Showing posts with label baking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label baking. Show all posts

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Baker Daughter Julia Williams

Another member of the next generation of writer-cooks debuts today on Mystery Lover's Kitchen!

Today we have a very special guest, my daughter Julia Williams (I hope it’s not nepotism). What is she doing on Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen? Because she works at a handful of different jobs in Chicago, and one of them is making croissants and other pastries for a chain of coffee shops there. Lots of flaky pastries! She’s been sending me pictures from work for a while, and I wanted to share them with you. (In case you’re worried, she’s quite svelte, although she will admit to eating some of the malformed pastries now and then. Baking can be hard work!)

So she, 
the baker with hands-on experience has explained to me how commercial croissants are made, with pictures. It’s unlikely you will ever be called on to produce croissants in numbers like these, so I won’t give you a recipe (“start with 50 pounds of butter and . . .”).

First you mix: combine the ingredients in a big mixer. The blade spins in place, and the bowl rotates around it.

Divide the dough into 3.5 kilo (just shy of 8 pounds) lumps, and put them in the proofer for an hour. [For those who don’t know what a proofer is, like me, it is an oven that controls temperature (at around 85 degrees F) and humidity (around 70%) so that your dough can rise quickly without drying out. In case you’re really curious, if a baker wants a slower rise, the dough is put in a “retarder” which is warmer than a refrigerator but cooler than a proofer.] The proofer that Julie’s bakery uses is about the size of a walk-in closet, and has a retard setting as well (goes from hot to cold in half an hour). (Aw, come on, mystery readers--don't start thinking of ways to leave a body in a proofer--which would lend itself to all sorts of good titles.)

Remove the (now-large) dough balls from the proofer. Shape them roughly, place on sheet pans, and freeze (yes, freeze). Later they will become “books,” which are sandwiched with sheets of butter, frozen again, defrosted, and then “laminated” with many folds (that is, you fold and roll again multiple times, which produces those lovely thin flaky layers in your croissant).

Once they are laminated, they are rolled out in a big sheet and cut into narrow triangles, which are rolled (pointy end out) to form the classic croissant (yes) crescent shape. Proof, egg wash, and bake.

Rolled and cut


There are lots of different options. Ham and cheese croissants, for example. Chocolate croissants. Filled croissants. Or use the same dough for Danish or kouign amann (look it up).

How to make a lot of croissants!

You can make puff pastry at home, if you really, really want to. The Great British Baking Show offered one recipe (and we watched the contestants struggle with it), but the ingredients were basically flour and water for the dough (Julie says the recipe she uses includes yeast and powdered milk as well), although the rolling and layering with butter is the same. Out of curiosity I checked a Julia Child recipe for Easy Puff Pastry and found she avoided the layering altogether, instead choosing to break up the butter into small chunks and roll (multiple times) from there. I can’t say I’ve tried it, but surely it must give a different result than the layered approach?

And that takes time. Make dough. Chill. Roll out butter. Fold butter and dough into a packet. Chill. Roll. Repeat a number of times, chilling or freezing between each rolling. The end product is delightful, but do you really want to do all that work?

Here’s one suggestions: grab a plane to Paris, find a café with tables on the sidewalk, and order a croissant or two to go with your coffee. And enjoy, knowing that a baker has worked hard to give you that lovely flaky pastry.

Julia Williams graduated from Smith College with a degree in comparative literature, and worked in a large independent bookstore for five years. Currently she lives in Chicago, where she both writes plays and performs with local theater groups—when she’s not producing pastries!

I’ll ask if she can respond to questions about the baking process, but she has an odd schedule (she has to start the croissants at 4:30 a.m.

A few less than perfect examples that they
couldn't sell. Wonder who are them?

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Guest Laura Childs, serving Cream Scones and a #bookgiveaway

Leslie here, delighted to welcome my cousin---really, truly; I'm not being metaphoric---the fabulous Laura Childs, New York Times best-selling author of the Tea Shop Mysteries, Cackleberry Club Mysteries, and Scrapbooking Mysteries, and next summer, a new thriller series under her real name, Gerry Schmitt. And it's wonderful that she's talking about her dogs. Dogs play a role in many of her books, and family collie, Duke, was the first dog I ever loved!

