Advice on taking up quarantine's hottest new hobby.
April 4, 2021 9:18 AM   Subscribe

10 recipes for non-bakers with flour and time on their hands.

"You’re probably working with some limitations. I’m assuming you don’t have a KitchenAid stand mixer, because they’re $300 and difficult to fit in your average city apartment. That rules out most cookies and cakes, because creaming butter by hand is exhausting. I’ve also avoided anything leavened by yeast, which takes planning ahead and can be mysterious and discouraging to the novice. Bread also tends to require kneading, which could be a great idea if you’re also looking for a home workout regimen, but let’s not complicate things at this stage. You need basic kitchen equipment for these recipes — separate liquid and dry measuring cups, please — but not much else. The one technique you’ll want to learn is called the biscuit method, which means cutting or rubbing fat into flour to create a mealy or pebbly texture. Some people use a fork or a cheese grater. I do it with my hands."
posted by storybored (43 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
Also make these bagels. Dead easy, all hand made, outcome excellent. [Trust me, if I can do it, so can you.]
posted by chavenet at 9:28 AM on April 4 [1 favorite]


creaming butter by hand is exhausting.

What? Nonsense. I do it all the time. With a fork.
posted by Rash at 9:38 AM on April 4 [13 favorites]


After many iterations and testing I finally made an edible loaf of sandwich bread. Turns out I needed 1/4 of the yeast that the recipe called for. I had to watch a lot of videos and do a lot of research to figure it out. After all of that, soda bread looks right up my alley.
posted by Stoof at 9:39 AM on April 4


I’m assuming you don’t have a KitchenAid stand mixer, because they’re $300 and difficult to fit in your average city apartment. That rules out most cookies and cakes, because creaming butter by hand is exhausting.

Uh....handheld electric mixers are totally still a thing, and are way cheaper. Some brands even come with different attachments that will let you knead dough or whip cream.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:39 AM on April 4 [24 favorites]


What is this, april 2020?
posted by lalochezia at 9:48 AM on April 4 [26 favorites]


On the other hand - I don't think I've made pie crust from scratch in years, I always opt for the store-bought refrigerated crusts that you unroll.

However:

What are you going to put in your pie? Whatever you want!

Seconded. A couple years back I found myself with a weird assortment of leftover CSA fruit - none of it in a quantity big enough to do a whole dessert with, and some of it starting to be close to turning. I threw all of it into a pie - I think there were scant cups of blueberry and gooseberry, a few currants, some rhubarb, the last of the strawberries, and a couple peaches. It all melded together into this jammy, sweet-tart concoction that worked perfectly. My roommate at the time described the taste as "pie-y", and I dubbed it Usufruct Pie.

(Used a refrigerated pie crust for that, too.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:48 AM on April 4 [4 favorites]


The creaming butter passage is a bit odd (I also use a fork), and yeah, hand mixers are cheap and easy to store in a small space.

You can add currants if you’re weird.

Guess I'm weird! Other scone add-ins I like: currants + walnuts, orange peel + vanilla, chocolate chips. Scones are one of those lovely recipes you can add all sorts of things to, and it's a shame this article doesn't embrace that.

Key lime pie is a strange inclusion; it doesn't use flour, going against the article's supposed premise. On top of that, they recommend using fresh key limes, which aren't the easiest things to find, even in season. Key lime juice is much more readily available-- I like Mrs. Biddle's-- and easier to use for a novice, with no need for special juicing equipment.
posted by May Kasahara at 9:50 AM on April 4


I feel like this article is perhaps 6-8 months behind the curve. Baking was the go-to new hobby for millions of us shortly after the pandemic began. Mind you, a lot of us new bakers are still doing it.

And especially the no-yeast recipes were critical in those early months when folks couldn’t find yeast in the stores. I had several pounds of yeast on hand in cold storage as part of my long-term food prepping, and was distributing it out to friends who couldn’t find any, but in February of 2020 I was basically ignorant of how to bake bread. It also seemed like about a million of us learned how to make our own sourdough starter at the same point last spring!

The pandemic has been good for that at least — turning me into a semi-competent baker. I got pretty good at being able to make no-knead bread from scratch without having to look at the recipe, and made pound cake, biscotti, hardtack and peach cobbler for the first time in my life. It was kind of liberating!

