Our Butter Taste Test…An Experiment With Shortbread

As a devotee to using the best quality ingredients available which also fit your budget, I wondered in my February 9, 2012 blog post called,  Quality Ingredient of the Week – Butter, “when is it worth spending over $18 for a pound of butter?”  Food experts claim that butter made from the cream of cows who are grass-fed is best; and that butter coming from the Normandy region of France is the best in the world.  My sister, good friend, A, and I decided to test this claim by using my sister’s favorite shortbread recipe, baking it with three types of quality, unsalted butters.  We then had the awesome chore of tasting and evaluating our results, all over a superior cup of Monkey Picked Oolong tea which A. steeped for us. We were quite serious in our approach to this experiment.  Our evaluation focused on which taste we preferred and “was the priciest butter worth it”.

The results are in…..drum roll please….

The butters...President French grass fed, Irish Kerrygold grass fed, Challenge California butter...all unsalted

The butters…President French grass fed, Irish Kerrygold grass fed, Challenge California butter…all unsalted

 

All three made scrumptious cookies and on their own would be enjoyed.

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The cookie made with the California Challenge brand butter had quite a different texture than the Irish and French butters, more dense and smooth.  Not so crumbly,  probably due to having a bit more moisture in the Challenge brand butter than the Kerrygold and President European brands.  We liked the crumbly texture and more buttery taste of the European butters. The French brand did finish with a bit more buttery taste than the other two.

In the end, the question of whether it is worth spending over double the price per pound for the French butter versus the other two

Shortbreads...the results...all were scrumptious...crumbly, buttery and perfect with tea. The Challenge butter resulted in a less crumbly batter which was easy to work with

Shortbreads…the results…all were scrumptious…crumbly, buttery and perfect with tea. The Challenge butter resulted in a less crumbly batter which was easy to work with

IMG_2736 IMG_2737 IMG_2745resulted in a big…”depends on the audience you are serving these to,” but, probably not worth using the French butter for this purpose.  Save it for another usage.  A big “yes” on the Irish butter, as my sister said, she likes how “the cookie crumbled” (pun intended) using that European butter.  And it was not significantly higher in price than our local California butter.

The next day I had a couple other friends do the taste test and one overwhelmingly preferred the “not as crumbly” cookies  but went for the smoother, denser texture of the California butter.

We purchased the President French Butter at Gelson’s Grocery Store, a fine small California grocery chain, the Kerrygold from Trader Joe’s Markets, and the Challenge Butter from Ralphs Markets.

It was a great excuse to bake with friends and drink tea.

Cheddar Cheese Chive Scones … The Hit of the Party

I just love to help friends plan menus for their festive events; such as, last weekend’s baby shower for my dear friend Pat’s  daughter, D, (Pat -of the almost famous carrot cake post).  D craves my cheddar chive scones.  So when she and her friend asked if I’d help with the menu, I had a feeling these quick breads would be on the list.  They were again the hit of the food items and are a delightful complement to the two fresh salads offered.  I thought it cute that one was left in the basket as the tea luncheon wound down…everyone was polite enough to let D grab up the last one.

These take just a few minutes to make.  The longest part of the prep is mincing the chives, and that is quick once you get the chives rinsed and thoroughly dry.  The instant I put the wet and dry ingredients together, I was relieved, as I could feel I had a gorgeous dough forming.  I was a bit nervous, as the last time I made these scones, I thought them a bit on the dry side, so this time I added a tad more milk…worked great.  As usual, I made them petite in size, baked them on the spot at the shower so they could be served hot, and made a little chive butter for those wanting the scone on the more decadent side.

Cheddar chive scones...pillowy dough, bakes us to a golden brown, top with compound chive butter...mmmmm eat more than one, they are small :-)

Cheddar chive scones…pillowy dough, bakes us to a golden brown, top with compound chive butter…mmmmm eat more than one, they are small 🙂

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Cheddar Chive Scone Recipe:

Makes 16 to 20 scones or 30 petite scones

PREP TIME: 20 minutes TOTAL TIME:  35 minutes (includes baking time)

Preheat oven to 425º F.

2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup minced chives

1 cup (4 ounces) grated sharp cheddar cheese  (I have been using a nice English aged cheddar)

¾ cup chilled whole milk (may need a little more)

2 large eggs

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 teaspoons Dijon style mustard

Whisk flour, sugar, and baking powder in a large bowl.

Stir in the chives and cheese and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, one of the eggs, the oil, and the mustard.

Gradually add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients, mixing with a spoon until moist clumps form.  Do not over mix.

Add more milk in tablespoon increments if the dough seems too dry.  Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough just comes together. Do not over knead the dough.

Pat the dough with your hands to approximately 1” thick.  Use a 1 ½” round cutter to cut out scones.  Gather dough scraps and repeat the process.

Transfer the scones to a lined or greased baking sheet.  Lightly beat the remaining egg in a small dish and brush the egg over the scones.

Bake scones until they’re golden on top and a tester or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 12 minutes.

Serve immediately.  If baking ahead of time, wrap in plastic wrap and keep at room temperature for a day.  Unwrap and heat for 5 minutes in a 300˚F oven just prior to serving.  Serve with unsalted butter or make a compound butter with minced chives for a complimentary taste.

