Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Summers Jewels

Although some of the plants in the garden this year are from starts I bought at the nursery, most of them are either volunteers from last year or ones that I grew from seeds. It's a long haul from February or March when the seeds go into the little soil blocks and get to be cozy in the sunspace while they germinate and send up shoots and leaves, growing nice roots below soil, to late August when we are finally, finally getting ripe tomatoes. You would think that the cute brownish cherry tomatoes would ripen far earlier than the hefty Black Krim beefsteak type, but it seems they whispered at night and decided to keep me in suspense by ripening all together.

The very first was the Costuluto, ribbed like a pumpkin, bright fire engine red in color and with a true strong tomato taste. It went right into a salad. The next bunch were more Costuluto, a couple of Black Krims, a Brandywine and a handful of those cute cherry tomatoes. They were eaten by themselves, with just a touch of olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar and some salt and pepper to highlight their natural fresh-from-the-garden flavors.

Now we have gotten enough that I was able to make a veggie casserole the other night. Layers of zucchini, tomato, fresh corn (from the market),

mushrooms, onions, thyme and lite Swiss cheese in a small dice filled a casserole. On top I put some more Swiss cheese, some Parmesan and chopped Italian parsley.

Baked together they created a fabulous dish full of the flavors and colors of summer garden jewels. This is a delicious combination and looked far better 'in person' because I forgot to take a photo once it was on the plate until Sweetie had almost finished his second helping...the last of the yummy veggie layers.

Although I do love to blog about bread and baked goodies, I'm really happy that this post, the 500th (hard to imagine that many!) is about my garden, since it is one of my enduring enthusiasms and always gives back more than I put into it, like the true friend that it is. Hope that you have a garden or will plant one soon. If you have one, hope that it is a happy garden, full of beauty and hope.

Summer in Layers
3 small yellow summer squash or zucchini ( or mixed) sliced
4 tomatoes, sliced, then cut into wedges
1 ear corn, fresh, yellow or white
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow or white onion, peeled and chopped
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 small bell pepper, removed from core and diced
¼ teaspoon dry thyme
salt and pepper
1 cup finely diced or shredded Swiss, Emthaler or Jarlsberg cheese
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley

Butter a deep 2 quart casserole. Make a layer using half the zucchini or yellow squash, half the tomato wedges. Use a sharp knife to cut the kernels from the cob of corn. Sprinkle the zucchini and tomatoes in the casserole with half the corn. Set aside

In a medium skillet, sauté the chopped onions, sliced mushrooms and chopped bell pepper until soft, about 5 minutes, stirring often to keep from sticking or over-browning. Sprinkle with the dried thyme and stir to combine. Spoon half of this mixture over the vegetables in the casserole and distribute evenly. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle half the Swiss, Emanthaler or Jarlsberg cheese over.

Repeat layering process in the casserole, using the remaining squash, tomato, corn and onion mixture. Season with salt and pepper (I had additional squash slices, so I put on another layer and seasoned it.)Sprinkle on the remaining cheese. Sprinkle with all the Parmesan cheese and then the chopped parsley.

Bake uncovered in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or until cheese melts and/or browns lightly. Serve hot. Serves 2-4 unless you dislike veggies...then maybe 6.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Racing Cherries - a Guest Blog Event

Doesn't that sound special...a Guest Blog Event? NoHandle, who has blogged here before in a wonderful way is pretty special to me and he has sent on a post that will intrigue you. Seeing as I live in wine country this one will be easy for me to replicate. I might have to use blackberries...we finally got some heat today...high 90s...so ripe blackberries will surely follow.

Give this one a try, especially if you can gather a group of friends to try it with.

Thanks NoHandle! Keep 'em coming. XO Elle

Racing Cherries

This blog has a lot of baking, so by way of contrast I wanted to contribute a brief blog entry about food, but one that is fun, and does not require actual cooking, although there is a small bit of preparation. This was something my friend Runt and I discovered together one summer evening, and we found it so much fun (particularly after a few glasses) that we pass it on to other fun loving foodies. Most recently we shared, and experimented, with a couple of friends, and in the process went on to expand to other fruit, which we found to display different behaviors. All were eager to repeat the experiments. I’m saving a description of the behaviors for the end of the article. Don’t peek!

