Automated recipe fraud – but why?

Every now and then, I do a search to see if someone has come up with a home method to make wafer sheets, which are tricky even for commercial bakeries, where heavy steel plates, high pressure, and steam are integral to the process. Because their manufacture is so specialised, I don’t hold my breath for a home method to appear, but hey, people are inventive, so I still check.

This time, I found a site that claims you can do it, and easily at that. Have a gander at this link:

Unbelievably Easy and Fresh Wafer Sheets in a 5 Step Model

“Huh”, I thought. However, right from the start, it all went wrong. At the top, “Health Benefit & Recipes”? Then “a 5 Step Model”, followed by a picture of waffles? What gives? Then there are completely unnecessary and obviously cut-and-paste boxes with large photos and lengthy descriptions explaining what butter and sugar are, for what must produce eight or nine feet of paper if you were to print this ‘recipe’. All the photos in that article are lifted from other sites, and the ingredients are bizarre. There’s no sugar or butter or wet eggs in wafers. To quote myself in 2012, “A basic wafer manufacturer recipe would be along the lines of 200g flour, 280g water, 1g bicarb (baking soda), 1g salt, and 1g vegetable oil, though some add things like dried milk, dried egg yolk, and/or corn starch.” My left eyebrow was a good foot above my forehead by this point, but little did I suspect the hilarity to follow.

For the coup de grace, go down the bottom of that page, where it explains how to roll out the dough and bake the sheets – along with a very large photo of an oven display showing 400F just to make sure you don’t get that part wrong. Now just look at that result at the bottom – why, it’s just like a commercially available wafer sheet. Precisely so, in fact. Bloody genius!

Ridiculous and transparently fraudulent and almost certainly spit out by a not-terribly-bright algorithm under not-so-close human supervision, sure, but what on Earth is the point of cobbling together this fake recipe? I’m still scratching my head.

New digs

We moved our offices into a new building a couple towns away this week, and I ended up with a substantially larger office – “All the more to decorate” thought I, rubbing my hands. A gallery of my new digs is below. I haven’t decided yet how to fill out one wall, but the other walls are pretty much as I want them. I still see trees and greenery out my window (two windows, actually), thank goodness, and there are wild turkeys at the new place, too.

In the process, I finally got around to having my William Phillips “Clipper at the Gate” limited print framed at this little shop, and it came out pretty spiffy, with the frame and matting matched to the bluish silver of the aircraft, the deep blue of the water, and the red of the Golden Gate Bridge (actually called International orange) and the wing stripes. The aircraft is the Boeing B-314 flying boat, in this case the Pan American Airways California Clipper, NC-18602, which made regular runs between San Francisco and Hawaii – a nineteen-hour leg – before continuing to farther destinations.

Only twelve B-314s were produced by Boeing, all for Pan Am, but it was – and still is – considered the acme of flying boat technology. The initial six had a range of 3,500 miles with fuel capacity of 4,200 gallons and the second group of six could travel 5,200 miles with 5,400 gallons, both variants far exceeding the range of other aircraft of the day. Travel on the clippers was strictly deluxe, with ticket prices comparable to Concorde’s and meals catered by top-notch hotels.

The B-314 model on my desk, in the same 1:200 scale as the B-17 and B-747, is also of NC-18602. The “Fly to South Sea Isles” poster is a high quality limited edition reproduction of a 1930s Pan Am poster that was made about twenty years ago [some weeks after writing this, I found my Hansa Editions print was actually produced thirty years ago]. An original copy of the 1938 George Lawler poster – not the original painting, just a poster – recently sold for US$20,000 at auction, where the listing read:

One of the most iconic and desirable of all the early Pan Am flying boat posters, this image of the Boeing 314 Flying Clipper landing in a tropical lagoon captured, and continues to capture, the imagination of travelers. The location shown on the poster is an imaginary composite of several renowned bays throughout the South Pacific. It has been speculated that the view is Tahiti, Pago Pago and/or Diamond Head, however, the physical characteristics depicted do not coincide with the actual geography of any of these islands. Lawler most likely worked from photographs to derive a fantasy collage of a location infused with realistic details from various islands. It is rare to find this poster with text. We have found only two other examples at auction.