Leave a comment to be entered for a chance to win a signed, harcover copy of PARCHMENT AND OLD LACE, the newest Scrapbooking Mystery!

A funny thing happened to me in the kitchen the other day. My dogs decided to watch me make scones. These are two snooty, deign-to-even-take-notice Chinese Shar-Pei named Asia and Moosha. Yet they seemed delighted when I measured out all the ingredients, transfixed when I mixed the flour and butter with my fingers, and sat – staring and immobile – while my scones baked in the oven.  What was the result of all this kitchen love? A great pan of scones that was enjoyed by all!  (See photo of them noshing away.) And because I manage to slip tea drinking and scones into pretty much every mystery I write, I thought you’d enjoy my basic cream scone recipe. 

Basic Cream Scones
 2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup brown sugar, packed
1 Tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ cup (1 stick) butter, chilled and diced
½ cup cream
1 egg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

Combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Add butter and, using fork or fingers, mix until ingredients form a coarse meal.  hisk egg and cream together in a separate bowl and then add to flour mixture. Knead gently to thoroughly moisten and form dough. Add more cream if mixture is too dry. Drop dough (about a ¼ cup’s worth) onto lightly greased baking sheet, spaced about 1 inch apart.  

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.  Yields 1 dozen scones.  

Note:  This is a basic recipe, so you can always toss in a cup of chocolate chips or butterscotch chips if you prefer your scones a little sweeter!

Leave a comment on this blog post by Sunday, October 11, for a chance to win a signed, hardcover copy of PARCHMENT AND OLD LACE.

Here's the scoop on the newest Scrapbook Mystery, PARCHMENT AND OLD LACE: 

In this cozy-thriller from Laura Childs, scrapbook maven Carmela Bertrand tries to track down the killer of a young bride-to-be who’s been brutally murdered in a New Orleans cemetery. Could it be the conflicted groom, stalker attorney, jealous bridesmaid, or crazy mother-in-law to be? As Carmela sorts through this dysfunctional group of suspects, snippets of antique lace and parchment become critical clues in the case. And it all comes to an enormous head at a raucous casino party that ends with a frantic chase through an abandoned theme park. Scrapbooking tips are included along with recipes for Pecan Pie Muffins, Sweet Potato Casserole, Big Easy Butter Chicken, and more.

Laura Childs is the New York Times bestselling author of the Tea Shop Mysteries, Scrapbook Mysteries, and Cackleberry Club Mysteries. 

Little Girl Lost, the first in her new hard-edged thriller series written under the name Gerry Schmitt, will be out in June, 2016.

Learn more at Buy the books at Amazon, B&N, BAM, IndieBound, or your local mystery or independent bookseller. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Erin’s Sunday Morning Scones #baking #bookgiveaway

By Leslie Budewitz

We’re celebrating the upcoming release of BUTTER OFF DEAD, third in my Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, on July 7. 

Leave a comment below for a chance to win a signed copy!

Readers often ask where the recipes in my books come from. The answer depends on the recipe. Some, like Fettucine with Minted Tomato Sauce aka Fettucine a la Fresca and the Stuffed Mushrooms in DEATH AL DENTE, the first Food Lovers’ Village Mystery, and the Filet with Huckleberry Morel Sauce in CRIME RIB, are faves in my household. (We call the pasta dish Demented Fettucine.) Others, like the Huckleberry Margaritas and Martinis and the Jewel Bay Critter Crunch in BUTTER OFF DEAD, were created specifically for the book. Sometimes the plot demands a certain food! And in my Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries, I’ve created both spice blends and dishes to use them based on the foods available in the Pike Place Market at the time of year when the story is set.

