Adventures in baking

Stephanie Stein serves up some delicious baked goods for Happy Girl Kitchen Company in Pacific Grove. This combination café and cannery carries up a myriad of canned pickles and jams, along with Blue Bottle coffee and light café fare. Stephanie makes scones, muffins, cookies, tarts and more for the café.

Monthly baking workshops at Happy Girl Kitchen reveal Stephanie's secrets to the cafe's baked goods, like crowd-favorite, the sweet potato biscuits.

Once a month, she hosts baking workshops at Happy Girl Kitchen to share the secrets to her delicious baked goods.

Out of curiosity, I signed up for her first class—I’m not really all that good at baking, but I figured you gotta start somewhere, and Stephanie assured me it would be easy for me to make baked treats as delicious as hers. So I signed up for her first class a couple months ago—and I’ve been there every month since!

The first two classes focused on sweet treats—we learned how to make such staples as orange cranberry scones, apple galettes, homemade strawberry jam Pop Tarts and Nutter Butter cookies.

Setting the stage for savory baking.

Most recently, Stephanie let us in on the secrets of savory baking, teaching us how to make sweet potato biscuits, sun-dried tomato and Manchego scones, and potato and caramelized onion galettes.

Good butter, like Strauss organic butter, is the secret to delicious baked goods!

We started with the sweet potato biscuits—a favorite of the café offerings. The students paired up and grabbed big bowls to get to work. Stephanie encouraged whole-grain baking, trying different flours for even the most everyday recipes. We mixed together a blend of flours—whole-wheat pastry flour and spelt flour, along with some all-purpose flour, which Stephanie says has its place, when blended with whole grains—and kneaded in cold Strauss organic butter. Oh man, this is seriously some of the best butter I’ve ever had! It’s so smooth and rich, and instantly classes up anything from toast to polenta, and baking with it is simply divine. It might not be cheap, but this butter is worth every penny!

Whole roasted sweet potatoes for the biscuits.Once mashed, the sweet potatoes revealed their rich color.

Stephanie had roasted sweet potatoes for us, and we used a generous portion of gooey sweet potato in our dough. Stephanie had a wealth of helpful tricks for saving trips to the grocery store—we made buttermilk from scratch by mixing together some milk with a little bit of lemon juice to curdle. She gave us tips on other substitutions, like if you wanted to make recipes gluten-free (use different flours) or ditch the egg (mix together flax seed and olive oil).

The dough was packed with pockets of butter!

After kneading together all the ingredients, we folded out our dough, cutting out biscuits with jar lids. Always an over-achiever, I added some bits of fresh rosemary for extra flavor and flair on my biscuits. Take it from me—the tangy herb added a nice extra kick to the biscuits and it looked so classy with a little sprig on top.

Biscuits hot out of the oven and ready for lunch!

We of course got to sample our creations, and while my biscuits didn’t turn out quite as light as Stephanie’s, they were certainly a nice first effort! I mean, I didn’t set the kitchen on fire, so that’s a good start, right?

I was impressed how easy Stephanie’s recipes were. Even a baking novice like me could get into them. The scones were likewise pretty straightforward and very tasty. Even the potato galette proved far easier than you might expect looking at this elegant buttery tart sitting in the pastry case.

Again, we started with a mix of flours and that Strauss butter, also adding a little sour cream to make a smoother dough. You don’t want to knead the dough too much—the secret to a nice, flaky crust is to leave bits of cold butter about the size of oats intact so they melt in the oven. So we gently worked the butter in, then chilled the dough again to keep those hidden pockets of butter. Again, the overachiever in me came out, and we added some minced rosemary to the dough to give it a more savory flavor.

Potatoes sliced thin and marinating in olive oil and rosemary for the galette.

We sliced the potatoes as thin as we could, in a true test of our knife skills. Let’s just say I won’t be competing in any Iron Chef competitions anytime soon, but at least I left with all 10 fingers still intact! We soaked the potato slices in olive oil and minced rosemary while slicing up some Gruyere for the galette. Luckily, Stephanie had caramelized some onions for us beforehand, just using fennel seeds and olive oil, with a touch of balsamic vinegar.

Ingredients ready to go into the galette.

With the toppings ready to go, we rolled out the dough as thin as possible. The dough cradled the blend of toppings—a few potato slices, a dollop of caramelized onions and a generous sprinkling of Gruyere. Folding the dough up around the edges gave the galettes a rustic touch.

A giant galette ready for the oven!

These smelled amazing while they were baking up in the oven. Stephanie and her mum had prepared a nice lunch for us, but I have to admit, as stuffed as I was from lunch, I gobbled up my galette later that afternoon! It just smelled too good to let it sit!

Fresh out of the oven, these galettes smelled amazing!

Stephanie’s classes are always a lot of fun—you never feel any pressure that you’ll get the recipe wrong or you’ll be quizzed at the end. It’s really all about having fun and exploring your baking skills. Stephanie encourages her students to eschew fancy tools and just use your hands, really connecting you to the food you make.

Stephanie's next class is coming up this weekend. Click above for more info!

Want to try out some of the recipes for yourself? Sign up for one of Stephanie’s classes. Her next class, Redefining Homemade, is this Saturday, June 25. The class is from 10:00 to 3:00 at Happy Girl Kitchen (173 Central Avenue, Pacific Grove). Cost is $110 per person, and includes a light lunch.

Can’t make it to her next class? Check out Stephanie’s blog for more baking tips and recipes, including the sweet potato biscuit recipe. And if you’ve stuck with me this far, here’s a reward for you—the recipe for potato galettes!

Caramelized onion, potato and Gruyere galette

¾ cup all purpose flour
¼ cup whole spelt flour
1 ½ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled
3 tablespoons of sour cream
¼ cup chilled water
minced herbs, optional
caramelized onions (see recipe below)
½ cup sliced Gruyere cheese
1 potato, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Minced rosemary
Sea salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small bowl, combine the flours, salt and baking powder. Take the chilled butter and cut it into the dry mixture so that it resembles small pebbles or oats. Try and handle the dough as little as possible to keep the butter cold. Add the sour cream and the chilled water a little at a time to reach desired consistency, so the dough forms a ball but isn’t sticky. Stir until just combined. The key with this dough is to maintain the shape of the little pebble-like butter pieces—they will have a nice and flaky finish. Refrigerate dough for approximately 15 minutes.

Take your sliced potatoes and place them in a bowl with a pinch of salt, the minced rosemary, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Set aside.

After your dough is done chilling, flour a work surface. Take a two inch ball of dough and roll it out so it is very thin. Place a bit of flour in the center of your dough and start piling on the fillings. First goes the potatoes, then the cheese, and finally a bit of caramelized onion. Make sure to leave plenty of dough surrounding your fillings so you can fold the edges up. When you are ready take the excess dough and fold it up towards the center, creasing as you go. Each individual galette will have its own character . . . so give yours your own personal touch!

Slide onto a prepared baking sheet with parchment paper and bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. Let cool and enjoy!

Caramelized onions

2 onions, chopped
1 teaspoon fennel seed
2 table spoons olive oil
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

Heat the olive oil and fennel seeds over medium heat. After about 2 minutes add the chopped onions. Stir the onions to they are covered in oil and let reduce for about 15 to 20 minutes. You can reduce the heat slightly and occasionally stir so they do not burn. After the onions look nice and caramely, add your balsamic and cook for another couple minutes. Yum and done.

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