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Snapshots

My mind is a bit scattered and distracted right now, but I am still taking photos, so that’s what I am offering today.

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Yesterday, I took photos of the father’s day dinner we had. Maple orange glazed salmon, steak, quinoa (which we all decided was just ok, would be better mixed with other things), and grilled asparagus.

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And, I took pictures of dessert. Apricot raspberry upside down cake using this recipe by David Lebovitz.

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Unfortunately, this is the only picture of the father. These are the Sign of Four socks by Knitspot that i was able to finish in time to give as a father’s day present. Hope you had a great weekend!

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King Arthur’s New Flour and a Bonus Giveaway!

Baking is fun and tasty, but it does take work and a fair amount of precision and planning. Even very competent bakers can balk at the work required to make biscuits from scratch or a cake for dessert because lack of time or energy. At the same time, I am not the sort to use box mixes. At all. I know, I’ve probably made myself look like a food snob now, but honestly, I just don’t think that boxed mixes are as good and I usually do not mind the extra time it takes to make something from scratch.

But, what if there were a way to have the best of both worlds? Convenience and great flavor?

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by a representative of King Arthur Flour and offered a bag of their new self-rising flour in exchange for a blog review. I had seen the flour on the site when it debuted and would have bought some in the grocery store had I found it. However, it had not reached my local stores yet and I was intrigued enough by this product to agree. Please know that, other than the flour they sent me, I have not been given any incentive to provide a biased review. This post contains my honest opinion of King arthur’s new self-rising flour.

Self-rising flour has always seemed of limited use to me. You can’t control how much leavening power you have and most recipes here in the states just don’t use it. However, I had recently discovered a couple of British recipes that looked good, but called for self-rising flour. I happened to have a really old bag in the pantry and I tried it for the first time in a cake. You can see the results here. I suppose you could say that this is what triggered my curiosity in self-rising flour.

When I got the bag of KASR flour, I thought awhile about what I would make with it. I didn’t want to just try one recipe and base my whole review on that. Flour is used for so many things; biscuits, cake, muffins, cookies, etc. I wanted to make sure I tested it out thoroughly enough to be able to give an informed opinion. I also was curious, not just about how the self-rising flour would taste, but how it would compare to my usual recipes. Thus began a whole bunch of baking and testing in the kitchen.

Hmmm…where to begin?

Well, let’s begin with a couple of stand-byes or things that I think most people might use self-rising flour for. The first on the list would probably be pancakes. I used the recipe that was printed on the bag. I figured, why try to reinvent the wheel, right?

The first thing I noticed was the fluffiniess of the batter. It was seriously thick. How did they cook up? Take a look.

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Ok, I know, it’s blurry. But, can you see how fluffy they are? Here’s a better view.

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Seriously, these are the fluffiest pancakes I have every made. They tasted great, too. The husband kept saying how they tasted like restaurant pancakes, which could be good or bad, depending on the restaurant, but I think he meant it as a compliment. Honestly, I think that the recipe could have used a little more fat. They tasted a little lean to me, but were really good otherwise. Strangely, they also seemed to soak up more maple syrup than my usual recipe, maybe because they were a thicker. They held up well to reheating, too, according to the husband, who took the leftovers to work to eat for breakfast.

Next, I decided to try some biscuits. This time, I used the same recipe for two batches of biscuits, except for one batch I substituted the self-rising flour for the all-purpose flour, salt, and leavening.

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They look almost identical, don’t they? The one with self-rising flour is on the right. I do think they were fluffier and seemed to almost melt in the mouth. We all liked them very much, but had to admit that we preferred the sturdier texture of my normal biscuits. At the same time, I really think that if you like a fluffy biscuit, this flour is just the ticket for you.

Coincidentally, in the same meal, I was trying out a new easier fried chicken recipe. When I looked at the recipe, I noticed that it called for the chicken to be dredged in a flour/baking powder mixture. That’s when I decided to do another side by side test. I dredged half of the chicken in the recipe’s flour mixture, and the other half got the self-rising flour treatment.

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Again, self-rising flour is on the right, along with its biscuit. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how this one would turn out. I wondered if we would even be able to tell the difference with all the frying and then baking that the chicken had to go through. But, there was a difference. The coating on the regular flour fried chicken was crunchier, harder, and seemed to separate from the chicken more easily. The chicken with the self-rising flour seemed to be coated in a thin layer of crunchy biscuit, but it was softer and tasted more savory somehow. Here, the self-rising flour chicken came out as a clear favorite. It was some of the best fried chicken that we have ever had and left us wanting more, more, more!

