Tag Archives: Baking

The Day Off

She semi-scolded me because my plans for Sunday were not exclusively recreational. Admittedly, I hadn’t had a day off between Presidents Day and my birthday in May, and then spent the next two days driving 1100 miles. That’s not to say I worked double-shifts in a factory the whole time, but I hadn’t had a day without at least one work event on the calendar. And let’s recall that I love what I do, and that most of my work is what many people would call “play.” But the rehearsal schedule here designates one full day off per week and she was a little righteously indignant that I didn’t plan to take the full day for myself. Well, sorry, I told her, but I have to be ready for tomorrow’s rehearsals, and I haven’t been willing to go without sleep for the last several nights, so I’m going to have to do some work today. She harrumphed, but recognized that I was probably right; and I assured her that at least some time during the day would be spent outside of working time.

A lot of it was, in fact. I walked to church in beautiful sunshine, and stopped on the way home at a bakery that had been highly recommended. One placard in the display case caught my eye: Cherry Scones. I asked the clerk—whose hair was not exactly the color of cherries, but pretty close—what was in the scones. “Dried cherries,” she said, “and white chocolate chips.” “Great,” I said, and asked for a cinnamon roll. “Excellent choice!” she said. “They’re our biggest seller.” (I wonder if she secretly knew that the white chocolate chips were a bad idea.) The roll was gigantic, and gooey with frosting. It was yeasty and light, and there was probably cinnamon in there, but the very sweet frosting masked it.

I did some laundry, and since the day was beautiful and breezy (and since the weekend guests were mostly gone), hotel-hacked a way to hang it out to dry. I edited some keyboard parts.

I probably wouldn’t do this at the Ritz-Carlton.

I thought about food-prep for the week. I had a small grocery list, but nothing worth a half-hour drive to the market and back. I got a steak and some chicken thighs from my baby freezer and hotel-hacked my ice bucket as a defrosting rig while I settled back into composer-work for a while.

When the chicken was thawed, I patted it dry, seasoned some corn meal, and it it in my hot cast-iron skillet. By the time they came out the steak was ready to go in—now having similarly been patted dry, then seasoned with salt and pepper. A couple minutes on each side to sear, then seven minutes in the oven to cook more gently, and it seemed a perfect medium-rare. The skillet was still warm, and had some lovely beef juices in it, so I put it back on the stove. I sliced an onion and the last few mushrooms in the veggie bin and sautéed them to have with the steak.

Protein accounted for, I edited a bunch more pages of keyboard parts. I thought about my still-warm oven. Scones. My alter-ego Cherry Pandowdy had thoughtfully provided self-rising flour, and I had a bag of dried cherries and half a bar of dark chocolate. Even if I use the rest of the eggs, I thought, I’ve already had breakfast. I looked around for scone recipes. Cooking is jazz, a composer friend of mine likes to say, but baking is classical—I needed a score to follow.

I found recipe after recipe that called for baking powder—even the ones that used self-rising flour. Finally I found one. It seemed a little wacky, asking that the wet and dry ingredients be mixed in a Ziploc bag, but the rest of the ingredient list was one I could handle. Except that all the measurements were metric. “Hey, Siri,” I called. My phone chirped to life. “Convert 200 grams of flour to cups.” She told me (1.67). I thanked her, and she responded, “It’s nice to be appreciated.” Our “conversation” continued as I got the right amounts of butter and sugar and salt. I figured I’d take my chances with the called-for “a splash of milk” and “one egg.” I rehydrated the dried cherries just a bit in a splash of red wine (because why not) and chopped the chocolate. I cut the butter into the dry ingredients with a fork and my fingers, working as quickly as I could so as not to develop too much gluten. The recipe hadn’t given me a good reason to use the Ziploc method, so I threw in a little jazz. I mixed in the chocolate and cherries, then turned the dough out onto my floured cutting board (which, yes, had been washed and dried and washed and dried, and washed and dried again since the chicken, steak, mushrooms, and onions), dusted it with a little more flour, patted as lightly as I could, and cut the dough into six wedges that fit neatly into my cast-iron do-everything pan. “Hey, Siri, one more thing—convert 200 degrees Celsius to Fahrenheit.” I didn’t have an oven thermometer (I’m camping!) so set the not-so-finely-calibrated oven knob to a bit under 400 and hoped for the best.

