Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Cinnamon Chip Scones


I love scones. They come together quickly, have almost limitless possibility for either sweet or savory variations, and they almost always come out perfectly. Plus, they're one of my go-to recipes for the day before grocery-shopping day, when it seems like Mother Hubbard has one up on me -- no eggs? No problem. No milk? No problem. You can be pretty flexible with scones.

Scones are best served hot from the oven, or at least within a few hours of when they were made. Unlike muffins and other moist quick breads, scones don't really keep well. If you'd like to streamline the process, just mix up the dry ingredients beforehand, store them in a container with a tight-fitting lid, and then all you have to do is preheat your oven and add your liquids and you're good to go.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Honey Oatmeal Bread

What can I tell you about this bread that will possibly capture how good it is? Well, I can tell you how wonderful it tastes: lightly honey-sweet, flecked with yellow millet and nutty sunflower seeds. I can tell you that it has a firm, moist crumb that slices beautifully for sandwiches or toast. I can even tell you that it's one of the least temperamental yeast bread recipes I've worked with. But what I can't tell you is how unbelievably good your kitchen - your whole house - will smell while this bread is baking. The aroma alone is worth baking this bread for. Don't believe me? Try it one time . . . you'll see.

This is a good loaf bread to keep on hand as a staple. Keep a few loaves in the freezer, and defrost one at room temperature when you need fresh bread.

Butter it and drizzle some honey over the top, and you have breakfast. Serve it warm alongside soup or a salad for lunch. Chicken salad or peanut butter and banana would be right at home between two slices. The crumb is dense enough to hold together in the toaster, and this is a good way to freshen up day-old bread.

Honey Oatmeal Bread*

1 cup rolled oats
11/3 cups boiling water
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup honey
2 envelopes instant dry yeast (can use regular active dry yeast)
1/2 cup warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground dried ginger
51/2 cups unbleached white flour, divided
2 tablespoons raw sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons millet

Place the oats in a medium-size heat-resistant mixing bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Stir in the salt, butter, and honey; cover with a tea towel; and let sit for 1 hour.

When the hour is almost up, stir the yeast into the warm water in a small mixing bowl, add the sugar and ginger, and set in a warm, draft-free place until the yeast begins to froth. [Recipe notes: Although instant yeast does not need to be reconstituted, I wasn't sure how omitting the water in this step would affect the overall recipe, so I went ahead and reconstituted as directed. It bubbled up within minutes, overrunning the bowl. I scooped everything up, dumped it into my mixing bowl, and proceeded from there, with no ill effects at all.]

Once the yeast has bubbled, combine it in a large mixing bowl with 5 cups of the flour. Add the oatmeal mixture, the millet, and the sunflower seeds, and stir well to incorporate.

Turn dough out onto a board and dust it with the remaining 1/2 cup flour. Knead well, until the dough is smooth and elastic. [Recipe notes: I have developed the habit of kneading my yeast dough directly in the mixing bowl. I use a large stainless steel bowl, and kneading the dough right inside it, as opposed to turning it out onto a board, is simply a matter of convenience - my kitchen has very little counter space, and what it does have is mostly covered with tile (not the best surface for kneading anything on). I do have a bread board, but the in situ mixing-bowl method has worked so well for me, I almost always do it this way. Besides, it means one less thing to wash.]

Form the dough into a ball and place it in a greased bowl. Turn the dough once to grease the top. Cover with a cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Spray two 8 by 4-inch loaf pans with nonstick cooking spray or brush with melted butter. Punch down the dough and knead for a couple of turns. Divide the dough in half and form into two loaves. Place the loaves in the pans and let rise until double in size. [Recipe notes: I like to use one 8 x 4-inch pan and one 9 x 5-inch pan. We eat the big loaf fresh, and cool and freeze the smaller one.]

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Bake loaves for 40 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when thumped. Turn loaves out of pans onto a wire rack.

Makes 2 loaves

*This recipe is adapted from one in Gene Opton's excellent book, Honey.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


When I read that Rebecca at From Argentina with Love was hosting an Empanada of the month event, I couldn't not participate. I've written before about my abiding love of these savory pastry pockets, so it wasn't a question of if, but when? This was quite possibly the busiest week of the busiest month of the busiest year . . . you get the picture.

Eventually I puzzled out a way to multitask the empanadas into my schedule. My daughter was invited to a potluck event and needed a dish to share. Claro que si, I would make empanadas! Problem solved! Since there would be many other dishes served, I opted to go with a smaller size, and these empanaditas are what I ended up with.

The dough I used was a bit different than the pastry I typically go to for making empanadas, but I like it because it rolls out nicely and holds its shape well, useful for sculpting the tinier empanaditas. This pastry is also very easy to work with - if you're uneasy about working with pie dough, try this one, it really is "Never Fail."

