Sunday, March 27, 2011

Drop in for breakfast

I don't use maple syrup very much.  When I was growing up, my dad was the only one in the house who used real maple syrup on his pancakes, etc.  The rest of us used pancake syrup (not the same thing at all).  Dad got the real butter, too, rather than margarine.  It wasn't until I was much older that I realized what a good thing he had going. =)  To be honest, my kids eat Log Cabin and like it just fine, but I don't know how much of that is just because they haven't had the real thing.  I'm kind of afraid to find out.  

I definitely associate maple syrup with breakfast, but hadn't thought past drizzling it on top of things.  Sure, I've encountered recipes that used it, but nothing that really grabbed my attention.  Nothing, that is, until I got my copy of Joanne Chang's Flour cookbook.  The very first recipe in the book is for Oatmeal-Maple Scones.  Yum.  I don't like to eat oatmeal as hot cereal (can't stand the texture), but I love it in baked goods like scones.  And these scones are really easy to make, even when you aren't quite awake yet.

These are drop scones, meaning that you scoop them out onto the baking sheet, rather than patting out dough and cutting it into shapes.  So the dough is rather sticky.  The only sweetener is the maple syrup; it also provides moisture in the dough, along with cream and an egg.  For the dry ingredients, there's a mix of all-purpose flour and rolled oats, along with baking powder, baking soda and salt.  The recipe calls for nuts, but they aren't very popular in baked goods around here, so I left them out.  I've used raisins in these a couple times, but for the most recent batch, I went with cinnamon chips.

I was a bit surprised by the baking temperature of 350ºF, since most of the other recipes I've made call for baking scones at a higher temperature (usually 400ºF).  To go with the lower temp, the baking time is longer.  I didn't bake mine for quite as long as the recipe said, only 25 minutes instead of 40.  That was partly because I made mine smaller, but if I'd made them the size in the recipe, I still don't thing they would have taken that long.  

We had to have the glaze, of course.  To be honest, I usually kind of wing it on the glaze.  I put some powdered sugar in a bowl and whisked in a couple tablespoons of maple syrup along with just enough water to make thick glaze.  Rather than brushing it all over the scones, I drizzled it on top--I prefer how it looks that way.  

The verdict?  Well, I've made these scones three times already, so that should give you an idea of how much I love them!  I liked them just fine with raisins, and so did Gillian.   But Brianna was very happy that I finally made a batch without dried fruit.  (She liked to eat it straight up, but not in baked goods.)  These scones also went over well at work.  

If you'd like to try these for yourself, I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of Flour.  But in the in meantime, you can find the recipe for these yummy scones online here.  Unfortunately, the article only gives the volume measurements, which frustrates me to no end.  One of the things I love so much about this book is that every recipe includes weights in grams in addition to the volume measurements.  So I'm listing the weights of ingredients for you here.

Oatmeal-Maple Scones
(adapted from Flour, by Joanne Chang)

210 grams all-purpose flour
125 grams rolled oats
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
80 grams cinnamon chips (or raisins)
113 grams (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
80 grams cold heavy cream
160 grams Grade B maple syrup
1 cold egg

115 grams powdered sugar
2 tablespoons Grade B maple syrup
up to 1 tablespoon water

I used my #16 disher (which holds 2 ounces, or 1/4 cup) to scoop out my scones.  I got 12, rather than the yield of 8 in the recipe.  I baked them for 25 minutes at 350ºF.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A day late and a few kernels short

I'm behind, as usual.  I actually managed to make this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe on Sunday.  Jill of My Next Life picked the Corniest Corn Muffins for us to make this week.  I took pictures that I was happy with.  And then Monday rolled around, and I had to work.  Work has been nuts.  It was all I could do to come home and get kids showered, fed and put to bed before I collapsed myself.  Tuesday was worse, since I got home late.  But thankfully today was better.  I managed to escape from work a few hours early.  (I'll more than make up for it when I work on Saturday.)  I was able to go get a massage.  I knew I was tense, but I didn't realize just how knotted up my neck and back were.  Make that, still are.  I really need to go back once my sore muscles recover from today.  The trick is going to be finding the time.  I also got to pick up the girls early, got all the other stuff done early, and actually got them to bed early.  Amazing.  That allowed me to have a fairly relaxing evening.  I even found the motivation to write this post and make pizza dough for tomorrow's dinner.  Obviously I need to put my children to bed early more often. =)  (Easier said than done, most days...)  So what sort of things do you all do to alleviate stress?  Especially when you don't have much time to do anything that isn't absolutely necessary?

