Category Archives: breakfast

breakfast for dinner

Maybe my parents were delinquent, but we had pancakes all the time growing up. Sometimes, we even had them for dinner. To Ellis, this was a radical but welcome concept. After two weeks of mediocre reviews (3/4 of a thumbs up; better without the lemon), I decided I needed a sure thing. Dinner tonight received a “gooooood!”

Pancakes

When I moved into my first apartment, I spent a lot of weekends trying to figure out pancakes. They seem so simple, but bad pancakes are really terrible — burnt on the outside, raw on the middle, flavorless, soggy, sodden, spongy. I ate some real losers. The recipe of choice in our house growing up was from the brown, crumbling edition of Fanny Farmer my mother had probably received as a wedding gift. But when I tried it, the pancakes came out flavorless and kind of gooey inside. Gross.

Pancakes on GriddleIf you still haven’t found a reliable pancake recipe to guide you through bleak times (like, a late night at work and a seven-year old coming over for dinner), let me offer this one. It’s from the folks at Cook’s Illustrated, so, of course, it’s slightly fussy (you have to separate an egg, and then say a little spell and add the parts of the egg to the buttermilk and melted butter in a very particular order), but it’s worth it. These come out great every time; crispy on the outside with a light and fluffy interior. And here are two other tips for pancake making. First, use a griddle. You can make almost the whole batch of these at one time on the griddle, the cakes are easier to flip, and it is easier to maintain the heat when you add the batter. Second, fry some bacon first. Bacon fat gives the most deliciously salty, naughty flavor to the crisp edges of the pancake.

Light & Fluffy Pancakes
Adapted from The Best Recipe by the folks at Cook’s Illustrated

1 cup AP flour
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¾ cup buttermilk, at room temperature
¼ cup milk, at room temperature
1 large egg, separated and at room temperature
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
vegetable oil or bacon fat for greasing the griddle

Pancake MiseWhisk dry ingredients together in medium bowl. Combine buttermilk and milk in a 2-cup measuring cup. Whisk egg white into milk mixture. Stir egg yolk into melted butter then pour butter mixture into milk mixture. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and whisk lightly and quickly, just until combined.

Heat a griddle over medium-high heat (or, if you’ve been frying up a bunch of bacon on your griddle over low heat, increase your heat to medium-high). Generously grease the griddle with vegetable oil (or bacon fat – yum!). Ladle batter, about ¼ cup at a time, onto griddle. Do not over-crowd the pancakes.

When the first side is brown and little air bubbles have begun to form on the surface (2 –3 minutes), flip pancakes and cook second side (1 –2 minutes longer). Serve immediately with butter, maple syrup or jam.

Serves 2 – 3 pancake lovers.

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the most important meal of the day

Sometimes, the Universe is cruel. I am not a morning person, but one of my favorite things to eat is morning pastry — and I’m not talking about biscuits, scones or quick breads. Morning pastry involves yeast, butter and waking before dawn to ensure fresh, buttery love on your breakfast table. You see my struggle: the pre-dawn part.

Danish Braid

Accepting this as my cross to bear, I am always on the look-out for pastry recipes that can be adapted to my lazy schedule. Enter the Danish Braid. This recipe comes from one of my favorite cookbooks, Baking With Julia, and in addition to being delicious, almost all of the recipe can be assembled well in advance.

At first glance, you may think, “This is an excessive amount of work. Why not just drive over to Clear Flour Bakery, buy myself a morning bun and a cup of fair trade coffee and call it a day?” Here’s why:

  • This Danish is among the best things I have ever eaten;
  • You won’t have to take out a second mortgage to feed your butter/yeast habit (I love CFB, but, dude, I cannot walk out of there for less than $20);
  • Maybe you want to be able to eat warm, delicious pastry without leaving the comfort of your own home.

Apricot Filling
1 cup (packed) dried, unsulphured apricots
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon almond extract

Stir apricots, water and sugar together in a large, microwave-safe bowl (or 1 quart Pyrex measuring cup). Put the bowl in the microwave and cook on full power for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. The apricots will be puffed and will have absorbed most of the liquid.

Pour the mixture into a food processor and pureé until smooth. Transfer apricot mixture to a bowl and stir in lemon juice and almond extract. Cool filling to room temperature and then chill. Filling will keep up to two weeks, refrigerated.

Confectioner’s Cream
1 cup half-and-half or heavy cream
1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Whisk together cream, cornstarch and sugar in a large, microwave-safe bowl (or 1 quart Pyrex measuring cup). Put the bowl in the microwave and cook on full power for 1 minute. Stir the mixture and cook 2 –3 minutes more, a minute at a time, until the mixture comes to a boil and has thickened slightly.

In a separate bowl, whisk together egg yolk and vanilla extract.

Slowly whisk a little of the hot cream mixture into the yolk. Pour remaining yolk mixture into cream mixture, whisk well, and return to microwave to cook for 30 seconds more. The cream, once cooked, will be the consistency of lemon curd. Put mixture in a small bowl, and cover the surface of the cream with plastic wrap (to prevent a skin from forming). Cool to room temperature and then chill. Cream will keep up to 3 days in the refrigerator.

