Gift Guide 2016: Gear up for Bread

This year the idea for our gift guide came from our community. In the months after preorders for Modernist Bread began, many of you have asked us what gear you will need to begin baking through the book when it arrives.

We’ve put together this guide to help you stock up on supplies or shop for your favorite baker. It features 19 basic items that you will find in any well-stocked bakery, as well as other helpful tools. Many of these selections are inexpensive like the $39 cast-iron cooker that beautifully bakes bread in home ovens, but there are also a few splurges on the list, which we think are wise investments.

The Basics

1. Baking pans

baking-pan1

Why it’s a bakery essential: Simple metal loaf pans can be used for proofing as well as baking. They keep proofing dough in place so that it can be easily moved. Pans also mold proofing dough and help hold the shape.

Features to look for: You need to have a few basic pans in several sizes so that you can choose one that is appropriate for the bread you want to prepare. The dimensions of the pans we recommend below are the ones we most frequently use for our sandwich breads, brioche, and gluten-free breads. Although baking pans come in a variety of shapes, there’s generally no need to buy specialty pans unless you want to make a bread in its traditional shape. The material or thickness of the pans aren’t terribly important, but you will want a durable nonstick coating, which does make it easier to quickly remove hot loaves and reduce cleanup.

Price range: $10–$50

Start your search with:

Commercial II Non-Stick 1 lb Loaf Pan (21.59 cm by 11.43 cm by 6.99 cm / 8.5 in by 4.5 in by 2.75 in) by Chicago Metallic

Aluminized Steel 1.25 lb Loaf Pan with non-stick Americoat coating (22.86 cm by 12.7 cm by 7 cm / 9 in  by 5 in  by 2.75 in) by USA Pans

Aluminized Steel 1.5 lb Pullman Pan with non-stick silicon glaze (33 cm by 10 cm by 10 cm / 13 in by 4 in by 4 in) by Focus Foodservice

Custom Baking Pans (for artisanal bakeries) by Lloyd Pans

2. Baskets

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Why it’s a bakery essential: Some of the most common items found in a bakery are wicker or cane baskets (bannetons or brotforms), which are used to hold and mold shaped pieces of dough during final proofing. The baskets are seasoned with flour, which, over time, serves as a nonstick surface.

Features to look for: Proofing baskets come in many different sizes and forms meant for specific shapes. It’s good to have go-to baskets for standard shapes like boule (round) and bâtard (oval), but you can also find baskets to mold dough into special shapes such as couronne bordelaise (a Bordeaux-style crown), triangle, double boule, and others.

Lining is another important consideration for choosing baskets. Some baskets have no lining and will imprint your dough with the pattern of the wicker; other versions are linen-lined. We recommend unlined baskets for doughs with a relatively firm consistency. Lined baskets work well for both high-hydration and drier doughs because the flour adheres to the linen and makes the dough easier to unmold. Baskets with removable linen covers are the most versatile options, giving you the benefits of both.

Price range: $15–$40

Start your search with:

10-inch Wicker Boule Basket with Removable Linen Liner (for 800 – 1000 g of dough) from San Francisco Baking Institute

8-inch Wicker Boule Basket with Removable Linen Liner (for 500 – 750 g of dough) from San Francisco Baking Institute

Coiled Bâtard Basket (for 500 – 650 g of dough) from San Francisco Baking Institute

3. Cast Iron Cooker

Lodge Combination Cast Iron Cooker

Why it’s a bakery essential: Baking in a pot is hands down our favorite method for making bread in a home oven. The pot’s base and lid create a tightly enclosed environment for the proofed and scored dough. Cast iron absorbs heat well and retains it even better, helping to mitigate the temperature drop when you open the oven door.

Features to look for: When it comes to these pots, you don’t have to spend an exorbitant amount. We’ve tested a lot of cookware, but our favorite is the simple cast-iron combo cooker. You can bake extraordinary bread at home with this inexpensive, multipurpose pot. The cooker actually is a two-piece set that consists of a Dutch oven and a skillet that is repurposed as a lid. For bread, we use the skillet as the base and the Dutch oven as the lid, which makes transferring dough less complicated. We find that 800 g of dough fits perfectly in most three-quart cast-iron combination cookers.

