Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Daring Baker Pud in the Land of St. Honore'

The dark haired lad had noticed the red haired girl hanging around the school entrance, but he was observant by nature, plus she was pretty.

She had noticed him in the shop one day when a group of boys came over from the school to buy treats. He had been the quiet one and easy on the eye, too.

Her mum was puzzled when she came back from the green grocers a week later with rhubarb as well as the strawberries she had been sent to buy. “I used my own money” she explained so her mum let it go and turned back to the till to make change.

That afternoon she was alone in the kitchen and she went to work with a will, cutting the washed rhubarb into chunks and hulling, then slicing the berries. She prepared the pudding bowl by rubbing it with a thin layer of butter. The berries, rhubarb, sugar and almond extract smelled wonderful as they gently cooked on the stove top while she mixed together the sponge.

The berry mixture went in the bottom of the bowl, then she carefully placed sliced almonds higher up the bowl sides, smiling as they stuck to the butter. After putting in the sponge mixture and evening the top as best she could…there was a lot of fruit juice that wanted to seep through the batter…

she secured parchment and foil over the bowl with twine,

then set it all in a pot partially filled with simmering water.

While the pudding steamed, she helped her mum stock the shelves and sweep the floor. She even washed the front windows of the shop so she could try and see if the students were still in class.
Soon after the pudding was done and looking wonderful on its flowered plate the bell on the front door started ringing repeatedly…the lads were back!

She looked for the dark haired boy and soon saw him quietly observing the slight mayhem of his mates choosing their weekly sweets, some giggling like six year olds, some with their voice changing and looking all knees and elbows with adolescence. When she noticed that the one she was sweet on was alone she made her move. Coming to stand next to him she said, “I noticed that you don’t buy any sweets…don’t you like them?” He shrugged and replied that he was short of funds. She tugged on his sleeve and said, “Come try my pudding then” so he followed her to the back and couldn’t refuse a serving of the warm and fragrant pudding.

It was better than any pudding he’d ever had and he told her that. Her smile was even better. Then he heard everyone leaving the shop. “Have to go” he said. “Wait” she said, “I don’t even know your name.” Turning back he gave her a heartwarming smile and said “Bond, James Bond. What’s yours?”

As we leave the Land of St. Honore' you may want to know what it is that the young James Bond was enjoying. It was a steamed pudding, and it was a spring-time steamed pudding with spring fruits and none of the strong spices of winter to be seen. Often the charming Dharm at this blog also does a Daring Baker's post about James Bond.

The sponge is light and buttery with a hint of almond and the sliced almonds were added as a nice garnish, plus a bit of added texture.

The April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: suet. We really enjoyed this pudding and I want to thank Esther for getting the Daring Bakers to try the traditional British dessert of steamed pudding. I was hoping to make some with suet but my butcher only gets partially dressed meat with no suet to be seen. I think this version with butter is delightful with the fruit. If I ever find a place with suet I'll be sure to try some of the other recipes.

Rhubarb-Strawberry Steamed Pudding

• 175g fresh rhubarb , cut into 4cm lengths
• 175 g fresh strawberries, hulled and cut into quarters
• 200g caster sugar, divided
• 1/2 tsp almond extract
• 125g unsalted butter
• few drops natural vanilla extract
• 2 medium eggs , beaten
• 175g self-raising flour
• 50 g sliced almonds (optional)

1. Cook the rhubarb and strawberries with 75g/2¾oz of the sugar and the almond extract over a gentle heat for 2-3 minutes until just starting to soften. Remove from heat.
2. Butter a 900ml pudding basin. Put butter and remaining sugar in a bowl and cream together. Stir in vanilla extract, then beat in eggs, a little at a time. Sift in flour and carefully fold into the mixture.
3. Spoon rhubarb- strawberry into the bottom of the basin. If using, place individual sliced almonds around the sides of the basin above the fruit mixture, using the butter to help them adhere to the sides. Spoon the sponge mixture on top of the fruit mixture and level off surface.
4. Butter a piece of greaseproof paper slightly bigger than the top of the pudding basin. Make a pleat in the centre and secure over the top of basin. Repeat with a piece of foil, then secure the whole thing with string. Place in a pan half filled with simmering water. Cover and cook for 1½ hrs, checking regularly that the pan does not boil dry. Remove cover, invert the pudding onto a plate, then carefully lift off the pudding basin. Serve with crème fraîche, single cream, ice cream, or garnish with fresh strawberries.

Serves 6
Recipe: BBC Good Food: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/3157/rhubarb-steamed-pudding

Esther from The Lilac Kitchen : http://lilackitchen.blogspot.com/

Monday, April 26, 2010

Fine and Casual Dining Near the Redwoods

Henweigh Cafe'

Sometimes a second career doesn’t pan out. In the case of Chef Dennis of Henweigh Café, the lucky folks who come here to dine are the winners of his choice to trade in a suit for a toque.

We celebrated our round number wedding anniversary by having dinner at this charming West County restaurant. You can find it right next to Mom’s Apple Pie shop, an institution along Hwy 116 north of Sebastopol for years and a super place to get house made pies.

