Monday, March 20, 2017

A Lovely Banana Loaf with the Cake Slice Bakers

Happy first day of Spring!

The 20th of the month is always a fun day to check out this blog because I often have a post for a recipe from the Cake Slice Baker group's latest book, this time Roger Pizey's World Class Cakes. 

Although we had four choices this month, the multi-layer chocolate cake used a mousse as filling, which is hard to do for the dairy-impaired. The cake with coconut on top was no good because I had a guest who hates coconut. The mandarin and macadamia cake is too similar to my favorite orange cake from Orangette, so I went with the Banana Loaf. I didn't really expect much, but Sweetie went wild over it and he really isn't a big cake fan. I thought at first that it was because I served slices still a bit warm from the oven, but he enjoyed it just as much this morning when it was cold.

This cake is not too sweet and it's very moist. I goofed and used both bananas in the batter when you are supposed to put one, sliced, on top of the loaf. That probably made it too liquid a batter and definitely made it too much overflowed quite a bit. Fortunately I put a sheet pan underneath to catch any drips, so no harm done. I did use ground almonds instead of hazelnuts because that was handy and I did add 1/2 cup chopped pecans to the batter. No banana on top, no glaze. Still an awesome cake! The half pecans I put on top for decoration just sank into the batter, so I photographed the upside down looked better. Not the best photos in the world, but a delicious banana loaf!

Banana Loaf
serves 8

2 really ripe bananas
2/3 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup ground almonds
2 eggs
1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a loaf pan (I used a 8.5 x 4 x 2.5 pan...a larger one would be better). Set aside.

Mash one banana in a bowl. Set aside.

Cream butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add the ground almonds, followed by the eggs. Scrape bowl and beaters and mix a little more until well combined.

On a piece of waxed paper or parchment, sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder. Add to the batter and mix well. Mix in the sour cream, then the banana puree, and pecans.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 10 minutes.

Removed pan from oven and add the remaining banana, sliced lengthwise, in a long along the length of the loaf. (I missed this part and had both bananas, mashed, in the batter...the pan overflowed, so go with the correct directions!) Return pan to the oven and bake and additional 45-50 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center will come out clean.

Remove to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes, then turn out of pan and turn right side up. Serve warm or cool.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Apricot Tart So Sunny

No, it isn't apricot season, but I've always wanted to try an apricot tart using canned apricots, so I actually had two cans in my pantry waiting for such a day. Finally, the day came last weekend. I used a sweet tart dough from Dorie Greenspan and a frangipane for the filling. It's made with ground almonds and puffed up around the apricots.

Almonds and apricots are a great flavor combination, so it was bound to be delicious. I took it to Natasha's for a lovely lunch with Natasha, her hubby, my hubby, our older brother, and Lex. There were even a few candles since Sweetie and I were jointly sharing a birthday, even though mine was last month and his is days away. Birthdays are very movable feasts in my family!

At the end of the post is a photo that shows the three views of one scene that I am using as the inspiration for a painting I'm doing in the refurbished studio. Great fun to work there, especially now that the weather is warmer. I'll post the finished art when it is done.

Apricot Tart

Sweet Tart Dough from Dorie Greenspan's Baking; From My Home To Yours

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

Put the flour, confectioners' sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. 

Scatter the cold pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in. 

Stir the yolk to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses, about 10 seconds each, until the dough forms clumps and curds. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that still exist in the mixture.

Gather dough into a ball, then flatten it and put it into a 9-inch tart pan, using your fingers to push the dough into the corners and flutes of the pan, while keeping the thickness as even as possible. Use a rolling pin, rolled over the top rim, to clean the top. Gather up any leftover pieces and wrap in plastic wrap, and put in the fridge for patching, if necessary. Prick all over and freeze for at least 30 minutes, but longer is O.K.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Put the rack in the center of the oven.

Remove tart shell from freezer. Spray a sheet of foil with cooking spray/oil and put, oil side down on the tart, pressing down to mold the foil to the tart shape.

Bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil carefully and use the back of a spoon to gently press down any puffed crust. If necessary, use the extra dough from the fridge to patch any holes, then bake another few minutes. Let crust cool.