Price range: $39

Start your search with:

Cast Iron Combination Cooker by Lodge

4. Plastic tubs

Why it’s a bakery essential: Storage is an important consideration for bakers, and clear plastic tubs are the storage bins of choice. Up for almost any stowage task, these bins come in a range of sizes; they make it easy to keep an eye on the contents inside; and they stack much like nesting dolls when they aren’t being used. Long rectangular storage boxes can be used to hold fermenting dough, while preferments, ingredients, and old dough are often stored in square versions. Tall tubs make great vessels when weighing large quantities of water—some can even transform into water bath containers when cooking sous vide.

Features to look for: Clear plastic bins with airtight lids are useful to have in a variety of sizes. The Cambro brand is so habitually used that the name is practically a generic term for the tubs in professional kitchens. Another kitchen vocabulary word to know is ‘lexan’, which is another name for the durable polycarbonate sheets that are often used to make commercial storage boxes, pans, and containers for food.

Price range: $9–$40

Start your search with:

Camwear Polycarbonate Food Storage Box (17.98 L / 4.75 gal) by Cambro

Camwear Polycarbonate Food Storage Box (33.12 L / 8.75 gal) by Cambro

Camwear Polycarbonate Square Plastic Food Container (in assorted sizes) by Cambro

5. Plastic bags or tarps

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Why it’s a bakery essential: They may not make the most exciting gift, but plastic bags and tarps are essential tools for bakers. They’re used to cover dough to keep it from drying out as it rests on a worktable.

Features to look for: More likely than not, you already have suitable covers in your pantry. Clean trash bags work, however we prefer eco-friendly transparent compostable bags.

Price range: $5–$16

Start your search with:

Heavy Duty Compostable Trash Bags (in assorted sizes) by Stout

6. Thermometer

ThermoWorks Mk4 Digital Thermometer

Why it’s a bakery essential: Digital thermometers are indispensable tools, and any baker will benefit from having one in their pocket. Small changes in temperature can make all the difference in cooking and baking, which is why we measure it as accurately as possible. A good digital thermometer can be used to improvise a water bath to cook sous vide, and you can also calibrate your home oven with an oven-safe probe.

Features to look for: One of our favorite digital thermometers is the Thermapen Mk4. It’s extremely accurate, has a slender probe, and can connect to a Type K Thermocouple. Home bakers will also want a basic oven thermometer.

Price range: $5–$80

Start your search with:

Thermapen Mk4 by ThermoWorks

Commercial Stainless Steel Oven Monitoring Thermometer by Rubbermaid

7. Digital Scale

Why it’s a bakery essential: This is the piece of equipment we recommend most emphatically for all bakers. If you have been measuring ingredients only by the cup and teaspoon, now is a great time to buy a good scale to begin applying more precision to your recipe measurements. Some high-capacity kitchen scales display baker’s percentages as well as grams, which is another benefit. A super-precise fine weight scale is the best way to measure tiny quantities of ingredients like yeast or salt.

Features to look for: Bakers should really have two scales: a relatively high-capacity kitchen scale and a fine weight pocket scale for measuring small quantities. The standard scale should be accurate to one decimal place and should have the capacity to weigh double the amount of our standard recipes plus the weight of the mixing bowl. For larger quantities of dough, look for scales that can hold even more weight. The fine weight scale should be accurate to .01 g. If you don’t want to spend a lot, an inexpensive 200 g pocket-sized version will work just fine. All-purpose scales exist that will cover both these requirements, but they are expensive.

Price range: $15–$115

Start your search with:

Baker’s Kitchen Scale (8,000 g capacity) by My Weigh

Salter 405 General Purpose Scale (6,000 g or 15,000 g capacity) by Salter Brecknell

Scout Pro Portable Electronic Balance (200 by .01 g) by Ohaus

Digital Gram Pocket Scale (200 by .01 g) by American Weigh Scale

8. Timers

ThermoWorks Extra Big and Loud Timer

Why it’s a bakery essential: Baking bread is a time-intensive process that also requires time management skills. In addition to telling you when to remove your bread from the oven, digital timers will help you keep track of dough as it ferments and proofs, especially when you’re managing several doughs and kitchen tasks at a time.

