Friday, December 16, 2011

Beer Bread Grilled Cheese with Avocado and Caramelized Onions

Remember beer bread? I wrote about it here. Well, it makes THE BEST grilled cheese. And if you can load it with caramelized onions, thinly sliced avocado and some spinach leaves, even better.

If you haven't tried beer bread, you must! It's the easiest quick bread I make, and the payoff is huge. You can eat it with butter as a nice accompaniment to a stew and then use it to make grilled cheese sandwiches. The last loaf I did was with Sam Adams Cherry Wheat. It's fun to add different twists with new beers. The only ones I like to stay away from are the bitter types like IPAs. Otherwise you can't go wrong.

For the grilled cheese, it's just as easy. Although you could, I don't even butter the outsides of the bread. It just doesn't seem necessary to me. I mist them with cooking spray and put the sandwich in a hot cast iron skillet, covering it part of the time to help the cheese melt. The bread gets nice and toasty on the outside, but is still tender and chewy toward the middle. That's it! No recipe. Done.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Pumpkin Scones with Cranberries and Walnuts

I've had this pumpkin scone recipe bookmarked for over a year. It's from King Arthur, and I'm so glad I finally tried it. I look at a bunch of pumpkin scone recipes, and this one was the most straightforward and simple. Of course, it turned out GREAT. These are some of the best scones I've made, maybe ever. Perfect tender texture, great rise, perfect size, great flavor, and on and on.

Two cool things about the recipe: First, it does not call for a dairy ingredient such as milk, buttermilk or cream. Two eggs and the moisture of the pumpkin take care of that (but you do need to brush the scones with milk in order to help the sugar adhere--perhaps egg wash would work?). If there's ever a scone ingredient I don't have on hand, it's the dairy. Second, the KA bakers came up with a weird technique I've never seen before. They swear that freezing the unbaked scones for 30 minutes (and no more; you don't want them frozen rock solid) creates a higher rise and better texture (it's explained more here). I did it, but who knows if it really made a tremendous difference.

If I was utterly pressed for time, I think they would be good without the chill time. But I'm unlikely to mess with a good thing. UPDATE: I did in fact mess with a good thing. I no longer bother with the chilling technique. I believe the extra egg (most scone recipes call for one egg) and the pumpkin are the cause of the good rise in these scones. The recipe below reflects this update.

Pumpkin Scones with Cranberries and Walnuts (or chocolate chips!)
Adapted from King Arthur
KA used cinnamon chips and crystallized ginger as mix-ins...yum. You can use whatever appeals to you (up to 2 cups of mix-ins according to KA, which I personally think is a lot). I used KA white whole wheat flour, which I absolutely love for scones. You can use AP, and whole wheat pastry should work well, although I haven't tried it. I made these in my stand mixer for a change, but you can do all of it by hand, using fingers or a pastry blender to incorporate the butter.

Makes 12 medium scones

2 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour (or all-purpose) (326 grams)
1/3 cup sugar (74 g)
1 Tbs baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch chunks (113 g)
1/2 cup chopped, toasted walnuts (2 oz) OR 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (100 g)
1/2 cup dried cranberries (70 g)
2 large eggs
2/3 cup canned pumpkin (164 g)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Milk for brushing tops
Coarse sugar (such as turbinado) for topping

Preheat oven to 425 and line a half sheet pan with parchment paper. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or do all of this by hand in a large bowl, incorporating the butter with a pastry blender; I actually prefer this method over using the stand mixer), whisk together the first 8 ingredients (through allspice). Add butter and mix on medium-low speed with the paddle attachment until mixture is unevenly crumbly with some chunks of butter remaining (I broke up some of the large chunks of butter with my fingers at this point). Mix in walnuts and cranberries on low just until combined.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs to break them up, then whisk in the pumpkin and vanilla until combined. Add to flour mixture and mix on medium speed, just until flour is moistened, scraping down bowl as needed (I did this partially by hand; do not over mix).

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, briefly knead into cohesive mass, and divide in half. Pat each half into a thick disk, then roll each one into a 3/4-inch thick circle, about 7-inches in diameter. Cut each circle into 6 wedges. Transfer wedges to sheet pan, about 1-inch apart. Brush with milk or cream and sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Bake in center of oven, turning baking sheet once until bottoms are golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean, 13 to 15 minutes (mine took 15). Cool on baking sheet 3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temp. These freeze beautifully; thaw at room temp.