Of course, you could purchase premade frozen empanada shells if you wish. But for the record, I tried this and was unable to get my hands on them. I'd heard from a reliable source (i.e., a native Argentinean) that they were perfectly acceptable, so I took my quest to save time to three different grocery stores before I finely decided to stop "saving time" and make my own dough.

I used a large biscuit cutter to shape the rounds, but feel free to use whatever you have - a glass, a dessert bowl, etc. If you prefer, you can make these full-size and serve them as an entree.

Never-Fail Piecrust

~from Alison Boteler's The Great American Bake Sale

3 cups all-purpose flour (I use unbleached)
1 teaspoon salt
11/2 cups shortening
1 egg
1 tablespoon white vinegar
5 tablespoons ice water

Combine flour and salt and cut in shortening until the mixture forms crumbs.
In a small bowl, beat egg, vinegar, and ice water together with a fork. Pour the egg mixture over the flour mixture and stir with a fork until the dough comes together.

To make the empanaditas, roll baseball-sized balls of dough out on a floured surface and cut with a biscuit cutter. Place on a greased baking sheet.

Wet rim of dough round with water, place a spoonful of filling in center, and place another round on top, aligning the edges. These empanaditas are too small to attempt to see with the repulgue method, so I just press the edges together, then crimp them with a fork.

Poke two sets of holes in the top with a fork to let the steam escape, brush them with a bit of beaten egg, sprinkle with chili powder if desired, and bake at 400 degrees until golden brown.

I had some leftover filling, so I made a few of full-size empanadas to freeze. These I sealed with the repulgue method, which I think is both more difficult and more fun than you'd imagine. (Practice make perfect, right?)

I like to serve these with a very simple salad and a dipping sauce of sour cream mixed with good salsa.


Friday, June 6, 2008

"Bed"-Time Stories: Chapter 2 ~ First Fruits

So. The first ripe strawberry of the 2008 season. Here it is.

Or, rather, was.

What on earth happened to my strawberry? What manner of wildlife managed to partially - partially! - consume the lone ripe berry in my strawberry bed? Truthfully, I don't know. Could be slugs. Could be the groundhog that lives under the gardening shed. Or . . .

It could be this guy.

Does it matter? No, and yes. No, it doesn't matter what ate my poor strawberry because what is relevant here is that it wasn't me. And yes, it does matter, because, to be honest, if I had to pick, I'd rather it be this guy munching away in my garden than a goo-dripping gastropod. (Look at those big black eyes. And slugs don't have little cotton-puff tails! Cuuute.)


Now, I'm willing to share, but only to a point. The first - and only! - ripe fruit is a little much to ask, but there's no use crying over a half-gnawed strawberry. And whoever the guilty party is, he's obviously a discriminating fellow, so I have to give him that.

This berry was whole just yesterday, when it bore the first blush of ripeness on its still-green skin. The predator was probably checking it out even then, lying in wait, biding his time till the midmorning sun blushed that berry right up before going in for the kill.

I can relate. Who isn't eager for strawberry season?

But my goodwill extends only to a point. Touch the basil, the parsley, the radishes, my fine furry friend, and all bets are off.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Ricotta Gnocchi with Herbs

If the only gnocchi experience you have had is limited to those that resemble goliath albino pill bugs and come in shelf-stable vacuum packs at the grocery store, these will be a departure for you.

These gnocchi, made with ricotta cheese and flour instead of mashed potatoes, are delicate little pillows of tasty dough. You can serve them with your homemade marinara, or glossed with basil pesto, but they're flavorful enough on their own to go commando, gleaming with butter or good quality olive oil and sprinkled with some freshly grated Parmesan. Or even better, make a speedy gremolata to serve on top - mwah (kiss fingertips)!

The thing to keep in mind when you're making these is that the less you handle them, the better. Don't do to much rolling with the dough; rather, just pat it into shape and cut it. I like to make my gnocchi freestyle, but if you prefer, you can "roll" them with a fork to make the characteristic lines around their middle.

Herbed Ricotta Gnocchi

  • 1 cup (8 ounces) ricotta cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional as needed

  1. Combine ricotta, eggs, Parmesan, parsley, salt, pepper, and garlic in a medium mixing bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon or spatula until ingredients are evenly distributed. Stir in 1 cup of flour. If the mixture is very sticky at this point, add additional flour by tablespoons to make a dough that you can work with. It will still be soft and sticky but will hold together.

