Banana Bread

We had a short visit this past week from Grace and her husband, one last visit before the baby is born. One of the reasons they are great guests is that they will enthusiastically eat whatever I cook. Jonathan once at so much potato leek soup at my house that he had to lie down on the floor for a little while afterward to recover. Come to think of it, that may have been when I decided he was probably a keeper. Since I’ve been tinkering around with a banana bread recipe for a while, I made a loaf of my latest version to see what they thought.

It’s not like there is a shortage of banana bread recipes. It’s just that a lot of them are too something (sweet, greasy, crumbly, dry, cakey, dense) or not enough something (banana-y usually) to suit me. I don’t want cake and I don’t want something that tastes too “health food-y.” I’ve had banana bread that is so buttery that it will leave a grease stain on a napkin. That’s not what I want. So I tinkered.

I kind of think of bananas you want to use to make your banana bread in terms of the story The Velveteen Rabbit, the premise being that if you love your velveteen rabbit enough (in the case of bananas, love = letting them sit on the counter), when it gets old and ugly and looks like garbage, it becomes a REAL rabbit (in the case of bananas, REAL = banana bread). The bananas in this picture are gorgeous compared to what you want. You want them to be brown and soft and ripe to the point when as many of the starches in the banana have turned into sugar and intense banana flavor and they have a face only a baker could love. That’s when a banana really shines. What I was trying to figure out was how much: you want enough of them so that you aren’t needing to add lots of extra sugar to sweeten the bread or more butter to keep it from being dry.

I think I’m going to keep this version. I may still tinker a little for fun; I’d like to try coconut oil instead of butter sometime. But this one gets the “Family Taste-tester’s Seal of Approval”; we ate the whole thing in two days.

Banana Bread

-2 or 3 large very ripe bananas, mashed (enough for 1 1/2 cup coarsely mashed)

– ¾ cup brown sugar

– ½ cup (1 stick) salted butter, melted

-1 egg

-1 teaspoon vanilla extract

-1/2- teaspoon lemon extract

-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

– 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

-1/8 teaspoon ginger

-1 ½ cups all purpose flour (or white whole wheat)

-1 teaspoon baking soda

-1/3 cup ground flax seed

Preheat oven to 350°.

Butter and dust the inside of a loaf 9×5 inch loaf pan with flour, tapping out the extra flour.

In a large mixing bowl, blend the bananas, sugar, butter, and egg until thoroughly combined. Stir in vanilla and lemon extracts. In a separate bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together thoroughly, then fold the flour mixture into the banana mixture. Spoon the batter into the loaf pan and bake until a tester comes out clean, 45- 55 minutes. Cool before removing from the pan.

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Sweet Potato Casserole

I’ve been trying to think of ways to say this without sounding like a strident bossy health obsessed food tyrant, but really, when it comes to sweet potato casserole, YOU PEOPLE ARE DOING IT ALL WRONG!!!!

I’ve been reading Laurie Colwin’s  Home Cooking in which she states in her chapter “How to Fry Chicken”: “As everyone knows, there is only one way to fry chicken correctly. Unfortunately, most people think their method is best, but those people are wrong.” Her method is not 100% correct – she uses a chicken fryer instead of cast iron –  but I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment. A short, non-scientific survey of a number of my cookbooks bears me out. They all tell you to add at least a cup of sugar to your sweet potato casserole! Outrageous!

It’s a SWEET potato. When roasted, it has very tasty, flavorful, SWEET flesh. If one adds a cup or more of sugar, the tongue (figuratively) throws in the towel and refuses to taste any more flavors. All of the lemony spicy goodness is lost in a bland tidal wave of sugary sweetness. If you like a little sweet crunch for contrast, add the nutty streusel to the top. It’s plenty.

Which brings me to my second point: the spices. If you desire a creamy orange dessert with the flavor of cinnamon, cloves and allspice, make a pumpkin pie. Pumpkin is delicious with cinnamon. But the flavors that truly make a sweet potato sing are nutmeg and lemon. If you don’t believe me, feel free to take it up with Edna Lewis’s  In Pursuit of Flavor, page 47 “Baked Sweet Potatoes with Lemon Flavoring”.