But, my pandemic hobby in recent months is locksport. Reddit has an excellent r/lockpicking forum and this month I’m working on leveling up to blue belt.

(Also: “Usufruct Pie” is perfect, EC!)
posted by darkstar at 9:58 AM on April 4 [6 favorites]


Re: creaming, if you're not a consistent baker, you may not plan things out ahead of time, and then attempt to cream cold butter.

Handhelds are easier to store, usually, but they still take up space. We have a shortage of cupboard and drawer space, so it's oddly easier for us to store our mixing stand in that weird kitchen corner that really isn't usable for anything but storage.

If we didn't have that weird corner, I'd probably be tempted to get one of those hand cranked beaters.
posted by ghost phoneme at 10:08 AM on April 4


What is this, april 2020?
I feel like this article is perhaps 6-8 months behind the curve.

The date on the article is Mar 23 2020, but it's good to review what one's learned!
posted by trig at 10:11 AM on April 4 [6 favorites]


The date on the article is Mar 23 2020


Aha. Silly me, I should have checked that first.
posted by darkstar at 10:36 AM on April 4


For something a little more recent, try this King Arthur Flour April Fools Day post on baking fails (one in a series of 13, so far, so more to discover if you like it).
posted by carrienation at 10:42 AM on April 4 [2 favorites]


I was just remembering the prepper/hoarder stage, as I finished the Goya canned beans that I bought at that time, before the CEO came out for Trump. Still in the era of paper product shortages. Never did get around to bread. The main thing I remember doing is having a really hard time being productive at work from home. My existing hobbies could easily fill 12 hours a day, but I wasn't getting much done there either. So I couldn't relate to any pandemic piece hook about how now we have all this time on our hands and we're going to learn Sanskrit or whatever.
posted by thelonius at 10:52 AM on April 4 [3 favorites]


Today's date is March 400th, 2020.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 11:20 AM on April 4 [24 favorites]


Mod note: Few removed - sorry but we can't have every recipe-adjacent thread turn into one about disliking how recipe blogs operate and explanation for same, thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:25 AM on April 4 [5 favorites]


That rules out most cookies and cakes, because creaming butter by hand is exhausting

If anyone reading this believes it, take it from me, creaming butter by hand is not exhausting, you don't in fact need to cream butter until "light and fluffy" for most recipes, you can soften it in the microwave or by squashing the wrapped stick in your hand to speed the process and if you really don't want to do it, use Buttery Spread vegan butter substitute instead because it's softer and while it may not be much on toast it's good in baking.

The most important thing I've learned about butter during quarantine baking: "cream until light and fluffy" is an utter lie for anything that isn't really delicate. I've been experimenting by comparing butter and sugar creamed for five minutes with a hand mixer, butter and sugar creamed by me with a fork until well combined and butter softened in the microwave until on the cusp of melting and then stirred with the sugar, and for your average butter cake or sugar/oatmeal/molasses/peanut butter cookie it matters not at all which you do. It does not make your baked goods materially lighter or heavier and it does not ruin the recipe to have near-melted butter and this is because these are extremely resilient, basic recipes that have been made by home cooks for at the very least somewhere north of seventy years. If you're starting out as a pastry chef, rethink, but otherwise it's a rough and tumble world out there.

Further, I have a great Betty Crocker cookbook from about 1958 and it has something like ten chocolate cake recipes it in and maybe six or seven straight up yellow cakes. The difference between the cakes is purely the ratio of butter to eggs to flour to sugar to chocolate, if any. If it were a modern cookbook, it would be telling you that you had to weigh your flour and finely grate your chocolate and be sure not to overmix or your cake would collapse, but because it's Betty Crocker in 1958 you just mix in your sugar and beat 300 strokes then bake in a mod ov.

Once I even mixed half the cake from one recipe and half the cake from another, and you know what? it was terrific! Really good! This is because all the modern nonsense about baking being a science is lies. This isn't the dessert menu at El Bulli. Do a pretty good job of mixing ingredients within broad parameters and your ordinary, everyday butter cake will be just fine.
posted by Frowner at 11:25 AM on April 4 [32 favorites]


going to learn Sanskrit or whatever

ooh

(Sure I have a deadline tonight, why do you ask?)
posted by trig at 11:26 AM on April 4 [2 favorites]


Although this article is dead wrong about needing to cream butter perfectly or your cake will be rubbery (!!!!) I'd say it's broadly correct on the "good enough is good enough" front. Perfect biscuits are difficult, good enough biscuits are easy. I'd argue that a good-enough pie crust is tricker than this article makes it sound, but again, a good enough crust is achievable. And quickbreads are brilliant.

