Whole-Wheat Jalapeño Cheddar Scones

Hello!

For the next two posts, we’re going to do a little bit of baking. But don’t let that make you nervous! No big fat skills are needed.

Whole-Wheat Jalapeño Cheddar Scones

Whole-Wheat Jalapeño Cheddar Scones
Way sexier than what little old British ladies eat with tea

You’ll find this recipe on page 22 of the PDF version of “Good and Cheap” (a free download at leannebrown.com) and on page 15 of the print version.

Ingredient Notes
I used Kraft Cracker Barrel extra old cheddar (it was on sale) and I do recommend that you include the egg wash step at the end of the recipe. It made my finished scones look all spanky and professional. Also, make sure you use whole-wheat flour instead of regular unbleached.

How Did it Taste?
Honestly, I haven’t come across a bad recipe in this cookbook yet. All of them are good but some of them are knock-it-out-of-the-park good. This one belongs in the second category. I loved these scones! They’re dense and hearty and spicy and cheesy … the adjectives could go on and on.

I think there’s a world of possibilities here. I’m going to try a variation with asiago cheese and my new favourite free ingredient, lemon zest.

Old Dog, New Trick
I learned a smart new technique with this one. The recipe uses a half-cup of butter, which you freeze slightly and then grate into the dry ingredients. This is really clever — the butter is more or less uniform and the step where you blend butter and flour goes quickly.

When I was taking Home Economics (back in the Middle Ages) we used a hand tool for this job, called a pastry blender. It was time-consuming, gave uneven results and the blenders were notorious for bending and breaking. This grater idea? It’s a keeper.

Show Me the Money
Start to finish, the scones took 45 minutes to whip up. The total cost was $6.41, or $1.07 per good-sized scone.

The Scone that Saved Lunchtime
Following the advice of Steve and Annette Economides, I’ve been creating a lunch plan for each week, basing it around a variety of sandwiches. Although I’m quite happy about getting my afternoon meal more organized and less costly, I was beginning to become bored with five days a week of sandwiches.

Enter this week’s recipe! Although they appear in the breakfast section of “Good & Cheap”, I’ve tucked two of the scones into my lunches, paired with pepper salami from the deli counter at Save-On Foods. It’s a match made in Heaven. I think I should include a scone-based lunch once in each week’s plan, just to break things up.

And that’s all for today! Our next baking adventure will be muffins that feature both chocolate and zucchini. “How does that work?” you might ask. Well, you’ll have to tune in to find out. Until then, have a great week!
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British Invasion, Part Two

Well, hi there! It’s Week 18 here at Library Life Hack and we are back in the kitchen with another mystery British recipe.

This mystery goes by the name of “Eccles Cakes”. I was actually introduced to them by another Canadian, and based on their very high ratio of fat and sugar, they quickly became one of my favourite treats. In my hometown of Edmonton, I’ve only been able to find them in one place and that’s Safeway. They’re not cheap ($5.29 for six), which makes them a perfect test subject for life hacking.

yum yum yum!

yum yum yum!

Dan Lepard, Baking Genius
If you read my last post, you’ll know that I had quite a search on my hands when it came to finding a recipe for Genoa Cake. Eccles cakes were a little easier. A lovely-sounding recipe turned up in the U.K. newspaper The Guardian, authored by Dan Lepard, who seems to be a baking genius.

You can use a library database called Press Display to find this recipe in the Jan 6, 2012 edition of The Guardian, or you can pick it up off the online edition, which you’ll find here.

OK, I Cheated a Little
When I made these, I cheated with the pastry and bought TenderFlake ready-made puff pastry, but I mostly followed everything else in the recipe. And when they came out of the oven, they were fabulous! A bazillion times fresher-tasting than Safeway and packed full of currants. (In comparison, the Safeway ones are a little lardy, too.)

Some Handy Hints
If you make these yourself, here’s a few hints:

  • This recipe makes a lot of filling. Buy two 397 gram packages of the TenderFlake pastry, and you should end up with about 18 eccles cakes.
  • The recipe calls for 500 grams of currants, but a pack of Safeway currants is only 449 grams. Just top it up with raisins, if you’ve got them. If not, don’t worry.
  • Double the sugar in the currant mixture, just so that there’s something to hold all those currants together in the filling.
  • Instead of brandy, add Glayva to the currant mixture. (I didn’t have any brandy in the house.) Yum-tastic!
  • When you’re assembling, use only about 50 grams of the currant mixture (1 1/2 tablespoons)
  • I couldn’t really figure out the folding and shaping in Dan Lepard’s recipe. Here’s my workaround, inspired by the suggestion of Mark, husband to my colleague Sarah:
    Mark's clever idea for folding eccles cakes

    The Lazy Girl’s Method for assembling eccles cakes

The Numbers
There isn’t a huge price difference here: homemade eccles cakes work out to about .77 each and Safeway ones are about .88 each. But, like the homemade goat cheese experiment, there’s a major difference in the quality of the finished product. In the end, you’ll save about $1.98 on a batch of homemade eccles cakes. (That qualifies as a tiny cha-ching!)

Let’s Talk About Press Display
I’ll take a quick minute to go back to Press Display, the database tool that I used. It really is the coolest thing. It gives you access to more than 40 Canadian newspapers and hundreds of international papers in dozens of languages. It’s just like reading the newspaper itself, except that it’s online. Here’s a clip of another story about eccles cakes.

Apparently, you shouldn't put these in the microwave

Apparently, you shouldn’t put them in the microwave

It’s free, and if you live in Alberta, all you need to access the full version is a library card. It’s all online and beautifully set up for viewing on a tablet or an iPad.

