Life is All About … Beans – Right?

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My pinto beans from Dove Creek, Colorado arrived yesterday – cute, huh? Of course, I had to immediately give them a test drive – and my thinking was that I’d cook them up as simply as possible, ’cause then we can judge them on their own intrinsic merits. But in all honesty, I’ve never cooked up dry beans all by themselves – I just think that’d be a little cruel. So I pulled out a hunk of salt pork, and chopped it up, ala Bushey style, and slipped it in with the beans and water, and set it all on for a slow simmer.

After two hours, I gave them a taste – very nice! Lots of folks would consider them perfect at this stage of doneness, but I like my beans done even softer, so I let them go for another hour. Now, not all beans will let you do this without disintegrating into mush and floating skins – but these took that extra hour and the result was a bean with still distinct and tight skin, and a plump satiny soft interior. Nice taste too, but I think I skimped on the salt pork just a bit – needs at least ½ lb per two cups of dry beans.

What a difference from the old, hard Mexican beans of a few weeks ago – wow. Sandee rolls her eyes at paying $13 for shipping, when the beans themselves are $7.50, but to me the issue is that these beans are among the best anyone can obtain in this country, and when you can put your hands on excellence for $2 a pound, where’s the argument?

If you really enjoy beans, I urge you to try these.

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At the risk of subjecting all my readers (all three of you!) to the twin threat of my not having slept last night in a Holiday Inn Express, and not being anywhere near endowed with the needed scientific knowledge to fully comprehend this subject, I still would like to share a few new facts I’m learning about diastatic malts, and their role in the science of baking.

I’m willing to bet that few of you know the source of “malt”. The malt I speak of is the type used by brewers to make beer, and by bakers to make bread (Beer is liquid bread, and bread is solid beer!). I suspect it is the same malt that is used to make what was perhaps my favorite childhood candy, malted milk balls. Where does this malt come from? It comes from grain, usually barley or wheat, but actually any grain can be malted. The grain must be sprouted first, then carefully dried, then pulverized into a powder – then it is used in a multitude of ways -for me, making bread.

Now for the science – what does malt do in the bread making process? Well, it essentially changes starches to sugars, which the yeasts in the dough use to raise the bread. But not all malts do this, because not all malts are equal. A malt can be diastatic or non-diastatic – the simple difference is that if the sprouted grain is dried at a low temperature (less than 150 degrees), it retains much of its natural enzymes, and is referred to as, diastatic malt. But, if the sprouted grain is subjected to a much higher temperature, such as 300-500 degrees, those natural enzymes are killed, but the resulting malt is then able to impart a nutty, roasted flavor, and dark brown color to whatever it is added to, such as dark beers and stouts.

But actually, it is incorrect to refer to a malt as either diastatic or non-diastatic, because, depending on the temperature at which sprouted grain is dried, the resulting malt may have very little or a lot of diastatic essence. Therefore, you’ll never hear a brewer speak of diastatic or non-diastatic, but rather a malt’s DP score (Diastatic Power), which entirely depends on the drying temperature of the grain – additionally, brewers have the option of using any number of malts, all with differing lower or higher DP scores. But it is bakers who are prone to use the either/or terminology, probably because they only need a diastatic malt to assist the rise of their bread, or a non-diastatic malt to assist the flavor/color of the bread – and the manufacturers of the malt shield them from the complexities of the science itself, and simply provide a product with a minimal explanation.

Why do I find this interesting? Only because of my deepening interest in baking and especially, sourdough – otherwise, it would have NO interest for me. But I’m also often forced to think about the essential differences between cooking and baking, and although the general public thinks they are closely related, I know well that they are not! Baking is deeply based in science, and cooking is essentially an art form. I love them both, but for much different reasons – who would’a thought, way back when in high school, that John Murren would ever be caught saying, “I love science.”?

Yeah, life is strange.

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About drfugawe

I'm a guy with enough time to do as I please, and that my resources allow. The problem(s) are: I have 100s of interests; I have a short attention span; I have instant expectations; I'm lazy; and I'm broke. But I'm OK with all that, 'cause otherwise I'd be so busy, I'd be dead in a year.
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