Saturday, December 27, 2008

Eco-conscious coffee consumption -- shade-grown

Eco-conscious coffee consumers take notice: U of M researchers have found that shade-grown coffee benefits birds and general biodiversity in coffee plantations where overhanging trees are allowed to remain. Though the article here notes the trendiness of shade-grown coffee, I have to admit that I'd never heard about this issue and this was the first I'd ever known about this aspect of coffee growing practices. I'll definitely be paying attention to this in the future, and looking for shade-grown coffee.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The caramels that melt hearts; the stuff of Christmas legends


Some family recipes have rather mysterious origins. This old timer made its way into the Zion Lutheran Church cookbook in the mid-1950s in North Germany Township, Minnesota, thanks to my great-aunt, who called it "Amy's Caramels." Who Amy was, and where Artis found the original recipe that Grandma Ethel and Great-Aunt Lorraine made every year, is unknown to me. All I know is that it has become a family tradition to make these caramels every year at Christmastime, since they were the favorite among the fudge, divinity, and various other candies that Grandma made every year for us kids.

There is nothing healthful in the slightest about the ingredients; nonetheless, this is the kind of recipe that could get you a marriage proposal. No, really. Just make sure you have a candy thermometer, a long-handled wooden spoon (burns from hot sugar HURT, trust me) and a lot of energy to stir, because it'll keep you standing over the pot for close to an hour. It'll be worth it. They make an unforgettable gift for family and friends, if you can relinquish the idea of eating the whole pan yourself.


Old-time Homemade Caramels


  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 2 cups white corn syrup
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 cups whipping cream (or 2 cups whipping cream and 2 cups half and half)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups chopped walnuts (we usually add even more than this, since we're a nutty bunch)

  1. Combine first four ingredients and just 2 cups cream.
  2. Bring to boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon (don't use plastic; it will MELT in the hot sugar, and metal will require using a potholder, since this mixture is going to get HOT), lower heat to medium and take care not to scorch. Bring to soft-ball stage on candy thermometer.
  3. Slowly, while continuing to boil, add remaining 2 cups cream (or half & half), stirring constantly.
  4. Continue to stir and cook until candy makes a firm pliable ball when dropped into a saucer of cold water (about 45 minutes entire cooking time).
  5. Add vanilla and nuts and pour into a well-buttered 9x13-inch pan.
  6. Cool, then cover and refrigerate.
  7. When cool, cut into squares and wrap individual pieces in squares of waxed paper.
  8. Keep refrigerated until just before serving (about 30 minutes)
Note: If you haven't made candy before, you may want to read up a little about the various stages of carmelization. The basic idea of the stages, though, is about what texture the candy makes when dropped into ice-cold water. "Soft ball" means that it firms up a bit, and you can squish the caramel into a soft ball. "Hard ball," similarly, means that the ball that forms in the water is hard. Watch the thermometer carefully; if it gets too hot, the candy will be more like a brittle texture, rather than caramels that soften to perfect chewiness when at room temperature. These keep for more than a week in the refrigerator. Mom says a couple months, but that might be pushing it.

We'll be making them in the next week or so, and I'll be sure to update with photos.

The results of this particular cooking adventure got rave reviews from friends at my New Year's party. Particularly beloved were those on which we sprinkled my sister's fleur de sel, a coarse salt from France that transforms the sweet to . . . transcendental.

