Friday, February 26, 2010

Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits

Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits

Upfront, these biscuits are loaded with butter. (I hope you're proud of me, Laura =p). You simply can't get beautiful flaky layers though, without some fat to come between them (very sociable layers, you see). What this means is also that each bite has major buttery flavor, we're talkin' Serious Business.

I usually like my indulgences on the sweet side, but never underestimate the power of a good biscuit. Now nothing's wrong with a respectable drop biscuit (and I may even post a copycat recipe for Red Lobster's cheddar bay biscuits sometime). But something about peeling back layer after delicious layer of a warm flaky biscuit simply soothes my soul. Like some kind of prayer ritual to the gods of baking and butter, perhaps?

Making flaky biscuits turns out to be barely harder than making drop biscuits. As much as I adore layers, it's definitely worth spending a few extra minutes folding dough. So are you all in the same camp as me or are drop biscuits more your style? Either way, please do dare to make them from scratch. Who knows what all's in canned dough, and your taste buds will no doubt thank you for the wakeup call (while your waistline will thank you not to make them too often).

Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits [Printable Recipe]
Adapted from Fine Cooking [Click on the link for helpful step-by-step photos!]

8 oz. (1 3/4 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour; more as needed for shaping the dough
1 Tbs. granulated sugar
2-1/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
4 oz. (8 Tbs.) very cold unsalted butter
3/4 cup very cold buttermilk
[I substituted 1/2 cup yogurt mixed with 1/4 cup milk]

Mix the dough:
Heat the oven to 500 degrees F and position a rack in the middle of the oven. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a large mixing bowl and stir with a whisk to distribute the ingredients evenly.

Cut the butter into small bits and toss with the flour. With a sharp knife or a bench knife, cut the cold butter crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Stack 3 or 4 slices and cut them into three even strips. Rotate the stack a quarter turn and cut the strips in half. You should create 6 small bits of butter per slice. Toss the butter bits into the bowl with the flour mixture. Continue cutting all the butter in the same manner and adding it to the flour mixture.

When all the butter is in the bowl with the flour, use your fingers to separate the butter bits (they tend to stick to each other), coat all the butter pieces with flour, and evenly distribute them throughout the flour mixture. Don’t rub the butter too hard with your fingertips or palms, as this will melt the butter. You’re just trying to break the butter pieces apart, not blend the butter into the flour.

When all the butter is evenly distributed, add the cold buttermilk and stir with a large spoon until all or most of the flour is absorbed by the buttermilk and the dough forms a coarse lump, about 1 minute.

Pat and fold the dough:
Dust a work surface with flour and dump the dough onto the floured surface, cleaning out the bowl with a spatula or a plastic bowl scraper. Dust the top of the dough and your hands with flour, and press the dough into a 3/4-inch-thick rectangle. Sprinkle a small amount of additional flour on the top of the dough. Fold the dough over on itself in three sections, as if folding a letter (also called a tri-fold). With a bench knife or metal spatula, lift the dough off the counter and dust under it with flour to prevent sticking, if necessary. Dust the top with flour and press the dough out again into a 3/4-inch-thick rectangle and repeat the tri-fold. Repeat this procedure one more time (three times in all).

Cut and bake the biscuits:
After the third tri-fold, dust under and on top of the dough, if needed, and roll or press the dough into a 1/2-inch-thick oval. Dip a 2-inch or 2-3/4-inch round biscuit cutter in flour and start cutting biscuits, dipping the cutter in flour between each biscuit. Press straight down to cut and lift straight up to remove; twisting the biscuit cutter will seal the sides and interfere with rising. Use a bench knife or spatula to transfer the biscuits to the baking sheet, placing them about 1/2 inch apart.

Gently gather any scraps of dough, pat and roll out again, and cut more biscuits from the remaining dough. You can gather and roll the scraps two times total and still get good results (the more times you roll out, the tougher the biscuits will be).