But I digress; tonight the focus was on the finely tuned creative cuisine Sweetie and I enjoyed in the cozy indoor dining room at Henweigh. Warm woods and restful green and gold colors created a comfortable ambiance. Light streamed in plentiful windows and reflected in large mirrors. In good weather we’ll return and enjoy the expansive patio where Xam has been promised a bowl of water and some dog treats. Maybe we’ll come for brunch one Sunday now that the weather is warming up.

The menu has well chosen items ranging from small plates to sandwiches, salads, panini’s and soup…including the chef's hometown Boston style ‘chowdah’ - to full meals, including rib eye steak, pasta and smoked ribs.

I was lucky enough to get the last chicken pot pie of the day, served piping hot. The pastry is buttery and flaky with just the right amount of crispness at the edges of a large portion in a ramekin. The filling includes fresh corn that is roasted on the cob. The result is the texture that only comes with fresh from the cob kernels plus a slightly smoky sweetness. Nicely cut potatoes and fresh carrots and large chunks of moist and flavorful chicken are bathed in a mellow chicken gravy with just a touch of sherry.

A fine salad of mixed greens, grape tomatoes and crispy, sweetly fresh red pepper chunks and red onion rings came with the potpie. I chose the balsamic vinaigrette from an assortment of dressing choices. It was assertive with a deep balsamic flavor and plenty of good mustard.

Sweetie started with the All Star Sliders small plate. For lunch this would have been enough since it had two juicy mini-burgers on soft rolls with a great aioli topping, and chips. The beef was very flavorful and the sliders were about 3 to 3 ½ inches across. We’ll come back for the Grilled Angus Burger after trying the sliders. Sweetie's other choice was a special, a blackened ahi tuna sandwich.

The spices were on the hot side (as they should be) and the excellent slaw that came with the sandwich cooled things down a bit. The tuna itself was still rare in the middle...perfect! Usually the lettuce and tomato are an afterthought but Sweetie insisted that I try a bite of the tomato slice. It tasted like summer tomatoes. Not sure how they did that but it added to the deliciousness.

One of the advantages of a cozy dining room is that you can see what others are eating. A couple nearby seemed to be really enjoying the Caesar salad. The people to our left came for the ribs and told the chef when he came to see how everyone was enjoying their meal that the ribs were outstanding. We chatted briefly on the way out with a pair who had just finished the cheese fondue. They were very satisfied and mentioned that it even came with asparagus for dunking in addition to bread, sausage, peppers and tiny onions.

For dessert we had the roasted berry sundae. A mixture of strawberries, raspberries and blueberries are roasted with vanilla bean in their own juices and cooled, then served over rich vanilla ice cream with a garnish of whipped cream. The perfect ending to an enjoyable dining experience that was also easy on the pocketbook.

Has It Been That Long?...Sentimental Journey

Sweetie and I met in Berkeley. We got married a few blocks from Chez Panisse. We knew and loved Peets coffee when it was a local coffee hangout. Now that we have been married an amazingly long time considering that we both had struck out once before in the marriage department, we took a trip for our anniversary back to Berkeley and checked out some favorite places.

We started by taking Xam on a short walk at Cesar Chavez park...which used to be landfill. Next we went by the hotel where we spent our one night honeymoon, right by the marina. A drive down to the pier showed that both fancy restaurants and the Yacht Club were still going strong. There is even a brand new marine museum near the children's play area.

We drove through Emeryville, bemused that a run down industrial area is now a shoppers delight, including a huge IKEA where we looked at bathroom sinks and fixtures for the upcoming remodel. It was nice to see that the hardwood place on Ashby was still there, including the carved bears.

When we finally reached our old house we parked and took a walk in the park. The monkey bars where our daughter swung one morning, fell and fractured her wrist were still there.

So was the community garden and the funky climbing structure. We were surprised at how much the trees and shrubs had grown. The plum tree in front of the house now masks most of the front of the house and its roots have pushed up the brick steps up so they are very uneven. I was happy to see that the pomegranate shrub was still there. Max really enjoyed its fruits.

We headed for the University,

noticing businesses and building that were still there and others that were new.

Top Dog was still there near Telegraph, complete with cartoons and political clippings. We had lunch at the cafe in the Berkeley Art Museum and remembered the kids running up and down the ramp outside,

plus our daughter's birthday party in the park area nearby.

The cafe has a different name now, but the food was great...very fresh and flavorful. I had the portobello mushroom panino and Sweetie enjoyed a quesadilla with ham, cheese and veggies. A nice side salad had just the right amount of a good vinaigrette.

Walking down Telegraph I noticed that there were a lot fewer vendors than when I sold Christmas ornaments there one year. Moe's books was still there and just as much fun to browse in as usual.

I even found a copy of Baking with Julia written by Dorie Greenspan which, since it was used, was actually affordable.

