Friday, March 27, 2009

Monday, March 23, 2009

Scones

I continued my foray into baking by stepping into the world of scones yesterday. Scones are nothing more than really rich biscuits with the addition of eggs and cream to the dough. It makes the dough harder to handle because it's sticky and I didn't want to get them too "floury" by covering everything with flour as I did with the biscuits.

I added a cup of frozen blueberries to the dough (2c flour, 5 tbsp butter, 4 tsp baking powder, 2 eggs, 2 tbsp sugar, 3/4 cup half and half, 1 tsp salt) after cutting the butter into the flour. This added to the tackiness of the dough since nothing was warm, but I managed to get the thing out of the bowl and onto the counter. Kneading the dough was difficult and I eventually got it somewhat dome-shaped. I then cut six wedges and got them (not without a struggle, mind you) onto a baking sheet and into a hot (450°F) oven. They were initially baked for 8 minutes, but they weren't quite done in the center, I suspect due to the frozen blueberries releasing their moisture, so I put them back in for another 3-4 minutes.

Surprisingly ugly, but really, really tasty. Me darlin' Mrs. was quite enthused with the results and later in the day, had all manner of other additions for future scones that I needed to bake for her. All in due time, sweetie...

We finished them off today -- they keep well. They weren't warm, but they were just as moist as when I pulled them from the oven yesterday. I'll make these again, but with all of the high-fat items, maybe not too often. I do understand why scones are priced why they are now, though. With practice, I'm sure I'll become more adept at handling the dough, but they really can be labor intensive.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bliss

After a winter of studs, salt, rime and the general test that is winter commuting, the past three rides are utter and complete bliss. The Red Menace is still down for the count as the rusty chain overshadowed the other ailments hidden in the oxide-ridden drivetrain, e.g., the broken bearings. The DumVee's chain is a corroded mess even after what I though was careful maintenance; clean thoroughly and lube it up before storing it in the garage for the winter. But, alas, I must have missed something, so no Dumvee yet. So, after catching a ride from me darlin' Mrs for a couple of weeks, I decided that since the roads are now clear, I'll dust off the Bleriot and take that to work.

Oh wow.

From cranking on creaky bearings and a semi-solid chain with studs of the winter beater to the smooth as Macallan 25 of the Bleriot is a shock to say the least. The weather is wonderfully mild (even though I like winter a lot) and a welcome change from the long bitter season that is rapidly waning. 45 and sunny? Yeah, I could get used to that...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Success!

I finally made a bread and didn't mess it up.

Lemme back up. I used to cook for a living, back in another life. Cook, not bake. The pastry chefs I worked with were, in my eyes anyway, gods. I would finish my prep work and watch them mix or proof or make loaves or whatever with utter envy as I could not bake. Hell, I'd screw up pancake better 'bout half the time. So, flour and I agreed on a truce where I would be allowed to make gravy and pancake batter, but nothing else. It was as if I had some substance on my skin that reacted with flour to make failure.

I even messed up the no knead recipe that Jim posted. Twice. Both attempts came out more like barely leavened hard tack.

I can't bake. I take it personally because I like to consider myself capable in the kitchen; I know techniques and recipes by heart and I can pretty much make anything. Except bread and that hurts. I'm incomplete and I want to scratch that last itch -- breads, pie crusts and quick breads.

I've decided that I will bake a loaf of bread consistently, create a pie crust from scratch (hell, I even rendered my own lard) and make biscuits. This isn't only not impossible, but it happens every day. I can do this.

Today, I decided that I would try to make biscuits for breakfast. Using the information from this article which strips away the mythology, the folklore and gives a straight up account of what biscuits need. An engineer's view, sorta. I understand (mostly) the chemistry and what is happening when food is prepared (if you want to know more, Harold McGee's book is a great read.) Avoiding the "my Gramma does it this-a-way" articles and getting to the basics was just what I needed. I followed the ideas presented and with flip and a flash -- I had a dough I could actually handle. The only variations were that I didn't bother to cut them out with a glass or a cutter, I just made six square buscuits and that I put flour on everything; my hands, the counter, the rolling pin, the dog, etc.

That may have been the trick.

I used lard, so the Mrs. wasn't too keen on them (she really dislikes all manner of pork), but I'm going to try again tonight with butter to see the difference. I'm just thrilled that I finally got it right. I've purchased the Tassajara Bread Book and I'll work on his recipe until I get that right, too. I'm heartened enough now to be disappointed again later.

Update

The biscuits also worked with butter. I made sure to use cold butter and I put the shortened flour mixture back in the fridge for ten minutes before handling the dough. With bicuits down, here come the scones! WooHoo!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Cranky Red Menace

The Red Menace has been up on blocks as of late. It's my winter beater, and I beat it like a rented mule this winter. Got up to go to work last week and found that I needed to do some maintenance on the poor critter -- the chain had pretty much rusted solid.

D'oh!

I finally got around to stopping by HCHQ and getting another chain (and some Wide Loaders for the DumVee), then sat around until I thought that the chain was just that special level of unserviceablility that I needed to reach. Using some WD-40 and a lot of torque to convince a pin to come out, I managed to separate the chain. The links popped apart with a groan and...

... the chain didn't move. Suspended by its inability to move, it just hung there bound up by the rust. I literally had to force the chain to move before it would leave the bike. I need to time my maintenance cycles a little better, it seems.

After replacing the chain, I gave the pedals a turn to see how she runs now, and she runs like a three-legged dog. Seems that the rusty chain covered up for other, lurking maladies; a sticky pedal and, worse yet, the bottom bracket feels like there's a broken bearing in it and it sticks about three quarters of a turn whilst pedaling. I hope I can scrounge up a part for it (I think it's using a cartridge) from another bike as I don't want to put any money into this critter. But after all the abuse I've given it, I suppose a nice new bottom bracket wouldn't be out of the question, after all.