Thursday, November 29, 2007

Pumpkin cranberry bread

I know we are past the very narrow window in which we consume pumpkin, but I have a belated recipe to share. I thought it might be nice to make a pumpkin bread to give out on Thanksgiving for the next day, and found the answer to my recipe hunt on one of my favorite design blogs, Design*Sponge. In addition to all of the food blogs I avidly follow, there are a number of design blogs I check in on regularly and am always inspired by the fresh ideas and creativity I find. Design*Sponge is doing a weekly series called “In the Kitchen With . . .” in which a designer is interviewed and shares a recipe. A couple of weeks ago, Lena Corwin, an illustrator and textile designer, was featured and shared her mother’s recipe for pumpkin cranberry bread. I spotted it just in time to incorporate it into my Thanksgiving plans.

I was initially a little dubious about the recipe as it contains more sugar than you probably care to think about and the raw batter tasted overly sweet. However, once baked, it contained the perfect amount of sweetness, and was moist and wonderful with beautiful flecks of cranberry and walnuts in it. On Thanksgiving, I sliced the loaf and wrapped the slices in polka dot tissue paper and then placed them in glassine bags tied with a bow – a very pretty giveaway and hopefully enjoyed the next day with fond memories of the holiday (don’t you love it when restaurants give you muffins for the morning after dinner?). I liked the recipe so much I had to make it again a few days later with the remnants of my annual bag of cranberries.

This seems like a good time to share some of my favorite design blogs. I have them loaded into igoogle (LOVE!) where I can keep an eye on new posts and easily poke around. I am always amazed at the wonderful taste, style and ideas coming from these women. Be forewarned: if you haven’t visited these sites before you are likely to be drawn in for hours (especially if you explore their sidebar links and wander over to their flickr photos). Hope that you discover something new and find as much inspiration as I have.

Another Shade of Grey: Lots of clever ideas. Showcases Etsy artists who I always love discovering (so much talent out there!)
Decor8: “Fresh finds for hip spaces” and such a sweet founder’s story
Design*Sponge (for the interview with Lena Corwin click here): Brooklyn-based daily blog about home and product design that also features interviews, city guides, store reviews and more
Grijs: Inspirational design from Europe
Hoping for Happy Accidents: Inspiration and ideas from Brooklyn
Kris’s Color Stripes: An Italian artist and fashion designer shares inspiration with beautiful photos accompanied by a color palette that makes me see things in a different way
Pumpkin Cranberry Bread (Lena Corwin’s recipe from Design*Sponge)

This recipe uses either two standard loaf pans (plus a small (5") cake or a few muffins), or three aluminum foil loaf pans. The foil pans make it easy to give the bread as gifts.

Wet ingredients
1 3/4 cup canned pumpkin (one small can-425g)
2/3 cup butter, melted (150g)
2/3 cup water (160ml)
4 eggs

Dry ingredients
3 1/2 cups flour (455g)
3 cups sugar (600g)
2 tsp baking soda (10g)
2 tsp baking powder (10g)
1 tsp cinnamon (5g)
1 tsp nutmeg (5g)
1/2 tsp cloves (2.5g)
1/2 tsp salt (2.5g)
1/2 cup [coarsely] chopped walnuts or pecans (60g)
1 cup [coarsely] chopped fresh or dried cranberries (120g)

Preheat oven to 350F/180C degrees. Combine the eggs, pumpkin, butter, and water in a large bowl. In another bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients, plus the nuts and cranberries. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, and mix with a wooden spoon by hand. Mix until the batter is combined, but don’t over mix. Grease the pans, and distribute the batter equally in the pans (should fill each about half way up). Bake for 1 hour.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Daring Bakers challenge: focaccia

This weekend I tackled my second Daring Bakers challenge: focaccia. I was very excited when I found out about this month’s challenge. I’ve never made bread of any kind and I’ve been waiting for an excuse to give it a try.

The recipe was chosen by Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups and is Tender Potato Bread (from Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. The bread can be formed into a loaf, rolls or focaccia, and I decided upon the latter since it is tasty and satisfying as a snack on its own, and afforded more creative topping possibilities (and what better excuse to sop up olive oil?).

