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Just finished reading The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of middle-aged high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, and wealthy) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Breads, on April 19th, 2015.

cheddar_cheese_chive_biscuits

What’s there not to like about a rich biscuit? And filled with cheese? Here I made them to accompany a bowl of that Cheese and Ale Soup I told you about a few weeks ago. You can barely see a bit of it up in the top left corner.

Back when I made the soup the first time – the Cheddar and Ale Soup with Bacon and Shallots, I was testing it to serve at a lunch tea I was hosting at my home. It was a fundraiser for my PEO Chapter. There were 10 of us (8 guests and my co-hostess Linda, and myself) who came in early March. First we served the soup, sprinkled with shallots and bacon with this biscuit on the side. Butter was on the table, and everybody loved the soup – every bowl was scraped clean.

Then I did a tea demonstration. First I explained some little known history of tea – dating back to 2737BC (did you know that – the first known tea dates back that far in China?). I discussed types of teas (there are only 2-3 main categories of black tea) and the components of each one. As a young person all I knew was Lipton tea bags and an occasional cup of Constant Comment. So, I told the story of when I was first introduced to REAL tea, as I called it “praw-per” tea from my dear, dear friend in England, Pamela. And I opened 3 different tins of tea (Darjeeling, English Breakfast and Lapsang Souchong [a smoky tea, favored by Winston Churchill, in case you wanted to know]) to pass around the table for each person to smell. I also passed a jar of Lady Grey tea (a milder form of Earl Grey), and a packet of one of my favorites, Marco Polo, a blend from a tea shop in Paris called Mariage Frères (if you are interested, you can google it – you can buy it here and on their website, but expensive) that my friend Yvette introduced me to about 8-10 years ago.

At my lunch tea I demonstrated how to make a proper pot, from the water, the pot itself, the tea, the steeping, the straining, the tea cosy, milk, sugar, etc.  First I made a pot of blended tea (a mixture of mostly Darjeeling and English Breakfast, with a small amount of Lapsang Souchong) that my friend Pamela introduced me to, back in 1981. We poured each guest a small cup (very proper decorated English bone China cups and saucers) so they could taste it. A couple of them weren’t so enamored with the smoky part. This was almost like a wine tasting, or an olive oil tasting. Guests could throw out the remains if they didn’t like it. Then I made a pot of the Lady Grey. Several ladies really liked that – it’s made by Twining’s. The story is interesting – it seems that the Nordic people do love tea, but they generally didn’t like Earl Grey – too pungent most complained. So in the 90s, Twinings decided to make a “new” blend, with less oil of Bergamot (that’s what makes Earl Grey distinctive) and some citrus notes to market to the Norwegian population, to resounding success, apparently.  If you’re interested you can get it at Amazon: Classics Lady Grey Tea 20 Bag in several shapes, sizes and loose or bagged. I bought my box of it in England many years ago, and even after all these years, it’s still just fine. They’re sealed up well, however.

Then lastly, I made a pot of Marco Polo (I gave them a choice, but most wanted to try it). It got raves by more of the ladies. That tea, from Mariage Frères in Paris (in the Marais district), is their unique blend. So I read somewhere, it has Chinese and Tibetan flowers plus berries and fruit, in a bold black tea. It’s very different from Earl Grey. No bergamot for sure. The Marco Polo has become SO popular at the tea store, they now have about 10 varieties. Click this link to see them all. I have the standard Marco Polo, none of the other variations.

During the tea part of our luncheon, I served my favorite Buttermilk Scones, that I’ve been making for about 30 years (half with lemon zest, the other half with added golden raisins), some absolutely gorgeous, huge stemmed strawbebiscuit_with_soup_bowlrries and an apricot tea square Linda brought. Along with my home made lemon curd and crème fraiche. And apricot jam. And more tea. We had a lovely time.

All that said, these biscuits – well, they’re a recipe from a restaurant in Encinitas (in San Diego County) called Solace and The Moonlight Lounge. It’s been at least 8-10 months ago my San Diego good friend Linda and I went there for dinner or lunch and we’d been told to be sure to order their biscuits. They brought them first, still warm, along with an orange honey butter to go with it. The recipe for that is down below in the next paragraph. Oh my goodness. Well, awhile after that, the recipe was printed in the Union-Tribune, so Linda sent it to me. Thank you, Linda.

They’re as simple as any biscuit, really. It does require buttermilk, though. And it’s heavy on the butter! But oh, so good.

What’s GOOD: they’re a rich biscuit (meaning there’s more butter than standard). The kind of cheese makes a difference – I used half Irish sharp white cheddar and some Tillamook sharp cheddar (yellow) and a bunch of fresh chives minced up. They taste wonderful. You might, just might, be able to eat them without adding butter on top, but if you’re going to indulge, go for added butter! At the restaurant they serve it with orange honey butter (1/4 pound unsalted butter whipped well to make it light, 1/4+ tsp orange zest, 3/4 tsp honey, a couple of dashes of salt and 1/8 tsp minced garlic, mixed well, refrigerated, then allowed to warm back up to room temp).

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of – need to have buttermilk on hand and fresh chives (or you could probably substitute parsley). Serve while they’re hot from the oven.

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Cheese and Chive Biscuits

Recipe By: Solace & The Moonlight Lounge, Encinitas, CA, 2015
Serving Size: 15

1 1/2 cups pastry flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter — cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons chives — minced
1 1/2 cups white cheddar cheese — loosely packed, grated [I used all cheddar this time]
3/4 cup Fontina cheese — loosely packed, grated
1 1/4 cups buttermilk — may need up to 1/4 cup more
1 egg white — (optional)

1. Sift together flours, baking powder and salt. Add butter, chives and cheeses and mis with a pastry knife or a paddle attachment of a mixer on low speed for 2-3 minutes ti incorporate the butter. There should still be small, pea-sized chunks of butter; this will make the biscuits flaky. At this point you can store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for a day or two if necessary.
2. Slowly add buttermilk, starting with 1 cup and fold together for about 10 seconds. Move the ingredients around by hand and pour the remaining 1/4 cup buttermilk into the bottom of the bowl to make sure the moisture gets there. Mix again for just a few seconds. Add another 1/4 cup buttermilk if the dough hasn’t pulled together. Do not over mix the dough.
3. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead 2-3 times only. Handle the dough as sparingly as possible to keep the butter form melting. Using your fingertips, flatten dough out to about 3/4 inch thick and brush the top with egg whites. Cut into desired shape.
4. Preheat oven to 425°. Line a heavy baking sheet with parchment paper. Bake biscuits in the middle of the oven for 17-20 minutes or until golden brown. If you have a convection oven, bake at 400° for 12-14 minutes. You can crack one biscuit open to make sure it is cooked through. If it is not, reduce oven temp to 250° and check again in about 2 minutes. You can bake these ahead of time; when ready to serve, reheat. Be certain the biscuits are fully cooked through, however, as they will fall while they’re cooling.
ORANGE HONEY BUTTER: If you want to serve these with what they do at the restaurant, add this: 1/2 pound unsalted butter, 3/4 tsp grated orange zest, 1 1/2 tsp honey, 3/4 tsp salt, 1/4 T garlic, minced: Whip butter in mixer for 10 minutes until light and airy. Add remaining ingredients and whip for another 8 minutes. Use immediately, or refrigerator, but let it warm back to room temperature before serving.
Per Serving: 253 Calories; 15g Fat (53.3% calories from fat); 8g Protein; 22g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 44mg Cholesterol; 339mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Breads, on February 3rd, 2015.

bacon_tomato_jam_dukka_biscuits

 

Having never heard of Dukka before, I was intrigued. Even when we visited Egypt in 1997, I don’t recall anyone talking about Dukka, nor did I see it on any menus. Unfortunately I didn’t get to the spice market there, either. In the picture above you can’t actually see the Dukka because it’s on the biscuits.

