Class this week was sure to be a favourite for me because it was all about tea biscuits and muffins.
If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you know about my love of scones and biscuits (these are one of my favorites). There weren’t too many surprises for me in terms of ingredients or technique but I still left feeling inspired, and here’s why. We’ve used very little equipment thus far. Chef often has us mix ingredients by hand. And by hand, I literally mean, by hand. He encourages us to make recipes without equipment so that we have a better sense of what the ingredients should feel like during the whole process. This guy has been working as a pastry chef for close to 50 years and he delights in showing us how great dishes can be achieved with very few tools. Now for biscuits and scones, this is a no brainer. I would not ever think about using a mixer or processor to quickly bring together this dough. But muffins? Mixing a ginormous bowl of bran muffin dough by hand is interesting to say the least. But it did give me a better sense of what the batter should feel like. With muffin batter, very little mixing is actually required. And agitating all of that flour around just creates a super tough muffin (we’ve all had those!). To go in with your hands and just lightly toss that batter until the flour disappears, makes for a really tender and light muffin. Who knew?!
One of the biggest themes that I see with each and every class is that there is incredible attention paid to not wasting anything. Chef wastes nothing. Bowls are scraped clean. Every bit of ingredient is used and what isn’t used is saved for another time. I wouldn’t say that I typically waste ingredients, but I don’t pay as much attention as I could and I’m not as conscious of it as I could be. I’m always in a hurry it seems (which I’m sure you can relate to!). I’m watching you Chef! You’re influencing this old girl and you probably don’t even realize it.
Driving home from class last week, I was talking to my friend about a book I was invited to read, called Sir John’s Table. It’s basically the culinary life of John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister, written by Lindy Mechefske (get it here). We were comparing our current culinary classes with this book in the sense that long before measurements and methods became standardized, and without the use of modern tools and ovens, bakers and cooks simply had to rely on the feel of the ingredients to produce tasty goods. Pastries and macaron ingredients were mixed until they “felt right” and adjustments were made from there. Add spices till grateful and bake gently, was a common method of the time too. I think there’s something to be learned from that.
While I’m not ready to throw away my beloved stand mixer, Chef is showing me that the best way to learn about foods and techniques is to literally get my hands dirty. I’m using my hands to get a better sense of the ingredients and adjusting when it doesn’t feel right. And I can certainly feel and taste the difference so far.
Have I mentioned how much fun I’m having?! Have a great week friends,
*recipe via George Brown College
- 600g bread flour
- 30g baking powder
- 125g unsalted butter
- 250ml water
- 25g milk powder
- 3 eggs
- 125g sugar
- 10g salt
- 125g dried currants
- Preheat oven to 420°
- In a small bowl, whisk together the water, sugar and 2 eggs; set aside.
- In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt and milk powder. Cut in the butter using your finger tips, until mixture is mealy and butter is small and crumbly.
- Make a well in the center of the flour and add the wet ingredients. Pour the currants on top of the wet ingredients. Using your hands, gently toss the flour mixture into the wet ingredients, just until a shaggy dough is formed.
- Empty the dough contents onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently just a few times to make sure all of the flour is incorporated. Cover the dough with the large bowl and let it rest for about 10 minutes.
- On a floured surface, roll the dough out to a 1 inch thickness. Use a 3 inch biscuit cutter to cut out the biscuits or use a knife to cut the biscuits into 3 inch squares. Try to work the remaining scraps very little. Hand pat the dough into a 1 inch thickness and simply cut the remaining biscuits with a knife or pat pieces into a rough circle (rolling and shaping again will make them dry and tough).
- Place biscuits an inch apart on a parchment lined baking sheet. In a small bowl beat the remaining egg and use a pastry brush to apply an egg wash to the tops of all of the biscuits.
- Bake for 15 minutes, until tops are just turning golden.