29 January 2010

Biscuits

I baked these biscuits as a contributing post for gourmet, unbound, which is a "collaborative monthly cooking celebration" in honor of the now defunct Gourmet Magazine. Each month, contributors pick a recipe from an issue of Gourmet of the corresponding month. This biscuit recipe is from February 1999.

I usually make biscuits with either buttermilk or yogurt. These call for cream, which I thought sounded luxurious. I found them to be very subtle. They reminded me of a good pie crust or shortbread cookie. I rolled mine a little too thin, so they were a bit drier than they probably would be if they had been thicker. They would make a great base for a real strawberry shortcake.

I chose biscuits for several reasons:
-My kitchen is in the midst of a renovation, so I needed something easy, which biscuits are.
-I think too many people are intimidated by biscuits- hence the success of canned or frozen biscuits. I want to show that they really are easy and not much more time consuming than canned/frozen.
-When presented with several recipes to chose from, the Texan said, "You know I like biscuits."
-And I really like biscuits, so how many more reasons could I possibly need?

Not only are biscuits easy. You probably have all the ingredients in your kitchen right now.
A few notes about ingredients:
-I believe that the fewer ingredients a recipe calls for, the more important the quality of the ingredients. There are only 5 ingredients in this recipe, so make them count.
-Flour- I started using King Arthur Flour (KAF) years ago because it was the only unbleached flour that I could find in my grocery store. That is no longer the case, but I stick with it because it has always given good results. Feel free to use any brand, including generic, just make sure that it is unbleached. It will taste better, and do you really want to eat bleach anyway?
-Baking Powder- I use Rumford because it doesn't have aluminum in it, another substance I would rather not eat.
-Salt- Use any fine salt; coarse salt won't work well because there isn't enough liquid in this recipe to dissolve the larger crystals.
-Butter- Unsalted, so that you can control the amount of salt that is added. And make sure to use real butter. Butter really is better, yum. Make sure it is cold, don't take it out of the fridge until you are ready to use it.
-Heavy cream- In a recipe like this I don't really notice any difference between the different types of cream, like heavy cream or whipping cream.

A pastry cutter is the only special equipment that will come in handy, though you can certainly make do without.

-Mix the flour, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. The recipe says to sift, but I don't. Just make sure that the baking powder and salt are well distributed in the flour.
-Cut the butter into small pieces. I first cut the stick in half longways.
Then cut those pieces in half longways.
Then cut these mini butter sticks into little pieces.
- Add the butter to the dry ingredients. Using the pastry cutter, cut the butter into the dry ingredients. If you haven't used a pastry cutter before, think of it like a potato masher. If you don't have a pastry cutter, you can just use your (clean) fingers to smoosh the butter into the flour. Some cookbooks also recommend using the tines of a fork, or two knives, though I have never had success with the knife method. Work the butter in until it resembles coarse meal with a few pea-sized chunks.
-Add the cream, stirring with a fork just until combined. It will be dry, chunky and flaky. That is OK. Flip this out onto your cutting board.
-The original recipe says to knead this into a cohesive dough, but I think knead is too strong of a word. This isn't yeast dough, where you are trying to develop the gluten. You just want this dough to hold together. So use the heel of your palm to press this out. A slight smearing motion will help it hold together.
The recipe says to knead 3 times, but basically you are trying to fold it three times. So press it into a rectangle, then fold in half. Repeat twice. After the last fold, press out to 1/2 inch. I pressed mine too thin, as seen in the following picture. Note to self, if in doubt, get a ruler.
-I am lazy efficient, so I make square biscuits. Sure, round are traditional, but they leave lots of scraps that need to be rerolled, etc. Also I have no idea where my biscuit cutters are right now. When you are cutting biscuits, whether using a knife, like I did, or a biscuit/cookie cutter, you want to press straight down. Don't twist or saw. I haven't ever done a true experiment with control groups, etc, to test this, but supposedly twisting the cutter will decrease the ability of the biscuit to rise. And you want nice fluffy biscuits, right?
Because I was trying to be a cool food blogger, I trimmed the edges, to get somewhat clean cut biscuits. If no one was looking, I would have just left the rough edges.
- Transfer biscuits to greased baking sheet, about 1 inch apart. (Though mine ended up further apart then that.)
See that biscuit in the top left corner? That is the one that I made by squishing the left-over edge pieces together. It also ended up being the thickest biscuit of the batch and therefore the best.
8-Brush tops with melted butter.
See that really neat pastry brush I'm using? My mom gave that to me for Christmas. It is made of silicone, so I can use it on hot things, (I melted my last pastry brush, it wasn't silicone.) and it is really easy to clean.
-Bake in a 425 degree oven for about 20 minutes, until pale golden.
10-Now scramble some eggs and cut up a grapefruit and you have a yummy breakfast. OK, you don't have to do that part, but that is what I did.

I know that seemed like a long and complicated recipe. But you can have biscuits ready for the oven in the time it takes for the oven to preheat.

Here is the short and simple version:

Biscuits

makes about 6 biscuits
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup cream
  1. Preheat oven to 425. Lightly grease a baking sheet
  2. Mix together flour, baking powder and salt in large bowl.
  3. Cut 5 tablespoons butter in pieces and blend into flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal.
  4. Stir in cream with a fork.
  5. Transfer mixture to a lightly floured surface (I didn't really need the extra flour), smoosh together dough and then fold in half and flatten 3 times.
  6. Pat dough into a 1/2 inch thick rectangle.
  7. Cut into 6 or 8 smaller rectangles and transfer to baking sheet.
  8. Melt remaining tablespoon of butter and brush onto tops of biscuits.
  9. Bake in middle of oven until pale golden and cooked through, about 20 minutes.
Enjoy!