Features to look for: Timers should be easy to use, with loud alarms that can be heard across a noisy bakery or from another room. Have several basic timers on hand for juggling tasks.

Price range: $10–$30

Start your search with:

Extra Big and Loud Timer by ThermoWorks

9. Bench knife (bench scraper)

Bench Knife

Why it’s a bakery essential: A bench knife, also referred to as a bench scraper, is another inexpensive but invaluable tool highly recommended. Even though there are several options available for mechanically dividing dough, a bench knife and a scale work the best.

Features to look for: We prefer a sharp metal version for cleanly cutting dough, lifting sticky dough, and scraping dough residue off the table. Plastic ones will get the job done, but they can make cutting and scraping dough more difficult because they are generally thicker and less sharp than metal scrapers.

Price range: $10–$20

Start your search with:

Stainless Steel Dough Scraper with Polypropylene Handle by Dexter-Russell

Flexible Dough and Bowl Scrapers (set of four) by Prepatize

10. Lame

 

Why it’s a bakery essential: Our go-to tool for scoring dough is a classic: the lame. A lame is a sharp razor blade held in place by a handle. The blades are cheap and can be replaced easily, which isn’t necessarily true of other cutting tools, such as a paring knife.

Features to look for: Lames come in several styles. Basic lame handles are often made from metal or plastic. Look for razor blades that are thin and flexible as many lames are designed to make the blade curve. Disposable versions have a blade that can’t be removed or sharpened. Professional bakers generally avoid disposable lames because they need to replace the lame blades often (usually at the end of the day). A wood-handled lame is an attractive showpiece with a heft that makes it easier for the blade to slice the dough. The drawback is that it can be pricey and can’t make a razor blade curve.

Price range: $6–$40

Start your search with:

Stainless Steel Lame from San Francisco Baking Institute

Professional Disposable Lame (pack of 5) by Scaritech

Hand-Crafted Walnut Wood-Handled Lame by Zatoba

Stainless Steel Double Edge Razor Blades by Personna

More Tools

11. Baking steel and baking stone

Why we recommend it: A baking steel or stone is one of our favorite tools for making pizza and flatbreads, including naan and pita, and pan loaves. Steel provides enough thermal mass to replicate the environment of a wood-fired oven, allowing you to rapidly produce Neapolitan-style pizza in your own kitchen. We prefer using a stone to bake pan loaves and other breads because steel tends to scorch the bottom of larger loaves.

Price range: $50–$120

Start your search with:

Modernist Cuisine Special Edition Baking Steel by Baking Steel

Rectangular Baking Stone (35.56 cm by 41.91 cm by 1.27 cm / 14 in by 16 in by .5 in) by Old Stone Oven

12. Pastry brushes

Why we recommend it: Any bakery or kitchen can benefit from having several pastry brushes. Reserve different brushes for specific purposes—for instance, designating one for cooking sugar and another for egg washes.

Features to look for: We like to use pastry brushes with natural or fine synthetic bristles over the thicker silicone brushes that leave track marks. Synthetic bristles are more hygienic and can be incredibly soft, which makes them a good choice for egg washing more delicate doughs. Art or home improvement stores often have great options—paintbrushes that meet these specifications can easily double as pastry brushes.

Price range: $6–$15

Start your search with:

Restore Flat Synthetic Premium Mottler Brush (assorted sizes) by Global Art Materials

13. Stand Mixer

Why we recommend it: We use a stand mixer for most home baking and also recommend it for small restaurant production. It’s the biggest splurge on our list, but a good stand mixer is a gift that will make any baker happy. A stand mixer is a small version of a planetary mixer that can comfortably sit on any work surface, occupying minimal space. They have the same mixing attachments as well—most come with a hook, paddle, and whip.

Stand mixers are incredibly versatile countertop tools. They can be used for much more than mixing, thanks to additional attachments that can use the spinning motor to sheet pasta dough, grind meat, mill grains into flour, chop vegetables, and even make ice cream.

Features to look for: A stand mixer can be a big investment, so look for models that have a strong motor, which is important for making drier doughs, and a broad range of speed settings, from very slow to very fast. A five-quart consumer stand mixer will work for home bakers who are making up to a kilo of dough—the minimum in most of our recipes—at a time. But beyond that, we find that these mixers tend to hop around the table and need more power. We recommend investing in a commercial stand mixer with a sturdy base if you plan to frequently make seven quarts of dough or more.

