Baking with Butter Tips

Baking with Butter Tips
Photo by Francesco Tonelli, The New York Times.
The New York Times article “Butter Holds the Secret to Cookies That Sing” by Julia Moskin is a fantastic resource for home bakers seeking the perfect holiday cookie. It talks about the importance of softening butter correctly to maximize it’s ability to hold air that will later give cookies and cakes their structure and texture. It even goes into the differences between domestic butters and imported cultured butters and features some buttery recipes, including one for Orange Butter Cookies by Amy Scherber and Toy Kim Dupree from “The Sweeter Side of Amy’s Bread
Here are a few buttery tips that I found helpful:

  • “butter should be creamed… for at least three minutes”
  • “The best way to get frozen or refrigerated butter ready for creaming is to cut it into chunks. (Never use a microwave: it will melt it, even though it will look solid.) When the butter is still cold, but takes the imprint of a finger when gently pressed, it is ready to be creamed.”
  • “For clean edges on cookies and for even baking, doughs and batters should stay cold — place them in the freezer when the mixing bowl seems to be warming up. And just before baking, cookies should be very well chilled, or even frozen hard.”

Flour Conversion Calculator

Baking with Flour
Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds
Not having a food scale at home should not scare you away from trying recipes that use weight measurements. Websites like traditional oven.com have easy to use flour conversion calculators that quickly translate weight measures into volume and vise-versa. This site is also an in-depth resource for bread and pizza fans with anything from recipes to plans for building your own wood burning oven. Try their flour conversion calculator here.

The Basics of Mixed Drinks

Raspberry Mint Gin Cocktail
Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
Talented ceramicist, friend and home mixologist Sunetra Banerjee shared this New York Times Mark Bittman article with me earlier this week. It’s a good introduction to making your own drinks and understanding the basic elements of many mixed drinks:
Sour Element + Sweet Element + Alcohol + Ice/Water
Sunetra has introduced me to many delicious drink recipes and I have great respect for her sensibility. One of my favorite Sunetra drinks is one with gin, muddled raspberries, simple syrup and soda – makes me thirsty just thinking about it.
If you are wanting to experiment with mixed drinks at home, you’re going to need simple syrup. It’s super easy to make and can store in the refrigerator for up to a month.
Simple Syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1. In a small saucepan, bring sugar and water to a boil. Stir and simmer until the sugar is dissolved about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool completely. Transfer to a glass jar and refrigerate until ready for use.
Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Raspberry Almond Scones

Raspberry Almond Scone Recipe
Bowl by Scott Bartolomei Edmonds. Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds
Here’s what I’ve learned about scones so far:

  • Work quickly.
  • Keep the butter cold.
  • The less you touch the dough the better it will be.
  • It’s much easier to incorporate the butter into the flour with your hands (instead of using a pastry cutter or knifes) but the heat from your hands will melt the butter, so work quickly and freeze the mixture for a few minutes when you are done to keep the butter hard.
  • Pour the liquids into the flour mixture, not the other way around.
  • Stir the liquid into the flour mixture with a few swift strokes (about 6 – 10 strokes). The mixture will still have dry spots, that is okay.
  • Pat the dough gently into a disk, do not overpack.

Raspberry Almond Scones
1 1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup quick oats
2 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup slivered almonds
handful of fresh raspberries
1 teaspoon turbinado sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 450°. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the whipping cream, egg, almond extract, almonds and raspberries with a few swift strokes until a crumbly dough forms.
2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gather the dough into a ball. Gently press the dough into a ¾ inch thick disk.
3. Brush the disk with heavy cream and sprinkle the turbinado sugar. Using a knife, cut the disk into 8 wedges.
4. Arrange the wedges ½ inch apart on a baking sheet. Bake in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.
Makes 8 scones.

Food Funk Food

I have a confession to make: I just don’t want to cook. Early this week, I started refusing to cook. My attempts at cooking for the past few weeks have been so disappointing that I have lost interest. Going to my favorite market to buy fresh produce sounds like a horrible burden. Doing dishes is outright torture. And standing over the stove preparing unappetizing nourishment is just not the thing I want to do. I am in a food funk, and it’s turning into an unofficial cooking strike. My poor family!
I have tried cooking this week and the meals result in tasteless unappetizing messes. I’ve tried old favorites, searched for new recipes to try out new things. I’ve even tried to experiment in the hopes of coming up with something a little interesting or exciting, but to no avail. So, Scott and Angelica have taken turns cooking this week or ordered out.
So my solution to this food funk: Junk Food!
A life of potato chips and chocolate is not one I want to advocate (even though during certain times of the month, it’s tempting). But, last night, as a last resort, I staged my rebellion by trying some all-American packaged food staples:

  • Instant Mashed Potatoes
  • Frozen Corn in a Box
  • Ready-to-Bake Biscuits in a Tube
  • Instant Gravy in a Packet
  • Chicken Fried Steak

Unenthusiastically I went to our local supermarket, Western Beef, for all the supplies. Followed all the 3-step instructions in all the packages. Popped the biscuit tube and baked. Dipped some cubed steak in buttermilk and seasoned flour and fried. Something about taking all these shortcuts made me feel a whole lot better.
So, yes, now that I’ve done this I think I can start trying to cook homemade food from simple fresh ingredients again. Let’s call this little episode my ‘food fit’. Now that I’ve had it, I can move on. Maybe this morning I’ll make some banana bread…