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More Baking Chatter

In Alton Brown’s book, I’m Just Here for More Food, he explains that in baking the “devil is in the details.” He says, “Baking is all about sweating the small stuff.” I agree, cooking is more forgiving than baking. It is more about personal taste, and we can add and subtract without danger of failure—a little of this, a little more of that! Baking just requires more precision than cooking.

Flour, eggs, liquids (milk, water), sugar, fats (butter, shortening, oil) and leavening, (baking powder, baking soda, eggs, air, steam) are the staples for baking. I believe that knowing what function these play in the baked good is a big step toward becoming a better baker.

If I could just pick one or two words that best remind me of their function, I would have to say flour is the backbone or structure in baked goods, and wheat flour is required to supply the glutin; eggs are there for many functions but for sure their proteins help the structure and they emulsify give help leaven. Milk is a big contributor but can be relpace with water or juice in most cases, but what milk actually brings to the table is flavor, browning, nutrition, and preservative. As for leavening agens, they well, make the product rise–or at least the steam and CO2 make it happen. Fats play a big role in making something satisfying in the mouth, especially butter that adds browning and richness and tenderizes. And of course sugar makes stuff sweet but also browns and tenderizes.

So, just getting a little lesson in the contribution that these ingredients make in baked products, may help us to understand that we are truly putting in action some of the chemistry we learned in high school. Baking simply requires a little respect, I think. It is important to believe in the formula, and of course, use good technique in measuring those ingredients.

Unlike in cooking, exact measured amounts of ingredients is required in baking. Compactable ingredients like flour, one cup of which varies in weight at least 3-6 ounces depending on the humidity, must be spooned lightly into a dry ingredient volume measuring device. Oh, and level it off to be accurate. Don’t tap, scoop or compact it in anyway. Scooping using the measuring cup is a good way to add way too much ingredient, so avoid packing, except for brown sugar.

After all ingredients are measured accurately, pans are prepared and oven set, it is time to mix. Here is another crucial place to understand the consequences of your actions. In cooking if you happen to put the onions in after the tomato sauce your spaghetti sauce will still work. But in baking, combining in the order dictated and with the proper tool, the right speed and timing is critical.

By now you have much to assimilate so I will end this home ec lesson, only to pick it up another day with the critical points for mixing that make a big difference in everything from biscuits and muffins to pancakes. Basically the recipes are usually good—the failures are usually in our execution. Our knowledge can be good but our experience is a better indicator of how successful we are. Practice makes perfect, afteall.

Check out these 101 recipes to sharpen your baking technique.

SWEET BUTTER SCONES 101

2 cups All-Purpose flour
6 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1Tablespoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 egg lightly beaten
¾ cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla
Mise en place: Preheat oven to 400°F. Pull out your baking sheet. (ungreased)
Measure all ingredients in advance and keep separate. Check before starting to mix.

Measure: Fluff up or sift the AP flour before measuring. Spoon it into a one cup measure and level with a straight edge tool (spatula). Measure each tablespoon of sugar and level off in separate container. Measure baking powder by first fluffing in the container, as it is very compactable, then level off. Dip ½ and ¼ measuring spoons into salt, level and place in separate container. Cut a stick of butter on the 6 TBS line, or measure butter by packing softened but not warm butter into a 1/4 cup measure, level off; plus pack into tablespoon measure, two times, for 6 TBS. Break egg into small bowl or cup and beat to blend yolk and white with a fork. Measure heavy cream using liquid measure and pour up to the ¾ line- when looking at eye level. (You bend down to it rather than holding cup up to your eye level). Measure 1 tsp. vanilla by using the 1 teaspoon measure. Measure over something so if it spills you can save it!

Mixing: Biscuit method: Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and stir it up to distribute evenly. Cut-in butter into flour mixture until crumbly using a hand-held metal pastry blender or use two table knives, cutting back and forth, until butter is completely distributed throughout the flour. Set aside.
Blend liquid (egg, cream, vanilla) ingredients together. Pour liquid ingredients into the flour and stir together gently with a fork until liquid is on all parts of the flour. No more than 8-10 stirs.

