An Honest Loaf

Playing with my tiny slow cooker is much like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates.  You never know what you are going to get.

Yes, it’s definitely the surprises that keep me coming back.  If you are a fan of the English muffin loaf style of bread or New England brown bread, then take a look at this chewy, highly nutritious, richly flavored brown bread.  Did I mention easy?brown-bread-slice

Its unusual approach begins by soaking rolled oats in yogurt for several hours. Once the baking soda and flour mixture is combined with the yogurt mixture the batter goes wild. Random baby bubble emerge during the baking process to create a moist and fascinating texture.

The brown bread element comes chiefly from a hint of buckwheat flour. I keep a small stash on hand for its dark robust characteristics that make everything taste better—from noodles to crepes and breads. Of course, whole wheat or rye flour will work, too.  An addition of egg helps to stabilize and provide a hint of richness to a seemingly bland composition. oat-brown-breadThere’s enough sweetness from the brown sugar to tie it all the together, admirably offset the tang of the yogurt, and complement the oats, buckwheat, and whole wheat flours. Once ingredients are combined, the results are somewhere between a dough and a batter: there is no shaping, just carefully spoon it into the pot.

It may seem silly to be ‘baking’ in a crock pot, but I love the idea of using a mere 95 watts of power to create a substantial loaf in only two hours. Since this is not a firm dough, I butter my 2-quart crockery pot and run two folded strips of parchment crisscrossing in the bottom and up the sides to act as handles for lifting out the bread.

A common problem with bread baking in the slow cooker is that the top does not brown. One solution is a quick toasting under the broiler, which seems at odds with the whole premise. Instead, for an inviting crunch here, I opt for a light dusting of grainy cornmeal in the bottom of the pot and a sprinkling across the top before baking.

Oat Brown Bread

Inspired by Fix-It and Forget-It, Baking with your Slow Cooker by Phyllis Good

Ingredients
1/2 cup yogurt
1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 egg
1 tablespoon oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/3 cup mixture of buckwheat and whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons coarse cornmeal for dusting

Directions

  1. Combine yogurt, milk, and oats; cover and chill for 6 to 8 hours.
  2. In a mixing bowl combine egg, oil, and sugar with yogurt; blend and mix well.
  3. Combine the flours, baking soda, and salt and stir into the liquid.
  4. Preheat 2-quart crock pot set to high; butter the crockery liner and fit it with 2 strips of parchment crisscrossed and running up the sides. Dust the bottom with cornmeal.
  5. Pour batter into the crockery pot liner and sprinkle top lightly with cornmeal. Cover the top with 3 layers of paper towels tucked under the lid to absorb moisture.
  6. Bake for about 2 hours rotating liner every 30 minutes to brown evenly, until bread pulls away from sides and tester inserted in middle comes out clean. Lift out with parchment straps onto cooling rack. If it sticks, run a knife around edges. Let cool before slicing.  Yield: 1 small loaf.
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A budding chef with egg on face

This is my first cooking memory:

I was close to 7-years-old, spending unsupervised time at my friend Jane’s house, whose grandmother lived next door.  We decided we would try our hand at cooking eggs-in-a-nest.  We figured that we could start them on the stove, skip over to her granny’s house, and  then dash back.  That should keep us busy and allow just enough time for the eggs and bread to cook before turning.

There was a lot of running back and forth that day, but no one seemed to mind.  I can still smell and hear the butter and eggs sizzling in the pan.  As in life, timing is everything, and to our delight we could run plenty fast enough. We even mastered the flipping process: the first were a little dicey, but we soon got the hang of it.

Of course, Jane and I didn’t bother to sit down and eat, we were too excited, and too busy.  As we stood there, with egg dribbling down on our faces, we were in heaven.  We had discovered one of life’s greatest joys, the gift of cooking and sharing our lot with others.

Egg-in-a-Nest

Egg-in-a-Nest

 Egg-in-a-Nest

1 slice of favorite bread, with the center cut out
1 large fresh egg
butter, softened
salt and pepper

Using a small skillet over medium heat, butter the bread on both sides and place the two pieces in the skillet.  Move the bread a bit to coat the pan with butter where the egg will sit.  When the pan is hot drop in the egg.

Fry the bread and egg; when the white is firmly set and the bread is nicely toasted on bottom, gently flip it with a spatula.  Make sure the pan has a coating of butter where the egg will rest.  Cook second side until bread is toasted and egg is cooked to your liking; salt and pepper, and serve.  Yield: 1 serving.

Kid’s Play: Petite Banana Bread Panibois

I’ve been going small lately.  After years of resizing recipes upwards of 50+ servings, this is clearly a novel situation.