Walking and driving around Berkeley always reminds me that it is a city with lovely gardens...most of them private. Even the smallest yard is often brightened with flowers, shrubs and vines. The flower at the top of the post and this one are a couple of examples, both from the old neighborhood.

One of the things that has always delighted me about Berkeley is the inventiveness of attire. We saw a wide range of fashion.

This couple caught my eye... the jester hat she is wearing is purple velvet and the shawl is purple lace. Loved this backpack...obviously belonging to a Cal supporter.

It really was fun to visit familiar and unfamiliar places in a town we once knew very well. We both have lots of happy memories of our time in that crazy place.

Although it was fun to visit the past, it's always fun to try new places, too. Coming next: an evening at Henweigh Cafe'.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Orange and Chocolate in a Cookie

The siren song of the garden has been drawing me out of doors, plus Sweetie and I celebrated a big anniversary this week (no, not the 50th! ...that one will require fireworks or something), plus clinic, so not much of interest has been going on in the kitchen lately. The exception is a bread I baked this week which will soon be revealed on the Bread Baker's Dog and the second exception are these cookies.

The other evening I made Orange Chicken with Mustard (which has been blogged about in its lemon and orange variations) and I grated way too much orange zest to use in that dish. I saved it because God punishes people who waste good things like fresh orange zest.

You probably think that I'm all organized and always know what I'm going to make or bake, good old Elle the competent one. Wrong! Some days I forget to brush my teeth. Others I forget to eat lunch. Sometimes I even put out butter to soften for baking but forget to bake anything...or don't know exactly what I want to bake.

These cookies were the result of such an experience. I knew I had butter, eggs and buttermilk. All were put out to soften/warm for baking but then the garden took over followed by extreme fatigue. Who knew that an urn full of potting soil and a rose bush could weigh so much? Same for bags of potting soil that needed moving.

I got my stairmaster workout by transfering the veggie flats from the sunspace to the deck for watering and sunbathing, which requires going up and down quite a few steps quite a few times. We won't even talk about the weeding, hauling pulled weeds to the compost area or green bin, more weeding, more hauling. The end result was no baking that day. Used the buttermilk the next day for the bread. Tried again with the re-chilled butter the following day. Then realized I didn't know what I wanted to make with it. See? I can be pretty disorganized.

Finally decided that I wanted to make chocolate chip cookies. That may have had something to do with a few bloggers like Lynn of Cookie Baker Lynn, Peabody of Culinary Concoctions by Peabody and the sweet blogger at Sinful Southern Sweets who have been making variants of chocolate chip cookies recently. It may have been because the idea of cc cookies with orange somehow sounded so appealing knowing that I had leftover orange zest waiting.

Whatever the reason, that's where the softened butter went, along with sugars, an egg, flours (including barley flour!) and both baking soda and apple cider vinegar. I used all the rest of the orange zest, which was more than a tablespoon, but a tablespoon would be sufficent to get that orange grove flavor and fragrance that goes so well with dark chocolate. I added chopped walnuts because I love 'em in cookies.

We have a picnic coming up at the end of the week. These cookies will be great picinic food...if there are any left! They are full flavored, crispy but with a soft middle, full of chocolate chips and the chocoalte is well balanced with the orange. Yummy!

Orange - Chocolate Chip Cookies
based on a recipe from King Arthur Flour website Makes about 33 cookies

¼ cup (1/2 stick, 2 oz.) unsalted butter
½ cup vegetable oil
(Note: I used 1 ¾ sticks of butter instead …it was softened, twice)
¾ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon orange zest
3//4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup whole barley flour (If no barley flour available, substitute unbleached all-purpose flour)
1 cup whole wheat flour, traditional or white whole wheat flour (I used ½ cup whole wheat and ½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour)
2 2/3 cups (16 oz) semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment or a silicon baking mat) two baking sheets.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter, sugars, vanilla, orange zest, and salt until smooth.

Beat in the egg to combine. Beat in the cider vinegar. Beat in the baking soda and baking powder and as soon as they are beaten in add the barley flour and whole wheat flour, combine thoroughly, then add the chocolate chips. It looks like too many chips, but don’t worry. If using walnuts, add at the same time as the chocolate chips.

Drop the dough, by tablespoonfuls, onto the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 15 – 17 minutes, until the cookies are an even golden brown, without any hint of softness in the center. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a rack to cool completely.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Truly Wonderful Afternoon Tea

Last weekend my sister Natasha and our friend Miroslawa came to town and we met at a high end bakery, Patisserie Angelica, that has begun to serve a full afternoon tea recently. To date our favorite tea place is the Camellia Tea Room in Benicia...I would happily travel there any time to enjoy their afternoon tea delights. The late La Dolce V also had a nice selection of goodies to go with tea. It's nice to have one fairly close, although they are only open to the public for tea on Fridays and Saturdays. It's worth coming then, though. The afternoon tea is splendid! I thought that their scones were the best yet.

