Requiem for a Thermapen

I think my expensive, well-loved kitchen thermometer has had the radish.

While making bread this past week, I tried to measure the temperature of the milk and to my finger it seemed warmer than the 80 degree reading.  I checked the hot water coming out of the tap…hmm 110 degrees, I think it should be around 125 degrees.  Then I tried our fridge…58 degrees.  I would know if our milk was 58 degrees, I like it icy.  The final test came by just setting it on the counter.  There is no way our house is 76 degrees.

Something was wrong with the thermometer!  So I did what everyone does in an emergency, I went on-line.

There I found the home calibration procedure for my thermapen.  Easy-peasy.  Expose the calibration screws, dip it in ice water and turn the screw so it reads 32 degrees.  Dip it in boiling water, turn the other screw so it reads 212 degrees, and we should be back in business.

The ice water reading was about 35 degrees, so I turned the screw to read 32 degrees.  Great!

The boiling water reading was around 180 so I turned the screw but was unable to get it to read 212 degrees.  Huh. Tried again.  More turning.  Huh, no luck.

I stopped trying to calibrate it and took a close look at the thermometer.  In the jaunty red plastic body near the probe there was a nasty little split.  Oh no!  I think the steam of the boiling water warped the plastic case while I was trying to calibrate it.

So again, I dashed on-line to check the warranty information.  Out of luck, only one year.

I bought this thermometer about 6 years ago, after a long rationalization, at the King Arthur Baker’s Store in Norwich, Vermont.  I needed the long rationalization because although I was sold on the quality of the thermometer, it was pricey.  Very pricey.  A luxury even.  Luxurious?  Useful, I will pay for but, luxurious?  I have a problem with luxurious.  Maybe it’s the Yankee in me, but luxurious somehow makes me feel a little uncomfortable.

But it was supposed to be the Cadillac of kitchen thermometers.  And how much had I already spent replacing cheap grocery store thermometers that always seemed broken just when I needed them the most?  And if I bought it here, it would not only be a wise purchase by an obviously dedicated home baker who knows quality when she sees it, but also a memento of my first visit to the mecca of home bakers.

As I muttered to myself walking around the store, I didn’t see any thermapens.  I circled around again.  Nothing.  Finally, I broke down and asked someone.  I am like a lost man driving when it comes to asking for help in a store.  I will find it myself, thank you very  much.

The nice lady told me, “Oh yes, we keep them in the back.  I’ll get one for you.”  They keep them in the back.  Because they are so precious!  I am not sure I can do this.

I flashed back to when I was a kid sent to Bud’s Market for saffron.  At Bud’s the saffron was kept behind the counter because it was so expensive and could be easily stolen by jonesing risotto junkies. Same thing for illegal fireworks; I bought those as a kid at Owen’s Market.  You had to ask Mr. Owen at the counter, and if you were brave enough to do that, and had $2, you could get a string of fifty little firecrackers.

The woman brought me the thermometer and there was no way I could leave it at the store.

We  had a lot of good times together, my thermapen and me.  Oh, we had our rough patches too.  There was the time I got it a little wet (the new models are splash-proof), and in a huff of indignation it refused to show me anything at all on the display.  But after removing the battery and a gentle air-drying, all was forgiven.

And now this.  I suppose I will write Thermoworks with my tale of woe, but I am afraid I will be out of luck.  I won’t be able to bring myself to spend the cash to replace it.  It didn’t last long enough.  It was a little fussy.  I don’t really need a 3 second read-time or pinpoint accuracy for the cooking I do.

I need something a little less luxurious and a little more dependable.  A little more Yankee.


Our Daily Bread: Honey Oat

Well, it’s not really the daily bread anymore, but for a number of years before Thing 2 was born, I made our bread. We seem to eat a lot of bread around here with toast and sandwiches being a daily occurrence, so I would make a double batch of four loaves about every 10 days. I loved making our bread and have to say, I had the recipe and method down to a science.

Then I got pregnant with Thing 2. Ugh. Let’s just say we started buying bread. I fell out of love with making bread. I felt just too icky and exhausted. No more daily loaf, English muffins, pitas, artisanal boules, or wild-yeast sourdoughs. It was a dark time.

Now that Thing 2 is a happy toddler, I am trying to get back into the habit. My family misses eating our bread and I miss making it (and eating it). So to help me fall in love with making bread again, I would like to share with you my recipe and method for making our daily bread, a honey-oat loaf.