Shape: Dump onto lightly floured spot on your clean counter or cutting board. Pull dough together gently a few times until it holds its shape and pat into ½ inch high circle of dough. You don’t need a rolling pin with such a small amount of dough. Cut into triangles by cutting circle in half, and then half again until you have the desired size and number. Sprinkle with granulated sugar if desired.

Bakeat 400ºF for approximately 15 – 20 minutes, until golden brown on top and bottom. Cool on rack until you can handle. Then enjoy with butter, crème fraiche, jam or all three!


Sardines, Quail, and Lamb too obscure?

This week Lenore got me thinking that my menus for our Small Plates with Wines classes may have strayed too far left of center. She said we usually have only one item that might be considered out side of mainstream. Neither of us believes lamb is in that category, but when served with two courses that are not so common, well, it just got both of us thinking.

When class started we had some guests who actually reported they had signed up for this class because we were serving sardines. Unfortunately, sardines have just been named to the endangered list and we used fresh halibut instead. The sides and flavors on the plate were matched to the sardines, but went quite well with the halibut, too. One guest told me that the halibut course was the favorite last night until we served the grass fed free range lamb from Anderson Valley. She was thrilled with its tenderness and couldn’t believe how great the forbidden black rice went with it.

In between those two courses, we slipped in a proscuitto wrapped sausage stuffed quail. The dinner companion of the guest who liked the lamb best was not as intrigued with the quail. He wished more quail flavor came through. My spicy pork sausage was the dominant flavor he said. Thinking about it now maybe Lenore’s comment about serving quail, lamb and sardines on the same menu made me make the choice I did. I was trying to introduce the quail with some familiar flavors. I liked it allot, and would do it again, and yet will remember that feedback the next time I stuff quail.

In last night’s class there was several in fact the majority of people who had been here before. A group of ten women, escaping husbands and children, and bonded together for the last 20 years by college, seemed to enjoy last night’s dinner the best of the three times they were here.

What prompts me to write about this is that the answers to a chef’s questions are usually right in front of him or her. I got the feedback that I needed to continue letting my inspirations take me into new territory for our menus. And by now I think I have made it clear to our guests that we want them to make our recipes their own. It always pleases me when they have no trouble saying what they might do differently.

I am going to include that quail recipe here. Since I made the sausage, I suggest for more quail flavor, one might use less seasoning in the sausage or actually make it with ground quail rather than pork. Tell me what you think.

SPICY SAUSAGE STUFFED QUAIL
Spicy sausage:
½ # pork shoulder, cubed**
2/3 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp sweet paprika
2/3 tsp chili powder
pinch cayenne pepper
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp fresh ground coriander
1/2- 1 TBS EVOO (add to make up for Pork fat when substituting all quail or chicken meat)
**You may substitute with 1/2# of ground quail and chicken thigh meat for the pork so more quail flavor comes through.

Sausage method :< /b> Place spices over cubed meat and toss to coat completely. Refrigerate. Grind after meat has rested under refrigeration for 30 minutes. Make a small meatball of the sausage and cook in a small pan or in the microwave to check the seasoning and mouth feel (fat). Proceed as directed below.

Quail Breasts
4 each quail breasts
4 oz sausage mixture
4 slices Prosciutto
4 rosemary spears, needles removed
1 TBS light sesame oil
As needed fresh grind of coriander
1 lemon quarter
Quail method: stuff breasts with 1 TBS sausage mixture; wrap breasts with Prosciutto and skewer with rosemary spear; season with sesame oil and coriander. Sear quail on preheated grill to mark; remove and finish cooking in 375F oven for approximately 5-8 minutes or until it reaches 160F. Spritz with lemon before serving.


Sardines, Quail, and Lamb too obscure?

This week Lenore got me thinking that my menus for our Small Plates with Wines classes may have strayed too far left of center. She said we usually have only one item that might be considered out side of mainstream. Neither of us believes lamb is in that category, but when served with two courses that are not so common, well, it just got both of us thinking.

When class started we had some guests who actually reported they had signed up for this class because we were serving sardines. Unfortunately, sardines have just been named to the endangered list and we used fresh halibut instead. The sides and flavors on the plate were matched to the sardines, but went quite well with the halibut, too. One guest told me that the halibut course was the favorite last night until we served the grass fed free range lamb from Anderson Valley. She was thrilled with its tenderness and couldn’t believe how great the forbidden black rice went with it.

