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Mad Hatter Tea Party: Not Too Dry Tea Biscuits

Not Too Dry Tea Biscuits

You may have noticed something of an overarching theme in this site’s construction, but while Alice in Wonderland comes up here and there, I have yet to post any recipes for roasting Jabberwocky or to offer any advice on adding pepper to soups.

That being said, when I came across this now out-of-print cookbook riffing on the classic tale, it seemed like a match I surely could not ignore. It was easier to ignore it once I caught the triple-digit price tag on existing copies, however. Still, even while I waited for a version more within my budget, there were a few treats from the book posted online, so I decided to see where that rabbit hole would lead.

Not Too Dry Tea Biscuits: Tray

Whether you’re plotting a grand tea party for six or it’s just you and your cat, the recipe for these Very Dry Tea Biscuits is simple enough to whip up any time. No worries. As long as you don’t over-bake them, they are not too dry at all, neither are they terribly sweet, though bright hints of lemon and the rich scent of nutmeg accent them beautifully. This recipe turned out about 40 two-inch biscuits for me, and they store perfectly in the freezer. I like having them on hand to pull out at a moments notice when curious guests suddenly arrive and are in need of snacks.

Now that I’ve had a taste of Wonderland cooking, I must admit that roasting Jabberwocky sounds kind of intriguing. Maybe we’ll have to follow this white rabbit a bit more often.

Not Too Dry Tea Biscuits: Process

Not Too Dry Tea Biscuits
from The Alice in Wonderland Cookbook: A Culinary Diversion by John Fisher

1 stick butter, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
8 ounces flour
2 teaspoons lemon zest
a pinch of salt
a very generous scratch of nutmeg
2 tablespoons milk, as needed

Heat oven to 325°F

In a medium bowl, measure out flour. Add lemon zest, salt, and nutmeg and whisk to combine.

Cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add egg, and continue mixing until incorporated. By hand, stir in mixture of flour, lemon zest, salt, and nutmeg. If dough remains too dry, add just enough milk to pull it together.

Roll out dough on lightly floured counter and cut out desired shapes. Place each biscuit on a parchment covered cookie sheet (you can squeeze them fairly close–they will not spread much) and prick each with a fork. Bake 14-16 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Cool completely on a wire rack. Store tightly covered (in the freezer for an even longer shelf life).

Having My (Double Chocolate) Cake (and Nibbling at the Edges)

Double Chocolate Muffins

I mentioned that it might be a little quiet in Wonderland this summer, but even I wasn’t expecting the silence to be so drawn out. And the longer the gap, the harder the re-start. I have a small stack of draft posts, but I haven’t been quite sure how to put what was holding me back into words even for myself. Today, it was put into pictures with way more power that I ever could have generated.

That’s not to imply that I have lost interest in researching or testing recipes, writing about or photographing meals (and eating remains a central priority in my daily life, one way or another). There is something so energizing about sharing food with friends and family around the table; the fact that in 2013 you can tweet a quick picture of that meal to a recipe creator and invite them in for a virtual “thank you” bite is a very sweet icing indeed.

While I’m nowhere near as serious as some, I find blogging to be a beautiful final step in documenting what was once ephemeral women’s work. For me, however, it often comes at a cost in lost attention to the present.

With that in mind, I’ve dedicated myself (unconsciously at first, I’ll admit) to being a consumer of internet knowledge this past month rather than a contributor to the volume, and it’s been grand. I’ve actually finally made a lot of the dishes on my “To Try” Pinterest board! Here’s a round up of some of my new DIY discoveries and recipes. Yes, I fully grasp the ridiculousness of expressing anxiety about the volume of internet content in a new post published on the internet. It’s hard to let go of the dopamine hit that is online (over?)sharing, for sure.

Wonderland on Instagram (clockwise from top left): citronella soy candles; natural lipstick; cocoa butter lotion bars; double chocolate muffins.

Wonderland on Instagram (clockwise from top left): citronella soy candles; natural lipstick; cocoa butter lotion bars; pre-bake double chocolate muffins.

