Walnut Amasake Bittersweet Chocolate Muffins


Baking with microbes

Almost everything we bake, brew cook or ferment contains one or more microbes. Bacteria, yeasts, fungus and other fermented products that already contain microbes (like miso, milk kefir, and vinegar) work exceptionally well in and with baked goods.

Even if you set aside the yeasts common in bread baking, we almost always use shio-koji instead of salt, milk kefir or amasake instead of milk, and often lacto-fermented fruits,vegetables and even grains in baking.

Muffins and tea breads are basically are usually the same batter baked in different size baking pans. Obviously a bigger pan means a longer baking time, maybe 45 minutes as opposed to 30 minutes at 350F for the 8 big muffins that this recipe makes.


Ingredients

Our rules of muffin making as well as tea breads are simple.

  • The batter should be just barely mixed
  • The batter should be on the wetter side
  • Never fill a pan more than two thirds full
  • Add 1 tsp baking soda with the dry ingredients
  • Mix ins like nuts go with dry ingredients
  • Fruits and/or flavored essences or sauces go with wet stuff
  • Don’t mix in wet fruits or ferments until the end if color maters
  • Let muffin batter rest and puff up before spooning into cups

Half baked at 15 minutes. Looking good.

The recipe for these muffins pretty much follow the standard muffin ratio that every baker has memorized. Butter by weight equals sugar by weight. That combined weight is the weight of the flour. It’s also the weight in whatever measurement system you are using in liquid. In most cases add-ins like nuts or berries should never exceed in volume the sugar or flour volume.

Because we add a fermented or microbe inclusive ingredient to our baked goods – typically of a lower, acidic pH – we always add baking soda with the powder. Sourdough leavened muffins follow a different procedure based on bakers ratios that we’ll explain in another post.



  • 8 ounces or 1 1/2 cups or 236 grams all purpose flour or other
  • 4 ounces or 1/2 cup coconut palm sugar or other
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 4.3 ounces or 1 cup or 124 grams roasted chopped walnuts
  • 3.1 ounces or 1/2 cup or 90 grams bittersweet chocolate chips/chunks
  • 1.2 ounces or 2 TB or 32 grams shio-koji (or 1 tsp salt)
  • 8 ounces or 3/4 cup or 230 grams rice amasake (or nut or dairy milk)
  • 1 TB vanilla (or chocolate extract or mirin or soy sauce)
  • 4.5 ounces or 2 extra large or 126 grams eggs (or two vegan eggs)
  • 5 ounces or 1/2 cup or 156 grams dark maple syrup
  • 4 ounces or 1/2 cup or 112 grams roasted walnut oil (or butter/oil)


Procedure

  • Preheat oven to 350F.
  • Have bottom shelf ready for one or two muffin tins.
  • Prepare the tins with grease or just paper linings.
  • Mix flour, coconut palm sugar, baking powder, roasted chopped walnuts, bittersweet chocolate chips/chunks together
  • Whisk your eggs, walnut oil, maple syrup, vanilla, amasake, and shio-koji together well. Add to just incorporate with the dry ingredients.
  • Add add ins if you have reserved them to maintain the color or spacing of the add ins in your batter. *Check your chocolate to ensure it is non-dairy if vegan baking
  • Spoon about 4 ounces into each of 8 prepared muffin cups.
  • If using a smaller muffin tea or mini-muffin pans remember the rule – never more than 2/3 full.
  • Bake at 350F for 30 minutes in a pre-heated oven.
  • Don’t open the oven door until 20 minutes have elapsed.
  • Internal temperature should be 205 F, or a clean toothpick.
  • Remove muffins from oven and let rest 30 minutes away from heat.
  • Place on wire rack for further cooling after removing from the pan.


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The Name of the Rose

Today is my birthday and I have a few things to say. Mostly everything I want to convey on this year’s birthday – September 15th – has all been said before in Nina Simone’s song “Feelin Good” At least the attitude part.

The recipe for this is actually already posted at culturesgroup.net

The semiotics or foodways start of a new year follows. As will the recipes that depend on understanding a few basic concepts. Although we haven’t yet introduced all of the misos, sauces, amino pastes, pickles, sakes, amasakes, kefirs, brews, yeast and bacteria centric items and baked goods and sweets that we’ve been making over the years, our corn rose miso has been very popular.

We only call it miso because the predecessor of all things made with koji is a word that has never been widely accepted in the English speaking world. Even the word koji is an inadequate translation of the predecessor to the what the original word for koji actually meant.

When the Japanese were gifted the knowledge of how to make and use koji – along with their first system of language – it was done by Chinese buddhists. The reason why so many people have seriously inaccurate ideas of where some things originated, or even that they have existed for thousands of years, is that the Chinese had no need to claim invention of anything.