22 January 2010

Distraught

Tomorrow, Saturday, January 23rd is National Pie Day!

This is a very important holiday- certainly as patriotic as Independence Day and as full of love as St. Valentine's Day.
So why am I distraught? Because I can't celebrate, or at least not in my own kitchen.
We are in the middle of a very exciting kitchen renovation. I am thrilled about everything we are doing to the kitchen. It's just that none of my appliances are usable at the moment and I don't have a counter top to roll a pie crust on. I have some apples in the back of the fridge that are calling out to be made into a pie, but alas, not this weekend.
I wonder if anyone would let me make a pie in their kitchen? If you have an oven and some counter space, give me a holler and if I get a break from working on the kitchen, I might bake a pie to share with you.

20 January 2010

River


I live on a river.

It's fairly shallow and quite calm.

An amazing amount of freshwater bivalves live in the river.

Living by a river is pretty cool.

Except when it erodes your land.

But we won't go there.

Happy 30th Birthday to my brother- Wishing you have a year of high water!

18 January 2010

Bread

I got a request for a post about the bread I have been baking. I aim to please, so here it is.

2010 is the year of bread here on the hay farm. For Christmas, the Texan gave me Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. To date, I have baked 8 loaves from 3 different recipes: the master recipe, challah, and bran. I also have a batch of the oatmeal bread waiting in my fridge.
Here is the first loaf of artisan bread that I made- ever.

Not to brag on myself, but I was amazed. This is the type of bread that I am always looking for in our little town. I figured it had to be really hard to make, or someone would be selling it. It's not hard though. Not hard at all. But first, about this bread.

It has a chewy crust! For me it is all about the crust. The interior isn't fluffy like the white bread style 'Italian bread' that is sold around here. But it isn't dense and heavy like I expected my first attempts to be.

A little bit about technique. (You really should buy the book, you will save enough to cover the cost by not buying expensive bread anymore.) The basic premise is that you mix a large batch of a wet dough that will keep in the fridge for a while- some recipes up to two weeks. Because it is a wet dough, it doesn't need to be kneaded, just stirred together. When you are ready for some fresh bread all you need to do is pull out some of the dough, shape it, let it rest a while and then bake it.
The great crusts are created by baking on a stone and introducing steam to the oven.

In the morning, I can shape some dough and let it rest while I eat breakfast. Then, I bake it while I finish getting ready for work. I leave it to cool on a rack while I am at work. When the Texan and I sit down for dinner, we have fresh bread, made that morning. I have been doing this pretty consistently since the new year and I think the small amount of time and effort is worth the reward.

This is the challah that I made. Yes, I realize that I only put poppy seeds on half. The Texan wasn't sure if he liked poppy seeds, so I was trying to be diplomatic. I think I should have let this batch rest just a few minutes longer before I baked it. It was delicious, just a little denser then I think it was supposed to be. The main reason I made the challah dough was to try out the recipes for some sweets.

These sticky buns were delicious. I made them with almonds instead of the pecans that were called for. I didn't have any pecans in the house, but I like almonds better anyway, so it worked out. These weren't overly sweet. I might add a little more cinnamon and nutmeg to the nut mixture that gets rolled inside.
I also made a turban shaped challah that had dried sweetened cranberries in it. I gave it to a family member, so I didn't get a chance to taste it. I sure hope it was good.

I don't have any great photos of the bran recipe. It is very similar to the master recipe, just with some wheat bran added for fiber and flavor. I liked this recipe, partly because I knew it was healthier then the all white flour master recipe. For the record, the Texan likes the master recipe best.
I like grains, especially whole grains, so I'm excited about the oatmeal bread. It has rolled oats, oat bran, wheat bran and some whole wheat flour. The only thing I am concerned about is that it is a loaf recipe. The authors advice that a non-stick pan must be used for the loaf recipes or they will stick hopelessly. I don't have non-stick loaf pans, and I don't really want to buy any. (Non-stick sort of scares me- all those chemicals.) I think I am going to just do free form loafs instead. I'll let you know how the oatmeal bread turns out
That is the amazing thing about Artisan Bread. Three weeks ago I was intimidated by yeast recipes, and now I feel confident enough that I am going to experiment. I'll keep you up to date with these experiments.

16 January 2010

Dillos

Whenever people from out of state come to visit, they want to see armadillos. I guess it's like going to NYC and seeing the Statue of Liberty. Or the pigeons.

Texas natives think of them as horrible pests. I have had more than one guest at my house ask why we don't just shoot them. My question (that I usually keep to myself) is: Isn't a dead dillo in your yard even more of a nuisance?

They do have a point, I could post an unlimited series of photos of the holes they dig in my yard.

But I will never be a real Texan, because I think they are so darn cute.

How could you shoot something that looks like this?

15 January 2010

Macro


As summer came to an end and the farm started to lose color,

I wondered what I would photograph over the winter.

Where would I be without the striking skies,

and verdant grass?

But then I started looking closer,

and using the macro setting on my camera.




08 January 2010

The farm circa 1850


OK, they didn't really make round bales back then. I've just been having fun with sepia.


07 January 2010

A Blue Long Night Moon


I really like the names of the full moons. It's like learning a different language for the passage of time. It's a reminder of a time when the seasons affected daily life.

A blue moon is the second full moon in one month. We have a blue moon once every 2.72 years.

01 January 2010

Welcome to 2010!