Dukka is a spice mix. That’s all. It doesn’t contain anything all that unusual. But it’s as varied as saying “Italian seasoning,” which can contain a whole variety of herbs.  Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

Dakka (also Dukka, or Duqqa) (Egyptian Arabic): is an Egyptian condiment consisting of a mixture of herbs, nuts (usually hazelnut), and spices.  It is typically used as a dip with bread or fresh vegetables for an hors d’œuvre.  Pre-made versions of dakka can be bought in the spice markets of Cairo, with the simplest version being crushed mint, salt and pepper which are sold in paper cones.  The packaged variety is found in markets that is composed of parched wheat flour mixed with cumin and caraway. [It may also contain things like]  sesame, coriander, cumin, salt and pepper. Reference to a 19th-century text lists marjoram, mint, zaatar and chickpeas as further ingredients that can be used in the mixture. A report from 1978 indicates that even further ingredients can be used, such as nigella, millet flour and dried cheese. Some commercial variants include pine nuts, pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds.

dukka_mixtureMost versions contain some kind of nuts such as cashews, pistachios, almonds or hazelnuts, with hazelnuts being a common one, also cashews. It sounds like every household cook has his/her own version of it, or maybe varies depending on which nuts and seeds are in the house at the moment. I found one other good-sounding recipe for dukka at Food & Wine.

The bacon-tomato jam is pretty straight-forward. Cook the bacon, drain, add everything else and simmer for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until it’s cooked down to a jam-like consistency. You can make this ahead, just reheat it before serving.

dukka_biscuits_bakedThe biscuits are all quite simple too – it’s a buttermilk biscuit, plain and simple. They’re dipped in dukka, though, before baking, and the tops are brushed with buttermilk and more dukka is added there. Cool the biscuits, split them, spread with the jam, and serve. Done.

What’s GOOD: I absolutely LOVED these appetizers. For me, it was the bacon that did it. The Dukka wasn’t all that prominent in the flavors, but then I didn’t do a taste test of just the biscuits and Dukka. I think Dukka, in Egypt for sure, is probably a next-to-the-stove condiment that’s probably made up in quantity and used on just about everything. Like we have salt and pepper – they have Dukka.
What’s NOT: a bit of preparation here – both the jam and the Dukka. The biscuits need to be made fresh – don’t make them the day before. Make maybe half an hour before you need to serve them. They’d be particularly nice served warm.

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Bacon Tomato Jam on Dukka Biscuits

Recipe By: Tarla Fallgatter, cooking instructor
Serving Size: 10

BACON TOMATO JAM:
1 pound thick-sliced bacon — diced
2 pounds tomatoes — ripe, seeded & diced
1 medium white onion — peeled, diced
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar — packed
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons garlic — minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons Italian parsley — chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
DUKKA BISCUITS:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces unsalted butter — chilled, cut into 1/2″ dice
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup dukka
More buttermilk for brushing on top of the biscuits
DUKKA SPICE MIX (makes about twice what you’ll need):
1/3 cup almonds or hazelnuts
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 tablespoon coriander seeds
1/2 tablespoon cumin seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds

NOTES: The Dukka mixture can be made up in advance, and will keep for about a month in a sealed plastic bag or jar. The recipe for Dukka makes more than you’ll need for this recipe.
1. BACON-TOMATO JAM: Cook the bacon in a large saute pan until crisp. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate and discard drippings.
2. Add tomatoes, onions, sugars, vinegar, garlic, pepper flakes and bacon, and bring mixture to a boil, stirring often. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick and jam-like consistency, about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours. Stir in the parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste. This can be made a day or two ahead. Reheat before serving.
3. BISCUITS: Preheat oven to 350° and position a rack in the center.
4. Pulse flour, baking powder and salt in a food processor until combined. Pulse in the chopped-up chilled butter. Add buttermilk and continue pulsing ONLY until the dough barely comes together.
5. Transfer dough to a work surface and pat and roll out to 1 inch depth. Use a floured 2-inch round cutter and cut out as many biscuits as you can.
6. Dip the bottoms into Dukka mixture and transfer the biscuits to a parchment lined baking sheet. Gently gather the remaining dough scraps and press them into a 1-inch deep round. Cut out more biscuits, dip them in Dukka and transfer to baking sheet.
7. Brust the tops with buttermilk and sprinkle with additional Dukka.
8. Bake biscuits until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack. Split and spread each biscuit (cut side up) with bacon-tomato jam. This assumes each person will eat two biscuit halves.
9. DUKKA: Preheat the oven to 350°.
10. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and toast for about 8 minutes, until golden. Coarsely chop the nuts.
11. In a skillet, toast the seeds over moderate heat until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a food processor and pulse until chopped along with the chopped nuts and pulse until coarsely ground. Transfer the dukka to a bowl, add salt and pepper, and allow to cool. Store in a plastic bag or sealed jar. Will keep for about a month.
Per Serving (you’ll have left over jam and Dukka, so this is likely very high): 548 Calories; 32g Fat (52.6% calories from fat); 18g Protein; 47g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 64mg Cholesterol; 1192mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, Brunch, Desserts, on December 31st, 2014.

Umbrian Apple Cake with Creme Anglaise made with apple cider

Diane Phillips, the cooking instructor who made this, is Italian. And this is her grandmother’s recipe, one that she has made hundreds and hundreds of times over her lifetime. It’s a beautiful cake – almost more like a coffeecake than a dessert cake – but it could be either one. It was scrumptious.

At the cooking class, Diane says her mother is probably rolling over in her grave because she serves this occasionally with a crème Anglaise. The cake is a firmer style – notice it has some bigger holes in it – this isn’t a super-tender kind of cake, but kind of like the difference between white bread and corn bread. They’re just different. The flavors were wonderful, and if I’d felt I could have, I’d have licked the plate of the crème that still clung to it. Someone in our cooking class did just that. My mother would have rolled over in her grave if she’d seen me do that!

In the photo at top you can’t quite see that the apple slices are placed in a decorative pattern, cored-edge down into the batter. Makes for a very pretty look when it’s done. The recipe calls for 5 Golden Delicious apples. Two of them are peeled, cored and diced into the batter itself. The other 3 apples are peeled, cored and sliced, and go into the pattern on the top.

The crème Anglaise starts off with apple juice. But after watching Diane make this, I decided that when I make this myself, I’ll use apple juice concentrate – why go through the process of reducing apple juice when you can use concentrate? The cake can be made 2 days ahead (covered, unrefrigerated). The sauce can be made up to 4 days ahead and can be frozen for up to a month.

What’s GOOD: the sauce was divine. It’s rich, but makes a nice moisturizer for the cake, which is just slightly on the dry side (good dry, though). It could also be served with whipped cream (easier). The cake has very nice flavor from the apples. Diane served this as part of a brunch, but it could be a dessert too.

What’s NOT: the sauce takes a bit of time to make, but hey, you can do it ahead, so do that!

