Epi de Blé, Take Two. Closer To The Truth.

by A.J. Coltrane

Attempt #2 at Epi bread:


It’s basically just a baguette recipe:  400g Bread Flour, 240g water (60%), 9g kosher salt (2.25%) 3/4 tsp instant yeast. 425F oven for 22 minutes.

The shape is better this time around. Each Epi contains less flour — 200 grams (1/2 lb) of flour per epi. (Instead of 300 grams of flour as in Take One.)

I think maybe the “right” answer is 150 grams of flour per 18″ Epi. Baking at 450F and adding malt might help the appearance as well.

Still. Better this time. “Better” is good.


Epi de Blé, Take One

by A.J. Coltrane

1st attempt at Epi de Blé (sheaf of wheat):


The finished result is a long way from the “flower of wheat” idealized form. (Search “epi bread” for examples.)

The recipe is basically a standard baguette dough that is cut with scissors. I used 300 grams of flour for the dough. That was too much. As a guess, 200 grams would have made a thinner, more “graceful” epi.

Recommended temperatures run between 400F and 450F. I went with 425F for 20 minutes, which seemed to work out ok.

The Verdict:  It’s a nice pull-apart bread for dinner or a crowd. The shape creates a high ratio of crust, so there are more crunchy bits to go around. It’s easy, attractive, and festive. I’ll be making this again soon, and probably a bunch of times through the holidays.

Preztels For The Beer Event

by A.J. Coltrane

A big batch of pretzels:


Using this recipe:

400g bread flour, 220g water (55% baker’s percentage), 10g (2.5% bp) salt (does not including the finishing salt), 4g diastatic malt (1% bp), 20g unsalted butter (5% bp), 1 tsp yeast.

It’s the same ratios as the 2nd Pass — everything was doubled this time. (All the more reason to use Baker’s Percentage when baking.)

Each pretzel used 1/2 of the recipe, so each one contained basically 1/2 lb of flour. Everything on the counter represents a little over 6 pounds of flour, almost 10 pounds of ingredients in total. The oven has enough room to bake two at a time, so I was starting a new batch every 20 minutes. Two in the oven, two proofing on the counter covered in egg wash, two resting before shaping, two being shaped, and two in the mixer. It was an assembly line.

I finally got the “classic pretzel shape” right. I’m not sure what I was thinking before. I doubt I’ve ever really looked at a pretzel I guess.

All that, and we discovered that we couldn’t bring them into the beer event, so they got to hang out in the car.



The Second Pass At Pretzels

by A.J. Coltrane

The malt powder arrived today. Time for a 2nd attempt.

The recipe from the 1st attempt:  200g bread flour, 102g water (51% baker’s percentage), 6g (3% bp) salt (does not including the finishing salt), 1/2 tsp yeast.

Tonight’s recipe:  200g bread flour, 110g water (55% baker’s percentage), 5g (2.5% bp) salt (does not including the finishing salt), 2g diastatic malt (1% bp), 10g unsalted butter (5% bp), 1/2 tsp yeast.

TLDR;  Less salt, more water, and I added malt and butter. The recipe is now sort of an aggregate of Beranbaum and Hamelman.

The Beranbaum recipe calls for 400F. Hamelman calls for 450F. I decided to make two batches, one at 425F and one at 450F:


The two on the top were baked at 450F for 16 minutes. The two on the bottom were baked at 425F for 14 minutes. The lower temperature and shorter time was enough to cook the pretzels, but the color still wasn’t as deep as I’d like. Even the 450F batch darkened quite a bit in the extra two minutes it was given.

The other mini-experiment was an egg white wash vs a “whole” egg wash. The two on the left got the egg white wash, the two on the right used “whole” eggs. I couldn’t really tell a difference either in appearance or texture (bite).

All in all, every change seemed to be an improvement. Now it’s time to try making some really large pretzels and see how that goes.


The First Pass At Pretzels

by A.J. Coltrane

The first pass at pretzels:


It’s a variation on the Preztel Bread recipe from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Bread Bible. I didn’t use malt or the optional butter, and I used egg white instead of lye. (I didn’t and don’t feel like messing with lye.) The I may go out tomorrow and find malt — I doubt the finished color will be as dark as I’m looking for without it.

