Sunday, April 10, 2011

How To Eat Groceries: A Baker's Dozen

Flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, yeast, granulated sugar, confectioner's sugar, brown sugar, eggs, milk, spices, dried fruit, butter...

Are we all agreed that these are pantry basics?  And not nearly all of the baking related items either, but just a good assortment. 

Years ago, when I was fairly new to marriage, I went to visit a lovely older woman whom I'd known since childhood.  She was entertaining her granddaughter when we went to visit.  We women sat about discussing recipes and suddenly the grandchild piped up,"Ya'll talk recipes all the time but I like things bought at the store that you can't make!"  "For instance?" asked her grandmother.  "Well lollipops," she said.  "I could make a lollipop for you with what's in the cabinet now."  'Not marshmallows though, you couldn't make marshmallows!'  I assured her I'd just been looking through my cookbook and indeed marshmallows could be made with ingredients in the kitchens of cooks I knew well.  The child retreated only to pop out now and then with questions, "What about crackers?  Can you make crackers at home?" among others.  I'm afraid she was pushed hard that day because there was nothing she could think of that she wasn't assured could be homemade!

Today let's talk about baking.  I believe every homemaker should have a few good basic all around recipes which may be just slightly altered to make dozens more.  A basic muffin recipe, a basic bread dough recipe, a recipe for a basic yellow cake, a basic cookie dough recipe, a basic biscuit recipe. 

Muffins may be plain and are very good just as they are, but what fun it is to add in fresh berries or fruits, top with streusel, etc to make breakfast treats.  When the children were home, I found muffins to be a versatile recipe for leftovers of breakfast muffins often became snacks once home from school.  Kay was such a picky breakfast eater that I once asked what items she'd like to have to eat.  Muffins was on her list.  She enjoyed blueberry muffins and chocolate chip muffins. 

All you need truly is a good basic plain muffin recipe.  Adding fruit or chocolate chips, chopped nuts, or berries will scarecely alter the recipe.  You can even take that plain muffin batter, make up a batch of streusel topping and create an 9 inch square coffee cake.  Diced apples/peaches/pears, fresh berries of any type including cranberry, etc may be added to the batter.  You can even layer batter with a cocoa streusel (just add some cocoa powder to the basic brown sugar streusel topping, you may need to increase butter just a little).  I occasionally will add leftover rice, or uncooked oatmeal to the batter as well, both of which bulk up the muffins a little but do no harm to the taste or texture.

Basic bread dough obviously will make bread, but you can fashion all sorts of rolls from the dough as well.  An old fashioned good cookbook will usually have illustrations of various means of shaping dough into rolls: cloverleaf, parker house, fantails, crescents, etc.  You can also make your own hot dog and hamburger buns, cinnamon rolls, or cinnamon swirl bread.  I find that Rhonda's Grandpa's bread is a good all around basic dough and very adaptable, as well as forgiving of mistakes.  It consistently makes good bread and doesn't need any special handling.

With one good recipe for a yellow cake the sky is the limit.  You can quickly make a spice cake of it by adding your favorite spice, or chocolate cake by adding in either melted baking chocolate or cocoa powder (you'll perhaps want to increase the fat in your cake slightly).  Leave out the egg yolks and you've just found yourself with a white cake batter.  From this basic batter you can make cupcakes, cake layers or sheet cakes without a bit of trouble. 

There are various types of cookie doughs.  Roll type, drop, pressed/formed.  A good sugar cookie dough may be used both as drop or rolled cookies, depending on whether you choose to refrigerate the dough.  Here again the addition of other items will change the cookie.  A little cocoa will make a chocolate sugar cookies, a particular favorite of mine as a child.  Roll the cookie dough into balls and rolls in sugar, cinnamon sugar or dried coconut and you've another two cookies from that basic dough.  Press a thumb into the ball of dough and add 1/4 tsp jam or preserves to the indentation and you've made lovely little jewel topped cookies for a fancy tea.  I often make up a triple batch of sugar cookie dough at Christmas to make three or four types of cookies.  Once you've mastered the sugar cookie, there's no limit to the cookies you'll try to make from scratch.

Biscuit dough is also versatile.  A tender well risen biscuit, split and buttered for breakfast is heaven on a cold morning, especially if you top with a spoonful of summer preserves such as strawberry or black berry, and just as tasty is rich apple butter.  Biscuits make a great bread for most meals whether you choose to butter or split and serve with gravy or fill with meats (sausage, chicken, bacon, eggs) to serve for lunchboxes.  As well a good biscuit dough makes a great base for homemade pizza (if you've not yet mastered yeast doughs) and may be filled and rolled as for cinnamon rolls, dusted with sugar and served as shortcakes, have dried fruit added and patted into a round to make Irish soda bread or scones for the tea table.   You can add grated cheese, mashed sweet potatoes, a handful of oatmeal to change the taste of the bread altogether.  Biscuits may top pot pie dishes or be patted out to thin rounds and filled with fruit to make a turnover or a fried pie (that's a Southern treat). 

All of this is possible with a baker's dozen of ingredients from the pantry...Isn't that amazing?  And these are just a few of the items one might even consider making.  There's pie crust, and shortbread, pancakes and waffles, and lots more that use the same ingredients and are just as versatile in their mixing.  

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