Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Our First Week Open

The opening of the Tea Room this week has kept us quite busy. It was however quite fulfilling to see our new high teas served for the first time this year. Also, now that the Tea Room is licensed, we were pleased to see a few people enjoying the afternoon on the veranda while sipping a glass of wine (we actually feature the local wines of Henry of Pelham).

The first High Teas of the season
We were also quite pleased with the popularity if our seasonal desserts. With Maple season in full swing, this week, we have focused on a new pie: Maple Syrup, which we also provided as tarts for our High Teas.

A Quebec tradition: Maple syrup pie
Meanwhile our "gateau" has been a carrot cake with a twist (combining coconut and raisins).

A carrot cake with a coconut twist:
The quiches have turned out very well as well. The key ingredient turns out to be a local artisan cheese: Comfort Creme by Upper Canada.

The vegetarian option: Comfort Creme and baby spinach quiche
Meanwhile on the farm things continue to progress. Primarily, this has entailed recovering maple sap for our own syrup production. However, we now have to look at our old grape vines which need pruning. Now that most of the snow has disappeared, they are finally accessible.

Finally accessible, the old Concord Grapes are due for pruning this week.
We'll end this week with a quick update on the latest project: our implement shed. This week the concrete pad was poured and we now have taken delivery of the lumber. This building will up up in a rather short period of time, then we can begin to work on our old barn.

The implement building is rapidly progressing.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Tea Room Opens: March 21st!

We've not been regular in logging over the past few weeks. The main reason is that both the cold and the snow meant that most of our work was mundane. In fact, we've been entirely focused on the opening of the Tea Room this next weekend. This has meant cleaning, resurfacing the Tea Room kitchen floors, taking in new inventory, and even moving in new equipment.

Getting ready for a lot of canning...a long awaited glass container shipment
Re-surfacing the kitchen floors...it's amazing the wear and tear on a professional kitchen
All of this activity was necessary since we have decided to open the Tea Room for its new season: March 21st (that is this coming Saturday!).

This week however, we were also very pleased to see the day time temperatures climbing back to above 0 Celsius.  This meant we could finally return to working on the farm. Our priority of course was the Maple syrup.

Although we do not have many trees, we produce enough of the syrup for the Tea Room and our market. Our few trees are all Sugar Maple and their sap is intensely sweet, producing a very high quality syrup. So it was clearly time to get back to our trees.

The rather painful and exhausting first trip to the Maple trees

Now we've already started the evaporation process and look forward to producing a lot more of our clotted cream, maple fudge.

Starting the evaporation process....soon our first  2015 batch of Maple syrup will be ready.

The thaw has also given us the opportunity to start on this year's major project: Phase 2 of the barn renovations.

In the back of our barn, we have an ancient dilapidated structure where we house a lot of our equipment. We will be taking this down and refinishing the walls of the barn and the interior lower floor. In order to do this, we need an implement building somewhere out of the way, yet convenient enough to be accessible year-round.

We decided to build this small structure down the farm not too far away from our "Beaver pond" and next to our Kiwi rows. This week, the beginnings of the foundation were finally started.

The first step to our barn renovation...a new implement building.
We'll end this week's blog with our latest wildlife pic. We've not seen them much this Winter, but we were really glad when a small herd of deer visited us one morning. Truly Spring is on its way.

The deer are back...Spring is on its way!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Clotted Cream

In our past travels, we spent quite a bit of time in the UK. We quickly learned to love the British countryside, the pubs, the cricket matches (along with a few pints) and of course afternoon tea. It is the latter that introduced our family to a real English culinary delicacy: clotted cream. Clotted cream is a "must" for scones and tea and yet is not readily available in North America.

This week, we decided to make our own...and it's the easiest thing to do (although a bit expensive when all things are considered).

Clotted Cream....where cream meets butter.
To start, we used 35% whipping cream which is readily commercially available here. It is really one of the highest fat content cream we could get our hands on.

We simply poured the cream into a shallow container so that we had as much surface area as possible and no more than 1 inch of cream in the container.

Pouring cream into a shallow container.
There is actually few steps to the recipe....you simply put this container into an oven (at 180 F) overnight. In our case, we let it sit in the oven overnight for 12 hours.

The result is a buttery crust that will form on the cream. At this point, you know things are done.

A buttery crust is formed after 12 hours.
All you need to do now is refrigerate the cream. It will solidify and then it is just a matter of scooping it all up. With our 35% cream, we still had some liquid left over.