Bread is a little scary for the novice: unlike cake or pastry making there’s a lot of leeway in a bread recipe and a lot of judgment involved: the amount of flour that’s added is dependent upon the texture of the bread. The amount of time the bread takes to rise is affected by room temperature, humidity and even the draftiness of the room it’s made in. A good dough must be elastic but not too sticky and have just the right feel after kneading. A good bread baker must take all of these factors into account in the making of the dough.

I don’t have any judgment or instinct on these matters having never made bread before, but luckily this recipe, plus learning from my fellow bakers’ experiences with the dough, made it possible to have a very successful first go-around. The dough is made by combining a mashed potato with the potato cooking water, flour (all-purpose and whole wheat), yeast and salt – unbelievably simple ingredients that turned into a wonderfully airy and tender bread.

For the challenge, we were allowed to depart from the basic recipe by adding our own seasonings in addition to the recommended brushing of olive oil and sprinkling of sea salt on the top (and also allowed to form the dough however we wanted). I decided to split the dough in half and top one with Kalamata and assorted olives plus rosemary and yellow onion and top the other with yellow onions, red onions, shallots, scallions and fresh thyme. Both were delicious and I am looking forward to enjoying the spoils of my effort all week! As a word of encouragement if you are weary of bread: nearly everyone had a great experience with the bread and loved the end result.

A few things I’d like to try next: I’d like to mix in caramelized onions or an onion confit into the batter so as to end up with an onion-filled bread (vs. solely topped) the next time. I’d also be more generous with the toppings that baked down more significantly than I was expecting. I also had a good learning: I ran out of time to bake the bread after I had let it rise and was able to form and refrigerate the bread (stopping it from rising) and then bring it to room temperature the next day, allow it to rise an additional ~20 minutes and then bake it. A very helpful learning since it’s hard to find the time to bake the bread in one sitting.

I’ll definitely try this again. Thanks Tanna for a great experience!

I'm repeating the entire recipe and Tanna's notes below as they were very helpful and descriptive

Tender potato bread (from Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour & Tradition Around the World by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid)

Makes 1 large tender-crumbed pan loaf AND something more; one 10X15 inch crusty yet tender focaccia, 12 soft dinner rolls, or a small pan loaf

Suggested toppings:
For Loaves and Rolls: melted butter (optional)
For Foccacia: olive oil, coarse salt, and rosemary leaves (or as you wish)

Potatoes and potato water give this bread wonderful flavor and texture. The dough is very soft and moist and might feel a little scary if you’ve never handled soft dough before.

Once baked, the crumb is tender and airy, with tiny soft pieces of potato in it and a fine flecking of whole wheat. The loaves have a fabulous crisp texture on the outside and a slightly flat-topped shape. They make great toast and tender, yet strong, sliced bread for sandwiches. The dinner rolls are soft and inviting, and the focaccia is memorable.

4 medium to large floury (baking) potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks.
Tanna Note: For the beginner bread baker I suggest no more than 8 ounces of potato; for the more advanced no more than 16 ounces. The variety of potatoes you might want to use would include Idaho, Russet & Yukon gold, there are others.
4 cups (950 ml) water, reserve cooking water
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
6 1⁄2 cups to 8 1⁄2 cups (1 kg to 1350g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (130g) whole wheat flour

Making the dough (Directions will be for making by hand):
Put the potatoes and 4 cups water in a sauce pan and bring to boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and cook, half covered, until the potatoes are very tender.

Drain the potatoes, SAVE THE POTATO WATER, and mash the potatoes well.

Measure out 3 cups (750ml) of the reserved potato water. Add extra water if needed to make 3 cups. Place the water and mashed potatoes in the bowl you plan to mix the bread dough in. Let cool to lukewarm (70-80°F/21 - 29°C) – stir well before testing the temperature – it should feel barely warm to your hand. You should be able to submerge you hand in the mix and not be uncomfortable.