The Ankarsrum mixer is not very common, but we like using it for our gluten-free breads in particular and for mixing paste-like doughs, such as 100% rye breads. It has one arm that performs the mixing and another that scrapes the spinning bowl, making for a very efficient mix. The design makes it easy to pour ingredients in the bowl, which is unobstructed by the motor housing that most stand mixers have.

The flat solid base won’t dance around the counter, either.

Price range: $250–$900

Start your search with:

Original AKM S 6220 Stand Mixer by Ankarsrum

Professional 5 Plus Series 5-Quart Stand Mixer by KitchenAid

7-Quart Commercial Countertop Stand Mixer with Guard by Vollrath

10-Quart Gear Driven Commercial Planetary Stand Mixer with Guard by Avantco

15. Bench brush

Why we recommend it: Messes are hard to avoid when you bake bread. A bench brush is a small investment, but it will help you to quickly clean surfaces between handling dough. These special hand brooms offer an easy way to sweep flour and bits of dough away from your work space.

Price range: $8–$20

Start your search with:

Wood Handle Counter Duster with Flagged Silver Polystyrene Bristles by Weiler

16. Water spritzer

Why we recommend it: Bakers use spritzers to keep dough moist after it has been mixed. A light mist of water will prevent the dough’s surface from becoming tough and dry while it is exposed to air. The spritzer itself is basic, but remember to change the water in it at least once a week.

Features to look for: Although any spritzer is up for the task, clear bottles allow you to keep an eye on the liquid inside.

Price range: $7–$15

Start your search with:

Clear Plastic Spray Bottle by Soft ‘N Style

17. Couche

couche

Why we recommend it: A couche is a swatch of plain linen cloth that sits between the dough and a flat surface; the cloth is creased to cradle the dough it holds. Couches absorb excess moisture from dough during the proofing process so that the board stays relatively dry, making it easier to slide the dough off surfaces and keeping portioned dough from touching other pieces or losing its shape as it expands.

Features to look for: You can purchase prepackaged options on many sites, however, we like to buy our couches by the yard to specifically suit our needs.

Price range: $15–$30

Start your search with:

Linen Couche (by the yard) from San Francisco Baking Institute

Custom Proofing Cloths (for artisanal bakeries) by Cleanbake

18. Peels and Transfer Boards

Why we recommend it: Peels and paddles are used to transfer dough onto a baking surface.

Features to look for: A single average-sized paddle is sufficient for some bakers, but it’s also helpful to have larger peels if you plan on making large quantities of bread. Metal peels are better than wooden ones for flatbreads and pizzas because they are thinner and can easily slide under the crusts.

The transfer board is the best all-purpose piece of equipment you can use to transfer dough. They come in a number of shapes and sizes, but we use only the long thin ones that are intended for baguettes because they also work for practically any other dough shape.

Price range: $16-$70

Start your search with:

Super Peel in Polymer-Sealed White Ash by EXO

“Big 16” 16-Inch Super Peel with Aluminum Blade and Black Cherry Handle by EXO

Aluminum Pizza Peel with Wooden Handle (assorted sizes) by Kitchen Supply

Baguette Transfer Board by Breadtopia

19. Wooden boards and sheet pans

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Why we recommend it: In a bakery, wooden boards or the back of sheet pans are used for proofing dough, especially high-hydration doughs that are too wet to hold their shape. Both are lined with a floured couche to prevent the dough from spreading out.

Features to look for: After use, wooden boards must be dried out quickly and completely to decrease the risk of contamination and prevent warping. If you prefer sheet pans, it’s worth having full-size, half-size, and quarter-size sheet pans as well as wire racks that fit on top of them.