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Umbrian Apple Cake with Cider Creme Anglaise

Recipe By: Diane Phillips, cooking instructor and author
Serving Size: 12

CAKE:
1 cup unsalted butter — softened (can use mild, fruity olive oil if preferred)
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon Amaretto
1 teaspoon vanilla paste — or extract
4 large eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 medium Golden Delicious apples — peeled, cored, cut in 1/2″ slices
1/4 cup unsalted butter — melted
3 tablespoons sugar
CIDER CREME ANGLAISE:
2 cups apple juice — or cider
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon vanilla paste
5 large egg yolks

NOTES: To keep apples from turning brown while you make the batter, pour Sprite over them, to cover. Drain and pat dry before proceeding with the recipe.
1. CAKE: Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat the inside of a 10-inch springform pan with nonstick spray (not Pam).
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
3. Add the zest, Amaretto and vanilla paste. Beat until blended.
4. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
5. Add flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt, blending until smooth.
6. Cut 2 of the apples into very small dice and fold them into the batter. Transfer to prepared pan and smooth the top.
7. Arrange the cut apples, core side down (in other words, don’t lay them flat but push them into the batter on the edges) on top of the batter in circles over the entire surface (in the shape of a sun). The apples should be close together. Brush the apples and batter with the melted butter.
8. Generously sprinkle the apples and batter with the 3 tablespoons of sugar.
9. Bake the cake for 50-60 minutes, until the cake pulls away from the side of the pan, and the cake is golden brown. A skewer inserted into the center should come out clean.
10. Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, remove the sides of the springform pan and cool completely. Dust top with powdered sugar if desired. The cake will keep, covered, at room temperature, for 24 hours.
11. CREME ANGLAISE: In a 2-quart saucepan, heat the cider and 1/2 cup of sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes, until reduced to 1 cup. Cool the cider completely.
12. In a 2-quart saucepan heat the cream, sugar, cornstarch, vanilla and egg yolks over medium heat, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes.
13. Continue stirring over medium heat until the mixture thickens and just begins to simmer. Immediately remove from heat and strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl. Add 1/2 cup of the reduced cider to the bowl, cover and refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until well chilled, about 2 hours. Sauce may be served warm or cold. Use any left over sauce in salad dressings, or as a drizzle over ice cream.
DO-AHEAD: The Creme can be refrigerated for up to 4 days, or frozen for a month.
Per Serving (you’ll use just half the sauce): 596 Calories; 34g Fat (51.5% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 66g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 252mg Cholesterol; 255mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, Brunch, on August 24th, 2014.

apple_mini_muffins_raisins_walnuts

Mostly I’m wishing fall was in the air. But it’s not, and won’t be for a long time in this land of sunshine. So the only thing I can do is start to bake a very typical fall bread. I made this traditional muffin recipe into mini-muffins (max two bites per) and this recipe makes 24 of the cute little things. And yes, they’re delicious.

My Scrabble group was due at my house last week and the hostess usually bakes something. Sometimes we’re overly busy and we might buy something, but usually there’s some kind of bread or muffin served when we Scrabble. I bought a Granny Smith apple, cut the recipe (that made 12 regular sized muffins) in half (I gave away all but one or two of of the 24 the recipe made), added some chopped raisins and walnuts and they came together in a jiffy.

mini_muffins_ready_to_bake

Starting with a recipe from King Arthur Flour, I decided to not use whole wheat flour (I wanted a tender muffin), so I adapted their recipe a bit. The raisins and walnuts were my addition to the recipe, but the basic baking chemistry was all kudos to the King Arthur baking folks at Baking Banter. I didn’t have buttermilk on hand, but I did have Greek yogurt (which was an acceptable substitution in the original recipe). I think their recipe was hand mixed. I used my Kitchen Aid instead. Just don’t over-mix, that’s all. The pan you see in the picture is one of King Arthur’s – they’re bright aluminum looking, but they have some kind of Teflon surface because these muffins slipped out like greased lightning with no pre-greasing. Note that only about a rounded tablespoon of batter went into each muffin cup.mini_muffins_ready_to_bake_2

There’s a close-up of the batter. You can see the corrugated style of the pan. Makes for very easy cleanup, I’ll tell you for sure. If you don’t own any of these, I’d highly recommend you add a few to your Christmas wish list.

A little bit of brown sugar is sprinkled on top just before baking. I don’t know that I’d bother with that the next time – some of the brown sugar spilled out onto the muffin pan surface once the muffins began to rise in the baking process. But no big deal – none of it stuck to the pan.

What’s GOOD: the best part is the tenderness (from the yogurt/acidic dairy). This recipes requires just one apple – a good thing. I liked the raisins in it and the walnuts (neither were in the original recipe – I just added them for texture). This was quick to mix up and bake. Delicious when they were still warm and still really good at room temp. When I served them I heated them up just briefly in a low oven.

What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of. These are really tasty. And easy.

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Super Tender Apple Nut Mini-Muffins

Recipe By: Adapted from King Arthur Flour, 2013
Serving Size: 24 mini-muffins

1/4 cup unsalted butter — 4 tablespoons, at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/8 cup brown sugar — divided use
1/2 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk — or 1/2 cup plain (not Greek-style) yogurt; or 3/8 cup Greek-style yogurt + 2 T milk (to equal 1/2 cup)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 cup Granny Smith apple — cored, and chopped; about 1 large apple

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease and flour a mini muffin pan, or line with papers and grease the insides of the papers.
2. Mix together the butter, granulated sugar, and a little more than half of the brown sugar, beating until fluffy.
3. Add the egg and mix well, stopping once to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl.
4. Gently mix in the buttermilk or yogurt.
5. Stir in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
6. Fold in the chopped apples, walnuts and raisins.
7. Using about a rounded tablespoon of batter each, divide among the prepared mini-muffin cups, sprinkling the remaining brown sugar on top.
8. Bake the muffins for 12-15 minutes (mine took 14), or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.
9. Remove the muffins from the oven, cool them for 5 minutes in the pan, then turn them out onto a rack to finish cooling completely.
Per Serving: 59 Calories; 2g Fat (32.2% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 9g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 10mg Cholesterol; 56mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, on March 18th, 2014.

last_word_nutmeg_muffins

Isn’t that a funny name for a muffin? I thought so until I tasted these, and now I see why, without a doubt, you won’t want to make any other kind of recipe for a nutmeg muffin.

Using nutmeg in a muffin – as the main flavoring – is certainly edgy. Some people might even say risky. Yet I’ve learned to trust Marion Cunningham. What a consummate baker she is. As time has gone by, more and more, I’ve learned that she really knows her baked goods. She must be part chemist. But most home bakers would never think to add so much nutmeg – for this batch that makes about 14 regular muffins, or about 26 mini-muffins, you’ll use about 3+ tablespoons of freshly grated nutmeg. Specifically, Marion says to grate 1 1/2 whole nutmeg pods. That’s one PILE of nutmeg, I’ll tell you, now having done it. I didn’t measure how much it was – but I’d say it’s almost 1/4 cup’s worth. Do not, under any circumstances, use pre-ground jarred nutmeg for this.

microplanes 350Using a rasp grater – a microplane grater – made easy work of it. I used the long, thin one on top in the photo at left. It probably took me about 5 minutes to get it done. The microplane creates airy shreds – lighter than other things you might grate. If you were to use regular ground nutmeg, it probably wouldn’t be anywhere near as much. But then, it also wouldn’t taste anywhere near as good. There is something significant that happens when you use freshly grated nutmeg.

