Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pies & Thighs Biscuits

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and since I can't find the photo of the Sweet Potato Pound Cake I was going to post, I made biscuits instead.

This is now my favorite biscuit. Not just because of the name Pies 'n' Thighs, for the restaurant from whence they came, but I do enjoy saying the name, over and over, a biscuit making mantra. For a northern gal, I have made and eaten hundreds of biscuits. I have have rolled and patted, because even if tonight's dinner is just a salad, a good biscuit completes the meal.

This is a soft and flaky biscuit, yet almost meaty in its satisfying bite. Perfect with fried chicken (thighs!) or with smoked ham leftover turkey in a sandwich, but delicious fresh with good honey for breakfast.

These seem like a lot of work, but not really. I usually start the dough after dinner the night before serving them. In the morning, I mix in the buttermilk, pat/roll them out, and put the biscuit rounds in the freezer while the oven preheats. I bake one sheet for breakfast, and leave the other pan, well-wrapped, in the freezer for another day.

Baker's Notes: These are meant to be eaten with savory foods, they are saltier than regular biscuits. I found them a bit too salty, so I cut back the kosher salt to 1 tablespoon. Pastry flour is hard to find, I've had good results making my own, using half cake flour, half all-purpose flour.

Pies & Thighs Biscuits
adapted from, recipe by Sarah Buck

  •     2 ¼    cup    pastry flour -- (use equal parts cake and all-purpose flours)
  •     2 ½    teaspoons    sugar
  •     2    tablespoons    plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
  •     1    scant tablespoon    kosher salt
  •     1 ½    cups  plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter -- chilled and cut into  pieces
  •     6    cups    all-purpose flour -- plus more for work surface
  •     3 ¼    cups    buttermilk
  •     1    large    egg -- beaten
  •     2    tablespoons    heavy cream (milk will work)

Place pastry flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a food processor; pulse until well combined; add butter and pulse until mixture resembles a coarse meal. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in  all-purpose flour. Chill this mixture for at least an hour. (Try doing this the night before, seal well and store in the refrigerator.)

Preheat oven to 425°F degrees. Get at least two baking sheets ready and set aside. If you plan to bake two sheets at a time, set your oven racks to the upper and lower thirds of the oven. If you want to bake one at a time, use the center rack.

Add buttermilk to chilled flour mixture and mix until dough comes together. Turn dough out onto a floured work surface and bring together using the heel of your hand. Pat dough out to 1½ inch thick and cut into 16 biscuits using a 3-by-2-inch round biscuit cutter, rerolling scraps as necessary; transfer to baking sheet, leaving at least an inch between each biscuit. Put the filled baking sheet in the freezer for 5 minutes, this isn't absolutely necessary, but it keeps the biscuits from spreading, particularly if your kitchen is warm.

In a small bowl, whisk together egg and cream; brush biscuits and transfer to oven and bake for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to 400 degrees and continue baking until golden brown, about 20-22 minutes more. If your dough sat in the feezer overnight, add 3-4 minutes baking time.

Let cool 5 minutes on baking sheet before serving, they need that 5 minutes to finish baking in the middle.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Buttermilk Sandwich Loaf

For years now, we've been all about slow bread. Overnight rises, no-kneading, almost no-kneading, storing bread dough in the fridge. I've been happy to turn out crusty artisanal loaves in my dutch oven, so my bread pans have been saved for other things, like oatmeal loaves and pound cakes. Then, a few weeks ago, my life changed completely. It's not really an exaggeration. One day, I'm reading the weekly newsletter from Leite's Culinaria, and a recipe by Elinor Klivans, one of my favorite cookbook authors pops up. White sandwich bread? In about two hours, start to finish? Can't be good, it's just not right. But Elinor Klivans and I go back a few years, she written many wonderful cookbooks, my favorite being 125 Cookies to Bake, Nibble and Savor.

I know its a bit odd to get so excited about a loaf of white sandwich bread, but really, this bread is not only delicious, but quick and easy to make. There's only one rise, and it's in the pan. I don't have to plan my whole afternoon around a slow rise, this one is ready in about 45 minutes.

I'm not giving up my no-knead breads, but I feel like I just learned a whole new skill.

