Sunday, April 24, 2016

Time To Make The Doughnuts

Growing up, My Wonderful Mom would make doughnuts.  I don't mean doughnuts.  I mean doughnuts.  These deep fried delicacies were the stuff of legend amongst friends and family.  Quoting from a recent exchange on the Social Media site that everybody loves to hate:
  • I said auntie used to make the best doughnuts and mom agreed.
  • I loved those donuts!
  • I brag about how good they were!
Efforts by said family to get her to come out of retirement were not successful:
  • Would it work if I told you what I told my darling daughter.  Go to Tim's, that is what I do!  Can't believe those donuts are coming back to haunt me, there were pretty darn good.
But I am one not easily dissuaded.  She was coming to visit for a weekend, and I would not be denied.  Through a clever combination of begging and pleading, I was successful in getting her to agree that Doughnuts. Would. Be. Made.  It was like a dream come true.
What follows is part recipe, part adventure.  You see, My Wonderful Mom isn't too hung up on that whole recipe thing.  Her original recipe called for "flour", but with no indication as to how much.
This Is A Recipe?
Maybe if you've made them a couple hundred times before, "flour" is sufficient.  But if you are a doughnut newbie like me, you're screwed.  So she basically went by a few scribbles for a recipe and followed her nose while I frantically made notes, weighed bags of flour before and after, etc.  My Lovely Wife served as Official Photographer.

In the thousands of words that follow, you are going to see strange things like "199 grams of Apple Sauce", but I'm just recording what it was.  I haven't made any effort here to round things up or down to make even numbers anywhere, but you should feel free to do so.  You're also going to see a lot of steps, but I've broken this down into excruciating detail so you aren't left guessing.  And the work of the Official Photographer makes things that much easier.

This recipe makes a hell of a lot of stuff.  And by a hell of a lot of stuff, I mean:
  • Twenty-five Doughnuts
  • Twenty-two Doughnut Holes
  • A dozen Bismarks
  • Eighteen Cinnamon Buns
  • Two pizza-sized Kolache
We used almost a full five pound bag of flour that afternoon.  You might want to consider cutting the recipe in half or something like that if you want to make some of one thing but not another.  Or don't and make the whole damn batch.  Live large, and have fun.

Now if we're going to make some doughnuts, we're going to knead a dough (Get it?  "knead" ... "dough".  Ahem, that's OK.  I'll see myself out).  Making this dough is a three part process: getting the yeast going, mixing some eggs and sugar together, and then getting all of that into the main dough mixture.  Ready?  Set!  Go!!!

Make the Yeast Mixture

  • 16 grams Active Dry Yeast (16 grams = 2 pouches)
  • 237 grams Lukewarm Water (110ºF) (237 grams water = 1 cup)
  • 8 grams Sugar (8 grams = 2 tsp)
  • Warm water in a small bowl. Dissolve sugar into water. Sprinkle yeast on top of the water (no need to stir it in). Leave sit for 10 minutes so yeast can activate. While waiting, proceed with the steps below.

Make the Egg / Sugar Mixture

  • 4 Extra Large Eggs
  • 142 grams Sugar (142 grams = 3/4 cup minus 2 tsp in the yeast mixture)
  • In a medium sized bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add in sugar and stir to combine. You are probably still waiting for the yeast at this point so get started on the dough in the steps below.

Make The Dough

  • 948 grams Barely Warm Water (80ºF) (948 grams = 4 cups)
  • 11 grams Salt (11 grams = scant 3/4 tablespoon)
  • 2101 grams All Purpose Flour (Divided into batches) (1 cup flour = 120 - 140 grams).  I used Roger's All Purpose Unbleached Flour and used the batch sizes below (actually, my mom just dumped in flour and I weighed it as she went).  You don't need to be exact here per batch but the final flour total is going to be pretty close.
    • Batch 1: 900 grams
    • Batch 2: 750 grams
    • Batch 3: 200 grams
    • Batch 4: 160 grams
    • Batch 5: 50 grams
    • Batch 6: 41 grams
  • 226 grams Unsalted, Softened Butter (226 grams butter = 2 sticks)
  • All Yeast Mixture From Above
  • All Egg/Sugar Mixture From Above
  • Pour the 80ºF water into a very large bowl (we use a big ceramic dough bowl). A full batch of this dough will take almost five pounds of flour, so plan accordingly! Add the salt and Batch 1 of the flour and mix the flour into the water just a bit.
  • Cut the softened butter (not melted, softened) into small chunks. Add the butter, the egg / sugar mixture, and the (by now) frothy yeast mixture into the large bowl with the flour and water. Stir everything together to make a loose batter.
  • Add Batch 2 of the flour and keep stirring together. Batter will thicken.
  • Add Batch 3 of the flour. At around this point, a sticky dough begins to form. Start using your hand at this point to mix the dough by slipping your hand to the bottom of the bowl, grabbing a handful of dough, and pulling it up and over the top of the mixture. Give the bowl a quarter turn and repeat again and again.
  • After each batch of flour is incorporated and worked in a bit, add in the next one. The consistency is correct when the dough is pulling away from the bowl and not sticking to your fingers. Use this as the guide for the final amount of flour to add. Note also that it is this slow incorporation of the flour that kneads the dough along the way. The dough is worked entirely within the bowl and never placed on the counter for further kneading.
My Wonderful Mom Mixing The Dough - LIKE A BOSS
  • Once the dough has been mixed, shape into a ball. Sprinkle flour all around its surface and place into a VERY LARGE mixing bowl (we used our monster steel mixing bowl that we keep downstairs). A full batch of dough took 12g of flour for the dusting. This flour is to help prevent the dough from sticking to the bowl. DON'T USE OIL for this, as most recipes will advise. I don't know why for sure, but Mom just says DON'T and I listen. Good enough for me.
  • Cover the dough bowl with Saran Wrap to prevent the dough from drying out. Then place a dish towel over the dough bowl to help keep it warm. Place the bowl into a warm spot to rise until doubled. We had it in the spring day sun with the house around 22ºC and it took 2h 15m to double, and we rotated the bowl every now and then to help warm it evenly. The dough pressed right up against the Saran Wrap stretched across the top of our monster metal bowl.
After (!)
  • While the rise is underway, prepare your work area. You need two spaces: one being a good sized chunk of counter space that can be dusted with flour and the dough rolled out on. The second space is for laying down a large, cotton tea towel on which the doughnuts will sit for their second rise. This will take up a lot of space if you are making a bunch of doughnuts, so plan accordingly once again.
  • While the rise is underway, make sure you have your other ingredients ready. For the doughnuts, get together any sugar, sprinkles, icing, or what have you (I do not sully my doughnuts with such things). For the Bismarks, figure out what jams or jellies you are going to want as filling and have it ready. For the cinnamon buns, you'll need softened butter, cinnamon, brown sugar, and anything else you might like in the filling (Bits of chopped apple are great. Raisins are OK in a pinch). For the Kolache, you'll need a filling of some kind: I love homemade applesauce topped with a crumble of butter, flour, and sugar. My Grandma would also use cottage cheese with raisins sprinkled on top. Some cooked up poppy seeds are another classic.
  • While the rise is underway, get your tools together. You are going to need a rolling pin, and a couple of very large, non-fuzzy cotton tea towels to place the doughnuts on for their second rise.  More importantly, you are going to need something to cut the doughnuts and something to make the doughnut holes. Our doughnut maker was a jar lid used with canning jars that is 3.25" in diameter and 3/4" high. Our doughnut holer was an old cap from a container of baby oil with its little lid cut off. It was 1 1/8" in diameter. What made this holer work so well was that the little hole from which the baby oil would come out from also worked well to let air out as the doughnut holes were being cut.
Donut Cutter
Donut Holer
  • While the rise is underway, strategize! Are you going to make all doughnuts? What are you going to do with the bits cut away during the doughnut making process? We found that 1500 grams of dough makes around 20 doughnuts with about 350 grams of cut away dough bits left over. A full batch of dough is around 3840 grams, so that is a lot of doughnuts! What we did with our full batch was to make two batches of doughnuts using about 72% of the dough and two pans of cinnamon buns with the remainder. The scrap bits from making the doughnuts went to making two Kolaches. This was a good use for Kolaches because they don't need to rise up as puffy as doughnuts or cinnamon buns.
  • And while the rise is underway, get the stuff together that you'll need for cooking. For cooking the doughnuts, we used a KitchenAid Dutch Oven, around 1 liter of oil for cooking (we used a Becel canola / sunflower mix, but any neutral tasting vegetable oil would do), a thermometer to ensure the oil is at the right temperature, chopsticks / tongs / forks to flip and remove the doughnuts from the oil, paper towels and a plate to get excess oil off the doughnuts, and lots of cooling racks to place the doughnuts on after cooking. For the Kolache, we used one pizza pan and one cookie sheet that were greased with butter. For the cinnamon buns, we use two 9"x13" Pyrex baking pans greased with butter.

