Blueberry Cream Scones

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Blueberries are everywhere these days, at least in our part of the country. They are at the grocery store, at the farmers’ market and at farm stands. I wonder if there are new varieties that can withstand our hot Midwestern summers? Or if farmers are realizing that people will pay a premium for local blueberries? Either way, I am enjoying the steady supply of fresh blueberries.

We had friends over for breakfast last Saturday and I wanted to make something a little different. I also wanted to make something easy, or make-ahead, so I could sleep just a bit later that morning. I settled on blueberry cream scones – easy and make-ahead. And it would use some of our bounty of blueberries in the fridge. Did I mention I overbought at the grocery store just a bit? I can’t resist blueberries, but we have eaten just about all the blueberry pancakes and fresh blueberries that we care to.

Cream scones couldn’t be easier – no cutting in butter or anything even remotely complicated. If you can measure and stir, you can make cream scones. Throw in a handful, or two, of blueberries and you are set.

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To make these even easier, you can stir them together any time and freeze them to bake at just a few moments’ notice. I made mine on Thursday, when I had time. Then I froze the raw scones on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. When they were frozen hard, I peeled them off, popped them in a ziplock bag and stashed them in the freezer to wait for Saturday morning.

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On the day of the breakfast, while the oven preheated, I brushed the frozen scones with a little cream and sprinkled them with sugar. They needed a few extra minutes to bake because they were still frozen, but they came out of the oven golden brown and bursting with blueberries. I was able to get my beauty sleep and still pull hot scones out of the oven in time for a relaxed breakfast with friends. Perfection!

Download or print the recipe here.

Blueberry Cream Scones
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 12 small scones

You can make the scones ahead of time and freeze them until you are ready to bake. See the end of the recipe for directions on the process.

¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose flour)
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup granulated sugar
I cup fresh blueberries (see notes)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream (see notes)
2-3 tablespoons cream or milk, if needed (see notes)

Topping:
Cream or milk
Coarse, pearl or granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line it with parchment paper.

Stir together the flours, baking powder, salt and sugar. Stir in the blueberries. Add the vanilla extract and about ¾ cup of the cream. Stir gently. If there is still a large amount of dry flour, add the remaining cream. If the dough is still very dry, add more cream, or milk, a tablespoon at a time, just until most of the flour is wet, turning and mixing the dough with your spoon. The dough will be moist, but not particularly sticky. There should be only a small amount of dry flour, if any.

Use a medium cookie scoop or a spoon to dollop the scones onto the prepared baking sheet. Wet your fingers and flatten the tops of the scones. Push any errant blueberries back into the scones and make the sides even and straight.

Brush the tops of the scones with cream or milk and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake scones for 10-12 minutes, or until just golden on top and darker golden on the bottom. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Scones keep at room temperature for up to two days, though they really are best soon after baking. Reheat leftovers for a few seconds in the microwave before serving. Freeze the scones for longer storage, thawing overnight at room temperature, or in the microwave for about 30 seconds.

Notes: You can make these with frozen blueberries if you prefer. Add the still-frozen blueberries right before you mix in the cream and mix quickly. If the berries thaw your scones will have purple streaks, which isn’t the worst thing in the world.

If you use all-purpose flour instead of the white whole wheat flour you will probably not need as much cream to get the dough to come together.

Make-ahead directions:
Do not preheat the oven, as you won’t be baking the scones right away. Prepare the scones as directed, placing them on a parchment lined baking sheet or pan that will fit into your freezer. Do not brush the tops with cream or sprinkle with sugar. You will do this when you are ready to bake them. Freeze the scones, uncovered, until solid. Once scones are frozen, peel them off the paper and place in a ziplock bag or airtight container. Keep frozen until ready to use.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove scones from freezer and place on a lightly greased or parchment lined baking sheet. Brush tops with cream and sprinkle with sugar while oven preheats. Bake 10-15 minutes, or until golden on top and golden brown on the bottom. If scones are pale or seem under baked in their centers, give them a minute or two longer in the oven. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Back to Basics – Whole Wheat Bread

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Whole wheat bread is our favorite around here. Rarely do I make white bread and I usually throw at least a little whole wheat flour in just about every baked good I make. To the uninitiated, baking with whole wheat flour can be fraught with issues: dry, dense bread and crumbly loaves. There are a few tricks in the trade that can make the difference between stereotypical dense, dry whole wheat bread and light, soft bread that tastes mildly of nutty whole grain goodness.

