Category Archive: Kitchen Science

The Secret to Making Perfect Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits

Buttermilk Biscuits at 1840 FarmBiscuits.  Just reading the word brings up thoughts of flaky, tender biscuits still warm from the oven topped with a pat of butter and a drizzle of honey.  My mouth waters just thinking about it.

I hear from readers quite often who have struggled to make flaky pastries to their liking.  Most often, the recipes they have been disappointed by are pie crust and biscuits.  They have tried to no avail to produce the flaky, tender pastries that they dream of.

When it comes to flaky pastries, less is more.  Working the dough as little as possible is the key to creating a flaky texture.  Too much stretching and working the dough strengthens the gluten structure of the flour and creates a stretchy, strong dough like pizza crust instead of the flaky, tender dough for biscuits or pie.

Any overworking makes a flaky biscuit completely impossible to achieve.  When biscuits are cut into traditional circles using a cutter, the scraps are reshaped to create additional biscuits.  That seemingly insignificant amount of handling completely changes the texture of those secondary biscuits.  For that reason, I simply cut my rectangle of biscuit dough into square or rectangles rather than using a round cutter.  Doing so ensures that each biscuit is worked only once, that no additional shaping is necessary, and that every biscuit is as light and fluffy as the others.

In order to create that delicious, flaky texture, care must be taken to build layers of fat suspended in the dough.  When that layered dough hits the hot oven, the fat begins the melt and moisture is released, creating small pockets of air and the light, flaky texture that makes for an amazing biscuit with a pillowy texture.

If you live above the Mason-Dixon line like I do, your brand of All-purpose flour may also be conspiring against you. Delicious biscuits are a staple in the South where the All-purpose flour is traditionally milled from soft winter wheat.  White Lily brand is known for its lower protein content, soft texture, and ability to create delicious, tender biscuits and pastries.  Soft winter wheat has a low protein content around 8 – 9% which helps to make a flaky biscuit.

Here in New England, hard winter wheat is commonly milled into the brands of All-purpose flour available at our grocery stores.  The hard winter wheat creates a flour that has a higher protein content between 10 and 12% and also contains more gluten.  Higher protein and more gluten are great for bread doughs and pizza crust, but make the prospect of creating a light and flaky biscuit a struggle.

While I had learned the technique necessary for making an amazing biscuit, the higher protein content of my flour wasn’t helping matters.  In the past, I have milled my own flour for biscuits with good results.  Yet, the texture still wasn’t quite what I was aiming for.

After reading scores of articles about the protein content and gluten properties of different types of flour, I decided to try an experiment.  I substituted cornstarch for ½ cup of the All-purpose flour called for in my biscuit recipe.  I know from my experience creating a homemade cake flour substitute that this combination works very well to create a light, airy cake batter.  So, it made sense that this combination might also make a delicious biscuit.

The dough came together beautifully.  It was easy to work with and the raw biscuits looked very promising when I placed them in the oven.  I couldn’t wait to take a bite.

Thanks to a decreased protein content and carefully folding the dough to increase the layers in the dough, these biscuits are exactly what I was dreaming of.  They’re light, flaky, and tender.  They come together easily and are always a welcome sight at our farmhouse table.  We might live well above the Mason-Dixon line, but we enjoy biscuits that taste like a Southern dream.  Now that you know the secret to making perfect flaky biscuits, I hope that you will too!

Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits
Grating the butter will make it easier to work it into the dry ingredients. Placing the biscuits on the baking sheet next to each other will create a softer, pillowy biscuit. If you prefer a biscuit with a more dry and crisp exterior, simply place them on the baking sheet with a few inches of space between them.
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Ingredients
  1. 1 ½ cups All-purpose flour
  2. ½ cup cornstarch
  3. 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
  4. ½ teaspoon baking soda
  5. ½ teaspoon salt
  6. 4 Tablespoons butter, grated
  7. 2 Tablespoons lard
  8. ½ cup buttermilk, chilled
  9. 1 Tablespoon butter, melted
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare a baking sheet by lining with parchment paper or a silicone baking liner.
  2. Combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add the grated butter and lard. Gently work the fats into the dry ingredients using your hands or a pastry blender. Remember that less is more and take care not to overwork the dough. The dough should include small globules of fat, so stop when tiny pieces of lard and butter remain.
  3. Add the cold buttermilk and gently combine. The dough should be shaggy and quite wet. If it seems too dry, simply add a Tablespoon or two of buttermilk. Turn the shaggy dough out on to a well-floured surface. Gently gather the dough together into a square shape taking care not to stretch or compress it more than necessary. If needed, sprinkle the surface with a bit of flour to make it easier to work with. Grab two opposite ends of the rectangle and fold them towards the center, stacking the ends on top of each other. Turn the dough and repeat the folding process.
  4. Gently shape the dough with as little working as possible into a rectangle before cutting into 6 to 8 biscuits. Carefully move each biscuit to the prepared baking sheet. I like to place my biscuits next to each other as it creates a very moist and soft textured biscuit. Brush the tops and exposed sides of the biscuits with melted butter before placing the baking sheet in the hot oven. Bake for 12-14 minutes until the tops are lightly browned and dry. Remove the biscuits from the oven and allow to cool slightly before separating and serving.
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Velvety Mashed Potatoes

velvety-mashed-potatoes-brandedFor me, a serving of velvety smooth mashed potatoes is at the top of my list of favorite comfort foods. They’re always a welcome sight at our family table. They pair beautifully with so many main courses and I love repurposing any leftovers into the next evening’s comforting meal for our family. Leftover mashed potatoes make a delicious topping for a range of dishes from Shepherd’s Pie to a Farmhouse Style Mashed Potato Torta.   At Thanksgiving dinner, I can’t imagine our plates without a healthy serving of mashed potatoes.

As much as I love to make and enjoy mashed potatoes in our farmhouse kitchen, I receive countless messages and pleas for help from my readers who are frustrated by the process. They’ve tried so many different recipes and have yet to create the lovely, creamy mashed potatoes they’re dreaming of.

Making amazing mashed potatoes is simple once you understand the role a potato’s starch plays in the finished texture of the dish. You don’t need fancy tools or ingredients, just a few simple techniques for controlling the starch contained in the potatoes you’re working with.

First, carefully choose the type of potato you use and the method of preparing them for boiling. Yukon Golds are my preferred type of potato to use when making mashed potatoes. They are waxy and ideally suited for creating a smooth mashed potato. I love their flavor and texture and use them when creating any mashed potato recipe.

Next, let’s discuss preparing the potatoes for cooking. I like to resist cutting the potatoes into small pieces before boiling. The more surface area you create, the more water will be absorbed by the boiling potatoes, causing the starch molecules to swell and absorb too much water. Instead, cut the potatoes into pieces approximately 2” square which allows the potatoes to cook quickly without soaking up too much liquid.

As soon as the potatoes are fork tender, remove the boiled potatoes from the hot water immediately to a colander. Allow the hot potatoes to drain for a few moments before returning them to the pan. Use a potato ricer or an old fashioned potato masher to break down the potatoes. Do not use a blender, mixer, or food processor to mash your potatoes as they will over work the starch molecules and produce gummy mashed potatoes that no amount of butter or cream will be able to tame.

Finally, do not add cold liquid to the boiled potatoes. A hot, steaming pile of potatoes doused in cold liquid will seize up due to the drastic difference in temperature, producing and releasing far too much starch to create the velvety smooth dish we all love. Instead, warm your liquids before adding them to the cooked potatoes. You’ll be amazed at the difference in texture and rewarded with glorious mashed potatoes to serve at your family table.

