Sunday, January 27, 2008

Raspberry-Lemon Muffins

Sunday, January 27, 2008

For the January coffee hours, I had, so far, made two different kinds of coffee cakes and one kind of scone, so it seemed that it had to be muffins this week. Jim almost forgot to take pictures of these, so he had to swoop the plate off the table and take some pictures before they were eaten. I made a dozen regular-sized muffins and another dozen adorable mini-muffins with a single raspberry on top. (The mini-muffins were all eaten before the regular ones were, so I never got any pictures of them.)
Every year I bake muffins at least once, and every year, I realize that muffins are actually people's least favorite treat. They like them fine, but they don't pounce on them. I actually liked these muffins myself, and would make them again, and most of them did get eaten, but no one demanded the recipe.
In case you would like the recipe, it's available on and on smittenkitchen.
These are buttermilk muffins with a lemon-sugar mixture--the zest of two lemons stirred into about a half-cup of sugar--added to the batter, and raspberries placed artfully on top of the muffins. The version also sprinkles some of the lemon-sugar mixture on top of the muffins after they're baked. I used this version because I thought the lemon-sugar topping would make them a little different than your average muffin.

I think this was the right choice, although, as I said, nobody exclaimed, "Wow! Crunchy lemon sugar on top of mellow buttermilk muffins studded with fresh raspberries! Amazing!" But maybe they were just being reserved.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Five Minute Semolina Bread

Saturday, January 19, 2008 and Sunday, January 20, 2008

The biggest-selling cookbook around these parts is Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. Both authors are from Minneapolis, and the book got a lot of press, not just locally, but also in the NYTimes. But it sold out locally--Jim tried to get it for me for Christmas, but he couldn't find it.
The idea is that you make a basic dough, enough for four, one-pound loaves of bread. You let it rise for a few hours, and then put it in the refrigerator. Then, whenever you feel like it, you take the dough out of the refrigerator, pull out about a one-pound hunk, let it rest for a while, turn it into a free-form loaf, and stick it in the oven. Well, you can see right off that five minutes a day is not exactly accurate, because of the resting and baking. It's more like an hour and a half to two hours. But still.
I love the concept of having bread dough at the ready, so I borrowed my friend Mary's copy, which she borrowed from another friend. I told you--these books are like gold around here.
There are a number of basic bread recipes: the regular "artisan," the brioche, the semolina, the American white, the rye, and probably some others. I had a new bag of semolina flour, so I made the semolina variation. I took only some brief notes, and gave the book back to Mary, so I don't have the recipe, but, as I recall, it was about 3 cups semolina flour, 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, 3 cups water, 1 1/2 T. salt and 1 1/2 T. yeast. It's unlike the no-knead bread, which had a minimal amount of yeast and rises very slowly. This dough, with its large amount of yeast, rises quickly, and, by the end of two hours, is ready to put in the refrigerator.
The first day, I made red pepper fougasse for dinner. You take a piece of refrigerated dough, roll it a circle and make slashes in half the dough. On the other half, place about one roasted red pepper, and sprinkle on sea salt and thyme. Then fold the dough in half, covering the peppers with the slashed side, and pinch the moistened edges together. Brush olive oil all over the top, and bake for about a half hour. Slice and serve.

The book says it makes six appetizer servings, but one slice would be a very hearty appetizer. We had it for dinner, so we didn't feel guilty about eating two slices, but neither of us could manage any more than that. I sauteed some zucchini and spinach, so it felt like a fairly healthy dinner, even if it was mostly bread.

The fougasse was good, but not really a test of the bread's quality, since it was rolled thin, and just turned out crispy. Not a bad thing at all, but not a loaf of bread.
So on Sunday, I took another pound of dough out of the refrigerator and worked it into a torpedo-shaped loaf. A very small torpedo-shaped loaf. It was supposed to rise for 40 minutes, but in the space of an hour, it had barely risen, and it looked like a very solid, very petite loaf of bread. I had my doubts about it, but there was enough oven spring to turn it into a respectable-sized loaf of bread.

We had it for dinner, along with roast chicken stuffed with cherry tomatoes and rosemary and a salad. Jim tasted it first. He said, "Well, it's good, but it's not the best bread you've ever made." If you knew Jim, you'd know that's dire. "It's not the best bread you've ever made" is Minnesota-speak for "I can barely choke this down." I looked so alarmed he had to assure me that he was not speaking Minnesotan, and he just meant that it was good, but not the best. After I tasted it, I thought that was pretty accurate.
First, 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt is too much salt, and I don't have an aversion to salty food. I have a vague idea that the recipe specified kosher salt, and that might make a difference, but I would definitely not use that much salt again. Second, the texture was a good basic bread texture, but not like Italian semolina bread.

