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Thursday, December 27, 2012

English Muffins

I hope you had a wonderful holiday. Since I'm in my last month before our new arrival arrives, I've been on restricted travel... I wasn't allowed to drive fourteen hours to spend Christmas with the family this year! It's the first time in the almost ten years that we've been married that my husband and I spent the day at home alone. It was relaxing, but I think I prefer the wonderful chaos of our normal routine better.

Being stuck at home, we decided we could celebrate our time together by splurging on our meals. I prepared some items I've never prepared before and enjoyed some other special meals that I only get to make rarely. Christmas eve we enjoyed a small prime rib. For Christmas day dinner, I made a roasted duck. This is the second time I've roasted a whole duck, and while it was darn tasty, it sure did make a mess of the oven! Last night was the finale of our gluttonous extravaganza. I made a roasted rabbit with mashed potatoes and gravy; boy was it tasty!

Surprisingly, probably the most challenging meal I made was breakfast on Christmas morning. I've been playing with an English muffin recipe and I know how much my hubby loves a good eggs Benedict, so I figured I'd give it a go. There were two components in this dish that I had never made before: poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce. I'll talk more about eggs Benedict in a future post, but let it suffice to say for now that these English muffins played a wonderful supporting roll.

Now, while we're on the subject of English muffins, lets talk about nooks and crannies. Those round holes you see in so many brands of commercial English muffins? Yeah, that's not traditionally an English muffin feature. You find those holes in crumpets, which also are also an English bread and are also cooked on a griddle, but are made from a looser batter and require rings to make. The traditional English muffin looks more like regular bread inside when split. It still holds the butter nicely when toasted though, so don't you worry!

The first step is to mix the dough. Mix the dough at least the night before you plan on making the muffins. For a more robust flavor, you can actually make the dough 2-4 days in advance. This extra fermentation time in the refrigerator helps to develop a very nice flavor, but they're still good when made after only twelve hours. The dough  mixes together nicely and does not need to be kneaded for an exceptionally long time. When ready, dump the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and stash in the refrigerator. It will swell up nicely and do some lovely yeasty things.

When ready to make the muffins, lightly flour the counter and dump out the dough. Sprinkle the dough with a little flour too and roll it out until about one-quarter of an inch thick. Make sure you roll it thin enough. One time I didn't and I ended up with English muffins that looked like the Sears tower! They were crazy! Cut out using a 3 1/2 inch round cutter (or something similar). A nice sharp cutter is preferred because you don't want the dough on the edges to get sealed together as this can inhibit the muffins from puffing properly. If you only roll once, you should get about 8 muffins out of the dough; if you re-roll the scraps, you can get up to 14 muffins. Please note, however, that once you try to re-roll the dough, you'll be waging an uphill battle against gluten.

Place the muffins on a sheet tray sprinkled with cornmeal or farina (Malt-O-Meal or Cream of Wheat cereal). I prefer the look and taste of the farina, personally. In this picture, you're looking at cornmeal. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins as well and then loosely cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until they have doubled in volume. Be sure to let them rise fully. If you try to cut this step short, most likely you will end up with dense, doughy English muffins.

When they are done rising, preheat your electric griddle to 325F. You can do this step on the stove, but I find being able to easily manage the temperature is a real plus here. Cook the muffins for two minutes on one side.

Give them a flip and let them cook another 5-7 minutes on the other side. If they do not have a nice golden color on them when you complete this first flip, you may want to hold off a bit longer and evaluate your griddle temperature.

This photo shows the second side once it has finished cooking as well. You see how it is not as flat as the first side? The first side cooking time is short for a reason. If you let the first side go too long, the top of the muffin gets too rounded and you end up with a smaller and smaller flat spot on the top of this second side, leading to a domed muffin instead of a nice flat muffin. In my experience, two minutes is a nice compromise between color development and maintaining as flat a second side as possible.