Scones, before

Are these the best scones ever? No. They’re a little heavier than the ones I make with baking powder, but they’re not bricks. And they have the right proportion of cherry to everything else. Dark chocolate is exactly what I wanted. And now breakfast is accounted for. While the scones cooled I went back to editing.

Scones, after.

I took myself out for a late afternoon run, edited more pages while I cooled down, showered, edited a few more pages, drove toward the market and found a place to get a bite of dinner while reading a play that I’ll be working on later this summer. The market was closed by the time I got back to it, but no worries. I’ll get salad greens and eggs—and baking powder—another time.

She and I talked on the phone for a while, she sent me photos of the outfit she planned for a gala work event. I heartily approved!

This is not her gala outfit. Or her car. But I’m working on it.

And then it was time for her to head for bed and me back to work. I had a rehearsal to get ready for.

A day off? Not quite. Well-spent? Definitely.

Sunset over Nicolet Bay

Managing Expectations

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I had a scone for breakfast today.

Nothing wrong with having a scone for breakfast; it’s just not what I expected. I’d planned to go for a run, come home, and have a bowl of oatmeal. But that plan got derailed by tasks that took longer than I expected they would. The music for the ad campaign got mixed and delivered to the marketing manager; I got to hear the ad with the voiceover my partner had written and our actors had recorded; and I found my way around a road closed for construction—but there it was, 11 AM, with a half-hour drive to my next stop, and I still hadn’t had breakfast. Oatmeal was now out of the question.

Route 42 is lined with farm stands, bakeries, and purveyors of all sorts of tastiness, so I figured I’d stop at one that looked appealing and find something. I found the baked-goods counter and a marker caught my eye: Cherry Scones, $2. Perfect. A scone would be relatively easy to eat while I drove, and Door County is known for its cherries. This will be great.

It was good, not quite great. It was really sweet. It was filled with white chocolate chips.

If you’re a fan of white chocolate chips, let’s just agree to disagree. To me, they’re nothing more than globs of sweetness. I can see how they might have some place in a scone filled nearly to bursting with tart dried cherries—though I think dark chocolate chips would be even better—but this scone was hardly cherry filled. If this scone were a movie, the cherries made a cameo appearance. Cherries were not the star.

And yet they got star billing.

If the little tag had said “White chocolate chip scone (with a few cherries),” I would have been fine with that. I would have chosen something else, but I would have known what to expect from that scone.

It’s all about expectations. Tell me it’s beef stew, and I expect beef. A can of chicken soup should contain more than a few fragments of chicken. A cherry scone should feature cherries.

So with every bite I thought, “Well, now I want to get some dried cherries and make the scones I expected this to be.”

But that’s a project for another day. There were many miles to drive, and many more errands to run. And then the work to do that got interrupted by the errands, some running, and then a full night of rehearsal.

For a white chocolate chip scone (with a few cherries), it wasn’t all that bad. I ate the whole thing.


(Here’s the music bed for the ad. I don’t yet have permission to post the whole thing, but the music is mine.)

The Adventures of Cherry Pandowdy

 

Painted in Waterlogue

It is beautiful here, there’s no question. But many of us are away from home, and though we are thankful for the miracles of WiFi and cell service that keep us in touch with loved ones, we still need to take care of each other. A theatre company very quickly becomes a sort of family. And thus is was that, on a Thursday that started beautiful and sunny but seemed to threaten something much colder and wetter, while I worked in my temporary home this morning, I used the cast-iron skillet I brought from home baked a batch of brownies to take to rehearsal. I used a boxed mix, but dressed it up a little with some cinnamon, some chopped nuts, and a sprinkle of salt on top.

There’s a character in our musical who courts a young sailor primarily by sending him gifts of baked goods—a walnut cake, gingerbread, cherry pandowdy. One of the actors and I joked that “Cherry Pandowdy” seemed like a great character name for a drag performer. So I left the plate of brownies on the break table along with a note from Cherry Pandowdy. (The note was in the form of parody lyrics to the tune of one of our show’s songs, because if you are a writer who bakes, that is what you do. Or at least what I do.)

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The brownies came out of the pan sort of messily. The actors seemed not to mind. Next time I’m at the market, I’ll buy some parchment paper to aid in removing baked goods from the pan.

