Monday, November 28, 2005

Pumpkin Oatmeal Bread

Despite the occasionally negative comments that I have heard about Beth Hensperger's Bread Bible, I (so far) have always had good results with it. Last week, when I was looking for a bread to make for Thanksgiving, I flipped through the book, looking for something that would be hearty but not too heavy to accompany the big meal. I had in mind that I wanted oatmeal in the loaf, since I had done an oatmeal bread last year with success.
I settled on making a variation of Ms. Hensperger's Potato Oatmeal Bread, though I swapped out the potato in favor of using pumpkin puree. Adding pumpkin to a bread, I have found, can make it incredibly moist. It is usually very important to allow the bread to cool completely before slicing it, lest it befome gummy from the steam that will escape from a preemptive slice.
This bread was a snap to put together. The resulting loaves were soft, with a fairly tight and even crumb. There were no large bubbles. I cut it into big chunks to serve with dinner, but it also held up very well for slicing the next day. I am sure that it would have made fine rolls, but the baking time would have to be adjusted from the time I've given below.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Bread
1 ½ cups water, warm (110F), divided
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
½ cup milk, warm (110F)
¾ cup pumpkin puree, room temperature
1 tbsp salt
1 ½ cups rolled oats
1 tbsp butter, melted
5-6 cups ap flour
In a large bowl, combine 1/4 cup of the water, 1 tbsp active dry yeast and 1 tsp sugar. Let stand for 5 minutes, until foamy. Add remaining water, milk, pumpkin puree, salt, oats and 2 cups of flour. Mix thoroughly, then add thre remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and begins to feel slightly firm but spongy to the touch. This can be done in an electric mixer with the dough hook attachment.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, before placing it in a lightly oiled bowl, covered with plastic wrap, to rise until doubled, 1 1/2 hours.
Turn risen dough gently out onto a floured surface. Divide dough in two and gently shape into two round or slightly oblong loaves. Place on an oatmeal dusted baking sheet and, covered with a clean towel, let rise for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375F.
Slash the top and sides of the loaves and bake for 35-40 minutes at 375, until loaves are browned and sound hollow when tapped. If you have an internal read/meat thermometer, it shoud read 195-200F when poked into the loaf through the bottom.
Allow to cool completely before slicing.

Mini Turkey Cornbread Sandwiches

I remembered a post on My Adventures in the Breadbox that Alice did way back in March and decided that some of my leftover turkey was just the thing to make mini-muffin sandwiches. The only question in my mind was to decide what type of muffins to make.
Cornbread always goes well with turkey, so adding cornmeal to the muffins was an easy decision. I wanted them to be slightly sweet and not too dry, so I added a small amount of brown sugar to them. I planned on using some leftover cranberry sauce with the turkey, and because cranberry and citrus work so well together, I also opted to add some orange juice to the muffins. I didn't add any zest, though the juice was fresh squeezed, because I wanted the flavor to be subtle enough to prevent it from competing with the turkey.
Because I did not use muffin liners, which, by the way, I would not recommend for muffins you intend to use in sandwiches, these developed a nice little crunch, as well as nice browning, on the bottom. They were not dry, but mini muffins can be overcooked quickly and they will dry out if left in the oven too long. These made great little sandwiches and I would make the cornbread again for any corn muffin occasion. I might also use the mini muffins again as a holiday appetiser.

Orange Cornbread MiniMuffins
1 ¼ cups ap flour
¼ cup cornmeal
1 tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup brown sugar
1 egg
2 tbsp (used 1 tbsp) oil
½ cup fresh oj
½ cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease two 12-cup mini muffin tins.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking soda and salt.
In a medium bowl, whisk brown sugar, egg and oil until smooth. Add orange juice. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients, along with dried cranberries, and stir until just combined.
Distribute batter evenly among prepared muffin tins.
Bake at 350F for 9 -11 minutes, until a tester comes out clean.
Turn muffins out onto a wire rack to cool.
Makes 2 dozen mini muffins

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Sunday Brunch: Rooibos Cinnamon Raisin Rolls

Every month, Adagio Teas has a TeaChef contest. When you sign up, they'll send you a free sample of the month's featured tea, which you can use to create an original recipe. The recipes are submitted back to the site and, at the end of each month, you can vote for your favorite recipe to win. The prize? Something tea-related and the honorary title of "Best [Tea] Chef in the Universe". Frankly, I'm in it for the title.
This month's tea is here, along with all the other entries.
This is a variation on my rolls that was really quite tasty. Try these as cinnamon buns or try the base recipe for the rolls alone, if you have a chance. Regardless of whether you will try them or not, please head over and vote for my entry! The voting button is just under the photo.

Rooibos Cinnamon Raisin Rolls
(a variation on my roll recipe)
1 ¼ cups water
1 tbsp rooibos tea
1 package (2 ¼ tsp) active dry yeast
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp salt
2 ¾ cups all purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
½ cup raisins
4 tbsp butter, cut into teaspoons
4 tbsp milk or cream
1/2 cup sugar

Bring water to a boil and stir in tea. Let steep for 7 minutes, strain leaves and let water cool until it is just warm to the touch, 100-110F.
In a large bowl, combine 1/4 cup of the warm tea, yeast, honey and melted butter. Stir together and let stand for 10 minutes, until foamy.

Stir remaining tea, salt, 2 cups of flour and raisins into yeast mixture. Add remaining flour one tablespoon at a time, stirring until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. You may not need all the flour, but if you need to add a bit extra, that's fine. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.

