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Almond Biscotti: A Classic Recipe

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I have met many biscotti in my life that I didn't get along with because they tasted like cardboard.  I don't like them too sweet either, or covered in chocolate, or filled with dried fruit and citrus rind.  I'm not sure what made me try this recipe in the first place, considering how I felt about this famous cookie at the time, but I did and it transformed my opinion.  I got the original recipe from a favorite cookbook "The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook" by Jack Bishop which I highly recommend.  His recipe calls for eggs plus a couple of egg yolks to add richness to the cookies.  While I am a fan of eggs I am not a fan of a strong yolk flavor*.  So over time I adapted this recipe to better suit my own preference.  I am offering you my version of this classic dipping cookie.

Almond Biscotti

Ingredients:
1 cup whole almonds
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
4 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract


 

Method: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spread the almonds on a baking sheet and lightly toast them (about 8 minutes).   Set them aside to cool but don't turn off the oven.  Cut parchment paper to the size of a large baking sheet.

 

In the bowl of your stand mixer blend the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.  In a separate bowl beat 3 of the eggs with the vanilla extract.  With the mixer on med-low speed add the eggs to the flour in a steady stream and keep the mixer going until the flour and eggs have been completely incorporated.

Roughly chop the almonds (I like to chop them in half so the chunks are fairly big but you can chop them a little smaller if you like).

The dough is very sticky!  Remove it from the bowl of the mixer onto a floured pastry board or your counter - you will need a pastry scraper to help you knead the dough gently (just until it's smooth).  You will need to add more flour as you go along and may even need to rinse your hands off once or twice.


 


Gently knead the almonds into the dough.




Cut the ball of dough into two pieces.  One at a time, transfer each one to the parchment paper covered baking sheet and roll them out until they're about 12" long and flatten out so that they're about 3" wide.

 


Beat the remaining egg in a small bowl and add a small splash of water.  Brush the egg wash on the outside of the dough, including the sides.

Bake in the oven (on a middle rack) for 30 minutes.



Remove the cookie loaves from the oven and turn the oven down to 325 degrees.  Let the loaves cool for a few minutes (allowing the oven to reduce in temperature as well) and then cut them up on the diagonal in approximately 1" wide pieces.

 

Turn them on their sides and return to the oven for ten more minutes.  If you live in a damp climate, as I do, I recommend turning your oven off after ten minutes but let the cookies completely cool down inside the oven.  The texture of these cookies is definitely hard and crisp enough to encourage dipping, but if your air is generally a little damp then the cookies may not achieve as satisfying a dryness as is desired.  When they've completely cooled store them in an air-tight container.

 

Recipe Notes: I think the egg wash is important here, but I hate that one recipe of these only uses about half of the beaten egg.  So if you want to be extra thrifty, I suggest doing a double batch at a time.  Each recipe makes about 24 biscotti (depending on how thickly you cut them) so if 48 biscotti sounds extreme- freeze half of them for later or share them with others!  If you're out of vanilla extract (as I am right now!) you can scrape some vanilla bean seeds into the eggs and let them sit for ten or fifteen minutes.

*So unless I get one of my friends who are excellent cooks to do a hollandaise sauce recipe for Stitch and Boots, there won't be one.  I can't stand any sauce made up primarily of egg yolks.  Mrs. Carlton?  Mrs. Evich?  Mrs. Lagarde?  Any of you up for the challenge?


Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

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Because I have an excessively picky eater to feed who doesn't eat enough protein, I am always looking for ways to get more into him.  He has a huge sweet tooth and when it was established that he likes peanut butter cookies I went on a search for the recipe with the most peanut butter and the least amount of sugar.  Naturally I had to adapt what I found and this recipe is the one that has evolved and become our standard.

 

These cookies don't spread so you have to push them down a little bit after making them into a ball.  It isn't necessary to make the classic hash marks with a fork, but I enjoy doing it this way.

 

Each cookie is about an inch and a half in size when baked.



This is the color the bottom should be when you take them out- a nice deep golden without being too dark or too light.


Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

yield: approximately 60 cookies

Ingredients:
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups light-brown sugar
1 1/2 cups smooth peanut butter
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
6 oz mini chocolate chips

Method:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cream the butter and sugars together in a big bowl until they are fluffy and light yellow.  Add the peanut butter and continue beating until it is completely blended with the butter.  Next beat in the eggs, one at a time, and then add the vanilla.

In a separate medium-size bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.  Gradually stir the flour in with the wet ingredients until completely incorporated.  Add the chocolate chips and mix them into the dough thoroughly.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  To form the cookies use about a table-spoon of dough and roll it in the palm of your hand to form a ball.  Place it on the cookie sheet and flatten it gently with either a fork or your hand.

When the sheet is full, bake for 10 minutes until the bottom of the cookie is golden brown.  Cool on a rack for a couple minutes before eating.

Recipe Notes: You can make this dough using a stand mixer, as I do, using the whisk attachment for mixing the wet ingredients and a paddle for adding the flour.  If you use a mixer to cream the eggs and sugar it will take about 5 minutes on high-speed to get it to the fluffy light consistency you want.  If you're doing it by hand be sure to use a whisk and give it the full power of your arm muscles!  If you can get it, use organic peanut butter, but if not, be sure you're using a natural peanut butter with no added sugars or preservatives.  We store this dough in the fridge and make batches of 12 cookies at a time.  We think they're best fresh.  The yield you get will depend on the size of cookie you make.  You can make them larger than we do if you like a bigger cookie.


