Adventures in beer bottling, part 2

We purchased our bottles for the saison from Brooklyn Homebrew on Saturday (which you saw) and waited until Sunday morning to bottle the beer.  Bottling is a very easy process.  The main concern is not to invite any contamination into the beer.  The best way to ensure that the beer stays contamination-free is to wash and sanitize EVERYTHING that comes in contact with the beer.  This means that we rinsed out our beer bottles and soaked them in our sanitizing solution.  We also cleaned and sanitized the beer thief, any plastic hose that would come into contact with the beer, the beer bottle caps and our plastic bottling bucket.

While the bottles were draining, we took the specific gravity of both of the batches of beer.  Similar to the process that we followed several weeks ago, using my beer thief, I transferred a small amount of beer from one of the carboys into my beaker.  Using the hydrometer, I took the reading for this batch and then repeated the same process for the second batch of beer. Once you have used this beer for reading the specific gravity, DO NOT return the beer to the carboy for bottling.  This beer could be contaminated, and we do not want to introduce contaminated beer into the batch.

The specific gravity readings were as follows:

French Saison: 1.008 (4.67% alcohol by volume); Belgian Saison: 1.012 (4.27% alcohol by volume)

Once the readings were done and the bottles were nearly dry, we began siphoning the beer from one of the carboys into our bottling bucket.

Using the siphoning tube with the pump attachment makes this process very easy.  The pump attachment sits in the carboy just above the sediment at the bottom of the carboy. This prevents the sediment from being transferred into the bottling bucket.

This was just the most beautiful day to bottle beer!  After the weather that we had on Saturday, it was unbelievable that Sunday could be so pretty.  The sun was shining and the sunflower looked beautiful in the windowsill…. I just had to take a photo!

Once the beer had finished siphoning, can can see how much sediment was left in the bottom of the carboy.

It was now time for bottling.  We moved the bottling bucket on top of the table and attached our hose with the bottling wand attachment.

I filled the bottles and then passed them over to Jeffrey to cap.  The entire process of bottling two 2.5 gallon batches of beer took roughly 2 hours.


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The real rustic tart test

This week I had my first real test as to whether I improved my baking skills during my time at the San Francisco Baking Institute.  I tried to reproduce both the rustic tarts and a modified fresh fruit tart at home.  Thanks to all of the very positive feedback that I received from Jeff’s classmates (thank you, if you are reading!!!), I feel that my first attempt was a success : )

Let me first share with you the process of making the sucre dough.  From what I understand, this process would be followed for making any pie crust.  First, I sifted all of my dry ingredients into a large bowl.  I cut my butter (which I kept in the refrigerator until JUST before it was needed) roughly into 1 inch squares and added the butter onto my dry ingredients.  I turned out this mixture onto my table top.  Luckily, our table is right beside the window.  The cool weather outside helped keep the butter from melting.

In the top left photo, you can see the mixture just after I had turned it out onto the table. Using my dough blade, I began cutting the butter into my dry mixture, making sure to touch the mixture as little as possible with my warm hands.  I continued to cut the butter until it was roughly pea-size, which you can see in the top right photo.  At this point, I began adding my water a very little bit at a time.  I continued to use my dough blade to gently fold the water into my dry ingredients.  I occasionally used my hands to break up any pieces of very wet dough.  I only added just enough water to bring my mixture together….basically, until it sticks together when I try to form a ball.  The lower left photo shows my dough when it had reached this stage.  The final stage in mixing my dough was to press and smear my dough (small amounts at a time) to form sheets of dough.  In the end, I gathered the sheets of dough together and formed them into a ball.  I wrapped the ball of dough in plastic wrap, pressed it slightly, and put the dough in the fridge to rest for 4 hours.

For my rustic tarts, I wanted to roll 100 g portions of dough roughly into circles 3 mm thick.  Using my scale and dough blade, I portioned my dough and formed each 100 g portion into a ball.  I kept the portions in the refrigerator, removing one at a time, for rolling.  I stacked my circles of dough between sheets of plastic wrap and returned to the fridge until I was ready to fill with frangipane (2 parts almond cream to 1 part pastry cream) and fruit.

Once my frangipane and fruit were ready, I took my dough out of the refrigerator.  I added frangipane to the middle of the dough and spread it out, leaving about 2 inches on the side.  For my rustic tarts, I decided to use granny smith apples.  I sliced the apples and placed slices in a circular pattern on top of the frangipane.  I then folded up the sides of the dough, leaving an opening on top big enough to see most of the fruit.   Because I did not want to bake these tarts until the next day, I wrapped the tarts at this point and placed them in the freezer over night.  These tarts keep very well in the freezer for a couple of weeks.

The next day, I removed my tarts from the freezer.  Aren’t they pretty : )

Although you can egg-wash the tarts before placing them in the freezer, I decided to wait until bake time.  Using my pastry brush, I added the egg wash to the dough sides.  I then spooned cinnamon and sugar on top of the apple slices.  I placed the tarts in the oven for 35 minutes and crossed my fingers : )

After 35 minutes, I removed these beautiful tarts from the oven.  The dough turned out flaky (although not as flaky as in class) and the frangipane was delicious.  Next time, I will add more fruit to the top.  However, I was satisfied with my first attempt to make rustic tarts at home!

Happy Baking!

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Adventures in beer bottling, part 1

We could not put off bottling our saison any longer.  It has been fermenting in the carboys for 4 weeks now.  At this point, we are risking the inactive yeast cultures and hops, which have settled at the bottom of the carboys, imparting unattractive flavors into our beer (oh, no!!).   Never mind the fact that the season’s first nor’easter was blowing through, we had to buy more bottles today!!

