Monthly Archives: March 2008

the search for perfection… the Daring Bakers do Dorie’s Perfect Party Cake

Dear Dorie,

Thank you for giving this chocolate cake lovin’ girl
a perfect go-to white cake that I enjoy almost as much
as chocolate cake! What a perfect, perfect cake!
love,

Almost-a-Convert

That’s right… another month has passed and it’s Daring Baker time again! Our dear fellow foodie, Morven, wanted to choose something that allowed us a little creative freedom, and I am so pleased that she picked this cake! Not because I took a lot of liberty with the recipe (because I didn’t – it sounded plenty wonderful just the way it was), but because I find it so hard to make that “leap of faith” for anything other than decadent sounding chocolate cake recipes. I’ve always wanted to like white cakes with their pretty appearances, but they always just left me sort of… eh. No more. I loved this cake.

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Dorie says this is a “just-right cake for any celebration,” and boy is she right. This cake would be right at home at absolutely any event. And the combination of fresh, white cake, lemon, and raspberry? Just like the name… perfect.

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I wish I were a coconut fan, because I love the look of this cake with sweetened coconut pressed into the sides. Alas, I am not, so I opted to garnish my cake with fresh raspberries to complement the raspberry preserves layered inside.

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Looking back, I think next time I make this I’ll add a little more lemon juice to my buttercream. I’d have liked just a little more lemon flavor there. However, that’s pretty much the only thing I’d have done differently. This cake is just SO good. (Oh, wait… I’d also warm the preserves a little less – warm it too much and you don’t get quite the impressive raspberry layer that you’re looking for.)

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My mom would LOVE this cake. Not too sweet with a nice balance of lemon and raspberry… she’d finally be able to finish a slice without looking for a cup of coffee to “wash it down.” I certainly wouldn’t be sad to make it again so she could try it. (Consider that an open invitation, Mom!)

Thanks, Morven, for a fun and tasty challenge!

(Don’t forget to check out the Daring Baker Blogroll to see the many wonderful interpretations of this cake.)

Dorie’s Perfect Party Cake
(from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours)

Cake:
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk (Dorie recommends buttermilk with the lemon)
4 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure lemon extract

Buttercream:
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 2 large lemons)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Finishing:
2/3 cup seedless raspberry preserves stirred vigorously or warmed gently until spreadable

Making the cake:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9 x 2 inch round cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a round of buttered parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together the milk and egg whites in a medium bowl. Put the sugar and lemon zest in a mixer bowl or another large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the sugar is moist and fragrant.

Add the butter and working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2- minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated.

Divide the batter between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and springy to the touch – a thin knife inserted into the centers should come out clean. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unfold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature, right side up (the cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to two months).

Making the Buttercream:
Put the sugar and egg whites in a mixer bowl or another large heatproof bowl, fit the bowl over a plan of simmering water and whisk constantly, keeping the mixture over the heat, until it feels hot to the touch, about 3 minutes. The sugar should be dissolved, and the mixture will look like shiny marshmallow cream.

Remove the bowl from the heat. Working with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the meringue on medium speed until it is cool, about 5 minutes.

Switch to the paddle attachment if you have one, and add the butter a stick at a time, beating until smooth. Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, 6-10 minutes. During this time the buttercream may curdle or separate – just keep beating and it will come together again. On medium speed, gradually beat in the lemon juice, waiting until each addition is absorbed before adding more, and then the vanilla.
You should have a shiny smooth, velvety, pristine white buttercream. Press a piece of plastic against the surface of the buttercream and set aside briefly.

Assembling the Cake:
Using a sharp, serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, slice each layer horizontally in half.

Put one layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Spread it with one third of the preserves. Cover the jam evenly with about one quarter of the buttercream. Top with another layer, spread with preserves and buttercream and then do the same with a third layer (you’ll have used all the jam and have buttercream leftover). Place the last layer cut side down on top of the cake and use the remaining buttercream to frost the sides and top.

Decorate with fresh raspberries or sweetened coconut.

Serving the cake:
The cake is ready to serve as soon as it is assembled, but I think it’s best to let it sit and set for a couple of hours in a cool room – not the refrigerator. Whether you wait or slice and enjoy it immediately, the cake should be served at room temperature; it loses all its subtlety when it’s cold. Depending on your audience you can serve the cake with just about anything from milk to sweet or bubbly wine.