The batter was simple to throw together – you don’t even use a mixer – just a fork. First you combine all the dry ingredients. Then you combine the wet ingredients in another bowl and slowly add the wet into the dry and stir JUST until you don’t see any streaks of flour. It’s very important that you don’t over mix this batter – you’ll have tough muffins if you do. The batter is wet, and using a tablespoon of baking powder is certainly a lot, but these don’t rise over-much, considering. I filled each muffin cup to the top, so they all puffed up nicely.

nutmeg_muffin_pan

There’s more batter than you need, really, for one batch – I could have made another 3-4 mini-muffins, even after adding little dib-dabs of additional batter to each cup in the above 24-mini-muffin pan, so I poured the last of it into a greased glass (custard) cup and baked that right alongside the others – just for 5 minutes longer. The recipe indicates they’re best eaten warm, so I’ll probably reheat them in the microwave for about 5-7 seconds.

What’s GOOD: Loved the texture (light) of these. Right out of the oven they were heavenly. I ate one with nothing on it at all. This recipe exists on several other blog sites and most of the bakers served them with jam and/or butter. I’ll probably put out butter when I serve these to my friends who are coming to play Scrabble. The recipe indicates they stale quickly, so freeze them as soon as they cool down and defrost only what you need. The nutmeg flavor is sensational. But then, I love nutmeg.
What’s NOT: There was nothing not to like about these. Definitely a keeper.

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Last Word in Nutmeg Muffins

Recipe By: The Breakfast Book, Marion Cunningham
Serving Size: 14

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 whole nutmeg pods — grated (yes, really that much – it’s not a typo)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup milk
5 tablespoons butter — melted

NOTES: Can also be made as mini-muffins – makes about 26; bake for a shorter time, about 5 minutes less.
1. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Grease the muffin tins.
2. Stir together with a fork or whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt in a medium-size bowl, thoroughly combining the ingredients. Beat the egg well in a small bowl, then stir in the cream, milk, and butter and blend well. Add the cream mixture to the flour mixture and stir only until there are no streaks of flour. Don’t overmix.
3. Spoon batter two-thirds full into each muffin cup. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the rounded tops are lightly golden. Remove muffins from the pan, and serve warm. Or cool on a rack and store or freeze for later use; warm before serving.
Per Serving: 201 Calories; 10g Fat (43.5% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 26g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 45mg Cholesterol; 239mg Sodium. (Mini-muffins would be half the amount)

Posted in Breads, on March 2nd, 2014.

sourdough_white_bread_cooling

I nearly forgot to post this one – my 2nd venture back into sourdough after a hiatus of about 20 years. Can’t you just about smell the hint of yeast bread? It was divine.

There are plenty of recipes out there on the ‘net for sourdough bread. And mine likely isn’t all that unusual.  But it’s the one I made most often – way back in the 1960s and 70s when I baked bread regularly. With a new sourdough starter at hand, I wasn’t about to venture into new territory, but wanted to make this first loaf with the trusted recipe.

Probably the most difficult thing about sourdough – once you have a starter going – is to remember  to take it out a day before you want to use it (to bake something), and refresh the batch with fresh flour and warm water and allow it to regenerate. I don’t know about you, but even though I have a calendar that I keep (on my iPhone and on my computer) I never know from one day to the next whether I’ll really be home on any set morning or afternoon – even if there’s nothing on my calendar. I may get an invitation to meet a girlfriend for lunch. My DH may ask me to meet him somewhere for lunch. I have regular things I do every week or two. I have meetings now and then. But anyway, you do need to make sure you’ll be home for most of the time required in this recipe. There’s time to go run an errand to the grocery store, but not time to go sit in a doctor’s office or to the car wash. The dough has to rise twice, and it’s a good thing to be hanging around watching it now and then. Especially the 2nd rising, as it takes less time. The amount of time you’re actually working with the dough is small, but in the rising processes it just needs to be watched (and maybe talked to nicely, maybe setting it in a warmer place).

sourdough_white_breadSo, here’s the method. This assumes you’ve already let the sourdough sit overnight (to GET the fresh starter you’ll need for the bread), and you begin with just ONE CUP of it. You can use more if you’d prefer, but it might make more batter than you’ll be able to deal with. You could make biscuits with the remainder, but that’s a story for another day.

YEAST: In a small glass measuring cup you want to get the yeast started. Now this part is something I’ve almost always done – ever since I learned how to bake bread. I mix the package of dry yeast in the warm/hot water with 1/4 tsp of ground ginger and 1/4 tsp of granulated sugar. Back in the 60’s I did a lot of reading about yeast and bread – everything I could get my hands on at the library (and there wasn’t a whole lot) and some book I read talked about adding ground ginger to the yeast mixture along with a tiny bit of sugar. What this does is allow the dissolving yeast something to feed on – the little molecules of yeast actually like to climb, as I recall reading, and if it’s got something there to climb on – like the ginger and sugar, it will climb. It’s a little thing, and you don’t have to do it if you’d rather not, but I’m of the opinion that it helps – it allows all the yeast to work. You want to use a glass, plastic or ceramic bowl (a Pyrex measuring cup is what I always used but now I use a plastic one). You do NOT want to use a metal bowl or measuring cup – yeast doesn’t particularly like metal at this stage.

FLOUR: Many yeast breads can be made with all-purpose flour, but over the years I learned that there’s a reason you use bread flour (which allows for the development of more gluten, which in turns gives the rise and a better texture). I use King Arthur’s if I can, but regular grocery-store bread flour will be fine. You’ll use less King Arthur bread flour than you will regular bread flour, fyi.

DOUGH: So, you’ve got one very gooey cup of sourdough starter in a large bowl. (In my recipe below I’ve also given you one word of advice – if you wear rings – take them off to knead sourdough.) Now you’ll start adding in the stuff. To it you add the yeast mixture, sugar, salt and flour. That’s it. You can do this first step in a stand mixer with the dough hook (I did, although I didn’t have  a stand mixer years ago and kneaded all my bread by hand). Using the dough hook makes the kneading SO much easier.

CONSISTENCY: If there’s one thing I have learned over the years about bread baking and particularly sourdough it’s to NOT add any more flour than you absolutely need to handle the dough. The more flour, the drier and more crumbly the bread will be. Having made bread in the new no-knead Sullivan Street Bakery method,  the European Peasant Bread (which is an extremely wet dough) you come to realize bread doesn’t need as much flour as you might think. That style allows for lots of bubbles and a very open crumb.

KNEADING: Here, with a sandwich bread you must add enough flour so you can knead it – in this kind of fine-crumb bread, you do need to knead it well to remove all the bubbles. With the no-knead, you want lots of bubbles to make a hole-y bread, while with sandwich bread, bubbles are your enemy. You almost can’t over-knead a yeast (sandwich) bread dough. But you can do it with the dough hook during both kneading steps. The 2nd time you’ll find the dough is much more malleable, supple and smooth. I prefer to knead it with the dough hook the 1st time and do it by hand the 2nd time. During the first mixing, it’s important to knead it well (which is why I use the stand mixer and dough hook) because you want to develop and push and pull the yeast and its interaction with the flour. If you don’t do that, the bread won’t rise correctly. The rising action just won’t happen the way you want it to. During the 2nd mixing, all you really are trying to do is punch/push out most of the bubbles.