At other times, my characters eat a dish—old or new—because I’ve eaten and enjoyed it, and wanted to share it with you. Like these scones. We first made them from a recipe published in my college alumni magazine. They came from the long-time cook for the Jesuit community at Seattle University, serving both active and retired priests, so naturally, we call them “Jesuit scones.” (She says they originated as a variation of a Julia Child recipe.) But over time the recipe has evolved, as favorite recipes often do. Scones are particularly forgiving that way—you can vary the nuts and fruit based on what’s in your pantry, and top them with sugar or not. And because Erin likes to bake—a trait we share—it was inevitable that one Sunday morning, she’d make her own variation.

The morning after a night out, relax at home with Erin and the cats.

Erin’s Sunday Morning Scones

1/3 cup or more chopped pecans, toasted (see below)
1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1½ cups whole wheat flour*
¾ cup flaxseed meal
2½ teaspoons baking powder
½ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup (one stick) butter, cut into small chunks
1 cup buttermilk
zest of one orange
1/3 cup dried cranberries, soaked in hot water to plump and well-drained
cinnamon sugar** or raw sugar to sprinkle as a topping (optional)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Toast the pecans for 10 minutes at 300 degrees, shaking the pan once or twice during baking. Don’t overbake; the nuts will continue to brown and crisp as they cool.

Raise oven temperature to 375 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, or a mixer or food processor, mix the flours, flaxseed meal, baking powder, brown sugar, and baking soda. Add the butter and mix or pulse until the mixture looks like large crumbs. Add half the buttermilk and work in, adding the rest as the dough starts to pull together. (I  like to use a food processor to mix in the butter and buttermilk more easily.)

If you’re using a food processor, transfer the dough to a large mixing bowl. Add pecans, zest, and cranberries.

Cover two baking sheets with parchment paper. Flour a large cutting board. Form the dough into a log. Cut the dough into five equal pieces. Use your hands to shape the first piece into a circle, about half an inch thick.

Cut into four equal triangles and transfer to the baking sheets. Repeat with the remaining pieces. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar or raw sugar before baking, if you’d like. (Not shown.)

Bake 18–20 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Makes 20 scones. These freeze beautifully.

* King Arthur’s unbleached white whole-wheat flour will give these scones a lighter color and texture that is particularly yummy, but if you can’t find it, regular whole-wheat flour works fine.

** 1 teaspoon cinnamon to 1/4 cup white sugar is a tasty combo. Erin stores the mix in a small airtight container, as it keeps well and is extra-tasty on scones, buttered toast, and oatmeal.

Leave a comment below for a chance to win a signed copy of BUTTER OFF DEAD! (Open till noon, Thursday, July 2; please include your email address.)

From the cover: As the national bestselling Food Lovers’ Village mysteries continue, the merchants of Jewel Bay, Montana try to heat up chilly winter business with a new film festival. But their plans are sent reeling when a dangerous killer dims the lights on a local mover and shaker …

In an attempt to woo tourists to Jewel Bay and cheer up the townies, Erin Murphy, manager of the specialty local foods market known as the Merc, is organizing the First Annual Food Lovers’ Film Festival, popping with classic foodie flicks and local twists on favorite movie treats. But when her partner in planning, painter Christine Vandeberg, is found dead only days before the curtain rises, Erin suspects someone is attempting to stop the films from rolling.

To make matters worse, Nick—Erin’s brother and Christine’s beau—has top billing on the suspect list. Convinced her brother is innocent and determined that the show must go on, Erin must find who’s really to blame before Nick gets arrested or the festival gets shut down. And as the anniversary of Erin’s father’s death in a still-unsolved hit-and-run approaches, her own beau isn’t so keen on her leading role.
But the closer Erin gets to shining a spotlight on the killer, the more likely it becomes that she’ll be the next person cut from the program…

Leslie Budewitz is the author of the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries and the Spice Shop Mysteries—and the first author to win Agatha Awards for both fiction and nonfiction. She lives in northwest Montana with her husband, a musician and doctor of natural medicine, and their cat Ruff, a cover model and avid bird-watcher. 

