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Posts tagged ‘bread’

on pita & filling our pockets

Making your own pocket bread may not be the thing for you. Do you have some leisure hours on one of your weekend days that you might like to spend playing with soft little pillows of dough? Do you find it a thing of pleasure to create something from scratch, something you can easily grab off the shelf, machine-made and already shrink-wrapped for you in plastic? Would it thrill you (just a tiny bit?) to watch flat pancakes fill like hot-air balloons in your oven while the aromas of a bakery fill your house?   hmmm! – well -

then…

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Pita  – from your own oven

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makes 16 pita pockets

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1 Tablespoon active dry yeast (or 1 package)

2½ cups lukewarm water

¼ teaspoon sugar

Approximately 6 cups unbleached white bread flour  (or unbleached all-purpose flour)

1½ – 2 teaspoons salt

3 Tablespoons vegetable or extra-virgin olive oil

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 Into a large bowl, pour ½ cup of warm water and stir in the yeast to dissolve. Add the sugar. When the mixture begins to froth (proving that the yeast is still lively) stir in the remaining 2 cups of water. Gradually add 3 cups of flour, 1 cup at a time, stirring vigorously. (You may either do this by hand, or with a stand-mixer.) You’ve now made a “sponge”. Allow it to rest for 10 minutes, or until it too froths.

Stir in the salt and 2 Tablespoons of the oil and mix together well. Gradually add the remaining flouryou may need less than the total amount specified – once you have a dough that holds together into a ball and isn’t sticking wetly to your hands, you’ve added enough flour.

(Because the flour hydrates gradually – and depends on ambient humidity amongst other things – if you add large amounts of flour all at once, you can overshoot the mark. All would not be lost…just add a bit more water – gradually – to find that happy balance.)  

Knead well by hand in the bowl, or on a floured board, ten minutes or so; or in a stand mixer using the dough hook for maybe 7 minutes. You’re looking for a smooth, shiny and elastic dough that no longer sticks to your fingers when held for several seconds. Dust with a bit more flour occasionally if it proves too sticky. Form it into a ball.

Put the remaining tablespoon of oil into the bowl and roll the ball of dough around so as to grease it all over. (This prevents a crust from forming on it.) Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave in a comfy warm place free of drafts for about 2 hours, until doubled in bulk.

Preheat the oven to 500°F (260°C), placing a large baking sheet in the hottest part. (Generally about ¼ of the way up from the bottom.) Allow it to preheat for 20 minutes.

Punch the dough down and then knead again for several minutes. Divide the dough in half. Divide the first half into 8 “equal” lumps and roll these into balls.

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On a lightly floured surface, using either your hands or a rolling pin dusted with flour, flatten each lump into a “pancake” about 7 or 8 inches across and 1/8 to ¼-inch thick.  Spread a kitchen towel on your counter and sprinkle it with flour. Dust each of the rounds with flour and arrange on the cloth, leaving an inch between them.  Cover these with another flour-dusted cloth and allow them to rest for 20 minutes at room temperature. (If your counter is particularly cold, you could leave them to rest them slightly longer.)

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on sweet eats

Only once as a child was I made to strongly urged to eat my dessert. Our family of five,  plus my uncle and his new wife were gathered around our maple dining table. Each of our wintry faces was warmed and brightened by the candle’s winking light. Mom, in her fancy apron, her hair pulled back in a thick high ponytail, was beaming. She’d worked hard on this dessert.

Christmas pudding.

Sounds innocuous enough. To some it might even sound a tad romantic.  A dessert of a time past when people cooked in black pots placed on grates in large fireplaces, when people wiped their mouths with their sleeves or aprons, and hunting dogs curled around the legs of the table and caught the scraps that fell.  Everyone basked in the glow of candlelight back then. Christmas pudding….

Ahhh! Lovely, dear!

At first whiff I knew this was going to be nasty. I declined as politely as I could by pushing it away and making a face. “You haven’t even tried it.”   “But I don’t need to, I know I won’t like it!”   “Well, you’re going to try it.”   “See, I told you I wouldn’t like it!”   “Maybe you just need another bite to be sure.”

