Category Archives: Bread

Sticky Sentimentality

I wrote this last week before leaving on a limited-internet-access vacation. By the time this post is published, our trip will be almost over and we might be cursing the snow but I bet we’ll be fantasizing about moving back to the mountains.

A taste of what’s to come.

Tomorrow Lee and I are boarding a plane for Denver, the city where we met. I anticipate heavy sentimentality saturating this vacation. We’ll be spending time in the mountains where so many of our early dates (and by dates I mean expeditions) took place. Maybe we’ll drive past places we used to live, restaurants where we ate together, sights we knew.

Unfortunately, this kind of thing makes me very sad. I inherited this morose nostalgia from my father. Even looking back to see happy memories makes me sad that those experiences are over. I suppose this has something to do with my inability to live in and enjoy the present…gonna have to work on that.

In an effort to rescue myself and this vacation from despondency, I thought I’d share a little bit of my happy memories from the Colorado era of my life. I moved to Denver for graduate school in 2007, landed a career-changing internship with the National Park Service in the summer of 2008, and met my future husband in the same month.

I look back on that time as the happiest of my life. Lee and I went on adventures in the mountains together. We had season ski passes and spent almost every weekend doing something active outdoors. We spent time at my family’s cabin and dragged my dog up a few 14ers. I had good friends in my graduate program and landed a series of jobs in my field.

I wouldn’t say that I’ve been unhappy since I left Colorado, life has just been more complicated. I left the hardest part of graduate school (writing my thesis) for after we moved back east. Once that was behind me, the years Lee and I spent travelling on our boat were simultaneously wonderful and excruciatingly difficult. We got married (yay!) but we also put our relationship and our individual strengths to the test.

Fruit cake, this month’s recipe swap dish, is sticky sentimentality manifested in food. I think of it as being saturated with buttery, sweet, dense, richness – everything that a holiday treat should be. I also associate fruit cake with vintage cookbooks, something I’ve been up to my ears in lately. We found two more boxes of my grandmother’s cookbooks and I’ve been drooling over the little time capsules of culinary history.

A James Beard cookbook that my great aunt gave my grandmother on her 39th birthday caught my eye first but it was The Southern Hospitality Cookbook that ended up on my lap one evening. I paged through recipes for Southern classics and wondered which of them Helen had made. Moussaka, of all things, was bookmarked but I found my way to a simple recipe for cranberry bread. I had fresh cranberries (from the CSA, of course) in my fridge. I had almost all the ingredients. As Lee would say, done and done.

This is not a fruit cake. It bears no resemblance to the classic fruit cake recipe Christianna sent us for this month’s recipe swap. True, it is festive, but it lacks the sticky-sweet sentimentality of fruit cake. Maybe that’s for the best. Clearly I don’t need any more nostalgia in my life.

I know my fellow recipe swappers will give you a dose of the traditional and untraditional fruit cake you crave!



Cranberry Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil or softened butter
  • 3/4 cup pineapple or orange juice
  • 1 large egg
  • Seeds scraped from one vanilla bean or 1 tablespoon grated orange rind are nice additions.
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 cups chopped fresh cranberries (a food processor is great for this!)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. If melting coconut oil, place in oven in an oven safe dish.
  3. Oil one 9X5 loaf pan or several smaller pans.
  4. In a large bowl, stir dry ingredients (first 6) together with a whisk or fork.
  5. Cut in coconut oil or butter with a whisk, two knives, or a pastry blender.
  6. Beat egg, juice, and vanilla bean, if using, together in a separate bowl.
  7. Add liquid ingredients to dry, stirring until just moistened.
  8. Fold in pecans and cranberries
  9. Pour mixture into prepared loaf pan(s). The batter is rather thick so you might need to spread it around a little bit.
  10. Bake for 30-35 minutes for mini loaves and 45 minutes to 1 hour for a large loaf, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the bread comes out clean and the top is slightly brown.
  11. Cool on a rack before slicing.

Notes

Adapted from The Southern Hospitality Cookbook

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Rosemary pine nut focaccia

It’s taken a while but this week I finally feel like I have a balance for my new work-life schedule. Spending three days a week at a desk and two evenings a week sailing makes me feel like all the time in between is taken up by meal prep and dishes. Oh, and working out goes in there somewhere almost every day too. Never mind that Lee works about three times as much as I do, takes a class that the community college, and has a gazillian side projects going at home.

