Saturday, February 28, 2009

third brew (african amber ale), part 3

The carboy has been exhibiting tiny bubbles collecting at the neck for days now, after racking and dry hopping on the 14th. I at last took a sample with the wine thief and measured the gravity at 1.016 at 68 degrees, so about 1.017 corrected. Clarity is outstanding, though there are a few small particles of hops that must have been dislodged as I nudged the cheesecloth out of the way.

In the hydrometer tube and then in a glass it continued its ever so slight bubbling, as if it had just a bit of carbon dioxide coming out of suspension. I guess that's what it's doing in the carboy as well. It doesn't seem like there's any way it would be active yeast producing the bubbles in the glass.

I'm very pleased with the flavor. It has a pleasant hoppy nose and a really nice balance of bitterness and faintly sweet maltiness. There really does seem to be a light carbonation. I don't think it's a dead ringer for the unfiltered Mac & Jack's but it's sure good, and a lovely color. Once it's ready for consumption I'll have to pick up a jug of the real thing over at the brewpub.

The final gravity according to the recipe is 1.018, so it's probably about done. This amount of bubbling has not been enough for me to see any airlock activity even when watching for minutes at a stretch. I'll probably measure again in a few days, but it looks like it's time to bottle.

Monday, February 23, 2009

sourdough bread 7

This bread followed the King Arthur Flour extra-tangy sourdough bread recipe. It's not all that much more work than what I've been doing, but it does require a lot more attention and wall time. I started early Saturday afternoon and it was coming out of the oven at about 16:00 Sunday.

The tang is theoretically enhanced because of the overnight refrigeration of the dough, which causes the production of more acetic acid in relation to the lactic acid. I'll have to do an experiment in which only half the dough is refrigerated. I did not find the bread to be much more sour than the others I've made. Perhaps my starter is just not all that sour.

This bread required kneading, which I'm beginning to enjoy. I baked it on a pizza stone, which seemed to work well.

The bread turned out great, despite my slight disappointment with the sourness. Matt and Katie were visiting. Katie proclaimed herself a bread connoisseur and expressed hearty approval. It's so light that it's difficult to slice! Despite the tenderness it does hold together well and would work for sandwiches. It's a fairly soft crust, although well browned and tasty.

Overall, a good recipe. I think next time I may dig out the Cook's Illustrated variation on the Sullivan Street Bakery no-knead bread and what I can do with using sourdough. As I recall it calls for a bit of kneading and perhaps some beer.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

espresso monkey roasting notes 3

On 2009-02-15 I roasted the last of the Espresso Monkey, only 6.31 ounces, looking for a lighter roast than last time. Very little wind, outdoor temperature 36 degrees F. To have more temperature control I did not use the shroud, and had a steady 525 degrees at 2.5 on the gas control.

I was successful in achieving lower temperatures than last time, and first crack was at about the same time, but progression was much faster with the reduced bean quantity. Second crack overlapped first, and was quite noticeable by 180 seconds, at removal. I ended up with another pretty uneven roast, but lighter overall. More bean mass would definitely help. A half pound or less in the popper just seems too volatile. Final weight was 5.26 ounces (83%).

Pulled two shots a day later. Now this is very interesting. It's almost all high notes, with just a few midtones -- a totally different palate feel and experience. I'll have to do some further tasting to refine my impressions, but there's nothing that I don't like. It's just lacking the deeper chocolate flavors. I used the second shot in a latte and found it to be very sweet and pleasant. It is dramatically different from the recent roast in the hot air popper.

Two more the next day. It seems to have become a little fuller in flavor, with nice body. This was a slower extraction than yesterday, though, so I can't be certain this is a good comparison. But I can say that there are circumstances in which I like this blend quite a bit.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

James Beard's Cuban bread

After turning to my sole baking book, Paula Peck's classic The Art of Fine Baking, for a little education, I decided to try the recipe for Cuban bread popularized by James Beard. It's a water bread (no fats) which means that it won't keep for more than a couple of days, but it freezes well.

It's a simple yeast bread: yeast, salt, sugar, water, and flour. The dough is kneaded until smooth and rises for about 40 minutes in order to double in volume. Then it is punched down, formed into three long thin loaves, and placed into a cold oven which is then set to 350. The loaves rise a bit more before baking for a total of about an hour. So, it's a pretty quick and easy operation.

The loaves are brushed with water before baking, so they look a little slimy.

I was very pleased with the result. Nice crispy crust, soft interior, and a mild flavor. A bit saltier than necessary. It's good plain, but very good with butter. I didn't make very uniform or attractive loaves, obviously.

