Make-Ahead Buttermilk Biscuits

Make Ahead Buttermilk Biscuits

Some nights you just need a magic wand and some kind of Potteresque spell, like “Accio Pizza.” Time is short, little ones are needy, and by 5:00 you’ve already had a long day. Mondays are those nights for us. I get home from work around 4:30. #1 has her toddler gymnastics classes (ADORABLE!!) at 5:45. That leaves, let’s see, approximately 45 minutes for me to prepare and serve dinner before we have to hit the road.

Alas, I don’t have a wand. (But for real, how great would it be to use “Petrificus Totalus” when you’ve got to put tights on a squirming two-year-old? Or the Impervius Charm to keep tomato sauce off her shirt on spaghetti nights?) I do have a modern form of magic, though: refrigeration. Things that can go straight from the freezer to the oven seem downright miraculous when you’ve got eighty things to do before you head out the door.

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And thus I present to you make-ahead buttermilk biscuits. I usually make a double batch (or a 1 1/2 batch) of these when I have extra buttermilk left over from some other baking extravaganza. We can eat some immediately, and then I freeze the unbaked leftovers for those hectic Monday nights, lazy Sunday mornings, or any other time I just need a biscuit. These are soft, fluffy, and buttery–perfect for eating with gravy, making breakfast-for-dinner sandwiches, or giving a hungry kid a quick energy burst for gymnastics.Photo Apr 01, 11 33 49 AMNot that this particular kid needs much of an energy burst. But she will sit still to eat biscuits. That’s its own special kind of magic.

Time Commitment: 30-40 minutes, but only 15 minutes when you’ve got some of these stored in your freezer.

Mess: I kind of hate scraping up dough from my countertops. But for biscuits, it’s a labor of love.

Special Equipment: I use a food processor for this, but you could go old school and use a pastry blender.

Make-Ahead Buttermilk Biscuits Make Ahead Buttermilk Biscuits

Adapted from Chef John’s Buttermilk Biscuits

Makes 8 large or 12 small biscuits

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into thin slices and chilled until firm in freezer
  • 3/4 – 1 cup cold buttermilk
  • Melted butter or buttermilk for brushing (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Place flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of your food processor and pulse a few times to combine.
  3. Add butter to food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles course crumbs.
  4. Transfer flour/butter mixture to a large bowl. Make a well in the center. Pour in 3/4 cup buttermilk. Stir until just combined.
  5. If your mixture isn’t holding together into a soft dough, add in another 1/4 cup or so of the buttermilk.
  6. Turn dough out onto a well-floured counter top and pat to about 3/4-inch thick.
  7. Cut your biscuits. Gently re-combine and re-pat your dough until you’ve used it all.
  8. Transfer biscuits to your baking sheet. Brush with melted butter or buttermilk (optional), and bake for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown.
  9. Make-ahead option: Instead of lining your baking sheet with parchment paper, line it with wax paper. Use this baking sheet to freeze unbaked biscuits for a couple hours, until fully frozen. Then place biscuits in a freezer-safe baggie and store them for up to a couple of months. No need to thaw before baking; you’ll just have to add an additional 2 or 3 minutes to the bake time.

Best Whole Wheat Bread

the best whole wheat bread

Rating: 5/5 stars. This surprisingly un-fussy whole wheat bread, sweetened with honey and molasses, makes a great addition to any meal.

I’d love to say that I’m a great bread baker. I love bread, first of all. And second, there’s really no comparison between home-baked and store-bought bread. Home-baked bread takes the cake (the loaf?) every time. In fact, I do make bread fairly regularly. But it’s always just one recipe: this one. I’ve been making this very same whole wheat bread since Rob and I got married, way back when we lived in Southern California–(gulp!) almost five years ago.

I know I need to expand my bread repertoire (beyond that one attempt at French bread several years ago, which ended up with a consistency remarkably like that of a concrete block). But this bread is just that good. I’ve been making it for so long, I don’t even remember where the original recipe came from, although I do know I’ve made plenty of modifications over the years. And in those five years, I’ve had the same printed-out, scribbled-on paper with the directions. That paper, in the intervening time, has gotten creased, oil stained, sun bleached, and water damaged. I’ve been meaning to type up (and save!) a clean copy for a year or so. And then I figured, while I’m at it, why not share the very best whole wheat bread recipe with you? my ancient whole wheat bread recipe

This bread is incredibly versatile. Serve it with nut butter at breakfast or with avocado, tomato, and cheese at lunch. Serve it with soup (maybe this one or this one) for dinner. Or just toast a slice for a snack. I love it with butter and jam. And good luck resisting it warm from the oven…

Time Commitment: From start to finish, you can make this loaf in under 2 1/2 hours: 15 minutes for preparing the dough, 45 minutes for the first rise, 5 minutes to shape the dough, 30 minutes for the second rise, and 35 minutes to bake.

