Panettone

Week Fifty-Two: Christmas Breads

panettone

Panettone, that Milanese specialty, is one of the quintessential Christmas breads, popular the world over.  Italian bakers make an estimated 117 million of them every year, with countless others made and sold elsewhere, particularly in South America.  The name, despite colorful legends that insinuate otherwise, translates to “large bread”; with loaves generally at least 6 inches tall, the name is apt.

The texture of panettone is meant to be light and airy, and is typically dotted throughout with dried fruit and candied citrus, though other additions (such as chocolate) are common.  The flavor is not over-sweet, nor is it over-rich despite the wealth of butter used in the dough, making a lavish smear of mascarpone an ideal topping for a wedge, toasted until just barely crisp.  Traditionally, panettone is made with a starter that takes days of coddling to perfect, but today’s recipe uses a more straightforward (if only slightly shorter) approach.

This recipe comes originally from Jim Lahey, of No-Knead Bread fame.  This bread uses a similar long-rising technique, requiring 12 to 15 hours for the first rise.  For some reason or another, my bread took much longer, approaching 24 hours.  The second rise took approximately the listed time, 3 to 5 hours.

All this lengthy rest, and the very wet dough, gives the bread a fantastic depth of flavor, along with a texture that is both fluffy and chewy, in the most wonderful way possible.  Along with the tiny, gently boozy bursts of rum- and brandy-soaked dried fruit, the buttery flavor of this Christmas favorite is sure to make panettone a new holiday tradition to look forward to every year.

Panettone
Adapted from Jim Lahey, via Gourmet Magazine
Makes one loaf

2/3 cup raisins
2/3 cup golden raisins
2/3 cup dried cranberries
3 tablespoons (1 jigger) rum
3 tablespoons (1 jigger) brandy
3 tablespoons water
16 1/2 ounces (about 3 3/4 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
Zest of 1 lemon
3 large eggs, at room temperature for 30 minutes, then lightly beaten
2/3 cup water, at room temperature
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, well softened, plus 1 tablespoon chilled

1.  Place the raisins, golden raisins, and cranberries in a plastic zip top bag.  Add the rum, brandy, and water, and squeeze as much air as possible out of the bag before closing.  (This maximizes the surface area contact between the fruit and the liquor, and makes sure no fruit is left dry.)  Soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours, and up to several days.  When ready to proceed, drain the fruit, reserving the liquid.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, yeast, and lemon zest.  Add the eggs, water, honey, vanilla, and fruit-soaking liquid.  Using the paddle attachment, mix at low speed until a rough dough forms, about 1 minute.

3. Switch to the dough hook attachment.  At low speed, add the softened butter 1 tablespoon at a time, letting each piece incorporate completely before adding the next.  Increase the speed to medium, and continue kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.  The dough should be slack, but not wet; add additional flour if necessary to achieve the proper consistency.

4.  Add the soaked dried fruit, and knead at medium speed until evenly incorporated, about 2 minutes more.

5.  Transfer the dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise in a cold oven with the door closed for about 12 to 15 hours, or until the dough is nearly tripled in volume.

6.  If using a paper panettone mold, have it ready.  (Otherwise, prepare a round pan as described in note 1 below.)  Dust the top of the dough with a little flour, and turn out onto a floured work surface. Sprinkle a little more flour over the top of the dough.

7.  With floured hands, fold the outside edges into the center, pressing gently, and place seam side down into the panettone mold (or prepared pan).  Cover loosely with lightly oiled plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature until dough is just above the top of the mold (more than doubled in size), about 3 to 5 hours.

8.  Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 370º F, positioning a rack in the lower third of the oven.  (If the dough is too close to the ceiling of the oven, the top will brown before the middle is cooked, resulting in a burned top crust.)

9.  Place the dough in the mold on a baking sheet (to help insulate the bottom from the heat of the oven floor).  Using a sharp serrated knife, gently and decisively slash a large “X” across the top of the dough, letting only the weight of the blade press into the dough.  Take care not to deflate the dough.  Place the 1 tablespoon chilled butter in the center of the X.

10.  Bake at 370º F for 60 to 75 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out slightly moist, but not wet or doughy.  The crust will be very dark (but should not be burned).

11.  If using a paper mold, pierce two long metal skewers all the way through the panettone and through the papers, as close to the bottom as possible.  Hang the panettone upside down over a stock pot or between two objects of equal height.  Cool completely, then remove the paper and slice into wedges for serving.  If using a metal pan, let the bread cool completely in the pan on a wire rack before slicing and serving.

