Monthly Archives: January 2016

Paul Hollywood’s Scones

I hope that you have Netflix (or Amazon Prime or PBS) and watched the one season of The Great British Bake Off (strangely changed to “The Great British Baking Show” on the streaming services) that is available. I hope that you loved it as much as I did. If you did not, we probably can’t be friends, and I’ll just let you know that there’s a very good scone recipe at the bottom of this post. If you haven’t watched it, I strongly encourage you to do so if you have any interest in cooking shows, cooking competition shows, baking, or British culture. This is a great long read for getting into all the reasons why it’s worth your time.

But simply, it’s a baking competition that takes place in the English countryside, wherein each week one person gets kicked off until there’s a winner. Of perhaps nominal prize money. Each episode/week is a different baking theme (cakes, pastries, bread, etc), and three competitions or “bakes” comprise each episode. What pulled me in was how refreshing it was to watch a competition where people wanted to do well for the sake of doing well. Not for a large prize. Not for fame. Not to beat other people. The one incident where someone justifiably was angered by another’s actions turned into an incident where the competitor was regretful and remorseful for letting his anger get to him. You root for all of the bakers as you so happily watch them root for each other.

Top Chef, this is not. Especially because viewers have an opportunity to really learn a lot about baking techniques and history. And like most Old World baking canons, there are so many categories and types that we don’t see on this side of Atlantic and/or terminology we no longer use—although Harry Potter fans might recognize the names of many. My brain and heart gobbled it all up.

Likely related to all the lush English greenery and stately architecture seen on the show, I developed a craving for a proper cream tea. So began a Google rabbit hole to suss out a good scone recipe. A good British scone recipe. I’ve done afternoon tea at a few places here in the city, but I’ve never been anywhere worth falling for. Making my own scones would mean skipping the dry finger sandwiches and focusing on the main event of scones lavished with clotted cream. I would be able to eat as many  as I wanted to, while watching some bakes, and most importantly, in my pajamas.

I’ve previously fallen prey to believing American culinary sorts who will tell you that a British scone is similar to an American biscuit. That’s wrong. An American scone is similar to an American biscuit, just with more sugar. British scones rely more on baking powder for leavening and contain eggs. America’s Test Kitchen also points out that British scones contain less butter because they are meant as vehicles for things like butter and cream. Less butter also makes British scones less crumbly and flaky. They are more tea cake than tea (American) biscuit.

After confirming that my local grocery store sold clotted cream, I was all set on making the ATK recipe. That was until some lingering rabbit hole Googling brought me (full circle moment) to Paul Hollywood’s recipe. Paul Hollywood is one of the judges on The Great British Bake-Off. He’s the smarmy, bad-cop-style judge with the good poker face and air of skepticism. But underneath, he’s an accomplished baker who likes to be surprised and impressed by the Bake Off’s competitors. His recipe was quite similar to the ATK one, with the huge exception of using bread/strong flour. Whether British or American, scones, biscuits, pancakes—anything that needs to rise but without yeast—needs a light hand to ensure gluten formation is at a minimum. Gluten = chew and toughness to airy quickbreads and cakes. Smarmy Paul sets forth with flour that is extra high in gluten! WTF. I had to try. To prove he was a phony or a mad genius.

Mad genius. My scones easily doubled in height and revealed the risen break of a proper scone. They were light and a bit fluffy, yet had the sturdiness necessary to hold lashings of cream. They were just sweet enough to be worthy of teatime but were the ideal foundation for the fruity punch of my chosen jam and the richness of the clotted cream.

Some notes on the cream. I’m a believer in clotted cream over Devonshire cream. They are not the same. Clotted cream has a higher fat content (more than 50%) and there’s a stickiness to its texture. It’s got an undeniable dairy, almost metallic, tang, a unique product that straddles cream and butter, and one that I believe few people would enjoy eating straight. Seeing as how I used about 95% of the jar for only four scones, I might be one of those few.

