What is “salt rising bread”?

Reader Katie asks, since I live in Kentucky, if I’ve ever heard of salt rising bread and if so, could I tell her what it is. Katie, I certainly have heard of it. It’s a type of bread favored by Appalachian folk that’s leavened not with baking powder or yeast but with a bacterium that goes by the name of Clostridium perfringens.

If that name sounds familiar it’s probably because C. perfringens is a well known food pathogen, one that can and very often does make people sick, sometimes seriously so. That however doesn’t stop some people from raising their bread with it. Why? Because unlike just about every other microbe that can grow in a starter bowl (aside from yeast) C. perfringens creates copious amounts of CO2. The rise you get from it is every bit as good, maybe even better, than actual yeast. …

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Where does rum come from?

Now there’s a dandy question for a rainy afternoon. Reader Faith, I thank you for it. Rum is a New World spirit, a product of the West Indian sugar industry, originally invented when a vat of either cane juice or rain-diluted molasses was allowed to ferment. And of course one of the happy by-products of fermentation is alcohol.

Historians say it was probably plantation slaves that first began to drink this rough and ready grog — basically a sugar cane beer — which must have been horrible stuff. But it was cheap and intoxicating. Eventually it occurred to some enterprising souls to distill the beer into concentrated spirits and bingo — rum came into being. Before long people throughout the West Indies and in the Colonies were drinking this new “rumbullion.”

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That Torte

It’s made, it’s just waiting for a bit of decent weather. Esterházy torte has turned out to be a fairly challenging project from a visual production standpoint. Getting that top right while simultaneously photographing it was all but impossible. So I’m going to do a separate shoot just for the top on the same day I do my “hero shot” of the finished torte. The problem is that I take my pictures outdoors and the weather has looked like this all week:

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What’s the difference between parchment and waxed paper?

Oh there’s quite a lot of difference, reader Cynthia. Waxed paper is basically tissue paper with a wax coating on the outside, nowhere near as tough and useful as parchment. Parchment is thick (or at any rate thick-er) paper that’s been passed through an acid bath to increase its rigidity and give it a hard, smooth, glossy surface that resists just about everything. Most of the time parchment is also coated with silicone to give it extra stick-resistance.

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Cake and Composite Flour

Reader Wale has a very interesting question:

I would like to ask you what composite flours are. Presently the Nigerian Govt has requested that all flour millers include cassava in wheat flour so as to support the agricultural industry and reduce the buying of wheat from out side the country. This new hybrid flour contains 90% wheat flour and 10% high quality cassava flour. Please can you talk more about composite flours and tell me if it’s ok to use them for cake baking, especially American high ratio cakes.

Hi Wale! Yes I’ve read here an there about composite flours, mostly in regard to western Africa where governments have been anxious to reduce the costs associated with imported wheat. Since root crops like cassava are plentiful, so the thinking goes, why not cut the flour with some less expensive filler? It makes a certain amount of sense, at least when seen from a government perspective. Bakers may well feel differently of course.

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What’s the best way to add flavor to cheesecake?

I came home to over 200 comments and emails, so don’t mind if I answer a few in the main window here. This one from reader Hattie I especially like because, well, I love that name. But also because there are so many different ways to answer it.

I’ll be honest and say at the outset that a plain vanilla cheesecake is my personal favorite. However I recognize that there are plenty of cheesecake makers out there who consider plain cheesecake to be a mere starting point, a blank canvass if you will. For those folks I have a few basic suggestions.

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Back and Bewildered

Hey all, I seem to be plagued by one problem after another this fall/winter. Due to some apparent host problems I haven’t been able to access the site for the last four days. I haven’t even been able to see it from the front end most of that time, so I don’t know if it’s been up or down. Hopefully the problem is fixed now. Let me know if you’re noticing any technical issues. Assuming the comments reach me I’ll try to tend to them.

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Later, Turkeys!

No I didn’t get my torte made, dernit. What a travesty, but I did flap my fingers quite a bit on chemical leavening, if that was any fun. I’ll set things to rights after Thanksgiving. Have a great one, all you Americans. Those of you in other locales, I apologize for the blogging lapse that’s about to ensue. See you Monday!

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The Difference Between Punching and De-Gassing

Reader Sally had a great question: what’s the difference between “punching down” dough and “gently de-gassing” it as so many artisan bread recipes instruct? Functionally speaking, Sally, there’s not that much difference, both are about releasing built up CO2 and stretching the dough to further distribute the yeast (being buds, yeast don’t move on their own so we have to manually move them if we want to spread them around a bread dough). …

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Is clabber anything like yogurt?

In fact it is, reader Erica, it is exactly the same principle, the main difference being the type of bacterial culture involved. If you were around for my exhausting — I’m sorry I mean exhaustive — series on fermented dairy foods from several years ago, you may recall that it’s the species of lactic acid bacteria in the milk that ultimately determines both the flavor and the texture of fermented milk and/or cream. Milk exposed to the kind of lactic acid bacteria common to Khazakhstan will be transformed into a thick and tangy yogurt. Milk exposed to the kind of lactic acid bacteria common to places like Kentucky…

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