Posted in baking

Southern Buttermilk Biscuits

biscuits

Biscuits are an amazing food with as few as three ingredients, and damn near impossible to get right. They’re supposed to be tender and flaky, which Alton Brown fans will recall are two characteristics at odds with each other. Flakiness requires working the dough, which develops gluten, which reduces tenderness. One approach that I’ve used here is to reduce the gluten content of the flour. This is why White Lily, a naturally lower gluten flour, is so popular for biscuits. I decided instead to sub out 2 Tbsp of my King Arthur all-purpose flour with cornstarch, which is gluten-free.

I had good results with the following recipe, which takes a pretty extreme stance (for biscuits) on folding – creating, in theory, 729 (3^6) layers. In reality, I don’t develop enough gluten before beginning the folding, or flatten out the butter pockets enough, to keep most of these layers distinct. I want to test this recipe with different shaping techniques to see how I really feel about folding and flakiness in biscuits.

My current stance is that tender and flaky isn’t the best way to think of biscuits. The real goal, I think, is fluffy and buttery. Fluffiness comes from enough gluten development to avoid crumbliness but not enough to be tough (this folding technique seemed to be a good amount), enough liquid and a short enough bake time to avoid dryness (the dough can be fairly wet without being unworkable), and enough leavening to provide lift. For leavening, I use baking powder only. That way, I don’t have to worry about whether there’s enough acid for a given amount of baking soda to react with, I get lift during the initial mixing but also in the oven because baking powder is double-acting, and I don’t use my precious buttermilk’s acid on leavening when I want it for tenderness and flavor.

Butteriness is pretty simple – use a lot of butter! And splurge a little on your butter. I got a fancier brand than usual and I think it paid off. Finally, don’t mix the butter in completely. Pockets of butter add flavor and vary the texture.

With fluffiness and butteriness in mind, I referenced Southern Living’s recipe and The Food Lab’s recipe and also took some liberties. I quickly checked the first few sources on baking them in cast iron to get a sense of the temperature; I saw a wide range of temperatures and chose 450F – on the high side to help them brown before they have time to dry out. Here’s what I did, for my best biscuits to date:

  • 265g all-purpose flour (a little over 2 cups, but volumetric measurements of flour are really ambiguous)
  • 15g corn starch (about 2 Tbsp)
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 stick salted butter (1/2 cup, 113g), cold
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  1. Put a cast iron pan in the oven.
  2. Preheat oven to 450 Fahrenheit/230 Celsius.
  3. Mix dry ingredients in a bowl.
  4. Cut butter into chunks.
  5. Mix butter into dry ingredients. I use my fingers, but you can also use a fork, knives, or a pastry blender. The goals are to coat some of the flour in butter to reduce the amount of gluten development, and to reduce the size of the butter chunks without letting them melt or mix in completely so that they contribute to flakiness and interesting texture. I aim for a crumbly end result with no leftover pure flour and chunks around the size of M&Ms.
  6. Chill the dough for 10 minutes in the fridge. I’m not convinced this is necessary in my climate but for once I decided to just follow directions.
  7. Add the buttermilk. Stir it in just enough; the dough should be wet and lumpy but hold together.
  8. On a lightly floured surface, gently pat the dough into a rectangle about 3/4 inch thick and trifold like a letter, left side in then right side in. Then trifold again in the other direction, the top third down and then the bottom third up. Turn over, pat out into a rectangle of the same thickness and repeat. Finally, do it a third time. It will get a little harder to do each time as the gluten develops. If it gets too hard, just stop.
  9. Pat the dough to about 3/4 inch tall and cut out as many biscuits as you can fit. Use a plain round biscuit cutter, not a glass, and cut straight down, not twisting. The idea is that you don’t want to seal the edges together and keep the biscuit from rising. Gather the scraps, pat them again with as little working as possible, and keep cutting biscuits until you run out of dough.
  10. Carefully take the cast iron pan out of the oven, sprinkle flour in the bottom if it’s not super nonstick, and put the biscuits in it. I figure that if there’s enough space that you can choose to smush them against themselves or the sides of the pan, you should choose themselves; my reasoning is that dough against dough won’t form a crust and so it will be able to keep rising for longer.
  11. Bake at 450F/230C for about 15 minutes. You’re looking for lightly browned tops (lacking sugar, they won’t get super brown) and for the quantitatively inclined, a center temperature of 210F/99C.
  12. Carefully remove the cast iron pan from the oven and carefully remove the biscuits from it and definitely don’t forget that the cast iron pan is hot and grab it barehanded like I definitely didn’t do. Put the biscuits on a cooling rack.
  13. Serve warm and enjoy!