Once you unlock these simple secrets for creating velvety smooth mashed potatoes, you’ll find yourself turning to this recipe again and again.  They’re simply delicious served with our Farmhouse Gravy.  I hope that your family and friends will enjoy them as much as we do!

Velvety Mashed Potatoes
Serves 6
I like a rustic mashed potato dish, so I skip the step of peeling the potatoes before boiling. If you prefer, you can peel the potatoes before boiling. This is the perfect recipe to use your homemade bone broth. I find that using bone broth delivers a rich flavor and texture unlike any other liquid added to the warm potatoes. Be sure to warm the liquids before incorporating them into the potatoes.
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Ingredients
  1. 3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, washed and cut into 2” cubes
  2. 1 cup bone broth or high quality stock
  3. ½ cup whole milk
  4. ¼ cup heavy cream
  5. butter for serving
  6. salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. In a large pot, combine the cubed potatoes with enough cold water to cover and allow them to move freely as they boil. Place the pot over a burner on high heat, bringing it to a rapid boil. Reduce the heat as needed to maintain the boil but prevent the pot from boiling over. Continue to cook until the potatoes are fork or knife tender, approximately 15 minutes.
  2. Immediately remove the pot from the heat and drain the potatoes in a colander. Allow the hot potatoes to drain for a few minutes before continuing. You can use a potato ricer to break down the potatoes or return the cubed potatoes to the boiling pot to mash using an old fashioned potato masher. Take care to mash the potatoes without overworking them.
  3. Add half of the warm liquid mixture to the pot, stirring it into the mashed potatoes. Continue adding more liquid until the mashed potatoes are the desired consistency. If you find that you need more liquid, simply warm a bit of bone broth, cream, or milk before adding it to the potato mixture. Taste the potatoes, seasoning with salt and pepper as needed. Serve hot with an ample topping of butter, sour cream, or a ladle full of our Farmhouse Gravy.
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This post is included in our 1840 Farmhouse Thanksgiving Gallery.
You’ll find our favorite Thanksgiving recipes all gathered in one place so that you can easily include them in your family’s celebration.  I’ll be adding new recipes  right up until the big day, so check back to see even more delicious and fabulous Thanksgiving posts.

 

thanksgiving-gallery-ss


 

Permanent link to this article: http://1840farm.com/2016/10/velvety-mashed-potatoes/

My Favorite Baking How To Posts

Favorite Baking How To Posts Collage

This morning, I published a new issue of our 1840 Farm Community Newsletter filled with links to my favorite baking how to posts.  I hope that each of them will help you to enjoy baking in your kitchen and turning out delicious breads and dessert for your friends and family.  Here they are, all gathered together in one place so that you can access each and every one of them!

If you enjoy reading our posts, why not subscribe to our FREE newsletter?  It’s the best way to ensure that you don’t miss a single recipe, new handmade product, or special offer for our Etsy Shop.  We’ll never share your email and send our best posts  directly to your inbox.  Take a look through our past issues to see what you’ve been missing.

MakeYourOwnCakeFlourSubstituteBranded  TheBestWaytoStoreFreshBreadBranded

HowtoMakeYourOwnBakingPowderBranded  FarmhouseKitchenScienceBakingPowdervsBakingSodaBranded

PieCrustTipsBranded

 

Permanent link to this article: http://1840farm.com/2016/06/my-favorite-baking-how-to-posts/

Make Your Own: Cake Flour Substitute

MakeYourOwnCakeFlourSubstituteBrandedThere I was, reading a recipe for what sounded like a delicious cake.  I was inspired to head into the farmhouse kitchen to make one for my family.  I scanned through the list of ingredients, mentally placing a check mark on each line, happy to see that I had each ingredient on hand.  Then I came to cake flour and everything came to a screeching halt. 

Cake flour is all but impossible for me to purchase at the grocery store.  Each box seems to carry an allergy warning that prevents me from being able to invite the ingredient into our kitchen. We are completely peanut and tree nut free, so buying a box of cake flour that might contain both simply wasn’t an option.

