Monday, July 7, 2014

Time to Relax: Cinnamon Babka Dessert Loaf

The thing about weekends is how we view and experience time. It's different. Very different. I don't know about you, but during the week I run from pillar to post, first to work, then to errands and shopping. For food, or just to restock the fridge with beer (oops, I meant OJ for the hot summer weather). Either way, I am always looking forward to the weekend. To slow down. To shut off computers, and news broadcasts, and to just RELAX. 

On weekends, I can enjoy breakfast, something I can't do during the week, when I am rushing around. And for that I always prepare my sweet yeast dough and add an appropriate filling. Every serious baker should have a sweet yeast dough in his/her repertoire. It is so versatile since it can be used for cinnamon rolls, monkey bread, krantz and even babka. In this version, I fill it with cinnamon and walnuts. If you want, you can make a variation filled with chocolate spread, even good quality strawberry (or other fruit) preserves. Any way you look at it, this breakfast bread, with good strong coffee, and no newspaper, is a great way to spend a weekend morning.

Here's What You'll Need: (for 2 loaves)
1/4 C warm water
4 1/2 tsp instant dry yeast
1/2 warm soy milk (or regular milk if you want it to be dairy)
1/2 C sugar
1 tsp salt
3 eggs
1/2 C margarine (or butter if you want dairy)/ or 1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 1/2 to 5 C AP flour

For the filling:*
1/2 C margarine (or butter softened)
1 Tbs cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 C coarsely chopped walnuts 

*Mix it all together to form a smooth paste

Here's What You'll Need To Do:
1. In a small bowl, mix together the warm water and the yeast. Set it aside for a few minutes so the yeast is activated.

2. In another bowl, add the soy milk (or regular), the sugar, oil, salt and the eggs and mix to make a uniform mixture.

3.Melt the margarine (or butter) and mix it in thoroughly.
4. Add in the yeast mixture and mix it in completely.
5. Add about half of the flour, mixing with a spoon, then the other half. By this time you will have to knead the dough with your hands. Keep adding just enough flour to make a soft just slightly sticky dough. Knead this on a surface with only the slightest amount of flour on it to prevent sticking. Knead for about 10 minutes until the dough is shiny and smooth. When done, place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat, then cover and let it rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

6. When completely risen, divide the dough into 2 equal pieces then shape the dough into a rough rectangle. Roll it out using a rolling pin until it is roughly 1/4 in. (2-3 mm) thick.

7. Spread the filling over the surface of the dough using your fingers if need be. 

Then roll it up, starting on the long edge, jellyroll style. Make a long snake of the roll, cut it into two equal 'snakes' then twist them together. 

Place the twisted roll into a prepared loaf pan. (23X10 cm or 9X5 in). Repeat with the second piece of dough.
8. Cover and let this loaf rise for another 30 minutes or so until it just comes to the level of the pan.
9. Bake for about 30 minutes in a preheated oven at 350 F (180 C).
10. Cool on a rack. Remove the loaf from the pan after about 5 minutes after you remove it from the oven so it doesn't get soggy. Enjoy!!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Maybe Something Italian - Thyme Scented Dinner Rolls

I am not Italian. And yet, like most Westerners, whether from Italy or not, I like Italian food. You can view it as a subset, if you like, of Mediterranean food, or by itself. In fact, like Provencal food, it is so popular and pervasive it is really a cuisine all by itself. Even with the distinct Mediterranean flavor. Like the olive oil, the fresh and dried herbs, the tomato sauce and all the rest. Oh and the pasta, of course which distinguishes Italian food from say, Spanish or Moroccan (also Mediterranean but VERY different - yet with similarities).

So this bread, inspired by Italian food, is really more Italian style than pure Italian. Still, with a steaming plate of pasta, or a crisp green salad stuffed with artichoke hearts or grilled eggplant, it complements perfectly. Sometimes, it's great all by itself with a little butter. Or dipped in olive oil. Yum!!

Here's What You'll Need: (for about 10 rolls)
about 4 cups of AP flour
1 Tbs instant dry yeast
2 Tbs. sugar
1 1/5 tsp. salt
2-3 Tbs olive oil
about 250 ml warm water
1-2 tsp dried thyme

For the glaze:
1 cup water
1 Tbs honey
dried thyme for sprinkling

Here's What You'll Need To Do:

1. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, yeast, thyme, sugar and salt.

2. Mix the olive oil into the water as best as you can, then add this mixture, in stages to the dry ingredients. Mix by hand all the while, until it all comes together  and forms a soft, not too sticky dough. It should be just tacky.

3. Knead the dough for about 5-10 minutes until it becomes smooth and shiny.

4. Place the kneaded dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat, then cover and let it rise until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 hours.