Chop up 2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate. Put in a microwave safe bowl. Add 1 teaspoon butter or margarine. Heat on high in the microwave, a half minute at a time, stirring after each heating, until mixture is melted and smooth. Use pastry brush or silicon brush to coat bottom of tart with the chocolate. Let cool until hardened. This layer prevents the filling from making the tart soggy on the bottom.

Prepare the filling:

3 tablespoons soft butter or margarine
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs
3/4 cup almond flour or finely ground almonds
1 can apricot halves, drained and patted dry

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

To make the filling:  Beat together the butter, salt, sugar, flour, and almond extract.

Beat in the eggs, then add the almond flour, stirring just to combine.

To assemble the tart: Spread the filling in the bottom of the crust.

Place the apricot halves in rows on top of the filling, pressing them down gently so the bottom of the fruit is covered.

Bake the tart in the preheated 350 degree F oven for 45 to 40 minutes, until the top is lightly browned. Cool slightly before serving. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Sweetly Fragrant Sturdy Cinnamon Raisin Struan Bread

Sometimes doing a end of year clear out of the bookcases brings a surprise. That's what happened to me. I found a small paperback by Peter Reinhart mixed in with the mysteries. In it I found what I think is the perfect March bread for gathering round our Bread Baking Babes kitchen table. Since I'm Kitchen of the Month, I'm inviting you, dear reader, to bake it too.

Peter Reinhart has been encouraging bread baking for a long time, especially slow food bread baking where the dough is given plenty of time to develop its flavor. When Struan bread was available commercially at the market in the 90s, I often bought it for making sandwiches. I loved the complex flavors and the substantial body of the bread, still rare at a time when most sandwich bread was soft and squishy. 

I have a copy of a book he wrote in 1994 called Sacramental Magic in a Small-Town Cafe - Recipes and Stories from Brother Juniper's Cafe'. In it he gives the recipe for his (at the time) all time favorite bread - Cinnamon Raisin Struan, which is a variation of Struan bread.

This is supposed to be a complex bread, consisting of lots of grains and ingredients. Brother Peter says, "Struan, incidentally, aside from being the name of a Scottish clan, also means "the convergence of two or more streams" which he feels is quite appropriate considering all the different convergences of ingredients. You will need to cook some brown rice ahead of time and allow it to cool to room temperature and be prepared to knead longer than usual. You might have to make a trip to the store for polenta, wheat bran and/or buttermilk, but most of the ingredients are probably already in your pantry.

This recipe makes a lot of bread - three 1 1/2 pound loaves. As long as you keep the ingredients in proportion, you can reduce the amounts of ingredients to make less.

In keeping with my no-dairy regime, I substituted a combination of soy milk and plain yogurt (which doesn't seem to bother me, probably because of being fermented) for the buttermilk. I also forgot all about doing oil and cinnamon sugar on the top of the loaf (probably because I was baking these well after dinner time and my brain turns off, mostly, after about 7 pm). I also divided the recipe in half and still made two smaller loaves. This bread is fragrant with the cinnamon...a full tablespoon per loaf!...and has a nice sturdy crumb and thin but delicious crust. One loaf received only cinnamon...I forgot all about the sugar...and the other loaf received some melted butter and brown sugar along with the cinnamon. Both were delicious in different ways.

Come on, become a Buddy! Bake this bread and then email me at plachman at sonic dot net, along with a photo of your bread and a short description of your baking experience. Get it to me by March 29th to be included in the round-up. Don't be surprised if this bread is gone in a flash. While it is baking in the oven the kitchen begins to smell like those cinnamon rolls at the mall and soon everyone wants a taste. Just let it cool a bit or you might get a burnt tongue from the hot sugar!

Be sure to visit the blogs of the other Bread Baking Babes, too, to see what they have done with the recipe. I'll do a post tomorrow with links if you don't have them already.

