Friday, April 29, 2011

Classic Cream Scones ...

I do not have royal-wedding fever, though I did make it a point to see a picture of Kate's dress and it was indeed lovely. And I appreciate that her flowers were so demure.

But I was planning on making scones today anyway, so I'll pretend that they're in honor of the happy couple, scones bein' British 'n' all.

And I did find myself humming British-y music while I made them. So perhaps I have a touch of royal fever. Very mild, though. Like 99.1.

Classic Cream Scones
(From Simply Scones, Published by St. Martin's Press, 1988)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, chilled (I use salted butter)
1/2 cup heavy (whipping) cream
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup currants (optional)
1 egg mixed with 1 teaspoon water for glaze (optional)

Preheat oven to 425ºF. Lightly butter a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes and distribute them over the flour mixture. With a pastry blender or two knives used scissors fashion, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. In a small bowl, stir together the cream, egg, and vanilla. Add the cream mixture to the flour mixture and stir until combined. Stir in the currants, if desired.

With lightly floured hands, pat the dough into a 1/2-inch thickness on a lightly floured cutting board. Using a floured 2 1/2-inch-diameter round biscuit cutter or a glass, cut out rounds** from the dough and place them on the prepared baking sheet. Gather the scraps together and repeat until all dough is used. Lightly brush the tops of the scones with the egg mixture, if desired. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Remove the baking sheet to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes. Using a spatula, transfer the scones to the wire rack to cool. Serve warm or cool completely and store in an airtight container.

Makes 12 - 14 scones.

** For those who may not know, when cutting the scones, don’t twist the cutter back and forth. Just cut straight down. Twisting “seals” the edges of the dough and impedes them rising in the oven.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sugar Cookies ...

Yesterday, upon receiving some sad news, I felt compelled to bake. The sad news wasn't awful news, and I wasn't distraught, just blue. But the weather was like a pile of damp lint, to boot, so baking became the order of the day.

I thought about baking a trial batch of a cookie I want to make for May's angelo:HOME post. Miracle of miracles, I had all of the ingredients on hand. But I wasn't feeling it. I have to feel a recipe.

So I went poking around for another. And I found Grandma's All-Occasion Sugar Cookies in Dorie Greenspan's Baking, which you must own if you don't, if you fancy yourself any kind of baker. The breadth of recipes is stunning, the photography is gorgeous, and Dorie writes with an irreverent touch. It's just a pleasure of a book, all around.

Now, I'm generally not the sugar-cookie type, which is odd because I like really simple flavors. Panna cotta is my favorite dessert. A vanilla milkshake delights me. But sugar cookies, in my experience, have been hit and miss. Some are sugary to the point of being gritty. Others are just ... bland.

But Dorie's recipe calls for 10 tablespoons of butter, and I happened to have two tablespoons hanging out in the fridge from a stick I'd cut into the day before, and anyone who invokes Grandma in a cookie's recipe clearly must know what she's doing. So, I proceeded.

The dough is soft and requires chilling before baking, so I used parchment to shape two logs, twisted the ends, and plopped them in the fridge for a few hours. I baked off a few cookies last night, and baked off more this morning.

And these, I am very happy to report, are sugar cookies. Dorie offers all sorts of suggestions in her book for enhancing this dough, from rubbing citrus zest into the sugar before creaming it with the butter to adding spices to frosting the cookies with a simple glaze.

But I made them as written, no additions, no toppings. A pure sugar-cookie experience. A bit of crispness at the edge, the slightest chew in the center.

Dorie's Grandma? She knew her stuff.

Grandma's All-Occasion Sugar Cookies
(From Baking by Dorie Greenspan, Published by Houghton Mifflin, 2006)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Sugar or cinnamon sugar, for dusting (optional)

Whisk the flour, salt and baking powder together.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed for a minute or so, until smooth. Beat in the sugar and continue to beat for about 2 minutes, until the mixture is light and pale. Add the egg and yolk and beat for another minute or two; beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and steadily add the flour mixture, mixing only until it has been incorporated—because this dough is best when worked least, you might want to stop the mixer before all the flour is thoroughly blended into the dough and finish the job with a rubber spatula. When mixed, the dough will be soft, creamy and malleable.