Turn risen dough out onto a lightly floured surface, divide dough in half. Working with one half at a time, roll into long rectangle, about 12x6 inches. Leaving a hlaf inch margin to make rolling easier, brush with about 2 tbsp milk or cream (you might not use it all, which is fine). Sprinkle liberally with cinnamon and about ¼ cup sugar. The surface should be well coated.
Starting with a long side, roll up into a tight log, pinching along the seam to seal. Divide log into 6 rolls with a sharp kinfe, cutting every 2 inches, and place cinnamon buns swirly side up on a lined or greased baking sheet. Repeat with 2nd half of dough. Top each bun with about 1 tsp butter.
Bake at 375 for 20-24 minutes, until golden brown.
Drizzle with glaze (see below) while hot.

Simple Cinnamon Bun Glaze
2 cups confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp cinnamon
milk (skim is fine)

Stir together all ingredients in a small bowl, adding enough milk to make the glaze drizzle thickly but easily. Add a bit more sugar if you thin it too much, but it's not an exact science, so I wouldn't worry too much. It'll taste good in the end no matter what.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Is My Sugar High Burning? - Spectacular Seasonal Shortbreads

Food blogging stars Jennifer, at the Domestic Goddess, and Alberto, at Il Forno combined forces this month to arrange a joint event of Sugar High Friday and Is My Blog Burning?. I guess that makes this month's cookie swap fall under the heading of Is My Sugar High Burning?

These shortbread cookies are crisp and crumbly. They are fairly thin, which creates a nice ratio of topping to biscuit. I really like crumbly shortbread and the use of cornstarch instead of part of the flour makes these quite crumbly. Keep an eye on them as they bake; their thinness can cause them to go from perfect to a bit overdone in a short preiod of time.
Some people loved the peppermint topping, which was very good, but I loved the chocolate covered espresso bean shortbreads. They had an extra coffee kick that only espresso beans can provide, but they're not overwhelming because of the chocolate. My chocolate covered espresso beans had a fairly thick dark chocolate coating. I personally wouldn't have minded even more coffee, but I think that having a bit more chocolate gives them a more widespread appeal.
You can't go wrong with shorbread around the holidays and you definately can't deny that these look gorgeous on a cookie plate. Easy to make and even easier to eat.

Seasonal Shortbreads
1 cup butter, cold and cut into a few large pieces
½ cup sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 ¾ cups ap flour
¼ cup cornstarch
¼ tsp vanilla
1/3 cup each crushed peppermint sticks
1/3 cup coarsely chopped chocolate covered espresso beans

Preheat oven to 325F. Line a 9x13 inch sheet/jelly roll pan with parchment or aluminum foil.
Combine butter, sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add flour, corstarch and vanilla and pulse until dough comes together into a ball.
Press into prepared baking sheet (dough should be about ¼ inch thick). It's ok if it doesn't go all the way into the corners of the pan. Spread peppermint sticks over half the batter and chocolate covered espresso beans over the other half. Press lightly but firmly into the dough.
Bake at 325F for 30-40 minutes, until light golden brown.
Cool for 5 minutes, then slice into small rectangles with a sharp knife. Let cool in pan.
Makes 36 cookies.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Cooking School: Lemon Meringue Pie

I definately admire Gale Gand, the ever-so-talented pastry chef and owner of Chicago's Tru Restaurant. Her books, including Butter, Sugar, Flour, Eggs - which this recipe comes from - are wonderful and detailed. Her TV show also really resonated with my deep love of desserts. I think that my first time watching it was the first time I ever saw a real pastry chef in action. Gale, though incredibly innovative, has a soft spot for the desserts that some (food snobs) would certainly consider to be too homey to be truly worthwhile - like the mud pies she made as a little girl. While I don't necessarily consider Lemon Meringue to be homey, I do consider it a classic that is worth making.
Lemon meringue pie is a diner staple across the country. It is quite easy to make and takes less time and talent than even a fruit pie does. Essentially, the crust is prebaked, filled with a very thick curd and topped with meringue, which is then browned lightly in the oven.If you keep a stock of prebaked pie shells (or buy them from the market), you can have a fresh pie in practically record time.
Since Gale is a pastry chef, her recipe has a few features that are different from many lemon meringue pie recipes. Her filling is thickened with a combination of flour and cornstarch and the lemon flavor is brightened with a tiny bit of lemon oil (or extract). Almost all lemon fillings are thickend with flour and/or cornstarch to create something that you can actually slice into cleanly. To create a stable, weepless meringue, a sugar syrup is cooked and streamed into beaten egg whites. This actually "cooks" the eggs, so the meringue will last longer than a simple meringue.
I love lemon meringue pies (especially this one) because I love the smooth tartness of the lemon filling and the fluffy, slight sweetness of the meringue. Unlike topping a pie with whipped cream, the taste is very clean and not unctuous. I used my own crust recipe, but Gale's full recipe is available online. My meringue did separate slightly from the filling, so make sure to wait until your filling is cooled to room temperature before topping it with the meringue. This pie cuts beautifully and the filling maintains its shape. To avoid having the meringue stick to the knife, run it under very hot water for a few seconds before slicing.

Single Pie Crust
1 cup ap flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
4 tbsp butter, chilled in about 4 pieces
2 tbsp shortening, chilled in about 4 pieces
3-4 tbsp ice water

Whisk together flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl. Rub in butter and shortening with your fingertips until mixture is very coarse, but no pieces larger than a large pea remain. Using a fork, stir in ice water until dough almost comes together into a ball. Press dough into a ball with your hands and wrap in plastic. Chill for at least 30-60 minutes before using.
To prebake, preheat oven to 375F. Roll dough out to fit a 9-inch pie pan and trim the crust. Prick the bottom with a fork a few times. Line the inside of the crust with aluminum foil, not covering the edges, and fill with pie weights or about 2 cups of dried beans. Bake for 25 minutes, until very lightly browned. Remove foil and weights and bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until medium brown at the edges.
Set aside to cool.

