Tuesdays With Dorie: Baking Powder Biscuits

Summer patio breakfast: sliced fresh peaches, scrambled Beatrice egg, perfect Spouse-made latte, and a warm-from-the-oven baking powder biscuit laden with organic butter and homemade raspberry jam. Cozy winter fireside dinner: minestrone of winter vegetables with a grating of parmesan, Unti Segromigno, and a warm-from-the-oven baking powder biscuit to sop up the broth. Late spring afternoon tea: sliced strawberries with barely sweetened whipped cream all over a warm-from-the-oven baking powder biscuit. Who cares about the tea! Biscuits: easier than pie and able to be dressed for any meal.

As with all baked goods, achieving a light, flakey biscuit requires some technique. One needs to keep a light hand when incorporating the shortening, when mixing in the milk, and especially, when kneading the dough. While I have made biscuits for years, I had never tried the Baking With Julia recipe until today. I was happy to see, in Baking With Julia, that Dorie references the expression, “she has a good biscuit hand,” a fine compliment for a biscuit baker. The technique in the book is straightforward and I found the instructions clear. I strayed from the recipe as written by using a blend of flours and rather than use “solid vegetable shortening”, I used organic butter.

As always, be ready.
As always, be ready.
A mix of white whole wheat, red whole wheat, and unbleached white flour, baking powder, salt, butter.
A mix of white whole wheat, red whole wheat, and unbleached white flour, baking powder, salt, butter.
Butter in varying degrees of chunkiness.
Butter in varying degrees of chunkiness.
Just-combined.
Just combined.
Use a bench knife or bowl scraper to help with the loose, wet dough.
Use a bench knife or bowl scraper to help with the loose, wet dough.
Lightly kneaded-no more than 10 turns.
Lightly kneaded-no more than 10 turns.
Roll gently or pat out the dough; thickness dependent on need and size of cutter.
Roll gently or pat out the dough; thickness dependent on need and size of cutter.
Ready for oven.
Ready for oven.
Mostly whole wheat with a little more butter and some raspberry jam.
Mostly whole wheat with a little more butter and some raspberry jam.

 

 

Biscuits are homey food, often with regional differences that some take very seriously. If you’ve never made biscuits like this, you should. Begin with any recipe from a reliable source, including this one from Baking With Julia. Try the recipe as written, usually using only all-purpose flour. All-purpose flour ensures higher chances at a better rise, and you won’t, potentially, need to fiddle with any extra liquid that whole wheat sometimes requires. If your first attempt is more hockey puck than flakey, try again. Biscuits are worth the time and learning effort.

For no reason I know of, my family, well at least my sisters and I, began referring to the little backsides of very small humans as biscuits. When my nieces were very, very young, when my nephews were very, very young, when Junior himself was very, very young, their backsides, while thankfully sharing little in comparison except for shape, were likened to the flakey, golden-brown, disc-shaped baked good known as a biscuit. As with so many folksy expressions, I don’t know the why or from where of this one, but I will leave any attempt at further analysis for another time, in another post, on another blog. In the meantime, I think I’ll have another latte.

Cheers!

Baking Powder Biscuits • Baking With Julia • Contributing Baker: Marion Cunningham • pages 211-212

 

Tuesdays With Dorie: Vanilla Pound Cake

It is officially summer in Western Washington. All of the 40F degrees and rain of (especially) November, February, and March are a distant and hazy memory. The gardens are relentless in their demand for water, raspberries ripen daily, hollering “pick me! pick me!”, dinners cooked and served al fresco, Junior entertaining us in the small but useful above-ground pool.

The cusp of this glorious summer had my sister getting married, and me working to make the after-party happen. While the caterers handled the delicious and very authentic taco bar and sides, I and some others worked magic for the dessert table. The varied array looked lovely and yummy! One of my offerings was to turn this flourless chocolate cake into pretty 3-bite morsels. I found the pan I wanted, but needed to test it on something here at home. As the Vanilla Pound Cake from Baking With Julia suggested using a tube or Bundt pan, I baked the cake as minis.

When I think pound cake, my mind  jumps to lemon. I love lemon pound cake, every sugary, dense, buttery bit of it. I had never made nor tasted any pound cake other than lemon. (OK-I may have had some Sara Lee from the freezer case at a potluck during a past life but that could never count.) This recipe is a straight-forward, everything at room temperature butter cake. Here’s what I did!

Mise en place
Mise en place
Sifted
Sifted
Sugar waiting to join butter
Sugar waiting to join butter
Eggs waiting to join sugar & butter
Eggs waiting to join sugar & butter
Flour taking turns with milk while vanilla looks on
Flour taking turns with milk while vanilla looks on
Cute cakes cooling
Cute cakes cooling
Just-picked raspberries and a powdered sugar dusting
Just-picked raspberries and a powdered sugar dusting

My new pan worked beautifully. Recipe formulation always takes into account the size of pan a cake will bake in. As I veered greatly from the pan size for this recipe, I had to guess on bake time. I stayed close to the oven and was happy with the result. The recipe calls to cut the cooled cake into slices, but the mini cakes were perfect to serve whole. The cakes were sweet, sturdy and tender, only lacking a dollop of whipped cream to keep the berries company. Rather than send all the extras to Spouse’s break room, I have several cakes Ziploc’d in my freezer, waiting to serve summer guests on the patio. As for the wedding chocolate cakes, they were light, moist, very chocolately, and the first thing to disappear from the buffet. Cheers!