Baker's Notes: I've made this multiple times, it's quite a forgiving recipe. Unbleached flour is better, but all-purpose will work fine. I like the color and flavor a bit of whole wheat flour adds, so I replaced just ½ cup of the white flour in the first addition. It's better with buttermilk, but you can use a couple spoonfuls of plain yogurt stirred into regular milk in a pinch.

The recipe as written seems to propose letting the dough rise in the pan only up to the rim. I let my dough crest about 1 inch over the rim. You will want to use a timer, both to time the mixer and the rise, the former is longer than usual and the later is much shorter. Warming the buttermilk isn't tricky, mine always seems to break or curdle right about 130°, so if you don't have a thermometer, try using that as an indicator.

Buttermilk Sandwich Loaf

adapted from Fast Breads: 50 Recipes for Easy, Delicious Bread

  • 1 ¼ cups buttermilk (any fat content)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter,  cold or room temperature, plus more for slicking the pan
  • 3 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I subbed ½ cup whole wheat flour)
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon wheat bran (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons (a ¼-ounce packet) instant yeast
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons melted butter for brushing the loaf

Butter a 9-by-5-by-3-in loaf pan. My pan is actually a bit larger, it works fine.

In a small saucepan, heat the buttermilk and butter over medium heat until it registers about 130ºF(54°C) on an instant-read or candy thermometer. My buttermilk breaks every time, don't worry, it'll be fine. Remove from the heat.

In a stand mixer fit with the flat beater, mix together 1½ cups of the flour (or 1 cup flour, and ½ cup whole wheat flour), the sugar, wheat bran (if using), salt, and yeast on low speed just until combined. Add the warm buttermilk mixture and mix until all the ingredients are smooth and combined. Add the egg and continue beating for 1 minute. Add the remaining 1¾ cups flour and continue mixing for 5 minutes. The dough will be sticky and will not come away from the sides of the bowl. 

Scrape the dough into the prepared pan and brush the top with the melted butter. Cover the pan loosely with waxed paper and let the dough rise to within 1 inch of the top of the pan (I let my dough rise to about an inch over the rim), about 25-40 minutes. Set your timer, otherwise you'll forget, guess how I know? Position a rack in the middle or lower third of the oven and preheat it to 375ºF.

Bake the loaf until the top feels firm and is browned, about 40 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then turn out onto the rack and let cool completely before slicing. Keeps well in a plastic bag for at least 3 days.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Oatmeal-Graham Bread (#2)

The weather last weekend was alternatively rainy or hot, which meant there was almost no gardening accomplished at our house. I was stuck in the house baking, poor me. Included on the menu was another oatmeal bread, this time from Beth Hensberger's Bread for All Seasons, which I've owned for years but hadn't tried.

This bread bakes up beautifully, with a dark brown crust coated with sesame seeds. Not nearly as sweet as Oatmeal Bread #1, but instead I detected a slightly sour, almost fermented flavor. I'm hardly an expert on yeast breads, but I suspect that the greater amount of yeast might be the cause. Still,  the loaves were cheerfully devoured, mostly as breakfast toast on busy mornings.

Baker's Notes: Some coarse grind whole wheat flour is referred to as graham flour, it just has a bit more flavor, which is useful in bread recipes. Sometimes I buy Hodgson Mill wheat flour for this reason, otherwise I use the always reliable King Arthur Whole Wheat Flour.  I used my trusty stand mixer for this recipe, but a wooden spoon and a strong arm would work just as well. I do love maple syrup, but it's more expensive than honey, use what you prefer. I keep sesame seeds in the freezer so they don't go rancid. Buy them in the bulk section at Whole Foods or your local natural foods store, much cheaper that way.