The “recipe”:  200g bread flour, 102g water (51% baker’s percentage), 6g (3% bp) salt (does not including the finishing salt), 1/2 tsp yeast. Knead for eight minutes. Let rest for 20 minutes then cut the ball into two pieces.

Roll each piece out into a 22″ log. Shape into preztels. Cover and let rise 30 minutes.

Combine one egg white with 1/2 tsp water and brush on the pretzels. Brush again with the egg wash and sprinkle with coarse salt.

Preheat the oven and a sheet tray to 400F, add three ice cubes to the preheated tray for steam, and bake for 20 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.

I need to try this again using malt and butter. I may also raise the temperature to 450F on the next attempt in the quest for better browning.


Container Garden Mini Update — October 2, 2016

by A.J. Coltrane

Previous post here.

October 4, 2015 post here. October 4, 2014 post here. October 7, 2013 post here.

This post is a follow-up on last week’s harvest post. For reference, here’s last week’s harvest:


Look how much most everything ripened:


Historically, at least for us, the final harvest hasn’t really ripened after coming inside. This feels like a lot of ripening to happen in a week.

So what changed?

  1.  It could be that the final harvest has always been done later in the year, meaning that the house was cooler, which slowed ripening. (See the Note below – this idea may be at least partly right.)
  2.  This year we left them on a counter in the kitchen next to a window that faces partly south. The little bit of sun getting through the blinds provided some good warmth and encouraged ripening.

There may be something that impacted ripening, though the two explanations above probably cover most of it.


Final 2013 harvest — October 7.

Final 2014 harvest — September 28.

Final 2015 harvest  — October 4.

Final 2016 harvest  — September 26.



GNOIF: It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s a Zepplin?!

by A.J. Coltrane

GNOIF #23 recap — GNOIF:  It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s a Zepplin?! (Steampunk and Transportation themes.)

Games That Got Played:  Fluxx (Firefly), Forbidden Island, Get Dr. Lucky, Lost Cities, Rocketville, Steampunk Rally, Ticket To Ride Europe.

Games That Didn’t Get Played:  Catan (Starship), Galaxy Trucker, Hanabi, Infernal Contraption, Pirate’s Cove, Power Grid, RoboRally, Ticket to Ride Card Game.

Really, the theme was based around our newest game – Steampunk Rally. A brief description from BoardGameGeek:

Using a unique dice-placement mechanism, players take on the roles of famous inventors from the turn of the last century like Nikola Tesla and Marie Curie, constructing fantastical contraptions that make use of steam, heat and electricity in an attempt to win a no-holds-barred race through the Swiss alps.

Contraptions like so:


The red dice represent “heat”, the blue dice are “steam”, and the yellow dice are “electricity”. The purpose of the Contraption is to generate resources, exchange one resource for another, and to convert the end product into (fast) forward motion through the Alps. It’s probably my new favorite game and should receive a “Recommended Game” post soon. (The metal cogs don’t come with the game. Those were a gift from SeattleAuthor. They’re way more fun to look at and handle than the cardboard pieces that do come with the game.)

Fluxx was played — I won one game entirely by accident. (I was getting a beverage when I won.) Rocketville went over well with a group that was mostly new to it.

Lost Cities was played — the winner was the person who didn’t try to start four expeditions. (I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone win when attempting more than three. To quote a 2010 post:  Players must use caution — initiating an expedition has a steep price, and a “money-sink”  venture can end the chances of winning.)

Get Dr. Lucky had the usual screw-your-neighbor finish. I didn’t see who won the Ticket To Ride Europe, though it occupied a good-sized group for a couple of hours.

Next up will be the Horror/Zombie/Vampire night around Halloween. Games will include Last Night On Earth (B-movie style horror game), Zombie Fluxx, Betrayal At The House On The Hill, Bang! (A Spaghetti Western, though there’s plenty of death in that game), Guillotine (Off with their heads!), Deadfellas (undead mobsters), Ultimate Werewolf (peasants getting killed by werewolves), and a handful of others.

Thanks to everyone who played!


