Having had a long chat with “The Masked Chef“, I decided to start my own blog. I chose the name “The Mad Chef” because it reminds me of the proverbial mad Scientist from these old movies. You know what I mean. The chap with the skew eyes who speaks funny and tries to conquer the world with his mad inventions. World dominations seems like an interesting challenge, but for now I’d go with giving you some new ideas for your cooking.
I like to combine elements of the molecular cuisine with classic cooking. Molecular cuisine is cool if you don’t make it a religion and don’t try to do everything molecular style. Combining foams, espumas, jellies, spheres, etc. with traditionally prepared meals is awesome, taking taste to a completely new level. You have to be open for this kind of thing though.
I like to do experiments. Think out of the box. Try and try again. Try to improve my cooking using self-built, sometimes crazy devices.
The first thought is always “Why hasn’t anybody thought of this before?”
In most cases the second thought is “Wow, that’s bad! What a waste of good food. What’s wrong with me that I even thought this might work? No wonder nobody thought of this before. Or if they did, they didn’t tell anyone because it would have been too embarrassing.”.
Sometimes though, just sometimes, I think “Wow, this is awesome! Why hasn’t anybody thought of this before?”. And these few occasions are worth the hassle.
These are the things you’ll find in my blog. “Mad Devices” that actually work. Recipes that actually taste good. I won’t share the stuff that went wrong, though. 🙂 Trying to spare myself the embarrassment.
Regarding Recipes: yes, you will find a few recipes on this Blog. The focus of the blog is more on tools, devices, machines, etc. I want to give you ideas on how to approach cooking differently, thinking out of the box, doing things in a way you haven’t tried before. Also, DIY is a topic. Some devices aren’t available in shops so I had to build them myself. The recipes I post are usually examples to demonstrate the practical use of “mad” and “not so mad” devices.
One final note on freebies and free samples: Many bloggers and so-called influencers advertise items which they were given free of charge or they even receive cash for writing positive reviews. The Mad Chef doesn’t receive or accept money, goods or anything else for reviewing or writing about products I love cooking and experimenting in the kitchen and I simply want to share the experiences I make. In case you’re a producer or distributor of a product you would like to read a review about, you may of course send me some information on this product. Please refrain from sending me freebies or samples though. If I like your product I’ll buy it and pay the full price. If I don’t like it, I won’t buy it. If you send me stuff anyway, please note that it won’t be returned. I don’t have the time to go to the post-office to return stuff. Whatever I get will be donated to charity if I think it worthwhile or I’ll simply scrap it if I think it’s shit. I will not review any freebies though, whether I like them or not. I’m independent and I want it to stay that way.
Unpaid Avertising: Because I’m located in Germany and there is some German law that says so, any reviews that I make must be marked as “advertising”, even though I don’t receive mone for these. You will therefore find the caption “Unpaid Advertising” at the beginning of each review.
One of the pieces of equipment very high up on my bucket list was a PajoJet. It had stood there for years but the buying price, even for a used unit was just too prohibitive. A new PacoJet will set you back over 4.500 Euro, even a used one is around 2.000 Euro, which is just a little steep for a private household.
For those who haven’t heard of it, a PacoJet is something like the holy grail for Michelin-star chefs to achieve perfect textures for Mousses, Ice Creams, sauces, etc. So, when I was offered a broken unit that was deemed beyond salvage at a very low price, I thought “challenge accepted” and bought it. Unfortunately, there aren’t any repair-manuals available. Also PacoJet won’t sell spare parts, so you have to go with what you can salvage. If one of the specific components like the mainboard or the power supply can’t be repaired, you’re stuck. I do understand their point here though. The unit is rather complicated, computer controlled and involves high-speed components. Nothing you want your fingers caught in. If you don’t know exactly what you’e doing, you’ll either get electrocuted or you’ll amputate a few fingers in the revolving mechanics. This is definitely a case of “don’t do this at home”! Having restored a few cars, I thought “well, it can’t be more complicated than that”. Unfortunately, it was.
Spoiler alert: In the end I managed and I learned a lot in the process but if I calculate all the hours I put into the restoration, this is probably the world’s most expensive PacoJet ever.
When the PacoJet arrived in the original carton and I unpacked it, I immediately understood why it was sold as broken and beyond salvage. It was dented and scratched plus it was just dead, one light came on when I powered it up but nothing else.
So, in order to get to the ground of things, I opened the case and checked the mechanics. I decided to take a step-by-step approach and to fix one issue after the other. Opening it, I immediately saw that the unit was absolutely dirty and grimy. A sticky layer of fat and dirt covered everything inside the unit. Over 20 years in a restaurant-kitchen take their toll.