If you compare this with the October 14, 2007 pictures of Tom Cat's Semolina Filone, from Maggie Glezer's cookbook, you'll see the difference between five-minute and two-day bread. The five-minute bread is good--better than most bread you can buy in a grocery store and even better than most bread you can buy in bakeries, but it's not really artisan bread.
With those provisos, though, I think it's a book worth having. I ordered it myself (it's still in short supply locally, but seems to have an unlimited supply). I like the idea of being able to come home from work, shape the bread, have a glass of wine while it's rising, and then make a quick dinner while the bread is baking. The book also has some non-bread recipes that look good. But I don't think that this is a book that will replace more traditional cookbooks like The Bread Bible. I do think that books like this, as well as the recipe for no-knead bread, have introduced more people to the wonders of taking a homemade loaf of bread out of their own oven, and that's good.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Sour Cream Streusel Coffee Cake

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Today was the third Saturday in our annual coffee-and-doughnut open houses, and it was a terrible scramble. The coffee cake, from Rose's The Cake Bible, was late coming out of the oven. (Well, more accurately, I was late putting it into the oven). It was the coldest morning of the year so far--I didn't go outside at all because I was intent on denying how many degrees below zero it was--and we underestimated the number of people who would be here. Hence, we underestimated the number of doughnuts to buy.
The doughnuts disappeared from the platter. The coffee cake's tempting aroma was wafting from the kitchen, but the cake was still not quite done. People were banging their coffee cups against the table, shouting, "We want food! We want food!" Cold January Saturdays seem to put normally taciturn Minnesotans in a rambunctious mood.
At last, I was able to take the cake from the oven. I cut it as soon as I could, barely letting it cool. With the exception of an almost burned layer on the bottom, it was an exceptionally good coffee cake, maybe the best sour cream coffee cake I've ever tasted. One layer of cake, a layer of streusel, another layer of cake, sliced apples, and a final layer of streusel on top. The streusel was crunchy with walnuts, the cake was soft, rich and buttery, and the apples added a slightly tart counterpoint.
It's baked in a springform pan, and it's a high cake--it rises to fill the pan. I'm not quite sure how I could have avoided the too-dark bottom because I took it out of the oven as soon as it firmed up in the middle. I might try turning the oven down from 350 to 325 the next time I make it, or maybe, if I don't have a bunch of hungry people in the next room, I might try taking it out of the oven when it's just slightly undercooked and hope it finishes cooking while it's cooling. It's so delicious that it's worth trying again, and if I ever perfect it, it just might lead to fame and fortune.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Pane all'Erbe

Sunday, January 13, 2008

I made these two adorable loaves of bread because 1) I realized I hadn't made bread from Carol Field's The Italian Baker for a while and 2) I had a big bag of Italian parsley in my vegetable bin that I apparently bought for some purpose but forgot to use. Add them up, and you get Pane all'Erbe, or Herb Bread, or, more precisely, Parsley Bread.
This recipe makes two adorable little round loaves, although you could probably just make one big loaf, but it wouldn't be nearly as cute. It's got a few cloves of garlic in it, a lot of parsley, and about half a small onion, and, when I put the loaves in the oven, all I could smell was the raw onion. I feared that the onion would be overpowering, but apparently baking it for about 40 minutes mellows both the onion and the garlic (and the parsley, for that matter). The herbal flavor is is noticeable, but very pleasant.

While Carol Field says that this bread is good to serve with roasts and fish, I was in a more vegetarian frame of mind, and I served it with a spinach and mushroom frittata and roasted asparagus, which was an excellent combination.