Storing the cake:
The cake is best the day it is made, but you can refrigerate it, well covered, for up to two days. Bring it to room temperature before serving. If you want to freeze the cake, slide it into the freezer to set, then wrap it really well – it will keep for up to 2 months in the freezer; defrost it, still wrapped overnight in the refrigerator.

Playing Around:
Since lemon is such a friendly flavour, feel free to make changes in the preserves: other red preserves – cherry or strawberry – look especially nice, but you can even use plum or blueberry jam.

Fresh Berry Cake:
If you will be serving the cake the day it is made, cover each layer of buttercream with fresh berries – use whole raspberries, sliced or halved strawberries or whole blackberries, and match the preserves to the fruit. You can replace the coconut on top of the cake with a crown of berries, or use both coconut and berries. You can also replace the buttercream between the layers with fairly firmly whipped sweetened cream and then either frost the cake with buttercream (the contrast between the lighter whipped cream and the firmer buttercream is nice) or finish it with more whipped cream. If you use whipped cream, you’ll have to store the cake the in the refrigerator – let it sit for about 20 minutes at room temperature before serving.

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Ham and Asparagus Frittata… or… what to do with your Easter leftovers, part one

There’s leftover ham in many a refrigerator this morning… including mine. For some, this is a bad thing. In our house, this is a very good thing. Not only do I live with a certifiable ham fiend, but there are just so many great things you can do with leftover ham (provided, of course, you can keep it out of the hands of your favorite resident “snacker”). I’m going to give you two… one today and one later this week. I’d give you more, but… well… I’m going to have to deliberately hide away part of the ham just to make it to the second recipe. I have no hope of the ham making it a millisecond past that.

My very first thought when I think “Easter leftovers” is the much-loved and oh-so-simple frittata. Frittatas are good hot, room temp, or cold. They’re fast. They’re flexible and happy to take on pretty much anything in your fridge.

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What’s in my fridge? Leftover ham, a half a bunch of leftover asparagus, some sliced mushrooms. But, remember, you can throw in whatever you have.

Ham & Asparagus Frittata
8 large eggs
3 tablespoons half & half (milk works, too)
1/2 tablespoon butter or olive oil (or non-stick cooking spray)
1 cup button mushrooms, sliced
10-12 asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 1″ pieces
1 cup cooked ham, cubed
1/4 cup freshly grated Romano cheese
salt & pepper to taste

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, half & half, and salt and pepper.

In a large, oven-proof skillet, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté until they just begin to soften. Add the asparagus and ham and continue to cook for 2-3 minutes until asparagus is bright green.

Preheat broiler.

Pour in egg mixture and cook, covered, for 5-6 minutes (without stirring) until almost set. Remove lid, sprinkle with cheese, and place skillet (uncovered) under the broiler. Cook for another 3-5 minutes until golden.

Remove from oven and cut into wedges.
(Serves 4-8, depending on how hungry you are.)

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Friday night comfort food

After a particularly long and hectic week, which culminated (by the way) in a twisted, swollen, and bruised ankle, I was ALL about a little comfort food tonight.

Yep. Despite the fact that I’ve already done plenty of damage to my attempt at a healthier diet this week, the pizza gods were calling my name. There was just no denying it. So, I poured myself a drink. Then I pulled a ball of frozen pizza dough from the freezer and let it thaw on that magical warm spot on top of my pre-heating oven while I surveyed my topping options.

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A leftover chicken breast. A nearly overripe red bell pepper. A few stray slices of red onion. Cheese. BBQ sauce. Sounds like a BBQ chicken pizza to me!

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Every bit as good (better, I say) as those “commercial” pizzas. Though, to be fair, we’re no strangers to the local pizza delivery guy! It’s just really nice to be able to control the toppings… the quality… the crispness of the crust. And, really, it doesn’t take too much longer than the pizza guy on a busy Friday night.

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BBQ Chicken Pizza
1 lb. pizza dough, homemade or purchased from your favorite pizza joint
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, thinly sliced
3-5 tablespoons BBQ sauce, depending on how you like it
1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, sliced into rings
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded OR Sargento’s chipotle cheddar cheese
1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
cornmeal for dusting

Place pizza stone in oven and preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

In a medium frying pan, saute the chicken breast until just cooked through. Set aside to cool slightly.

