Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Morning Call Coverage

Here's an old school way to show you that the Morning Call just published a story on the Artisan's Kitchen Project at Warm Sugar in Hellertown:

Thanks to my goofy husband for taking a photo of the actual paper. Love that. If you want the actual article, here it is.

Thanks to Diane Stonebeck for the story, although I would add a clarification (what do you expect from a journalist?)  She mentions I do bacon and cheese savory scones. I do bacon and asiago cheese and shallot scones, and Irish cheddar and spent grain scones. The spent grain is from Two Rivers Brewing in Easton, which is one of my favorite places these days and probably for a long time. So they are a little more than just cheese scones. That is all. They are two separate kinds of cheese scones.

For those of you who are just landing here for the first time, welcome! Thanks for stopping by. You can also find me on Facebook, too.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Spotted Dog (a.k.a. Irish Soda Bread): A Question of Authenticity

I had to stop and check through my posts before I continued to write this one, just to make sure I hadn't ALREADY posted this recipe. Mine comes from The Ballymaloe Bread Book, by Tim Allen. This slim volume has been a huge instructor in the kitchen for me. I can't recommend it highly enough. 

Food is a battleground for authenticity--it's an intersection of everything, past, present, future, personal proclivities, and so forth. And soda bread is no exception. People get heated about it. That which we know as Irish soda bread is called Spotted Dog in Ireland: "a currant for every station," as the bread keeps well for train and other travel adventures. (You may have also heard of the dessert called Spotted Dick. Basically, anything with spots typically signifies currants.) I've read that adding caraway seeds to soda bread happened in the United States. I've heard that only Irish wholemeal flour is authentic. I've heard that anything beyond flour, buttermilk, salt, and baking soda isn't soda bread at all--after all the "soda" refers to baking soda. Some say don't add an egg. Some say add sugar. I've had cloying, gross, soggy soda bread that takes like cake. That ain't soda bread. To me, I want a soda bread that honors the tradition, and doesn't stray too far from it. It has to taste like the simple, quick, tea-time (or anytime) bread that it is. In the kitchen, I typically like to bend the rules, but with soda bread, I don't want to piss off my ancestors. So I follow this one, from Tim Allen. 

Here's how I do up Spotted Dog--a.k.a Irish-American Soda Bread

1 lb unbleached, all-purpose flour (you can add in a bit of wheat if you want, but be prepared for a different texture and a different experience with the buttermilk)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 T. sugar (optional
4 ounces currants (or raisins; I prefer baking raisins as they are more moist).
1 large egg, room temperature
12 ounces buttermilk (or more if needed)

1. Fully preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. The oven needs to be good and hot.
2. Weigh the flour, and add the salt through currants. Make sure you gently lift up the currants and distribute them throughout the flour with your fingertips; they will clump together otherwise. 
3. Combine the buttermilk and the egg, which you can beat lightly with a fork right in the 2-cup measuring cup you pour it into.
4. Make a well in the center of the flour. Fill the measuring cup with buttermilk, and add the egg so that the total liquid equals about 14 ounces. Pour most of the liquid into the center of the well.
5. Here’s the messy part. Using your fingers, open and stiff, mix the dough together in a full circle, dragging the dough from the sides of the bowl to incorporate it all. You must work quickly and deftly. It will be shaggy and moist, but not too wet. Add more liquid from the measuring cup if needed.
6. You may need to add more flour. This is okay. Ambient humidity is totally affected by bread recipes, especially something that requires chemical leavening like soda bread. When the dough has just about come together, carefully tumble it out onto a pastry board coated with flour.
7. Tidy it up, forming it quickly into a round loaf that measures about two inches high. Slash a cross into the loaf, and prick each of the quarters with the tip of the knife to let the devil out of the bread (not kidding.)
8. Bake for ten minutes at 425, and then drop the temperature down to 400 degrees for the remaining 30-35 minutes. The bread is finished when it’s golden brown all around and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Don’t let it get too dark; this bread does not keep long and will get dry fast enough on its own, so you don’t want to help it along by overbaking it. Remove it, and please, for the love of the Irish or even just the Irish-Americans, please wait until it’s fully cooled before you slice it. You don’t want to disturb the important work that happens when bread cools.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Savory Shortbread for March

There are so many delicious things coming out of the oven at Warm Sugar--beyond their usual beautiful cupcakes. If you haven't heard, I'm part of their Artisan's Kitchen Project, whereby a handful of bakers and treats makers can use the bakery's oven and they sell our wares, taking a small percentage. If you haven't been there yet, please check it out! Warm Sugar's open Wednesday through Sunday.

I know there are lots of tasty things planned for March. I, for one, am venturing into shortbread, as it is a traditional thing to approach during the upcoming month. As with anything though, I don't do it straight. (I sort of shudder when someone asks me to make cookies and I ask what kind and they say, I dunno, chocolate chip. Nothing can be more boring to me sometimes, but I get it: sometimes you just want chocolate chip cookies.) These shortbread cookies are going in a savory direction, and they aren't the thick, finger-shaped logs like those you might buy in the store. These are going in a more grown-up, sophisticated, after-dinner kind of direction. (Hah! I say that kind of tongue-in-cheek, 'cause we don't have any sophisticated dinners around here anymore. If we can get everyone at the table at the same time and two small people can eat dinner without melting down/leaving the table ten times/asking for something in the kitchen, it's nothing short of a small miracle.)