Banana bread slices

Petite Quality Control

Baking small may be a new world for me, but it is far more efficient and less energy wasteful, thanks to my recent purchase of a mini convection oven that is big enough to hold a 9” pizza (just sayin’).

BD toaster oven

Mini convection oven

Turns out, the new Black and Decker countertop oven is ideal for tasks like baking two petite loaves of banana bread―yielding a sweet gift in hand for a lucky friend and a perfect quality control loaf for moi.

I felt like a kid again playing with an Easy-Bake toy oven.  In the same spirit, I kept it simple by using a basic quick bread recipe that requires no special tools.

As with most quick breads, the dry and wet ingredients are combined separately then quickly mixed together. However, I did change up the oil by substituting half melted coconut oil; a very nice touch.  For a sparkling flourish I sprinkled the tops with a dusting of Demerara sugar.  Kid’s play, for sure.

Banana panibous

Banana Bread Panibois

Panibois wooden molds are a handy solution for dressing up those spur of the moment acts of kindness.  Technobake offers a full line with all sorts of sizes and shapes.  They are so attractive I keep an extra woven tray on my desk to hold daily action items.  Even better news, you bake right in the molds, since each includes a paper liner for added protection.

Come to think of it, it’s time to re-order, holiday gift giving is coming up fast…

Petite Banana Bread

Makes two 5×3” loaves

Ingredients
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 medium/large)
1 large egg
4 Tbsp vegetable oil (part melted coconut oil is nice)
1/2 cup heaping, packed brown sugar
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. If using metal pans, spray with baking spray and line bottoms with parchment.
  2. In large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients through salt and whisk to blend.
  3. In medium bowl, mash banana, whisk in egg, then the oil; add the brown sugar and whisk until smooth.  Stir in the vanilla.
  4. Stir the banana mixture into the dry ingredients just to combine.  Spread into two 5×3” loaf pans.  Sprinkle with Demerara sugar if desired.
  5. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the loaves begin to shrink away from edges of pan, are nicely browned, and the centers are dry when tested. (Since these brown quickly, I reduced the heat to 340 degrees half way through to insure they were thoroughly baked). Let cool for 10 minutes on rack, turn out of pan and cool to room temperature.    Yield: two 5×3” loaves.

Bread + Berries = Pudding

What do you get when you combine bread and berries together and let them set in the fridge overnight?  An unpalatable gob, perhaps?

That was pretty much my take whenever I considered Summer Pudding, that most cherished of British sweets. I could not wrap my brain around seriously wasting the season’s best fruit on this bizarre idea.

In all fairness, maybe it is another case of availability being the mother of intention:  or, when you’ve got bread and berries, you just make pudding.  Here, a mold is lined with bread slices and filled with berries that have been briefly simmered with water and sugar to create fruit syrup, which binds it all together.  It is then weighted down and pressed until it forms a congealed mass.

I know.  It still doesn’t make the heart race.

And so it was, until recently, while reading Judith Jones’s charming recollection of Summer Pudding for One in The Pleasures of Cooking for One:

“I always remember my childhood summers in Vermont as a procession of summer puddings made with raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, or currant as they came along. This old-fashioned dessert couldn’t be simpler to put together, and you can do a single portion in a small cup mold…”

Well, I certainly value Judith’s perspective.  After all, she was most influential in getting Julia Child first published.  Besides, making only one serving meant I had very little at stake―especially since I had a half loaf of Banana Swirl Bread still breathing heavy in my larder.  And, it is berry season in the Willamette Valley.

Raspberries

Raspberries

It didn’t take long to accumulate plenty of berries:  raspberries, marionberries, strawberries, and tayberries (a new blend of raspberries and marionberries). In that same amount of time I also learned more about the magic that occurs in Summer Pudding.

Currants are not imperative here, but they provide a clue pertaining to why they are valued for more than their taste.  Currants are especially high in pectin, followed closely by other berries such as strawberries, blackberries and the like. Pectin becomes the active ingredient that binds and transforms these simple ingredients into something utterly bewitching.

Just in case you don’t have a loaf of Banana Swirl Bread, any firm homemade or Pullman style loaf that is not too light will provide the necessary structure to hold this all together.  Ina Garten’s Summer Pudding uses further insurance by inserting layers of bread in the center of her mold for increased substance.  I suspect this is more of an American conceit, and likely viewed as unnecessary by the average British cook.

If you have additional syrup, set it aside and save it to enjoy with the pudding.  To unmold, slide a knife around the pudding and turn it upside down onto a plate.