In between those two courses, we slipped in a proscuitto wrapped sausage stuffed quail. The dinner companion of the guest, who liked the lamb best, was not as intrigued with the quail. He wished more quail flavor came through. My spicy chicken and pork sausage was the dominant flavor he said. Thinking about it now maybe Lenore’s comment about serving quail, lamb and sardines on the same menu made me make the choice I did. I was trying to introduce the quail with some familiar flavors. I liked it allot, and would do it again, and yet will remember that feedback the next time I stuff quail.

In last night’s class there was several in fact the majority of people who had been here before. A group of ten women, escaping husbands and children, and bonded together for the last 20 years by college, seemed to enjoy last night’s dinner the best of the three times they were here.

What prompts me to write about this is that the answers to a chef’s questions are usually right in front of him or her. I got the feedback that I needed to continue letting my inspirations take me into new territory for our menus. And by now I think I have made it clear to our guests that we want them to make our recipes their own. It always pleases me when they have no trouble saying what they might do differently.

I am going to include that quail recipe here. Since I made the sausage, I suggest for more quail flavor, one might use less seasoning in the sausage or actually make it with ground quail rather than pork. Tell me what you think.

SPICY SAUSAGE STUFFED QUAIL
Spicy sausage:
½ # pork shoulder, cubed**
2/3 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp sweet paprika
2/3 tsp chili powder
pinch cayenne pepper
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp fresh ground coriander
1/2- 1 TBS EVOO (add to make up for Pork fat when substituting all quail or chicken meat)
**You may substitute some ground quail and chicken thigh meat for the pork so more quail flavor comes through.

Sausage method :< /b> Place spices over cubed meat and toss to coat completely. Refrigerate. Grind after meat has rested under refrigeration for 30 minutes. Make a small meatball of the sausage and cook in a small pan or in the microwave to check the seasoning and mouth feel (fat). Proceed as directed below.

Quail Breasts
4 each quail breasts
4 oz sausage mixture
4 slices Prosciutto
4 rosemary spears, needles removed
1 TBS light sesame oil
As needed fresh grind of coriander
1 lemon quarter
Quail method: stuff breasts with 1 TBS sausage mixture; wrap breasts with Prosciutto and skewer with rosemary spear; season with sesame oil and coriander. Sear quail on preheated grill to mark; remove and finish cooking in 375F oven for approximately 5-8 minutes or until it reaches 160F. Spritz with lemon before serving.


BAKING INTENSIVE SERIES

Last week I had 2 and 3 students here from 9am – 3pm getting intense about basic baking techniques. I think they did fabulously, and it was great for me as we did kick out some product. Starting with baking powder biscuits and piecrust, puff dough and sour dough, and finally angel food cake and gelato; it was a great review for me and a way to remember old times.

To my good fortune, I was first trained as an apprentice in a large-scale bakery. Otherwise I might be like my many of my comrades who defer to the pastry chef for their entire baking repertoire, and mind you I do too for many things. Even Rachel Ray, the Food Network chef admonish herself for steering clear of baking. Why?

I think it is the same for home cooks, too—perhaps lack of experience and maybe even fear! Fear of making piecrust is one comment we hear over and over. When it comes to putting together something that requires flour and ovens, it seems to stop even very accomplished cooks. But in baking, the recipes themselves are carefully written in ratios of ingredients that go together in a certain way to create the desired end result. Maybe it’s the science that scares cooks away from this side of the culinary arts.

Ah, but the satisfaction of turning out simple banana bread when the bananas went too ripe, or getting up on a sleep-in Saturday and making a batch of blueberry muffins for breakfast is so worth the effort. Trust me, I know, I am not about to change anybody’s mind who, like Rachel Ray, has already drawn the line; but I think I might sway a few fence sitters into giving it a try. I can hear Lenore saying don’t even bother to teach me anything mechanical that has to do with the car, because she is not about to start now! So let’s focus on the fence sitters. Think of it as the home economics class that so many schools have dropped from the curriculum. Hmmm… maybe a contributing factor to why cooks don’t bake