Honestly, you can tell that baking is a hobby instead of something people do regularly by all the pointless arguments. If you really, sincerely are a brownie snob, you...well, you need to do something about your life. I like cakey brownies, personally, like the recipe from the first Moosewood Cookbook. But if you prefer fudgey brownies and you offer me a plateful, I'm not angling for a debate. Nor am I going to be insulted if you offer me the Wrong Cornbread. If I don't want any, I'll decline. Your biscuits don't live up to my sainted aunt's? Well, as long as they're cooked all the way through and don't taste loudly of baking powder, I'll manage to get through the meal.
posted by Frowner at 11:50 AM on April 4 [9 favorites]


My butter trick is to put a stick down each jeans front pocket, if I want to cream it in a hurry. So far I’ve never melted it to runny by mistake.
posted by clew at 12:15 PM on April 4 [8 favorites]


I think telling people to cut in butter by hand as somehow easier than creaming butter is wildly misinformed? Cutting in butter by hand is a pain in the neck. Take it from me, a person for whom scones, American biscuits, and Welsh cakes are a way of life/heritage food. I am absolutely overjoyed that I married a person with a food processor (that is not the main reason I like them, obviously.)

I could spend 20 minutes effing around with the butter and make the batter tough since I have hot hands and a hot kitchen, or I could put the drys in the hopper and feed it butter and go brrrrrrrr until I have perfect tender sand in half a minute. Creaming butter can happen with a fork or a potato masher very easily, which is why oatmeal cookies are so easy.

Also, seriously, if you aren't now a baker and want to be, make the recipe on the box. The company wouldn't put it on there if they didn't test it extensively, so whatever is on the oatmeal cylinder or the flour bag or the pumpkin can will probably work with little effort. You can build on that!
posted by blnkfrnk at 12:16 PM on April 4 [13 favorites]


The first apartment I shared with my now-wife measured 300 sq ft or so and I prioritized counterspace for a Hobart N50, the ur-KitchenAid. Or your could, you know, get a pastry cutter at a fleamarket or out of grandma's knicknack drawer.
posted by St. Oops at 12:24 PM on April 4 [1 favorite]


What are you going to put in your pie? Whatever you want!

What are you going to put in your bread? Bread-making machines, new in the box, are a frequently discarded item on trash day in downtown NYC. Thought I would experiment with one, turns out you can add just about anything you want, Cheerios, oatmeal, nuts, etc, and it comes out OK so long as you are prepared to toast the result.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:32 PM on April 4 [2 favorites]


I just looked at the price for the Hobert N50. My eyes are still watering.
posted by duoshao at 1:36 PM on April 4 [4 favorites]


It would not matter what you used once my oven got hold of it. Its attitude towards consistent temperatures or temperatures that have any relationship to the markings on the knob is one of disdain. It will perhaps temper that disdain if the recipe can be cooked within a very large temperature range, but otherwise no.

Thankfully it is not just me: most of the ovens in the building have defied a wide range of bakers of all backgrounds.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 1:42 PM on April 4 [1 favorite]


I just looked at the price for the Hobert N50.

I've noticed that Hobert mixers are frequently cited in research papers on experimental concrete development.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:46 PM on April 4 [6 favorites]


That really makes me want to own one.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 2:02 PM on April 4 [6 favorites]


It would not matter what you used once my oven got hold of it

I'd say unless you luck into a really great oven, buying an over thermometer is an essential first step for baking to come out great. I think even commercial bakers have to work around issues with ovens running hotter and colder in spots.

I'd argue that a good-enough pie crust is tricker than this article makes it sound, but again, a good enough crust is achievable.

Or you could skip the crust and make a cobbler, crisp, crumble, buckle, grunt, slump, or brown betty.

I've noticed that Hobert mixers are frequently cited in research papers on experimental concrete development.

True story, a friend used a concrete mixing paddle and industrial strength drill to mix masa for a tamale sale fundraiser.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:35 PM on April 4 [3 favorites]


StickyCarpet: > Bread-making machines, new in the box, are a frequently discarded item on trash day in downtown NYC. Thought I would experiment with one, turns out you can add just about anything you want, Cheerios, oatmeal, nuts, etc, and it comes out OK so long as you are prepared to toast the result.

