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PMcCool

While it would be self-deception in the first degree to think that I have a lock on wheaten breads, I've been wanting to expand my repertoire to include breads with a high percentage of rye flour.  I enjoy the flavor and have been very impressed by the breads produced by other TFL posters.  So, I thought I'd try my hand with the Soulful German Farmhouse Rye from Daniel Leader's Local Breads.  This bread has been profiled in other posts on TFL, so feel free to search out those entries, too.


I maintain a single sourdough starter that is usually fed AP or bread flour.  Every now and then it gets goosed with a bit of whole rye or whole wheat, based on the needs of a particular recipe.  For this bread, I did two refreshments entirely with whole rye flour to build the rye sour it calls for.  About the only rye flour carried in supermarkets locally is Hodgson Mills whole rye, so it's not like there's a lot of choice in the matter.  Whole Foods and Wild Oats stores have some other possibilities, but the labeling doesn't always make it clear just what they are selling.


The formula calls for a quarter teaspoon each of coriander, fennel and cumin seeds, toasted and ground.  That turned out to be my first point of departure from the formula.  Recalling some earlier discussions on TFL, I substituted caraway for the cumin.  My first attempt at toasting the seeds in a skillet on the stovetop was, well, overdone.  As I was grinding the seeds, the predominant odor was that of something scorched, not something spicy.  After pitching those, I started over.  This time I dialed back the heat and shook the skillet every few seconds so that nothing had a chance to park on a hot spot and scorch.  I also kept a close eye on the fennel seeds.  They started out with a greenish cast, while the coriander and caraway already had a toasty color.  When the fennel seeds' color shifted from green to golden, I pulled the skillet off the flame and dumped the seeds into the mortar.  A few strokes with the pestle released a toasty/spicy fragrance that was much different and far better than the that of the first attempt.  


Despite Leader's recommendations, I opted for hand mixing and kneading the dough, primarily to understand how it looked and felt as it developed.  Now I know why the phrase "wet cement" figures prominently in writings about making rye breads.  Despite what you read in recipes, a high-percentage rye dough will not be silky; nor will it be elastic or responsive.  I'll probably use the mixer for future forays, but I know now what to look for.  The other departure from the formula was to use wet hands and a wet countertop for kneading.  Leader recommends floured hands, but I think that working wet has to be the better choice.  First, you can't work in too much additional flour.  Second, the same components in rye flour that make it so sticky also make it slippery when wet.  That means your hands don't get nearly as gummed up with dough as they would if you worked with floured surfaces.  Keeping a plastic bowl scraper in one hand while manipulating the dough with the other is also a good tactic.  


The dough came together rather easily.  Yes, it was sticky.  Yes, it was sludgy.  And no, it didn't seem the least bit soulful; at least, not compared to a dough made with wheat flour.  The second point at which I departed from the script was to add only half the amount of yeast.  A significant quantity of the rye flour is in the final dough, so I wanted it to have the opportunity to acidify before the yeast took over.  That stretched the fermentation times out beyond the times noted in the formula but I wasn't in any rush.


Leader recommends "dusting" the bannetons with rye flakes before depositing the boules for their final fermentation.  First, things the size of rye flakes can't be "dusted" onto anything, much less the sidewalls of a banneton.  Second, he recommends slashing the loaves with a tic-tac-toe pattern immediately before loading them in the oven.  Every try slashing a dough that is armored, sorry, "dusted" with rye flakes?  It ain't gonna happen, no matter what your slashing weapon of choice is.  (See picture, below.)  And that for a bread that, he says truthfully, isn't going to rise much in the oven.  I'll grant you that the rye flakes have a certain rustic appeal for the eye, but next time I'd rather use them as a soaker or leave them off entirely.


Here's how the finished breads look:


Soulful German Farmhouse Rye


These are compact breads, maybe 1.5 inches high and 7 or 8 inches across.  The rye flakes and the knife handle give you a sense of their scale.  The crumb, not surprisingly, is dense and rather tight.  The soulful part, which isn't appreciable here, is in the flavor.  The rye is front and center in this bread.  The spices, while discernible, are very much in a supporting role.  It's quite a bit different than Levy's NY jewish rye, which has 2 tablespoons of caraway seeds.  The crust is chewy, as is the crumb.  Then again, it's been in a plastic bag overnight.  Left out in the air, it would probably be rather hard-shelled.  It doesn't feel quite as moist as I had anticipated (probably a factor of the whole rye's absorbency) but it isn't crumbly, either.  I think it is probably a very good thing that I used water, rather than flour, to manage the stickiness while kneading the dough.  There's no noticeable gumminess in the crumb, so it appears that I waited long enough before cutting into it. 