Ok, now let’s consider the most delicate of all baking tasks: the cake. Most people don’t think of cake as something that is quick to make or even something that one wants to eat everyday. This is not really the case for me, at least not recently. Since early summer this year, I have probably made cake at least once a week. Lately, I have found that if I go more than a few days without a piece of cake, I start to really feel as if there is something missing in my diet. I am not talking about fancy layer cakes with frosting and all that jazz. No, almost all of the cakes I have been making for the last few months have contained some sort of fresh fruit; blueberries, cherries, apricots, nectarines, plums, pluots, and, now, apples. I seem to have developed an obsession with cakes that have fruit baked in, on top, or on the bottom.

When I went into the kitchen to try out the KASRF with a cake, I decided to do an apple upside-down cake with the simplest of cake batters. The apples are given a precooking in the cake pan in the oven to get them to soften a bit.

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While the apples were doing their thing in the oven, it was quick work to get the cake batter together. In order to make this recipe as simple as possible, I did everything by hand with just a spatula and a bowl.

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With soft butter, it is easy to cream the butter and sugar together.

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After stirring in the eggs, it is time to stir the flour in the mix. At first, it seemed like it might be too much.

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But it soon smoothed out into a nicely textured batter. I spread it over the warm apples in the pan. It just barley covered them and I was a little worried that it would not be enough.

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The cake baked up beautifully.

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But, how did it taste?

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In a word: delicious. The texture was soft and fluffy; definitely lighter than all-purpose flour. The crumb was looser than a cake flour cake, but just as fine. It was a very spongey cake; the type that you can push down on with your finger or fork and it will spring back up when you release. Maybe that’s why these plain cakes are often called sponges in Britain. I took a couple pieces to friends to try out. One of them said that she would never have guessed it was made from self-rising flour. It had none of the artificial texture or flavor that a boxed cake often has.

Was it really easier to make, you ask? I think it was. It took me less than 10 minutes to make the cake batter. Of course, my butter was already soft from sitting out for a couple of hours, but you can also stick it in the microwave for a minute at 50% power to achieve similar results.

So, here’s the verdict on the new King Arthur Self-Rising Flour from this house:

Thumbs up!

The KASRF performed wonderfully in fried chicken and made a super easy and deliciously light cake. The biscuits and pancakes were also good, though if I have the time, I would probably take the extra few minutes to make my preferred recipes. That being said, if I were are short on time or just having a lazy moment, I wouldn’t hesitate to use it. If you’d like to be able to bake fabulous biscuits, cakes, and other goodies without all the hassle of measuring and worrying about the finished product, this flour is definitely for you. We were not at all disappointed with the flour and, at times, we felt that we were sort of splitting hairs when discussing it. The deliciousness of the fried chicken alone would induce me to always have a bag of this in the pantry. But, don’t take my word for it. Try it yourself!

There are a number of good looking recipes on their website to try out or you can try the one I have included below. We are not done testing out the self-rising flour. I have plans to use it to teach the boys how to do some of their own baking. My hunch is that SR flour is Really Great for kids.

P.S. Don’t forget to leave a comment to win a jar of apple butter here!

P.P.S. I just got a message from a King Arthur Representative and they are offering to send a bag of Self Rising Flour to one of you! Eeek, aren’t you excited? Ok, so leave a comment on this post by midnight EST on Wednesday, October 17, and I will randomly pick someone to try out this flour (US residents only–sorry!). Fun!

Next: FFwD meets Apple Frenzy

Super Easy Apple Upside Down Cake

2 apples, peeled, cored, and sliced into 1/2 inch wedges
2 Tablespoons soft butter
2 Tablespoons light brown sugar

1 stick (4 ounces) soft butter
1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon (4 ounces) white sugar
2 large eggs (4ounces), room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 scant cup (4 ounces) KA self rising flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spread the two tablespoons of soft butter into a 9 inch cake pan. Arrange the apples on top and sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake in oven to soften the apples for 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, using a rubber spatula, beat the 4 ounces of soft butter with the sugar in a large bowl until it is light in color and a little fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the vanilla extract. Fold in the flour and stir gently until it is all incorporated.

Remove the cake pan from the oven. Using the spatula, scoop the batter on top of the apples and carefully spread it out to the edges of the pan. Bake until the center of the cake comes clean on a cake tester, about 30 minutes.

Let the cake cool in the pan for a couple of minutes, then place your serving plate on top and turn it over. You can serve it warm or at room temperature.

