Monday, February 28, 2011

Hands On - a bakery in your kitchen?

Do you like to eat muffins, scones, corn bread, pancakes, dumplings, tea breads (like banana bread) or biscuits? 

It is really easy to make quick breads at home.  It helps to have a system for organizing basic ingredients and equipment.  Once you are set up and get some practice and experience,  you can whip up pancakes or biscuits in minutes.  Baking at home is a great way to save money and ensure that you are eating food that is much fresher and healthier and tastes better than anything you can buy at a store or even a bakery.  (Note -- We can talk about yeast bread another day.  You can also easily make yeast breads at home and improve the quality of your meals exponentially.)

Here is a picture of the baking corner I have in my kitchen.  My kitchen has three corners.  I designed each corner to have a complete round lazy susan in the base cabinet.  Thus in the back of each corner I have a raised area where I can put frequently used items and not sacrifice working counter space.  You can't see the Kitchen Aid mixer just to the right of the vintage canisters.  That is one of my secret weapons.

If you want to bake quick breads the easy way, find a place in your kitchen where the following items are within easy reach:
flour (I like to keep whole wheat pastry flour and all purpose white flour on hand for quick breads), corn meal, white sugar, brown sugar, non stick spray for baking pans, kosher salt, baking powder, baking soda, cornstarch.  Depending on the kinds of recipes you use often, you might also want rolled oats, wheat bran or whole wheat flour.  I keep small containers of sugar and cinnamon sugar when I need a quick shake of either.  Also vanilla. Cocoa would also be a good item to keep handy.

Here are other staples you might keep on hand:
In the pantry or cupboard:  honey, molasses, various dried fruits or nuts, special grain products like rye, barley or oat flour.  (Depending on how often you use nuts, you might want to store those in the freezer.)  Most cooking oils can be stored at room temperature.  I have been using a nice Minnesota cold pressed virgin sunflower oil lately - I keep it refrigerated because it is not highly refined.

In the refrigerator:  Buttermilk or plain yogurt, butter, eggs, real maple syrup, milk.  Maybe lard if you like it for pie crust.  I am practically never without buttermilk.  It keeps quite well and is crucial for many quick breads.  It also can be used in salad dressings and soups.  I use it as a starter for creme fraiche, too.

Basic equipment:
a few mixing bowls of different sizes (I really like my nesting stainless bowls - lightweight, unbreakable and easy to clean.), measuring cups and spoons, mixing spoons and a whisk, a few silicone scrapers, a pastry brush.  A spatula for lifting and flipping pancakes.  A rolling pin is nice for biscuits.  Or you can just pat the dough, too.

You also will need an area to work - I would say three feet of counter space at a minimum.

Here are a few common quick bread recipes to get you started.  You do not need Bisquick.  You do not need any mix.  Just use real food.

Buttermilk pancakes - makes 18 medium pancakes
1 cup flour (I use about 1/3 each: whole wheat pastry flour, all purpose flour and cornmeal.)
1 T. sugar
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. baking soda
1 egg, beaten
1 cup (maybe a little more if batter seems too thick) buttermilk or plain yogurt thinned with a little milk or water)
3 T. melted butter or cooking oil or a combination

Mix together dry ingredients.  Mix wet ingredients in a separate bowl.  Combine - mix just until blended.  Don't overbeat.  Cook on a griddle.

Cornbread- one 8 x 8 pan or twelve muffins
I like this recipe because it is moist and not crumbly. Make sure you use good quality fresh stoneground cornmeal. 
Dry ingredients:
2 cups cornmeal
1/2 cup wheat germ, ground flax seed or whole wheat pastry flour
1 t. salt
1/2 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
1 T. brown sugar
Wet ingredients:
2 eggs, beaten
2 T. oil or melted butter or lard
2 cups buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425 degrees and grease an 8 x 8 baking pan.  (You can also use a 10 inch cast iron frying pan.) Mix dry ingredients in a medium bowl.  Mix wet ingredients in a larger bowl.  Whisk dry ingredients into the wet.   Pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake 20-25 minutes, until firm in the middle and lightly browned on top.
(Note  - you can also make corn muffins - just use a greased muffin tin and bake 10-12 minutes.)

Cream biscuits - makes one dozen small biscuits
This recipe is super quick and easy because you do not need to cut butter or lard into the flour.  Just use a light touch and don't overmix.
2  cups all purpose flour
1 t. salt
1 T. (same as 3 t.) baking powder
2 t. sugar
1 to 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup melted butter
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl and blend with a fork.  Slowly add 1 cup cream, while stirring.  The dough should start holding together.  If it doesn't and there is still a lot of dry flour, add a bit more cream until double holds together.  You don't want dough too wet or sticky - just enough cream so dough is not falling apart.  Knead dough on a lightly floured surface briefly - no more than a minute - until dough is smooth.  Pat into a square and cut into 12 pieces.  Dip each piece into melted butter and place 2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet.

This is the famous Cafe Latte buttermilk scone recipe.  I clipped it out of the Star Tribune about 20 years ago - when people still clipped recipes.  You can add your favorite fruits or nuts or even chopped crystallized ginger.   Add just currants for a scone classic.  This recipe makes 18 good sized scones and they freeze well.  And they cost a lot less than $1.89 each or whatever scones are selling for these days.  You will need a large mixing bowl.

4 cups all purpose flour (you could use half whole wheat pastry flour)
2 T. sugar
4 1/2 teaspooons baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
2/3 cup cold butter, cut into bits
About  1 1/2 cup buttermilk
one egg beaten with a tablespoon or two of milk for glaze - called an egg wash

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Mix together dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Cut the butter into the dry ingredients using a pastry cutter, two knives or even your fingertips.  You want little pea sized clumps.  Work fast and don't overmix.
Add buttermilk and mix.  If dough seems too dry add a little bit more buttermilk.  Scoop dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times until it is smooth.  This is the stage where you can add some chopped dried fruit or nuts or even chocolate chips or fresh herbs if you want.
Divide dough into three pieces and pat each into a round.  Cut each round into six wedges.  Brush each scone with a little of the egg wash and then place on an ungreased baking sheet (if you have parchment paper you can line the sheet with that.) The egg wash is optional but I think it makes the scones look much nicer.  You can even sprinkle a little raw sugar on top to gild the lily.
Bake 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned.

Zucchini or carrot bread
See this past post for this recipe.


  1. thanks, peggy! this is practical AND inspiring!

  2. Quick breads are a particular weakness of I'm really hungry :)