A brief note on protein in flour

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baking / biscuits / bread

Not all flours are created equal. Using the wrong type of flour for baking a particular item may lead to a not so happy result, and it is partially to do with protein. Protein is directly associated with how much gluten will form in the dough – which affects both structure, and texture. Flours with low protein contain less gluten, and those with high protein contain more. If you want a light-and airy bake, as in the case of a sponge cake, then low protein is the flour to use. A more chewy structure, as is the case in breads, you need high protein. There are basically three core types of (white) flour, all with differing levels of protein (let’s assume wheat flour).

→ bread flour: 14 – 16%
→ all-Purpose (AP) flour: 10 – 12%
→ cake and pastry flour: 7-9%

Calculating protein is not hard, but you do have to watch the nutritional information on the package. Sometimes it’s as simple as 12 grams of protein per 100g, which means the protein level is 12%. Normally though, protein level is expressed in some other manner, such as 4% per 34g. So now we have to divide 100 by 34, and multiply this by 4. Now we get 11.8% protein. Here are two flours I use for baking. The Italian flour on the left, farina tipo is 10% (on the lower end of AP), and the Bob’s Red Mill AP flour on the right is 11.8%. For fine cookies, I would lean towards the lower protein content, whereas for choc-chip cookies, using the AP flour is fine.

Using AP flour for bread is likely not such as good idea, because it won’t develop enough gluten, and the bread may not turn out as well. Again, some types of bread are more forgiving than others. In Canada, Robin Hood makes an, “All-Purpose Unbleached Flour”, which is 4g/30g, which gives it a protein content of 13.3%, which I think is way too high for making cookies (Five Roses All Purpose has the same amount of protein). Better to use Robin Hood’s “Best for Cake & Pastry Flour”, which is only 10% protein. There is no standardized system in Europe, and so each country has its own methodology for designating flour (usually based on ash content): a cake and pastry flour with low protein  might be equivalent to a 405 flour in Germany (soft wheat 8-10% protein), and T45 flour in France, and an Italian OO flour.

Baking is as much a science as it is an adventure in experimentation. Knowing how protein works in flour is one of the keys to successful baking!


Blurry streets

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art / photographs

I’m trying to do more artistic photographs. Sometimes that means using depth-of-field in such a manner that most of the photograph is blurred. Sometimes I look at photographs on a blog, and am in awe as to how fantastic they look. Most photographs need some sort of post-processing, which in my case is normally some contrast stretching, maybe a touch of colour saturation, and in the case of the photograph below, some sharpening of the foreground object. I don’t use photoshop, and that’s partially because I try and present the scene as close as possible to the original. Becoming a good photographer takes time, and sometimes when you visit a place the weather does not cooperate. This years trip is to Scotland. I mostly travel with an Olympus E-M5 (MII) as my main camera, with the Olympus 12-40mm Pro lens for travel. I also recently added a Voigtlander Nokton 25mm (F/0.95) manual focus lens, which I hope to experiment with this year. My secondary camera is usually an older Leica D-LUX 6, or a compact Fuji.

Norway Trip (xiii) : The Flåm Railway and Vatnahalsen

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railway / travel / vacation

The Flåm Railway is quite unique, and a fun trip, even though it doesn’t really take that long. Be warned though, that many trains are loaded with tourists from the cruise ships that dock in Flåm. There is no assigned seating here, so that does make things a little challenging. The train winds its way up from Flåm (at 2m above sea level), to Myrdal, at 863.6 metres.

The twists and turns of the river Flåmselvi.

Work on the Flåm branch line began in 1923, and was opened for steam traffic in 1940, and electric trains in 1944. The route is 20km in length, with 20 tunnels totalling 6km.

In and out of tunnels

Last stop on the trip before terminating at Myrdal is Vatnahalsen, a hotel and mountain sanctaury. The only way of getting to the hotel is by train, either from Flåm, or Myrdal, although the more adventurous can walk from Myrdal… it takes about 30 minutes (down and up a rocky track).