The story doesn’t end well. I had several bites that night, and then lost a good portion of the dinner I had liked. I had a very weak stomach back then, a nose that could sniff green pepper or alcohol a room away, and a very – discerning – palate for a seven-year-old.

(Don’t think a single dark thought about our Mom. She’s a sweetheart and a mighty fine cook, and I’ve got plenty of stories and recipes to prove it!)

Why are we here then, you ask. Certainly not to share in Mom’s recipe for Christmas Pudding!? (No, our smarter-than-average Mom never made that ghastly thing again.)

 I’m here (once more) to strongly urge you to eat your vegetables – AS your dessert this time! Fortune smiles!

AND you ‘re going to love it – at first bite! (So will seven-year-olds.)

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CarrotParsnipZucchiniBread-4

WHY will you love it? (Good of you to ask.) It’s aromatic, tender, light, flavorful, not-dry (I know some people despise the word moist), it’s soft in the mouth, sweet on the tongue – and what? good for you! Warmed for breakfast, packed in a kid’s lunch, a little pick-me-up in the afternoon, a light bit of sweet after dinner. This makes 2 loaves, and you only add ½ cup of sugar – yet it’s delicately sweet. (It does have some fruit butter which has a bit of its own sugar, but we’re not going to hold that against it.) We do like this – ever so much – around our house!

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Carrot-Parsnip-Zucchini Bread

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1½ cups all-purpose flour

½ cup whole wheat flour (the white variety of whole wheat works best for tender baked goods like this but any will do)

2 Tablespoons hulled Hemp Seeds (Optional – but so packed nutritionally and with a delicious nutty flavor)

½ cup sugar

1½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

½ teaspoon ground  cloves

1 medium carrot shredded

1 medium parsnip, shredded

1 small zucchini, shredded

3 large eggs

¾ cup apple butter or pumpkin butter (I’ve only made this with pumpkin butter, but either would be equally good)

3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 Tablespoon vanilla extract (yes, that much)

2 Tablespoons pumpkins seeds for the top

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Preheat the oven to 375°F (180°C) Either oil two 8½ x 4½ inch loaf pans with olive oil or line with parchment paper. (Loaves will lift right out of the pan, cleanly, with parchment paper.)

Wash, peel and grate your vegetables.

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about 2-1/2 cups total shredded vegetables will be perfect

In a large bowl, combine the flours, hemp seed, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Stir to combine well. Add the shredded carrots, zucchini and parsnip. Stir to coat the shreds evenly.

In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, fruit butter of your choice, the olive oil and vanilla extract.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until well combined, but be careful not to over-mix which would toughen the loaves.

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so liberating to make a mess – as any seven-year-old knows – and it comes easier with practice

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Easter bread – a Greek tradition

This is the bread traditionally made for Greek Easter, and much like the one our Yaya would bring to the table.

Yaya’s kitchen had a converted wood oven, marbled-linoleum floors, tall ceilings covered in tin tiles, and smelled like nothing you’ve likely ever breathed — but should have! I remember, as a young girl, standing in her kitchen, watching in utter fascination as she – wearing an apron over one of her always-black dresses –  would gently wrestle huge batches of dough, her stocky arms covered in flour, her hair wound in blonde-white braids around her head, her face serene. Four boys in that family, and they ate a lot of bread. And we did too, whenever we visited our Yaya and Papou.

I don’t have my yaya’s recipe for bread. But Yaya didn’t have or use recipes. How to make bread was in her body somewhere. She didn’t think it or measure carefully. She poured from glass bottles, scooped with bare hands, smelled and felt and knew when things were right.

This isn’t Yaya’s recipe, but it’s as close as I could come. It’s a brioche-type loaf – tender-crumbed, buttery, with a hint of anise and orange, absolutely delicious. The red egg is optional of course, but quite pretty nestled in its sesame-strewn, braided nest. If you decide to use one in yours, insert it between the twisted or braided ropes after it’s risen but before the egg-wash and sesame seeds have been added. You can insert the egg either uncooked or hard-boiled, but it’s typically not eaten after its baked with the bread.