Connect with her on her website, on Facebook, or on Twitter. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Best Ever 7 Up Biscuits - Tasty Tips on Making this Classic Recipe from Cleo Coyle

Because the word UP in Chinese sounds like the word for HAPPINESS, 7 Up is considered to be a lucky drink for weddings and other celebrationsa little piece of trivia Marc and I discovered while researching our 11th Coffeehouse Mystery, A Brew to a Kill, which features some fun (and tasty) sleuthing in New York's Chinatown.

With the Chinese New Year (also known as Lunar New Year) coming up in a few weeks, I thought it would be fun to share my version of the classic 7 Up Biscuits recipe. 
I don’t know how much luck these biscuits will bring you, but they will likely bring happiness to your taste buds. May you…

Eat with joy!

~ Cleo

Cleo Coyle has a partner in 
crime-writing—her husband.
Learn about their books
by clicking here or here.

Why "7 Up" Biscuits?

I know what some of you may be thinking:

Why use 7 Up (or any lemon-lime soda)
in a baking-powder biscuit recipe?

In my view, there are two reasons... 

1 - Carbonation: The soda boosts the lightness and fluffiness of your biscuits' interiors, and...

2 - Flavor: No, the flavor of lemon-lime is not something you will taste in the final product. (I promise, I mean, who wants a lemon-lime baking powder biscuit?) What the 7 Up does is boost the overall flavor by subtly underlining the slight tang of the sour cream. Together these flavors provide complexity, helping your quickly-made boxed-mix biscuits taste more like granny's old-fashioned buttermilk biscuits.

My version of this recipe tweaks the classic ingredients, but my biggest change to the common approach is saving you time and mess. I don't turn the dough out onto a board and knead it with my hands, for example, and I don't pre-cut every biscuit and lay each out in the pan. If you're also looking for the best results from the fastest method, you might like this version, too... 

What I do is bake the biscuits as a single, square slab, which allows the interiors to bake up all the more higher and fluffier. Then I cut the big slab with a pizza cutter, making heavenly squares. My husband loves these biscuits. I hope you do to, too.

Now let's get cookin'...

Click here for
the recipe PDF.
To download this recipe in a free PDF document that you can print, save, or share, click here.

Cleo's 7 Up Biscuits
My version of the classic recipe

Makes 9 square biscuits using an 8 x 8 baking pan 


5 Tablespoons unsalted butter (unsalted butter is fresher than salted, but you can certainly use salted butter for this recipe, simply reduce the salt by half)

2 cups Bisquick** baking mix (lightly pack it into the cup and level it off)

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt or 1/4 teaspoon table salt (again, if using salted butter, reduce by half)

1/2 cup full fat sour cream

1/2 cup 7 Up freshly opened, not diet*


*Although Sprite or another lemon-lime soda will work for this recipe, the Chinese consider 7 Up good luck!

**Bisquick also makes a "Heart Smart" version of their regular product with zero trans fat. I have not tested this version of their product with this recipe, so I cannot tell you if it gives the same results, but I plan to try it in the near future.


STEP 1: Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Be sure it's well preheated for the best results. While the oven is preheating, drop the cold butter into a nonstick 8 x 8 baking pan and pop it into the oven for about 2 minutes. When the butter is close to melted, pull out the hot pan and let it finish melting outside of the oven (to ensure the butter does not burn). Now measure out 2 tablespoons of the melted butter into a small bowl and set it aside to cool. Meanwhile… 

STEP 2: Into a medium size mixing bowl, measure out the Bisquick as described in the ingredients (by lightly packing it into the cup and leveling it off). Get out a butter knife and stir in the salt (use half the amount if using salted butter).

Now add the sour cream and the 2 tablespoons of melted butter that you reserved from step 1. Using your trusty butter knife, "cut" these ingredients into the dry Bisquick. See my photos. The dough should appear crumbly.  