biscuits2

I want to compare shaping methods to see how they affect the biscuits. This recipe includes more folds than many do. Does it make a difference? A way to make the layers really come through in the final product would be to flatten the dough with a rolling pin instead of patting by hand – this would increase gluten development as well as flakiness. Is that a good thing? If the layers are really great but the toughness is a problem, more cornstarch could help. I’ve also thought about shaving bits of butter onto a layer before folding it, like a lite version of croissant lamination. That should increase layering without increasing toughness.

Another idea I might try is adding sour cream or subbing some in for part of the buttermilk. It seems like the fat and acid in sour cream is magic for baked goods.

Good luck and happy brunching!

 

Posted in baking

Liege Waffles, Quicker

making the waffles
It’s important to dress for the occasion when you make Liege waffles.

Years ago I started making Liege waffles and blogged about it. I’ve made that recipe several times, and it’s always gone well, but recently I wanted to make Liege waffles and I didn’t have time to start the dough the night before. So I tried keeping the ingredients the same but changing the method.

I also multiplied the recipe by 7 because I was serving them at a party. That didn’t pose any problems, but it did require me to divide the dough into two large mixing bowls. It would’ve been smarter for me to make it in two separate bowls from the beginning, rather than guessing on how to halve it in the middle of adding ingredients. I ended up with 38 waffles.

Another change I’ve made since my first couple times making these waffles is that I ran out of imported pearl sugar and switched to bashing sugar cubes in a ziploc bag with the end of the handle of my chef’s knife. They still caramelize, so it seems like a fine compromise to me. This post suggests making pearl sugar by mixing sugar with maple syrup and letting it dry. I don’t know how real pearl sugar is made but that doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all since we know maple syrup tastes great with waffles.

Ok, so the quicker method:

1. Wake up your yeast.

Mix water, milk, yeast, egg, and half the flour in a bowl. Let sit for a few minutes.

2. Let the flour absorb the water.

Add the rest of the flour, mix well. Let sit for 20 minutes.

3. Make gluten.

Knead until the dough is elastic.

4. Add all remaining ingredients except pearl sugar (or sugar cube pieces).

This is where you put in the salt, which makes kneading difficult, as well as the brown sugar, honey, and butter, which make gluten formation difficult. It’s also when you add the vanilla extract, but I don’t think it really matters when you do that.

Getting the butter incorporated is hard if you’re mixing by hand. I recommend microwaving it until it’s melty but not liquid.

I got worried at this point, since I usually mix it in a machine but this time did it by hand, and the texture looked awful. But during the rise it rallied.

5. Let rise.

Let it sit for an hour.

6. Redistribute bubbles and yeast, divide into servings.

Punch it down, fold it a few times, and then shape it into a bunch of balls that are a bit smaller than each section of your waffle maker (because they’re going to rise).

7. Let rise.

Let it sit for another hour.

8. Cook.

Put them in your waffle maker. Mine does best on level 4 out of 5 for less time than my waffle maker thinks is necessary – I go by smell and intuition, and checking on them doesn’t really hurt.

finished waffles
No one knows how long Liege waffles keep for.

Cleaning your waffle maker is interesting after making Liege waffles. The trick is to let the caramel harden and then break it out with a fork. Then eat whatever caramel isn’t burnt as your prize for having to clean this thing.

Do you lose anything by speeding up the process? Possibly. I haven’t compared them side by side and these were perfectly delicious, but it is true that letting yeast work slowly at a cool temperature produces better flavors than having them work fast at room temperature. But I think there’s so much else going on in the flavor of a Liege waffle that it probably doesn’t matter.

Posted in baking, candy, dry heat, wet heat

Pear Frangipane Tart

pear tart

I used this recipe to make a Christmas Eve dessert.

I adapted it slightly. I definitely poached my own pears. I’m not snobby about all ingredients, but the difference between fresh and canned pears is huge. I followed David Lebovitz’s recipe for that, and added ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, and whole cloves (maybe a tablespoon of each? I didn’t measure) to the syrup, which I made double the amount of.