We tried several different sparkling wines (which I will call champagne as a generic), including Barefoot Bubbly Brut, and Cristalino Brut Cava, Codorníu Brut Cava, possibly a Bonny Doon sparkling, and a Prosecco whose name is now lost. An Asti might provide slightly different results, as might sweeter wines. By the way, these are all inexpensive sparkling wines that are good enough to enjoy drinking, even without the silliness. We are not wine snobs. Don’t get the wrong impression from the number of bottles, these “experiments” were conducted over several evenings, and no one had to drive home.

Champagne flutes (one per diner; Crate and Barrel has nice but cheap 9 oz. ones, for about $4)

1 pound of cherries (any variety)
Smaller quantities of blackberries or red raspberries
Champagne (one or more bottles; 4 or 5 servings per bottle) Well, sparkling wine really, but as I said earlier, I’m going to use that as a generic term throughout this blog.

Open the Champagne (Use care so as not to injure anyone with a flying cork.)
Place one cherry (or other fruit) in each flute
Partially fill the flute with Champagne

Now just sit back and enjoy the activities, noting which cherry moves faster (this is the racing from the title). Share with all your friends.

Optional variations:
Discover which other fruit has the physical properties to mimic this behavior. Hint: dried cherries even work, but I don’t think grapes did. You may need to empty and re-fill the flutes to keep the action brisk, and add to the enjoyment.

What you should see:
What you will observe is the cherry first sinking to the bottom of the flute, then gathering bubbles and floating to the top. If it is not overly ripe, the cherry will sink after a few minutes, only to rise again. It will cycle five or six times if you have enough patience, or are not too thirsty. The berries tend to float, but will flip over every so often. Feel free to experiment with other fruit (Hint: don’t bother with star fruit) and beverages; beer might work; try lagers and ales to see.

Scientifically, it’s all about physics; specific gravity and carbonation. But after several evenings of experimentation, none of the “scientists” involved had a coherent theory as to why any of this worked. Science is about predictability, and we were able to successfully predict most of the behavior, and that we would have fun verifying those predictions.

Play, but play responsibly,


Friday, August 20, 2010

Seasonal Fruit in a Microwave Pud

A true sweet tooth like me will always find a reason to bake something sweet and if it is sticky too, all to the good. A friend brought me some small but ripe plums, both red and yellow flesh varieties. I also have some newly harvested Gravenstein apples. Since the plums were so ripe I had to find a way to use the, right?

Call in my Bread Baking Babe friends Lien and Lynn...well their blogs anyway. I remembered a delightful microwave pudding that I found at Lien's blog, Notitie van Lien which called for raisins and golden syrup.

I love golden syrup, but apparently I've been loving it too much because there was only about a tablespoon in the jar and this recipe calls for 4 tablespoons. Fortunately I also recently visited Lynn's blog Cookie Baker Lynn and followed her links to recipes with caramel and discovered that she uses caramel ice cream topping to top bar cookies before they are baked. Seemed that I could use the jar of caramel ice cream topping in the pantry to replace the golden syrup. After all apples and caramel are a natural combo. Thank you Lien and Lynn!

Now that I'd changed both the fruit and topping it was only fair to add some nutmeg to the pud batter and to suggest less orange zest...or that lemon zest would also be OK. A touch of extra salt was added to tone down the caramel. OK, ready to bake!

This went together fairly quickly and baked extremely quickly. Since I did all the molds at one time I ended up microwaving 2 minutes and then 2 minutes. I would recommend adding only one minute at a time because I think mine could have used just a bit less time in the microwave.

Fun...check, fast...check, uses up some of the plums...check, Sweetie liked it...check (although he liked the ice cream better, but then he always does when the choice is cake or ice cream). Cake and ice cream together...it's a party after a long work week.

Microwave Pud with Caramel, Apples and Plums

Adapted from Notitie van Lien’s recipe Microwave Pud with Raisins

35 g (finished weight) peeled, cored, sliced and finely diced apples
60 g (finished weight) peeled, pitted, sliced and finely diced plums
4 tablespoons caramel ice cream topping
100 g butter, room temperature, cubed
100 g granulated sugar
grated zest from a lemon or ½ an orange
2 eggs
100 g self-rising flour
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or ¼ teaspoon already grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt

Grease and flour 4 – 6 (depending on the size) microwave proof pudding molds. I used ramekins but you could use custard cups or small coffee cups.

Mix together the diced apples and diced plums.

Divide the fruit mixture evenly among the prepared molds.

Divide the ice cream topping among the molds. (I used 4 molds and put a tablespoon topping in each mold.) Set aside.

