Friday, January 27, 2012

JANUARY, 2012 CHALLENGE: Back to Basics:Scones (a.k.a. Biscuits)

Audax Artifex was our January 2012 Daring Bakers’ host. Aud worked tirelessly to master light and fluffy scones (a/k/a biscuits) to help us create delicious and perfect batches in our own kitchens!

The basic scone.
Quite innocent looking, really. Just some flour, rising agent, butter and milk.
It should be easy, shouldn't it?
But to many it isn't. That's probably why scones are also known as "rock cakes". To many creating the perfect scone can seem elusively beyond their reach. Which is where Audax comes in and our latest Daring Bakers challenge, the first for 2012.
What a great way to start off the year. Scones are made from basic ingredients and the recipe supplied was small so that meant it was cheap and could be made many times over in the aim to achieve the perfect scone!

Scones were one of the first recipes taught to me in my Home Economics class. The "rubbing-in" technique was being learnt. That is, the rubbing in of butter into the flour. Apparently, according to my teacher, the process is to coat each flour grain is with butter. As you rub the butter in you should lift the butter and flour out of the bowl to aerate the mixture and only use fingertips which are the coolest part of the hand . I still remember my teacher examining our hands to check that our palms remained free of flour or butter lest our hot palms melt the butter.

This month Audax became our Home Economics teacher. And very experience he was too, having tested the recipe 16 times! Audax has a different method to keep everything cool - use frozen, grated butter! This certainly does help but you still need to only use you fingertips to do the rubbing in. Thanks Audax for hosting this months challenge.
 Scones are always so appreciated in our home! 

Basic Scones (a.k.a. Basic Biscuits)
Servings: about eight 2-inch (5 cm) scones or five 3-inch (7½ cm) scones
Recipe can be doubled (I doubled this recipe)
1 cup (240 ml) (140 gm/5 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (10 gm) (⅓ oz) fresh baking powder
¼ teaspoon (1¼ ml) (1½ gm) salt
2 tablespoons (30 gm/1 oz) frozen grated butter (or a combination of lard and butter)
approximately ½ cup (120 ml) cold milk
optional 1 tablespoon milk, for glazing the tops of the scones

Directions:1. Preheat oven to very hot 475°F/240°C/gas mark 9.
2. Triple sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl. (If your room temperature is very hot refrigerate the sifted ingredients until cold.)
3. Rub the frozen grated butter (or combination of fats) into the dry ingredients until it resembles very coarse bread crumbs with some pea-sized pieces if you want flaky scones or until it resembles coarse beach sand if you want tender scones.
4. Add nearly all of the liquid at once into the rubbed-in flour/fat mixture and mix until it just forms a sticky dough (add the remaining liquid if needed). The wetter the dough the lighter the scones (biscuits) will be!

5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board, lightly flour the top of the dough. To achieve an even homogeneous crumb to your scones knead very gently about 4 or 5 times (do not press too firmly) the dough until it is smooth. To achieve a layered effect in your scones knead very gently once (do not press too firmly) then fold and turn the kneaded dough about 3 or 4 times until the dough has formed a smooth texture. (Use a floured plastic scraper to help you knead and/or fold and turn the dough if you wish.)
6. Pat or roll out the dough into a 6 inch by 4 inch rectangle by about ¾ inch thick (15¼ cm by 10 cm by 2 cm thick). Using a well-floured 2-inch (5 cm) scone cutter (biscuit cutter), stamp out without twisting six 2-inch (5 cm) rounds, gently reform the scraps into another ¾ inch (2 cm) layer and cut two more scones (these two scones will not raise as well as the others since the extra handling will slightly toughen the dough). Or use a well-floured sharp knife to form squares or wedges as you desire.
7. Place the rounds just touching on a baking dish if you wish to have soft-sided scones or place the rounds spaced widely apart on the baking dish if you wish to have crisp-sided scones. Glaze the tops with milk if you want a golden colour on your scones or lightly flour if you want a more traditional look to your scones.
8. Bake in the preheated very hot oven for about 10 minutes (check at 8 minutes since home ovens at these high temperatures are very unreliable) until the scones are well risen and are lightly coloured on the tops. The scones are ready when the sides are set.
9. Immediately place onto cooling rack to stop the cooking process, serve while still warm.
The scones should be well risen with golden brown tops.
I think this is called a "tender crumb". I just call it fluffy and delicious!

I made a variation of Cheese and Parsley by following the Basic recipe above but adding ¼ teaspoon of baking soda, after Step 2, 50 gm grated cheese, 25gm parmesan cheese and 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley into the sifted ingredients, in Step 3 aim of beach sand sized pieces of fat coated in flour, in Step 5 knead the dough, form into a round and cut into wedges, spread apart slight on the baking tray, sprinkle the wedges with cracked pepper.

Cheese and Parsley Scones welcomed my hungry, teenage children home from school

On Australia Day (26th January) I converted the scone recipe to make a damper by substituting half the milk for water and only adding enough liquid to make a firm dough.
Edited 29-01-2012: Damper is a traditional Australian quick bread originally made by stockmen moving cattle who were away from home for weeks at a time with only basic provisions on hand - flour, sugar, tea and whatever meat was available. Mix quickly and bake on the campfire it accompanied the meat or was spread with golden syrup, if it was to hand. Nowdays, leavening is used along with milk and butter.   

The damper had a different crumb to that of the scone - much tighter but tender and delicious!

My son enjoy his damper with Vegemite.