We served a tasty, fruity black currant iced tea made from whole leaves from Peet’s Coffee and Tea shop and pink lemonade…any who wanted to mix the two to make an Arnold Palmer were quite happy with the result.  These two beverages pair well together.
It was a fun day and great way to welcome D’s upcoming baby girl.

Tea Latte Press…at It’s A Grind

My sister’s favorite to go coffee & tea shop is It’s A Grind.  I love it too for their tea latte press…it’s the best “to go” cup of hot tea I have found anywhere.  They ask what type of tea you prefer, I chose a black breakfast tea.  Then they ask if you’d like anything in your tea, I chose a small amount of whole milk.  They add that right then…put in the tea and hot water…top with this “press” lid and tell you to wait a couple minutes…then press and drink.  Interactive and awesome result 🙂

I have had this tea at both the Carlsbad, Ca. and Mission Viejo, Ca. It’s A Grind shops…both offer well-prepared tea.  Unfortunately their website is down but you can find them on facebook etc. for locations.  They have many locations and are now owned by an Australian parent company.  While my sister is a coffee drinker, the little pastry, a cinnamon twist, we shared went well with both our coffee and tea latte.

Enjoy and drink tea!

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Tea press latte from It's A Grind coffee / tea shops...an excellent cup of tea

Tea press latte from It’s A Grind coffee / tea shops…an excellent cup of tea

How Does My Garden Grow? This Morning’s Harvest…

A few weeks ago we planted several heirloom tomato plants.  They are progressing well despite a dreary, drizzly, overcast summer here on the So Cal Coast.  The “June Gloom” as it is called on the Southern California coast, has spilled into July.  My tomatoes need some sun!!!  I keep pruning off foliage that is not contributing to the growth of the fruit.  Even with little sun, great progress is being made.

My sister recently contributed to our small garden with a new variety of blueberries and raspberries developed by Monrovia Nursery.  It has been a treat to walk out in the morning and grab a handful of berries to top my yogurt or oats with.

Also, our Black Mission Fig tree is finally being left alone enough by the little critters waiting for ripe fruit on the slope behind our house so that we were able to pick a few gorgeous figs for ourselves.  Having been born and raised in the big city (Los Angeles), growing fruits and vegetables is still a treat and a bit experimental for me.  I love it though.  I really can’t say enough about how fulfilling it is to grow something, anything almost…in your own space.  You don’t need much space either to contribute to your own food source…even growing just an herb or two is great therapy for your soul 🙂

Here is the morning’s harvest…

Heirloom tomatoes...in progress and my sweet Italian basil

Heirloom tomatoes…in progress and my sweet Italian basil

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Blueberries...ready to pick a handful every morning to go with my breakfast...

Blueberries…ready to pick a handful every morning to go with my breakfast…

 

Morning harvest...black mission figs, white peaches and blueberries...it's not so difficult to grow your own fruit and veggies...this coming from a city girl :-)

Morning harvest…black mission figs, white peaches and blueberries…it’s not so difficult to grow your own fruit and veggies…this coming from a city girl 🙂

 

Normally I cook a couple egg whites to have with my morning black tea with milk…but today I had blueberries and peach slices in Greek yogurt  with an oolong tea.  A nice, refreshing deviation from my standard.

Those figs will be nice with a little prosciutto and goat cheese as an afternoon snack with my tea.

Just A Little Tea Luncheon…while discussing “Major Pettigrew…”

Our book group was meeting at my house last week for our discussion around a delightful first novel by Helen Simonson called “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.”  It was my turn to select the book, so I chose one set in a small village in England where tea time was the backdrop for many insightful discussions and character developments.   In keeping with the story,  I offered up a light tea luncheon that took  about 30 minutes to assemble, as I had made the cookies and puffs earlier in the week.  They both freeze well.

The menu included one of my favorite salads – Endive, Watercress, Grapes, and Bleu Cheese chunks with spicy, sweet toasted pecan halves.  A bit of champagne vinegar, minced shallots, and a light whisk of extra virgin olive oil dressed this lively mixture of tastes – bitter, salty, sweet, spicy bursts in each bite.   They all enjoyed the crispness of this mix of greens, cheese, fruit & nuts while popping a few curried devil egg stuffed puffs.

We had two iced teas…my favorite hot or cold, Jasmine Downey Pearls, and also a refreshing black Orange Pekoe – Ceylon & India from Harney & Sons.

The three crispy cookies served paired well with both teas.  I made a shortbread cookie infused with ground jasmine tea – the floral jasmine taste was subtle and enhanced the buttery cookie.

The savory side of lunch...endive, watercress, bleu cheese salad...with little puffs filled with egg salad

The savory side of lunch…endive, watercress, bleu cheese salad…with little puffs filled with egg salad

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Mocha chocolate tea cookie, excellent with any tea

Mocha chocolate tea cookie, excellent with any tea

We read that Major Pettigrew is being made into a movie and had fun casting the characters while sipping and crunching.

Betty would have loved this book and ensuing discussion over this menu.

Drink whole leaf teas….they are good for you 🙂