because butter is delicious, rough puff ratio

Several triangular turnovers on a baking sheet

I love ratios. I love butter. So I love that “rough” or “blitz” puff pastry is one part butter to one part flour. Add a bit of cold water and patience and you have a delicious canvas for some easy treats. (Treats such are free form tarts, fruit turnovers, cheese straws, …)

Rough Puff…

  • 12 oz flour (mostly All Purpose, but add up 2oz other flours for interest)
  • 12 oz cold butter, cut into slices
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 6 oz ice water

Whisk together the flour and salt, then cut in the butter. (I do this by cutting the butter into slices, then working them in with my fingers. A pastry cutter or two knives would also be useful. It can be done in a stand mixer if you’re careful to stop while hunks of butter are still visible.) Stop when the butter is incorporated in large pieces, but pea-sized bits are still visible. Add the ice water and, using a spatula or bowl scraper, mix it in gently, flattening the mixture against the sides of the bowl when stirring, rather than mixing aggressively. The desired result is a very shaggy mass than doesn’t yet look like dough.

Dump the shaggy mass on a clean, dry counter and flatten it into a rectangle. Using a bench scraper or spatula, fold the rectangle into thirds. Rotate it 90 degrees, dust with flour and use a rolling pin to make it back into a rectangle again. Fold it into thirds, rotate it 90 degrees, and repeat. Keep doing this until it comes together as a smooth dough. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour. Roll and fold two more times and declare it done.

To use: Roll to ~1/8 in thick. Use in any puff pastry recipe. (Like blackberry turnovers!)

The Scones I Make the Most, Finally

Way back when, I posted the scones I think almost anyone should make and the scones I love the most. I managed to never get around to posting the scones I actually make the most, however, at least until now. Why do I make these the most? They’re sturdy and delicious and easy to modify. They also happen to be my spouse’s favorite, which counts for a lot.

First, a few notes about scones in general:

  • If you’re a person (and you know people) who at least occasionally eats white flour, sugar, and dairy fat, scones are an awesome thing to bake! They can make any morning or teatime feel just a little bit special.
  • Please don’t skimp on the fat though. Substituting half and half for cream just won’t result in the same (light, tender) scones.
  • Scone dough is even better if you make it ahead of time. Mix and shape some in the evening, then wrap and put it in the fridge. The next morning all you’ll need to do is turn on the oven and place the scones on a pan. (O.K. you’ll also need to brush them with cream/butter/egg and sprinkle with sugar, but that’s easy too.)
  • Scone dough also freezes really well. Mix and shape it, then double wrap in plastic and throw it in the freezer. You can bake the scones from frozen dough, just budget a couple extra minutes baking time.
  • The base recipes are pretty infinitely variable. I use this one to make rose/almond scones for May Day, my favorite candied ginger & cocoa nibs combo, and just about any kind of berry.
  • You can also make these into savory scones – just leave out the sugar and sub in some fine grated cheese and spices or herbs. (The result is pretty much that same as a biscuit, but nonetheless delicious.)
  • A cheap, plastic bowl scraper is far and away my favorite tool for mixing scone dough (and pie dough, and…). You can use it to cut and fold in the cream while not losing any tender, flaky goodness in your resulting scones. (A bench scraper is my favorite tool for shaping and cutting them.)

Go-To Cream Scones

  • 10 oz. (2 cups) flour
  • 2.5 oz. (1/3 cup) sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup butter, cold, cut in ~10 slices or cubes
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup dried fruit or other additions (e.g. 1/4 cup candied ginger and 2 Tbsp cocoa nibs)
  • 5/8 c (10 Tbsp) heavy cream
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp vanilla (or a different extract for other flavor combinations)
  • ~2 Tbsp melted butter or cream for brushing the tops, optional
  • coarse sugar, optional

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Line a sheet pan with parchment or a silpat.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in the cold butter, using your favorite method (your fingers, a pastry cutter, two knives…). Toss in the dried fruit or other additions.

In a separate vessel (like a liquid measuring cup), whisk together the cream, egg, and vanilla. Pour the liquid, all at once, into the flour mixture. Cut and fold the liquid and flour mix together using a bowl scraper or stiff spatula. Mix until the dough just comes together, leaving it very shaggy.