Make The Doughnuts

  • When rise is complete, take somewhere between a 1200g - 1500g chunk of the dough and place it on the counter dusted with flour. Punch the dough down and roll it out into a circle until it is a little more than 1/4" thick. Throw a little skiff of flour underneath the dough as it is being rolled out so the dough doesn't stick to the counter. First time we made this, Batch 1 was 1491 grams of dough.
  • Use the jar ring to cut the doughnut shapes, shifting the rolled out dough a bit this way and that to minimize the amount of "scrap" dough.
  • Next, use the doughnut holer to cut the hole in the center of each doughnut. The hole will usually get stuck in the cutter, so use either your finger or a toothpick to work them out.
  • Place the holes onto a non-fuzzy cotton tea towel in a little group of their own. Alternatively, skip cutting a hole into some of the doughnuts and make Bismarks instead. After the Bismark is cooked and cooled, you can cut a hole in the Bismark to make a home for your favorite jam or jelly.
  • The doughnuts and Bismarks are pulled off of the floured counter and placed onto the tea towel to rise as they are cut. Floured side goes down. Give them a bit of space to rise.  Do not put any extra flour on to the tea towel: the dough shouldn't be so sticky that you'll need to do this.
  • Once a batch of doughnuts has been cut, gather all of the dough scraps together and form them into a ball. Place them back in the bowl under Saran Wrap in a warm spot for a second rise to make something else like Kolache.
  • As doughnuts are placed onto the tea towel, cover them with a second towel to keep them warm and prevent them from drying out. Let them rise a second time for about 45 minutes to an hour, or until puffy looking. NOTE: About 15 minutes before the doughnuts finish their rise, heat about 1 liter of a neutral flavored oil to 375ºF in a deep fryer or Dutch Oven. Again, we used our KitchenAid Dutch oven and a thermometer to verify the temperature. Too cold and the doughnuts will be greasy. Too hot and the doughnuts won't cook properly on the inside.
  • By the way, here is how things broke down between the doughnuts, the cinnamon buns, and the Kolache.
    • Doughnut Batch 1: Started with 1491g of dough. Made 20 doughnuts, 18 holes, and had 349 grams dough left over for Kolache.
    • Doughnut Batch 2: Started with 1277g of dough. Made 5 doughnuts, 5 holes, 12 Bismarks, 2 odd shapes, and had 296 grams dough left over for Kolache.
    • Kolache: Made two with 645 grams of "scrap" dough from the doughnuts one on a pizza pan and another on a cookie sheet.
    • Cinnamon Buns: Made two 9x13 pans with the leftover 1071 grams of "virgin" dough.
The end result of the two doughnut batches we cut up looked a little something like this.
Actually, It Looked Exactly Like This
While the doughnuts rose, we got the cinnamon buns and the Kolache ready.

Make The Cinnamon Buns

Everybody knows what cinnamon buns are, and everybody has their cinnamon bun ideal.  To many, this ideal is a cinnamon bun dripping in brown sugar and topped with a heavy layer of cream cheese icing.  These people are wrong.  More is not always better.  More is sometimes just more.

This is a cinnamon bun that harkens back to a simpler time.  It is not horrifically sweet, and you won't need an insulin shot immediately after consumption.  It is a simple recipe where each element gets a chance to shine.  Try it.  You'll like it.

  • 1071 grams Virgin Dough not used in doughnut making
  • 17 grams Melted Butter + more for brushing on top of shaped buns
  • 119 grams Brown Sugar
  • Cinnamon To Taste
  • Raisins / Diced Apple / Etc To Taste
  • Roll out the dough for the cinnamon buns similar to how the dough for the doughnuts was rolled out. Place the dough on the counter dusted with flour. Punch the dough down and roll it out into a roughly square shape until it is a little more than 1/4" thick. Throw a little skiff of flour underneath the dough as it is being rolled out to minimize the dough sticking to the counter.
  • Brush the melted butter evenly across the top surface of the dough using a pastry brush. Here we used softened butter and a knife to spread it.  Same difference.
  • Sprinkle a healthy dose of cinnamon across the surface of the dough.
  • Then sprinkle the brown sugar evenly across the top.
  • Roll up the dough loosely but evenly along the long edge.
  • Use a knife to cut the roll into even slices to the desired thickness (we got 18 buns for the full batch above using a thickness of around 3/4", but thicker probably would have been better). As each slice is cut, lay it into a greased 9x13" pan. Don't crowd the buns so that they have room to grow outward a bit. Brush top of each cinnamon bun with melted butter.
  • Let the cinnamon buns rise for about 45 minutes to an hour, or until puffy looking (this in a relatively warm kitchen). About 20 minutes before the first batch is due for the oven, preheat the oven to 350ºF with the oven rack in the middle position.
  • Bake the cinnamon buns one pan at a time at 350ºF, rotating the pan 180º halfway through the bake. When we made these the first time, they were done after 26 minutes and a turn halfway through at 13 minutes. When done, the buns were a light brown on the top and a fairly deep brown on the bottom. Be careful not to bake them off to hard or the brown sugar will burn on the bottom of the pan.
  • Take the buns out of the oven when done and get the next batch baking. After each pan is cooked, leave the buns to cool in the pan for just a minute or two. Then flip the buns out onto a cooling rack. Otherwise they'll get soggy sitting in the pan. The syrupy bottom will also harden up and you'll never get them out if you wait too long.

