Saturday, October 29, 2011

Portuguese Bread Folar


Folar is an Easter bread that can be sweet or savory, depending upon the region of Portugal. What is different about this recipe is the incredible amount of eggs in the dough. The best thing is that it turns out light, fluffy, yet full of flavor, with a delicate crust that melts in the mouth.
The first time I heard about folar was at a hair saloon. The lady taught me how to make this bread, and also paella with rabbit meat. I never got to make the paella her way, but I sure made folar a few times.
Over twenty years had passed, and here am I again making folar on an improved recipe I found on the internet at www.gastronomias.com. For those ones who cannot read Portuguese, I shall translate it for you with my own personal twist (and experience). This is a great recipe.

1 kg all-purpose flour
12 eggs (yes, 12!) with shells warmed in warm water before breaking
250g melted butter
50g olive oil
30g compressed fresh yeast melted in ¼ cup warm water
Warm milk and salt
Smoked sausage sliced, salt pork or bacon cut into small cubes, ham, roasted chicken

In a large bowl, make a well in the center of the flour. Pour melted yeast and eggs, mixing in a circle, adding the flour little by little. Add butter and oil. If the dough is stiff, add a little bit of warm milk with salt to taste. It´s a soft dough, so you do more beating kind of movement than kneading until it forms a ball. Let it rise.
The recipe instructs to divide the dough into 3 and make layers (like lasagna) with meat. Let it rise again, and then, brush with egg wash, and bake in hot oven for 45 minutes.
I have done it differently. I was so tired and sleepy that night that I stashed into the fridge until next morning. I took it out of the fridge, kneaded a bit, and stretched with a hand roller. I cut the dough into 2, opened it like pizza crust, and spread the meat over. I rolled it (like would sushi), tucked the sides underneath and let it rise. Over two hours later, and with the dough risen greatly, I popped them in a hot oven for about 30 minutes. I lowed the temperature a bit, so not to burn. They came out huge, light, fluffly, and tasty.
The next day I used the same recipe and process, but filled with provolone cheese and the other piece with green olives. I can’t say which one is best.

Getting the Real Thing


When I first took interest for country style bread baked in a wood fired oven, I asked my neighbor that I barely knew to teach me the secrets of the trade. I was after the type of bread stored in my childhood memories that tasted much different from the bread I eat today, even if baked in wood fired ovens. Dona Rosa, then, told me that her sister who lives several miles away had “yeast in a bottle”.
A few days ago,I put in a bag a package of cookies, flour and sugar (these were to be given as gifts), picked up Dona Rosa and headed for her sister´s house. She lives in a very small rural community of dozen homes in a rather scenic route. I used to drive this road while taking “Pro-Milk”, a course to learn how to work with milking cows.
We were greeted by four women, an elderly lady, two middle aged women and a teenager. The older lady is Dona Rosa´s mother who is already a greatgreatgrandmother. Dona Rosa herself turned a greatgrandmother at the age of 50. Anyway, we all seated on the sofa and they talked about people’s state of health. I tried to be interested but my mind wondered on how soon I was going to see the starter. I noticed that the wood looked grungy, as my mom used to say the wood houses always look dirty and dark. Sometimes it holds a smell. At certain point, the lady announced that she would make some coffee and disappeared into the kitchen. About thirty minutes later, she invited us to sit at the table.
She served us two plain deep fried dough. Davina said that the first one was made of flour, water, and baking powder. The second one was made with sourdough starter, “so I could see the difference”. Anything fried makes just flour and water taste delicious. Some were puffed up, but they had no filling.
Over an hour and still no signs of the starter. Only when everybody was finished, included some family members that joined us later that Davina took the prized starter from the fridge, kept in a 1 liter coke plastic bottle. About one inch of flour on the bottom, and 500 ml of liquid. It was inert, no bubbles or foam. It looked flat and watery. She gave me the recipe to feed the starter: 9 tablespoons of flour, 3 tablespoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of salt. She omit the type of spoon, so on my first experience, I added too much salt.
The great day came; I treated my starter, took half for the bread, and kept half in the fridge. The bread recipe was 2 kg flour, 500 or 600 ml starter, less than a cup of oil, some water, sugar and salt. The dough came out very stiff, but I didn’t know how it was supposed to be. So I added more starter and oil. I left the dough rest for the night, punched it down next morning, put stretched the dough with a hand roller, and free formed them. Another few hours until they went to Dona Rosa’s wood fired oven.
The bread smelled like sweet yeast (if this thing exist), it tasted slightly sour, but not quite like California sourdough bread. The density and the texture, besides the pale color of the crust, definitely I can tell that I have reproduced the bread of my childhood.
The bread became better with further bakings, and I have used the starter to make deep fried dough and also pizza crust. I thought to be a mix of tough and chewy crust, but the taste had character. Something to become addicted to. The next day, I heated over a dry pan and the crust became crunch and even more delicious.
I am still to try sourdough pancakes and guava paste filled fried dough.
Yeah, I dumped my two other starters I had made at home from scratch. They were too sour, almost offensive. To taste, the “yeast in a bottle” is sweet and mild. Interestingly, it rises better in a tall narrow container. When kept tightly closed in a bottle, at the opening, it may burst like a champagne. How fun!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Brazilian Soap Recipe & Process

