Monday, February 11, 2008


I used to hate scones. They were dry, tasteless and way too uppity. My entire experience with them, of course, was based on the ones at Starbucks. And then one day at Panera, I decided to try theirs, taking one each of their Orange Iced and the Savory Ham and Cheese.

Damn. I'm not sure what possessed me to to give them a shot, but those were revelations. both varieties were moist and flavorful, with a distinct firm (but not dry or tough) texture. I love them.

I also noticed that my Foster's Market cookbook had a recipe for them, with a number of variations. I made one batch, divided the dough in half, and then mixed in diced ham and shredded cheddar into one half of the dough. Overall, not bad. They're definitely better served fresh, that's for sure.

A few observations:
  • Scones are basically biscuits. I should have guessed, but I didn't know that before. At least, this recipe is pretty much the same as my biscuit recipe.
  • My oven still needs some adjustment. It's running a little hot now. These were looking done about 3/4 of the way through, easily.
  • The texture was a bit crumbly - not unlike the problem I have with muffins. I think I need to work on the balance between combining and overworking ingredients with flour.
  • I don't like working dough in my food processor. The bits in the corners of the food bowl were dry because the blades couldn't get at them. I had to work them in by hand. Though maybe if I had run it a little longer, I would have gotten them mixed in right and gotten enough gluten action. I was definitely conservative.
  • I need to practice more with the ham and cheese to nail how well Panera does it. I'll probably buy a couple to take home and work side-by-side with them.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Toll House Cookies

For God's sake. Who the hell can screw up these? Even little kids make these.

Me, apparently.

Channing wanted some and I had a lot of chips, etc. leftover from when I didn't get around to baking them this Christmas. So, I was going to make two batches. Among the wealth of chips, I had an orphaned half-bag and only five eggs in the house, so to get rid of them, I decided to make one batch half again as large.

I had everything laid out: two bowls of the dry ingredients and the sugars, all carefully measured out; softened butter and eggs. And then things went to hell. Channing started watching the Daily Show and even the half-listening I was doing was enough to compeltely distract me.

So I don't realize until I'm completely done with the first, normal-sized batch, that I had grabbed the wrong plate of butter and put in 3 sticks of butter instead of 2.

Then, when both batches were finished, wrapped and put in the refrigerator, I looked over at the counter and saw the complete carton of eggs. I totally forgot to add those. So, I put the dough back into the mixer and added the eggs. Now, I realize that there was a missed opportunity to try to fix the extra butter then, by adding in the extra ingredients and maybe fix the proportions. I have no idea how they're going to turn out, but I'm betting not so good.

Even without that debacle, though, I think I'm giving up on using the mixer with cookies. In the days when I used to use a wooden spoon, these were the hands-down best Toll House you've ever had. Nowadays? Kinda generic. The biggest different is the density. I definitely like a denser cookie and I think my friends agree. I haven't gotten the raves that I used to.

Update: Huh. The one with just the eggs missing turned out just fine with adding the eggs late. Who'd of thought? Still need to try the ones with the extra butter.

Update 2: Just fine with the extra butter, too. Guess you really can't mess these up, in the end.

Gingerbread Pancakes with Lemon Sauce

Nope, not a rerun of the previous post.

I've really been wanting a good recipe for Gingerbread Panckaes for a long, long time. I used to get them all the time when I was schlepping books for W.W. Norton. Like the Eastside Cafe, these were a brief respite from the hell that was my life. I've tried improvising before by adding ground ginger, sugar and molasses in varying quantities to regular pancake batter and it never worked. Sometimes the results were outright disasters.

So, I was really stoked when I found this recipe. Sadly, I'm barely functional before I eat in the morning. Kind of makes it tough to make fancy breakfasts. But after putting it off for a month or two, I finally got to it. This was also another opportunity to try out my new two burner griddle.

After mixing everything together, there was a huge amount of batter, so I called our upstairs neighbors, Ron and Mary. God bless them. I like having other cooks around because you can mess something up, like I did here, and they understand.

They turned out burned on the outside and raw on the inside. This particularly chapped my hide as I used to be flawless at pancakes. Also, they were, to me, noticeably tough. Finally, there were noticeable crunchy bits of brown sugar.