Blackberry Scones -- Easy recipe with photos



  • 4 cups flour
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup organic butter or margarine
  • 1 cup milk (I recommend whole organic milk; I mixed skim milk and half & half because we had no whole milk)
  • 4 organic eggs, beaten
  • Zest of one orange
  • 1 cup, more or less, of blackberries or boysenberries
  1. In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt).
  2. With a pastry blender (or two forks), cut the butter into the dry ingredients, until they look like crumbs.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine milk, eggs, and orange zest.
  4. Add milk-egg mixture to the main bowl and stir until the dry ingredients are just combined (do not overbeat.)
  5. Carefully fold in the blackberries to avoid bruising the fruit unnecessarily (the more blackberry juice gets mixed into the batter, the darker the color of the batter will be).
  6. Using a large spoon, scoop scone mixture onto baking sheet.
  7. Sprinkle lightly with extra sugar (I like coarse raw sugar for this purpose).
  8. Bake at 425 for 20-25 minutes, or until they are golden.
  9. Makes a dozen large scones.
  10. Scones are deliciously light and biscuit-like, with a hint of sweetness without being overly sweet. They are traditionally served with English clotted cream and jam; another delicious alternative is jam and creme fraiche (as seen below).


I realize this is more of a summer recipe, but we had blackberries from COSTCO and I was having a hankering for some scones to go with our coffee this morning. What a treat!

(Thanks, Karen Winters, for the original recipe I modified for pure delight!)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Vintage Hungarian Sausage Commercial

Mmmm, Hungarian kolbasz. Nothing like it.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Holiday baking

Mom and I are planning to bake cookies and/or make candy every day when I'm home in California. So, naturally, we've both started obsessively thinking about it and saving recipes. So far on my list:

Pecan sandies
Almond biscotti
Jacques' chocolate mudslide cookies
Gingerbread
Martha Stewart crisp sugar doily cookies
Meyer lemon lace tuiles
Deborah's anise shortbread
Fudge
Grandma Ethel's homemade caramels

Do you have holiday favorites to suggest?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Ghost World

One of my friends pointed me to the blog Cake Wrecks, a hilarious examination of the less elegant examples of professional baking. Or, in their words, "When professional cakes go horribly, hilariously wrong." Kitchen Empress recommends for your entertainment.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Whole grain lemon pancakes with spiced peach sauce


Well, this was rather lovely. I used my trusty pancake recipe, but substituted spelt flour for the white flour, used a hint of lemon extract instead of vanilla, and omitted the blueberries. The texture was on the dry side, but quite nice when covered with luscious, steaming peach sauce. (If you're not a health food junkie like I am, just make the pancakes with white flour for a tender, fluffy, delicious result.)

The peach sauce was a nice use of the end-of-season local peaches, which were a little soft and not quite as flavorful as I had hoped they would be when they were fresh. They're positively stunning when cooked until their natural sugars are enhanced and accented with notes of cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves.

Spiced Peach Sauce

Ingredients
  • fresh peaches
  • green cardamom pods
  • whole cloves
  • stick of cinnamon
  • maple syrup
  • water
  • cornstarch
Directions
  1. Peel, pit, and slice the peaches, and place into a small pot. (I used about 5 small peaches, and didn't even bother peeling them.)
  2. Add spices (I used 4 whole cardamom pods, about 6 cloves, and a few little pieces of a stick of cinnamon.)
  3. Heat on a medium-high flame, stirring occasionally.
  4. In a small bowl, dissolve some cornstarch (about 1/2 a teaspoon or so) into a roughly equal amount of water, stirring until lumps disappear.
  5. When the peaches are at a desirably soft texture and adequately sweet (taste them!), add cornstarch mixture, bit by bit, stirring constantly, until the sauce is at a desirable thickness. Repeat if sauce is still too thin for your tastes.
  6. Add a dash of maple syrup to sweeten, if desired.
  7. Serve over pancakes (or, bathe in it, or invent other mischievous uses, once it's cooled a bit). Garnish with fresh mint and raspberries, if desired.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Eggplant Caviar on Homemade Rye Bread

Mmmm . . . There's nothing like a simple evening meal of fresh tomato, luscious brie, and flavorful eggplant caviar on homemade rye bread with a bit of red wine . . .


EGGPLANT CAVIAR RECIPE

Notes: I found this gem in Alice Water's Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook several years ago, and then found a way to "cheat" to make it even easier -- and a bit lower in fat. I'll tell you both ways to prepare it. It is an easy, flavorful, completely delicious vegetarian appetizer. I especially like to include it in a meze spread when sharing a meal with friends from Southern Europe. I also often make it up along with other salads and leave it in my fridge for part of an easy and delicious lunch.

