The Lovely and Versatile Almond Biscotti (at home)

If you find yourself paying $2.75 for a biscotti every time you step into your local coffee haunt, calm yourself.  Help is at hand.  Not only are biscotti fairly easy to make at home, but they keep forever, and (over time) you may be able to recuperate the cash you’ve been throwing at someone else’s biscotti.  Yours are better anyway.

Here’s what you’ll need to make these:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 vanilla bean (just the insides) or 1/2 tsp. extract
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. almond extract
  • 2 cups AP flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 cup sliced almonds

I like to throw a little orange zest into the mix as well, but we’ll get there in a second 🙂

Start by beating together the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and almond extract.

Combine it well.

Stir together the ‘dry’ portion; flour, baking soda, salt.

Combine the ‘dry’ and ‘wet’ portions on a low speed.  Here I’ve thrown in the zest of one orange also.

There we go.

Once the ‘dry’ ingredients have been incorporated, add the sliced almonds and continue mixing until incorporated.

You’ll end up with something that looks like this; a very sticky, slow moving batter.

*Very Important* Flour some parchment paper really well.  This batter is sticky, and it needs a lot of help.

Turn the batter out onto the floured parchment paper lined sheet trays.

Use the parchment to help you bring the batter together and flatten it out slightly.  More flour may be required.

Kind of like this.

Now, shape the dough into pretty good rectangles, about 1/4 inch high.  (Keep some flour near by if your hands get sticky)

Pop that into a 350 degree oven for 17-20 minutes.

Remove when they look nice a lightly golden brown(ed).  Let this cool for about 5 minutes.

Get a serrated knife, move to a cutting board, and slice the ‘loaf’ into 1/4 inch slices.

Turn the oven down to 300 degrees and pop these guys back in for 10-20 minutes.

They should be nice and tan, and have a crisp, light texture.

This recipe yields about 20 biscotti or so, at about $.13 a piece.  This, as you already know, are a great any-time snack.  Biscotti also work well crushed up for pie crusts (hello!).  I brought these to work this week, and one of our talented line cooks (Hi Hank) turned them into the crust for our staff meal cheesecake.  We used to use them the same way back at Restaurant Vintage Park in Nebraska.  Biscotti crust, mascarpone cheesecake, lemon curd to glaze; Lovely!  Great with a nice coffee, and traditionally served with a sweet wine called Vin Santo (wine of the saints), these classic twice-baked Italian treats are great to keep around.  Good luck keeping them around.

Treat yourself well –

-Scott

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Baking with a Levain Starter

Over my last visit home, I was lucky enough to spend the afternoon with my paternal Grandmother.  She started a cafe in Mason City, Nebraska about fifty years ago, and I’m pretty sure that my penchant for restaurant life is directly connected to her genetic makeup.  Thanks, Grandma Doris, it’s been a great ride so far!  I mentioned that we’ve been baking a lot with a levain starter here at home, and she let me know that her own mother had kept a starter around for baking as well.  We talked a little about the care and feeding of a starter, and using it in pancakes and waffles for leavening and a little tang.  I guess my love of baking is plucked from my family tree as well.

Let’s take a look at what this kind of bread baking looks like.

Once you’ve build a happy levain, the bread baking process is really pretty straight forward.  You need bread flour, water, your starter, and salt.  That’s it.  For this bread I used a garnish of pepper jack cheese, but anything goes.

Invest in a scale if you plan to be doing any baking on a regular basis.  Just a thought.  Most baking recipes are really ratios, and you will get weights for ingredients instead of volume measures.  That being said, most home-baker recipes don’t go down that path.  For this method I take my standard ratio for bread, 5:3 (five parts bread flour to three parts water) and replace 10% of each portion by the starter.  In other words I use a ratio of 4:2:2 – Flour, water, starter.  There are some variables (like all bread baking) but this has been very successful for me.

Measure out the flour, and then the starter and water.