There are three things I can think of right off the top of my head that need to be fixed with these (I'm not giving up yet):
  1. I overmixed the batter. A LOT. I wasn't thinking and whisked in the dry ingredients, disregarding/forgetting that it was "mix until just combined." This made them tough, from the gluten forming up, but also I'm sure it made the batter bind up. As it was too thick, it couldn't spread out on the griddle. Being too thick, the outside burned before the inside cooked.
  2. I really need more practice regulating temperature on that griddle.
  3. I had a lot of brown sugar in the house, as I've bought it too often for cookies. My bags dry out and, because I'm in a hurry, I just buy another, forgetting how little is actually used in Tool House cookies. So, the bags build up. I had tried a quick trick for softening that I read online where you put a bowl of water in the microwave with the chunks of sugar. I then dropped it into the food processor. That seemed to work at the time, but crunchies spoke otherwise.

I whipped up some of the lemon sauce to use as syrup for these. This sauce, on the other hand, was fantastic. I even eliminated the issue of the egg white strands by making sure I had a good blend when beating the eggs and pouring then in to the pan while I have a really good whisk of the syrup going.

(Recipe link to be posted soon)

Monday, February 4, 2008

Gingerbread Cake with Lemon Sauce

A little out of order here, as this was one of my things I made for Christmas dinner at my brother's house. I'd made this recipe from the Treebeards Cookbook a few times before, but had avoided the sauce just from my general paranoia I used to have in that area.

The cake itself is pretty foolproof. As mentioned in the Christmas overview, I used whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose white and it was just fine.

I served it at a fundraiser a year ago and gave the sauce a shot, to fancy it up. It was okay, but didn't turn out exactly as it should (a bit thin, if I remember correctly). This Christmas, I was trying to blow the barn doors down, honestly. With my general sauce practice, I figured it was worth tackling again. My god, it's good. It's really not that hard, though it is really, really important to get it up to temperature. There were a few strands of cooked egg white, but I just poured it through a strainer to get them out. The butter gives it a very smooth taste, countering the sharpness of the lemon perfectly.

I have found that you get automatic bonus points for a fancy pan and powdered sugar. We have a cathedral-shaped bundt pan and my sister-in-law has one shaped a lot like pine trees (though I'm not really sure it's supposed to be representational). Use something like that and sprinkle some sugar on through a sieve kind of snow-like over the result and people go nuts.

Oh, and whipped cream. Mix up some sweetened whipped cream with it.

(recipe to be scanned and posted soon).

Improvisation: Lasagna

The Eastside Marinara recipe is presented in the context of making a lasagna. So, a few nights ago, I decided to throw some together. I decided, deliberately, to not refer to a recipe to see what would happen.

Having two quarts of the marinara at home and two packages of thawed chopped frozen spinach, I stopped by Jewel to pick up lasagna noodles, ricotta cheese (this was very hard to find until I realized that it's kept by the cottage cheese and milk, not with the cheeses, even though the latter section included marscapone), shredded mozzarella and Morningstar Farms Sausage Flavored Crumbles. I'd used this fake meat in a lot of stuff over the past few years and it's really pretty good.

For the prep, I boiled the noodles and seasoned the drained and squeezed-dry spinach with garlic. The new thing I did was using a technique with the garlic I first saw on Tyler Florence's How to Boil Water. Using the flat of the knife, you essentially grind the garlic down (after a rough chop) into a paste with kosher salt as an abrasive and olive oil. The instructor in Pan Handling showed a woman the same thing, so there was some more validation. If there's a description or video on the show site or the net, I'll like it here.

It was going okay, but I definitely need practice. I forgot the olive oil component (which I think the Chopping Block teacher didn't use either) and only remembered it after I was watching another episode of the show where he did it again. In fact, I'm not entirely sure Florence did it the first time.

When everything was prepped, I layered starting with sauce, noodles, ricotta, spinach, fake sausage, then repeated once. On the second sausage, I laid down sauce again, another noodle layer, then mozzaralla, topped with dried oregano.

Baked that at 350F (in my newly recalibrated oven) until the cheese and the sides were bubbling. I have to say, it looked amazing. However, it's pretty bland. At very least, it needs more salt, but it also seems I was too heavy on the ricotta, because that's the texture and taste that stays in the mouth. I'd give it a C+/B-.