The tail end of the gallery shows in detail some of the photos and items on display. I had 16×20 prints made of the three high resolution Apollo photographs – done beautifully by Shutterfly and Snapfish, I’ll add. Of the three drawings of mine on the wall, just one, the woman holding a newborn Bengal kitten, is my original pencil drawing – the other two are from high resolution scans I made before presenting the original drawings to their subjects.

Click on any image to enter the gallery, and from there you can view a 1920-wide version of any photo by clicking this at the lower right (you may need to scroll down to see it):

 

The doctor is in (5¢)

My best mate had a pretty bad week last week, so I suggested she take a couple days off and visit – for the cure. Part of that was her first visit to The Butterfly Place, where I took plenty of photos yesterday that’ll be in my next post (update: it’s here), and then the delectable popcorn shrimp and catfish at Border Cafe, a small chain that first opened in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Another part was a delicious dessert we hadn’t made for years, James Martin’s Croissant Butter Pudding with white chocolate and bourbon. Costco had a great deal on their high-quality all-butter croissants a couple weeks ago – their “let’s clear just 3 or 4 cents per croissant” price was US$4.99 a dozen – so I had those in the freezer and brought four out for this. Like most breads, croissants freeze and thaw beautifully.

Post-blowtorch with a bruléed crust; click for a larger version

This is how Martin serves it in a restaurant setting; click for a larger version

I first saw Martin make this in his BBC “Sweet Baby James” series in 2007, so we reviewed episode 4 last night and I dug out his Desserts cookbook for the weights and measures. The croissant portion of that episode happens to be on YouTube:

He hasn’t changed it much over the years – here he is making it again in his 2013 series “United Cakes of America” on the Good Food Channel:

Song of the South

Flying Biscuit with sawmill gravy and poached eggs; click for a larger version

FLYING BISCUITS

Excerpt from The Flying Biscuit Cafe Cookbook [my comments in brackets]

With some hesitation, I am revealing our greatest secret: the biscuit recipe. The hesitation comes from the fact that people will realize when they read this recipe that there really is no great secret — just a lot of patience and technique. [Well, not really…the recipe takes just six or eight minutes to prepare and twenty minutes to bake.] We make an average of 700 of these fluffy pups on a weekday at the Biscuit and 1,200 on a weekend day. Many different people have made the biscuits since the restaurant has been open. Our biscuiteers arrive before the break of dawn to produce these tender little morsels. If by chance you happen to drive by early some morning, you may catch a glimpse of them through the window, hunched over a table, flour everywhere. If you look even closer you might see the sparkle of the biscuit cutter and a little white ball of dough flying through the air and landing on a sheet pan, ready to be baked for our loving patrons.

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (a soft winter wheat flour, such as White Lily, works best) [White Lily is found mainly in the Southern U.S.; an all-purpose flour with a decent protein percentage is fine to use]
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons [caster] sugar [I usually cut this back to 1 1/2 tablespoons]
  • 6 tablespoons [3 oz.] unsalted butter, at room temperature (it should be the consistency of shortening)
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream [double cream]
  • 2/3 cup half-and-half [aka light single cream in the UK, or just go wild and use single cream, which is about 18% butterfat compared to about 12% for U.S. half-and-half. For a triple recipe, one pint each of double cream and light single cream. And one big-ass bowl, of course.]
  • 2 tablespoons half-and-half for brushing on top of biscuits
  • 1 tablespoon [caster] sugar for sprinkling on top of biscuits

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 375 F [190 C]. Line a sheet pan [or insulated baking sheet] with parchment paper.