Turn the dough out onto a counter and divide it in half. If you want to make roll-out cookies, shape each half into a disk and wrap in plastic. If you want to make slice-and-bake cookies, shape each half into a chubby sausage (the diameter is up to you—I usually like cookies that are about 2 inches in diameter) and wrap in plastic. Whether you're going to roll or slice the dough, it must be chilled for at least 2 hours. (Well wrapped, the dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.)

Getting ready to bake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

If you are making roll-out cookies, working with one packet of dough at a time, roll out the dough between sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper to a thickness of 1/4 inch, lifting the plastic or paper and turning the dough over often so that it rolls evenly. Lift off the top sheet of plastic or paper and cut out the cookies—I like a 2-inch round cookie cutter for these. Pull away the excess dough, saving the scraps for rerolling, and carefully lift the rounds onto the baking sheets with a spatula, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between the cookies. (This is a soft dough and you might have trouble peeling away the excess or lifting the cutouts; if so, cover the dough, chill it for about 15 minutes and try again.) After you've rolled and cut the second packet of dough, you can form the scraps into a disk, then chill, roll out and bake.

If you are making slice-and-bake cookies, use a sharp thin knife* to slice the dough into 1/4-inch-thick rounds, and place the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 1/2 inches of space between the cookies.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 9 to 11 minutes, rotating the sheet at the midpoint. The cookies should feel firm, but they should not color much, if at all. Remove the pan from the oven and dust with sugar or cinnamon sugar, if you'd like. let them rest for 1 minute before carefully lifting them onto a rack to cool to room temperature.

Repeat with the remaining dough, cooking the baking sheets between batches.

* I have a boning knife in my knife set that I never, ever use for boning. It is perfect for this application.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Whisky Business ...

Despite the fact that he's British, my friend Mike likes to cook. (Oh, I kid. The Brits do a fine job with food. On my last trip to London, I had many tasty "takeaway" [that's British for "to go"] baguettes from a joint named, adorably, EAT. Interesting combinations of flavors and ingredients [rocket = arugula!], not the fast-food dreck that stretches for miles in every town of this great land. Though you can get our fast food over there, too, and yep, a McDonald's cheeseburger in London tastes exactly the same as a McDonald's cheeseburger here. Which I know because I had to try one on my first trip to London, despite a mad-cow scare. I figured either a) the beef was shipped from the States or b) McDonald's had assurances in place that its patties wouldn't cause its patrons' brains to melt. Bad for business, that. Note: I no longer eat fast-food burgers anyway.)

My point, though, many words ago, was that Mike posted a link to this story in The Atlantic about how folks are spending more and more on showcase kitchens even as they spend less and less time in them to cook.

My kitchen is not fancy. It is pretty much the kitchen I inherited when I bought this house. I had to buy a refrigerator and a stove, and yes, I bought stainless steel, but my stove gets a good workout, especially the oven, and the refrigerator was on sale because it had a couple of scratches on the handle. I ended up spending more than I planned on for the stove, but I saved more than I expected on the fridge, so it all worked out pretty well in the end.

I painted the cabinets a few years ago and swapped out the hardware, but I still have the same counters, which could stand to be replaced, and if I had my druthers, I'd have a checkered floor, but I don't. Like everyone else, I think I could use more storage space, or perhaps I should just have less stuff. But some things are more important than others.

In the Atlantic article, these words, in particular, jumped out at me: "... the sort of perfectionist gastronome who wants to choose from 15 kinds of whisk."

Which made me think about my own stash of whisks, and I could call to mind four, and then I remembered a fifth, which is really not so much a utensil as it is a tchotchke. Or maybe a Christmas ornament.

So, technically, I own five whisks. But only four live in the utensil crock on my counter. And I use them all, and they all have different uses.

The average little guy on the left is my go-to whisk for salad dressings. I plop a few ingredients in a little bowl, give a quick whisk and I'm good to go.

The little friend of the average whisk came into my life tied onto a package of scone mix, a gift from someone from somewhere. He lives in a drawer and I employ him from time to time to whisk up a small bit of slurry to thicken a sauce, but mostly, he's just for show.

