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I really need to make more of it. Time that is, especially when I can get this……

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for something like 15 minutes of actual work; like getting my hands messy, watching the mixer spin and covering a bowl with plastic kind of work. Whoa. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

But really, I should do this more often.

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Maybe it’s because I don’t think bread photographs all that well. Like soup. I can make soup once a week but you rarely read about it here because it isn’t all that glamorous and hates to pose when the camera comes out. Some foods you can’t keep down if you tried. The camera turns on and they pose the heck out of themselves, flashing their merits for the lens to find, almost shouting ‘Look at me!!’ in their desire to be seen. And loved. Bread is just sort of there. The color isn’t superb and eye-catching; you can’t really show off the crumb in any photo and there’s no flashy edges, roasted and burnished, that tell it’s tale. And it’s bread. It’s a vehicle for your cheese, peanut butter, jam or fruit butter. It gets smothered in mayonnaise. No wonder it just sits there when the camera comes out. Rarely is bread honored on it’s own, although some of the best breads I have ever eaten can offer up their finest attributes with nary a spread in sight. But let’s face it. When you go for bread, you almost always have the thought of placing something on it, covering it up and hiding it from view, mashing it down in a press, or cooking it over a flame. Maybe over time, bread has developed somewhat of a complex, and when the camera points its way, it probably sighs and thinks ‘Oh great, next it will be the peanut butter jar. Or that god-awful mayo crap. Or that fabulous sharp cheddar in the fridge, maybe with chutney.’ It’s time to behold the bread. To claim it for the amazing food that it is, to place it forefront in the kitchen, to give it it’s due. To make time for it. To take 21 pictures of it like I did in an exhaustive effort to bring out the best of it, to try to make it shine. As I tapped ‘Command + Delete’ over and over again, sighing in frustration, the coarse and hearty crumb of this bread still playing on my tongue, I decided that the bread just needed to tell it’s own story in the only way it could. It needs to be made to be appreciated.

For five years of my life, I worked in the office of an artisan bakery and was subjected daily to fresh baked bread of all shapes, sizes and flavors. Some days all I could manage for lunch was to grab a ciabatta roll and maybe a little ham. Sometimes it was a Sesame Semolina loaf, a snappy and crisp Baguette or the mouth-puckering Sourdough Boule. My desk usually would be covered in crumbs, and when I cleaned out my keyboard, yep- you guessed it- crumbs. My daily log book was filled with crumbs. They crunched under my shoes, and almost every day as I exited the building and passed the rack of breads that were left, I would grab one to take home for Griffin. But I was surrounded by the wonder of all things yeast and it cemented a love for bread in me that lives strong still, nearly eight years after I left the job. I never really thought about how fortunate I was then, but now, when I want something yeasty, that snaps with a shower of golden snowy crumbs all over my lap, that’s what I think about.

And I need to give it the time and attention it should have, time it deserves and way more than I do, which is a rarity. Even if most of that time is spent gazing at a plastic covered bowl, faint drafts of yeast and flour emitting from within, while I sigh heavily, dreaming of warm bread covered with melted butter, a drizzle of honey or a gooey slice of melted Brie. The warmth of a 400° oven easily chases the chill of an October Sunday away, while I doze through the NFL game, one synapsis just awake enough to keep track of the time passing and bringing me ever closer to those dark brown loaves. And the smell. God really knew what He was doing when He created bread, didn’t He? Somebody say ‘Amen’.

Whole Wheat Multi Grain Bread
From The Essential Eating Well Cookbook

1-3/4 c. whole wheat flour
3/4 c. bread flour
3/4 c. 7-Grain cereal (Bob’s Red Mill makes a delicious one)
2 T. milk powder
1 pkg. active dry yeast (2-1/4 tsp.)
1-1/4 t. salt
1-1/3 c. water
2 T. molasses (I did not have any, subbed in unsw.applesauce and loved the result)
1- 1/2 T. canola oil

Fit your Kitchenaid mixer with the dough hook. Spray a medium bowl with cooking spray and set aside.

Combine flours, cereal, milk powder, yeast and salt in the mixer bowl and blend on low speed for about a minute. Whisk together the water, molasses and oil until combined, and then with the mixer running on low, slowly pour the liquids into the flour mixture. When fully combined, stop the mixer and allow the dough to rest in the bowl for 30 minutes.

