Spring into summer is a time filled with special occasions in my family. Along with the national celebrations of Mother and Father’s Day and any graduation that may occur that year (I’m looking at you, May 20th), we have three birthdays in the immediate family alone in May and June. When May begins its fast approach – as that is the manner in which it always seems to arrive – I know to start making sure presents are prepped and special meal ideas are getting researched and thought over. And while the past few years have had me away at school or in the flurry of move out during this time, the circumstances of this year had me at home to properly kick off celebration season! And while I certainly spent some time over the stove and chopping away in preparation for meals, it’s the baked goods that I want to talk about today.
My Dad’s birthday kicks off this period of special days, and for that we can always rely on making a strawberry shortcake. A dessert that commemorates the warming weather and burgeoning berries. Of course, New Hampshire saw snow coming down Charlie Brown style only a couple days later, but on Strawberry Shortcake Day it was perfect for reveling in the idea of the coming warmer months.
My Mom has always taken the lead on this, relying on a Bisquick recipe that has always served her well. But as I have wont to do, I decided to look around at some recipes totally from scratch and try my hand at it. So after consulting multiple sources and checking within myself for what I thought was just too much (I’m not hard boiling an egg to use its yolk in a shortcake. That is where I draw the line) I settled on this recipefor the seemingly perfect marriage of “I’m making it from scratch and in total control of the product” and “Approachable, dependable, won’t leave me with sad nothing-cakes that crush my soul”.
This balance seemed to be achieved as I combined my dry ingredients and cut in the butter in the food processor. But as I added the sour cream and buttermilk mixture, the dough wasn’t looking right. Somehow, despite fastidious measuring and multiple confirming checks, the dough was looking far too wet. Certainly, too wet for turning it out onto the countertop for a quick knead, and fartoo wet to cut, stack, and cut again. Despite this, I liberally floured my work surface and dumped out the dough in hopes that a generous amount of kneading flour would solve my problems. But alas, it did not. The dough remained an unhandleable mass.
But I had come too far to give up hope. Though I could not cleanly cut it into squares, I portioned the dough into six round lumps on the baking sheet and put them in the oven for a hopeful bake. The good thing about shortcake is that, in my estimation, it’s not prone to getting completely messed up. There’s some flexibility when it comes to texture. And while you may not end up with what you wanted, you will likely end up with something edible, and likely tasty. With that amount of butter, such is usually the case.
The recipe I was working with was aiming for a flaky biscuit type of deal, others go for a less-laminated, more tender and crumbly sort of thing that is closer to scones (which I’ll get to in a second). So, while I did not get the intended former, the latter resulted from my mysterious mistakes. While less liquid would have been better with either case in mind, the crisp, buttery cakes were nothing to sniff at. Tender and bright from the zest of a lemon, they remained a perfect pairing for macerated strawberries and homemade whipped cream. And a little vanilla ice cream, if you like that sort of thing.
Scones get a bad rap. Defamed as having a proclivity for dryness, or even being fully rock hard, Americans seem to have abandoned the scone in favor of the muffin in the realm of breakfast pastries. Years ago, I noticed this common scone-slander and set out to try a few and see if it was true. And you know what? Scones are great! I’ll take a scone over a muffin any day of the week! Yes, some of them are dry, but you know what else I’ve had dry from a mediocre bakery? Muffins! So, I will correct my earlier statement. Goodscones are great. Just as goodmuffins are great. Equitable breakfast pastry recognition!
Luckily, my Mom and I share this strongly held belief. So, when I asked her what she wanted for a Mother’s Day breakfast, some type of scone was the first thing mentioned. And while the idea of a classic lemon blueberry scone was enticing, I opted to go with an orange and cranberry flavor. Though we had the blueberries available, they’re used regularly in our house for weekday breakfasts with yogurt, and I wanted to ensure that we would be able to stretch them for that as long as possible, as we aren’t going to the store quite so much these days. But we certainly had plenty of orange rind for zesting, and a bag of dried cranberries begging to be used for baking again after the hot cross bun success. I awoke that Sunday at my typical weekend sleeping-in time of 7am and got to work zesting and mixing away for a scone brunch.
