Yes, as you know by now, I love to cook. Obviously, I wouldn't have started a food blog if I didn't already love to cook. I also like to give myself a pat on the back and admit that I'm pretty good at it. Yet, ask any cook or baker, professional and amateur, what they think about their cooking skills, and I will bet you that nine out of ten of them (with the exception of the truly deluded egoist) will confess that they have one particular area they feel they need some improvement. Some cooks aren't such good bakers. Some bakers aren't such good cooks. Even more particular than that, in my case, I need to improve in the area of dough making and breads, yeast-made doughs in particular.
Part of my weakness I think stems from the fact that I have avoided making my own dough for as long as I could remember until last year. Yes, I've played around with my bread machine, but it never tastes the same when I let it bake in there. And, do you want to know why I have avoided making dough from scratch? You'll laugh. It's the mess.
I've learned to look away.
It's the flour everywhere, the dough sticking to everything, and I just can't take the idea of the clean up afterwards. Don't get me wrong. I don't mind getting myself dirty. This is the same girl who made lines of mud pies in my backyard growing up, coating my hands and arms in mud. When it comes to real baking, I love getting my hands in there and to feel the dough while I'm kneading it, making the pretty shapes with the dough. It's truly beautiful and satisfying. Art work. It was the mess and the inability to keep everything from sticking that drove me crazy.
I love to sink my hands into dough
Well, there are several things I have done to take care of my psychoses. The first is simply my mindset, changing it. So what if flour is all over the countertops, on the floor, on my dog's back because he happens to be standing right at my feet. Counters can be cleaned, clothes can be washed. I can do this!
The second thing that has helped are some of my handy tools. One of the BEST presents I got this past Christmas was my silicone pastry mat.
Silicone Pastry Mat
I love this thing! It's large. It has circles printed out right on it to help you measure the diameter of your dough for pie crusts and such. It has conversion charts, a ruler for length, and, of course, it is made of silicone.
Spread a little flour out to coat and your dough will roll out perfectly without sticking. When you're finished, roll it up to get it to the sink, and you can wash all of your flour up just like that!
And, finally, my last attitude change has come from simple knowledge, something I'm continuing to work on acquiring. No matter how much experience you have in any facet of your life, there is always room for improvement and knowledge to be gained. You don't know everything and can always learn from others. To this end, my goal for the year has been to try making breads and pastries without thinking they are too hard. Yes, it's a work in progress. Not everything comes out as soft and doughy as I like, but I am getting much better by reading tips, taking advice, and trying it all.
In keeping with my personal goals, I set out over the weekend to try my hand at making beignets. Ahhhh....beignets. If you've had them, you love them. If you haven't, well, you don't know what you've been missing. Fried Dough. Need I say more? Beignets are a New Orleans delicacy that should be a part of your Mardi Gras breakfast or a part of your binge eating late-night Mardi Gras celebrating. Don't worry, Wednesday begins Lent. You can pay your penance starting then.
Beignets are surprisingly easy to make. After making a yeast mixture with water and sugar, you combine it with buttermilk and eggs and just a bit of butter. Slowly, you add in the flour mixture, knead a little more flour into the dough with your hands, form into a ball, and let it rise.
I actually put my dough in the refrigerator to rise overnight. The next morning I rolled it out, cut into squares, and dropped them into the oil in my frying pan.
They puffed right up.
Make yourself some of the blackest coffee you can find and eat them while they're hot. Don't worry about the powdered sugar coating your mouth or down the front of your clothes. No one will judge you.
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2 1/4 teaspoons Active Dry Yeast (or one packet)
3/4 cup warm water (110 degrees if measuring with a thermometer)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 large egg
1/2 cup buttermilk
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
2 Tablespoons of unsalted butter, softened
Oil for frying, enough for a 2-inch depth in your pan (I prefer to use peanut oil whenever I fry but canola or vegetable works just as well)
At least 2 cups of powdered sugar for sprinkling, more if you really want to go crazy
1. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the yeast, warm water, and sugar. Let it sit for 10 minutes to activate the yeast. It will turn foamy on top. Tip: Make sure the water is not so hot that it kills the yeast or too cool that it does not activate it. If you have a candy thermometer, try to keep the water somewhere close to 110 degrees.
2. Empty the yeast mixture into a mixing bowl with the dough hook attachment on your stand mixer. Add in the salt, nutmeg, egg, and buttermilk. Mix to combine the ingredients.
3. Add 1 1/2 cups of flour and mix on medium to combine.
4. Add the 2 Tbs. of butter, continuing on medium speed to combine.
5. Add 1 3/4 cup of the flour and mix until the dough is combined. It should begin forming itself into a ball with the dough hook.
6. Move the dough ball to a lightly floured surface. Work the remaining 1/4 cup of flour into the dough with your hands, kneading it in with your fingers. Knead until the dough looks smooth and shiny, about a couple of minutes.
7. Spray a large bowl with cooking spray or lightly oil the bottom and sides of a large bowl. Put your dough ball in the bowl and lightly cover with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in a warm spot (or overnight in the refrigerator) for two hours until it has doubled in size.
8. Preheat your frying pan or deep fryer to 350 degrees. I use an electric fry pan that has to be set to 450 degrees so that it doesn't cut on and off when it reaches the temperature I've set. Add 2 inches of oil and allow it to heat up.
9. On a lightly floured surface, sprinkle your dough with just enough flour to keep your rolling pin from sticking. Gently, very gently, roll your dough out to a 2 inch depth. Using a pastry cutter, divide the dough into squares, whatever size you'd like. Drop each square into your hot oil, allowing them to brown on each side, about 2 minutes.
10. Allow them to drain on a rack lined with paper towels. Sprinkle them, coat them, or drown them with powdered sugar. It's up to you how much you'd like.
They are best while hot so get eating right away while the next batch is cooking.