Devonshire cream (less than 50% milk fat) has a lighter mouth feel and is milder in flavour, more reminiscent of thick whipped cream. I believe that most afternoon teas that claim to give you clotted cream (in North America) are actually giving you Devonshire cream. It’s easier to find, and it’s also easier to cut with the more economical whipping cream (which I think a lot of North American establishments are also guilty of doing). That being said, I’m a believer in the Devon method for cream and jam application: cream first, then jam. If you like the reverse, Cornwall style, well, again, we probably can’t be friends.

Paul Hollywood’s Scone Recipe

I followed the recipe exactly, including weighing all measurements, but I did halve it to no ill effect to get four large, round scones. The oddities to this recipe are the use of bread flour (which Paul calls strong flour) and his use of the technique called “chaffing.” The supposed golden rule of making scones (and biscuits) is that you want to handle the dough as little as possible to avoid gluten formation and keep the scones tender. Bread flour has a higher protein (gluten) content than all purpose flour and chaffing requires you to lightly fold, thus handle, the dough a number of times. Chaffing helps add air, but I have no clue as to how his use of bread flour avoids toughness. I have no need to question because they came out extremely tender.

If you want to try his recipe, I recommend you watch one of the videos where Paul makes the scones, so that you can see the chaffing technique. I found it helpful.

The recipe allows you to re-roll scraps once, but as I got the number of scones that I needed from the first cut, I decided to bake miniature scones cut from the scraps. They’re in my freezer waiting for inspiration, perhaps to be broken up into a soup, or to top a sundae a la Chikalicious.

As well, I baked off two large scones and the minis immediately, and I froze the two remaining large ones. I put the unbaked scones on a parchment-lined plate in the freezer until they were frozen solid, which takes about an hour. I then wrapped each in plastic wrap and placed them in a freezer bag. A few days later (clotted cream is only good for five days once opened), I baked those directly from frozen, adding maybe a minute or two of bake time. No difference in flavour, but they didn’t rise quite as high. I didn’t try this time, but I know a common workaround is to preheat the oven 25 degrees higher than stated, put in your frozen scones, then immediately turn down the oven to the regular baking temperature. That blast of extra heat is supposed to help kickstart the rise in frozen dough.

High Street on Hudson

One of the smartest things I did last year was book off the first Monday of the new year, the day when most people would be coming back from their joint Christmas-New Year’s  holiday. It’s the Monday that signals the party is over, resolutions are to begin, and any pajamas-all-day energy should be squarely pushed out of your system. I hate that Monday. So to follow my December of four-day workweeks, I would relish one more.  Or, I would try to relish it, because Mother Nature chastised me for trying to beat the system by delivering her coldest day of the season. But deep down, somewhere, still lurks a prairie girl who can handle the cold. She gave Mother Nature the finger and proceeded to have a very pleasant afternoon of lunch out and a trip to the Whitney Museum.

Foodies hearts have been all aflutter with the opening of High Street on Hudson, the sister restaurant/bakery to the praised and loved High Street on Market in Philadelphia. And in this case, I actually heard (indirectly) from an actual person that it was worth a visit, not just through social or regular media. Our outpost is also a restaurant with a small bakery and pastry counter. It’s located in a sizeable corner space (on Hudson St) a few blocks away from the Whitney-Highline hub. I strategized to go on this Monday because I figured it would be quiet both for a Monday and for this particular Monday. But then add the Arctic chill, and I entered a restaurant that was basically empty at 1:30. Thankfully, a marked difference from the waits of over 30 minutes I was quoted when I asked my server what I could expect on the weekend—the only other time I can visit as they are not yet open for dinner.