Vatnahalsen station

Vatnahalsen was a super unique hotel, again with double rooms, which meant my daughter again had her own room (there is a pattern developing here…).  The rooms are nicely appointed, and breakfast is of course included, and extremely good. There is a nice lounge area near the entrance to the hotel, and another loftet with exceptional views of the nearby lake Reinunga.

Vatnahalsen Hotel

Of course, for dinner the hotel is just about the only place to eat, but the food was exceptional. As was breakfast.

Breakfast at the hotel

There seems to be plenty of walks in the area, and on the road to Myrdal, there is a switchback with traces down the valley (and on to Flåm). About an hours walk (2.5km) down the valley is a goat farm, Rallarrosa, which produces mountain cheeses. There are lots of bike tracks, as many people seem to cycle from Myrdal down to Flåm.

A map of the Vatnahalsen area showing roads (in particular the switch-back down the valley), rivers, and the train lines (tunnels are dashed lines).

So next day we picked up the train to Myrdal, and headed back to Oslo. The overall impression of the trip from bergen to Myrdal was very enjoyable, with the most interesting part being Valhalsen itself. If there was something we would do different next time, I would have to say do the journey in reverse. Take the train from Oslo to Myrdal, and spend 1-3 nights in Valhansen, exploring the local area more. i don’t know if I would necessarily do the fjord boat trip again, versus others that could be done along the coast. Next from Vatnahalsen, back to Myrdal, and on to Bergen. I would like to see a bit more of Voss, as there are numerous things to do in that neck of the woods as well. From Bergen, I would likely fly back to Oslo.

The view from Myrdal Station.

P.S. The scenery is that green… I did very little to enhance these photographs.

Norway Trip (xii) : Voss to Flåm (the fjord trip)

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railway / travel / vacation

After five nights in Bergen, we headed off on the next leg of our Norway in a Nutshell tour, a short hop to Voss. Voss is a small town about an hour the east of Bergen (actually Voss is the municipality, the town is actually called Vossevangen). We stayed at the hotel next to the train station, Fleischer’s. Being a Sunday, there was very little open in Voss, which is not unusual in Norway, or many other European cities (apart from large cities, where touristy stuff always seems to be open). We had to book two rooms here because there were no “family” rooms – the 15 year old was very happy to have her own room. Voss is an extremely pleasant small community.

Voss is an extreme sports town (white-water rafting, kayaking, hiking, skiing,… you name it, they likely do it). It is nestled beside a mirror-like lake, which I imagine offers pristine kayaking. Downtown is the ancient Voss Church – Vangskyrkja, built between 1271-1277. We ate a snack, at Tre Brør Kafé, in the middle of town, after which we trekked up the hillside to the Voss Folksmuseum at the top of the hill.

View down to the lake from the trek to the Folksmuseum.

The trek was really not easy (15-20 minutes), but the museum was spectacular. The museum is comprised of a fantastic farmstead comprised of 16 buildings, known as Mølstertunet. In use up until 1927, the oldest building here dates back to the 16th century. Next door is a new visitors centre with a fantastic collection of artefacts, tools (super cool!), ornaments and folk art. I’ll be posting more on the tools and buildings on my woodworking blog later in the summer. There are two additional farmsteads, which can be viewed on request – Nesheimsstunet, and Oppheim gamle prestegard.

Buildings in the Voss Folksmuseum

There is plenty to do around Voss, including Hedleberget, a slate quarry, and Stalheim Folkemuseum, a privately owned museum with 30 log buildings, and exhibits with over 5000 artefacts showing Norwegian rural life 150-200 years ago. There are also abundant natural attractions – gorges, and waterfalls.

The next day we travelled by bus to Gudvangen. Part of the trip is on a main road, and the scenery is quite nice, but the highlight of the trip are the 13 hair-pin bends of Stalheimskleiva. This 1.5km stretch of road winds its way down the mountainside from the  top at Stalheim, to the end of the Nærøydalen valley. It is one of Northern Europe’s steepest roads, with the steepest gradient at 20%, and it is one-way for a reason. One either side is a waterfall : to the north, the 140m Sivlefossen waterfall, and to the south, the 126m Stalheimsfossen waterfall.

