I’m Bored

Couldn’t think of a better title.

Being out of work is really taking its toll. In my job search of over two months now I’m finding that the market is flooded with overqualified, out-of-work chefs.

All this time off has help to inspire me to cook at home more, something I have seldom done a lot of over the years.

The other day I made some Mexican Fudge. It was my third attempt in a week, and I still don’t have it right. What I’m trying to make is a duplication of this incredible fudge they sell on the streets in Mexico, and also in Hispanic markets here in the states. Mexicans call it Jamoncillo, or “little hams”. I don’t get the ham reference.

What I have had ranges from a taupe to light-brown sugar color, is very sweet, and has a creamy texture but with a pleasant graininess from the minute sugar crystals. Most recently I had the best ever. I bought it in a Latin market here in Charlotte when I went in to get some skirt steak and some chicharones (incredible fresh fried pork skins the size of your hand).

These were little slabs of individually wrapped candy called Crema de Leche. This term literally refers to what we call whipping cream or heavy cream, so the name is really a marketing term for this product. It was light in color and had a texture similar to maple candy. You know those little candies you get at the Cracker Barrel that are outrageously expensive and even more tasty – and there’s always one in the center of the box shaped like a maple leaf?

You know – the one’s with a delicate, thin, crunchy layer of crystallized sugar on the outside and rich, creamy goodness and silky smooth maple love in the middle?

Hold on…I’ll be right back…

Okay, so it was like that except cheaper and without the maple flavor. And I tried three times to reproduce it and failed. Not really even sure I learned anything. One recipe had baking soda in it. I had to translate it from Spanish. It foamed up, boiled over, turned dark caramel brown, and began to scorch before it got to the correct temperature.

The most popular recipe I found online for Jamoncillo consisted of condensed milk, milk, and pecans. I don’t know for sure if they have pecans in Mexico, but I never saw any – especially not in fudge.

I was supposed to boil one cup of condensed milk while blending (in a blender) 1/4 cup of whole milk for exactly 2 minutes. Not sure what that was supposed to do. Once the condensed milk boils you mix the two together, pour into a wax paper lined dish, garnish with the nuts (I opted to leave them out altogether), and allow to set up to a sliceable texture.

You might be saying to yourself, “That ain’t ever gonna work”, and you’d be right.

Moving on…

I looked up Mexican Fudge this time and found a recipe that seemed plausible from my limited experience with fudge making (a universally common procedure). I think it might have been not so bad if I had a thermometer, but I lack the intuition to estimate sugar temperatures by sight – a skill that comes easy with a little experience.

Having put off fudge making for a bit I’m moving on to sourdough.

I made a small batch of sourdough starter. Here’s a topic that without a whole lot of effort you can find enough material on to fill an entire bookshelf with. Yeast, no yeast, certain types of yeast, pineapple juice, grapes, certain types of flour, certain brands of flour, pH tests, chemistry, ad infinitum.

The one thing I know for sure about bread is that it is one of the oldest foods known to man. I don’t know of a single culture on the planet that doesn’t eat some type of bread at some point on some occasion. The poorest, stupidest people on Earth have had bread to eat since about day 9. This can’t be that difficult.

I’ll keep you posted.

[This coming from someone who couldn’t put 3 ingredients (2 of them sugar) together and boil them up into an edible form of candy. Heck, it’ll be something to write about for a few days at least.]

The idea I chose to run with is the one that was the easiest, most practical, most traditional, and made the most sense. One cup of warm water (I elected to use distilled to avoid chemicals that might kill yeast), and one cup of flour (I used Gold Medal brand unbleached bread flour because it’s what I had). Mix it up and let it sit at room temperature until it smells and bubbles. Should take no more than a week to ten days – probably less. Sounds easy right?

I put the starter in a plastic container and covered it with cheesecloth. The point here is that naturally occurring, airborne wild yeasts will fall, fly, crawl, or be thrown into my starter. Once there they will feed off of the natural sugars and starches from which flour is composed, and grow to a sizable population of sugar eating, carbon dioxide producing creatures that will leaven dough and produce a pleasant flavor and aroma in the finished bread. The cheesecloth lets some air and some yeast in while keeping larger critters and debris out. Later on it will be fully covered for safe keeping.

I took some pictures, although I didn’t think about it until about 8 hours after I mixed the stuff up. Already there seems to be a little bit of activity. I’ll take some everyday and post them. If you’re out of work and bored like me we can watch this puddle of much grow together!

Check back tomorrow. 🙂