The lack of patrons may have removed most of the energy from the restaurant and resulted in nearly every front-of-house staff member to (very nicely) check in on me, but it also provided for more luxury in pace, sound, and opportunity to appreciate the comfortable space and cool winter light that came through the large windows. The heft of the menu comes from sandwiches, with the remainder being salads, vegetable sides, and one soup. Some of the breakfast items have been heavily photographed, but on a weekday, they become unavailable mid-morning. The temperature meant that the pumpkin soup was a given. But it was hard to pick a sandwich, especially because all of the various breads used are made in-house, so I’d be picking based on bread wants as much as filling. I’ll admit that I also wanted to get the soup because I figured I would get a few slices of bread on the side, and I did.

Pumpkin soup

The two slices of levain were the best part of this course, even better when I topped them with High Street’s malted butter. Bright orange from the malt, the butter was slightly sweet from extract they must be getting from their bread production. The soup was just a pumpkin soup, nothing more. There was no added spice, so it was rather mild , but it was a nice consistency, neither too thick nor too thin and perfectly smooth. It served its purpose of warming me up. As the only soup on offer, however, I wish it was more special. I wish it made me perk up and take notice like this soup from Dimes did today.

Roast pork sandwich with fermented broccoli rabe and sharp provolone

The roast pork sandwich won out because a pork and broccoli rabe hero is a Philly staple, and so I thought I’d see if they did their hometown proud. That being said, I’ve never had a roast pork sandwich in Philly, so my judgement would have to be based on whether I would want to after this one. I very much would. Yes, again, the bread, semolina I think, was wonderful.  Tender yet chewy and a superstar at holding all of the components together.  Despite being thinly sliced, the pork was very moist and juicy, slightly sweet and very satisfying. There was not a lot of the broccoli rabe, so I was worried about a lack of presence, but being fermented, a little had a lot of punch. Its bitterness worked well against the pork and the bread. The provolone was the forgotten friend. There was either not enough or it wasn’t the least bit sharp, because I forgot it was there except when I encountered it texturally. Regardless, no regrets on ordering it.

 

Maybe because it was so quiet or maybe because I ordered a few things plus a glass of wine, a manager-type dropped off a free cookie with my bill. I think she said it was their sunberry cookie, or something that sounded like that. With plans to have a chocolate chip cookie at the Whitney, I only had a bite to try. I also only had a bite because the name and presentation as a crispy cookie had me guessing I wouldn’t like it. I guessed right. But that’s because of my preferences. It was a sandwich cookie composed of two crispy buckwheat-tasting discs brought together with a tahini/sesame-flavoured butter and then adorned with sponge toffee. Don’t quote me on the flavours. I could be totally wrong, especially because I’m not a big fan of any of them. In any case, it was a very nice gesture. And such a gesture contributes to why I want to go back. If only for a loaf of bread and malted butter to go. Because like all good prairie girls, I may be able to stand up to the cold, but I also know when it’s time to just retreat into hibernation season and eat all of the carbs at home.

Swedish Christmas Lunch at Aquavit

My parents were not into ABBA, and while I enjoyed The Cardigans as a teenager, Sweden for me was almost 100% associated with Ikea. It’s hard for me to fathom why Edmonton has had Ikea for so long when many other markets still go without. But I always forget the economic powerhouse that is the largest mall in the world, and that Ikea was housed there for a while in the 80s. Despite every bed (read: best friend) that’s ever been mine originating in one of those yellow and blue buildings where time and place disappear, I’ve never had a proper Swedish meal before the one I had last month. There have been post-shopping stops for cinnamon buns and ice milk cones, but I have no recollection of ever sitting in the Cafeteria. And while at Edmonton’s Heritage Days I would try to find room for the Scandinavian pavillion’s riskrem (Norwegian, not Swedish), meatballs with lingonberry jam was only something that I knew about, never tasted. Mostly because picky eating particularities would have me shying away.