Mess: This is a one-bowl recipe, but you do have to flour your counter-tops to shape the dough. That’s always a pain to clean up, so I sometimes lay down a couple pieces of wax paper for this step.

Special Equipment: I’ve always made this with a stand mixer. While it makes the process somewhat easier on the arms, you certainly don’t need one.

Mom Fails: As I may have mentioned, I’ve been making this recipe forever, so I know its failure points pretty well. First, make sure you thoroughly mix the ingredients as you add flour. Otherwise you may end up with small pockets that taste like pure salt. Yuck. Despite that precaution, you want to mix and knead this bread as little as possible; that keeps it from getting too tough. And finally, you definitely need good yeast–yeast that’s still alive and ready to do its yeasty duty. If your yeast has been around the block a few times and you’re not sure if it’s still active, try proofing it.

Best Whole Wheat BreadPhoto Feb 12, 11 48 42 AM

Makes two 9×5 loaves

Ingredients

  • 2 3/4 cups hot water (as hot as comes out of your tap is fine)
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 6 – 7 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (I always use King Arthur.)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (optional)
  • 1 heaping tablespoon wheat gluten
  • 2 tablespoons active dry yeast (If you use rapid-rise yeast, you may want to reduce rise times by 10 minutes or so.)
  • Melted butter (optional, to brush loaves)

Directions

  1. Place the first five ingredients (water, oil, honey, molasses, and salt) in the bowl of your stand mixer with paddle attachment and mix thoroughly.
  2. Add 2 cups flour (to cool dough slightly) and mix; then add yeast and mix again.
  3. Add gluten and 4 cups flour. You can use all 4 cups whole wheat, or substitute one cup of all-purpose flour to make your bread a bit less dense. Mix.
  4. Change from the paddle attachment to the dough hook on your stand mixer. Continue adding flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and forms a tacky ball around the dough hook. For me, this usually happens at 6 1/2 total cups of flour; sometimes in humid weather it takes closer to 7 cups. At that point, you can stop kneading.
  5. Spray some cooking spray on your dough ball and flip it over in your bowl so that the oiled side faces down. Cover the bowl and let your dough rise until just about doubled, 30-45 minutes.
  6. Now you shape the dough. Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Knead a couple of times, then roll into a ball. Divide the ball in two. Roll each half of dough into a log roughly the size of the pan. Seal any gaps by pinching the edges together. Place each log into a greased loaf pan.
  7. Place pans into a warm (not hot!) oven and let the dough rise for another 20-30 minutes, or until the bread has risen to the size of a normal loaf.
  8. Turn on the oven to 350 degrees and let bread bake for 35-40 minutes, or until slightly browned on top.
  9. Five minutes before baking is done, you can pull the loaves out and brush their tops with melted butter.
  10. Cool loaves for five minutes in pans; then run a knife around the edges and turn out onto wire racks to cool completely. Once cool, wrap well with aluminum foil and store at room temperature.

Raspberry Jam Coffee Cake

Rapsberry Jam Coffee Cake

Rating: 4/5 stars. This quick recipe for raspberry jam coffee cake has a tender cake base topped off with crispy cinnamon streusel

I had a moment of panic last night. I had prepared dinner (tortellini minestrone, but that’s a recipe for another day), put the kids to bed, and was just about to settle in to watch an episode of Downton Abbey with Rob when I remembered that I had signed up to bring snacks to our English department meeting the next morning. That realization sent me on a frantic hunt for a brunch recipe that was both quick and delicious–and one for which I had all the ingredients on hand. There was zero chance I was going to brave the cold to get groceries at 8pm.

After spending some time down the rabbit hole of internet food-dom, I still couldn’t find exactly what I wanted. So I decided to cobble together a couple of coffee cake recipes to fit what I had on hand. The result is this raspberry jam coffee cake: moist sour cream cake, swirls of sweet jam, and a crispy cinnamon topping. The marriage of the three components is delightful, just right to perk up droopy English teachers on their first week back from the holidays.

Raspberry Jam Coffee Cake

Time Commitment: About one hour, not including the time needed to cool and slice the cake.

