Posts Tagged ‘yeast

28
Feb
08

Wine Primer

I find that there’s a lot of misinformation out there about wine. Far too often I hear people tell me they really like wine, but they don’t know anything about it. I also hear a lot of opinions about wines based on some percieved notions about how sweet or dry, or how dark or light a wine is. I also dislike wine snobery based on a single origin. For example, I recently had someone tell me they only drink Italian wines. I asked which type, and they said they didn’t care, it just has to be Italian. While I’m sure this is based on a good experience with an Italian wine, not all Italian wines are created equal. Also, this perspective on wine assumes all other wines are not fit for consumption, which I strongly disagree with.

Wine Basics:

Wine is basically fermented grape juice. Anyone familiar with bread baking will be familiar with how yeast works. Yeast is a living organism which, in the case of wine, occurs naturally on the grape skin (although some wine makers use lab grown strains of pure yeast instead of “wild yeast”). Yeast consumes the sugars present inside the grape, and converts it into carbon dioxide and alcohol. When the alcohol level hits around 15 percent, it kills off the yeast. Now picture the classic episode of I Love Lucy, with Lucielle Ball stomping on grapes. I bet you didn’t know all that science was going on at the same time.

As for grape types, red grapes traditionally need a slightly longer growing season, therefore wines from Italy, Spain, Portugal, and the Napa Valley in California tend to be made from red grapes, while colder climates tend to favour white grapes. Remember, also, that it is the skin that colours a wine, so it is possible to drink a white wine made from red grapes.

The weather can also play a major roll in how a certain vintage (year the wine was made) turns out. Frost can wipe out a crop, drastically reducing the amount of wine produced in a certain area. Windstorms, too much or not enough rain, all wreak havoc on the outcome of a crop. Consider, also, that grapes have a higher amount of sugars, acids, and water at different stages in their growth. If you were to try a grape off a vine early in the season, it would be very dry and acidic. A grape pulled from the same vine later in the year will have had time to develop more sugars (called Brix by winemakers). Too much rain before a grape is pulled will give you a very diluted, watery wine. Not enough rain will give you the opposite effect. A wine specialist will want to keep this in mind when choosing a certain wine from a certain region, with a certain vintage.

For the beginner, I would suggest trying to get familiar with whatever wines are locally available to you. Try different wines from the same wine growing region until you find one or two that you personally like. If the “experts” are raving about a wine that you find tastes bad, then don’t drink it. One of the worst wines I’ve ever tasted was an award winning fruit wine from a highly esteemed winery. I’m sorry, but if I think it tastes like cough syrup, no amount of flowery description will make it taste any better.

So what do you do with a wine you have sampled but don’t particullarly care for? Use it to cook with, of course!

26
Feb
08

Leaveners, a baker’s secret weapon

One of the most important and misunderstood concepts of baking is the ability to take a dough (which can be as simple as flour and water), and make it rise. This is done by a process known as leavening. The main purpose of leavening is to build the structure of the baked good. In other words, without a leavener of some sort, your baking will be very limited.

There are three basic categories of leaveners – organic, chemical, and physical.

Organic:

I include all varieties of yeast in this category. Yeast is a tiny living organism that must be alive to do it’s job (hence the reason I use the term organic). It is very important to keep this in mind as you work with yeast. When learning how to work with yeast doughs, my mentor told me “treat it like you would treat a girlfriend, handle it gently, don’t slap it around. Keep it warm and well fed.” Although I’m not sure this is the key to a good relationship, it certainly works for yeast.

Yeast requires moisture, takes in sugars, reproduces, and gives off carbon dioxide. It is this process, when the conditions are just right, that makes breads rise. The ideal temperature for raising yeast is between 60 and 90F. Keeping the yeast cool is a process known as retardation. It won’t harm the yeast, but it will give you time to make your baking schedule a little more flexible. Using this process to your advantage, it’s possible to store dough overnight in a fridge without worring about it growing too rapidly. Yeast is destroyed when baked over at temperatures over 200F.

Chemical:

This category includes baking soda and baking powder. They rapidly rise a baked good when combined with moisture and heat. Baking soda also needs an acid. The chemical reactions that take place in the baked good produce gasses, which in turn make bubbles. Think back to grade school science fairs. There was always at least one baking soda and vinegar “volcano”. That’s exactly what goes on in your baking.

Physical:

This category includes steam and air. Steam is released when moisture in a batter, supplied by butter, eggs, or another liquid gets heated. The steam forms air pockets and allows the baking to rise. Good examples of this are evident in choux pastry (for eclairs and cream puffs), and puff pastry. Air is also used as a leavener through creaming butter or whipping egg whites and carefully folding them into a batter. The air bubles get trapped and dried out as the product bakes in the oven. A good example of this would be a souffle.

http://straightfromthefarm.wordpress.com/2008/02/21/yeast-primer/ has some informative information on yeast.