The Japanese, however, kept repackaging and inventing while creating a hagiography of these things that were really just different versions of Chinese jiang, the predecessor even to the little fermented soybeans named shih or docuhi that many people insist are the actual precursor. Before koji there was jiang. Adding koji to jiang made it even better.

Ketchup and Worcestershire Sauce were derived from jiang, as were dozens of ither things such as miso and soy sauce and fish sauces and even preserved meats and game.

Nope

Sometimes the romanticized version of the past has worked well for the Japanese, and other countries to be sure, but other times it has failed miserably. Whoever though of the idea that foreigners would understand thus buy more Japanese sake by calling it rice wine should have been corrected.

The claim that they discovered or invented koji, or that it is endemic to only their country, is just not accurate. Still, the entire world should be extremely grateful to the Japanese for their efforts and inventions, especially Americans, because Japanese scientists including Dr.Takamine’s contributions to several industries in this country have been very significant.

麹 or 米糀 – Aspergillus and friends or pet Aspergillus

Millet koji.

But let’s start with the koji, or 麹, since it is what set everything off. 麹 really has little to do with the purified spores (tane-koji) that the Japanese have so brilliantly domesticated. When the Japanese think koji they mean 米糀 (rice koji or come-kouji) or sometimes another subspecies of Aspergillus (mold) grown on barley, millet, sweet potatoes or soybeans.

We’ll get to the Zygomycetes (Rhizopus, Mucor, Rhizomucor), yeasts and bacteria later, but even then it’s really rare that at some point in miso making or shoyu making and ocassionally even sake making they aren’t part of the process. Even if that just means avoiding them at all costs.

You should at least know these things exist. But we’ll try not to get too microbiologist on you unless it really matters.

Corn: Vinegar, Koji and Hamma Natto
Three corn kojis, three tastes (vinegar, koji, shih)

Su Jiang Rou or Shoyu what?

Many research papers, patent applications, books, journals, PhD theses and extant scrolls – as well as some pretty old oral communications – accurately document the development of mochi koji 麹. The stuff that seems to have taken hold in the minds of Westerners, at least, is bara koji, not mochi koji though.

We are actually partial to the bara koji, because as with sake and a whole lot of other food stuffs and beverages, the original sake was awful. Bara koji helps us to avoid that type of sake entirely. That said, Shanghai yeast balls or Chinese yeasts balls – way closer to the original mochi koji – can make some pretty amazing things.

Furthermore, modern day additives to sake that come from Aspergillus such as A.luchuensis or A. oryzaes and sometimes yeasts, bacteria or microbial enzymes should be welcomed as great things, especially if they help to avoid the industrialized unpalatable swill (増醸酒 ぞうじょうしゅ or Zojoshu) that is produced and consumed in Japan on a widespread basis.

Nukazuke (corn pickles made with corn nuka or bran). Thank you, Lactobacillus plantarum and friendly halophiles, for everything you do

Unblinded by Science

As I recently discussed at a recent meeting of culturesgroup, the invention of s16 rRna technology along with rapid advancements in other ways to quantify very precisely what bacteria and other microbes (yeasts, fungi, etc.) that populate the microbiome of any product have exploded the research into what microbes are in what we eat.

This is not all that new a thing, though, as the romanticizers of traditional methods keep trying to sell their goods. But industry and artesans can now either industrialize or individualize or do some of both when making something like soy sauce or amino sauces or sake with widely accessible ingredients.

Look to the Yeast

When I say there is actually only one thing that is ever created through any type of transformative process like using something to make koji from or add koji to or inoculate with a specific mold or fungus what I mean is that everything is on a continuum, a horizontal progression from ingredient to outcome.

The sokujo style method of making sake – basically just adding lactic acid derived from bacteria to avoid having to create it in what is called a shubo or moto in a time consuming and more expensive way – is almost exactly the same thing as making shoyu and even miso.

If you want to direct tastes or mormi develop look to the yeast. Sometimes, the water minerals or the bacteria, often cadged from a previous batch, do the trick as well.

Shiitake mushroom shoyu or soy sauce.

With the help of amazing new equipment with which we can measure a microbiome (as in the mkicrobiome of a vat of soy sauce) and it’s inhabitants down to the genetic level it makes clear how much respect the artesans that have been making these things for thousands of years deserve.

And this old world is a new world
And a bold world – Nina Simone, Feeling Good

Knowledge begets new customs and traditions. Don’t repeat history and not learn from the past. Using new tools and techniques, it’s time for new generations to experiment and create new foodways.

Not that we know everything we want to know yet. Just that it should be a fusion of the traditional and the modern, a sustainable and enlightened way of creating new foods and tastes.

Mixed Kojis and the Dregs

At one of our monthly forums we had lots of already cooked, organic Carolina Gold rice leftover. We also had lots of soybean pulp, or okara, leftover from making tofu.

