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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Witness my baking power

It's unfortunate that I've been telling myself that I'm not a baker, because good pastry chefs are in high demand. Well, when I moved here to Los Angeles I decided to stop telling myself what I'm not good at and accept that with effort and practice I can be good at making the perfect pie crust, or the occasional meringue. Baking can be unforgiving. If you don't follow the exact procedures you can end up in all kinds of precarious situations. For example have you ever mixed up the salt for the sugar and ended up with salty birthday cake?

I got the new Sweet Melissa Baking Book and decided to make the simplest recipe, Strawberry Shortcakes. Strawberries were cheap ($5/3 pints) at the Larchmont Farmer's Market, but I warn you there is a reason--they go bad quickly so make sure you use them within a day or two.

Let me tell you about cookbook author, Melissa Murphy, she owns a well-known bakery in New York City, called Sweet Melissa's. She loves baking with fruit, as her book is full of great cobblers, preserves, and her famous sour cherry and pistachio pie.

Making Biscuits
Sometimes when my friend's cat likes to kneads its paws against my belly we call it "making biscuits." In human biscuit making there is no such kneading as I couldn't resist using my cuisinart food processor to make the dough. Be sure to use the plastic dough blade instead of the steel blade.

Once the dough is ready, form into a rectangle.

Cut the dough into biscuits, and brush the dough with milk or heavy cream, before baking in the oven.

Meanwhile, prepare the strawberries. I love how Melissa uses the culinary term "macerate" to describe the process of adding sugar to the berries and letting it sit.

While your biscuits are cooling on a rack, and your strawberries are self macerating, make whipped cream. Melissa calls for you to used an electric mixer to whip the cream. Instead, I used a metal mixing bowl, which was stored in the freezer for an hour beforehand, and a whisk. If you have a cooking partner, you can switch off on the whipping so that no one suffers wrist fatigue.

Which shortcake jumps off the page?

Overall, I'd say my biscuits didn't rise enough, so I had to use surgical precision to slice it in half. But homemade biscuits covered in hand whipped cream and fresh, local strawberries... what a treat!

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