Price range: $10–$30

Start your search with:

Aluminum Full, Quarter, and Half Sheet Pans by Lloyd Pans

Poplar Wooden Proofing Board (45.72 by 66.04 cm / 18 by 26 in) by BakeDeco

20. Serrated knives

Why we recommend it: Beyond a general-purpose chef’s knife and a paring knife, bakers will benefit from a few good serrated knives. A serrated paring knife is good for smaller items; a long version is best for cutting big pieces of bread; and an offset one is helpful for chopping chocolate and nuts. An electric knife, the sort typically used only for annual turkey carving, can get additional use when employed to slice bread. The serrated blade does all of the work, making it easy to carve off a perfect slice in a single motion.

Features to look for: Many serrated knives do a fine enough job of cutting bread without costing a lot of money. Just make sure the knife is very sharp and has long, pronounced teeth.

Price range: $18–$130

Start your search with:

High-Carbon Stainless Steel 10-inch Serrated Bread Knife with Walnut Handle by Chicago Cutlery

16 Gauge Stainless Steel 14-inch Serrated Bread Knife by Fat Daddio’s

Damascus Bread Knife by Kasumi

Stainless Steel Electric Knife with Wood Block by Cuisinart

21. Personalized Tools

Why we recommend it: Personalized tools are thoughtful gift ideas for experienced bakers who want to put their own stamp on bread recipes. We’ve had several tools, including silicon molds, pans, and rolling pins, custom made for us so that we could mold dough into special shapes or apply it as a decoration. Silicon molds come in many sizes and shapes, sometimes with elaborate detail, or you can have them custom-made with a unique design, name, or bakery logo. An embossed rolling pin engraved with patterns or text is another way bakers can make their mark. We use our own personalized pins to roll out crackers.

Start your search with:

Custom and Decorative Silicon Molds by Chicago School of Mold Making

Personalized Rolling Pin by Valek Rolling Pins

Books and Calendars

22. Modernist Bread: The Art and Science

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All signs indicate that bread is going to be big in 2017. In May, sourdough bread made its debut as a rising star in Google’s 2016 Food Trends Report. Their data confirms our own observations over the last few years—there is a new thirst for knowledge about bread making. We believe that the greatest age of bread is about to begin, and Modernist Bread will give all bakers the tools they need to be part of this revolution. It’s the ultimate gift for any baker who is ready to make better bread.

List Price: $625

Modernist Bread: The Art and Science

23. 2017 modernist Wall Calendars

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The Modernist Bread and Modernist Cuisine 2017 wall calendars make fantastic gifts for curious cooks, passionate bakers, and food photographers. We pulled together some of our favorite images from each of our books to create our new calendars. Each month reveals food from a different perspective, as well as the story behind the photo. We can’t think of a better way to organize meal planning, keep track of a new sourdough starter, record New Year’s resolution progress, or count down to the day Modernist Bread ships.

The Modernist Bread calendar is the perfect way to let someone know that they have a book coming their way this spring. While supplies last, they are essentially free when you buy Modernist Bread from Amazon. For more details on how to redeem this special offer, click here. You will also receive the calendar for free, for a limited time, if you preorder the book through Kitchen Arts & Letters.

Price: $14.95

Modernist Bread 2017 Wall Calendar

Modernist Cuisine 2017 Wall Calendar

Inside the Wonderbag

When we think about innovation in food, we often think about expensive, high-tech gadgets that introduce novel ideas or technologies into our kitchens. The most innovative tools, however, are sometimes the ones that apply traditional techniques in a new way—and they can have the most extraordinary impact on lives. Some of the best ideas are those that solve critical problems.

The piece of equipment that we recently got our hands on falls into the last category. The Wonderbag is a heat-retention slow cooker we find exciting for both its applications in the kitchen and the tremendous effect it’s having on communities around the world. The idea for the cooker came to Sarah Collins, a native of South Africa, during a not-uncommon rolling power outage there. Inspired by memories of her grandmother’s slow-cooking techniques, she decided to continue cooking amid the outage by wrapping hot pots of food in blankets. It was a quick remedy for an immediate problem, but she quickly saw a more important application: power-free cooking could improve conditions in communities that rely on open fires to cook.

Wonder Bag_34786-Edit

Heat-retention cooking is a centuries-old technique that dates back to the middle ages. Food was brought to temperature in ceramic pots and then placed into a box or hole surrounded with an insulating material such as hay, feathers, or moss. The retained heat would continue cooking the food for several more hours, while reducing the resources needed to cook.