Okara has a large amount of protein that like other beans and grains and seeds makes a tasty miso. Remember protein equals amino acids equals umami so throwing away protein is just crazy.

Ground millet koji and less ground rice koji

Those are the times you are glad you have 2 or 3 kilos of koji hanging out in your refrigerator, or in a cool cupboard or larder. You can, however, cut this recipe down to just a quarter of the called for ingredients, and even substitute whatever type of koji you have for the millet koji.

Those are also the times you are glad you have a scale to weigh out your ingredients, because with leftovers it’s really unlikely you just happen to have exactly the right amounts of any ingredient. If, for example, you need 2564 grams of ground koji, and you have some millet koji and some rice koji and some corn koji in different amounts what happens if that comes to 4356 grams of koji?

LIke shio koji, miso is typically made using a ratio of ingredients. Again, salt drives the proportion of the other ingredients in your miso. You really have to weigh your salt carefully. Because the amount of salt you use determines how long you should ferment your miso.

Even if you vary the amount of koji you use because you want it to be sweeter or be ready quicker, salt will determine whether that is achievable regardless pf what you use to make your miso.

Work it to a paste.

Koji may be the driving force behind your ferments, but salt makes sure the road is clear, steers the car, and, and determines which microbial passengers get in or out of the car during the journey.

Determine beforehand where you are going so that you how much salt you need to get there. There are maps and calculations involved. Here is what you need for this miso.

We’ll go over the calculations afterwards. Because miso don’t play when it comes to back seat drivers, and arguing about directions once you start the journey. Sure, you can probably make course corrections as you go along, but these detours typically require both more energy and time. That will cost you.

Mixing in the okara (72F) and the now pretty mashed up rice and kojis and salt

Again, we only use organic non-GMO beans for anything we make with soy. So unless you have a soy allergy, fermenting the soybeans with grains creates a very nutritious miso with very little or none of the potentially indigestible things that most beans have.

Ingredients (in grams)

  • 1796 grams cooked rice
  • 768 grams soy okara
  • 1044 grams ground rice koji
  • 1000 grams ground millet koji
  • 296 grams coarse salt
  • 75 grams seed miso
  • 235 grams water

Okay so typically a miso that has roughly equal weights of koji and the miso base – in this case the rice and the okara – will be a 12 month miso. In other words it will take that long to ferment before it really pops. But, the salt still determines just how fast and to where this miso is going.

LIke making legislation, at first.

You would usually aim for between 10% to 12% for such a creation. But because we already ground up the koji, and we added the seed miso to make sure our miso had the right microbial influences during its youth and stayed sweet at heart we decided to make it a 6% salt miso.

We added up the weights of the cooked rice, the soy okara, the ground rice and ground millet kojis (the koji can be all unground white or brown rice or barley koji if you have that on hand), the seed miso and the water. Then we calculated a specific percentage of salt we needed to make that: 300 grams.

Play with your miso balls

Because we added both water and seed miso to this, we calculated the salt amount with those ingredients in the formula. We usually don’t do that. Instead we usually just weigh the beans or grains after cooking and mix. If you have cooked them properly, you usually will not need either liquid or even seed miso.

Balls waiting to be smashed into the container a few at a time to remove air. They will yield to the collective.

We reviewed our miso making list and made sure all our bowls and container were clean and salted down – again, we really dislike using alcohol for this because we feel it better for the development of the taste of the miso, but use really strong tasteless vodka or something that is at least 80 proof to rinse things with if you like – and our space and faces were clean and smiling.

We also used gloves, and make sure we didn’t pour anything directly down a drain or anywhere else without a strainer.

Grind some coarse salt over the top. Just a sprinkle is needed. Definitely not more than a few tablespoons though, unless you think it’s going to be at or above 85F for a long time.

We mixed our salt and ground kojis together with the water and seed koji with a clean spoon – whole unground koji would have been massaged with the salt – then mixed in the okara then the rice.

Use protection. Every time. Every time.

Then we massaged the miso mercilessly until it felt turgid like a really thick balloon filled with liquid, incapable of crumbling and willing to yield just a little when pressed down.

Cleverly weighed down by using another very clean food safe bucket that can be filled with whatever it takes to get to 2500 grams. This way if the miso starts to creep up the side or exude tamari too quickly – that would be less than a month in this case – the weight can easily be reduced by removing some of the weights from the bucket.

Because we had already created our two labels for our miso – for the side of the container and the hoodie or whatever covering you use, and we already had 2500 grams of weight ready because we always try to weigh it down with at least half the weight of the finished miso – did we mention you really should be using a scale for this? – it took about 30 minutes from start to finish.

So the next post we’ll show you how to use shio koji in your misos, pickles, salads, salsas and condiments and more.

A little Maillard reaction – brown like a duck
Repacked for another three months. It already tastes like a young miso on its way to developing into a miso of character and strength with countless possibilities.