Don’t forget the salt.  A couple of good pinches will work for most recipes.  Not only does the salt help your bread taste better, it also help add color, slows the fermentation process slightly (developing more flavor), and  helps to strengthen the gluten proteins which give the bread structure, texture, and shape.

Bring all of the ingredients together with a dough hook attachment, working on a low speed.

As the dough comes together, it will start pulling away from the sides of your mixing bowl.  If this doesn’t happen, you may need to add a little more water, but be patient, and see if it will come together on its own.

As the gluten develops, the dough will climb up the dough hook and start to make interesting shapes as it gets knocked around in the mixing bowl.

When you are curious about the state of your dough, stop everything and take a look.  Grab a small piece and pull it around a little.  If you can stretch it thinly so that light passes through it, and the gluten strands keep the dough held together without tearing, you’re in a good place to continue the process.  This is called making (pulling) a window, by who bake bread for money.

At this point, get your garnish ready too.  I try not to add extra bits until the gluten has developed.  Adding non-flour items often breaks the gluten up, resulting in a more dense, less risen bread.

Here I’ve incorporated the cheese, and shaped the dough into a ball.  I covered this with a towel, and let it rest.  The yeast needs to feast, and make the dough double in size before we move on.

While you wait for the dough to get going, feed your levain.  When my levain is pretty active (very bubbly) I feed it in a 1:1:1 ratio of levain, water, and flour.  However, if I haven’t fed it in a while, or it seems a little sleepy, I feed it a little more with a 1:2:2 ratio.

Once the dough has doubled, I scale it into two pieces.  Another indication that the dough is ready to be shaped is that when you poke about an inch into the dough, the indentation (mostly) remains.

Piece one will rest in this big ceramic bowl.

Piece two got divided and shaped into longer loaves, resting on a well floured board.

Then they both got tucked in for a little nap.

Now the dough has doubled again, and a poke with your finger should get pushed back out pretty well.

We have a ceramic baking stone that I like to use.  I also have a pan that I throw a little water onto to create a steamy environment for the first part of the baking.

Scoring the bread is an important step.  this allows the bread to expand as much as it needs to, and also provides more visual and textural interest.  I use a large serrated knife if I don’t have a nice new razor blade around.  For cheese breads, I also like to add more cheese right on top of the bread.

Pop them into the oven!  I’m baking at 400 degrees with these free form loaves.

I can’t help myself from checking on the baking process throughout.

Here are these two little guys, fresh from the oven.  The larger loaf came out much the same, as you can see below.

When I’m curious about whether the bread is ready, I often just take its temperature.  Anything over 165 degrees is good for me.  That’s really about all there is to baking bread.  It’s a straightforward practice that yields really delicious end results.

Of course, you need to get a feel for some of the finer points, but that will come with practice.  Baking, like other things in the kitchen is a meditative time for me.  You can’t really rush things along; they work at their own pace and all you can do is be responsive.  There are things in life that will require your attention and yield great satisfaction.  Cooking, baking, and enjoying the fruits of that labor are some of my most satisfying.

Here’s to feeding yourself body, mind, and soul –

-Scott

Twiced Baked Goat Cheese Souffle

Souffles seem to be shrouded in mystery and admonishments; “Don’t walk near the oven while baking”, “Speak in hushed whispers, if at all”, “Never, ever, open the oven door while baking!”, and so on.  The following recipe and technique will help you call ‘bullshit’ on those ideas, and allow you to continue blaring your Kings of Leon album while you’re baking.

This recipe is brought to us by Chef Louise Duhamel (hi chef!) and my friends at www.lickmyspoon.com (hi steph and hua!).  A quick calculation shows me that I must have produced this recipe over 100 times during my time with Chef, teaching dozens of students how to make it.  And the Cypress Grove cheeses which inspired me to make this version were a gift from Stephanie and David after a long and well fought battle at this years’ Fancy Food Show.

The best thing about this “Swiss Style” souffle is that you can make it in advance, and then re-bake it to serve.