All in all, an enjoyable bread and one that should go very well with the ham I purchased this weekend.

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PMcCool

Today's bake was Daniel Leader's Whole Wheat Genzano Country Bread, from his Local Breads book.  This bread combines a biga naturale for flavor with yeast for shorter, more predictable fermentation times.


The formula is straight-forward: the biga, water, equal parts whole wheat and bread flours, salt and yeast.  Final hydration works out to about 77%.  Based on Leader's description of the dough, I was expecting something almost in the ciabatta realm.  It turned out to be less gloppy than a ciabatta dough, perhaps because of the extra absorbency of the whole wheat flour.  Still, it was definitely better handled by the mixer than by hand.  I'm a little leery of his mixing directions, though.  First, he recommends an 10-minute run at speed 8 on a Kitchen Aid, followed by an 8-10 minute run at speed 10.  I didn't run it quite that long, or quite that fast, since I was seeing good gluten development.  Plus, the dough was clearing the sides of the bowl, even though it was very sticky.  The directions indicated that it probably cause the mixer to walk.  Hah!  I had to hold it down, what with the ball of dough slapping and releasing from the sides of the bowl.


After the mixing/kneading stage, the dough is dumped into an oiled container for 1-1.5 hours until it doubles.  It is then treated to a series of stretch and folds in the container (I used a plastic bowl scraper for this exercise), then allowed to double again.  Having finished bulk fermentation, the dough is scraped out onto a floured counter, divided in two, and (very gently) shaped into rough, rectangular loaves that are placed on bran-strewn pieces of parchment paper for their final rise.  The risen loaves go onto stone in a preheated oven, with steam.  The initial temperature is 450 F, which is dropped to 400 F for the second part of the bake.  Oven-spring was good.  The crust color is a deep brown, but not the near-black color promised in the formula.


The finished bread looks like this:


Whole Wheat Genzano Country Bread


The crust is thin and crackly, although I expect it will soften because of the internal moisture.  The flavor is very good; closer to that of a yeasted bread than to a sourdough but with some complexity that isn't usually present in a straight dough.  There doesn't seem to be the bitterness that sometimes shows up in whole wheat breads.  The crumb is moderately open, though nothing like the big holes of a ciabatta.  That's not bad, since this will be used primarily for sandwiches.  The breads are relatively light in weight for their size, another indicator of an open crumb.  I'll have to get a crumb shot, later.


I will definitely make this again, although I may experiment with leaving out the yeast.  That should swing the flavor profile in a whole 'nother direction.  Before getting to that, though, I have my eye on a couple of different rye recipes from Local Breads.


Paul

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PMcCool

My wife has been an instructor in some women's groups recently that have had, as one component, some instruction in cooking.  She was a bit surprised to find just how much interest there was among the women who attended these sessions in learning more about cooking.  For some, it was an opportunity to expand their repertoire with new recipes or techniques.  For others, it was a chance to learn basic skills that they had not been taught previously.  


Based on those experiences, she has begun a series of classes in our home that will cover a range of topics; including meal planning, cooking and baking.  The first class met yesterday and I found myself instructing three students on the finer points of how to make a honey whole-wheat bread.  (My work schedule gives me every other Friday off.)  It's an old pattern; she has an idea and I have work.  ;-)  


We kept everything low key.  I had baked a loaf yesterday morning prior to class so that they could see and taste the finished product.  They got to see the differences in measuring by volume and measuring by weight, and were more than a little surprised to see that their normal measuring methods produced some significantly different quantities of flour, on a weight basis.  We allowed the whole wheat flour a short soak (not a true autolyse) and explained how that would affect the texture of the dough and the finished bread, as well as the amount of kneading that would be required.  We also covered the basic differences between enriched, straight doughs (yesterday's subject) and lean and delayed-fermentation doughs.  Although we weren't focusing on sourdough yesterday, I showed them my starter and explained some of the differences between naturally-yeasted and commercially-yeasted breads.  While their dough was rising, we sampled the finished bread that I had baked.  My wife also demonstrated some spreads and toppings that they could easily make, and provided those recipes.  By the time we were done, each student had mixed, kneaded and shaped their own loaf of bread, which they took  home to bake.  Although I stressed the importance of allowing the bread to cool to room temperature, one already e-mailed back to say that her loaf disappeared that same afternoon.  However, she is planning to make more!  