I’ve also turned the kitchen over to crafting some DIY beauty products. While I recently figured out that my body is much too irritated by the baking soda in this deodorant recipe (who knew?), I’m loving these other Wellness Mama concoctions:

While you’re at it, take a second to make a little olive oil candle scented with the essential oils of your choice to keep you company in the bath. I rigged this wick with a bit of picture frame wire.

evoo candle

Now that I’m almost all the way back on this pony, more on other projects, such as DIY bug spray and citronella soy candle making to come…

Bon Attempt*: Dishes to Try (and Try Again)

Pickled Turnips

So, things have been going in Wonderland Kitchen, they just haven’t been going “OMG, I totally have to tell you about this ah-maze-ing cookie recipe I just invented” great. That, or they’ve been going “this other person’s recipe is awesome and I posted about it last year” (so repeat as needed).

I’ve also been doing a good bit of cooking for real people beyond my husband (or unintentionally for my cat, when my back is turned, the little sneak!). It seemed rude to stick a lens in a guest’s face during an 8 a.m. breakfast, but in hindsight I’m feeling less shy, so beware future visitors!

Anyway, this being Sunday, I thought perhaps a little confession time was in order–air the laundry and wipe off the counters for the week ahead–and so in no particular order, some recipe takeaways for when the CSA first slams back into the rotation and houseguests make last minute visits. What have you been cooking as we slide into summer?

A Reminder that You Can Pickle For Tomorrow What You Can’t Consume Today

Turnips with Beet

Since the crisper drawer was already bursting with greens, I picked up a couple bunches of these white turnips and pickled them according to David Lebovitz’s recipe. Here I thought I was innovating, but hardly! I did however get distracted and ended up with an overly salted and garlic-y finished product. Will have to try this one again, because the beet slices resulted in an amazing brine. And I do have a soft spot for pink food.

A Reminder to Prep Guest Breakfasts Ahead of Time

Granola and Refrigerator Oats

I’ve posted about this Little Blue Hen granola before, which I like especially because it includes an abundance of nuts and seeds with nary a spec of dried fruit in sight (though I’ll cop to offering the guests a handful of DIY raisins at their discretion, because come on). I also like to make little cups of refrigerator oats before heading to bed (I substitute kefir for the milk and yogurt) and then just pass out the jars and spoons in the a.m. Haven’t had an unfinished portion yet.

A Reminder to be Brave with Your Summer Soups

Spring Asparagus and Broccoli Soup

I have been having a lot of luck lately with those “use up five things from the in-house stock” on the fly dinners, and this has been especially helpful now that there’s a lot more produce around. As we crawl towards the end of the week and another pick-up looms, sometimes the stuff just needs to be used up. That’s how I ended up with asparagus, broccoli, and spring onions in a soup pot, simmered with just enough veggie broth to cover, and then pureed with the last of the dill and the remaining 1/4 cup of cream in the bottle. A light spring soup, tasty both hot and cold.

A Reminder to Double the Doctor Kracker Knock-Offs

DIY Seeded Crispbread

Fair warning that these are very crisp crackers, but they are just like the ones that come eight to a box in the grocery. If your family is as addicted to them as mine, you have come to the right place for the knock-off recipe. But be sure to hide a few for your own eating: this was the lone piece of cracker left in the bag when I went back to take a picture and have a snack.

A Reminder to Not Burn Your Hand When Baking Life-Changing Bread

My New Roots: Life Changing Bread

This is the pre-baked look of My New Roots’ much-discussed Life-Changing Bread. The first loaf I made with really beautiful Bob’s Red Mill oats and specially purchased hazelnuts and thought it was a neat breakfast item but not necessarily life changing. The second time I was way more chill about it, just used the walnuts and the somewhat crappier instant oats I dug out of the pantry, and also tossed in all the seeds left behind in the bag of the above-mentioned seeded crackers. Aside from the accidental seering of the back of my hand on the oven while flipping the bread over, I’m enjoying the second batch even more. I keep it sliced and frozen and simply defrost a piece each morning in the toaster.