Turn the dough out onto a clean surface. Fold and gently shape it until it forms a cohesive round disk, about 3/4in thick (make two rounds if you’d like smaller scones). Cut each disk into 8 to 12 wedges. 

Place the wedges on your prepared sheet pan. Brush with cream or butter and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake 15-20 minutes, until golden brown.

An Inperfect Cookbook & Chocolate Mistake Cake

a square of chocolate cake topped with powdered sugar and whipped cream on a white plate

The cookbook for March’s Cookbook Club was Twelve Recipes, by Cal Peternell. I nominated this book. I voted for it. I already had in on my shelf (and had already read about a quarter of it). I wanted to love this book, and I almost do.

Twelve Recipes is written as a chef’s attempt to arm his kids with what they need to know about cooking as they go off into the world*. It’s conversational, working its way through basic concepts and the riffs on them that can turn into a full repertoire for feeding yourself and others. It’s exactly the kind of book I want to hand my kids in a decade, when they’re heading out of the house. It’s also imperfect.

At times the imperfections are small, the author’s voice strays a bit from “deservedly opinionated food professional with a great palate” and into the realm of “Northern California resident with year-round easy access to great ingredients who is assuming everyone else has that access too”.** What really strikes me as a problem, however, is the Cake chapter.*** For our cookbook club meeting, two sets of people, both of which included pretty experienced cooks, tried the “Chocolate Mistake Cake” and had it result in disaster.**** Someone else in the club made the Carrot Cake and discovered its proportions are simply all wrong. It appears that no one actually tested these recipes and that the author himself does not know them as well as the savory side.

Twelve Recipes did inspire me to do more and better with pasta nights***** as well as to go back to making my own croutons, but ultimately, it’s not a book I want to hand to my friends, at least not without some major caveats.

After the meeting, I just had to figure out what the heck was up with that Chocolate Mistake Cake recipe. Close reading the recipe made me question two things quickly. First, did he simply forget to mention it should be in two pans rather than one? The volume of ingredients is about what is generally called for to make two 9 inch round layers. Second, why 2 tsp of baking soda? 2 tsp is a lot of baking soda for 2 cups of flour, even given that there’s some yogurt and brown sugar in the mix. Both the trial cakes had more-or-less erupted in the oven, so it seemed a good guess that there might be something off about the leavening. Some brief internet research told me that the “mistake” part of the name generally referred to recipes which had chocolate added when there was already cocoa (or the reverse), so the volume or soda bit might be actual mistakes.

With a few tweaks, I made it. I couldn’t resist. As it turns out, this is a one bowl, one whisk, pretty easy recipe for delicious chocolate cake. Here’s how it worked:

Chocolate Mistake Cake (adapted from Cal Peternell’s Twelve Recipes)

  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 ½ cups boiling water, divided
  • 8 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (or ~3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips)
  • 2 ½ cups brown sugar, lightly packed
  • ½ cup plain yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 13×9 inch pan or two 9-inch round pans.

Place the cocoa powder in a large mixing bowl and add 1/2 cup of the boiling water******. Whisk until smooth. Cut the stick of butter into chunks and add it and the bittersweet chocolate to the bowl. Add the remaining 1 cup boiling water and let sit for a minute, then whisk until smooth. Next whisk in the brown sugar, yogurt and vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time, whisking after each addition. Next add the flour, baking powder, and salt in two additions. (To be certain the baking powder is mixed in evenly, you can whisk these dry ingredients together in a separate bowl before adding them. If you like living dangerously and want to only use one bowl, just be sure the baking powder is well incorporated.) Pour in prepared pan(s) and bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until the center springs back when you touch it lightly with a finger.

Serve dusted with powdered sugar, with a side of whipped cream, or ice cream, or frost if you like.


*His kids clearly already have the basics. He’s working to fill in the details of how to think through a recipe and a meal and how to improvise.

**See, for example, his “frugal” choice of grating cheese for pasta – “Grano Padano”. This is someone who probably lives walking distance from the Cheese Board.

***Yes, I know, my pastry bias is showing, but really! savory cooks should take pastry seriously.

****In one case, a disaster complete with actual billowing smoke.

*****incorporating the sauce before serving, using the pasta water, thinking more about my basic sauces, etc.

******this wasn’t in the original recipe, but is a great technique for getting the most flavor out of your cocoa powder, and since there was boiling water in the recipe already, I added it.