Soufflés a la Suisse

Here’s what you’ll need

  • 6 oz butter (melted) plus more (4 oz) for buttering dishes
  • 6 oz AP flour
  • 1.5 cups cream
  • 4.5 cups whole milk
  • 12 oz cheese
  • 12 eggs (separated)
  • 2 cups bread crumbs or grated dry cheese (like Parmesan) for coating dishes
  • 2 quarts or more of water for water bath
  • Salt, pepper, nutmeg, all to taste

Souffle is a pretty straightforward technique.  The two items that will ensure your success are; proper planning, and pretty much non-stop execution.  So turn that oven to 400 degrees and follow the pictures below!

Get all of your ingredients together.

Butter some ramekins really well.  Then coat them with the dry cheese, or bread crumbs.  Smaller, straight sided dishes work best, but I’ve also baked this in large pans with good results.  You’ll be baking these in a water bath, so make sure they fit into another, larger pan that can hold water up to 1/2 the height of the dishes.  🙂

Separate your eggs.  I like to use this 3-bowl method.  I separate three or four whites at a time into the smaller (white) bowl, and them dump them into the bigger (red) one.  That way, if I mess up some whites, I don’t screw up the whole batch of whites, just a couple.

Measure out the butter and start to melt it.

Measure out the flour.

Measure out the cheese.

Once the butter has melted, whisk in all of the flour at once.  Thus begins the roux.  Keep the heat on a medium-low setting and keep an eye on it.  Whisk regularly.

This recipe asks for a blonde roux, which cooks for about four minutes, and should look like this as it cooks.

Loosening a little.

Bubbling.

More bubbles and kind of mealy looking is where we stop cooking.

Whisk in the dairy, and continue whisking through the thickening process.

You’ll see the mixture start holding to the sides of the pot.

And then it will thicken to a heavy paste-like consistency.  Make certain that the mixture comes to a boil, and then let it simmer for about 3 minutes, while whisking.

Then, pour this hot mixture over the goat cheese, and whisk it all together.  Conversely, if you were using a firm cheese (cheddar, smoked Gouda, etc.), you would want to add the cheese to the pot while on the heat to melt the cheese well.

NOTE:  If you need to stop for a coffee, or text message break, this is your chance!  You will need to let the mixture cool a little before you continue.  When you come back, make sure the oven is ready with a rack in the lowest setting, make sure the water is simmering, and get ready to proceed.

Season the mixture with salt, pepper, nutmeg, (cayenne?!) or other appropriate garnish.  Remember to over-season slightly.  The last step is the incorporation of egg whites which will not be seasoned, and which will expand your base two fold.  For each future bite to be tasty, you must correct the seasoning now.

Once the mixture is only warm (not hot) whisk in the egg yolks all at once until well combined.  If you are worried that the mixture is still hot, but you want to get on with it, temper (by slowly whisking) some (up to half) of the hot mixture into the yolks, and and then whisk the egg-batter into the remaining dairy batter.

Start whipping the egg whites.  We’re going for a soft peak egg white.  There’s a little science here, and it’s worth thinking about.  If you over-whip the whites (stiff peak, or -gasp- dry) the souffle won’t rise as much as it could.

Temper in 1/3 of the egg whites into the dairy/cheese mixture.  (Then finish with the rest of the whites.)  Fold the whites in pretty gently.  The first step will lighten the batter so that you don’t have to work as hard to incorporate the remaining 2/3 of whites, and they will have a greater chance of retaining their captured air.

Ladle this fluffy mixture into your buttered/crumbed(cheesed?) dishes, leaving 1/4″-1/2″ room from the top.  Then, carefully pour the simmering water into the pan(s), covering the souffle dishes by 1/3 up to 1/2.  Pop these pans into the preheated oven on the lowest rack and bake.  The time will depend on the size of your baking dishes and other variables.  Check them after 15 minutes and then every 3-4 minutes.