Oatmeal-Graham Bread
adapted from: Bread for all Seasons

  •     2    cups    boiling water
  •     1    cup    rolled oats
  •     ½    cup    honey or maple syrup
  •     4    tablespoons    unsalted butter
  •     1 ½    tablespoons    active dry yeast
  •     pinch of   sugar
  •     ¼    cup    warm water
  •     2    teaspoons    salt
  •     1 ½    cups    graham or whole wheat flour
  •     2 ½-3    cups     unbleached all purpose flour
  •     extra rolled oats for sprinkling
  •     1       egg yolk
  •     2    tablespoons    sesame seeds

In a large bowl or the work bowl of a stand mixer, por the boiling water over the oatmeal. Add the honey or maple syrup and butter, stir to mix thoroughly. You can use a wooden spoon, but I used the paddle attachment on my mixer, since I was going to continue using it later. Let this mixture cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, soften the yeast in the warm (not hot) water, adding the pinch of sugar. The  should foam up in 5-15 minutes.

Add the yeast mixture to the (now room temperature) oatmeal. Add the salt, whole wheat flour, and 1 cup of the unbleached flour. Beat hard until smooth - about a minute. Add the remaining unbleached flour,  ½ cup at a time, until a soft sticky dough is formed, that just clears the sides of the bowl.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until soft and springy, about 3 minutes, adding only a tablespoon of flour at a time as necessary to prevent sticking. The dough will feel nubby and slightly tacky. Place in a deep oiled bowl, turn once to coat the top, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1½ to 2 hours.

When risen, turn the dough out onto the work surface and press it down gently to deflate it. Divide the dough in half and shape it into two loaves. Grease or spray the baking pans (I used 8½" by 4½") and sprinkle oatmeal all over the bottom and sides. Place the dough in the pans, cover and let rise till doubled in bulk, the dough should be an inch above the pan's rim, 45 minutes to an hour. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat oven to 375°F, and move the oven rack to the lower third position.

Gently brush the top of the loaf with beaten egg yolk, and sprinkle each with 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds. , Bake for 35 - 40 minutes, the loaves should be browned. Remove from pans, then let cool completely on racks.

Friday, May 27, 2011

"The Chewy" Pretzel Cookie

This week, Charlie asked me for a chocolate chip cookie in her lunch, but I wanted to make something a bit different. I hadn't yet tried Alton Brown's famous Chewy cookie recipe, and since I had all the ingredients on hand. I decided to give it  a go.

We really liked the combination of pretzels and chocolate chip cookies in the Chocolate Chunk Pretzel Bars I made awhile back, so I decided to add some pretzels to these cookies as well. These make a nice, chewy but sturdy cookie, with crispy edges. While the texture is great, I found the flavor a bit underwhelming. I prefer a richer, butterscotch flavor in this kind of cookie. However, my tasters loved them, and they keep well for a few days.

Baker's Notes: I weighed my ingredients, then went back and measured the volume, for those of you without a scale. Bread flour is available in supermarkets, I keep mine in in zipper-top bags in the freezer, since I don't use it frequently. If I make these again, I'd swap dark brown sugar for the light, for the richer flavor.

The Chewy Chocolate Chip Pretzel Cookie
adapted from
  • 8 ounces unsalted butter (2 sticks)
  • 12 ounces bread flour  (around 2 ½ cups)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 ounces granulated sugar
  • 8 ounces light brown sugar (1 ¼ cups)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 ounce whole milk (2 tablespoons)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (2 cups)
  • 1 ½ cups chopped pretzels

Melt the butter in a 2-quart saucepan over low heat. Set aside to cool slightly.

Sift together the flour, salt and baking soda onto a paper plate or a piece of waxed paper. Pour the butter into your stand mixer's work bowl. Add the sugar and brown sugar and beat with the paddle attachment on medium speed for 2 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together the whole egg, the egg yolk, milk and vanilla extract in a measuring cup. Reduce the mixer speed and slowly add the egg mixture. Mix until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds.

Using the paper plate as a slide, gradually integrate the dry ingredients, stopping a couple of times to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Once the flour is worked in, drop the speed to "stir" and add the chocolate chips. Cover and chill the dough for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 375°F and place racks in the top third and bottom third of the oven.

Scoop the dough into 1 1/2-ounce portions onto lined half sheet pans, 6 cookies per sheet. Bake 2 sheets at a time for 15 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. [I used a medium-sized cookie scoop, eight cookies to a pan, and baked them one at a time on the center rack for 11 minutes].