Serves about 8.

3 Cakes in 4 Days

We had a birthday in the family this past weekend.  When I was a kid, birthdays were not made much of and I think I was always a bit disappointed in that, so I try to make birthdays for my boys fun.  They get to choose a special activity for the day and I always bake a cake of their choosing.  This year, my younger son had a rare treat: two birthday parties!  We had a framily party on Friday and a pool party with his friends on Saturday.  This, of course, meant that I had to make two cakes!  Both cakes were recipes I had never made before.  This is what happens when you let the child look through the cookbooks and choose his own cakes.  I was not daunted, however.  I am no stranger to making cakes, so I was pretty confident that all would be well.  Unfortunately, this turned out to be not the case for one of them.

The first cake my beloved son chose was a fluffy looking cake from this book.  It consists of a chiffon cake layered with dulce de leche and topped with seven minute frosting.  I made the cake earlier on the week and should have known something was wrong with the recipe when I made it.  I am not too familiar with chiffon cakes, though, so I did not catch the problem right away, though I did think it was odd.  When I mixed the dry ingredients with the wet it was really stiff; more like biscuit dough than cake batter.  I forged on, however, and baked it up.  Unfortunately, it turned out terribly.  The dulche de leche was great and the seven minute frosting came out fluffy and beautiful looking, but the cake was dry and tough.  It was like trying to chew through a dry sponge.  It was sad for the birthday boy.  Not only did they not have his beloved mac & cheese at the restaurant he picked, but he couldn’t even finish his piece of cake because it was yucky.  We actually threw the remainder of the cake away.  I haven’t done that in ages.

Anyway, the next day’s cake was the opposite of the first cake.  This was a neaopolitan bundt cake.  It was a basic vanilla butter cake base which came together like a dream.  You put one third of the batter into the pan and divide the remainder into two portions.  Then, you add strawberry jam to one portion and chocolate syrup and cocoa powder to another portion.  See?

This cake turned out beautifully.  I wish I had a picture of the inside of the cake to show you, but when one is serving 15 kids, it is difficult to stop and take pictures.  When I was done serving, the cake was all gone.  In fact, the husband and I had to split the last piece.  It was chocolate in the middle with a layer of strawberry around that and the vanilla encased the whole thing.  Topped with a strawberry glaze and chocolate frosting, it was like eating a cake version of an ice cream sundae.  This recipe came from America’s Test Kitchen’s Summer Desserts magazine.  The birthday boy declared it to be much better than the other cake and he ate his whole piece, so I was happy.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure I would have the energy to make this week’s TWD recipe, Nectarine Upside-Down Chiffon Cake, after all the cake baking I had already done.  Plus, I was really hesitant after my chiffon cake disaster on Friday.  However, I had a couple of nectarines staring at me on the counter yesterday and I managed to find a pretty cheap ten inch springform pan to use.  I am sorry I have no photos of the process to show you.  It was a dim, rainy day and I was trying to get this cake together while playing a game of monopoly with the family at the same time.  I will say that this chiffon cake batter was totally different from the other one I made.  It was fluffy and not dry at all.  I had no problem folding in the egg whites.  The only problem I had was the pan was too small.  What is up with that?  I went out specially to buy a ten inch pan and it was still too small?  It had a little muffin top thing going on when I pulled it out after an hour and twenty minutes.

There was also a good bit of leakage from the pan.  Anyway, I just cut off the excess around the edges and it was fine.

I used two nectarines for the outer ring and one and a half pluots for the inner ring of fruit.  I could tell right away that this cake was moist, fluffy, and light.  I was a little worried that the center was still gooey, but is was not.

The boys loved it.  The husband thought it was too sweet, but then, he says that about a lot of things.  I loved the lemony chiffon cake and the almond streusel layer had a nice texture and flavor to go with the cake, though I would have eaten it and been happy without it.  This is probably my tenth upside down cake this summer and it was by far the most complicated.  I have to say that, even though I loved the chiffon cake, I am not sure I would use it for an upside down cake again.  The fruit sort of crushes the cake so that you lose a lot of the fluffy texture, though it is still super soft and moist.  The cake just doesn’t seem sturdy enough for the topping.

Still, I think it was worth the trouble.  It’s the sort of thing one might make for a special occasion.  I am especially glad I made this cake after the two previous cakes.  Finally, we have a yummy cake that we can keep all to ourselves!

To make this, you can visit this blog or this blog for the recipe.