Of course, having produced this clotted cream we had to make some of our very own Tea Room Raspberry Scones.

Clotted cream and Raspberry Scones....all that is missing is our farm's jam

Having clotted cream and scones is a natural....however, we wanted to take this a bit further and make something really special: a traditional Cornish Clotted Cream fudge with a twist: using our own farm Maple syrup (since we're already getting ready to tap our trees, hopefully next month).

To make this fudge, we simply combined:

225 g of our clotted cream
100 g of our Maple syrup
275 g of sugar
1 tsp of vanilla extract

Fudge ingredients are all combined in a saucepan.
All ingredients are combined in a saucepan and heated to a boil. At this point, a candy thermometer is essential. The idea is to bring the solution to 116 C.

Getting close to the magic 116 C
Once the desired temperature is achieved, the hard part begins. As the liquid fudge hardens, we continuously whisk away. We do this until almost impossible but to the point where we can still spread the fudge into a baking pan, lined with parchment paper.

Whisking the fudge as it cools
As the fudge solidifies it is just about ready to be transferred....

Spreading the fudge on parchment paper
Once it cools, the result is simply amazing.

We are not big fans of traditional fudge....it is usually much too sweet for our liking. This fudge however is just amazing. It does not taste as sweet as you would expect. On the other hand, it is incredibly creamy and simply melts in your mouth.

Cornish style Maple clotted cream fudge...well worth the effort
Finally, elsewhere on the farm, we are rapidly anticipating the coming Spring. Along with our growing waist lines :), we are also suffering from "cabin fever". The extreme cold and snow have prevented us from doing much on the land. We've even neglected our dome.

We decided to look into it this week, knowing that the temperatures in this greenhouse have gone to 0.

Our growing dome is looking like an igloo

Running the dome "off grid", we've now concluded that temperatures will always likely reach around 0 C in the Winter. This means that many crops will simply not survive. Our tomato plants for example are all  dead. There are a few things however that do seem to survive. In particular, cold hardy crops like Kale are still doing well.

In the Growing Dome, the Kale is still "alive"

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Making Bread

As we spend most of our Winter days experimenting with our menu, cooking and baking, we promised that we would share some of our more successful recipes.

This week we decided to share our bread making recipe. Although bread is commercially cheap, good bread is hard to come by and there is actually nothing more satisfying than making this culinary staple at home.

Our preferred method is a cold fermented dough. Although it takes time, we consistently produce a beautiful golden and crisp crust around a light spongy bread....just about as close as we can come to a European artisanal bread without having the same raw ingredients.

In fact, there are few ingredients to this recipe (it's all in the process):

  • 450 gm hard flour
  • about 300 ml water
  • 6 gm deactivated yeast 
  • 6 gm sugar
  • 8 gm salt
First we begin by activating our yeast. We combine it with some lukewarm water and the sugar, and let it sit for some twenty minutes. You will know the yeast is ready when bubbling occurs on the surface.

The yeast is alive and ready!
If there are any changes we will likely make to the recipe, it will be at this point. Ultimately we would like to work with live yeast. We strongly believe that the yeast makes a substantial difference to the taste of bread and in a lot of cases, we believe it is the most important ingredient that distinguishes our north American bread from the European artisanal breads.

The next step is to combine the salt and flour into a mixing bowl. We use hard flour because it has a higher Gluten content. Gluten is a Wheat protein that helps bind the flour when processed.

To make our dough, we use a small Kitchen Aid mixer with a hook attachment. Once the salt and flour are mixed, we add the yeast and slowly introduce the water.

Adding water to our yeast and dry mix.
This is a critical step. Depending on the humidity in the environment and the amount of water used to activate our yeast, the actual volume of water added can vary. The objective is to have a dough which is not too wet or not too dry either. After a few trials, we've determined that we can do this by eye and touch. We end up waiting for the dough to form in a nice ball around the hook of the mixer.

The dough is just about ready to pull from the mixer.
At this point, we prepare an oiled bowl, place our dough in it and let it rise over the period of an hour. In this time frame, it will relax and almost double in size.

Our initial dough from the mixer.

After an hour it is almost double in size.
At this hour of resting, we take our dough and place it on a floured surface. We deflate it (by effectively punching it with our knuckles).

Deflating the dough.
We then fold our flattened dough four times and return it into a ball to bring it back into the original bowl.

The bowl is covered and the dough is set to rise again at room temperature for an hour. We then place the entire thing in a refrigerator for at least 14 hours.

