The Most Amazing Scones on Earth

The Sunday morning ritual in our house is some kind of special breakfast. Waffles, biscuits, etc. This past Sunday, I made these oatmeal scones. The recipe is nothing I had anything to do with. It was perfectly worked out by the gang at Cooks Illustrated. They were unbelievable.


Bread # 1 / Country French - poolish: a comparison

First in a series of baking log entries:

5:45 am - poolish prep
To the pan of bread machine, added Pillsbury Organic Unbleached White (UBW, 150 g) and water (150 g) and 1/4 t yeast (RedStar dry active). Mixed a bit and let sit till this afternoon covered with a moistened cloth.

2:15 pm (7.5 h) - dough / first rise
To the same pan, charged water (150 mL, rt), yeast (1/4 t), UBW (250 g) and salt (7-8 g) and placed in machine for 30 min kneed (too long but out of my control - preprogrammed dough cycle) and 60 minute ramped temp rise (rt -> ca. 90-deg-F).

4:05 pm
Dough (barely risen) was removed from the machine, punched down, rounded and allowed to rest on the counter beneath and inverted bowl. The bowl keeps the moisture in without having to cover the actual surface of the dough. After this rest, it was punched down again and formed into a squat ball and placed into my version of a banneton (I'll define this later) lined with a muslin cloth liberally dusted with flour and covered with the other half of the muslin cloth. This was the final proof in the shape of a loaf. The oven was turned on to 425-deg-F and the loaf proofed for 45 minutes.

5:00 pm
Removed from banetton, slashed, baked on clay tiles in lower third of oven with a blast of steam for 45 minutes. Crap. Squat, dense, looks ok but I'm not optimistic it'll taste good. I'm only publishing the result because it will make a good run look that much better and my integrity forces me to.

A flaw in every scientist is not writing down EVERY OBSERVATION during an expt. All that is written is what seems pertinent at the time. I didn't record relative humidity because I didn't measure it and didn't believe it was important. Part of this is just practical (it's too hard to record EVERYTHING) and some of it comes from personal bias. So I'm going to reflect and try to figure out what went wrong and repeat the prep.

Reflecting on this prep, the poolish, at the end of it's rise looked pretty lame, not fluffy and voluminous like it usually does. I think it's because I didn't use a full 1/4 t yeast, I used old yeast or I mixed it in my bread machine pan where it's difficult to mix and I just kind of swished things around. So from the poolish on, everything was kind of small. Pitiful rises. I was relying on the final oven spring to come through and save me. It didn't. This loaf came out about 8" in diameter with barely a dome in the middle. It tasted ok and had good color, it's just the volume was pretty bad. Volume or more importantly, density, of final loaves is a critical outcome measure that I haven't been able to determine. To get this number, I'd have to cut a significant cube of the bread out and weigh it. It destroys too much of the bread. Ultimately we do cook this stuff to eat it. In the future, I may decide to bake double and use one loaf for measurements.

Voila! I repeated the exact same prep changing only the poolish prep. For the poolish I used Fleishmann's bread machine yeast (a reliable dry yeast) and a full 1/4 teaspoon and also mixed the poolish in a separate bowl and mixed it better (kind of like stirring a batter of brownie mix) and let it set for 8 hours and proceeded exactly as in the remainder of the procedure above. Note the new loaf! Although there's nothing in the photo to guage relative size, these loaves are almost exactly the same diameter, but the second one rose like a pillow. Also note the (what I call) stress fractures on top highlighted by the flour. These cracks in the crust arise from a rise in the oven and a contraction on cooling. I've observed them on all great lean crusty loaves (mine and others). And I think I could've cooked the second one a tad longer, I like 'em dark.

Side by side comparison of the profile of the dense vs. bigger volume loaf.


Couscous Salad

I like couscous salad but have never found one I like. In general, when I look for recipes, I like to gather many contributions and to see if there's some consensus on ingredients and methods. Once I see which sections are flexible, I set out to create my own version or a hybrid of what seems to make sense.

Most couscous salads start with preparation of the couscous by adding boiling water to the grain and letting it set for 5 minutes off the heat and then putting in the other stuff. This works for eating it hot (within 20 minutes) but for some reason, it just doesn't stop cooking quickly enough for purposes of a cold salad application. Maybe it's just me but I end up with mush by about the 30 minute mark. It wasn't untill a trip to my friend Marie's wedding last year (in the south of France) did I find a nifty trick. My french is horrible (speaking and comprehending) but I was able to find out that they made (the best) couscous salads using only room temperature liquids.

The crucial piece of information absconded from the conversation, I was off to find out the critical volume of liquid used to hydrate the couscous. After some playing around, here's a version of a couscous salad that can me ready to eat within 30 minutes (including a brief chill time) and can be made vegetarian or not. The only critical quantities in this recipe are the grain (couscous) and liquid. All the other goodies added are flexible.

Couscous Salad - a size good enough for a potluck

couscous, 1 1/4 cups (250 grams)
liquids (add these liquids to a 2C measuring cup sequentially):
    juice of 1 orange
    honey, ca. 1 tablespoon
    cider vinegar, ca. 3 tablespoons
    water, enough to complete the total volume to 400 mL (on the side of the measuring cup)

Add liquids to couscous and stir once in a while. Couscous will absorb all the liquid within 10 minutes or so. It's kind of cool to watch the grains plump up. It's almost exothermic.

Step 2
Add the following ingredients or your favorites:
pine nuts, lightly toasted, 2 T
fresh mint, 1-2 T
olive oil, up to 3 T (good stuff)
salt and pepper
green onion
finely diced tomatoes
raisins or apricots (plumped in boiling water and drained if too dry), 1-2 T
non veggie version: pan seared boneless chicken breasts, cooled and chopped into big chunks.

Step 3
Blend and refrigerate. I like it slighly chilled and served atop a bed of lettuce (with cheese and olives).


The Miracle Worker

Having restored world peace, Bush now tries to cure baldness.