And that’s it! Thanks for tuning in, and have a great week!

P.S. I am very proud to announce that I am finished one sleeve of the world’s longest knitting project. Just one more to go! (She said, ever-so optimistically.)

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Let Them Eat Cake

Hello and welcome to Week 14! This week we’re looking into French pastry, specifically chocolate croissants.

Before We Get Started
It’s time to check in on our imaginary stock portfolio. The results are impressive, and you can find them here. I’m cautiously going to say that I think Jason Kelly’s book may well be worth the purchase price – and then some. But enough about money. Let’s bake!

First, a Small Confession
When I started this week’s little project, I was pretty convinced that there was no fast, easy way to make French pastry. But … five years ago, I spent two weeks roaming around southern France and fell in love with pain au chocolat (in English, chocolate croissants). Since then, I’ve wanted to try making them myself. And so, when one of my colleagues suggested that I look into life hacking French pastry, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Even though I didn’t think I’d be successful.

Finding a Recipe
Now that’s off my chest, I can tell you how I went about investigating the making of chocolate croissants. First I needed a recipe. Since this was French cuisine, I went straight to the master: Julia Child. My home library has a big book on baking, based Julia Child’s PBS baking show. Of course, she had one master recipe for croissants and several different variations.

But there was one problem. She wanted me to use a stand mixer. I needed a croissant recipe that could be made by hand. (Don’t get me wrong. I’d love a good excuse to buy a Kitchen Aid mixer. But that’s not why we’re here. )

A little more digging and I found “Pastries” by Pierre Hermé. Ta dah! He had a croissant recipe that was made entirely by hand. In the end, I combined his recipe and Julia Child’s method. (Her instructions for “making the turns” were much more straightforward. More about that later.)

A Word of Caution
My personal philosophy on recipes is that the first time you try one, you follow it to the letter. Next time, you can fiddle and adjust.

If you’re going to try making croissants by hand, give yourself an entire day. I’m not joking. I could not believe how time-consuming the whole process is.

Here’s the short story:

Mix up the dough.
Let it rise for 90 minutes.
Punch it down and put it in the fridge to rise for 60 minutes.
Punch it down again and put it in the freezer for 30 minutes.
Roll out the dough and incorporate the butter.
Fold it up, following Julia Child’s instructions.
Put it in the freezer for 30 minutes, and then in the fridge for 60 minutes.
Roll out the dough and fold it up, following Julia Child’s instructions.
Put it in the freezer for 30 minutes, and then in the fridge for 60 minutes.
Repeat this step two more times.
Begin swearing and wonder how much longer this is going to take.
Roll it out and do one last final extra-special folding job, following Julia Child’s instructions.
Put it in the fridge, have a glass of sherry and go to bed.
Get up early the next morning, roll out the dough, cut it into rectangles, and roll those around three pieces of dark chocolate.
Be astonished that all this effort only produced a dozen croissants.
Put the rolled-up croissants on a parchment-covered baking sheet.
Let them rise for at least the next two hours (they should triple in volume).
Brush them with an egg glaze.
Put the croissants in a hot oven for 20 minutes.
Taste them. Swoon at how incredibly good they are and immediately forget the herculean effort that it took to bring them to life. In your delirium, tell people that you can’t wait to do this again.

How Do You Hack?
The process of rolling out and folding up the dough is called “making the turns”. In essence, you are rolling out the croissant dough, folding it, turning it 90 degrees and repeating the process. This is what gives croissants their flaky layers and is not the place to scrimp.

I’m sure that there’s a classical French reason for all of the bobbing in and out of the fridge and freezer. But I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary, unless your dough gets too soft to work with, or the butter starts to melt.

So this is my advice for life hacking chocolate croissants:

  • First, make up a batch the old-fashioned way, just so you understand what you’re doing.
  • The next time, cut back your dough-chilling time (except for that first hour in the fridge). Then, just dive right in and do all your turns at once. Your prep time will shrink by almost 50%.

Resources
This week, we used two books:

Baking with Julia
Written by Dorie Greenspan
Published by William Morrow and Company
Released Nov 4, 1996
ISBN 0688146570

Pastries
Written by Pierre Hermé
Published by Stewart, Tabori and Chang
Released Oct 9, 2012
ISBN 1617690279

The Numbers
Between amazon.ca and chapters.indigo.ca, “Baking with Julia” averages out to $28.32 and “Pastries” costs an average of $37.00.

Chocolate croissants use very basic ingredients: flour, sugar, salt, yeast, butter and dark chocolate. Price-wise, it costs about the same to make them as it does to buy them in a supermarket. But there is absolutely no comparison on taste. Even your worst homemade croissants will be way better than supermarket ones.

But we can’t really put a price on taste, so that makes this week’s library life hack worth $65.32. Cha-ching!

A Moment of Random Fandom
I loved both of these books, for entirely different reasons.

I adore Julia Child. There is, in her writing and her cooking, a sensible but joyful affirmation of life that is so completely authentic, you can’t help but love it. She was joyful and life-affirming long before it was cool to use words like that.

“Pastries” is a huge, shamelessly gorgeous book, with glorious full-color photos on every other page. This is food porn on a scale that would make Jamie Oliver blush.  It’s worth your while to take this book out of the library, just to breathe in these beautiful pictures.

And that’s it! Thank you for reading all the way to the bottom of this very long blog post. I mean that. If you like, leave a comment and if you have a life hack you want to see me try out, drop me a line at LibraryLifeHack [at] gmail.com. Tune in next week, when we get an education on wine from the hilarious John Cleese. And until then, have a great week!

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