After bundling up, we set out on the D train to Brooklyn.   Here we go!….

Once arriving at Brooklyn Homebrew, I spent a bit of time ‘getting to know’ the various barleys and malts available.  We plan on immediately brewing another batch after bottling the saison, and we have decided to try a porter.

In the above picture, I am getting a good whiff of the chocolate malt…yuuuummmmy (geez…if I’m not baking with chocolate, I’m drinking chocolate.  Will the madness ever stop?).  We decided that it definitely had to be part of our recipe.

We left with ingredients for two 2.5 gallon batches.  We are again experimenting with different yeasts in each batch and have decided to try dry hops in one batch.  We also broke down and purchased a bottle washing attachment for our sink.  This will make cleaning bottles so much easier.  We also picked up the bottles for our saison…..that’s priority number one.

The weather had picked up of course…just in time for our trek back home.  But, we had purchased trash bags to wrap around our boxes of bottles, so no worries!

Then, we headed to the platform.  It was Saturday, so we weren’t the only people braving the weather to do a little shopping.  Boxes or no boxes, backpacks or no, we squeezed our way onto the train.

We transfered to the 1 train at the Times Square stop and headed back home to the upper west side.  Ah….the upper west.  There are actually areas of Manhattan that are not as busy and where walking side by side is an option.

We made it!…no slipping or spilling or breaking!  But we haven’t started bottling yet…  : )

Stayed tuned for bottling updates.  Cheers!

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Beer gardening at Bohemian Hall

October means Oktoberfest, which means that enjoying a few beers in a NYC beer garden is an absolute must (for market research….yeah, market research).

And… a beer garden means a very happy Jeff  : )  (whose first date to this beer garden a few years back, by the way, was Charlie, our lovely wedding officiant).  Jeff and I visited before I left for San Francisco.

The Bohemian Hall has been a part of New York City history since it was opened in 1910. This last remaining original beer garden is run and managed by the Bohemian Citizens’ Benevolent Society of Astoria, an organization dedicated to education and to preserving the Czech and Slovak communities in the area.  The Bohemian Hall has a large outdoor area with lots of picnic-style benches.  They have live music outside in addition to both an indoor and outdoor bar and a food stand that serves traditional German fare (as well as a very delicious veggie burger).

In typical Melanie and Jeff fashion, we followed a couple of beers with a rowdy game of scrabble (rowdy, yeah right).  I had to forfeit the game due to a cold weather delay.  You would think that a southern girl would know to bring a jacket for any evening out in the fall in NYC.  We had a great time and will hopefully be making a return visit before it gets too cold out.

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Black Forest Cake with Cherry Cream and Cherry Compote

Remember this photo?  I promised that I would get to the other two cakes : )  First, let me share with you the process of making and assembling the beautiful black forest cake on the left.  The cake is layered with cherry cream and topped with cherry compote.

For our black forest cake, we baked a 6 inch chocolate chiffon cake base.  After the cake cooled, we sliced our cake into three layers and spread coating chocolate on one side of one layer.  This layer was put chocolate-side down on our cake board to prevent the simple syrup from soaking the cake board.  After the layer was in place, we covered the layer with the cherry liqueur simple syrup.  Below is our teacher, adding her coating chocolate.We made our cherry cream and filled a piping bag.  We covered our first layer with the cherry cream and added sliced rum cherries on top of the cream.  You’ll notice bits of cake on top of my cherry cream. During class, I added the next layer of cake, forgetting to add my rum cherries.   If you happen to make the same mistake….I PROMISE these rum cherries are worth carefully removing the layer of cake and reassembling.  We added one more layer of cake and repeated the above process….more syrup, more cream, more cherries. Although you can add the cherry cream using a spatula, I was able to keep the amount consistent over the entire layer by using my piping bag.  Below you’ll notice how we swirled the cream out from the center of the cake with the piping bag. After adding the final layer of cake on top, we added a very thin crumb coat of cherry cream to the entire cake and placed the cake in the refrigerator to let the crumb coat set.The next step was so much fun!  I had never experimented with modeling chocolate before this class, but it is definitely worth the extra effort to make the cake extra special. We first measured the height of our cake.  The modeling chocolate needs to extend roughly .5 inches above the cake in order to hold the cherry compote on top.  We rolled out modeling chocolate into a log about 1.5 inches thick and 10 inches long.  Using a rolling pin, we rolled out the chocolate until it was roughly 20 inches long and until it was the appropriate height for each of our cakes. Using a ruler and a pizza slicer, we made sure the size of the modeling chocolate was the same height over the entire length.  I took a great picture of our teacher measuring the chocolate.Once the chocolate was cut, we centered the modeling chocolate in the back of the cake and worked it around to the front, pressing it gently against the cake.  We worked the two edges of the chocolate together by gently pressing with our fingers. The heat from my hands melted the chocolate just enough to hold the edges together.  You can see in the photo above that our teacher used her fingertips to create a ruffled appearance on one side of her modeling chocolate.  I decided to leave the top edge of my chocolate even.


Once we assembled the modeling chocolate around the cake, we added the cherry compote to the top.   Although the cake involved quite a few steps and took a little bit of time to assemble, it was work all of the effort!  It is a beautiful cake…and even prettier sliced.  If any of you guys out there want to try your hand at this black forest cake, send me a quick e-mail.  I’ll be glad to share.

Happy Baking!

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