Slowly fermenting at cold temperature for at least 14 hours.
Covering the dough is important. This can be done using plastic wrap or a wet cloth. If this is not done, the dough will form a crust and will be harder to work in subsequent steps.

Beautiful bread dough ready to work again after cold fermentation.

After cold fermentation, we take the dough out of the bowl and place it upside down on a floured surface (the dough will have developed a "skin" on the top and it is this "skin" which will be facing the floured surface). The bottom surface of the dough will be "wetter' and you can already start to see the creation of bubbles by the yeast which is now live.

At this point the entire dough ball can be used for a large bread or it can be cut or split in two for two medium sized loaves.

Splitting our dough to make two loaves.
Once the dough is split, we once again deflate it and fold it four times before making another ball. We let these rest for 45 minutes (always covering our dough when letting it rise).

Getting ready to make two loaves.
After, the dough has risen again, we shape our bread. We tend to just roll them out and "seal them" with the heal of our palms so that the seal becomes the underside of the bread.

Our shaped dough
Once shaped, we allow the bread to rest again for an hour. Afterwhich, we use a sharp knife to cut a pattern on the surface of the bread (you can be quite creative at this point).

Scarring the surface of the bread.
We cook our bread in a pre-heated 500 F oven. However, it should be noted that we also pre-heat our baking sheet and we place our dough directly on this pre-heated sheet. This ensures a well-cooked and crispy underside.

In order to get a golden and crispy crust, we also use steam. In our Tea Room's professional oven, this is easy to introduce. At home, we actually put a water bath in the oven and when we are ready to bake the bread, we add ice cubes to the water bath.

The bread is usually done in 20 minutes. You will know the bread is done once you knock on the crust and hear a hollow sound.

Another nice loaf!
As indicated earlier, making your own bread is really satisfying. Whenever we bake ours, I have to admit... it does not last a day!

We'll close this week, with another installment of new art glass from the gallery. This time, it is a pink irridescent and signed Loetz, circa 1910.

Loetz pink iridescent "elephant foot" vase.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The French Macaron

As we work on our Tea Room recipes, one of the things we've come to realize is that we create a lot of egg whites. Since we produce things like our own home-made mayonnaise or pastry cream, we use a lot of egg yolks leaving us with the whites. Over the past few weeks, we've been figuring out ways to make different types of meringues, but one of the meringues we were determined to experiment with is the French "Macarons".

Having spent a lot of time in France, we have very fond memories of the Macaron. In particular, we remember many mornings spent at the Place du Trocadero, within minutes of the Eiffel Tower, enjoying these delicacies at a pastry called Carette. We were later to find them in Switzerland where they were called "Luxemburgerli".

The French Macaron should not be confused with what we normally call a Macaroon in North America. It is not based on egg whites with coconut. The French Macaron is a more delicate meringue made with Almond flour.

Our first French Macaron
This week was our first attempt to make them so we thought we would share our recipes as well as the various things that can go wrong when making these.

The French Macaron is a delicate meringue sandwich. The interior can be a variety of things but is typically based on a flavoured butter cream. Usually the meringue is coloured to indicate the flavour. The key to it all is the meringue itself, and this is what we concentrated on.

So here's the basic recipe:

  • 140 g of egg whites (we use a weight here since going by number of eggs could have an impact on the final product depending on the size of the eggs or the size of their yolks).
  • 80 g of caster sugar
  • 230 g of icing sugar
  • 120 g of almond flour (the most expensive bit in this recipe)
  • 2 g of salt
The process is straight forward, but there are quite a few tricks to pay attention to.

First you beat the egg whites with the caster sugar until they are stiff. You then add the icing sugar, salt and almond flour (making certain everything is well sifted). This is subsequently gently folded together. This is an important part of the process. Not folding all ingredients together well will not create a smooth "shell". Folding too much and the meringue will begin to sag and the macaron will cook flat.

Once the ingredients are well combined, we pipe the mixture onto a baking sheet. We then simply bake in a pre-heated 150 deg. C oven for about 20 minutes. The results are delicate cookie-like little meringues ready to form a sandwich.

Ready to be turned into delicate little sandwiches!
As you notice from the picture above, we discovered a few things in terms of what can go wrong in this process.

First, our objective is to create Ridge Berry Macarons (basically Macaron that highlight the various berry varieties on the farm, eg. raspberry, blackberry, haskap, black currant, etc.). To do this, the intend to colour and flavour the filling accordingly. As such, we attempted to colour these macaron by adding a food colouring. Our first mistake is that we added the colouring in the folding process. The results are the streaks like look like major cracks in some of the meringues.