Lemon Meringue Pie
(recipe from Gale Gand)
1 recipe pie crust (see above), prebaked
For the filling:
1 cup sugar
3 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
3 tbsp ap flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups water
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp lemon zest
1/4 tsp lemon oil (optional)
3 egg yolks
2 tbsp butter, room temperature

For the Meringue:
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsp water
4 egg whites, room temperature
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

In a medium saucepan, whisk together sugar, cornstarch, flour, salt and water. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring with a whisk, for 3 minutes, until quite thick. In a small bowl, combine egg yolks with lemon juice, oil and zest.
Gradually temper eggs with about 1/2 cup of sugar mixture. Return saucepan to the heat and, whisking continuously, stream in lemon mixture. Add in butter and cook over medium-high heat for another 3 minutes.
Pour into prepared crust.
Allow to cool to room temerature.

One filling is cooled, preheat oven to 350F.
In a small saucepan, combine sugar and water. Bring to a boil and turn heat to low.
In a large bowl, beat egg whites until frothy. Beat in cream of tartar and beat at high speed until egg whites reach soft peaks. Carefully, with the mixer turned down, stream in sugar syrup and beat to medium stiff peaks.
Spoon meringue onto pie filling and make sure to completely seal the edges with the crust, leaving no filling exposed.
Bake for 8-10 minutes, until meringue is lightly browned.

Makes 1 pie.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Ginger Lime Sweet Potato Soup

Nothing beats a steaming cupful of thick, creamy, rich-tasting soup on a cold day. This is particularly enjoyable, to me at least, when I know that the soup isn't loaded with heavy cream. Not only does this make the soup much, much healthier, but it gives it a little bit of lightness that a soup heavy on the heavy cream wouldn't be able to achive.
Sweet potatoes are an excellent choice to thicken a creamy soup because they have a rich taste and smooth texture. They also can absorb a lot of moisture, which I find makes them incorporate more easily into a soup. Since they are, unsuprisingly, sweet tasting, I added a bit of cumin to downplay that sweetness; it doesn't take very much to highlight it. You can eiiher roast the sweet potatoes in the oven or peel and boil them until tender for this soup.
This soup is simple and has a nice tang to it from the ginger and the lime. The soup is very thick and rich tasting. If you like a soup that is less thick, just add 1/2 to 1 cup more liquid once the soup is done. It is lovely for a first course, but still satisfying enough to be an entree. Because of the lime in it, it goes very well when garnished with a bit of Fresh Cranberry Relish. If you have leftovers, you might need to add a bit more liguid to it when you're reheating.

Ginger Lime Sweet Potato Soup
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced onions
1/2 cup diced carrots
2-3 tsp grated ginger
2 tsp grated lime zest
1/2 tsp cumin
2 1/2 cups cooked, mashed sweet potato (about 6 medium potatoes)
5 cups vegetable stock (or water)
1/2 cup milk
salt and pepper, to taste

In a large pot or dutch oven, cook the celery, onions and carrots over medium heat in about a teaspoon of oil until tender, about 15 minutes. Add in grated ginger, lime zest and cumin. Stir to combine. Add in sweet potato and vegetable stock, stirring to break up any large pieces of sweet potato. Bring to a simmer, then cover and cook for 15-20 minutes, until flavors have melded.
Remove from heat and use a stick blender to puree soup. Or, working in batches, puree the soup in a blender. Stir in milk. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
Serve with a dollop of Fresh Cranberry Relish and, if desired, a squeeze of lime juice.
Makes 8 first course servings, or 4 main servings.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Fresh Cranberry Relish

Countdown to Thanksgiving: T-3 days.
I like to be able to check things off my list in advance. There's always so much to do on Thanksgiving Day. Oh, I don't have a problem with the cooking, but it does get annoying to clean out bowls and appliances every 5 minutes when doing prep work for various dishes.
This relish, from Food and Wine magazine is extremely easy on two counts: it can be made in advance and requires no cooking. In fact, it is incredibly easy to put together. Simply combine all the ingredients in a food processor and pluse until evenly, but coarsely blended.
The fresh cranberries have a great, bright texture and the cirtus flavors are bold and refreshing. It is quite tart because the citrus goes in unpeeled, but the flavors balance out well. Just be sure to wash everything really well before you add it. I used fresh lime in place of the lemon called for in the original recipe, since I like the lime-cranberry flavor combination. You can add a bit more sugar if this is too tart for you.
It makes a great accompaniment turkey (or any other meat) and is a nice change from traditional sauces.

Fresh Cranberry Relish
(original recipe from Food & Wine)
1 medium apple (I used a Jonagold), peeled and cut in chunks
1 medium orange, unpeeled cut in chunks
1/2 lime, unpeeled and cut in chunks
2 cups fresh cranberries (frozen are okay)
1/3 cup sugar

In a food processor, combine all ingredients and pluse until coarsely and evenly chopped. I like mine a bit on the fine side, but if you prefer larger chunks, go for it.
Relish can be kept in the refrigerator for about 1 week.
Makes about 4 cups.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Sunday Brunch: Raised Orange Waffles

I was looking around various websites for waffle recipes when the idea of an orange flavor struck me (Gee, I don't know why). This recipe on Mr Breakfast immediately appealed to me, since I love yeasted waffles. They are usually able to achieve a lightness that eludes waffles made with chemical leaveners alone, though I do like those as well. I had already decided on the recipe when I realised that it was vegan. Never having made vegan waffles before, I immediately wondered if they would produce a texture similar to, if not the same as, non-vegan waffles. Naturally, I didn't hesitate to make them, since I've made many vegan baked goods that I've liked.
For a yeasted recipe, these are suprisingly quick to make. Once everything is blended, the batter needs to stand for only 30 minutes before it is ready. I did reduce the amount of flour called for slightly, because I was worried about the batter being too thick. The orange flavor was noticeable but not overwhelming. The waffles turned out to be fairly crisp on the outside and moist, though not dense, inside. While perhaps not as crispy as a batch made with lots of butter might turn out, they were very good. I'd definately make them again, possibly substituting some of the orange juice for lemon next time and stirring in some dried blueberries. My mouth is already watering.