This is the only way to make sweet potato casserole correctly-

Sweet Potato Casserole

– 6-8 medium sweet potatoes

Bake whole unpeeled potatoes at 400 for 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours until they are soft when squeezed with a pot holder. Allow them to cool to the point at which they can be handled without inflicting terrible burns on yourself (or completely). Peel and scoop out the flesh into a bowl and mash until it has the consistency you desire. I like to use the paddle attachment on my mixer, but a potato masher or even a fork will work.

With the potatoes in a large bowl, add the following:

– 5 Tablespoons butter (melted if the potatoes are cool)

– 2 teaspoons salt

– 1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg

– 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

– 1 teaspoon of lemon extract (or lemon juice/ zest)

– 4 egg yolks

Beat together until smooth. If the mixture is really thick, add a little half and half , milk or cream to thin it out slightly. Since sweet potatoes can be a little fibrous sometimes, I use the whisk attachment or the beaters of an electric mixer to whip everything together; any little stringy bits that wrap around the beaters get thrown away. Those things are bad for getting stuck between your teeth. Pour everything into a buttered baking dish (about 9×13)

If you like, scatter the top with this:

Streusel

Crumble together with your fingertips into a nutty rubble:

– 5 Tablespoons of cold butter

– 1/2 cup flour

– 1/3 cup brown sugar

– a little salt and

– 4 oz chopped pecans

Bake for 45 minutes at 375 degrees. The sweet potatoes should puff up a little and the topping should be a crisp brown lid. Cool a little before serving or it can be eaten at room temperature.

I’m so glad I got that off my chest. I feel much better now.

Oatmeal bacon scones

Scott got home late Thursday night from a flight that tipped him over the “100k miles flown in a year” mark. He has also spent more than 60 days away for business travel this year. So last night, to celebrate his return home from what should be his last trip of the year, I cooked a steak, a baked potato, and a salad per his request. I went to Ottomanelli & Sons on Bleeker Street in the West Village to get a dry aged porterhouse and a genial hard time by the old school butchers behind the counter. I love old school butcher shops; butchers usually seem to like their jobs, enjoy giving advice, and take pride in the meat that they sell, and with good reason in this case. The steak was exceptional.

I don’t generally do a lot for breakfast; I’m not usually great at measuring ingredients first thing in the morning, but since I was on a roll with the “Welcome home Scott/ holiday baking spirit” I made an exception today and baked. Combining three of Scott’s favorites- scones, bacon, and the healthfully virtuous feeling one gets from eating oatmeal- I combined bits of lots of scone recipes and the memory of eating “pannenkoeken met spek” (pancake with bacon)  years ago in the Netherlands (and persuaded a Waffle House cook to semi-replicate by putting an order of bacon into the waffle iron with my waffle batter) into a slightly sweet, hearty, flaky, just a little salty/bacony scone.

Oatmeal Bacon Scones

yield:8-10

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup rolled oats
1 very heaped tablespoon baking powder
2 very heaped tablespoons superfine or granulated sugar (I had some vanilla caster sugar which I used)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, cut into small dice, kept very cold

1/3 cup very crisp crumbled bacon (about 3 strips depending on size and thickness)
1/2 cup buttermilk (start with 1/3 cup and then add by the tablespoon until the dough is soft but not sticky)
1 egg, beaten

Turbinado or raw sugar

Preheat your oven to 400°F

 Cook your bacon until very crisp, to the point that it shatters into little bits when chopped with a knife. Drain on paper and allow it to completely cool before chopping it.

 In a large bowl, mix all of the dry ingredients from flour to bacon and stir to get them thoroughly combined.  Add the cold butter cubes and using either a pastry blender or your fingers, work the butter into the dry ingredients until everything looks like breadcrumbs; the butter should still be a little chunky, but nothing larger than a pea.

 Whisk the buttermilk and beaten egg together and pour about ¾ of the mixture into the dry ingredients. Stir everything together, gently, just to get everything moist; try not to over-stir. If the mixture isn’t coming together into a soft dough, add the rest of the liquid in tablespoons so the dough doesn’t get too sticky.

 Turn the dough out onto a work surface. I like to use a flexible plastic cutting board for pastry because I don’t have to use extra flour to dust the surface, it allows me to move the dough onto the baking sheet easily, and it’s easy to clean up. Gently knead the dough a few times into a ball, then flatten it into a disc. Using a long bladed knife or a bench scraper, cut the dough into wedges (I did 8).