Add yeast to 2 cups all-purpose flour and whisk. Add yeast and flour to the cooled mashed potatoes & water and mix well. Allow to rest/sit 5 minutes.

Note about adding yeast: If using active dry yeast or fresh yeast, mix & stir yeast into cooled water and mashed potatoes & water and let stand 5 minutes. Then add 2 cups of flour to the yeast mix and allow to rest several minutes. If using instant dry yeast, add yeast to 2 cups all-purpose flour and whisk. Add yeast and flour to the cooled mashed potatoes & water and mix well. Allow to rest/sit 5 minutes.

Sprinkle in the remaining 1 tablespoon salt and the softened butter; mix well. Add the 1 cup whole wheat flour, stir briefly.

Add 2 cups of the unbleached all-purpose flour and stir until all the flour has been incorporated. (Tanna Note: At this point you have used 4 cups of the possible 8 1⁄2 cups suggested by the recipe.)

Turn the dough out onto a generously floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, incorporating flour as needed to prevent sticking. The dough will be very sticky to begin with, but as it takes up more flour from the kneading surface, it will become easier to handle; use a dough scraper to keep your surface clean. The kneaded dough will still be very soft. Place the dough in a large clean bowl or your rising container of choice, cover with plastic wrap or lid, and let rise about 2 hours or until doubled in volume.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead gently several minutes. It will be moist and a little sticky.

Forming the bread:
Divide the dough into 2 unequal pieces in a proportion of one-third and two-thirds (one will be twice as large as the other). Place the smaller piece to one side and cover loosely.

To shape the large loaf:
Butter a 9 x 5 x 2.5 inch loaf/bread pan. Flatten the larger piece of dough on the floured surface to an approximate 12 x 8 inch oval, then roll it up from a narrow end to form a loaf. Pinch the seam closed and gently place seam side down in the buttered pan. The dough should come about three-quarters of the way up the sides of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 35 to 45 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled in volume.

To make a small loaf with the remainder:
Butter an 8x4X2 inch bread pan. Shape and proof the loaf the same way as the large loaf.

To make rolls:
Butter a 13 x 9 inch sheet cake pan or a shallow cake pan. Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces. Shape each into a ball under the palm of your floured hand and place on the baking sheet, leaving 1/2 inch between the balls. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 35 minutes, until puffy and almost doubled.

To make focaccia:
Flatten out the dough to a rectangle about 10 x 15 inches with your palms and fingertips. Tear off a piece of parchment paper or wax paper a little longer than the dough and dust it generously with flour. Transfer the focaccia to the paper. Brush the top of the dough generously with olive oil, sprinkle on a little coarse sea salt, as well as some rosemary leaves, if you wish and then finally dimple all over with your fingertips. Cover with plastic and let rise for 20 minutes.

Baking the bread(s):
Note about baking order: bake the flat-bread before you bake the loaf; bake the rolls at the same time as the loaf.

Note about Baking Temps: I believe that 450°F(230°C) is going to prove to be too hot for the either the large or small loaf of bread for the entire 40/50 minutes. I am going to put the loaves in at 450°(230°C) for 10 minutes and then turn the oven down to 375°F (190 °C) for the remaining time.

Note about cooling times: Let all the breads cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Rolls can be served warm or at room temperature.

For loaves and rolls:
Dust risen loaves and rolls with a little all-purpose flour or lightly brush the tops with a little melted butter or olive oil (the butter will give a golden/browned crust). Slash loaves crosswise two or three times with a razor blade or very sharp knife and immediately place on the stone, tiles or baking sheet in the oven. Place the rolls next to the loaf in the oven.

Bake rolls until golden, about 30 minutes. Bake the small loaf for about 40 minutes. Bake the large loaf for about 50 minutes.