Partly due to our busy schedules, Lee and I haven’t done anything too ambitious on the weekends recently. We’ve worked on projects around the house, visited family in Napa, and ventured North for a hike with Doc.

Doc likes the view.

This week my days off seemed much more productive than normal. Today I feel like an absolute superwoman. Do you know why? I baked bread. True, bread baking used to be a weekly occurrence in my household. I’ve hardly opened my oven (except to roast vegetables) since we got back from Curacao, though, so I’ve been lagging in the bread department.

This totally makes up for it. The Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day technique was made for busy schedules like mine. The timetable for this focaccia looked something like this.

  1. Yesterday, mid-day: mix dough and leave on counter to rise; go to the store and to pick up the CSA box
  2. Afternoon: put dough in the fridge along with more vegetables than I can count
  3. This morning: think about bread and look at cookbook; take Doc for a walk
  4. Later this morning: take dough out of fridge and pull off a hunk; flatten it out, top with toppings, and let it sit while the oven preheats
  5. Just before lunch: put bread in the oven; talk to Mom on Skype while it bakes
  6. Noon today: bread comes out of the oven; inhale deeply

There you have it. Technically this focaccia was about 24 hours in the making. I only put a few minutes a day of work into it, though, and I got a lot done in the intervening hours. The best part is that there’s still a bucket of dough in the fridge!

This recipe has been brewing in my mind for a while now. I saw this post from Cake Duchess the other day and immediately wanted to join in on the Bread Baking Society‘s fun. I don’t think I’ve ever set out to make focaccia before, although I’ve certainly made many-a-flat bread that resembled this traditional Italian loaf.

I love the toppings I chose and I love to think about where the inspiration for them came from. The giant rosemary sprig happily living in a jar of water in my fridge came from last week’s Mariquita Farm box. I’ve had pine nuts on the brain ever since reading a book on Native California Indian cooking I bought at work (it’s dangerous to work at  a museum with such an awesome gift store!).

The rosemary, pine nuts, and honey are delicious but so are many other things you could sprinkle on top of your focaccia. Let you mind wander and see what you come up with. I made a whole wheat crust because that’s what I’m into but here’s a more traditional crust from this month’s #BreakingBread hostess.

Rosemary pine nut focaccia (whole wheat)

Ingredients

    For the dough (makes enough for at least four 1 pound loaves)
  • 7 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup vital wheat gluten
  • 3 1/2 cups lukewarm water
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • For the Focaccia
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • Olive oil
  • Honey

Instructions

  1. Mix dry dough ingredients in a large bowl or coverable container.
  2. Add oil+water and stir until all flour is incorporated.
  3. Cover dough (not airtight) and leave at room temperature until it rises and collapses (2-3 hours)
  4. At this point, you can pull off some dough and proceed with your focaccia or place all the dough in the fridge and bake the following day. I like to do the latter because the dough is easier to work with when it's cold.
  5. Pull off a grapefuit-sized portion of dough using floured hands. Quickly shape it into a ball and place it on a lightly floured board.
  6. Using your hands or a rolliong pin, roll out the dough into a 1/2-3/4 inch thick oval.
  7. Coat a cookie sheet with oil, parchment, or a silicon mat and place the dough oval on it.
  8. Depending on how quickly your oven preheats and whether you're using a baking stone (not necessary when using a cookie sheet but requires half an hour of preheating time) you might want to turn your oven on to 425 degrees F. and place a roasting pan in the bottom now.
  9. Using the tip of your finger, make indentations all over the top of the focaccia. These will hold oil, honey, and pine nuts!
  10. Scatter rosemary and pine nuts over the dough. I pressed most of my pine nuts into the top a little.
  11. Sprinkle on honey and olive oil to taste, using more olive oil than honey.
  12. If you haven't already, turn on your oven to 425 F. after putting a roasting pan in thet bottom.
  13. Let the focaccia rest for 20 minutes, then place in the preheated oven, pour boiling water into the roasting pan, and quickly close the oven door. I boil water in the teakettle for this.
  14. Bake for 18-25 minutes depending on how thick your focaccia is. It's ready when the top is brown from the honey and the oil.
  15. Cool on a wire rack, slice, and savor.