Put the baking sheet in the oven and reduce the temperature to 450 degrees F. Bake for 8 minutes; rotate the pan 180 degrees; continue baking until both the tops and bottoms of the biscuits are a rich golden brown and the biscuits have doubled in height, revealing flaky layers on the sides, 4 to 6 minutes more. It’s all right if some butter seeps from the biscuits. [Seriously, don't freak out because it will happen.] Remove the pan from the oven and set it on a cooling rack, leaving the biscuits on the pan. Cool the biscuits for at least 3 minutes and serve them hot or warm (they will stay warm for about 20 minutes).

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ricotta Pancakes

Is there any better way to start the weekend than with decadent yet light-on-the-tongue blueberry pancakes? If you answered an enthusiastic "no!," then you're in for a treat (and let's be friends 8p). I confess, I knew little about Bill Granger before other than a vague recognition of his name. But if ricotta hotcakes are anything to judge a man by, we need to get up close and personal!

Blueberry Ricotta Hotcakes

This recipe came together fairly quickly. Beating the egg whites separately is probably the fussiest part, but turns out to be pretty easy with a handheld mixer. It's also crucial to the result, since it's what makes these pancakes so fluffy. On the other hand, the cuppa ricotta and 4 egg yolks in the batter lends these a silky richness. With a generous pat of butter and blanket of maple syrup, these are pretty darn perfect.

Now I'd love to know, what breakfast treat lures you out of bed on a Saturday morning?

Bill Granger’s Ricotta Hotcakes [Printable Recipe]
Adapted from Bill Granger via Bread and Butter

1 cup ricotta cheese (I used part-skim with no problems)
3/4 cup milk
4 large eggs, separated
1 1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
A dash of salt
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon baking powder
1-2 cups blueberries or other berries, if desired, for pancakes and garnish
Butter or neutral-tasting oil to grease the pan

Pour milk into mixing bowl, and add egg yolks. Mix till just combined. Add flour, baking powder and salt and mix. Add lemon zest and mix.

Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry peaks form, and gently fold through batter, leaving some streaks of white. Lastly, add ricotta and mix gently. (Take care to not overmix as you want to have chunky bits of ricotta to bite into later on!)

Heat a non-stick or cast iron pan or griddle over medium heat, then grease lightly with butter or oil. (I tend to use a small dollop, and then wipe the excess off with a kitchen towel so it doesn’t get overly greasy.)

Pour 1/2 cup of batter (per hotcake) into the pan. Sprinkle a few berries onto the batter, if using. Cook on one side until little bubbles appear (~2 minutes), flip over, and cook on the other side for about 1 minute. (You can keep cooked hotcakes warm in a low heat oven as you fry up the rest.)

Serve with a generous sprinkle of icing sugar, maple syrup, and/or whatever fruits you like.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Vintage Silver from Sadie Olive

Vintage Silver Collage

Since I spend so much time at the office, about a year ago I started shipping all my online purchases there instead of to my apartment. It's nice, too, having that seed of excitement from knowing something wonderful may show up during the work day. And just in time to distract you from a mundane assignment, hehe.

Vintage Silver Set

Well, my dear reader, that is exactly the treat I got today in the form of a package of mixed vintage silverware I had ordered from Sadie Olive on Etsy. Now this was bound to be pretty judging by the photos, but I was taken aback when the silverware was even more stunning in person. And unable to contain my excitement, I simply had to snap some shots to share these with you. Here's to hoping you're as enamored of these as I am!

Vintage Silver Set

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies and Giveaway Winners

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies

Well well...whadid I tell ya? I'm back with another post and a month hasn't even gone by yet. Am I fast or what? =p But seriously, I'm touched by each and every one of you who is still dropping by (and new readers are always welcome!).

No cookie cookbook, or cookie monster (nom?) for that matter, would be complete without a fabulous recipe for chocolate chip cookies. Hardly surprising, but Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar does not disappoint here. Authors Isa and Terry's margarine-free rendition of The Classic even passed the stringent Carnivorous Boyfriend Test. P gobbled these up just as fast as the many (many) buttery counterparts I've baked him. And this batch mixed up in a flash. No stressing about ingredient temperatures or breaking out the mixer -- just a girl happy with her whisk n' bowl. The cookies were good by the book, but fellow fans of the crisp outside, soft within combo shouldn't miss my alternative baking temperature directions at the bottom of the recipe. Yay for gooey goodness!