There's already talk about future classes for cinnamon rolls, pretzels, bagels, and sourdough.  We'll have to see how all of that plays out.  The good thing is that there are now more converts to baking their own bread at home.  And, yes, I pointed them to The Fresh Loaf as an excellent resource for additional information and help.


Paul

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PMcCool

I wanted to make a bread for a recent gathering of friends.  My preference was for something sweet but not a sticky, gooey kind of sweet.  After paging through a number of books, I came across a recipe in Beth Hensperger's The Bread Bible for a sweet vanilla challah that sounded like it would fit the bill.  The recipe called for just 1/2 cup of sugar in a two-loaf batch of bread, so it wasn't excessively sweet.  The flavor, though, was driven by 1-1/2 tablespoons of vanilla extract in the dough and another teaspoon of vanilla extract in the glaze.  How could it be anything but good?


The dough ingredients include:


1 tablespoon yeast (instant or active dry)


1/2 cup sugar


1 tablespoon salt


6-1/2 to 7 cups of flour


1-3/4 cups hot water (120 F)


4 large eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten


1/2 cup vegetable oil


1-1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract


The glaze ingredients include:


1 large egg yolk


1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1/2 teaspoon sugar


Process


Combine the yeast, sugar, salt and 2 cups of the flour; mix by hand or by mixer.


Add the hot water, eggs, oil, and vanilla.  Beat hard until smooth.  Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time.  Continue beating until the dough is too stiff to stir.


Turn out on a lightly floured surface and knead until soft and springy and a layer of blisters shows under the skin, about 4 minutes.  (Note: I did not see any blisters forming, but kneaded until the dough was smooth and elastic.)  The dough needs to be slightly firm for free-form loaves.


Place the dough in a greased deep container.  Turn the dough once to coat the top and cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1-1/2 to 2 hours.  (Even with room temperature at a relatively cool 65F in my kitchen, it did not need this much time to double.  I could see this doubling in less than an hour with warmer, summer-time temperatures.)


Grease or parchment-line 1 or 2 baking sheets.  (I went with 2 sheets, not wanting to risk the two loaves growing together while they baked.  It turned out to be a good choice.  Note that Ms. Hensperger also offers the option of using springform pans.)  Gently deflate the dough.  Turn the dough onto a lightly-floured surface.  Divide the dough in 2 equal portions.  Roll each portion out into a smooth, thick strip about 30 inches long, with one end 2-3 inches wider than the other.  (Picture a shorter, thicker billiard cue stick.)  Roll to to lengthen and taper the thinner end.  With the wide end on the work surface, lift the tapered end and wind the rest of the dough around the thick end 2 or 3 times, forming a compact coil.  Pinch the thin end to the body of the coil and tuck it under.  Place the coils, with the swirl pattern facing up, on the baking sheet(s).  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise until nearly doubled in bulk, about 30-40 minutes.  Because of the eggs, this loaf does not need to double completely; it will rise enough in the oven.  (And how!  It sprang up to double or treble its original height.)


Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350F.  To make the vanilla egg glaze, whisk together the egg yolk, vanilla and sugar in a small bowl.  Beat until well blended.  Gently brush the dough surfaces with a thick layer of the glaze.  Place the baking sheet(s) on a rack in the center of the oven and bake 40-45 minutes, or until a deep, golden brown and the loaves sound hollow when tapped with your finger.  Carefully lift the turbans off the baking sheet(s) with a spatula and transfer to cooling racks.  Cool completely before slicing.


The finished bread looks like this:


Sweet vanilla challah


Sweet vanilla challah


Now, any bread smells good when it's baking.  This bread's fragrance while baking is over the top; our whole house was perfumed with vanilla. 


The flavor is also marvelous.  The crumb is fine-textured, smooth and moist.  It's good all by itself, with a dab of butter, with jam or marmalade, and toasted.  It will never last long enough to go stale, but it would make a wonderful base for either French toast or bread pudding.


The results were every bit as good as I had anticipated and a big hit with my friends.


Paul

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PMcCool

We had invited friends for brunch the weekend after New Year's day and I had already decided to make zolablue's cinnamon rolls.  It seemed, though, that something else would be good to have with the quiches that my wife was making; something not quite so sweet as the cinnamon rolls (which were fabulous, by the way).  It occurred to me that a croissant's buttery, flaky lightness would be a perfect accompaniment for the richness of the quiche.  There was one minor problem: I'd never made a croissant in my life.