The recipe says that these are the "corniest."  Mine are not, since there was no way that I was going to put whole corn kernels in my muffins.  I tried that once before when making cornbread, and determined once and for all that I prefer my corn muffins with just cornmeal.  Aside from leaving out the whole corn, I didn't mess with the recipe very much.  I used canola oil rather that corn oil, since that's what I have on hand.  I didn't add the optional nutmeg, though I may do that next time, since I do like it.  I substituted creme fraiche for half of the buttermilk--I have a bunch that I've been trying to use up.  My favorite corn muffin recipe uses sour cream and milk, so I figured it was worth trying a combination of creme fraiche and buttermilk in these.  I used my #16 disher (which holds 2 ounces, or 1/4 cup) to portion the batter and ended up with 9 muffins.  (I assume my yield was low because I didn't add the corn.)  I baked them for 15 minutes at 400ºF.

The verdict?  As Brianna likes to say, these were okay, but not my favorite.  I think the use of creme fraiche was good.  But I think that I didn't bake the muffins long enough--they needed just a few more minutes.  The muffins seemed baked, but a bit gummy in the middle.  I should really give the recipe another try, especially since I've read lots of rave reviews.  But even if the muffins turn out better, I'm not sure they'll take over the top spot as my favorite corn muffin.  (I really need to blog about those one of these days.)

If you'd like to give these a try for yourself, either with or without corn kernels, you can find the recipe on Jill's blog.  And to see what everyone else did this week, check out the Links.    

Monday, March 7, 2011

Beard on bread

Isn't technology great?  The photo above is a picture of my breakfast, as it was sitting next to my laptop one morning.  There's a card table in my living room, which is the home of whatever jigsaw puzzle Brianna is working on at the moment.  It's also the most common resting spot for my laptop.  I love wifi, and the flexibility of being able to move my computer around the house--especially onto the kitchen table. =)  (Our desktop computer is also in the kitchen, but isn't quite as convenient.)  I recently bought myself an iPod touch, and already I'm spoiled by the fact that it's even more portable than the laptop.  I'm still trying to make the most of it, though.  Any good suggestions for apps that I really need to have?

Speaking of things we need to have, good bread for toast is definitely high on the list.  I don't really like typical "sandwich bread" for sandwiches.  Give me some ciabatta or slices from a sourdough batard.  But those loaf pan breads with a soft crumb are the ones I reach for when making toast.  I have several that I really enjoy, but I like trying new recipes as well.  Thanks to some of my Twitter buddies, we're all trying new things, in fact.  We decided to focus on a different chef each month and make some of their recipes.  We're posting pictures of the things we've made as our Twitter avatars for the month.  Since I blog about baking, I'm looking for baked goods from each of the chefs.  For February, Nancy picked James Beard.  I was happy to find that there are a lot of his recipes online.  It didn't take me long to narrow down my choice to some sort of bread.  As it turned out, my final pick was from Beard on Food, rather than Beard on Bread.  

Since I was thinking about toast and breakfast, Oatmeal Bread sounded like a really good idea.  I hate eating oatmeal as cereal (it's the texture that I don't like).  But oats in baked goods are fine.  The recipe is pretty straightforward, and it gave me a chance to use my dough whisk.  I did make a few adjustments.  I only have instant yeast on hand, so that's what I used, reducing the amount to 10 grams.  I used a weight of 125 grams per cup of all purpose flour.  The recipe calls for 9"x5" loaf pans, but I used my 8 1/2"x4 1/2" Pyrex pans.  The recipe makes two loaves, and I added a cinnamon raisin swirl to one.  After patting the dough out into a rectangle, I sprinkled it liberally with cinnamon sugar and raisins.  Then I rolled it up and put it into the loaf pan.  I also sprinkled the top of the loaf with more cinnamon sugar before putting it in the oven.  The baking time of an hour seemed a bit long to me, and sure enough, my loaves were done sooner.  The plain loaf took 40 minutes, and the raisin one baked for 50 minutes. 