Ingredients

  • 1 large globe eggplant
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • 2 shallots
  • balsamic or red wine vinegar (I always use organic balsamic vinegar, which I can tolerate despite a sulfite allergy)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley or cilantro (I tend to prefer parsley)
  • Grilled bread for serving (I particularly recommend homemade rye bread.)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. ALICE'S VERSION: Peel the eggplant and cut into 1-inch cubes. Put the eggplant in a baking dish, season liberally with salt and pepper, and toss with a generous amount of olive oil. Sprinkle with a few tablespoons water, cover tightly, and bake in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until very soft. MY EASY VERSION: Wash and dry the eggplant, pierce it deeply a number of times through the skin with a fork, rub olive oil on the outside of it, and put it in a baking dish in the oven. Bake until very soft (for about an hour). Remove from oven, slice down the middle to let the steam escape, and let it cool until you can handle it without burning yourself. When you can handle it, scoop out the inside portion of the eggplant (leaving the skin behind) and mash it thoroughly with a fork.
  3. While the eggplant is baking, peel and dice the shallots very fine. Let them macerate for about 10 minutes in about 2 tablespoons of the vinegar. Peel and mash the garlic (you can use a garlic press if you like) and add it to the shallots and vinegar.
  4. When the eggplant is done, add it to the shallot and garlic mixture, mashing with a fork, and let it cool to room temperature.
  5. Stir in the chopped parsley or cilantro (or a combination of both) and adjust the seasoning. Add additional olive oil and vinegar to taste. Serve on grilled bread.
NOTE: Alice's version is undoubtedly the more flavorful one, but if you're pressed for time, baking the eggplant whole as I've described above is a suitable alternative.

Speaking of wine, by the way, I have a new favorite. For ages, Orleans Hill was the vineyard that made the most affordable wine I liked and could drink (I have a sulfite sensitivity), and Bonterra was far and away the best low-sulfite wine I'd ever tried, but its $13 pricetag was prohibitive. Well, now there's a Trader Joe's label Zinfandel that is really quite drinkable, and for $5.50, there's really no beating it out for the price. Hooray!

You may notice, the link above is to a review. Well, one of the reviews is by yours truly, but I also want to draw your attention to the community, called Cork'd, where you can establish your own account and keep track of your favorite wines, and wines you want to avoid, and connect with other wine-lovers. Looks great! I still remain a big fan of GroupRecipes, too, where I originally posted my eggplant caviar recipe. . .)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Delicious, quick pancakes for the starving student . . .

I'm getting really good at eating on a shoestring. For one thing, I'm just trying to reduce my overall consumption of food. And hiding out at home much of the week helps too, because it's much easier to save money when you're cooking. I also am falling back on some basic, simple foods. Happily, the garden is providing just enough to give a little green here and there. This diet isn't sustainable in the long-term for optimal health, but it's not too bad for the moment.

One of my new rediscoveries is pancakes! They're so good, filling and warm. . . I have adapted this recipe, using reconstituted powdered milk, and making a few other small modifications, to excellent effects:

1 cup flour
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 T brown or white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cups reconstituted powdered milk
1 egg
2 tablespoons melted butter
splash vanilla
frozen blueberries

Combine dry ingredients in one bowl. Beat egg, vanilla, and butter into reconstituted milk. Pour wet ingredients into the dry, and stir until combined. Add blueberries. The batter will be very thick. Don't worry. It will make outstanding, fluffy, delicious pancakes. Pour in 1/3-cup-sized dollops into an iron skillet hot with melted butter. Serve with maple syrup or eat all by themselves. Cheap, fast, easy, and delicious. For me, this makes enough for one nice filling short stack to eat while hot and another small stack to put in the fridge for later after hours of reading and studying.

Monday, July 7, 2008

$30 at the farmer's market in Southeast Michigan in early July gets you . . .