In a separate post to follow tomorrow, I’ll be sharing a recipe for a – quick & easy – alternative to this loaf.  It’s a Challah that I’ve made for years using the food processor, but with slight variations for this occasion.) 

Easter Sweet Bread – Tsoureki

the recipe can be doubled for 2 Tsourekia

  • ½ cup warm water
  • the zest from 1/2 large orange
  • 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup warm milk
  • ½ cup unbleached white flour
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  •  1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cube unsalted butter (1/4 cup) – melted
  • ¼ cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 extra large egg, well-beaten
  • ½ t. anise extract
  • 2½ to 3 cups unbleached white flour
  •  1 egg white, well beaten
  • sesame seeds for the top
  • 1 red-dyed Easter egg (optional)

Using a microplane zester if you have one, remove only the zest of ½ orange.  Finely chop the zest and add it to the warm water and olive oil in the bowl of your mixer. Add the warm milk and combine well with a whisk. (It’s important that the zest be very fine here so as to fully infuse the bread with delicate flavor, but no chunks of peel. If you don’t have a microplane, I recommend you put the first three ingredients in a blender first, then add them, along with warm milk, to the bowl of your mixer.)

In a separate bowl, combine the ½ cup flour,  1 T. sugar, the yeast and salt. Add slowly to the wet mixture of the previous step, whisking as you go, until all is well-combined. Set in a warm draft-free place to proof for 20 minutes.

Fit the stand mixer with paddle attachment and return the bowl to the mixer. Turn on low speed, and slowly add the flour. (Yaya knew the amount of flour is always variable in a bread recipe. It’s going to depend on how you measure both wet and dry ingredients, the humidity, the size of your eggs, etc. Last time I made this, it took nearly 3 cups, but if you add too much, your bread will be lacking in tenderness, which would be such a shame!  Add the final ½ cup gradually, as needed. You’ll want to add enough flour so that the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and starts to rise up on your beaters.The final dough should have the feel of a baby’s soft bottom. If that helps??  It’s really not tricky!)

Increase the speed of your mixer slightly and knead for 4 minutes until the dough becomes silky.  (If you don’t have a stand mixer you can do all of this by hand. Because there’s no whole-grain in this recipe, this is not a difficult one to knead – and there are times when kneading just feels so right!)  Take the dough and all its little bits from the bowl, form into a nice ball and return it back to the bowl to rise. Cover  and set in a warm place to double – about 40 minutes. (One nice environment is in your oven – no heat! – just fill another bowl with hot water and put it inside the oven along with your bowl of dough. Or you can rest it on a sunny ledge – if you live in one of those places where the sun shines!)

Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured board. (Or if you like, you can lightly grease it instead.) Roll into a long rope with your hands. Pick up the two ends of  your ropes and set them down close to you. Now, just draw one end of the rope over the other, then under, then up over again. (All you’re really doing is making two complete twists.) Gently squeeze the ends together.

The halfway mark where you first folded the rope is where the egg will eventually nestle. But not yet. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover and set in a warm place to double in size, another 40 minutes to an hour approximately.

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parsnip, sage & parmesan cheese bread

Early this morning I posted a recipe for a curried soup of Parsnips and Apple, but the link I supplied was broken. You’ve probably read in the news lately about the tremendous storms occurring on the sun and the disruptions they’re causing to satellites and GPS’s, with talk of whole electrical grids being knocked out and thousands doing without power for days, and the like. (Do I dare? Or does it sound too much like my dog ate my homework?) Anyway, in an attempt to correct my the sun’s mistakes I’ll provide another link here for the soup, the soup that goes so very well with the bread…the bread that’s so quick and easy to make, and ridiculously easy to eat, still steamy warm and smelling of sage.