Instead the rest of us enjoyed the sweet stickiness of golden syrup.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Steamed Pork Buns

Chinese New Year.

This year Chinese New Year falls on 23rd January.

Now, as most of you would know, you will mainly see sweet recipes on this blog with lots of Italian recipes thrown in. But I also like to dabble with recipes from other cultures. Steamed pork buns are one of my family's favourites. This adapted recipe come courtesy of the Australian food magazine Super Food Ideas. Whether it is a traditional recipe I'm not sure but what I do know is that it tastes really good!

The recipe calls for Chinese Barbecue Pork which occasionally I will make myself because it is not readily available where I live. However I have found simply slicing up the same quantity of pork tenderloin fillet, frying it off then adding the remaining ingredients is quite a good substitute.

Edited 21-01-2012: After reading Claudia's comment I realised I should link to a Chinese BBQ Pork recipe. I use this AWW recipe but there are lots of variations.
Cook and mix up the filling ingredients ahead of time so it has a chance to cool.

Prepare the dough according to the recipe, roll out and fill. See, easy!

Let the filled pork balls rest and rise.

Then steam and serve.
You can see how fluffy the crumb of the dough is, can't you!

I'm told the feast for Chinese New Year is held on the eve. For various reasons, I will be preparing Steamed Pork Buns on Monday.

 Join me and let me know what you think!

Steamed Pork Buns

Makes 16

1 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
2 tablespoons castor sugar
1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup self-raising flour
3 teaspoons butter, melted

2 tablespoons oil
2 teaspoons grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon horsing sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 teaspoon cornflour mixed with 1 tablespoon water
250g Chinese Barbecue pork, finely slice (or fresh pork fillet as mentioned above)\
6 green onions, finely chopped

Combine yeast with 2 tablespoons water in a small bowl. Blend in 1 teaspoon each of sugar and flours. Cover. Stand in a warm place until frothy (about 15 minutes).
Sift remaining flour into a large bowl. Add remaining sugar, yeast mixture, water and butter. Mix to form a soft dough/ Turn onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 3 minutes or until smooth and elastic.
Put dough in a large oiled bowl. Stand covered, for 1 hour or until doubled.

Prepare Filling:
Heat oil in a wok or pan. Stir fry ginger and garlic until aromatic. (At this point you can add and stir fry the fresh pork fillet, if using) Add sauces and oil. Cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Blend cornflour mixture. Bring to the boil, stirring until sauce thickens. remove from heat add in Barbecue pork (if using) and green onions.

Punch dough down. Knead on a floured surface until smooth. Divide into 16 equal pieces. Roll out each to make a 6 sm circle. Cover with a damp tea-towel. Working with one round at a time, place 2 teaspoons of mixture into the centre. Gather edges together. Pace each bun seam-side-down on a small square of baking paper. Cover with a tea-towel. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

Half fill a work or saucepan with water (steamer should not touch the water). Bring to boil. Working in batches, arrange buns with paper in steamer basket. Cover with lid.Place over water. Steam for about 15 minutes, adding more boiling water as required.
Remover buns from steamer. If desired, snip top with scissors to resemble a star.
 Serve warm.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Pasta Estiva! My "go to" summer pasta dish.

Happy New Year!

This is my first post for 2012! There is much hope that 2012 will bring good times for our area which was hit by a cyclone and four floods in early 2011 and the repercussions were felt throughout the year. So far, the weather has been kind. Bright sunshine, occasional rain and humidity. A perfect tropical summer, as it should be!

Summer in North Queensland is hot and humid, quite often unbearably so! Necessary work is completed in the cool of the very early morning or evening and sometimes even then there is no relief.
As night falls, air conditioners can be heard like the humming of mosquitoes in the stillness of the night. And when the monsoonal rain starts there is no stopping it. Humidity is so thick it's hard to breathe.

This is a time when cooking takes a turn. Fresh, cool and easily prepared. This dish, though not really a recipe, fits the bill.

I'll call it my "Pasta Estiva" - Summer Pasta. Though it doesn't really have a name. It's just an idea which originated after a conversation with my Calabrian cousin. All that needs to be cooked is the pasta. In the time it takes to cook the pasta the "sauce" can be prepared.  If you can boil water, you can make Pasta Estiva.  Think of my choice of ingredients as a template. Alter the ingredients to suit your taste and that of your diners but remember to select best quality ingredients. I hope you enjoy as much as I do!

Pasta Estiva

Serves 4-6

500g pasta ( I like fusilli, the twirly one, but it's your choice)
185g canned tuna, in oil Italian style
2 or 3 vine ripened tomatoes 
stuffed green olives
sundried tomatoes in oil
capers, to taste
dried oregano leaves
oil from the sundried tomatoes
red wine vinegar 
freshly cracked black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to the boil and salt it well. Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions. I like to taste a few minutes before the time is up to ensure it is not overcooked.
In the meantime, drain the tuna and place into a large bowl, breaking it up. Chop the tomatoes coarsely, slice the green olives and slice the sundried tomatoes. Place in the bowl with the tuna, mix well. Finely chop capers and mix into remaining ingredients. Sprinkle with oregano.
When the pasta is cooked, drain well and turn immediately into bowl with tuna and tomato mixture. Dress with oil from the sundried tomatoes, red wine vinegar and black pepper. Taste, and adjust seasoning if needed. Toss to combine well.
 Turn into large serving bowl or platter and sit back and accept the compliments!