(From left to right) Green beans, two zucchini, snow peas, a bunch of radishes (with greens), a jar of local wildflower honey, a bunch of flowering bok choy, a quart of strawberries, "peaches" (that seem an awful lot like nectarines), a sweet potato, and a bunch of beets (with greens). All non-organic, needless to say, though they are local. Is it just me, or is it not as cheap as it seems it should be? Am I just spoiled as a Californian? Still, it's an incredible relief to have some local fresh vegetables and fruits even AVAILABLE. Even at this time of the year, most of the farmer's market was filled up with soap, sugar-sweet breads, and perennial plants. The local Michigan grain, even unground (before being ground into flour), is $2 a pound for wheat berry.

Oh, my GOD, this Michigan economy is going to kill me.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Unmanageable milk jugs: another reason to buy local milk you collect in your own glass bottle.

Eat the View -- Lawns to carrots and lettuce, please

One of my major aggravations about mainstream American culture is our obsession with large, bright green lawns. Being a Californian from an area where local foodie and restauranteur Alice Waters built a local organic gardening program in the schoolyard of a junior high school, where the local government offered financial support for a while to those replacing their lawn with drought-resistant native plants (in Oakland), and where the San Francisco City Hall is recruiting the community to plant vegetables on its grounds and monitoring the planting of "Victory Gardens" throughout the city, it's weird and unnerving to live now in a place where people ride back and forth every weekend on giant lawnmowers, and where I have to fight to keep my edible plants safe from the muscle men who the landlords pay to do "lawn and garden maintenance".

So, I'm excited by ideas of how to challenge the status quo on this particular issue. This is a really interesting one, and would be SO great if it were actually implemented. The concept is for the next president of the United States to reapportion the space of the White House lawn to be an organic victory garden. Take a look, and sign the petition!




Saturday, June 28, 2008

Rye Crisps -- Variations on the rye theme


So today I tried a modified version of my quick rye bread recipe, which is proving absolutely outstanding. One potential benefit is that it's lower in gluten than the other version. Rye isn't gluten-free, so this isn't a gluten-free bread, but the other flours here are fine for gluten-free diets, so maybe this could be good for people who are looking to reduce their gluten consumption but can still have some in their breads. I'm only now learning a little bit about gluten sensitivities, since my sister, Ms Scrumptious, visited me a couple weeks ago.

Here's the ingredient list:

Quick Whole Grain Rye Bread:
* 2 cups organic nonfat milk
* 2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
* 4 Tbsp. unsulphured blackstrap molasses
* 3 cups rye flour
* 1 cup buckwheat flour
* 1/2 cup quinoa flour
* 1 cup rolled oats
* 2 tsp fennel seeds
* 3 tsp cumin seeds
* 2 tsp sesame seeds
* handful (about 1/2 cup) raw sunflower seeds
* 3 tsp. baking powder
* 1 tsp. baking soda
* 1 tsp sea salt

Directions:
Follow the basic directions I outlined before, including the salt and sesame and sunflower seeds with the dry ingredients.

Divide the dough in half when it is holding together nicely after kneading. This recipe makes two loaves.

For a rustic round loaf like the one above (gorgeous for little open-faced avocado sandwiches) follow the directions for shaping it in my original recipe. For delicious rye crisps, excellent for a Southern-European-style mezze with eggplant caviar, olives, salty Bulgarian feta cheese, etc., press the dough into a small rectangular loaf that is relatively flat, about an inch thick.


When the dough cools, you can slice it thinly, and toast it or bake it for lovely rye toasts for parties. Mmmm. I need to work on getting the sesame seeds to stick on top, though.

I baked the little guys for about 12 minutes on each side to yield right around 25 crispies that look quite a bit like thin biscotti, only they're savory.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Rye bread revisited

I have tried my hand again with the quick rye bread. This time I doubled the recipe, and upped the fennel and cumin seeds I used in the dough, skipped the sugar, and used just 2/3 the amount of molasses. It's lovely and still sweet without being overly so. I also sprinkled the top with coarse French sea salt, yielding a result that looks almost like a giant gingerbread cookie.