Views from the Stalheimskleiva road

The bus arrives at Gudvangen, a *very* small town on the western end of The Nærøyfjord. This is the start of the boat trip to Flåm. I honestly think it it more of a tourist gateway than anything else. There seem to be two sorts of boats plying the fjord – vessels more like cruise boats, and car ferries. Unfortunately we got the latter, which was being used as a cruise boat.

The ferry at Gudvangen.

The boat journey from Gudvangen to Flåm was nice, scenic, beautiful. To be completely honest, seeing a fjord from a boat is a little bit underwhelming. Why? Because most of the brochures/websites show the fjord from above, and things tend to look much more spectacular when viewed from above. I almost wish I had a drone with me to do some aerial photography (in fact I’m wondering why some camera company doesn’t go down that route). The coolest views are of the farmhouses perched high above the water, which leaves you wondering how people actually get up there to their houses. There are some spectacular scenes, but it does leave you wondering if all fjords essentially look the same (which I know they don’t – sheer vertical rock-faced fjords are likely awesome).

Views from the fjord

Flåm is the end of the line for the boat cruise. It’s here we caught the Flåm Railway to Valhalsen. It is a busy little town, partially because it is a cruise-ship port, with tourists taking the Flåm Railway trip up and back.

The fjords, dark and foreboding.


Norway Trip (xi) : The funicular to Mount Fløyen

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railway / travel

One of the main attractions in Bergen is the funicular up to Mount Fløyen –  Fløibanen (the Bergen card gets you a 50% discount on a trip). This is one of those attractions that you have to watch when cruise ships are in port, because it does tend to get busy, although the lines of people move fairly quickly.

The base station for the funicular.

Opening in 1918, the funicular like many others is cable operated (work began in 1914, but was slowed by WW1). The funicular is 844m in length, and rises to a height of 302m at an average speed of 4 m/s. There are three intermediary stops between the lower and the upper terminus, with the grade changing from 15% at the start, to 26% at the steepest point. The two cars are painted in contrasting colours of the Norwegian flag – blue and red.

One of the funicular cars

On a sunny, day, a trip to the top of the hill will provide *spectacular* views of Bergen and the surrounds. On top of the hill there is the Fløien Folkrestaurant, and the usual facilities. Now many tourists tend to hover around the lookout, and don’t venture too far from the terminus of the funicular… however the second gem of this viewpoint are the various trails that meander further into the hills.

A view of Bergen from Mount Fløyen

You won’t find that many tourists on these trails, usually locals on daily walks, or the more adventurous visitors. We hiked in for about 1.8km, through coniferous forests, up to the foot of Blåmanen, one of the seven mountains that surround the city of Bergen. Due to a lack of time (and the fact that we hadn’t really planned to walk as far as we did), we didn’t trek up to the top of Blåmanen.

In the wilderness… view towards the Bergen borough of Årstad

There are many small lakes along the paths, and everything is lush and green.

Revurtjern lake

Here is a trail map from the walk we took (from the red “you are here” dot). It is also possible to walk from the top of the funicular to Bergen below.

Map showing walking trails

The Locarno–Madonna del Sasso funicular

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railway / Switzerland / travel

Switzerland abounds with funiculars. In Ticino there are a number of them, including Monte San Salvatore (Lugano), Monte Bre (Lugano), and Madonna del Sasso (Locarno). In our most recent trip we took a trip in 2012 up the funicular Locarno-Madonna del Sasso. The Madonna del Sasso (Our Lady of the Rock) is in Orselina above Locarno, and the principal sanctuary in Ticino. The sanctuary was founded in 1480 after a vision of the Virgin Mary was experienced,

But what is a funicular? Basically it’s a cable railway in which a cable, attached to a pair of tram-like vehicles, moves them up and down a (usually steep) slope. The ascending and descending vehicles counterbalance each other, and pass at the mid-way point.



The principle behind the funicular has always been the same: two cars on each end of a cable and an engine at the top station. There is a section of double-track halfway up that allows the cars to pass each other. Since the two cars not only share the same track but also the same cable, one cannot go up unless the other goes down at the same time, and vice versa.

