Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Baking from Scratch

There was a time that I was terrified of making anything with flour. Breads, cookies, muffins, even pancakes were a disaster. I wasn't above buying those biscuits in the cardboard tube that virtually explode when you crack them on the counter and had some mysterious white bits that I'm sure raised my cholesterol a few points.

With the guidance of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything I had the courage to keep trying and somehow I think I've gotten the hang of basic baking from scratch*. I can whip up biscuits or pizza dough on a weeknight and we've been enjoying this  delicious no-knead bread multiple times a week. Of course feeling comfortable with flour also means eating a lot of butter. I mean, how can you make delicious cookies and pies without it? When I first got the hang of baking we ate way beyond the scope of what any human should consume in butter, flour and chocolate chips. Suffice it to say I've calmed down a bit in terms of quantity, but the quality (in my opinion) is still quite good. We also started buying local flour in bulk (50#) from the co-op, which has saved us some money and will keep us in gluten heaven for a while.

Here are some of my favorite baked goods that are in a regular rotation:

Whole Wheat Apple Muffins and Grapefruit-Yogurt Cake from Smitten Kitchen (A grapefruit cake is cooling on the counter right now...)

Zucchini-Pecan Flaxseed Bread 

Whole Wheat Muffins with roasted pumpkin

Mocha Pudding Cake, served with vanilla ice cream, of course!

Pizza dough, biscuits, cornbread, and classic chocolate chip cookies from How to Cook Everything 

At this point baking from scratch is just how I do things and, honestly, making biscuits without the cardboard tube takes less effort. I don't have to go to the refrigerated section or shorten my life from the stress of the exploding tube. An added bonus is that  I don't have to worry about mysterious ingredients, like those white things. Once I got the hang of things like kneading, measuring and cutting in butter, baking wasn't so daunting. It also helped that the results were so delicious!

I'm off to slice some cake. :)

*Note: I still struggle with kneaded-dough recipes due to our elevation. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated.


Chile said...

I still need to try that no-knead bread recipe. I finally have a covered pan I can bake it in.

I've done a lot of experimenting to lower the fat in baked goods. Pie crusts are pretty hopeless; without the fat, they are inedible. But, cookies and muffins are easy to make without the fat or with less.

Forget applesauce as a fat replacer; prune puree works so much better. There are lots of recipes online or you can use baby food. Simply use one half the amount of fat called for in the recipe. (For example, muffins that need 1 cup of oil would use, instead, 1/2 cup of prune puree.)

Yes, the texture will be a little different. For cookies, they have to be baked as bar cookies and still come out differently. For them, sometimes I splurge and keep half the fat from the recipe and use (do your math) 1/4 the recipe's fat amount in prune puree.

Desert Lean-to said...

Chile~Thanks for the tip. I happen to have a bag of prunes and this would be a great use for them. As far as the no-knead bread, I don't use a covered dish like I've seen in some recipes. If you can check out Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes/Day, you'll see they don't use a covered dish, either. Best of luck if you try the covered dish recipe.

Chile said...

Ah, thanks. I've reserved it at the library. It may take a few weeks to get - it's popular there!