Buttermilk Pancakes from Scratch

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It’s a lazy Sunday mornings and everyone in the house is in the mood for a big breakfast. Mornings like this make me smile as they give me a chance to whip up a batch of my from scratch buttermilk pancakes.

I’ve never quite understood why people purchase certain convenience foods; especially things like any of the “Helper” boxed dinners, Alfredo sauce, and today’s subject – pancake mix. It isn’t because these things are inherently terrible or necessarily bad for you; they are full of unnecessary chemicals and preservatives though. I don’t understand why simply because things like this are just not that difficult to make from scratch. In my opinion, not only do they taste much better, but you control what goes into your food. Here’s my from scratch buttermilk pancakes. You could substitute regular milk for the buttermilk or simply add a tablespoon of lemon juice to each cup of milk and let it set for at least five minutes to make your own buttermilk substitute.

Give this recipe a try. You’ll make some of the best pancakes you ever tasted. You may even start singing, “They’re so light ‘n fluffy-brown, They’re the finest in the town…”

Ingredients

1 ½ C all-purpose flour
2 T sugar
2 t baking powder
½ t baking soda
½ t salt
1 ¼ – 1 ½ C buttermilk
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
2 T vegetable oil

Directions

In a bowl, mix together all the dry ingredients. Make a well in the center and pour in the buttermilk. Start with mixing 1 ¼ cups buttermilk to the flour. Add up to another ¼ cup if necessary if the batter is too dry. Add the two eggs, vanilla, and oil, whisking until mixed but still a bit lumpy.

Heat griddle and ladle ¼ cup of pancake batter onto hot grill. When the pancake begins to bubble flip and cook a couple more minutes on the other side.

Additional note

Using a ¼ cup measuring cup to measure out the batter will result in a pancake that measures approximately 4 inches in diameter. This recipe will produce 12 to 15 4 inch pancakes. I like this size because any leftover pancakes can easily be frozen with a piece of wax paper between each pancake. They can easily be taken out of the freezer and reheated for a great mid-week breakfast. Four inch pancakes easily fit in most toasters for reheating which produces a nice crispy cake as opposed to a soggy cake reheated in a microwave.

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A bit of an unusaul tart: Pecan Brie Tart

Think of a tart and you usually think of a sweet, fruit filled creation. However, the history of tarts shows a more savory beginnings. Tarts in medieval times traditionally were meat filled pastries. Over time they transformed into the sweeter fruit and custard desserts we find today.

This weekend I was given a challenge to make a dessert that contained the following three ingredients: butter, whipped cream, and brie. The first two were easy. It was the brie that caused consternation. In the end, I think I came up with an excellent sweet and savory tart. Here is what I did. This recipe will make four, four inch individual tarts.

The tart shell

Having never made a tart before, I went in search of a quick and easy tart shell recipe. I settled on David Lebovitz’s adaptation of Paule Caillat’s tart dough recipe. Caillat teaches the art of French cooking in Paris. Her recipe is a little unconventional as she begins by browning the butter and the dough is mixed while the fats are hot rather than cold as is typical. This recipe will make enough dough for a 9 inch tart pan. I used four smaller 4 inch tart pans to make individual tarts.

Ingredients

90 g (3 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
150 g (5 ounces) flour

Preheat the oven to 410º F.

In a medium-sized ovenproof bowl, such as a Pyrex bowl, combine the butter, oil, water, sugar, and salt.

Place the bowl in the oven for 15 minutes, until the butter is bubbling and starts to brown just around the edges.

When done, remove the bowl from oven (and be careful, since the bowl will be hot and the mixture might sputter a bit), dump in the flour and stir it in quickly, until it comes together and forms a ball which pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Transfer the dough to a 9-inch tart mold with a removable bottom and spread it a bit with a spatula.

Once the dough is cool enough to handle, pat it into the shell with the heel of your and, and use your fingers to press it up the sides of the tart mold. Reserve a small piece of dough, about the size of a raspberry, for patching any cracks.

Prick the dough all over with the tines of a fork about ten times, then bake the tart shell in the oven for 15 minutes, or until the dough is golden brown.

Remove from the oven and if there are any sizable cracks, use the bits of reserved dough to fill in and patch them.

Let the shell cool before filling.

The filling

Ingredients

8 oz good quality brie (I used a triple cream brie)
½ cup finely chopped pecans
½ cup brown sugar (packed)
3 ounces whiskey (I used Templeton Rye)

Directions

Cut brie into 4 equal wedges and place in tart shell.