If you have never baked bread before, check out my post on white bread first. Baking with whole wheat can be just a tiny bit tricky and it helps if you are already familiar with yeast and the steps of making bread.

White whole wheat flour
When I first started baking with whole wheat, way back in the early 90s, I only had access to standard whole wheat flour. It was dark and strongly flavored and if I wasn’t careful it made heavy, overly wheaty bread.

Then I discovered a new product: white whole wheat flour. It is a different strain of wheat from regular whole wheat and it was a revelation. White whole wheat is basically albino wheat. And its flour has all of the nutrition of regular whole wheat flour with none of the bitterness. It is usually ground as finely as all-purpose flour, which helps make baked goods come out with a texture similar to white flour products.

That said, if you have traditional whole wheat flour, as long as it isn’t stoneground, your bread will turn out very similar to mine. It will, however, be a little darker and have a stronger flavor.

A word on stoneground flour
Don’t get me wrong, stoneground flour is a wonderful product. And if you are used to baking with it, it can produce lovely baked goods. But if you are a novice baker, you probably want to wait to use stoneground flour until you have at least a few loaves of bread under your belt. Stoneground flour requires a little more liquid, a longer rest time and a light hand with flour during kneading.

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Bran and its challenges
The problems most people have with whole grain baking (not just whole wheat) stem from the bran in the flour. Whole grain flour is the whole grain, ground into flour. That sounds a little obvious, but stick with me. Because you have the whole grain, you have the bran and the germ, along with the rest of the kernel (called the endosperm). White flour contains only the endosperm. The germ has lots of nutrition and a little fat (the good kind) and doesn’t really affect the texture of the bread. The bran contains most of the fiber in the grain (which we all want to eat more of) and is what can cause problems when baking with whole wheat flour.

Bran absorbs liquid slowly. This can cause an issue if you mix your whole wheat bread dough exactly as you would mix white bread dough. If you don’t build in extra time for the bran to absorb the liquid you can end up with heavy, dense bread.

One simple trick solves all, though: a rest period. Mix up the dough, including all of the whole wheat flour, and then stop. Cover the bowl and do something else for fifteen minutes. It doesn’t matter what. Wash the dishes. Start a load of laundry. Or take a rest yourself. While the dough is resting, the bran will have plenty of time to soak up all the liquid it wants. When you come back, your batter-like dough should have firmed up just a bit. Now you can proceed with the rest of the recipe without worry about adding too much flour.

That’s pretty much it. Start with white whole wheat flour, which you can find in any grocery store. Take a pass on stoneground flour until you have a little baking experience. And give the dough a rest. Now all that’s left to do is get your ingredients and your bowl ready. Just think, in about two hours you can have your very own loaves of warm, soft whole wheat bread. The butter is waiting.

Download or print the recipe.

Basic Whole Wheat Bread
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens
Homemade Bread Cookbook
Makes 2 loaves

If you don’t have 9 by 5 inch loaf pans, you can use a large baking sheet. Follow recipe directions for shaping and simply place the loaves on a lightly greased baking sheet, far enough apart so they have room to rise. Bake as directed, but for only 20-25 minutes.

2¼ cups milk
3 cups whole wheat flour (white whole wheat or regular)
2¾-3½ cups all-purpose flour, approximately
1 package instant or active dry yeast (2¼ teaspoons)*
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon butter, room temperature

*Be sure you don’t buy rapid rise yeast. That particular yeast only works in recipes written specifically for it. Look for instant or active dry yeast packets in the baking aisle of the grocery store.

Heat milk until very warm (120-130 degrees). It will feel very warm if you test it with your finger. If it is hot, let it cool a little before you use it. Combine the 3 cups whole wheat flour, yeast, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add butter and warm milk. Stir vigorously until well-mixed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for 10-15 minutes. This will allow the whole wheat flour to absorb more of the liquid and help guard against adding too much flour during kneading.

Add 2½ cups of all-purpose flour gradually, about a cup at a time. The dough will become stiff and hard to stir. Continue to work in flour until the dough is firm enough to knead. You might need up to an additional cup of flour, but try not to make the dough dry.