Container Garden Update — September 26, 2016

by A.J. Coltrane

Previous post here.

September 27, 2015 here. September 29, 2014 post here.  September 30, 2013 post here.

The last of it:


That brings us to 194.3 pounds — well short of 2015:

2013 total:  228.0 pounds

2014 total:  269.4 pounds

2015 total:  282.5 pounds

2016 total:  194.3 pounds

To be fair, we didn’t weigh any of the salad greens, garlic, or scallions that weren’t part of the “main season” harvest. I’d estimate that would amount to around 10-15 pounds.

Overall the summer was too cloudy and cool for the garden to really go gangbusters. Certain plants, such as the Sun Gold tomato and Tromboncino were way off their previous levels. Most of the other plants were “off” at least somewhat. I’ll go into the details in upcoming “Recap” posts.

As for the “Winter Garden”:  Five of the EarthBoxes now have garlic that I planted last week. Another whiskey barrel has shallots and mache. All of those are securely covered with bird netting to keep out the squirrels. The salad table is status is shown in the previous post here. I’m pretty certain it’s too late now to consider starting anything else — October is next week. Still, I think we did a better job this year of timing the salad table with the onset of cold weather.

Both freezers are completely jammed full of veggies, and today’s harvest is still on the counter. I’m going to declare this season a low-maintenance non-failure, despite the sub-par productivity.


Visit Dave at Ourhappyacres, host of Harvest Monday.


Container Garden Update — September 18, 2016

by A.J. Coltrane

Previous post here.

September 20, 2015 here. September 21, 2014 post here.  September 22, 2013 post here.

In the coming week it’s supposed to be getting into the 40’s at night — that meant that it was time to harvest in earnest, and we pulled 73 pounds of stuff in the last seven days.

It would be fun to watch the harvest in time-lapse, but photos will have to do.

September 15th, “before”:


September 15th, “after”:


The harvest for the 15th:


[Left sheet tray – Paul Robeson, Valencia, Tigerella, other assorted tomtatoes.  Taxis in the center. Cherokee Purple on the right.]

We did another big harvest on the 18th:


[Around a dozen different types of peppers, including Serrano on the top left, Anaheim center left, tomatoes on the top center, and tomatillos on the top right.]

The “after” picture:


[Back Left – Tromboncino and Lemon cucumber. Front Left – the last of the tomatoes. Back Center – Tomatillo, Right – Cucumber.]

You can tell it’s late in the year because tired plants do weird things, such as this “double” Tromboncino. There’s a normal fruit below it:


I sort of rebooted the salad table:


[Arugula on the bottom. Parsley left side, 2nd shelf. New Zealand spinach and Miner’s Lettuce on the right side of the 2nd shelf. The top shelf has lettuces, cilantro, and a bunch of other little things that I hope size up before the weather turns ugly.]


Visit Dave at Ourhappyacres, host of Harvest Monday.

Container Garden Update — September 5, 2016

by A.J. Coltrane

Previous post here.

September 6, 2015 post here. September 7, 2014 post here.  September 8, 2013 post here.

Well, we learned something about basil — holding out on the harvest is a very bad idea. Over the last ten days the weather has cooled, and the basil didn’t dig it at all. It went from almost totally healthy to dying off in that short span of time… On Friday I brought it all inside. Note the computer mouse for scale in the middle of the stack and the camera case at the bottom right:

160905 basil

Maybe 10-20% of the basil was “fresh” and not yellowing or turning purple. It’s a bummer, but it’s definitely a lesson. The plan for next year is to harvest 50% of the basil on August 1st and most of what’s left on August 14. We’ll probably also harvest more aggressively throughout the summer.

Basil really is a hothouse flower.

On the bright side, we harvested 30 pounds of stuff this week, not including the basil:

160905 tomatoes

We’re at 85 pounds for the year. That’s waaaay behind last year’s 200 pounds on this date.

Over the next seven days the weather forecast calls for cloudy days in the 60’s with some rain. If the weather doesn’t improve we may be harvesting almost everything else over the next two weeks, regardless of ripeness.


Visit Dave at Ourhappyacres, host of Harvest Monday.