Let Them Eat Bread!

There was a time when the dinner roll was ubiquitous fare with evening meals throughout America. In the early half of the 20th century, most popular was the Parker House roll, that fluffy darling known for its addictive sweetness.  The cloverleaf roll and other flavorless knock-offs followed, and by the 70’s and 80’s the dinner roll had morphed into throw-away status, a mere place-holder for the most ravenous.

Before we knew it, our evening bread threatened to drift into obscurity.  For those conforming to diets and health regimens, the dinner roll was typically viewed as not worth the carb outlay and restaurateurs were forced to take a serious look at the role bread played on the plate. They recognized the value of bread: it bought time and was an affordable meal extender.  On the other side, diners’ palates were becoming more sophisticated. “Either give us something worth eating, or forget about it,” they demanded.

Enter the army of artisan breads. Apparently, the French knew what they were doing with their beloved baguette. It wasn’t long before delightfully innovative loaves had fully captured our attention and claimed a well-deserved place at the table. We made the turn from soft and fluffy dinner rolls to artfully crafted bread—worth eating every crunchy, chewy, tangy bite.

Me?  I’m somewhere in the middle. I enjoy a slice of crusty bread dipped in flavored olive oil. Currently on my counter?  I’ve got my own light, yeasty rolls cooling on a rack; they’re enriched with sweet potato, accented by fresh sage.

sweet potato rolls

Shades of Parker House rolls!  These slightly sweet copper-tinged beauties serve a dual purpose:  they are both nutritious and delicious.  The sweet potato provides a good hit of valuable nutrients like vitamins A, C, manganese, calcium and iron, plus it brings a touch of sweetness and adds fiber for the dough’s structure.

This particular recipe is actually reworked from a gluten-free one by Erin McKenna in her excellent cookbook, Bread & Butter.  In my version, the dough is quickly mixed by hand to bring the dry and wet ingredients together. I use instant dry yeast which cuts down on rising time. Best news here, no kneading is required. The scooped dough is dropped onto a baking pan with limited space between the rolls. Within the hour they double in size, ready for the oven where they rise up and support each other to form light pull-apart rolls.

These rolls have real character; they are a match with a simple smear of butter and they can stand up to big flavors.  I’ve used them as sliders with sausage, kraut, and spicy mustard.

They are perfect for breakfast with eggs and such. They are just right with minestrone soup, and the dough makes fantastic pizza!

IMG_0416

You get the idea, they are dinner rolls worth eating.

Sweet Potato and Sage Rolls

Adapted from Erin McKenna’s Sweet Potato and Sage Pull-Apart Rolls from Bread & Butter

Ingredients
1 tablespoon cornmeal for the baking pan
½ tablespoon butter for baking pan
1-½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat, spelt, or teff flour
2 teaspoons instant dry yeast
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sweet potato puree (from 1 small)
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons agave nectar
1 teaspoon dried sage or 1 tablespoon fresh, mince

Instructions

  1. Ahead: Prepare the sweet potato puree: bake 1 small for 6-8 minutes in microwave, turning once half way through. Let cool, scoop out the pulp, mash it well, and reserve ½ cup for puree. Butter the sides of 8×8” or 9×12” baking pan, line the bottom with parchment, sprinkle with cornmeal.
  2. In medium bowl whisk together flours, instant yeast, baking powder and salt.
  3. In a 2 cup measure or small bowl, combine the puree, 1 tablespoon butter, milk, agave, sage, and warm for 40-60 seconds in microwave to melt butter and bring it to 110-120°.
  4. Make a well in the dry and pour in the liquid; with a spatula stir to combine, until it is the consistency of a sticky dough.
  5. Using a 3-tablespoon ice cream scoop, measure portions into pan with no more than 1/2 inch between each roll on the pan. Cover the pan with a towel and let the rolls rise until light, 45-60 minutes.
  6. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Bake the rolls for about 16 minutes–half way through rotate the pan. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the rolls cool on rack for 10 minutes before unmolding. Yield: 9-12 rolls.

Socca: Guilt-free, Gluten-free

Ever need a flat bread or cracker with character to fill in as a snack with drinks or as an alternative bite with soup or salad?  This one is even gluten-free.

Socca is a fascinating chickpea based ‘crepe’ popular in the south of France.  In northern Italy, Farinata is a variation sold along-side pizza and focaccia.  No shaping or patting required, Socca is a simple batter built on chickpea flour, salt, water, and a bit of olive oil.

If time permits, let the batter rest overnight for it to relax and thicken. The flavor and texture will improve, resulting in a creamy interior and crisp exterior texture.  When ready, spread it into a pizza pan and bake in hot oven to set. Remove briefly, add toppings, and return to finish.

As you can imagine, this chickpea treat is full-flavored and needs little more than a light topping of olive oil, a sprinkling of sea salt, fresh herbs, perhaps a few olives for embellishment…  Rosemary is one such herb that is assertive enough to do well here.

