Archives for category: biscuits

California has a long growing season, so even in years when the crops are delayed, when fresh corn does not show up until after Fourth of July, when we are still pining for the first tomatoes, when we have a cold spring, we have certain foods longer than you have them in other parts of the country. Case in point: strawberries. In mid-October the strawberries from Lucero Farm are sweeter than they were in June and July. Go figure.

Original watercolor painting depicts biscuit-type strawberry shortcake.

Cowboy Strawberry Shortcake. 8″ x 8″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

I know many of you have moved onto apples, pumpkins and grapes for your desserts, but my friend Margit presented me with a basket of those strawberries this Saturday and we did not eat them immediately. In our refrigerator (which I have not yet discussed) there languished an unopened pound container of mascarpone cheese that Mom bought at Canned Foods Grocery Outlet and never used because she didn’t have any recipes containing it.

I hunted around through my saved blogs folder and found some lovely recipes, none of which called for more than a quarter cup of mascarpone. I eliminated other wonderful recipes requiring me to mix the mascarpone with whipping cream and line tins with ladyfingers (no tiramisu). I went to my favorite site of all things Italian, In the Bartolini Kitchens, and still found nothing I wanted to make tonight. I looked up a Joyce Goldstein recipe for a rum mascarpone mousse but could not find the lone packet of unflavored gelatin which I swear has been lurking in our kitchen for years.

Then I read somewhere about sweetened, whipped mascarpone. Aha! We would have strawberry shortcake again, this time with mascarpone rather than whipped cream. I would use the occasion to get out my sourdough starter and make biscuits for the shortcake base.

First I had to taste the mascarpone. Undeterred by the expiration date of August 2012 (our refrigerator is cold), I broke the plastic seal and dipped a teaspoon into the cheese. My tongue told me it was fine — it reminds me of the clotted cream they eat in England. I put it back in the refrigerator while I washed and hulled the strawberries, fed my starter some fresh flour and a little water to invigorate it, left it on the counter to get warm and put a steel bowl and beaters  in the fridge to chill.

At 5:00 I began to assemble the shortbread dough, aka sourdough “cowboy” biscuits with extra sugar. You can find a recipe for sourdough starter here. I keep a jar of starter in the back of the refrigerator and use it indiscriminately to make waffles, biscuits and, pizza and bread.

I have adapted the recipe for cowboy sourdough biscuits (which the authors call “Rocky Mountain Sourdough Biscuits,” but their story features a cowboy cook who bakes them) from The Book Lovers’ Cookbook.

Sourdough “Cowboy” Biscuits for Shortcake

Preheat oven to 425.

Whisk together:

1 cup unbleached flour*

1 Tbsp baking powder

1/4 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

2 Tbsp sugar

Cut in 1/4 cup unsalted butter or shortening.

Stir in 1 cup sourdough starter.

A soft dough should form. Gather dough together and knead lightly, adding more flour by the tablespoon if it is really sticky.

Lightly flour a bread board, marble slab or other work surface. Roll out dough to 1/2 inch thickness

Cut dough with biscuit cutter or the rim of a glass. I like to use two cutters, one medium-sized and one small to make top hats. Roll together scraps to form more biscuits, handling dough as little as possible. Repeat until all scraps have become biscuits or top hats, forming the last scraps into a hat with your hands if necessary.

Transfer biscuits to ungreased baking sheet.

Melt 1 Tbsp unsalted butter and brush biscuit tops with it. Sprinkle with sugar (raw sugar is good) as desired. Let biscuits rest for fifteen minutes before baking them for ten to twelve minutes.

Split biscuits and top with prepared berries. Dollop with whipped, sweetened mascarpone.

Oh, I didn’t tell you how to make that? I told you to chill the bowl and beaters. Then beat your mascarpone with some sugar (suggested ratio: 2 and 1/2 tablespoons of sugar to one pound mascarpone), and vanilla extract as desired. I plan to eat the leftover mascarpone on biscuits after the strawberries are gone, perhaps with a nice cup of tea in the afternoons, unless Mom gets to it first — she says she will use it in pastry of some kind: sounds like a win-win to me.

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Painting shows ingredients for rice cakes

Rice Cakes. 6″ x 6″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

Most mornings I eat oatmeal cooked in milk to jump start my calcium intake for the day. Our house is cold and warm breakfasts are usually welcome. But because we shop just once a week, there are occasionally mornings when the milk is gone and hot cereal is not an option. Heaven forbid that I would cook my oats in water, converting them to standard gruel.

These are some of our options for mornings we are out of milk.

1) Rice cakes: take some leftover rice. Crack an egg or two into it. Add some sugar, vanilla, nutmeg. Beat for a few minutes with a fork. Scoop out by 1/4 cup measures and fry in butter.

2) French toast: take the last few slices of bread. Toast them lightly if they are not already stale. Cut them in half. Beat a couple of eggs in a shallow bowl. Add juice and zest of one orange if you like, or just add sugar, vanilla and nutmeg as for rice cakes above. Soak the bread briefly in the egg batter. Fry in butter. Serve with powdered sugar, maple syrup, fresh fruit or fruit puree

If we have sour milk, buttermilk or yogurt on hand we can just make waffles, cornbread or biscuits.