I think I'll add a little salt to the recipe next time I make it, perhaps 1/2-1 tsp in with the dry ingredients, especially if I don't use the coarse salt on top again.

I have to reiterate how delicious the bread is with fresh avocado. Now that I had a ripe one, I couldn't resist making a simple, delicious sandwich with just sliced avocado and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a turn of fresh-cracked black pepper.


Here it is in the oven. . .

Now that I knew how sticky the dough would be, I was prepared with extra flour, and the kneading went considerably more quickly than last time. I seriously got the loaf in the oven in right around 10 minutes. Not bad for lovely fresh-baked bread.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Farm Fresh Eggs

Ms Scrumptious has finally recounted the adventure of buying eggs in the country around here in Michigan, a story I've been meaning to tell for ages. It delights me every single time I pull off the road onto the gravel drive behind an old farmhouse, wave hi to the cats and dogs and horses, and help myself to the eggs offered in a mini-fridge on the honor system. Thanks for sharing the photos and the story, Ms Scrumptious! And thank you so much for the wonderful visit, too. :)

(This has been an In My Box/Kitchen Empress crossover post!)

Quick Rye Bread Recipe -- Easy step-by-step guide with photos


As I learned from Alton Brown recently in his episode on muffins, the term "quickbread" distinguishes this class of breads from those that rely on yeast for leavening, since quickbreads generally use baking soda or baking powder for leavening and therefore do not require rising time.

The quickbreads most of us are familiar with are the sweet, fruity ones, like muffins and banana bread. Somewhere I happened upon a recipe for rye quickbread in the past few days, though, so I felt inspired to try my hand at another type of whole-grain loaf that didn't depend on yeast. I was craving bread today and didn't want to wait several hours before I could eat it fresh from the oven, steaming and crusty and spread with fresh organic butter. As I am writing this post, I smell the sweet, delicious scent of molasses-rich rye bread baking in the oven, and I know this is going to be a winner.

This is a modified version of a recipe I found on the veggieboards (here). It yields a delicious result in just over an hour from start to finish: dense, moist, and sweet with molasses. I would recommend it especially for avocado sandwiches, as suggested by the original poster, to accompany fresh salad and soup, or perhaps as the sandwich bread for a simple ham & cheese. Umlud and I are probably just going to devour it plain with some sharp cheddar cheese. It bears a little resemblance to the flavor & texture of the yummy fresh-baked bread we used to get with salads at Intermezzo in Berkeley.

Hunks of cheddar cheese with delicious, wholesome molasses-rye bread. So hot from the oven, the steam blurred the photo. . . :)

Quick Rye Bread
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Baking time: 1 hour

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup organic milk or soymilk
  • 1-1.5 Tbsp. cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. organic brown sugar (optional; I think I'd omit.)
  • 3 Tbsp. unsulphured molasses
  • 1 1/2 cups rye flour
  • 1/2 cup spelt flour
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 2 Tbsp. caraway seeds (I used 1/2 tsp fennel seeds and 1.5 tsp cumin seeds, since I didn't have caraway, yielding an Indian-spiced bread delicious with cheddar cheese)
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • additional whole wheat flour for kneading
Instructions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
  2. In a small bowl or glass measuring cup, sour the milk by adding in the vinegar, waiting a couple minutes, stirring, and adding a splash more of vinegar if necessary.The milk will be thick and a little chunky, sort of like yogurt or buttermilk.
  3. Stir in the molasses and sugar, if desired. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the rye flour, all-purpose flour, oats, caraway seeds, baking powder, and baking soda. Add the milk mixture and stir well. Your dough will be rather sticky.