The server deserves first mention because she was excellent - sweet, there when you needed her and not when you didn't, enthusiastic but not overly so, helpful and informative and thoughtful. We ordered a little something for Natasha to take home and she offered immediately to hold it in the fridge until we were finished to keep it cool. A nice touch. She also encouraged us to linger as long as we liked which is just what we like to do.

The setting is lovely. The decor is Paris meets West County with some gold framed mirrors and fancy fabrics but not too fussy or overbearing. We had a comfortable table and chairs right by the window which looks out on some plantings. Along a wall to the right of the entrance there are padded benches and small tables. Sometimes there might be outdoor seating. It was peaceful and it was fun to see future brides and their fiancees coming in to do cake tastings. Patisserie Angelica is well know for its fabulous, world class wedding and specialty cakes.

For our tea we had many choices of green, black and decaffeinated teas. Mine was golden and slightly fruity black tea from Mariage Freres of France and it went quite well with the afternoon tea offerings. Miroslawa had lavender scented and flavored black tea and Natasha had organic Earl Gray. We each had a pot of tea in a white pot, plus china teacups with lovely flowered patterns... a different one for each of us. The delightful server keep the tea pots refilled with boiling water as needed.

As you can see from the photo at the top of this post, the selection of treats was wonderful! They use pure butter, local dairy products and eggs and hand craft everything they make (no mixes allowed). We each had one or two of each offering which were spaced around the server so that we could easily reach our own. At the top were the sweets. These included the favorite... macarons with a lightened praline buttercream. It almost melted in your mouth and was rich but light. My second favorite was the tiny raspberry and frangipane tart, although I did enjoy the dense and buttery not too sweet shortbread, too. If you don't enjoy butter this is not your kind of bakery!

The next level down held three kinds of tea sandwiches including egg salad, ham and cucumber. All were fine but paled in comparison to the goodies baked on site. The lowest level had a darling and delicious square tart that had caramelized onion, spinach and mushroom filling. Another savory was Parmesan cheese twists which were crunchy puff pastry and quite delicious. The best item of the whole tea was the currant scone, served with home made lemon curd, strawberry jam and 'mock' Devonshire cream. If you find that the full on tea is too much, they also serve a cream tea that features these wonderful scones and the curd, jam and cream with a pot of tea.

This is the kind of treat that you deserve...you know it is. A leisurely time spent sipping tea, conversing, nibbling on delicious little goodies...what could be more relaxing and delightful?

If you happen to be in the Sebastopol area (about 25 minutes west of Santa Rosa, CA, which is about an hour north of San Francisco), call up Patisserie Angelica and reserve a tea party for yourself. Better yet, invite some friends to join you and you can have as much fun as we did.

Patisserie Angelica, custom pastry and wedding cake design
Hours: Friday and Saturday 10 am - 9 pm
(707) 827-7998
6821 Laguna Park Way, Sebastopol, CA 95472

Friday, April 16, 2010

It Must Be Spring and Pecan Tart Still Sounds Fine

It must be spring...everyone around here is talking about the weather. The other seasons have plenty of fluctuations in temperature and storms, but somehow spring is the most erratic. I'm mentally all set to switch to short sleeves and sweaters but next week looks like it will be back to rain gear and fleece.

My seedlings are big enough to go outside, too, but it may be May 15 before things warm up enough to plant them in the ground. The chill and rain doesn't seem to bother the apple blossoms. It was warm enough yesterday to open the car windows and take in the elusive and sweet fragrance that has such a short season.

After a crazy busy work day it's pretty nice to find a baking recipe that is also short and sweet. I'll be bringing this to a dinner party tonight, so I took a little extra time and arranged the nuts so they would look nice...all facing up. Given a choice of gingerbread, or maple and nuts, Sweetie chose the later. I'm glad he did!

A quick and easy tart with the delectable flavors of maple and pecans. No need for a mixer here…just use a whisk or fork to make the filling. I mixed the crumb mixture with a silicon spatula right in the pot I melted the butter in. Although this tart is fine just as it is, you can guild the lily with a drift of softly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream spooned next to each slice as you serve.

Maple –Pecan Tart with Graham-Gingersnap Crust
based on recipe in Instant Gratification by Lauren Chattman

½ cup (1 stick) butter, divided
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
½ cup gingersnap crumbs (about 8 cookies)
¼ cup dark corn syrup
2 large eggs
¼ cup pure maple syrup
1 ½ cups pecan halves

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Melt 5 tablespoons of the butter in a saucepan. Once butter has cooled a little bit (2-3 minutes), stir in the 2 tablespoons of sugar, the graham cracker crumbs and the gingersnap crumbs. Stir well to combine. The mixture will look like damp sand. Press the mixture evenly across the bottom and all the way up the sides of a 9 inch tart pan with removable bottom. Pack the mixture tightly with your fingertips so it is even and compacted.
(Reminds me of making sand cakes in the sandbox and sand castles at the beach.) Place the pan in the freezer until ready to use. (You may want to put a tray under the tart so that the removable bottom doesn’t move and disturb the nice crust you’ve made.)

Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter. In a medium bowl whisk together the melted butter, the remaining 1/3 cup sugar, the dark corn syrup, eggs, and maple syrup.

Remove tart pan from freezer. Scatter the pecans evenly across the bottom of the tart shell. (I like to turn them all so the top of the nut half faces up…look prettier to me…although it is more work and takes time.)Slowly pour the filling over the nuts.

Bake in the preheated oven until the filling is just set, 15 to 20 minutes. (I placed my tart pan on a Silpat lined baking sheet in case any gooey filling overflowed the tart pan.) Let cool completely on a cake rack before removing the sides of the pan and serving.

Serves 6-8

Monday, April 12, 2010

Perhaps the Best Yet...Irish Apricot and Walnut Sourdough Braid

What do you do that makes you happy? This is a question that comes up early on in a book I just read. The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. It is set in a cooking school and has wonderful characters and a lyrical use of language. It’s a fairly short book but, at least for me, had quite a few places that got me thinking about myself and my own life, even though the lives of most of the characters were quite different from mine.

What do you do that makes you happy? As a small child it was making pretend cakes in the sandbox and decorating them with leaves, twigs and flowers. At the beach my sand castles would be decorated, too, with shells and bark and perhaps a scrap paper flag on a coffee stirrer if I found those on the beach. I guess I like being creative and making things and embellishing them.

When I was older I loved to make my own paperdoll clothes and to bake cookies, and, later, real cakes with Hershey cocoa icing. More creativity, but more useful than sand.

When I was at school one of the things that made me happy was a day trip with a canoe on top of the car and friends to be with who also liked to travel down swollen creeks in the spring and lazy rivers in the summer, aiming our canoes through the rapids for a brief funhouse ride. Maybe I have a wild side!

Being in the kitchen when I can be creative almost always makes me happy. Sharing the results with Sweetie and others who love good food makes me happiest of all. The creation of food, raw, cooked, baked, and grilled, brings out the artist in me and there is something truly magical about creating food items specifically for those you love…some of your love seems to seep into the food as you prepare it…and they feel that when they eat it.

Drawing together to share food, a process as ancient as any, is an elemental and satisfying way to connect with those we love. If the TV is off it is an opportunity for conversation, sharing of daily trials and accomplishments, subtle instruction…and not so subtle sometimes…of the youngsters, appreciation for our blessings and, sometimes, a bit of flirting, too. If you can, try to sit down to eat with your loved one(s) at least once a day with no distractions other than the food. It is one secret to keeping the love and connections alive…and it just might be something you do to make yourself happy.

When I was in high school I was lucky enough to take a sculpture class taught at a nationally renowned museum in Washington DC. We worked with clay and I found the medium to be absolutely wonderful! Clay lets you be godlike, molding and pushing it around to suit yourself.

Recently Sweetie asked me why I don’t work in clay now since I liked it so much. My answer was “Now I have bread dough.” Bread dough is even more fun because it is alive with yeast. That means that you have to cooperate with the dough more than you do with clay…clay is much more submissive…but when you are done you can eat the bread and make another ‘sculpture’ another time!

This braid is truly a delectable bread sculpture...fun to make and fun to eat. As long as you remember that walnuts can give the dough a red tone you can enjoy the flavor they add. Chopped dried apricots give nuggets of intense apricot flavor here and there as you eat the slices.

Sweetie thinks that this might be the best bread yet. Not sure about that but I know it makes the best toast!

The recipe is from a book I bought last spring in Ireland and then somehow left in with the travel books. When it came to light this week I was thrilled to find that it had this bread because I'd been wanting to make a bread with apricots in it. The cook book is called Soups and Breads - The Irish Kitchen by Nuala Cullen. There are wonderful soup recipes in the front and lots of bread recipes in the back. Here and there are charming line drawings, but no photos.

This was written as a recipe for a boule, but I felt like playing with dough and making a braid. Since I used my sourdough starter instead of dried active yeast, the liquid measurements were wrong at first, so I added extra milk...but didn't measure. Add additional milk/water and flour as needed to get a firm dough that is smooth and only barely tacky. Allow plenty of time for rising if you use starter.If you braid the strands loosely you can get a really pretty braid once it rises.

With packaged yeast the first rise should be about an hour and the second, after braiding, about a half hour. Do make this with active dry yeast if you don't have starter...it is really good and worth your time. I'm sending it over to Susan of Wild Yeast for the weekly Yeastspotting event.

Irish Apricot and Walnut Bread
Makes one loaf

75 g/3 oz/2/3 cup finely chopped dried apricots
75 g/3 oz/3/4 cup roughly chopped walnuts
450 g/1 lb/4 cups strong white flour
75 g/3 oz/3/4 cup coarse brown flour (I used whole wheat)
1 tablespoon or one sachet instant dried yeast (I used 1 cup sourdough starter and adjusted the milk/water)
325 ml/12 fl oz/1 ½ cups mixed milk and water
1 tablespoon olive oil (I forgot to put this in, but it turned out fine)
1 teaspoon salt

If using dry yeast: In a large mixing bowl mix together the flours, apricots, nuts, salt and dried yeast.