Notes:
1.  If you happen to have a paper panettone mold (which is preferable), use it by all means.   If you can’t find one, fold a long (approximately 30 inches long) sheet of parchment paper lengthwise into a strip 5 inches wide.  Use this strip to make a tall collar in a greased 9 inch round cake pan, or springform pan.  Proceed as directed.

2.  Panettone should last for about 2 weeks at room temperature, tightly wrapped.  It can also be wrapped and frozen; although when it begins to dry out, it makes incredible bread pudding or French toast.

Posted in Sweet, Yeast Breads | 2 Comments

Christopsomos (Greek Christmas Bread)

Week Fifty-Two: Christmas Breads

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Hailing from Greece, today’s bread draws similarity to Christmas breads from nearby Italy and Germany, with their panettone and stollen.  This is not to say that these breads are copycats of one another, far from it.  It might be said that they are as alike as a baguette is to a dinner roll; they may be made from substantially alike doughs, but through subtle variation and wildly different shaping, they produce obviously different results.

More dense than panettone, but not quite as heavy as stollen, christopsomos uses a spiced dough that recalls the latter German bread.  It can be as fully studded with dried fruit as you like; here, I’ve used a relatively light hand, rendering it somewhat like the less-fruited panettone.

The finished loaf, topped with its scrolling decorative Greek cross, is finished with a luxurious and sticky glaze made of honey, which gives each slice an enticingly complex sweetness, though some might find it a bit on the cloying side.  You could certainly leave the glaze off if you prefer; either way, this is one show-stopping centerpiece of a bread, and one that’s as delicious as it is pretty.

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Christopsomos (Greek Christmas Bread)
Adapted from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart
Makes 1 large loaf

For the starter:
3 3/4 ounces (about 3/4 cup) unbleached bread flour
1/2 cup water, at warm room temperature
A scant 1/8 teaspoon instant yeast

For the dough:
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries
4 to 6 tablespoons (depending on moisture level of dried fruit) spiced rum, or brandy
16 ounces (about 3 1/2 cups) unbleached bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup (2 2/3 ounces) honey
1/4 cup (2 ounces) olive oil
3/4 cup milk, lukewarm
1/2 cup chopped candied orange
1/4 cup chopped candied ginger

For the optional glaze:
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons honey

1.  To make the starter, whisk together the flour, water, and yeast in a bowl until all of the flour is moistened.  The dough should look like very thick pancake batter.  Cover with plastic wrap, and let sit at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours, or until bubbly and risen.  Immediately transfer it to the refrigerator, and chill at least 8 hours and up to 3 days.  Let sit at room temperature for 1 hour before proceeding.

2.  Place the raisins and cranberries in a plastic zip top bag.  Add the rum or brandy, and squeeze as much air as possible out of the bag before closing.  (This maximizes the surface area contact between the fruit and the liquor, and makes sure no fruit is left dry.)  Soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours, and up to several days.

3.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flour, salt, yeast, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves. Add the starter, the extracts, eggs, honey, olive oil, and milk.  Using the dough hook attachment, mix at low speed until a rough dough forms.

4.  Increase the speed to medium.  Continue kneading for about 8 minutes, or until the dough forms a soft and supple ball.  It should be tacky but not sticky; add additional milk or flour as needed to achieve the proper consistency.

5.  Add the raisins, cranberries, candied orange, and candied ginger, and knead at medium speed for an additional 2 minutes, or until evenly incorporated.

6.  Transfer the dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let sit at room temperature until doubled in size, about 90 minutes.

7.  Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line with parchment paper.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.  Divide the dough into two pieces, one twice as big as the other.  Wrap the smaller piece thoroughly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate.  Shape the larger piece into a round ball, by pulling the outer edges into the center and pressing to seal.  Transfer, seam side down, to the prepared baking sheet.  Cover loosely with lightly oiled plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature until the dough is nearly doubled in size, 60 to 90 minutes.  Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350º F, placing a rack in the middle position.

8.  When the larger piece is ready to bake, remove the smaller piece from the refrigerator.  Divide the smaller piece in half, and roll each half into a 10 to 12 inch long rope.  If the dough resists, cover loosely and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes.  Gently lay each rope over the top of the risen larger piece of dough, in the shape of a cross.  Using clean kitchen shears, or a bench scraper, split the ends of each strand.

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Coil the ends to form a decorative cross.

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The dough should be sticky enough to hold itself in place.

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9.  Bake at 350º F for 40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through to ensure even browning.  The loaf should be golden brown when fully baked, and an instant-read thermometer should register 190° F when inserted into the center.

10.  While the bread is baking, make the glaze by bringing the water and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan.  Add the honey, and remove from the heat.  If necessary, rewarm the glaze before applying it to the bread.