One of the first things I noticed was that the security-switches for the beaker-holder were totally dirty and worn. These switches ensure that the unit will only power up when a beaker-holder has been inserted properly. Otherwise only the green power light will come on but nothing else will happen. This was exactly the behaviour the device showed, so I used an Ohm-Meter to check the switches and found one to be faulty. I then bridged this switch to test if the unit would power up.
Powering up the unit, the display came on immedately, the “ready”-light was green. Before going on, I replaced both switches with new ones. Even though one was still ok, it was just a question of time when it would break as well. It’s always better to replace this kind of thing when the unit is open anyway.
With the new switches in place I then tried to do a function-test of the device. Unfortunately, it only sprang to life for a split second before going dark again. Not what you want, but hey, that would have been too eas and nothing better than a good challenge. I decided to continue my troubleshooting activities by checking the electronics. All ciruit boards were extremely dirty and impossible to check.
Even with all the dirt on the boards, you could still see that some components were clearly faulty. If you take a close look at the Siemens-component in the foreground on the picture below, you’ll notice that some of the legs are askew and seem to have been re-soldered after having broken off at some point. Clearly, whoever had been tring to repair this unit in the past didn’t have a clue what the were doing.
I decided to bathe the circuit boards in alcohol to clean them. Even though this may not sound like a good idea, it actually works. After having bathed the mainboard in alcohol and having carefully removed the dirt with an old toothpaste, it actually looked like new.
When I turned the mainboard over to check the rear, some components actually fell out. These seem to have come loose at some point and were only held by the sticky fat and dirt that had crept everywhere. The bent transistors on the picture below also caused issues and needed to be replaced.
I decided to do a thorough check of the board to see if there were any other cold soldering points. I found a few.
I decided to replace all components that looked slightly dodgy, especially the Siemens TLE 4260. I found a source that sells this component for less that 4 Euros, so I bought a handfull, in case I break one or it fails some time in the future. The comparison between new and old is stunning.
I also removed and tested all other transistors on the board. Checking them in a tester showed some of these to be faulty as well.
Having throroughly checked the electronics one more time I reassembled the unit and again tried to run it. This time it actually ran, at least for a while. Something was still wrong though. Even though the control panel showed that the rotating rod inside the device, to which the blade is fastened, was supposed to move up again after having finished scraping the frozen contents of a beaker, it continued going down at a very low rate. This pointed to a mechanical issue, so I needed to figure out the principle on which the device actually works. Originally I thought this was something like a power drill, very simple and easy to understand. The more I learned though, the more I was impressed by the ingenuity of the machine. Basically, the whole principle is based on the fact that the rod rotates inside an also rotating steel tube. The rod will always rotate in the same direction and at a constant speed of 2,000rpm while the speed of the tube will vary, depending on whether the rod is supposed to go up or down. Whether it goes up or down and at which speed depends solely on the difference beween the speed of rod and tube. If the tube rotates faster than the rod, the rod will move up. If the tube rotates slower than the rod, the rod will move down. While the rod rotates at a constand speed, the speed of the tube is controlled by a gearbox which contains two electromechanical clutches, one at the top and the other at the bottom. Having determined that a mechanical issue was be the cause of this problem, I decided to test the gearbox by powering the clutches separately and to see if they engaged properly. I quickly noticed that, even though both clutches made a loudly audible click when activated, the bottom clutch didn’t actually engage properly. The top one seemed to move, at least a bit, but I wasn’t sure if it was ok, so I decided to disassemble the gearbox.
As can be seen in the picture, the gearbox -like everything else inside the unit- was extremely dirty. I therefore decided to clean all components thoroughly. Especially the clutch on the left seems to have had contact with a liquid which definitely also ran inside the clutch. Removing the clutches revealed even more dirt in and around them.
As dirt is never a good thing inside a clutch, I checked if I could find spares online. I actually found some used ones on eBay. These looked worse than mine though and were still supposed to cost 100 Euro each. As that wasn’t an option, I took the risk, disassembled my old ones, cleaned them until the inside looked like new and then reassembled them. Miraculously, no parts were left over. Having cleaned and reassembled the gearbox I again tried actuating the clutches. This time they moved significantly stronger than before.
I did actually manage to get the whole unit reassembled, redid the cabling of the mainboard, the top board, the power supply and all the sensors in the unit. I also replaced the power switch to make the unit properly waterproof again.
Now the big moment: Trying if it works. Power On, select 1 portion, hit “Start”. Lots of noise, the rod goes down, stops briefly…. and goes up again! Finally!
Challenge mastered, goal achieved. The unit that had been declared beyond salvage actually worked. Now… taking into consideration the dozens and dozens of hours I spent repairing it, even at minimum wage this repair would have been extremely expensive, so I guess it really was beyond salvage if you take into account the labour-costs. On the other hand, I did this in my spare time, so in the end I got a fully functioning PacoJet for a low three-digit figure.