Transfer the disc onto the baking sheet.  It should still look like a disc with the wedges cut into it. Sprinkle the top generously with raw sugar crystals for a little sweet crunch on the top.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until the scones look like the epitome of Golden Brown and Delicious. Serve hot (or cold, either way they are delicious!)

“Good Job” Biscuits- Southern Food Challenge 7

Our nephew Luke is learning how to talk. He shows off his new words for us when they  Skype us from my in-law’s house – he says “strawberry” and “Dot” (Scott) and “tigers say GRRRRR”.  Allegedly, he has said “Christine,” although not when I’m around. He says “good job” because that’s what we all say when he does something we like. He gets a lot of “good jobs” and applause; he just beams at us beatifically while we congratulate him for, say, trying to use a spoon. We all think he’s pretty adorable.

Luke and his mom drove up to visit the grandparents one Friday night recently and Janice had her hot biscuits ready for his supper when he got there. He sat in his high chair (the throne) and Janice put a buttered biscuit on the tray in front of him. He too a bite, ate it up, looked up at her and said “good job!”

The biscuits I grew up with were not the archetypal “Southern” biscuit. I’m actually planning to talk about them in a separate post in order to better explain both types, but the main difference was in using oil rather than shortening, butter, or some other kind of solid fat . I’m more familiar and comfortable making biscuits from the recipe my mom taught me but I also love flaky crisp buttermilk biscuits, scones and other “pastry” style quick breads (and by “pastry”, I mean gently incorporating a solid fat into flour to make a light, flaky quick bread, in contrast to what I’ll call a “quick bread” method in which a liquid fat like oil is used to make a moist, soft and usually denser bread like fruit bread or tea bread). And in that respect, Janice’s “Good Job” biscuits are hard to beat. They are a light crisp biscuit with a buttery golden top and just a suggestion of buttermilk flavor, a nice little duvet for a pink curl of salty country ham to cuddle up in. I got some really nice country ham from Scott Hams in Kentucky. When you call them, Mrs. Scott answers the phone, takes your order, and is happy to answer any questions you might have about the hams her husband has been curing on their farm since 1965.

The only modifications I made to her recipe were, first, not using White Lily flour which cannot be had for love or money in New Jersey and for which I wasn’t prepared to wait until I could import a sack of it from southern climes and, second, I used Spectrum Organic All Vegetable Shortening instead of Crisco. This choice harkens back to my upbringing; while I’m far less strict about my diet now than my mom was, I have retained an aversion to heavily altered “food-type products”. I just can’t do it. Not that a non-hydrogenated shortening is a health food – it just seems less weird to me. Anyway, that’s how I cook.

Good Job Biscuits

3 cups self-rising flour

1 tablespoon baking powder (I like Rumford Aluminum-free Baking Powder)

2 teaspoons confectioners sugar

1/2 cup shortening

1 1/4 cups buttermilk

butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 450°

Mix the flour, baking soda and confectioners sugar. Cut the shortening in. I use a fork to blend in the shortening and really, the important thing to remember is to do as shoddy and unthorough a job of mixing the shortening into the flour as possible. Don’t try to make it all nice and even; it just makes the biscuits denser. Pour in the buttermilk and stir it in just enough to moisten the flour mixture. Using your hands, knead the dough a couple of times, just to get it to pull together into a ball. Again, this is a recipe that insists that you put your feet up and do as little as possible to the dough for best results. Put the ball of dough on a lightly floured surface and gently pat out into a square about 1/2 inch thick.

I like to make my biscuits square. It alleviates the necessity of reforming and cutting the dough that circle cutters leave. Using a bench scraper or long knife blade, cut the dough into squares. Place slightly apart on a baking sheet or stone and bake for about 10 minutes until the tops are golden. Brush with melted butter. Serve hot.

Burn Part Deux or Oatmeal Chocolate Covered Raisin Cookies

In the last two weeks my wrist has progressed from a  ghastly greyish weeping blistered burn, dramatically  swathed in triple antibiotic ooze and enormous white  gauze bandages, to the shiny  pink of a healing burn, puckered and scarlet like a screaming infant’s face indignantly reminding me of my recklessness, demanding to be cosseted. It’s more sore and tight now than painful, but it is pretty persistent in making its presence known. Hence, in the spirit of circumspection,  I’ve been a little wary in the kitchen, mainly cooking things that allow a safe distance from open flame, a gingerness with red-hot cookware, a certain take-no-risk rote cooking.