Parsnip, Parmesan and Sage Bread

  • 6 ounces (175 g) parsnips
  • 2 ounces (50 g) fresh parmesan, cut into ¼-inch (5 mm) cubes (if your cheese is a bit on the hard and stale side, it won’t melt properly)
  • 1 rounded Tablespoon chopped fresh sage leaves
  • 8 ounces (225 g) self-rising flour (see note)
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten lightly with 1 Tablespoon milk

For the topping:

  • 1 ounce (25 g) thin parmesan shavings
  • 1 few whole small fresh sage leaves
  • a little extra flour for dusting
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

NOTE on self-rising flour: If you don’t have and don’t intend to buy self-rising flour, you can find recipes on line for how to make it yourself using baking powder and salt along with regular flour. I’m not supplying the recipe for it here – I’m not certain how well it stands in for the one you’d buy ready-made enough to recommend it…but a number of people do swear by it.

Preheat oven to 375° (190°C). Position an oven rack quite high. 

 Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Coarsely grate the parsnips and add to the flour, then toss well to coat. Add the parmesan cubes and chopped sage and toss. Slowly, a bit at a time, add in the egg/milk mixture, mixing after each addition with a palette knife (or table knife if you don’t have one.) You’ll end up with a rough, loose, sticky dough but don’t be concerned with its looks.

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bread for tomorrow – the no-knead loaf

Did you know that ¼ teaspoon of yeast can rise a loaf’s-worth of dough just as well as a tablespoon? It’s true. It will simply take longer for it to do so. But there’s a real beauty in that. The old adage good things take time applies. With each extra hour the yeast grows, it adds incredibly to the flavor of the finished loaf. So, though some recipes for home-baked bread will have you adding nearly a tablespoon of yeast, and sugar for it to feast and grow quickly on, and have you rising the dough in a warm place, that’s meant for your convenience and to hurry the process. If you slow it down, you’ll love what happens!

This may be the easiest – and possibly one of the most delicious – breads you’ll ever bake. Start it today, finish it tomorrow, and there will be curtain calls and encores in your future! Do I exaggerate? Occasionally, I have, yes. But here, no.

For full-effect, a true Dutch oven is required for this. Cast iron is best because it creates its own highly-conductive little furnace to bake the bread in. Higher-end brands like Le Creuset or Staub are lovely and come in many colors. But just as effective here are non-enameled (lidded) cast iron pots that you might see hanging over a campfire. The latter are inexpensive but require a bit more care in the cleaning, curing and preventing of rust. Always nice to have options though.

I’m sorry to repeat myself, but a digital kitchen scale makes this process so much simpler too, and with fewer things to clean up after. (See preceding posts if you haven’t already.)

This method (ingenious really) was first developed and introduced to us several years back by Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City. Since its introduction, this No-Knead method has rather revolutionized home bread-baking. Without terrifically expensive ovens (the kind of which are almost never seen in home kitchens), this bread’s crust wasn’t reproducible at home before. You can see for yourself though, loaves reminiscent of old-world bakeries can now emerge steamy and fragrant from our own rather ordinary ovens.The secret lies in the steam that’s created and contained within the Dutch oven as the bread bakes.

This bread will cost you the equivalent of 3 cups of good-quality flour. We won’t calculate the cost of ¼ teaspoon of yeast or a spoon of salt. Let’s just say this gorgeous bread costs less than a cup of coffee or tea (even a very bad cup.)

Let’s get started.

No-Knead “Artisan” Bread

and you are the artist!

  • 3 cups (375 g) flour (either all-purpose or bread flour)
  • ¼ teaspoon instant or active dry yeast
  • 1¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups (375 mL) water
  • Extra flour, wheat bran, fine cornmeal, as needed for dusting

a NOTE on the weight measurements, this primarily for the readers in the States who are as yet not as familiar as we will one day be with metrics. One beautiful thing about the metric system is that grams and mL’s are virtually interchangeable. In other words 100 mL’s of liquid will weigh 100 grams. Don’t you love that? That makes it possible to weigh out water measurements instead of the more approximate method of filling a glass measure where “a tad above-the line, below the line, eye-level” all makes a difference. Weighing is exact, every time.  (If you have a scale, it will likely convert US measurements to metric with a button-push, but just fyi 375 grams =  13.25 ounces.)