The next day I took a foil-wrapped loaf to Dan & Sandy's for our belated post-snow Christmas. The crust was no longer crispy, but it perked up bit upon reheating and still tasted great. It was well-liked and worked very well for sandwiches of assorted meats and cheeses.

This photo is of the first loaf I sliced, which was both the smallest and not fully cooled, so it's a bit squashed. The larger loaf was a good size for small sandwiches when diagonally sliced, and had a slightly more open structure.

I believe this would be the proper type of bread for Cuban sandwiches although it does seem from this and other recipes I've seen that it should contain some lard.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

hot air popper roasting 3

Wanting to try the Espresso Monkey at a lighter roast than the stovetop popper roast, and not having tried the hot air popper for a while, I gave it a go this morning with 2.05 ounces and a pre-heated popper.

I heard the first pop at 2:10, then at a rate of one every few seconds at most, often with nothing audible for many seconds at a time. At 6:00 the beans were approximately cinnamon colored, at 7:00 approximately milk chocolate, then I removed at 8:00. There was still an occasional crack and jump in the bowl. Cooled in the freezer for a few minutes. Spreading in a thin layer on a sheet of foil works great.

I certainly got the lighter roast I was looking for. I ended it at the point where I wasn't sure it would get much darker and was concerned that it would just bake into flatness. Roasted weight was 1.69 ounces (82%). Particularly since the quantity is so small I'm going to let this rest until tomorrow before tasting.

Update: After resting for 25 hours I pulled two shots. There's subtle fruitiness and sweetness but with a surprising amount of bitterness as well. It's a somewhat chocolate-like bitterness, but there's also something harsher to it. These may be the "shart unpleasant notes" one is told may be possible if it rests for less than 36 hours. It seems somewhat muted, overall, without the dynamic range I'd expect from the lighter roast. That may be an artifact of the method. I'll be interested to contrast it with the second attempt using the stovetop popper.

Update 2: Another day of rest didn't improve it. The lingering aftertaste has a solvent quality that I dislike.

third brew (african amber ale), part 2

Today I racked the Mac & Jack's African Amber clone to a glass carboy and dry-hopped. The hops were 2/3 ounce Cascade at 6.3% alpha acid (the same as in the boil) for 4.2 AAU. I tied up the pellets in sanitized cheesecloth. I'm expecting them to disintegrate and collect at the bottom, though. And the neck of the 5 gallon carboy was awfully tight; I should research some techniques.

Filled the carboy all the way and had more than two quarts left over. Taking the primary up to 5.5 gallons and beyond wasn't necessary; there was no appreciable loss. I wonder why the recipe called for so much extra. I guess that means that if I'd topped it off at just 5 gallons the original gravity would have been a little higher: 1 + 0.062 * 5.5 / 5 = 1.068. If I weren't so far removed from undergrad physics I'd try to figure out what my error ranges are, but given the equipment I think they are significant. As I contemplate the points/pounds/gallon (PPG) numbers of the LME, DME, and my measured gravity after steeping, I'm now a little suspicious of that original gravity measurement. I think it's feasible only if the DME and LME both had PPGs at the very top end of what Palmer cites (p. 35). I haven't been able to find official figures for these products. I'm wondering whether I had a lot of hot and/or cold break in the hydrometer and that inflated the reading. Would it?

Gravity is now 1.016 at 70 degrees, so plus 0.0011 for 1.0171. That's below the 1.018 target already. Clarity is good. There's lots of suspended yeast still, but it's looking nice.

Well, it's just excellent! It's perfectly drinkable right now after only a week and without carbonation. It's very similar to the African Amber, all right. A bit of sweetness on the aftertaste. Very smooth, caramel-like maltiness. Pleasant bitterness with no bite. Not much hop aroma, but perhaps the dry hopping will do something there. I am very pleased at this point.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

coffee pot ale, part 5 (tasting)

Having bottled the coffee pot ale over a month ago I thought I'd give it a try. There was a fair amount of yeast at the bottom of the bottle. Opened with a slight hiss, poured with about three eights inch of head. Clarity is pretty good; I can read this text through the glass with some effort. Nice reddish hue.

It doesn't taste as weird as I expected it to. I mean, it's entirely recognizable as beer. It's a bit malty with a slight tartness and not much in the way of hops. Carbonation is nice. Overall it seems slightly watered-down, though. Not a lot of body and the flavor is just kind of thin, particularly the aftertaste once the carbonation is no longer contributing anything.