I did bake some lovely cookies.

They are different from most cookie recipes I make in that they contain oil instead of butter;  this makes them crisp instead of soft and chewy like buttery cookies. But in the face of a looming cholesterol test in the family, I was trying to make a healthier treat that didn’t taste like a “healthy treat” – you know what I mean. But then, I know plenty of people who live with dietary restrictions all the time, whether for religious reason, allergies or health reasons or during pregnancy, so I’m sure I’m not the only one who can appreciate a cookie that doesn’t preach to you about how healthy it is, that is actually good instead of tasting like deprivation.

 

 

In the first recipe, I used raisins, which were fine, but I had a bag of chocolate covered raisins in my cupboard.  Thinking of Mexican hot chocolate infused with cinnamon, they went into the second go-round. It’s just a nice little upgrade, richer, a hint of cinnamon and chocolate with the raisins in a light crunchy oaty bite.

 

Oatmeal Chocolate-Covered Raisin Cookies

Modified from this recipe: Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

 

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons molasses

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 cups oats (I used quick oats)

1/2 cup chocolate-covered raisins (use dark chocolate or dairy-free if you need to)

 

 

Preheat oven to 350°. Cover cookie sheets with either parchment paper or Silpats.

In a large bowl, mix oil, brown sugar, molasses, eggs and vanilla with a whisk. Combine the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon; stir into the sugar and oil mixture. Mix in the oats and chocolate-covered raisins last. it will make a rather dry, sticky dough.

 

 

Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto the prepared cookie sheet. The cookies won’t spread much, so they can be fairly close together. I did about 12 per cookie sheet.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven. Depending on your oven, you may want to rotate the pans or switch shelves midway through. The cookies will still be a little soft on top but the edges should begin to brown a little. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

 

 

 

Cheese-Straw Apple Tart

I am, finally, back home in New Jersey. It’s still winter here; I’d been sort of hoping it would be done with if I stayed gone long enough. But alas, it is still February. There are mountains of gray snow everywhere, mounded above my head in parking lots and roadsides. The days are shorter here and the high temperature today was supposed to be 25°F. It’s strange and sort of exotic in a way to one who is not even accustomed to many days with the low temperature of 25°. But speaking of exotic Northern climes….

When I was little, my paternal grandparents lived in upstate New York. Whenever they came to visit their grandchildren in Atlanta, they would bring gifts of apples and maple syrup and sharp cheddar cheese. I remember apples with names I had never heard, exotic and fragrant Winesaps with their coarse skin and red-veined flesh, tart/sweet crisp Empires, Northern Spy and Cortland. They favored crisp crunchy apples with balanced sweet and tangy flavor and brought bags full from the roadside stands they passed on their drive down. They also introduced me to the awesome combination of a cool slice of  apple and a sliver of creamy sharp cheddar cheese, one of the most perfect bites ever devised, in my humble opinion.

With that combination in mind, I started working on this tart a few months ago. I had the idea of a sharp cheddar short crust with a tart apple filling and combined the easy cream cheese tart crust recipe I love to make with a Southern-style cheese straw recipe to make the crust. It has the faintest kick , more like a poke really, of cayenne that just underscores the tang of cheese in the crust. It’s a tart that combines the flavors of fond nostalgia with my ideal of sweet/salty/tangy/crisp balance.

 

Cheese-Straw Apple Tart

Crust-

1 stick (8 oz) butter, softened slightly and cubed

5 oz finely grated extra sharp cheddar

1 tablespoon sugar

dash cayenne pepper

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

Use the whisk attachment on a stand mixture to blend the butter and cheese, sugar and pepper, until it’s a smooth blend.

 

 

Throw in the flour. Slowly mix to combine the flour with the butter and cheese. Stop and scrape the sides of the bowl, then speed things up until the dough starts to look like pebbles and pull together. Stop and gather the dough into a ball, kneading it a couple of times to keep it from crumbling.

 

Press the dough into the bottom of a 9 -inch tart pan. Using your fingertips, start from the center of the pan and press the dough out and up the sides as evenly as you can manage. Cover well and chill the crust in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

In order to keep the edges of the crust from slumping when I blind bake it, I put a ring of rolled up foil around the inside of the sides while it cooks. Blind bake for about 20 minutes at 325°.

Cool a bit before putting in the apple filling; it will help keep the crust from getting soggy.