Transfer the rolls to a rack when done to cool. When the loaf or loaves have baked for the specified time, remove from the pans and place back on the stone, tiles or baking sheet for another 5 to 10 minutes. The corners should be firm when pinched and the bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

For focaccia:
Place a baking stone or unglazed quarry tiles, if you have them, if not use a no edged baking/sheet (you want to be able to slide the shaped dough on the parchment paper onto the stone or baking sheet and an edge complicates things). Place the stone or cookie sheet on a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450°F/230°C. (Cookbook Catchall note: I had no issue using a rimmed half sheet pan as the bread can be lifted out easily on the parchment paper. I did not use a stone - did not need to)

If making focaccia, just before baking, dimple the bread all over again with your fingertips. Leaving it on the paper, transfer to the hot baking stone, tiles or baking sheet. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack (remove paper) and let cool at least 10 minutes before serving.

*Some notes about flour:
King Arthur Artisan Organic All-Purpose Flour is fairly new in the markets in the US now and is advertised to be best for making European-style hearth breads with a protein level of 11.3%

*Conversion chart for yeast:
1 oz/ 1 Tablespoon of fresh yeast = 0.4 oz/ 1.25 teaspoon active or instant dry yeast = 0.33 oz / 1 teaspoon instant or rapid rise (bread machine) yeast (this recipe requires 1.6 teaspoons rapid rise yeast if that's what you are using). Reference: Crust & Crumb by Peter Reinhart.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Eggs "shaken"

I figured it was a good time for something very simple. If you are like me, you are planning, shopping, arranging and preparing for Thanksgiving and don’t need another complicated dish to make (or even think about) this week. Truth be told, I am only responsible for one side dish and two desserts – totally manageable and enjoyable. I’ve made both desserts many times before: blueberry pie and pumpkin pie – so there will be no recipe surprises to contend with. I rather like both recipes, so if there is time to photograph them, I will post one or both after Thanksgiving.

Now, back to the recipe at hand. I was introduced to a very simple, yet clever, little egg dish at a brunch that I have adopted as my own. I’ve only shared the recipe once, and my confidante is a convert as well. It’s called “eggs shaken” – loosely named after the person who concocted it, nothing to do with being shaken, which it’s not. The surprise ingredient, wheat germ, adds textures and a subtly nutty / wheat-y flavor. Try fitting it in between turkey and leftovers; it cooks in a few minutes and cures all holiday food transgressions (well, not really, but wouldn't that be nice?).

Eggs shaken

1 or 2 eggs
1-2 Tablespoons wheat germ
1-2 Tablespoons + freshly grated parmesan cheese
Coarse-ground pepper
Tabasco (optional)

Heat a pat of butter and a few drops of Tabasco sauce (if you like a little heat) in a small skillet over medium heat. Making this dish in individually sized portions is best (I use a small (~6 inch) cast iron skillet). Break two eggs into a small bowl and gently pour the eggs into the skillet so as not to break them, and to start the eggs cooking at the same time. Once eggs have begun to set, sprinkle with 1-2 tablespoons wheat germ, and then sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan cheese. Generously dust with coarsely-ground pepper. Salt to taste. Just before eggs are cooked to your liking, turn heat to high for a few seconds so that the eggs sizzle when served (a little drama). Serve in the skillet (on a trivet or tea towel so you don’t burn your table)! Let me know how it goes.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Spoon madeleines and an adventure

Continuing my Donna Hay love fest, I’ve been pouring through recent magazines, flagging recipes I want to try, and cooking them when I can. Recently, the magazine featured spoon-sized desserts – a very sweet (pun intended) set of recipes oriented around baking desserts in different types of spoons. There were several I was interested in trying, among them a very simple recipe for madeleines that can be baked in teaspoons or tablespoons. The cake recipe contains only a few ingredients and is quickly whipped up. The challenge for me was finding appropriate spoons. My modern, sleek stainless steel spoons did not seem worthy of such a pretty dessert and I don’t own silver flatware. This led to my adventure – a trip to a prop rental company.