11.  Transfer the bread to a wire rack and immediately brush the glaze (if using) liberally over the loaf.  Let cool for at least 1 hour before slicing.  Christopsomos should keep for about 2 weeks at room temperature, wrapped tightly.

Notes:
1.  If you prefer, you may omit the rum or brandy used to soak the dried fruits.  Alternatively, you may use fruit juice of any sort, or simply cut the liquor with water.  The moisture of the fruit is in large part what helps the bread keep for so long; if you omit soaking the fruit at all, the bread will not last quite as long.

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Kolach (Ukranian Christmas Bread)

Week Fifty-Two: Christmas Breads

kolach

In the Ukraine, bread is such a significant part of everyday life that there is an old and, now, formal way of greeting that involves an elaborate presentation of bread and salt, two main dietary staples.  Small wonder, then, that this nation produces some of the more elaborate celebration breads out there.

Today’s bread, kolach, is the traditional centerpiece of the Ukrainian Christmas table.  Named for its shape (“kolo” means ring or circle), kolach is a wreath-shaped or round bread, formed with elaborate braids and twists of dough.  They can range from the merely decorative to the baroque in complexity; here, I’ve used a relatively basic shaping method (with copious photos to help).

The dough is a moderately rich one, with most of the liquid coming from milk, eggs, and butter.  The effect of all this enrichment isn’t heavy, but rather quite light and fluffy.  A short autolyse (or, cat nap after mixing) gives a fantastic and slight pull to the airy crumb, and the result may remind you of a lean brioche.  It was a big hit with my family, and despite the moderate sweetness, it went well with everything from butter and jelly to ham and cheese.

Traditionally, this bread is stacked three rings high, with a candle burning in the middle, but I only went as high as two rings.  I’m unclear if this triple-stacking is meant to happen before or after the bread is baked, so you’ll have to pardon any lack of authenticity here.  But as delicious as this bread is, I doubt I’ll have too many complaints.

Kolach (Ukranian Christmas Bread)
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Makes 1 round loaf

For the starter:
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
5 1/2 ounces (about 1 1/4 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast

For the dough:
9 ounces (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup water, at room temperature
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon rum
1 teaspoon lemon extract

1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water to make an egg wash

1.  In a medium bowl, combine the milk, flour, and yeast.  Stir until a sticky dough forms.  Cover loosely and let rest in a warm place until risen and puffy, about 1 hour.

2.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all the remaining ingredients (except egg wash).  Add the starter and mix at low speed, using the dough hook attachment, until just mixed.  Turn the mixer off, and without removing the bowl or dough hook, cover loosely with plastic wrap.  Let stand in place for 15 minutes.

3.  Remove the plastic wrap.  Increase the speed to medium-low, and continue kneading until the dough is soft and smooth, about 6 minutes.  Transfer the dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

4.  Thoroughly butter or grease a 9 inch round pan with tall sides, such as a cake or springform pan.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.  Divide the dough into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other.

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Divide the larger piece into equal halves, and divide the smaller piece into equal thirds.

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5.  Shape each piece into a rope about 25 to 30 inches long.  If the dough resists, shape the rope as long as the dough will allow; cover and let rest 5 to 10 minutes before proceeding.

6.  Using the two thicker ropes, cross them on your work surface in an “X” shape.

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Starting in the middle, twist the ropes together.

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Pinch the ends firmly to seal.

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Set the rope aside, and cover loosely.

7.  Using the three smaller ropes, lay them parallel to each other on your work surface.  Starting in the middle, braid them together as shown.

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kolach-8

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Repeat the braiding on the other half of the ropes.  Pinch the ends firmly to seal.  Set aside and cover loosely.

8.  Arrange the first twisted rope in a circle around the inside bottom edge of the prepared pan.  Pinch the ends together firmly to seal.  The circle of dough may or may not be quite as big as your pan.

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Arrange the braided rope in a ring on top of the circle of twisted dough, matching the seams up, and pinching the ends to seal.

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This can either be left as is, or you can place a heavily-buttered metal ring 3 inches tall (such as a tall cookie cutter, or a tall tin can opened at both ends) in the center of the ring to help hold its shape.  This will also help the braided dough stay on top of the twisted dough, as it can have a tendency to fall to the inside as the loaf rises.

kolach-12

9.  Cover the dough loosely with lightly greased plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature until nearly doubled in size, about 1 hour.  Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350º F.

10.  Gently brush the dough with the egg wash, taking care not to deflate it.  Bake at 350º F for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 325º F and continue baking for 30 minutes more, or until golden brown.  An instant-read thermometer should register 195º to 200º F when inserted into the center.  Remove the bread from the pan, and transfer to a wire rack to cool thoroughly before slicing.