Turn the mixer on to low again, and mix the dough for about a minute stirring in about 2 more tablespoons of wheat flour. The dough will not form a ball and will be slightly sticky. Scrape the dough into the prepared bowl and cover the top with plastic. Allow to rise until doubled in size- 1 to 1-1/2 hours.

Coat a standard loaf pan with cooking spray. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and sprinkle a little more flour over the top. Carefully collect the dough together to form a loaf and place in pan. Cover with plastic and let rise until doubled in size, 50 minutes to an hour.

Bake at 400° for 35-40 minutes, until top of loaf is golden brown and there is a hollow sound when you tap on the top. Allow to cool in pan, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.

KATE’S NOTES:
Bob’s Red Mill makes a 5-Grain, 7-Grain and 10-Grain cereal mix. Although the recipe calls for the 7-Grain, I used the 10-Grain as it was what I had on hand. Either of the three varieties would work just fine in the proper quantity. I was a little skeptical about the amount of time the dough mixed after the rest period. It seems pretty short and does not seem to develop the gluten much like other methods. However, the result of the loaf tasted really good, with a dense and coarse multi-grain crumb and a nice texture. I might experiment with the amount of mixing time to see what the end result might be. I doubled the recipe and both loaves were a bit short but I might have baked them sooner than they should have though.

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Seemingly a whole lifetime ago, I worked for five years in the office of a wholesale bakery and I have to say,  the smell of yeast has been and still is one of my most favorite smells of all. I loved walking through the production area in the early afternoons as the baking staff began their daily preparations; I loved standing by the enormous mixing bowls as hundreds of pounds of bread dough, pungent with the scent of yeast and flour, spun and smacked around inside. It was a happy day indeed when my boss would inform me that they would be making test batches that day because I knew he would be bringing me endless samples of warm bread to critique. And the best perk was free bread for the taking- crispy baguettes that snapped when you broke them, showering golden shards of crust everywhere, tangy sourdoughs, pillowy stirato loaves, rustic wheat breads and a mouth-watering marble rye that was my favorite sandwich loaf. The best lunch I could indulge myself in was a sliced baguette spread with a little of their scratch aioli and a few slices of salty ham. I was in carb heaven. I still miss the amazing bread, and it’s been a very long time since I last walked through those doors. I can buy the loaves in the grocers, and the flavor is still good, but I miss the experience of picking up a loaf off the rack that was only hours out of the oven, ethereal in it’s taste.

breadsI still love really good bread and for a long time I routinely spun loads of flour, water and yeast in my bread machine, so much so that I managed to effectively kill the thing outright, but I’m happy to have gotten my money’s worth. Since then, which was quite a while ago, I haven’t made a lot of bread from scratch despite having the time and the desire for it. I experimented with this amazing no-knead bread and loved the rich dense crumb and tangy flavor, but I am plagued with a ‘Must Have It Now’ mentality sometimes, and this just doesn’t work well with the patience and time required for a good loaf of scratch bread. There are some high quality artisan bakeries in the Twin Cities, including my old employ, and for a short trip in the car I can pick up a few loaves of bread to indulge myself in, but what I really need to do instead is lose the impatience inside of me and buckle down to make myself a good loaf on a regular basis.

On a recent trip through the library, I came across the publication of a local group called The Saint Paul Bread Club. I barely hesitated before slipping the slim book off the shelf. It’s basic and fundamental, nothing glossy or fancy, just page after page of bread recipes from a local group of passionate bread bakers, along with plenty of insider tips and hints to making better breads at home. After a few perusals and some thought to the first loaf to try, I rolled out of bed on a particularly gloomy morning after a simply pathetic night’s sleep and all I could think about was the smell of yeast, a warm glowing oven and the taste of a fresh warm loaf. The weather promised everything from rain to an eventual accumulation of upwards of 6″ of snow. It instilled in me both a bluesy melancholy, and a fierce need for the routine of baking, the rhythmic kneading and the promise of carbohydrates.

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This loaf contained bulgur and millet and I had both on hand. Bulgur  is cracked and parboiled wheat and really simple to use- it requires little else but a soak in hot water. Millet is a hulled, wheat-free cereal grain- the outer husk is removed leaving tiny yellow balls. Millet requires cooking, but this recipe didn’t make any mention of pre-cooking the grain so I didn’t, and it plagued me on whether or not this would result in a tooth-cracking slice. It didn’t.