Raspberry, Marionberry and Tayberry Pudding

Raspberry, Marionberry and Tayberry Pudding

Serve it with more fruit, sweetened whipped cream, crème fraiche or yogurt. By the way, Summer Pudding is really good for breakfast―about as long as I can wait.Maybe it will bring out the kid in you, too!

Summer Pudding

Summer Pudding

You know, the British may be on to something here―Summer Pudding is light, fresh, and happy―and it certainly makes me smile.  Mixed Berry Pudding 1

Summer Pudding for One

Inspired by Judith Jones, The Pleasures of Cooking for One, also online article by Felicity Cloake, www.theguardian.com.

 Ingredients

1/3      c  raspberries, fresh
1/3      c  blackberries,, blueberries, currants, and or strawberries
1          tbsp sugar or to taste
1/4      cup water
2          slices homemade bread, trimmed and thinly sliced, approx.
Sweetened whipped cream or yogurt, additional fruit for garnish
 
Directions

  1. In a small saucepan place the washed fruit, the sugar and water. Over moderately heat, simmer 3 to 5 minutes or until fruit is softened but not mushy.  Taste the syrup, it should be pleasantly sweet, add more sugar if too tart.  There should also be enough syrup to fully moisten the bread liner, adjust liquid as necessary.
  2. Line a one cup mold with the bread slices: line the bottom of the mold, then cut triangles or rectangles to run up the sides fitting firmly without gaps.  Cut a round to fit on the top, which will be the bottom when unmolded, and set it aside.
  3. Arrange the fruit and syrup in the mold and place the reserved round on top. All the bread should be moistened. Place a small plate with a can or other heavy object on top to weight it down evenly.  Enclose it all with plastic wrap.
  4. Refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight. Unmold, running a knife around the sides.  Serve with sweetened cream or yogurt, and a few fresh berries.     Yield:  1  serving

About Bananas, Psychologically Speaking

I don’t know about you, but I seem to constantly struggle with too many over-ripe bananas. After all these years, you’d think I would have figured out how to realistically manage the inflow and outflow of bananas.  Maybe a life-cycle chart would help.  Or perhaps there’s an app that can tell me when to buy more bananas.

Try as I might, I can’t quite get the purchase and consumption of bananas to come out even.  There are times at the market when I will hover over them, remind self of the likely outcome, then staunchly throw my head back and move on―empty handed.

Just as often though, I will linger over the bananas a tad too long. I’ll pick up a bunch and feel the surge of tension―I have more at home but I’m buying them anyway.  I refuse to accept that there will be dark bananas days ahead.

I tell myself past-their-prime bananas are good.  I should be grateful.

Border-line Bananas

Border-line Bananas

They are sweeter and more nutritious than their younger, firmer predecessors, especially in smoothies and other juice drinks.  We know they are richer in potassium, which helps with high blood pressure, osteoporosis and stroke; they have increased vitamin B-6 which lessens rheumatoid arthritis, depression and heart disease; and they contain plenty of soluble and insoluble fibers, helpful in preventing obesity and hypertension.

Nevertheless, those same youthful bananas continue to sit, gain spots, and grow black.  Likely as not, they will be relegated to the freezer, deferred for another day.  Recently, I was back in that same predicament: what to do with more sagging bananas. Here’s my latest solution for 2 (just) small very ripe bananas.  Good news: it continues to keep on giving for several days, long enough to stop buying bananas for a while.

This Banana Swirl Bread is inspired by Banana Cinnamon Bread at Goodeats.com.  It’s as close as you can get to easy banana-scented cinnamon rolls – but instead of the usual heavy dose of butter there’s only a dash of olive oil.

Banana Swirl BreadLike most yeast breads, there is the rising time to consider. The dough is so well constructed I didn’t even bother to pull out my mixer and opted to stir it up by hand.

Once it has risen the dough rolls out in a flash; it’s sprinkled with cinnamon-sugar and shaped into a loaf for another quick rise.

While the bread bakes, the air is filled with scents of tropical bananas and cinnamon―an unbeatable combination.  The hardest part is waiting for the bread to cool before cutting.  It slices beautifully revealing a gorgeous, pale yellow loaf etched throughout with a cinnamon-brown sugar spiral.

It is delicious sliced and eaten straight up, but there are those who will want to toast it and further glorify it with butter.  I suspect it would make amazing French toast, too. Stay tuned for Episode Two.