Lightly sprinkle a kneading surface with flour. Turn dough out of the bowl onto the flour. Flour your hands and start to knead, adding sprinkles of flour as needed. If you are used to baking with white flour only, the dough might feel a bit rougher to you and not quite as bouncy. It is supposed to feel like that.

Knead gently at first: pull the far side of the dough toward you and fold over, pressing it away from you with the heels of your hands. Turn dough a quarter turn and repeat. When dough is less sticky, you can be less gentle. At first you might need to scrape your kneading surface with a rubber spatula if dough sticks. Add flour as necessary to the dough and your hands to prevent sticking. Try to add flour gradually, only until the dough doesn’t stick to your hands. Knead the dough 5-8 minutes or until it is no longer sticky. It will become smooth and elastic.

Lightly grease a large bowl (at least 3 quarts). Place the ball of dough in the bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. You don’t want the dough to dry out while it is rising. Let dough rise in a warm place until doubled, about 60 minutes. I like to use the turned-off oven with the light on. It gets surprisingly warm.

While the dough is rising, lightly grease two 9 by 5 inch loaf pans.

If you aren’t sure if your dough is doubled, poke your finger into it at the edge. If the hole doesn’t fill in immediately, your dough is ready. Turn the dough out onto your kneading surface and knead briefly to press out any large air bubbles. You shouldn’t need any flour.

Divide the dough in half. Working with one half at a time, flatten the dough into a rough rectangle about 9 inches wide (as wide as your pan is long). Starting from one 9-inch side, tightly roll the dough into a cylinder. Pinch the seam and the ends closed. Roll the top side against the surface to smooth. Turn seam side down and fold the ends under slightly. Place in pan, seam side down. Repeat with the second half of the dough.

Lightly cover the loaves with a sheet of parchment or waxed paper. Let rise at room temperature for about 30 minutes, or until the middles of the loaves are about 1 inch above the tops of their pans.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees while the loaves are rising.

Bake the risen loaves for about 30 minutes, or until they are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped with your finger. Check the loaves after 20 minutes, and tent loosely with foil if the tops are browning too fast.

Remove loaves from the pans and cool on wire racks. Try to wait at least a few minutes before cutting into the loaves. Ideally wait until they are fully cool before slicing. You are going to want to sample your bread before it cools. I know you are. That is fine, but be very gentle when you slice the warm loaves or you will crush them.

Store at room temperature in an airtight container or ziplock bag. Homemade bread dries out much faster than commercial bread. Slice loaves and freeze if keeping for longer than a couple of days.

Recipe Detail – How Much is Enough?

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I was making my buttermilk waffles the other day and I started thinking about how different recipes are written. Some lay out absolutely every step, down to getting out bowls and utensils. Others assume you know how to do everything and just give you bare bone instructions. And most are somewhere in between.

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I like to write detailed recipes, without talking down to the reader, but I wonder how much is too much? Or how much is enough? For instance, in my recipe for waffles I call for melted butter in the ingredients, as well as separated eggs. I assume you know how to do both of those things and you will do them as you are gathering your ingredients.

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I go into greater detail with some recipes, especially ones where doing certain prep steps in a certain order makes things easier, or helps with timing. I include more steps and hints with things that everyone might not be familiar with, like yeast dough or pie crust.

Which do you prefer – details galore, or just the basics?

Salvage Smelly Cutting Boards with Salt and Lemons

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I am a fan of wooden cutting boards. They are easy on my knives, they look pretty and they last forever with just a little TLC. They do have their drawbacks. They can’t go in the dishwasher and they sometimes pick up aromas from whatever you have been copping on them.

I speak most specifically of onions, garlic and shallots. Some of my cutting boards have a definite smell of onions when you get them wet. The aroma lingers, even after umpteen scrubbing sessions. I even got the sandpaper out and went to town. No luck.

The problem came to a head when I cut an apple on a cutting board and then used it to serve said apple. Partway through the meal Rich and I both commented on how weird the apple tasted. Yep, eau de onion. Not a good combination.

It was time to pull out the big guns. Or rather, whatever we could think of that we felt comfortable using on a food preparation surface. Anything chemical was out – I was afraid it would soak into the wood. I remembered that I had stained my white Corian counters with blueberries not long ago. I scrubbed the stains with salt and they were gone in no time, with just a little effort.