Simplicity is Relative, Sourdough Crackers

February’s cookbook club book was Plenty*. I have several friends who adore this book and I looked forward to exploring it and perhaps expanding my kitchen toolkit to include more Middle Eastern flavors and techniques. As it turned out, however, this was not the right book for me. Plenty is chock full of delicious recipes, and those recipes are chock full of somewhat precise and complicated techniques along with not-so familiar (to me) ingredients. What it is not chock full of, however, is unifying theory or process explanations which would lead me into the recipes themselves. For something I’m not already familiar with, I definitely prefer more prose about why and how to do things, what’s integral and what can be simplified, etc. To expand my Middle Eastern influenced toolkit, I’m going to need a different book.**

The recipe I choose to make, Saffron Tagliatelle with Spiced Butter, was beautiful and delicious, but also gave me hours of grief when my dough was too wet and my pasta roller clearly did not have the same capacity for which the recipe was written. I’m glad I tried it. When I make pasta again, however, I’ll follow some combination of Alice Water’s advice, my brilliant spouse’s advice, and this article on Serious Eats (which seems to agree, on the whole, with my spouse and Alice Waters) and I’ll leave Plenty on the shelf.

Then, after spending way too much time muttering under my breath about complicated recipes being barriers to home cooks, I decided to make something simple. And I did! And it was delicious! And I realized that while it was simple to me, recipes that start with a cup of sourdough starter and involve rolling dough thin enough for crackers, aren’t necessarily simple to others. I may have some work to do on walking my talk. Nevertheless, if you happen to have some sourdough starter and a silicon baking mat or two, these are great!***

Simple Sourdough Crackers

  • 1 cup sourdough starter
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (or ghee or lard or coconut oil or …), plus more for brushing
  • 1 cup (or more) whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • coarse salt for sprinkling

Mix starter, oil, flour, and salt together, adding more flour until a relatively stuff dough forms. Knead lightly (for a minute or two) in the bowl, then cover with plastic wrap and let rest for ~8 hours (up to 24 is probably fine).

Preheat oven to 350º.

Divide dough into two halves*** and shape each roughly into a rectangle. Place the rectangle on asilicon baking mat or sheet of parchment and roll thin, covering as much of the mat or parchment as possible while remaining within the confines of what will fit on your baking sheet. (I kept the plastic wrap on top of the dough to keep my rolling pin from sticking without adding more flour.) Repeat with the other half.

Brush the dough with a bit more olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt. Using a bench scraper or spatula****, cut the dough into cracker-sized***** rectangles. You don’t need to separate the pieces. The dough will put apart slightly while baking so you have separate crackers in the end.

Bake at 350º, for 15 to 20 minutes, just until golden brown. Open the oven door a crack, but leave the baking sheets in for another 15 or more minutes while the crackers crisp up. 


*yes, I am just finishing a write-up of something that happened in February. Sorry.

**maybe it’s Zahav? I haven’t given up.

***I’ll post something more actually simple soon. I promise.

****if you’re using a standard half-sheet pan, aka a regular sized cookie sheet. if your pans are smaller, divide more!

*****don’t use an actual knife or a pastry cutter! It will cut your baking mat and that is sad.

******whatever size cracker you like.

 

Public School Potlucks, Coffeecake

a recipe card showing a hand-written recipe for quick jam coffee cake

Ah, family breakfasts at elementary school. Parents are invited to come see their kids latest project work,* siblings are invited to join in from their classrooms, and each family brings something for a breakfast potluck. In kindergarten, there was clearly a lot of effort by some parents for the potluck contribution to be “healthy,” although there were also quite reliably a few boxes of donut holes. More recently, in a 3rd grade classroom, only two families brought something homemade – a local chef** and me – everything else was Entenmann’s, Dunkin Donuts, or drinks. Unsurprisingly, not many of the kids went for the whole-grain, banana mini-muffins.***

This led to an interesting side conversation with my eldest about why no one seems to cook. I tried to explain about time constraints, and needed energy, and needed know-how. He expounded a bit about how very bad it is for you to just eat Dunkin Donuts, which, is very true, and yet is a bit awkward to exclaim in a room full of folks who just brought donuts to a potluck.**** Mostly, I think he was sad that not many folks wanted the muffins. I was sad too, but I understood.