Roll, throw, or otherwise shape your pizza dough into the desired shape. Spread with BBQ sauce and top with chicken. Sprinkle over tomatoes and onion, and lay down the red pepper rings. Cover pizza with cheeses.

Sprinkle hot pizza stone with cornmeal and transfer pizza to stone. Cook until crust is crispy and cheese is bubbly, approximately 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and enjoy!
(This makes an 8-10 inch pizza, but results may vary depending on how much dough you use and how thick you want your crust. Adjust your toppings accordingly.)

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Homegrown Gourmet #6 (Breakfast) – The Roundup and The Winner!

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It’s Homegrown Gourmet
Roundup Time!

Since its inception, Homegrown Gourmet has covered sandwiches, soups, pies, stews, quick breads, and now… breakfast.

Our mothers always told us that breakfast is the most important meal of the day… and I’ve got some breakfast lovin’ readers! Sit back and enjoy… oh, and you might want to go ahead and grab a snack or you’re going to be starving by the time you reach the end of this roundup!

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Ben from What’s Cooking gave us not only a great recipe for traditional Mexican Breakfast Sopes, but also a comprehensive guide to making our own tortillas. I have fond memories of the homemade tortillas of my childhood, and I can’t wait to try these Sopes!

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Michelle at Greedy Gourmet, a self-proclaimed “potato monster,” shares the recipe her wonderful husband uses for their full English breakfast with Potato Hash Browns.

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I love me some pancakes, and Meghan at Joy Through Cooking put on her Pittsburgh pride and featured truly droolworthy BLACKberry and GOLDen Pineapple Pancakes. Yum!

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Kate from Paved with Good Intentions contributed an intriguing Californian Couscous Cake with Dates. Cake for breakfast that doesn’t make you feel guilty? What a concept!

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Next we had my own entry… my “good enough for now but still in search of the ultimate” Southern Buttermilk Biscuits. I wish these had lasted long enough to pair with some sausage gravy.

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The lovely founder of the Homegrown Gourmet Challenge, Bean, brought us a Maine Brown Egg Frittata, which also featured Maine potatoes and Cape Cod cranberries for garnish. Beautiful!

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Shandy from Pastry Heaven made a wonderful Smoked Salmon Puff Pastry in which she uses wonderful Pacific salmon. And, bonus! You can prep this one the night before!

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Mrs. W from Mrs. W’s Kitchen in Central NY brought a full-on Breakfast for Shoveling to the table. Eggs, bacon and home fries are the perfect fuel for shoveling yourself out from under 18 inches of snow (color me jealous… of the snow AND the breakfast!).

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Ruth from Just Add Eggs shares with us an Irish Ulster Fry that would make anyone weak in the knees. Bacon/sausage, eggs, homemade breads, and tomatoes? What’s not to love?

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Suzana over at Home Gourmets brings us a lovely Portuguese Pão de Deus. Pão de Deus translates to God’s Bread and, from her description and photos, I think it’s aptly named.

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Holly from Phe/MOM/enon went back to her roots and brought out some great looking Cornmeal Griddle Cakes in honor of her ancestors who pioneered their way from Europe and across the U.S. to settle in Utah.

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Tempered Woman went all out with a… ahem… “healthy” St. Louis classic – Gooey Butter Cupcakes (for breakfast!). Gooey butter cake is a St. Louis classic and one that you really must try if you haven’t already. Now, coming off my “bread so sweet it’s a dessert” win last month – TW is a woman after my own heart. Not only do I love the sinful goodness of having cupcakes for breakfast but, but having grown up in Missouri, she came in with an entry that really tugs at my heartstrings – and those two things make her my choice for the WINNER of Round Six of the Homegrown Gourmet Challenge! Congratulations!

Thanks to everyone for all of your wonderful and thoughtful entries! Be sure to keep an eye on Tempered Woman’s blog for her announcement on Homegrown Gourmet #7!

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hi. can’t talk. buried.

Life is far, far too busy at the moment… so, no substantial update here – just a great little recipe and an entry for Ben’s Food for Plastic Challenge!

This month’s challenge was all about a taste of Spring. Spring makes me think of flowers in bloom. Blooming flowers make me think of hummingbirds. And hummingbirds? They make me think of hummingbird cake! Sweet as nectar, these are the perfect springtime treat!