Notes:
1.  To shape the kolach, you may either use a round pan, or you may shape it freeform on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.  This recipe gives directions for using a round pan, but may be easily adapted to a flat baking sheet.  If you bake the kolach in a round pan, as I have done, you will end up with a taller bread.  If you bake it freeform on a baking sheet, you will end up with a flatter, but prettier, loaf, as the braiding and twisting will be wholly visible.

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Stollen

Week Fifty-Two: Christmas Breads

stollen-b

Well, I’ll make this short.  You’re on vacation, I’m on vacation, ever’body on vacation.  Who’s actually reading this right now?  You probably aren’t going to read an encyclopedia of information about bread; but neither am I in a position to provide it.  This week, I’ll be discussing Christmas breads, as nearly every people, nation, and/or region in the world has a traditional Christmas bread.

First up is stollen, a Christmas bread from Germany.  Like most celebratory breads, it’s thoroughly enriched with butter, milk, sugar, and eggs; and like many European holiday breads, it’s full of liquor-soaked dried fruits.  But unique to this bread, there’s a roll of marzipan swaddled in the middle of the dough, which I’m told is meant to represent the baby Jesus, wrapped in his swaddling cloth (of dough).  Dusted with powdered sugar, it’s as pretty a sight as you’ll ever see.

The bread is relatively firm, and gets firmer as it sits.  In fact, the traditional wisdom states that you shouldn’t even cut into the loaf for at least three days; though some purists insist it rest for even a few weeks before slicing.  This firmness is not a detriment; it helps the loaf cut more easily into clean slices, perfect for dunking into coffee for a Christmas breakfast (or dessert).

Kept moist by the brandy-infused dried fruits and marzipan, this bread will keep for at least a week at room temperature, wrapped tightly; though it will remain palatable, if a bit dry, for as long as you can manage to keep your hands off it.  Mostly dried fruit, held together by the merest network of bread, this heavy loaf would be a delightful addition to any holiday tradition.

Stollen
Adapted from Dan Lepard
Makes 1 loaf

1/2 cup dried currants
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup golden raisins
3 tablespoons (1 jigger) brandy or rum
13 ounces unbleached bread flour
3 ounces (about 1/2 cup) sugar
4 teaspoons instant yeast
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Zest of 1 lemon
2/3 cup milk
1 ounce (about 1/4 cup) rye flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup candied orange
1/4 cup candied ginger, chopped finely
8 ounces marzipan
1/4 cup (about 1 ounce) slivered almonds, optional
2 to 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly, for finishing
Powdered sugar, for finishing

1. Place the currants, raisins, and golden raisins in a plastic zip top bag.  Add the brandy or rum, and squeeze as much air as possible out of the bag before closing.  (This maximizes the surface area contact between the fruit and the liquor, and makes sure no fruit is left dry.)  Soak for at least 8 hours, and up to several days.

2.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flour, sugar, yeast,  salt, spices, and lemon zest.  Set aside.

3.  In a small skillet, bring the milk and rye flour just to a boil, stirring constantly.  It should resemble a thick porridge.  Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

4.  In a clean bowl, combine the boiled milk mixture and the melted butter.  Stir until blended; then add the eggs, stirring constantly.  Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients in the mixer bowl.  Using the dough hook attachment, mix at low speed until a rough dough forms and all the flour is moistened.  Without removing the bowl or the dough hook, cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap, and let stand for 15 minutes.

5.  Remove the plastic wrap, and add the candied orange, candied ginger, and brandy or rum soaked dried fruits.  Mix at low speed just until incorporated, 2 to 3 minutes.

6.  Transfer the dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rest at room temperature until nearly doubled in size, about 90 minutes.

7.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, pressing gently to deflate.  Press into an oval shape, about 3/4 inch thick.

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Using a rolling pin, make an indentation in the dough lengthwise down the oval, slightly off-center, as shown.

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8.  Shape the marzipan into a cylinder slightly shorter than the length of the dough.  Place the marzipan in the indentation in the dough.  If using, sprinkle slivered almonds over and next to the marzipan.

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Roll the dough over the marzipan, pressing the sides firmly together to prevent any marzipan from leaking out while baking.

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Press but do not firmly seal the final seam.  A short lip of dough should be sticking out from underneath the roll, as shown.

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9.  Transfer the dough to a lightly greased or parchment paper lined baking sheet.  Cover loosely with lightly oiled plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 1 hour.  Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 360ºF.

10.  Bake at 360º F for about 35 minutes, or until well browned and fully cooked.  An instant read thermometer should register about 190º F when inserted into the center.