Make The Kolache

Everybody has heard of Doughnuts.  Everybody has heard of Cinnamon Buns.  Almost nobody has ever heard of Kolache unless you had an awesome Czech Grandmother like I did.  My Grandma always had Kolache at her house.  Always.  And they were fantastic.  And you never ate just one, no matter how much lunch you'd had.  Never.  Because if all you ate was one, her face would grow sad and she'd say...
What?  You don't like Grandma's Cooking?

And I guaran-damned-tee that you'd find room for another.
My Lovely Wife's First Attempt - A Bit Puffy, But Absolutely Delicious
As I noted above and as shown in the picture, these are going to be made with applesauce and a crumb mixture made from butter, flour, and sugar.  Cottage cheese and raisins were another of Grandma's go-to's, as were some cooked up poppy seeds.  Me?  I always had this version.  Always.

Kolache can be made two ways: as a single serving size or kinda pizza size.  We're going pizza size here, because we've got a lot of other irons in the fire.  I'll have to go into Kolache more at some point, but that'll have to be another blog post.  In the meantime, do a little research if you're interested.

  • 645 grams Scrap Dough left over from making doughnuts
  • 199 grams Apple Sauce (Homemade, if at all possible)
  • 24 grams Softened Butter
  • 63 grams All Purpose Flour
  • 55 grams Sugar
  • While you were frantically making doughnuts and cinnamon buns, the scrap dough from the doughnuts should have been balled up and left to rise in a nice warm spot. Get going on these once the cinnamon buns are done.
  • Place dough onto a pizza pan or cookie sheet greased with a bit of butter. The 645g of dough we had here was enough to make two Kolache, and the dough was split more or less evenly between the two. Flatten the dough out into the shape of the pan. Again, the dough should be about 1/4" thick or so, about the thickness it was for the doughnuts and the cinnamon buns.
  • Combine the flour and sugar into a small bowl. Cut the butter into chunks and work it into this mixture with a fork, spoon, or pastry cutter. You're looking to make small and medium sized chunks of goodness here. Set the mixture aside.
  • Spread the apple sauce over the Kolache as if you were spreading sauce on a pizza. Leave a bit of bare crust at the very edge. Homemade apple sauce is amazingly superior to the store bought stuff, BTW, and it makes a huge difference to the final result.
  • Sprinkle the crumble mixture over the Kolache as if you were sprinkling cheese on top of a pizza.
Note Crumb Mixture on Kolache At Left
  • Set the Kolache aside to rise for about 45 minutes to an hour, or until puffy looking.  The Kolache were made from scrap dough during the doughnut making, so they might need a little more rise time than the doughnuts and the cinnamon buns.  Like the cinnamon buns, they are cooked at 350ºF with the oven rack in the middle position. If you aren't making the buns, remember to preheat the oven about 20 minutes before the Kolache finish their rise.
  • Once the Kolache are finished their rise, place the pans in the oven to bake at 350ºF for 20 minutes. We were able to fit both pans into the oven at the same time. Rotate the pans 180º after about 10 minutes to help them bake evenly. The Kolache are done when they are a medium brown on the bottom. Don't let them get too brown and crispy.
  • Remove Kolache from oven when done and slide them out onto a cooling rack to cool.

Cooking The Doughnuts

  • At this point, the doughnuts should have risen for about an hour and at least one liter of some neutral flavored oil like vegetable oil should be pre-heated in a Dutch Oven or deep fryer to 375ºF. Obviously, if your cooking vessel is larger, you'll need more oil to get sufficient depth. I'll stress that if the oil is too cold, the doughnuts will take too long to cook and be greasy. Too hot and the inside won't be cooked by the time the outside is done. Monitor the temperature of the oil closely while the doughnuts are cooking as the temperature tends to drop as you put in the colder dough.
  • Start by cooking one or two of the holes as a test run. Take a few off the tea towel and drop them in the hot oil. They only take a minute or so to brown on one side, and they will grow in size as they are cooked. Try to flip them around in the oil using tongs, chopsticks, or a fork (my Wonderful Mom's weapon of choice) so they brown evenly on all sides. The holes are tricky because they have a mind of their own. Don't stress it if the holes don't brown evenly on all sides. They are small and will still cook through OK.
  • Remove the holes from the oil once they are a rich brown and put them on a plate lined with a few paper towels. Immediately cover with another paper towel and lightly press / roll them around to sop up any excess oil. Transfer the holes to a cooking rack after a few seconds.
Or To A Plate For Immediate Consumption
  • Cook the rest of the holes, in batches if necessary so the holes aren't too crowded in the oil while cooking. They will poof up and take more space as they cook.
  • Now start cooking the doughnuts, starting with the first ones that were cut. Pull the doughnuts gently from the tea towel by hand and gently drop into the hot oil top side down. Again, don't crowd the doughnuts because they will puff up. We were able to cook four at a time in the KitchenAid Dutch Oven.
  • Once the underside has a rich brown side (after a minute or so), use a couple forks or whatever to gently flip the doughnuts over to the other side.
  • Remove from the oil once they are browned on both sides to the paper-towel lined plate, dab the excess oil off of them as you did with the holes, and transfer to a cooling rack after a few seconds. Use fresh paper towels as required if the old ones start getting greasy. It helps a lot to have two people doing this: one person cooking and the other dabbing the oil off.
  • Repeat until all the doughnuts are cooked, and keep an eye on the oil temperature all the way along. Don't let it stray too far one way or the other from 375ºF.
On the subject of topping the doughnuts...  Me, I like 'em just plain, so you are on your own if you want to add toppings to these deep-fried treasures. I'd think that sugar or sprinkles should go on while the doughnuts are still very hot. Bismarks should be filled with jelly or jam after they have cooled so the jam doesn't melt in and make the center of the Bismark all soggy. Topping with some kind of icing is probably best done once they have cooled as well.