Vanilla Pound Cake • Baking With Julia • Contributing Baker: Flo Braker • pages 251-252

Tuesdays With Dorie: Buttermilk Scones

Fumbling around the internet for cookie recipes or cake recipes made with lower amounts of sugar, seeking the What Happens When of reducing sugar in a recipe, trawling the sea of information for specifics that could only really be found in the mind of a food scientist or seasoned pastry chef, I bumped into Tuesdays With Dorie. Tuesdays With Dorie is a blog designed for people with blogs wishing to work through the recipes of Baking With Julia, and other books by Dorie Greenspan, over the course of a year, posting results on, yes, a Tuesday. As usual with internet searches, this was not what I was looking for but, intrigued, I signed up. I got the green light from the TWD élite in time for a March start.

I have owned Baking With Julia since purchasing my First Edition copy the year published, in 1996. I had fallen headlong in love with cooking and baking, was taking classes, feeding family and friends and coworkers, dreaming of little cafes. This book is a companion piece to one of Julia Childs’ PBS cooking shows. The series filmed in her kitchen, has the illustrious Julia keeping company with a variety of breadmakers, pastry chefs, restaurant owners, cookbook writers, each creating some of their signature baked items for her. I never watched many of the PBS episodes but have fiddled with several recipes in this book. For any number of reasons with me and cookbooks, I found the 2 or 3 recipes that became standards, and have rarely picked up the book since. Tuesdays With Dorie sounded like a motivating way to give the book another look and write more posts here. Happily, the first assignment for March is one of my standards: Buttermilk Scones.

One stipulation of TWD is that we are not to include recipes in our posts, instead encouraging others to purchase the beautiful book for themselves. For this rendition of scones, I have measured equal parts just-ground whole wheat and organic white unbleached all-purpose flours, salt, leaveners, cold butter in pieces, and coconut palm sugar. (Always try new recipes as written, then give yourself permission to try different flours or sugars or mix-ins, as long as they are in kind.)

mise en place
mise en place

The original method calls for combining the dry ingredients in a large bowl, and for working in the cold butter with fingers, a pastry cutter, or a knife & fork. I am comfortable with this method, but usually use a food processor for this first step of the process.

flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, and lemon zest
Ready for pulsing.

A food processor is powerful, so pulsing the mixture into a coarse meal happens in less than a minute. I am able to keep the cold butter away from my warm hands, processing it quickly so it stays cold. At this point, I pour the flour/butter mixture into a mixing bowl before adding the liquid.

Ready for buttermilk
Ready for buttermilk.

As these scones are Buttermilk Scones, the recipe calls for buttermilk. When I have buttermilk on hand, I always save 1 cup for scone-making. The slightly sour, thick liquid works a magic with the other ingredients. When I don’t have buttermilk, I can use 1 tablespoon of vinegar + enough milk to make 1 cup total. The recipe calls for lemon or orange zest to be added along with the buttermilk. I zest the fruit over the food processor bowl instead, letting the long strands from my zester pulse with the butter. Also at this point, you can add a few currants or other diced plump dried fruit. I have even mixed in blueberries or pieces of firm pear with great success. I mix the flour and milk with a fork until combined. Like biscuits, scones don’t want to be overworked. While still in the bowl, I work the dough/batter with my hand, kneading gently until I can gather into a ball.

Ready for the work surface.
Ready for the work surface.

On the counter, I gently knead the mass for 2 or 3 more turns. The ball of dough is then divided in half, flattened into disks, brushed with melted butter, and cut into wedges. The disks should be 6- to 7-inches in diameter. You can also sprinkle extra sugar over the brushed-on butter.

Ready for cutting.
Ready for cutting.

For tiny scones, I create 3 disks instead of 2, with a diameter of 4-inches or so. This makes a nice size scone for a tea-tray. With all the cut scones positioned on a parchment-lined baking sheet, we are ready for a hot oven.

Ready for the oven.
Ready for the oven.

These scones only bake for 10-12 minutes. The hot oven of 425F gets the cold butter melted, leaving little caverns for the steam and leaveners to push out further. The result, even with the whole wheat I use, is some lovely light, flakey, crisp outside, tender inside just-baked yum.

Mmmmm
Mmmmm!

With the light glistening off my mirabelle plum jam, I will excuse myself now to go enjoy some Baking With Julia goodness.

Buttermilk Scones • Baking With Julia • Contributing Baker: Marion Cunningham • pages 210-211