Notes

Dough recipe for 100% Whole Wheat Bread with Olive Oil from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day

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French toast with strawberries and goat cheese

This post covers a lot of things, all of which revolve around what I ate for lunch today.

First, why I love weekdays off:

  1. I get to take Doc (the dog) for walks up and around Potrero hill and see how happy he is to trot down the sidewalk beside me.
  2. Relaxed oatmeal breakfasts with coffee and the Chronicle on my Kindle
  3. Multitasking laundry with baking, blog-reading, house cleaning and daydreaming.
  4. It doesn’t matter when I forget to brush my teeth until half way through the day.
  5. I can eat French toast for lunch.

That last one is the kicker. There are several things that I can only make for lunch when I’m at home. Smoothies have been my specialty of late but there was a time when I made French toast for lunch all the time. Why did I ever stop? True, French toast is something normal people eat for breakfast on weekends and may seem too fancy, complicated, or rich for an every-day lunch. My counterargument goes something like this: bread+egg+milk=French toast.

I know, I know. I’m glossing over all kinds of key components like (for some) sugar, butter and rivers of syrup. There is a time and place for that breakfast. For me, a simpler version is a perfect vehicle for fresh fruit at lunch time.

This is where the strawberries come in. I’m kind of a strawberry snob. I don’t think I could have turned out any other way after growing up in Southern California where dreamily fresh, delicious strawberries grew right down the road. I remember early summer as a time for gorging on half flats of strawberries from roadside stands. My mom knew the best places to buy them. We would pick some up on the way home from somewhere, rush to the kitchen and plunge berries into cold water before devouring as many as it took to decide whether or not they were the best strawberries we’d ever tasted. Sometimes they weren’t that great. Often enough, they were spectacularly sweet and luscious: not too soft but never crunchy and always tasting like summer.

I don’t know how we ate as many berries as we did. I know they went on cereal, ice cream, waffles, and salads. I think my brother and I mostly ate them whole and unaccompanied off of moist paper towels by the sink. My dad dipped strawberries in sour cream and brown sugar for dessert.

Yesterday I brought home this week’s CSA box and immediately dug the little container of strawberries out from underneath the greens. I ran cold water over one, bit into it and closed my eyes. I must have done the same with two or three more. Yum. This is what a strawberry is supposed to taste like.

This morning I had strawberries on my oatmeal. They melted into the hot bowl while I read the paper and drank my coffee – my day-off morning ritual. Afterwards, while walking Doc up and around the hill, I thought of French toast and knew I had to have it for lunch. There was goat cheese in the fridge…and strawberries.

French toast with strawberries and goat cheese

Ingredients

  • 2 slices whole grain bread
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • Splash of vanilla extract
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 4 medium-sized strawberries, more or less
  • 1-2 oz. fresh chevre

Instructions

  1. Beat the egg and milk in a bowl.
  2. Add the nutmeg and vanilla, blending completely
  3. Pour the egg mixture into a flat pan or dish.
  4. Place both slices of bread in the dish, allowing one side of each slice absorb the liquid.
  5. Carefully flip bread slices after a few minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, heat a skillet or griddle over medium heat. Spread a little oil or butter in the skillet.
  7. When the bread has absorbed most or all of the egg mixture, place it on the skillet and cook until browned to your liking, then flip and cook the other side. (I like to cover my toast while the first side is cooking. This helps the middle cook more fully.)
  8. While the toast cooks, wash your strawberries in cool water (Simply placing them in a bowl full of water is the gentlest way). Cut out the green tops and slice the berries.
  9. When the toast is done, place one slice on a plate, cover with sliced strawberries and a couple dabs of chevre. Layer the second slice of bread on top of the first (trust me, this helps melt the cheese and warm up the berries). Top this slice with the rest of the berries and a few more smears of chevre.
  10. Sit down with your meal and relax.
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Cherry-Filled Sourdough