In a saucepan, heat pecans, sugar and whiskey over medium heat, stirring until bubbly. (I chose Templeton Rye because I thought the nutty, buttery flavor of the whiskey would add to the flavors of the brown sugar and pecans. I was right.)

Reduce heat and simmer for 1 minutes or until thickened.

Working quickly, spoon pecan mixture over Brie.

Bake in 375?F oven for 10 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

Because my challenge called for whipped cream, I simply whipped some heavy cream and added a dollop on top of the tarts. They would have been just as delicious without the whipped cream.

A note on whipped cream. For the life of me, I cannot understand why people buy Cool Whip when in under five minutes you can have real whipped cream without unpronounceable chemicals. All you need is to make sure your cream is very cold and a good quality whisk. It also helps to chill the bowl a few minutes too so it is also cold. Poor the very cold cream into the chilled bowl and whisk away. You will be amazed at how quickly you will have a very light and airy whipped cream.

Birthday Cake!

A few weeks ago I posted that my daughter Elizabeth asked me for my mother Loretta’s sponge cake recipe. I also mentioned that it was my favorite cake and that I always asked her to make me one on my birthday; just a plain sponge cake with no frosting.

Yesterday was my 50th birthday. My daughter Elizabeth surprised me with an unfrosted sponge cake. Loretta, you would have been proud. Yes, the picture is the cake she baked for me with the one piece I cut out for myself.

Thank you Elizabeth! I love you!

Here is a recap of the recipe:

Ingredients

3 C sifted cake flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
10 to 12 egg yolks
2 C sugar
1 C cold water
1 t. vanilla
1/2 t. lemon extract

Directions

Sift cake flour, baking powder, and salt together three times. Beat egg yolks in large bowl of mixer on high speed for 5 minutes until thick and fluffy. Gradually beat in sugar. Turn to low speed and beat in cold water, vanilla, and lemon extract. Then sprinkle in flour mixture quickly but not all at once. Beat only until blended.  Pour into 10” diameter, deep angel food tube pan. Bake at 350° for about 1 hour.

Remembering Mom: Sponge Cake

Recently, my daughter Elizabeth asked me if I had Grandma Loretta’s recipes for her angel food and sponge cakes. This gave me reason to look through my mother’s recipe box. I can’t help but think of my mother when ever I do.

My mother passed away in 2008 three days before my 46th birthday. After her death, I really only wanted two things: her 30+ year-old KitchenAid mixer and her recipe box. This box is a big connection to her for me. She is a big reason why I cook. Memories of fantastic meals and my mother’s exploits in the kitchen flood over me whenever I look at these hand-written cards. She was a fantastic woman and a great mother. I miss her dearly.

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised when Elizabeth called asking for the recipes. My mother’s sponge cake was my absolute favorite. Every year for my birthday I would request a sponge cake; plain, no icing. She always obliged. Luckily, my sister Michele’s favorite cake was angel food. My mother would simply freeze the egg whites from making my cake and use them a month and a half later to make her birthday cake.

Here is my mother’s recipe. My birthday is September 15th. I turn 50. If anyone would like to make this cake for me, I won’t stop you. No icing please!

Ingredients

3 C sifted cake flour
2 t. baking powder
½ t. salt
10 to 12 egg yolks
2 C sugar
1 C cold water
1 t. vanilla
½ t. lemon extract

Directions

Sift cake flour, baking powder, and salt together three times. Beat egg yolks in large bowl of mixer on high speed for 5 minutes until thick and fluffy. Gradually beat in sugar. Turn to low speed and beat in cold water, vanilla, and lemon extract. Then sprinkle in flour mixture quickly but not all at once. Beat only until blended.  Pour into 10” diameter, deep angel food tube pan. Bake at 350° for about 1 hour.

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie that’s amore!

To make a good pizza it is imperative that you begin with a good pizza dough. It is the foundation of your pizza and like a building built on a poor foundation isn’t quite what it could be; neither will your pizza be quite what it could be.

I have tried many, many pizza dough recipes looking for that ultimate crust; crispy yet with a slight bit of chewiness. One that can be made with great results in my home oven with very little special equipment.

The only special equipment I have is my FibraMent Baking Stone. I have a 15″ x 20″ ¾” inch stone that fills the bottom rack of my oven and was the best $70 investment I ever made. The ¾” stone retains heat much longer and cooks much more evenly than any pizza stone I have ever use.