The Wonderbag uses the same principle, but is insulated with foam chips, repurposed from furniture factories, which allow it to retain warmth for hours without a heat source. Food is briefly parcooked (meat must be browned) and brought to temperature in a pot over heat; it is then placed in the Wonderbag to cook over the course of several hours. Because the Wonderbag cooks with heat retention, food must be put into the cooker at a higher temperature, so the cooking process continues as the temperature slowly falls. Like its traditional predecessors, the Wonderbag frees users from active cooking and reduces the amount of overall fuel required, making it an environmentally friendly tool.

The implications of powerless cooking are even greater for families living in parts of Africa where cooking is still primarily done over open flames. Women, who often do the cooking, must spend tremendous amounts of time monitoring open fires, and families must have enough firewood to maintain the blaze over long periods of time. Then there are the hazards: burns and smoke inhalation are incredibly common. Indeed, the statistics are staggering—an estimated four million people will die from smoke inhalation from these fires, and over half of those deaths will be children under the age of five.

Photo courtesy of Wonderbag
Photo courtesy of Wonderbag

The Wonderbag alleviates several constraints put on families and their environments. Freed from continually monitoring their food as it cooks, women are able to pursue other activities, spend more time with their children, and acquire new skills, while children spend less time gathering firewood, allowing them more time to attend school. Fewer trees need to be harvested for fuel, reducing carbon emissions and cutting water usage by half. And, without constant open fires, the number of cooking-related accidents drops.

It’s probably the only slow cooker in the world that can make duck confit and change lives.

Wonderbag Sous Vide

Preparing food sous vide is one of the hallmarks of Modernist cooking and is often associated with expensive equipment and intricate applications. Like heat-retention cooking, the idea of cooking food in packages is not new. Throughout culinary history, food has been wrapped in leaves, potted in fats, packed in salts, or sealed inside animal bladders before being cooked. The defining features of sous vide cooking is not packaging or vacuum sealing but rather the ultrafine temperature control that modern technology enables. Using sous vide, you can heat foods to precisely the temperature you want for precisely the amount of time you desire. There is no need to overcook or undercook parts of food to achieve the desired doneness at the center.

It’s a misconception that cooking sous vide has to be an expensive endeavor. Technology has become far more affordable within the past year alone. We’ve demonstrated how to employ the technique using nothing more than a digital thermometer, a pot, some zip-top bags, and a cooler or kitchen sink. Cooking sous vide is a far more approachable, utilitarian technique than most people give it credit for.

We couldn’t help but draw parallels between the thermal-retention of the Wonderbag and cooking sous vide. According to Wonderbag, cooking is simple. “It works in four easy steps: boil it, bag it, stand it, and serve it.” The Wonderbag is essentially a slow cooker—chicken on the bone takes at least two hours to cook; white meat takes at least an hour. Because it does not use direct heat, food will not burn or overcook. You can see why the description sounded remarkably familiar to us.

Wonder Bag_15-02-17_153646_M=C

Because of the similarities to sous vide, we were intrigued by the idea of using the Wonderbag as a portable, affordable water bath. Although it wouldn’t give us precise control over temperature, we were curious to see if we could recreate certain sous vide recipes with the Wonderbag.

Testing

To determine if the Wonderbag could be used to cook food sous vide, we first needed to do some experiments to see how long the Wonderbag could keep our water within the required temperature range.

For the experiment, we outfitted our bag with a thermocouple to log data. As a control, he also logged data from a pressure cooker with the lid locked so water vapor couldn’t escape. Both the pressure cooker and the normal lidded pot he used in the Wonderbag contained 5.76 liters / 1½ gallons of water at a starting temperature of 97 °C / 207 °F.

The Wonderbag performed better than the control. According to the data, the bag retained a target temperature for 4–6 hours. After 10 hours, the water temperature fell to 65 °C / 149 °F. After 16 hours, the water temperature was still above 55 °C / 131 °F.

With these data, we were able to identify recipes that would work with the Wonderbag, but we determined that we would need to adjust our favorite temperatures and times to account for heat loss.

Duck Confit

To demonstrate its versatility, we used the Wonderbag to make duck confit, an adaptation of our Modernist Cuisine at Home Turkey Confit recipe. We recommend cooking duck legs to a core temperature of 60 °C / 140 °F. To account for heat loss incurred while food rests in the Wonderbag, we adjusted our recipe as follows.