The first step: search TFL for threads dealing with croissants.  I found two things that proved to be very helpful.  The first was a formula for Bertinet's croissants, posted by dolfs.  The second was a link to SteveB's Breadcetera site, which included some very helpful videos and other instructions for croissants.  Armed with this information, I decided to forge ahead.  If the croissants turned out well, I would serve them to my guests; if they turned out badly, my guests would never hear about them but my wife and I would have some very tasty french toast.


The next step was to assemble all of the ingredients and start building the dough.  I'll spare you all of the process steps; Dolf and Steve have done an excellent job of documenting those, which you can read by clicking on the links, above.  My laminated dough skills, being essentially non-existent, caused a couple of butter breakouts during the turning and rolling steps.  Happily (for me, anyway), the end product didn't seem to have suffered as a result; although M. Bertinet may not have wanted his name attached to them.


I was grateful to have a largish island on which to roll out the final dough before cutting the croissants.  A 3-foot long strip of dough is much longer in reality than it would seem to be in concept.  While I suspect that I may not have rolled the dough as thinly as a professional baker would have, I did get 14 croissants out of it, plus a couple of smaller scraps from the ends (which served well for QA testing).  


Here's a picture of the shaped croissants during their final rise, after shaping:


Shaped croissants


By this point, I could already tell that they would taste wonderful.  All I needed to do was bake them successfully.  Here's how they looked after coming out of the oven:


Baked croissants


I could probably have left them in the oven another couple of minutes for additional browning, but I was very skittish about burning them after having gotten them this far.  (By the way, Dolf, thanks for including the tip on applying the egg wash.)  Turns out they were fully baked and absolutely delicious, as confirmed by our QA samples.  Lots of tender, buttery, flaky goodness.  


So, our guests did get croissants to go with the quiche, although the cinnamon rolls were probably the bigger hit of the party.  


As good as they are, these will probably remain on my "special occasion" baking list.  For one thing, there's almost a tablespoon of butter in every single one of them.  For another, they require significantly more effort for the yield than a similar quantity of dinner rolls.  Still, after a bite of one warm from the oven with a dab of marmalade, I know I'll be making them again.


Paul

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PMcCool

Time to catch up a bit from the Christmas whirl.  Last weekend, I baked Leader's pain au levain again, from his Local Breads.  I keep coming back to this bread, because of it's lovely flavor.  It is only mildly sour and the rye and whole wheat components add to the depth of flavor.  Since temperatures in my kitchen were hovering in the 63-65F range, it also benefitted from a long, slow fermentation.  Here is a picture of the finished loaves:


Leader's pain au levain


The slashing suffered from a lack of mental mise en place.  I'l have to pay better attention to that in future.


Here's a shot of the crumb:


Crumb of pain au levain


The crumb is great for sandwiches and for holding spreads, but a bit fine-grained for this style of bread.  I'm still working to get all of the factors done right in a single loaf.  This one has great flavor.  I thought it had ample hydration, but it could probably have been pushed a bit higher.  And my handling during shaping was a bit ham-fisted.  One of these days . . .


The second bread on the agenda last weekend was Reinhart's New York Deli Rye, from BBA.  No complaints about the bread itself; it is a moist, flavorful (I substituted dill seed for caraway seed), sturdy bread and makes wonderful sandwiches.  The only quibble, which is purely cosmetic, is the blotchiness on the crust caused by the oiled plastic wrap that I draped over the pans to keep the dough from drying during it's final proof, as seen here:


Reinhart's NY deli rye


And, since I was on a sourdough kick and had company coming, I also made the sourdough English muffins from the KAF 200th Anniversary Cookbook.  I never got around to snapping a picture of those.  They turned out very well.  I think I finally got the right combination of hydrations, time to rise, and griddle temperature.  They ballooned up to more than an inch in thickness, without trying to turn into spheres.  There are plenty of nooks and crannies for trapping melting butter or juicy jams.  They are so moist that they require a second pass through the toaster to brown up enough.


Sometimes it is hard to decide which is better: the enjoyment of making bread, or the enjoyment of eating it.

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PMcCool

This weekend's baking included Bernard Claytons Pain Allemande aux Fruits.  It's a marvelously fragrant bread, containing lemon zest, orange juice, anise seed, cinnamon, figs, raisins, apricots, prunes, almonds, hazelnuts, butter and other good things.  I made a double batch, since I tend to make a mess in the process of getting everything prepped.  Might as well have four loaves for my efforts as two, right?  Plus, I can give some for gifts and still have some for myself.  