Anyway, I also wanted to go savory because there's a surfeit of chocolate, fudge, pretzels, and other treats at Warm Sugar. And I'm trying to find a niche with my slightly left-of-center take on things. The savory shortbread debuted today. I've started with a test batch of lemon rosemary but have others planned, too, depending on how these go. What puts them over the edge is the herbed salt I sprinkled on top of the cookies. I also toyed with slicing a frozen shortbread log versus rolling them out, and hands down, beautiful uniformity won out over the ease of slicing. I can never get a log of cookie dough completely circular and perfect. That's fine for home consumption, but we eat with our eyes first, people, and I'd like what you see to be lovely.

Here's the rough recipe, adapted from several places online, including Food and Wine. As you can see it's pretty easy. There's beauty in that simplicity.

1/2 cup softened organic butter
1/3 cup sugar
Zest of one lemon and several squirts of fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. good quality dried rosemary or 2-3 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary (or to taste)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup of all-purpose, unbleached flour

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Mix together on low speed, the sugar, zest, and rosemary.
3. Add the butter and cream with the sugar until it just comes together.
4. Add the salt, and the flour, and mix just until it comes together. Bring it together with your hands (it will feel and behave a bit like pie crust, albeit more buttery) into a ball. Flatten said ball a bit with your hands, wrap it in plastic or wax paper, and let it chill for 45 minutes to an hour.
5. Remove from the fridge, and cut the flattened ball in half. It's easier to work with smaller bits at once,  and I don't like to overwork tender doughs like this, but if you want to roll out the whole thing in one go, it's certainly not too large. Roll it to about 1/4 inch or so in thickness. These are going to be whisper-thin little hits of flavor. Cut them out into any desired shape, but the smaller and more bite-sized, the better. My prototypes at home were round, about 2 inches in diameter, but the squares you see here are about an inch and a half across.
6. Place them onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. They won't spread much, so you will likely be able to fit at least a dozen on each sheet. Brush the tops with milk and stick them in the freezer to chill for 10-15 minutes.
7. Sprinkle the tops with sparkling sugar, demerara sugar or coarse sea salt. If it's herbed, even better. (I just happen to have a collection of fancy salts, most of them given to me as gifts. Thanks, Kelly Prentice, for the rosemary salt from Seasons that goes on these babies!) Bake for 8-10 minutes, rotating once. Keep an eye on these, because they are thin and crisp up quickly. Remove from the oven when they're lightly browned around the edges.
8. Cool on wire racks, and store in an airtight container for up to a week. Honestly, though, they won't last that long.

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Fresh Start

Yes, I'm a little late to the game this year to name a post "A Fresh Start," but January has been a real doozy thus far--more difficult than I imagined it would be. And to top it all off, I've been down a computer for most of the month, so that's made blogging a challenge. It's also made life in general a challenge. Wish we weren't all so in need of these machines, but when they work, aren't they wondrous? A fine invention, indeed.

Ok, so preamble aside, I wanted to tell you that starting this past week--January 23 to be precise--you can find Nostalgia Baking at Warm Sugar in Hellertown. The super great cupcake bakery (wait! you've never been there!?) is also of late home to what's called Artisan's Kitchen Project. It's an opportunity for people to sell their goods without incurring the huge risk and $$$ of starting their own goodies business. You pay them for kitchen space and they sell your baked goods, taking a percentages. You can bring your own ingredients or use theirs (if it's the latter, you have to track what you use). They also market and deal with all the bookkeeping, so all I have to do is show up and bake. Of course, it's more than that, but that's kind of it on my end. I go in on Tuesdays and do my thing and work my tail off for five or six hours, and they do the selling. This is a great arrangement if it can be successful, because I'm not setting my sights on becoming a full-time baker.

I intend to keep you all informed of the progress and what's happening in this space, since this is unexplored territory and I've no idea where it will go. I'd like to break even for the first month, but we'll see if that's possible. You know that old adage you have to spend money to make money? Yeah, that's true.

So last week, I made two different kinds of rugelach--one with Nutella and one with Biscoff. I also left them with four different types of scones, which anyone who knows me will already know about: cranberry and dark chocolate, lemon ginger, spent grain and Irish cheddar, and bacon Asiago shallot.  I also did blondies; specifically, a toffee-coffee chip one. I've no idea what I'll need to bake tomorrow, but we'll see. I will at the very least make another more blondies. I'm thinking butterscotch pecan.

Oh, and I'm calling them rugelach and not schnecken although my family calls them the latter. It seems that real schnecken is something totally different, so as to avoid confusion (there are lots of German folk around here) I'm calling it rugelach, which is accurate. I'm now wondering if the my mom's recipe, which she tweaked over the years, is actually a gigantic misnomer. I wish I could ask her.

I've also got my sights set on granola bars, granola (great shelf life for these products and I love, love, love the stuff), big fat cookies, and probably brownies. I've got to fit myself in with what the other vendors are selling and be careful not to step on anyone's baking turf but that's pretty easy.

For those of you who are in the area, check it out. Warm Sugar's open Wednesday through Sunday, and on the weekends, they have a great duo called the Crepe Crusaders who are putting together crepes both sweet and savory. I haven't tried them yet, but I keep hearing rave reviews.

Sorry I don't have any lovely cookie or scone photos, but they are all stored away on the back-up drive.  I should be fully functional by tonight, assuming my IT guru will have time to get me up to snuff on the new machine (thanks, Apple warranty!).