Slow Hot Chocolate

Slow Hot Chocolate

With food, as with life, you get out what you put in. Returns are proportional to investment. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that dumping two scoops of powder into a mug of hot milk isn’t an immersive experience. More often than not you end up with a too-sweet, flavorless mugful of swill with a layer of sludge at the bottom. Devotion to this routine has more to do with nostalgia than good taste. Why not try a little harder? Just a bit.

A rich cup of hot chocolate starts with good chocolate. Pick your poison. I prefer dark chocolate in the 60% range for this recipe – something good like Scharffen Berger, Valrhona or TCHO. I keep the additional flavors to a minimum: a touch of vanilla, a dash of cinnamon and a pinch of salt (to help the chocolate “pop”). Another option is just a bit of cayenne to add a little heat. In our house, fresh whipped cream on top is a requirement. Maybe a dusting of grated chocolate if you’re trying to impress someone.

For all the talk of slow hot chocolate, this simple recipe comes together in about 15-20 minutes. Enough time to appreciate the ritual; not so long as to be discouraging. Drink up and slow down.

Yield
This recipe will produce about 26 ounces, enough for 4 reasonable servings. You can also make this ahead and keep it in the refrigerator for 24 hours or so.

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup water
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 6 oz. chocolate rough chopped (see note above)
  • 24 oz. whole milk
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • Fresh whipped cream
  • Chocolate shavings (optional)

Method

  1. In a medium saucepan over low heat, dissolve the sugar in the water.
  2. Add the chocolate, stirring constantly with a whisk to prevent scorching.
  3. Once the chocolate is melted, add the milk and stir regularly, making sure there isn’t any chocolate lingering on the bottom of the pan – mix it in well.
  4. Add the vanilla, cinnamon, and salt and continue stirring over low heat.
  5. Test the temperature with your finger or some more scientific technique, removing it from the heat when it’s a little hotter than your preferred temperature.
  6. Pour in the hot chocolate into you vessel of choice, leaving some room at the top of the glass.
  7. Top off each glass with more whipped cream and perhaps some chocolate shavings, if you’re feeling so bold.
  8. Variation: A pinch of cayenne pepper to give the chocolate some heat.

Buttermilk Biscuits

buttermilkBiscuits

There was a special kind of magic back in the late eighties that made it perfectly acceptable for one of the biggest names in rap music to release a song about his favorite breakfast food in the style of a square dance. And the song was the first track on his debut album. From Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Buttermilk Biscuits (Keep on Square Dancin’)”:

Now, buttermilk biscuits here we go
Sift the flour, roll the dough
Clap your hands and stomp your feet
Move your butt to the funky beat (huh huh)

He manages to work in some rhymes about “a freak named Shelly” and a helpful tip about softening honey. This is the same guy who dropped a rhyme about a Romanian gymnastics coach into a track on his sophomore album. The man is a lyrical genius. But back then, even Rakim (with considerably more street cred than Sir Mix-a-Lot) snuck in a rhyme about “a nice big plate of fish, which is my favorite dish.” It was a simpler time. So, if you’re willing to take a lesson in hip-hop history from a white kid who grew up in Marin County, maybe you’ll entertain a lesson in biscuit making from the same.

Making great buttermilk biscuits is all about technique. What separates a beautiful, light, flaky biscuit from a lump of hard tack is a bit of finesse. This recipe produces great biscuits if you keep a few things in mind. Keep your butter cold. Have a light touch with the dough. And dip your biscuit cutter into some flour between each cut.

We usually have ours for Sunday breakfast, but they’re good anytime of day. Pair them with some honey or jam at the breakfast table, a slice of warm ham for lunch and beside a plate of fried chicken at dinner. If you manage to still have some sitting around by dessert time, slice one in half, cover it in ripe berries with a dollop of whipped cream or crème fraîche on top. Enjoy.

Source
Adapted from Sarabeth’s Bakery by Sarabeth Levine and Rick Rodgers

Yield
This recipe will produce 10-12 biscuits depending on the size of your biscuit cutter, how thick you roll the dough and how well you manage the second and third roll.