In a bowl, mix the flour, yeast and salt. Stir in the water to blend. If using a scale, place bowl on scale and zero it out. Add 375 grams flour. Add yeast and measure out salt. Zero the scale, and add 375 mL (or grams) of water. Mix loosely. (It will finish the process of blending as it sits.) What you’ll have will be a bit wet, shaggy and messy-looking. Cover bowl with a tea towel and allow to rest (and grow!) for 12 to 24 hours. (If you choose a cooler place, the process will likely take 18 to 24 hours. Room temperature, more like 12 hours.) When the dough is dotted with bubbles and very alive-looking, you’re ready for the next step.

Only 1/4 teaspoon yeast…amazing right?

Generously flour a work surface. Dump the contents of the bowl out onto it.

See all the strands of gluten that have formed while you’ve ignored your dough? This is what will create pockets to contain the gas.

No need to knead, but simply fold the dough over on itself several times. Cover it with a clean towel and allow it to rest for 15 minutes. (Dough that rests like this is much more workable.)

(This next step feels so good!) Using only as much flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking to your fingers, shape the dough as follows:

Fold in thirds (as if you were folding a letter for an envelope, one fold, then another.) Rotate the loaf, then fold each longer end in again. (You’ve made roughly a square shape with rounded corners.) What you have facing you is the seam that will open later, upon the final rise in the oven. 

After the first two folds

After the last two folds. Ready to rise.

Lie another towel on your counter and cover with a generous amount of flour, wheat bran or fine cornmeal and then place the dough on it, seam-side down. Be sure the flour extends beyond the borders of the bread as it will be growing. The reason for the generous amount of flour is that you do NOT want the bread sticking to the towel when you go to invert it into a hot Dutch oven.  Dust the dough with a little more flour then cover with a tea towel and allow to rise about 2 hours. In these two hours the bread will have more than doubled its size.  Read more

bread for today

It’s no secret: you can plunk down a lot of good money on a loaf of good bread. A loaf that actually tastes like bread, with honest texture and chew, with a browned crust that crackles when you tear or bite into it and little bits of it spill onto your lap. A loaf with a labyrinth of airy holes inside (to better hold the butter or olive oil), and an aroma that you want to bury your nose in. A loaf like that will set you back at least a several dollars.

Or – easy-as-pie (only easier) – you can make your own. In a recent post I listed bread from your oven as a remedy for the doldrums. It’s certainly that – but it’s not only the eating of it that lifts your spirits – it’s the feel of it, all squishy at first and then soft and powdery like a baby’s bottom. It’s the heavenly aroma that leaks from your oven and drifts through your house. And it’s the sheer miraculousness of motionless ingredients springing to life! Baking bread is simply one of life’s simple pleasures. Eating it is another.

In my previous post (on a grand scale) I laid out reasons why a digital kitchen scale belongs in your kitchen. For bread-making (as I’m about to describe) the process is made nearly fool-proof. You’ll get consistently wonderful results, loaf after steamy loaf. (The weight of “carefully” measured and leveled cups of flour can vary by as much as 2 ounces!)

The first of these two recipes will give you bread today. The second, using less yeast and undergoing a longer, taste-developing rise, can start today but will finish tomorrow. They’re both delicious, and I make each of them all the time. The second, if you can wait, is a-maz-ing! Both take very little hands-on time, the longer method even less hands-on time, so don’t be deterred by the waiting game. While the dough is doing its growing thing, you can be tending to whatever else calls you.

Almost always these days, I’ll bake bread using a Dutch oven. With its lid on, a moist mini-environment is created, one very similar to professional deck-ovens with steam-injection. The crust that results is phenomenal. I’ll give the instructions for with and without a Dutch oven. 

Basic Bread Dough

  • 20 ounces bread flour (4 cups)
  • 12 ounces water (1½ cups)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon active or instant yeast (I prefer active)

Instructions using a digital scale:

Turn scale on. If using a stand mixer to knead your bread, place its bowl on the scale and then zero the scale out. (The weight of the bowl will no longer be counted.) Begin scooping flour into the bowl until it measures 20 ounces. Measure in 2 teaspoon salt. Again, zero out the scale. Add lukewarm water until scale registers 12 ounces. Spoon 1 teaspoon yeast over the top and allow to dissolve in the water.