11.  Brush the loaf generously with the melted butter, letting some absorb before brushing more on, if needed.  Transfer to a wire rack, and let cool at least 1 hour before slicing.  Before slicing and serving, generously sift  powdered sugar over the top.

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Wild Rice and Cranberry Rolls

Week Fifty-One: Gift Breads

wild-rice-rolls

This last gift bread is a very versatile one; originally titled “morning rolls”, they would make a fine alternative to the typically saccharine “special houseguest” breakfast  of pancakes, sticky buns, French toast, or waffles.  The dough is very lean, with a texture similar to a dinner roll, sweetened with dried cranberries, and made moist and hearty with cooked wild rice.

You could just as easily serve these rolls for dinner; the jammy cranberries almost beg to be served with fruit-loving pork, or simply roasted chicken.  They also paired delightfully with a giant bowl of crisp and fresh salad.  And yet they were just at home next to a fried egg, spread with a pat of butter or even dunked into a cup of coffee.

The chewy bite and slightly grassy notes of wild rice blends gorgeously with the rustic texture of whole wheat flour and the buttery crunch of toasted walnuts, while the cranberries bring a pleasantly tart counterpoint to the otherwise nutty flavors.

Though this recipe calls for wild rice, it can be difficult to find, or prohibitively expensive.  More commonly available is a blend of wild rice and white or brown rice, which is perfectly fine to use instead, though the flavor will be slightly different.

Whether served at night or in the morning, these soft rolls are an excellent trick to have up your sleeve, to serve to guests or to bring to a dinner party as a hostess gift; and if that isn’t a gift during the holiday season, I don’t know what is.

Wild Rice and Cranberry Rolls
Adapted from Emma Christensen, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Makes 12 rolls

2 ounces (1/2 cup) walnuts
12 ounces (about 2 1/2 cups) unbleached bread flour
2 1/2 ounces (about 1/2 cup) whole wheat flour
2 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 cups water, at room temperature
2 tablespoons molasses
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 ounces (3/4 cup) cooked wild rice (see note 1 below)
2 ounces (1/2 cup) dried cranberries
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly, for finishing

1.  Preheat the oven to 350º F.  Spread the walnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast for 10 to 12 minutes or until fragrant, tossing halfway through.  Chop while still warm, and set aside.

2.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flours, yeast, and salt.  Add the water, molasses, and olive oil.  Using the dough hook, mix at low speed until a rough dough forms.

3.  Increase the speed to medium-low and continue kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 7 minutes.  The dough will be slack, but should clear the sides of the bowl.  Add additional flour or water as needed to correct the consistency.

4.  Decrease the speed to low, and add the walnuts, wild rice, and cranberries in that order, turning the speed up to medium and allowing each addition to incorporate in turn.  Mix at medium until all are evenly distributed.

5.  Transfer the dough to a large, lightly-oiled bowl, turning to coat all sides of the dough with oil.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature until nearly doubled in size, 60 to 75 minutes.

6.  Lightly oil a large baking sheet, or line with parchment paper.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, pressing gently to deflate.  Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces, and shape each into a round ball.  Transfer each piece to the prepared baking sheet, smooth side up, and flatten slightly by pressing gently but firmly.  Cover loosely with lightly-oiled plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature until nearly doubled in size, 50 to 60 minutes.  Thirty minutes before baking, turn the oven to 400º F.

7.  Gently brush the tops of the rolls with the melted butter, taking care not to deflate.  Bake at 400º F for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown and baked through.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool thoroughly.

Note:
1.  To cook wild rice, boil 3 to 4 quarts water.  Add 1 tablespoon salt and 1 cup wild rice.  Return to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Simmer uncovered for 45 to 60 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add additional hot water as needed if the rice becomes exposed.  The rice is done when the grains have split open and are no longer crunchy, though they should be a bit chewy.  Drain rice through a strainer.

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Gingerbread

Week Fifty-One: Gift Breads

gingerbread

Today’s bread comes to us from the inimitable M. F. K. Fisher, out of her book How To Cook A Wolf, published in 1942.  Is it precisely a bread?  Well, it has the word “bread” in the title, doesn’t it?  Mystery solved.

This recipe is unlike many bread recipes I’ve made, though it’s not entirely unfamiliar.  First, it uses a creaming method to combine shortening and sugar, a technique used mainly in cookie and cake recipes, after which wet and dry ingredients are added in intervals.  Boiling water is used, as though you were making hot cocoa or certain chocolate cakes; and the sole egg is added at the end, after everything else has been combined.

It’s one of the stranger bread recipes I’ve seen, true; but it’s also one of the most delicious.  Mrs. Fisher herself states without boast (but without any ingratiating false modesty, either) that it is the grandest gingerbread recipe she has ever seen.  With such praise from such an authority, I was sure I couldn’t go wrong, and I was not disappointed.

