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Sweet Simplicity: Chocolate Chip Scones

15 Sep

There are some dishes I make so frequently that I never bother to photograph them. That got me thinking the other day about lost recipes. The sort of everyday things that become second nature, that we think unworthy of photographing or calling attention to. But if we don’t teach or tell others how to do these things, they’re completely lost to time. Imagine that; a dish that might never live again until some unwitting cook elsewhere dreams it up again.

So this is one of the recipes that I make probably every other week or so, and one you can make and customize with whatever you have in the house.

Chocolate-Chip Scones

Yield: 8 scones

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp. baking powder (aluminum –free is best)
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 3 oz. butter, chilled and cubed
  • ½ cup of cold buttermilk (or make your own by squeezing half a lemon into ½ cup 2% milk)
  • ½ cup chocolate chips (or berries, dried fruits, nuts…etc.)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and kosher salt in a large bowl or food processor.

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Add the chilled butter, and process or cut the butter in to the dry ingredients until the mixture has a pebbly, sandy texture.

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Add the buttermilk and mix just until the dough forms large clumps.

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Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and mix in the chocolate chips (or addition of your choice) by hand. Then pat the dough into a circle about ¾ in. thick.

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Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut the circle into 8 triangles and then arrange them on a baking sheet with a couple of inches in between each.

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Bake for 15 minutes or until the bottoms are golden brown and the tops are just lightly golden.

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Scones, like most quick breads, are best consumed the day they are made. That said, I’ve revived these in the toaster for many breakfasts, so they’re definitely still tasty a day later. My favorite additions aside from chocolate chips are blueberries and of course the classic dried currants. Don’t want to add anything? Then don’t! They’re great plain with a pat of butter, too.

So that’s it really. Go forth and make delicious scones!

Ciao for now,

Neen

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Sunday Morning Sweets: Old Fashioned Cake Doughnuts

26 Mar

If you were snowed in, work was cancelled, and you had all of the necessary ingredients, tell me…

Why wouldn’t you make doughnuts?

Sure it takes a little time to do it properly, but it wasn’t like I was going anywhere on that February morning.

A lot of people don’t like frying, because they’ve had bad experiences with poorly-fried food. I get it. Believe me, greasy food makes me queasy too. If you keep a thermometer in the pot, fry in small batches, monitor the temperature between batches, and drain food properly, you will end up with almost as much oil in the pot as you started with. Less oil leaching into the food, no greasy texture.

I am always a fan of peanut oil for deep frying as I think it has the most neutral flavor, but you can use anything with a high smoke point.

Since I was snowed in at the last minute on this occasion, I decided to make cake doughnuts. I prefer to allow yeast doughs to rise overnight and we didn’t have that kind of time.

Old Fashioned Cake Doughnuts

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ tbsp salt
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspon cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • 1⁄4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup whole or 2% milk
  • 4 cups flour
  • Oil for frying

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices.

20150222_114358In another bowl, Combine the sugar with the melted butter, milk, and eggs, and blend well.

20150222_114605Slowly add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and beat until you have a batter that comes together, but is very soft and sticky.

20150222_114623Cover the dough with plastic wrap and chill for one hour.

After chilling, roll the dough out until it is about ½ in. thick.
20150222_122147Cut out doughnuts with a pint glass or biscuit cutter, and then cut out center holes with a small cookie cutter or shot glass.

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20150222_122554Fill a deep skillet with about 1 ½ in. of vegetable or peanut oil, and heat the pan until the oil is about 360 degrees.

Add doughnuts gently to the hot oil, cooking a few at a time so that the oil temperature stays between 360-375 degrees. Once you see golden brown around the edges, flip the doughnuts so that they cook on both sides. Total cooking time is about 2-3 minutes for doughnuts and about a minute for doughnut holes.
20150222_124221Remove the doughnuts using a spider and drain on a cooling rack inverted over a layer of paper towels.

While warm, glaze or sugar as desired. For this batch, I dipped some in cinnamon sugar and others are topped with a simple powdered sugar, milk, lemon zest, and vanilla glaze and sprinkles. I love crazy flavor combinations, but sometimes simplicity is perfect.