DOUGH HOOK: Start the mixer on low until the batter has started to come together. In a regular sized Kitchen Aid stand mixer, this 2-loaf sized batter/dough will nearly fill the bowl – it doesn’t to begin with, but once the gluten begins developing the dough wants to climb the dough hook. You may need to stop it and pull it off. Don’t run the motor so fast that the mixer moves on the countertop. Kneading bread dough is the hardest thing a stand mixer can do, just about, so just go slow and increase the speed gradually. Let it run/knead for longer than you might think. It mixes up soon enough, but just let it go – probably for 4-6 minutes at least.

RISING WHERE?: In my present kitchen I don’t have an ideal place for dough or bread pans to rise, but I’ve finally found a location on top of my toaster oven, which puts a bowl or the pans within about 2-3 inches of our under-cabinet fluorescent lights. They don’t give off a lot of heat, but it’s better than sitting on our granite countertops, which are cold even in 90° weather. Lots of people create make-shift places to proof bread – like turning on your oven to its lowest temp for a few minutes, then turning it off and adding the bowl or pans. That works for awhile, but not for anything like 90 minutes. Some people put a pan of boiling water in the oven, and that will take about an hour to cool off, then you can repeat the process. You can create a cardboard box with a light bulb to heat up the space – just don’t over heat. Also know that in the winter, it’ll take longer for the dough to rise if the kitchen is cool. Some people just add more yeast (which works). If you add enough yeast bread dough will rise even if it’s in the refrigerator. That’s the genesis of refrigerator yeast rolls – you’ll find lots of recipes for those on the ‘net.

SHAPE: After the 1st rise, you punch down the dough, knead it for several minutes, until it does get that smooth texture. Cut the dough in half using a serrated knife and shape each half. You can do these in bread pans or on a flat sheet . . .

PANS: You might be able to put this dough on a flat baking sheet, but my experience with these kinds of wetter doughs is that as it rises it spreads out and not much up. So you’ll have a loaf that looks more like a ciabatta rather than a sandwich loaf. There’s a fine line between a wet dough that spreads and a more firm dough that will rise UP. You’ll need to test your own to see if it works. When in doubt, use bread pans or a ceramic bowl – an oval with sides. Or a Le Creuset  will work too. There are 2 sizes of bread pans – 8” and 9”. If you use 8” these loaves will be quite high. The 9” probably works better, but both will work. Don’t go out and buy 9” pans if you don’t have them.

THE FINGER TEST: Most experts tell you that to tell if the dough has risen enough you poke two fingers into the dough and if it doesn’t push back, it’s risen enough. The other test is the “double in bulk.” I try to eyeball the mound of dough and know when it’s about reached the double size. In most recipes this will take about 2 hours. During that time you don’t touch it or do a thing to it. If it’s warmer on one side than the other, rotate the bowl half way through.

PUNCHING DOWN: A few recipes (but not this one) tell you to punch down the dough while it’s still in the bowl – this is a method that uses 3 rising times. It merely means using your fist (without rings on any fingers) and punching the dough in as far as it will go then kind of gathering it up and turning it over and letting it rise again.

2nd RISING: My experience is that the 2nd rise takes less time – usually about 45 minutes to an hour. I also have learned over the years that you want the dough to have risen ALMOST to the point you’d like it to look once it’s fully baked. In other words, the bread isn’t going to rise much at all, if any, once  you put it in the oven. I like the bread to have a nice mound above the bread-pan-edge, so I allow it to proof (rise) until it reaches that point. Be careful with the pans – don’t bang them or you could deflate the dough. I made a slash on the top of both loaves when I made mine, but you probably don’t have to. I cut into it only about 1/2 inch. Don’t slash very far down the side of the loaf or it might almost spill out sideways. That you don’t want. Just slash it on the top, 2 cuts about 3 inches or so long. They make special utensils for this, but any good sharp knife will work fine.

BAKING: Be sure to preheat the oven so it’s nice and hot. If you want to, turn the loaves around once during the baking. But don’t bang the oven door. When you remove the loaves, tap on the top with your fingernail or knuckle – you’ll hear a hollow sound – you’ll know they’re done. Some bread is so tender and soft you can’t possibly place the loaves on the top of the bread pan edges to cool, but sourdough makes a hearty crust and you can with this one. When in doubt, remove the bread from the pans immediately and let them cool on a wire rack. If you leave the bread in the pans, they’ll begin to steam from all the trapped heat – it will make the crust soft – not what you want here.

Yeast Bread Internal Temps:

According to several websites, yeast bread made with a combo of bread flour and regular all-purpose flour is done once it reaches 175° F; if bread flour only is used, bake to 185°F. Many yeast bread recipes also say 190-200°F. A baguette needs to be baked to 210°F.

SLICING: Don’t slice the bread too soon. This is an oft-made mistake – if you cut the bread before it’s cooled you’ll tear the tender bread. If that suits your meal to have irregular torn parts, then do go ahead, but if you want nice sandwich slices, wait for the bread to cool. I’ve become, over the years, very adept at slicing even slices of bread. How? I don’t know for sure – I watch the far side of the knife carefully as I begin the slicing with a serrated knife. Don’t push the knife down too far with each back and forward stroke. A gentle pressure works better – that way you can re-angle the knife if needed to make an even slice.

AH, BUTTER AND EAT!: Well, all that effort and all these instructions – now spread with some  unsalted butter (or salted if you’d prefer) and enjoy it. If you put much other than butter on it you’ll not even taste the sourdough.

STORING & FREEZING: My experience is that bread keeps best in the freezer. Because we’re just a family of 2, we don’t eat much bread at any meal, let alone much in a single day – some days we have none. So I do two different methods:  (1) I slice the bread, stack maybe 2 or at the most 3 pieces and wrap well in foil, then I put that in a Ziploc freezer bag, suck out the air with a straw (you know how to do that, right? – seal the Ziploc closure with only a tiny opening at one end in which you slip a straw. Holding the closure almost closed, just barely holding the straw between both hands, suck on the straw to draw out any air in the bag and quickly slide out the straw as you continue to hold it shut and seal it up). Then that Ziploc goes into the freezer. (2) I do sometimes use my vacuum sealer to prep a chunk of bread ( 2-3 inches long, unsliced) and when it begins the vacuum seal part, I only let it go until the interior bread just begins to shrink in and I stop the vacuum seal. Does that make sense? If you continue to pull air out it will press all the texture out of the inner, tender bread. So that’s why you continue only until it begins to indent the middle of the bread. Then that vacuum-sealed piece goes into the freezer. It usually takes less than half an hour to defrost either type. When I defrost the thick chunk of bread (unsliced) I usually lay the chunk down flat and slice horizontally to get an even slice. It’s much harder to slice bread that doesn’t have an end crust as it gives the chunk integrity to hold itself up.

Whew, that was one very long post. Hope this helps someone . . .