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        I have a lot of food boundaries. Some of them are more like barriers (I think this term has a slightly negative connotation) and some are lines that I think it’s better not to cross. I spend a lit of time breaking down the barriers and testing the boundaries of my cooking and eating habits. Comparing now to my eating disordered past, I think I only have my big toe dipped in the food restriction waters, while I was up to my neck several years ago.
        Still, old barriers remain and I chip away at them every day. Take cheese, for example. I used to eat the most processed, light, fat-free, bleugh cheese ever, and then only in minuscule amounts. Right now, I have exactly 5 kinds of cheese in my refrigerator…wait, make that 4. I finished the feta for lunch today. I love cheese and I’ve learned to eat real-food kind of cheeses (no more nasty processed stuff) in reasonable amounts.
        I could go on but I think one confession is enough for one post. Oh, but then there’s the whole reason I started talking about boundaries/barriers in the first place: Pie filling! You know the stuff in the can that you can just pour into a crust and voila, you have a pie? I don’t think I had ever bought or baked with canned pie filling until Duncan Hines sent me coupons for their baking mixes as well as Comstock Wilderness Fruit Fillings through the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program last month.
        Canned pie filling was on the other side of pretty much every food boundary I have. First and foremost it’s a non-homemade route for baking, which I try to avoid. Second, it’s got to be loaded with high-fructose corn syrup and probably doesn’t have much real fruit in it anyway. Third, fruit pies aren’t my favorite. I’m a pumpkin girl all the way.
        As soon as I brought myself to pie filling level in front of the supermarket shelves (on the floor), Comstock surprised me. Some of the cans looked newer and were labeled “More Fruit” and “No high-fructose corn syrup”. What? Really? Huh, maybe this stuff isn’t that bad after all.
        I chose a can of Cherry “More Fruit” filling and immediately started thinking of how I was going to use it. Pie was too obvious. I wanted to make bread, sourdough bread to be specific. It struck me that the sweet, gooey fruit filling would be a perfectly odd partner for tangy, dense sourdough. Thus, the cherry-filled sourdough loaf was born!

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        It may look like a cherry pie collided with a loaf of bread to produce this bizarre offspring. I like to imagine both things flying through the air in my kitchen…but that would be messy. Instead, I simply made a small batch of wet dough with my sourdough starter, layered half of it on the bottom of a round baking dish, poured in about half the can of fruit filling, and then made a ring around the edge of the filling with the remaining dough. After some more rising and some oven time, I had a sweet, doughy thing that I didn’t know how to eat. Fork? Hands? Hands won but it was messy.
        The sourdough is very sour (I used a lot of starter) and the cherries are very sweet. Together, though, they are the perfect winter breakfast or brunch flavors. One reason I chose the cherry filling was that cherries are no longer in season so I can’t actually make a cherry pie from scratch right now. That’s the perfect excuse for using a canned convenience food, in my opinion. Cherry pie filling is such a Christmasy color that it’s nice to have it around this time of year, even if it isn’t made from seasonal produce.
This isn’t really a recipe, since I totally improvised the sourdough bread and I think everyone who makes sourdough has their own way of doing it. If you have a starter, make a whole grain dough with a high moisture content and open a can of pie filling. If you don’t have a starter, put it on your Christmas list!

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Hearty Cherry-Filled Sourdough Bread

1 batch of your favorite sourdough, made with a little less flour or more water so it’s wet enough to spread over the bottom of a pan.
1 can Comstock Wilderness Fruit Filling (More Fruit, no high fructose corn syrup!)

Prepare dough, allow it to rise once. Punch down.
Coat the inside of a baking dish with oil and then stone-ground cornmeal, semolina flour, or regular flour.
Divide dough in half and gently spread half of it over the bottom of the baking dish.
Spoon about half of the can into the center of the dough in the dish, leaving at least an inch of dough around the edge of the filling.
Lay the rest of the dough all the way around the edge of the filling so that it makes kind of a barricade between the fruit and the sides of the baking dish.
Cover dish and allow bread to rise for another couple of hours, or until the top dough circle has expanded to almost cover the filling underneath.
Preaheat oven to 425 degrees F. Bake bread for 25-30 minutes, or until it’s golden-brown on top and the edges have pulled away from the dish somewhat.
Cool on a wire rack until the dish is no longer hot to the touch, and the fruit filling is somewhat set (not too liquidy). Then remove loaf from dish and continue to cool on rack.
Slice like a pie and serve!

The only thing that would have made this better is chocolate. Why didn’t I think to add chocolate? You could always spread some Nutella on each slice or sprinkle dark chocolate chips onto the bottom dough layer before adding the cherries. Now that would be decadent!

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