Place flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Cut softened butter into 1/2 tablespoon-sized bits and add to the flour. Using your fingertips or a pastry cutter, work the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. [I use fingers. This takes just two or three minutes.]

Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in all of the heavy cream and the half and half. Stir the dry ingredients into the cream and mix with a wooden spoon until dough just begins to come together into a ball.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead 2 or 3 times to form a cohesive mass. Do not overwork the dough [always important to prevent things like biscuits, pancakes, brownies, &c. from having a specific density higher than lead’s]. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough to a 1-inch thickness. The correct thickness is the key to obtaining a stately biscuit. Dip a 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter in flour, then cut the dough. [I use a 3″ cutter and get 7 or 8 biscuits.] Repeat until all the dough has been cut. Scraps can be gathered together and rerolled one more time. [She says this because two or more regatherings and rerollings can result in overworked dough, but I find that as long as you do it gently enough, you can do two rounds after the first cutting instead of just one. The last round will get you one or two more biscuits from the scraps. They might turn out a bit misshapen, but they still taste good.]

Place the biscuits on the prepared sheet pan, leaving about 1/4 inch between them. [Why so close? Well, first, these biscuits expand almost exclusively vertically. Second, they retain more moisture when they’re baked closer together, so this measure helps keep the biscuits fluffy instead of crumbly.] Brush the tops of the biscuits with 1 tablespoon of half and half and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of sugar. [That’s 1 tablespoon distributed between all the biscuits, by the way. The half-and-half here is to make the tops a little browner than they might otherwise turn out and to make the sugar stick. I usually don’t bother with the extra sugar on top, though. It really isn’t necessary because they’ve already got sugar inside.]

Bake for 20 minutes at 375 F [190 C]. Biscuits will be lightly browned on the top and flaky in the center when done. [And still almost the original colour on the sides.]

Makes 8 to 12 biscuits, depending on the size of the cutter.

SAWMILL GRAVY
By Alton Brown

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound bulk breakfast sausage
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • Salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS

Cook sausage in a cast iron skillet. When done, remove sausage from pan and pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat. Whisk flour into the fat and cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat and whisk in milk a little at a time. Return to medium-high heat and stir occasionally while the gravy comes to a simmer and thickens. (Be sure to scrape up any brown bits that might be stuck to the bottom of the pan, that’s where the flavor is.) Check seasoning [I use lots of freshly ground pepper], add crumbled sausage and serve over toast or biscuits.

Cave Prep

I’m having arthroscopic knee surgery on Tuesday to clean up a large lateral meniscus tear – I tripped over a power cord sixteen months ago and landed hard on my right knee – and don’t much fancy microwaved and canned stuff during recovery. It sounds like I’ll have limited mobility, likely unable for a while to stand in the kitchen for hours, so I was busy yesterday and today, making:

  • Four quarts of French onion pot roast beef stew with a chuck eye roast
  • Quart-and-a-half of four-hour pasta sauce
  • Two Comfort Diner meatloaves; one’s in the freezer
  • Approximately one boatload of mashed potatoes
  • Couple pounds of glazed carrots
  • Homemade mayonnaise – specifically for meatloaf sandwiches – using the very cool, very fast immersion-blender-in-a-jar method
  • New York Times chocolate chip cookies with Maldon sea salt and toasted pecans

Of course, I’m already unable to stand for extended periods without pain, so I kind of screwed up the knee in the last 48 hours, but the above will be worth all the wincing and shouts of “Ow!” to no one in particular today. Those plus my best friend keeping me company through Thursday plus the Percocet ought to see me through just fine.

Garlic bread the French way

I’m making lasagne tonight and of course need garlic bread, so I decided to do it in a different way this time, featuring a version of the butter-braised and supremely mellow garlic that starts out Julia Child’s recipe for purée de pommes de terre à l’ail (garlic mashed potatoes). I don’t much like the taste of raw garlic that too often comes through in others’ garlic bread, and this is a fine way to tone down that harshness.