Make a well in the center and pour in the milk and water, kneading and drawing in the flour from the sides until it is all incorporated. Knead for 2 minutes with a dough hook or 5-6 minutes by hand on a floured surface. Oil the mixing bowl, put in the dough, cover with plastic wrap/clingfilm and allow to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

If using sourdough starter: In large mixing bowl (I used stand mixer bowl) put the sourdough starter and 1 ¼ cups mixed milk and water, slightly warmed. Stir or whisk to combine.

In another large bowl combine the flours, apricots, and walnuts. With dough hook in place and mixer on low speed, gradually add the dry mixture until the dough is soft and cleans the sides of the bowl. Knead with the machine for 3-4 minutes. If you prefer you can combine the wet and dry ingredients as described in the first paragraph and hand knead. With sourdough starter you might need to have a longer rising time...I did.

Knock the air out of the dough and knead briefly before turning out onto a floured surface. Shape as desired. I did a three strand braid. Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk. Again, this usually takes longer when you are only using sourdough starter, but the additional flavor that develops is well worth the wait. I also refrigerated my dough overnight before the first rise...even more flavor that way!

Bake in a preheated 375 degree F oven for about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and tap underneath. If a hollow sound results, the bread is cooked. If not, bake a little longer and test again. You could also shape the dough in two loaves and bake this in two 8 x 4 loaf pans.

Do try some of this toasted...it is sublime.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Pumpkin for Spring

Pumpkin brings to mind autumn, crisp days, colorful leaves and wood smoke. If you love fall as much as I do, sometimes you need to bring a bit of fall into another part of the year. Rainy spring weather has a similar feel in some ways to fall weather...cool and gray and windy. That's what we are having this weekend, right after a spectacular warm and sunny Friday.

There is something about a rainy spring day that pushes me towards the kitchen with a yen to bake and to make long simmering foods like chili and ragu sauce. The light is different than in mid winter, when it also rains a lot around here, and even with the cloudy skies you can tell that the days are longer, too. Yesterday we started on our bathroom project by purchasing the flooring and by visiting a kitchen and bath showroom to look at solid surface shower enclosure examples.

Once we were home all I wanted to do way play in the kitchen with eggs and flour, spices and chocolate and nuts. The result was a lovely loaf of pumpkin bread, liberally spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves and laced with walnuts and chocolate chips. The perfect thing to go with afternoon tea, followed by nice long conversations with Natasha and my Mom.

The nice thing about this recipe, one I found in a cookbook I’ve had for ages called Favorite Brand Name Recipe Cookbook, is that you probably have all the ingredients in your fridge and pantry and it goes together quickly…so you, too , can have a nice warm slice, with melty, oozy chocolate and crunchy nuts…in hardly any time at all. Maybe even today. It didn’t start out with any chocolate, but chocolate was just what the day…and the bread…needed. I also subbed a little whole wheat flour, added some cloves, changed the sugar to brown and left out the butter. This is the recipe I ended up with:

Pumpkin Nut Bread…with Chocolate
Makes 1 loaf

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup canned solid pack pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup milk
2 eggs
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x5x3 loaf pan.

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl (both flours, soda and powder, spices).

Put the pumpkin, brown sugar, milk and eggs in a mixing bowl and mix until well blended.

Add the dry ingredients and begin to combine. Add the nuts and chocolate chips and mix just until all are well blended.

Pour into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake in preheated oven 45 to 55 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool in pan five minutes, then turn out of pan and cool on a cooling rack.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Themes and Variations and Dinner Rolls

Some spaces of time are for questions…others are for answers. There was a while, perhaps imperceptible, perhaps not, when many of the usual pastimes lost their sparkle. It wasn’t that I was depressed, just pausing, perhaps questioning the ways I had been spending time. Now I feel like I’m more in an answer part, but it includes some repeats of old songs, with variations.

Jazz players can jam together for hours, riffing, weaving their way around a tune, a rhythm; finding variations on the theme. This playfulness seems to be the essence of creativity. The willingness to try things brings a new perspective.

This week I took a good but simple roll and changed it with fresh herbs and a little whole wheat flour to something memorable.

Today when there were no fresh cherries for a recipe I made last year, I found dried cherries and soaked them in kirschwasser. The chocolate zucchini bread with cherries was different this way, but delicious. I took it to a musical afternoon and book release party so there are no photos. I can, however, show you the book cover I designed.

Don’t be afraid to play around with recipes yourself. Sometimes it will not work out, but you learn something from that, too. I had that experience this week, as well. Leftover Hollandaise sauce seemed to me to be a great starting place for making a drop cookie. I added sugar and almond meal, colored bits of the dough in Easter egg colors.

When the dough lumps hit the heat of the oven they melted down to discs. Perhaps I didn’t have the courage of my convictions and took them out of the oven too soon, but it is just as likely that I should have added egg white and/or flour to the batter. They did taste great but were flat and tore easily.