Double the pear poaching syrup might have been more than I needed, especially since you don’t actually need 4 pears to do this recipe. Only two quartered pears will fit on the top of my tart, although I squeezed in one more quarter.

I also don’t have baking beans or parchment paper handy, so I blind baked the crust without anything on top of it for 15 minutes and that seemed fine. It didn’t brown.

I haven’t tasted the finished product yet but I think the crust might turn out too floury tasting. It’s somewhere in between a cookie crust and a flaky buttery crust. You might want to try a pate sucree recipe instead. But I’ll report back after tonight. Edit: The crust was tender but a little too floury tasting for me. It wasn’t bad but I’d just as soon eat the filling and the pears without the crust. Making it either more buttery or sweeter would probably be better. The almond meal in the crust probably helped keep it tender but I don’t think it added much flavor-wise.

I also added some vanilla to the frangipane, and right now I’m boiling down the syrup I poached the pears in to make a sauce for the tart, especially important if it turns out to be not sweet enough. I also thought a caramel sauce would go well with it, but since I already have this syrup I’ll try that first. Edit: the frangipane was delicious. My sister doesn’t like pears so I just made her try a bite of the frangipane and she said “It’s like a little angel!” She then apologized for not being good at talking about food but I thought that was pretty great! I do think adding spices to it would be good, though. The syrup didn’t pack the punch I had hoped, but the tart didn’t really need it, either.

The whole thing took me two hours. I made the crust, let it rest while I prepped the pears, blind baked, poached, and made frangipane simultaneously, and now I’m baking and boiling down the syrup. You could do the crust ahead of time, of course.

One thing I learned from doing it is that you want to grab the pears out of the syrup either without piercing them, or piercing them from the bottom! When they dry up in the oven the fork marks really show!

Cinnamon and cloves are my obsession this winter since I tried a cocktail with Fernet Branco (but it didn’t taste bitter at all!). I’m thinking about using the syrup in a cocktail, too.

Posted in baking

New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies: The Hype and The Truth

Anyone who’s into chocolate chip cookies knows about the NYT recipes from Jacques Torres.  Some swear by it.  Last night, I was struck with cookie inspiration and decided to finally try it. My overall impression is that it makes for great texture, meh flavor. Here’s what I’ve found out so far:

No need to be so fancy

  •  Flour: It calls for, by weight, half bread flour and half cake flour.  Depending on the flours you use (their contents vary by brand), I think this amounts to using all all-purpose flour.  Perhaps Jacques had some good reason for writing the recipe this way, but until further notice, I’ll assume it was just to look fancy.  I didn’t have enough bread or cake flour on hand (most of my bread flour is whole wheat because most of it goes to making, you know, bread), so I used all-purpose flour, and I was perfectly satisfied with the result.
  • Chocolate: I hope I don’t even have to tell you that you can use whatever bits of yumminess you want in these cookies. High quality chocolate tastes good, but I used regular old chocolate chips and they taste just as good as they always do.
  • Size: The NYT recipe wants you to make enormous cookies.  Well, sure, cookies the size of my head can stay soft for a while, but I like my cookies normal size, and I want a recipe that produces well-textured normal size cookies. So I test mine with somewhere around a tablespoon of dough per cookie.  The results are good: the success of the NYT recipe is not due to a size trick. It makes good normal size cookies, too.
  • Timing: The NYT recipe says to chill the cookie dough for 24-36 hours before baking. What a pain, I wanted cookies last night! So I decided to find out if it really matters. I baked one sheet of the cookies last night right after making up the dough – I stuck them in the fridge for 5 or 10 minutes just because the preheated oven was making the room hot and I wanted them to have a fair chance. Then I put one log of cookie dough in the fridge to be baked tonight, and another log (it makes a lot of cookies!) in the freezer for a rainy day (like yesterday, and today…).  I will report on the results of a blind taste test soon. But already I can tell you, unchilled NYT cookies are plenty good. Not too flat or hard or crispy, pretty much just how I like them.

It succeeds in making a cookie that’s chewy, not crispy or cakey.