Remove from the oven, slide the parchment with the cookies onto a cooling rack and wait at least 5 minutes before devouring. If you're using silpat, let cool for a few minutes before moving the cookies to a rack to cool completely.

These cookies keep well, compared to most chocolate chip cookies, stored in an airtight container.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Easier Key Lime Pie

It's finally warming up here in Chicago, not warm enough yet for local strawberries, but enough to make me crave something cool and tart. Plus, limes were 10 for a dollar at my local grocer.

I was happy with my last Key Lime Pie, it's creamy and a bit puckery, which is how I like my pie. It is, however, a bit fussy to make. Over at the relish dish, a blog from Relish Magazine, Jill made a more classic key lime pie with only a few ingredients. Her technique was different though, you beat the heck out of the filling so it's fluffier. She got the idea from the Beachwalk Cafe in Florida while on vacation. Whatever the source, we loved this pie. Classic key lime flavor but a bit lighter in texture. I love graham cracker crusts and this one is substantial, so it holds up to the tart filling. This was an easy pie to make, and I'll definitely be serving it again.

Baker's Notes: The original recipe called for more cinnamon and nutmeg as an option, I thought a pinch or so was fine, but not essential. I never buy cracker crumbs, I just whiz them in the food processor, but do what you like. The recipe calls for regular limes and they are more plentiful and easier to juice than the smaller ones. I have some Boyajian Lime Oil in my pantry, which I will use a bit of next time to amp up the lime even more, but I wanted to keep it simple today. The whipped cream in the photo isn't from a can, I have a whipped cream dispenser, which makes and stores cream so you can top your desserts as needed.

Beachwalk Cafe Key Lime Pie
adapted from:

  •     2    cups    graham crackers crumbs  -- from almost two sleeves of crackers
  •     3    tablespoons    dark brown sugar
  •     pinch    ground cinnamon (optional)
  •     small pinch    ground nutmeg (optional)
  •     6    tablespoons    unsalted butter -- melted
  •     small pinch    salt
  •     4    large    egg yolks -- at room temperature
  •     grated zest from one lime
  •     14 oz can    sweetened condensed milk
  •     ½    cup   fresh lime juice -- from 5-6 limes
Combine crust ingredients in 9-inch pie plate. Press to form a crust. Chill 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°F. In a mixer bowl using the whisk attachment, beat egg yolks and zest on high speed for 8 minutes. Don’t skimp on this time– the eggs must be fluffy and well aerated. Gradually add the condensed milk and continue to beat until all of the milk is added and the filling is fluffy, about 6 -7 minutes. On low speed slowly add the key lime juice until evenly blended.  Beat 2 minutes. Pour filling into chilled pie shell.

Bake until filling appears set, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, cool completely.  Cover and refrigerate for at least three hours, or overnight.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mexican Chocolate Streusel Brownies

I love Mexican chocolate in the winter. If you've never had Mexican chocolate, it's a blend of chocolate, sugar, ground almonds and cinnamon that you melt in milk and then whisk into a deliciously spicy chocolate froth. So when I came across this recipe for brownies, I couldn't wait to try it. The Mexican chocolate is only in the topping, giving it a crunchy chocolate almond flavor. The brownies are made with regular unsweetened chocolate, and are nice and fudgy. I usually prefer a chewier texture, but the fudgy brownie is a great contrast to the crunchy streusel. These look great on the plate and would be a great addition to bake sales and picnics.

Baker's Notes: Mexican chocolate is carried in most supermarkets, it's usually in the ethnic foods aisle. Using the original recipe as a starting point, I decreased the cinnamon and almond extract and added espresso powder, yet I still thought the almond extract was overpowering. I'll keep tinkering until I get it just right, these brownies are worth it. I always chill my brownies for awhile before slicing, so the cuts are even. If you're chilling them overnight before slicing, make sure to wrap them well in plastic so they don't dry out.