Banana Swirl Bread

Inspired by Donna Currie’s Bread Baking:  Banana Cinnamon Bread at  www.seriouseats.com

Ingredients

½ cup lukewarm water
1 packet quick rise yeast
½ cup mashed very ripe bananas (2 small)
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup plain yogurt, Greek-style preferably
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2-3/4 cup bread flour or all purpose flour; divided
1 Tbsp olive oil
Cinnamon-sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon

Directions 

  1. In large mixing bowl, combine the warm water, the yeast, and a pinch of the sugar; let stand about 10 minutes to activate yeast and become bubbly.
  2. Meanwhile, mash the bananas and add to them the remaining sugar, yogurt, salt, vanilla and a heaping cup of the flour. Combine and add to the yeast mixture, stirring to incorporate.   Add another heaping cup of flour (reserving the rest for the kneading process) along with the olive oil and continue mixing until it forms a smooth mass.  If using a bread hook, continue to beat and incorporate most of the flour until it is smooth and elastic.
  3. If finishing by hand, turn dough out onto floured board, kneading briefly to incorporate remainder of the flour and the dough is silky and elastic.
  4. Place the dough in clean, well oiled bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover, and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
  5. Meanwhile spray a 9×5” or similar pan with oil. Combine the brown sugar and cinnamon and set aside.
  6. When dough is light, flour the board, turn it out, punch it down and knead it briefly to release air. Roll the dough out to 9”x15” rectangle.  Spread the cinnamon-sugar evenly over the dough, leaving a 3” unsugared edge on the far 9” end.
  7. Roll the dough up, jelly roll fashion, to form a 9” long log. Pinch the unsugared end and seal. Tuck the ends under if necessary and place seam-side down in prepared pan.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place until doubled, about 30 minutes.
  8. Preheat oven to 325 degrees and bake for 35-40 minutes until golden brown, rotating to brown evenly if necessary. Remove loaf from pan and cool completely on rack before cutting.  Yield:  1 loaf.

For Goodness Sake, Bread Pudding Muffins

I can’t help myself.  Regardless of a return to 80 and 90 degree weather the calendar still reads October— my culinary roots have instinctively shifted to thoughts of autumn, the harvest, and stockpiling heartier foods for approaching winter.

Like a squirrel salting away nuts for a rainy day, I’m busy brining and roasting more turkey wings than I’ll ever eat, and simmering pots of soup and batches of crystallized ginger.  In this same spirit, I have been mulling over an old favorite recipe for bread pudding muffins and decided to give it an update.

Back in the height of the low fat craze, I made a lot of these muffins.  They used only egg whites (sans yolks, the presumed enemy), plenty of cinnamon, and only a sparse amount of butter, so it was easy to splurge when predictable cravings set in.  It was a smart alternative to the real deal.

Let’s face it:  bread pudding is pretty much bread soaked in flavored custard and baked.  Omit the yolks, the heart of the custard, and this richly satisfying, unctuous pudding becomes a soggy, sweet, one-dimensional impostor.  Of course, my renewed respect for the humble egg has caused a major shift in my approach to cooking and eating. Now, those earlier muffins seem like bleak compromise:  low fat watered down imitations, an uneven swap, in lieu of robust flavor and quality.bread pudding glazed
So, the results are in from my challenge to create a moist flavorful muffin with all the attributes of bread pudding, yet remain ever vigilant to realistic alternatives.  In this case, one that is not ridiculously rich, can be picked up as a portable breakfast treat/snack, and  can also be served warmed for a personal sized dessert.

bread pudding few

Yum, yum, yum!

Bread Pudding Muffins with Coconut Drizzle

Good anytime muffin of cubed bread soaked in vanilla custard, enriched with warm spices, raisins, and dried cranberries, then topped off with a light coconut glaze.  For substitutions, try crystallized ginger, dried currants, apricots or blueberries.

Ingredients
4 cups bread cubes, cut into 1/2″ pieces, crusts trimmed (Sally Lund bread or challah are great)
1/3 cup raisins, 1/3 cup dried cranberries (combine with 1 Tbsp orange or other juice and microwave until bubbly, about 1 minute and let stand to soften)
Custard Base:
2 large eggs
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla bean paste or rum extract
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup milk, warmed
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
pinch salt

Coconut Glaze (see below) or confectioners’ sugar

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Use silicone cups or fill 6 muffin cups with liners.