Raised Orange Waffles
(They're vegan! And from Mr Breakfast)
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1 cup warm orange juice (110F)
1/2 cup vanilla soy milk, room temperature (plain milk is fine)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 t vanilla extract
Zest of 1 orange
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups ap flour
1/2 tsp baking powder

Whisk together yeast and orange juice in a large bowl. Let stand for 10 minutes, until slightly foamy. Stir in the rest of the ingredients and let batter sit in a warm spot, covered with plastic wrap, for 30 minutes.
Heat waffle iron according to directions and cook waffles until they are golden brown and crispy (I would give more details, but every waffle iron is different). Serve immediately.
Makes 4-6 waffles, depending on the size of your iron.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Hay Hay It's Donna Day!

This is the first blogging event that I actually felt compelled to participate in. Not that I mind, though, since it was my post that inspired the event. Barbara, of Winos and Foodies, noticed that the cupcakes were quite popular among bloggers and spread around my appreciation (and others' appreciation) for the talented Donna Hay. The premise of the event is simple: make a batch of these Nutella Self-Frosting Cupcakes. Barbara is even giving out a prize for the best looking bunch!
The cupcakes are one of my most popular recipes, based on a recipe for peanut butter frosted cupcakes by Donna Hay. But since I don't think I can improve on my original cupcake swirls, I decided to take my swirl to a whole new medium. I swirled scones.
These scones are very moist and fluffy. I added a bit more sugar than I ordinarily would to balance out the sticky, rich flavors of peanut butter and nutella. I used natural peanut butter, unsalted, with peanut chunks. Yum! They're a bit more unusual than plain scones and a much more socially acceptable option than cupcakes during breakfast. Or while reading Barbara's roundup.

Peanut Butter and Nutella Swirled Scones
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup butter, chilled, cut into small pieces
5-6 tbsp light cream (half and half or milk is fine)
Peanut butter

Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium or large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Add butter and toss to coat. Using your finger tips, rub the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles very coarse sand. A few large bits, about pea sized, are fine.
Add 5 tablespoons of cream and stir with a fork until dough comes together. If the mixture does not form a ball, add remaining tablespoon of cream. Divide dough in 6 pieces and roll each into a ball. Gently flatten onto the baking sheet. Dip your fork in nutella and poke a shallow swirl into the top of 3 of the scones. Repeat with peanut butter and remaining scones. Most of the peanut butter and nutella should be on the surface of the scones, but using the fork to create some small holes will prevent anything from running off the scone.
Bake for 15 minutes, until scones are a light gold color.
Makes 6 small scones.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Cranberry Buttermilk Loaf

I love a versatile recipe. It's fun to mix up fruits and flavors without having to sweat the details of flour, leavening, etc. This recipe makes a great tasting loaf no matter how I mix it up. Since the fat - butter in this case, though you can use vegetable oil of you prefer - is melted, no creaming is necessary and it only takes about 5 minutes to put together the batter. A very quick quick bread, no?
The loaf is a great choice for breakfast or paired with a cup of tea.I like the richness that using buttermilk adds to the bread The bread is a bit sturdy and holds up well to toasting. It's not overly sweet, but provides a great backdrop for the bright, tart cranberries. The spices are mild, to enhance the flavor of the berries and the buttermilk without overwhelming the loaf. Don't be intimidated by the length of the ingredient list, since they're mostly spices. Keeping it wrapped, the bread stayed moist for a few days.

Cranberry Buttermilk Loaf
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup buttermilk
2 tbsp melted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1 cup fresh cranberries, very coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly grease an 8x4 inch loaf pan.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices.
In a large bowl, thoroughly whisk together sugars, buttermilk, melted butter, vanilla extract and the egg. Add the flour in gradually, adding the cranberries with the last addition. The batter will be thick.
Spoon batter into prepared pan and smooth it with a spatula or knife.
Bake for 45-50 minutes, until a tester comes out clean.
Makes 1 loaf.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Cooking School: Cinnamon Swirl Bread