Any dye or additional flavouring needs to be added when the egg whites are beaten.

The second problem is cracking of the meringue. This is avoided by slamming the baking tray down onto your table top to ensure the piped meringue is settled. Obviously in some cases we did not do this well enough.

Cracks resulting from not settling the meringue prior to baking.
 Finally, the easiest mistake to make is to take the Macaron out of the oven too early. Some Macarons may "peel off" the baking sheet rather well, but when they are taken out of the oven too early, you will find that for some the bottom will stick resulting in a disaster.

Just not yet fully cooked.
The ideal macaron peels off the baking sheet cleanly, has no cracks, retains a beautiful glossy shell and is not flat (it will rise with a "foot" on the base).

Just about right...although more of a "foot" would be nice.
In the end, we are quite pleased with the results....now it will be time to flavour these seasonally when we open the Tea Room. The likely first candidate will be a Maple Macaron (once we start tapping our trees this Spring).

Of course we did not stop at experimenting with Macarons. We also continue to work on our Pate a Choux. This week, it was time to extend our efforts by producing some Eclairs. We'll definitely share our recipes once we perfect this.

Our first Eclairs...not exactly great for the Winter waistline.
Finally. we'll close again this week with one of our glass gallery additions. This time it is a rather rare American piece produced in about 1920, in upstate New York by Steuben. The colour of the glass is called Plum Jade and it has been etched to produce the cameo of a Griffin. The pattern is called "Medieval".

Steuben Medieval Pattern Plum Jade Vase

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Ridge Berry Kiwi Wine - 2014 Vintage

Followers of the blog will know we have been experimenting with the production of Kiwi wines. Late last year we started the process with portions of our 2014 harvest. As we continue to equip ourselves with better instruments while scaling up our home-based production, we are also trying to tune the many variables involved in this process.

Using our new ferementer, one month ago we transferred our first 2014 batch into secondary fermentation. this week it was time to bottle.

First batch of Kiwi wine from the 2014 harvest
When we transferred the brew from the fermenter to the carboys, things were quite promising. We had a strong bouquet of Kiwi and a very sweet wine. we thought another month of fermentation would bring down the sweetness a bit, while clarifying the wine.

Tasting the results this week, we realized two things. First, the wine was not going to clarify very quickly and second, the wine was becoming a little too strong. As a result, we decided to bottle it.

In effect, we probably made a couple of mistakes. The most important is our ratio of honey to Kiwi. What we have today really is a medium to dry Kiwi mead, not really a Kiwi wine. The result is very drinkable, but we feel we can do much better, so this will call for another experiment where we alter our ratios somewhat. In fact, unlike our Raspberry melomel, the late harvest Kiwis are so sweet, we may be able to produce a wine with no honey at all.  

In any case, it was time to put some of our new equipment to the test. We washed and sanitized some bottles. Although we bought a batch, we've become great recyclers of wine bottles over the past 6 months (thanks to our August farm wedding, we recovered a good inventory).

A new pump and spray system with a drying rack really helps the sanitization process.
We then put our bottle filler to the test for the second time. This piece of equipment has made things significantly easier.

With our automatic bottle filler we avoid messes and improve efficiency
The final bit was corking and again our floor based model has proven to be most sturdy.

Corking our bottles with a sturdy floor based system
Finally, it was now time to rack the bottles in the cellar and to monitor how this brew ages over time. Meanwhile, we'll work on our "recipe" with another batch.

Ready for the cellar to see how it ages
While our Kiwi wine was the highlight of the week, we also continue to work on our Tea Room menu. In the past, one of the more popular items has been our seasonal home made soups. One of the issues here has been our stock. We have used a lot of home made meat based stocks. As a large percentage of our customers tend to be vegetarian, we decided that somehow we would have to produce a vegetable stock as our base.

As we have experimented with this, it turns out that making a hardy vegetable stock with deep flavours is not easy. After a few attempts, we found that the best approach and the real trick is to roast your vegetables prior simmering.

A new approach to our Tea Room soups: roasted vegetable stocks
Finally, the art glass gallery postings continue to be generated as rapidly as we can document each piece in the collection. It is difficult to pick our favourite for the week, however for this blog, we've decided to post a Bohemian piece. Circa 1910, this piece was made by Pallme Konig. It is a gorgeous iridescent vase with a pink amethyst base colour and applied vertical threading.

C. 1910, Pallme Konig vase