Or, if you are feeling adventurous, try Zhoug Sauce , a highly addictive condiment from Yemen made with cilantro, jalapeno peppers, chile flakes, garlic, cardamom, and cumin seed.  I was lucky enough to discover the sauce at Trader Joe’s recently and it was a big hit on a recent Socca batch.  Be prepared, Zhoug packs quite a punch.  I liked it so much, I even added feta cheese.  So much for keeping it simple.

Socca

Inspired by King Arthur Flour, Socca

Ingredients

Batter
3 cups chickpea flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/3 cups water
2 tablespoons olive oil, more for the pan
Toppings
½ cup olive oil or sauce of choice
3 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
3/4 cup pitted and sliced Greek olives
1 cup feta cheese (optional)

Directions

  1. Whisk the flour and salt together in a bowl. Add the water and olive oil and whisk until smooth. Cover and let the batter rest at room temperature for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 450°F. Spread 9” pizza pan liberally with olive oil. . Place the pan in the oven to preheat for 5 minutes.
  3. Carefully remove the pan from the oven and pour in the batter, spreading to edges in an even layer. Bake for 7 minutes and remove from the oven.
  4. Lightly spread top with olive oil, fresh herbs or sauce of choice. Add feta cheese if desired, and return to oven for 7 minutes longer until the surface takes on color and browns. If the top doesn’t brown, turn the oven from bake to broil until crisp and blistered.
  5. Remove from the oven, cool for 5 minutes, then cut into wedges to serve warm. The top and bottom should be crisp, and the center creamy and moist.
  6. Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to a week. Reheat in a preheated 400°F oven for 10 minutes before serving. Yield: 3 – 9” rounds cut into portions.

 

Lip Smacking Good: Boston Brown Bread

As mentioned in the previous post, when March approaches I get nostalgic. Much of this is brought on by St. Paddy’s Day, since I was raised outside of Boston.  I recall it as a hugely anticipated day-long event packed with celebrations, all culminating with aromatic corned beef, cabbage, and all the trimmings.

Another much loved food from those days is irreplaceable Boston Brown Bread, a must have accompaniment with famed Boston Baked Beans. Whenever I see a brown bread recipe, I automatically save it.  I’m not sure why I collect them, because there is nothing complicated about it:  just a basic bread using baking soda for leavener, with a combination of hearty flours like rye and wheat—and of course cornmeal.  Buttermilk is the standard liquid, and molasses is a key ingredient which supplies mild sweetness along with its signature flavor. Raisins or currants are negotiable.

Boston Brown Bread is a quirky boiled/steamed bread with a history that likely goes back centuries.  In more recent times, the practice of using a coffee can as a cooking mold has become linked with its now characteristic round shape.

I must confess until this March I had never made Boston Brown Bread.  I may have been caught up in its mystic, but the idea of boiling bread in a water bath for an hour just seemed a little too remote.

That is all pre-multi-cooker.  Now, I am so smitten by the Instant Pot’s flexibility that I seek out challenges—and what a ride it gave me this past weekend. Most certainly the IP was created for Boston Brown Bread.

This is inspired by Jasper White’s Boston Brown Bread recipe, which I have adapted to the PC.  The batter is divided between two 15 ounce pinto bean cans.  It’s a good idea not to fill the tins any more than 2/3 full to allow for rising space. Cover them with foil and secure with twine.  In 30 minutes,  the loaves are ‘baked’ and beautiful.

I will not gush, but will simply state that this is a bread worth investing in a multi-cooker.  It is just as good as I remembered!   Brown bread is great warmed in the morning, spread with butter or cream cheese.  It makes a great mid-day snack, an accompaniment to many entrees, and it is lip-smacking good as an ice cream sandwich.

Boston Brown Bread, PC

Adapted from Jasper White’s Boston Brown Bread

Ingredients
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup dark rye flour
½ cup medium grind corn meal
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup molasses or ¼ cup molasses + 2 tablespoons apple butter
1 cup buttermilk, or a half and half combo of milk + yogurt
½ cup raisins or currants
Accessories:  2 – 15-1/2 ounce cans top and labels removed and cleaned

Directions

  1. Grease the insides of two cans with butter or baker’s spray.
  2. In multi-cooker, insert trivet and pour in about 6 cups water.  Set pot to Saute or Simmer to begin heating the water.
  3. Combine the dry ingredients with a whisk in a mixing bowl.  Stir in the liquid, then fold in the raisins.
  4. Divide the batter between the molds. It should fill molds about 2/3s full.  Secure the tops with foil and tie with twine.
  5. Place the cans into the pot, adding more water if necessary to fill ½ way up the sides of the cans.  Do not fill the pot beyond maximum capacity mark.  Set to High Pressure and cook for 30 minutes.
  6. Allow bread to rest in pot with lid sealed for 10 minutes then slowly release pressure. Test for doneness:  a skewer inserted in center should come out clean.  Transfer molds to cooling rack and remove the foil covers.  Cool for about 45 minutes before unmolding.  Yield: 2 loaves.

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.

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