Friday, January 27, 2012

January Daring Bakers - Scones

 Audax Artifex was our January 2012 Daring Bakers’ host. Aud worked tirelessly to master light and fluffy scones (a/k/a biscuits) to help us create delicious and perfect batches in our own kitchens!
I never knew that scones were actually biscuits or maybe I should say that biscuits are actually scones.
The challenge this month was lots of fun. The ingredients were not unusual and the method was fairly straight forward. As  a girl raised in the South, I was always a bit embarrassed by my biscuits. I knew from my upbringing in Alabama what a biscuit was supposed to taste like...I just could not make mine taste that way. When I moved up North, I was constantly asked to make biscuits or give biscuit advice. It was not pretty.
With the sound advice of Audax faraway in Australia, I now feel capable of turning out a really great biscuits/scones. He made many batches of biscuits, tweaking here and there to give us not only a great recipe with variations, but some terrific advice as well. I am sure I will be quoting him next time I am asked about making light biscuits.
I serve them at almost every meal now and really keep them quite basic. I may venture into a more exotic biscuit/scone but for now I am relishing the notion that I still have a bit of the South at my fingertips.
Thanks Audax. You are a fine gentleman!

Scones / Biscuits

Ingredients:1cup (240 ml) (140 gm/5 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour

2 teaspoons (10 ml) (10 gm) (1/3 oz) fresh baking powder

¼ teaspoon (1¼ ml) (1½ gm) salt

2 tablespoons (30 gm/1 oz) frozen grated butter (or a combination of lard and butter)

Approximately ½ cup (120 ml) cold milk

Optional 1 tablespoon milk, for glazing the tops of the scones

Frozen grated butter-Genius!

Directions1. Preheat oven to very hot 475°F/240°C/gas mark 9.

2. Triple sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl. (If your room temperature is very hot refrigerate the sifted ingredients until cold.)

3. Rub the frozen grated butter (or combination of fats) into the dry ingredients until it resembles very coarse bread crumbs with some pea-sized pieces if you want flaky scones or until it resembles coarse beach sand if you want tender scones.

4. Add nearly all of the liquid at once into the rubbed-in flour/fat mixture and mix until it just forms a sticky dough (add the remaining liquid if needed). The wetter the dough the lighter the scones (biscuits) will be!

5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board, lightly flour the top of the dough. To achieve an even homogeneous crumb to your scones knead very gently about 4 or 5 times (do not press too firmly) the dough until it is smooth. To achieve a layered effect in your scones knead very gently once (do not press too firmly) then fold and turn the kneaded dough about 3 or 4 times until the dough has formed a smooth texture. (Use a floured plastic scraper to help you knead and/or fold and turn the dough if you wish.)

6. Pat or roll out the dough into a 6 inch by 4 inch rectangle by about ¾ inch thick (15¼ cm by 10 cm by 2 cm thick). Using a well-floured 2-inch (5 cm) scone cutter (biscuit cutter), stamp out without twisting six 2-inch (5 cm) rounds, gently reform the scraps into another ¾ inch (2 cm) layer and cut two more scones (these two scones will not raise as well as the others since the extra handling will slightly toughen the dough). Or use a well-floured sharp knife to form squares or wedges as you desire.

7. Place the rounds just touching on a baking dish if you wish to have soft-sided scones or place the rounds spaced widely apart on the baking dish if you wish to have crisp-sided scones. Glaze the tops with milk if you want a golden colour on your scones or lightly flour if you want a more traditional look to your scones.

Ready to Bake

8. Bake in the preheated very hot oven for about 10 minutes (check at 8 minutes since home ovens at these high temperatures are very unreliable) until the scones are well risen and are lightly coloured on the tops. The scones are ready when the sides are set.

9. Immediately place onto cooling rack to stop the cooking process, serve while still warm

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Back of the Box Blog 1-2-3-4 Cake

I have been fascinated with the recipes on back of the boxes and bottles that I buy. I will buy butter and inside the box are a few recipes that, on sight, look good. I started trying a few here and there and found that more often than not, the recipes were accurate and delicious.

This week I made a vanilla  cake recipe from the back of the Swans Down Cake Flour box. There was a recipe for a vanilla cake, chocolate cake and pound cake. I was impressed that they would cover the three main bases and got a good feeling about the recipe right away. Also, the ingredients and method were very appealing. I had thought that I might like to give such a plain cake a little oomph with a little almond extract only to find that ingredient already listed in the recipe.  I was really set on making it.
Making the cake is a breeze. It is as straight forward as its name. Here are a couple of things I do for cakes though to give them their best shot at yumminess. I sift the dry ingredients together as the recipe requires but then I use a wire whip and stir the flour mixture for about a minute more, ensuring that the leaven is well distributed and the mixture is aerated for a light cake. I read this trick from BakeWise by Shirley Corriher. While I like her explanations of the hows and whys of baking, I find her recipes too sweet and too  cumbersome.

The recipe for this cake called for three  9- inch pans. I do not know too many people who have this pan set up in their home kitchen. I don't and I have a lot of pans. I teach cake decorating and all of our practice cakes are 8-inch pans. I was making this cake for a class so I used  two 8-inch pans. The cakes rose beautifully. They took 30 minutes instead of the recipe's 20  minutes but that was expected. I just kept hovering after 20 minutes. The cakes did cling to the sides of the pan but that happens with almost every vanilla cake I have ever made. I let the cakes cool 10 minutes and then use a thin, flexible spatula to loosen the sides.
This cake smelled wonderful coming out of the oven. It was a beautiful color. It tasted really great if you like the almond flavor. I made a second batch using 1/4 teaspoon almond extract. It was much better with just that hint of almond.

My big test for a vanilla cake is the next day. Cakes such as these seem to deteriorate on flavor  perhaps due to their simplicity, they don't have much there to keep them fresh. I found this cake to be almost better the next day. The almond flavor  of the first batch was not as noticeable. The second batch had no real discernible almond flavor, just a richer taste.   Both batches had a bright aftertaste as opposed to that heavy tongue coating flavor that usually happens when cake goes bad.
The cake is soft in texture, I should add. Many of the vanilla cakes I make are a bit dense. I try not to refrigerate vanilla cakes if possible. I find it changes the texture a lot. But if I need to chill them, I try to choose a really creamy, flavorful filling to compensate.

I am going to keep this recipe for sure. I  plan to play with flavorings, maybe add a little orange zest here or espresso powder there. I think this recipe will adapt well. Here is the recipe with the adjustment for the almond extract.

1-2-3-4 Cake      
 adapted from the Swans Down Cake Flour box

8 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
3 cups cake flour, sifted
4 large eggs
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare pans by spraying with food release and lining bottoms with parchment paper.
 Cream the butter in a large bowl. Gradually add the sugar, creaming until light and fluffy. Sift the cake flour with baking powder and salt. Add the eggs, one at a time, to the creamed mixture beating well after each addition. Add the flour alternately with the milk and flavorings blending after each addition until smooth. Do not over beat. Pour into prepared pans.
 Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out with loose crumbs attached.
 Cool cakes in pans on a rack for about 10 minutes. Remove from pans and cool to room temperature before decorating.