Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Home-Made Mayonnaise (A Failed Attempt)

Inspired by a remarkably uncomplicated process of grinding peanuts into smooth and supple butter, I decided to take on a new challenge and make my own version of Hellmann's mayonnaise. 

Nowadays, when grocery stores are filled with a packaged parody on food, finding good-quality condiments can be exhausting, so much so that mayonnaise and mustard are the only spreads I purchase on the regular basis. 

On occasion, my husband insists on stocking up on ketchup, BBQ sauce and the sweet chilly sauce- the latter goes rather well with chicken- but even those must meet strict criteria imposed by the slightly obsessive-compulsive head of our household's nutrition department. 

Hellmann's has always been my choice of mayonnaise, based on its original taste and natural ingredients besides calcium disodium EDTA said to protect the flavour and canola oil that probably comes from genetically modified canola, so I used it as a template for my own creation. I pulled out a plastic jar with a recognizable blue-and-yellow label and familiarized myself with the list of ingredients. Right away, I knew I had all the basic ingredients- plant oil, eggs, vinegar, salt and lemon juice- and without much thought, I combined all in my Magic Bullet and began the blending process. 

Except neither of the ingredients agreed to work together, resulting in a visually unpleasant yellow concoction. Patience is a virtue, and to my deepest regret, I did not possess a single shred of it. I searched the Internet for general guidance on the whipping process and came across a short post by Molly Wizenberg that provided a set of detailed whisking instructions. Although already aware of the fact that mayonnaise is an emulsion- a mixture of two or more liquids otherwise immiscible- I disregarded its importance in achieving the final product. 

Humbled by the initial failure, I surrounded myself with the main ingredients and read the instructions more carefully. A short note suggested to use pasteurized eggs, which sparked a series of searches for egg pasteurization process and revealing the need for a cooking thermometre. Described in great detail, the process seemed overwhelming, simply because I was unable to precisely measure the water temperature, but the effort paid off, leaving me with a perfectly liquid yet disinfected egg*. 

In a tall measuring cup, I combined an egg yolk, 1/3 tsp of salt, 2 tsp of lemon juice, 1/3 tsp of Dijon mustard and 2/3 tsp of white vinegar, then used a basic mixer to combine the ingredients. Within a few seconds, the mixture was uniform and oil could now be added. For the first third of a cup- a total of 2/3 cup was called for- I used grape seed oil, pouring it in a thin steady stream right onto working beaters. The process took about 5 minutes, resulting in a bright yellow, and now thicker, emulsion. 

It was now time to pour in the remaining half a cup, and in this instance I used olive oil. The process of mixing took 8 more minutes and yielded a thick, somewhat gelatinous, substance. Due to a brighter orange free-run egg yolk and the darker colour of extra-virgin olive oil, the mixture maintained its yellow, although somewhat faded, colour. I transferred it into a smaller container, tasted and compared it with Hellmann's and knew I made at least three mistakes. The consistency- the final product appeared thicker than desired- could be adjusted by adding more lemon juice or warm water, but the taste and smell of a touch too much Dijon and olive oil could only be remedied in my next attempt at mayo making. 

Nonetheless, the spread proved quite useful in salads, sandwiches and what I decided to call a Midday Medley- a healthful combination of meat and vegetables coated with mayonnaise and baked in the oven. As it turned out, my mistakes lead me to a better understanding of this ancient condiment and a few successful dishes along the way!

*The March 11, 2011 post in Baking Bites, How to Pasteurize Eggs at Home, suggests placing eggs in a pot filled with water and fitted with a digital thermometer, then bringing the water temperature up to 140°F and keeping it there for a minimum of 3 minutes. Since I was not sure of the temperature of my water, I waited 4.5 minutes, constantly stirring and moving the egg around for consistent treatment.  