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And I have to say that toasty coffee, pajamas, and doughnuts is a pretty fantastic way to spend a Sunday morning with your sweetie, snowed in or otherwise.

Ciao for now!

Neen

Completely Counter-intuitive

18 Mar

Guess what we’re going to do today? We’re going to make BISCUITS! And we’re probably going to make a few people cry or write me angry letters.

I make biscuits and bacon for Joe almost single weekend, and use a pretty basic method. Always by hand, never in the food processor. Always all-butter (a cube or two of lard if I have it), never shortening. Always patted gently, never rolled out, and cut only once. Dough scraps are mashed together to make a mutant (but still delicious) biscuit, but the dough is NEVER re-rolled. And if it gets remotely warm while being handled, to the freezer with it!

The point here is that I’ve been threatened by enough Southern cooks in my life to know that YOU DO NOT OVER HANDLE THE BISCUIT DOUGH. Want them tender, crispy, and flaky? The less you touch it, the better. Otherwise: Bricks. Buttery, delicious bricks, but heavy and flat all the same.

There was an incident. I blame the bad reality television I leave on in the background when I’m in the kitchen. I was probably momentarily horrified by seeing an individual take a piece of raw chicken out of a marinade to cook, and then proceed to begin reducing the remaining marinade into a sauce. Mmm, salmonella! Anyway, an incident. I tossed my flour, salt, and baking powder together and then added the cubed, cold butter. As I worked my hands through it, quickly breaking and smearing the butter into small fragments, I thought “This is taking longer than usual…”

After adding the milk, the dough came together as usual…but the texture was different. It wasn’t sticky or too dry to come together, it just felt different. I chalked it up to paranoia and tossed the dough in the fridge. As I began to close the door to the refrigerator, I noticed that the 16 oz. tub of butter I’d bought earlier was nearly empty. “How did I go through this much butter this week? I didn’t even bake anything for work…”

(Censored expletive.)

"Why does this feel so light?"

“Why does this feel so light?”

A synapse clearly fired wrong, because the normal ratio of butter to milk is 1:2 in my biscuit dough recipe. Normally it’s 3 oz. butter and 6 oz. milk. And yet somehow that morning I was convinced that they were equal 6 oz. portions. “Now what?”

It occurred to me that the proportion of butter:flour made the ratio slightly closer to a croissant dough or pate brisee than a biscuit, but croissants use yeast, so it’s not abnormal there to handle the dough a lot. And pate brisee doesn’t need to rise, and has practically no liquid at all. At this point I figured that while I was already going off into left field, that I might as well just go all the way and see what resulted.

Something wonderful happened.

Flaky Layer Biscuits

The second time I made these, I made a few improvements to the methodology, and a 1 oz. reduction in the amount of butter. This was because the most inner layers in the first batch were over-saturated and a little greasy for my taste.

  • 9 oz. flour (about 2 cups, lightly scooped)
  • 5 oz. butter, cubed and chilled
  • 6 oz. whole milk or buttermilk
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt

In a medium sized mixing bowl, mix the flour, salt, and baking powder.

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Add the cubed butter. Smear and break up the pieces until the mixture is pebbly. The largest pieces of butter should be pea-sized.

Add the milk / buttermilk and stir the mixture with a fork until a rough dough forms.

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Transfer the dough to the counter and pat it into a small rectangle.

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Wrap this in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for a half-hour or until it is firm enough to roll.

Remove the dough from the plastic wrap and roll into a 9 x 17 in. rectangle.

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Letter-fold (as in my croissant recipe) into thirds, and then rotate the dough 90 degrees and repeat the process.

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Wrap the folded dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a half-hour.

Remove the dough from the plastic wrap and roll into a 9 x 17 in. rectangle, and again letter fold into thirds, rotate, and fold again. This time, cut the rectangle in half, and stack the two squares on top of one another, making sure that the folded sides of each square are at opposite ends. Press down, and then wrap the folded dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for a half-hour.

