Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The care and feeding of simple syrup

It's almost 80°F here today, so I'm calling it summer already. Along with summer comes icy drinks that you can never sweeten with granulated sugar because it doesn't dissolve. The solution is to make a solution: simple syrup.

The Solution

1 part sugar
1 part water

Combine both ingredients in a pot
Bring to a boil
Add to any beverage you want to sweeten

It really is simple to make. Keeping it, however, is a different matter.

Crystals Love Company

One thing you might run into is that the sugar crystallizes within a few days, creating a grainy, sticky mass more like sand mixed with honey than free-flowing simple syrup. Like this photo.

It still tastes the same and you shouldn't throw it away (see below), but it won't dissolve in an icy drink.

Solving The Solution

The crystallization is triggered by undissolved sugar crystals that latch onto dissolved ones and pull them out of solution. There are two primary approaches to preventing it. The first is to do everything you can to ensure all the sugar granules are dissolved. Stir it as little as possible, and use a wet pastry brush to wipe down the inside of the pan or put a lid on the pan so the steam washes the undissolved sugar off the sides. This will not give you 100% results, though.

The second, and easiest way to prevent crystallization is to use an interferer. Cream of tartar and lemon juice both contain acids that will prevent sugar from crystallizing. So, add a squeeze of lemon to your simple syrup after you remove it from the heat. Problem solved. Oh, and if you do end up with crystallized simple syrup, just heat it again to melt it and add some lemon juice. It'll be fine.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Catching up

The following will only be news to anyone who isn't my Facebook friend.

On a Friday in June 2012 I was fired by courier. It boiled down to a pissing contest with a newly hired VP. He told me to pull a network cable between two buildings during a thunderstorm. I refused, citing the absurdity of being 30 feet off the ground in a metal scissor lift during a lightning storm, and offered to do it the following day. His reply: "Put on your man pants and do it." I pointed out my lack of such a thing, and since he apparently had them it made him the better candidate, so he should take care of it himself. That got me fired. The truly ironic thing is I was going to turn in my resignation the following Monday when my boss returned from vacation. Instead I got to collect unemployment for six months and they were left without anyone who knew their IT systems. From the word that got back to me, I got the better end of the deal.

The reason I was quitting is because Myron and I were planning to move to Mexico in October 2012 and open a bed and breakfast. I spent the summer of 2012 getting the house ready to put on the market. We were talking to realtors when, in early November, we learned the Mexican government had passed sweeping changes to their immigration laws that made it much more difficult for us to move. Our plans were put on hold indefinitely.

In November 2012 Myron finally left his job of 38 years at the Medical University of South Carolina, and I floated along until my unemployment benefits ran out in December. I contemplated returning to the IT field, but I and couldn't bring myself to go back to a field that I had grown to despise. We spent 2013 traveling a lot and talking about what we would do next. Since I was home all the time and Myron was only working one job it was easy to get away and do things, and we visited friends in Tennessee frequently. I think the mountains grew on Myron and we started talking about running a B&B in western North Carolina.

After one of these trips last summer, Myron asked me if I wanted to go back to culinary school. My last experience was pretty disheartening so I thought about it for a while, and finally decided I would. I started at the Culinary Institute of Charleston in January 2014 and anticipate graduating in May 2015 with an Associate's Degree in Culinary Arts Technology.

For those who have followed me for a while, this blog is going to be almost entirely cooking-related from here on out. The only tech stuff will be me struggling to enter the modern world from the consumer side.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

For my final in my Introduction To Baking class we had to make strawberry rhubarb pie. Here is the recipe we used. Note that this makes one 5" mini-pie tin. Double the pie dough and filling recipe for a regular 10" pie, and increase the streusel topping by a third. Also note that the filling has two separate water measurements, and they are used separately. Don't do as someone in class did and guesstimate how much 2 oz is and mess up your filling.

Pie dough

2.65 oz all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
small pinch of fine-grained salt (not kosher)
1.85 oz cold shortening
0.90 oz cold water

  1. Combine the flour and salt
  2. Cut the shortening into the flour mixture until small pea-sized nuggets form
  3. Add the water and mix gently until the dough just comes together and all the flour is incorporated. It will be very sticky.
  4. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface
  5. Pat into a disk. Wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

Streusel Topping

1.5 oz all purpose flour
1 oz butter
0.50 oz brown sugar
0.05 oz cinnamon (about 1/4 teaspoon)
  1. Combine the flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon
  2. Cut the butter into the flour mixture until small pea-sized nuggets form
  3. Chill until ready to use

Strawberry Rhubarb Filling

3.35 oz strawberries, trimmed and halved (weigh after they are trimmed)
3.35 oz rhubarb, medium chop
0.25 oz cornstarch
1.35 oz granulated sugar
1.35 oz water

2 oz water
0.05 oz cinnamon (about 1/4 teaspoon)

  1. Combine strawberries and rhubarb in a bowl
  2. Combine cornstarch and sugar in a separate bowl
  3. Add 1.35 oz water to the cornstarch mixture and stir until smooth
  4. Bring 2 oz of water to a boil over medium heat
  5. Add the cornstarch mixture to the boiling water and while over the heat whisk constantly until the mixture forms a gel and becomes transparent
  6. Pour the hot gel mixture over the fruit and stir to combine
  7. Stir the cinnamon into the filling mixture

Final assembly

  1. Roll the dough out to about 1/4" thick
  2. Line a 5" pie tin with the dough and trim the edges
  3. Fill the pie shell with the filling
  4. Top with streusel topping. You will have extra topping, just use enough to coat the top well.
  5. Bake at 375F for 30 - 35 minutes, until the streusel and the edges of the crust are lightly brown