Friday, May 5, 2017

Disappointment and Enlightenment

Ok, so my pea fortress has been successful, but it also clued me in to the real problem. Of the approxiamtely one jillion peas I planted (ok, probably more like 200. Not certain. Order of magnitude, anyway.) just 10 plants came up. Based on what I've since read, the most likely culprit for my absence of peas is probably the seeds rotting. Apparently if you plant them too early, they rot rather than sprouting. To work around this, presprout them in wet paper towels. Not airtight, leads to premature mold. Tried this and wow, now I have some peas sprouting. It might be a bit late for an amazing harvest, sadly. But next year, with the knowledge I've gained and the cages already set up, I should do well. Just a note, in the past I've gotten no peas sprouted, I think this was a mix of mostly rotting and the stragglers power-chowed by the groundhog. My old nemesis.

Other stuff - My first planting of seedlings went poorly. Only the San Marzano tomatoes survived. But they're doing well. Basil is coming up nicely. Second planting of eggplant, ground cherries, tomatoes (incl cherry tomatoes), and peppers. Planted zucchini last weekend in the community garden. Kale in the community garden survived the winter and is doing great - rest of the grean leafies died. I couldn't tell the difference between them much, I think I'll stick with kale.

Saturday, April 1, 2017


My history with peas has been more than a little rocky. First I grew regular peas and found that despite having lots of pea plants the return was just awful. Like a giant bowl full of pea pods would generate enough peas for a medium serving of peas for me. Lame!

So I decided to go all in on sugar snap peas. I had a season or two of happiness with them, but I always felt like I didn't get enough of them. We would have them with 5 or 6 meals, but then none to freeze, none to share. Then I entered the black hole of peas. The last three or four years I've either not planted any or not gotten any. Like, not any. I'm not sure if it's the woodchuck or the deer or the rabbits, but the plants are just disappearing.

So this year I built them a fortress. A castle. A stronghold. Forged from the mighty chicken wire left over from the giant tomato cage in the back yard, I built a crude structure over the peas. Certainly good enough to keep out rabbits. Not sure with woodchucks, but probably. Also doubles as support once the peas grow a little higher. And I planted quite a lot of them. Both in the small strip off the back deck and the longer strip on the side. Clearing the beds took some time and effort. But if I get a bumper crop of peas, I'll be amply rewarded.

Side "yard" planting

Backyard strip planting
Mal needs cash, so he has offered to clean up the rock garden. Once a huge bed of flowers, chives, and strawberries, seasons of neglect have left it full of weeds and even some saplings. If he can get it cleared out, I may try growing a ton of basil in there. May also try to get the strawberries up and running again. I bought some seeds. We'll see how those work out.

Bonus daffodil. Also gives some hint of the brush that fills the rock garden.
Getting the chicken wire gave me a clue how much of a mess the fenced in garden has gotten to be. I will clean it out a bit, I do want to get green beans going back there. If I had a nice couple beds of green beans, I could probably get enough to freeze, that would be sweet.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

More Seeds

Second batch of seeds set in a tray to germinate the 29th (first batch was the 25th). I have quite an array of peppers and tomatoes at this point. Also ordered some seeds - a couple stragglers I could not find locally - most notable Black Cherry and Sungold. Should be here early next week I guess? Anyway, The San Marzanos are starting to sprout. The other tray of tomatoes looks like a few on the cusp of sprouting. The peppers not so much.

Tasks for this weekend - start some snap peas in the back/side yard at home. Use some chicken wire to protect them from varmints. Get the community garden plot set up for zucchini. Way early, but if no more frosts I'm golden.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Seed Starting

Well, it's about that time. Maybe a smidge late to get my seeds started indoors. But no matter, I'll do it anyway! So I carefully lay out 200ish seeds in plastic take home containers on a nice wet paper towel to sprout. I want to be scientific about it, so I lay out ten of each seed, I want to see what percentage, if any, of my older seeds will sprout. I carefully lay them out in little lines on the paper towel. I rip one corner of the towel so I know which line is which seed. I write up legends for each tray of seeds carefully detailing which breeds and which years the seeds are from. I set them in a nice spot to germinate. Day two of the process, I knock over a broom and all three trays topple to the ground, seeds going every which way. *sigh* The peppers, fortunately, seem to have been less scattered, so maybe still have some idea which is which. But the tomatoes may be mostly hopeless. Plus side, they're all good. Minus side, if I end up with 10 cherry tomatoes and no San Marzanos, I will be one unhappy farmer.

Actually, taking a look at the trays, one is all San Marzanos, and that tray was largely unaffected by the incident. The tray of peppers is hopelessly scrambled though. Solution - plant all of them? Only need 40 or 80 buckets! Which might actually be doable. Probably not all of them will germinate though. The big catastrophe is the other tomatoes - Red cherry large fruited, Yellow pear, Rutgers, Mortgage lifter, and Brandywine. Hopelessly jumbled.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Survey Says...

Well, ok, they turned out pretty good. Perhaps a little soggy and not quite flaky enough, but very edible. There was a small amount of leakage, but not a vast sea of butter for me to pour down the drain which then requires me to do some plumbing work when it congealed (true story, that happened last time!).

Isosceles triangles, not right triangles.

Can you tell the difference between these two? Bottom pic is after 2.5 hrs of "rising"
Despite a long rise is a not crazy warm spot, they didn't rise at all. I mean look at them. Nothing. Crazy. Ever so, they puffed up in the oven nicely, so I'm not going to complain.