The Tools:

These are all the things I use to make our double batch of daily bread.  I have streamlined this recipe as much as possible to minimize the time it takes and reduce the clean-up time.  The only thing missing from the photo is my Kitchen Aid mixer.  You can, of course, make this recipe with other tools, and knead by hand and use measuring cups rather than a scale, I’m just showing you how I do it.

The Recipe:

Well, now that’s clear isn’t it.  I will write the recipe out at the end of the post, but I wanted to show you what my recipe looks like.  I think this recipe started from a Best Recipe Cookbook.  Since I am intrigued by artisinal breadmaking, I converted the original recipe amounts to weights and baker’s percentages and then I tweaked it lot from there.  If you would like to learn more about the fascinating and liberating method of bakers percentages, check out The Fresh Loaf in my blogroll.  No, really, it’s cool, and invaluable for designing and troubleshooting recipes, but I warn you it involves some math.  But it’s really cool!  Check it out.

Ok.  Now that’s out of the way, let’s go!

Making a Double Batch of Honey Oat Bread

Part 1:  Making the Dough

Since my Kitchen Aid mixer can’t handle mixing a double batch (4 loaves) of bread dough, I make two single batches (2 loaves each), and then combine them after the mixer step into one large batch.

First, I measure 320 gm milk into a glass cup.

Then I tare (zero) the scale and add 235 gm of water.

Then I repeat that in a second measuring cup, put them both in the microwave and heat them until they are warm (about 3 minutes in my microwave).

While the liquid is heating, I measure out 710 gm of flour and then add 114 gm of oats.  I use old-fashioned oats.

By now the liquid is warm to the touch, I estimate about 100-110 degrees, and I add it to the dry ingredients and stir it just to combine using my white scraper.  I set the first bowl aside and repeat the process with the second bowl.

Then I rinse out the measuring cups and throw in 1.5T butter (I use salted), and measure out 65-70 gm honey (I buy the cheapest I can find for this and save the good stuff for on top of the bread) and 15 gm salt (I use kosher).

I put the measuring cups back in the microwave and nuke about 45 seconds to melt the butter.

I add the honey-butter-salt to the dough and then add the yeast.  I use a scant tablespoon of yeast.

Then I put it in the mixer, mix it around a bit, change to the dough hook and knead for 5 minutes.  It transforms from this:

To this:

To finally this!

I do the same additions and mixing and kneading to the second batch of dough.  While the second batch is kneading, I use my bench scraper to cut the first batch into pieces.

Then when the second batch is done, I cut that into pieces too.  Then I combine all the pieces with a quick knead and the two batches of dough are combined into one large batch.

I put it into my dough bucket, and set it someplace warm-ish to rise.  It usually takes about 90 minutes to double in size.

A couple of notes here.  I don’t grease my dough bucket, I find with a little gentle coaxing the dough will release and slide out just fine.  I also am not very particular about finding a warm space for it to rise.  Long, cool rises are supposed to improve flavor, and if it isn’t doubled when I think it should be, I just let it have more time.  If I need the dough to be doubled in an hour, I’ll find (or make) a warm place to try and hurry it along.

This first part usually takes me 30 minutes.  This morning, taking pictures of everything, it took me about 45 minutes.  In that time I also fed Thing 2, fed the cat, ran to the basement for more flour, changed the battery in my thermometer (still not working), and answered a bunch of questions about why is mommy taking pictures of her dough.

Part 2:  Shaping and the Second Rise

Whoa.  I got so caught up in writing the first part of this post, I didn’t check the dough. Behold!  It had risen!

I use my flexible scraper to nudge and coax the dough onto a very lightly floured counter.

I give it a few quick kneads to deflate it a bit and re-distribute the yeast for the second rise.

I divide the dough as evenly as I can into quarters using my bench scraper.  Then I weigh each quarter, add some here, take some away there so that each piece is about 730 gm.  I weigh it on the lid of the dough bucket because I don’t like doing extra dishes.

I knead each weighed piece a couple of times to combine in any scraps,  lightly dust the counter with flour and begin shaping each loaf.  First, I pat it into a vague rectangle shape.  Then, starting on the edge facing away from me, I roll it onto itself, and pinch the seam shut.

I keep doing this until a log has formed, making sure to pinch each seam shut.  Then I karate chop the ends to pinch them.  My goal is to not tear the surface of the dough while doing this.  This is called the “gluten cloak”.  I think it is more important when making baguettes and other classic shapes.  You can see here there is a tear on the side and it looks a little shaggy.  No worries!

I turn the karate-chopped ends under, pinch them to seal, and it is ready for the pan.  I spray my loaf pans with cooking spray before putting in the bread.

