“So.Da.Licious” scones made with a bit of luck

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Irish food was the theme for this month’s team potluck. Even though I’m one-quarter Irish, I didn’t know what to bake. I don’t have any family recipes that have been handed down for generations. So I did what I normally do when I’m trying to get an idea of what to make: I turned to Google. The problem was that the results were mostly for trifles, or were just desserts with whiskey in them. As much as I like whiskey, adding it to a recipe doesn’t make food Irish by default. When an acquaintance suggested I make soda bread, but dress it up so it was more like a dessert and divide it into smaller portions so it was like scones, I thought that was a brilliant idea.

The only issue was that, the one time I made soda bread—which was years ago—it turned out dry and not that great. But, with a few more years of baking under my belt, I felt I could tackle it this time around. After looking through an array of recipes, I didn’t find one that quite fit the bill. So I used a few different recipes to get an idea of the ingredient ratios and came up with my own. And they turned out so well that one of my coworkers emailed me saying they were “So.Da.Licious.”

Ingredients
3 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup oats
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 cups heavy cream
6 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup dried cherries, chopped
Coarse sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, baking soda, and salt. Add lemon juice, cream, and honey. Stir in cherries. Divide the dough into four portions. Using floured hands, shape each portion into a disc that’s about an inch thick. Cut disc into four sections and place individual pieces on cookie sheets. Press about a teaspoon of coarse sugar onto the top of each scone. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Serve.

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Calzones and a lesson for an ambitious beginner

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Calzones are basically small pizzas folded in half and sealed around the edges. But sometimes, it’s a nice change.

Last week was busy, and I wanted to make a lunch I could eat at my desk if I needed to — something that didn’t require utensils or much cleanup. So, I went with calzones.

This is the second time I’ve ever made calzones. The first was years ago when my brother graduated from high school. I had just tried making them for the first time and got overly ambitious. I told my mom I’d make them for everyone at his graduation party. I made bowl after bowl of dough and kept the oven on for hours — even during the party — as I pulled them out of the oven. For me, that was one of those learning moments, particularly around cooking and entertaining. If you overcomplicate things, you won’t get to enjoy the gathering. Lesson learned.

That time I filled them with ham and cheese, but I liked the ones I made using this recipe more. While they may not look like they’ve been filled enough, the fillings I chose had stronger flavors, so it tasted like enough. Beware that using fresh vegetables such as spinach or peppers can make the bottom of the calzone watery if you haven’t sautéed them first.

Calzones2This recipe — the dough is from the Joy of Cooking — makes two large calzones. I like to keep my calzones basic, so I went with pepperoni, cheese, and pesto. You can put whatever you’d like in them.

Ingredients
2/3 cup warm water
1 1/8 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons pesto
20 slices of pepperoni
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Combine water and yeast in a large bowl and let sit until dissolved, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, lightly coat another large bowl with olive oil.

Using a stand mixer with a dough hook, or using your hands, mix in flour, olive oil, and salt. Transfer the dough to the oil-coated bowl, cover with a cloth or plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, up to two hours. If you want to speed up the process, preheat the oven to 200 degrees and turn it off when you put the bowl of dough inside. I did it this way, and it took about an hour.

When dough is ready, remove from oven and preheat oven to 475 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide dough in half. Shape each half the way you would for a pizza. Leaving about an inch all the way around the circumference of the dough, top with sauce, cheese, and pepperoni — or the toppings of your choice. Once topped, fold in half and pinch the edges to close. Place on baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Light, delightful coconut bread

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Spring gets me in the mood to make quick breads with fresh fruit and light flavors. I had a bag of unsweetened coconut in my cupboard that had gone unused for months, so I decided it was time to put it to good use. I came across this recipe for coconut bread from Smitten Kitchen and decided it was the best way to use it.

I don’t like overly sweet breads so, though her recipe called for sweetened coconut, I used the unsweetened coconut I had without adding any sugar, and it was perfect. The bread is light, fluffy, and slightly sweet.

Heed the warning not to overmix the batter. I did that on my first attempt and it made the bread far too dense. The second time around, it was perfect.

Ingredient
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted or melted and browned, if desired
Vegetable oil or nonstick cooking spray for baking pan

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, milk and vanilla.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Add sugar and coconut, and stir to mix. Make a well in the center, and pour in egg mixture, then stir wet and dry ingredients together until just combined. Add butter, and stir until just smooth — be careful not to overmix.

Butter and flour a 9×5-inch loaf pan, or coat it with a nonstick spray. Spread batter in pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, anywhere from 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Cool in pan five minutes, before turning out onto a cooling rack.

The best base recipe for muffins

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I’m back in Seattle and loving it. I haven’t straightened out my kitchen since I unpacked it, so this week’s recipe is an oldie but a goodie.

It’s based on Joy’s classic muffin recipe, which can be easily tweaked or added to in order to create different flavors. It is the best muffin recipe I’ve ever tried, and I’ve stuck to it ever since. The original says you can use vegetable oil instead of butter, and cream instead of milk, but I’ve found the combination below works best. Take out the poppy seeds and the lemon zest, and you’ve got the base recipe. Have fun creating your own flavors.

Next week, I’ll have a new recipe to share. In the meantime, enjoy.

Ingredients
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons poppy seeds
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a standard 12-muffin pan or line with paper liners.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and poppy seeds. In another bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, sugar, butter, vanilla and lemon zest. Add to the flour mixture and mix together with a few light strokes, just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Do not overmix; the batter should not be smooth. Divid the batter among the muffin cups.

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 17 minutes. Let cool for 2 to 3 minutes before removing from the pan.

Banana bread that’s a breeze to make

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Everyone has a favorite banana bread recipe. It’s one of those classic things that most people have on hand, even if baking isn’t something they do on a regular basis.

I love my mom’s banana bread, but it didn’t translate well at high altitude. I also tried the Banana Bread Cockaigne from the Joy of Cooking, which is my second favorite recipe, but that had issues, too. So, I toyed with it until it came out perfectly.

While three bananas work well at much lower altitude, they make the bread overly mushy at altitude. So, I reduced the number of bananas to two and used less baking powder as well. I checked the bread 45 minutes into the baking process and, while it looked done, it wasn’t fully cooked inside. I left it in for another 10 minutes and it turned out just right. It stayed moist and the crust was not overcooked.

If you’re in the mood to put a spin on the bread, you can add seeds from one vanilla bean. I’ve done that before and it can be a nice change if you’re looking for a more dynamic loaf. The original recipe also suggests adding 1/2 cup chopped nuts or 1/4 cup finely chopped dried apricots.

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (use 1 teaspoon at high altitude)
1/2 teaspoon salt (use 1 teaspoon at high altitude)
2/3 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter, softened
2 large eggs, beaten
2 ripe bananas, mashed

Grease a loaf pan and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Beat sugar and butter in a large bowl at medium speed until creamy. Add eggs and bananas. Add dry ingredients. Mix until just combined.

Scrape the batter into the loaf pan. Bake the bread for 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool slightly, then take out of pan and cool completely on a rack.