Friday, October 2, 2015

California Baking...On Such An Autumn Day (With Apologies to The Mamas and The Papas) - Part The First

Last month I got to spend a bit of time in San Diego visiting with my brother and his family. It was short but very, very sweet – filled with great food, lots of hugs, laughter aplenty, and more than a few surprises.  For instance, I didn't know my nephew, Robbie, was taking German and that my nieces, Jeanine and Denise, sang songs in Japanese. What wasn't a surprise was that my sister-in-law, Wynter, looked at my brother, Rob, and me like we were crazy when we finished each others' sentences and movie quotes. That much I happily expected.

Rob, told me that the kids were excited I was coming because they figured I'd probably be doing some baking. In fact, my nephew, who has baking aspirations himself, was hoping I'd teach him something. I guess my reputation preceded me. (Actually, many boxes of shipped baked goodies preceded me, since I've been sending them gifts from my oven for a little while now.)

So, it was a forgone conclusion that I'd be using their oven for at least a couple of baking projects. I was prepared with two very good recipes. I was prepared to have to pick up some ingredients. What I wasn't prepared for was the need to also procure some very basic baking implements and pans and such. Many excellent meals come out of that kitchen, and from the grill in the back yard, but my brother and his wife don't do a lot of baking. We made lots of jokes about this and I was all too happy to leave behind a lot of "house warming gifts".  

After a few trips to the store, I was ready for my first baking project, which turned out to be a Saturday morning biscuit banquet. I used what I thought would be a good recipe from Food52.com, even though I've never made it before. (There I go again, breaking my rule of never serving a meal from a first-time recipe. I'm starting to think that I made that rule just so I could laugh at myself.) I thought I'd get up in the morning, bake the biscuits, and sit down with my family and devour them.

The blank slate. So clean...for now.
Mise en place. Please notice the iPod with my baking soundtrack queued up.
That plan went off without a hitch...with one major addition: my youngest niece, Denise, wanted to help me bake. And that changed the whole experience for me because it went from making something for breakfast to teaching my niece about baking biscuits. With a recipe I'd never made before. In a kitchen and oven I'd never used before. No pressure. Really.

As you should know by now, I'm always game for a challenge, even one as daunting as this. Still, teaching a thing is different from just doing a thing. With teaching you have to create a structure for imparting information in a way that the student will understand and readily assimilate. You have to give them the basics but at the same time take care to keep it interesting. And you've got to make it fun! Because if it's not fun, then why do it in the first place?

A Quick Sidebar:

Can you tell I'm the offspring of two teachers, with family on both sides with deep roots in Education? Guess I might have picked up a thing or two.

A Quick Sidebar Ends

With Denise (6 years old), I started off very simple: making sure she knew the measurements we'd be using, and identifying all the ingredients. After she donned her cute little apron, that is.


Please to observe these measuring spoons!

I told her about the importance of having everything you'll need right, mise en place, to make it easier to mix, add, stir, and (Got to add a little French to her go along with the Japanese she sings.)

"Mise en place" is French for "Don't run around the
kitchen like an idiot, trying to find stuff!" I think.

Now, I was a kid and I remember how overly excited I got when grownups let me do things with them. I caused more than a couple of...incidents because of my enthusiasm. Kids haven't changed that much over the years, so I made sure to watch out for this when I let Denise stir the dry ingredients. I only had to caution her about flinging everything out of the bowl once.

Carefully adding ingredients.

I had to use two knives to cut in the butter because I couldn't find a pastry blender at the store. It was just as well, since I got to refine my technique.

Using the old double-knife technique.
One of the reasons I chose this particular recipe was that I was curious about the lack of rolling pin use. I really wanted to see how it worked. I think both of us agreed that it was fun to gather and smush and gather and smush the dough (also known as "kneading"). I taught myself a little something about the right handling dough like that: easy-does-it. Press hard enough to combine and create the layers, but not hard enough to overwork the dough.

Rolling pin? We don't need no stinkin' rolling pin...
even though I bought one for the house.
We laughed about there not being a lot of baking tools in the house but I was actually glad to improvise the way I did; using knives to work in the butter, and small-rimmed glasses to cut the biscuits, is very traditional and connected me with my Granma (my father's mother) who made biscuits from scratch in a similar fashion. So, in a way, this direct line through four generations of Bakers baking.

A couple of shot glasses will do in a pinch.
"Press hard!"
Loading up the baking sheets.
One other thing I tried to teach Denise was to try to keep the mess to a minimum, and confined to the table (something I'm not always so successful with at home). Fortunately for me, I was quick with the bowl to catch most of the flour she shook off her hands.

Aaaand...there goes the flour all over the floor.

Once we had the biscuits in the oven, I had to do some internal wrestling with the oven. It's probably about five or ten degrees off because the biscuits took about fifteen minutes longer than they should have. Hmmm. It's a good thing I have experience with recalcitrant ovens, isn't it? 

A little pale but still very well baked.
In the end, we pulled out two trays of utterly delicious and flaky biscuits! 

Delicious with honey!
I couldn't have done it without my able assistant, though! And thanks to my other niece assistant, Jeanine, for helping us butter the tops of the biscuits before we popped them in the oven.

Thus ends Part The First (the easy part).

Currently listening to: Brenda Russell - A Little Bit Of Love


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1 comment:

  1. You are seriously a shoe-in for the World's Best Uncle title. Absolutely. Not that I'm biased or anything ;)

    Also? Best translation for mise en place I've ever heard. Really, ever.

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