Right after this baking extravaganza, it was time for supper.  We whipped up a delicious supper for My Wonderful Mom featuring Ricotta Gnocchi and Chicken Breast With Tomatoes and Capers.  Dessert was, of course, doughnuts.  I grabbed one off the counter and took a bite walking back to the table.  BOOM.  I was instantly transported back to my teenage years.  The doughnuts tasted exactly as I remembered them.  And in that second, all of that effort was worth it.

But you, dear reader, let's not forget about you.  All you have seen to this point are isolated pictures of this and that.  But I'm a big picture guy, so let's look at the big picture.  What came out of that afternoon?
Like Looking Into The Face Of God
One hell of a lot of awesomeness, that is what came out of that afternoon.  But there is more that is not shown here.  I had a great day with Mom.  And I mean, a great day.  She hadn't made these doughnuts for decades!  We had a lot of laughs and relived a lot of memories while recreating a classic memory from my youth.  If something terrible were to happen tomorrow, I'd look back fondly to this day and think that I made the most of it.  Even if I hadn't gotten to taste a single bite of any of what we'd made, it would have been worth every second spending that time with her.

I don't want to be that person that says "I only wish I had learned to make X from my Granda / Mom / Aunt.  It was so good, but I never got the recipe."  To Hell with that.  Don't be that person either.  Go see your Grandma / Mom / Aunt and tell them how much you enjoyed that whatever when you were a kid.  Then spend the day making it together, and have a blast while doing it.

Days after My Wonderful Mom left, I opened the cutlery drawer.
The Donut Holer
She'd deliberately left her Donut Holer behind, her way of passing the baton.  And here I sit with a freezer full of baked goods, and a lump in my throat.

Go cook something, go do it now, and go do it with someone you love.  And tell 'em the guy from Mad Scientist Labs sent you.

    Sunday, March 20, 2016

    The Making of the Perfect Puffed Wheat Square

    Ask me.  Go ahead.  Ask me.
    "DeKay, you say you know how to make the Perfect Puffed Wheat Square, but just what is a Puffed Wheat Square anyway?"
    Glad you asked.  Webster's Dictionary defines "Puffed Wheat Square" as... well, actually it doesn't define it at all.  The Wikipedia entry for "Puffed Wheat Square" describes it as...  
    The page "Puffed Wheat Square" does not exist.
    Why is life so hard?  Why do I have to do everything myself?

    Here is how I would define a Puffed Wheat Square:
    Puffed Wheat Square is proof that there is a God and that he loves us.
    Apt, but it leaves a lot to interpretation.  Let's try again.
    Puffed Wheat Square is a dessert made from puffed wheat (duh) coated in some kind of syrup and cut into squares (really???)
    Or maybe I should just show you a picture.
    The Embodiment of Deliciousness
    Like Nanaimo Bars and Insulin Medication (both of which have Wikipedia entries), Puffed Wheat Square is a Canadian invention.  Puffed Wheat Square is lesser known than both, I'll grant you that.  But like Nanaimo Bars, they seem better known in the Western portion of This Great Land.  I am sure there are many people like myself that grew up on them.

    My Wonderful Mother made a mean Puffed Wheat Square, and those are not words to be taken lightly.  Puffed Wheat Squares are hard to get right, and the problem is the syrup: one day you'll get a syrup that is too soft that makes for a crumbly square that doesn't hold together.  The next day you'll get a syrup that is too crisp and makes the square hard and dried out.  In fact, Puffed Wheat Square is hard enough to get right that My Lovely Wife, a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen for sure, had given up on them entirely.  But I wanted Puffed Wheat Square, and I wanted the Puffed Wheat Square of my youth.  That could mean only one thing: I would yet again have to do this myself.  Because life is hard.

    I am an Engineer, and before I go to make something, I need to define a set of requirements.  That rigor has served me well in my career, so let's apply that process to a Puffed Wheat Square.  What make a good Puffed Wheat Square?
    • The syrup has to be the proper consistency.  This is the big one.  Once it has cooled, you should be able to eat the Puffed Wheat Square by pulling away one puffed wheat at a time (this is, in fact, how I eat savor mine and it proves that I am a unique human being).  The syrup has to have enough give that each little puffed wheat does not split apart or crumble as you pull it away from the square itself.  But, the syrup has to be hard enough that the individual puffed wheats hold together with the rest of the square.  A crumbly Puffed Wheat Square is a sad thing.
    • The syrup can't taste grainy.  'Nuf said.
    • The puffed wheat can't taste soggy.
    • The square must not be overly sweet.  Some squares go overboard on the syrup.  If you and your dentist are into that, then make more syrup if you must and leave me out of it.
    • The square has to have chocolate in it.
    • The recipe has to be reproducible.
    Now that we have our requirements nailed down, it is time to find a recipe.  And here is where the troubles began: there is no definitive recipe for Puffed Wheat Squares.  A basic Puffed Wheat Square breaks down to:
    • Puffed Wheat
    • "Golden Syrup" (more on this later)
    • Butter
    • Brown Sugar
    • Cocoa Powder
    Some recipes add a bit of vanilla extract or a dash of salt.  The puffed wheat is put into a mixing bowl and the rest of the ingredients are heated in a pot on the stove until a syrup is formed.  Somewhere around when the syrup starts to boil, the pot is removed from the heat, the vanilla is stirred in, and the mixture is dumped over top of the puffed wheat.  Quickly mix while the syrup is still hot, and then press the mixture into a greased baking dish to cool.

    In search of a recipe, I found that:
    • all the ratios of all the ingredients in all of the recipes are different
    • all of the ingredients are always specified by volume instead of by weight.  Not such a big deal for puffed wheat or butter, but brown sugar is a notoriously variable beast since it packs like crazy.  I also didn't want to be arsed to dirty a measuring cup with the ridiculously sticky syrup and then dirty a spatula scraping the syrup into the pot.
    • every recipe online is inevitably followed by comments that the syrup didn't come out right, even though the author of the recipe swears that it is foolproof
    I decided to go back to first principles.  First, "Golden Syrup" seems to be the syrup of choice.  What is Golden Syrup?  Well, this time, Wikipedia has my back.  Golden Syrup is made in the process of refining sugar cane or beet juice into sugar.  It is thick like molasses but tastes nothing like it.  And it is golden in color.  You are surprised, I can tell.

    There are two kinds of Golden Syrup popular in my neck of the woods: Lyle's Golden Syrup and Roger's Golden Syrup.  It turns out that you can also make your own Golden Syrup, but I decided to go with a known product because there were enough damn variables in this project already.  That and it wasn't like buying some syrup was going to change my retirement date.