Not too shabby

Flaky, layered, but maybe not perfect. YET.
All in all a solid effort, but still needs a bit of improvement. Another error, I had them in the oven for 5 min before I realized I hadn't done the egg wash. Doh! Perhaps bake slightly longer, but they were already so brown I didn't want to. Lowered the temp to 415°.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Complaint and a Screw Up

The new recipe suffers from the same issue with the butter-dough geometry that annoys me. This one is even worse - the butter would be outside the dough. Well, whatever, I rolled it out larger than they suggested.

I'm doing the three day prep, that'll actually work nicely with us getting fresh croissants for dinner tomorrow and then somewhat less fresh croissants for breakfast Tuesday. I think I might even use them for lunch bread. It's going to be a mixed bag of lunch breads this week! Today I made the normal no knead dough recipe but I just wadded the dough into little balls, flattened them out a bit and baked them for a while. They made amazing slider rolls. Crusty, but not too much, nice light crumb. Is there nothing the no knead recipe can't do?

Anyway, my big boo boo today in the lamination was to not rotate 90° on the second roll and tri-fold. Ooops. I suppose it's not hyper-critical. That plus the bread flour dough make two strikes already. Hopefully I will finish flawlessly.

Plus side - didn't see any evidence of butter streaks near the surface this time. Cool. Also used Finlandia butter, not sure if it will make a huge difference from Keller's.
Dough rolled out larger than the recipe called for

My butter "square"

Bonus pic of no knead slider rolls from standard no knead dough

Saturday, March 18, 2017

New Recipe

New recipe courtesy of my chum Percy - . Whipped up the dough, letting it sit overnight in the fridge. One fail - I didn't have all purpose flour so I used bread flour.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Results, Croissant run #3

Ok, so they turned out better than I had expected. I checked on them 10 minutes through the bake and saw them boiling away in a giant puddle of melted butter. Doh, I guess butter containment was somewhat less than 100%. So I took the tray out of the oven and slowly and carefully poured off the butter ocean. Popped them back in and voila. The recipe said 20 min, but that was woefully inadequate, took 30. Even then could have stayed in a bit longer. Otherwise pretty good. Very flaky, very buttery.
Roll them dough
Cut into triangles

Rolled into crescents
Ok, maybe not too bad

Cross section

So flaky
Leftover dough rolled into a chocolate croissant

Chocolatey inside

Sunday, March 12, 2017


So the recipe is a little flaky (sweet pun there, did you see it?). It clearly calls for a 17 cm by 17 cm square of butter in Step 5. It also calls for rolling your dough into a 26 cm by 26 cm square. I hate when it asks you to roll something out into a square. It doesn't want to be a square. Anyway, they then lay the butter on the dough and it looks like this...
From the recipe website
Ok, fine, the butter is in the middle of the dough, big margin all the way around. Cool. Only given the dimensions they state for the butter pat and the dough "square", it would actually look like this...
Simulation of the geometry given their numbers
So, yeah. Looking at their Step 7, it seems the dough is more like 32 cm+ on a side, assuming that rules is ticked off in cm. Anyway, I dealt with the discrepancy by rolling my dough flatter, into a bigger square. I suppose that's what they did as well, though that's not what the directions say. Anyway, the important thing is that I seem to be on the right path so far.

The only other hiccups are a couple little, shall we say, nurdles, in the dough - little tiny pieces of hard dough from my work surface that have stuck to the sheet. I don't really want to pick them out lest I puncture the sheet. Maybe it's not big deal and they won't be noticeable in the final product.

Oh, and I saw a stripe of butter that has possibly broken through the dough.That's probably a bigger boo boo. I folded the dough so it's on the inside, maybe it will be ok.

The dough feels pretty good. I think the consistency is right. I guess we'll see how it turns out.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Croissants, The Beginning

So I finally found the time, well, ok, carved out the time, to work on croissants. I followed the recipe in . First I made up the dough. I did follow the recipe properly and use unsalted butter for both the dough and the butter slab. I don't always do that. For the dough, I did heat up the butter in the microwave - it was perhaps half melted and half soft. I didn't have too much choice as at "room temperature" in my cold-assed house the butter was still very firm. I assumed that 140 ml of milk weighed 140 g, which is not quite accurate, but pretty close. At any rate I added a splash of water at the mixing phase because the dough was too crumbly. I did not have "fast action" yeast, I hope "active dry" is similar enough. I did not have caster sugar, I used granulated. Here's the dough at the end:

My less than smooth dough
It could have been made smoother, but I feared that additional mixing in the KitchenAid with the kneading hook would make it harder to work with, as the recipe warns.

The butter was a much more challenging task. I cut it into slabs and rolled it between to sheets of waxed paper. The waxed paper tore twice and have to be replaced. The square is not perfect, but it's pretty close. I hope that's not critical. I still see seams in the butter between the butter slabs. Assume those will be ironed out in the end.

My less than square butter square
Dough and butter resting in the fridge overnight.

Friday, February 10, 2017


Honestly the ciabatta experiment never really took off. The first attempt, while not perfect, was completely acceptable. And figuring out where to improve proved difficult.

Flirted briefly with tortillas. Again, first one came out pretty good - better than store bought.

The new hotness is danish (and maybe ideally croissants). The boys love danish, though rarely have it. And it seems like an impressive baking achievement. I have already tried to make croissants twice. Both abject failures. Not like, "well, it ain't pretty, but it's tasty" failures. Not like, "something is a little off" failures. Just complete fails. Terrible heavy lumps of inedible dough in pools of melted butter. Grotesque mockeries of croissants. It's time to figure out laminated dough.