I knew that cake flour was designed specifically for cake baking. In fact, each type of flour is designed to deliver differing levels of protein, gluten, and density to recipes.  Bread flour often promises a protein content in excess of 12%.  All-purpose flour typically has a protein content in the range of 11% while cake flour comes in at between 6-8%,  A lower protein content helps to create a cake that is tender, airy, and light. 

After a bit of reading, I found that I could indeed make my own cake flour substitute using two ingredients that I always have on hand in the pantry:  All-purpose flour and cornstarch.  By combining the two, I can create a flour that has a reduced protein content with less gluten, a silky texture, and the density that  cake flour is known for.  I could also sidestep peanuts and tree nuts, keeping our kitchen safe for the whole family.

This substitution is simple and I have used it with great success to bake light and delicious cakes.  I hope that you’ll find that it works just as well for you in your favorite recipes calling for cake flour.

Homemade Cake Flour Substitute
Our food allergies prevent me from purchasing cake flour at the grocery store, but they don't keep me from making recipes that call for cake flour. This homemade cake flour substitute works well, I can control the allergens, and I can use ingredients that I already have on hand. Now you can too!
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Ingredients
  1. 1 cup All-purpose flour
  2. 2 Tablespoons cornstarch
Instructions
  1. For each cup of cake flour called for in a recipe, you can easily create your own substitute. This substitute can be used in any recipe that calls for cake flour. There's no need to adjust the amount of flour used.
  2. Measure 1 cup of All-purpose flour into a small bowl. Remove 2 Tablespoons of the flour. Add 2 Tablespoons of cornstarch to the bowl and whisk lightly to combine.
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Permanent link to this article: http://1840farm.com/2016/06/cake-flour-substitute/

Make Your Own: Baking Powder

HowtoMakeYourOwnBakingPowderBrandedHave you ever been in the midst of mixing together the ingredients for a recipe only to find that you are missing a vital component?  I’m sorry to say that I have on more than one occasion.  In fact, a few weeks ago, I discovered that the can of baking powder in our pantry did not contain enough powder to make the recipe that I was working on.

Luckily, I discovered that I could make my own baking powder and a crisis, or at least my family’s disappointment, was avoided.  Making the baking powder was incredibly simple.  In moments, the baking powder had been mixed and I was ready to finish the recipe with a little fresh baking powder to spare.

In the last few weeks, I have used this homemade baking powder several times.  I am impressed with how easy it is to make and with how well it works in my recipes.  In fact, I think that the homemade baking powder yields a recipe with a better flavor than the store bought variety.

Now you can make your own baking powder and judge for yourself.  I can’t wait to hear what you think of homemade baking powder in your favorite recipes.  If you would like to learn more about baking powder and how it differs from baking soda, visit my latest Kitchen Science post, Baking Powder vs. Baking Soda.

Homemade Baking Powder
makes three Tablespoons

2 Tablespoons cream of tartar
1 Tablespoon baking soda

Combine both ingredients in a small container with a lid.  Stir to mix the two dry ingredients completely.  Use as you would store bought baking powder in your favorite recipes.  This homemade, fresh baking powder can be stored in the airtight container in a cool, dark place for several weeks.

If you’re looking for a great recipe to feature your homemade baking soda, try our Wholegrain Buttermilk Biscuits.  They’re fantastic!

Permanent link to this article: http://1840farm.com/2013/09/make-your-own-baking-powder/

Kitchen Science: Baking Powder vs Baking Soda

FarmhouseKitchenScienceBakingPowdervsBakingSodaBrandedBaking powder, baking soda: what’s the difference?  Actually, there’s a big difference both in what they contain and what they should be used for. They’re both leavening agents, but they react differently and impart different flavors on the recipes that contain them.