If I make Hollandaise again I’ll try another shot at Hollandaise cookies. Maybe I’ll create a good cookie next time, but I’m still glad I tried this time, even if the results didn’t match my aspirations.

Here is changed up recipe for the rolls I shared with Sparkle Plenty and Arcadia:

Herbed Pull Apart Dinner Rolls
based on a recipe from Amanda’s Cookin’
makes 12 rolls

1 package quick-acting active dry yeast
1 1/3 cup milk (105 – 115 degrees F)
3 to 3 ½ cups flour (I used 2 cups bread flour, 1 cup whole wheat flour, and about another ½ cup all-purpose flour)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup minced fresh mixed herbs – I used a combination of parsley, basil and rosemary with a bit of dry oregano and dry thyme)
1 tablespoon melted butter
coarse salt for the tops

Dissolve yeast in warm milk with sugar in electric mixer bowl. Let stand 5 minutes.

Stir the flours together in another bowl or large mixing cup if you are using mixed flours.
Stir in 1 cup flour mixture, the oil and the salt into the milk/yeast mixture. Beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour until soft dough forms. Cover and let rise in warm place until double, about 45 minutes.
Punch dough down and turn out onto a lightly floured board. Press down on dough to create a rectangle, roughly 8 inches by 10 inches in size. Spread half of the herb mixture over the dough, leaving edges free of the herbs.

Roll up jelly roll fashion, pinching the edges together. Fold in the ends. Press down on the dough to create another rectangle, roughly the same size. Spread the second half of the herb mixture over the dough in the same way, roll up and pinch to seal the same way, and then knead for a few minutes to distribute the herbs throughout the dough.

Prepare a 12 cup muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray. Pinch off 1 inch balls of herbed dough and quickly roll in the palm of your hands. Put 3 balls into each muffin cup, repeating until all dough is used.

If baking right away, brush with melted butter and sprinkle with coarse salt. If not baking right away, brush with melted butter and refrigerate up to a few hours. When read to bake, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Sprinkle rolls with coarse salt if not already done.

Bake until crust is light golden brown, about 15 minutes. Immediately remove from oven and from pan. Store loosely covered. Serve warm.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Bread and Memories

Happy Easter to those who celebrate Easter and Happy Spring to those who celebrate the mid-point between the shortest day and longest day of the year. This is actually a bit toward the longest, but you would never know it from our weather. Chilly nights, rainy days and, as a result, tulips that last and last isn't so bad, really. The apple blossoms are getting ready to bloom but have been discouraged by unseasonal cool.

One of the nice things about cooler weather is that my interest in bread baking has revived. There is something that is emotionally warming about the smell of freshly baked yeast breads.That slice of toast with marmalade goes so well with a warming cup of tea or coffee, too.

The last couple of days I've been baking or talking about baking with other bread bakers including J of the Green Thumb and Sparkle Plenty. One of the things that has come up is that my Dad used to bake loaves of bread for sandwiches. I forget if this happened a long time before he retired or shortly before, but I remember how much better I liked sandwiches made with his bread. Since we were a large family, he would bake at least four loaves on a weekend afternoon, ready for school lunches.

After he retired and I had moved to California he and I discussed bread baking because i was learning the mysteries of yeast and kneading. One of my favorite artisan breads was Struan bread, a complex loaf with mixed grains and a hearty taste. When I found a book by Brother Juniper (who used to have a cafe and bakery in nearby Forestville, although that was before I lived in the North Bay area) that had the recipe. I sent it to my Dad and he tried it. I think it was a little "crunchy granola" for him. When you consider that his simple white bread loaves were the best white bread you could have, I can't blame him for going with white and whole wheat fine flour breads. I think he made rye bread, too, probably 'deli rye'. I often think of him when I make loaves of bread, especially bread I plan to use for sandwiches.

This past week I wanted some sandwich bread for our house, so I took a recipe that included seeds and nuts and simplified it down. I used white bread flour, whole wheat flour and the 12 grain blend from King Arthur, but they are all fine flours, so the bread was a nice simple loaf with a great crunchy crust, moist fine crumb and delicious flavor.

It made great toast as well as being perfect for sandwiches. If you don't have a sourdough starter, just soften a package of yeast (about 2 teaspoons) in 1/4 cup warm (about 115 degrees F) for 10 minutes. Use that plus 3/4 cup warm water in place of the sourdough starter. It changes the flavor of the bread and usually rises a bit faster, but you will have a yummy loaf of sandwich bread. You can double the recipe for two loaves.

Sourdough Sandwich Loaf
Makes one loaf

2 cups all purpose unbleached flour
1 cup 12 - grain flour (or use additional wheat flour)
1 cup whole wheat bread flour
1 cup sourdough starter
1 1/2 cups lukewarm (70 degree F) water
1 tablespoon salt

In a large bowl mix the all purpose flour, 12 grain flour, and whole wheat flour together to combine. (I used a whisk to whisk them until combined.)
Put the starter, water and 1 cup flour mixture in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk to make a smooth batter. Use the paddle or dough hook with mixer on a low speed to work in additional 1 1/2 cups flour mixture. If not using dough hook, change to dough hook at this point. Add rest of the flour mixture to the dough, 1/2 cup at a time with the mixer on a low speed. Let the mixer knead the dough for about 5 minutes, or until dough is elastic, or turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead in the rest of the flour then knead for 5 minutes until the dough is elastic.