For the batter cream together the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the citrus zest and one egg. Mix to combine thoroughly. Add the second egg. Mix to combine thoroughly. In a small bowl combine the flour, nutmeg and salt. Add the mixture to the egg mixture and combine thoroughly. You will have a smooth cake batter.

Spoon the batter on top of the fruit and topping in the molds. Fill about halfway…any more and it may go over the top of the mold. Cover with microwave foil (I have no idea what this is, but it was in Lien’s recipe) or plastic wrap that you pierce or vent to let some of the steam out.

Place 3 molds at a time in the microwave and nuke them on highest setting for about 2-3 minutes (or steam for 30 minutes). Start with two minutes and then add on another minute if needed. You will see the puds rise and dome above the molds. They are firm to the touch and come away from the sides a bit.

Take them out of the microwave to rest for 1 minute and microwave the rest of the puds.

Take the puds out of the molds after 1 minute resting time by running a knife around the edges of the mold to loosen and then invert over a plate, scooping the topping from the mold onto the top of the pud if it sticks in the mold. Serve with additional ice cream topping if desired. (I went even further and added a scoop of caramel ice cream…just like a party!) Serve while hot!

Makes 4 – 5 puds

More Fun When Shared - Scali Rolls and Dinner Rolls

Baking bread has become one of my passions. To be able to share that passion and be in the kitchen with one of the sweetest people I know is just the best thing!

Zepher's mom had never baked bread and we did some knot rolls and a lovely sweet dried fruit braid together last winter. Due to one thing and another and remodeling it took us this long to get together in the kitchen again. This time I did the same thing I did with the Captain and mostly kept things on track and hands off for me. SHE baked some gorgeous rolls and now feels like she can try it on her own in a week or two!

The first rolls are from King Arthur Flour website, scali rolls, but I call them Sesame Braided rolls. You start with a stiff starter which mellows overnight on the counter for flavor. The dough goes together easily and had a cute 'belly button' when we tested for sufficient rise.

When it is time to shape the rolls, you divide the dough into six pieces, roll each into a long rope, brush each rope with egg white, coat with sesame seeds, then make two long braids. Each braid gets cut into six pieces. After the cut ends get tucked under

you have the cutest little sesame seed covered rolls!

The second rolls recipe is another from King Arthur, this time from the cookbook The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion. You begin with a basic soft while bread, White Bread 101, but divide it into 16 pieces, which you can then shape as you wish. We did two shapes, snails and cloverleaf rolls. The snails were given an egg wash when they had risen and the cloverleaf rolls had an egg white wash and were sprinkled with poppy seeds.

I took some of all three kinds of rolls home and they were all delicious!

The sesame rolls were leaner and just a bit dryer. Zepher's mom had them with red pepper soup for dinner...a perfect choice! I love cloverleaf rolls and the way they pull apart for eating. The poppy seeds were a great addition to a lovely, buttery soft roll. The snails were larger and excellent, soft and melt in your mouth good.

It takes more time to make rolls than to make a loaf of bread, but it can be a lot of fun and there is just something so satisfying about helping yourself to a crusty golden roll from the basket. Pass the rolls, please!

Both of these rolls recipes is going the Yeastspotting over at Susan's Wild Yeast blog. It is a weekly wonderful round up of great and amazing yeasted goodies. Do hop over and see why bloggers keep coming back EVERY WEEK .

Here is the link for the Scali (sesame) Rolls and here is the recipe:

Braided Sesame Rolls (or one large Sesame Braided Bread)

• 1 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
• 1/3 to 1/2 cup cool water, enough to make a stiff ball of dough
• pinch of instant yeast

• all of the starter
• 2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
• 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
• 2 tablespoons Baker's Special dry milk or nonfat dry milk
• 2 teaspoons instant yeast
• 2/3 cup lukewarm water
• 2 tablespoons olive oil

• 1 large egg white beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water
• 1/2 cup sesame seeds

1) To make the starter: Mix the starter ingredients together, cover, and let rest at room temperature overnight. Note: This is a dry, stiff starter. If it's too dry to come together, it may be that you measure your flour differently than we do here at King Arthur, or that you're in a particularly dry climate. Dribble in sufficient water to make the dough come together, and proceed with the recipe as directed.

2) To make the dough: Combine the starter with the remaining dough ingredients, and mix and knead — by hand, mixer, or bread machine set on the dough cycle — to make a soft, smooth dough.

3) Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl or large (8-cup) measure; cover, and let it rise for about 90 minutes, till it's just about doubled in bulk.

