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COOKING

Flour Power

You don't have to be a precision cook to make some really good dough.

By Sheryl Julian and Julie Riven
March 5, 2006

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We think of the cooking world as divided into two camps: those who love to make anything with salt, but never sugar, and those who bake. The bakers are never envious of the cooks, but the cooks want to bake. And one simple recipe can fix that. For those who stay away from pastries because they're intimidating, we have a dough for you - a simple mixture that you can cut into biscuit squares and stuff with sliced turkey or ham; stir with raisins for weekend scones; or top with apples for a quick brunch dish. Starting with whole milk, into which you squeeze lemon juice - to approximate buttermilk, which makes divine biscuits - the dough is about as simple to make as buying that yellow box and adding your own liquid and eggs. And you get the satisfaction of having done it all yourself.

BASIC BISCUIT DOUGH
MAKES 9 LARGE RECTANGLES

This batch contains fresh herbs - use rosemary or thyme - but you can also leave them plain.

1 cup whole milk, or more if necessary
3 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)
3 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut
into 1/4-inch cubes
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary or thyme
Extra flour (for the counter)

Set the oven at 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Have a pastry scraper on hand.

In a small bowl, combine 1 cup milk and the lemon juice; set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk the mixture to sift it.

Sprinkle the butter over the mixture. Use a pastry blender or two blunt knives to work it into the dry ingredients until they resemble coarse crumbs. Add the sugar and stir with a fork just to mix it in.

Sprinkle the milk mixture and the herbs over the flour mixture. Use the fork to stir the liquid into the flour until the mixture forms large moist clumps. Don't let the dough come together to form a ball. If needed, add more milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, to make clumps.

Dust a counter with flour. Turn the clumps onto the counter and cut through them half a dozen times with a pastry scraper or table knife until they form a dough. Shape into a disk and roll into an 8-by-7-inch rectangle about 1 inch thick.

Using a long, sharp knife, make 2 vertical and 2 horizontal cuts to make 9 biscuits. Transfer them to the baking sheet. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until the tops are golden and the sides a lighter brown. Transfer to wire racks to cool slightly. Serve warm.

RAISIN SCONES
MAKES 12 TRIANGLES

1 recipe biscuits (see above), without rosemary or thyme
1 cup dark raisins
1/2 cup golden raisins
Sugar (for sprinkling)

Make the biscuits without the rosemary or thyme, instead adding the raisins. Shape the mixture into a round, 8 1/2 inches in diameter and about 1 inch thick.

Using a long, sharp knife, cut the round into quarters. Cut each quarter into thirds, making 12 triangles. Sprinkle them generously with sugar.

Bake as directed, checking after 15 minutes.

QUICK APPLE COFFEECAKE
MAKES ONE 8 - OR 9 - INCH CAKE

CAKE
Butter (for the pan)
1 egg
1 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut
into 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 cup sugar

Butter an 8- or 9-inch-square pan. In a bowl, beat the egg. Stir in the milk and lemon juice; set aside.

In a mixer with a flat paddle (or use the whisk attachment), combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Beat just to sift. Add the butter and beat until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Beat in the sugar. Sprinkle the beaten egg mixture on top. Beat just until a moist batter forms.

With a rubber spatula, stir any dry patches of flour from the bottom of the bowl into the batter. Transfer the batter to the pan and smooth the top.

TOPPING
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
3 baking apples (Cortland, Jonagold, Golden
Delicious), peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced

Set the oven at 350 degrees.

In a bowl, mix the sugar and cinnamon. Stand the apple slices in rows on top of the batter, curved sides up, setting them close together and pressing them into the batter. Sprinkle generously with the cinnamon-sugar.

Bake the cake for 55 to 60 minutes or until the apples are tender and a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Cut and serve warm.

ASK THE COOK: No Defense

My skinless, boneless chicken breasts get very dry when grilled, even when I marinate them beforehand. I recently cooked them on a Cuisinart Griddler, an electric panini grill with heating elements in the top and bottom. The meat cooked only 5 minutes but was dry inside and unappealing. What can I do?

TOM GOBLICK /// Wayland

Boneless, skinless chicken is defenseless against even the slightest overcooking. A marinade is meant to add flavor, tenderize, and preserve and will not keep poultry or other meats from drying out. However, this lean cut, when cooked properly, will retain a natural succulence.

Start with uniformly sized chicken breasts. If they are extremely thick, lay them flat on a cutting board and slice horizontally through the thickest part so it opens like a book, or "butterfly." This will promote even cooking.

Make sure both the grill and the breasts are lubricated lightly with a nonstick spray or a little oil. Place the breasts on the hot grill for one minute, then turn them over and cook for one minute more. This will begin forcing the heat to the center. Now, simply turn off the grill and allow the accumulated heat to finish the cooking job. This should take no more than two to three minutes. If you are uncomfortable with that technique, and your grill has at least two controls for heating, set one side on high and the other side on low. Cook the breasts, one minute per side on the high-heat side of the grill, and then move it to the low-heat side to cook for another two minutes. The chicken is done when it registers 165 degrees on a meat thermometer, or cut into the meat to check for doneness.

Answer by Peter J. Kelly, a chef-instructor at Johnson & Wales University.

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