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Hummingbird Cupcakes
(adapted from Paula Deen by way of Martha Stewart)
Cake
3 cups self-rising flour
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
3 ripe large bananas, mashed
1 (8-ounce) crushed pineapple, with juice
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 large eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line cupcake tins with liners.

In a large bowl, stir together self-rising flour, sugar, oil, pecans, bananas, pineapple, vanilla, cinnamon, and eggs.
Divide batter evenly between cupcake liners Bake until toothpick comes out clean, approximately 17 minutes.

Remove pans to a wire rack to cool 10 minutes then remove cupcakes and allow to cool completely.

Frosting
1 pound (1 box) confectioners’ sugar
1 (8-ounces) cream cheese, room temperature
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk, more if needed
1 cup finely chopped pecans

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine sugar, cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and 1 tablespoon milk on medium speed until frosting is smooth. If needed, add more milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, to achieve the proper spreading consistency.

Frost cupcakes and serve.

Store tightly covered in the refrigerator.
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Homegrown Gourmet roundup this weekend! Stay tuned for some pretty great entries!

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blogging by mail and chowdah!

I love getting mail. There’s something really satisfying about finding a handwritten note or card from someone who cared enough to take the time to send it. Sadly, in the age of e-mail and mobile phones, those days are few and far between. So, most days, my trip to the mailbox is rather unfufilling. Bills and junk mail. Junk mail and bills. Perhaps the occasional interesting catalog. The good days bring a magazine or two. But, birthdays and holidays aside, rarely much more than that.

That’s exactly why I signed up for Stephanie’s Blogging by Mail event. A reason to send and get really good mail? Oh yeah!

Last weekend, my package from Pam arrived. I tore into it like it was Christmas and, with each item that I pulled from the box, the bigger my smile grew. What a great box of goodies!

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Here’s what Pam sent in her New England-themed package:
Two bags of incredible tea from her favorite tea shop
Chocolate covered cocoa nibs
A lobster sucker
A star bowl
Chocolate covered dried cranberries (YUM!)
A purse-sized recipe journal
Two postcards – one with a great note from Pam and one with a great recipe from Pam
An uber-cute lobster cookie cutter

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Awesome! Thank you, Pam, for a wonderful package!

I knew when I saw her recipe for Clam Chowder that I had to try it out before every trace of cool weather was gone. I was given just the opportunity last night when a day of blustery wind actually blew in some rather chilly temperatures. So, I ran to the store for clams and got to work.

The problem? I had really wanted to feature the adorable lobster cookie cutter she sent as well, but I just didn’t have the time to pull together rolled cookies. Then, inspiration struck! I didn’t have time for cookies… but I did have time for crackers! And what goes better with chowder than crackers?

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That’s right. Clam Chowder with Lobster-Shaped Crackers! Not only was it fun, but it was incredibly tasty. That’s some good chowdah! I highly recommend working it into your menu before Spring arrives (though, in Pam’s family this is apparently a classic “summer day at the beach” food – so you really could do it any time!).

Since it’s just the two of us and the Husband is a little weird about leftover seafood, I knew that there was no way I could make the full batch as she had written it. So, I cut the recipe back and made just one small adjustment and… it really (REALLY!) hit the spot.

Clam and Corn Chowder
(adapted from Mom’s Clam Chowder, by Pam @ Cave Cibum)
4 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup white onions, chopped
2 large potatoes, cut into small cubes
3 tablespoons AP flour
1 can minced clams
1 cup heavy cream
1-2 cups whole milk
1 cup fresh corn kernels
salt and pepper

In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add onions and potatoes and saute until onions are translucent. Stir in flour until incorporated and cook to form a roux. Add clams (including the juice in the can), cream, and 1 cup of milk, and corn. Stir. Cover and simmer over low heat until potatoes are soft, about an hour. Add extra milk if you like a thinner broth. Salt and pepper to taste, and serve with oyster crackers OR homemade crackers (see below).
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Crispy Homemade Crackers
(adapted from various recipes across the internet)
1 cup AP flour
1 cup wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 cup milk (approx.)
1/2 cup butter, melted and divided
Salt for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Pour in 1/4 cup of the butter. Stir in just enough milk to make a stiff dough. On a floured surface, roll dough to 1/8″ thickness.

