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 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 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 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

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Solar Panels

When we decided to drop city life and retire to a farm in the country, our objective was to attempt to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. This meant growing our own food, reducing our energy consumption and overall reducing our environmental impact.

We quickly noticed that things were not going quite as well when we were determined to operate our own Tea Room from a renovated barn. Our electricity consumption was literally going "through the roof". Stove, oven and fume hoods all took up power and to this were added a bank of refrigerators and freezers...not to mention electric heating during cold weather.

We alleviated part of the problem by installing a gas water heater, but this did not go very far in reducing our electrical energy consumption. So this week, it was time to accomplish another major project: the installation of solar panels.

Last week we took delivery of the panels and this week was dedicated to installation. For the work, we approached a local provider called Lantmark Solutions.

Solar panels delivered...time for installation
Our barn is ideally situated with an inclined roof line facing south. The idea was to install a system of just over 10 Kilowatts over the majority of this roof. Based on our sun exposure and historical data, we believe that we can generate up to 7 Kilowatts of electricity, thereby cutting our energy consumption by up to two third.

At first, we were actually considering a completely "off the grid" set-up. This turned out not to be possible with a more significant ground based installation not to mention a major battery storage facility. In fact, it is the latter that prevented us from doing this. The amount, weight, cost and lifetime of the batteries made it an economically unviable solution. As such we opted for a "net meetering" concept whereby we feed all the electricity into the grid (via HydroOne our local service provider) and we are credited for this power generation against our monthly consumption from the grid. With this set up in mind, we believe that the system will pay for itself within 3-5 years.

So daring the cold weather and what could have been a very slippery roof, the Lantmark team went about the installation. The first step was the installation of support rails.

Braving the weather to install solar panel support rails.
Then it was a matter of installing the panels. Not only did we cover the entire south facing roof line, but we also covered portions of the roof facing west and east (the barn is T-shaped).

Installation of western panels.
The final installation is actually quite impressive. Now we wait for hook up to the grid via HydroOne.

West side of solar panel installation (accommodating shaded areas)..
South side installation.
In the meantime, we continued to do our work on the Tea Room Spring menu. This included experimenting with vegetarian pizzas, as well as pastries.

Roasted vegetable pizza with crumbled goat cheese...ready for the oven.
One success this week was a coffee cream meringue. The girls devoured it in 5 minutes and are determined to make it a Tea Room staple.

Doesn't look like much, but this coffee cream meringue seems to be a real success.
Finally, we also continued work on our gallery listing. This week, one of our favourite addition to the collection is a small cabinet vase produced by Daum Nancy, circa 1900.

Daum Nancy acid etched and enameled "Bleuets" pattern cameo vase

Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Week of Cooking

With a blistering cold outside, it was very nice to work on indoor chores this week. Most of this time was spent cooking and baking! However, unlike most families our purpose went well beyond the needs of our family dinner. Having a Tea Room means that we are constantly looking for the right menu. Implementing our policy of using local seasonal produce also imposes some important restrictions.

So the week for us was all about experimenting with new and old recipes to highlight both local products and our own farm produce. This went from the creation of new pastries to main dishes.

We started with our scones. We went as far as making a Kiwi raisin scone (of course using our own Kiwi berries which have been transformed into Kiwi raisins).

Kiwi raisin scones

We went on to rework our Madeleine recipe making them Almond flavoured instead of Lemon.

Almond flavoured Madeleines
We even started to rework our Lavender shortbread. Although a classic high tea sweet, some people do not enjoy such strong Lavender flavour. We toyed with this one quite a lot and we think we came up with the ideal solution. We had to have Lavender (we have so much of it on the farm now), but we broke it up a bit with a new flavour and created a French country-style shortbread.

French country-style Lavender shortbread
We're even considering new additions to our pastry, including profiteroles based on the classic French "Pate a Choux". Working with these and our own version of a pastry cream has proven to be a fattening experience!

These are simply "scrumptious"
Experimenting with our main menu items means that we have focussed on our pasta making techniques. We've created some home made noodles that are very versatile....although we did have to improvise when some of these proved extremely long.

Playing with home made pasta.
All in all, it has been a worthwhile week of experimentation...and eating! As we perfect our work we hope to use this blog as a forum to share our recipes.

Finally, being inside has also meant we were once again able to work on our art glass gallery Scholaert Cassel. Since our clientele is composed primarily of international collectors, it was time to set up a make shift studio in the old manor and to begin recording much of our inventory which is not yet posted on line.

Our " make shift" photo studio
As a result, we've now posted the first new addition to our on line Ruby Lane Shop in almost 2 years. It happens to be a beautiful American iridescent compote produced by Steuben in the very early part of the 20th century.

Steuben Gold Aurene Compote