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Sourdough Bread San Francisco Style

Recipe By: An old favorite of mine, from the 1960’s
Serving Size: 28

1 1/2 cups hot water
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger — (I know, it’s odd)
1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 cup sourdough batter
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
3 1/2 cups bread flour
1 cup bread flour — or maybe 1 1/2 cups used on the kneading board

Notes: The ground ginger and sugar in the yeast mixture adds no flavor – it’s there only to give the yeast a little something to feed on. It’s an old “trick” I learned in the 1960s when I first started baking bread. It gives the yeast a little jump start, supposedly.
1. In a 2-cup measuring glass cup (or something similar, but NOT metal) add the hot tap water (not too hot or it will kill the yeast) and ground ginger and tiny bit of sugar, then sprinkle in the yeast, stirring to dissolve. Set aside for about 5-10 minutes to allow the yeast to bloom. If it doesn’t get lumpy and bubbly, it may not be active yeast anymore.
2. Place sourdough batter in a large bowl and add sugar, salt, then add the yeast mixture along with a cup or so of flour. Stir well so all the ingredients are thoroughly mixed before adding more flour. Add about 3 more cups of flour and stir until it’s one big ball of dough, adding a bit more flour if needed to bring it together.
3. [If you wear rings, I recommend you take them off for this step and for Step #5.] Pour the mixture out onto your kitchen counter – sprinkle the board and the dough very lightly with more flour – and knead for 3-4 minutes until the dough is one cohesive ball and has no streaks of flour. It’s better if this dough (at this point) is VERY STICKY. You can also do this step with a dough hook on your stand mixer, or the plastic dough blade in the food processor. Don’t over-work the dough at this point.
4. Roll dough into a lightly greased bowl (big enough to allow the dough to double in size) and place in a warm environment – about 90°F for 1 1/2-2 hours until the dough has doubled.
5. Punch dough down and pour out onto a flour-sprinkled surface again and knead well for 8-10 minutes (or use the dough hook of stand mixer or dough blade in food processor) and work the dough until it’s a very smooth ball, elastic in texture. Add more flour in very small increments if the dough is too sticky. The aim is to just barely keep the stickiness under control. Adding more flour at this point can make a dry loaf of bread.
6. Using your hands mold the dough into an elongated oval, or a large round, or into 2 loaf shapes for bread pans. Pull the outside edges down and underneath so you have a very smooth surface. NOTE: sometimes sourdough bread just won’t hold its shape on a flat baking sheet surface, but will rise and just spread out rather than up. If that happens, you’ll need to confine it in a bread pan or some other shaped pan or oven-proof casserole dish so it has sides to contain it.
7. Dampen a light weight cotton kitchen towel (not terrycloth because it will snag on the dough) and lay it over the sourdough and place the loaf, again, in a warm place. It will take less time to rise, about 1 – 1 1/2 hours.
8. Preheat oven to 400°F. Place a shallow pan of just-under-boiling water on an oven shelf below the shelf for the bread. Brush the outside edges of the bread with water and use a very sharp knife (serrated works) to cut at least 2 slashes (about 3 inches long each) across the dough, near the top, at least an inch or 2 apart. Bake for 35 minutes for bread loaves, about 40 minutes for a French (oval) shaped loaf) and about 55 minutes for one very large round loaf.
Per Serving: 82 Calories; trace Fat (4.2% calories from fat); 3g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; trace Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 153mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, Brunch, easy, on February 12th, 2014.

apricot_jam_pastry

Oh my goodness, is this ever fantastic. The problems with this are: (1) finding good, tender and rich brioche bread; and (2) keeping your fingers out of the finished pastry. They are just so delicious. The base is a thick slice of brioche bread (the one above is about 1/2 inch thick, maybe just slightly thicker), spread with a ground almond and butter mixture (an almond cream, it’s called), spread with a little bit of apricot jam, some almonds sprinkled on top and baked briefly, then generously sprinkled with powdered sugar.

The other morning we were at one of my book group meetings, at our friend Peggy’s establishment, (Peggy & Gary own it along with their son) Mead’s Green Door Café in old-town Orange. Every other month we meet at their little café and enjoy a latte or cappucino and some lovely treat Peggy has baked while we discuss our current book selection. Peggy and her husband used to own a restaurant in Orange, but sold it a few years ago and bought a derelict building and spent over a year renovating it to the Café it is now. Cute as a bug, Old-world style, country-ish, eclectic, offbeat, catering a lot to the young Chapman University crowd nearby. They serve vegetarian and vegan food only, with usually at least one GF item too. They specialize in breakfast and lunch. Peggy does 90% of the baking. Peggy’s #1 seller (of her pastries) is her sweet potato scone, which is delish also, I can attest!

This little number, which blew me away, is so easy to make. Disclaimer here – I didn’t make the one you see above – Peggy did. But it’s so very easy, I was fairly certain you wouldn’t mind me showing you hers. If I made this now, I’d be gobbling it down. The recipe came from Sunset Magazine (earlier last year). First you must start with good brioche. Maybe one of our local bakeries (like Panera or Corner Bakery) will have it – I’ll have to look. You slice it thick (the recipe said 1-inch; I think Peggy sliced hers closer to 1/2 inch. Anyway, thick brioche. Then you spread the top with a little apricot jam, then a mixture of butter, granulated sugar, salt, egg, and half-and-half that’s been whizzed  up in the food processor. Then the top is sprinkled with almonds and sugar. Baked for 20 minutes or so, sprinkled with powdered sugar. Done. Very easy. Very special.

What’s GOOD: certainly the taste is first and foremost! These things are just delish. Worth making. You can make the almond cream ahead and it will keep for several days. The almond cream makes more than what you’ll use to make 8 – so perhaps cut down on the quantity first time.

What’s NOT: really nothing.

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Almond and Jam Pastries

Recipe By: Sunset Magazine, March, 2013
Serving Size: 8

ALMOND CREAM: (you’ll have more than is needed)
1 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup granulated sugar — divided
2/3 cup unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg
2 tablespoons half and half — or milk
TOASTS:
8 slices brioche — or challah bread, 1/2 in. thick or thicker
1/2 cup apricot jam — or other flavor
2 cups sliced almonds — about 2 T per toast
Powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Whirl 1 cup almonds with 1/4 cup granulated sugar in a food processor until finely ground. Transfer mixture to a bowl.
2. Blend butter and remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar in a food processor until smooth. Add salt, egg, and half-and-half and pulse just to blend. Add reserved ground almonds and blend until mixture is smooth.
3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread about 1 tbsp. jam, then 2 tbsp. almond cream, on each slice of bread (you’ll have almond cream left over). Sprinkle each with about 2 tbsp. sliced almonds.
4. Bake until almond cream is golden brown and almonds are toasted, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.
5. Make ahead: Chill extra almond cream airtight up to 2 weeks and use for making more pastries.
Per Serving (not accurate because you make more almond cream than you’ll use): 831 Calories; 55g Fat (57.6% calories from fat); 20g Protein; 71g Carbohydrate; 5g Dietary Fiber; 141mg Cholesterol; 371mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, Brunch, on February 2nd, 2014.

sourdough_pancakes

Pretty much, I’ve had a love affair with sourdough my whole life. But for the last 20 years or so I didn’t have a sourdough starter going. I first bought one back in the 1960s, and I baked bread regularly and often made pancakes and waffles, and had a great recipe for a dinner roll too. But then I got out of the habit and finally I’d let the starter go too long between feedings and the batter had expired, so to speak. I kept it in one of those cute little crockery spring lock containers and it just sat in the back of the refrigerator. But with it and other living organisms, eventually it ran out of fuel or food and if you don’t keep it going by feeding it flour and water every so often and allowing it to bloom, brighten, develop its yeasty presences, it will die of old age. This was years ago, of course, but when I’d opened the crock and sniffed the contents I knew it was a goner.

