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.

Irish-Italian-American Soda Bread

The traditional Irish Soda Bread is a plain loaf, basically just a big biscuit/scone. The traditional Irish-American Soda Bread has a bit more going on, usually in the form of raisins, caraway seeds, and added sugar. Now, I like the idea of the Americanized version, but I can’t stand caraway seeds, so I developed this modified version.

Both of my grandmothers were the children of immigrants — from Ireland on my mom’s side, and from Italy on my dad’s — so when I was looking for alternate ways to flavor my bread, I decided to try anise seeds. It worked better than I expected, and now this is the version I make for Saint Patrick’s Day every year.

Makes one loaf

3 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
6 Tb butter
1/2 cup raisins or currants
2 Tb anise seeds
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg

1. Preheat oven to 350°

2. Combine dry ingredients and cut in butter (processor, knives, fingertips, whatever).

3. Add the currants and anise seeds.

3. Mix buttermilk and egg and add to flour/butter mixture.

4. Knead briefly, turn onto a baking sheet, and shape into a dome around seven inches across.

5. Slash a deep X across the top of the loaf.

6. Bake at 350° for 60-70 min (until it sounds hollow when rapped on the bottom).

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.

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.

The Annual Strawberry Shortcake Post (with recipe and rant)

Strawberry shortcake

strawberry shortcake

Strawberry Shortcake is my number one, most favorite dessert (done properly, see below), and has been for as long as I can remember. I used to request it every year for my birthday, but strawberries aren’t exactly in season in April around here, so now I make it every June. My grandpa Jack used to have it for his birthday, too, which conveniently was in June. He passed away earlier this year, and I’m happy to have such a sweet way to remember him, now.

The recipe I use is from In the Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley. Since I just did a biscuit recipe, I’m not going to go too deep into the shortcakes, but you can always refer to that post if you need tips.

Image of a cookbook

I don’t understand why they don’t give cookbooks better bindings

Makes 6
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 TB baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup whole milk
5 TB heavy cream

Additional 1 TB each heavy cream and sugar, for topping the scones

2 quarts strawberries, hulled, then sliced, chopped, or mashed
3 to 4 TB sugar

Chantilly Cream
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 TB sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Note: I wrote the recipe as it appears in the book, but you can easily get away with half the strawberries and whipped cream if you’re only making six servings.

I usually make the strawberries first, so they can sit and get juicy, but you can make the scones first as the recipe suggests, if you want.

A colander full of large strawberries

the local strawberries we got at the supermarket were some big boys!

A large strawberry

an absolute unit

For the strawberries:
1. Mix the sliced, or otherwise mangled, strawberries with the sugar — taste the berries to determine how much you’ll need. Let them sit while you’re doing the other things. Maybe give them a stir from time to time.

For the scones:
1. Preheat the oven to 425° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Mix the dry ingredients together. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter, or two knives, until there aren’t any chunks larger than a pea.

2. Mix the eggs, milk, and cream together. Add them to the dry ingredients + butter, and stir until just combined. Gather into a ball, and dump onto a floured surface. Pat into a circle (or square, or whatever, the shape doesn’t really matter), about 3/4″ to 1″ thick (you want it a little thicker than the biscuits, because it’s not going to rise as much), and cut with a large biscuit cutter.

3. Place the scones on the baking sheet. Brush the tops with the cream, and sprinkle with the sugar. Bake for 14 – 18 minutes, rotating halfway through, and checking to make sure the bottoms don’t get too dark (slide a second baking sheet under them if you’re worried about that happening). Remove to a rack and cool for 10 minutes or so, but you’ll want to serve them warm, so plan accordingly.

For the whipped cream:
1. Whip the cream and sugar. Add the vanilla and whip a bit more. You can do this while the scones are baking, or while they’re cooling.

1. Split the scones in half. My grandparents used to butter them, so I do, too. Top the bottom half with strawberries and cream. Put the top on top, then cover with more strawberries, and more cream. If you’re feeling fancy, you can reserve some good-looking strawberries to put whole on top.

Strawberry shortcake ingredients ready for assembly

And now, the rant:
‘Shortcake’ is short for ‘shortening cake’, i.e., a cake made with a solid fat (including vegetable shortening, but also butter and lard). Sponge cake, pound cake, and angel food cake all taste good with strawberries, but they do not a strawberry shortcake make. No, not even if you put whipped cream on top.

A true strawberry shortcake features a biscuit or scone, or even crumbled up pie crust, topped with macerated strawberries, and sweetened whipped cream. If you try to advertise something else for shortcake at your supermarket, I will laugh to myself as I go by at how deluded you are. If I order strawberry shortcake at your restaurant and I get something other than a shortcake, well, I’ll be very disappointed, and complain about it the whole ride home. (What? I don’t throw fits in grocery stores and restaurants, because I’m not a monster.)

Strawberry shortcake

the perfect dessert (we had them for brunch, though)

Seriously, strawberry shortcake, made when strawberries are in season, is basically the perfect dessert. Don’t mess with perfection, folks!

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