A Reminder That Not All Baking Need Exhaust Your Patience

Joy the Baker: Sweet Berry Lime Cake

Short version: I needed a cake for company, and I had about an hour to make it happen. Joy the Baker to the rescue!

A Reminder That Sometimes the “Failures” Are Still Pretty Tasty

Tomato Basil Popovers

I always have excellent results with this King Arthur popover recipe, so I used that as the base when–for some reason–I started dreaming of breakfast treats flavored with tomato. My first effort included 1 tablespoon tomato powder, 1 teaspoon onion powder, a handful of chopped basil, and about 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. They were good, but not quite what I’m looking for just yet and I lost most of my usual pop (I’m guessing the weight of the cheese didn’t help). A work in progress.

A Reminder That Not All Failures are Failures If You Adjust the Frame

Cottage Cheese Fail

I got it into my head after the cream cheese making that DIY cottage cheese would be no. big. deal. I researched a few available recipes and thought things were going pretty well, but my curds didn’t survive the straining process. I’m guessing I didn’t cook my curds long enough. Proper looking curds or no, the cheese still tasted fantastic and I used it like a rich ricotta on toast and pizzas with much success. The curd skills will come another day. There were also fresh peas at the market, which meant it was time again for smoky tahini peas!

Peas and Cheese Crostini

*With apologies to Bon Appétempt, whose kitchen antics are funny and whose dishes look awesome. However, as I have never eaten at her house, it’s her blog name that I’m particularly enamored with–so much so that I felt only minor guilt in kinda stealing it for the title of this post! That acknowledged and confessed, onward into the kitchen…

Ripe Strawberries, Ripe!: Strawberries and Cream Cake

Strawberries and Cream Cake

I’m not really much of a fruit person, but when there were strawberries–strawberries everywhere–it felt shameful to walk away from the farmers market empty handed.

So it was that I ended up with about a pound of perfectly ripe fruit and no practical application in sight. What I did happen to have was a pint of gloriously rich heavy cream, which led pretty quickly to baking motivation, a sentiment efficiently fueled by a fear that this lovely fruit would be left to spoil as the busy week wore on. Add in our great neighbors willing to share an evening on the front porch, provide the Prosecco, and supply the plates and napkins, and a party was in process before the dessert was completely situated on the cake stand.

After reading through the comments, I decide to pour my cake batter into two pans rather than split a single layer after baking, which sped the cooking time up considerably (about 17 minutes total) and cut down on the mess. The next time I try this recipe, however, I think I’ll stick to one and see if that alters the texture favorably. This cake is firm and heavy–a bonus if your berries are very, very juicy, but mine were of the smaller and tarter variety. I think splitting the cake before baking may have only made the density more of a challenge and I found the crumb to be a shade drier than preferable. Could have all simply been a matter of user error on the part of the infrequent baker, admittedly. I’ve never claimed to be much of a Martha Stewart. More of a Mr. Wizard, if we’re frank about it.

 Strawberries and Cream Cake: Assembly

But I doubt I’ll ever be able to top the look of this cake when assembled. I had never heard of mixing in a bit of plain gelatin with the whipping cream to help it maintain its form, but that is a take away I will not soon forget. Even a couple days later, a lone leftover piece still held up well in the fridge.

And of course, I couldn’t help but belt out “Ripe strawberries, ripe!” from the iconic street scene in the musical Oliver Twist while hulling the fruit to fill this cake. My sincere apologies to all those within ear shot.

Strawberries and Cream Cake
from Martha Stewart

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar, plus more to sweeten berries
2 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk
1 pound strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Butter two 8-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with circles of parchment. Butter the top of the paper and thoroughly flour the pans.

Heat the oven to 350°F.

Mix the sliced berries with the desired amount of sugar and toss gently to coat. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, measure flour, baking powder, and salt. Whisk to combine.