Let muffins cool slightly before slicing and toasting. While you can fork split these muffins, I almost prefer them cut open. Give it a try both ways and see which one appeals most to you. These muffins are great by themselves (as shown at the beginning of this post) or as part of a smashing eggs Benedict. Freeze the leftovers (I slice mine apart first), and you can enjoy homemade English muffins whenever the mood hits!

English Muffins
Yield: 8 - 14   3-1/2 inch muffins (depending on whether you re-roll the scraps)

3 cups bread flour
1 tsp table salt
1 1/4 cup milk
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp instant yeast
2 TBS vegetable oil

Mix all ingredients together and knead by hand or in a stand mixer for 5-7 minutes. Dough should come together but still be somewhat sticky. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator at least overnight, but up to four days. The ideal time from a flavor/yeast development standpoint is probably on day three (let sit two nights in refrigerator).

When ready to make the muffins, pull the dough from the refrigerator and dump out onto a lightly floured counter. Sprinkle the dough with a little more flour and roll immediately until the dough is 1/4 inch thick. You should be able to cut eight 3 1/2 inch rounds without having to re-roll the dough. If you want to use all of the dough now, re-roll to obtain up to 14 rounds. The gluten will start to fight you as soon as you start re-rolling. Let the dough sit a few minutes to allow the gluten to relax a bit if it gets too frustrating.

Place rounds on a sheet pan generously sprinkled with farina (Malt-O-Meal or Cream of Wheat cereal) or cornmeal. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins as well. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until double. Be sure to let them rise fully or you may end up with muffins that are dense and doughy.

When they have doubled, heat a dry electric griddle to 325F. Once preheated, place the rounds on the griddle and cook two minutes on the first side. Check to be sure the bottom is nicely golden and give the muffin a flip. If you wait too long to flip, the muffin will be dome shaped instead of flat. Cook another 5-7 minutes on the other side. Let cool briefly before splitting and toasting. Muffins can be frozen for up to six months.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Refrigerator Dinner Rolls

You're going to love this recipe! If you've been intimidated by making dinner rolls from scratch, be afraid no longer! These are so easy to mix, so easy to shape, and so easy to bake. And the best part? They taste phenomenal!!!!! These rolls have a lovely flavor, are light and soft, and are the perfect vehicle for sopping up whatever gravy or juices you've got going on in your meal.

This recipe makes a good sized batch of rolls, somewhere in the neighborhood of three dozen. The other nice thing about the dough is that once it is made, it keeps fairly well. You can leave it in the refrigerator up to three days or store it in the freezer for up to a month. If you freeze the dough, thaw it completely in the refrigerator before proceeding. This is a fairly soft dough that can be mixed by hand fairly easily, but if you have a stand mixer, it is the easiest dough ever to mix.

Refrigerator Dinner Rolls
Yield: approx. 3 dozen rolls

4 1/2 tsp instant yeast (or 2 pkg active dry yeast)
1/3 cup sugar
2 cups warm water
5 1/2-6 1/2 cups of flour, divided
2 tsp table salt
1 whole egg
1/3 cup shortening, melted and cooled slightly
egg yolk wash (one yolk and 1 TBS water) optional

If using active dry yeast, mix the yeast, water, and sugar together first until it become frothy. If using instant, you can simply mix the ingredients together. Add 4 cups of the flour to the yeast, water, and sugar. Stir together and then add the salt, egg, and shortening. Add as much of the remaining flour as is necessary to make a soft dough. Knead a couple of minutes until the dough is smooth. It will still be sticky at this point, but once it rises in the refrigerator, it will be a nice dough to handle.