No scale yet? 

Measure the ingredients into your bowl by cup and spoon. (Never use a two-cup measuring cup to measure flour. The results are much more compact and will therefore weigh more than intended.)

Fit the bowl onto your mixer and using the paddle attachment, incorporate the ingredients fully. Remove paddle and replace with the dough hook. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. This will take about 10 minutes.

(When ready you should be able to remove a small piece of the dough and stretch between your fingers and it will stretch into a translucent sheet without breaking. If it quickly breaks, continue kneading. Another test is simply to use a couple knuckles to press the dough. If it springs back and completely fills the depression, it should be ready.)

Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover it with plastic and allow it to rise to about twice its size.

Now the test for readiness is to gently push a finger into the dough. The dough should offer some resistance. If it springs back rapidly, let it rest a bit longer. If you let it rise too long, the dough will turn a bit flabby and will be a bit more reluctant to give that extra rise once in the oven.)

Turn the dough out from its bowl onto a floured surface and knead it to expel excess gas and redistribute the yeast.

Forming the loaf:     Cover with a dish towel and let rest for 15 minutes. To form a boule (ball-shaped) loaf, simply roll the dough back and forth on the cutting board or counter following a circular motion until smooth and round. Again, cover the dough with a dish towel and allow to rise for another hour. If using a Dutch oven, you can place the boule in the pot and allow it to rise there. (But please refer to the Dutch oven method below before proceeding.) If using a traditional (no Dutch oven method) place the formed ball onto a baking sheet.

Traditional method (no Dutch oven)      After about 30 minutes of bread-rising -  Preheat the oven to 450°F.

(Yes, it’s early but the oven gets better, with a more even heat, if allowed to preheat for a longer period.) If you want to create some steam to produce a better crust you can place a cast iron skillet in the oven on a lower rack when you begin to preheat. Then add a cup of water to the skillet (using mitts to avoid burning!) when you put your bread in to bake.

Just before sliding your bread into the oven, slice an X or a pound symbol # into the top to help it expand for its final (rather dramatic) rise. Coat with olive oil and a sprinkling of coarse salt. Place into oven on baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes at 450°F then reduce oven temperature to 375°F and continue baking until done, 45 to 50 minutes. (Internal temperature when done, 200°F to 210°F.) Cool on a rack completely before cutting (if at all possible.)

Dutch oven method:  (5½- or 7½-quart Dutch ovens will work – best results with cast iron)

Don’t let this confuse you, but you have yet another option here. Either a pre-heated Dutch oven – the advantage will be a crunchier crust and a bit more rustic appearance, or a cold Dutch oven – the advantage being that you can allow your loaf to rise in the pan, preserving the pretty shape you’ve created. You might try them both and see which you like better. It’s slightly less “intimidating” if you start with the cold Dutch oven the first time. So I’ll begin there.

Cold Dutch Oven: After forming your boule (description above) place in the Dutch oven, the bottom of which has been oiled first. Allow to rise until doubled, then add a coating of olive oil and some coarse salt, and slash the top as directed above. Place the lid on the pot and bake for ½-hour. Remove the lid and continue baking until done. (The internal temperature will register 200°F to 210°F) another 15 to 30 minutes. Remove and cool on rack. The crust will make the most delicious-sounding crackle as it cools. (The loaf pictured here was prepared in a cold Dutch oven.)

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a Christmas bread – Panettone

I caught a little flack from family for sharing the caramel corn. Some thought (kiddingly I’m sure) that it ought to be “sacred,” a family secret, vaulted away. These are NOT stingy people! They’re tremendously generous. Their hearts are huge. But they did have serious qualms about my going public with Ruthie’s caramel corn.

And yet…I’m here to share. So while I’m at it (and already in questionable standing with the family)… here comes another recipe from our holiday house to yours.