Directions

Braise the peeled cloves of two whole heads of garlic (yes!) in a small pan with a stick (8 tablespoons, 110g) of unsalted butter. Keep it on lowest heat so it’s barely bubbling – you don’t want to color either the butter or the garlic, so keep an eye on it. Braise until the garlic is quite soft and squishable, 20-30 minutes. I squished some of these with the back of a spoon to check them after half an hour.

Note: After baking and tasting the bread, I determined that you could get away with one head of garlic just fine, using the same amount of butter. The bread was good, but the garlic could be taken down a notch or three with no ill effect.

Mash:

Pass through a fine sieve – I found I had missed four bits of skin – and mix in some fresh unsalted butter while it’s still warm. I eyeballed it and decided that about a half-stick more would be enough for the entire Italian loaf I had.

Mix in a handful of fresh chopped parsley and a pinch of salt, then allow to cool for a little while for easier spreading:

Slice an Italian loaf 3/4 of the way through so the loaf stays together, then spread the garlic mixture between the slices, being more generous than a cardiologist would because you’re not making this every day. Wrap tightly in foil and store in the fridge until ready to bake.

I’ll post the results later, but the next step is to bake, still wrapped in the foil, at 400F (200C) for 15-20 minutes until the bread inside is hot and beginning to crisp. Open the foil up and bake an additional few minutes uncovered to brown the edges nicely.

Magical fruit

The first part of Christmas dinner is done: Jasper White’s Boston Baked Beans, from this updated version of his recipe originally published in Jasper White’s Cooking from New England. In the updated recipe, he boosts the oven temperature by a hundred degrees to speed baking, but I like the low and slow method in the original recipe, primarily for the extended olfactory hit, so I baked them at 250º F for about five hours.

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The menu this year:

  • Beautiful burger buns, using this recipe, so we can make…
  • Pulled pork sandwiches from a dry-rubbed shoulder slow-roasted for five hours at 275º F in an oven bag, with condiments of…
  • Cider vinegar barbecue sauce and bread & butter pickle slices – and a little extra pickle juice drizzled on
  • Jasper White’s Boston Baked Beans
  • Maybe a side dish with corn, maybe not
  • Cane syrup pecan pie from John Thorne’s Outlaw Cook, using Lyle’s Golden Syrup, not the corn syrup laughably presented as another choice at the link, because it’s the golden syrup and the rum – or bourbon if you like – that make this recipe special
  • Indian pudding – New England’s corn meal-based adaptation of hasty pudding – with vanilla ice cream

I’ll make most of these ahead of time, with the exception of the buns and the pork shoulder.

A happy Thanksgiving

It must be said that six days off is enough to make me happy even without a holiday.

Thanksgiving dinner

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Thanksgiving dinner this year was a tasty Bell & Evans turkey with roasting pan instant stock that made a perfect quart of deeply flavourful gravy, mash, some Trader Joe’s corn (frozen but pretty good), light and fluffy freshly-baked Parker House rolls, and just for me, butternut squash with white pepper and nutmeg.

In past years Market Basket has stocked a few Bell & Evans turkeys, but this year they had quite a large selection priced at a little more than twice the price per pound of, say, a Butterball bird. That might sound expensive, but Bell & Evans birds are miles above others in terms of flavour, texture, and a complete lack of injected saline solution. At other shops, they’re most often priced at 3-4 times the Butterball price per pound.

The next time I cook butternut squash, I’m going to try roasting or steaming them. Boiling infuses far too much water into the porous flesh, which forces you to cook down the mashed result for 20-25 minutes on a medium heat to get it to an unwatery state where its flavour is properly highlighted. Two whole foot-long gourds produce just 3 cups/.7 litres of delicious cooked squash in the end.

The first leftover dish, an hour ago, was a turkey sandwich on lightly toasted sourdough with jellied cranberry sauce and herb & garlic boursin cheese:

Turkey sandwich

Click for a larger size

I’ll likely be making turkey noodle soup with most of the remaining bird, but more sandwiches are definitely in my future.