4) To make one large loaf: Gently deflate the dough, and divide it into three equal pieces. Shape each piece into a rough log, and let the logs rest, uncovered, for about 10 minutes. This gives the gluten in the dough a chance to relax, which in turn will make the logs easier to roll.

5) Working on a lightly greased surface, roll each log into a rope about 24" long. Brush each rope with the egg white/water, and sprinkle heavily with the sesame seeds, rolling the ropes gently in the seeds to pick up as many as possible.

6) Grab one end of each rope, and squeeze the ends together firmly. Braid the ropes, tucking the ends under to make a neat braided loaf.

7) To make rolls: Follow the directions above,

but divide the dough into six pieces, rather than three.

Roll each piece into a thin rope about 18" long.
Let rest 10 minutes if they resist rolling…it lets the dough relax.

Take three of the ropes. Whisk together 1 large egg white and 1 tablespoon water. Brush each rope with the the egg white/water; this will be the “glue” to hold the seeds.

and coat with seeds and braid as directed above.

Repeat with the remaining three ropes. The resulting loaves will be about 18" long. Sprinkle heavily with 1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds, rolling the ropes gently in the seeds to pick up as many as possible. Braid three 'snakes' together, then the other three.

8) Cut each braid into six 3" rolls. Squeeze the cut ends together to seal, and tuck them under.

9) Space the rolls on a parchment lined baking sheet. (We used Silpat silicon mats)

Cover the loaf or rolls with lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow to rise till very puffy, about 90 minutes. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425°F.

10) The rolls will need to bake for about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, and cool on a rack.

Yield: one large loaf, or 12 rolls.

White Bread Rolls 101

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 packet instant yeast
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter at room temperature
¼ cup nonfat dry milk (we used ¼ cup evaporated milk instead)
3 cup potato flakes
1 1/8 cup lukewarm water

Combine all ingredients and mix and knead them together…by hand, mixer, or bread machine…until you’ve made a soft, smooth dough. Cover and let the dough rise for 1 hour, until it’s puffy (though not necessarily doubled in bulk).

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 16 pieces. (We used a scale and tried to keep the pieces of dough close in weight.)

Choose the shapes you want to create. For snails, roll each piece in a long snake, then roll into a spiral shape, tucking the end under when finished.

For cloverleaf rolls, butter a muffin tin and for each roll take one of the dough pieces, divide it into three balls and place those three balls together in the muffin cup.

After shaping, let the rolls rise until puffy and almost doubled in size. We covered them with a piece of plastic wrap that we oiled on the side that touches the rolls. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until golden brown with an internal temperature of 190 degrees F.

NOTE: Risen unbaked rolls can be brushed with an egg white or egg wash (egg white beaten with some water, or egg beaten with some water) and sprinkled with seeds or sea salt. Finished rolls can be brushed with butter for a soft crust, but these are pretty buttery without that.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sweet Bread Baking Babes Bake Portuguese

This month the Babes were given a sweet challenge by sweet Babe Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups…to bake Portuguese Sweet Bread. She usually goes with savory but created this bread to please a neighbor from the Azores and it is delightful!

You start with an overnight sponge, including potato water or whey, then make a rich milky sweet dough the next day,

shaping at the end by pressing down four times with a narrow rolling pin, dowel or broom handle (I used a piece of broom handle I found in the barn, first cleaning it well and wrapping it in plastic wrap) which gives a lovely shape with hills and valleys all around. Tanna has excellent illustrations on her site HERE.

An egg wash assures a glossy finish.

We loved this bread, first warm with butter, then toasted with butter and jam, then at room temperature with no adornments

and finally as the most delicious French toast you could imagine!

Sweetie loved it so much that I made it again, using whey instead of potato water, subbing some barley flour and whole wheat flour for a little of the bread flour and adding a little crystallized ginger and golden raisins the second time around for contrast. This is a slightly sticky dough, probably because of the brown sugar. For the second batch I used the full amount, but only 60 grams the first time.

It was a little sweeter and the crumb was softer, too. I like them both so well that it would be hard to choose which is best.

Many thanks for Tanna for choosing the perfect follow up to the Boot Camp bread! Once I read milliliters rather than liters for the liquid it was fairly easy to make, totally delicious and I will undoubtedly make it again often…both versions.

This is the perfect bread for being a Bread Baking Buddy! I can almost guarantee you will love it and anyone else who gets a slice or two will love YOU for making it! As long as you remember to start the sponge the day before, it is pretty easy to make and lovely to look at with the unique shaping. The recipe is below.