It took longer for the cast to figure out who the baker was than to devour the brownies. Clearly I did the right thing. It’s been a long rehearsal week, and it’s not over yet. We all needed the treat.

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It turned out not to rain after all, but that’s okay. We take care of each other.

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Not Mincing Words

Gather, my children, and you shall hear the story of a boy, a girl, and the Christmas without a Mince Pie.

Watching the 2017 Christmas Masterclass Mince Pie segment (and missing Mary Berry very much), she says, “We should try that.”

I can’t remember the last time I had a mincemeat pie. I can’t remember ever having a mincemeat pie. It’s the sort of thing I vaguely recall my grandmother baking, but nothing I would have been willing to try as a child.

But perhaps because of the recent visit from a picky-eating 10-year-old, I was feeling willing to give it a go. Of course we didn’t have a jar of mincemeat on hand, but the weather wasn’t bad, and I was going to be sitting on an organ bench at church for a long time later, so I volunteered for a Christmas Eve-afternoon walk.

Reaching the market, I began my search for the international foods aisle. I know there’s an international foods aisle, for it is where I buy PG Tips tea, her preferred brand. I can’t find it. I checked at the customer service desk, where I was told, “We don’t really have a section like that,” but maybe in aisle 7.  In aisle 7, I find the German foods, the Thai foods, Chinese foods, Japanese foods, lots of Kosher products, and stuff from many South American cultures. This feels pretty international to me, but whatever. In any event, there was nothing British.

Thinking the Brit-food has been distributed in other departments, I looked for pie fillings in the baking-supplies aisle. Couldn’t find ’em. Cake mix of every variety, muffins as far as the eye can see, plenty of flour and sugar, but no pie fillings. Oh, wait, there they are. Or were: a mostly empty shelf. But the mostly empty shelf has no tag indicating mincemeat was once there. I checked in produce, where the dried fruits are kept. Nothing doing there either. By this point I was on a mission. It must be there somewhere.
I found two clerks talking while one restocked the cheese section. I heard only the end of their conversation. “…and then it just wasn’t there anymore.” The other one threw her hands in the air in a helpless shrug, and the first one left. I said to the one remaining, “Speaking of things that aren’t there any more, do you know where I can find mincemeat?” She wasn’t sure, but led me to another guy. “Mincemeat?” this guy said. “That’s with the lamb.”
“I think that’s something else,” I said. “This has beef suet, but it’s mostly fruit.”
“Oh—fruit,” he replied. “Look with the prunes.” (That’s the dried fruit section, where I’ve been, but maybe I missed it.)  My guide-clerk led helpfully to the produce section, where she saw a third clerk and called to him, “Mincemeat?” He nods, and starts down the aisle. I followed him, encouraged.
He reached the end of his section and pointed to a shelf where proudly stood bags…of snow peas.
“Uh, thanks,” I said. “Let me think about it.” He nodded, and walked away, happy that his mission was accomplished.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a mince pie. All except us, anyway. I had a great walk, and baked brownies.

#EatWhatYouGrow: Rhubarb

I have been thrilled about this particular spring, with its chilly mornings and the need for jackets all the way til the first of June. The bleeding hearts, forsythia, hosta, hydrangea, ivy, and rhubarb in my garden have been busting out new leaves and vines and blossoms (where appropriate) everywhere. But with a few truly scorching days wilting my new bean shoots and the potted tomato plants on the deck this last week, it’s obvious that rhubarb season is drawing rapidly to a close. In the space between a few rain drops, I harvested the last of my stalks yesterday afternoon; the woodchuck who lives in a den burrowed into the stone cliff behind our house can have the little nubbins that are left.

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6 tender stalks of rhubarb, the last of our harvest for 2017

But what to do with them? We’ve already made:

  • Rhubarb Compote (with a few extra bits of fruit he likes thrown into the pot for other flavors), spooned over his birthday breakfast waffles;
  • Rhubarb Scones, with every imaginable spread, several weekends in a row;
  • Rhubarb Snacking Cake, because I trust every recipe Deb Perlman has written, especially those she describes as easy;
  • Rhubarb Honey Sorbet, specially made for some loved ones diet-managing their diabetes;
  • Chocolate Chip Rhubarb Banana Bread, because (1) those bananas were going to turn into bread on their own if we didn’t use them, and (2) he ridiculously maintains that banana bread should always have chocolate chips in it.
  • Strawberry Rhubarb Jam, described earlier this week.