Now that it worked, I also wanted it to look nice and fit into the kitchen, so I decided to work on the metal case. First of all, I removed the dents and sanded it down to also get rid of all the scratches.
I then sprayed it in a classic beige tone to give it the retro-look I wanted. This way it will fit in with my other kitchen appliances.
The beige paint was then covered with two layers of high-gloss clear paint. Finally, I used chrome-letters normally used in the Automotive Industry to put some finishing touches to that retro-look.
With all the work I put into it, the PacoJet now looks brand new and matches the other appliances nicely.
Baking Sourdough bread is actually quite easy. All it takes is flour, water and salt. No baker’s yeast is required. Actually, baker’s yeast is counterproductive and shouldn’t ever be used to make sourdough bread, no matter what some recipes say. Obviously, there are hundreds of different recipes out there and most bakers claim that theirs is the only true recipe. If you ask five people, you’ll probably get eight opinions. My recipe is the one that works best for me. It’s a basic recipe that will work with most kinds of flour. First of all you take your sourdough starter (to find out how to get that, please read my blog-entry on this topic). For five days in a row, add 100g of flour plus 100g of water every day. Stir with a wooden spoon.
Once the jar is nearly full, pour the dough over into a large bowl. Reserve about 100g of dough in the original jar. This will be your new starter for the next sourdough bread.
When stirring the sourdough in the large bowl, you’ll notice that bubbles have formed within the dough. This is exactly what you want to see. The lactic acids as well as the naturla yeasts in the flour are dong their work.
On the sixth day, you add about 200g of flour plus 20g of salt. It’s very important to wait until the last day before adding the salt. Salt has the effect of slowing down the fermentation process. If you add it too early, the bacteria will be very slow and your sourdough won’t rise properly. Basically, this is all you need for a perfect sourdough bread. Personally though, I find it a bit boring so I always add some seeds. My favourites are pumpkin-, sunflower- and chia-seeds.
I add the seeds plus the additional 200g of flour and 20g of salt to the dough.
I then let my machine do the work. You can also do this by hand but it’s a heck of a lot of work if you do. I carefully add more flour until the dough doesn’t stick to the sides of the bowl anymore.
For baking, the dough is then placed into a special basket.
To prevent the dough from sticking to the basket, I use baking-paper which I shape the same way the basket is shaped.
I then cover the dough with flour and put it into the basket.
The dough is then covered with the baking paper and is set aside in a warm location (25C – 28C are perfect) for between 6 and 12 hours. During this time, it’ll rise nicely.
I then turn it upside down on a thin wooden bard with which I will later push it into the oven.
To make sure it will keep the right shape when it rises in the oven (it will rise a little bit because the air inside the bubbles will slight expand through the heat), I cut some stripes in the top of the loaf.
I put a so-called pizza-stone into the oven. In addition, a bowl of water is placed at the bottom of the oven. This water is needed to give the bread its traditional crust. It evaporates and the steam goeas onto the dough, causing it to form a crust. The oven is the heated to 230 Degress Celsuis. Once it has reached that temperature, the loaf is put onto the hot pizza-stone. Be careful when opening the oven. Keep your face back a bit as otherwise you’ll catch a load of boiling hot steam. You wouldn’t want that, trust me.
After 20 minutes, turn down the temperature to 180C and remove the bowl of water. I think I don’t need to mention that this bowl is extremely hot, so be very careful.
Keep the bread in the oven at 180 Degrees for 50 more minutes, then remove it and place it on a metal grate to cool out evenly from all sides.
Finally, after cooling down, the first slice is cut. Awesome! In this case I used spelt because I didn’t have any rye flour left, that’s why the colour is rather light.
Sourdough consists of only two ingredients: Flour and water. The most used are wheat and rye. I personally prefer rye because it has just so much more aroma than wheat. If possible, use organic flour for your sarter. Organic flour hasn’t been treated and may contain more lactic acid bacteria than processed flour. The more lactic acid bacteria the flour contains, the better your sourdough will be. My personal favourite is organic Rye-Flour type 1150. Whole grain flour is great for baking but the bacteria have some trouble working through it. For a starter, that’s not what you want, therefore you should go with the standard Type 1150 for the starter, even if you want to bake whole grain bread.
Making your own sourdough starter is actually easier than you’d think, as long as you stick to some basic rules:
Use a large glass-container which can be closed with a lid if required. You want to use glass so that you can also see the progress your starter makes from the sides where the bubbles develop. This jar should be heat proof so that it can be properly cleaned.