5. Divide the dough into about 10 fairly equal portions and shape them into a knotted shape. Place the formed rolls on a parchment paper lined baking tray. Cover and let the rolls rise until almost doubled, about 45 minutes.

6. In the meantime, make the glaze. Place the water and honey in a bowl and stir to dissolve completely.

7. When the rolls have risen, paint them with the glaze then, sprinkle dried thyme over them all.

8. Bake in a pre-heated 350 F (180 C) oven for about 15-17 minutes until golden.

9. Cool on a rack.Yum!!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Good Morning! - Oatmeal Breakfast Bread

This is a special bread usually baked around Christmas for giving to friends. But honestly, this bread is so special it can and should be made anytime of year. It includes raw oats (not the rolled oats we are used to but the whole oats) and a lot of them. Because they, themselves are a bit crunchy, they give a 'nutty' texture to the bread and lots of flavor. The bread is dense, again because of the oats, but don't let that deter you. Spread some fresh butter or jam on this bread after lightly toasting and you will love it. What a great way to start your day!

This recipe is adapted from that all-time classic bread cookbook, Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads. What can I say, if you don't have it, and you're serious about baking bread, GET IT!!! It's that good.

Here's What You'll Need:
1 1/2 cups oats
1 1/2 cups boiling water (to soften the oats)
3 Tbs. butter or margarine
3 Tbs. honey
1 Tbs. brown sugar
2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup raisins
1 Tbs. dry yeast
2 eggs, large, room temperature
4 to 5 cups bread or all-purpose flour
3 Tbs. butter melted
1 cup sugar
2 Tbs. cinnamon

Here's What You'll Need To Do:

1. In a large bowl, mix the oats and the boiling water. Stir to blend, then add the butter or margarine, honey, brown sugar, salt and raisins. Let this mixture cool down to no more than about 130 F (45 C). You can also use a food processor to make this dough as seen here. Use the plastic dough blade to mix.

2. Add the yeast, then the eggs and 2 cups of flour. Beat with a wooden spoon (or the paddle attachment of your mixer) for a few minutes, working in additional flour, one half cup at a time, until it is solid enough to 'clean the bowl'. It will still be a bit sticky but can be removed to a work surface for additional kneading. For kneading with a food processor, after all the ingredients are combined, knead for about 1 minute being careful not to let the dough get too warm as that will harm (kill?) the yeast.

3. Knead vigorously for about 8 minutes adding a little flour if necessary. Or 1 minute with the processor.

4. Place the dough in a buttered (or oiled) bowl, turn to coat, then cover to rise. It will rise slowly but should double in about 2 hours.

5. Remove the dough from the bowl, cut into 2 equal pieces, and flatten and shape into a rough rectangle.
Sprinkle the dough with the sugar and cinnamon, then roll it up like a jellyroll. Shape into a loaf, place in a loaf pan and cover for the second rise, about 1 hour.

6. Bake in an oven heated to 350 F (180 C) for about 40 minutes until it is nicely browned. Brush with melted butted while still hot after removing from the oven. Cool on a rack.

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Beer Bread - Just Great Flavor (but goes great with beer)

I know what you're thinking. What the point? I mean, why go to the trouble of using the beer if you don't have the alcohol? Well for the flavor!! Let me explain something. I have already written that bread and cake are kissing cousins. Most of the same ingredients but with different proportions and baking times, methods etc. Well, it turns out that bread has few more cousins. And one of them is, believe it or not, beer. At least they both use yeast (but different strains). And, at least for sourdough and pre-ferments, they both require slow fermentation. But no alcohol in the bread, because alcohol boils and evaporates at about 176 F (80 C), and your oven will be around twice that, at 350 F (180 C). So it just evaporates and leaves us the great flavor.

The beer bread has a tang and is especially good for sandwiches with a sharp cheese or deli meats with Dijon mustard. Try it, and you see, it's a keeper.

Here's What You'll Need:
For the sponge:
1 1/2 teaspoon dry active yeast
1/2 cup AP flour
1/2 cup warm water (about 100 degrees)
12 oz bottled beer
18 ounces AP flour (about 4 cups)
1 1/2 teaspoon fine salt

Here's What You'll Need To Do:
1. Start with the sponge. Mix the flour and water together then stir in the yeast. Cover and let it stand in a warm place until it becomes bubbly and starts to smell yeasty. That should take about 2 hours or so.

2. Then add in the rest of the ingredients. If the beer is cold out of the refrigerator, it will still be fine. The only difference is that the rising times will be slower. But actually, that improves the flavor. Mix the flour in, one cup at a time, and then knead the rough dough for about 10 minutes at least until the dough is soft and smooth.

3. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat, then cover. Let it rise until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.

4. Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface being careful not to deflate it too much. Shape it into an oblong loaf and place it on a parchment lined baking sheet to rest, covered, for at least another 45 minutes. 