From the cars, the cable glides on a pulley system along the track to the engine room at the top station, where it enters a groove at the top of a large wheel. This is the drive wheel, which is connected to the much smaller wheels in the engine. The cable goes round the drive wheel from the top and then straight ahead to the bottom of the next wheel, the lead wheel. The two big wheels form a figure eight. The cable runs through four figure eights before it re-enters the track and runs down to the second car.

The funicular is only 811m in length, and has four stations.

NB: A website with information on every conceivable Swiss cable car can be found here. Another great website about funiculars can be found here.


Norway Trip (x) : What to do in Bergen?

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There are *so* many things to do in Bergen. First and foremost is that many of these attractions are free with the Bergen Card (nearly 30 museums). Some are quite easy to get to because they are situated around the harbour.

The old Hanseatic wharf

In Bergen near the harbour-side, is the area known as Bryggen, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Not a museum per se, the world heritage site consists of the old Hanseatic wharf and buildings. Most of the buildings house shops, however you can walk through the whole site.

The shopfronts at Bryggen.

Next door is the Bryggens Museum, which provides an insight into the regions first settlements, based on archeological excavations performed in Bryygen in the 1950s. The museum contains the oldest building foundations in Bergen, circa 12th c. It also has an awesome cafe with home baked pastries and cake. Just behind is St. Mary’s Church, which is a basilica, the oldest existing building in Bergen, built between 1130 and 1170.

(clockwise from top) Hanseatic buildings, Håkon’s Hall, carving in Bryggen, the residence of the Commander of the Watch, St. Mary’s Church

Further towards the out harbour is Bergenhus Fortress. Bergenhus Castle comprises three areas: the Holmen with the former royal buildings, Koengen, and Sverresborg, which were joined together as one miltary site in 1600. The two main attractions here are Rosenkrantz Tower, and Håkon’s Hall. Rosenkrantz Tower was built around 1560, incorporating a medieval tower built in 1270 (by King Magnus the Lawmender), and an extension added in 1520 by Jorgen Hansson. It’s a fascinating building to wander through, with a myriad of stone spiral staircases, and an eerie basement, and dungeon. Håkon’s Hall was built between 1247 and 1261, serving as the royal seat in the middle ages with the kings Great Hall on the uppermost floor.

Rosenkrantz Tower

Further up the hill towards the Bergen University are the lesser known museums (less tourists). At the Bergen Maritime Museum you will find a history of shipping , and its relevance to Bergen and Norway through the ages. This museum is full of models, from scaled down replicas of the three viking ships found in the Oslo Viking Museum, to more contemporary vessels. Next door is the University Museum of Bergen, whose collections comprise archeological, church, and items from urban and rural life from the stone age to the present.

Viking ship replica at the Maritime Museum

From the art perspective is KODE, one of Scandinavia’s finest art museums. It is four buildings in size, with an incredible breadth of things to see… from classical to contemporary, to arts and crafts and a great collection by Edvard Munch. Shopping is also quite good, with numerous small boutiques, and contemporary design stores such as Illums Bolighus. I bought an elk hide, which was one of the few things made in Norway.

Shopping in Bergen.

Things we didn’t see, but are just outside the city include the Osteroy Museum (open air museum), the Museum of Norwegian Knitting Industries, Bergen City Museum, The Norwegian Fisheries Museum, and the Fantoff Stave Church. While the Bergen card covers many of the museums, there are a few it doesn’t, including The Hanseatic Museum (merchants and trade), and Schøtstuene (Hanseatic assembly rooms).

If you have more time there are also museums outside the city. One is the Coastal Museum in Øygarden, a museum dedicated to how people lived on the coast. If you are interested in WW2 history, there are some great museums: The Fjell Fortress, a fortress built by the Germans from 1942-1945 as part of the Atlantic Wall protecting the seaward approach to Bergen; The North Sea Traffic Museum, dedicated to the coastal resistance effort; the Herdla Museum, a cold war museum, and the Bjørn West Museum, dedicated to the Norwegian guerrilla group.