holiday tradition: introvert edition

Christmas & New Year’s at Chez Herkes are pretty simple: our house is an Introvert Haven on both the Eves and the Days.

How does that work? Well. Spouseman works on jigsaw puzzles or Legos or plays video games, I watch movies, play with the train set, put up ornaments (yes, I often wait until Christmas Eve to do the tree)  and putter around the kitchen when I’m not curled up on one of the bean bags with a new book to read or puttering with the book I’m writing at my desk.

AND we’re open to friends dropping by any time after 7PM on the Eves and after 1 PM on the Days.  (Always wise to inquire if we’re on a walk through the neighborhood to admire holiday lights or get fresh air, but other than those excursions, we’re IN.)

Nothing is going on, but company is welcome. That’s it.

There are non-traditional holiday movies on the television in one room all day & night (for several years we did a Bad Movie double feature on NYE, but it got awfully organized and was causing me unfun panic and so it was retired in favor of more Introverting In Company like we already did on Christmas.)

ANYway. There’s usually quiet music in the non-television room, and there are comfy chairs available for sitting with snacks and beverages pretty much everywhere because that’s how I roll. And of course there are foods and beverages for snacking. Because for me holidays mean food, and food is yummy.

Zero planned activities, zero zero formal socializing. Conversation and catching up are cool, just not…required. Quiet parallel play like reading, crafting, surfing the internet via phone or tablet, or watching television–that’s as close as things get to a theme.

The new house give us SO MUCH MOAR SPACE to stretch out! I can’t wait to holiday here.

Friends whose holiday travels bring them past our road less traveled on their way over the river and through the woods are welcome to drop by for a mug of cider (or a beer or wine or a cuppa hot tea) Settle in for awhile or just decompress for a the length of a nosh and a sip. Some years we have several drop-ins, many years it’s just Spouseman & me, but always, it’s simple, and nerdy.  (see below)

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Happy Hibernation season, everyone!

Just the facts this time: scones my way

My last baking adventure post wandered into a rantlet about scientific method, so for this one I’m sticking to Talking About The Recipe.

Here be my current “scone” recipe. It’s a blend of several scone & buttermilk biscuit recipes because that’s how I roll. PUN INTENDED. HA.

Before you begin:

  • preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  • If you’re adding dried fruit, set 1 cup’s worth of fruit to soak in hot water.
  • Find your Really Big Bowl. Getting the dough to behave & fold into yummy layers is MUCH easier in a big bowl than on a counter. Plus then you don’t have to clear as much countertop to work on.

1. mix together in your Really Big Bowl (I use a whisk)

3 c flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/2-1 tsp salt
*plus ONLY IF you’re doing a sweet scone: 1/4-1/2 c sugar

2. add in 1 super-cold stick of butter.

recommendations I ignore: cut the butter into small chunks & work into the flour mixture with your fingertips or fork or pastry cutter until it’s all in flour-coated teeny pieces. Being me, I often use soft butter (GASP) and I think the results still come out tasty not “tough,” but YMMV.

* also toss in 6-8 oz shredded cheese at the same time as the butter if you’re craving cheezy/savory scones.

3. add in 1 cup milk or cream or buttermilk or milk mixed w/unflavored yogurt, all the variations give slight differences in final flavor. The important thing is, add about 1 cup total liquid.

*if you’re making sweet fruit scones, drain most/all of the soaking liquid & add the fruit at the same time as the milk.

4. mix it all up in your Really Big Bowl with spoon and then hands until it comes together as a dough. It might be sticky, especially the fruit version if you left a lot of water in the fruit like I do when I don’t feel like being patient/thorough about draining it.

4.1 If it turns out especially pain-in-the-ass wet, at this point you can plop spoonfuls on a cookie sheet and make drop scones out of it.

4.2 Otherwise for shaped treats, keep pressing it all together with floured hands until it just barely holds together in a ball. Fold the shaggy lump of dough in half in the bowl, then gently flatten it out again. Do that three or four times total — the dough gets easier to work each time.

5. Squish out/roll the flattened dough until it’s about 1/2″ thick and cut into your preferred shapes. I like triangles because it’s the most efficient use of the dough, and I can twist up the edge trimmings into freeform weirdling shapes. If the dough has worked up well, I shape & cut it in the bowl so I don’t have to bother flouring the counter.