"What would a bread book be without a recipe for a sugar and spice swirl" asks Beth Hensperger, before sharing her recipe for Orange Cinnamon Swirl bread with the readers of The Bread Bible. Ms. Hensperger's book is her bread bible, containing 300 of her favorite recipes. The otherbread bible, by Nancy Silverton was published a few years after this one. I personally find the latter book to be good in terms of usefulness, but rather more intimidating. I really love Beth Hensperger's recipes and have several of her other books, as well. She is talented - not just at baking, but at all types of cooking - inspirational and accessible. I definately recommend this book.
I haven't made a simple swirled loaf before and I couldn't resist the twist of orange that she added to this one.
Generally, I tend to want to make cinnamon buns or something if I am rolling bread up in a swirl. Since these generally come out well, I figured that I wouldn't have too much difficulty with this week's recipe. But this particular post serves as a good reminder that no matter how good you think you're getting at shaping breads, there will always be room for improvement. In other words, when making a loaf that you want to hold its shape, make sure that you pinch it shut very well. I even put the seam side down and still had some slight malformation. No matter, though. It gives the loaves character.
I used freshly squeezed orange juice, though store-bought will be fine. Do be sure to include the orange zest, though. The dough was firm and easy to handle, after it came together very easily. I used slightly less butter than called for when adding my cinnamon layer, but brushed the rest over the tops of the loaves to make a lovely brown crust. Due to the inclusion of egg and butter, the bread was baked at a low temperature.
The really impressive thing about these loaves was the taste. A hint of orange, a hint of cinnamon and a slight sweetness worked perfectly with the soft, yielding texture of the bread. The final product tasted much richer than I had anticipated, since it has only a moderate amount of butter and egg for how incredibly good it tastes. It is satisfying on its own, makes killer toast and incredible french toast, particularly if you add an extra pinch of cinnamon to your french toast batter.

Orange Cinnamon Swirl Bread
(from Beth Hensperger's The Bread Bible)
1/4 cup warm water (110F)
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1 cup warm milk (lowfat or skim is fine)
1 cup orange juice, fresh if possible, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
4 tbsp butter, melted
2-3 tsp orange zest
2 eggs, room temperature
2 tsp salt
6 1/2 to 7 1/2 cups ap flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tbsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp butter, melted, for brushing

In a large bowl, combine water and yeast.
Let stand for 5-10 minutes, until foamy. Add milk, orange juice, sugar, butter, orange zest, eggs, salt and 2 cups flour and mix, either by hand or with an electric mixer, until thorougly combined.
Add in 1 cup flour and stir for one minute (use the dough hook from this point on if using a mixer). Add remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time until dough comes together into a firm ball and no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for an additional 2 minutes, shaping dough into a ball. I used a bit more than 6 1/2 cups of flour, then worked in some more as I kneaded the dough.
Place dough in a large, lightly greased bowl, covered with plastic wrap, to rise until doubled, 1 - 1 1/2 hours.
Grease two 4x9 inch loaf pans with butter or oil.
Combine 2/3 cup sugar and 1 1/2 tbsp ground cinnamon in a small bowl.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into two equal pieces. Working with one piece at a time, roll dough out into an 8x12 inch rectangle. It's okay to approximate the size. Leaving a one inch border, brush dough with melted butter and sprinkle evenly with 1/2 cinnamon mixture. Starting with the shorter side, roll dough up tightly, pinching the ends and the seam together very well. Rolling with your hands on the edge of the dough will help maintain the shape of the bread as you roll it.
Place, seam side down, in one of the prepared pans. Repeat with remaining dough. Brush tops of loaves with any unused melted butter and cover loaves with plastic wrap. Let rise for 40 minutes, until about 1/2-1 inch over the top edge of the pan.
While loaves are rising, preheat oven to 350F.
Bake risen loaves for 40-45 minutes, until loaves have a nice brown top crust.
Turn out of pans immediately and allow to cool completely on wire racks before slicing.
Makes 2 loaves.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Healthy Potato Chips?

I will admit that I was completely astounded that this worked.
I made potato chips - crispy, salty, tasty potato chips - without using oil. And I did it with my microwave.
For a few years, I didn't have a microwave because, let's face it, the one thing you really need a microwave for is to thaw some varieties of frozen food. And 90% of them can be done in some other way. But a microwave is a convenience that I like. I use it, now that I have one, to heat water for tea, melt chocolate, warm up leftovers and, now, to make potato chips.
I spotted the recipe for Uncle Bill's Microwave Potato Chips completely by accident and was compelled to try it. After washing and drying them, I sliced my potatoes as thinly as I could, leaving the skins on. I lightly sprayed a Pyrex baking dish (microwave safe) with cooking spray in case anything should decide to stick, popped the potatoes in and salted them. I kept an eye on them as they cooked, since each batch needed either more or less time, depending on thickness. The potato chips were crispy and delicious. I didn't even have to re-oil the dish between batches, since nothing stuck!
My mind is still reeling, but at least I have a snack to help me get through it.
Thanks, Uncle Bill!

Microwave Potato Chips
Russet (or baking) potatoes
salt or salt blend

Scrub potatoes, leaving skins on and slice potatoes as thinly as possible into even slices. No slice should be more than 1/16 inch thick (less than 1.5 mm). Lighly oil a pyrex baking dish with cooking spray and place potato slices in a single layer. You will probably have to cook the potato in batches. Evenly salt or season potatos as desired.
Microwave, on high, for 3-6 minutes.
Most batches took me about 4 minutes, but it is best to watch (just like popcorn) to prevent burning.
Remove from dish and repeat with remaining slices until all the potato has been cooked.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Milk Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

Down deep in the darkest recesses of your heart, you know you like milk chocolate. Creamier, sweeter, milder than dark chocolate, it probably reminds you of your childhood.
It's okay to like it.
Despite what the marketing machine and food snobs will tell you, milk chocolate is not necessarily inferior to dark chocolate. Some is good, some is not. This is true of just about every food product there is. Milk chocolate has a lower percentage of cacoa solids compared to dark chocolate and also has milk and sugar added to it. Dark chocolate also has sugar, but often considerably less.
While I do like dark chocolate, I thought it would be nice, for a change, to pay tribute to the classic milk chocolate. These cookies fit the bill exactly, with milk chocolate melted into the batter and milk chocolate chips stirred in. If I had used dark chocolate in these, I would have increased both the butter and sugar. As it is, these cookies are perfectly chocolatey without the rather aggressive notes that darker cookies can have. If you must have nuts, you may add 1/2 cup, but I think that these are perfect as is. The edges are crisp, the center is soft and you will be reaching for a second before you have finished the first.