This bread is robustly flavored, but in the most sophisticated way imaginable.  The velvety texture holds together firmly, meaning that you will lose no moist crumbs to go diving after under the table.  The black-as-night color might lead you to expect a slight burnt flavor, buy you’ll find nothing of the sort.  Here is only the depth and simple comfort of ginger, cinnamon, and clove, enriched by the contemporary addition of candied ginger.

Though this loaf is certainly sweet, the brash acidity of molasses prevents it from becoming cloying.  You could just as easily serve it for breakfast as you could for dessert; though when something is this exquisite, there’s really no bad time for it.  Mrs. Fisher, however, suggests that no matter the hour, “unsalted butter, preferably pressed into little pats with a cow on one side and a daisy on the other, is the most fitting partner.”  And if we knew all that she knew, I’m certain that we’d agree without hesitation, and whole-heartedly.

Gingerbread
Adapted from How To Cook A Wolf, by M. F. K. Fisher
Makes one 8 x 4 inch loaf

5 1/2 ounces (about 1 1/4 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup non-hydrogenated shortening
1/4 cup sugar
6 ounces (1/2 cup) molasses
3/4 teaspoon baking soda, divided
3/4 cup boiling water
1 large egg, beaten
2 tablespoons candied ginger, chopped finely

1.  Preheat the oven to 325º F.  Butter an 8 x 4 inch loaf pan, and sprinkle with a spoonful of flour, knocking the pan to remove any excess.  Whisk together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt.

2.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the shortening and the sugar with the paddle attachment, until thoroughly mixed.  In a separate bowl, beat the molasses and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda with a nonstick spatula until light-colored and fluffy.  Add the molasses to the shortening mixture, and beat until combined, scraping the bowl down as needed.

3.  Add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon baking soda to the boiling water, and stir to dissolve.  Alternate adding the water and the dry ingredients to the molasses mixture, in about three installments, scraping the bowl after each addition.  When thoroughly mixed, fold in the beaten egg and the candied ginger.

4.  Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and bake at 325º F for about 35 minutes, or until fully baked and the center of the loaf feels firm when pressed gently on top.  Begin checking the bread for doneness after 20 minutes in the oven, so as to not burn.  Let cool briefly in the pan before turning out to cool thoroughly on a wire rack.

Notes:
1.  Gingerbread will keep at room temperature, wrapped tightly, for up to a week.  Frozen, it will keep for a month or so.

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Zucchini Bread

Week Fifty-One: Gift Breads

A few months ago, two of my dear friends were married in what must have been one of the all-time grandest and most fabulous weddings ever seen. How fabulous was it?  Let me just say that they made llamas seem chic and soigné.  Llamas, you guys.  The spitting kind.

But for me, one of the biggest highlights wasn’t the picture perfect weather, the breathtaking scenery, the impeccably tended-to details, the ceremony full of friends, family, and love; no, for me, it was at the reception dinner.  In the bread basket.  Of course.

There we were, dozens of guests, dolled up like there was no tomorrow, having a multi-course sit-down dinner with wine pairings, in the middle of a llama farm, and all I could think about was how on Earth do I get the recipe for this zucchini bread that is blowing my mind?!

Luckily, the bride helped me track it down, and when I finally got my hands on it, it turned out to be the chef’s grandmother’s recipe.  The bride and groom didn’t even know it would be served; the chef apparently decided at the last minute that the bread basket needed something sweet.

So from such an improbable source, I bring you what may very well be the Best Zucchini Bread I’ve Ever Tasted.  (Yes, my dear sister, even better than our old standard.)  Why exactly it’s so incredible, I’m not entirely sure. Perhaps it’s the almost gleefully unrestrained use of sugar in the batter, or perhaps it’s the use of water instead of the more typical milk or buttermilk for the liquid.  Maybe it’s the generous amount of cloves, far more than I’ve ever seen in any other recipe.

But whatever the secret, it’s undeniably one of the more delicious quick breads I’ve ever made.  Moist as anything, tender, full of zucchini and crunchy walnuts, it’s one of those breads that just begs you to take one more tiny slice.  And you’d better listen, because if there’s anyone else around, it’ll be gone faster than you can say “llama”.

Zucchini Bread
Adapted from Chef Myles Anton‘s grandmother’s recipe
Makes two 9 x 5 inch loaves

3 cups shredded zucchini (2 large or 3 medium)
2/3 cup walnuts
15 ounces (about 3 1/3 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (or 1/2 teaspoon pre-ground)
4 eggs
2 2/3 cups sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil (such as canola)
1/3 cup olive oil
2/3 cup water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1.  Preheat the oven to 350º F.  Butter two 9 x 5 inch loaf pans.  Add a spoonful of flour to each, and shake around to coat the entire inside of each pan with flour, knocking out the excess.  While the oven heats, grate the zucchini.