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Remove the dough from the plastic wrap for the final time, and repeat the previous three-step process. Then roll or press it out to 1/2 in. thickness.

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Cut into 12 squares with a sharp knife or pizza wheel. Place the biscuits on a parchment-lined baking sheet and refrigerate while the oven preheats.

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Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush the tops of the biscuits with a beaten egg or a little bit of cream or milk.

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Bake for 20-25 minutes or until fluffy and golden brown.

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Then you can enjoy slowly peeling apart all of the buttery layers and eating a delicious biscuit. Perfectly soft and flaky in the middle, a touch salty, and crisp on the outside. Voila!

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I was convinced these were going to be masonry equipment, but the result was opposite in nearly every way. The texture was just incredible, and they needed absolutely nothing spread on them (although fresh jam would be fantastic I’m sure). If, like me, you wish to gamble with your cholesterol numbers…they’re kind of amazing alongside a fried egg that’s still slightly runny.

It’s not the quickest biscuit recipe, but it’s hands-down my new favorite. I doubt I’ll have the patience to make it my every-weekend recipe. Even so, it was truly the happiest of accidents.

So go ahead. Handle the dough, roll the dough, and go nuts. Follow what I’ve written and you too will wonder why everyone has been lying to you. Maybe it’s a conspiracy among southern cooks to never reveal this secret. If I disappear, I wish you to assume that I’ve been kidnapped by someone’s grandma and locked in a basement for my crimes. Happy baking!

Ciao for now,

Neen

A New York State of Mind: Bagels

23 Jan

A lot comes to mind when I think of New York City. Growing up it was this mysterious place that people talked about as the center of the universe. It wasn’t until my seventeenth birthday that my first trip there was even planned. My parents, knowing my grand lifelong obsession with Billy Joel, decided to take me to New York during the opening weekend of the musical based on his songs called “Movin’ Out.” I was star struck from the minute we arrived: Times Square was a mob scene, impossible for tour buses to navigate due to the crowd’s determination to catch a glimpse of Eminem waving out the window at Total Request Live. When I sat down in the theatre to see “Movin’ Out,” I realized that James Gandolfini was directly in front of me. Less than 24 hours after that I was taking a picture with Billy Zane (who, aside from Hugh Jackman was the most gracious, kind celebrity I have ever met).

Inevitably at some point in my blogging career I was going to use Billy Joel’s most famous song as a post title. One does not see him in concert 6 times in three different cities without having that song permanently embedded into a part of the brain. Trips to New York always remind me of going to his concerts because he sings so much about NYC and the surrounding areas.

There are a lot of iconic things about New York: The Empire State Building, The Statue of Liberty, vast amounts of museums, enormous flagship stores, the Yankees, Broadway, and probably the best people-watching around. And the food scene? Pretty much everything imaginable. The little neighborhoods throughout all seem to have little clumps of ethnic groups that have brought their dishes to the States throughout the country’s history. And if I learned one thing in New York it is that they are serious about bagels. Polish-Jew immigrants brought the bagel to America, and sadly by the 1960s their delicious, handmade creations had been industrialized by Harry Lender, who engineered the automatic production and…pre-slicing of them (face, meet desk). I mourn for these bagels.

But New York has a host of bakeries that still make them from scratch. Even if you feel most sure of it, do NOT insist to a New Yorker that you can buy a decent bagel anywhere but there. This is an argument that you will not win. The theory is that it’s all about the water (much like the lime content of Kentucky water giving bourbon its distinctive characteristics).

Oh, but I am defiant and stubborn. And skeptical of anyone who tells me that I can’t do something. Maybe I didn’t ask my brother to ship me some of his water, nor did I bring a bucket on Amtrak during my recent trip to NYC, but I did my research. I wanted to know what makes bagel baking different from other bread baking and how I could achieve the closest possible analog to the breakfast king of the Big Apple.