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I decided to use salt on the cutting boards. Then I started thinking about other food safe fresheners. Lemons came to mind – they work on garlic and onion smells on my hands and to freshen the microwave.

I made a paste of salt and lemon juice right on one of the cutting boards. I scrubbed it with a nylon scrubbing pad until the salt was all dissolved and not abrasive anymore. I repeated the process and then rinsed the board clean. No onion smell. I let it dry and took another whiff. A hint of onion. I repeated the process. Voila, no onion.

Salt, lemon and a little elbow grease did the trick. I had to re-oil the boards after that, but I now can cut apples and bread on my boards without adding a note of onion.

What are your favorite kitchen cleaning tips?

Decadent Fudge Cake for Easter

DSC_0012For the last several years I have made a lamb-shaped cake for my family’s Easter dinner. Last year I did a yellow cake, baked in the two halves of the open mold. The year before I made a carrot cake in the closed mold. Both years I made a tasty cake, though not without a few mishaps.

This year I decided not to mess with the potential frustrations of the lamb pan. I have a new swirly bundt pan that I am using every chance I get, so I used that to bake a chocolate cake. I didn’t expect any of the family to even notice that the lamb didn’t make an appearance.

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Boy, was I wrong. Everyone wanted to know what kind of lamb I had made this year. And everyone remembered the lamb from two years ago with his head held on with skewers. But they were all suitably impressed with the chocolate cake and the cool shape from the pan.

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The cake. Oh the cake. I have made this cake before, but this time it was at its best -darkly chocolate, slightly crispy on the outside, especially on the ridges from the pan, but very fudgy on the inside, almost like a flourless chocolate cake.

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This cake started out as a recipe from a card I received in the mail, which I have since lost. Companies used to send out sample recipes for monthly recipe clubs you could subscribe to. The internet sounded the death knell for these clubs. I never subscribed to one, but I did make this cake, with a few changes. The chocolate I use is darker than the original, I increased the vanilla and I changed margarine to butter. And I eliminated the fussy chocolate and white chocolate leaves that the original cake was topped with. The cake can certainly stand on its own, with no embellishment.

The cake uses chocolate syrup, which I rarely buy. I would like to find a substitute for it, since I just used up the last of the bottle to make the cake. It provides some liquid, some sugar and some chocolate. I am playing around with the idea of more buttermilk and a little cocoa, though maybe not more sugar, to make the cake even darker. Or I could just leave it out and see what happens.

I want to do some experiments, but I need to have another holiday or party so other people can help us eat the cake. If you have any ideas for substitutions, send them my way.

Download or print the recipe here.

Decadent Fudge Cake
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 12-15

4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
4 ounces 70% chocolate
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 sticks butter (8 ounces), room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1½ cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
⅓ cup chocolate syrup (like Hershey’s)
1 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Heavily grease a 10-inch bundt pan and set aside.

Melt the baking chocolate and 70% chocolate in the microwave or a double boiler. Set aside to cool. Stir the baking soda together with the flour in a medium bowl and set aside.

Beat the butter with the sugar and vanilla extract until light and fluffy and no longer grainy – 3-5 minutes.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.

Add about one-third of the flour mixture and mix well. Add half of the buttermilk and mix again. Repeat with remaining flour and buttermilk, ending with flour. Mix in melted chocolate and chocolate syrup until well mixed, with no streaks of plain batter remaining. Stir in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth top. The batter will almost fill the pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 45-60 minutes, until the top springs back when touched. Bake the shorter amount of time if you want the middle to be slightly fudgy.

Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes. Loosen the edges of the cake with a knife or thin spatula and turn out onto a serving plate. Place the plate on a wire rack and cool until room temperature before covering.

Dust cake with powdered sugar just before serving. Cake keeps well at room temperature for several days. Freeze for longer storage.

Cherry Almond Cream Scones

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All things almond are favorites in our house. For me they are a close third behind vanilla and chocolate. Rich and Calvin might rank them slightly higher. And if you combine the almond with cherry, Rich will be your friend for life.

I was kicking around ideas for scone flavors when we were trying to use up our bounty of cream. We had some heavenly dried cherries that I had been itching to use in something other than salads or for snacking. I had sliced almonds in the freezer and almond extract in the cabinet. Rich and I chatted briefly about the possibilities and cherry almond scones were born.