The verdict?  This is definitely excellent toast bread.  I especially enjoyed the raisin version.  Gillian was happy to help me eat it, too.  As I expected, Brianna liked the plain version better.  None of us liked it all that much for sandwiches, but that's okay.  More for toast that way. =)

Want to try this one for yourself?  You can find this recipe (and lots of others) on the James Beard Foundation's website.  

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Shake it up, baby

I have a few favorite comic strips on the side of my refrigerator.  Most have to do with food.  One is from Baby Blues (a hilarious strip for anyone with kids).  Darryl and Wanda are sitting across the kitchen table from each other, with a recipe box in between them.  

Wanda: What should we have for dinner tonight?
Darryl: Let's see...We had hamburger Monday night...We had chicken last night...
Darryl: Unless I'm mistaken it's hamburger's turn again.
Wanda: Is it just me, or does it seem like we're in a food rut?

Raise your hand if you know the feeling... =)

I've been feeling like I'm in a rut lately.  About just about everything.  I need something to shake me out of it, but I'm still trying to figure out what.  Food seems like a good place to start, since I spend so much of my time focused on it.  I don't blog about savory food, but I cook a lot.  It seems like lately we've been eating the same things over and over.  Some of that is because I'm trying to come up with quick things so I can get the girls to bed (and that's another post).  Some is just because I don't know where to start looking for new ideas.  Any suggestions for new things to try?

I don't have as much trouble with baking, especially since being a part of blogging groups forces me to try new things.  But I've been having a hard time finding the motivation to make stuff lately--even Tuesdays with Dorie hasn't been inspiring me as much.  Thank goodness for my friends on Twitter.  I'm more likely to want to make something when others are making it at the same time.  That's what several of us did on Sunday morning for Christine's pick of Chocolate Pots de Creme. 

Making custardy things can be a little scary, but in this case, the oven does most of the work for you.  For this chocolate version of pots de creme, you start off by making ganache with the chocolate and some of the cream.  I used a mix of El Rey 58% and 70% (what I had on hand).  I didn't have whole milk, so I used a bit more cream in place of a bit of the milk.  I also cheated and heated my milk/cream mixture in the microwave.  While it was heating, I whisked the yolks and whole egg together, then gradually whisked in the sugar and a very generous pinch of salt.  The milk was then gradually whisked into the egg mixture and then the whole thing was stirred into the ganache.

The recipe calls for eight 4-ounce ramekins.  I only have four, so I used those and four 6-ounce ones.  I'm glad I did, since my custard mixture filled them nicely.  I didn't want to get out my big roasting pan, but I couldn't get the cups to fit into my 13"x9" pan, so I had to use it.  And then I had to heat more water for the water bath, because the roasting pan is so darn big. =)  But finally I got it done, including covering the whole thing with foil, and got everything into the oven.  I checked at 30 minutes, and the custards were nicely set, with some jiggle left in the middle.  After a 10-minute rest in the pan on the stovetop, the custards were a little more firm.  Perfect.  I took the cups out of the water bath, let them cool to room temperature, then put them in the fridge.

The verdict?  Mmm.  The pots de creme were really good.  They have a lovely smooth texture.  After tasting the custard before baking, I wasn't how chocolatey it would be.  But after baking, the chocolate flavor was more intense, and it wasn't too sweet.  The pots de creme were a big hit with Brianna and Gillian, who love anything resembling chocolate pudding.  Of course, Jamie and I were happy to eat our share.  I'm not sure that this recipe will supplant my favorite (a non-baked version from Cook's Illustrated), but I'm really glad I tried it.

If you'd like to try these for yourself, Christine will have it on her blog.  Or you can just get a copy of the book for yourself. =)  To see what everyone else thought of this recipe, check out this week's Links.

Two more quick things...  In another effort to shake myself out of my rut, I decided to play around with my blog's design.  I pretty much hadn't touched it since I first set it up over three years ago.  What you do you think?  And you just never know when something unexpected will inspire you.  When I was going to take pictures of my pots de creme, Jamie was sitting at the kitchen table, in my usual photography spot.  Rather than disturb him, I looked around the house for another place to take pictures.  I ended up in the front room of the house, in my girls' play kitchen area.  Their little table is up against a window, and the light was great.  I'm really happy with how the pictures turned out.  So it never hurts to try something new.