I shape the remaining dough the same way and set the pans some place warm-ish to rise.  I let them rise until the top of the dough is about 1/2″ above the side of the pan.  This usually takes about an hour.  I don’t cover the dough while rising, I don’t find it necessary.  This second step of shaping the loaves only takes about 10 minutes.

Part 3:  Baking

Yay!  They rose.  I still get excited when my bread rises.  Let’s measure, shall we?  I’m a geek.

Ready for the oven!

I preheated the oven to 350 degrees sometime during the second rise.  I don’t bake the loaves on a baking stone or add steam or anything.  Just place them on the rack in your dirty oven.  You can also use a clean oven, but I am unfamiliar with this, and am not sure how they would fare.

Wow!  Look at that oven spring!  Quick, close the door!

Bake for about 40 minutes.  The bread should be golden brown, sound hollow when thumped, and if your thermometer is working, have an internal temperature of between 190 and 200 degrees.

Turn them immediately out of their pans onto a cooling rack.  Make sure they are fully cool before slicing.  Whatever you do, don’t eat a slice of warm bread with butter and honey!  The bread experts will tell you proper cooling is critical for bread quality.  If you can resist, you are a stronger person than I.

The Recipe:

Honey Oat Daily Loaf (makes 2 loaves)

710 gm white flour (about 5 2/3 c)

114 gm Old Fashioned Rolled Oats (about 1 c)

320 gm Milk (about 1 1/3 c)

235 gm Water (scant 1 c)

1.5 T Butter (salted)

70 gm honey (about 3T)

15 gm salt (kosher, about 2 3/4 tsp)

Scant T active dry yeast (or 1 foil pkg)

Combine milk and water and heat in microwave until warm to the touch (around 110 degrees).  Combine flour, oats and mix in water and milk.  Combine honey, salt and butter in microwave safe container and microwave until butter is nearly melted.  Add to dough.  Add yeast.  Mix to combine and then knead 5 minutes in Kitchen Aid mixer on level 2 (or knead by hand 8-10 minutes until smooth).  Place dough in container, cover and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.  Remove dough, lightly knead and divide into 2 even pieces.  Shape into loaf, and place, seam side down into a greased loaf pan.  Let rise in a warm space until crown of dough is about 1/2″ about pan (about 1 hour).  While bread is rising, preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place bread in oven and bake about 40 minutes until done.  Remove from oven and immediately turn out onto cooling rack.



Chilly Morning at Casa de Pollo

With an overnight low of just 5 degrees, it is certain that the hens’ water has frozen.  I have easily fallen into a morning routine, this first winter of keeping hens.   I hop onto the frosty deck, still barefoot, and grab yesterday’s waterer.  We keep two waterers, one in use in the coop while the other waits, literally, on deck.

I bring the plastic waterer inside and start thawing it in the sink by running hot water over it.  I enjoy watching the patterns that form as the ice melts and always think how pretty the ice looks, so wet and clear.

I refill the waterer, grab the chicken bowl and head out to the coop.  Depending on the temperature, I am sometimes accompanied by the cat.  This morning it is just too cold.

The hens hear me coming and start their low bawkkkk bawkkkk calls that almost sound to me like growls.  Maybe purrs would be a better word, I think they are happy realizing they are about to be let out into the run.

The morning frost has frozen the latches shut, so I have to briefly hold them in my hands to get them to open.  They are so cold they burn a bit.  The hens are getting impatient.  Finally, I can open the door, and our four big, pretty hens are waiting.  I’m not sure if hens can be Rubenesque, but with their pretty cream and buff coloring and their full-figures, I think they fit the bill.

I dump the chicken bowl into the shavings in the coop, and switch the iced waterer for the new one while the hens fight over the grapes.  The contents of the chicken bowl reflect the cast-offs of the previous day.  The rejected toast and sandwich crusts, Life cereal, wrinkly grapes, small bits of American cheese and Annie’s Mac and Cheese rejected yesterday are gladly gobbled by the hens.

I close and latch the coop door, and open the pop door into the run.  Usually the hens immediately run out, but this morning the scraps are too good to leave.  I open up the small galvanized can that holds the black oiled sunflower seeds and the sound of the small scoop running through the seeds calls the hens into the run.

I sprinkle out their morning treat, and then check the nest box for eggs.  None yet today.  Winter has slowed their egg production to only one or two per day, but it is still enough for us.

I am grateful for our hens.  Not just for their amazing parlor trick of producing eggs from our garbage,  but because they force me to go out every winter morning, at least for a few minutes, and experience the crisp and quiet cold.