Mess: Given the different components to the cake, this one is a bit on the messy side. I used three bowls plus the baking pan. And of course, the powdered sugar finish made a giant mess everywhere. Just in time for this mysterious mid-winter ant invasion we’re having–perfect.

Mom Fails: I was making this up as I went along, so I half expected that I’d have to make an emergency donut run before the department meeting. Miraculously, everything came together.

Raspberry Jam Coffee CakeRaspberry Jam Coffee Cake

(Source: adapted, loosely, from this recipe and this one)

Makes 16 squares

Ingredients

Cake

  • 1/4 c butter, unsalted, softened
  • 1/2 c granulated sugar
  • 1/2 c sour cream
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 c all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 c raspberry jam

Topping

  • 6 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1/4 c brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 c granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 c flour

To Finish

  • powdered sugar, optional

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375. Generously grease a 9-inch square or round cake pan.
  2. To make cake, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Then add sour cream, egg, and vanilla and mix just until incorporated. The batter will be slightly lumpy–don’t worry, and don’t overmix!
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Then dump flour mixture into sour cream mixture. Stir until a thick batter forms.
  4. Pour cake batter into prepared pan. Spoon jam onto the batter and smooth/swirl with a spoon.
  5. To make topping, stir together melted butter, sugars, salt, and cinnamon until fully incorporated. Then slowly stir in flour until lumps of streusel form. Sprinkle streusel onto the top of the cake.
  6. Bake at 375 for 30-35 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.
  7. Cool in pan on a rack. After cooling, you can sift a bit of powdered sugar on top of the cake for an elegant touch. Then slice and serve.

 

Tomato Herb Frittata Bites

Tomato Herb Frittata Bites

 

Last year at this time I was mired in the first trimester of my pregnancy with #2.

With #1, I spent the first three months dizzy, nauseated and unable to eat anything more than toast or the blandest cold cereals. With #2, I thankfully didn’t suffer the same gastrointestinal distresses. But I was exhausted. All. The. Time. Getting dressed to teach my classes was enough to send me back to bed. Bathing #1 made me long for my own hot bath. And working on my dissertation (which I was frantically trying to finish before #2’s appearance)? Without fortifying myself with a hearty dose of caffeine, I couldn’t write a paragraph.

Needless to say, I wasn’t really in the holiday spirit last Christmas. So when my mother asked me what we should do for Christmas dinner, I responded with, “Something easy. Maybe tacos. Or take-out. Someplace has to be open on Christmas.”

Our actual solution was festive, delicious, and less stressful than making a full dinner: Christmas brunch. We had scrambled eggs, orange juice, veggie sausage, and Dad’s Famous Peanut Butter Toast (which is a Major Thing, Worthy of Capitalization in our family). No part of the meal took more than ten minutes to prepare. No one stressed through the Christmas morning rituals because there was still stuffing to assemble or pie to bake.

So this year, even though I’m not miserably pregnant, we decided to keep the Christmas brunch tradition going. We still had veggie sausage and Dad’s Famous Peanut Butter Toast, but this time Mom went out on a limb and made Emeril’s breakfast potato hash, while I decided to make some mini frittatas I’d seen a friend post on Facebook.

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Tomato Herb Frittata Bite at Christmas brunch

Recipe Details

(Source: http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/tomato-herb-mini-frittatas)

Time Commitment: This will take you no longer than 45 minutes, and perhaps as few as 30 if you can wash and chop herbs faster than I can. This is the benefit of mini frittatas rather than one big frittata.

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Mess: The worst part is cleaning out the muffin tins. (Am I the only one who finds that process so annoying?) I recommend placing a baking sheet under the frittatas as they bake to catch any potential overflow.

Mom Fails: I do it every time I bake with muffin tins–grease more tins than I have ingredients to fill. Today was no exception. Rather than just clean out the PAM, I just made a couple of very skinny frittatas to fill all the cups.

IMG_5003Modifications: 

I made the following modifications from the original recipe. The recipe below reflects these modifications.

  • Muffin tin: The original recipe instructs you to bake each frittata in its own little ramekin. But I’m sorry; I’m a real human being with limited cabinet space, not a Southern Living bot in a brick home with columns and a chef’s kitchen. So I used muffin tins. Slightly less elegant, but no less delicious.
  • Basil: The original recipe called for fresh parsley. But I know a recipe that just screams for fresh basil when I see it–namely, any recipe with tomatoes and cheese. I’m sure parsley in this dish would be just fine, but basil is a better call.

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