Bump the oven temperature up to 375°.

 

Filling:

3-4 sweet/tart baking apples, peeled and thinly sliced

(save the peel and core)

2 tablespoons  apple cider vinegar

¼ cup sugar ( I used turbinado, but white or brown is fine)

1 tablespoon butter

Arrange the apple slices in the crust in an arrangement that pleases you; I did a sort of homage to the spiral tarte tatin arrangement, but in my typically disheveled fashion. Bake for about 35-40 minutes until the apples are crisp-tender.

Meanwhile, simmer the cider with the apple peels and sugar until the peels are soft. Strain the peels out through a fine mesh strainer. Whisk the butter into the syrup . Brush the syrup generously over the top of the apples.

Dark family secret-

 

I’m at my in-law’s. There is a dangerous amount of cake  and candy in the house, enough to send the entire staff at Atkins into a diabetic coma;  there are a number of tubs of something called puppy chow that involves peanut butter, cereal and chocolate. There are enough at least five different kinds of candy canes, even a clove flavored one. There are Zots and Mary Janes and peppermint patties.  There are not, however, any brownies. There haven’t been any since I’ve been in the family and I think I may have finally stumbled upon the real reason why they seem to be contraband here. There have been rumors swirling around for years, and I had heard a vague and mysterious story by way of explanation a few times, something about voices and an overdose. But I think I may have finally gotten the real story on a dark family secret during my last visit.

First a little background: There are several refrigerator magnets and a number of mugs and aprons in the house proclaiming a deep and passionate love of chocolate. There are also several (and I mean several) candy dishes that maintain a pretty high level of chocolate candy occupancy scattered around the house and not just at the holidays. The most popular cake in my mother-in-law’s extensive repertoire is Chocolate Mocha Butter cake. People were pressing their fingers onto the crumbs of the chocolate and raspberry wedding cake she made when I got married so as not to waste even a smidge of it. She bakes a mean chocolate cake, this woman. Nothing gets her heart racing like an all you can eat chocolate buffet with a chocolate fountain. So let’s just say euphemistically speaking that there may or may not be a chocolate “issue” here.

I’ve heard bits of the story before, but during my last visit I asked about the brownies she made that made her hear voices in the night.

She made a large pan of her favorite brownies. Frosted.

There was the original “taste test” square that afternoon, just to make sure the recipe was still good. Then a couple more squares nudged out of the pan before supper, because the recipe was still good. Then just a tiny piece more to even out that side of the pan, not a whole brownie…just a sliver. Then a couple more for dessert. Pre – bedtime snack. Midnight snack. By 1 AM about half the pan of brownies is gone, like a lasagna pan sized pan.  And she can’t go to sleep. She’s tossing and turning for hours, buzzing, can’t turn her brain off, can’t go to sleep. Man, those brownies are good. It’s like they are calling her name from their pan all the way across the house in the pantry.

About 4 AM, she hears my father in law stirring in bed next to her.

“Hey – Johnny……”

………….

“Hey……Johnny…….. are you awake?”

“Hrrmph”

“I can’t sleep”

“Hrrmph….”

“You know how sometimes when you can’t sleep, you say maybe God is trying to tell you something?”

“Yes”

“Do you think God is trying to tell me something?”

“Yep”

“Well, what do you think?”

“He’s saying ‘Don’t eat any more brownies!'”

This is her recipe as she wrote it down for me – what I like to call “still small voice brownies”.  If you make it and hear voices, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

“My Favorite Brownies

2 sticks butter or margarine

1/2 cup cocoa

4 eggs

2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/3 cups plain flour

1 1/3 cups chopped pecans or other nuts

1 teaspoon vanilla

Frosting

Melt butter and add cocoa, stir well. Beat eggs and sugar. Add to butter – cocoa mixture and then add vanilla. add flour, baking powder and nuts. Mix well. Bake about  24 minutes at 350. I use Baker’s Joy to prepare the pan. frost when cooled.

Frosting

4 tablespoons cocoa

1 pound powdered sugar

1 stick butter or margarine

1 teaspoon vanilla

Milk to right consistency

Mix all together over low heat. Don’t cook too long, just enough to heat thoroughly and blend.

Enjoy!”