  • It uses a little more brown sugar than white sugar, as a chocolate chip cookies should, in my opinion. Brown sugar is brown because it has molasses in it, and molasses has water in it, so it’s a way of making your cookie a little softer.
  • I like to compare cookies to the Nestle Tollhouse recipe, which I’ve had memorized for I don’t know how many years.  My Nestle cookies always come out too hard when cool, and kind of greasy. Here’s approximately how to make NYT cookies from a Nestle recipe (all comparisons are by weight):
    1. Divide the amount of butter in half.
    2. Divide the amount of egg in half.
    3. Subtract one fourth the total amount of sugar.
  • It’s hard to tell that these are the differences between the two recipes, since they make different amounts.  That’s why putting recipes in baker’s percentage is so handy. But the result is that the flour, leavening, salt, and vanilla play a bigger role in the NYT cookies.
  • Why less butter and egg: Cookies that are heavier on flour and lighter on butter stay soft better, but they run the risk of being too cakey and dry.  In fact, I made some like this once and compared that recipe to the NYT recipe.  It turns out that the only difference between the two was that the dry recipe used all white sugar instead of a mix of white and brown, and more egg.  We know that brown sugar makes a cookie wetter and softer, and for reasons I don’t fully understand, eggs make them cakey, even though eggs are wet. So I guess in order to increase the relative amount of flour in the recipe without ending up too cakey, the NYT recipe had to decrease the amount of egg.

My one complaint is the flavor.

  • What I don’t know about is the sugar. Does it have to be decreased?  The combination of less sugar and more salt seemed to trick my taste buds into thinking I was eating peanut butter cookies, which I’m sure is right up some people’s alley, but I’d rather have the regular old sweet flavor. So my next task will be to replicate this recipe but with more sugar and less salt. (In Jacques’ defense, I had to estimate the amount of salt, because I was using kosher instead of sea salt, which is less coarse.)
Posted in baking, candy, custard, foam

Daring Baker Challenge: Fraisier

 Jana of Cherry Tea Cakes was our July Daring Bakers’ host and she challenges us to make Fresh Frasiers inspired by recipes written by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson in the beautiful cookbook Tartine.

 

Fraisier

Instead of the Daring Baker recipe, I used this recipe from Food Lover’s Odyssey. It uses genoise cake instead of chiffon, meaning the eggs aren’t separated but are heated and then beaten to make a foam, and it uses an ungodly amount of butter to make the cream stand up instead of gelatin.

I used half the amount of butter it calls for – the strawberries in the center of the middle layer did most of the work of holding the cake up.  My boyfriend and I picked the strawberries ourselves! And the blueberries came from the same farm.

The cake shrunk as it cooked, naturally, so my springform pan had a little extra room when I used it as a mold for the center layer. The result was the strawberries hanging kind of low. If I had started with the cream it probably would’ve worked better.

Regardless, it was delicious! Decadent and summery at the same time. We ate it on the Fourth of July. I would definitely make it again, but probably in the structure of a regular cake just to make my life easier.

Posted in baking

Daring Baker Challenge: Phyllo Dough and Maple Baklava

Erica of Erica’s Edibles was our host for the Daring Baker’s June challenge. Erica challenged us to be truly DARING by making homemade phyllo dough and then to use that homemade dough to make Baklava.

I was a little daunted by the idea of making my own phyllo dough. Even Alton Brown doesn’t make his own phyllo dough when he makes baklava.  I have now made something more from scratch than Alton Brown.  But I did decide to compromise.  I made the bottom layer myself and used store bought dough for the rest.  I also tweaked the classic recipe by making mine round and using maple syrup instead of spiced honey.  I liked the idea, but I don’t think the spices that you mix in with the nuts complement the maple flavor that well.  I doubt it’s the cinnamon, so it’s probably the allspice or the clove, or both, that’s not playing nice with maple.  That didn’t stop my friends from enjoying it, though.

homemade phyllo dough
The dough got pretty thin and translucent.

The full recipe is here.  I’ll just add a tip for rolling out the phyllo dough, if you are ever possessed to do this yourself.  It’s not as hard as you’d think, and you can use a regular rolling pin even though they suggest a wooden dowel.  But when you roll out dough, you create new surface area, and so even though you floured the dough and the counter, you still get sticky areas.  If you’re rolling out something this much, you have a lot of sticky area. So I tried buttering my work surface instead of flouring it.  After rolling a piece, it came right off of my counter instead of needing a lot of gentle prodding like before.  And then I had a head start on the buttering that you do to make the baklava.