Baking soda contains sodium bicarbonate and reacts to acidic liquids by creating bubbles of carbon dioxide.  Those bubbles expand while in a warm oven and cause a baked good to rise.  Recipes made with baking soda must be baked immediately, before the bubbles have time to dissipate.

Baking powder contains the same sodium bicarbonate as baking soda along with a few other components.  Baking powder also contains cream of tartar to acidify the dry mixture and a drying agent, usually corn starch.  Baking powder is available in single and double acting varieties.

Single acting baking powder functions in much the same manner as baking soda.  They require liquid to activate their bubbling activity to leaven a recipe and should be baked immediately after being mixed.  Double acting powders work in two stages, making them ideal for recipes that will rest before baking.  Double acting baking powder will begin to have a leavening effect on a recipe while at room temperature or even cooler temperatures.  They will undergo their second phase only after experiencing the much warmer temperature created by baking.

Baking Soda and Baking Powder also differ when it comes to flavor.  If you have ever mixed acidic vinegar with baking soda, then you are already aware that baking soda is a basic substance.  That basic property delivers a slightly bitter flavor that must be tempered by an acidic ingredient such as yogurt or buttermilk or balanced by the addition of enough sugar to compensate for the bitterness.

For example, baking soda is used in Pumpkin Bars with Dark Chocolate Chips.  The final recipe is not at all bitter.  The batter includes yogurt to help temper the acidity as well as sugar, pumpkin, and chocolate, to balance it.

Baking Powder contains both an acid and a base.  Because of this, baking powder delivers a neutral flavor.  Many recipes that include baking powder also include other neutral tasting ingredients.  Baking powder is used in our Wholegrain Buttermilk Biscuits and in my Great Grandma’s recipe for Daffodil Cake.

Finally, there’s one last difference between baking soda and baking powder.  You can make your own fresh baking powder right in your own kitchen.  You can learn more by following the link to my post Make Your Own:  Baking Powder

HowtoMakeYourOwnBakingPowderBranded

Permanent link to this article: http://1840farm.com/2013/09/kitchen-science-baking-powder-vs-baking-soda/

The Best Way to Store Fresh Bread

When I mentioned a few days ago on our Facebook page that the best way to store fresh bread was in a cloth bag, I had no idea that so many of my readers would ask the logical question:  “why?”  When I started to type the short answer, I realized something.  There is no short answer.

TheBestWaytoStoreFreshBreadBrandedInstead, there are several reasons why I believe that fabric provides the most hospitable environment for freshly baked bread.  Those reasons are altogether simple and complex.  The reason for my initial statement was the simplest of all:  my friend Lisa from Fresh Eggs Daily had decided to treat me to one of her beautiful handmade linen bread bags.

A few weeks ago, we had been discussing the impending winter.  While neither of us was happy to accept that we would soon need snow boots to travel out to our coops and barns, we were both looking forward to a few cold weather pastimes.  One of those was baking fresh homemade bread.

I enjoy making bread, especially during the winter months.  During the long, cold winter here in New England I don’t need much encouragement to turn the oven on and commit to baking something for an hour or more.  Bread provides me with the perfect excuse to do just that.  Add in that it also provides fresh bread for my family to enjoy and you can see why I look forward to my cold weather bread baking.

I have been baking bread for my family for over a decade.  During that time, I’ve learned a few tricks, had a few failures, and developed several family favorite recipes.  I’ve also learned a thing or two about how to store fresh bread in order to preserve its texture and extend its shelf life.

There are several ways to store fresh bread.  There are also several decisions to make before doing so.  The first decision involves the use of refrigeration.  While it seems logical that fresh food will remain fresh longer if kept in the refrigerator, bread should always be kept at room temperature.

Obviously, the spoiling process occurs much more quickly in a loaf of fresh bread.  Whether it is of the homemade variety or purchased from a local bakery, these loaves typically do not contain preservatives.  Without preservatives to slow down the process, it doesn’t take long for the fresh bread to spoil.