Ingredients

  • 3¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, chilled, cut into ½ inch cubes
  • 1½ cups buttermilk
  • more flour for dusting

Method

  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400°F. Line a half-sheet pan with parchment paper or a Silpat.
  2. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together into the bowl of a stand mixer. Attach the bowl to the mixer and fit with the paddle attachment.
  3. Add the chilled butter pieces. Mix on low speed (1 or 2 on a KitchenAid) until the mixture resembles coarse meal with some pea-sized pieces of butter.
  4. Add the buttermilk, mixing on lowest speed just until the dough barely comes together.
  5. Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface and lightly knead it a few times until the dough is smooth-ish. Take it easy on the dough and try to work fast.
  6. Dust your work surface (again) as well as the top of your dough with a bit of flour. Roll out your dough to a thickness of ¾ to 1 inch. Using a 2½ inch (or thereabouts) biscuit cutter, cut our your biscuits, dipping the cutter into flour between each cut. Place the biscuits about 1 inch apart on the lined pan. Gently press the scraps together, roll and cut until the dough is used.
  7. Bake until the biscuits are well risen and golden brown on top, 17-20 minutes. Serve hot or warm.

Dutch Baby

Dutch Baby

The Dutch Baby is a more recent addition to our Sunday morning repertoire, but it has become an instant classic. They have a curious look that is softened by a dusting of powdered sugar and a smell that draws everyone to the table. I never had one until just a few years ago, but Jody remembers them from her time in Germany. The Dutch Baby is a variation on the German pfannkuchen. I’ve heard variously referred to as a pancake, popover, soufflé and/or omelette. Technique-wise, I think it is most similar to a giant popover. In any case, it is damn tasty. The story of the name is well-documented.

This is a great recipe when you’re in a pinch and need a low effort (and low cost) breakfast for the whole family. We prefer ours with a dusting powdered sugar and some maple syrup, though I’m keen to try the more traditional treatment: powdered sugar, lemon and butter.

Source
Cole Dickinson for Williams-Sonoma

Yield
This recipe makes one big Dutch Baby, enough for four servings. This recipe scales really well, up or down. If you have a larger or smaller pan just keep the same ratio in mind: one egg to ¼ cup of flour to ¼ cup milk to ¼ teaspoon of vanilla. The recipe below represents that ratio x 4.

Ingredients

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 Tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
  • Confectioner’s sugar for dusting
Method

  1. Put an 12-inch cast iron skillet or ovenproof sauté pan in a cold oven. Preheat the oven to 475°F.
  2. Put the eggs, flour, milk, vanilla and salt in a blender. Blend on high until frothy, about 30 seconds, stopping the blender to scrape down the sides as needed.
  3. When the oven is preheated, put the butter in the hot skillet. Return it to the oven until the butter melts and browns, 2 to 3 minutes.
  4. Carefully pour the batter into the hot skillet. Bake until the Dutch baby is lightly browned and the sides have risen, 17 to 19 minutes.
  5. Remove the pan from the oven and let the Dutch baby cool for 3 to 4 minutes. Cut the Dutch baby into wedges and dust with confectioners’ sugar. Serve immediately with your choice of toppings. Some ideas: powdered sugar, butter, lemon, maple syrup, whipped cream.

Damn Fine Buttermilk Pancakes

If you’re like me, you grew up eating pancakes from a box of Bisquick or Krusteaz mix. There’s no shame in it. I ain’t mad at ya, Mama. But if you’ve had the real deal, nobody will blame you for straying. I have tried a lot of recipes for scratch buttermilk pancakes, and this one is damn fine. The pancakes are light, fluffy and tasty. We’ve probably made this recipe a hundred times. Autumn knows it by heart. If you have modestly stocked pantry, you can pull this batter together in under five minutes. We keep buttermilk on the shopping list; if not for pancakes, then for biscuits or waffles. (And there are a couple ways to fake it if you don’t have any buttermilk on hand. I’ll post some tips on that another day.)