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This recipe started with a sponge- honey, warm water and yeast were whisked together until foamy, then stirred with whole wheat flour, bulgur, oil and salt and allowed to sit until all puffy and fragrant. I mixed in the bread flour and millet, and pretty soon was faced with a coarse hairy blob of dough, and tiny grains of millet popping all over the kitchen. It seemed like hours before I stopped feeling their little hard knobs under my feet, even with obsessive sweeping. But the magic of kneading kicks in- and magic it is- taking a rough and craggy blob and transforming it into something smooth, elastic and uniform, dotted with the tiny yellow points of millet and smelling alive and warm.

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The rest is your basic bread instructions; rise until doubled, punch down and allow another rise (which I skipped for time purposes) shape the loaves and place in a pan, rise to double again and then bake. I won’t bore you with instructions.

And somewhere along the way, amidst all this tactile interaction and flour/yeast transformation, a tiny sliver of light knifed through me, lifting the melancholy, driving it far away. Was it the nap I took during the first rise? Maybe. It likely was something else altogether; the bread making lifted my spirits, even with the late winter storm blowing hard outside and the yeast saturated me with it’s own little charm. It could have been the workout I gave my arms and shoulders as I kneaded, driving a much appreciated blast of endorphins into me, or it could have been the fact that a hands-on loaf of bread is a thing of beauty. It transports you back to a simpler time, before cellophane loaves were the norm, where you watch a few pantry staples work a magic trick right before your very eyes. It’s nearly impossible to bury yourself in the blues with that happening in front of you.

And the taste….well, that’s enough right there to lift your spirits. This loaf was moist, a nice dense crust and crunchy little bites of millet throughout. It made awesome toast too- to me, the best indicator of a good bread. I’m thinking that I need to buy this little bread book.

(recipe after the jump)

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And you thought I was done talking about food holidays!!

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December is National Fruitcake and National Eggnog Month.  Blech. Just the word ‘fruitcake’ conjures up images of crazy people, and the real deal is not at all appetizing although I would like to taste one, for real, that is fresh and worthy of praise instead of ridicule. The poor Fruitcake just never gets any respect- the lil’ Rodney Dangerfield of food.

Today is National Date Nut Bread Day. I’m a big fan of dates and have been since childhood. My mom made the standard Date Bars- you know, with the oat topping?- and I loved them dearly. Sadly, her recipe isn’t in my treasured recipe box of hers, and despite several attempts with recipes found on-line, I haven’t been able to duplicate her offering and gave up, full of sad face and regret, resigned to a date-less existence.

But the holiday intrigued me because this is bread, and it has dates and it shouldn’t be too hard to come up with an option that doesn’t make my teeth hurt from being too sweet. Dates are notoriously sweet and contain the highest concentration of sugar in any dried fruit. They are also higly caloric, but they are loaded with potassium and fiber and can be an enjoyable treat, in moderation. One thing they don’t need at all is any extra sugar, so in finding a recipe that relied on only the dates for sweetness was a bonus in my mind.

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I’m not one to expend too much effort searching online recipe databases for the perfect recipe. I’m not patient enough for that. If I’m looking through Recipezaar, AllRecipes, Epicurious or any other site, I want to find something quickly and not spend endless time perusing through countless offerings, reading dozens of reviews and gazing at pictures. I trust reviews the most and they need to be unanimously positive. Coming across this bread recipe on the AllRecipes site, the first thing I noticed was that it had no added sugar, the next thing I read were the enthusiastic reviews that claimed this moist tender bread would surely be a hit. I didn’t need any more than that.

The best part was, they were right. Even slightly overcooked- which seems to be a recurring theme in my kitchen lately- the bread held a nice moist feel and was chock full of date flavor without making my eyes water from the sweetness. Without the sugar, the true flavor of the fruit shone through, and really, isn’t that why we eat something in the first place? This will be a repeat in my kitchen, with proper oven timing, whether it’s a food holiday or not.