Lightly coat a 4-quart mixing bowl with oil and transfer the dough to the oiled bowl. Turn the dough over layer of plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise at room temperature, until it has doubled in bulk, at least 8 hours, preferably overnight.

Press the air out of the risen dough and gently knead it until it is springy again.

Shape the dough into a loaf. My method is to press the dough into a rough rectangle, roll it up like a jelly roll, tuck the ends under and then put into a prepared bread pan with the tucked ends on the bottom.

Loosely cover the loaf with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, about 4 hours.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Bake until well browned and sound hollow when tapped, about 35 minutes. An instant read thermometer inserted into the center of a loaf will register 200 degrees F.

Transfer the baked loaf to a cooling rack and let cool 5 minutes, then turn loaf out of bread pan. Let cool to room temperature before slicing.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Second Time's the Charm

It was fun making the Hot Cross Buns that I posted a few days ago, but it was even better today. A dear friend, J of the Green Thumb, invited me to bake with her, so we made another batch of hot cross buns with some variations.

These had all bread flour and no whole wheat flour, citron and candied pineapple instead of the marmalade, and a proper cross with Meyer lemon juice using a lemon she picked right before we made the icing! so they were truly different, although still a bit spicy and fruity. I liked these better. They were more tender, the citron and pineapple were somehow more to my taste, and the lemon juice in the icing really brought out the spices. Best of all, they were not overbaked as the earlier ones were! This is surprising since we were talking up a storm and not being diligent about keeping track of the time :)

We had fun with the currants, too. Since we didn't use raisins this time, we used more currants and they made little faces when we turned them into buns after weighing the dough pieces. Keeping them close to the same weight is supposed to keep them pretty much the same size, but maybe more had fruit than others because the sizes were markedly different. Once you started eating them that didn't really make any difference. Yummy hot cross buns! One other difference was that the dough was dry when we hadn't even added all the flour, so we added about 1/4 cup fresh orange juice and removed the dough from the dough hook, mixed some of the juice into the dough with a spatula, then started up the machine with the dough hook again and let it mix in the rest of the juice. Then we could add the additional flour and let the machine knead it a little while.

We started them about 10 am and they were baked by 2 pm. After cooling for a half hour we iced them. You might be able to shave a half hour off, but still, four to four and a half hours isn't bad for fresh, soft yeast rolls that make your kitchen smell wonderful. There were even two pans of buns, so we each had some. Thanks J! It sure was fun!!

I'm sending this version over to Yeastspotting since it is a new week. Do check out Wild Yeast and the great bread showcased there.
Hot Cross Buns - April version
Makes 16 buns

3/4 cup warm (100° to 110°) whole milk
4 1/2 teaspoons (2 packages) active dry yeast
1 large egg
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
Finely shredded zest of 1/2 large orange
About 3 cups bread flour
½ cup candied citron, chopped
¼ cup candied pineapple, chopped
1/2 cup dried currants
¼ cup triple sec (or rum)
1 tablespoon fresh Meyer lemon juice
1 cup powdered sugar – or enough to make a thick icing

1. In a bowl of a stand mixer, combine milk and yeast; let stand until yeast softens, 5 to 10 minutes. In another bowl, whisk together the whole egg, brown sugar, cooled melted butter, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and orange zest. Add to the milk/yeast mixture and beat on medium speed with dough hook until blended.

2. Blend most of the flour into the batter. Beat on medium speed until dough is smooth and stretchy, 10 to 12 minutes, using dough hook. Add just enough additional flour, a tablespoon at a time, (about 1/4 cup) so dough is only slightly tacky or add fresh orange juice if batter is too dry.

3. Soak currants in the triple sec for 10 minutes, then drain off the triple sec and use for another purpose or discard. Add candied citron, pineapple and the currants to the dough, pick up dough, and mix with your hands to distribute fruit.(I turned the dough out onto a lightly floured board and kneaded the dough in...that way I was sure that I had the dough well kneaded before adding the fruit and that the fruit was well distributed.)
Return dough to bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/4 hours.

4. Punch down dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Use a bench scraper or knife to divide dough into 16 pieces.With floured hands, shape into 16 smooth rounds. Evenly space rounds in two buttered 8- or 9-in. round pans.

5. Cover loosely and let rise in a warm place until doubled and puffy, about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400°. Brush buns with beaten egg. Bake until deep golden, 13 to 15 minutes. Let cool in pans at least 30 minutes.

6. In a small bowl, stir together lemon juice and powdered sugar until smooth. Spoon into a small, heavy-gauge plastic bag, snip a hole in a corner, and squeeze icing onto buns to form large Xs.