30 November 2014

Knives: Bread knives

Where a large serrated knife is often considered part of a basic three knife set together with a parring knife and a chef knife, my bread knife is my number one as I cut bread daily and bake when needed.  For baking I just use a  automatic bread maker from Panasonic.  For cutting I never bought an electric food slicer and and as long as the kids are not complaining it will be done with a serrated knife.

My bread knives left to right: Stroma (English?),  Diogenes (Germany), Opinel (France) and Victorinox (Swiss)

Stroma:  Someone left this old thing and took mine away when I was a student. I imagine it is from the fifties.  A good thin blade, tapered both ways.  I finally resharpened it when I discovered that my chef's knife was doing a better job.  Upon control the serrations were the original poorly made factory serrations.

Diogenes:  I knew it with an aluminum body and designed in the fifties.  But here Herder und Sohn from Solingen (yet another Herder knife maker from Solingen) made a new run in the nineties.  It's good for slicing out of the hand,  finishing the cut is the most difficult part.
My father must be part of the last generation to have cut traditional round breads to the chest.  In dutch it is expressed as cutting to the breast.  Bruegel depicts(1565) a woman in blue cutting bread to the throat,  but I guess that's for clarity. He also shows a man cutting bread to the 'table'. As he had much of an encyclopedist maybe there was a gender specific approach.
And then probably not.  The thick short slices on the other hand are cut cut here the French way.

Opinel:  I was surprised to see their bread knife to be a wrongly serrated (left handed) knife.  So I bought it as I am left handed with  knife and saw.  Upon evaluation I agree with Opinel, wrong is right, although the difference is small. This because: - Depending of the side of the serrations the knife will more easily slip sideway on the crust when cutting uphill or downhill. With a wrong knife this will happen on the first slices when there are no consequences,  and much less on the last slices when my fingers are close. - The other problem with a single sided bevel is that it will cut (slightly) sideways. The wrong knife makes slices tinner at the bottom, but when slicing it is always easier to tilt the knife to a thicker bottom than the other way around.
The design is special for a serrated knife,  I imagine it makes cutting slices longer than the knife possible,  but it is hard on the cutting board.  I also found the same design (Herder Abr. & Sohn Solingen) on ebay but with larger serrations described as a sausage knife.

Victorinox: It is a recent acquisition, I wanted a blade longer than the 20 cm (8") standard. I would call this model a pastry knife and they have a more bread-worthy knife,  but this one had the bestprice . The green handle kept it under the price of a cheap, four amazon stars, electric food slicer (the table saw model, not the twin blade thing).  On Amazon that day: with a red handle +50%, black handle +70%,  wooden handle +250% and the real Victorinox bread knife +100%.  It is also a thin double tapered blade. The 25 cm blade is more fun,  I should have tried their 30 or 35 cm model,  'maybe' I could get a 15 cm (6") thick slice in just one back and forth cut.

When controlling the sharpening angle I was surprised to see a 20° single sided factory serration on the Victorinox and an even lesser 15° single sided serration on the Opinel. Half of the more standard 20-15 ° per side of most kitchen knives. As a reference, Robert Herder parring knives (from Solingen) are sold with the notice to not use their thin blades on bones and bread crust.  Visual control shows no damage on the Opinel and a few damaged spots,  not necessarily the serration tips, on the Victorinox.

The last five years I did cut maybe 1000 breads, but cutting with a bread knife is not always easy. There is room for variation,  most of the time I cut thicker in the back and the slice gets thicker at the bottom.  The quality of the bread is important, where bread from a baker is never a problem, fresh bread or poor dough influence the cut more than any knife. Although, I once tried a poorly made Ikea knife, no, that one was not good.  The top image shows the result of a few unfocused cuts on a fresh bread, where is square? Why do I still use hand tools when electricity offers more consistency?

[edit] The rest of the week the results were acceptable, even on fresh bread, so that's probably why.

20 November 2014

Knives: Cuts and sharpness

Some time ago I got interested in improving my kitchen cutting technique,  mainly cutting-board cutting.  So I looked what youtube had to offer.  Cutting an onion on youtube is nearly a standard but there is not much variation on it. Or rather any demonstration not perfectly meeting the standard will massively be downvoted by professionals and youtube specialists alike unless it concerns a Japanese suchi champion.

The cuts.  Knife cuts get really interesting when spooncarving and such high risk activities with its numerous variations.  When cutting to the board I see three main movements:  1. The push-cut straight down to the board, that's also chopping.  2.  Slicing,  moving the knife moves mainly forward from tip to heel or vice-versa. There is also repetitive-slicing (sawing) as a variation on slicing, I use it when cutting large peaces of meat or bread or with a blunt knife. 3. The skewed cut,  when the tip rests on the board and the knife is pulled backward.
Important is that a knife may be too blunt for a push cut and be perfectly fine with slicing and skewed cuts.

Cutting and sharpness.  A sharp knife is a safe knife and all that.  But things are not that simple.  This picture from a video by Virtuovice shows a razor sharp knife doing a push-cut through an apple.  I don't think the sharpness of the blade is of any help, a completely blunt but narrow knife would cut better and straighter. For Virtuovice it's probably not a problem as he uses his knives to cut meat.  When peeling the apple,  still a push-cut, the sharp edge can be used as the thin peel can be pushed away. But here again a thin, narrow bladed parring knife will be in line with the cut and need less effort.
When parring I look for a balance in sharpness.  If the blade is too sharp I will cut my fingers who are holding the apple,  too blunt and I will need to saw cut to peel.  So I need a Goldilocks blade able to push cut the apple,  but not my fingers.  When cutting to the board,  my fingers are less at risk. I then can go for a sharper blade or I can use the more effective slicing and skewed cuts.

Cutting an onion  After trying out the big (chef's) knife approach,  I came back to using a paring knife to cut vegetables on the cutting board. And that's what most people I know do.  I go for a medium sharpness,  sharper than many households here but less than many professionals and certainly less than some sushi knives.

A sharpish thin bladed parring knife can cut onions like butter and gives a good result,  a chef's knife is not  necessarily better or easier. The cut used is a folded cut: from the tip slicing until nearly touching the board coming back with a skewed cut. And maybe there are less tears when the open onion surface is minimal.

As a matter of fact the same cutting technique with a ten year old factory edge (that's blunt) table knife is no fun,  but still offers acceptable results.
An ever harp knife
I sometimes hear people claim to never sharpen their parring knife.  Mostly it concerns the (razor) thin carbon version of the parring knife I use with an edge of maybe 5 degrees per side.
Looking at Cliff Stamp post about edge retention at lower angles, one can see a confirmation of that as their is a clear distinction between 25 dps and 13 dps.  13 dps cuts on and on,  only slowly achieving a too blunt state, where the edge of 25 dps dissapears fast to an unusable state