Quarantine Cuisine Week 1: Stress Baking

If you follow me on Instagram, you already know that I spent much of our first week of voluntary self-isolation baking, but I thought I’d do a quick round-up here. Because both baking and eating baked goods are good stress relief.

Salted Butter Chocolate Chunk Shortbread from Smitten Kitchen

Ligurian Focaccia from Salt Fat Acid Heat

Malted Buttermilk Biscuits via Lottie + Doof

Bagels via Epicurious

I hope that you’re keeping safe and well, and finding your own ways to deal with these difficult days.

Rage Baking

Today I went to the library all on my own. Before I hurt my knee I wouldn’t have commented on the independence of it, but being able to run small errands in the sun feels like a little miracle right now. I picked up Rage Baking by Kathy Gunst and Katherine Alford. You may have heard of it — a book of recipes accompanied by essays, stories, and poems by women activists, artists, and bakers — and you may also have heard that the authors failed to properly credit Tangerine Jones, a black woman who had popularized the hashtag ragebaking on Instagram. Frustrating, and why I got it from the library rather than buying it as I had originally planned. As a book it’s a little lightweight. There are definitely some recipes that I want to try, and I have a lot of empathy for the women whose anger at everything happening these days is overwhelming, but I thought it could have included more recipes, more women, more perspectives, more food history, &c.

And yet, as a concept, I am all in. While I was laid up, all I could think of was all of the things I would bake when I got well again. Yesterday I managed to make banana bread*. I gritted my teeth to get it done, even though I had to stop three times to rest while making it. Ridiculous. Banana bread is so easy to throw together, before Christmas I could have done it half asleep. Yesterday it was such an effort, but I did it anyway. There were overripe bananas that needed to be used, of course, but there was also the feeling, of needing to do something, right now. And this was something that I could do, right now. I’m not advocating baking as a replacement for voting, volunteering, and donating, but when you’ve done all of that, and you still need to do more, yeah. Better preheat the oven and get your apron on.

* My favorite banana bread recipe is on Epicurious, although I increase the salt to 1/2 tsp, use brown sugar for half of the sugar, and add 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp nutmeg.

Let me guess…

My daughter spent a chunk of her free time this summer playing Skyrim, so, for her first day of school, I made her some sweetrolls to steal. I used the recipe in the Nerdy Nummies Cookbook by Rosanna Pansino, but you could make any cinnamon roll or sweet bun dough and I’m sure it would work. The tricky part is finding two 6-cavity mini Bundt pans, if you don’t already have them.

Fantasy Sweet Rolls
Makes 12

For the dough:
1 envelope (1/4 oz) active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
6 TB salted butter, at room temp
1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 large egg yolks, at room temp
3/4 cup whole milk, at room temp, just have everything at room temp, okay?
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp salt
3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour

For the filling:
4 TB salted butter, melted
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 TB ground cinnamon

For the icing:
2 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 TB whole milk

1. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, beat the butter and the sugar together.

2. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition. Mix in the milk, cardamom, and salt until well-blended (This was the step that mystified me. No matter how room temperature everything is, you’re still just going to get soggy butter chunks.). Beat in the yeast mixture.

3. Add 3 1/2 cups of flour, and mix until well-combined. Knead the dough until smooth, adding more flour if necessary (it was).

4. Place the dough in a large oiled bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

5. On a lightly-floured surface, roll the dough into a 12″ x 18″ rectangle, and brush with the melted butter.

6. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle evenly over the dough.

7. Fold the dough into thirds (on the 18″ side, so you’ll end up with a 12″ x 6″ rectangle)

8. Cut the folded dough crosswise into 12 1″-wide strips.

9. Grease your two 6-cavity mini-Bundt pans, and wrap the dough slices around the center tubes. I only had one such pan, so I did half a batch at a time (I had to go to several stores looking for an appropriately-sized mini-Bundt pan, and the only ones I could find were $36 each, and I wasn’t prepared for that kind of investment).

10. Cover the pans and let rise for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

11. Bake 18 – 20 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

12. Level the bottoms of the rolls with a large knife.

13. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, vanilla, and milk for the icing, adjusting with more milk or sugar to get a thick, but pourable, glaze.

14. Spoon over the tops of the rolls, and allow (encourage) to drip down the sides.

Oisgill Scones (aka Round Scones)

This is my mom’s recipe, and it’s kind of a mystery. It was copied out of a food magazine a long time ago, but no amount of googling has led me to its source. The people of Oisgill Bay, Isle of Skye, Scotland, don’t seem to have a particularly robust scone-making tradition, and, while there’s a wide range of “traditional Scottish scones’ recipes out there, none of them are like these, as far as I can tell. Honestly, these scones aren’t very scone-like. They’re more like breakfast cookies. That doesn’t stop us from loving them, though!

Makes 10

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugat
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

For egg wash: 1 egg beaten with 1 tsp water

1. Preheat the oven to 400° and line a baking sheet with parchment.

2. Beat the butter and sugar by hand or with a mixer. Add the egg and beat until blended. (I added 1/2 tsp vanilla after this step, because I thought it would be a good addition, and I was not wrong).

3. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt (I didn’t. I literally almost never sift anything if I can get away with it), add to the butter mixture, and mix gently, just to combine.

4. Gather into a ball, and flatten into an 8″-round, 1/2″-thick circle. Cut into rounds using a 2″ cutter, gently gathering and re-flattening/cutting the scraps until they’re all used up.

5. Place on baking sheet, and brush the tops with the egg wash. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until they’re light brown.

Biscuits and Gravy

I’ve lived in New England my whole life, but my grandparents retired to Chapel Hill, North Carolina when I was very young, and an aunt and an uncle moved down south with their families soon after, so while I’m not from the South, that side of the family is pretty firmly transplanted there, and we’ve adopted some of their food traditions. Biscuits and gravy is definitely my favorite, and, in my opinion, not enough Northerners have been won over to its deliciousness. What I’m giving you here is more of a method than a recipe per se, but I hope you give it a try, and add it to your weekend breakfast repertoire.

1. Make your favorite biscuits. You can try these Sourdough Discard Biscuits, but any good, plain, savory biscuit will do. This post is more about the gravy part, anyway.

2. Brown 1 lb. bulk breakfast sausage over medium-high heat, breaking it up with a spoon as you go. If nobody has bulk sausage, you can peel the skins off some raw links instead.

3. Turn the heat down to medium, and add a few spoonfuls of flour, enough to trap all the fat the sausage has released. So, add the flour, stir, and if there’s still some grease in the pan, add more flour until it’s dry.

4. Now, you’re basically just making a bechamel sauce at this point, although, since it’s a more ad hoc version it’s called sawmill gravy instead. Okay, so if you’re a super organized person, what you might do is, while the sausage is browning, heat up a pot of milk just to a simmer. It is generally a little easier to incorporate hot liquids into the gravy, but it’s the morning, I don’t want to have to think ahead, so I just add a little cold milk to the pan and wait until it heats up before I start stirring it. In my experience that works just as well as the other way, so I say go for it. Anyway, add a little milk, wait for it to heat up, stir until you have an even paste, with all the flour incorporated and no weird lumps — there’s sausage, and that’s going to be lumpy, but no flour lumps — and then just keep repeating until the gravy is the thickness you like.

5. Taste it and season it. This step really depends on the sausage and what it’s got going on, but I generally find myself adding sage, thyme, salt, pepper, maybe some cayenne or hot sauce, maybe some nutmeg. If it tastes floury at this point, just cook it a little longer. If it gets too thick, you can add more milk. You can also change it up by using broth, cream, buttermilk, some water if you have to. Make a New England-y version by adding cider and maple syrup, I don’t know.

6. Split the biscuits in half, put some gravy on top, done.

Sourdough Discard Biscuits

Sourdough discard biscuits

sourdough discard biscuits

The thing about a sourdough starter is that you have to throw away a bunch of dough every time you refresh it. Fortunately, there are a whole bunch of recipes that make use of the discarded portion; King Arthur Flour has helpfully compiled a bunch of theirs onto one page, including a recipe for biscuits. This recipe is not that recipe. I started there, but since my sourdough is smaller and drier, I altered it quite a bit.

Makes 10 or so

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 TB baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 stick (8 TB) unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
sourdough starter remains: about one cup, or whatever you have going on
1 cup-ish buttermilk (depends on how wet your sourdough is)

1. Preheat the oven to 450° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

2. Mix the dry ingredients. Cut in the butter however you prefer (but see below). Add the starter, and enough buttermilk to make a slightly-sticky-until-you’ve-floured-it dough. Mix with a fork, then knead gently once or twice just to get it to cohere. Flour your fingers, or they will get coated in dough!

3. Dump the dough onto a floured surface and pat into a half-inch thich rectangle-ish shape. Fold it in half twice, then roll out into a 1/2″ – 3/4″ thick (look, to be honest, I don’t usually measure or care, just go for biscuit-sized) square. I try to go for big enough to make nine biscuits, but I almost always underestimate.

Biscuit dough, cut out

4. Using a biscuit cutter, or other round cookie cutter, cut out as many biscuits as fit (or don’t, and cut them into squares or triangles with a knife), then re-roll and cut out more until you’ve used up all the dough. The first ones are the best, so really try to fit as many in as you can.

Cut out biscuits

5. Put the biscuits on the cookie sheet — separate them if you like crispier sides, or put them close together if you like soft, pull-apart sides. Bake for 16 minutes, or until they’re lightly-browned top and bottom, rotating once halfway through. Remove to a rack to cool slightly, then enjoy,

Honestly I recognize that these are not the most practical to make, because most people don’t have sourdough starter going, but I’m including them because they are literally the best biscuits I’ve ever made, and I own a whole cookbook of just biscuit recipes, of which I’ve made most of them.

Southern Biscuits cookbook

that’s not hyperbole

Anyway, if you’ve made it this far, here are some general tips for biscuit making:

1. Handle everything gently. You should never be grabbing handfuls of dough and squeezing! Your biscuits will only be as tender as you are.