Well, an interesting and fun experiment!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

sourdough biscuits with cheese

Looking for a spur-of-the-moment and maximally simple recipe to make use of the excess sourdough starter I was about to discard I found this recipe for Amish sourdough biscuits. Thinking I'd make them less simple -- perhaps more of a Mennonite sourdough biscuit -- I added some cheese.

At first I thought I'd use Parmigiano, then thought cheddar would be fine, then realized that the cheese drawer was still clotted with Mini Babybels.

I bought a bag thinking that they would be a fun and tasty snack for the boys. Well, half right. They do enjoy opening the wax casing. Too bad they don't like the contents. I coarsely grated four of them and modified the recipe as I saw fit:

  • 1 cup sourdough starter
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup grated cheese
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
Mix the starter and oil. Fold in the cheese. Mix in the baking soda. Add the flour and mix well. Drop ping pong ball sized globs onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15 to 20 minutes. Makes about 16 biscuits.

The boys loved them. They are very light and subtly cheesy. This is a fairly salty and mildly sour semisoft cheese, so I reduced the oil and omitted the salt from the original. I can imagine some people wanting the salt back in. This is a great use for the starter you're about to pour down the sink or into the food scrap bin.

third brew (african amber ale), part 1

I have probably sampled close to half of the seven or eight beers available to the enthusiast these days. In that vast selection one of my long-time favorites is the locally brewed Mac & Jack's African Amber. For my next brew I thought I'd try a clone recipe that I happened across. It's a good step up from the simplicity of the red ale, adding a dry malt extract to the liquid malt extract, liquid yeast, Irish moss, more types of grain, and two types of hops plus dry-hopping.

  • 6.6 lbs Muntons light malt extract syrup
  • 0.5 lbs Muntons light dry malt extract
  • 1.0 lb Munich malt
  • 0.5 lbs crystal 80 malt
  • 0.5 lbs carapils (dextrin) malt
  • 9.3 AAU Centennial hops (1 oz @ 9.3% alpha) for 60 min
  • 6.2 AAU Cascade hops (0.75 oz @ 8.3% alpha) for 2 min
  • 4.2 AAU Cascade hops (0.5 oz @ 8.3% alpha) dry hopping
  • 1 tsp Irish moss
  • White Labs WLP005 (British Ale) or Wyeast 1098 (British Ale) yeast
I did my shopping at Bob's Homebrew Supply this time. Good store! I was a little surprised to find that the bill came to over $60 for these ingredients. That includes a little more DME and hops than necessary, but in the smallest units available. Homebrewing does not appear to be an economizing measure in this case. I went with the Wyeast 1098, chose a Munich light malt on Bob's advice since it was not specified, and had to substitute a Brewcraft Briess pilsen DME for the Muntons DME.

One thing I learned last time was that I needed a bigger brew kettle. After doing some online research and reading John Palmer's thoughts I picked up a fairly inexpensive but well built 20 quart aluminum stock pot. I washed it and gave it a quick oxidation head start in the oven, then added three gallons of water for steeping.

From left to right are the crystal 80, carapils, and Munich malts.

Two pounds of grain was approaching the capacity of the steeping bag. I used some chip clips and an asparagus steaming pot to make filling it a little easier.

I measured the gravity of the wort after steeping at just about 1.0, but that was at 150 degrees F. The hydrometer temperature adjustment table in Palmer stops long before 150 (and it appears to have some typographic and/or accuracy problems). At this page on lab measurement of specific gravity I found a formula for computing the hydrometer delta at a temperature in degrees C:

0.00000359 * temp^2 + 0.00006971 * temp - 0.00151687

This gives a delta of 0.0185, for a gravity of 1.0185. The formula agrees fairly well with Palmer's table above 60 degrees F (and very well above 100), as well as with a polynomial curve fit to the Palmer numbers.

That compares interestingly to the coffee pot ale. I think I'll save the analysis for another post.

It took nearly an hour to reach a boil from 150 degrees and the burner won't maintain much more than a gentle boil of three gallons in this pot unless it is at least partially covered. I'll have to take this outdoors onto a big gas burner at some point. The All-Clad is infinitely better for heat retention, but this kettle did work just fine and I had no scorching problems.

The 2007 Centennial bittering hops had a much lower alpha acid content than specified in the recipe, at only 8%. Adjusting, I used 1.16 oz to reach 9.3 AAU. The 2008 Cascade aroma hops were also lower, at 6.3% so the adjusted quantity was about an ounce. Both were in pellet form.

I rehydrated the Irish moss (some interesting history here) and added it with 20 minutes left rather than the specified 60. That seems to be much more standard. After reading Palmer's comments on Irish moss and extract brewing I wasn't sure that I should use it at all. This merits further investigation.