    Photos courtesy of Umlud, mostly.
  5. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured bread board or countertop. A rubber spatula will help for scraping out stubbornly sticky dough.
  6. Knead until the dough holds together (2 to 3 minutes).
  7. If the dough remains very sticky, knead in a little more flour. Shape the dough into a round.
    As you'll see in this little video, courtesy of Umlud, the dough is really quite sticky. It would be handy to have extra flour at hand to bind all the dough together and remove it from your hands.

    video

  8. Place it on a lightly oiled baking sheet, and finish shaping as necessary, flattening and rounding until you have a satisfactory-looking rustic loaf. Bake until crusty and well browned (about 1 hour).
The Kitchen Empress is applying for her very first professional baking gig. Wish me luck!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Local sources for raw goat and cow milk in Livingston County, Michigan

Above, goat and proud owner at the Chambers family farm in Pinckney, Michigan. Image from Heavenly Dairy.

As I was recently raving about in Our Lady of the Lakes, I have recently discovered sources for local goat and cow milk in Livingston county, Michigan.

The lovely folks at Garden Patch Farms have pointed me to a local goat herder at Heavenly Dairy in Pinckney, and an organic bovine dairy in Cohoctah Township called Dairy Delight, both also in Livingston County. :) In the words of Kris Unger of Dairy Delight: "We disasterized the food system," she said. "How dare the government tells us we can't drink raw milk."

I'll follow up with a visit to the farms and photos sometime soon!!

By the way, Jim Wallace has compiled a helpful online list of local sources for raw milk, in case you're interested but don't live here in Michigan. There's another list available here.

And Dr. Mercola just wrote a couple pieces on the politics and trials and tribulations of organic dairy farming, including some information on the health aspects of organic dairy consumption, and one on weight loss and milk consumption.

Step-by-step illustrated breadbaking guide

Delicious, homemade whole wheat bread with crunchy hints of cornmeal and 10-grain cereal.

Recently, in Our Lady of the Lakes (my personal blog), I was waxing philosophical about bread baking. Though I've been making quick breads frequently for many years, it hasn't become a regular practice for me to bake yeasted breads up until recently. It's a combination of interest in cooking, desire for delicious homemade bread, concern for health, stress relief, and budgetary reasons* that compel me to make my own breads.

Under regular circumstances I don't have the time to do so as a doctoral student juggling papers, meetings, and teaching responsibilities, but the spring term brings some extra time. Now that I am becoming more comfortable with the process, though, I find that it isn't nearly as time-consuming as it can seem. If you're doing work from home, taking a break to knead or punch down a dough can be fun and very relaxing. Also, contrary to popular understanding, baking yeasted bread really isn't difficult, as long as you have a clear sense of the appropriate proportions and the stages involved. Recently I've made several variations including leftover rice, sweetened condensed milk, cream, and a variety of other things I had leftover and needed to clean out of the fridge. All of them have been exceptional.

As I explained in my post a few weeks ago, I bake from the Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown, which lays out the directions in easy, clearly explained steps with images, perfect for beginners. Here are a few photos of my process, making a nice sweet whole wheat loaf with molasses, whole milk, and a hint of cornmeal and multi-grain cereal.

I opted to make 3/4 of Brown's general whole wheat bread recipe, yielding three nice loaves. I only took the photos later in the process, after the second rising. I turned the nice dough out on a floured board, cut it into three roughly evenly sized pieces, and began the final kneading and shaping of the loaves.

Ingredients:

I. For the sponge:
  • 6 cups lukewarm water (subsitute a portion with milk, if desired)
  • 2 tablespoons yeast (2 pkgs)
  • 1/2-3/4 cup honey or brown sugar or molasses
  • 2 cups powdered milk (I omit, using regular milk instead)
  • 7-9 cups whole grain flour
    -- Brown calls for whole wheat flour, but I generally use a mixture including whole wheat flour (I use King Arthur brand), buckwheat, spelt, and rye flours, and about a half-cup each of whole-grain cornmeal (polenta) and 10-grain cereal from Bob's Red Mill (the 10-grain cereal contains: whole grain wheat, whole grain corn, whole grain rye, whole grain triticale [wheat], whole grain oats, soy beans, whole grain millet, whole grain barley, whole grain brown rice, oat bran, flaxseed)
II. For adding after the sponge rises:
  • 2.5 tablespoons salt
  • 1/2-1 cup fat (oil, butter, etc; I often use almond or other nut oils with beautiful results)
  • 6-8 cups additional whole wheat flour
  • 2-3 cups whole wheat flour (for kneading)

