Friday, February 18, 2011

Clinton St. Baking Company Cookbook Review and Recipes

I am a brunch fiend! It's my favorite meal (probably because I eat it more rarely than other meals) and I love going out with friends, and also cooking brunch foods at home. I personally own quite a few brunch and bakery cookbooks, sharing recipes for everything from omelets to croissants. If you eat it for breakfast, I probably have about 20 different recipes for it. But there's always room for more, right? I recently had an unforgettable brunch experience at Clinton St. Baking Company, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I couldn't resist picking up a copy of their recently released cookbook to review. There were so many menu items that I had wanted to try, so making them myself is a great idea!

A mini-chapter devoted entirely to fried chicken :)

When I review a cookbook, the first thing I do is I read it, from cover to cover. I may not read every single recipe, but I actually read through a lot of them, and I read all of the introductions, additional tips and information. I think it's really unfair to pass judgment on a book without really taking the time to absorb it, which is why I hate when people write reviews that say things like, "I haven't actually made any of the recipes, but the pictures look so good!!" Like, really? That's not helping me. I also find that in thoroughly reading through a cookbook, I almost always will find typos or discrepancies in recipes, even in some of my favorite cookbooks. Editors make mistakes! They're people too, you know. While my overall opinion of the Clinton St. Baking Company Cookbook is really good, it too had a few errors and discrepancies that I will point out to my readers, because you know I am brutally honest and can still love and recommend a book while pointing out its imperfections :)

"Farmer's Plate" recipe

First of all, in the recipe for Cherry Crumb Muffins, the recipe says it makes 10 muffins, but then tells you to reserve 8 cherries for topping the muffins. I'm gonna go out on a limb and say you should reserve 10 cherries (if it indeed makes 10 muffins) so 2 people aren't left out of the cherry love. Just sayin'. I also thought it was unusual that the Vanilla Buttermilk Waffle recipe does not actually contain any buttermilk. It specifies to use the pancake batter recipe, and then adds a few additional ingredients to it, none of which include buttermilk. I wonder if they perhaps replace the milk in the pancake batter recipe with buttermilk for their waffles, but nothing of the sort is explained in the book, so I can't help but wonder what makes them "buttermilk" waffles. Lies? Hmmmmm.

Buttermilk biscuits ready for the oven...

The first recipe I made from the book was the Buttermilk Biscuits. I personally have issues with using vegetable shortening because it is a hydrogenated fat, and after learning all the horrible things about consuming these unnatural fats, I would feel pangs of unease if I actually use them in my cooking. Basically, hydrogen atoms are added to liquid fats to make them more solid. They create margarine and vegetable shortening this way, among others. The human stomach is challenged when attempting to digest these fats because they are chemically altered, and we're not designed to be able to digest them. While we have no problem digesting butter, and other naturally occurring fats (whether solid or liquid), when faced with hydrogenated fats that are unnaturally made solid, it's almost like our stomachs are trying to digest plastic. Nothing about that sounds appetizing to me.

I personally love the taste of all-natural butter (puh-lease, who doesn't?!) so I like to make all-butter pastry crust and, in this case, all-butter biscuits. I simply substituted the shortening for more butter, and the biscuits came out fantastic! I know that the addition of shortening makes things flakier (in theory), but butter makes baked goods flaky too, so I'm sticking with my natural, NOT hydrogenated fat for my baking needs. The recipe also said to use a 2-inch cutter to cut out the biscuits, which is just fine for regular/small biscuits, but if using these for a sandwich (as the book also does in its Buttermilk Biscuit Sandwich recipe), I think that's too small. The pictures of the open-faced biscuit sandwiches appear to be the size of a hamburger, far larger than if the biscuits are made at the size specified. Also, the amount of egg suggested for each sandwich is way more than what would fit (even heaped) on one of the biscuit halves.  I made my biscuits 2 1/2-inches in diameter, and yet they were still too small to hold all the eggs. We used 5 eggs to make 6 biscuit sandwiches (on the slighter larger biscuits), while the recipe for biscuit sandwiches would originally require 9 eggs for 6 biscuit sandwiches. That would not fit on the small biscuits, trust me.  Otherwise, the biscuits were so flaky, buttery, and delicious, and were the perfect vessel for our scrambled egg, melted Jack cheese, guacamole and salsa sandwiches :) I adapted the original biscuit sandwich recipe and gave it a Southwestern twist. I would definitely make the buttermilk biscuits (at any size!) and the biscuit sandwiches again in the future. They were awesome and very easy to make. Just need to scale back the eggs a bit.