I knew about them because of Ikea, obviously, but also because I remember a very young Marcus Samuelsson as a guest on Martha Stewart Living back in the day, when he was the new lauded chef at Aquavit. With Marcus now running his own little restaurant empire in Harlem, I had nearly forgotten about Aquavit until The New York Times updated their review last year. Like with so many reviews, profiles, blog posts, news items, pictures, tweets, and word-of-mouth recommends, I made a mental note of wanting to try it, which inevitably got lost among the rest of such notes in my brain. A reminder came when I read a promotional piece on a traditional Swedish Christmas meal Aquavit would run as a lunch special for most of December. With a chance to try some greatest hits at a swish place as a festive treat, I quickly made a reservation for my last Monday off before the official holiday.

 

Course one: Matjes herring, glassblower herring, mustard herring, vasterbotten cheese, cold poached salmon, gravlax, peanut potato

A cup of warm glogg was included, but I couldn’t pass up trying the namesake beverage with my first course. My choice of aquavit infusion was pear, vanilla, and red peppercorn. I confirmed with my server that I could sip the vodka, but he corrected me with a no, it’s to be taken as a shot. A very Merry Christmas lunch! Unfortunately, down the hatch too fast to appreciate any of the flavours. I remember the Matjes herring to be the cured, the glassblower to be the pickled, or maybe vice versa. Either way, I liked the mustard (also pickled?) the best because of the sauce. But there was a noticeable texture difference between the Matjes and the glassblower, with the latter having more chew. A peanut potato is just the name of the varietal, and it was nicely served with brown butter and chopped hard-boiled egg.  The gravlax might have been my favourite morsel on the plate, the cheese my least because it couldn’t compete with the assertiveness of the other components. The potato worked better as the mild contrast. As did the excellent dark rye bread.

 

Course two: Christmas ham, prinskorv, Swedish meatballs, glazed spare rib, braised red cabbage

I got my meatballs. And they were the best of the lot. Their firmness gave just enough push back on my knife to suggest a nice browning, yet their interiors were still very moist. My pleasure had me wondering, again, how much enjoyment I’ve lost out on over the years from being a picky eater and how I’ll ever be able to catch up on all that I’ve missed. The mini hot dog/sausages were tasty, as was the ham in its familiar way, but I found the spare rib’s glaze too sweet. I would have preferred that quadrant filled with three more meatballs.

 

Jansson’s temptation

This temptation is a traditional potato casserole. The cleverness of the anchovy tin comes from the fact that anchovies are a signature ingredient in the dish. But I could not see or taste a single salty fish, resulting in a rather ho-hum dish of potatoes with much too much dry breadcrumb topping.

 

Dessert: Ris a la Malta semifreddo

I was really looking forward to this rice pudding semifreddo. Unfortunately, the cranberry sauce totally overpowered the mildness of the actual semifreddo. While you can see rice grains in that slice, the textural component was non-existent and the semifreddo ended up just being a creamy, flavour-lite backdrop. I wanted more vanilla or more chew to combat the sauce. I did not get the mignardises that other tables got, and I don’t know if that’s because I didn’t order coffee, because they forgot about me, or because the treats may have contained my allergens.

Any disappointment was fleeting because the glogg, aquavit, and then subsequent glass of pinot-noir-like red (described by my server as a “breakfast wine”) had me pretty happy for a Monday afternoon. I was especially not disappointed when head chef Emma Bengtsson made the rounds at the end of lunch service to say thank you to each table. With a messy bob of pink-tipped white blonde hair, she was a contemporary vision of 1994 Nina Persson. A week or so before another year was to advance, feeling like I was looking through my 15-year-old eyes was an unexpected and welcome stocking stuffer.

Pasta alla Norcina

You may have noticed that I didn’t keep up with last year’s resolution to practice new cooking techniques. Again, putting effort into myself, even if to one day have more success in putting effort into someone else, eventually lost its appeal. The time, the apathy, the dishes. I just cannot be bothered. I’m totally fine being able to talk endlessly about recipes and techniques without actually completing them. I’m not sure what that makes me, but I can live with the probable negative connotation.