Cut cracker dough into squares or desired shapes with cookie or pastry cutters. Place crackers on lightly greased or silpat lined cookie sheets and pierce with a fork.

Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and brush with melted butter. Sprinkle with additional salt. Allow to cool to room temp. Enjoy!

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honey ginger mahi mahi

If fish night is going to happen at our house, it usually happens on Thursdays. Why Thursday, you ask? Because Friday is trash day. Stinky fish trash isn’t so much a problem during the winter months but, come summer, the last thing you want hanging out in your trash can for five or six days in 100 degree heat is fish bits. So, better to just stay in practice.

Probably not the most appetizing way to start a food post, is it? Hey, just being real, folks! :)

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Mahi mahi is definitely my favorite fish. Mild and firm, it lends itself to pretty much anything you throw at it. We eat it quite a lot and this is one of my favorite recipes. If you’ve got time to marinate the fish, absolutely do it. But if you don’t… that’s okay, too.

We like this over couscous. Pair it with sauteed spinach and a nice glass of wine and you’ve got a really classy dinner in just a few minutes. And you know how much I like recipes that come together quickly!

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Honey Ginger Mahi Mahi
2 garlic cloves, minced
1.5 tablespoons honey
1.5 tablespoons soy sauce
1.5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon ginger, grated
2.5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 4 oz mahi mahi filets
salt & pepper

Combine garlic, honey, soy sauce, balsamic, ginger, and one tablespoon EVOO in a smallish bowl. (If you have time, marinate the fish in this mixture for 15-20 minutes. If not, go ahead and just proceed as follows. This one works fine either way!)

Heat remaining 1.5 tablespoons EVOO in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Salt and pepper fillets and place in pan. Cook 4-5 minutes per side until flakey. Reduce heat slightly and pour in honey ginger mix. Flip fillets to coat and allow to reduce, 2-3 minutes.

Plate fish and drizzle with reduced glaze. (Serves two.)

t-minus 10 days and counting to Homegrown Gourmet #6 deadline!

That’s right. Time flies when you’re having fun, doesn’t it? As of today, we are a mere ten days out from the deadline for the sixth Homegrown Gourmet challenge… BREAKFAST! So, not only did I think it was time I posted my own entry, I thought it was also time to remind all of you that I’m depending on you to help me make this… my very first event hosting experience… a success. No pressure, people, but help a girl out, would ya? :) Send me your best “homegrown” breakfasts by March 13th. Details can be found back at the original post.

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I’ve talked before about how Southerners just do some things undeniably well. Buttermilk biscuits happen to be one of those things. In these parts, they’re often served with country ham. The dry, salty ham isn’t really my thing – I’m more interested in the biscuit itself (though I’ll happily take one drowning in country gravy).

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But, it’s true… buttermilk biscuits in these parts are truly an art. Moist, fluffy, and golden, I’ve mused for a while that I really want to find that “perfect” biscuit recipe. I’ve looked. I’ve experimented. And, though I can turn out a decent enough biscuit, they’re never that stop-you-dead-in-your-tracks, I-can-now-die-happy, perfect biscuit that I’ve been dreaming of.

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This is my current biscuit recipe. It’s just a little finicky… requiring that you don’t over-flour, overwork, or overcook the dough. But, if you can avoid doing those three small, but important, things, it turns out a pretty nice biscuit – moist on the inside, golden on the outside. Good, but… still not THE ONE.

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So, I’m putting this one out there and making a request at the same time. Have a phenomenal biscuit recipe? Share it with me! Help me put this search to rest so that I can move on to other things… like tiramisu.

Pretty Good for Now Buttermilk Biscuits
2 cups self-rising flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons confectioners sugar
1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
3/4 to 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup butter, melted

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Stir together the flour, baking powder confectioners sugar. Cut in the shortening until pieces are about the size of grains of rice. Stir in the buttermilk – start with 3/4 cup and add more as needed until the dough pulls away from the bowl.

Knead a few times, roll out on a floured surface to 3/4-inch thickness. Be careful not to overwork the dough or add too much flour, or you’ll have dry biscuits. Cut with a floured biscuit cutter or glass.

Place on an ungreased cookie sheet, brush with butter, and bake about 12 minutes, until just golden brown.

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