Danish Dough
½ cup warm (105º — 115º) water
2 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
½ cup milk at room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 ½ cups AP flour
2 sticks cold, unsalted butter, cut into quarter inch slices*

Pour the water into a large bowl, sprinkle with yeast and let soften for a few minutes. Add the milk, egg, sugar and salt and whisk to mix.
Put the flour in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Drop butter on top of flour and pulse, 8 –10 times until the butter is cut into pieces about ½” thick. Empty this mixture into the bowl with the yeast mixture and, using a rubber spatula, gently fold the ingredients together until the dry ingredients are just moistened. The mixture will look sloppy and there will be large, discrete chunks of butter. Fear not, that’s what makes Danish delicious!

A Lot of ButterMixing the DoughDanish Dough, Before the First RiseRisen Dough

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough overnight (or for up to 4 days if more convenient).

Lighlty flour a work surface, turn the dough out onto the surface and lightly flour the dough. With clean, floured hands, lightly pat the dough into a square. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 16” square. Fold the dough in thirds, up from the bottom and down from the top. Turn the dough so that the closed fold is on your left, like the spine of a book.

Roll the dough again, this time into a rectangle, about 10” x 24”. With the short end of the dough facing you, fold the dough in thirds again. Using a sharp knife or a bench scraper, cut the folded dough in half so you have two equal portions. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and chill, at least 30 minutes or up to 4 days. You will only need one piece of the dough for the Danish Braid, so you can freeze the other piece for up to 1 month.

The Braid
1 egg white, beaten
¼ cup sliced, blanched almonds, toasted lightly
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
2 – 3 tablespoons milk or coffee

Cut a large sheet of parchment paper, about 12” x 18”; set aside. On a lightly floured surface, roll one piece of the chilled dough out to a rectangle, about 10” wide and 16” long. Carefully lift this rectangle of dough onto the piece of parchment. Spread about half of the apricot filling down the length of the middle third of the dough. Top the apricot filling with about half of the Confectioner’s Cream, allowing some of the apricot filling to peek out around the edges.

Spreading the FillingFilled DoughBraiding the DoughRising Danish

Using a sharp knife, cut 14 or so slanting lines down each side of the filling, angling the cuts from the center of the pastry to the edge. The strips should be about ¾” wide. Fold the strips of pastry into the center, criss-crossing the filling by alternating one strip from the left and then one from the right. Lightly press the ends of the strips together.

Slide the pastry, parchment and all, onto a large baking sheet. Brush the Danish with the beaten egg white and sprinkle the toasted almonds. Cover the pastry with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rise at room temperature for 30 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 400º.

Bake the Danish in the center of the oven for about 20 minutes, until golden. Transfer the pastry to a cooling rack while you make the glaze. Whisk together the confectioner’s sugar and milk (or coffee) until you have a smooth glaze. Drizzle the glaze over the warm Danish, allow to set for 5 minutes and serve.

Slice of the Braid
* Listen, I know that’s a lot of butter, but how much fat do you think was in that Dunkie’s mediocre muffin you grabbed on your way to work the other morning? All I’m saying is, if you’re going to consume the calories, they might as well be blissful.

biscuit wanderlust

Last weekend, I made a fried chicken dinner (more about that later) for two friends with October birthdays. And, because they are a natural pair, I made a batch of biscuits to go alongside. Because I am incapable of letting things be, I reached out for a new recipe and made the biscuits from the November/December 2007 Cooks Illustrated – drop biscuits containing a stick of melted butter, 1 cup of buttermilk and a bit each of salt and sugar. Sounds like it should be great, right? The biscuits were fine; we all happily ate them. But I ultimately decided that they weren’t as good as my usual biscuit recipe, a biscuit I have eaten since I was a child and a biscuit I have cheated on, shamelessly and promiscuously, for the last ten years.

Biscuits

I inherited my usual biscuit recipe from my mom; it’s written in her hand on lined paper, and I have no idea where it comes from originally. Everything about it suggests that it should be easily beat: it contains only flour, baking powder, salt, shortening and plain milk. Still, somehow, it is flakier, more tender and more delicious than any of the butter and buttermilk varietals that have lured me away, fleetingly, on many occasions.

Perhaps when it comes to comfort foods, objectivity flies out the window. Could it be that the biscuit you grow up with will always be your favorite just because? Good thing recipes don’t hold grudges.

Biscuits
1 ¾ cups AP flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoons salt
1/3 cup shortening
¾ cup milk

Preheat oven to 450°. In a bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Using a fork or two knives, cut shortening into flour mixture. With a fork, stir in milk until a dough begins to form. Dump mixture out on a floured surface and knead lightly 3-4 times. Roll mixture out to about ¾” thick. Using a 2” cutter or a juice glass, cut biscuits out and place on an un-greased cookie sheet. Bake about 12 minutes or until golden brown.