Put the following ingredients into your bread maker:
- whatever you normally use to bake white bread
- a jar of olives, drained. No cutting is needed.
- a clove of garlic, pureed, or more if the spirit moves you
- a spoonful of italian herbs

It will be delicious, I promise. I've even added a chopped up block of feta cheese on occasion and it still came out delicous.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:48 PM on April 4 [3 favorites]


BrotherCaine: > a friend used a concrete mixing paddle and industrial strength drill to mix masa for a tamale sale fundraiser.

That's my preferred technique for large amounts of pancake batter.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:49 PM on April 4


Hobart is what I saw in all the kitchens I worked in during youth. The pizza dough mixer was terrifying. I don't know if there was a shut off mechanism if it jammed; there must have been, because there was no physical barrier to the rotating dough hook arm. Get yourself an Auto-Chlor dishwasher for the full pro lifestyle.
posted by thelonius at 4:02 PM on April 4 [2 favorites]


I bake quite a bit, picked up the habit in grad school. I used to struggle to get my pie crusts to turn out great. I did everything. Tried lots of recipes and tricks. Never managed to really nail it (not consistently).

Store-bought crusts get you 90% of the quality at like 5% of the labor. And 99% of people only really care about the filling.

Pie crusts from scratch are just not worth it.
posted by oddman at 4:57 PM on April 4 [4 favorites]


From the King Arthur page:

The savory doughnut holes with caramelized onion and blue cheese filling whose kindest tasting comment was "EWWWWWWWW"?

I'm not sure making these as savoury scones sounds any more plausible, but it's totally a thing, and you can find many Stilton cheese and caramelised onion recipes out there (the thought of which is making me hungry).
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 9:54 PM on April 4


Store-bought crusts are amazing. If you get the roll out kind so you crimp the edge yourself, even snobs might have a hard time figuring out you bought the crust. Failing that, a food processor makes the whole thing trivially easy. I was anti-power-tools for a long time (didn't even have a microwave) but have recently been convinced.
posted by blnkfrnk at 10:21 PM on April 4 [1 favorite]


My eyes are still watering.

Yeah, they are pricey. I scored mine for half of what a new KitchenAid costs in Sweden on ebay from Germany. I've had it apart a few times, they are essentially unchanged after more than 80 years in production. What's really cool is the gearbox instead of variable speed motor, but the stand and bowl are also used by some KitchenAid models. Hobart made KitchenAid until the brand was sold to Whirlpool and quality began to tank. If you can get your hands on a truly old KitchenAid, grab it and have a professional rebuild it for you rather than get a new one (though I hear some of the quality issues are resolved).
posted by St. Oops at 10:29 PM on April 4


Oddman: Pie crusts from scratch are just not worth it.
Practice makes perfectly good. My sainted MiL, who learned to cook in adverse circumstances in 1940s Nigeria, taught me that cold is the key to pastry. One of her tricks was to freeze the butter/fat and grate it into the flour: bigger effect on T°C than iced water. She worked in the catering trade, heaving tureens, for much of her life and trounced her uppity teenage grandson at arm wrestling in her 60s.
StickyCarpet: you can add just about anything you want, Cheerios, oatmeal, nuts, etc,
True dat: bread is remarkably forgiving. Much easier than mixing cement. If you slop in too much water and there’s no flour left in the bin, then add oats. Add oats anyway; or wheat-flakes or rye flour; poppy or sesame seeds; onions, tomatoes or olive oil; marzipan, raisins or chocolate chips.
You’re meant to bake most standard sized loaves at 200°C for 40 minutes but if you get caught up with something else and the bread bakes for an hour and 40 minutes it’s still edible – robust, crusty – but still edible. If the gas runs out after 25 minutes, it’s edible too; although you may need to finish the centre slices off in the toaster.
posted by BobTheScientist at 11:48 PM on April 4 [4 favorites]


Also make these bagels. Dead easy, all hand made, outcome excellent. [Trust me, if I can do it, so can you.]