All chopped, the yield was only about a cup of minced pieces, which I knew would cook down to just about nothing.

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A *very* scant cup of chopped rhubarb.

All of the recipes that looked interesting to me require more than that, so I had to get creative. Verdict: another Smitten Kitchen gem, Rhubarb Varied Fruits Cream Cheese Hand Pies.

He made the pie crust. (I have zero knack for it, even though this particular recipe is foolproof.) I made the cream cheese filling. I made the rhubarb filling. And when I had more than twice as much cream cheese filling as rhubarb, I made another filling from blueberries and apricot. And after several hours in the fridge, and over several more hours of do-a-little-work-then-chill-everything-back-down…

The rhubarb filling was just enough to fill 6 little pies, and they looked pretty sweet both before and after baking. (That pastry recipe really is amazing.)

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And the blueberry version became another story. Realizing how much blueberry-apricot filling and cream cheese filling I was going to have left over, I opted for something different. I rolled out the remaining pie crust for an attempt at my first ever tart with something like a pastry cream filling. I used a small, deep Corningware casserole dish rather than a shallow tart pan, layered the cheese and then the berries into the pastry, and attempted a “rustic fold over edge” that collapsed in on itself in the oven. It’s far from the prettiest thing I’ve ever made, and he cut into it for our dessert last night before I could take a picture, but oh my word was it tasty.

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Dessert: a rustic” blueberry-apricot-cream cheese tart

So, rhubarb season is over. Not only did we not waste a single stalk of what we grew, every bite was delicious. This is year three of growing things-humans-can-eat in our little garden, year one of using up every bit of any one ingredient, and year one of loving everything we cooked with it. That’s a very particular kind of success.

 

Adaptation

Painted in WaterlogueAdaptation is a tricky business. What you change, or omit, when going from one medium to another may be the very thing that someone else loved about the original. What you add may be the ingredient that spoils the stew. Ask her sometime about the film versions of the Harry Potter stories. (But don’t do it if you don’t have time for a lengthy and passionate response.) Sometimes, though, the adaptation can surpass the original. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a campy, silly film; the TV series of the same name is delightfully fun but deepens the metaphor of adolescence-is-like-living-on-the-mouth-of-hell. Sometimes both can co-exist admirably: Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye stories aren’t diminished by the existence of the musical Fiddler on the Roof—and although the stage version by necessity leaves out many details from the original and alters others, the result is a coherent and highly satisfying work of dramatic and musical literature.

She loves muffins. Well, not all muffins; she’s not indiscriminate. Her favorite is an orange-cranberry muffin from our local market. Muffin is perhaps the wrong word; they’re shaped like small loaves, and come in a package of six. I like them, too, but find them a little too sweet, and a little too moist. I don’t mean to say that they’re not properly baked, but that they almost fall apart when you slice them. And toasting? Don’t turn your back on the skillet; they’ll burn in a heartbeat. But she likes them a lot, so as the weekend approached I planned to pick up a package.

And then it was Saturday morning, and I hadn’t. And she wanted to get started right away making applesauce from the half-bushel we’d bought at an orchard last weekend.

I made us coffee and tea, and helped with the peeling and coring—and knew that I wasn’t going to be able to make orange-cranberry muffins, if only because we don’t have muffin tins. But we do have a loaf pan, and I know that it isn’t far from muffin to quick bread. So I compared a few recipes, thought about what I found lacking in the market’s cranberry-orange muffins, and set to work.

I used dried cranberries soaked in orange juice; substituted whole-wheat flour for a quarter of the usual all-purpose; added a quarter-cup each of old-fashioned oats and walnuts; and increased the liquid by a third and the leaveners by half. And, at risk of making anyone think I was trying to turn muffins into health food, I made a glaze of orange juice and confectioner’s sugar.

Cranberry-Orange Loaf

Preheat oven to 425F. Grease and flour a loaf pan.

Zest
1 orange

In a measuring cup or small bowl, soak for about half an hour
1-1/2 cups dried cranberries
in
1 cup orange juice (start with the orange you just tested, and go from there).