Place the mixed dough in a greased bowl, at least 4 quarts in size. Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator for two hours or until doubled in size. If you want to store the dough at this point, punch it down and put it back in the refrigerator or in the freezer. If you are ready to make rolls, dump the dough out and punch it down. Cut the dough into strips to make shaping easier. Cut the strips into small pieces such that when you roll each piece into a sphere it's about 3/4 of an inch in diameter. Spray a muffin tin with oil and place three of the dough balls in each cup. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until double, about an hour. Brush the tops with egg wash and bake at 400F for about 12 minutes or until nice and golden. Remove from the oven and let cool a few minutes before removing from tins.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Chocolate Pie

We had a guest for dinner last night; it was someone we hadn't seen in almost ten years! It was great to catch up and also a great excuse to have some fun in the kitchen. I made a shepherd's pie with chicken, salad, and some rolls (which I'll share with you in the next few days). For dessert, well, you know that's where my true passion lies, I wanted to go all out; I absolutely love baking!

I decided to go with making a chocolate pie. First, nearly everyone loves chocolate pudding, so I feel pretty confident that no one will turn down a chocolate pie when made. Secondly, I like the fact that I can make the  whole thing in advance... like a whole day in advance. It's perfect!

This is another one of those "put together" recipes that uses a handful of other recipes that I have already posted to end up with a fabulous new creation.

The first step is to make the crust. I used my new flaky pie crust recipe that I posted yesterday, but you could go with a traditional crust as well, or - gasp - with a store bought crust. (Don't worry, I won't hold it against you if you do use a store bought crust. I don't use them because I don't like the flavor, but if they taste good to you, then why wouldn't you?). Blind bake the empty pie shell (pricked with a fork, lined with foil, and filled with pie weights or dried beans) at 425 degrees for ten minutes. Remove the foil and weights and continue baking until the crust is beautiful and golden. Let the pie shell cool completely at room temperature.

The next component is the filling. I started by making my chocolate pudding recipe. Once the pudding was thickened and off the heat, I added a few extra things. The first thing was about a half cup of bittersweet chocolate chips. I wanted to up the ante on the chocolate-y-ness of this filling. I also added about half a teaspoon of coffee liqueur. Both of these items are completely optional. Fiddle with it at this point as you see fit. You could add mint extract for a mint pie or hazelnut liqueur for a nutty essence. The only change that I made that I strongly recommend making is the addition of some gelatin. This pudding sets up pretty well, but for perfectly cut pieces, it really could use a little added stability. To do this, soften one teaspoon of gelatin in two tablespoons of cold milk. Let sit for 3-5 minutes. When the pudding first comes off the heat, stir in the milk/gelatin mixture. That's all there is to it, but it makes a huge difference. Pour the pudding into a bowl and place plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Let the pudding cool completely but not become cold (you don't want it to start setting up yet). Pour the cooled pudding into the pie shell and smooth the top. Cooling the pudding is important for two reasons: first, it keeps the crust from getting soggy, and second, at this point you don't have to worry about a nasty skin from forming. Now you can put the pie in the refrigerator uncovered without any problems.

The last part of this process is the whipped cream edge. Because I wanted to be able to make everything in advance and then have any leftovers keep beautifully (there were only three of us, after all), I used stabilized whipped cream. Follow the recipe exactly and pipe the whipped cream onto the pie in any design you choose. I usually use a rope type border around the edge. I then sprinkled some chocolate shavings on the whipped cream for contrast. Refrigerate for at least a few hours before serving! Cuts beautifully and tastes wonderful!

*Per a commenter's request, I have written up my pudding recipe with the pie filling additions here. As I was writing the recipe, I remembered that I did also add a wee bit of sugar to balance the addition of the chocolate. It wasn't a lot, and you can certainly add some to taste if you find it necessary.*

Chocolate Pudding for Pie
Yield: enough for one pie

1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 TBS cornstarch
2 1/2 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (optional)
1/2 tsp coffee liqueur (optional)
additional sugar to taste, if necessary
1 tsp unflavored gelatin softened in 2 TBS cold milk

Sift the sugar, cocoa powder, salt, and cornstarch into a medium sauce pan. Mix the milk and vanilla. Pour just enough of the milk into the dry ingredients to make a loose paste. Once the dry ingredients are all moistened, pour in the rest of the milk and whisk until well mixed.