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Home-Made Peanut Butter

Walking in through the front door, I was struck with an overwhelming aroma of crushed peanuts. Up until now, I was unaware that this representative of the Fabaceae family was capable of emitting a smell, but as I discovered time and time again, there is always room for surprise in the food domain. Once roasted and pulverized into smooth butter, the peanuts I purchased at a local bulk food store just three days earlier filled the house with an unmistakable scent worthy of savouring. 

Making my own peanut butter became an option with the purchase of Vitamix- the ultimate food processor for anyone willing to invest in a powerful and long-lasting appliance. The process of wet grinding was carried out in the wet blade container and took approximately 10 minutes, including the time I allowed for the mass to cool. Fearful that the intense heat generated by the blade rotation will affect the nutritional value of the final product, I took the precaution of breaking down the process into three stages.


Within less than a minute, 3 cups of peanuts turned into approximately 500 g of dry and somewhat coarse mass. Roasted immediately before getting transferred into the Vitamix container- a true testament to my impatient nature- these ground dwellers contributed to the overall heat level, forcing me to pause the grinding process.


After a short resting period of 2 minutes, I proceeded to the next phase resulting in a smooth, yet largely dry, substance. By then, the container was noticeably warm, so I let it cool for 5 more minutes.


The final stage took less than a minute to yield the widely accepted consistency of peanut butter. Although still incredibly viscous, the mass contained enough natural oil to spread effortlessly on a piece of toast. Had I let the blade rotate for a few more seconds, I would have ended up with an even runnier kind.

After the final stage, the contents of the container were transferred into a sterilized and dried glass jar where they were allowed to cool once more. When completely cooled, the jar was locked with a lid and placed in the fridge for storage. It is worth noting that the colour of the final product was a far cry from the darker caramel shade I was so used to encountering. Despite the 2:1 ratio, where a third of all peanuts used was the non-blanched kind, and all of them have been lightly roasted before processing, the final colour was a rather light beige.

In the next few days, it would be natural for some of the oil to separate and form a thin layer on top of the solid mass. However, it appears in several online testimonials that separation does not always happen, at least not in the time it takes to consume all of the product. Curious about my own outcome, I will be watching my peanut butter and report my observations in a later commentary. As for now, I am already contemplating making a breakfast spread from an assortment of nuts, cocoa and a few auxiliary, although equally intriguing, ingredients.

NOTE (18-FEB-2014):

By now, my peanut butter spent 48 hours in the fridge and appears to have absorbed all oil, which certainly makes me wonder about the reason behind oil separation in store-bought brands. The last jar of peanut butter I purchased- also stored in the fridge- claimed to have had nothing but peanuts used in its preparation, but there was at least half a centimetre of oil resting on top of the solid mass. Could it be due to a longer storage time? Needless to say, the phenomenon warrants further research.

My peanut butter 48 hours past its production date

NOTE (20-FEB-2014):

As I continued to watch my peanut butter, I started to notice a few drops of oil appear on the surface. It has been four days since production and as time goes by, I expect to see more oil separate from the solid mass.

My peanut butter 4 days past its production date

NOTE (11-MAR-2014):

Curious about the continued oil separation process, I checked my jar of peanut butter 23 days past its original production date. As expected, more oil was visible on the surface; however, the total amount added up to about half a teaspoon. Understandably, this makes me question the freshness of typical store-bought peanut butter. It appears that oil separation will take several months to reach the level often seen in those jars on the day of purchase. Similarly, I like to theorize that the colour difference is also due to time spent idle at the manufacturer's facility or on store shelf.

My peanut butter 23 days past its production date

NOTE (05-June-2014):

Having run out of the peanut butter I first made on the 16th of February, I decided to try a slightly different method and ground three cups of raw blanched peanuts. Surprisingly, the entire process took 3 minutes of continuous grinding to arrive at the final product that resembled lightly creamed clover honey, making me wonder whether roasting affected the initial result by yielding drier, highly viscous peanut butter. Cream in colour, the new product spread effortlessly and did not require tramping down, as most of the air trapped in the mass was able to travel to the surface and escape.

Fresh peanut butter