Muffins: Mrs. C's Master Recipe

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Chelsea muffins 2

Muffins are not difficult to make once you understand a couple of basic principles:

1.  Always mix the wet and dry ingredients separately until the very end.

2.  Do not beat the batter to death.  Mix as quickly and gently as you can or the muffins will come out tough.

Behind every excellent muffin baker there is a master batter recipe to be found.  Mrs. C, the other headmistress of the Farmhouse Finishing School, is a superb baker and she has a sense for it that goes beyond precise measurements.  It was therefore a challenge to translate her master recipe- but I managed to do it and practiced using it and I confidently present it here for you.

I have made these muffins with little substitutions and alterations and had great success with them.  I have also made them exactly as written here.  I will share with you the master recipe and then I will tell you what alterations you can make without being disappointed in the results.

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups all purpose unbleached flour
2/3 cups sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 1/4 cup buttermilk (or regular milk)
1/3 cup oil
1 1/2 cup blueberries (or other small fruits or berries)


 muffins 2

Method:

Preheat the oven to 425°.   Mix all the dry ingredients in a medium sized mixing bowl.  In a slightly smaller bowl mix all the wet ingredients together.  If you are using berries or chocolate chips, stir them into the dry ingredients so that they are well covered in flour.  This is important.  Do not mix in after you've combined the wet and dry ingredients.  Coating them with the dry flour first will help keep them separate from each other in the batter.

Coat the inside of the muffin tins with butter or oil (I recommend using the butter).

Make a little well in the middle of your dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into it.  Quickly and gently stir the wet and dry together just until they are mixed- do not over stir.   Do not whip them together violently or you will end up with tough muffins.

Cook for about 17 minutes, until the tops are lightly golden.


floured berries 2

Here I have added the blueberries to the dry ingredients and stirred them in well.

mixing 2


In this picture I didn't make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients.  It isn't necessary, but it's recommended because it makes the incorporation of the wet and dry ingredients faster to bring together.

batter 2

Every muffin recipe I've ever made says to only fill the muffin tins 2/3 full.  This irritates me.  My muffins never seem satisfyingly top lofty.  I fill them mostly full.  To me they are perfect this way.  The yield may vary depending on what you add to the batter- you may get only 12 muffins or you may get 15.

blueberry muffins 2


Recipe Notes: I almost never have buttermilk on hand.  When I do buy it I always have left overs that proceed to go bad.  Mrs. C doesn't have this problem.  She nearly always has buttermilk on hand.  Instead I use 2% milk and I can say that this substitution does not make an inferior muffin.  There is that pleasant tang when you use the buttermilk but other than a slight flavor difference, the quality of the batter can handle the substitution. I like a lot of berries in my muffins.  So I used 2 cups of berries.  You can do this too if you like.  I think 1 1/2 might be the most ideal ratio of berries to batter but I always like going over the top.  Using frozen blueberries works exceptionally well, just be sure not to let them defrost before adding them to the batter.  You can also use blackberries, diced peaches, raspberries, or even chocolate chips.  If you use chocolate chips I recommend you only use 1 cup of them. One last note- you may need to add a little bit more milk/buttermilk to your batter if it's too stiff when mixed.  Things that can affect your batter are the humidity in the air and the size of your eggs.  If your batter seems too stiff, add 1/4 cup of buttermilk or milk and as gently and quickly as you can,  mix it in.



Pita Bread

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pita2

This recipe is based on one I've been using from Deborah Madison's cook book "Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone" which is a book I can recommend that everyone have a copy of. It's that good. This is an easy recipe for anyone to make, even if you're not experienced making other breads. If you have a baking stone, put it in the oven right now, before you forget. A baking stone is the best way to bake pitas, though you can use a regular baking sheet if you haven't got one. The stone should heat up with your oven.

Ingredients:
2 1/4 tsp (1 envelope) active dry yeast
1 tsp honey
1 3/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil (plus extra for oiling the bowl for the dough)
1 1/2 cups multi-grain flour
2 cups bread flour (plus extra for kneading)

 pita1

Put two cups of water in a large mixing bowl, stir in the yeast and honey, and set aside until foamy, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile oil a bowl for the dough. If your yeast never gets foamy it's probably dead because you don't bake often enough and you should use some fresher yeast.

Stir in the salt and olive oil
, then beat in the multi-grain flour until smooth. Add the remaining flour in small increments until the dough is too heavy to stir. Turn it onto a counter and knead it, adding more flour as needed, until the dough is supple and and smooth. Form it into a ball and put it in the oiled bowl, turning it to be sure the top is oiled. Cover with towel and set aside until doubled in bulk which should take about an hour.

Punch the dough down
and divide it into 8 pieces if you want large pitas, or 16 pieces if you want smaller pitas. I like the smaller ones better because they are the perfect size for a mini pizza for one. Roll each piece into a ball and set them all aside covered by a damp towel or do as I do and just leave them lying around the counter until it's time to roll them out. At this point preheat the oven at 475 degrees. Let the dough rest while the oven preheats.

When the oven is ready
I roll out as many pitas as I can fit on my baking stone, which is 4 if I'm making large ones, or 6 if I'm making the smaller ones. Place each one on the baking stone and let them cook for a bout 3 minutes each. Mine never completely puff up and I don't know the reason why. Generally speaking each one will at least partially puff up and the occasional one will completely puff up. I check the bottoms of the pitas to see if they're done- they should have only the slightest golden coloring on the bottom.

I roll out the next batch while I'm waiting for the current one to cook. If you happen to have an enormous kitchen you could roll them all out at once, but then you must not stack them on top of each other or they will stick together.

Let the hot pitas cool down on a cooling rack high enough up that my dog doesn't eat them.



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