Directions (I still recommend Brown's book for more complete explanation)

I. Make the sponge.
  1. Dissolve yeast in the water.
  2. Add sweetening and powdered milk.
  3. Stir in the flour until a thick batter is formed.
  4. Beat all these ingredients together well with a spoon, about 100 strokes.
  5. Let rise for 60 minutes.

II.
  1. Fold in salt and oil.
  2. Fold in additional flour until dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.
  3. Knead for about 10-15 minutes on a floured board, using more flour as needed until dough doesn't stick to hands or board.
  4. Place into an oiled bread bowl, and let bread rise for 50 minutes
  5. Punch down.
  6. Let rise 40 more minutes.
  7. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (F).
  8. Turn the dough onto the board, shape into a ball, and cut into four even pieces. Shape into balls again, and let sit for five minutes.
  9. Now, shape your dough into loaves.

It's best, in general, to use a flat palm for kneading, pushing the dough forward with the weight of your whole body, centering the weight into the ball of the hand toward the end of the push.


Occasionally I also do a little punching, though. With a heavy dough like this one it can be easier to get it compacted this way, and it's a fun way of getting out aggression, too.

10. Once you finish the final kneading (about 5-6 rounds of kneading, folding in half, turning a quarter turn, and kneading again), it's time to finish shaping the loaves. Roll the dough into a little log shape, then proceed to pinch the seams together.

11. Then pat it into the form of a loaf, squaring off the edges.


(Action shots above courtesy of Umlud.)

12. Put the loaves into greased pans, and press down into loaf pan with flat fingers. (I actually have only one bread pan at the moment, so I typically make rolls or round loaves and just one rectangular loaf. Up top is the prettiest of the three that I made this time, a round loaf.)
16. Remove from pans and cool on baking rack.
13. Let loaves rise for about 20 minutes.
14. Cut slits into the top of the loaves, about 1/2 inch deep, to allow steam to escape.
15. Bake at 350 degrees for about 50-70 minutes, until the top is nice and golden brown. If you have differently shaped or sized loaves, they may need to bake different amounts of time.
17. Though Brown recommends letting it cool for an hour to ensure the slices are clean, I like to eat it right out of the oven with organic butter and organic strawberry jam. Sunspire makes a delicious one you can buy in a big jar at COSTCO for about $8, probably less than the cost of making it yourself in the height of berry season. (That is, unless you have access to berry fields where you can pick organic strawberries for $1 a pound, like Ms Scrumptious does at Eatwell Farms!)

*Even buying the highest-quality whole grain flours, I save considerably on the loaves. Comparable bread from local bakeries like Avalon or Zingerman's cost in the range of $7-10 for a fresh loaf, plus the cost of gas to and from the market, no small factor for those of us living in rural areas, as Wise Bread points out. In the winter, I also heat up my kitchen with the gas oven, reducing the heating required in the house.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Mexican Chocolate Cake - Recipe with Photo


Last night, in honor of my friend Jenay's birthday, I felt inspired to bake a cake, and I tried a variation on my favorite fail-safe chocolate cake recipe that was quite magnificent. The innovations built on one another slowly. Earlier in the day I had tried some lovely imperial melange tea I'd bought in an Arabic shop some time back, and I had some left over, so in lieu of my usual strong coffee I substituted the fragrant black tea for Aunt Georgie's original hot water.

That got me thinking how nice it would be to add spices; I considered cardamom, and even lavender, but I settled on cinnamon, thinking about the delight of Mexican chocolate. I fresh-ground a hint of cinnamon with a mortar and pestle, and the gorgeous aroma filled my kitchen.