Using an electric or stand mixer at medium speed, cream butter and 1/2 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Scrape down sides of bowl and add eggs and yolks, one at a time, mixing thoroughly between each addition. Beat in vanilla. Reduce speed to low and add in the flour mixture (in three parts) and the milk (in two parts), alternating between the two and mixing just until combined. Divide batter between the two pans and smooth the surface.

Bake about 17 minutes. The edges of the cakes should be deeply golden and a cake tester inserted into the center should come out clean. Cool ten minutes in the pans before turning out on a wire rack to cool completely.

When ready to assemble the cake, prepare the whipped topping. In a small sauce pan add two tablespoons cold water and sprinkle gelatin over top. Heat on low just until gelatin dissolves and then allow to cool down.

Beat the cream with 1/4 cup sugar until soft peaks hold. With mixer running, drizzle in cooled (but still liquid) gelatin and continue beating until cream is once again holding soft peaks.

Place bottom layer of cooled cake on serving plate. Top with half the strawberries (I had fewer berries, so went with the slight variation you see pictured) and half the whipped cream. Top with the second layer of cake and the rest of the cream. Chill for at least one hour to allow cream to firm up and berry juices to penetrate the cake. Remove from refrigerator and top with remaining strawberries 15 minutes before serving.

Getting Corny: Momofuku Milk Bar’s Corn Cookies

Momofuku Milk Bar's Corn Cookies

Based on the sheer number of somewhat bizarre drying experiments I’ve been running around here lately, you might have caught on that I’m a new convert to the joys home dehydration. Beyond your basic fruit snacks and carrot chips, I’ve been particularly interested in manufacturing my own DIY vegetable powders–everything from your standard garlic and onion to your more exotic tomato and red pepper.

In the course of things, I ended up dehydrating a bag of frozen sweet corn for a recipe that never materialized, so I packed the dried kernels away in a mason jar until a good use for them presented itself.

A few weeks later, however, I caught Savory Simple’s post on Momofuku Milk Bar’s Corn Cookies and was immediately seduced by the quirky taste profile the recipe suggested. I was less attracted to sourcing the unusual ingredients required. Did I really want to special order corn powder? Hmm, might my dehydrated corn step in to save the day? I committed…to thinking about it.

DIY corn powder and corn flour

And so the recipe went into my “to make one day” pile, and there it sat. For months. Finally, frustrated by my own inaction, I pulled out my “coffee grinder reserved for spices” and got to work. The dried sweet corn was powdered; lacking corn flour, I also blitzed some of my DIY cornmeal until the motor was near to overheating and my fingers were satisfied with the texture. I sifted for good measure. Twice.

Do these cookies match the originator‘s? I actually can’t say, since for as much time as I spend in New York City, I have yet to make a pilgrimage to the Milk Bar. Perhaps I shall pop in this month, now that I have a mission. What I can say is that I made these with just what was in my pantry, and they were fantastic. The freshly powdered dehydrated sweet corn and corn flour provided a strong corn flavor that made for a particularly unique treat.

DIY Corn Powder

Corn Cookies: Pre-bake

NOTES: Before baking these, I read a recommendation to substitute bread flour for the AP to help the cookies stand up to the high butter content, controlling spreading while maintaining a chewy rather than crisp texture. It was suggested that King Arthur bread flour was what they use at the Milk Bar, and I liked the results I got this way (though I did not bake a comparison batch).

On baking day, it was cold enough in my house, and I was impatient enough to get started, that getting my butter to room temperature seemed like a battle I was destined to lose. However, I remembered a neat trick I learned (via Food in Jars) to soften butter in warm tap water. Killer kitchen tip for the poor planners in the crowd like myself!

Corn Cookies: Ingredient Prep

Momofuku Milk Bar's Corn Cookies

Momofuku Milk Bar’s Corn Cookies

1 1/3 cups (225 g) King Arthur bread flour
1/4 cup (45 g) corn flour (I ground cornmeal to a super fine level; for international readers, this is NOT corn starch)
2/3 cup (65 g) freeze-dried corn powder (I used finely ground dehydrated sweet corn kernels)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
16 tablespoons (225 g) butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (300 g) sugar
1 egg

Measure dry ingredients into a mixing bowl and whisk to evenly incorporate. Set aside.

