 2012

Making Bitters at Home

Oh, it's been a busy time and I should have been writing since January but I've been remiss. Now I'm finally getting down to making something I've been talking about for a long time, Bitters. I'm so excited about this I want to share the experience.
I like cocktails that are on the bitter side. I've always been partial to drinks made with Tonic because I like the taste of Quinine. Over the years I've enjoyed mixing drinks and making girly cocktails ~ ones that sort of hide the flavor of the alcohol or mute it so the drink is easy on the palate. I've been fascinated with bitters and making a drink for myself that wasn't sweet but also hid the harsh flavor of alcohol. Then a friend turned me onto the Negroni and I was hooked. My interest in making bitters had a fire lit under it!

It all started most recently (around the holidays), then about 6 weeks ago to be more exact. I was experimenting with making the perfect Negroni (for myself that is~ and that I would share with my Velvet Chef friends). So I set out to buy the ingredients. The NYTimes published the best Negroni Recipe which in a nutshell calls for 1 part Campari, 1 part Carpano Antica the Sweet Vermouth, and 3 parts Gin. I modified this (which I'll get to later) but didn't get around to adding the twist of orange or lemon which is what brings me to today. You see I wanted to add some home made bitters. A friend of mine who owns the most beautiful Stereo Store in New York City makes his Negroni with just a touch of bitters and it's divine.

It began about 3 times a week as I sat down with dinner and what I thought was just a little taste of a Negroni. It was an arduous trial I tell you, teeheehee. Getting drunk at home with my dinner just after the first drink but tasting 2-3 drinks every time. It got to the point that if I was going to work the next day I just had to try only one. For some reason I just couldn't make them small enough.

I finally made the drink though don't quote me on this because I was so drunk I sort of lost track.
a touch less than 1/2 part Campari
a touch more than 1/2 part Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth
a touch more than 1 part Gin
Just combined and served over ice.

This was really just personal taste I found the Gin a little over powering in the NYTimes recipe. I didn't experiment with different Gin, I used Sapphire.  I really like the taste of the Carpano Antica it's expensive but worth it and the bottle is so big it's going to last a long time.The Campari can be a little over powering and sweet so don't use too much.

I'm so excited to begin and let you know how it all comes out. You see I've been talking about making my own bitters for a long time. I've had huge success with making my own Vanilla extract~ I haven't bought vanilla extract in close to 15 years. I think I can handle making my own bitters too!

Right now today I'm about to embark on a shopping spree with my list for making bitters. I've started by reading SpiritsandCocktails blog he tells a little about what bitters are and lists a couple of recipes.  I've got a list of ingredients I have no idea what they really are or what they taste like such as : Quassia and Calamus and Catechu (from the recipes)  among other ingredients I am going to purchase at Kalustyans.

Then I'm going to tell you about the chewy chocolate chunk cookies I make and the chewy fudgy brownies I'm going to make!!! YAY
Have Fun and Enjoy!