Mexican Chocolate Streusel Brownies
adapted from

  •     ¾    cup    butter -- (6 oz) cut into chunks
  •     9    oz    unsweetened chocolate -- finely chopped
  •     1 ½    cups    firmly packed brown sugar
  •     1    cup    granulated sugar
  •     5    large    eggs
  •     1 ½    tablespoons    vanilla extract
  •     1     teaspoon    almond extract (I'm using less next time)
  •     1 ½    cups    all-purpose flour
  •     1     teaspoon    ground cinnamon
  •     ½    teaspoon    baking powder
  •     ½    teaspoon    salt
  •     ½    teaspoon    espresso powder
  •     ½    cup    all-purpose flour
  •     ¼    cup    brown sugar -- firmly packed
  •     5    tablespoons    unsalted butter -- cold
  •     4 ½    ounces    Mexican chocolate -- (like Ibarra brand), coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 325°F.  Rinse a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with cold water, shake out the excess but do not dry. Flip the pan over, and place an 18 inch piece of foil, shiny side down, over the pan, and then mold the foil over the pan. Remove the foil, flip the pan back over, and line the pan with the foil. The drops of water will help the foil cling to the pan. Butter or spray the foil (you can use the butter wrapper).

In a large bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, stir butter and unsweetened chocolate until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and whisk in brown sugar and granulated sugar. Add eggs one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Using a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, stir in vanilla and almond extract. Stir in flour, cinnamon, baking powder, espresso powder, and salt until well blended.

Spread batter level in the baking pan. Squeeze handfuls of the Mexican chocolate streusel until it sticks together, then crumble into chunks evenly over surface of batter.

Bake brownies in a 325° oven until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool in pan on a rack for an hour, then chill for another 30-60 minutes. Lift the brownies from the pan using the foil, then slice with a sharp knife into 24 or 32 squares.

Mexican chocolate streusel. In a food processor or a bowl, whirl or stir all-purpose flour and brown sugar until well blended. Add butter and whirl or rub in with your fingers until mixture forms coarse crumbs. Pulse in coarsely chopped Mexican chocolate (some larger chunks will remain), or chop finely with a knife and stir into flour mixture. Use immediately or chill airtight for up to 1 week.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

I had taken a couple months off from baking for the Night Ministry during tax season, but I really missed it. Not because I'm such a sharing and caring kind of gal (although I totally am), but I love to make big batches of chewy, satisfying cookies. I've made these for bake sales as well, they were a big hit. Usually, anything made with peanut butter and chocolate sells well at a bake sale, add some oatmeal and even the health conscious will indulge.

This only makes about 60 2½-inch cookies, which is small by big batch standards, but more than enough for the cookie jar. If you're not making them to give away, consider scooping out the dough onto a lined cookie sheet, freezing the dough balls until solid, then packing them in a freezer bag for another day. That way, you can have fresh cookies in minutes for guests or a weeknight treat. Just remember when baking from frozen dough to give the cookies a couple extra minutes in the oven.

Baker's Notes: This recipe is pretty great as is, I've made it twice now to rave reviews. I do wonder about the cocoa powder, should I increase it next time so the cookie has a stronger chocolate flavor? In this case, I think the cocoa adds to the texture of the cookie more than the flavor. I did increase the salt just a bit, I think the oatmeal needs it.

Oatmeal Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from Midwest Living

  •     3    cups  all-purpose flour
  •     2    cups   rolled oats
  •     3    tablespoons   unsweetened cocoa powder (natural, like Hershey's)
  •     2    teaspoons    baking soda
  •     heaping ½   teaspoon   salt (use less if using salted butter)
  •     2    cups    unsalted butter
  •     1    cup    chunky peanut butter
  •     1 ½    cups    sugar
  •     1 ½    cups    brown sugar -- packed
  •     3    eggs
  •     2    teaspoons   vanilla extract
  •     3    cups    semisweet chocolate chips

 In a bowl, stir together the flour, oats, unsweetened cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a mixing bowl, beat the butter and peanut butter with an electric mixer until combined. Add the granulated sugar and brown sugar; beat until combined. Add the eggs and vanilla. Beat the mixture well.

Add the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Stir in the semisweet chocolate pieces. Cover and rest the dough for an hour at room temperature or store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Drop dough by tablespoonfuls onto lined cookie sheets.

Bake cookies for 12 to 14 minutes or until cookies are golden brown. Let cool for 1 minute on cookie sheet before removing to wire rack. Makes about 60 cookies.
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