New Yorkers, I believe that I have done you proud. Perhaps they are not made with the “right” water, but I guarantee you that they are dense, slightly spongy, and chewy. They are not “doughnut bagels” or bread shaped like a bagel. They are truly, wholeheartedly bagels.

These ones are of the cinnamon-raisin variety, but they aren’t sweet. I really wanted to shy away from making these resemble pastry or sweet bread in any way. The process takes two days, so make sure you give yourself adequate time before beginning.

Cinnamon Raisin Bagels

adapted from Peter Reinhardt, recipes from Jewish friends, and the great city of New York.

Sponge

  • 4 cups bread flour (or high-gluten flour)
  • 2 1/2 cups room temperature water
  • 1 tsp. rapid-rise yeast

Dough

  • 3 ½ cups bread flour (or high-gluten flour)
  • 4 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp. malt syrup or honey
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. rapid-rise yeast
  • 2 cups raisins, rinsed under warm water and patted dry
  • 1 tbsp. baking soda for water bath
  • Cornmeal for baking pans

To make the sponge, mix the flour and yeast together and then stir in the water until you have a thick batter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it in a non-drafty, warm place for 2-3 hours or until it has doubled in size and is very foamy on top. It should deflate slightly when the bowl is tapped on a hard surface.

1 - sponge

Add the second teaspoon of yeast and mix it thoroughly into the sponge. Mix in 3 cups of the flour, sugar, cinnamon, malt syrup, and salt. Add the remaining flour only as needed to form a stiff bread dough. Mix in the raisins.

2 - sponge with yeast and flour

3 - adding the dry ingredients

4 - mixing

5 - raisins addedTransfer the dough to a counter and knead for ten minutes or until it is smooth and pliable. The dough should not be tacky, but should be hydrated enough that it does not rip while being kneaded. At this point, check the temperature with an instant read thermometer. It should be somewhere in the mid 70s F.

6 - kneaded dough

Immediately divide the dough into 24 equal pieces and shape into rolls. These were 3 oz. each. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow them to rest for a half hour.

7 - formed rolls

Line two sheet pans with parchment paper and form the bagels. The easiest way to do this by hand is to poke the hole in the center using your thumb and then rotate the bagel around it until the hole is about one inch in diameter. Make them as even as possible to avoid timing problems during the baking process. Place the bagels on the prepared sheet pans and cover loosely with plastic wrap and let them rest at room temperature for 20 minutes. This room temperature rest is crucial before moving them to the refrigerator for final retarding as it provides some time for the gasses to build up that will make the bagels float during the pre-bake boil.

8 - shaped bagels

After the 20 minute rest do a test by dropping a bagel into a bowl of room temperature water. If it floats within 10 seconds, the bagels are ready for final retarding. Pat the test bagel dry and return it to the sheet pan. If the tester doesn’t float, leave the pans at room temperature and re-test every 10 minutes until it floats. Once this is achieved, move the bagels to the refrigerator and allow them to retard for 12 hours. They can stay like this for up to 2 days.

9 - float test

The following day, preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of water to boil on the stove and then add the baking soda.

Line two sheet pans with parchment paper, lightly oil the paper, and sprinkle a layer of cornmeal on it.

Remove the bagels from the refrigerator and gently drop them into the boiling water a few at a time. They should float within 10 seconds. Boil for 1 minute, flip them over, and then boil for 1 more minute.

10 - boil bagels

Place the boiled bagels on the prepared sheet pan about 2 inches apart. Once you’ve finished boiling all of them, move the pans to the oven and bake for 5 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 450 degrees, rotate the pans, and bake for 5 more minutes or until lightly golden brown. As with most bread, you can generally tell that they are cooked through once they reach an internal temperature of 190 degrees.

Cool the bagels on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes prior to cutting them. You wouldn’t want to smoosh all of the chewy goodness you worked to achieve, so be patient! I actually found that the texture improved greatly after several hours.

11 - boiled bagels12 - finished bagels 113 - finished bagels 2

But now you might be thinking “What do I do with two dozen bagels and only one stomach?” Well, I suppose you could share, but the good news is that these hold up well in the freezer as long as they’re tightly wrapped. Revive for a few minutes in a 350 degree oven or just toast them. Not as good as fresh, but infinitely better than store-bought.

