Saltware (TM)

Mastering Mascarpone...and the Salvaging of Salt Block Salmon

When the Daring Baker mascarpone cheese turned out less than desirable, I knew I could do better. What better inspiration than these organic jars of heavy cream from the organic Crystal Ball Farms? I got one on Saturday morning at the Winter Farmer's Market. Not only do they look fantastic, the contents are stellar. This sweet cream had to make the best mascarpone! I very excitedly started it yesterday afternoon.

I used the same recipe and method I did the first time: both from Vera at Baking Obsession. I used a double boiler (a.k.a. old pot with a Pyrex mixing bowl on top), and found I had the same problem I did the first go around... I was stirring and "gently heating" for a full 45 minutes with no temperature increase past the 180 degree mark. I wondered if my thermometer was broken. I rinsed it and tried it again from zero, still only 180. I needed that 190 mark. I finally got frustrated enough that I poured the 180 degree cream into a regular pot, and then turned the heat to medium low. Mere minutes passed, until I was at the 190 mark. I added my lemon juice (which I eyeballed to be 3/4 of a T. due to evaporation and the 450ml of cream I started with), and another minute or two and it was properly thickened. I will be transferring any future cream for mascarpone directly to a bare naked pot, after it is properly and gently heated. That is my zen moment for today.

I now know that I did not have the true 190 mark on my first try. I know I was frustrated then too, and it wouldn't surprise me if I added the lemon juice and figured it was hot enough. It never coated a spoon like this the first time!

I let it cool 20 minutes, then let it drain through my layered cheesecloth until it came down to room temperature. I stashed the whole thing in the refrigerator overnight, and then sat down to daydream about what I was going to do with this luscious cheese. Of course, I wasn't going to wait until this morning to taste it! It was so smooth and sweet, no trace of "off flavor" that my last batch had, every bit like "the thickend creme anglaise" Vera spoke of. It was even better this morning when I unearthed it from its cocoon of cloth:

Don't let that cheesecloth-textured exterior fool you, this was the softest, dreamiest thing imaginable. Firm, but creamy, and so delicious. It had every mark of the fresh taste that the plain cream had. Non-homogenized milk is the key, I think. innBrooklyn suggested in my comments that a ravioli may be a good bet, and that is rather tempting. But meanwhile, I knew I'd have to try something by lunchtime. Fortunately, this cheese stepped right in to save an otherwise unfortunate learning experience: Salt Block Salmon.

Last week, I was excited to experiment with curing salmon on the Posh Saltblock. Using tips from Chef Malavenda, who graciously coached me via email, I used my one slab instead of two, and weighted it with unglazed quarry tiles. The piece of fish I used was rather thin, and I think I let it go too long. It was rendered fully cured but, even with vigorous washing, extrememly salty.

It certainly wasn't an unpleasant taste, just overwhelmingly salmon-y and saline. Since I knew that salt was going to keep it fresh for (I'd bet) weeks to come, I stored it in my fridge and asked the good Chef M. for a couple of ideas. She suggested a cream sauce for pasta, sans capers of course, or chopping it up tartar like for canapes. I took it for a spin in the food pro, and turned it into nicely textured, though still salty, rubble:

After I tasted the mascarpone this morning, it immediately struck me to add it to some mascarpone cheese. Not too much, just a bit, since I knew I was dealing with some pretty strong flavor here. Perfection? I think so! For the past week, my poor Husband kept hearing me discuss the salmon and what to do with the salmon, and that the salmon was way, WAY too salty, and I wasn't at all surprised that he didn't really jump at the chance to be a guinea pig to my original pasta sauce or fish cake idea. He did agree, with a tiny spoonful taste, that this is really good (though still a bit salty). I froze the rest of the salmon, and am going to pull this out next time I have dinner company (provided they are savvy of salmon, that is).

Just wish there was a bit of dill growing out in the yard...

I had just a bit for lunch today, on the heal of the never-waning obsession that is Lahey bread. I baked a new loaf this morning, and also placed another Amazon order for a Lodge 5 quart cast iron dutch oven. I could write love sonnets for my red LeCreuset, and I noticed it was receiving a bit of a blow being heated repeatedly in a hot oven. For around $30, I figured it was time to "upgrade" (or "downgrade" perhaps?) to a dedicated breadbaker, one that I had no such feelings attached to. Red LeCreuset shall be restored to her former glory, and I will have a bread-baking oven in an oven...and hopefully a whole lot of salmon spread to enjoy it with.

These first glimpses in a cold but sunny start to March (definitely in like a lamb, I'd say) make me so hungry for a ripe late summer tomato; this spread on that bread with a perfect tomato would be one for the books. Then I remembered about another Wisconsin food blogger: World of Flavors. I feel so busy lately, and have a hard time reading and responding and indeed cooking and baking as many bookmarked things as I like. World of Flavors featured sprouts and sprouting recently, and I do know for sure it is the time of year for watching something sprout in the kitchen. Not to mention Otehlia's photography is second to none, and made them look as if I could pluck them off my screen. I soaked some lowly "sandwich mix" seeds from Outpost, and by the end of the week, I'll be enjoying some sprouts.