  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Place dough on a floured surface and divide into fourths. Working with one fourth at time, roll dough out into a rope about 1/2-inch thick. Cut the rope into 1-inch pieces and set these aside on a floured plate. (If you are making a double batch or you feel the process is taking a long time, set this plate in the refrigerator while you're working.)
  3. Repeat the process with each of the four ropes. When you are done, you can cook your gnocchi as is, or you can mark them with a fork. To do this, gently roll the back of a fork over each gnocchi, pressing down slightly to make an imprint with the tines.
  4. To cook, drop gnocchi in four batches into the pot of boiling water. Do not stir. Gnocchi will rise to the surface when they are finished ~ after about 2 minutes. Remove gnocchi from boiling water with a slotted spoon, place in an ovensafe bowl, drizzle with olive oil or melted butter, and place in a 170 degree F oven to keep while you cook the next batch. Continue until all the gnocchi have been boiled.
Serves 4.

Recipe Notes:

    • You can use either whole-milk ricotta or part-skim ricotta in this recipe.

    • Use grated or shredded Parmesan cheese; do not use the dry Parmesan in the sprinkle-on canister or your gnocchi will have a gritty texture.

    • Feel free to add additional herbs as you like. I like to add a tablespoon or two of fresh basil cut into a fine chiffonade, or chopped fresh rosemary.
    • To avoid making your gnocchi tough and rubbery, don't overwork the dough. Stir it just until it comes together, and don't worry about rolling it out into a perfect cylinder ~ you can "pat" it into a rope shape.
    • If you have trouble cutting your dough ropes with a regular knife, try using sharp kitchen shears and snipping the rope into pieces.
    • Cook the gnocchi in small batches. Crowding the pot will lower the temperature of the water, causing the gnocchi to have to remain in the water longer to cook.

    Monday, June 2, 2008

    Raspberry Almond "Scuffins"

    What are "scuffins"? Before you start poring through your culinary dictionaries or looking up the term on your favorite search engine (Disclaimer: I didn't look it up so I have no idea what you'll find!), let me say that it's a term I made up by colliding "scone" and "muffin." To me, the texture of these big boys is a perfect cross between the tender muffin and the more buttery, crumbly scone. So, for lack of a better, more dignified term, I dubbed them "scuffins."

    The original manifestation of this recipe came from Heidi Swanson's wonderful site 101 Cookbooks, where it began its life called, "Raspberry Mega Scones." As I lacked some of the called-for ingredients and had others I wanted to incorporate, I manipulated a perfectly good recipe to suit the contents of my cupboard and ended up producing something that may or may not bear significant resemblance to the original incarnation.

    Further, in accommodating the preferences of a certain beloved family member (you know who you are, honey), who dislikes the flavor of lemon in baked goods, I swapped out the lemon and replaced it with almond. (I personally love the match between raspberries and lemon and lemon itself in almost anything, but the things we do for love. . . .)

    I rather like the combination of raspberry and almond, and I think it's a perfectly natural pairing. I hope you'll agree.

    Raspberry Almond "Scuffins"

    1 cup whole wheat flour

    3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

    3 tablespoons baking powder

    3/4 cup sugar

    1 teaspoon salt

    1 stick butter, cubed

    11/4 cups whole milk

    1 teaspoon pure almond extract

    Raspberry preserves (as much as needed to cover dough)


    1/2 cup confectioners' sugar

    1 tablespoon half-and-half

    1/4 teaspoon almond extract

    1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted, for garnish

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a large baking sheet with butter or line with parchment.

    In a large mixing bowl, combine flours, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles fine crumbs.

    Make a well in the center of the crumbs and add the milk and almond extract. Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients until the dough comes together. Try not to overhandle the dough. If there are a lot of dry crumbs remaining, add a bit more milk, a half teaspoon at a time.

    Divide dough in half and place one half on a piece of floured parchment or Silpat. Pat and roll dough out with a floured rolling pin until it forms a rectangle about 8 inches by 10 inches. Spread raspberry jam generously over dough, leaving a 1/4-inch margin on all sides.

    Carefully fold the dough lengthwise into thirds, as if you were folding a letter to fit inside a business-size envelope. The easiest way to do this is to bring up the sides of the parchment or Silpat and use them to help fold the dough and then transfer the completed scuffin to the prepared baking sheet.

    Repeat with the remaining piece of dough. Place the scuffins side by side on the baking sheet, allowing about 2 to 3 inches between them.

    Brush the scuffins with some milk or cream and sprinkle with sugar, if desired. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown and baked through.

    If the scuffins have spread enough that they are touching, insert a knife or spatula between them when they come out of the oven to separate them, or they will pull apart as they cool.

    Cool ten minutes on pan, then transfar to rack and cool completely.

    While the scuffins are cooling, prepare glaze. Combine confectioners' sugar, half-and-half, and extract in a small bowl and stir with a fork until desired consistency is reached. If necessary, adjust consistency by adding small amounts of confectioners' sugar or half-and-half.

    When scuffins are cool, drizzle glaze over. Sprinkle with sliced almonds. Let glaze dry, then slice and eat.

    Makes two large scuffins.



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