Scones are in the family of pastries that require cutting in butter. Naturally, I turned to the food processor, always letting me keep my butter cold and cutting it into pebbles far better and quicker than I ever could. Despite this, though, I am always wary of over-pulsing. Therefore, even in cases where the recipe instructs me to cut until pebbly, I tend to err on the side of caution and leave the butter in slightly bigger flecks than would perhaps be preferred. What can I say, I’m terrified of a tough pastry! But while I certainly did not over work the dough, my pulsing trepidation left me with a dough that was not as cohesive as it would have perhaps been if the butter was pulsed finer. It was no shortcake-like folly, still a scone dough texture I had handled before with pleasing results. But, cutting and forming the triangles was definitely a slight challenge.
And while this made them a little lumpy and not perfectly triangular, the rest was a total celebration of scones. Tender and buttery on the inside, crisp and crunchy on the outside, and imbued with just enough fruity flavor. A little spread of butter and a cup of coffee was all they needed to shine as a proper scone should. And more importantly, they kicked off Mother’s Day in just the right way for the Mom of our house as she let it be known.
Chocolate Chip Cheesecake
There is a much-mentioned, long-lost recipe for chocolate chip cheesecake that my sister and I have heard talk of for our entire lives. This was the ultimate in cheesecake. The perfect recipe. A favorite of my parents. But at some point, the recipe disappeared, and no matter what other recipe they tried, none came close to the Lost Recipe.
I had tried my hand at producing a replica once before. But as it was my first attempt at cheesecake, success was not achieved. So, for my Mother’s Day dessert this year, I wanted to try my hand at reproducing the chocolate chip cheesecake so dear to my parents’ hearts. While I did not have the original recipe to go on or any key ingredients to ensure I included, I strived for stellar cheesecake at the very least.
For some reason, there are not a lot of recipes out there for chocolate chip cheesecake. Maybe that’s why the Long-Lost Recipe has been so elusive! It seems like a fairly standard cheesecake variant, but the recipe availability is simply scant. But this onevia Confessions of a Baking Queen seemed to cover the ingredient and technique basics that I wanted to employ. Unfortunately, I was without mini-chocolate chip, the superior chip type for cheesecake. I hoped that giving what chips we did have a chop would be a reasonable solution, and not result in chocolate bleeding throughout the bright white of the dairy, or uneven distribution that I had experienced in my only other attempt.
When it came to mixing, this was another situation where over-mixing could be dangerous, but this time the caution came after incorporating the eggs. An over-whipped cheesecake batter will have too much air and be liable to cracking. And I was notgoing to have a crack that day. Not on Mother’s Day! Not this cheesecake! So along with mixing just until incorporated by hand post-egg (and egg yolk) addition, I also took great care and time with the cooling process. After an easy hour-long bake in the oven in a bain marie, I killed the heat and left the cake inside with the door cracked open with a spoon as the recipe suggests helping ease the delicate custard back to room temperature. After an hour of that it spent an hour on the counter to cool further. And after an easy release from the greased spring form pan and gently wrapping it in plastic, it went in the fridge to chill for six hours. The result was a cheesecake with not a crack to be seen. This in itself was an accomplishment that made it all worth it.
Just before serving I whipped up a chocolate whipped cream and piped it around the edges, topping each dollop with a chocolate chip for an added panache. And for a little extra something we heated up some salted caramel sauce I had made a few days before to pour on top. Though a long process and a cake that certainly requires planning, it came out as perhaps one of the cleanest looking cakes I have yet produced. And though mini chips would definitely be better, the chopped ones scattered evenly throughout the creamy cake were wonderful crunches of chocolate amongst a body of sweet vanilla. A worthy cheesecake to be sure. But mid-slice enjoyment, my Mom remembered an ingredient from the Long-Lost Recipe: lemon juice. I had considered adding some lemon in the middle of my mixing earlier that day, considering the benefits of a little more acid along with the already present sour cream. But as it was not in the recipe, and I was already concerned about a successful texture, I hadn’t risked it. I guess I’ll just have to make more cheesecake. Oh noooooooo.
Have you been able to unearth any old family recipes? How did you treat your Mom or yourself this Mother’s Day? Do you have butter-cutting trepidation? Let me know! Want to make sure you’re getting Scoutin’ it Out posts as soon as they come out? Subscribe in the box to the right!