Although I may never convince a New Yorker that these are the real deal, I have had many a bagel in my time and this is honestly the closest I’ve ever come to that distinct bagel-ness. Have fun, be patient, and enjoy. Other flavors? Omit the cinnamon and raisins and top your bagels with coarse salt, poppy seeds, or sesame seeds prior to baking. Purists might get mad at you, but dried blueberries are really tasty in place of the raisins. And besides, who cares what anyone thinks of you if you’re happy with them.

For now I think I’ll just enjoy my bagel and think about “taking a Greyhound on the Hudson River line…”

Ciao for now,

Neen

Deep-Fried Delicious Memories

1 Nov

Two days after what was probably the most fun wedding party ever, my in-laws hosted brunch for our family at the Grand Concourse. My mother-in-law Lynn was glowing with pride in a beautiful floral print pink dress and matching cardigan as she welcomed everyone to another celebration as a big, new family.

The Grand Concourse lives up to its name in more ways than one. It’s a giant restaurant set in an old train station, and is famous for its vast brunch buffet complete with everything from roast beef to bananas foster. But what was it that tickled our family the most?

The doughnut machine.

Yes, the doughnut machine. A mold dropped perfectly shaped pieces of doughnut batter into oil just long enough for them to cook and then moved them  along to a conveyor belt where the grease drained off of them. Next to the machine were two bowls where the doughnut could be dipped in either powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar. Needless to say, we were all incredibly entertained by this. Especially Joe and Lynn.

For almost as long as I’ve known Joe, I’ve known exactly where he gets his eating habits. It’s certainly not my father-in-law, who like me, thinks vegetables really are a food group. Nope, it’s definitely his mom. Their shared love for burgers and fries, anything with blueberries in it, and fresh, hot doughnuts is unmatched. We arrived in Louisville late one night on a flight from DC and saw that the Krispy Kreme nearby had the “hot doughnuts” sign lit up. I blinked and we were at the drive-thru window. On another occasion when I’d had just about enough of grad school, I closed the books for a day and made yeast doughnuts with a honey glaze and sent half of them with Joe when he went to visit his parents. I was later asked why only a half-dozen had been delivered.

It was a long summer for Lynn as she fought valiantly to stay well amidst all of her treatments and enjoy the wedding festivities. By the time the brunch in Pittsburgh came around, she didn’t have much in the way of an appetite anymore. But when my brother returned to our table with two fresh mini-doughnuts for her (one of each kind, of course!), she took a bite of each. It was the first thing I’d seen her eat in a long time and one of the few foods she said still tasted good to her. Had I the time, I’d have been churning out doughnut recipes for all of August.

Things changed very quickly when we returned from Pittsburgh. A few posts ago in “Bake it All Away,” I mentioned that the reason I’d baked bread that particular day was because I was feeling sad and powerless. It was right around that time that Lynn’s condition started to deteriorate. All I could do was make frozen meals for my father-in-law, sit by Lynn’s bedside singing and trying to remember the words to songs from “Evita” (her favorite musical), and play Rachmaninoff recordings so at least she might dream about being at spectacular performances at the Kennedy Center.

On October 23rd, Lynn’s long battle with ovarian cancer ended. She passed away peacefully with Joe, Roger, myself, her sisters, and her nurse at her side. The loss has felt agonizingly painful at times and we’ve all spent the last week in kind of a fog. Life still doesn’t feel real, and I imagine that it will take a long time to get used to the “new normal.”

Then Hurricane Sandy hit and gave us Monday and Tuesday off of work this week. It was kind of a relief and gave me time to do something a little bit fun and lighthearted for a little bit of distraction.

I’ve been promising Joe for a month that I’d make cider doughnuts for him. But we spent most of our October days being where we truly needed to be, with our family. So when I suddenly had unexpected free time on Tuesday morning, I decided to spend it elbow deep in flour and all the spicy sweet smells of autumn.