Easy Peasy Key Lime Squeezy

We’re celebrating a birthday at our house this week. The tough thing about a December birthday is the tendency for it to get swallowed alive by the greater holiday season. People are busy, headed out-of-town, shopping, going to Christmas parties. I really try to maintain its individual specialness by not using Christmas wrapping paper for presents, not doing Christmasy stuff on the actual birthday and not fobbing off Christmas baking as birthday cake. The birthday boy likes pie, so pie is what he gets.

 

 

This year, I took about 20 minutes out of my busy schedule to make what may be the best bang for your buck homemade dessert ever- Key lime pie. I have told people how to make it before and gotten “Seriously? That’s it?” in response. Yes, seriously. It is a crumb crust and three ingredients, baked for about 15 minutes and that’s it. If you want to get really fancy, you can make the crust yourself,  but don’t even think about squeezing the limes, or you are on your own as far as I’m concerned.

 

Key Lime Pie

1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 ounces)

1/2 cup bottled Key Lime juice

3 egg yolks

1 Graham cracker crumb crust

 

Preheat the oven to 350. Blend the first three ingredients with a whisk or electric mixer until smooth. Pour into the crust and bake for 12-15 minutes until it has a softly set, slightly jiggly center. Cool. A snowdrift of whipped cream would also be lovely dolloped on top.

 

 

See? Tangy, custardy, creamy, and easy peasy!

 

I’m adding, for those of you who might want to make you own crust, and in keeping with the three ingredient limit on this post, a recipe for a crumb crust.

Crumb Crust

1-9 inch crust

about 1 1/2 cups cookie crumbs, like graham crackers, gingersnaps, or vanilla wafers

1/3 cup butter, melted

1/4 cup white sugar

Mix the three ingredients together, thoroughly combining to make sure the butter is all mixed in. Pour the crumbs into your pie plate and firmly press them into the bottom and sides to cover it evenly. I use the bottom of a glass or another pie plate to get a smooth, even crust. Bake for 7-9 minutes at 350˚.

When life hands you lemons: Sweet Milk Scones with Candied Orange Peel

Every cook goes through slumps; meals that should have been spectacular are insipid, the weather sets the chemistry of a baked good off, the no-fail recipe is a dismal failure. All of the above happened to me this week. Venison steaks with blackberry mustard sauce, rhubarb strawberry crisp, and most spectacularly, candied orange peels, while not being inedible, we’re not what my mouth was set for when I started cooking.

So what does one do with two large baking trays of candied orange peels that just won’t dry? I’ve made candied citrus peels before. They should be tender, but not soft, the translucent color of shards of stained glass.These, not even close. More like those candy orange slices, which I realize is not a bad thing, but not what I was expecting.

But I started thinking about the cake I had heard of, a Southern recipe, that includes Orange Slices. A simpler thing to make would be candied orange scones. Scones are very similar to Southern biscuits with a hint of sweetness in the dough and usually some sort of fruit or flavoring mixed in. I found a basic sweet milk scone recipe by America’s Test Kitchen.

I incorporated about a half cup of the candied peel into the dry ingredients and formed it into a disk, cutting it into wedges before baking it instead of using a round biscuit cutter. I sprinkled some of the sugar from the peels over the top and into the oven it went.

Oh the agony of waiting! would I break my losing streak or break my teeth on a rock hard scone?

I think I did it! And the orange peel is perfect. It has subtly infused the scones with their fragrance, and are soft and chewy bursts of flavor through each bite I take. The blood orange lemon curd isn’t bad either. Perfect with a cup of black coffee.

Everyone has their off days (weeks). Sometimes it is equipment or ingredient failure. Sometimes the elements just don’t add up. Julia Child said “never apologize” and I think she has a good point. Just keep trying and looking forward to next time, when you can turn those lemons into candied orange peel scones.

Sweet Milk Scones with Candied Orange Peel

 2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 tbs sugar

4 Tbs unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces

3/4 cup milk

 Optional:

½ cup chopped candied orange peel

Granulated sugar to sprinkle over the top

 Preheat oven to 450F

 Whisk dry ingredients together in a large bowl until mixed. Add the cold butter pieces and use either a pastry cutter, a couple of forks, or your fingertips, mix the butter into the flour until the mixture has a pebbly texture.

 Add the candied orange peel and the milk, stirring just until the dry mixture is moistened and forms a ball, being careful not to overmix. Turn the dough out onto the counter and knead 4-5 times to form a ball. Flatten the ball into a round disk and place on parchment on a baking pan, in a large cast iron skillet or on a non-stick baking sheet.

