Monday, July 12, 2010

Daredevil Baking

Many people feel comfortable modifying a recipe when cooking. Taking out this, adding a bit of that, putting the whole thing over rice instead of pasta. If you know flavors and basic cooking techniques, all you really need is an idea. But baking can be a little more tricky. "It's like chemistry!" They warn us. "Measure exactly!" They chide (never mind that most of the people here in the US use volume measures rather than weight measures which are inherently less accurate). Basically, the messages we get are that changing things in a baked goods recipe has dire consequences. But I've started thinking, why? How would you improve a cake recipe if you didn't play with it? Biscuits don't make themselves lighter on their own! I feel like we're condemned to trying every recipe ever written rather than messing with one on our own. Of course, you may be more of a daredevil than I am and play with your baking, if so I really want to hear about it, because I've had a block against doing this. Ideally, I'd love to take some type of class so that I really understood how it all worked, what makes a recipe lighter or denser or crumbier. But for right now, I'll confess, I messed with a recipe due to an utter lack of ingredients. We've been slowing heading for Mother Hubbard status over here at the Hippo and I officially ran out of flour after that last quiche. Really. I used the very last dregs of the container to roll out the dough. And then, I read Confections of a Closet Master Baker (yes I know the link is to a different book, it was retitled for the paperback version) and was struck by a desperate need to bake. A little bit tricky when there's no flour. So I hmmed and harumphed and stared at her scone recipe until I figured it out. I used milk and sour cream instead of heavy cream, and cherries instead of cranberries and no lemon extract, and then I had to use self-rising flour, which meant cutting out the baking powder and salt (luckily, I checked and the ratio was just about right). The result, totally not what the author had in mind, but pretty tasty nonetheless. But more importantly, I learned that maybe I should play with my baking recipes a little bit more often, just to see what happens. It's not nearly as likely to be a catastrophe as you may think.

crazily modified from Gesine Bullock-Prado's recipe
Makes about 12 scones

1/4 cup sour cream + 1/4 cup milk (original: 1/2 C heavy cream) plus additional for brushing the top
1 large egg
3 T sugar, plus additional for sprinkling on the top
2 1/4 C self-rising flour (original: 2 1/4 C all-purpose flour, 1 T baking powder, 1/2 t salt)
6 T cold unsalted butter
1/2 C dried cherries, chopped (original 1/2 C dried cranberries)
The original recipe also called for 1 t lemon extract, which I did not have

Preheat your oven to 400 F. Whisk together the milk and sour cream. Then whisk in the egg and the sugar until well combined. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour and butter (I use the stand mixer, but everyone else seems to use a food processor). Blend until the flour and butter make a coarse meal. Add the milk/egg mixture alternately with the berries. Knead the dough with a bit of flour, then roll out to 1/2 inch thick. Gesine wants you to use a fluted scone cutter, but I use an upside down drinking glass- either way, cut out 1 1/2 inch rounds and place on a baking sheet. Brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 15-18 minutes at 400 degrees until golden brown. Remove and place on cooling rack.

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