Sunday, July 17, 2011

Chocolate Honeycomb.

I was at home recently and after a conversation with my wife decided to make some Honeycomb, or cinder toffee as she calls it. I'd never made it before and as an Irish person that closest you're going to get to this is a Crunchie bar unless you had someone to make it for you as a kid.
I looked up some recipes online and mixed and matched them to come up with my recipe. The first time I attempted it, it didn't turn out all that well, as the sugar I used was a little too dark and I neglected to use my sugar thermometer to keep tabs on the temperature and in the end the toffee was close to burned with an unpleasant bitter flavour. Not to be disheartened I tried again a few days later and it turned out great, this time I even went and covered the whole lot in chocolate which takes it to a whole new level of deliciousness.

Cinder Toffee in chocolate.
250g caster sugar
110g golden syrup
1 tsp vanilla
45ml water
1/2 tbsp bicarb of soda

chocolate, I used lidl dark for the adults and some lidl milk chocolate for my three year old.

Sugar thermometer. It's very helpful to have one when working with sugar, although not necessary if you know how to judge hard from soft crack using a glass of water, read up on it if you wish.

Start off by lining a tray of some description, I used an oven tray, with greaseproof paper and then oil it gently, if you have some spray oil that's best. Set the lined tray aside.
It's an easy enough recipe, combine all the ingredients, except the chocolate, in a saucepan add the thermometer and then boil the mixture without stirring, (REALLY DON'T STIR IT, YOU'LL RUIN IT) you want to get it to the hard crack stage (154c) and then take it off the heat.

Once you have done this you then need to get it close to the lined tray and add the Bicarb, mix it in well but don't go crazy with stirring, once you see it's puffed up as much as it will then pour it into the tray.

If you overwork it once it's had the bicarb added you will knock the air out of it, so rather less stirring than too much or you'll end up with a very hard end product with no bubbles in it.

Once it's all been poured into the tray then don't touch it again or it'll collapse.
Set it aside to cool.
Once cooled throw a tea towel over the top of the tray to keep everything in there and then whack the lot with a rolling pin, my three year old loved this part of helping.

Pour that lot out into another container. It's ready now if you wish to eat it plain, but I like it with chocolate on it, so on to that preparation.
Put some greaseproof paper on a cake rack and set it aside.
Add some chocolate to a double boiler, I use a pyrex bowl over a pot of water, don't let the bowl touch the water, and melt the chocolate.

Once melted simply dip the toffee into the chocolate and then put it on the rack to cool, it's best if you can stick it in the fridge after a few minutes to cool it properly and allow the chocolate to get properly firm.

Once cooled it's ready to go. I pack it in jars similar to Mason jars and put it in the fridge to keep.

The toffee has a huge affinity for water, so if you leave it out and exposed it will start to absorb atmospheric water and will effectively melt into a messy stain of sticky toffee, so deal with it within a half an hour of making by getting it into some airtight container for storage.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Using liquid yeasts, making starters and cultivating yeast from a bottle.

When you get into brewing a bit you start to realise the importance that yeast plays in the process of producing good beer. It seems obvious but when you start with kits you're presented with a simple packet of dried yeast to pitch on top of your mixed up wort and away it goes, no calculations, no messing with starters, just pitch it and go.
This simple dried yeast approach will work and will produce you good beer but it can be taken so much farther and apart from anything else no one has really managed yet to produce a good lager yeast in dried form.
Yeast can impart a huge amount of character and flavour to a beer, especially unfiltered homebrew, so much so that I am beginning to dislike filtered commercial beers as they are simply missing too much character.
I started with liquid yeasts by simply throwing a ladle or two of yeast from the last brew in onto the next brew, there is great advantage in reusing your yeasts for a few brews, it kinda hits the ground running and gets to work on your beer straight away and there is less lag time to the start of fermentation. Less lag time closes the window to infection as your wort is at it's most vulnerable before the yeast kicks off and you want to make this time as short as possible to exclude infection by wild yeasts. You also have the advantage if you are brewing a house beer of allowing the yeast to get to grips and "grow-up" with your recipe. Commercial breweries reuse their yeast strains for years by yeast banking, that said they employ a small microbiology lab with -80c freezers to cryogenically store their yeast strains. Every few generations they test the yeast for strain drift and wild yeast infection, regrowing from their frozen yeast bank and starting again whenever the need arises, but with proper sterile technique they can continue with the same iteration over multiple brews. This is not advised past about 8 generations as a homebrewer for the aforementioned sterile technique that most homebrewers are not very good at.
So at its simplest just throw some old yeast on top of the new brew from the bottom of the last brew. You can also get into yeast washing, I don't tend to bother with that, but if you are interested in this technique I'll point you at a very good post on HomeBrewTalk, a thread by Bernie Brewer on yeast washing.
Some people will talk about acid's a last ditch attempt to save a yeast strain and not something that needs to be done on a homebrew scale, so if you want you can research it yourself farther.