Don’t use metal spoons for stirring. For some reason metal seems to irritate some of the lactic acid bacteria. I’m not sure if this is scientifically proven but I observed that my starters will develop far better if I use a wooden spoon instead of a metal one.
Keep everything extremely, surgically clean. Any contaminations may give unwanted bacteria a head start, leading to mould and causing your sourdough to become a stinking blob of black goo. Trust me, I’ve been there. You don’t want that. Clean out the jar with boiling water. Make sure you pour boiling water all over it so that also the outside is clean. Pour boiling water over the wooden spoon. If possible, keep the spoon in the boiling water for a few minutes. As wooden spoons aren’t all that hygienical and can collect a lot of bacteria over time, this is actually something you might want to do with your wooden kitchen accessories every now and then anyway.
Make sure your starter is kept at the right temperature. This chapter devloped into a bit of a chemistry-biology-class but it’s worth reading. Keeping to the correct temperature is vital for the sourdough to develop properly. Some recipes will tell you that you should keep your starter at a temperature between 20 and 30 degrees. This may work if you’re lucky but it might just as well fail. The proper temperature is in a window between 24C and 28C. The reason for this is that there are different kinds of bacteria as well as wild yeasts in the flour. Between 26C and 28C, the wild yeasts develop very well. Lactic Acid bacteria develop best in the lower spectrum between 24C and 26C. These will also keep unwanted bacteria at bay which would otherwise cause mould to develop.
Below 24C, you give unwanted bacteria an advantage over the lactic acid bacteria, most probably spoiling your sourdough starter by turning it into mould. In my experience, the best temperature to keep your starter at is around 25C. This will give the lactic acid bacteria a good start, keeping mould at bay. Your wild yeasts will still develop, but you mainly get that great sour flavour in your dough.
If you bear these points in mind, the rest is easy. Take your clean jar, put in 50g of flour, add 50g of 25C-warm water and stir with the clean wooden spoon.
Make sure the sides of the jar are clean. wipe them down with a paper towel. All dough inside the jar should be in contact with the main dough as otherwise they might develop into mould if they contain too few lactic acid bacteria.
Now put it into a place with a constant temperature of 25 Degrees Celsius. Leave the lid slightly open. It needs oxygen to ferment plus the gases must be able to go out. That’s it. No big deal really. If you now stick to the proper temperatures, you’re fine.
The biggest problem probably is to find a place with the right constant temperature. Your heater isn’t the best place as it probably will drop its temperature during the night. You may have to search a bit but a good place is usually the closet where your Wifi-router or internet-router is located. These devices are a constant source of heat. Depending on the size of the room they’re located in, the temperature may be ideal. If it isn’t quite warm enough, you might want to try putting a larger cardboard box over the router and the jar which contains your starter. Be careful though, you don’t want your router to overheat if the box is too small.
24 hours later, again add 50g each of flour and warm water, stir and then put it back into the warm location again.
That’s basically it. You now have a good starter that already smells slightly sour. To make bread out of this, you can use any flour, my personal favourite being organinc whole grain rye flour.
Adding flour and water every 24 jours will keep it alive and give you perfect dough for that incredibly bread you want to bake.
Preserving Sourdough Sourdough is a bit like a pet. I wants to be fed ever day and it needs a pat now and then. This means that you’ll need to be at home and can’t just go on a vacation if you want your sourdoug to survive. Well, you could of course take it along on your vacation but I’m not sure what the security people at the airport will make of that. So, you’ll need to preserve your sourdough over a certain period of time. To do so, there are two possibilites:
Keep it cold: You just close the lid firmly to ensure it’s airtight, then put it in the fridge. This will preserve your sourdough for max. two weeks. Ten days if you want to be on the safe side.
Dry it: This is my preferred way of preserving sourdough if I don’t plan to bake sourdough-bread for a longer period of time, e.g. because I’m traveling or I simply need a break from baking. To do so, just spread your sourdough very thinly on some baking-paper and let it completely dry. When dry, remove it from the paper and crumble it to turn it into a flour-like powder. This you can store in an airtight jar for basically as long as you like. I’ve sored some for a year and it was still good (as long as it’s really totally dry). To start it again, just mix it with it’s own weight in water and you’s sourdough is back. You can immediately start feeding it again to bake some new bread.
You get thousands and thousands of books with recipes of all sorts but it’s hard to find anything on how to present your food. I always wondered why there aren’t tons of books avaliable for a topic as important as this. After all, it’s the eye that makes first contact with the food, not the tongue. In my opinion the presentation of the food gives the guest an impression on how much the chef values him. Good food that’s badly presented makes a bad first impression. You know what they say: “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression”. Some chefs like Thomas Keller handle this topic in their books but mainly for their own specific recipes. I had been looking for a book that explains the basics of plating, the tools, the processes, etc. for ages until I stumbled over this book. Published in 2019, it’s rather new. As far as I know this is so far the only book that concentrates only on the topic of plating. There are chapters on different chefs who explain how they plate their dishes. For each example they give, they explain in detail why they did it the way it was done. This helps to understand plating which is an art of its own. Other chapters deal with the tools that are used for a professional presentation of the food.