Cinnamon Raisin Struan Bread
makes three 1 1/2 pound loaves
from Sacramental Magic in a Small-Town Cafe by Br Peter Reinhart

7 cups high-gluten bread flour
1/2 cup uncooked polenta (coarse ground cornmeal)
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup wheat bran
4 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons active dry yeast activated in 4 tablespoons lukewarm water
(alternately, use 2 tablespoons plus one teaspoon instant yeast, mixed with the dry ingredients)
1/2 cup cooked brown rice
1/4 cup honey
3/4 cup buttermilk
About 1 1/2 cups water (be prepared to add more if needed)
3 cups raisins
1/2 cup cinnamon sugar (1 part cinnamon to 2 parts granulated sugar)
4 tablespoons melted butter, margarine, or vegetable oil

In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients, including the salt and yeast (unless you are using active dry yeast, which should be activated in warm water and added with the wet ingredients.)

Add the cooked rice, honey, and buttermilk and mix together. Then add 1 cup of water, reserving the rest to add as needed. With your hands, squeeze the ingredient together until they make a ball. Sprinkle some flour on the counter and turn the ball out of the bowl and begin kneading. Add small quantities of water as needed.

Because Struan has so many whole grains, it takes longer to knead than most breads. Allow at least 15 minutes, but be prepared to knead for 20. The dough will change before your eyes, lightening in color, becoming gradually more elastic and evenly grained. The finished dough should be tacky, not sticky, lightly golden, stretchy and elastic, rather than porridge-like. When you push the heels of your hands into the dough it should give way but not tear. If it flakes or crumbles, add a little more water.

When the dough seems ready, add the raisins and knead for 2 more minutes, until the raisins are evenly distributed. (I kneaded my raisins in after the first rise.)

Wash out the mixing bowl and dry it thoroughly. Put in the dough and cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap, or place the bowl inside a plastic bag. Allow the dough to rise in a warm place for about 1 hour, until it has roughly doubled in size. (Mine took longer...closer to two hours. Once I kneaded in the raisins, I put it in the fridge overnight for more flavor.)

Cut the dough into 3 equal pieces (or more if you want to make smaller loaves). With a rolling pin, roll out each piece into a rectangle. Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of cinnamon sugar over the surface, spreading it evenly (used brown sugar and some melted butter on one loaf at this stage). From the bottom of the long side, roll up the dough into tight loaves, tucking and pinching the seams into one line on the bottom. Put the loaves, seam side down, in greased bread pans (for full-sized loaves your pan should be around 9 x 4 1/3 x 3 inches). Cover and allow the loaves to rise until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. When the loaves have risen, cresting over the tops of the pans, place on the center shelf and bake for about 45 minutes. The loaves should be nicely domed and dark gold. The bottom and sides should be a uniform light gold and there should be an audible, hollow  thwack when you tap the bottom of the loaf. If the loaves are not ready, remove them from the pans and place them back in the oven until done. They will bake quickly when removed from the pans.

When done, brush a little butter, margarine, or oil over the tops, then sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon sugar, coating each loaf with a layer of cinnamon crust. (Didn't do this part.)

Allow the breads to cool on wire racks for at least 40 minutes before slicing. This bread makes exceptional breakfast toast and French toast!

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Busy Times

Not sure why I used this title, since most times seem to be busy times in my life, but lately has been busier than usual and looks to continue that way for a while. Although baking and cooking are always near the top of my list of passions (along with Sweetie, Kate and Pi), at this time of year the growing season starts taking up some of my time and thoughts. I have flats of cells of soil with tiny seedlings in the sunspace and more seeds to plant in others.

Not only is the ground saturated from all the rain, but the nights have been cold, so it may be another month before anything goes into the ground. During the next week or so I hope to do the annual check-up of the irrigation system with Sweetie so that I know where I can plant things once the soil is warm.

My involvement with the women's scholarship group P.E.O. continues to be complex and rewarding and even more time consuming (is that possible?) since I'm currently wearing three hats, one at the local level, one at the regional and one at the state level. At the state level we just awarded over $76,000 in post-secondary education scholarships for the 2017-2018 academic year, and that was just my committee! Pretty gratifying to be able to help women reach for their educational goals.

Travel and picnics start to become interesting now that the weather is nicer, and home project are also coming to the top of the list. Hope to be posting picnic-worthy recipes soon.