Then a couple of weeks ago you’ll remember I wrote up a post about my DH’s father Charles’ buttermilk pancakes. That got me to thinking, longingly, about my favorite sourdough and its wonderful tasty benefits. I enjoyed Dave’s dad’s buttermilk pancakes, but not nearly as much as I love the flavor and even the spongy texture of sourdough. So, when I saw a package of sourdough starter I jumped at it and bought one. As I’m writing this, the starter is still in its infancy of development. At its first mixing, once it sits for 4 hours, you mix more bread flour and water into it for 7 straight days and you need to keep it at about 90°F day and night, feeding it once a day. Then, and only then, will the sour part of it have progressed so it’s taste-able. Each evening I scoop out a cup of the bubbly fermenting batter and throw it out, and add in another mixture of flour and warm water. I stir it all around until they are no lumps and cover again with plastic wrap and let it get a nice warm glow for another 24 hours. Finding a place in my kitchen with a consistent 90° temperature was a little difficult – the warming drawer doesn’t go that low. The oven obviously doesn’t. I finally settled on putting it on top of my toaster oven, just 3-4 inches below the fluorescent under-cupboard lights in my little butler’s pantry. We’ve just had to leave those lights on day and night for the last several days. That drives my DH crazy – he’s a stickler about turning off lights – and I do forget now and then to turn off a light somewhere in the house. We both do.

Once I’ve finished the 7-day feeding schedule I’ll be able to store a few cups of starter in the refrigerator and hopefully it will keep for a week without getting into trouble. I suppose I could set up an alarm on my iPhone to remind me once a week to feed the starter, couldn’t I? Like maybe every Saturday morning, perhaps.

sourdough_starterYou can buy a sourdough starter package mix as I did. You can also make your own – there’s a good tutorial over at King Arthur Flour, if you’re interested: sourdough starter. At the cookware store I purchased the package you see at right. Buying the package makes it quite simple. As I recall, it was about $5.00. The sourdough starter I bought years ago was from Alaska and I certainly had many conjured thoughts over the years about the old “sourdoughs,” they called them, the solitary gold miners with their trusty pack horses, and the stories about how they would mix up the batter the night before and store it inside their sleeping bags next to their bodies, or on the horse, next to the horse’s hide, where it would keep warm. Because warmth is key here. This new starter I bought claims to be a San Francisco style. Now I don’t exactly know what that means – but San Franciscans do believe their sourdoughs are better than anybody else’s. The bread certainly is – there’s just nothing quite like the real thing – that musty, fusty sour smell from freshly baked sourdough bread that is ubiquitous on restaurant tables in SFO. We can buy sourdough bread here in Southern California, as you can in most places here in the U.S., but it ISN’T like the loaves from there.

Because I was anxious to try some sourdough pancakes, instead of throwing out the 1-cup of batter the other day (day 3 of its 7-day growing period), I used that one cup to make a small batch of sourdough pancakes. Perhaps they weren’t quite as powerfully sour as they’ll be after I continue getting the dough more sour as the days go by, but they were awfully darned good.

This batter I’m brewing is all made with bread flour – because the starter package is aimed at baking bread, not making anything else. So, I mixed in a little bit of all-purpose flour (because the batter was just slightly too thin, if you can believe that) and the other ingredients before pouring little dollops into a hot nonstick pan. I didn’t even grease the pan. It didn’t need it because I’d added just a little jot of canola oil to the batter. You don’t even need to butter the pancakes, either. Thin little sourdough pancakes somehow don’t need butter – but syrup yes. But they’re even good plain because they’re very moist.

What’s GOOD: Well, I loved it – loved that spongy chew to every bite. As pancakes go,I love thin ones, so these ticked all my sourdough hot buttons. And it was even sour, which I liked and I’ll like it even better once the dough is finished it’s 7 days of fermenting.
What’s NOT: if you don’t want to hassle with a sourdough starter, the feeding, mixing and nurturing you have to do with it, you may not like it. But the flavor of those finished goods. Oh, yes! Worth it, I hope.

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Sourdough Pancakes

Recipe By: An old favorite of mine, from the 1960’s
Serving Size: 4 (as part of a breakfast – double quantity if this is all you’re eating)

1 1/2 cups sourdough batter
1 large egg
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil — or melted butter
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons evaporated milk — or regular milk – approximate (depends on the consistency of the sourdough batter)

1. To the sourdough batter add the egg, sugar, oil, salt and milk (if needed).
2. Stir vigorously until all ingredients are smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add a bit more milk. If it’s too thin, add a tablespoon or two of all-purpose flour.
3. Heat a nonstick pan or griddle to medium-high. Pour small slightly larger than dollar-sized pancakes into pan and wait until a few bubbles appear in the center and flip to other side. Cook another 30-40 seconds or just until the pancake has browned slightly. Serve immediately while they’re hot. It’s not necessary to serve butter, but do have maple syrup to pour over the top.
Note: This is not a full-breakfast portion, but 4 servings as part of a breakfast. To serve main course portions, double the quantities. You can make larger pancakes – the small size is just my preference. The consistency of sourdough batter varies – some are thinner than others, so you may need to vary the amount of flour or milk you add. It’s better to have to thin the batter than to have to thicken it as the flour won’t have had time to feed in the yeasty sourdough environment. Sourdough thins as it sits (during the overnight process) so you may not need any additional milk. The pancakes take less time than usual to cook because they are SO thin. Watch carefully and definitely do not do something else – stay by the griddle and watch them!
Per Serving: 72 Calories; 5g Fat (65.7% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 4g Carbohydrate; 0g Dietary Fiber; 55mg Cholesterol; 426mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, easy, on December 28th, 2013.

savory_herb_buttermilk_scones

Oh, just gaze at those. Merely looking at the photo makes my mouth water. These scones (or rich biscuits) are just the cat’s meow. The bestest. The most tender scones I’ve ever made, for sure. And they are just a pairing from heaven with some hot soup. Like cream of tomato? I made them to serve with one of my favorite recipes – Italian Sausage and Tomato Soup

The recipe came from a recent cooking class with Phillis Carey. And as she explained at the class, it’s very unusual to see eggs IN scones. Used as a glaze on top, yes, but rarely do you see any recipe with eggs in the dough. These scones (biscuits) are going onto my favorites list, if that’s any indication how good they were (are).

These are incredibly easy to make. You combine the dry ingredients and lightly fluff them with a fork so the salt and baking soda don’t clump in one spot. Then you add the cold-cold butter that’s been cut into little cubes. I use a pastry fork, and then sometimes I dig in with my fingers, since that’s fairly easy to do. The trick to this is leaving some of the butter in tiny little shreds. But in this case, the eggs provide additional leavening to the batter too. This one has fresh herbs in it, but you can vary which ones you use – don’t like rosemary? – just use dill or thyme. The cheese also adds a nice taste to them.

herb_buttermilk_scones_before_bakingThe dough makes a big chunk, so you cut it in half and shape each half into a circle, an inch thick. Don’t use any more hand-power than necessary – the less the better. I used a sharp knife to cut the scones into 6 wedges, then I carefully scrunched them back into the circle – barely touching. If you like all the edges to be more crisp, separate the wedges. If you want just 6 biscuits, halve the recipe below. When they’re shaped up and ready, use a pastry brush or silicone brush with some additional heavy cream to glaze the top, then sprinkle more herbs and cheese on top.

The end result is a very, very tender scone – almost like a light cake in texture. For years I’ve been making scones from a recipe I acquired back in the 1980s, and it’s been my go-to recipe – it’s also on my favorites list – Buttermilk Scones – and they’re just very different from these. The others are more like a biscuit, a southern biscuit, I suppose.