These bake up into tender triangles of dairy richness with a subtle almond note, punctuated by pockets of sweet tart cherries. A thick layer of almond-vanilla glaze and a sprinkling of sliced almonds push them over the top from just good to knock-your-socks-off.

Make these. Make them as written, or make them your own. Add a few chocolate chips. Skip the topping in favor of a sprinkling of sugar before baking. Drizzle them with melted chocolate. Make them plain. But make them. You can have them mixed up in minutes and on the table in less than half an hour. Warm, sweet, scones. You know you want them…

Download or print the recipe here.

Cherry Almond Cream Scones
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 8 scones

¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose flour)
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup dried cherries (see notes)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 cup heavy cream (see notes)
2-3 tablespoons cream or milk, if needed (see notes)

Glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
¼ teaspoon almond extract
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 tablespoons milk or cream
2-3 tablespoons sliced almonds

Notes: If your cherries are very hard and dry, mix them with 1-2 tablespoon of water and microwave them for 20-30 seconds, or until they swell and absorb the water. Cool slightly before adding to the flour mixture.

If you use all-purpose flour instead of the white whole wheat flour you will probably not need as much cream to get the dough to come together.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line it with parchment paper.

Stir together the flours, baking powder, salt and sugar. Stir in the cherries. Add the vanilla extract, almond extract and about ¾ cup of the cream. Stir gently. If there is still a large amount of dry flour, add the remaining cream. If the dough is still very dry, add more cream, or milk, a tablespoon at a time, just until most of the flour is wet, turning and mixing the dough with your spoon. The dough will be moist, but not particularly sticky. There should be only a small amount of dry flour, if any.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide dough in half. Lightly flour the top of the dough and your hands and shape each half of the dough into a round ball and then flatten into a disk ¾-1 inch tall. Try to make the edges straight and even. Cut into 4 wedges. Push any errant cherries back into the scones, so they don’t burn in the oven. Repeat with second dough ball.

Place wedges on prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until just golden on top and darker golden on the bottom.

While scones bake, prepare the glaze: mix the powdered sugar with the extracts. Add the milk or cream gradually, starting with 1 tablespoon. Add more milk or cream until you have a thin glaze.

Cool baked scones for about 5 minutes. Then drizzle each scone with glaze, or dip the tops of the scones in the glaze. Sprinkle with sliced almonds. Serve warm or room temperature.

Scones keep at room temperature for a few days. Reheat for a few seconds in the microwave before serving. If you want to freeze the scones, wait to glaze them until you defrost them.

Creamy, Decadent Chocolate Mousse

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I guess I should have posted this yesterday, when it was National Chocolate Mousse Day. Who comes up with these days? And should we really care? I get Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Grandparents’ Day – I am all for showing appreciation to the special people in our lives. But does chocolate mousse really care if it has a day? And there isn’t a chocolate mousse council that needs to make sure people know about chocolate mousse so they can get their daily serving. Hmmm, I’d serve on that council if there were one. Heck, I’d serve on the dairy council. I like cream, butter and cheese.

I have been planning to blog about chocolate mousse since we had it a few weeks ago, to use up our cream supply. I had the post all ready to go and I wasn’t going to delay posting it just to avoid going along with the crowd on Chocolate Mousse Day.

I have always wanted to make chocolate mousse, but I never got around to it, until Rich suggested it as one way to use up some of our lovely cream surplus. Lots of recipes called for a ton of butter and others called for just chocolate and cream. I am all for a pure chocolate flavor, but I wanted something a little different than what is basically whipped chocolate ganache.

I found a recipe at Joy of Baking that was just what I was looking for: a nice balance of chocolate, butter, sugar and cream. It did call for eggs, which were not cooked, but I used pasteurized eggs to eliminate any possibility of salmonella. The recipe went together in no time, with just a bit of whipping and melting.

It was hard to wait for the mousse to chill, but it really made a difference in both the texture and flavor. The little (let’s get real: big) tastes we took were wonderfully creamy and rich, but the mousse was so much better after chilling for a few hours – creamy but still light and airy, with just the right amount of sweetness balanced with deep, dark chocolate. What more can you ask of a chocolate mousse?

Note: I am not posting the recipe here because I didn’t change it at all. I know some people post unchanged recipes, giving credit, but I am just not comfortable with that unless I have permission from the original authors.