    My Lovely Wife made the bold move of buying both of them so we could see which one tasted better.  In Lyle's favor, they have a tradition going back to the 1800's. In Roger's favor, they make the stuff in Western Canada which is the birthplace of Puffed Wheat Squares (I think).  So taste them, we did, and despite Lyle's being three or four times more expensive than Roger's, we could not taste a difference between the two of them.  So disregard comments like #107 in Smitten Kitchen's Pecan Pie Recipe where posters claim that Lyle's is so much better "since Aussies know about Golden Syrup" (the stuff is in fact made in the UK).

    BTW, that Smitten Kitchen recipe has a fascinating treatise on Golden vs. Corn Syrup in pecan pie that is well worth reading.  So go read that now.  I'll wait. 

    Just to be on the safe side, I checked out each of the syrups with my handheld refractometer (doesn't everyone have a handheld refractometer?), and the Brix (sugar content) are almost identical between the two syrups.  If there is a difference, it is minute and you sure as hell aren't going to tell the difference in a blind Puffed Wheat Square taste test.
    Everybody Needs A Refractometer
    This is my refractometer. You need one too.  A little over twenty bucks with free shipping gets you something that will accurately measure the sugar concentration in various liquids from 0 - 90 Brix (where 1 degree Brix = 1 gram of sucrose in 100 grams of water).  That lets you measure pretty much anything sweet, including and beyond honey.  Not only can you use it to dispute the purported differences between two essentially identical syrups, but you can also use it to nail the sweetness of jams and jellies, get the right sugar content in your homemade ice cream so it doesn't ice up, and even use it for tracking the fermentation progress of homemade beer and wine.

    Now, neither Golden Syrup manufacturer has a recipe for Puffed Wheat Squares on their website.  Let me stress: on their website.  But, I just so happen to have a copy of Round The Year With Rogers. It was printed even before it was deemed necessary to put a date on things like this.
    My Mom Loves Me!  The Sticky Note Says So!
    This was a recipe booklet that Rogers used to attach to the monstrous metal tins that they used to sell syrup in.  Now why I have this booklet in the first place is a long story in and of itself.  How can you get a copy for your own?
    I checked out my little recipe book and what did I find?  The jackpot.

    This was my starting point.  A manufacturer of Golden Syrup publishing an old-time recipe from the birthplace of Puffed Wheat Square aka "Chocolate Puffs".  And the recipe claimed they were good for me.  Sweet deal!  (Get it?  Sweet?  Syrup?  Never mind, I'll see myself out).

    But before I made this, I wanted to understand the problem of why the syrup consistency seemed so hit and miss.  All the recipes I read focused on how long to boil the syrup for.  Some said as soon as it came to a boil.  Some said to boil it for at least a minute.  Why did the recommendations vary?  Why was it inconsistent?  Time to do a little research.

    What I came upon in short order was the expertise of the candy makers out there.  The time you let the syrup boil for is a red herring.  What is important is the temperature that the syrup gets to, and how long it takes to get to that temperature will depend on the size of your pot, the heat your stove is putting out, and a bunch of other things.  No wonder this inconsistency exists.

    This link explains everything you need to know about the relationship between temperature and how hard the syrup will get.  A temperature of 230 - 235°F is the "Thread Stage" and sounded too thin to be a proper Puffed Wheat Square syrup.  This would explain all of those squares that would fall apart.  A temperature of 245 - 250°F is the "Firm Ball Stage" and is a caramel-like consistency.  That explains all those hard, dried out Puffed Wheat Squares.  A temperature of 235 - 240°F is the "Soft Ball Stage" and is a consistency like that of fudge.  That sounded to me like the Goldilock's bed of Puffed Wheat Square syrup consistency: not too hard, not too soft, but just right.

    Now you might ask "DeKay, how do I know when my syrup is 235 - 240°F?"  And I might respond "Just use your Thermopen."  And you might say "DeKay, but I don't have a Thermopen."  And I be like
    Buy a Thermopen.  Yes they are expensive.   Ask for one for Christmas or for your birthday.  Sell your car.  Wait for a sale.  Just get yourself a damn Thermopen and stop overcooking every meat you barbecue.  And while you are at it, verify that your fridge temperature is too warm so you can stop your milk from going sour all the time.  Or cheap out, buy a lesser thermometer, and lead a sad life.

    Now I've got a recipe and I know how to get the right consistency of syrup.  But remember that I had a requirement that the recipe be reproducible, and that means none of this "cups" stuff when it comes to stuff like brown sugar measurements.  I scoured the Internet to come up with reasonable conversions so that you don't have to, and here is what I came up with.

    Chocolate Puffed Wheat Square  
    • 68 grams (4.5 cups) puffed wheat
    • 72 grams (a half a cup) brown sugar
    • 72 grams (a quarter cup) golden syrup
    • 28 grams (2 tablespoons) butter
    • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
    • ¼ teaspoon vanilla

    • Butter a baking dish about 8" square and set aside.
    • Put the puffed wheat into a large mixing bowl and set aside.
    • Put the brown sugar, golden syrup, butter, and cocoa powder into a small pot over medium heat.
    • Stir constantly until the temperature hits 235°F, the "soft ball stage".
    • Immediately remove from heat and then quickly mix in the vanilla.
    • Pour the mixture over the puffed wheat and stir to combine until puffs are well coated.  Work quickly as the syrup will get thicker as it cools.
    • Spoon the mixture into the buttered dish.  Smooth out with a spatula or wooden spoon.  Better yet, use a piece of wax paper cut roughly to the shape of your pan and press it down flat and evenly using your hands.  Credit for this brilliant technique goes out to Nana's Best Recipes.
    • Let cool and cut into squares with a sharp knife.
    So what do you get?
    Something pretty damn good, that is what you get.
    My very first attempt at this hit all of my requirements.  Chocolatey, not too sweet, and most importantly, a pretty much perfect consistency to the syrup that kept the puffed wheat together without it being too hard and sticky.  My world was perfect, but only for a short time.

    My Hippie Cousin posted a recipe for a Peanut Butter Puffed Wheat Square and All Hell Broke Loose.
    I'd argue that this square Is not, in fact, a cake.  But she's family so I let it go.
    Intrigued, I whipped up a batch.  What did I get?
    Pseudo-Puffed Wheat Square
    I got something resembling, but not quite like, the Puffed Wheat Square that I knew and loved.  What did I notice?
    • The stick-togetheredness of the puffed wheat turned out a bit loose for me.
    • The puffed wheat didn't quite have the crispness that my version did.
    • It was too sweet for my tastes.
    But it was My Lovely Wife who pointed out the biggest flaw:
    "A Puffed Wheat Square has to have chocolate in it."
     She was right, of course.  This rule is right up there with Star Trek's Prime Directive.