This bread is so deliciously fragrant! It’s a soft loaf, delicately but surely flavored with anise, slightly sweet and full of colorful dried fruit. It’s the traditional loaf on Italian tables for Christmas and New Years and has been a tradition in our non-Italian family since I was a kid and our mom first learned to bake homemade bread.  You can eat it with just a creamy smear of sweet butter or – as we do – toasted, with its fragrance roused to life again. We’ll have it for breakfast along with our scrambled eggs and fresh-squeezed juice.

I’ve suggested certain fruits to go inside, but really the choice is entirely yours. Mom used to make it with those candied fruits and peels (which, as a kid, I detested and had to go to a lot of trouble to pick out so I could get to the truly good stuff.) I’m saving you the trouble. Use whatever dried fruits you like…cherries, apricots, golden or dark raisins, cranberries or candied citrus rinds or softer nuts like walnuts or pecans. Traditionally, it’s one half raisins and one half other mixed fruits, but you can do all raisins if you like, or none at all. Be sure though not to skimp on the anise (neither the extract nor the seeds) because that’s where all the heady perfume comes from! Can you stand being adored? Then you will be so glad you made this bread!

Panettone - Christmas Bread

  • 2 Tablespoons yeast (or two packets)
  • ¼ cup lukewarm water (100-110°F)
  • 3/4 cup boiling water
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • ¾ teaspoon anise extract
  • 2 teaspoons crushed anise seed
  • 6 to 6½ cups all-purpose flour or bread flour  (total weight 30 ounces – or 1 pound, 14 ounces)
  • 2 cups dried fruit (1 cup golden or dark raisins plus 1 cup total of a variety – dried cherries, dried apricots, cranberries, dried pineapple, candied citrus rinds or soft nuts like walnuts or pecans)

My personal choice – 1 cup raisins (¾ golden, ¼ dark), and 1 cup equally divided between apricots, tart cherries and dried bing cherries. If I had on hand a bit of candied orange rind, I’d add it too, but I don’t always.

Dissolve the yeast in ¼ cup of lukewarm water. (Don’t exceed 115°F. If you don’t have a thermometer, the elbow is a good indicator of the right temp. It’s baby bathwater warm.) Set aside.

Place the butter, sugar and salt in a medium size bowl and pour boiling water over top. Stir to melt and dissolve, then set aside to cool. (Again, no warmer than luke warm.) Once it’s cooled, add the eggs, anise extract and crushed anise seeds. (You can use mortar and pestle to crush…they don’t need to be ground.) If you’ve got a stand mixer than can knead your bread for you, hooray! Transfer these wet ingredients to the bowl of your mixer.

Measure out 6 cups of flour. Have another ½ cup standing by in case you need it. Gradually add the flour to the liquid and knead with dough hook attachment for about 7 or 8 minutes (or longer if required to achieve proper consistency.) You’re looking for most of the dough to be pulled away from the sides of the bowl. When you press the dough with a finger, the dough bounces back at you. And when you lightly squeeze it between your fingers, it almost wants to stick but you’re able to ply your fingers from it without taking dough with. The surface is smooth and baby’s bottom soft.

Lightly butter the inside of a large bowl. Form the dough into a ball, place inside the bowl, and roll around the sides of the bowl to very lightly coat with butter. Cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm, draft-free place to rise for 1 hour. (My preferred place is inside a cold oven. I place another bowl inside the oven filled with hot water. It creates just the right environment, rising the dough but not too quickly. It should be doubled in about 1 hour.)

 While the dough is rising, place the raisins in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Allow to sit for 30 minutes and plump up a bit. Drain them in a collander and then place them on a clean towel, patting to dry.

Cut the fruits into approximately raisin-size pieces.  Mix all the fruits together.

Once dough has doubled, remove the plastic wrap, and with your fist, deflate the mound. One gentle punch or two will do.