Soapmaking is a simple process, but rather dangerous. I wouldn´t recommend just to anyone. Only people that feel safe in handling boiling elements can take on a project like this. In this video, I wanted just to show you how I make one of my household use soaps; it is not intended to teach you to make one. There is no space for detailed orientation in the video, nor have I enough knowledge to instruct you on a safe soapmaking process. The alcohol based soaps trace very quickly, specially when added to tallow. The most dangerous mixture is the use of too warm lye mixture, too warm tallow, an alcohol. The soap mixture boils over as soon as it traces, leaving a pool of raw soap on the floor. If you noticed, you will see the angry fumes going up after doing the spoon test. It boiled over, you will see next to the tray. I was able to pour it afterwards, but lost quite a bit of useable soap. The foam that hardens also cleans well - so, no need to cut it away. I like using the bar soap on dishes, but I boil grated soap in water to use in laundry machine. I don´t believe to be good to be used on dishwashing machine (I don´t have one). Of course, I start using the soap when it turns white (cured), at least partially. Raw soap that catches on a bucket is used to soak kitchen towels or rags. I love making this soap for several reasons: it traces in a matter of seconds; it never goes wrong; it yields beautiful, uniform, smooth soap; it cleans like no other; no residual smell of animal fat; it dries and hardens fast; it´s a winner.

October 15, 2011 - Coffee Roasting in Video

October 11, 2011 - My Very First Sourdough Bread



My Very First Sourdough Bread

I am diving deep into rural culture of doing everything from scratch. After the experience of baking pizza in my new wood fired oven, I took interest in wild yeast fermentation process, the .sourdough starter.
Most of the time, my only door to the outside world is the internet. I researched all I could to learn the process. It is rather a very easy thing, just like soapmaking.
I began with two different recipes, one that I followed more closely, and the other one that I ended up doing my way – both turned out OK.
The first days, neither mixture would show anything except slight deterioration. The chef James Beard´s recipe called for flour, sugar, milk, water, and later on, a package of dry commercial yeast. As I had only instant dry yeast, I used compressed fresh yeast. The mixture never really bubbled, looking more like iogurt, even though it smelled like good beer . The other mixture I used just flour and water, and it looked flat, lifeless, until I decided to feed more flour. Then, it started to foam. Unlike others I have seen on the internet that make large bubbles, even on the bottom of the container, my was foamy only on top, but sticky all through..
After seven days or so, I prepared Beard´s recipe for sponge. It was strange to me that a sponge would take a lot more flour than the bread recipe, but I followed it. For the bread dough itself, he calls for a package of active dry yeast, which I didn´t have (I found only the instant one or the compressed kind in the store), so I was forced to use the instant yeast, as the compressed had green mold on it. It took a rise, a punch down, another rise, and then to shape it into a roll. I think my problem started at this point, as the end result was a flat, dense, slightly raw tasting bread, which endeed tasting deliciously tangy, with a dry thick crust on top and smushy bottom. First, I left the dough rise too long for the type of yeast after I shaped it. The dough opened on the top, showing some bubbles. Then, it suffered with low temperature oven, which instead of baking in 30 minutes, took over an hour. I was so dismayed that I would have gone to town to buy a good stove just to bake my other bread tomorrow. But tomorrow is holiday and all stores are closed.
Meanwhile, the other dough is still left to rise. I am soon going to punch down and mold it into a free form and tomorrow, to see how it tastes. I am most curious about this one as it doesn´t have any commercial yeast, and the dough rose wonderfully.
I am going to ask for my neighbors help to bake my bread in her wood fired oven. Or I will lose my hard worked dough. After all, for this one, it is going to be 10 days of watching, caring, kneading, and expecting.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