    So that is when I conceived of my cunning plan: I would make a Chocolate Peanut Butter Puffed Wheat Square.  Genius!  I mean, who doesn't like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups?  But an idea is nothing unless you have a plan to make it happen.  My plan was to start with the recipe I had come up with since it was closer to my ideal.  I would simply swap out the butter in my recipe with an amount of peanut butter that gave me the equivalent fat content.  Easy!  A little bit of Internet told me:
    • Butter is 81.1% fat by weight
    • Peanut butter is 50.4% by weight
    So it would take more peanut butter than butter to get the same amount of fat.  I thought I'd ease into it, so instead of my original recipe of 28 grams butter, I went with 10 grams of butter and 30 grams of peanut butter.  That gave me 23.23 grams of fat in this version vs. 22.7 grams in the original.  Close enough!  And yes, in fact, I did create a spreadsheet to calculate all of this.  You would have too if you were me.

    So the big day came.  I whipped up a batch of Puffed Wheat Square with these tweaks and cooked my syrup to 235°F (the "soft ball stage") as I had done before.  I fully expected Puffed Wheat Square Nirvana, but I was sadly mistaken.  First problem was that the syrup was too hard, so the square was too dry and crispy.  But it was My Lovely Wife that once again pointed out the biggest flaw:
    "Needs MOAR peanut butter."
    She was right again.

    I was undeterred.  I figured I had mistakenly overcooked the syrup somehow.  The syrup isn't very deep in the pan I was using so maybe I wasn't getting a good temperature reading.  It was time to double down.  Version 2 would be all peanut butter, all the time, and I would cook the syrup to only 230°F in case there was something in the peanut butter that was screwing up my "soft ball" stage.  My spreadsheet told me that for the same amount of fat I would get from 28 grams of butter, I would need about 45 grams of peanut butter.  No problem.  I got this.  I whipped up another batch.

    And Version 2 was a terrible failure.  Despite cooking the syrup to only 230°F, this version was at least as dried out if not more than Version 1.  And leave it again to My Lovely Wife to point out the biggest flaw:
    "You can't taste the peanut butter."
    Dammit.  This woman is never wrong.  Inexplicably, despite being 100% peanut butter and 0% actual butter, you couldn't taste the peanut butter.


    I despaired.  Perhaps a Chocolate Peanut Butter Puffed Wheat Square was just not meant to be?  I double checked my calculations.  I blamed the new bag of puffed wheat that we had bought as being too dry and brittle compared to the old bag we had run out of.  Clearly, I was in denial.

    I lied awake at night puzzling over the problem (not joking).  I was ready to give up.  There was no point in trying to perfect a Chocolate Peanut Butter Puffed Wheat Square that didn't taste like peanut butter.

    Time passed.

    Then one evening I was working out while nibbling on a piece of dry, crusty, Puffed Wheat Square between sets.  I had abandoned my usual savoring of the square by eating it one puffed wheat at a time because the stuff was so brittle as to make that nigh impossible.  But it was then I started to notice that the Puffed Wheat Square had softened in the area from where I had previously taken a bite.  Must just be getting soggy?  Later in the workout, my subconscious got busy and percolated something up from the Rogers Cookbook that I had read:
    Rogers Golden Syrup has another quality besides sweetness that makes it a valuable cooking syrup.  It attracts moisture from the air."
    It hit me like a ton of bricks.  Golden syrup is hygroscopic: it sucks up moisture.  Butter has at least a little water in it.  If there isn't much water in peanut butter, then the syrup isn't getting the water it needs as it cooks and it cools to be much harder than you would expect.  And you don't taste the peanut butter because the flavor is locked up in the hard candy syrup.  Suddenly, everything made sense.  Everything added up.  It was like when the Theory of Relativity was discovered.
    Get it?  Squared away?  Puffed Wheat Square?  Sigh.  Tough crowd.
    I finished my workout and hit the Canadian Food and Nutrition Database and discovered this:
    • Butter is 17.94% moisture by weight
    • Peanut butter is 1.55% moisture by weight
    Based on this, the full butter version of my recipe had 5 grams of water in it vs. 0.7 grams in the recipe that was all peanut butter.  Could this be it?  I mean, this was saying the delta was a little over 4 grams of water.  Consider that there are only five grams of water in a teaspoon.  Was I making crappy Puffed Wheat Squares because I was missing a lousy teaspoon of water?  I decided to find out.

    I made a half batch of the all- peanut butter version but added a full teaspoon of water.  That was about twice as much as I should have needed, but I wanted to make sure I was going in the right direction.  I also decided to cook the syrup up to the "soft ball" stage of 235°F.  I cooked up the syrup in a glass ramekin on our gas stove instead of using a pot, since the small amount of syrup would have been too shallow in the pot to get an accurate reading with the Thermopen.  I noticed immediately as the syrup's temperature climbed that it was a lot less thick than previous failed attempts.  Was I on the right track?

    I hit 235°F and immediately removed the syrup from the heat, poured in the vanilla, and then poured that over the puffed wheat.  Everything mixed together easily.  I dumped the mix into a greased loaf pan (again, I was making a half batch here) and I was easily able to flatten it out.  I let it cool and then My Lovely Wife and I cut ourselves a slice.  The square sliced easily without the puffed wheat shattering apart.  My Lovely Wife then said:
    "You can taste the peanut butter."
    You can!!!  You can taste the peanut butter!!!  And then she had another piece to prove the point.
    Version 3, only a short time later.
    The taste of the peanut butter was no longer locked away in the syrup.  The individual puffed wheats pulled away easily from the square, perhaps a bit too easily.  The puffed wheat was generally good but some of them tasted almost a bit soggy.

    And I was ecstatic.

    I had purposefully put in too much water just too see if this was the culprit and the results were as you'd expect if I was right.  Now the road ahead was clear: add enough water to match that from the butter in the original recipe as well as enough peanut butter to match the fat content.  Crunch the numbers and here is what you get.  The...
    Perfect Chocolate Peanut Butter Puffed Wheat Square
    • 68 grams (4.5 cups) puffed wheat
    • 72 grams (a half a cup) brown sugar
    • 72 grams (a quarter cup) golden syrup
    • 45 grams (3 tablespoons) natural peanut butter
    • 8 grams (1.5 teaspoons) water
    • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
    • ¼ teaspoon vanilla
    • Butter a baking dish about 8" square and set aside.
    • Put the puffed wheat into a large mixing bowl and set aside.
    • Put the brown sugar, golden syrup, peanut butter, water, and cocoa powder into a small pot over medium heat.
    • Stir constantly until the temperature hits 235°F, the "soft ball stage".
    • Immediately remove from heat and then quickly mix in the vanilla.
    • Pour the mixture over the puffed wheat and stir to combine until puffs are well coated.  Work quickly as the syrup will get thicker as it cools.
    • Spoon the mixture into the buttered dish.  Smooth out with a spatula or wooden spoon.  Better yet, use a piece of wax paper cut roughly to the shape of your pan and press it down flat and evenly using your hands.  Credit for this brilliant technique goes out to Nana's Best Recipes.
    • Let cool and cut into squares.
    I actually added a little bit extra water to get a syrup that wouldn't get to crunchy if the square wasn't all eaten up after a day or so.  But fat chance of that happening.  Feel free to adjust the amount of water yourself either way.  Just know that anything less than a teaspoon in the recipe above will run you the risk of baking a puffed wheat brick.