We cured the duck in a 1:1 salt and sugar solution overnight to maximize tenderness and minimize the amount of seasoning needed once the duck was removed from the Wonderbag. The duck was put in a Le Creuset Dutch oven with enough duck fat to coat it, and the fat was heated to 97 °C / 207 °F. Once the fat reached our target temperature, the Dutch oven was placed inside the bag with a trivet underneath it to protect the fabric. Thermocouples were positioned in both the duck and the fat. When the duck reached the target core temperature of 60 °C / 140 °F, it was removed from the Wonderbag and allowed to cool completely.

Using the Wonderbag, our duck confit took between 5 and 6 hours to cook; this time will depend on the ratio of fat to duck and how often you check the temperature. Opening the bag allows heat to escape, so only check the temperature when you are close to service time. Food will not overcook or burn; the longer it cooks, the more tender it will become.

To finish, we recommend frying the duck legs in the rendered duck fat. We slowly heated the cooled duck and the fat until it began to sizzle and the skin became crispy. And, because we cured the duck overnight, there was no need to use additional seasoning. The results were incredibly delicious—tender and juicy legs nicely contrasted the crisp bits of rendered fat.

The Wonderbag works best with recipes that take under 6 hours to cook. You won’t be making 72-hour short ribs in this cooker, but tender proteins, such as steak, pork, lamb, and most poultry, will work well.

The versatility of the Wonderbag is exciting, but more so is the impact of this innovative tool. For every bag sold, one is donated to a family in Africa. The Wonderbag is more than just a tool— it’s an extraordinary example of how re-thinking food can change our world. We hope you will visit the Wonderbag site for more information about their foundation and for slow-cooking recommendations.

Photo courtesy of Wonderbag
Photo courtesy of Wonderbag

 

Keeping it Fresh: Make Your Juice Last Longer

Jack LaLanne was the world’s first fitness superhero, the “godfather of fitness.” He also really loved juice. The Jack LaLanne Juicer turned juicing into a mainstream practice and juicers into common kitchen equipment.

Research studies have yet to validate claims that juicing is more beneficial than eating whole fruits and vegetables, with some studies suggesting that cleanses or excessive consumption can do more harm than good. Juicing, within reason, is a great way to incorporate these ingredients into your diet if you aren’t naturally inclined to eat your fruits and veggies. There is also something undeniably delightful about a glass of fresh-squeezed juice or the unique flavor combinations that can be created—orange-durian-strawberry-mango-kale, anyone?

Whether you juice for health or to please your palate, here is everything you need to know about how to help your juice stay fresh and vibrantly colored for as long as possible and about selecting the proper juicer for your needs.

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How Juicing Works

Juicing seems like a violent practice. There are gentler ways of retrieving flavor, such as stock making, when we coax flavors from these ingredients as they simmer. Juicing, however, is a form of violence on the biological building blocks of food so that we can unlock the liquid essence within. This means rupturing cells, but the cellular violence is well worth it—juicing yields incredibly rich flavors.

The rich flavors are fleeting, reserved for the freshest juice, which explains why the fresh stuff will always taste better than store-bought counterparts. When we make juice, sugars, acids, and peel oils combine to make the unmistakable flavor of fresh juice; however, over time, the acidity ruins the incredible flavor by destroying the aromatic peel oils over time.

Making the Most of Your Juice

Juicing is only half the battle. Freshly squeezed juice is fleeting. Although cellular destruction is required to release flavor-creating enzymes, as soon as cell walls are ruptured, the clock and biology will start working against you. The same oils that imbue juice with intense flavors and bright colors oxidize quickly. Aromas and flavors begin to diminish as flavor compounds break down.

When we cut open a piece of fruit, we know that it will eventually turn an unappetizing brown. The same applies for the liquid of those fruits. Many juices brown quickly in reaction to the trauma of juicing. Browning is a defense mechanism that plants use to prevent infection. To defend against germs, plants raise antimicrobial defenses. One mechanism is the release of the enzyme polyphenol oxidase (PPO) from tissue, which leads to the production of protective compounds, such as tannins, and to brown color. Pulp presents another issue. It typically browns long before the liquid. Pulp contains high concentrations of oxidizing enzymes and their molecular targets.