October 2, 2011 - Pizza Passion Or Oven Anxiety


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I had plans of building a brick oven using red earth as a mortar, just like many other cheap and common igloo shaped ovens around here. But I remembered that a Baptist Church runs an orphanage in the next town had a pre-molded oven they had abandoned saying "it burned the bread". At that time, I thought that the oven was made with concrete. Only later I found out that they used a refractory concrete, which makes the oven perfectly usable. The same day I got the metal wood stove, I ran to the orphanage and asked for the oven. The pastor didn´t know the current price so couldn´t sell it right away. I had a price set on my mind, but for some reason, I had forgotten how much it costs in my store. A couple days later, I showed up and told him the price (R$390 for a brand new similar type). He sold me for R$150 and I offered him $20 extra to have it delivered next day, and I had already put a donation on my first visit. The whole adventure cost me R$210. But it doesn´t end there.
The anxiety of trying out the oven (to see if it really burns the bread) and eating a homemade pizza, I had the carpenters who are fixing up my house to set my oven just for that occasion.
I had rolled a heavy sewage concrete pipe to my yard and made a hole to hasten their job the following day. So they used red earth and cement as a mortar to glue the pieces together.
So, I made pizza not only once, but three times on my improvised oven stand. A few accidents happened, such as the wooden piece I had place under the oven (without isolating it with bricks)caught fire, the whole Calabrese sausage onion pizza fell upside down on the dirt floor, and serving some uncooked burned pizza with ashes on top for guests who were in a hurry.
I got valuable lessons from it: can´t hurry the oven fire, can´t hurry the oven construction, and don´t walk around with hot pan of Calabrese pizza.
My oven is still on an improvised stand, and I guess, it is going to be a few more days (or weeks) to have it in a permanent place, under a firm brick stand, over a concrete pad. I have also bought fiberglass matt to place around the igloo to insulate the heat. We don´t use this material/technique in Brazil, but I have seen on youtube, so I decided to include it on my oven construction.
While I can´t use my igloo oven, I keep using my regular gas stove for baking.

October 2, 2011 - Wood Stove


Wood fired oven is my latest passion. As a child, I used to see rustic brick made ovens on the countryside where women would make big free form loaves of bread. My mother never had one, the same way that she never made soaps, sausages, or cheese. All the nice things that were made back then.
A few weeks ago, my new tenant and I traded a piece of tractor equipment for this antique stove. He said that he got it from the local Catholic church, but I have no idea how this kind of stove ended up in our region. We have a very hot climate around here, and a metal stove that works as a heater is unwanted. It is of my knowledge that European descent people own this kind of appliance in the South, where it gets cold in the winter. My aunt told me that my grandmother used to have one. In Brazil, the brick made stove is the most common.
So I became curious about the metal stove and adopted it. But it came without a part of the chimney, what makes my baking almost impossible. Today, a woman from my church brought me a ceramic piece that may help to assemble the chimney. I am hoping for the best.

October 1st, 2011 - Spring is in the Air!