These are scrumptious with soup. I served them the other night, as I mentioned above, with another of Phillis’ recipes, the Italian Sausage, Tomato and Orzo Soup. We had 6 of us for dinner, and I had 4 scones left over – a few people took 2nds on both soup and scones. I wrapped each scone in plastic wrap and edged them into a freezer ziploc bag and they’ll be perfect for a later soup dinner.

What’s GOOD: oh gosh. Everything about them is good – texture, taste, tenderness, even the savory aspect  (the cheese and herbs). They’re very light in texture, which I like a lot. You’ll not be sorry if you try them.
What’s NOT: nothing, other than they’re fairly high in calorie. If you serve them with soup, perhaps the meal balances out, right?

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Savory Herb Buttermilk Scones

Recipe By: Phillis Carey cooking class, December 2013
Serving Size: 12

1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese — grated
1/2 cup cheddar cheese — grated
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary — minced
2 teaspoons fresh thyme — minced
1 teaspoon Italian parsley — minced
SCONES:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter — chilled, cut in tiny cubes
2 large eggs — beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup heavy cream
Additional cream for brushing on the tops

Notes: this batch can be made into slightly smaller scones if you shape each half into a rectangle and use a square cutter – about 8 per half (2 across by 4 lengthwise) = 16 scones. The batch for 12 makes fairly large scones.
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a small bowl, stir together 1 T. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, 2 T. cheddar cheese and 1/2 tsp each rosemary, thyme and parsley. Set aside for sprinkling on top of the scones.
3. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Scatter the butter over the top and cut into the flour mixture with a pastry blender or your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Quickly mix in the eggs, buttermilk and 1/2 cup cream. Quickly mix in remaining cheeses and herbs.
4. Turn dough onto a lightly floured work surface and divide dough in half. Pat each half into a circle about 1-inch thick (about 6 inches across). Cut each circle into 6 wedges and arrange, with edges mostly touching, on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the top of each scone with a little cream, then sprinkle on the reserved cheese and herb mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the bottoms are lightly golden. The tops of these will not show browning or even a golden color – look at the bottom to determine if they’re done. Serve immediately with butter. [When I baked these it took exactly 25 minutes.]
Per Serving: 248 Calories; 15g Fat (54.7% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 21g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 78mg Cholesterol; 330mg Sodium.

Posted in Breads, on December 7th, 2013.

gingerbread_scone_marmalade_butter

You know how adding buttermilk in any baked good makes it super tender? This recipe does it in spades, as they say, to make the softest, most tender scone I may have ever tasted. And then you add in the gingerbread flavors. Delicious is all I can say.

Understand . . . this is not gingerbread. It’s nothing whatsoever like cake gingerbread. It’s the gingerbread (spice) flavors that give it the delish flavor but in a soft, tender flaky scone.

My favorite scone that I’ve been making for decades, Buttermilk Scones, is similar, but the proportions in the ingredients are different than these. How, exactly, the chemistry works in baking continues to baffle me. Sometimes I go to Harold McGee’s book On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. Usually I find the answer there to most of my cooking questions about why and how. And I sometimes refer to that baking chemistry book, Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking by Michael Ruhlman, with all of the proportions students learn in culinary school. I don’t remember them, period. When I have a question, though, I often dig out that book too, to see if it has any answers. Scones aren’t covered in that book, however. Only biscuits, and these just aren’t “biscuits.”

Nevertheless, buttermilk is a tenderizer in bread and pastries. Of and by itself I don’t think it has much super-tenderizing powers, but combined with flour and fat, it must develop the tenderness. I’ve never found that using the dried buttermilk powder works as well. I’ve never tried a side by side trial, but something happens, not good I mean, when they dry buttermilk.

Technically, what we buy at our grocery stores ISN’T buttermilk. It’s a cultured buttermilk. Real buttermilk is a by-product of real cream when the butterfat liquids run off in the process of making butter. I haven’t a clue how to find real honest-to-goodness buttermilk. I believe I’ve looked at Whole Foods, thinking surely they’d have it, but they didn’t when I visited the store some months ago. If you’re a farmer or near dairy farmers, perhaps you can buy it directly. I’d love to try it in baking. I remember trying buttermilk when I was a child, on my grandfather’s farm. He didn’t have dairy cattle, but his brother did, on adjoining land. I didn’t love drinking it, as my grandfather did, but it was definitely more tasty. More tangy for sure, but that’s about all I recall.

But, for purposes of providing tenderness to baked goods, store-bought buttermilk suffices. Our normal buttermilk starts with skim milk, actually, then they culture it somehow and it ends up being a low-fat product and has the consistency of real buttermilk. The little tiny globules in store-bought buttermilk is produced – it’s not natural to the product. It is what it is, and we’re mostly stuck with it. If you want to know whether your buttermilk is or isn’t real, look for the word cultured. That’s the manufactured (fake) stuff. If it says pure buttermilk, give it a try. Taste it too.

Now, back to these scones. They’re mixed together much like any other scone mixture, so I won’t belabor that process. The batter does contain eggs – that’s not always in scones – they tenderize baked things also. The only thing Phillis Carey said about this recipe is that it’s imperative you not add any more flour than necessary – more flour = dry and less tender. You’ll develop a rhythm once you make these yourselves. Just know the batter is very wet and you want to keep it that way as much as possible. Your hands will get kind of raggedy from the sticky dough, but that’s okay!

You don’t have to make the marmalade butter, but it’s so easy to do, and would add an especially nice touch if you’re making these for guests, particularly. Just mix butter, marmalade and a pinch of salt if you use unsalted butter. Let it sit for awhile so the flavors meld a bit. Otherwise, serve with butter and whatever jam you have on hand.

What’s GOOD: if you’re a lover of fall, gingerbread or pumpkin pie spices, you’ll love these scones. They’re super tender from the buttermilk and from very little handling. You’ll really enjoy these. I just about guarantee it. If you have left overs, wrap them in foil and freeze for another day.
What’s NOT: nothing that I can think of.

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Gingerbread Scones with Marmalade Butter

Recipe By: Phillis Carey cooking class, Sept. 2013
Serving Size: 12

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup unsalted butter — diced and chilled
1 large egg
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon molasses
1 large egg — (for the egg wash)
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon sugar — (to sprinkle on top)
MARMALADE BUTTER:
1/2 cup unsalted butter — at room temperature
3 tablespoons orange marmalade — or apricot jam (chopped)
1 dash salt

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large bowl whisk together the flour, brown sugar, granulated sugar, baking powder, soda and salt. Add ginger, cloves and nutmeg and whisk until well blended. Cut or rub in butter until pieces are the size of peas.
2. In a small bowl whisk together the egg, buttermilk and molasses until blended. Pour into the flour mixture, stir with a fork until evenly moistened. With hands, quickly and gently press together to form a dough. Divide dough in half and press each into about a 6-7 inch circle, about 1-inch thick.
3. Gently transfer dough to a large baking sheet, then cut into 6 wedges each, leaving the circle in its shape, just barely separating them.
4. In a small bowl whisk together 1 egg and water, then lightly brush this over the top of scones. Sprinkle tops with the 1 T. granulated sugar and bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Internal temperature should be 200°F. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temp with Marmalade Butter.
5. MARMALADE BUTTER: Place softened butter and marmalade in food processor and process until smooth. Scrape into a decorative bowl (or individual small ramekins). Chill until serving time, allowing butter to warm to room temp for at least 30 minutes before serving.
Per Serving: 299 Calories; 17g Fat (49.3% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 34g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 77mg Cholesterol; 187mg Sodium.

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