2.  Spread the walnuts in a single layer on a sheet pan, and toast in the oven for about 8 minutes, or until fragrant, shaking the pan halfway through to ensure even browning.  While still warm, chop, and set aside to cool slightly while preparing the remaining ingredients.

3.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Set aside

4.  In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with half of the sugar until slightly thick, about 1 minute.  Add the remaining sugar with the oil, water, and vanilla, whisking after each addition.  Stir in the grated zucchini.

5.  Add the dry ingredients and the walnuts, folding gently with a spatula until just combined.  Some remaining streaks or small lumps of flour are okay.  Divide the batter evenly between the prepared loaf pans.

6.  Bake at 350º F until golden brown and each loaf feels firm when pressed gently in the middle, 60 to 70 minutes.  Let cool briefly in the pan, before transferring to a wire rack to cool thoroughly.

Notes:
1.  This bread will keep, tightly wrapped, at room temperature for up to a week.

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Travels

Lest you think that I’ve abandoned you again, I thought I’d mention that I’ll be traveling a goodly amount over the next week and a half.  I’ve actually made all but one of the breads for that time (!), but writing about them and posting about them will take some discipline and finesse, neither of which I’m sure I have enough to manage it all.  Not to mention, at least two days in this time period will involve 10 hour drives, and our car doesn’t exactly have wireless internet.  So there you have it; I’ll be posting as I’m able, but I can’t promise miracles.

I do thank you for your great patience with me!  And now, if you’ll pardon me, I’m going to go fall face-first into bed.

Posted in Everything Else | 1 Comment

Fig Hazelnut Bread

Week Fifty-One: Gift Breads

hazelnut-fig

Today’s gift bread is slightly on the lighter side, as it contains very little added fat and sugar, but it doesn’t skimp one bit on flavor.  An ample amount of orange-juice-soaked dried figs studs the bread throughout, making each slice a pretty mosaic of the plum colored jewels.  Buttery and crunchy hazelnuts appear a bit less generously; but rather than seeming stingy, the effect is that each time a hazelnut is discovered in a bite, it is all the more satisfying.

This bread isn’t so sugary that you’ll feel it stuck to your teeth hours later, but the plentiful figs and orange juice provide plenty enough sweetness to do the job, while bringing their complex flavors to keep it interesting.

I wouldn’t exactly call this bread a health food, but with so little added oil and refined sugar, you could certainly do much worse.  I’ve tried plenty of higher-fat, -sugar, and -calorie breads that don’t come close to the fantastic flavors and moistness of this bread.  And looking at things that way, you absolutely couldn’t do any better.

Fig Hazelnut Bread
Adapted from Cooking Light Magazine
Makes one 9 x 5 inch loaf

2 ounces (about 1/3 cup) hazelnuts
3/4 cup orange juice, preferably fresh
6 ounces (about 1 cup)  chopped dried figs
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large egg
1 large egg white
6 3/4 ounces (1 1/2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

1.  Preheat oven to 350° F.  Lightly grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan.

2.  Roast hazelnuts on a baking sheet at 350° F for 15 minutes, stirring once halfway through.  When skins are very dark, roll nuts up in a kitchen towel (preferably a dark-colored one that won’t show a stain).  Rub the towel between your hands, removing the skins.  Chop nuts while still warm, and set aside.

3.  Meanwhile, bring the orange juice to a boil.  Pour over the figs in a heatproof bowl.  Let stand at least 15 minutes.

4.  In a large bowl, combine the sugar, olive oil, egg, and egg white, whisking until smooth.  Stir in the figs and orange juice.

5. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt in another bowl.  Add to the wet ingredients, along with the chopped hazelnuts, gently stirring together until just combined.  Transfer the batter to the prepared pan.

6.  Bake at 350° F for 45 minutes, or until golden brown and loaf feels firm when pressed gently in the center.  Let cool for about 10 minutes in the pan before removing to a wire rack to cool thoroughly.  Serve warm.

Notes:
1.  This bread will keep shockingly well, wrapped tightly, at room temperature for several days.

Posted in Quick Breads, Sweet | 2 Comments

Freezer Biscuits

Week Fifty-One: Gift Breads

freezer-biscuits-2

This bread isn’t so much a gift for others as it is a gift for you, the host or hostess with sleepover guests.  Sure, we’d all love to have our guests wake up to visions of us looking like Donna Reed, makeup impeccably done, dressed to the nines, and presenting a Martha-esque breakfast spread of perfect biscuits, jam and butter, coffee, and heck, maybe some eggs too.  But we all know that’s never going to happen, right?