Here’s how they should look when they are done.  Nice and golden, about double in height.  Whether you will eat them now or later, take a paring knife and carefully run it around the outside of the dish, to loosen the souffle.  If you want to eat these right away, go for it.  They are great right from the oven.  If you want to use them another day proceed with the following:

Remove from the oven, and let them sit for five minutes in the water bath.  Then, remove from the pans, and allow them to cool somewhat.  As soon as you can handle them (even with a kitchen towel), un-mold the souffles, and set them upright on a wire rack to cool further.  Once they are about room temperature, they can be refrigerated for future use (well wrapped, on in an airtight container).

To bake for “Twice Baked’ goodness:

  • Allow the little guys to come to room temperature (or give them a short zap in the microwave, you can pronounce it Meek-row-wave if you want it to sound fancy).
  • Brush (or pour) a little cream (or half and half, or just plain milk) on the top.
  • Place souffle on a piece of parchment or little square of aluminum foil, or a small oven safe dish.
  • Pop them into a 350-400 degree oven until the souffle has re-risen well, and has reached 140 degrees internal temperature (check with thermometer or by feeling the warmth of a knife blade inserted into the middle of the souffle)

Once the souffle has reached the right temperature, serve it with a little salad, or some fresh fruit, or whatever sounds good to you.

If you don’t have little ramekins, use an oven safe baking dish like this one.  When you un-mold the souffle, cut it into servings and proceed with storing and re-baking steps.

We ate this goat cheese number with a green apple salad and walnut vinaigrette.  This recipe makes quite a few souffles, depending on the size of your dishes, so feel free do reduce it by half.  Or just bake a whole bunch of them.  They don’t stay in the refrigerator for very long because they are just right for every meal of the day.  I hope you find this recipe to be a fun one.  I know that I really enjoy the process and the results.  The twice baked version has a light and fluffy interior along with a slightly crisp and caramelized top, which is a great combination in both the flavor and texture categories.  Have fun with this one, and let me know if I can help!

Bon Appetite!

-Scotty

Bacon Rosemary Biscuits

Biscuits can be glorious, right?  Flaky, buttery, soft and crisp at the same time.  Essentially; biscuits are little gifts every time you make them.  For my holiday festivities this year, I opted for a slam-dunk combination.  Great biscuit + rosemary + bacon = ridiculous biscuits.

I always look to Fannie Farmer for my homey baked goods.  She never disappoints, and with over 1,100 pages of recipes, the book is pretty comprehensive.  The recipe I used here is a combination of two different recipes (Baking Powder Biscuits, p. 764, and Cream Biscuits, p. 765)  The first uses shortening and milk, the second, from time spent with culinary icon, James Beard, uses melted butter and cream.

Here’s my hybrid:  Yield about 12 2″ biscuits with extra for chefs treats

  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 TPSP. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly cracked pepper
  • 6 oz. cold butter (small pieces)
  • 2 stips bacon (cooked well, small dice)
  • 1/2 onion, (small dice, sweated in left over bacon fat)
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup heavy cream

For garnish

  • 2 TBSP. finely chopped rosemary
  • 1 TBS. coarse (kosher or other) salt

If you know how to make biscuits, I won’t bore you.  If you have never heard of the ‘Biscuit Method’, check out this link.  Here’s the basics for this recipe.

Brown the bacon and onions then cut up the bacon.  Reserve those bits on a paper towel to absorb extra fat.

Put all of the dry ingredients together in a big bowl.  Whisk that around a bit with a fork (or whisk…).

Take the little pieces of cold butter and incorporate them into the dry mix quickly, using just your fingers with a kind of smooshing / rubbing technique.  Stop when all of the butter pieces are no bigger than a small pea.

Use a fork to stir in the bacon and onions, and then to incorporate all of the liquid at once.

Turn out onto a well floured surface and knead slightly to bring together.

Roll to a 1″ thickness, and cut into squares or punch out with cutter.

Brush the tops with cream or buttermilk, then sprinkle the rosemary and coarse salt on top.

Bake on a parchment lined baking sheet at 425 degrees for 15 minutes or so, until the tops are golden and delicious looking.  You may need to rotate the pan half-way through depending on your oven.

