Each year at Ninecooks, volunteers come to our Rhode Island log house kitchen to decorate big, beautiful cookies that are donated to shelters and food pantries all around the state. Drop In starts this Friday, and supplies are piling up: pounds and pounds of butter and sugar, dozens of eggs, our favorite vanilla, and 35 pounds of the best-quality unbleached, all-purpose flour.
Let's face it — we take all-purpose flour for granted.
What is all-purpose flour? it's a blend of hard (high-protein) and soft (higher carbohydrate, lower protein) wheats, with the bran (outside coating that protects the wheat berry) and germ (the embryo of a new wheat seedling) removed. All-purpose flour has a medium protein content of 9-12 percent, compared to whole-wheat (14 percent), or cake flour (5-8 percent). The King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour I use contains 11.7 percent protein. It's designed to be a flexible flour for everything from quick breads to cookies.
For bake-o-phobes like me, all-purpose flour is perfect; it goes into almost any baked goods, on its own or in combination with whole wheat flour, and the high starch content makes it an ideal thickener (for sauces, stews, and coatings). I much prefer unbleached flour, for it has better taste. Bleaching makes the flour whiter in color, but I'd rather have my bread taste good than shine in the dark.
All-purpose flour keeps indefinitely in a cool, dry place, stored in an airtight container. I never store flour in the freezer, because the temperature of my frost-free freezer fluctuates. Except at this time of year, i buy it in small five-pound bags, and replenish frequently. If you do store your flour for long periods of time, check it for insects and flour moths before you use it. Or try this trick: tuck a bay leaf into the container if you store flour at room temperature. Bugs don't seem to like it.
Potato pancakes (latkes)
Something savory to eat while we're baking all those cookies... Great for a fast dinner at any time of year, latkes are best made right before you plan to eat them, but it's possible to make them a day ahead and reheat in the oven at 400°F for 10 minutes. Serves 6-8.
3 cups grated (by hand) or shredded (by food processor) russet potatoes, approximately 2 very large potatoes
1/3 cup grated or shredded onion
2 medium eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sliced scallions, including green tops
1/4 tsp ground sage
black pepper to taste
peanut oil for frying
Preheat a large frying pan.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs until light and foamy. Add the potato, onion, salt, flour, pepper, sage and scallions, and mix thoroughly.
Fill the frying pan with oil to a depth of 1/4 inch. Drop the batter in large spoonfuls into the oil, a few at a time. Cook until brown on both sides.
Remove to a plate covered with paper towels and drain thoroughly. Serve with warm applesauce and/or sour cream.
NOTE: If you use a food processor to shred the potatoes and onion, you may need to return the finished mixture to the processor and chop (with metal blade) for 6-8 pulses until a good texture is achieved. Even with the extra step, when you're doubling or tripling this recipe it beats the old method of grating down to your knuckles on a hand grater. This will make 12-15 large potato pancakes.
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