Most Italian breads are wet doughs that make nice, holey-looking bread, but this dough was firmer, and the texture much smaller-crumbed, more like a traditional American loaf of bread than a traditional Italian loaf. In fact, it's in the "New Breads" chapter, where Field gives recipes for "'new-wave' tastes." Wherever it comes from, it's a good, hearty loaf of bread, and I still have one cute little loaf in my freezer, which is a very good thing.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Cranberry-Orange Scones

Saturday, January 12, 2008
Our second Saturday coffee/doughnut open house, but I didn't feel like starting a yeast dough Friday night, so I decided to bake scones, which are possibly my favorite thing in the world to eat. I had a bag of dried cranberries in the pantry, and found Ina Garten's recipe for cranberry-orange scones, which got rave reviews on the Food Network site.
Ina Garten's recipes are often a little over the top, and this one was no exception. I have no objection to three sticks of butter or a cup of cream, but adding icing was gilding the lily, if you ask me. Besides, I don't like icing on scones.
These scones were good, but not absolute perfection. One reason they were imperfect is my fault; the other is the recipe's.

My fault--they were too thin. I do this every time I make scones unless I keep a firm hand on myself. I just keep rolling, and the circle gets bigger and bigger. I tell myself, "These are going to be too thin," and then I say, "No, they're not, they'll be too small if I stop rolling now." I continue to have this boring conversation with myself until I cut the dough into triangles, at which point I see that they're going to be flat scones again, but it's too late to do anything about it.
The really annoying thing about these scones is that I had a chance to redeem myself with the second tray, and I did exactly the same thing second time around.

Then I had to stop myself from announcing to anyone who looked at the scones that they were too flat. You know, how your grandmother does: "Grandma, this turkey is fabulous!" "I think it's a little dry, don't you think it's too dry?" "No, it's perfect." "Well, I think it's too dry."
The recipe's fault: Four eggs in the scones, plus an egg wash. What kind of scone recipe uses five eggs? Not an authentic one. Why didn't I notice this? I was too smitten with the butter, eggs, cranberries, and orange peel to notice the surfeit of eggs. These scones were very light and tender, but had a distinct eggy flavor that tasted very unscone-like.
Now maybe if I'd used only two eggs and hadn't flattened them like pancakes, they would have been just about perfect.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Golden Honey Oat Bread

Sunday, January 6, 2008
A few weeks ago, I was reading Rose's blog, and she mentioned making an oatmeal bread for her father. Suddenly, the idea of an oatmeal bread sounded excellent to me, but it's not a recipe that's in The Bread Bible or in my other bread cookbooks. So I went to a recipe in a general vegetarian cookbook, and the result was--well, it was hearty. You might also say that it was heavy. My ideal oatmeal bread, the one that I could almost taste, was hearty but light, healthy but delicate. So I was delighted when I saw that Rose had posted her recipe for golden honey oat bread. She promised it was healthy and flavorful, with a wonderful light texture. She was right. This bread is head and shoulders above my first try.
Even unbaked, this loaf looks plump and inviting.

My loaf-pan breads never turn out even. They're always taller on one side than the other. This recipe says it's essential to shape it into a log and let it rest for 20minutes before putting it in the loaf pan. I followed the directions and ended up with an almost perfectly balanced loaf. This little hint was worth the price of admission. Especially since it was free.

When I made my first oatmeal bread on December 2, I complained about how hard it was to shape, and I specifically complained about the ends of the loaf, which looked like giant belly buttons. No belly buttons on this bread.

Not that there's anything wrong with belly buttons. Still, it was nice to turn out a loaf of bread that looked a little more orthodox.
It smelled good, too. It was hard to wait to cut into it and see if the texture was really going to be light.

Yes. It passed the test. Light, but with a satisfying chewiness. And a lovely, slightly sweet, slightly oaty taste with the contrasting crunch of flaxseeds. A bread worth waiting for.

Chocolate Almond Coffee Cake Ring

Saturday, January 6, 2008
It's time for our Saturday morning coffee hour open houses, which we've been doing for over ten years now. Every Saturday morning in January, Jim goes to a bakery and buys a bunch of doughnuts. Most Saturday mornings, I make something else. Sometimes it's more popular than the doughnuts, and sometimes not. Today it was a hit.
I had intended to make Danish, using Rose's recipe from The Pie and Pastry Bible. But the more I read the directions, the more scared I got. They're a lot like making croissants, only more complicated--and it was hard enough to get up my nerve to make croissants (although they actually turned out quite well).
But when I fell victim to Danish-cowardice, I decided that I should at least try something a little bit snazzy. I remembered that my friend Karen had been talking about the coffee cake rings that our mothers used to make, where you roll up the dough, fill it with something, and snip the dough into sections, turning the filled part up. I looked on the internet for something like that, and the first recipe I came across was the almond-chocolate version from Cooks Country. Cooks Country is kind of a down-home version of Cooks Illustrated--a little too down-homey for me, but this recipe sounded intriguing, and, with a filling of chopped bittersweet chocolate, cream cheese, and almond paste, a little more interesting than the rolls my mother used to make.