When I added the first bit to the batter, though, it wasn't quite as strong as I wanted, so I grabbed another cinnamon stick from my Indian spice cupboard. There among the black cardamom pods, cloves, and dried pomegranate seeds, I noticed the jar of red chili flakes, and, thinking of the popular precolonial habit of merging the flavors of chili and cacao, I decided to throw in a pinch of that too.

By the time the fragrant spiced chocolate cake was baking in the oven in an old timer garage sale Bundt pan I'd unearthed in the back of my cabinet, I knew I was committed all the way and needed to find something to top the cake with. I settled on a glaze, but was disappointed with many of the first recipes I saw, which called for corn syrup. . . and then I found Rebecca Rather's Mexican chocolate cake recipe, bursting with real cream and melted chocolate, butter, and toasted pecans, and knew I had the right glaze, particularly since her chocolate cake recipe bore a real similarity to mine. I just opted for milk rather than half-and-half, and decided to keep the pecan halves intact, since I thought that would make an elegant topping for the cake.

What follows is my new Mexican chocolate cake recipe, my own version, from what I made last night with rave reviews from everybody at the party. :) I'm hoping a [bigger cake] photo will follow at some point, since many were taken there!


Mexican Chocolate Cake (with Pecan Glaze topping)

Ingredients

For cake
  • 3 cups (300 g) sifted flour
  • 2 cup (400 g) sugar
  • 6 Tbsp (100 ml) baking cocoa
  • 2 tsp (10 ml) baking soda
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup (120 g) organic unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 cup (500 ml) sour organic milk (see note below in Directions, Tip #1)
  • 1/2 cup (120 ml) hot black tea (Earl Grey or Imperial Melange)
  • 2 Tbsp (39 ml) vanilla
  • 2 sticks cinnamon
  • 1 pinch hot red chili flakes (a bit more if you actually want it spicy)

For glaze
  • 2 cups pecan halves (71/2 oz)
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted organic butter
  • 1/2 cup whole organic milk
  • 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
  • 5 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), broken into pieces (I used a 4-oz bar of Ghiradelli bittersweet and1 oz of Ghiradelli 100% chocolate)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Special equipment: a 9-inch tube pan or 12-cup bundt pan


Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350F or 175C. Sift together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt into mixing bowl.
  2. Add egg, butter, sour milk, hot water and vanilla.
  3. Grind cinnamon and chili to a fine powder with a mortar and pestle. Add to the batter.
  4. Beat (preferably with an electric mixer) at medium speed for 2 minutes.
  5. Pour batter into a very well greased Bundt pan.
  6. Bake at 350F or 175C until it tests done (a toothpick or fork comes out clean), about 55 minutes. Cool in pan.
  7. Tip: To sour sweet milk, place 2 Tbsp (15 ml) vinegar in a measuring cup and add enough milk to make 2 cups (500 ml).

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Walnut Molasses Hermits


They aren't the prettiest ever, but boy do they taste good.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 c unbleached flour
  • 1/4 ts Salt
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice (or, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 tsp nutmeg, and 1/4 tsp cloves)
  • 1/2 c organic unsalted butter
  • 2 1/2 cup turbinado sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated white sugar
  • 2 cage-free organic eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 c unsulphured blackstrap molasses
  • 1 cup raisins, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp organic whole milk
  • 1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

Instructions

  1. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices.
  2. Cream butter and sugar, add eggs and molasses.
  3. Mix in the dry ingredients, raisins, and milk, then add walnuts.
  4. Gather the dough together in one lump, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for 2 hours.
  5. Preheat oven to 350F.
  6. On a lightly floured board, roll out 1/2 of the dough at a time to a thin sheet and cut into desired shapes.
  7. Bake on greased cookie sheets for 10 minutes.

Yield: 60 small cookies

(Based on recipe for molasses hermits from The New Settlement Cookbook, posted to MM-Recipes Digest by "Cindy Hartlin" on Nov 16, 1999.)