To find out how to be a Bread Baking Buddy and to get your Buddy badge:
1. * You have until the 29th to bake the bread and post about it on your blog with a link to the Kitchen of the Month’s post about the bread.
2. *E-mail the Kitchen of the Month with your name and a link to your post OR leave a comment on the Kitchen of the Month’s blog that you have baked the bread and a link back to your post.
3. *Kitchen of the Month will do a round-up of our Bread Baking Buddies at the end of the week and send you a BBB badge for that month’s bread.
4. *No blog, No problem - just e-mail the Kitchen of the Month with a photo of the bread you baked and you’ll be included in the round-up.

Do join in the fun! You have until August 29th. You know you want to!

Sweet Portuguese Bread: Massa Sovada
Mostly from A Baker's Odyssey by Gregg Patent p 221

Keep in mind this requires an overnight sponge.


Over night SPONGE:
72 grams bread flour
2 1/4 teaspoons osmotolerant yeast (instant worked just as well too)
114 milliliters potato water, or whey or water (potato water or whey really make it extra tender & soft) (about ½ cup)

6 tablespoons butter, room temperature
30 to 100 grams brown sugar
lemon zest
1 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, room temperature
120 milliliters milk, room temperature
460 grams bread flour (second version used a flour blend...see notes below)
2 tablespoons flax seeds, ground
egg wash
melted butter when it comes out of the oven

Mix together the sponge the night before baking the bread. Leave sitting at room temp 8 to 12 hours.

Beat sugar and butter until creamy.

Add zest and salt and beat.

Beat in each egg separately and completely; mix will appear curdled.

Stir in milk and sponge.

Stir in 2 1/2 cups flour and beat vigorously (in a stand mixer it would clear the sides of the bowl, by hand lifting the spoon up stretches the dough about a foot.)

Add remaining flour to make stiff dough. Knead 5 minutes or more to incorporate all the flour:
Dough should be smooth, soft and very supple with a slight stickiness. Looks a little like very thick cake batter or a brioche dough.

Shape into ball, oil bowl and dough ball.

Cover and allow to rise about 2 hours, should almost or triple in size.

Divide into loaves, shaped into balls.

Allow to rest 20 to 30 minutes before final shaping with rolling pin.

To shape, press down firmly with a dowel, narrow rolling pin or clean broom stick. Then press down again to make a cross, press again between to make wedges and then between the other large quarters to make more wedges.

For best demarcation of indents be careful to dust dough ball well with flour.

Shape and place into well oiled cake pans seam side down.

Allow to rise an hour to 2 hours; more than double in size.

Brush with egg wash if you want that beautiful glossy finish.

Bake 350° - 50 minutes as two loaves, 35 minutes as four loaves (mine took less)

Brush with melted butter when hot from the oven (I skipped this step…it is already a pretty rich dough).

If you're really a sweetie, I suppose you might then dust this with sugar. Not me…there is plenty of sugar in the dough, although I can see that an extra dusting of confectioner’s sugar would make it a great dessert base to which you could add berries and whipped cream or ice cream for a very sweet treat.

For the second version I used 55 grams of bread flour and 17 grams barley flour for the sponge, plus some white whole wheat for part of the flour in the dough instead of using all regular unbleached bread flour which is what I used in the first batch. I used the full 100 grams brown sugar for the second batch, too. I left out the zest to give the ginger center stage. After the first rise I kneaded 1 tablespoon chopped crystallized ginger and ¼ cup golden raisins into the dough before dividing it into the two balls.

Otherwise version two was the same as version one. Both were delicious! The second version was just a bit sweeter because of the raising, but the ginger gave it some bite, too. The crumb was soft and almost cakelike. It made fantastic toast! Great French Toast too, I'll bet.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Apple Blackberry Crumb Pie

The blackberries have been slow to ripen this year but there are now enough to pick a pint at a time with some left over for popping in your mouth straight from the bush.

The day before he left to visit Natasha, the Captain joined me and we picked a couple of pints of blackberries (see them peeking out from the apple slices?)

plus about 10 ripe Gravenstein apples, then, the next morning we peeled, cored and sliced some of the apples,

lined a pie tin with purchased pie dough, mixed the apple slices with a flour-spice-sugar mixture,

gently stirred in some blackberries, piled the pie high with apple-blackberry mixture,

then topped it with the pre-cooked nutmeg streusel (from the freezer) I used here.