Source
Bromberg Bros. Blue Ribbon Cookbook: Better Home Cooking by Eric Bromberg, Bruce Bromberg, Melissa Clark

Yield
Makes 12-15 pancakes. This recipe is easy to double or triple. With family over for brunch one time, we crushed 40 pancakes in one sitting.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2½ cups buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
  • 1½ tablespoons unsalted butter, divided, plus more for serving
  • Pure maple syrup
Method

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs and oil. Gradually stir the wet ingredients into the dry. Don’t overmix the batter!
  3. In a large skillet or griddle, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Working in batches, spoon ¼ cup of the pancake batter into the pan. Cook the pancakes until the edges have begun to brown and air bubbles form on the surface, about 3 minutes. Flip the pancakes and cook until golden, about 1 to 2 minutes more. Serve hot, spread with butter and drizzled with maple syrup.

Lemon Cream Scones

lemonCreamScones

The first scone I ever ate came from the first batch I ever baked. It’s true. Up to that point, my appetite for morning treats was limited to the usual suspects: bagels, donuts, muffins, maybe the occasional croissant. Several years ago, when I was first learning to bake, I offered to bring some baked goods to a family brunch. I opened Williams-Sonoma’s Essentials of Baking and looked for the least intimidating recipe I could find. Scones looked like a reasonable challenge…once I discovered where to find currants at the grocery store. That first batch set a new personal standard, and it was made clear to me that henceforth the price of admission to any family brunch was at least one batch of scones.

Since then, I’ve become a bit of a scone snob. I don’t want any part of those sickly-sweet, glazed lumps they sell at certain coffee shops. I want something that is rich and buttery, slightly sweet, and just a bit dry and crumbly.

This is my recipe for a traditional cream scone. They have a tender crumb and not-too-sweet flavor that allows the lemon and butter to come through. I spent a few weeks working through several variations before I arrived at this recipe. While they are traditionally considered a breakfast treat, enjoy these anytime with a cup of coffee or tea.

It is always a good idea to read the recipe top to bottom before getting started.

Yield
8 scones

Ingredients

  • 3 cups (15 oz) all purpose flour
  • ½ cup (4 oz) granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons lemon zest
  • ¾ cup (6 oz) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch bits
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • For Dusting: 2 tablespoons powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
Method

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Move rack to the middle position.
  2. Line a cookie sheet or half-sheet pan with parchment paper or a silicone liner.
  3. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and lemon zest in a large bowl. Stir to combine.
  4. Add the butter to the dry ingredients. Use a pastry blender to cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles large crumbs.
  5. Pour the cream over the mixture and mix with a rubber spatula until combined. Don’t over mix.
  6. Press the mixture into a solid mass and then turn it out on a lightly-floured work surface.
  7. Shape the dough into a square, roughly 7×7 inches. Cut the dough into 8 equal pieces: first cut along the diagonals, then then cut each triangle in half.
  8. Transfer the wedges to the baking sheet and space evenly.
  9. Bake for 15-17 minutes; until golden brown.
  10. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
  11. Dust the cooled scones with powdered sugar (not too much). A fine-mesh sieve works well for this.
  12. Eat. Smile. Repeat.

Some Helpful Tips
If you are not familiar with the process of cutting butter into dry ingredients, be patient and go a little longer than you think is necessary.

Some recipes suggest using two knifes to cut butter into dry ingredients. I have no idea if this works, but it sounds like insanity to me. Spend $10 on pastry blender and never look back.

This is a relatively dry dough, which can make it frustrating to work with at first. To help: 1) make sure the butter is thoroughly cut into the dry ingredients, and 2) press the dough firmly into shape before cutting. If you’re still having trouble, you can increase the cream to 1 1/4 cups, but you’ll have to deal with a stickier dough and softer scone.

As always, use fresh, high-quality ingredients. This really does make a difference in the final product.