It is delightful with just a smear of butter, or toasted.  For me, it has the appeal of fruit and spice, without the cloying flavor or overwhelming sweetness of most fruitcakes.


Here's the dough at the end of the bulk rise, just about to make a break for freedom:


Doubled, and then some


The fruit mixture: figs, apricots, raisins and prunes:


Frut mix


 


This shows the dough with the first one-third of the fruit, ready incorporation:


Dough and fruit


Fruit mixed in, dough shaped and panned:


The dough in the pans


Second rise complete and ready for the oven:


Ready for the oven


And the finished bread:


All done!


 


Oh, and I baked off Leader's pain de campagne that was begun last evening:


Leader's pain de campagne


Not a bad day in the kitchen!

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PMcCool

My wife recently picked up a copy of Leader's Local Breads, and I am part way through reading it.  I needed to bake this weekend, so thought that I would try a formula from the book.  Based on what I had available, I opted for the Pain au Levain, using my existing sourdough starter to prepare the levain for the formula.  I also chose to add sunflower seeds to the bread, following one of Mr. Leader's options.

It was enjoyable to work with a mostly-white bread dough again.  Much of my recent baking has been predominantly whole-grain breads (not counting RLB's focaccia that factored out at 113% hydration!), which tend to have somewhat heavier and stickier doughs.  This formula calls for small quantities of both whole wheat and rye flours, but they are fairly low percentages of the total flour content.

Here's the finished bread:

Pain au Levain batards 

And a shot of the crumb:

Pain au Levain crumb 

As you can see, there was plenty of oven-spring.  The dough was a little bit short of being completely proofed.  I may have been able to let it proof a little longer than I did, but I'm happy with the outcome.  The flavor is surprisingly (to me) mild; the wheat flavor comes through cleanly, along with the nutty sweetness of the sunflower seeds.  The last couple of sourdoughs that I have made had a high whole wheat content and a pronounced sourdough tang.  Other conditions were essentially the same, so it appears that the flour has an influence on the degree of sourness.

This is a very enjoyable bread.  I hope that others in the book are equally good.

Paul 

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PMcCool

This weekend's bake, per my wife's request, was a walnut stout bread.  The recipe that I used (note that all measurements are volumes, not weights) can be found here: http://www.kitchenlink.com/mf/2/4133.  We first saw it printed in the Kansas City Star some years ago; the link attributes it to the Houston Chronicle.  It's probably one of those recipes that was reprinted widely, since it is so good.  Oh, and don't miss the Cheddar-Ale spread recipe at the bottom of the page.  It is wonderful with this bread!

There are a couple of insights that I can offer, having made this bread on several occasions.  It is essentially a rye bread, which means that the crumb is very smooth and somewhat dense.  The dough will be sticky as you handle it.  The recipe suggests adding flour during kneading to control the stickiness but I elected to knead with one hand and clean the countertop (and my hand) with a plastic dough scraper.  It helps to keep the finished bread from being too dry.  The recipe merely says "rye flour".  I don't know if it means white rye, medium rye, or whole rye.  In my case, whole rye flour was on hand, so that is what I used and it turned out fine.  The recipe also requires 1 Tablespoon of coriander, and that is not a misprint.  Between the coriander and the anise seed, it is a very fragrant bread.  As for the stout, I've used Guinness on previous occasions with good results.  This time, I used Boulevard Brewery's Dry Stout (local to Kansas City) with equally delicious results.  I think you could get away with using any dark beer or ale, whether stout, porter, bock or dunkel.  The flavor may shift a bit, but it wouldn't upset the overall results.  Obviously, the richer the flavor of the beer or ale, the richer the flavor of the bread.  The walnuts are, to my tastes, essential for the bread.  They contribute both flavor and a crunch that play off the other flavors and textures very nicely. 

The recommended baking time is 35-45 minutes at 375F.  I checked a loaf's temperature at the 40-minute mark and it was only about 180F, so I left it in for another 10 minutes.  If it had been taken out at the recommended time, it would have been gummy.  Since I only make this every two or three years, I haven't really experimented with different temperature/time combinations.

Here is a picture of the finished loaves:

Walnut Stout Bread

Paul

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PMcCool

What follows is a case study of "Its beautiful!  Let's change it!"