Cream butter and sugar together (medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes). Scrape down bowl, add egg, and beat for 7 minutes more.

Reduce speed to low and add dry ingredients to wet. Mix just until combined.

Portion into 15 rounds on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Flatten each cookie to about an inch thick. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour before baking–do not skip this step! Cookies baked several days later, however, were just as good.

When ready to bake, heat oven to 350°F.

Place six raw dough pucks spaced well apart on a parchment-lined cookie sheet (they will spread considerably). Bake 16 minutes, until edged have lightly browned. Allow cookies to cool and firm up before removing from pan. Store in an air-tight container.

http://wonderlandkitchen.com/2013/05/getting-corny-momofuku-milk-bars-corn-cookies/

1 1/3 cups (225 g) King Arthur bread flour
1/4 cup (45 g) corn flour (I ground cornmeal to a super fine level; for international readers, this is NOT corn starch)
2/3 cup (65 g) freeze-dried corn powder (I used finely ground dehydrated sweet corn kernels)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
16 tablespoons (225 g) butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (300 g) sugar
1 egg

Measure dry ingredients into a mixing bowl and whisk to evenly incorporate. Set aside.

Cream butter and sugar together (medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes). Scrape down bowl, add egg, and beat for 7 minutes more.

Reduce speed to low and add dry ingredients to wet. Mix just until combined.

Portion into 15 rounds on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Flatten each cookie to about an inch thick. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour before baking–do not skip this step! Cookies baked several days later, however, were just as good.

When ready to bake, heat oven to 350°F.

Place six raw dough pucks spaced well apart on a parchment-lined cookie sheet (they will spread considerably). Bake 16 minutes, until edged have lightly browned. Allow cookies to cool and firm up before removing from pan. Store in an air-tight container.

Sugar Rush: DIY Raisins

DIY Raisins

I’ve never been much of a dried fruit fan, and I think I can trace the root of this back to those little red boxes of raisins so frequently tossed onto my elementary school lunch bag. In my memory, the raisins always ended up packed tightly into the bottom of the box, requiring precision coaxing to remove them from their cardboard shell. They may very well have been nature’s candy, but I would just as well have skipped dessert altogether.

Considering the marketing tag line that raisins are just “grapes and sunshine,” DIYing your own might not seem all that necessary or cost effective, and I would give you that. Still, I had read some things about how lovely homemade could be and wanted to try it out before those really amazing grapes I can never stop myself from purchasing in large quantities hit the farmers market this year.

I ended up being very glad I did, because even though the process is rather obvious, the taste was something of a surprise. I have always found commercial raisins to be small and papery bits of sugar that practically dissolve on the tongue after one or two bites. However, the Red Magic seedless I dehydrated last week, for example, offered a subtler though richer sweetness and more complex flavor overall. I don’t mean to get all wine snob on you–though, admittedly, I just used writing that description as an excuse to eat a few more handfuls–but as you might expect, different varieties will net different flavor profiles.

DIY Raisins

Grape Types

Most commercial raisins are made from sultana, a.k.a. Thompson Seedless, grapes. Dehydrating your own opens up your options and is perhaps the biggest reason to do so. For those who have their own vines, another big motivator may be managing a sudden yet bountiful harvest. Either way, you will likely want to select a seedless variety, unless you’re game to de-seed them yourself (I’ve done this for other projects and will never, ever do it again) or chew through seeds in your dried fruit.

One thing I noticed when purchasing fresh grapes to dehydrate is that some are treated with sulphur dioxide as a food preservative, while the raisins in my pantry specifically say “sulfite free” (not the same thing, but related). Point being, if additives are of concern, be sure to read your labels/chat with your farmers.