*Note*: I have since also made the Whole-Wheat Buttermilk Biscuits, using a 2 1/4-inch cutter, and they turned out really well also.

Buttermilk Biscuit Sandwich (substituting guacamole and salsa for the tomato jam, Jack for the cheddar cheese, and using less eggs per biscuit)

Next I made some of their famous pancakes. I had read in other reviews that the pancake recipe makes a ridiculous amount of pancake batter, so halving the recipe is recommended (I took care of that for you in the recipes below.  Everything has already been halved... you're welcome!). I must agree with this. The original recipe says it makes 18 to 20 3-inch pancakes. Using the 1/4 cup measure as indicated in the recipe, half of the recipe actually made about 18 4-inch pancakes. No lie. It was more than enough to serve 4 people 4 pancakes each (which even at the small size of 4-inches was incredibly filling). I would only recommend making the full recipe (just double the amounts below) if you plan on serving a giant crowd (or freezing lots of leftover pancakes to reheat later). Regardless of the number of pancakes that the recipe made, these were some of the fluffiest and most delicious pancakes we've ever had. Folding in beaten egg whites into the batter is the reason that these are so fluffy. I would happily use this base pancake recipe for various pancake flavors in the future! And just so you know, the book contains instructions for 8 different (and unique) pancake toppings (such as Caramelized Apples and Pears with Praline and Cinnamon, and Fresh Raspberries and Whipped Lemon Cream, among others), as well as sharing the famous maple butter recipe. It's swoon-worthy...

For this pancake adventure, I decided to make the Crunchy Bananas and Cinnamon Chili Chocolate Sauce topping, definitely putting these flapjacks over the top (I halved that recipe too, and it definitely made plenty!). These were some of the most decadent and delicious pancakes we've ever had!! It took a little effort to put together all of the elements... making the pancake batter first and refrigerating it, preparing the cinnamon-spiked banana batter and the chocolate sauce, deep-frying the bananas while cooking the pancakes, and then assembling it all. When it finally comes together, however, these pancakes will knock your socks off. The cinnamon and chili pepper (we used cayenne) add some delicious spice to the rich chocolate sauce, while the crisp, molten banana is doused in cinnamon-sugar, a final glistening touch.  These pancakes could make men, women, and children fall to their knees to praise the pancake gods. It's not unlike a religious experience.

My final thoughts on the cookbook are these. The recipes I've tried so far work. They yield really delicious results, however, I have found that some of the sizes and proportions seem a little off to me, as in, the size of the biscuits they ask you to make are simply too small to realistically make the biscuit sandwiches as they specify, and the amount of pancake batter in the full recipe makes way more pancakes at the size specified, than the recipe says it will. With the exception of these faults and a few others, the recipes I have tried actually turned out so well that I'd be crazy not to make them again!

I truly appreciate that most of the egg recipes in the book yield 2 (or in a couple cases, 1) servings, which makes more sense than catering them to serve a whole army. And if required, those recipes can easily be multiplied if you do find yourself in the unique situation of making breakfast for a whole army. In addition to all the breakfast dishes (savory and sweet) and baked goods, there are tons of mouthwatering recipes for soups (Maple Butter Roasted Squash Soup), sandwiches (Po' Boys), sides (Sugar-Cured Bacon), condiments (Cajun Remoulade), desserts (Coconut Lemon Curd Cake), drinks (Spicy Bloody Marys), and of course a whole mini-chapter devoted to fried chicken, because why not ;-) I do recommend this book and look forward to trying even more recipes, but just take everything with a grain of salt. Read the whole recipe before you start cooking (wouldn't you anyway?). If it seems like a recipe will make an unrealistic amount of food, then it probably will. Scale it down. Follow your intuition :) In the end, your gut will thank you...