When we moved into our present house in August 2007, one of the things that we especially liked about it was the large, open kitchen with lots of cabinet space and room to maneuver.  No more tripping over each other, as in the cramped kitchen of the previous house; no more trying to find a place to set something down that wasn't already occupied by something else.  It was pretty typical of houses that were built in this area in the mid-1990's; lots of honey-oak cabinetry, formica counter tops, ceramic tile backsplashes, etc. 

We have, over the years, been collecting ideas of things we would like to have in our kitchen.  There was the "If money was no object" list and there was the "Get real!" list.  One of the things that we fell in love with a few years ago was soapstone for counter tops.  I don't recall where or how we first became aware of it, but I do remember that after seeing it used (and still usable) in a Shaker village built in the mid-1800s we figured that durability wasn't going to be a problem.  I'll spare you the rationalization / sales pitch as to why we chose it over other options.  Let's just say we like it.  In looking at the somewhat worn Formica counter tops that were in the house, we decided that this might just be the time and place to take the plunge. 

Once the decision about counter tops was made, several other things followed in rapid progression.  For instance, to take out the existing countertops, the existing backsplash had to be removed.  Besides, white ceramic tile wouldn't have complement the new soapstone counters.  To get all of the backsplash out, the existing microwave oven had to be pulled.  Said microwave not only functioned poorly, it's vent fan recirculated cooking odors back into the house instead of venting outdoors.  Oh, and the dinged up, surface-mounted porcelain sink?  That had to go.  While they're messing with the plumbing anyway, let's get a new disposal, too.  To quote the King of Siam: "Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera."

So, by choosing new counter tops, we got:

- new counter tops (natch)

- new backsplash

- new microwave, vented outdoors

- new undermount sink

- new faucet

- new disposal

- new switches and outlets (to coordinate with new backsplash)

- new pulls for the drawers and cabinets

- new under-cabinet lights

Talk about unforeseen consequences!

The steam-injection oven remains on the "If money were no object" list.  We decided that we could live with the existing white refrigerator, even though all of the other appliances are black.

Here is how things looked at the outset:

Before

Another "before" view:

More before

The first thing to go was the backsplash and counter tops.  Not having a place to set things down for a couple of weeks was an adjustment we never quite got used to:

Tear out

The day after the wrecking crew tore out the backsplash and counters, another individual came to take the final measurements and make the templates that the stone fabricator would need to cut the raw slabs into the finished pieces for the counter tops.

A crew came back to install the wiring for the puck lights underneath the upper cabinets while the stone fabricator was doing his thing.  Under-cabinet lighting wasn't something that had been on either list but after seeing how much darker the slate tiles were going to be, compared to the previous white ceramic tiles, we decided that it would be a good thing to have. 

And then came the day that the new counters arrived:

They're here!

The installer in the above picture is finishing a seam between two sections of counter top.  Note that he has already installed the under-mount sink.

The final step for installing the counter tops was the application of a coat of mineral oil.  When soapstone is oiled, it darkens dramatically.  Since the stone isn't porous, I'm not sure exactly why it works.  The closest approximation I can think of is the difference between dry pavement and wet pavement, particularly when driving at night, in the sense that the oil fills in microscopic irregularities on the stone's surface in much the same way that rain fills in the irregularities of the pavement's surface, making it look much darker.  Or maybe I'm the one that's all wet.  Anyway, oiling is not required.  It does nothing for the stone, other than change its appearance.  My wife thinks that she will probably not oil our counters with any frequency, if at all.  She prefers the "dry" look.  Here's a picture that shows part of the stone oiled and part of it dry:

Oiled vs. dry stone

Over the next couple of days, the slate tile backsplash was installed, grouted and sealed.  You can also see two of the puck lights under the upper cabinets, along with the new faucet at the sink and the new pulls on the cabinets and drawers in this shot:

Slate backsplash

And a couple of more shots showing the finished work:

Finished!

Finished!

Additional photos, if you are interested, are located at http://s94.photobucket.com/albums/l111/pemccool/Kitchen/.  The before and after order is scrambled; Photobucket seems to adhere to the LIFO approach for inventorying multiple uploads.  If any of you know how to reshuffle the order of the photos in a Photobucket album, please tell me how.

We had dithered about whether or not we should refinish the cabinets, eventually defaulting to a wait and see approach.  Now that everything is in, we are content to keep them as they are.

We are very satisfied with how things have turned out, even though some of the et ceteras drove the price up higher than my informal initial estimate.  We expect to be using, and liking, this kitchen for a long, long time.

Bottom line?  "It's beautiful!  Don't change a thing!"

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