Sift together:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

In another bowl, whisk together until light:
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup sugar
Then add to that same bowl
1 egg
Mix until smooth.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry; stir just to combine. Add the cranberries, zest, along with
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Spread the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake about 50 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool for about 10 minutes, then turn the loaf out onto a cooling rack. 

If you want to gild the lily, mix together
1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp orange juice (add more, a few drops at a time, until just spreadable)

Spread the cooled loaf with the glaze. Or don’t, if you’re feeling noble.

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This bread is heartier than the muffins—denser, but not heavy, just not as light as boxed-mix cake. It’s not a replacement, not a home-cook’s duplication of a store-bought item; it’s an adaptation.

I prefer Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady to Shaw’s Pygmalion, but that’s just me; if you like your Eliza Doolittle without songs, I won’t complain. If you want to debate with her the canon of Arthurian legend from Le Morte d’Arthur to Camelot, I won’t have much to add to the discussion, but I’ll happily serve coffee and tea while you do. And maybe muffins. Or perhaps an adaptation.

Sweater-weather Breakfast

Painted in Waterlogue

“You two like butter,” our next-door neighbor said, handing us a stack of recipes she’d torn from magazines. I’d say that seemed like an odd thing to say, but our neighbor has been described as “like the kooky neighbor from a sitcom.” It’s a pretty apt description. She pops in unexpectedly, often to vent about something that’s happened in her workday or with a story about her cat, then disappears just as fast. But she’s also a very faithful cat-sitter and a good friend. And she brings recipes.

They weren’t just recipes featuring butter, it turned out; they were recipes featuring brown butter. Tidying up papers around the dining room before starting a work-from-home day, she looked through the sheaf of pages and showed me one: Apple Cardamom Dutch Baby. “Could we make this on Saturday?” “Sure,” I said. “Or today.” (I had forgotten to start a pot of oatmeal last night, and didn’t have any better breakfast ideas.) She set up her work station and prepared for a conference call, and I got to work in the kitchen.

It took me a minute to find the cardamom. To be honest, it took me a minute to remember what cardamom is. I knew it wasn’t a kind of sweater, so it wouldn’t be in my closet. It was with the baking spices, of course. She’s organized the cupboards to keep the “cooking” spices separate from the “baking” spices, although in the case of cardamom it might well have been stored with the “mostly ignored” spices. The jar had a label from the market near the City House, so it surely wasn’t optimally fresh. Still, it smelled interesting, so I decided to use it.

While the butter browned-but-did-not-scorch, I assembled the rest of the ingredients and whisked together the batter; the baking time neatly coincided with the rest of her phone meeting.

Dutch Baby is one of those dishes that always looks great in recipes, but often disappoints me on the plate. The pancake comes out of the oven brilliantly inflated, but collapses in the seconds it takes to serve it, leaving a dense, too-sweet mass. This one was different. The brown butter brought toasty notes; the cardamom was tart and earthy; and the apples, soft but not mushy, gave the pancake more substance than a jelly-topped version would.

I don’t know how long our neighbor had been gathering the recipes, but I’m glad she brought them to us when she did. With the leaves starting to turn in our part of New England, the cool nights and crisp mornings, and the sweaters coming out of storage, it’s perfect brown butter time. It’s probably time to buy some fresh cardamom, too; we’ll be  be making this again.

Apple Cardamom Dutch Baby
Adapted from a page torn from Martha Stewart Living magazine (sorry, the page didn’t have a date)

  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 medium-sized crisp apple (Honeycrisp, Gala, Granny Smith–whatever you like, but something that won’t turn to mush)
  • Sour creme or plain yogurt for serving

Preheat the oven to 450F.

In a cast-iron skillet over medium heat, brown the butter–stirring occasionally, to make sure it doesn’t burn, and to make sure the bottom of the pan is coated. Remove from heat.

In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and cardamom.

Peel and core the apple, and slice about 1/8 inch thick.

Whisk the eggs until light and fluffy. (I used an immersion blender in a 1-quart plastic tub.) Add the salt, vanilla, and flour, and 1 tbsp of the cardamom sugar, and whisk to combine. (The batter will be thin.)

Lay the apple slices gently in the hot pan; pour the batter over the apples, then bake about 20 minutes until puffy and golden.

Sprinkle with the remaining sugar, cut into wedges, and serve immediately, garnished with a little sour creme or yogurt.