STEP 3: Open a new 7 Up for the best carbonation. Pour the 1/2 cup of soda into the bowl and stir it, as shown, using the butter knife until everything is combined.

Now switch to a big spoon or spatula and very vigorously stir this mixture for 20 to 30 seconds. No kidding, count as you stir and you'll notice the dough will begin to stiffen up, forming the gluten that will give your biscuits structure. 

When is it ready? When you pull your spoon or rubber spatula away the dough should come with it, feeling elastic like bread or pizza dough (see my photo below). If your dough does not do this, keep vigorously stirring until it does.

STEP 4: For best results, pop your 8 x 8 pan with melted butter back in the oven for one minute (no more) to really warm it up. This will give you the very best rise for your biscuits. Be careful now, the pan will be hot. Pour the stiff dough into the melted butter of your hot pan. Be sure to use all the dough, scraping the bowl well with a rubber spatula.

(Use an oven mitt to hold the pan and...) Quickly flatten out the dough with your spoon or spatula, stretching it to evenly cover the bottom of the pan. The dough does not have to touch the four sides of the pan, but it should be fairly close to them, as shown in my photos.

STEP 5: Immediately place the pan in your well preheated oven. Bake for about 15 to 18 minutes. The edges will be golden brown and crusty, and the top should show touches of light golden browning. The top will also show some cracking.

Cool for 5 minutes in the pan and 

5 minutes out of the pan
before cutting...

Can you see the *heart* in my biscuits?
Yes, folks, I really do cook with love!

COOL IN THE PAN for at least 5 full minutes. Why? The insides are still baking in the hot pan so this is an important step.

DE-PANNING: Because of the melted butter base, the biscuit square will slip right out. Remove it like you would a layer of cake by placing a plate over the top of the pan and flipping it. Yes, the bottom of the baked biscuit square will appear golden brown and crusty. But trust me, the inside will be amazingly light and fluffy. 

COOL OUT OF THE PAN: Allow the big square to cool for another 5 minutes before cutting. Trust me, those fluffy insides are retaining a lot of heat and will still be hot when you eat them, even after 10 total minutes of cooling.

CUTTING TIPS: For best results, flip the big biscuit right side up again, and you will have an easier time cutting your individual biscuits. Use a pizza cutter for the cleanest, best-looking slices. Then slather on butter, honey, or jam; dip into hot gravy; or split and fill for an amazing biscuit sandwich.

Presentation Note

If you're serving these to guests or your family, you can keep the biscuit slab whole and slice it up right at the table (as shown above). This makes a fun, somewhat more theatrical presentation of your beautiful biscuits. This method also has the advantage of staying hot much longer than individual biscuits so you have time to get the rest of the meal on the table. 

Golden and crusty on the outside.
Fluffy and light on the inside.

Click here to download
this recipe as a PDF.

Eat with joy 

Stay cozy!

~ Cleo Coyle

New York Times bestselling author of
The Coffeehouse Mysteries

Friend me on facebook here. * Follow me on twitter here
Learn about my books here

* * *

Once Upon a Grind:
A Coffeehouse Mystery

* A Best Book of the Year
Reviewer's Pick -
King's River Life

* Top Pick! ~ RT Book Reviews

* Fresh Pick ~ Fresh Fiction

* A Mystery Guild Selection

Delicious recipes are also featured in my 14th 
culinary mystery, Once Upon a Grind, including...

* Black Forest Brownies 
* Cappuccino Blondies 
* Shrimp Kiev 
* Dr Pepper Glazed Chicken
* Silver Dollar Chocolate Chip Cookies
* "Fryer Tuck's" Ale-Battered Onion Rings
* Poor Man's Caviar 
* Caramel-Dipped Meltaways

...and many more recipes, including
a guide to reading coffee grinds...

See the book's
Recipe Guide (free PDF)

* * * 

Marc and I also write
The Haunted Bookshop

Get a free title checklist,
with mini plot summaries, 

by clicking here.
Or learn more about the
books and meet Jack Shepard,
our PI ghost 
by clicking here. 

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