Cider doughnuts are cake doughnuts, so there’s no rise time involved here. That said, the dough does require some chilling prior to cutting, so make sure you have a good chunk of time on hand before starting.

Apple Cider Doughnuts

  • 1 cup apple cider (fresh, unfiltered is best)
  • 2 small strips of orange peel
  • 1 shot bourbon
  • 3 ½ cups flour
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ tsp. fresh grated nutmeg
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened

Toppings

  • Sugar mixed with cinnamon
  • Powdered sugar mixed with just enough cider to achieve a glaze that ribbons off of a spoon.

Combine the apple cider, orange peel, and bourbon in a small pot over medium heat and simmer until it reduces to between a 1/3 and ¼ of a cup of liquid. Discard the orange peel and set the liquid aside to cool.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the sugar and butter together until smooth. With the speed turned to low, add the eggs one at a time, mixing in between additions, and then add the cider reduction and milk. Mix until well blended.

Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix just until everything comes together. You’ll have a sticky, loose dough.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and dust it with flour. Scrape the dough out of the bowl and onto the baking sheet and flatten it with your hands until it is ½ in. thick. Freeze for 20 minutes or until slightly firm.

Cut doughnuts into desired shapes and place them on a second baking sheet lined with floured parchment paper. I used a 2 in. biscuit cutter and got 3 dozen small doughnuts. A larger biscuit cutter can also be used, in which case you should also cut out the middles (a shot glass dipped in flour works well) and use them to make doughnut holes. If a 1 in. cutter is used to make only doughnut holes, the yield is about 10 dozen. These fry fairly quickly and it’s easier to avoid raw middles with smaller doughnuts.

Refrigerate the pan of doughnuts while you prepare the frying oil and toppings. Put each topping in a shallow bowl and set them next to a wire rack placed over a piece of aluminum foil. Fill a pot with at least three inches of peanut or corn oil. They both have high smoke points, but peanut oil is my favorite for frying. Heat the oil over a burner set to medium-high until it reaches 350-360 degrees. Keep the oil within that temperature range while you fry the doughnuts and you won’t end up with greasy pastries. If you filter your oil at the end to reuse it, you’ll notice that you lose very little when you pay attention to temperature control.

Fry batches of 5-6 doughnuts at a time for 30-60 seconds on each side or until brown. Two chopsticks or butter knives make it easy to flip them. One batch I made had a few that were a little doughy in the middle, so I’d lean toward the longer cooking time for larger doughnuts. Doughnut holes cook much faster, so watch them closely. Check the oil temperature between each batch and adjust the heat accordingly.

Drain the doughnuts on paper towels for a few seconds and then either dip in the glaze or roll in the sugar. Enjoy warm with a cup of very strong coffee for maximum joy.

As Joe and I ate them and relaxed on a much-needed surprise day off of work, I couldn’t help but smile and think of Lynn. She’d have been right there with Joe, probably play-fighting for the last one on the plate.

If you want to see some of Lynn’s favorites, check out other recipes I’ve made for her: There’s Easter Bread (she loved it for grilled cheese sandwiches), Flourless Chocolate Cake with Italian Meringue for the chocoholics, and last year’s special birthday treat, a Coconut Layer Cake for the true southerners out there.

I’ll always love this special lady for everything she was: A generous, loving, kind, intelligent and empowered woman with more wit in her little finger than I have in my entire body. I feel blessed to have known her, and even more special to be a part of her family forever.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Ferdinand’s Flowers

25 Sep

“Once upon a time in Spain there was a little bull and his name was Ferdinand.”

So begins Munro Leaf’s tale of the bull who would not fight. Rather than play and butt horns with the other little bulls who dream of one day fighting at the bullfights in Madrid, Ferdinand enjoys the simple pleasure of smelling the flowers. One fateful day he goes to sit under his favorite tree and accidentally sits on a bee. The bee of course exacts revenge by stinging him, Ferdinand jumps, and then runs around crazily trying to soothe the pain. Seeing this, the men from the bullfights think he must be wild and fierce. He is taken off to Madrid to fight, but upon arriving he sees all of the ladies with pretty flowers throwing their roses into the ring. When it is his turn to fight, he simply sits down in the middle of the ring and breathes happily…just smelling the flowers. No matter how they poke, prod or provoke him, Ferdinand will not fight and he is sent home.