Painting shows bread for French toast, eggs, orange.

French Toast. 6″ x 6″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

If we have no milk products, sour or otherwise, we can get out our sourdough starter and make  sourdough biscuits with that, using a cup of starter, 1/4 cup of vegetable shortening, 1/2 tsp each of sugar, salt and baking soda, 1 cup of plain flour and 1 Tbsp baking powder. Mix them. Roll them. Cut them. Brush the tops with melted butter and let them sit for fifteen minutes while you preheat the oven to 425. Bake for 10-12 minutes

If I am feeling more ambitious than making biscuits and I have gotten up very early, I might return to my breakfast oatmeal and make it into some delicious oatmeal yeast bread, flavored with maple syrup. I have adapted this recipe slightly from an old cookbook called Coffee by Charles and Violet Schafer published in 1976 and now living in tatters on my bookshelf. This bread uses the sponge method, which will save you some time on the first rise (but you will have to knead it before the second rise after you add the remaining flour and salt).

Oatmeal Bread

Pour 2 cups of boiling water over 1 cup of rolled oats in a mixing bowl.

Measure 1 Tbsp of vegetable oil into a Pyrex measuring cup. Swirl oil to coat glass to the 1/2 cup mark.

Add oil to cooling oat mixture.

Into oiled cup, measure 1/2 cup maple syrup.

Add syrup to oat-water-oil mixture

Take that same old  Pyrex cup and add 1/4 cup lukewarm water.

Dissolve 1 Tbsp active dry yeast in the lukewarm water and stir with a fork.

While the yeast proofs, add 2 cups unbleached flour to your mixing bowl and stir. When mixture is lukewarm, add yeast and stir again. Cover with damp cloth and place in warm place to rise. Check in 30 minutes.

After your sponge has risen and fallen slightly, add 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, 2 and 1/2 cups unbleached flour and 1 tsp kosher salt to it.

This is when you knead it. I like to knead on a lightly floured bread board for at least ten minutes. If your dough is too sticky, add flour by the tablespoon until it is workable: dough will vary by the amount of moisture in the air, the temperature of your kitchen, the particular grind of the flour. Please add a little flour to the board, to your hands, or to the dough itself if you are having a lot of trouble with it: doughs containing honey, syrup or molasses are stickier than those that don’t, but you are going to love the flavor of this bread, so persevere.

After at least ten full minutes of kneading, you may want to add a little butter or oil to your mixing bowl. Rub it all over so that the dough won’t stick. Then plunk the dough back into the bowl, dampen your tea towel with warm water, wring it out and set it on the bowl again, placing the dough in a warm place for its second rise. Check it again in 30 minutes (or forty if you are reading a great novel). When it has doubled, take the time to grease two loaf pans or one loaf pan and a pie or tart pan if you want to make a round loaf. Using butter to grease the pans will add to the flavor of the finished bread.

Take the bread dough out of the bowl and set it again on your lightly floured bread board. Cut it with your dough cutter or bench scraper into two equal portions. Roll the first one up like a jelly roll and tuck in the ends: with any luck it will fit your loaf pan. Take the second piece of dough and roll it into a ball, continually tucking any edges under and smoothing the top. Place this ball in your pie or tart pan. Return shaped loaves to the oven to rise for fifteen minutes, then move them somewhere else while you preheat your oven to 375, making sure a rack is in the middle position with no rack above it (You should have already moved it when you were using it for the rising dough, but if you didn’t, do it now).

Painting shows loaves of oatmeal bread.

Oatmeal Bread. 6″ x 6″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

When your oven is hot, set the loaves inside and putter around for ten minutes, doing dishes or having a cup of tea. After ten minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 350 and go back to reading your novel. Resurface in 30 minutes to check your bread: when you thump it, it should make a good solid thumping sound and the crust should have some brown color. When it thumps satisfactorily, remove it to a cooling rack. Mom taught be to remove the bread from the pans so that the crust does not steam in the hot pans: if you do this, you will get a crustier, chewier crust.

Now go away again: if you cut the bread hot you will ruin the texture. It’s best just to forget about it for awhile. When it is cool or almost cool, you can slice it and savor the beautiful bouquet of maple syrup. Whatever you do not eat immediately makes lovely toast tomorrow and the next day.

Food notes: On rice cakes: these rice cakes are not Asian rice cakes. They are the kind of rice cakes some people make in Louisiana: a fried cake made of sweetened rice bound with eggs. On oatmeal bread: for its most wonderful qualities, this bread requires maple syrup. None of the other ingredients are expensive, so splurge every now and then and make it. Can you make it with honey or golden syrup or malt syrup or brown rice syrup? Yes, you can, but it will not be the same and not yield the same deliciousness. Can you make it with more whole wheat flour? Of course you can, but, once again, you will not get the same bread: whole wheat flour will make it browner and heavier and wheatier. I keep the whole wheat flour to a half cup for the nod to health, replacing a little nutrition in that unbleached flour, but oats are good for you, too. Happy breakfast.

Equipment notes: Few things make me happier than having a dough cutter. I baked for many years without one, but it is the easiest thing to use when you need to divide yeast dough.