    The first thing you might want to change with this recipe is doubling it.  I may or may not have grown up on Puffed Wheat Square that was double this thickness.  I got a little hesitant at making big batches myself here for fear of a failed experiment that I've have to eat all of.  That fear has now been erased.

    The second thing you might want to change with this recipe is adding more cocoa for an extra chocolate hit.  I haven't tried this myself, but I wouldn't expect more cocoa to throw off the fat / water ratio enough to affect the end result.  I'd start with maybe an extra half tablespoon and go from there.

    It has also occurred to me that you might be able to use something like those terra cotta disks used to keep brown sugar from turning hard as another way to prevent leftover square from drying out.  Same principle, right?  Have a few pieces of square to make room in the pan and then drop one of these bad boys in there.  Haven't tried this myself either, but if you do, let me know how it worked out in the comments.
    The Cure For Dried Out Puffed Wheat Square?
    My Wonderful Mom is here visiting this weekend so I whipped up a test half-batch for her.  Remember I said above how she made a mean Puffed Wheat Square?  Here is her verdict on mine:
    Victory, Hard Won
    Achievement Unlocked: The Perfect Puffed Wheat Square.  Go make some.  Now.

    Saturday, August 29, 2015

    Teardown and Repair of a Panasonic DMC-ZS40 / TZ60 Digital Camera

    UPDATE 2015-08-30: I have found out that many of my pictures have been blurry ever since I tore this thing apart.  I don't know why yet, but it probably is a result of my spinning the lug down a bit on the focus motor.  I don't yet know how to enter the camera's service mode in the hopes of getting more information.  Not sure what to do next.  Please consider yourself warned.


    The Panasonic DMC-ZS40 (TZ60 in Europe) is a pretty awesome camera: compact, user friendly, long zoom, great image stabilization, and excellent image quality.  I've been really impressed with it since My Lovely Wife and I bought it back in the spring of 2014.

    That is until a couple of days ago when we turned it on and got this:

    System Error (Focus)

    That's not good.  Not good at all. Especially since it went off warranty around four months ago.
    Looking around the Net, this seems to be a pretty common problem with Panasonic.  Fortunately, a few people have had the gumption to tear these things down.  This blog post is great.  Here is a fantastic YouTube video on disassembling the camera, and here is another on cleaning the lens assembly.  All great information.  All for cameras much older than the ZS40.

    OK, I thought.  There must be a service manual out for the ZS40.  The closest I could find was this one for the earlier model, the ZS30.  Unfortunately, I could not find anything for the ZS40 that I wouldn't have to shell out for.  And I wasn't in the mood for shelling out.  I know my way around inside a computer.  How hard could tearing apart a compact digital camera be?

    As it turns out, pretty damn hard.  Digital cameras are at a completely different level of complexity and integration compared to a PC. The five hours I spent in the guts of this thing trying to restore it back to life were kinda terrifying.  But I went into it pretty blind, and I made a few mistakes along the way.  It would have been a lot better had I had a guide to follow like the one I am writing for you now.  Take on the following procedure at your own risk.  If you do take it on, read it through not once but twice, to get an idea of what you are getting yourself in to.  Also read the blog and watch the videos I've linked above.

    What you'll need:
    • a computer nearby to read this blog and the others I link to
    • a clean work area free of dust
    • a very small Japanese Industrial Standard (JIS) screwdriver.  I didn't have one so I had to use a Philips 00 screwdriver instead.  Read this to see how they are different, and beware that the risk of this repair goes up if you are like me and don't have the right screwdriver.
    • a very small flat-bladed screwdriver
    • a piece of paper, scotch tape, and a pen for keeping track of which screw went where
    • a Tupperware container for covering the disassembled bits of lens to keep the dust off
    • a flashlight for shedding some extra light on the subject, especially if your eyes are as crappy as mine.  A magnifier wouldn't hurt either.
    • maybe an air bulb to blow dust and lint off things

    This was my setup.

    What I didn't use but you might want to have handy
    • a bible, prayer book, or something like that.

    OK.  Let's get down to business.

    Remove the lanyard, battery, and memory card from the camera.  This is the easy part.  Enjoy it while it lasts.

    Next, remove the seven screws holding the back on.  There are four on the bottom, one on the left (when looking from the back), and two on the right.  Panasonic uses a bit of Loctite to help keep the screws from coming out so be prepared for them not coming out easily.  I wasn't, and I screwed up (ha ha) one of the screws on the bottom, probably because I didn't have a JIS screwdriver.  I was fortunate though that it came out halfway.  I was able grab the screw head with some pliers and turn it the rest of the way out.  I was probably pretty lucky that this was the only one I messed up.  As a friend of mine likes to say, I'd rather be lucky than good.

    Here is maybe a good time to say that there are a pile of screws holding this thing together, many of them different sizes.  I suggest doing what I did.  Get a piece of paper and draw a little picture of what it is you are about to take apart.  Wrap some scotch tape in a loop so the sticky side faces out and stick that on the paper.  As you remove each screw, place it on your picture so you know exactly where it goes.  I'll warn you ahead of time that some assemblies will have two screws right next to each other of a different thread and / or length.  If you think you'll just be able to remember, you're probably wrong.  And this is an expensive camera to gamble on.  How many screws hold this thing together?  This many.

    Once the screws are out, the back cover will stay in place thanks to a set of plastic clips all around it.  Unlike previous versions of the camera, nothing is attached to this cover.  Carefully tug at the back cover and the clips should let go.  Set the cover aside. 

    Next, the circuit board with the control dial needs to be freed up.  Push it down gently from the top to free it from the two plastic clips.  It will slide down a bit and come loose.  Fold it up and out of the way.

    Now the display has to come loose.  Put gentle pressure with your finger on the left edge of the display and push it to the right while you gently pull up on the right edge of the display.  There is a thin piece of metal sticking out on that left edge.  Pushing to the right will get that metal piece past two heavier metal clips holding the display down.  The display will then fold over to the right.