I only baked mine once, for about 30 minutes, whereas the recipe has you do that twice.  Mine probably could’ve used some more time in the oven, but I think another full 30 minutes would have been too much.

 

Posted in baking, candy, custard, emulsion, foam

Daring Baker Challenge: Mousse in an edible container

The April 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Evelyne of the blog Cheap Ethnic Eatz. Evelyne chose to challenge everyone to make a maple mousse in an edible container. Prizes are being awarded to the most creative edible container and filling, so vote on your favorite from April 27th to May 27th at http://thedaringkitchen.com

So yeah, it was supposed to be maple mousse.  But I got inspired to have a Red and Black party, so I made chocolate mousse in red tuiles.  I shaped the tuiles by putting some in mini muffin tins and draping others over the tops of wine bottles, so that they made bowls to hold the mousse.  They came out looking like rose petals.

I made my chocolate mousse from David Lebovitz’s adaptation of Julia Child’s recipe.  I tripled the recipe and, of course, made some minor changes, so mine came out like this – but be warned, this is for WAY more mousse than you really want to make.

  1. Mousse in the making
    Mixing the chocolate emulsion with the custard.

    Melt butter and chocolate with coffee.

    • 4 sticks butter
    • 510g dark chocolate (fair trade!)
    • 3/4 cup coffee
  2. Make zabaglione.  (A sweet custard with an alcoholic liquid.  Traditionally marsala wine; Julia’s recipe used rum; I used cognac and it was delicious.)  This is done by heating the ingredients in a double boiler until thick enough to coat a spoon, and then beating (an electric mixer is a good idea) off the heat (with the bowl in cool water, even) until lighter in color and thick enough that when you drip some, a trail remains.
    • 12 egg yolks (I bought jumbo by accident so I used 10)
    • 510g sugar
    • 6 Tbsp cognac
    • 3 Tbsp water
  3. Make meringue.  Beat egg whites; when it’s all opaque, add the sugar.  Keep beating until peaks form but aren’t too stiff.
    • 12 egg whites
    • 3 Tbsp sugar
    • a few pinches of salt
    • 1 tsp cream of tartar
    • 2 tsp vanilla
finished mousse
Blurry picture of finished mousse.

Gently mix the first two together and then fold the meringue into that.  This means you’ll be eating uncooked egg whites.  If you’re not ok with that, make a Swiss meringue instead, which is where you heat the egg whites and sugar to 160F before beating them.

This mousse was amazing, y’all.  Totally worth all the different ingredients and components.  The zabaglione alone was amazing, I’ll definitely make that again.

I did run into a hitch – my chocolate emulsion broke.  I googled around about this and came to the conclusion that humans do not fully understand chocolate, because what I found didn’t make a lot of sense.  But basically, I think it broke because I heated it too much, and what ended up working was cooling it in the fridge, and then heating it again, very slowly.  I tried this trick where I took just a little of it and mixed it with some heated corn syrup.  That bit re-emulsified, but as I added more of the broken mixture to the fixed mixture, it got fixed and then I added too much and it all broke again.  So I guess that last addition of broken mixture lowered the temperature too much.  So, chop your chocolate and butter before starting, so everything can melt fast and evenly, and if you run into this problem, cool and reheat slowly.

tuiles
Rose petal tuiles.

Now the tuiles.  I used this recipe without the almonds, and multiplied by 4.  These were really simple, and I had been so worried!  I used LOTS of red food coloring, and flavored them with cinnamon, but then added a little cocoa powder too because I wanted the red velvet color to come out right.  I didn’t add any liquid to the recipe to make up for this; maybe if I had they would’ve come out a little crispier, like I expected, but the texture they had was good for shaping them.  I’d skip the cinnamon next time; I wanted a red flavor to go with the red color, but I wasn’t crazy about the result.

Finally, I made some cayenne syrup to go on top.

  • 1.5 cups water
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Boil until the thread stage, 130F.  Unfortunately, even though I stopped at the thread stage, mine eventually crystallized.  But it was a nice mixture of hot and sweet, and I love spice with my chocolate.

The official drink for the party was something that’s apparently called Devil’s Blood – it’s a vodka cranberry with black vodka.  I layered it by pouring the vodka from a measuring cup over the back of a spoon onto the cranberry juice, which worked well.

devil's blood
Layered cocktail.