There are also chapters on Colour, Texture, Ceramics, Aroma and Shape. What I find very valuable are step by step examples on how to prepare a plate. Even simple meals like just some Asparagus can be presented in a very appealing way.
This is the book I’ve always been looking for. If you’re an ambitious cook, go for it. It doesn’t come cheap but it’s worth every cent. Highly recommended.
(Unpaid Advertising) This book was recommended to my by Tommy Hart, the “Masked Chef” (https://themaskedchef.net). The author, Fergus Henderson, is the founder and chef of St. John restaurant in London. He was awarded a Michelin Start in 2009. He does things his own way. He never had a formal training as a cook and he never worked under another chef, so instead of being influenced by other chefs, he actually influences them. This book “Nose To Tail Eating”, which he published 1999 is a milestone which actually changed cooking. It started the “nose To Tail”-movement which many chefs subscribe to today. Nowadays, over twenty years after the book was first published, Nose To Tail is a well known slogan. In 1999 though, it was revolutionary. Showing respect to the animal by not killing it for just a few part and leaving the rest of the body to rot was unheard of at the time. The book contains recipes for preparing many things that were previously regarded as waste and were thrown away. There are several recipes for Duck’s Legs and Necks, Lamb’s Tongues, Hearts and Brains, Pig’s Tails, Tripe and Trotters as well as many other parts of the animal.
It does contain a lot of traditional recipes as well though. Basically, everything you can imagine is covered. True “Nose To Tail”. The book itself is very matter-of-factly. 233 pages, an introduction absolutely worth reading. Mainly text, few (black and white) photos, one recipe per page, sometimes on two pages, it’s nothing you’d read from start to end but rather an essential book in your library which you consult whenever you want to prepare that special meal. The recipes are written in an easily comprehensible way. Every step is nicely described and easy to follow with a bit of experience. That said, it’s not a book for an absolute beginner but rather for the experienced cook who wants to take his cooking to another level and has respect for the animal he’s preparing. Highly recommended.
(Unpaid Advertising) SmartGrow is a smart indoor garden from Bosch. Originally this was developed as a Kickstarter-project by a company called Plantui who also market it under its original name “Smart Garden”. The seeds sold by Bosch are also from Plantui, even if they are marketed under the Bosch-brand. The system comes with space for either three or six plants. The light will shine for 16 hours and will then be turned off for eight hours. You can program the time when it switches off simply by laying your hand on the top of the lid. It’s also possible to put it in “holiday-mode” where plants will grow slower and consume less water. Sensors feel when water is needed and pump fresh water from the reservior to the section where the roots are located.
Designwise it looks a little like an electric salad bowl. It comes with the bowl, an insert , the lid with the LEDs as well as two height modules.
I purchased the version for six plants. I found the small version to be too small for my requirements and the large version wasn’t that much more expensive. In addition, I got some extra Height-Modules, a Blooming Light Module plus a Boosting Light Module. Finally, I bought different seeds and packs to use with my own seeds.
To start up, after unpacking the system, you fill it with 3l of water and 6g of nutrient. Then the plants are added. There are six spaces for the plants plus an additional space to top up the water.
The lid contains the growth-LEDs. There is one red, yellow and green LED above each plant. The blue spectrum is supposed to support the growth of the plant. As long as no height-module is inserted, the light will be mainly in the blue-violet spectrum. After the first height-mdule has been mounted, all LEDs will go on.
The plants come in packs of three. In addition, one package of Nutrient is included. I bought some different plants but mainly so-called “Experimental Packs” which contain everything except the seeds. I used these to plant some edible flowers which I plan to use for decorating some of the more complex meals I prepare.
After about a week or so, the seeds started growing and I had to put in the first height module. I used a Blooming light to boost plant growth.
A few weeks later, I had a jungle in my kichen. Meanwhile I was able to harvest the first edible flowers.
One thing you will notice in the photo above is that my plants grow at a different height. Normally you should use plants that grow at a similar speed. In my case the higher plants take the light of the lower ones, significantly influencing their rate of growth. Because I wanted to grow edible flowers, I had bought mainly so-called “Experimental Packs” from Bosch and got the seeds elsewhere without knowing how high the plants would grow. With a little more experience, I’ll make sure I use plants that don’t grow too high in future. I find the price for the original seed-packs rather steep but I guess that’s the price you pay for being an early adopter.