Into a 375 degree oven it went for about 40 minutes. About 10 minutes before it came out of the oven I poured on 1/3 cup apple cider syrup and topped it with heavy foil to keep the topping from burning even more (a bit had gotten too browned for my taste anyway).

The pie looked and smelled wonderful! When it was cool enough, I wrapped it up, leaving the foil on top, for it's ride up the freeway to Natasha and her honey. I hope that they enjoyed it with some whipped cream and will soon let me know if it tasted as good as it looked.

In case you want to make your own, here is the recipe. Gravenstein apples tend to soften and shrink a bit when cooked. If you use apples that retain their shape you may want to not pile the fruit mixture quite so high.

Apple Blackberry Crumb Pie

6 cups peeled, cored and sliced tart apples
1/2 pint fresh blackberries
1 crust pie crust
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or 1/4 teaspoon already grated nutmeg
1/4 cup granulated sugar (or to taste)
2 cups Nutmeg Struesel, baked and crumbled (recipe below)
1/4 cup apple cider syrup (optional)

Make sure that the apple slices have no soft or browned spots. If apples will sit for very long bathe them in a mixture of water and lemon juice, then drain. Pick over the blackberries to remove any that have mould or are too soft.

Fit the pie crust into a 9-inch pie tin and crimp the edges. Set aside.

In a small bowl mix together the flour, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and sugar. Place the apple slices in a large bowl and sprinkle on the spice mixture. Toss with a spoon to coat the apple slices. Add the blackberries and gently stir to distribute them and coat with the spice mixture.

Pile the apple-berry mixture into the prepared pie shell.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

While oven is preheating, top the fruit mixture with the crumbs, starting at the top and cupping with your hands if needed to distribute the crumbs as evenly as possible over the whole pie top.

Bake in preheated oven about 40 minutes or until apples are tender. Check about 10 to 15 minutes before pie is done. Cover top with heavy aluminum foil to keep topping and/or crust from burning.

Cool on rack 15 minutes before serving. Serve warm or cooled. Serves 8.

Fresh Nutmeg Streusel
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup walnuts
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter, cold
½ cup brown sugar
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees while you prepare the streusel. Line a half sheet or jelly roll pan with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat. Set aside.
In a food processor pulse together all of the streusel ingredients until the mixture clumps. To make without a food processor, chop the nuts finely and use a pastry blender or two knives to cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture clumps.
Spread the streusel mixture out on the pan, leaving it in clumps and globs, but breaking them down if bigger than your thumb. Bake in preheated oven for 10 – 15 minutes until golden to medium brown. Remove from oven. Mixture may have spread. Use a small spatula to break the mixture up if pieces have gotten larger than your thumb. Let cool.

Friday, August 13, 2010

California Summer-Bear Claws & Burger Buns

It’s been a looooong time since I was a recent high school graduate but I still remember the feeling that life is filled with possibilities and adventures still to come. I do remember the excitement of visiting California for the first time, many moons ago. Partly due to movies and TV and partly because the Free Speech movement, which was it's height at the University of California during my own college years, had made the news, I had an impression of California long before I arrived. My mom had also told us about her time living in San Francisco during World War II, so when it was time for my first vacation as an employed adult I chose to visit the San Francisco area.

We have been fortunate that The Captain, a recent high school graduate, has been here a few days and he knows just how it feels to have tossed his tassle-less cap in the air recently and has been sharing the excitement that comes with being an East Coast guy visiting California for the first time.

We started with a visit to Spengers, the old time fish market and restaurant that used to be on the Berkeley waterfront, although it’s a bit inland now since they did so much filling in of the bay decades and decades ago. We enjoyed some great seafood and lots of nautical memorabilia, too. The highlight was billed as an upside down apple pie. Not sure what that meant but it was delicious and came with cinnamon ice cream.

Since then we’ve been to a county fair where we took in the food, farm animals, 4H

and a horse race,
to the town of Sonoma where he checked out the old Spanish mission and its adobe bricks and ancient cactus plants, plus we had dinner with Natasha and Miss L. He’s also visited hardware stores, a roadhouse and a salvage yard with Sweetie.