DIY Raisins: Dehydrator Trays

Before You Dehydrate

The dehydration of fruits and berries with a waxy skin is more efficient if they are blanched or “checked” for about a minute in hot water so that the skin develops cracks through which moisture can better escape. I have also read that following that up by freezing the fruit for a few hours before dehydrating aids the process, but I’ve never taken it that far.

Dehydrator vs Oven (vs Sunshine)

I find that using a dehydrator is the most efficient way to make raisins at home with less chance of over drying. However, realizing that not all readers have that option, I also tried a batch in the oven at 165°F with the fan on (if you have a convection option) and the door cracked a couple of inches (I use a old wine cork wedged in over top of the oven light switch on the door). The higher temperature resulted in faster drying, but required diligent tossing and more careful babysitting.

Sun drying is also an option once the weather is offering high heat and low humidity. Even if the steamy summers here in Maryland would cooperate, I doubt the pests in my urban lot would let me get very far with this method, however, unless I also developed a screened-in drying cage that could fight off attacks by land and air. But by all means, make use of the free sunshine if you can. This method will likely require at least a few days.

DIY Raisins vs Commercial

Commercial (left) vs. DIY Raisins

The Verdict

This is a DIY project I would say is all about unique taste and quality rather than cost–at least until the season hits locally. What began as two pounds of grapes (@ $5.98) reduced to approximately six ounces after drying. To put that in perspective, I can buy 20 ounces of standard commercial raisins for $3.19. Still, as a former raisin-despiser, I have now found a dried grape product so attractive to me that it seems quite worth the occasional time and expense.

DIY Raisins

DIY Raisins

Obviously, amounts are not crucial to this process. However, two pound batches are easily managed when blanching and, at least in my case, that amount neatly fills one dehydrator tray, so it makes for a useful base volume. Simply scale up as needed.

 grapes (variety of your choice)

Wash grapes and remove their stems. Discard any spoiled fruit.

Blanch grapes for one minute (30 seconds if the skin is thin) in a pot of simmering water and then immediately transfer them to an ice bath to halt cooking. Drain grapes and transfer them to drying trays.

If using a dehydrator: Follow your machine’s suggested temperature guidelines (likely around 135°F). Unless the grapes are very small, the process will likely take at least 24 hours. Once the fruit has dried, allow it to cool completely before storing in an airtight container or plastic bag.

If using an oven: Adjust oven racks to upper and lower middle positions and set temperature to lowest possible setting (between 140 and 170°F if possible) and crack the door open with a wooden spoon or old wine cork. Use convection setting if available. Transfer grapes to two rimmed baking sheets lined with parchment paper and place in oven. Monitor the grapes throughout the drying process, tossing them every few hours for even drying. Once the fruit has dried, allow it to cool completely before storing in an airtight container or plastic bag.

http://wonderlandkitchen.com/2013/04/diy-raisins/

Note: Obviously, amounts are not crucial to this process. However, two pound batches are easily managed when blanching and, at least in my case, that amount neatly fills one dehydrator tray, so it makes for a useful base volume. Simply scale up as needed.

Wash grapes and remove their stems. Discard any spoiled fruit.

Blanch grapes for one minute (30 seconds if the skin is thin) in a pot of simmering water and then immediately transfer them to an ice bath to halt cooking. Drain grapes and transfer them to drying trays.

If using a dehydrator: Follow your machine’s suggested temperature guidelines (likely around 135°F). Unless the grapes are very small, the process will likely take at least 24 hours. Once the fruit has dried, allow it to cool completely before storing in an airtight container or plastic bag.

If using an oven: Adjust oven racks to upper and lower middle positions and set temperature to lowest possible setting (between 140 and 170°F if possible) and crack the door open with a wooden spoon or old wine cork. Use convection setting if available. Transfer grapes to two rimmed baking sheets lined with parchment paper and place in oven. Monitor the grapes throughout the drying process, tossing them every few hours for even drying. Once the fruit has dried, allow it to cool completely before storing in an airtight container or plastic bag.