I finally have a studio to paint in and a painting started, plus the next one being planned in my head.

I'm the Kitchen of the Month for the Bread Baking Babes in March, so be sure to check back on the 16th for that post! Sweetie has a birthday coming up and my brother from Denver area is visiting California, so we hope to see him in the Sacramento area this coming weekend. With luck that will be when I bake the cake for the Cake Slice Bakers, which is revealed on the 20th.

Last weekend we visited Kate in the LA area and had a great time. It was a very short visit, but we got to meet her excellent neighbors and their friends, have some cocktails and BBQ, play with some dogs and a puppy. We visited the Manhattan Beach pier and had breakfast with Adam, Julia and the kids on Saturday. There was time to talk, hear about  jobs and, later, watch some videos showing the good that EcoMedia does in the world, discover a new TV series, learn about Uber Eats, have a little birthday celebration with a tiny cake I brought along (I was too sick on my real birthday to even think about cake!), and we even helped hang some art. Good times!

So, as you can see, nothing earth shattering in all this busyness, but no time to get bored, either.

Hope that your days are filled with your own busy times, as long as those times are good times.

Monday, March 06, 2017

No Knead Sort of Irish Bread

Every once in a while I return to the No-Knead kind of bread because it is easy and you get a very artisan looking loaf with not much trouble. This time I used a good amount of the King Arthur Flour Irish Wholemeal Flour to make the bread, plus some nice sourdough starter, so it isn't an authentic Irish bread, but surely similar to some that might have been made on that green, green island.

It makes wonderful sandwiches and toast and French toast and can be eaten with pleasure, while still a little bit warm from the oven, without any butter, jam, topping of any sort and as just the simple, unadorned, unprocessed slice to enjoy.

I sort of poured the dough after the first rise onto a heavily floured sheet of parchment, then used that to flip half of the loaf over the other half, then it all went into the preheated Dutch oven which I had sprayed lightly with oil. I put the lid on for the first half of the baking and then removed it so that the top crust crisped up an became a lovely golden brown. It didn't fill the whole pot, but that was OK.

Oh, yes, below the recipe is a photo of the two little black lambs born in our field this morning. Sooo cute! Kinda hard to see them, but we were keeping well away until they bonded with their ewe. No interest in bummer lambs.

No-Knead Bread in a Pot Elle's Way

makes 1 large loaf

1 cup sourdough starter
1 cup Irish Wholemeal flour
1 1/2 cups water
2 -3 cups bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Put the sourdough starter in a large bowl. In another bowl whisk together the wholemeal flour and the water. Add it to the starter and whisk to blend. Let bowl sit, uncovered, on the counter for at least 1's OK for it to sit longer (another hour or two is OK) for a stronger sourdough flavor.

Stir the bread flour into the starter mixture 1/4 cup at a time with a wooden spoon, stirring until all the flour is mixed in before adding any more. You should have a shaggy dough that doesn't hold a shape. When you have added 2 cups of flour, sprinkle in the sea salt, then another 1/4 cup of the flour and finish stirring it in. You will have a very slack dough. You can stop here or add more flour, 1/4 cup at a time but the less flour the more holes.

Let the mixture sit, uncovered, on the counter for 1 1/2 to 4 hours. Mixture will be bubbly.

Place a large piece of parchment paper on the counter and flour it heavily. Place/pour the sourdough mixture over the flour. Using a bench scraper, lift up the dough all around the edges and sprinkle heavily with flour under the edges, then let dough fall on top of the flour. When you have gone all around the dough mass, use the bench scraper to flip half of the dough on top of the other half. Sprinkle top heavily with flour and let sit until pot is ready.

Place heavy cast iron pot or Dutch oven, with lid, in the oven and preheat for 20 minutes to 450 degrees F. When 20 minutes have passed, remove pot and lid from the oven and slide the dough into the pot, discarding the parchment paper. Cover with the lid (remember to use oven mitts for all of this...the pot is very hot!) and return the covered pot to the oven.

Bake for 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 -25 minutes or until loaf is dark golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Let cool, outside of the pot, for 10 minutes on a rack. Serve warm or cool before eating.