Conclusion: Do you need this SmartGrow-system in your kitchen? Not necessarily. It’s quite expensive and offers only limited space for plants. On the other hand though, it’s fascinating to see the plants grow and you can also grow exotic spices and herbs during the dark winter season whoch normally wouldn’t grow here in Central Europe. Would I buy it again? Yes, I definitely would. Not only because of the great plants I can grow here but rather because I find the technology fascinating. I believe this may be the future of urban gardening on a larger scale and I’d like to gather some experience in this field.
(Unpaid Advertising) This is my favorite book on baking bread. Like other books, it contains a lot of tasty recipes. Unlike others though, the largest part of the book deals with what happens „behind the scenes“. Reading this book, you’ll learn a lot about chemical and biological processes, ingredients like grains and sprouts, as well as milling, vitamins and minerals, fibers and a lot of other topics around sourdough bread.
The author, Vanessa Kimbell, has a very interesting background. She spent some time in France where she worked in a traditional bakery. After she returned to the UK, she continued working as a baker. When she became ill and couldn’t digest any wheat anymore, she had to give up baking and followed a gluten-free diet for many years. At some point, she returned to France to show her then husband her former French home. There, she couldn’t resist the smell and ate some freshly baked bread, expecting the worst. Interestingly, it seemed as though her problems were gone and she could eat as much bread as she wanted to without any problems. Back in the UK she bough a loaf of bread, ate some and promptly fell ill again. It was then that she realized that while she had no problems with the French bread, while the commercial bread from the UK was indigestible for her. This led her to take a scientific approach to the matter and to find out what was causing this and what the differences were. One result of these efforts is this book which not only is a collection of recipes but also answers many questions and helps you understand what sourdough actually is and why it’s far better for you and your body than commercial bread made with baker’s yeast. Highly recommended!
Nowadays, bread is mostly baked using baker’s yeast. The main reason for this is that it’s easier, less time-consuming and the bread is sure to rise nicely. Less time means less cost, leading to higher profits but not necessarily to healthy bread. In my point of view, that’s the only reason why someone would actually use baker’s yeast to bake bread.
In the past, this was different. Sourdough is one of the oldest known form of fermentation, going back thousands of years. It’s based on the lactic acid bacteria that naturally exist in flour. These bacteria ferment the sugars in the dough, producing gases which in turn cause little bubbles to form in the dough. This makes the sourdough bread rise naturally. When baking, these bubbles expand, causing the bread to rise even more. Sourdough is considered to be tastier and healthier than conventional bread. Because it’s fermented, i.e. pre-digested by the bacteria, it’s much easier to digest by the human body. Sourdough fermentation will also degrade Gluten to a certain extent, far more than baker’s yeast, making it not Gluten-free but at least very low on Gluten.
There is also a difference between refined and whole grain flour. This has an influence on the nutrition composition. Simply said, bread made of whole grain flour is considered to be more nutritious than that made of refined flour indepent whether it’s based on sourdough or baker’s yeast. Therefore, I’d always go for whole grain bread whenever possible. Even though it’s made from the same flour as regular bread, sourdough-bread is considered to be more nutritious. At this point we need to dive into the chemistry of baking, but it’s worth it to understand why things are done in a certain way. Whole grain bread contains a lot of minerals. Unfortunately though, the body can only absorb a certain quantity of these minerals. How much it can absorb depends on the level of phytic acid in the bread, as this binds to minerals which in turn makes these minerals inabsorbable for the body. Using baker’s flour, the advantages of whole grain flour over refined flour are mostly lost becaouse of the higher level of phytic acid in regular bread. In sourdough-bread, the lactic acid bacteria significantly lower the quantity of phytic acid. Compared to this, bread that was baked using baker’s yeast may have twice as much phytic acid, binding far more minerals. Also, the lactic acid bacteria in sourdough can release antioxidants during fermentation. All this plus the sourdough-bread’s probiotic-like properties make it easier to digest than conventional bread. In addition, it contains a good percentage of non-digestible fibers that feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut. As a result, regular consumption of sourdough-bread supports and improves the health of your gut, having a positive impact on your digestion.
That’s why personally, I only bake sourdough-bread, if possible.
One final important point that needs to be mentioned here is that a large percentage of the so-called sourdough-bread available in commercial bakeries actually isn’t real sourdough-bread at all. In many cases, the fermentation-process is only very short. Just long enough to achieve a slightly sour smell and taste but too short to actually lower the quantity of phytic acid. To make the bread raise, usually baker’s yeast, so-called “flavour-enhancers” and other chemicals are added.
Conclusion: Bake your own sourdough-bread. You need time, approx. seven day, but the result is absolutely worth it.