OVERALL: 4.5/5

Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies

Tying it all together, Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar is a gem of a cookbook suitable for vegan and non-vegan bakers alike. These aren't simply dairy recipes with butter and egg substitutes find-and-pasted in. I particularly appreciated the number of recipes using oil and not margarine, though please note that those cookie doughs will feel different from doughs with solid fat. Much as with their cupcake book before this, Isa and Terry built recipes from the ground up to be great period, not just great-considering-it's-vegan. I also applaud the authors for going beyond bake sale classics to also include intriguing selections like Macadamia Lace Cookies and Green Tea Walnut Biscotti. I'm excited to explore the rest of this book and hope my posts have inspired you to check it out for yourself.

Now without further ado, the 3 winners of the vegan cookies cookbook: comments 20 and 51 from my Sweet Potato Blondies post and comment 26 from my Pignoli Almond Cookies post. I've already reached out to you folks, so please email me your info and I'll get these babies right to ya.

Chocolate Chip Cookies [Printable Recipe]
Reproduced with permission from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar
via the authors' blog with my comments/changes in brackets
Makes two dozen two inch cookies or about 16 three inch cookies

1/2 brown sugar
1/4 white sugar
2/3 cup canola oil
1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk (or your favorite non-dairy milk)
[I used soymilk and could taste it a little, so I'd recommend something milder]
1 tablespoon tapioca flour [cornstarch is okay]
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cups chocolate chips [I found non-dairy ones at Trader Joe's]

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease two large light metal baking sheets.

Mix together sugars, oil, milk and tapioca flour in a mixing bowl. Use a strong fork and mix really well, for about 2 minutes, until it resembles smooth caramel. There is a chemical reaction when sugar and oil collide, so it’s important that you don’t get lazy about that step. Mix in the vanilla.

Add 1 cup of the flour, the baking soda and salt. Mix until well incorporated. Mix in the rest of the flour. Fold in the chocolate chips. The dough will be a little stuff so use your hands to really work them in.

For 3 inch cookies, roll the dough into about ping pong ball size balls. Flatten them out in your hands to about 2 1/2 inches. They will spread just a bit. Place on a baking sheet and bake for about 8 minutes - no more than 9 - until they are just a little browned around the edges. I usually get 16 out of these so I do two rounds of eight cookies. Let cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack.

For 2 dozen two inch cookies roll dough into walnut sized balls and flatten to about 1 1/2 inches and bake for only six minutes.

XIAOLU'S NOTE: I had to bake these a few minutes longer than the recipe says. Also, I chose to bake 2 batches instead of multiple trays at once. I stuck the dough for the second batch in the freezer for 20 minutes and also accidentally kicked the oven up to 400 degrees F. Realizing my mistake, I yanked them from the oven as they started to color on top (4-7 minutes?) and they were really good -- crunchy outside with chewy, slightly gooey innards.

PREVIOUSLY: Sweet Potato Blondies, Espresso Chip Oatmeal Cookies, and Pignoli Almond Cookies

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy CNY and Valentine's Day (I'm back!)

Valentine's Day 2010

Happy Chinese New Year (gong xi fa cai) and Valentine's Day, all! We're spending some time with my mom for the new year today, so Patrick and I celebrated V-day last night. An amazingly perfect, lovely evening, it was. We made a delicious meal (his stepmom's signature salad, French bread, dijon roasted potatoes, cheesy baked ziti, pizookie a la mode, and, of course, lotsa champaqne!), exchanged gifts (his, wonderfully thoughtful, though a bit extravagant ^_^), and enjoyed each others' company. Still don't know what I did to ever deserve such a man, but boy am I glad to have him. I love you, Sher.

Okay, the sappy part's over. I swear! Now I know there's some unfinished business to be gotten to here. Namely, the wrap-up and giveaway winners announcement for my "month" of vegan cookies. I'd hoped to have this post ready by now, but after setting a new overtime high at my office, it's taking longer than expected to get those creative food and photography juices flowin' again. But it's a comin', folks, you have my word. In the meantime, I leave you with my own little piece o' the Snowpocalypse of 2010...

Snowpocalypse 2010