  1. Before preparing the custard, trim bread of excessively heavy crust, cut into ½” cubes, and place in a large mixing bowl. Separately, soak the dried fruit; melt the butter; and warm the milk.
  2. Prepare the custard:  In a medium bowl using a hand mixer, beat the eggs until frothy and slowly beat in the sugar; continue beating at medium high until thick.  Mix in the vanilla or rum; stir in the melted butter; then add the warm milk and combine well.
  3. Pour the custard over the bread cubes and stir with a large spoon to moisten evenly. Allow the bread to soak about 10 minutes.
  4. In a small bowl combine the cornstarch, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. With a tablespoon, remove one spoonful of warm liquid from the soaking bread and add this to the the cornstarch mixture, stirring to create a smooth slurry.
  5. Stir the spice slurry evenly into the bread and custard and add the macerated fruit.
  6. Mound the bread mixture into muffin cups and bake about 30 minutes, until set and lightly browned. Let cool on rack and drizzle with Coconut Glaze, or sift lightly with confectioners’ sugar.  Yield:  6 servings.

Coconut Glaze:  Combine ¾ cup confectioners’ sugar, 1 tsp coconut oil or ½ tsp coconut extract, and slowly beat in 1 – 2 Tbsp hot water, enough to form a cohesive, thin paste.  Drizzle with a fork over the tops of the muffins.

Recipe can be doubled.  

Romancing the Bread: Sally Lund

The other day I baked up a large loaf of Sally Lund bread and was instantly transported back to my days of frequenting the Bahamas.  Within a heartbeat of sampling its yeasty-buttery- eggy-sweet-softness, I flashed on the much adored Bahama bread sold throughout the islands there.

Sally Lunn 0364One of the highlights of any trip to the Bahamas especially to the outer islands of the Exumas, the Abacos and beyond, is to enjoy slices of their famed Bahama bread.  Local women have mustered up a small industry catering to island trade and cultivating a loyal client base of return visitors— all seeking a supply of this addictive bread.  Once you’ve inhaled it and savored it, you are hooked.

For those aboard itinerant sailboats and motor yachts, it represents lingering sessions of bread sliced with island jam or made into cinnamon toast, French toast, lobster sandwiches, or perhaps a creamy bread pudding.  The association of the bread with the laid-back joy of island life blend into one and are forever linked.  You eat your fill while it’s fresh and freeze what you can — but it’s never quite the same.

Since the Bahamas remain an Independent Commonwealth of Great Britain, their relationship is deeply entwined, spanning back to the early 1700’s.  It’s likely that both Bahama and Sally Lund breads have similar pedigrees with the French brioche style of bread.  In Bath, England, its history dates to the late 1600’s when French baker, “Sally Lund” (Anglicized pronunciation) arrived on the scene. The story goes that her unique brioche bread became so popular that it soon bore her name. Variations of the sweet buttery-egg enriched bread, fashioned into both loaves and buns, have been a staple in the taverns and inns of Bath ever since.

Of course, American colonists had their own versions of Sally Lund bread, and it was also destined to become an intrinsic part of Southern comfort and hospitality.  In Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie, Bill Neal refers to it as “resembling a brioche in texture, the aristocrat of Southern breads.”  That’s lofty praise.

From a purely pragmatic perspective, it is actually a well-mannered batter bread that requires no kneading and can be prepared a day ahead — which allows you more time to prepare yourself for a real treat.  Simply enjoy the loaf freshly sliced with butter and a bit of jam, or as an easy dessert topped with seasonal fruit slathered with a lovely custard sauce.

Sally Lund Bread

Inspired by  Biscuits, Spoonbread, and Sweet Potato Pie by Bill Neal, and other sources

Ingredients

  • 1 cup milk
  • ¼ cup sugar (or more to taste)
  • 1 pkg active dry yeast
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  •  4 eggs, beaten well
  •  2 tsp salt
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, approximate

Directions

  1. Spray and butter a 9″ tube pan or two 6-cup loaf pans.
  2. Heat milk, add sugar and stir until it dissolves; cool to warm to the touch.  Dissolve the yeast in the milk and let stand in a warm place until bubbly, about 10 minutes.
  3. Combine the eggs, salt, and melted butter in a small container.
  4. In mixing bowl with paddle mixer, add the flour and stir in the milk/yeast mixtures to combine.  Then add the egg/butter mixture.  Beat until a smooth, soft batter forms.
  5. Remove dough to a clean, buttered bowl.  Cover, and set in a warm place to rise until it doubles in size, about 1 hour.  (Or store in refrigerator overnight, well wrapped.  For chilled dough, turn out into flour board to divide into 2 loaves or proceed with tube pan.)
  6. Using a wooden spoon beat down the room temperature dough to deflate it and spread it evenly into the baking pan/s.   Cover, and let rise again until light and doubled, about 1 hour.  Meanwhile preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  7. Bake the bread until it is gold brown and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, 35- 40 minutes.  Let cool on a rack about 10 minutes and then turn out of pan onto the rack to cool.   Makes 1 to 2 loaves.