Cook over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally, until the pudding just about reaches a boil and is thick and smooth. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate chips and liqueur, if using. Stir to mix. Add in the softened gelatin/milk mixture and stir again until well mixed and smooth. Pour into a bowl and place plastic wrap directly on the top of the pudding to prevent a skin from forming. Cool in the refrigerator until cool but not cold (and not set). Once cool, stir and then pour into pie shell, smoothing the top. Pie can now be refrigerated uncovered until served. Pipe a border of stabilized whipped cream, if desired. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Super Flaky Tender Pie Crust

I know I have already posted a recipe and tutorial on pie crust, but this one is just so phenomenal, I can't not share it with you. Look at how flaky that pie crust is! It's almost like puff pastry. I've been messing with this recipe for a little over a year now, but have finally gone a few times making it without making any adjustments to the recipe.

You use the exact same technique as I outline in my Pie Crust 101 post and video. It's amazing how just a few alterations in the recipe make such a huge difference. A pleasing bonus is that the dough is easier to work with when rolling because using half cake flour reduces the amount of gluten in the dough. Give this dough a try in your next pie crust application - I promise you will not be disappointed!

Super Flaky Tender Pie Crust
Yield: enough for two thin single crusts or one thick crust with some extra

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
1/2 tsp table salt
11 TBS chilled butter cut into small pieces
5-6 TBS chilled water
1 TBS white vinegar

I think making crust is easiest in a food processor, but you can certainly mix it by hand. Mix together the flours and salt. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some pea sized pieces of butter remaining. Mix the water and vinegar together and then add to the mixture while pulsing in the food processor or add all but the last TBS and then mix by hand. Hold back the last TBS of water regardless of your method until you are sure you need it. The ambient humidity will impact how much water is required to allow the dough to come together into a ball. Pulse just until the dough starts to clump. Dump out onto the counter and shape into a disk of dough about 6 inches across. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill 30-60 minutes before rolling.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Gingerbread Men Shaped Lollipops

I love the holiday season. I especially love that it really gives me an excuse to go all out making all sorts of food goodies to give away. When I first started making lollipops a handful of years ago, I bought a variety of molds at a baking store (SugarCraft). The metal molds made by Sweet Creations are definitely my favorite. You can see what they look like in my Old Fashioned Lollipop post. I love them because they are easy to use and come in a variety of shapes.

In the packs of molds that I bought previously, I had ended up with two person shaped molds. One day, as I was making some root beer lollipops, I looked at those two and thought, "Wow! Those would make awesome gingerbread men for the holidays!" And then my life got busy and the idea got put on the back burner because I didn't really want to buy as many packs of molds as I'd need to get a reasonable number of the gingerbread men molds.

For some reason last month, on a whim, I decided to call the company and ask if they could make me a special pack of all gingerbread men molds. The folks at Sweet Creations were wonderful. Within a week, I had my new pack of molds and was ready to roll! They said they could create any package of molds from the shapes they offer that I wanted! How great is that? I am so happy that I called them, because look at how cute these little lollipops are!!!

I made a batch to give away to the little ones in our family for Christmas. I always make goodies to give to their parents, why shouldn't they get something special too? I made the lollipops exactly as I describe in my Old Fashioned Lollipops post. The only difference here was the addition of the white details. For this I used a stiff royal icing (I used the recipe on a package of Wilton meringue powder) and then let them dry uncovered at room temperature until the icing was dry and hard. Although most of our homes are on the dry side this time of year from the furnace, don't leave the lollipops out any longer than necessary or they could end up absorbing moisture and getting too sticky.

I then packaged them the same way I described in my previous lollipop post. I dusted them with powdered sugar and brushed the excess off with a pastry brush. Into the bags they went with pretty bows and, voila!, perfect little gingerbread men lollipops!

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