But, I'd imagine I'll need to make some more mascarpone by then. Meanwhile, if you have any other mascarpone ideas, keep them coming. My goal is to have a little bit each day, as not to overwhelm my healthiness with too much cream. I'm thinking a pasta sauce with tuna and a spoonful melted in... Call me crazy, but I'm trying it in my coffee tomorrow morning.

That reminds me to go and pluck a quart jar of strawberries out of the deep freeze... I'm sure a makeshift dessert could be had if I can muster up the strength to make more ladyfingers!

Adventures in Saltware...

It doesn't take much effort for me to get excited about experimentation in my kitchen. I actually found it hard to sleep the other night after the Salt Block cooking class, just imagining what fun I'd have playing around the next day. My first order of business was to get some better looking photos with a full charge on my batteries and some much appreciated sun coming in the dining room window.

That miserable looking spider plant on the right may do well to soak up some much needed light in its new location: I've had it since high school, and this is the final piece.

The first thing I needed to do was bring the Saltware up to temperature slowly. Since this was my first experience, I may have been a bit overly cautious, and waited a full ten minutes from the time I heard the *beep* signaling the increase, before inching up 20 degrees at a time. As I had started at 200 degrees, this seemed to be taking a while. I used my favorite timer, pictured below.

Around 300 degrees, I started to notice that the incremental temperature change seemed to be speeding up. I started to increase by 25 degrees every time I heard the *beep*, and before long, I was finally at the 450 mark. I had formed my small round of bread (from my recipe of stored dough) prior to the oven heat, and made sure to use a small enough amount so it would fit nicely on the 8x8 salt block.

I also took Chef Malavenda's tip of letting the dough rise on parchment, and then sliding it out from under it about 5 minutes after it hit the salt - making sure that the dough was set enough that it wouldn't move. I think the bread turned out fine, but not too noticeably different than the breads I usually cook on a stone. I also noticed the flavor wasn't noticeably different, but I'm wondering if I shouldn't crank the oven up to 500 next time, and try and slide the dough right onto the slab.

It was delicious bread, and because I used no steam in the oven, the crust was nicely chewy. The interior texture was about normal, if not a little more moist, and it was very, very tasty. I even ate some today with butter (something that never happens in the privacy of my own home), after Chef Malavenda said to store unsalted butter on a slab of salt, since it slowly draws out the flavor.

I decided I had to make fried eggs for supper, since I had fresh bread, some local Saxon cheese, and a still warm salt slab. I began my oven heat increments a bit faster, since the block was still fairly warm to the touch, and when I hit 450 degrees I placed the stone stovetop on top of a sheet pan, just in case.

As soon as the salt slab was in place, I poured some extra virgin olive oil, and brushed it around evenly. I knew immediately this was the proper choice for my inaugural egg-frying experience. The fruity, mineraly steam that rose from the salt was intoxicatingly good. I quickly opted for further insurance, and used egg rings until the eggs were just barely set. I wasn't sure just how hot the stone actually was, and was a bit worried that they would run a little too much.

Just a quick sprinkle of Aleppo pepper, and a quick bat of my right hand by my left out of the salt dish... old habits are hard to change! You can kind of see in the above photo how the salt seemed to "crack" under the weight of the oil and eggs - it even seemed to have changed color when the eggs were removed. It is so interesting to see how natural products change as you use them! (It also reminded me of when GOP and I decided to crack an egg onto the black, hot asphalt of the next door bank parking lot one particularly scorching summer's day. It did not work, if you're wondering...)

After the photo, I remembered the cheese!

Perfectly salted fried eggs, with dreamily runny yolks were my reward! I was so excited at the taste of these eggs on their own, I couldn't even bring myself to add my usual hot sauce. I gratefully lapped up all of the yolks off the plate with the help of a bit more bread, and called it a night.

After a few hours, the Saltware was still warm, but cool enough to handle. I gingerly ran it under warm water to clean it, and towel dried it before leaving it to air on a wire rack overnight, again intrigued at the feel of such a mass of salt under warm, running water. I also remembered that in my last post about the Saltware class, I shamefully neglected to mention the POSH salt founder, Linda Castelli.

She was a Registered Nurse and then a lawyer before finding her passion for salt, and indeed inventing the concept of using the salt to actually cook food, instead of just flavoring the food with the salt. These slabs come in a variety of sizes, and even have been custom fit to line pizza ovens and table side grills of adventuresome restaurants. As long as you are careful, the slabs appear to last a long time, and I can't help but draw the similarity to a human being: resilient and sturdy, yet inelastic and fragile. Perhaps it's due to our own salt content that has increased our in interests in baking salts, cooking salts, finishing salts and now Saltware. Whatever the reason, you can be sure that the hype is very deserved, and that I certainly will be doing a whole lot more experimentation!