2. That includes any twisting or smearing! My preferred method of cutting in butter is to use a pastry cutter to start, and then break up any remaining clumps by hand, but! You have to only move the pastry cutter up and down, don’t wrench it around. And only use your fingertips to break things up. I forget where I read it, but you basically want to do the cash money hand gesture, where you rub your thumb and forefingers together, but in the dough. Also, when you cut the biscuits out, go straight up and down with the cutter, don’t twist it.

3. Don’t exactly panic about temperature. I mean, keep your butter as cool as you can, but some recipes have you popping everything in the fridge every five minutes, and that just isn’t necessary. Biscuits were perfected in the South, before air conditioning, so they can survive it if things aren’t perfectly cold.

4. Get the best buttermilk you can. It will definitely make a difference. But also, don’t be afraid to try yogurt, sour cream, or sour milk in a pinch, just as long as you have the best of those that you can.

Biscuits with butter and honey

biscuits with butter and honey

Cinnamon Rolls As Big As Your Head (ver 2.0)

Those of you who have followed me across platforms might remember my slight obsession with Robin McKinley’s book Sunshine, and the description of the cinnamon rolls baked therein. More about that later, but, since I’m just like you guys when it comes to food blogs (and since I’m not doing this to make money anyhow) I’m’a put the recipe first.

Cinnamon rolls

the rolls

Makes 24

3/4 cup milk
1 stick (8 TB) unsalted butter
3/4 cup water
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
6 cups bread flour
2 1/4 tsp instant yeast
6 TB sugar
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt

1 stick (8 TB) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 TB cinnamon
pinch salt

3 cups confectioner’s sugar
3 TB unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
3-4 TB milk

1. Make dough: scald the milk, then remove from the heat and add the butter. Let sit until melted and slighly cooled, then add the water, vanilla, and eggs. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or just a large bowl), mix the flour, yeast, and sugar. Add the milk mixture and stir until combined. Cover the bowl and let rest for 20 minites.

2. Sprinkle the salt over the dough, then knead, either by hand or by dough hook, until it starts to look smooth. If you need to, you can add more flour; the dough can be soft, but it shouldn’t be too sticky. Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight (or don’t refrigerate, and let rise for about an hour, until puffy but not quite doubled, you early riser, you).

3. The next morning, take the dough out of the fridge, and let it come to room temp (about 2 hours). Meanwhile, mix the sugars, cinnamon, and salt for the filling.

4. Divide the dough in half, and follow this procedure for each half: Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface into a 10″ x 16″ rectangle (approximately). Brush half the melted butter over the dough, leaving a half- inch along one shorter end for the eventual seam. Sprinkle with half the cinnamon sugar, then roll up, starting with the short side opposite your seam side. Pinch the seam down to seal, and then cut into 12 equal pieces and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment (note: if you like squishier, close together rolls, instead use a greased 9″ x 13″ pan).

5. Cover, and let rise for an hour, or until the rolls have expanded and gotten puffy. During the last 15 minutes or so of the rise, preheat your oven to 375° F.

6. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until they are barely browned on top. While they’re baking, you can make the icing by mixing all the ingredients (use the smaller amount of milk, and sift your confectioner’s sugar if it’s chunky) and then adding more milk or more sugar, until you’ve got a fairly thick icing (it should be more spreadable than pourable). When the rolls are done, remove them to a rack, and spread them with the icing. Then you get to eat them!

Cinnamon roll dough and filling

ready to roll

Cinnamon roll slices

all sliced up

Optional Tangzhong Starter
While I was looking at cinnamon roll recipes to compare them, I found a great recipe on thr King Arthur Flour website that recommends using a Tangzhong starter (read about it here), and it really works well with this recipe. I use 7 1/2 TB each of milk and water, and 5 1/2 TB of flour. Mix those up in a saucepan, heat over medium-high while whisking constantly, until mixture thickens (don’t worry, it’s really obvious). Let cool to lukewarm, and add to your dough with the milk mixture.

Cinnamon rolls before rising

before rising

Cinnamon rolls after rising

after rising

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about how these came about. First of all, if you’re unfamiliar with Robin McKinley’s work: run, don’t walk, to the nearest library or bookstore, and put your hands on a copy of Sunshine, and The Hero and the Crown, and, well, any of her books really, but especially those two. The Hero and the Crown is high fantasy, with gods, ancient dragons, and magic swords, but not much in the way of cooking (unless you count potions of fire resistance). Sunshine is an urban fantasy, featuring vampires, nature magic, and cinnamon rolls as big as your head. The main character, Sunshine, is a baker in a cafe, and those cinnamon rolls are her specialty. Whenever I think about Sunshine, I think about cinnamon rolls, and whenever I think about cinnamon rolls, I think about Sunshine. It’s as simple as that.

There is, unfortunately, no official recipe, although there are a couple scattered LiveJournal posts by the author that contain some hints. So these are a combination of my favorite bits of several cinnamon roll recipes, incorporating those hints, and ending up with just a really delicious treat that I’m glad I don’t have to wake up at 4:00 every morning to prepare. The way I make them they aren’t quite as big as your head, but they’re otherwise exactly what I want in a cinnamon roll.

Finished cinnamon rolls

finished rolls