Milk Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 ½ cups ap flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
¾ cup butter (1 ½ sticks), room temperature
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 ¾ cups milk chocolate chips, divided

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a small bowl, melt (in the microwave or over a double boiler) 3/4 cup milk chocolate. Set aside to cool slightly.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, with an electric mixer, cream together butter and sugars. Add in eggs one at a time, beating until each is incorporated. Add in the vanilla and the melted chocolate.
Stirring by hand, gradually add in the flour mixture, followed by the milk chocolate chips. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheet.
Bake at 350F for 9-11 minutes, until set.
Allow to cool on pans for about 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Makes 3 1/2 - 4 dozen.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Get Well Soon, Clare!

Dusty, Phoebe and I wish our good friend Clare all the best, since she is still in hospital from her accident this past week. Since Clare and her cat, Kiri, normally host Weekend Cat Blogging, Masak-Masak has thoughtfully arranged a tribute WCB with get-well wishes for Clare.
Dusty, who is pictured above, may not seem worried, but he's just concentrating very hard. Really.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Garlicky Polenta Breadsticks

While I like a light, soft breadstick as much as anyone, I also like the crunchy, good-for-dipping kind. Soft breadsticks are usually just dinner rolls, shaped into logs or twists and dressed up with some flavorful topping, like coarse salt or cheese. The crisp, crunchy kind are often made from leftover yeast doughs, cut very thinly and baked until hard. They're not as useful for soping up soups as the soft ones, but they are wonderful for snacking. But it seemed like such a waste to go to the trouble of making a whole batch of dough for a few sticks, so when I saw a recipe for non-yeasted, crunchy looking breadsticks, I just had to give them a shot.
The recipe is built by cutting butter into a flour and cornmeal mixture, which is raised with baking powder. It turns out that they cut them quite thickly, making them less crunchy and more bread-like, in the original recipe. Since I was looking for more crunch, I rolled the dough out much thinner, aiming for sticks that were a bit more cracker-like and crisp.
The final result was that my breadsticks were crunchy on the ends and softer in the middle, giving them a nice balance and making them very easy to eat. The cornmeal gave them a great texture. They would be great to serve as part of an appetiser tray with dips or with a very saucy pasta dish. The garlic and dill combination I used, kicked up by sprinkling the sticks with garlic salt, made them very addictive indeed.

Garlicky Polenta Breasticks
(adapted from an LCBO recipe)
1 1/2 cups ap flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried dill
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper, to taste
4 tbsp butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/2 cup milk
2 egg whites
1 egg, lightly beaten, for brushing
garlic or coarse salt, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, sugar, garlic powder, dill, salt and pepper. Add butter and rub in with your fingertips until mixture resembles sand and no large chunks of butter remain.
Combine milk and egg whites in a small bowl, then add to flour mixture, stirring until al dough is formed. Roll dough out on a lightly floured surface until it is a 10x12 inch rectangle and approximately 1/4-1/2 inch thick (about 1 cm). Trim rough edges. Use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to cut into 16 even strips.
Transfer strips to baking sheets, leaving room between them. Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle generously with garlic salt (or regular coarse salt).
Bake for 10-12 minutes, until golden brown.
Allow to cool before serving. Leftovers can be wrapped and re-crisped in the oven for 5 minutes at 400F.
Makes 16 sticks.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Spirited Rum Balls

As the holidays begin to approach - despite store displays that indicate that Christmas began in October - it is time to start thinking about holiday gifts and cookies, both for swapping and for eating. This recipe is a variation on Martha Stewart's Bourbon Balls. The biggest change is that instead of bourbon, I prefer to use dark rum, which is made from fermented molasses. Alcohol and molasses? Sounds like Christmas to me! Of course, I'm only kidding. I confess that these are actually a bit too... alcoholic for my personal tastes, but the combination seems to make them a very popular choice for holiday parties.
I wonder why.
These no-bake cookie-like confections have a soft texture and rummy taste. The best way I can think of to describe them is as the cookie version of a truffle, because they certainly bring truffles to my mind, though they lack the rich creaminess of the candy. I think that they are quite fun to make, not to mention exceptionally easy if you have a food processor. I would not advise attempting them without one, since it would be difficult to achieve the right consistency using a rolling pin and a spoon. You can use any brand of vanilla wafers or substitute animal crackers, which are slightly less sweet and work equally well.
I actually do not recommend eating these when they are freshly made; they will be too wet, have a sharp alcoholic taste and a somewhat gritty texture. Because the flavors (and texture) meld rather impressively over time, it really is best to make these a few days ahead. And as many of us get rather busy around the holidays, who can complain about something that you can do a week ahead of time? Once you've rolled them, leave the rum balls out for about 24 hours to "dry" a bit, and then seal them in an airtight container. If you use a small container, you can pop them in an envelope and mail them to a friend. By the time they arrive, they should be just about perfect. I recommend making them at least 3 days ahead.