I have tried this recipe 3-4 times now and I am so frustrated with it - they taste great, but they always look lumpy and misshapen, never round and smooth like in the photos (or in anyone else's photos who have made them - clearly this is a problem only for me). I tried measuring. I tried weighing the ingredients. I tried making the dough with the dough setting on my bread machine (my usual go-to for breads, with bread-machine yeast). I would love to be a person who makes my own bagels, but that recipe may break me.
posted by Mchelly at 8:39 AM on April 5


Mchelly: "they taste great, but they always look lumpy and misshapen, "

You need the failsafe dining implement: a blindfold.

(I make mine by hand, kneading and rolling out and making the circles and while they are hardly god's gift to the platonic ideal they are perfectly acceptable and taste great.)
posted by chavenet at 2:42 PM on April 5


I’d expect pretty bagels to come with practice - your hands just need to learn the material. My dumpling pleats are comical but they’re getting better.
posted by clew at 2:45 PM on April 5


I don't bake cakes or anything complicated at all so I can't speak to that but it's completely ridiculous to say you need a stand mixer - or even a hand mixer - for "most" cookies. I've never had a stand mixer in my life, and I'm too lazy to make anything that takes much physical effort, and I know first-hand that you can make all the basic types of cookies without much elbow grease. There are plenty of recipes that use oil or melted butter, and for most others you can use room-temperature butter which mixes easily.

Cookies are an ideal thing for novices since they're usually very straightforward and it's unlikely that they'll turn out inedible if you follow the directions, so I don't understand why the author is discouraging them.
posted by randomnity at 8:07 AM on April 6 [1 favorite]


> Oddman: Pie crusts from scratch are just not worth it.

Practice makes perfectly good.


The supermarket makes "just fine" and lets you get to the pie-baking part faster. Especially if you're new at baking, or you're just trying to use up some peaches before they go all moldy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:13 AM on April 6


My theory of cooking is that many people have a staple recipe that they just can't get right. For instance, I make terrible rice. I'm telling you, I follow the directions, I try different rice, I have the correct sized pots....and I make terrible rice. I've been cooking regularly for twenty years and I just...can't do it. When I ate rice frequently I had a rice cooker, and that was why. (I also can't snap my fingers.)

Similarly, some people just can't really make pie crust and no realistic amount of practice is going to help them. I know people like this. Most people are like me, I think, where we can make good-enough pie crust with a little effort but greatness escapes us. For this reason, I usually make gallettes, the Cook's Illustrated recipe for pat-in crusts, etc.

If someone who is basically okay with their hands and okay at following directions claims that they cannot bake tout court, I tend to think something else is going on. But if someone says that they can't make pie crust or some very technique-specific item, I believe them. It's sort of a thumb thing - the universe gifts some of us with a pie crust thumb and others have an anti-pie-crust thumb, it's one of the things that suggest meaning in the world beyond mere materiality.
posted by Frowner at 7:30 AM on April 7 [2 favorites]


For instance, I make terrible rice. I'm telling you, I follow the directions, I try different rice, I have the correct sized pots....and I make terrible rice.
Using the following ingredients, we get near-perfect rice:
- one microwave, 1000W.
- one microwave steamer bowl
- one glass that happens to hold the quantity of (dry) rice for this meal, or an integer fraction thereof.
- one storage tin of brown rice

Measure a glassful of rice (or multiple if it's a small glass or a large meal). Tip into steamer bowl. Add one glass of water per glass of rice. Put in microwave. Zap on full for 4 minutes, then on 10% for 16.

As an aside, while recovering from an accident I had to demonstrate being able to cook for myself. I chose Ikan Pepesan, an Indonesian rice dish with fish and spices, and a couple of greens. Wanting to start cooking the rice and measuring out the rice and water as above (on a stovetop, but I'd done that for at least three decades before switching to the microwave method), I get admonished that I'm "doing it wrong". Sorry, your task is to assess whether I'm able to make a meal, and this is how I've been cooking rice since before you were even born. If that method had yielded inedible rice I wouldn't be cooking it like that, would it? And so what that it's not the way you expected me to cook rice? Your problem, not mine.
posted by Stoneshop at 12:09 PM on April 10 [2 favorites]


Heh, I just made “chicken risotto” in 15 minutes, and it turned out pretty dang tasty.

My secret: Minute Rice, chicken bouillon, canned chicken chunks, and a half-stick of butter. Add pepper to taste.

Yeah, I’m not going to be judging anybody’s cooking anytime soon.
posted by darkstar at 1:32 PM on April 10


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