The flip side of the aluminum kettle's difficulty in maintaining temperature is that it cooled quite nicely in the sink with water and cold packs. It was at 85 degrees in less than 25 minutes. I added two gallons of distilled drinking water to the primary fermenter, then strained the wort into it. Poured back and forth between fermenter and kettle several times, aerating vigorously and producing vast mountains of foam. It took a little more than another gallon to reach 5.5.

I had smacked the yeast pack several hours earlier and it was as bloated as Oprah in a wet clover field. This is definitely more convenient than using dry yeast.

The wort was at about 84 degrees when I pitched the yeast, which is probably a little warmer than it should have been.

Original gravity, adjusted for temperature, was about 1.062.

On a side note, the Tipsy Bird was an important contributor to the production of this batch.

Five hours after the wort had gone into the primary the airlock was bubbling every 30 to 60 seconds. At 14 hours it was a pretty steady stream. At 16 hours there was a big splattering visible on the underside of the lid, the lid was bowing outward, the sanitizer in the airlock was murky with wort, and the CO2 output was profuse. I cleaned and sanitized the airlock, with a piece of sanitized cheese cloth over the opening in the lid in the meantime, and replaced it. A short while later it blew the top off the airlock, so I replaced the inner part and rubber banded cheese cloth over the top.

At 24 hours it was still foaming mightily and making impressive windy noises. At 30 hours I thought it had slowed so I cleaned, sanitized, and reinstalled the complete airlock assembly only to be greeted immediately with a gout of bubbles through the top. I should really be using a blowoff hose. I tasted some of the extruded krausen. WOW is that bitter!

At 40 hours it was clearly done spouting krausen so I cleaned and sanitized the airlock one last time. It's very actively bubbling, but should at least stay clean now.

It would be more fun with a transparent primary so I could see what's going on inside.

Update: Not sure when airlock activity ceased, but it was somewhere between 84 and 96 hours.

espresso monkey roasting notes 2

I've roasted a few pounds of Sweet Maria's Espresso Monkey blend and it has never been my favorite. I had a little left, so yesterday thought I'd give it another try. The target roast was Full City.

Outdoor temperature was about 40 degrees F. No wind. Roasted 8 ounces (weighed on new kitchen scale), which is quite a bit less than I usually roast. Beans were initially at room temperature. The roast went very quickly at the lowest gas setting. In these conditions I suspect more beans would be helpful, and I could also try without the shroud. Roasted weight was 6.46 ounces.

Some beans were still at first crack when second had started. I'm starting to question whether I've ever had a noticeable pause between first and second.

The roast looks about right overall, with some small oil droplets evident. I think the intrinsic unevenness of the stovetop method is a problem. It is very difficult, if possible at all, to avoid finishing without some of the beans having a degree of char.

Pulled shots next day. Some acidity, moderate body. Faint sweetness, but it's set against a burnt note that I don't like much. I am not really detecting anything else that I can put a name to. And it's just not that interesting. Sweet Maria's description on the package is:
At Vienna roast, bittersweet chocolate, hints of dark fruit, licorice, a long aftertaste.
I had to look up dark fruit and found a discussion here. I also discovered a bazillion recipes for dark fruit cake. As a flavor descriptor I'm not sure it does much for me. Much more intriguingly evocative and equally helpful would be dark fruit-eating bat.

As roasted, at least, I continue to not like this all that much as a straight shot. Before spending time with Moka Kadir I would probably have ranked Espresso Monkey higher, but not at this point. I'll shoot for a slightly lighter roast next time.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

sourdough bread 6

I reverted to the method of the third sourdough bread attempt for the sixth. I used a generous cup of starter because of the additional dry ingredient of the gluten. I was careful to thoroughly mix the salt and gluten into the liquid before adding the flour; the first time I used gluten I'm not sure it was well distributed. It was a manageable dough and rose very well, but seemed to lose a lot of its volume by the time I had folded it into a loaf.

The oven and dutch oven were adequately pre-heated. It baked at 20 covered and 18 uncovered; I removed it because I thought the crust was as dark as I wanted, however, internal temperature was only 191. The air pockets were very evenly sized and distributed, in contrast to the second and third, and the loaf was generally a little more dense. It was definitely a little more moist and perhaps just needed more time. I preferred the internal irregularity of the third loaf. And I'd still like more sourness.

I think I need to try baking a little longer and see what the effect is. And I should also try a more complex and time-consuming recipe, with all of the kneading and multiple rises.