In spite of this, bread should not be stored in the refrigerator.  The cold environment in the refrigerator will dry out the bread and ruin its texture inside and out.  In fact, a process called retrogradation takes place when bread is stored in the refrigerator.  Retrogradation is the term used to describe the crystallization of the starch molecules in bread or other baked goods.  This transformation is six times more likely to happen at refrigerated temperatures versus room temperature.

While the risk of molding is greater in a loaf of bread held at room temperature over a few days, refrigeration for a few hours can completely destroy the crust and crumb of a loaf.  When this information is taken into consideration, it seems obvious that fresh bread that will be eaten quickly should be stored at room temperature.

If you find yourself with fresh bread that will not be consumed in a day or two, fresh bread can also be frozen.  Frozen loaves should be allowed to thaw at room temperature and reheated briefly in a warm oven.  The warmth of the oven will help to liquefy the starch crystals within the bread and help to return its crust and interior to its original texture.

Multigrain Brioche loaves at 1840 FarmNow that we understand where we should keep our bread for both short term and long term storage, it’s time to decide what to store the fresh bread in.  Our best options include bags made from plastic, paper, or cloth.  Each material serves a different purpose and results in a different outcome for the loaf of bread inside.

First, let’s start with plastic.  I can’t help but think of sandwich bread when picturing a loaf stored inside a plastic bag.  There’s a perfectly good reason that sandwich bread is so closely associated with its plastic bag storage.  Soft sandwich bread and its plastic bag are a perfect match.  The plastic bag serves two purposes with regard to the spongy textured sandwich bread.

Because the plastic does not breathe or allow for the passage of air in or out of the bag, the loaf inside tends to resist drying out.  This helps to maintain the loaf’s soft texture.  During the natural process of trace amounts of moisture dissipating from the loaf, that moisture is actually trapped inside the plastic bag.  Therefore, at least some of that moisture is returned to the loaf, helping to keep it soft.

For sandwich bread, a soft crust and spongy interior are both admirable traits.  For a fresh loaf of crusty Italian bread or a French baguette, it is a disaster waiting to happen.  The same trapped moisture that keeps the sandwich bread moist destroys the crispy texture of the bread’s crust. Ironically, as the crust softens and overly chewy

Baguette or crusty loaves are better suited to storage in paper or cloth bags.  Both of these offer an environment that allows the dissipating moisture to exit.  While the bread will eventually become stale, the texture of both the exterior and interior will stand a much better chance of lasting a day or two.

Between paper and cloth, cloth is the clear choice for me. In my experience, loaves stored in paper tend to dry out more quickly than those stored in a cloth.  In fact, before I received a linen cloth bread bag from Lisa, I sometimes kept bread wrapped in a clean kitchen towel.  I think that you’ll agree that her beautiful bread bag is a bit more stylish.

In the end, great bread isn’t meant to be kept long term.  It’s meant to be enjoyed as soon as you bring it home.  The Europeans are far ahead of us on this tradition.  They view day old bread as a component for soups, bread puddings, croutons, and bread crumbs.  Day old bread is the very reason that Panzanella was born.  What better way to utilize slightly stale bread than by allowing it to absorb the delicious flavors of tomatoes, basil, olive oil, and vinegar?

Of course, I am speaking of Europeans who live in urban cities and can walk to any of a number of bakeries that produce delicious breads that can be purchased and enjoyed daily.  I don’t have that luxury, so I try to keep a loaf or two in the freezer and store today’s fresh bread in a cloth bag for tomorrow.  If I store it well, I have the option to warm it slightly in the oven and serve bread that is still delicious.  Of course, if it’s heirloom tomato season, I just might make Panzanella.

Now that you know how to store fresh bread, you need a good recipe for a homemade loaf and a fabric bread bag to store it in.  You can see the recipes from our Bread Baker’s Series and browse the selection of bread bags from Fresh Eggs Daily.

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