5. About 20 minutes before baking time, pre-heat the  oven to 350 F (180 C). Slash the bread with a serrated knife down the center just before placing it in the oven. To strengthen the crust, you can bake with steam.

6. Cool on a rack completely before slicing.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

An East European-ish Favorite - Honey Oat Bread (as rolls)

You probably already figured out from the title that this is my take on a recipe that hails from Eastern Europe. I honestly don't remember this bread from the 'legendary Bernie's Bakery' from my childhood in Nova Scotia. But it could have been there, and I just didn't know it. Could be my family didn't buy this kind of bread. Whatever. This bread is super healthy and super easy. Just pay attention to the details, of course, and be patient. But that's good advice for just about anything.

Here's What You'll Need:
  • 2 Tbs. dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 1/2 cups milk, scalded
  • 1/3 cup butter/margarine
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 cup molasses*
  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups quick cooking rolled oats
  • a handful of various seeds (sunflower/pumpkin etc.) for added texture if desired
Here's What You'll Need to Do:

1) Make sure have all the ingredients ready before starting.
2) Place the yeast, water and milk in a large bowl, and mix thoroughly. Wait about 10 minutes, then add the butter/margarine, salt and molasses*.

3) Mix in 3 cups of the flour, the whole wheat flour and  the oats. Then gradually mix in the rest of the flour using only as much as needed to make a soft dough. If using, add the seeds now.

4) Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead gently until the dough is smooth and elastic.

5) Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat then cover to let it rise until doubled, about one and a half hours.

6) Deflate the dough. Divide it into two equal pieces then shape it into two loaves or rolls if you prefer. Place the shaped dough into two 9 X 5 loaf pans (23 X 13 cm), or place the rolls on a covered baking sheet, brush with melted butter and cover for the second rise. About 1 hour.

7) About 20 minutes before baking time, preheat the oven to 375 F (190 C). Bake for about 35 minutes (about 17 minutes for rolls) or until deep brown. Cool on a rack. For a softer crust, you can brush the hot loaves/rolls with melted butter when you remove them from the oven.

* Molasses makes the bread a little tangy and, of course, colors the dough dark brown. If you prefer you can use honey and the bread will be golden rather than dark brown.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Pane Toscana - Italian Peasant Bread with

When I think of Italian bread, or even Italian-style bread a very specific picture comes to mind. Bread with a crispy crust, not too thick, and with a soft, almost silky interior. Something perfect for sopping up the rich tomato-ey sauces from pasta dishes, or even the last few drops of a good minestrone. Ans so this bread fits all of that but with a twist. The bread from Tuscany is famous for having no salt, or, horrors, a very little salt. I know, I know, salt is one of the four basic ingredients of any bread (flour, water, yeast and SALT). So why? Well it seems in Tuscany, they like their food with more salt than other areas, or so goes the story and so they bake bread without, or with very little. Because it is invariably eaten with soup, or sauce and it all balances out in the end. Either way, this bread is VERY Italian but with just a little salt added. I have added it to accommodate my not-Italian palette. Leave it out if you wish, just make sure you eat it with a nice thick and chunky winter soup. Minestrone would be perfect.

Here's What You'll Need:
1 1/3 cups water
2 2/3 cups bread flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 Tbs. gluten
2 1/4 tsp. instant dry yeast
2/3 cups corn meal (optional - I used it, to make it more 'Roman')
pinch of sugar
pinch of salt  - up to 1 1/2 tsp. (optional)

Here's What You'll Need To Do:

1) Start with  a sponge:
Place the water, 1 cup of the bread flour, the whole wheat flour and the yeast in a bowl and stir to combine. It will be like a very thick batter. Cover with a towel, and let it stand in a warm place for about an hour.


2) Add the remaining flour (you may need a little more because the whole wheat absorbs more liquid), the sugar and the salt (if using), the cornmeal (if using) and the gluten. Mix it to form a rough dough, adding flour or water a little at a time as needed.

3) Remove the dough to a lightly floured work surface, and knead for at least 5 minutes or until the dough is smooth and shiny, and just barely sticky.

4) Place it in a lightly greased bowl, turn to coat, then let it rise until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.

5) Remove the dough to a smooth surface and form into a long, oval loaf, like Italian bread! without removing too much of the air. Place the shaped loaf on a parchment-lined baking tray and cover to proof. It should double in volume in about 45 minutes.

6) About 20 minutes before baking time, preheat the oven to 375 F (190 C) for about 30 minutes. For a more authentic loaf try baking on a stone with steam.*

* You can approximate the effect of steam in a professional oven by placing a small aluminum tray in the oven under the baking tray (or baking stone). Just before placing the loaf in the oven, pour about a cup of boiling water into the tray, place the loaf in the oven and close the door quickly. The steam will fill the oven and create a wonderfully, crispy crust on your loaf.