Rum Balls
3 cups vanilla wafers (or animal crackers)
1 cup pecans
1/2-2/3 cup dark rum
1 cup confectioners sugar
3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa
2 tbsp corn syrup
additional confectioners sugar, for rolling

In a food processor, whizz wafer cookies until they are reduced to crumbs. Add pecans and continue to process until mixture is uniform. Add sugar, cocoa and corn syrup. With the motor running, drizzle in rum until the mixture comes together in a thick, sticky ball. Roll mixture into 1-inch balls and coat with confectioners sugar.
Set in a single layer to dry for 24 hours before storing. Make at least one day ahead.
Makes 48 balls.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Cooking School: Lemon Pudding Cake

After the last IMBB, Sarah Lou from One Whole Clove and I had a bit of a chat about the effect of water baths on souffles. Her lovely Pecorino and Caramelised Veggie Souffle, baked in a water bath, just didn't rise quite as impressively as she had expected (though it certainly still looked good). Since a souffle gains much of its lift during its initial moments in the oven, it seemed that the water bath, which prevents sudden or extreme temperature changes, might be to blame. My suspicions were confirmed with this recipe for Lemon Pudding Cake from All American Desserts .
I've made pudding cake before, chocolate pudding cake, but this pudding cake is a bit different. Unlike its predecessor, this cake is built almost like a souffle: the whites are beaten separately from the rest of the ingredients, and then everything is baked in a water bath. The dessert separates, during baking, into a thick, soft sponge cake layer and a smooth, creamy custard. The water bath insulates the thick, curd-like pudding layer and prevents it from over-cooking, while the sponge rises high above.
The dessert is remarkably unfussy, so if you have two lemons in your kitchen, you're all set. This recipe really has only five ingredients, though I added vanilla to the original, and is just the right size for three or four people. Since the lemon mixture is so thin, there is no need to fold the egg whites in to it; you can just gently stir the mixtures together. During baking, the top of the cake will turn a light brown as it finishes. Unlike a souffle, this dessert will not fall due to the structure of the cake layer. I ate this after letting it cool for only a few minutes and there were no leftovers, so I can't attest to its keeping powers, but it tastes so lovely that I suspect you will not have problems keeping it either. The vanilla came through the lemon a bit and I felt like I was eating a very light cake drizzled with lemon curd. Which, essentially, I was.

Lemon Pudding Cake
(from All American Desserts)
2 eggs, separated
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tsp lemon zest
2/3 cup milk (I used nonfat)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Place a 9-inch cake pan, filled with about 3/4 inch of water, into the oven. Grease a 1 quart (4 cup) souffle dish.
In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, flour and salt. Add in egg yolks, lemon juice, lemon zest, milk and vanilla and whisk thoroughly. In a medium bowl, beat egg whites to soft peaks. Stir egg whites gently into lemon mixture, until well combined.
Pour mixture into prepared souffle dish and gently place in water bath.
Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the cake has risen and begun to pull away from the sides of the dish.
Serve warm.
Serves 4.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Takeout In!

I don't always want to cook dinner. Neither do you. That's why someone brilliant came up with the idea of takeout. You get the freshness of a just-prepared meal without either cooking or actually having to spend a whole meal at a restaurant. In fact, since you only have to run out of your car to pick it up, you can save even more valuable energy by only expending enough energy avoid breaking indecent exposure statutes.
Of course, if you opt to stay in, you can wear whatever you want. Not that I'm advocating cooking while inappropriately clad, mind you. I always recommend at least an apron, a stack of clean dishtowels, a few potholders and pants.
Now that you know how to dress for the task, perhaps you will want to cook up some faux takeout. Using a variation on a sichuan sauce I made recently, I was able to make a variation of a Chinese-American orange chicken dish that takes less time than ordering in does. Since the chicken isn't deep fried before being plunged into the sauce, it's also quite a bit healthier than the usual take-out fare, though equally as tasty. Cutting the chicken into bite-sized pieces before cooking it allows you to bring the whole meal together, including prep time and cooking up some rice, in less than 20 minutes. If you skip the rice and serve this on a tortilla or a salad, you can reduce the time to less than 10 minutes. And if Rachel Ray is reading this, I would be more than happy to come on your show and demonstrate this to your viewers.

Orange Sichuan Chicken Takeout
1 recipe Orange Sichuan Sauce (below)
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 red bell pepper
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2-3 cups mixed broccoli and cauliflower florets
2 cups cooked long-grain rice

Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces. Chop bell pepper, removing seeds, into thin strips.
Heat 2 tbsp vegetable oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add chicken and bell pepper and cook for two minutes. Stir, turning chicken, and cook for 1 more minute. Add sauce to skillet along with vegetables and cover. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until broccoli is crisp-tender and chicken is completely cooked. Serve over rice.
Makes 4 servings.

Orange Sichuan Sauce
6 tbsp orange juice
2 tbsp tomato paste
4 tsp sugar
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk thoroughly. Sauce can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator for about 1 week.

Monday, November 07, 2005

DCist's Salty Oats

There was a great episode of Recipe for Success, a show on the Food Network, that featured the creator of a cookie called Salty Oats. They are oatmeal raisin cookies, sprinkled with salt, instead of having it mixed into the batter. Though the saltiness isn't approaching levels to qualify this as a "salty snack", it does bring it to the front of the palate, instead of simply using it to enhance the usual flavors. Salt fan that I am, I searched for a similar recipe and found DCist's version of this unique treat.
The cookies were really quite good. They had a great flavor and were very chewy; the use of a bit of rice flour prevented the cookies from becoming cakey. Cathy can attest to the "crunchy, chewy, buttery and salty" taste and excellent ship-ability of these cookies, since I sent a few off to her last week. Don't think that I was skimping by sending only a few: these cookies are huge.
I did change the method a bit, not refrigerating the batter before baking, so I ended up with cookies that were a bit flatter than DCist's. Using a 1/4 cup measure for each cookie made for some very large snacks. I expected them to be a bit saltier than they were, based on the name. On the Food Network clips, it seemed like quite a lot of salt was being sprinkled on each cookie, but I haven't had a chance to taste the "real" thing. Next time I'm back east, I'll try and hunt them down, but I'll probably make myself another batch or two in the meantime.
These are very impressive cookies at full size, but feel free to make these smaller, adjusting baking time accordingly.

