I am a creature of habit. I have morning routines. Even on Saturdays and Sundays. Even during summer vacation. I like to get up, make the coffee, feed and water the cat, and bake. The house is quiet. It’s just Callie Cat and me, although she isn’t always quiet. I think she really misses Rusty, her brother, who died a month or so ago. She meows a lot more now. Muffins are my favorite to bake because they are quick and the Ex-Ex likes to eat them for breakfast. Scones are fun, too. So is banana bread, but it takes a lot longer to bake, therefore I usually do that at night.
I like to make things from scratch. I kind of hate to admit that I have become a mix snob, but I have. Baking mixes were all the rage when I was growing up. New and exciting. And a lot of unpronounceable stuff added in, as we all now know. I succumb once in a while, but I read labels now. A chef friend of mine swears that high fructose corn syrup is the devil’s elixir, so I avoid that like the plague. I use King Arthur‘s all-purpose flour. I have fallen in love with that company. It’s 100% employee owned and their motto is “Try it once, trust it always.” Check out their recipes and company story and you will, too, I bet.
I am an amateur and I have been baking for as long as I can remember. Cookies, pound cakes, pies, cupcakes, biscuits, bread. I’ve taken a few baking classes. Macaron-making with Amy Tornquist of Watts Grocery and Hummingbird Bakery here in Durham (my city is an eating destination these days- I don’t really like the word foodie, so I don’t use it, but google Durham, NC and see what you get). I taught Amy’s daughter and she helped her mom with the class which made it twice as much fun.
I took a macaron-making class in Paris this past March with my students at L’Atelier des Gâteaux. Several of the kiddies wanted to do this and, well, truth be told, they did not have to twist my arm.
My most recent baking class actually turned out to be two classes (the ovens weren’t working properly the first time so we were invited back to try again) taught at Sur la Table at Southpoint Mall. Judy C suggested learning how to make croissants and I took her up on the invitation. I love croissants. Is there anything better than starting the day with a warm croissant, preferably eaten in France, with a cup of hot café au lait, people watching?
Non. Well, unless it’s a pain aux raisins…
Back to the croissant-making. It’s not as hard as I thought. Time-consuming, oui. You must plan ahead. Jane Bobroff, a professional baker, was our teacher for Croissants from Scratch. A woman who loves butter as much as I do. Maybe even more. King Arthur is one of Sur la Table’s sponsors, so I was quite happy. Some of the baking vocabulary was in French since these little darlings are iconically as français as Maurice Chevalier. Détrempe and beurrage. The dough block and the butter block. Lessons in activating yeast, incorporating the beurrage, folding properly- letter and book folds, proofing the dough, egg wash, baking for longer than you think you should. The class was a bit backwards since it takes a while to get the dough from yeast to oven. We started with dough already prepared for us,
made our croissants,
set them to rise,
and while we were waiting for them to double in size, we prepared dough for the next class. We made Classic Croissants, Pain au chocolat, and Parisian Ham and Gruyère Croissants.
Chef Jane also uses this dough for Morning Buns, croissant dough rolled with cinnamon and sugar and baked in muffin tins.
I will try this at home, now that I have taken the class twice, but I advise you to find a class or, if you follow directions well and are patient, to devote a Saturday morning to the process. Planning backwards is a good idea. Figure out when you want these pâtisseries to come out of the oven and work back from there.
For a much quicker breakfast treat, I will share my favorite, foolproof muffin recipe. I have made many variations of this recipe since finding it in Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook Special Edition (in support of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation). It is the 12th edition of this well-known and well-loved American bible of cooking, originally published in 1930. This edition was published in 2003. The muffin recipe page came loose long ago and is held in place with a paperclip.
Prep: 10 minutes. Bake: 15-18 minutes. Oven: 400˚F. Makes: 12 medium-sized muffins
1-3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/3 c. granulated sugar (or sometimes I use turbinado sugar)
2 tsp. baking powder (preferably aluminum free)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 large egg, beaten
3/4 c. milk
1/4 c. cooking oil
1 recipe Streusel Topping (optional- I rarely make it)
- Grease twelve medium muffin cups (2-1/2 in.) or line with paper baking cups. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center of the mixture; set aside.
- In another bowl, whisk together egg, milk and oil. Add egg mixture to flour mixture. Stir just until moistened. Do not overmix- batter should be lumpy.
- Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling each 2/3 full. If desired, sprinkle Streusel Topping over batter in cups. Bake in a 400˚F preheated oven for 15-18 minutes or until golden and a wooden toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool in muffin cups on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove muffins from pan.
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. cold butter
2 Tbsp. chopped nuts, if desired
Combine the flour, brown sugar and cinnamon. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumb. Stir in nuts, if using.
Add-ins I’ve tried- don’t be afraid to be creative here
Note: Gently fold in fruit and peels at the end. Extracts or flavorings should be added to the egg-milk mixture. Spices, such as cinnamon, should be added to the flour mixture.
1 c. fresh or frozen blueberries, 1 tsp. finely shredded lemon peel
1 c. coarsely chopped cranberries and 2 Tbsp. additional sugar
Reduce flour to 1-1/3 c. and add 3/4 c. rolled oats to flour mixture (mini-chocolate chips maybe?)
Increase sugar to 1/2 c. and add 1 Tbsp. poppy seeds to flour mixture.
Reduce milk to 1/2 c. and stir in 3/4 c. mashed banana and 1/2 c. chopped nuts into the flour mixture along with the egg mixture. (best not to use paper cups for this one- they really stick to the paper)
1 c. Craisins ( any flavor)
1 medium-sized apple, peeled, cored and diced (Pink Lady, Granny Smith, Honey Crisp work well) plus 1 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup of chopped, pitted cherries, fresh or frozen, plus 1 tsp. almond extract
Bon appétit and happy baking! Your eaters will love you and your kitchen will smell heavenly. Sip your coffee while they bake, as I do, and read Sean Dietrich‘s daily posts about life in the South. I follow him on Facebook and he is always amazing. We are yet-to-meet-in-person best friends. His wife, Jamie, is a killer cook. I beg her for recipes. I have no shame. Check out what I’ve written about them here and here.