The pizza dough recipe I have discovered that gives me the best results in my home oven is based off of Peter Reinhart’s. If you are waiting until the last minute to make you dough, this recipe is not for you as it requires a cold fermentation. I will tell you though that it is worth the trouble.

Below is the recipe that I use. It modifies Peter’s some so if you are looking for his original recipe I suggest you pick up his book Bread Baker’s Apprentice.

Here’s my adaptation:

Ingredients:

4 ½ cups (20.25 ounces 574g) unbleached high-gluten or bread flour, chilled
1 ¾ (.44 ounce 12.4g) teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon (.11 ounce 3.1g) instant yeast
¼ cup (2 ounces) olive oil (optional)
1 ¾ cups (14 ounces) water, ice cold (40°F)
Semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting

Instructions:

1. Stir together the flour, salt, and instant yeast in a 4-quart bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). With a large metal spoon, stir in the oil and the cold water until the flour is all absorbed (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment), If you are mixing by hand, repeatedly dip one of your hands or the metal spoon into cold water and use it, much like a dough hook, to work the dough vigorously into a smooth mass while rotating the bowl in a circular motion with the other hand. Reverse the circular motion a few times to develop the gluten further. Do this for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are evenly distributed. If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for 5 to 7 minutes, or as long as it takes to create a smooth, sticky dough. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet and doesn’t come off the sides of the bowl, sprinkle in some more flour just until it clears the sides. If it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a tea- spoon or two of cold water. The finished dough will be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50 to 55F.

2. Sprinkle flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Prepare a sheet pan by lining it with baking parchment and misting the parchment with spray oil (or lightly oil the parchment). Using a metal dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you are comfortable shaping large pizzas), You can dip the scraper into the water between cuts to keep the dough from sticking to it, Sprinkle flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Lift each piece and gently round it into a ball. If the dough sticks to your hands, dip your hands into the flour again. Transfer the dough balls to the sheet pan, Mist the dough generously with spray oil and slip the pan into a food-grade plastic bag.

3. Put the pan into the refrigerator overnight to rest the dough, or keep for up to 3 days. (Note: If you want to save some of the dough for future baking, you can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag. Dip each dough ball into a bowl that has a few tablespoons of oil in it, rolling the dough in the oil, and then put each ball into a separate bag. You can place the bags into the freezer for up to 3 months. Transfer them to the refrigerator the day before you plan to make pizza.)

4. On the day you plan to make the pizza, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator 2 hours before making the pizza. Dust the counter with flour, and then mist the counter with spray oil. Place the dough balls on top of the floured counter and sprinkle them with flour; dust your hands with flour. Gently press the dough into flat disks about ½ inch thick and 5 inches in diameter. Sprinkle the dough with flour, mist it again with spray oil, and cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap or a food-grade plastic bag. Let rest for 2 hours.

5. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone either on the floor of the oven (for gas ovens), or on a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible, most home ovens will go only to 500 to 550F, but some will go higher.

6. Generously dust a peel or the back of a sheet pan with semolina flour or cornmeal. Make the pizzas one at a time. Dip your hands, including the backs of your hands and knuckles, in flour and lift I piece of dough by getting under it with a pastry scraper. Very gently lay the dough across your fists and carefully stretch it by bouncing the dough in a circular motion on your hands, carefully giving it a little stretch with each bounce. If it begins to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue shaping it. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss as shown on page 208. If you have trouble tossing the dough, or if the dough keeps springing back, let it rest for 5 to 20 minutes so the gluten can relax, and try again. You can also resort to using a rolling pin, though this isn’t as effective as the toss method which is what I typically do. I just can’t get the hang of tossing my dough.

7. When the dough is stretched out to your satisfaction (about 9 to 12 inches in diameter for a 6-ounce piece of dough), lay it on the peel or pan, making sure there is enough semolina flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide. Lightly top it with sauce and then with your other toppings, remembering that the best pizzas are topped with a less-is-more philosophy. The American “kitchen sink” approach is counterproductive, as it makes the crust more difficult to bake. A few, usually no more than 3 or 4 toppings, including sauce and cheese is sufficient.

8. Slide the topped pizza onto the stone and close the door. Wait 2 minutes, then take a peek. If it needs to be rotated 180 degrees for even baking, do so. The pizza should take no more than 10 minutes to bake. If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone to a lower self before the next round. if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone for subsequent bakes.

9. Remove the pizza from the oven and transfer to a cutting board. Wait 3 to 5 minutes before slicing and serving, to allow the cheese to set slightly.

Enjoy!