Still, I not-so-secretly do wish people cooked more. There are myriad arguments for doing it, most of which I’ll resist going into. For me, cooking is an important point of connection, to the world, to our needs and imperfections, to our history, to each other. I can’t do much about other families’ time and energy constraints, but I can chip away, a tiny bit, at the need for know-how and related reticence. Most cooking is actually pretty easy and forgiving! It doesn’t have to be a gorgeous, three layer, apricot jam sponge cake to be delicious and worth making! You can just try things! Really!

Next third grade breakfast, I think I’ll bring coffee cake, my mom’s coffee cake, a bit altered. It’s not Entenmann’s, but it is pretty darn easy (and delicious and flexible). This  way, I’ll bring something homemade, and the kids still might eat it. Compromise.

More or Less My Mom’s Quick Jam Coffeecake*****

  • 6 T butter, softened, plus a little for the pan
  • 1/4 sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose or whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup other whole grain flour or cornmeal******
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (or 1/8 tsp almond extract or 1 tsp citrus zest or …) – optional
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 chopped nuts
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon (or other complementary spice) – optional
  • 2/3 cup jam

Preheat over to 375ºF. Butter an 8×8 inch pan.

Cream 6 tablespoons of the butter with the 1/4 cup sugar. Add the egg and optional extract, then beat until well incorporated. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture alternating with the milk (in two or three rounds) and continue to mix just until you have a (mostly) smooth batter. Spread batter in prepared pan. Mix together the brown sugar, chopped nuts, and optional spice and sprinkle on top. Dot with ~9 dollops of jam. Bake ~25-30 minutes, until golden brown and a tester comes out clean.

Serves ~9. Double the recipe and use a 13×9 inch pan if feeding a large number of third graders.


*model Mayflowers! the Solar System rap! reports on the habitat of your chosen animal and how to protect it! research into one of your family’s countries of origin! The school projects are actually pretty cool.

**OK, technically I think the chef made his triple-layer, apricot jam sponge cake at work, so it wasn’t quite homemade either, but it was absolutely delicious.

***admittedly, these were not my best ever banana muffins. I cooked them a minute or 2 too long, so they were dry. Ah, well.

****also, I kinda like donuts, just not as part of a regular breakfast.

*****I may have added butter. Sorry, Mom! (Also, I have no idea how this would work if actually simply beaten with a fork and am too lazy to find out. I use a mixer.)

******I like to match this to the jam type – rye for stone fruits, cornmeal for berries, etc.

 

 

My New/Old Go-To Brownie Recipe

AKA Yet Another Thing I Put Flaked Salt On

AKA What I Did with the Urfa Pepper*

AKA An Homage to Alice Medrich**

A couples weeks ago, I was going to post my go-to brownie recipe and mention that it’s what I’ve been adding Urfa pepper to, but then I didn’t have a photo handy, so I needed to make it again, and then while I was making it again, I started thinking about small changes I could make to make it better, and then after I made those, I started reading more and thinking about a few more changes, and then I had suddenly made a whole lot of brownies and still didn’t have it quite right.***

But now? I think I’ve got it, although I also just read that resting the brownie batter in the refrigerator for awhile makes the texture and crackly crust better, so there’s one more thing I’m likely to try.

Brown Butter Cocoa Brownies 

    • 10 Tbsp (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
    • 1 1/4 cup sugar
    • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 1/2 tsp Urfa pepper (opt.) or 1 tsp espresso powder (also opt.)
    • tsp vanilla extract
    • 2 Tbsp bourbon, other liquor, coffee, or water****
    • large eggs, cold 
    • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour 
    • flaked sea salt (such as Maldon, technically opt.)

Butter an 8inch square pan and dust it with cocoa (or line it with parchment if you need them all to come out cleanly). Place a rack in the bottom third of the oven. Preheat oven to 325ºF.

