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.

“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.

 

 

 

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˚.

Happy Thanksgiving!

When I reflect on this epochal year in my life, it’s too easy to concentrate on the parts of it that have been painful, uncomfortable, overwhelming. And while I know that there is a “time to mourn and a time to dance,” there are so many things that I am thankful for this year; I’m thankful for the grace of enduring friendships, for precious time with my family, a new nephew and brother-in-law. I’m grateful for the stability of employment and healthy babies born to friends, for dear friends beating cancer, for adventure, for a sense of humor, for not going through this year alone, for love.

We’re celebrating the holiday in the South this year at my in-laws. We drove down through nine states and the remnants of a beautiful East Coast Autumn in time for my mom’s birthday, a couple of my youngest sister’s senior year events, had a hilarious evening with friends at our favorite pub in Atlanta. We have eaten a little more BBQ than I care to admit. We’ve been having weather that is warm enough to allow us to sit outside with a fire and play guitar. We’ve had time to connect with friends that usually get squeezed by the holiday rush. It’s been nice.

I’m grateful to have been cooked for a good bit on this trip. In contrast to last Thanksgiving where my brother and I did an Amazing Race-meets-Top Chef Lightening Round style turkey dinner between his kitchen and our hotel at the beach in La Jolla, the only thing I really cooked this Thanksgiving dinner was a rather homely but delicious pecan tart. The recipe comes a little late for all of your Thanksgiving dinners, but it’s also eminently suitable for Christmas dinner, or Thursday night supper for that matter.

Pecan Tart

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into squares

1/4 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/2 cup corn syrup

6 ounces pecans, toasted and broken up into large pieces

1 recipe of Cream Cheese Tart Pastry

With the oven rack in the middle of the oven, par-bake the pie crust at 325 degrees.

Meanwhile, melt butter in a heat-proof bowl over simmering water. Remove from heat. Mix in sugar and salt until all of the butter is absorbed. Beat in eggs, then syrup. Return bowl to hot water; stir until mixture is shiny and hot, about 130 degrees. Remove from heat; stir in pecans.

As soon as the pie crust comes out of the oven, reduce the heat to 275 degrees. Pour pecan mixture into hot pie shell. Bake until the center feels soft-set, like gelatin, when gently pressed, 35-40 minutes. Transfer to cooling rack and let it cool completely.

The tart shell is the same one used for the lemon tart in “Sweetart” except that I omit the pistachios.

Cream Cheese Pastry

Makes 1 9-inch pie or tart crust

1 1/4 cups all- purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened but still cool

2 ounces cream cheese, softened but still cool

Lightly grease your baking tin. Whisk flour, sugar, and salt together.

Beat butter and cream cheese together with your electric mixer at medium-high speed until completely homogenous, about 2 minutes. Add flour, sugar, and salt and mix on medium low until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. Increase mixer speed and beat until dough forms large clumps and pulls away from the bowl.

Form into a disk and press into the pie tin with your fingers, working out from the center and up the sides until the dough is evenly distributed.

Wrap well and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Bake at 325 for 35- 40 minutes for a fully baked crust or 20-25 minutes for a partially baked crust.

“But you ain’t ever had my cornbread….”

I expect I might get a few “she’s an idiot, bless her heart”s for this one. I’m sort of messing around with one of the quintessential elements of a regional cuisine; but I have my reasons.

Although I hail from Atlanta, Georgia, and although my Southern roots spread deep and wide, my childhood did not really establish me with the fundamentals that constitute the canon of “real Southern cooking”. We didn’t eat pork  (so no BBQ) or seafood, we didn’t fry anything, and we weren’t allowed to eat white sugar. I knew more about tofu, bean sprouts, and carob (which in my opinion is the devil’s sorry substitute for chocolate) than I did about catfish or country ham or peach ice cream.  Our biscuits usually had whole wheat in them, and our (freshly ground before our eyes at the health food store) peanut butter sandwiches on whole wheat bread were PB&”M” for molasses instead of “J” for jelly.