My friends and I ate these little guys with prime rib on Christmas night, and then again with a little honey for breakfast.  Biscuits are a super easy treat to bring together, and the homemade, fresh-baked goodness translates into every bite.

Happy Eating, Happy Living!

-Scott

Your First Bread Pudding

#12 Return to the oven until the top is nicely browned, 15-25 minutes.

Think of this as breakfast for dessert.  When I first heard the words ‘bread’ and ‘pudding’ slapped together and offered as a dessert, well, let’s just say I was skeptical.  But after several exploratory samples, I realized that bread pudding is like the best French toast ever.  With whipped cream and booze.  Hello!!!  The picture above is from a pear, tart cherry, and pecan episode I dished out over the holidays.

This is a great and easy recipe that I’ve used over and over.  Get a nice solid enriched bread, like a brioche, challah, or even egg diner rolls.  They will soak up the liquid really well.  Variations on this theme are only as limited as your time, energy, creativity, and pocketbook dictate.  So, feel free to play.

Here’s the master recipe which yields two 10″x6″ bread loaf pans, or two 9″ round pans.  They freeze well if you let them cool and wrap tightly with plastic wrap, so don’t worry about making two at a time.

  • 2 pounds of bread (1″ cubes)
  • 1 quart cream
  • 5 (or 6) eggs
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 TBSP. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • misc. flavorful ingredients (nuts, fruit, chocolate, etc.) about 2 – 2 1/2 cups total.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Follow the pictures below for the rest, and enjoy!

Once you take these guys from the oven, let them cool.  Then, get them out of the pan to cool further on a wire rack or something that will let them breathe.  Once they are pretty much room temperature, refrigerate, or wrap and freeze for future use.  If you have a little caramel sauce, and some whipped cream, you better quality assure a piece while your standing there.  Better safe than sorry.

Treat yourself to a little slice of nice –

-Scott

A Quick (One-Handed?) Meal

After work yesterday, I wanted to make a quick meal, so I went for a classic; Stuffed Crepes with Walnut and Cheese Gratin.  For the filling, I browned some chopped up bacon, onion, apple, and currants.  Meanwhile I made the crepes.  I brought all of the sauteed bits together with a couple of eggs, and rolled it up in the crepes.  I covered the crepes with a little shredded cheese and walnut bits and popped into the toaster oven to broil.

Broiling…

And here’s the end result!  Quick, simple, tasty.

 

Okay.  For the non-believers out there, a special treat.  Here’s a video of me making some example crepes; with one hand.  If I didn’t have to hold the camera, it would have taken about half the time.

 

Crepe batter is a really simple ratio – 1:1:1/2   1 part egg, 1 part milk, 1/2 part flour.  A lot of serious recipes (like Alton Brown’s) will ask for you to rest the batter for a length of time, which is fine if you have the time.  If you don’t, or can’t wait (like me), plow right in.  They might not have Top Chef finesse, but they will certainly be tasty.

Bon Appetit !

-Scott

 

Baking with Michael Ruhlman’s ‘Ratio’

So far, I’ve got a little bit of a crush on this book.  The subtitle, “The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking” is absolutely on point.  Here’s the take-home message:

“This book is about the culinary fundamentals, without which, as Esoffier said, nothing of importance can be accomplished.  Nothing.  But because it’s about the fundamentals, it’s also about all the thing you can do with those fundamentals, about variation and improvisation.  While it’s filled with recipes, I like to think of it as an anti-recipe book, a book that teaches you and frees you from the need to follow”.

I think I’ll keep finding interesting little bits as I get further and further into the reading.  For now, I’ve been inspired by one of the first chapters about bread.  The ratio is simple, 5:3, 5 parts flour to 3 parts water.  Of course, there are limitless variations, and some techniques must be observed for good bread making.  But, that simple ratio was the basis for the following loaves.  A good pinch of salt and a package of yeast later, and we were ready to roll.  The story is below in pictures.  I can’t recommend this book with more enthusiasm.  Anyone who is curious about cooking / baking / science / recipes, will find this a fascinating read that will inform the way you think about food and cooking.  Cheers!