After you spread the filling on the nice buttery dough, which you've rolled into a rectangle about 9" by 18", you roll up the dough.

Then you turn the rectangle into a ring, and make about ten or eleven partial cuts through the dough.

After you've made the cuts, you gently turn the sections so you can see the chocolate-almond filling on top.

So far, so good. I really don't have a Martha-Stewartish artistic, decorative touch, which is one reason I prefer bread to most other baked products. If breads are going to be beautiful, they do it on their own. They don't require symmetrical arrangements of fruit, like some pies, and they don't need to be deftly iced. They just need to be taken out of the oven. A lot can go wrong with a coffee cake like this. The filling can ooze out and burn, for example. You can cut too deeply into the coffee cake so that it falls apart instead remaining in lovely slices. You can make a mess out of the pieces when you turn them. You can glop on the frosting instead of drizzling it decoratively. None of that happened (except for the frosting glopping, and even that wasn't too bad).

People were very impressed with this outcome, even with the few blobs of frosting (I thinned it a bit and then it drizzled more easily).

My friend Bridget, who is an excellent baker, asked me where I'd bought it. I chose to take that as a compliment, even though I suppose she may have wondered if I'd picked it up at SuperAmerica. My neighbor Barb, a chef and caterer, said the dough was light and tasty. My neighbor Greg asked for the recipe. This week the homemade treat beat out the doughnuts. We'll see about next week.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

"Poverty Pizza"

Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2008
A few months ago, I made something I called "The Cupboard is Bare" pizza, and a reader named Carol commented that she and her friends made something called "poverty pizza" at the end of the week when they were graduate students. She said it was always good and always unrepeatable, and that it had widened her horizons about what a pizza topping could be.
Today I decided to make another pizza--with my last round of frozen pizza dough--what a great thing to have in the freezer! And I decided I'd just use whatever I had on hand. This happened to be one serrano pepper that I didn't use in the serrano creme fraiche for new year's eve, two Yukon Gold potatoes, some kalamata olives, some cherry tomatoes that were going a little wrinkly, garlic (of course) and parmesan. I sliced and slowly poached the garlic in olive oil, and brushed the oil and garlic on the bottom of the pizza. Everything else was just sliced, or grated in the case of the parmesan, and tossed on in carefree fashion.
I had sent Jim to the grocery store a few days earlier because I needed a few last-minute things and was, as usual, running late and a little harried myself. I told him to pick up black olives--"not stuffed with anything, just plain..just pick them up from the olive bar." He came home with a can of California ripe olives. I was horrified. "No, these are not even olives!" I said. "We might as well just put these in the bag for the food shelf right now," I said, "because I'll never use them." (Nice, Marie, maybe you could also give all the things past their freshness date to the food shelf). "You said black olives," Jim said defensively, "and there were no black olives at the olive bar--just kalamata olives, and other olives that were stuffed." "What do you think kalamata olives are? They're black olives! That's just what I wanted." "Kalamata olives are purple, not black!"
Well, I could see that this fight was deteriorating rapidly, so I graciously allowed as how I could have been clearer in my instructions, and he graciously went back to Kowalski's to pick up purplish-black olives. He got a LOT. So I had to come up with many ways to use up the olives, besides reaching in the refrigerator and eating the random one now and then.
Here it is in its uncooked state. Oh, it looks like there's a little rosemary on it too--I forgot about that. The pizza dough stretched beautifully this time. I can't account for what makes it work better some times than others, but it did do a lot of resting. As did I. Maybe that had something to do with it.
It smelled so good and looked so brown and crunchy and crispy that we both dug in, forgetting entirely to take a picture of it in its whole, baked state. Jim had to take one quick picture while there was still a slice left uneaten.

Jim claimed this was the best pizza he had eaten in his entire life! Well, it was pretty good. The tomatoes gave it some sweetness, the olives saltiness, and the peppers hotness. The paper-thin sliced potatoes and garlic made a perfect base, and the crust was crispy all the way through, not just at the edges.
The whole notion of the poverty pizza got me wondering whether all leftovers would make equally happy combinations. What might I have in the refrigerator at the end of a week? Vanilla yogurt, Thai green chile sauce, and lettuce? Would that really work? I hope never to have to find out.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New Year's Eve Feast

December 31, 2007
On New Year's Eve, six couples from our neighborhood have a progressive dinner. The tradition started when progressive dinners were a new thing, and it has continued even though it may now be passe. But why should eating good food with good friends ever be passe?
This year, we started at the Beiers' house.