The wooden-handled number is my all-purpose whisk and he's held up well over the years.

The roux whisk is one of the best inventions in the history of inventions. Every Thanksgiving, it is my job to make gravy and I couldn't do it without this guy.

The balloon whisk doesn't see as much action as the others, because if I'm whipping up egg whites, I turn to my KitchenAid, but every so often I feel inspired to make a particularly fluffy omelette and this guy helps incorporate some air into the eggs.

Thankfully, they do not take up much space, since my utensil crock could stand a sort. I never, ever use that meat-tenderizer mallet. I just buy tender meat. And my wee brownie spatula just tends to get lost, so I should move him to a drawer.

But I like to think that I use most of what I own. My KitchenAid is sounding a little worse for the wear, so it might be time to invest in a new one. (I covet the model with the six-quart bowl.) The Cuisinart isn't in daily rotation but when I need it, I'm grateful that it's there. I'm not sure how I lived for so long without a digital kitchen scale. And parchment paper deserves a Nobel Prize.

I will confess to not having used my pasta machine. And I forget about my double-boiler insert because I always just use a glass bowl.

But for the most part, I use what I own in my kitchen. My cookware isn't pristine. My baking pans are clearly loved. I don't often use the green-glass pitcher my friends gave me for sangria.

But summer is coming. Someday.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Good Times, April Edition ...

The April cookie installment for the angelo:HOME blog features walnut cheese cookies, inspired by this recipe from food52. They're very subtle, a nice departure from the bombardment of all things sweet that pop up at Easter.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Bread Will Be Bread ...

The beauty of bread is that it's damn near impossible to screw it up.

People are daunted by the notion of baking bread, but honestly, I don't know why.

I learned how to bake bread when I was 8. Perhaps that's why it seems easy to me. Kids don't know enough to think about all the things that can go wrong in a given situation. They just plow ahead with whatever interests them at the time. I love that about kids. I need to remember that about myself, that there was a time when I just did for the sake of doing.

And such it is with bread. Dough feel a bit too dry? Add a bit more liquid. Dough feel a bit too wet? Add a bit more flour. So long as you don't kill your yeast, odds are you're going to end up with something edible.

Last night, I felt like baking again, so into the kitchen I went to make my usual loaves. But then English Teacher Dave called and it's tricky to knead while holding a phone, and I wasn't inclined to dig my headset out of its drawer and the hour was getting late, besides. I didn't want to stay up long enough to finish the bread, let it rise, bake it, and let it cool enough to slice it before putting it in the freezer.

So I cradled the phone in my shoulder long enough to give the dough a few turns, I plopped it in a bowl in which I had poured a bit of olive oil, covered it, and put it in the fridge to rise overnight.

I settled into my comfy chair to finish my chat with Dave, and later, I headed to bed.

This morning, I pulled the bowl of dough out of the fridge, oiled a pan, pushed the dough into place, letting it rest a bit both to warm up and to relax so I could push it into the corners. I crushed some garlic and mixed it with olive oil and brushed that on the dough. And then I rubbed some dried thyme between my palms and sprinkled that about. And some coarse sea salt. And a few passes with the pepper mill. And I popped the pan into a 400 degree oven for 35 minutes and figured either it would turn out or it wouldn't.

I'm happy to report that it did. I should have oiled the pan a bit more. The loaf was a little fussy about releasing, but I slid my spatula around the perimeter and it acquiesced.

And I let it cool a bit and cut it into squares and handed one to mom, who had stopped by, and took one for myself, and we noshed and declared this particular experiment a success.

So it's kind of focaccia, but without olive oil in the dough because I didn't set out to make focaccia, per se. I just baked it in that style. But it's right tasty, a bit too heavy on the sea salt this time, but it will toast up nicely or make a nice sandwich or be happy to be eaten plain.

And my house smells amazing.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Magic ...

I will never cease to be amazed by the magic that is the baking of bread. Simple ingredients and time produce such humble yet delightful food. The aroma while it bakes, the comfort of a warm slice spread thickly with soft butter. Heaven.

(The recipe for this bread is here.)