Moist Date Nut Bread
from AllRecipes

  • 2 1/2 cups chopped dates
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees F). Grease and flour a 9×5 inch loaf pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the dates and butter. Pour boiling water over them, and let stand until cool.
  3. When the dates have cooled, stir the mixture to break up any clumps. Mix in the brown sugar and egg until well blended. Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; stir into the date mixture until just blended. Pour into the prepared pan.
  4. Bake for 50 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a wooden pick inserted into the center comes out clean.

KATE’S NOTES:
I followed this to the letter except for the walnuts. I don’t do walnuts, not after a childhood of dealing with walnuts in every home baked goodie I ate. I loved my mother’s baking, just not her love for walnuts. Instead, I finely chopped almonds and sprinkled them over the top of the loaf before baking. I think pecans would be nice too.

Be sure to thoroughly allow the dates and butter to cool and absorb the liquid. It will become a thick fragrant paste and really, is quite delicious all on it’s own but keep your spoon out of it and use it in the bread! A little fresh grated nutmeg would probably add a nice flavor touch to this, but the date flavor all on it’s own is really delicious.

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Chocolate-Cherry Bread (original recipe from David Lebovitz)

Makes 2 loaf

1 1/2 cups (210g) dried cherries, well-chopped
1 1/4 cup (170g) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (50g) unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch-process or natural)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
10 tablespoons (140g) butter (salted or unsalted), at room temperature
2 cups (400g) sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup (180g) buttermilk or plain yogurt (regular or low-fat)
1 cup (135g) walnuts, pecans, or almonds, toasted and finely-chopped
3/4 cup (120g) chocolate chips

To bake the cakes, grease two 9-inch (23 cm) loaf pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper or dust with cocoa powder. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C)

Sift together the flour, cocoa, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, or by hand, beat the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Stir together the eggs and yolk with the vanilla, then dribble them in while beating.

Mix in one-third of the flour/cocoa mixture, then half of the yogurt or buttermilk. Then mix in another third of the dry ingredients, then the rest of the yogurt. Finally add the remaining dry ingredients, and gently stir in the nuts, chocolate chips and cherries.

Divide and smooth the batter into the two prepared loaf pans and bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let stand on the countertop for about 15 minutes.

Recipe Notes: I did not have yogurt or buttermilk so I used sour cream and it turned out fine, albeit very moist. I think vanilla yogurt would add a great flavor to this bread. I did not follow David’s original recipe of macerating the dried cherries in liquor; he used rum I believe, about a half cup, maybe and left the fruit overnight, stating that what liquid was not absorbed could be added to the batter after draining off the fruit in a mesh strainer. Chopping dried fruit of any kind is very messy and sticky; I dusted the cherries with a little cocoa powder to see if it would help. It did, and didn’t. I did not use parchment on the pans, just cocoa. One loaf went in the freezer.

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Smoked Salmon Corn Chowder
from ‘The 12 Best Foods Cookbook’ by Dana Jacobi

4 small red potatoes, scrubbed and diced
1 T. canola oil
1 small red onion (or two shallots) peeled and minced
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 green (or red) pepper, cored and diced
1 14-oz can creamed corn
1/2 c. frozen corn kernels (i used corn cut from two fresh cobs)
1 c. fat free lo-sodium chicken broth (i used way more, like almost a quart)
2 t. fresh thyme leaves, minced; or 1/2 t. dried thyme
Pinch cayenne pepper
4 oz smoked salmon, flaked
Salt and pepper

Place potato in medium saucepan and bring to boil; simmer until just fork tender. Drain, and set potato aside. In stockpot, heat oil, then saute onion until tender. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds or until fragrant, then add pepper and cook until crisp tender (or to taste- you may like it softer). Add in creamed corn, corn kernels, thyme, broth and cayenne and bring to a boil. Add in potato and cook for 5 minutes. Turn off heat, stir in salmon, season with S&P and serve.

Roasted Red Pepper Butter

1 c. room temp butter
7-oz jar roasted red pepper, drained and finely minced
2 t. milk
1 T. fresh chives, minced
1 T. fresh parsley, minced
1/4. c. fresh grated parmesan or asiago cheese
Salt and Pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and beat with a hand mixer until smooth and fluffy. Can be shaped into a log and chilled, or stored in a plastic container.

Hint: with the peppers, the finer you mince, the prettier and more spreadable the butter will be. I used a knife on mine but next time will use a food processor or chopper to get them even finer.

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