*Note*: For my updated review, including thoughts on several more recipes, go here.

Buttermilk Biscuits
Makes 6 to 8 biscuits (depending on size)
(Adapted from Clinton St. Baking Company Cookbook)

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting (or 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1 cup whole-wheat flour to make whole-wheat biscuits)
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cubed (or 3 tablespoons unsalted butter and 3 tablespoons vegetable shortening)
3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a large mixing bowl and stir to combine. Add the cold butter and work it into the flour mixture, using your fingers or a pastry cutter, until the mixture resembles coarse pea or dime-size crumbs. Be careful not to overwork the mixture or the butter will soften too much. Add the buttermilk, and use your fingers to combine it into the dough. Powder your hands with flour if the dough gets too sticky. The dough should just come together, do not over mix.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and form it into a ball. Lightly knead the dough 2 or 3 times until combined. (The biscuits can be baked the next day, if desired. Dust a sheet pan and the top of the dough with flour and refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap, overnight. Then bring the dough back to room temperature.)

Pat the dough into a 3/4 to 1-inch thick rectangle. Use a 2 to 2 1/2-inch round biscuit cutter to cut out several biscuits (do not twist the cutter, cut straight down). Place them on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan. Gather the dough scraps, smooth them out (lightly knead if necessary), and pat the remaining dough into another 3/4 to 1-inch thick rectangle or circle. Cut out more biscuits, and then repeat again if necessary to use remaining dough. Do not over work the dough each time, or the final biscuits will be tougher. Lightly dust the tops of the biscuits with a sprinkle of flour.

Bake the biscuits, rotating the pan front to back halfway through, for 15 to 22 minutes (depending on their size), or until they are golden brown and cooked through. Serve warm.

Pancakes with Crunchy Bananas and Cinnamon Chili Chocolate Sauce
Makes about 18 (4-inch) pancakes, serves 4 to 5
(Adapted from Clinton St. Baking Company Cookbook)

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
3 large eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups milk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus about 2 teaspoons unmelted for cooking
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate Sauce:
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup half-and-half or heavy cream
1/2 ounce (1 tablespoon) unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground chili powder (such as cayenne)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Crunchy Bananas:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup seltzer water or club soda
Canola or peanut oil, for frying
2 bananas, peeled and halved horizontally
Cinnamon sugar (1 tablespoon sugar and 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon)

Sift flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt into a large bowl.

In medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks, milk, melted butter, and vanilla until combined. Whisk the wet mixture into the dry mixture until just combined; batter will be slightly lumpy.

Place egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or whisk by hand, until medium peaks form. Gently mix half the egg whites into the batter with a rubber spatula. Gently fold in remaining whites. The egg whites should not be fully incorporated into the batter. (At this point, the batter will last a few hours in the fridge without deflating too much.)

To make the chocolate sauce: Melt the chocolate, corn syrup, half-and-half, butter, vanilla, chili powder, and cinnamon together in a double boiler (a stainless steel pot set over a pot of simmering water will do just fine). Mix until smooth. Keep warm until ready to serve.

To make the crunchy bananas: In a large bowl, whisk the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Whisk in the seltzer water and set aside. Fill a small Dutch oven about 1/4 full with oil and heat to 350 degrees F. Roll the banana halves in the batter to coat. Gently dip 2 banana halves into the oil and fry for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the banana turns golden brown and crisp. Use a slotted spoon or skimmer to agitate the bananas every 30 seconds or so, so they do not burn on one side. Place the fried bananas on a paper towel-lined plate, and fry the remaining banana halves in the same way. Slice the bananas on the bias into 1-inch pieces and sprinkle them with cinnamon sugar.

Heat a griddle (either an electric griddle, a stovetop griddle, or a big flat pan) until hot, about 350 to 375 degrees. Add some unmelted butter to the hot griddle. Add 1/4 cup pancake batter to the griddle and let it set. When bubbles begin to form on top, lift the pancake; if golden brown on the bottom, flip it over. Cook until golden brown on other side. Transfer cooked pancake to a plate and keep warm. Repeat process with remaining batter. Garnish with cinnamon chili chocolate sauce and crunchy bananas.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.


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