It is rarely a good idea to pitch a new beer on top of an old yeast cake as it's almost always over-pitching but again I'll defer to a rather brilliant and extensive post on the subject by a professional brewer on HomeBrewTalk who says it better than I ever could.

I've recently taken the liquid yeast thing a few steps farther and have begun using the White Labs liquid yeast strains. So far I've used the Irish Ale yeast WLP004 and also the Budwar lager WLP802 strain to great effect.
I used the Irish Ale yeast on my Tiger Blood stout
and the Budwar strain I used in my Bi-Winning Lager. The stout turned out absolutely delicious with the yeast certainly bringing a lot of "Guinness" character to the brew. The jury is still out on the lager as it is in its seventh week lagering right now and not yet bottled.
I have recently acquired some lab equipment and some agar and plan to start my own yeast bank based on yeast slants shortly, I'll blog about it when I get that far.

On to making starters, there are a few things necessary for this, most of which you have already and some which would be nice to have, the nice to haves are stir plates and Erlenmeyer flasks, but for the simplest starter all you need is a beer bottle or a two litre coke bottle, depending on what size starter you're making and also what yeast source you're starting with.
The yeasts I mentioned above are delivered to you in quantities that are meant for direct pitching to wort without making a starter, that said because I brew such large volumes, 60ish litres, this is almost three times the size of the average 23l homebrew beer volume so I tend to grow up starters.

This is what the White Labs pitchable stuff looks like, that said, this is not as sent to me originally, it is harvested lager yeast from the brew I did, I just reused the container to keep it, it has been washed with water as described in the post I linked to on HBT.

It's said that homebrewers tend to under-pitch yeast by a factor of up to ten compared to a commercial brewery, so if you want to up the quality of your beers then look after and pitch enough yeast.
Using a Wyeast liquid propagator pack such as the one in the following picture means that you must use a starter to get the desired results.

Wyeast also do a pitchable quantity which they sell as Activator packs, with the Wyeast range you have a small pack inside the larger pack which you need to smack, they are called smack packs for this reason, and when you pop the inner membrane it releases a starter liquid into the yeast sample and the pack swells up, when it's fully swollen is when you are supposed to use it.

Liquid yeasts have limited viability, although they are pretty resilient, but on the pack is a production date and you can use the mr malty yeast calculator to find out how many packs you need and the size of starter you need to grow for a given volume, mr malty is very handy for any yeast calculations and I'd tell you go and bookmark it if you're going to brew as you will find it very handy.

As always with yeast sanitation is very important, I've started to use star san solution mixed up using the battery acid top up water from Halfords as it's deionised and I reuse the mixture again and again and check the pH now and again, I may do a post on sanitation in future and I'll go into this in more detail.

Decide on the size of starter you're making and pick an appropriate vessel for the size.
Yeast sample you want to propogate.
Malt Extract - 10g per 100ml of water ( if you have some spare wort from a brew this is even better)
Yeast nutrient. ( add as per instructions)
Kitchen pot
Weighing scales

Clean your equipment well and sanitise it as you normally would. Put your chosen volume of water in a pot on the hob and then add the appropriate amount of Malt Extract, this is 10g of Malt to 100ml of water to give you an OG of around 1.030 which is good for starters. I don't boil starters as I don't think there's any need, but I will heat it up to 70c for at least 5 mins to sanitise it.
If you only have a small sample of yeast such as when you are propagating the yeast from the bottom of a bottle, Coopers yeast is great for this, then you need to start with a small starter of 100-200ml, add some yeast nutrient, then grow it for a day or two and then step it up. You can start even lower than 100ml, if you have a very small amount of yeast as in the bottom of a bottle where you don't have a thick layer on the bottom but only a small amount of yeasty beer then you can go as low as starting with a 20-30ml starter, just step it up as previously.
Basically add your yeast to the starter wort and then cap it with a piece of sanitised tin foil. Put this somewhere around the same temperature as you are going to brew your beer, shake the vessel every few hours when you think of it, ideally a stir-plate would keep it sufficiently aerated and wouldn't need to be shaken by hand.
If you're stepping up then pitch the grown starter in a day or two into a litre or two litre vessel of wort and wait again.
Some people would pitch a starter whole, well if you're using the same wort to grow it as you are pitching into then you can do this, I use Dried Malt Extract or DME so I'd rather pour off the starter wort and just pitch yeast sludge. You can stand the starter in the fridge overnight and it'll drop all the yeast to the bottom and clear the starter and then just pitch the sludge.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Filet steak as inexpensive as it gets.

I like filet steak, as does my wife, problem is that it's normally very expensive stuff. The last time I looked in the supermarket, two smallish pieces of filet were €15, which is a bit too much for a dinner.
I've found a much less expensive way to get myself some nice filets, some of them need to be frozen off as it's bulk buying, but even after having been frozen filet is still delicious stuff. How to prepare a filet steak from a beef tenderloin and save yourself some money.
I get large whole filets from a local butchers trade counter in the Rosemount Industrial estate. They charge €17/kg as the whole piece.
Branagan Meats

You'll need some decent knives too, I got the knives and the steel from Branagans too, I like good knives in the kitchen, they make the job so much easier.