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Browning may seem like a strange issue for those of us who are accustomed to purchasing juice at the store. Those juices, however, have already been treated to prevent color change and to preserve flavor. Although juicing is a relatively simple technique, these seven tips, used alone or in combination, will help you to improve your product and get the most out of your produce.

  • First, keep everything cold. Browning is caused by enzymes that respond to heat: for every 10°C/ 18°F drop in temperature, enzymatic activity falls by about half. You can safely chill most fruits to just above freezing before juicing them; however, avoid chilling subtropical produce, such as bananas, mangoes, avocados, and strawberries. Chilling these fruits can induce chilling injury, wherein low temperatures reduce the quality of produce.
  • Freezing produce prior to juicing will also prevent browning. Deep-freezing will permanently destroy the browning enzymes; however, flavor-creating enzymes might take a bit of a hit. If you decide to freeze your produce, thaw prior to juicing, unless you want to have a smoothie on your hands.
  • A three-minute dip in boiling water destroys browning enzymes. Blanching requires high temperatures, though, which will partially cook food by the time the enzymes break down.
  • Although some of us prefer a little pulp in our juice, filtering it out will eliminate the tissue that enzymes act on to form brown pigments.
  • Try lowering the pH of your juice. The more acidic the juice, the slower the enzymatic reactions that cause discoloration. High acidity also acts directly on brown pigments to lighten their color.
  • If you own a vacuum sealer, use it to help prevent oxidation. Although some oxygen is dissolved into the juice itself, vacuum sealing the juice will help slow down browning by removing oxygen.
  • Natural preservatives are another way to retain color and restore flavor. Ingredients like ascorbic acid (vitamin C), citric acid, malic acid, and honey will prevent browning, while essential oil, alpha tocopherol (vitamin E), or even a squirt of fresh juice from a different batch will preserve flavor.

Picking a Juicer

The type of juicier you own will also make an impact on your juice. Devout juicing advocates prefer cold-press juicers over equipment that introduces any heat to the process. In truth, the mechanisms that make each juicer work can affect the quality of your product, yield size, and even what types of produce you can juice.

Centrifugal-style juicers:

Centrifugal-style juicers are similar to blenders—they pulverize food with a broad, flat blade that sits at the bottom of a spinning mesh basket. The pulverized food is flung against the basket wall, where centrifugal force expels most of the juice from the pulp through the mesh and into a waiting container. These juicers handle both fruits and vegetables well, but look for machines that are designed to automatically dispel pulp deposits to make cleaning easier and to prevent clogs forming in the basket. With centrifugal force comes one major drawback: the friction of the force oxidizes the juice faster, which damages the flavor and color. You’ll also find that the yield from these machines is smaller than its Champion-style counterpart.

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Champion-style juicers:

Champion-styles juicers are workhorses. Food is pushed down a chute onto a serrated, rotating blade. As fruits and vegetables pass through the blades, cell walls rupture, releasing their contents, which rapidly collect in a bowl. These appliances excel at separating solids from liquids: pulp is discarded into a separate waste receptacle. Champion-style juicers are also ideal for juicing relatively dry foods, like wheatgrass or leafy greens that can be difficult for other machines to pulverize. The primary shortcoming of this style of juicer is that the pulp still retains some liquid, which reduces overall yield.

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Food presses:

Food presses or cold-press juicers (also known as masticating juicers) force liquids out mechanically by squeezing food between two hard, unyielding surfaces, one of which is perforated. These machines, which theoretically seem like a medieval torture device for fruits and vegetables, are often preferred by serious juicers because they use less heat. Juice presses are great for softer foods or for foods that have been softened with sugar, enzymes, or a little heat. In some presses, including cider presses, food is placed between flat plates, often between multiple layers of plates. Citrus fruit presses accommodate the shapes of citrus fruits by using convex and concave pressing surfaces. Muscle power fuels juice presses, which causes juice yields to vary depending on the user. If you enjoy pulp in you juice beware— your juice will contain fewer particles because food is compressed, as opposed to being torn or shredded.

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