 Using a bench scraper or other blade, score the disk of dough into wedges, like the spokes of a wheel. Sprinkle the top of the scones with a light coat of granulated sugar.

 Bake for 10-12 minutes until the top is golden.

Semolina Pizza Crust

It would be my guess that in the history of food wars, a fair number of skirmishes have taken place in the name of defending what is good and proper in pizza. Flame wars have erupted on discussion boards on chowhound.com over whether a beloved joint’s crust is tasteless or delicious, soggy or cardboardy. Some think that pizza should be on a thick layer of pillowy foccacia-like crust, while others won’t touch it unless it’s crisp bottom bears the char of a wood fired oven. Deep dish or thin crust, sauce, cheese: all topics of passionate and sometimes vitriolic debate. And that’s all before we reach the question of whether or not pineapple in any form ever belongs on a pizza.

I began this post with the previous acknowledgement in order to explain why my recipe for semolina pizza crust is not being introduced as a polemic. It’s just what I like. Whether or not you recognize my impeccable taste as authoritative is your own personal decision to make. I prefer a thinnish crust that doesn’t collapse en route to the mouth under the weight of its burden. I like a crust that tastes like something, one that is chewy and dense but not ply woody like a frozen pizza crust. I have found that semolina adds a crunchy, chewy texture and more flavor than regular all purpose or bread flour alone. Like I said, just my preference. If any of you are beginning to get an indignantly elevated heart rate or if any hairs on the neck’s back are rising, now might be a good time to look away.

Deciding which crust camp to ally oneself with is the first step. Topping philosophy is the next. I’ll confess that the image of a united front that my nuclear family presents to the world is a façade when it comes to pizza topping. Someone in my house (I won’t name names, but let’s just say it’s not me) has big liquid tears pool up in his eyes when pizza emerges from the oven without pepperoni on it. The classic combination of tomato sauce, pepperoni, and cheese with an occasional guest appearance by olives or mushrooms is the preference of what I’ll refer to as the “red” sauce camp. In fact, the comment that I got when discussing the topic of this post was “chicken on pizza is for idiots.” Ahem. In the more liberal pizza-topping (“blue” sauce camp, anyone?) category are those of us who in summer like a skim of olive oil, corn, fresh tomatoes, slivers of onion, goat cheese, spicy sausage and whatever herbs you have in pots on your patio, or in winter, strands of salty prosciutto, hedgehog mushrooms, tomato sauce, arugula, and Asiago cheese  blistered and browned from the oven. Unlike the classic formula, which given good ingredients and a couple of reliable tools is almost guaranteed to be successful, experimental versions can sometimes go badly (Pineapple on pizza? Really?) But like the girl in the nursery rhyme, when it’s good, it’s very good.

I humbly submit my personal favorite pizza crust recipe. Top it as you see fit.

Semolina Pizza Crust

1 1/2 cup warm water, divided

1 envelope (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 cups flour (regular unbleached is what I use)

3/4 cup semolina flour, plus a little more to keep it from sticking to the baking sheet.

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

oil for oiling bowl.

1. Pour about half a cup of warm water into the bowl of a stand mixer. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and leave it for about five minutes until it dissolves and swells. Add the rest of the water and olive oil.

2. Add in the flour and salt and stir into water mixture. Use the kneading hook attachment to stir the ingredients until a smooth ball forms and it has pulled away from the sides of the bowl- 5 minutes or so.

3. Place dough into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic or a clean dishtowel, allowing the dough to rise until it is double in size for about 2 hours. (Now would be a good time to get your toppings of choice ready, listen to some music, have a glass of wine, chat etc)

4. Punch the dough down to collapse the air bubbles inside. Divide the dough in half and roll into two balls. (At this point, I usually wrap one piece tightly in plastic and freeze it for later)

5. Heat the oven to 475° and get a large sheet pan out. Sprinkle a thin layer of semolina on the pan and form the dough into a thin rectangle. By grabbing the edges of the dough and gently squeezing, you allow gravity to stretch the dough out. Keep turning the dough around in your hands, squeezing and stretching it into shape. Lay it on the sheet pan and stretch it to fit completely.

6. Top as desired and bake in the scorching hot oven for 12- 15 minutes or until the bottom is golden and spotted with darker brown when the edge is lifted.