Nowadays, with the whole world going into lockdown, people have started baking bread on a large scale. On the one hand this is great. People start relying on their own skills instead of buying everthing pre-made. On the other hand, the prevailing shortage of yeast shows that ago-old techniques for baking have been largely forgotten. People seem to think that yeast is required for baking bread. This is a misconception though. All that it takes is flour, water and salt. This will give you a very good basic bread which is far better digestible than bread that is based on yeast.
Why have these skills been lost? Many small bakeries went out of business in the past years. They were replaced by baking-factories or bakery-chains which supply their outlets with semi-baked bread that just gets finished in the outlet. These outlets need to process large quantities of bread to be profitable. This means that the bread can’t rest for the normally required period before it gets baked, but rather needs to be ready within minutes. This is achieved by adding yeast and lots of chemicals, additives, so-called „flavor enhancers“, etc. The final product looks and smells like bread. For the body though, it’s much harder to process and to digest than naturally made bread. Even small bakeries need to use these additives to be able to compete. After all, baking a proper sourdough bread takes about one week from the first preparations until the dough is ready for baking. Commercial bakeries, even those supplying organic bread, simply don’t have the space to store these quantities of semi-finished dough. People seem to think that for a self-baked bread to be good it needs to taste similar to a bread you buy at a bakery. They couldn’t be more wrong. For a bread to be good, it must be very different from what your bakery sells you. So, nowadays there is nearly no alternative to baking your own bread if you want something good.
How can you tell if a bread is actually a „proper bread“ or an industrially produced loaf of flour plus heaps of chemicals? That’s actually easy. An industrially made bread won’t taste fresh for very long. After two or three days it will have los a lot of its flavor and will probably have started becoming dry. A proper bread will remain fresh and edible without getting too hard for at least a week, if not longer. It doesn’t need to be wrapped in plastic, etc. After cutting off a slice you just stand it on the cutting-side so it doesn’t dry out there. You wouldn’t even need to wrap it in paper if it weren’t for hygienic reasons.
That’s why it’s important to bake your own bread in a different way from how commercial bakeries do it.
This dish is based on a Recipe by Michel Troisgros, one of the true Grand Chefs of France. I had found it some time ago and always wanted to do this but I never had the time. Finally, the opportunity came and I did it.
This article isn’t about exact quantities, etc. You’ll find those in one of Michel Troisgros’s recipe books (I can really recommend checking out his recipes. Haute Cuisine but very down to earth). I rather want to show how much effort can go into a normally very simple dish like a Lasagne if it’s prepared ‘Haute-Cuisine’-style. Seeing it on the plate, you wouldn’t believe how much work goes into this little starter. Once you taste it though, you know the difference to your standard classic cheese-crusted, half burnt Lasagne from the Pizzeria across the street.
Cod-Cream: Cod Coarse Salt Fine Salt Potatoes Creme Fraiche Olive Oil
Tomato-Concassé: Tomatoes Onions Garlic Mediterranean Herbs Salt Olive Oil
Lasagne-Sheets: Flour Eggs Olive Oil Basil
Bechamel Sauce: Butter Flour Milk Pepper
Lemon Butter: Mineral Water Butter Salt Lemon Sage
This list of ingredients alone should already give you an impression on the effort it takes to make this Lasagne. But bear with me, it’s absolutely worth it.
We’ll need to prepare one component after the other, let’s start with the Tomato-Concassé. This brings freshness into the Lasagne so I decided to take some really fresh ingredients and fresh herbs from my herb-garden.
First of all, the tomatoes need to be skinned. To do so, I put them into a pot of boiling water for a few seconds (really just 10 seconds max.).
I then put them into a flat bowl where I skinned them.
I cut them into quarters and strained them.
As I needed to get rid of the seeds, I strained them through a sieve as well. This left me only with pure Tomato-juice.
I then cut the onion into small pieces.
The onion was added to the Olive Oil in a pan and just slightly heated to get it translucent but not fried.
I added the Tomato-juice, garlic and herbs. This was left to simmer for 20 minutes before I turned off the heat.
Preparing the dough is really simple. This is a standard noodle-dough made of flour, eggs and a bit of Olive Oil. What’s special is that half of the dough was mixed with Basil to give it a green colour and also enhance the flavour. First of all the dough was kneaded. Being lazy, I let a machine do the work.
In parallel, I shredded the Basil into tiny bits.
One half of the dough was removed, the other half was kneaded with the Basil.
The dough was then formed into sheets using a noodle-machine.