But not wanting to practice roasting a turkey or searing a steak doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally put more effort into dinner than a pot of oatmeal. I just don’t care to cook to become better at this juncture. I cook to fulfill a craving or bring comfort. And as with oatmeal, it is almost always in the form of a carbohydrate that can be eaten with one piece of cutlery from one dish in front of the television. So, as cold temperatures and the new year trend of reining in spending have me at home on weekend nights, I have more time to cook (weeknights get at most 15 minutes of dinner prep) right now. Recipes will return. Easy recipes. One-bowl recipes. All gluten-friendly recipes. Count on at least three… this is no resolution.

Speaking of television, today’s recipe comes from an episode of America’s Test Kitchen (ATK), from a season that is currently available on (U.S.) Netflix. I’m pretty dedicated to listening to the ATK podcast, even if the banter between Christopher and Bridget gets repetitive and expected. I love their knowledge! Like with The Food Lab of Serious Eats, I like the testing and science behind their recipes. They’re rarely creative or trendy, and everything seems very American even when they pull from elsewhere, but I can appreciate and like learning how they strive to perfect recipes that generally everyone enjoys eating. They are nerds, and as someone who is also a nerd, I identify with their motivation and approach.

A recipe for pasta alla norcina intrigued me one night enough to track down the recipe. While essentially just a sausage and mushroom dish, what makes it different is that you make your own sausage out of ground pork. Sausage from the town of Norcia does not contain fennel and red pepper like the Italian sausage easily found in grocery stores. So, to  recreate the flavours of the region, Chris and the gang have you quickly cure ground pork with baking soda, water, and salt, and infuse it with garlic, rosemary, and nutmeg.

It presents as a simple dish, but there are quite a few intermediary steps that require you to be conscious of the directions and your time. I wanted to do the recipe proud, so I meticulously prepped my mise en place and had all necessary equipment at the ready before starting anything. This of course meant that making the dish, just for myself, took much longer than it should have. Because of this, I won’t be making it again anytime soon. But don’t let that deter you. I’m sure it would be billed as an “easy weeknight meal.” I made no mistakes, I just left nothing up to chance. Slow and steady to win this race. And I did. Because despite the use of many ramekins, chopping mushrooms finer than seems necessary, and measuring out 1/8 teaspoons, I was left with one of the best tasting bowls of pasta I have ever made. The pork did transform to a savoury sausage, with the rosemary and garlic being identifiable but not overpowering. The finely chopped mushrooms melted into the sauce to function as an earthy background flavour instead of chewy chunks. The cream and parmesan (subbed for pecorino as I already had a hunk) came together with the pasta water to envelope everything in a silky sauce that had enough body to satisfy. My fears of stodgy richness were unfounded.

 

I’ll be funny and say that it tasted like it came from a (good) restaurant, because I find that homemade pasta never really does (extra funny now that I see the  posted recipe makes such a claim). I’ve had many delicious pasta dinners from my own kitchen and from others, but rare is the time when I thought any of those plates had the same punch and satisfaction that can come from a kitchen that inevitably takes a heavier hand with oil, butter, salt, spice, or rare ingredients. This pasta alla norcina doesn’t push decadence, but I wonder if because the testing and perfecting is what has been pushed, the harmony of ingredients enables an amateur like me to make something SO good she considers it could pass for professional. This is what endears ATK to me.

Even better is that I got to have something so good in one of my favourite places: my armchair, illuminated by the glow of the television, and with a tea towel as a place mat.

Pasta alla Norcina – America’s Test Kitchen

Unlike most from ATK, this recipe was made available for free. Perhaps because it was broadcast on public television.  Either way, I’m thankful that I didn’t have to go scouting blogs to see if someone else had made it. In fact, the entire episode is available, and if you skip to minute 14:22 in the video, you can watch the segment that outlines how you make the dish. I found it helpful.

The only changes I made were the shape of pasta used and adding extra grated cheese before serving. The recipe serves two; before adding the pasta, I removed half the sauce, stored it in the fridge, and used it as a subsequent homemade pizza topping. Note that the amounts listed in the video are for four servings/one pound of pasta.