Using a saucepan big enough to eventually hold all the ingredients, brown the butter.***** Off heat, but while the butter is still quite hot, add the sugar, cocoa, salt and optional Urfa pepper (or espresso powder), then stir until well blended using a stiff spatula. Next, stir in the vanilla and bourbon (or other liquid), then the cold eggs, one at a time, stirring until fully incorporated with each addition. Next, stir in the flour until no streaks remain. Finally, stir the whole thing vigorously for 50 strokes.

Spread batter in prepared pan. (If you have time, let it chill in the fridge for a few minutes up to overnight.) Sprinkle with flaked sea salt, if using. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until only a bit of batter adheres to a toothpick inserted off-center. Cool before cutting. Share.


*The Urfa pepper from our trip to Zingerman’s, which I promised I’d tell you about.

**Limited research shows that basically every great brownie recipe on the internet, including this one, was inspired or informed by Alice Medrich. Respect.

***My goal was to strike the right balance of simple (not too many dishes, ingredients I tend to have on hand, no swearing at parchment paper, etc.) and delicious (browning the butter, deep chocolate taste, etc.). This turned out to be trickier than I thought.

****This adds back in the liquid lost when you brown the butter. Any liquid should work. Bourbon, of course, means you can call them “Brown Butter Bourbon Brownies” or “b4” for short.

*****To brown butter, cook it over low heat until it starts to brown and smell nutty, scraping the bottom of the pan (use the same stuff spatula!) occasionally to keep the milk solids from sticking too much. This generally takes about five minutes, but will depend on your stove and your pan.

The Family Biscuits

There aren’t many things that everyone in my family will happily eat. Arugula salad with apples, almonds, and sherry vinaigrette is one. Cornbread, as long as it’s served butter and honey for some of us, is another. Fruit*. And then there’s these biscuits. Everyone will almost always eat these biscuits.**

NB: These are not high-rise flaky southern biscuits. I hear I need self-rising flour for those. Or maybe cake flour mixed with AP. Or maybe something else. Someday I’ll try out the options.*** These are also not fancy, mix-in, serve at a dinner party biscuits. These are “I have half an hour before dinner and 2 qts of frozen soup” biscuits. They’re for when you just want something hot out of the oven to go with dinner.

An aside about flour: I often use sprouted spelt flour instead of standard whole wheat. This is mostly because I have sprouted spelt flour. I have it mostly because I have a habit of trying things and know someone who likes spelt, so one day I tried it and decided I like it. Pretty much anything I do with sprouted spelt can be made with regular (or sprouted) whole wheat pastry flour. Since the point of these biscuits is to make something quick and easy that the family will eat, I highly recommend using whatever you’ve got on hand.****

  • 12 oz (2 1/2 cup) sprouted spelt flour (or whole wheat pastry flour)
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 oz unsalted butter, cold, cut into pieces
  • 6 oz (3/4 cup) yogurt*****
  • 2 oz (1/4 cup) milk*****
  • 1 T butter, melted
  • coarse sea salt or fleur de sel

Preheat oven to 375º. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the butter, using your hands, a pastry cutter, or a food processor, until it is in pea-sized pieces or smaller. Add the yogurt and milk and stir using a spatula, folding the mixture against the sides of the bowl, just until it comes together in a ragged dough. (If it refuses to come together, add a smidge more milk.) Scrape onto a counter or other good rolling surface and fold and press, repeatedly, until you have a cohesive square. Roll to about 3/4 inch thick. Cut into rectangles with a bench scraper (or use a biscuit cutter to cut rounds if you prefer). If you have time, let the biscuits rest in the refrigerator for a bit (15 minutes up to a day). Brush tops with melted butter and sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake ~20 minutes, until beginning to brown. Eat with soup (or honey or apple butter or …).


*Yep, pretty much any good fresh fruit.

**Of course, yesterday, when I made them (and typed most of this post), the youngest decided he didn’t want any, he wanted bread and butter instead. sigh.

***My sis just sent me a link to this post comparing self-rising flours, which got me thinking, but not testing yet.

****Unless whatever you have on hand is old, sad, dusty, whole grain flour; please don’t use that. These biscuits are basically just flour and butter and yogurt, so you can really taste the flour and if it’s old and sad, your biscuits will taste old and sad.

*****if you happen to have buttermilk, use 8oz buttermilk in place of the yogurt and milk.