Another day we went to Bodega bay for the beach and Bodega Head

views and fun,

including fun with Xam who looked like a puppy again running along the sand,
and another fish market at Valley Ford where we discovered pretty authentic North Carolina style barbecue. Leaving the coast we stopped at one of the iconic places

where The Birds by Hitchcock was filmed at the town of Bodega. Further fun included a walk in the redwoods

and a picnic overlooking a panoramic view of Austin Creek Recreation area, followed by a drive by the Russian River where we spotted dozens of folks enjoying rafting and kayaking in the late afternoon sunshine. Not all of this happened on the same day, so we’ve been getting in some just-sitting-around-reading-and-sketching-and-enjoying-hobbies time, too. The Baker’s Dog has been thrilled to have the Captain here. Lots of walks, play time and outings have kept Xam happy and a touch worn out.

One day we got into the kitchen in the morning and managed to make hamburger rolls, a braided loaf of bread and bear claws by the end of the day with sightseeing in between! The Captain did most of the work, although I found the recipes and sort of directed the action. My main job (which I assigned to myself so I wouldn’t ‘help’ too much) was kitchen wench washing all the stuff as he was finished with it and putting stuff away in the cupboards. I want one of those when I bake!

For the bear claws we went with a dough based on the dough in Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice for Sticky Buns, plus my own filling recipe. The last time I made bear claws I used walnuts but this time we went with toasted almonds, plus a little almond flour. Perhaps it was the Captain’s light touch or maybe the coolness of the day and long rise, but these were outstanding and far better than the walnut ones.

I still think that the instructions for putting them together is suspect. Next time I plan to only roll the dough 8 inches wide, to put filling in sections and seal the dough between sections, then cut the claws along the fold and not the cut edge as we did this time.

The pastries will probably be bigger that way but the filling will stay put.

For the buns and braid we went with a cooked cereal recipe and modified it. Quick rolled oats was the cereal of choice.

The flour mixture was about half unbleached white bread flour and half a secret, proprietary mixture of the Captain’s that contained barley and whole wheat flour and millet. Raw sunflower seeds topped the hamburger buns, held on with an egg white wash.

Recently I read somewhere that the secret to shaping hamburger buns is to press them down once you have shaped them into balls. Should have thought of that myself, but my last attempt yielded buns that were too tall and bready and not wide enough for a decent burger. This time we patted them down well and they were just the perfect size and height.

The braid is the same dough as the buns and has a whole egg wash. It made a great base for sandwiches for the picnic!

The Captain has been fun to have around, but he has also been a big help. He met Grandma L right after he had mowed her whole yard. While he was doing that Sweetie took a header when the mower he was using decided to head down a bank unexpectedly. All is well except for some scratches but it sure startled a woman driving by on the hill. The two guys also took the old tub to the dump and had fun poking around the recycled area. Wish I had been there but someone has to show up at work now and then. We still have some fun ahead of us...and a surprise guest...with a post next week to update you.

These breads are going to the weekly Yeastspotting over at Susan's blog Wild Yeast. Every week there is a collection of wonderful yeasted breads, rolls and other goodies. Check it out!

If it isn’t too hot to bake where you are and if you enjoy a sweet, tender pastry with a nice crunchy filling, give these bear claws a try. The Captain’s outstanding oatmeal and multigrain braid and buns recipe follows.

Almond Bear Claws
Days to Make: One (1) Active/Resting/Baking Time: 15 minutes to mix, 3 1/2 hours fermentation/shaping/proofing, 20 - 40 minutes to shape and bake
Recipe Quantity: sixteen (16) small rolls

Making the Dough

6 1/2 tablespoons (3.25 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
5 1/2 tablespoons (2.75 ounces) shortening or unsalted butter or margarine
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon grated zest of 1 lemon
3 1/2 cups (16 ounces) unbleached bread or all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast*
1 1/8 to 1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk, at room temperature OR 3 tablespoons powdered milk (DMS) and 1 cup water (I used 1 1/8 cups evaporated milk)
*Instant yeast contains about 25% more living cells per spoonful than active dry yeast, regardless of the brand. Instant yeast is also called rapid-rise or fast-rising.

Step 1 - Making the Dough: Cream together the sugar, salt, and shortening or butter on medium-high speed in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a large metal spoon and mixing bowl and do it by hand).

(Note: if you are using powdered milk, cream the milk with the sugar, and add the water with the flour and yeast.)