Lay the dough out fairly flat; pile the fruits on top. Roll the dough around the fruit and gently knead, incorporating the fruit. Gather into a rough ball, then tuck the sides of the dough under until you’ve again achieved a smooth, round ball. Place it back inside the bowl to rise as before, a second time. Allow to rise until double, about an hour or so. (This may take a bit longer with the heavy fruit now inside.)

Once doubled the 2nd time, split dough in two fairly equal pieces. Allow to rest for 5 minutes under a towel. 

Forming the Loaves:  The object is to stretch the top, tucking the sides down and to the bottom of the loaf. Do this with the dough held in both hands, thumbs more or less on top, your other fingers continually curving over the sides, tucking the sides down and under. If that’s something you don’t feel confident about, not to worry. However you make a round loaf will be good. Put each loaf onto its own baking sheet or into individual cake pans. (You’ll want to put them side by side in the oven. If you put them both on the same baking sheet, they could rise to meet each other and meld their sides together. That wouldn’t be a catastrophe but you’ll be happier if they don’t.)

15 minutes before you expect the loaves to be ready for baking, place a rack 1/3 up from the bottom of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Brush the loaves gently with melted butter using a pastry brush.

Bake for approximately 45 minutes. If they begin to brown too much, lay a large paper grocery bag over the top toward the end. (Don’t worry, it won’t catch fire.) Or use aluminum foil if you’re leery.

Remove loaves from oven; cool completely on a rack before cutting. This bread keeps well for days, if wrapped tightly. Or bake ahead and freeze (double-bagged) for weeks or longer. Be sure to bring out before the holiday!

~ ~ ~

Tomorrow, continuing to be inspired by our travels to the southwest,

I’ll share yet another recipe with corn as the centerpiece

and some more photos from our trip.

Focaccia with Olive Oil and Rosemary

Focaccia, that sometimes wildly aromatic flat bread from Italy, can be made using many different herbs or flavorings. At the bottom of this recipe I’ll list several options that change it up quite a bit. If you have a stand mixer, this is an incredibly easy bread to make…and if you don’t, it’s only slightly more time-consuming. (Many food processors are large enough to accommodate it too.)

If your focaccia is around long enough to start to turn stale, you can slice it down the middle, fill it with the sandwich ingredients of your choice, including a good cheese (being sure to add some pesto to prove you’re part Italian) and make a grilled panini of it. Or turn it into croutons for your salad or for scattering on your soupa! If you haven’t made homemade bread before, this is a delicious (and pretty much fool-proof) place to start.

Focaccia with Olive Oil and Rosemary

  • 1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1-1/2 cups warm water (115° to 115° F)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, plus extra for greasing
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 to 4-1/2 cups bread flour, plus extra as needed
  • Coarse sea salt for sprinkling on top
  • 1- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary (or more to suit your taste)

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, sprinkle the yeast and a pinch of sugar over 1/2 cup of the water and stir to dissolve. Allow to stand at room temperature until the mixture is foamy (about 10 minutes.) Add the remaining water and sugar, 1/4 cup of the olive oil, the 1-1/2 tsp. salt and 1 cup of the flour. Beat on medium speed for about 1 minute. Add another cup of flour, and beat on medium-low for 2 minutes. Change to the dough hook attachment, and add the remaining flour, only 1/2 cup at a time, allowing each to incorporate before adding the next. You’re looking for a soft and, what is often described as, a “shaggy” dough to form that will start to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Continue kneading on low speed, adding flour 1 Tablespoon at a time until the dough is only slightly sticky and nearly as soft as a baby’s bottom. (About 6 or 7 minutes probably.) Cover the bowl with a moist clean towel or plastic wrap and allow to rest for 20 minutes.

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Grandma Bea’s Banana Bread with Chocolate

Makes two 5 x 9-inch (or 4-1/2 x 8-inch, taller) loaves

Ingredients

  • 3 cups mashed banana (6 – 7) (ripe & soft, but not mushy)
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 4 eggs
  • 1-1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or hazelnuts, plus more for the top (nuts are optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter your loaf pans or line them with parchment paper.

With a fork, mash the bananas well in a small bowl. Add lemon juice to prevent discoloration; stir and set aside.

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