Wee Willy’s Probably Authentic Scottish Shortbread

weeWillysProbablyAuthenticScottishShortbread

This fourth-generation recipe originated with my Great Grandmother, Williamina Bain McLeod Black. She emigrated from Glasgow, Scotland with her husband and son around 1911. The family settled in San Francisco, where my grandmother, Helen Black Garden was born. Wee Willy, as she was known by those close to her, stood only five feet tall, but had a personality that could fill the room. Of course she claimed this simple recipe as her own, but those who knew her thought it entirely possible that it came from a random issue of Redbook or Better Homes & Gardens.

My mother, Mary Margaret Garden Pritchard, has always held this recipe close to her heart and baked countless batches of shortbread every Christmas, filling the Pritchard household of my youth with the scent of sweet, buttery goodness. Enjoy this recipe and remember to enjoy a nip of the Glenfiddich while you bake, raising your glass on occasion to the memory of Williamena and Helen.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (cut into 1/2 inch pieces)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
Method

  1. Preheat oven to 325 F.
  2. Sift the flour once, then sift it again with the sugar and salt.
  3. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter, until it starts to form a ball. Use hands to finish mixing.
  4. Press the dough evenly into a 9-inch shortbread pan or tart pan. If using the tart pan, you can add a decorative pattern with a fork and score the dough (maybe 1/8 inch deep) into 12 equal wedges before baking.
  5. Bake at 325 F for about 45 minutes or until golden on top.

Yummy Lovin’ Chocolate Chip Cookies

yummyLovinChocolateChipCookie

My interest in baking began back in the fall of 1992. I was a sophomore at San Marin High School (go Mustangs!), dating a girl from my English class. She was the daughter of a minister. I was nervous.

One afternoon as the holidays neared, I went over to her house for some parent-approved cookie baking—just the kind of thing that a girlfriend’s mother loves. I had baked chocolate chip cookies before, always carefully following the recipe on the back of the chocolate chip package. So I was confused that my girlfriend and her mother were deviating from the time-tested wisdom of Toll House. Nothing dramatic mind you, just a bit more flour and a bit less time in the oven for softer cookies. The results were delicious, I’m sure the word “awesome” was used several times.

I brought some cookies to school the following week. I shared a few with my buddies and classmates. They gobbled them up and asked for more. I started taking orders. I made enough money over the course of two weeks to cover Christmas shopping that year. I’m pretty sure I was the only guy on the football team with a side business as a baker.

The girlfriend only lasted 3 months, but I’ve been in love with the cookies for over 20 years. It has been modified countless times over the years, but still draws from its ancestral roots: the Original Toll House recipe. That being said, I still call it my own.

These cookies are chocolate-heavy and very soft. Use the best ingredients you can find—it makes a real difference in the final product. I hope you enjoy.

Yield
About 2 dozen cookies. This recipe is just begging to be doubled.

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ¼ cups (2.5 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • 2 cups (12 oz. package) semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 4 ounces semi-sweet or bitter-sweet chocolate (shredded on a box grater)
Method

  1. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  2. Mix butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla extract in a large bowl.
  3. Add eggs to butter/sugar mixture one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  4. Gradually beat in flour mixture.
  5. Mix in shredded chocolate.
  6. Stir in chocolate chips. At this point, the dough is very thick. Get in there with your (clean) hands to work in the chips.
  7. Portion the dough with a scoop (I use a 2 ¾ ounce blue scoop). Place the portioned scoops close together on a parchment-lined sheet pan.
  8. Pat the scoops down slightly, cover with plastic wrap and then slip the portioned dough into the refrigerator for at least two hours.
  9. Preheat oven to 375 F. Adjust rack to middle position.
  10. Remove six dough scoops from the refrigerator and place them on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or Silpat.
  11. Bake for 12-15 minutes. They should look a bit undercooked. (cook for less time if you portioned smaller)
  12. Slide parchment paper and cookies directly onto cooling racks. The cookies are very soft and can fall apart quite easily when warm.
  13. Let the cookies cool for minimum 20 minutes before gorging yourself.