This lack of orthodoxy in my education has enabled me to come away without a dogmatic position on what constitutes “real Southern cornbread.”  I do prefer a crispier cornbread, made in a cast iron skillet, to the cakier moister versions I’ve tried. But I don’t like cornbread so gritty that it feels like a mouthful of sand crunching between my teeth. And while I don’t want it sweet, I don’t mind a little sugar in the mix. This sort of precluded most buttermilk-based recipes also, since they are subtly sour.

I tried the ATK Best Recipes version, probably a pretty classic Southern style cornbread that involves pouring boiling water over part of the cornmeal to make a mush before mixing it into the rest of the ingredients.  While it does enhance the corniness of the flavor, it left me wanting more. I’ve always used a little milk in cornbread; I thought about substituting milk for water in which case I could heat the cornmeal in the milk and which honestly, I’m not going to do, one of the chief benefits of a quick bread being its quickness.

There were a few dismal failures, not even worth mentioning in detail, but I did have the foresight to write “not good” in pencil next to the cornbread recipe in one cookbook to save myself the trouble next time.

My next good attempt was with the 1931 edition of The Joy of Cooking’s “Method I.” for cornbread.  The recipe itself has a pleasing symmetry – ¾ cup flour, ¾ cup cornmeal, and ¾ cup milk – that is helpful to the “number remembering deficients” among us (me).

It was still a little on the gritty side for me, so I modified it ever so slightly, using half cornmeal and half corn flour (very fine cornmeal, not cornstarch) to make up ¾ cup. The recipe also stipulates an 8×8 square pan, but I use a buttered and pre-heated cast iron skillet.

So, with minor adjustments, here is The Joy of Cooking‘s

Corn Bread

Method I.

Heat the oven to 425° Grease or butter a cast iron skillet. Five minutes before the batter is ready to bake, place the pan in the oven until it becomes sizzling hot.

Mix:

¾ cup all-purpose flour

2 ½ teaspoons baking powder

4 teaspoons sugar

¾ teaspoon salt

¾ cup cornmeal (made up of half cornmeal and half corn flour)

In a separate bowl, beat together

1 egg

2-3 tablespoons melted butter of bacon fat

¾ cup milk

Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry, mixing minimally. Pour the batter into the hot skillet and bake at 425° for about 25 minutes.

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.

Well, peaches peaches…..

Canning fruit is like giving a present to your future self. I spent a few hours in an orchard last summer and came home with buckets of Suncrest and Faye Elbertas, sun- warm and so ripe they bruise if you look at them wrong, the kind you eat leaning over the sink so that at least some of the juice doesn’t end up running down your neck. What we couldn’t eat fresh, I made into peach butter or sliced and processed in a light syrup in pint jars so that one evening in late March months before any peach that I might be so unfortunate to purchase in a supermarket is even a shadow of what a real peach should taste like, I can pop open a jar and bake a bevy of these buxom peachy muffins.

These are lightly spiced muffins whose charm is due not only to the swirl of yellow peach running through them, but also to the crunchy crust that the coarse-crystalled sugar forms on the top, similar to a streusel topping, but lighter and crisper. Using all purpose flour makes the muffins lighter and more tender, and the white whole wheat is slightly denser but not heavy. Either flour (or a combination of the two) makes a lovely muffin. It’s up to you which you prefer.

Peach Muffins

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

⅛ teaspoon cinnamon

pinch of fresh grated nutmeg

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon ground flax seed meal

½ cup oil

2 eggs, lightly beaten

½ cup brown sugar

½ cups white sugar

⅛ teaspoon lemon extract

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ cups peaches, peeled, pitted, and chopped (fresh or home canned, drained and crushed)

turbinado  or raw sugar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease or line 12-15 muffin cups.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, salt, and flax seed meal. In a separate bowl, mix the oil, eggs, and sugar. Add the flavoring and peaches. Mix well. Stir the liquid mixture into the dry ingredients. Use a spoon or spatula and fold together until just incorporated. Spoon about ¼ cup of the batter into each of the muffin tins. Sprinkle the tops of each muffin with turbinado sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. As soon as you are able to handle them, turn the muffins out onto a wire rack to cool.