Jim doesn't really like to take pictures of people, so you will not know what the Beiers look like. They are like us, a handsome couple of a certain age. And Betty is an excellent cook. For the appetizer course, Betty made marinated shrimp:

Beautiful, aren't they?
And cornbread crab cakes:

These were fabulous. Betty said that she was dubious about the crab and cornbread combination, but she needn't have been. They went together like love and marriage. (And we know whereof we speak on the love and marriage front, by the way. All six couples are still on their first marriage, and among us, we have about 250 years of marriage. A bizarre thought).
This huge wheel of brie with pecans and figs was not a bizarre thought, however, but a very happy one:

There was also a small bowl of caviar. I don't know why Jim didn't take a picture of that. Maybe he didn't want to suggest that we are caviar-eating, latte-drinking liberals. Although we are.
The second course was soup, at the Wolfs' house. That's us.

I'll admit that I worked all day on my assignment. I made white whole wheat rolls from Maggie Glezer's book:

I recently bought some white whole wheat flour, and when I saw this recipe, it seemed like kismet. Honestly, I was underwhelmed by the results. They were hearty and flavorful, but the overall effect was perhaps a little too hearty. They seemed like little discs that you might want to use in a food fight. No one did, but it was, after all, only the second course, and nobody had had enough to drink to start a food fight. Not that they would.

This is a picture of The Green Head. She comes out on New Year's Eve as a travelling prize to be awarded to the person who gets the most predictions right. I won it last year. This year I was more careful to be wrong in my predictions so I wouldn't get it again.
Back to the soup. I made a roasted yellow pepper soup and a roasted tomato soup, drizzled with serrano pepper cream. It turned out to be an all-day process, but worth every minute.

As you can tell from the recipe and the photograph, it's two different soups, both made basically the same way--lots of fresh vegetables are roasted and added to a base of shallots softened in butter, herbs, and chicken broth. This mixture is pureed and strained, and cream and more chicken broth is added. The serrano cream is made with creme fraiche, salt, garlic and a bunch of chopped serrano peppers.
The recipe warns that if you process the creme fraiche too much, it might curdle. And so it did. Curdled creme fraiche is not a pretty sight. I had to run to the grocery store and get more creme fraiche and more peppers, which I processed very, very lightly. Both soups were very good--fresh-tasting and flavorful--on their own, but dynamite together. And the presentation, which is a result of just pouring two cups from either side of the soup bowl, was quite dramatic. The serrano cream added the right punch.
We went next to the Niemiecs' house. They live on Harriet Avenue, not Garfield Avenue like the rest of us, but they are also allowed to participate because we are nothing if not inclusive.
Joan did a salad bar:

Although we had already eaten too much food, we trundled off to the Delorias' house for the main course.
Laurel is a collector.
She collects antiques, masks, and many other things, including Department 52 Snow Village houses.

It takes her and her three helpers a full day to put up these houses, and another day to take them down. Some might call this an obsession, and Laurel has hinted darkly that this is the last year she's going to put all these houses up, but no one really believes it.
Jim was quite taken with their creche-and-wine combo:

Laurel did a nice, light hunk of roast beef with horseradish cream, with a side a gooey, cheesy potatoes provided by the Papanicalaous:

So delicious! But I was in pain from all the food, and dessert was still to come.
We moved to the Logelands' house for dessert:

Note The Green Head, now in residence with the Logelands until next year. Doug is the dessert chef at the Logelands' house. Mary weighs about 20 pounds, and thinks that a nice piece of fruit is the perfect dessert. Doug--well, he weighs more than 20, and he thinks that if you're going to have fruit, you might as well make pie. And so he made these two Key Lime pies with perfect meringue.

In case anyone was disappointed with a fruit-based dessert, they also thoughtfully provided bowls of chocolates and nuts.
And that, dear friends, was how Breadbasketcase and her faithful spouse, Jim, spent New Year's Eve. It couldn't have been better. We hope that you were also surrounded by good food and good friends, and that you have a most excellent new year.