Chips Ahoy

Parislights, in the My Inspiration post, asked:

my god daughter has started at Tufts and she is hopping to start a little cchip cookie business for her fellow students. She has had access to really delicious chocolate chips thanks to a local chocolatier in Normandy ( yeah…I know! France! He makes his own ! )

Hershey just doesn’t cut it for her. What do you suggest? Feel like making a cchip post ? – p’lights

Hershey’s or Baker’s or the more ubiquitous Nestle chips definitely don’t cut it. For delicious but still affordable chips, I switched years ago to Ghirardelli’s 60% bittersweet chips, which are about halfway between a chip and a disc. This photo of mine from 2010, one of about 600 rotating desktop backgrounds I have, shows the wider spread of chocolate you get from that shape:

P1020504

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The Ghirardelli site’s price seems rather high. I think Market Basket sells them for US$3.49, maybe even as low as $2.99, but as you know, they have the lowest prices around. In the Northeast US, these are in maybe one out of three supermarket chains.

You may recall that I switched allegiance to the salted chocolate chip cookie recipe published in the New York Times some years ago. It’s definitely the best I’ve tried, but you may also remember that I found through my own blind taste testing that their 24-36 hour “curing” step is unnecessary. Any perceived difference is imaginary – or perhaps the result of people unconsciously baking for a minute or two longer to produce a darker, more caramelised cookie, thereby fulfilling the aged dough fantasy.

Other than dropping their waiting period, which seems like cruel and unusual punishment given my testing, my only change to their recipe is to add a boatload of pecans that have been toasted for ten minutes in a 300F oven – an overflowing cup worth for this recipe. After toasting, I break each half into four pieces so they’re on the chunky side and let them cool so they don’t melt the dough.

I was recently delighted to find that Costco sells two pounds of unsalted pecans for US$9.99, much cheaper than any other place I’ve found; others charge about double that. If you buy in that quantity but don’t use them at a fast clip, it’s best to freeze them to stop them going rancid. They thaw quickly.

My Inspiration

Eight-and-a-half years ago, in a forum thread requesting people’s “Favourite Cookery Programme of All Time”, I answered:

“The French Chef” with Julia Child. As a kid, I watched in rapt attention her obvious joy while making baguettes on that show: flinging the dough onto the counter, raising clouds of flour, and warbling her detailed instructions, cracking jokes all the while. The memory of that is what, years later, got me started baking and cooking myself. I have every one of her cookbooks (and use them regularly), about a hundred episodes of her various shows, and I think of her every day. She was one of my few heroes.

The specific episode that I remembered years later when I finally began to bake and cook for myself is on YouTube:

From the time I watched this episode as a kid to the time I did something about it was about eighteen years, so while I may have been a slow starter, I did have a long and impressionable memory. The very first thing I made was French bread, using the first cookbook I ever owned, From Julia Child’s Kitchen. Why? Because I remembered that she made it look pretty straightforward.

Tonight, I thoroughly enjoyed making it again, raising clouds of flour as I kneaded and smiling at the memory of Julia doing the same. Because I’ve concentrated on sourdoughs in recent years – mainly boules because they’re great for sandwiches – I haven’t made this recipe in quite a while, but I found I remembered the ingredients exactly: a pound of flour, 1¼ cup tepid water, 2¼ teaspoons salt, and a packet of yeast – or 2¼ teaspoons out of a large jar in my case – dissolved in 1/3 cup tepid water. I did have to read her instructions on the multiple steps to form the loaves, though. They were clear as a bell, as usual.

P1020415w

Cooling with air circulation all around. Click for a larger version.

These aren’t true baguettes as they lack a few inches of length; my biggest baking sheet, just a few inches narrower than the oven itself, will accommodate loaves of 22″ if I angle them slightly.

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