Monday, August 24, 2009

Moosewood; Quick Cinnamon Biscuits

In Ithaca, it's easy to take Moosewood for granted.

I mean, it's just there in the DeWitt Mall rain or shine, this deceptively little restaurant with its short daily menu and inexpensive lunches. It's a restaurant like any number of vegetarian places around the country, just like them, in fact. Like, archetypally like them. But you don't think about it, really. It's fresh good food a lot of the time and you love it but occasionally you'll get a stinker, a test recipe, and you'll swear it off for a couple of weeks. You come back, yeah, but because it's cheap and convenient as much as anything. It's just a place. But occasionally, while sitting at one of the grooved wooden tables devouring the soup of the day, you hear someone gush to a waitress that he drove ten hours to eat here, or that she'd dreamt of coming here for half her life. And suddenly you get an inkling of just what kind of place you're taking for granted, just what a restaurant around the corner from your apartment might mean to the food community.

I like to think that in our time in Ithaca we took full advantage of Moosewood. Of the restaurant, I mean, because it's only now that we've moved away from it that we're truly starting to appreciate the oeuvre the name is truly synonymous with: the cookbooks. If you know cookbooks at all, you know the ones I mean. Whether it's Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant or Cooks at Home, if you like vegetarian food there's probably a good chance that you've held one in your hands. We've had the Book of Deserts for a while and I know we've posted a couple of recipes from it but a recent trip to the Modesto Public Library resulted in a whole armful more in our kitchen.

I made breakfast from New Classics this weekend--an interesting and easy if not (in my estimation) totally perfect recipe for cinnamon biscuits that took almost no time to put together--and today, our first calm day alone in quite a while, we put together a lime frozen yogurt that was really quite tasty. Since the biscuits were a slightly more problematic dish, I've been rolling it over in my mind since I made it, trying to figure out what could go better. Here's the recipe with my proposed changes.
Quick Cinnamon Biscuits (makes 9) derived from Moosewood Restaurant New Classics

Cinnamon Sugar Mix
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
2-1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 cup toasted pecans

Biscuit Dough
2-1/2 cups flour
2 Tbsp brown sugar, packed
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/2 cups heavy cream (plus 1 Tbsp reserved)

3 Tbsp powdered sugar
2-3 tsp milk
1/4 tsp vanilla extract or 1 tsp maple syrup

Combine the cinnamon sugar mix ingredients and set aside. In a separate bowl, stir together dry ingredients, add cream and stir until the dough forms a ball and all loose bits are incorporated.

Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and pat into a 1/2 inch thick rectangle (about 9 x 13) Brush the surface of the dough with the reserved cream then sprinkle evenly with the cinnamon sugar mix.

Starting from the long side, roll the dough into a cylinder and then slice into 9 equal rounds. Place the rounds in an oven-safe dish and bake until lightly browned. Drizzle with icing and serve warm.

The problem I had with the recipe in its original form is one that I've often had with Moosewood recipes. I found it a little... flat. And, as I think we've discussed before in this forum, I'm not a big fan of nutmeg. Here I've adjusted the balance of nutmeg with the other flavors, thrown in some nuts for textural contrast, and added a couple of suggestions to the icing to hopefully bring out a little more of the zip I was looking for. Keep in mind, though, that this recipe's ease--and it is fabulously, decadently easy--is due in part to its adherence to the biscuit formula rather than a familiarity to a yeasted bread. So while this cancels out the need for a rise time, it doesn't produce the exact texture I expected from a breakfast baked good. But once I got past that hurdle, I found these biscuits lovely and, partially due to their quick near-effortless construction (I managed to do this pre-coffee Saturday morning) I'm certain I'll make them again.
Look for more Moosewood in the next couple weeks as we plow through the cookbooks we've borrowed in order to return them in time. It's going to be a lot of veggies and tofu and cheese in our future and it should be tremendous fun.


nancy said...

YUM! I also tend to find that Moosewood's recipes can be flat. I think of them as a good foundation from which to improvise. And Moosewood Cooks at Home is a GREAT cookbook. If you don't already own it, you should!

Kirsten said...

I've made those biscuits! Had the same results--quick and easy, but a little meh. Maybe now that it is RAINING again, I will get back into baking and try your variation.

Dana said...

I thought they were a good cinnamon bun hack, at the very least. When you don't have time to do the whole yeast/rise thing, these are a decent substitute. And the pecans would improve the texture a lot, I think.

Kirsten said...

I tried these again this weekend, and substituted a 1/4 c flour with almond meal. I also used wheat flour instead of white. Much heartier and more depth of flavor!

justin said...

Kirsten: Ooh, nice experiment! I haven't experimented with almond meal at all yet. Is it just a straight substitution with flour?

Kirsten said...

Yeah, the package suggests you can substitute up to .25 cup almond meal for flour. It's pretty potent, so you really don't need to incorporate much.