My enthusiasm is back around farm living, after a few months of discouragement. If you remember, my father decided to sell the farm for I was decided to go back to my city life somewhere in America. I was heart broken, and all I wanted was to find my self-worth elsewhere. In the midst of all this, my father suddenly got ill and passed away. My brother came from America on a quick trip basically to tell me that he wanted nothing to do with the farm and left. My sister didn't want to take our bedridden mom to Sao Paulo city into her tiny apartment. But I had already decided to stay, take care of my mother, and fight to get my heart healed now for two big losses. So the adventures on the farm continue in this hot and dry beginning of Spring.
A big era ended in my life - of care-free living. I finally grew to be an adult? I took over the farm; I am now solely responsible for my mother's care and still having to raise a 10-year old girl. I have six dogs, four of them I chose to adopt in the last three years, and a male cat left by my father.
Many people got afraid for me as we are just three women - a frail elderly, a child, and myself - living on a rural area, where violent crimes have been reported. But I chose to remain on the farm and I chose not to be ridden by fear. I installed an alarm system in the house and am careful to come in and out. I have studied adopting a more aggressive dog such as Rotweiller, but I am unsure about my authority over him.
I was able to rent the pasture and with it, I got all the fencing fixed. With the weeds low, the danger of fire also diminishes. Today I witnessed two blazing spots and two other smoky patch along the road within a few miles from the farm. That was scary. But we are expecting rain for the next few days, and this should ameliorate the situation.
The pasture rental doesn´t pay me much; of course, much less than if I had a cattle myself. But it is so worry free that I actually like that I can make money doing nothing. The renter is a successful vegetable grower in town. I had met him a couple years ago and from whom I got my crazy Border Collie mix.
The chicken coop is still being rented to the same man for years. Nothing changed. Now, I have only the coffee plantation section to be taken care of. I know that I may get even less than renting a pasture, but at least, someone will care for what my father put so much work, money and efforts. A neighbor told me that my father confessed him "I know that I am not going to live another 50 years. I am working hard to leave the farm productive for my daughter." I am so sorry I can't harvest coffee another year. It takes investiments and human labor I am not apt to work with. My only option besides selling the farm would be to rent them out. That's what I am doing. I feel somewhat ashamed to tell that I didn't chose to fight against the odds and throwing myself into a rural enterpreneurship.
When we think about differences between city and farm living, imediately comes to one´s mind the tranquility of bucolic lifestyle one can have on a farm. It is still true, but to me, the brutal difference is that the city skills that I have are almost of no use here. It´s a whole new way of thinking and solving problems. Being a woman, I get no much respect by employees who are used to deal with male bosses, when we get to hire any. A man who was fixing the fence works for my tenant, and I wanted to hire him to do the fence around my house. Even though this worker knows me, he just disappeared into a thin air. My tenant told me of this man´s resistance to work for a woman, even though he offered to give him a ride everyday and assist him in fence building. During harvest, I would have to deal with at least six to fifteen people, many of them men. I am supposed to be the old fashioned authoritarian boss, but I was educated to be democratic. Of course, there is a difference between being a good leader and a weak one, but it is not part of my personality to force one into doing something. The rural workers are rejected ones from the workforce for lack of education and skills. Those aspects also make them very difficult to deal with. I have a temp worker who does little jobs for me who is completely illiterate. He doesn´t sign his name, doesn´t read clock hours and doesn´t know money. Thank God he is a docile man that resembles much the gardener played by Peter Seller´s in "Being There" or "The Idiot", a Dostoevsky´s character. Of course, instructions are almost useless. He doesn´t understand them, specially if I give him a sequence of work. I need to work side by side, so the work progresses.

The farm is about 40 acres, divided into chicken coops, coffee plantation, the pasture and the house. So my new playground are the house and the surrounding area. It is still pretty large. I have an orchard, a space for vegetable gardening, a front yard for flower garden and so much more.
If I sold the farm, I would get only a house the size I have now in town. Right now, I have electricity and water included in my tenant's account; I have several fruit trees I planted a couple years ago. Some of them I have been already harvesting fruits. I prize also the silence and solitude in the countryside. But I don't feel isolated. I drive to town twice a day, a house helper comes every morning, I chat with my neighbor almost every day. And, I have an internet access - that's my door to the world. Besides, I always find something of my interest to develop.
I am working to turn my dream into reality: to have a wood fired oven; my house fixed up; to build a rustic sauna and a hot tub. My latest interest is sourdough starter! Today I baked rosemary foccacia in my regular gas stove. But I have tried my second hand purchased pre-molded oven with pizza making. Also, I bought a very old metal stove, wood burning, and have tried to bake some. But the lack of chimney makes the oven cool quickly, so I have put it aside for a while.
This is the scenery of my current farm life. I am not growing vegetables, raising free-range chickens, pigs, or cows. I only have pets. The great part of income comes from my father´s pension and my mother´s retirement, besides the child support money. A smaller amount comes from the lease. I don´t have a single thing that comes from the land that I turn into money. Or no food that I feed myself on. I feel like I have a suburban lifestyle.
I am trying to figure out if I am a fake or not, or if I have succumbed into a new economic reality in my country. I can´t survive out of the small land. I don´t have a large family, the skills, the bank loan, the government support. I could get knowledge (as I have been getting through classes), but knowledge alone won´t plow the land. More on this subject sometime later.
I just came to say that I am well, happy, and with many projects I want to share with you.
Have a great Spring! - at least here, down the Equator.