Wikipedia entry on beef tenderloin
If you're not really familiar with this piece of meat as a whole cut then have a look at the wiki entries and they explain a good bit about it.
Wiki on Filet Mignon

The first thing you need to do once you take the tenderloin out of the pack is to seperate the chain from the main filet.

It's a piece of fat and sinew, but with some nice muscle tissue that chops up nicely for stir-fry, that runs alongside the muscle and you can seperate it by hand, just run your hands in along it and it comes away from the meat easy enough but you can use the knife too if you wish. Don't throw this away there is a lot of nice meat in it too. Put it aside for later.
Once the chain is off you need to remove the silver skin, do this by sliding the tip of the blade in under it and grabbing behind it and sliding under the skin and filet, as illustrated.

After a bit of work you should have a nice clean filet.

I tend to cut off the muscle that sits at the side of the filet at the butt end and make two steaks from that and keep any other trim.

Once you have the piece cleaned off and all the silver skin removed you can get down to cutting steaks.
I went to the bother of getting a proper steak knife, which is the broad bladed one in the top picture, because I do this regularly, also with ribeye steaks by buying a whole ribeye roast. Keep your knives sharp and the job is a lot easier.

Once you have the filet done to your liking with the silverskin removed and the fat trimmed then cut your filet steaks to your liking. I like to use a kitchen scales and weigh each filet (200g is a nice piece of filet), then wrap them tightly in clingfilm and write the weight on the clingfilm with a marker. I then pack them in freezer bags and mark on the outside what is in them.
At this stage I also prepare all offcuts, such as the chain, and chop it into stir-fry sized pieces and then weigh and pack it away too, throw the silverskin away.
Once you wrap them well with all air excluded they will keep well in the freezer, they tend to last 2-3 months in our house as we'd only eat them at the weekend.

I'll post again on cooking the perfect steak.

Recipe All Grain Bi-Winning Pilsener. BIAB

I stuck with the Charlie Sheen theme for this beer which is also my first ever Pilsener, it's a hard enough style, but I now own a lagering freezer which I shall also detail in a future post.
14kg Weyermanns Pilsener malt
145g Saaz @ 90 mins
50g Saaz @ 60 mins
50g Saaz @ 30 mins
To 23.5 IBU

I ended up with 55l of 1.050 wort.

I treated the water with CRS and DLS to get the levels just right.
I got the hardness down to about 20ppm CaCO3 and increased the Calcium to about 110 ppm as per instructions elsewhere.

I had to add back 10l of water which I had reduced the hardness of, I didn't bother to add the salts as it was post mash. This was because I was worried about the evaporation and losing too much beer and it being too strong. After the extra addition I go to where I wanted to be.

Hot break, small flecks in the brew.

Rolling boil.

Scum skimmed off the boil

It was then pitched with a large starter of Budwar yeast WLP802, made from three vials pitched on 20l of starter wort. Yeast was allowed to drop out and then the wort poured off the top and just the sludge pitched.

This is still in my lagering fridge and will be bottled shortly. The only issue with it is that the starter was not made at lager temperatures and there was a little too much wort transferred with it and it's put a small tang of banana/clove in the final pils. I'm hoping to get rid of this when I bottle and use the "krausening" technique to do the priming. I'll detail this at a later stage.

Tiger Blood Stout - BIAB

I knocked this stout up on the 27/02/11 it turned out absolutely delicious and will be my house stout, it's all gone now but I'm making more very shortly.
I was on a kick doing Charlie Sheen themed beers at the time ;)

I'll shortly do a full picture tutorial of this stout being made and also showing the whole BIAB technique.

It was my first time to use liquid yeast apart from harvested dry stuff.

Black patent 200g
Chocolate 500g
Crystal 1Kg
Wheat 1KG
Maris Otter 8KG
Roasted Barley 500g
Oat meal 500g

Marynka 60g 60 mins
Marynka 60g 30 Mins
Started with 65l of water, ended up with about 57l and then with losses to trub etc, about 55l out the end.
Mashed in at 69c

Pitched with Starter of Irish Ale yeast White labs.

The wort was very tasty, the batch before this got infected through a simple mistake.

It was also my first time to use the bulk buy marynka hops, all was good.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

I've been away for a while.

I've not been the best at updating the site recently but I've made some serious advances in my brewing, in the form of a new fermentation freezer with the capability to lager beers and also doing all grain. I use a relatively newly pushed method called Brew in a bag BIAB to brew using one boiler vessel and not the traditional three vessel brewing system. I'll be doing a brew soon so I'll document it and get the photos and a write up done to get this site somewhat up to date.
Custom BIAB blogspot is the wifes site on making custom BIAB bags.