    Remove the four screws holding the gold-colored frame plate down.  BEWARE.  These screws are different sizes, so keep track of which one went where.  The screw at top right has a finer thread than the other three.   Once you've removed the frame plate, you should see something like this.

    Removing that frame plate is a little tricky.  There is a long metal tab on the bottom left corner of this plate that extends deep into the body of the camera.  Use a small bladed screwdriver in this corner and lift up from there.  The right side of the frame is going to try and stay in place as you do so.  This is because the frame plate acts as a heat sink for the camera's image processor. There is a sticky thermal pad under the black tape on the right side of the frame.  As you pull up from the left, the sticky pad should pull away from the processor on the right.  Set the frame aside once it comes free.  Don't let the sticky pad touch anything because you'll want it to stick on to the processor again when you replace the frame.  I covered the frame up with a small piece of Tupperware to prevent any dust in the room from landing on it.  This picture is the frame plate after removal.  The sticky heat sink stuff is that beige rectangle on the left.  You can also see that long metal tab I was talking about on the right.

    Now the control board and the display can be removed.  Use a small flat-bladed screwdriver to lift up on the black tab on the rear of the connectors, opposite to where the ribbon cable enters the connector.  The black tab will flip up.  This black tab is the clamp that holds the ribbon cable in place.  Gently pull the ribbon cable out of its socket.  Note just how far that ribbon cable goes in there.  It will be important when re-assembling the camera to make sure these ribbon cables are pushed all the way back in, and that they are nice and straight with respect to the connector.  If the cable goes in crooked, it won't push in far enough and there will be the chance of a short-circuit.  This is what you'll see once the control board and display are removed.

    There is a black plastic thingamahooie between the lens assembly and the main circuit board.  Wiggle it around a bit and it should come loose.  Set the thingamahooie aside.

    There are three ribbon cables crossing over the lens assembly and another two on the assembly itself.  Remove them from the connectors on the circuit board at the right of the camera by lifting up on the connector tabs as before with a small flat-bladed screwdriver.    Note that there is some tape on the fat cable going to the middle of the lens assembly.  You'll have to loosen this off before this cable can be removed.  Once all of these cables have been removed, there is nothing else holding the lens assembly in place.  Gently pull up on the assembly to remove it from the main body of the camera, and set the body aside.

    Now things get really tricky.  Take a deep breath and keep going.  Above all, stay sober.  Alcohol at this point won't make things go any smoother.  Patience is a virtue.  Wait for it.

    Face the front of the lens towards you and remove the small screw near the top of the zoom motor close to the lens.  There is another one at the bottom right holding down the focus motor (said screw is not visible in the picture below).  Remove it too.  This second one will be much longer than the first.

    If you look at the bottom of the zoom motor, you'll see that the ribbon cable is soldered in place.  I was really worried for a while that I'd have to unsolder the thing to proceed with the disassembly.  Fear not.  You don't need to.  You'll have a lot of other things to be fearful of in a minute, though.

    Turn the lens to face down.  Remove the seven screws around the outside edge of the lens assembly.  Keep track of which one went where!  The screw holding down the ribbon cable is smaller than the rest.  DON'T remove the CCD which is attached on the other side of the silver disk in the middle of the rear of the lens assembly with three weird screws.  The CCD (or image sensor as it is otherwise known) isn't necessary to get at the focus or zoom motors.  I would recommend NOT removing the CCD unless you absolutely have to.  I get the feeling that taking it off could throw things out of alignment and result in crappy pictures later.  That is more a theory than a fact, but don't risk it if you don't have to.

    Turn the lens so the bottom faces toward you.  There are two screws to remove here at the top left.

    Pry the ribbon cable off all of the little black posts on the rear of the assembly with a small flat-bladed screwdriver.  The cable will pop free from the post with a bit of pressure.  Be REALLY careful here - you really don't want to damage these cables.

    Next you will see a connected piece of cable that is folded over and deviously connected to a black plastic tab helping to keep the bottom of the back cover of the lens assembly from coming free (I got stuck here for the longest time before I figured this out).  You also have to pop the ribbon cable off the little black post on the very left side of the bottom of the lens.  The picture below shows the devious little tab popped out and laying over top of the back of the silver disk.  There is another one like it to its left that has to come out too.

    Once that is off, the back of the lens assembly should pull away cleanly.  Put this someplace clean where dust can't get at it.  I again covered it with a piece of Tupperware.

    Here is another look at the rear of the lens assembly, this time from the side.   If you look carefully, you can kind of see the hole where that devious little clip fits into.

    Now we can take a look at the motors.  This is the zoom motor on the left.

    If you were getting a "System Error (Zoom)" message, you want to be looking here.  It seems that grit can work its way into the lens and cause this part to lock up.  Mine still looks pretty good here.  Pay particular attention to the screw holding the zoom motor in place that is only accessible AFTER the rear of the lens assembly has been removed.  Other teardowns of older cameras have you pulling the zoom motor fairly early on in the disassembly process.  That screw makes doing so impossible on this camera.

    This is the focus motor.

    The lug at the end of the thread pushes a little lens assembly up and down.  Take this little assembly off and put it under a chunk of Tupperware.  Nothing is holding this assembly in place, and it is bound to fall out as you look around the lens to figure out what is wrong with the damn thing.

    Now I was getting a "System Error (Focus)" message so I figured my problem was somewhere around this focus motor..  But the real problem was I couldn't see anything wrong with it.  The drive was clean, greased, and the lug on it moved easily on the thread.  This was kind of depressing.  I had gone this far and found nothing.  I thought maybe that the lug was a little too far near the end of its travel so I spun it back down the thread a bit.  But really, I thought the motor was probably fried and there wasn't much I could do.  So, I just started putting the thing back together.

    Assembly is the reverse of disassembly (just read this post backwards and you should be good).  I was really worried that reassembly would be the hardest part of it, but it went back together easily.  I was glad I had taken a lot of pictures along the way and that I had been pretty meticulous in keeping track of which screw went where.

    With everything back together, I put the battery back in and powered on the camera.  I hadn't fixed anything, so I wasn't expecting anything.

    It asked me to enter the time and date.

    That's weird.  I can see how it could have lost this information with how I'd taken everything apart, but it wasn't giving me an error message.  So I entered the time and date.  And it worked.


    So I used the now working camera to take a picture.

    And the thing is, I have no good idea why it works now.  Maybe threading that lug on the focus motor a little further down did the trick.  Maybe one of the ribbon cables had worked loose a bit, and the reassembly straightened things out.  Don't know, don't care.  Because it worked.  Time to celebrate with a little something a kind relative dropped off the other day on her way through town.  And I took a picture of it too.  Because I have a camera that works.

    See you next time, here at Mad Scientist Labs.