6. Place treats on parchment papered cookie sheet & slide into the oven to bake.

7. IMMEDIATELY DROP THE OVEN TEMP to 400.

Yes,  I did say pre-heat to 425. You can even pre-heat to 450. Biscuits & scones need the high temp to rise well. But I drop the temp as soon as they’re in because if I leave the temp up, I always misjudge the shorter cook time and overcook the bottoms. Lowering the temp and cooking longer gives me a bigger “done” window.

8. Bake for about 15 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean/tops turn golden brown. (You can do fancy shit like paint the tops with milk or egg to make them brown up more. I can’t be bothered. Cheezy scones get browner faster than fruit ones, go figure.

FULL DISCLAIMER: the cook time can be vary by plus OR minus 10 minutes depending on the size & shape & variety & oven quirks. That’s nearly a 100% over/under, so keep a close eye on them the first few times.

That’s it. The recipe is super-customizable and you can get a sheet’s worth ready to bake before the oven finishes pre-heating once you get the hang of it. Plus it dirties only 1 bowl & 1 measuring cup and makes anywhere from 10 to 24 scones, depending on how BIG you like them.

Happy experimenting, that’s all until later!

Almost forgot! Here’s my obligatory promotional blurb:

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Here be more pictures of tasty treats, just for added entertainment value:

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yes, I overbaked some of these, but look at those triangles!

 

Another creative baking adventure

I committed baking heresy again: I made cookies without a recipe. Well. Sorta. I made cookies with 4 recipes and followed none of them. Ginger cookies. I like ginger-molasses cookies, and every year I add a new variation to the collection

It isn’t that I don’t like recipes. I do! I love them.

I’m just really unfaithful. Sometimes I stray because I lack an essential ingredient (eggs, once) or have an ingredient in excess I’m using up by throwing it into every food I make. (dried cranberries) Mostly I stray for the fun of it. “I wonder what happens if I sub in cream cheese for butter!” “Will honey work in these cookies instead of sugar?”

Fretting over ingredients and measurements goes against everything I enjoy about baking. I’ve learned a few basic principles and proportional balances, and as long as I honor those parameters, I have confidence the results will be edible.

Maybe even tasty.

When I confess to recipe cheating (after I’ve let people eat the results and they come back for seconds) I often get stares of horrified astonishment.

That’s because people believe the phrase “cooking is an art, but baking is a science.” and it leaves them worried that any recipe deviation will lead to disaster.

Not so. Ha. No. First, baking is no more or less an art than any other form of cooking. And second, precision instruction-following is not even a part of the scientific method.

Scientific investigations go something like this:

  1. Observe a phenomenon,
  2. Form a hypothesis. AKA make a guess.
  3. Develop a methodology to test your guess hypothesis. AKA think up an experiment.
  4. Enact your method. Experiment.
  5. Document & review results.

Thassit. Reproducibility is the part where you circle back around to step 1 and test what you observed as the result of the prior experiment. In other words, it’s a fancy way of saying, “Can I make it happen again?”

Precision reproduction is important when validating a new scientific discovery, sure, but when it comes to baking?

In a sense I do adhere to the “baking is science” adage, but I do it by enjoying the exploratory observation & hypothesis-testing steps. “Golly, I wonder if these ingredients will go together. They all taste good, and they go well in pairs. LETS DUMP IT ALL IN AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS.”

And the results this time were delicious! Here’s the recipe for this year’s chewy, spicy, addition to my ginger cookie recipe collection.

1. Cream together:

  • 3/4 c. shortening:  1/2 stick butter & 1/2 package (4 oz) cream cheese
  • 1/2 brown sugar (packed)
  • 1/2 c white sugar

2. Then add one at a time:

  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c. molasses…or more. I put in a fair bit more…

3. In a separate bowl, sift together:

  • 2 c. flour
  • 1+ tsp powdered ginger
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp cloves if you want. I do not ever want.
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt

4. Add dry ingredients to the mixer bowl and mix until just blended.

5. stir in 1/2 c. diced crystallized ginger if you want to really ginger up things.

5.5. Chill dough if you want it to be easy to handle. Otherwise prepare for sticky fingers

6. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees

7. Put some sugar in to a bowl, scoop out spoonfuls of dough & toss in sugar to cover.

8. drop sugar-covered dough bits onto parchment-covered cookie sheets.

9. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 min depending on size. Done when they are crackly on top & centers flatten slightly.

Try not to eat them all in one sitting. IMG_6823

That’s all the all for now.