Well, honey, get out your powder and blush, because I’ve got the rest covered.  Jam and butter?  Easy, just take them out of the fridge.  Coffee?  That’s what that little “timer” button on the machine is for; set it up the night (or afternoon) before.  (French press users, you’re on your own.)  Eggs?  Scramble them over low heat, so you don’t forget them and burn them.  And the biscuits?  Pull them out of your freezer, bake, serve.  Modestly collect acclaim.

And the best thing is that I’m totally serious about the last part.  Today’s recipe is for so-called Freezer Biscuits; that is, biscuits you make up to a month in advance, stash away unbaked in the freezer, and pull out and bake as many as you need whenever you need them.  They’re like those God-awful, but so tantalizingly convenient biscuits sold in the frozen food aisle; but these are homemade and have no scary preservatives or “flavorings”.  They bake best when totally frozen (in fact, they don’t really work if thawed, or baked immediately after mixing), so there’s not even any thawing down time.

But for me, convenience alone is not worth having to suffer through sub-par biscuits.  Admittedly, I’ve become a bit of a biscuit snob over the course of this year, so my standards are maybe higher than anyone else’s.  These biscuits might be the easiest things in the world to cook, but so is opening a can of pre-made dough.  If these don’t taste good, why bother?

To my great relief (and yes, amazement), these biscuits are just as good as a more standard biscuit, but with significantly less worry.  I purposefully over-kneaded this dough a little, just to see how they’d turn out if a biscuit novice tried this recipe.  I over-baked them slightly — actually a mistake, but a nice test all the same.  Finally, I first tried a biscuit from the last round of scrap-gathering and rolling, typically the toughest of the bunch.

All of this should have added up to a hockey-puck-biscuit experience, but this little guy was as tender as any biscuit I’ve made before.  Not the flakiest recipe, but fluffy as all get out, and they certainly did smile at me.  The only qualm I have with this recipe is the lack of buttery flavor that I’ve come to expect from a biscuit; but as there’s no butter involved, all the fat coming from cream, I really can’t hold that against it.  Besides, you can always add butter at the table; everyone does anyway.

I’ve kept these biscuits on the small side, because I personally can always have another biscuit, no matter how many I’ve had.  Smaller biscuits are therefore a good thing, a bit like biscuit cookies.  If you like yours larger, feel free to use a larger cutter; be aware that they will take even 5 to 10 minutes longer to bake in that case.

Easy, nearly foolproof, do-ahead, and delicious: could this be the perfect biscuit recipe?  The next time you have houseguests oohing and aahing over your homemade, freshly-baked biscuits, you be the judge.  I just hope you’ll remember who to thank.  And no, you don’t really have to put on makeup.

freezer-biscuits-1

Freezer Biscuits
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated
Makes 25 to 30 two inch biscuits

13 1/2 ounces (about 3 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups cold heavy cream

1.  Lightly butter a rimmed baking sheet, or line with parchment paper.

2.  In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Stir in the cream with a nonstick spatula until a dough forms, about 30 seconds.

3.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gather into a ball.  Knead the dough briefly until smooth, about 60 seconds, dusting with extra flour as needed to prevent sticking.

4.  Pat or roll the dough into a flat circle, about 3/4 inch thick.  Cut out the biscuits using a 2 inch round cutter.   Transfer the biscuits to the prepared baking sheet, leaving about 1/2 inch space in between.

5.  Gather up the scraps of dough, shaking off any excess flour, and reknead briefly to combine.  Pat or roll the dough again into a 3/4 inch thick round, and cut as many biscuits as possible.  Repeat the gathering, rolling, and cutting for a third time.  Any remaining scraps of dough should be either discarded or gently patted into rustic hand-formed biscuits.

6.  Wrap the baking sheet tightly with lightly oiled plastic wrap.  Freeze the biscuits until frozen solid, 6 to 8 hours.  Transfer the frozen biscuits to a plastic zip-top freezer bag, and freeze for up to 1 month.  Do not thaw before baking.

7.  To bake the biscuits, preheat the oven to 450º F, and place a rack in the upper-middle position.  Lay the frozen biscuits on a lightly buttered or parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing about 2 inches apart.  Bake at 450º F until puffed and golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.  Serve immediately.

Notes:
1.   If baking a large amount of biscuits, bake only as many as will fit on one baking sheet at a time; do not bake more than one pan at the same time.

Posted in Quick Breads, Savory, Sweet | 1 Comment