Coincidentally, I live in an area of New York City that is full of photography, theatre and film-related businesses. There are several prop rental companies in the neighborhood, including Prop Haus, a store without a street front that operates largely on word of mouth (no website and hardy any detailed information to be found without visiting). They have two floors, a complete floor of kitchenware and tabletop items and another full of furniture, and they rent items for photo shoots and movies. To my delight, stacked on high shelves, row after row, were any type, style and color of plate, silverware, table linens, glassware, and cookware I could possibly imagine. There was a chest of drawers filled with silverware, antique and new, classified by type, available for the picking. I had a hard time walking out without more items. The price, unfortunately, was a deterrent for the hobbyist like me – antique silver aside, given the prices and the one week rental period, it is more cost-effective to continue to buy props here and there as I need them. For this project, however, I had a wonderful time combing through silverware to find the perfect mismatched assortment of tarnished antique spoons, and of course, I couldn’t help but check out everything else as well! It is truly heaven for the design, photography or food enthusiast.

I had a nice experience that came from a kitchen quest earlier this week. I have been looking for a prettier and less expected alternative to conventional ramekins that would make a prettier presentation at the table and think I’ve finally found my answer in Mud Australia baby noodle bowls. I searched for the color and quantity I wanted online and happened to call a store in Maryland that carries the brand. After giving my order information, the store owner realized we had gone to high school together. She has beautiful store as a second career after being a lawyer. It’s always wonderful to rediscover people, and to find people who are following their passion – very encouraging for someone like me who is just starting her own business. To check the store out, click here.

Chocolate spoon madeleines (from Donna Hay)

Makes approximately 15 tablespoons or 30 teaspoons depending on the size of your spoons (I only got 10 out of the largish tablespoons I used)

1 egg
2 tablespoons caster (superfine) sugar
2 tablespoons plain (all-purpose) flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
30g (1 oz) unsalted butter, melted
confectioner's sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 355°F. Place eggs and caster sugar in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Fold through the flour, baking powder, cocoa powder and butter. Place ~30 greased teaspoons or ~15 greased tablespoons around the edge of a rimmed baking sheet. Spoon the mixture into the spoons until 2/3 full. Bake the teaspoons for 5 mintues or the tablespoons for 8 minutes or until madeleines are cooked. Dust with confectioner's sugar to serve.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Homemade ricotta

I never considered making my own cheese, after all, people focus their lives on cheese making and it is easy to buy wonderful cheeses. But then I saw how simple it is to make fresh ricotta. Donna Hay had a wonderful piece on ricotta in the October/November issue (my dish above left, her magazine page on the right) and I was very curious to see if a recipe that simple, for something I had previously thought was very complicated, would actually work. Believe-it-or-not, two ingredients later (milk and vinegar), and about 10 minutes total cooking time later, I had a soft and fluffy ricotta that was so fresh and satisfying I couldn’t believe I’d never tried it before! The only piece of specialty equipment required is a liquid thermometer. Otherwise, it is optimal to use a ricotta mold, but the recipe works perfectly well molded in any 1-cup capacity container provided you drain the ricotta well before loading it in and use care when un-molding. Ricotta molds are not the easiest things to find, and after realizing I would have to resort to mail order, I decided it wasn’t that important.

Ricotta (from Donna Hay)

6 cups full cream milk
2 tablespoons white vinegar

1. Place the milk and a candy thermometer in a saucepan over medium heat and heat to 176ºF. Remove from the heat, add the vinegar and allow to sit for 5 minutes or until curds form.
2. Line a colander with fine muslin and place over a deep bowl. Use a slotted soon to carefully spoon the curds into the colander. Allow to drain for 5 minutes.*
3. Spoon the ricotta into a glass or ceramic dish and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Store in refrigerator for up to 1 week. Makes 1 ¼ cups.

*The reason the curds need to be carefully spooned is to ensure they hold their shape. Pouring the curds straight into the colander will result in the cheese becoming dry and grainy.

I followed the recipe for sweet honeyed ricotta, which includes a honey/vanilla bean drizzling syrup as follows:

Honey / vanilla syrup

1 cup water
1/3 cup honey
1 vanilla bean, scraped
brioche (or other bread) to serve
honeycomb to serve

Place the water, honey, vanilla bean and seeds in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir to combine. Bring to a boil and cook for 12-15 minutes or until thick and syrupy. Strain and allow to cool. Turn ricotta out onto a plate, pour the honey syrup over it and serve wit the honeycomb and brioche.