For the top plate, in order to give the Lasagne that ‘special’ look, I decided to make it striped. This is also how Michel Troisgros serves it. After all, the first contact a guest has with their food, is with the eyes. Making it look special is important for that first impression. I cut one sheet of each colour into Tagliatelle and laid them out on a white sheet, always one white, one green. To make them stick better, it’s advisable to rub just a little bit of water (really only a tiny little bit) onto the bottom sheet.
This double sheet was then put through the noodle-machine again. I liked the result even though it didn’t look nearly as good as in the original recipe. To get more contrast, it might be a good idea to add some green food colour. I guess I’ll try that next time.
Next, the sheets had to be boiled. Due to the size of my home-made sheets, this isn’t easy in a normal pot. Luckily, I have enough Gastronorm-bowls plus a gas-stove, so it wasn’t much of an issue. You will need two bowls here. One with boiling water and the other with cold water to stop the cooking-process immediately.
First, the sheets are put into the bowl with slightly salty boiling water, one at a time. They need to be taken out after exactly 30 seconds (not longer, not shorter, otherwise they’ll be either too rubbery or too soft).
Immediately afterwards, the sheet is put into the bowl of cold water where it will rest for a few seconds until it’s cold.
The Lasagne-sheets are then set aside between layers of baking-paper to make sure they won’t stick together.
Next comes the Bechamel Sauce. This is really a standard Bechamel. First, heat the butter, then add the flour.
Stir this for three to four minutes, then add the milk. Stir some more until it thickens. Right at the end, add some pepper.
Now comes the Cod-cream. This is actually quite simple but very, very tasty.
First of all, I prepared the Cod by coating it thickly in coarse salt from all sides.
While the Cod rested in the salt, I peeled two potatoes and boiled them for 20 minutes. I then pressed them through a potato-press to get them nicely mashed.
After 30 minutes, I rinsed off the salt and cut the fish into four pieces.
I then put these four pieces were into slightly salted boiling water. I lowered the temperature and poached the fish for five minutes. This is one thing I will probably do differently next time. I find that fish loses a lot of aroma when poaching in water. I’ll rather use the Sous-Vide for the fish when I do this recipe again. I’m sure it will keep a lot more aroma that way. But anyway, this time I prepared it according to the original recipe and it was very good.
After five minutes, I took it out of the water and placed it on some paper towels to dry it a little.
I pulled it into small pieces simply using two forks.
I added the fish to the mashed potatoes, together with some Creme Fraiche and Olive Oil, Salt and Pepper.
Putting it all together:
Finally, with all components prepared, I could start putting them all together to make the Lasagne. First, I coated a bowl with butter. This must be butter, not oil, because we need it to be very sticky.
Next, I put a piece of baking paper into the bowl. This needs to be pressed tightly so that it sticks to the bowl with the butter. Using baking paper is vital at this point, as the Lasagne will later be served upside-down and mustn’t stick to the bowl so that the top layer isn’t damaged.
Next, the first layer of Lasagne-Sheets is placed in the bowl. Here, I took the striped sheets and placed them upside-down, with the stripes at the bottom. Remember, the Lasagne will be served upside-down, so this will later be the top-layer.
I placed the layers in the following order: Bechamel Tomato-Concassé Cod-cream Bechamel Tomato-Concassé Cod-Cream Six layers altogether, separated by Lasagne-sheets.
Finally, the top layer of sheets was placed. As the sheets were slightly bigger than the bowl, they rose quite high out of the filled bowl.
As the Lasagne will be turned upside-down when it comes out of the oven, there should be as little overhang as possible, I therefore cut off what stuck out.
While the Lasagne was in the oven, I prepared the Lemon Butter. This was really simple and quick to make. I just put a bit of mineral water into a casserole, added butter once the water was hot, as well as some leaves of fresh sage. Stirring it, I then squeezed one lemon into the mixture. And that was it. Lemon Butter made easy.
After 15 minutes, when it came out of the oven, the Lasagne didn’t look very special. But remember, this will be the bottom once it’s turned upside down, so nobody will see it.
Now the moment of truth. I turned the Lasagne upside-down, hoping nothing would break. Thanks to the baking-paper, all went well and it looked as hoped for.
Obviously, it can’t be served that way and just cutting it into squares would be a sin. After all, there is a heck of a lot of work in this dish, so you want to make it look as good as possible. I therefore used a round shape to cut out pieces of Lasagne that could then be placed on a plate.
Finally, I placed them in a contrasting black bowl, slightly off centre, placed a sage-leaf on top, added the lemon butter et voilá. The starter is served.
All in all it took me 4 1/2 hours to prepare this meal. Obviously, this was the first time, so next time it will probably be faster. Will there be a next time? Definitely! I will do some things differently, e.g. preparing the fish in the Sous-Vide, using some green food-colour for more contrast in the lines of the top layer but overall, I’m very pleased with the result.