Whip in the egg and lemon zest until smooth. Then add the flour, yeast, and milk. Mix on low speed (or stir by hand) until the dough forms a ball. Switch to the dough hook and increase the speed to medium, mixing for approximately 10 minutes (or knead by hand for 12 to 15 minutes), or until the dough is silky and supple, tacky but not sticky. You may have to add a little flour or water while mixing to achieve this texture. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Step 2 - Fermentation: Ferment at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

Almond Filling
1/3 cup unsalted butter
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup diced dried figs
1 cup lightly toasted almonds, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons almond flour (finely ground almonds/almond meal)
¼ teaspoon salt

Melt and simmer for about 2 minutes the butter and brown sugar. Stir in the figs and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring as needed to keep fruit from sticking. Remove from heat and stir in the almonds, almond flour and salt. Cool slightly before using.

Step 3 - Form the Buns: Lightly flour a board or flat surface or counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Divide dough in half. Return one half to the bowl and cover with oiled plastic wrap.

Roll out one half on a floured board into a 9-by-18-inch rectangle. You may have to add additional flour to the board and/or rolling pin as you work. Sprinkle half of the almond filling over the middle third of the dough. Fold outside third of dough toward center. Fold dough once more to make three layers. Pinch ends of dough to seal. Place sealed side down on greased (or silicon mat lined) baking sheets. Cut into eight pieces. Make four 1/4-inch cuts through the open side of each section and shape into bear claw by separating the four cut sections and curving slightly.

Repeat procedure with remaining dough and filling.

Let rise, uncovered, until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Bake at 400 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden.

If desired, combine egg yolk with water and brush the tops of bear claws then sprinkle with some sliced almonds before baking.
After baking cool on a rack. When cool drizzle on glaze.

White Glaze: In a Ziploc bag combine ½ cup confectioners’ sugar, the juice of ½ a lemon and enough warm milk (less than ¼ cup usually) to make a glaze that will drizzle out if you cut a small notch in one bottom corner of the Ziploc bag.
Now for the burger buns and bread braid:

The Captain’s Multi-grain Burger Buns and Braided Loaf

1 cup rolled oats, cooked and cooled
1 cup sourdough starter, or 3/4 cup warm water (110 degrees F) with 1 package of dry yeast sprinkled over, and allowed to proof for 5 minutes
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 cup milk at room temperature
About 1 ¼ pounds mixed flours. We used about 2 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour and the rest a mixture of barley, whole wheat flour and ¼ cup millet seeds, weighed to make1 pound 3 oz.

About another ounce of unbleached flour was used for hand kneading. (If using sourdough starter you may find you need extra flour depending on what percentage hydration your starter has.)

1 teaspoon salt

In the bowl of a stand mixer combine the cooked and cooled grain cereal mixture, the sourdough starter or proofed yeast, the egg, butter and milk with a wooden spoon. Set aside.

In a large bowl whisk together the flours, millet and salt. Place a dough hook on the stand mixer. With the machine running on low, gradually add the flour mixture (plus the additional flour, if needed) until the dough comes together, climbs the dough hook, and cleans the sides of the bowl. Continue to run the mixer on slow to let the dough knead for another 5- 10 minutes, or until dough is smooth and silky.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead another minute to completely combine the ingredients. Gather dough into a ball and place in an oiled large bowl or other container large enough for the dough to rise in. Turn the dough over to oil the whole ball. Cover with a tea towel or oiled plastic wrap and let rise in a draft free warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

To make hamburger buns and a braided loaf divide dough into two pieces.

Shape one piece into a braid by dividing the dough into thirds, shaping each third into a rope, laying the ropes side by side on a parchment or silicon mat lined baking sheet and braiding the ropes, tucking under the ends. Braid loosely since the bread needs to rise before baking (and some in the oven, too!). Cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap and let rise in a draft free warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1- 1 1/2 hours. While dough is rising, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Brush top with an egg wash (1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water). Place baking pan into preheated oven and bake braid until golden brown. Bread is done when it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom and is golden brown.

Take second half out of bowl and divide it into 6 pieces. The Captain weighed the pieces so that they were pretty close in weight to each other.

Take each piece and pull pieces from all around toward the bottom, creating a ball. Place with the bottom down, then gently push down from the top to flatten the ball by about half. This will also make the bun a bit wider. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and a tea towel and let rise a draft free warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1- 1 1/2 hours.
While dough is rising, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. (We baked the buns first and then baked the braid while we were having dinner, but if your oven allows two large baking sheets to be used at one time you can bake both together. Often it helps in such cases to switch pans top to bottom and back to front about half way through the baking.)

Bake the risen buns about 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Let cool on a wire rack once baked and before slicing either buns or braid. Makes 6 burger buns and a big braided loaf.