“And for all I know he is sitting there still, under his favorite cork tree, smelling the flowers just quietly. He is very happy.”

If I had to wager a guess, the first place I read The Story of Ferdinand was probably at the Squirrel Hill branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Other than The Giving Tree, it is one of the few stories I remember reading as a child that seemed to stick with me and speak to me at every age.

Maintaining self confidence is something that has always been a struggle for me. I was a kid who was mostly content to go along with what my friends had planned. As long as the people I was with were in good spirits, I probably was too. I was very self-conscious about the things I liked. The first time I met someone with the same musical interests as me, my head almost exploded with joy. I saw a lot of really terrible movies throughout high school purely because I didn’t really want to speak up and say, “No, I’d rather not see that.” In my head it was better to go along with things than be a bother or be difficult.

And I would think of Ferdinand…

Ferdinand didn’t feel guilty about not wanting to fight. He ignored everyone yelling at him and simply enjoyed the smell of the flowers. Ferdinand was in control of his own destiny, even if that was just to sit under his favorite tree.

That’s what I always wanted out of life: to be content with myself just as I am, to enjoy the things in life that make me happy, and to let the rest roll off of me like water on a duck’s back. In the face of others telling me what I should do, like, or think, I wanted to be able to make my own decisions and stand by them confidently.

I would think of Ferdinand every time I stepped up to sing at karaoke, stood in front of my mirror before a job interview, or decided all on my own to stay in one night and learn how to make croissants instead of going out to a noisy bar.  And his story reminded me to just be myself and BE HAPPY.

And so I decided to have him join me permanently…

While he is still healing, I thought it would be nice to make some little “flowers” that smell so wonderful I think almost anyone would stop to enjoy the scent.

Cinnamon Rosettes (aka Flowers for Ferdinand)

These aren’t your typical ooey-gooey cinnamon rolls, but they are soft, sweet, and have lots of bits of caramelized cinnamon-and-brown-sugar for you to enjoy since each one is baked in its own little tin.

Dough:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp. dry active yeast
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Filling:

  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon

Warm the milk and a pinch of sugar to between 110 to 115 degrees F. Sprinkle yeast over milk and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk together egg and remaining 1/4 cup sugar, then slowly whisk in yeast mixture. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine flour and salt.

Turn the mixer on a low speed and add the egg mixture, stirring until combined. Add butter and mix until incorporated. Fit the mixer with a dough hook and let it knead the dough for a minute or two, then knead by hand until smooth and elastic.

Roll the dough into a ball and put it in a greased bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a tea towel and let the dough rise in a warm draft-free place for one hour or until it doubles in volume.
Prepare filling by whisking together the brown sugar and cinnamon.

Butter a muffin tin and set it aside.
Once dough is doubled, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, deflate gently, and then roll into a large rectangle (about 10 x 14 inches). Brush the dough with the melted butter. Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough’s surface.

Tightly roll the dough over the filling, forming a 12 to 13-inch log. With a sharp knife, gently slice the log of dough into 12 equal pieces.

Place one piece in each muffin cup and then loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap or a tea towel and allow the buns to rest for another 30 minutes. The dough will not rise a lot, but they will puff slightly.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Bake rosettes for 15 to 20 minutes, until puffed and brown. The final internal temperature should be between 190-200 degrees F. Gently remove them from the muffin tin and cool on a rack.

Makes 12 buns.

I’m pretty sure that Ferdinand thought these were the sweetest smelling flowers hed ever smelled, and I bet you’ll enjoy them too. Plus, there is no better way to start a crisp, autumn weekend than with a warm cinnamon bun, a cup of coffee, and a reminder to just be yourself.

Ciao for now,

Neen