DCist's Salty Oats
1 1/4 cups ap flour
1/2 cup rice flour (white or brown)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup large raisins
Salt, for sprinkling (I used kosher)

Preheat oven to 375F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk together rice flour and all purpose flour. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream butter for 30-60 seconds to soften. Add brown and white sugars, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon. Cream until mixture is very well blended. Add in eggs, one at a time, followed by vanilla extract.
With the mixer on low speed, beat in flour mixture. Stir in oats and raisins.
Drop dough, measuring with 1/4 cup dry measure, on to prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle cookies with salt, giving each cookie a light, but even, coating.
Bake for 12-14 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before storing.
Makes about 20 huge cookies.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Sunday Brunch: Fresh Cranberry Orange Scones

The tartness of fresh cranberries with the tart-sweetness of orange juice on a buttery background makes these really bright breakfast treats.
Well, that just sounds like a description that you'd find in a catalogue, doesn't it? Even better, it's true!
Drop scones are always fun to make because they're just so simple to miz and there is no shaping required. Put everything into a bowl, rub in butter and stir in a bit of liquid to bind it together. You can use any liquid, even water, though your results will probably be a bit more satisfying if you use milk, cream or a flavorful juice. Fresh orange juice certainly is flavorful, too, so it is a fantastic choice for scones. The acidity cuts the butteriness just enough to make these fairly addictive. I make them large, so they're more satisfying, and I am not tempted to eat more than one. Or two.
Fresh cranberries are in season and are just wonderful in these. Though they're called fresh cranberry scones, you can always use frozen cranberries instead. You may need to use a food processor instead of a knife to coarsely chop them, though, since you shouldn't defrost them before using. In all honesty, these will turn out very nearly as well with good quality purchased orange juice and the frozen cranberries. It's just a nice touch to use fresh if you can.

Fresh Cranberry Orange Scones
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup butter, chilled, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped
5-6 tbsp orange juice (fresh, if possible)
1 tsp orange zest (optional)

Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Add butter and toss to coat. Using your finger tips, rub the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles very coarse sand. A few large bits are ok, but try not to have any pieces larger than an average pea.
Stir in cranberries. Add 5 tablespoons of orange juice (and zest, if using) and stir. If the mixture does not form a ball, add remaining tablespoon of juice. Divide dough in four pieces and place on baking sheet. Sprinkle with a bit of sugar, if desired.
Bake for 16-19 minutes, until scones are a light golden color. A toothpick should come out clean, but color is a reliable indicator for these.
Makes 4.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Hooray for Hollywood

I am a big fan of Paul Hollywood. Not only is he a fabulous baker with some amazing recipes, he is great at explaining techiniques and method. On camera, he virtually always mixes with his hands, not using so much as a spoon, let alone an electeic mixer. His kneading is impressively and skillfully done - sometimes one handed! Paul must have been one of the first bakers I saw on TV where the camera actually paid close attention to his mixing and kneading the dough. Watching his video clips unquestionably helped my technique and inspired me.
This particular bread, which you can see Paul making here, is very tasty. It is moist and has a lot of sweetness from the fairly large amount of honey in it. The bread actually tastes a bit buttery, though there is no butter in it. I think it is particularly good as toast or dipped in winter soups. I skimped a bit on the saffron and wish that I hadn't; my loaf had a few bright spots of yellow, but the overall hue of the interior was muted. This dough is very easy to work with and has a very springy, pleasant texture.
The recipe online differs slightly from the one in Paul's book, mostly in the ratio of whole wheat (wholemeal) flour to plain flour. I used a combination of bread flour and whole wheat, but used more bread flour overall. Make sure to use a very sharp blade to make the slash around the circumference of this loaf, as a clean spiral will look amazing once the bread is baked.

Honey and Saffron Loaf
(adapted from 100 Great Breads)
1 1/2 -2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
4 tsp active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water, divided
1 tbsp salt
1/3 cup honey
1/4 tsp saffron, crushed

In a large bowl, combine 1 cup whole wheat flour, 3/4 cup bread flour, all the yeast and 1 1/4 cups water. Stir well and let stand, covered, for 4 hours.
Warm remaining 1/4 cup water and dissolve saffron in it. Add to flour mixture, along with remaining whole wheat flour, salt and honey. Gradually add the remaining bread flour, mixing until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl. Turn bread out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until elastic and smooth, 4-5 minutes. Place bread in a clean bowl to rise, covered, for an additional 30 minutes.
Shape dough into a ball and place on a lined baking sheet. Dust with flour, cover with a clean dish towel and let rise for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 425F.
Slash loaf with a sharp blade and bake for 25-30 minutes, until the loaf is a dark gold and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.
Let cool completely before slicing.
Makes 1 loaf

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Cooking School: Oatmeal Bran Muffins

When the holidays come around, like many people, I find myself riding waves of excess. Specifically, excesses of sugar and salt. I don't find that I have this problem when I am chiefly eating things that I have made myself, even when those things are cookies and cakes. Eating lots of very sweet things - like leftover Halloween candy - makes me crave salt. An excess of salt, in turn, makes me turn to sugar. As much as I love sugar and salt, I also occasionally like to take a break. I'm also not the only one who, on occasion, looks for something heathy in the mornings.
Oat or wheat bran muffins are a food with so much potential that often fall far below expectations. At their worst, they are dense, coarse, dry and flavorless. Their "best" is often moist to the point of stickiness or sweetness approaching that of cupcakes. A bran muffin should be slightly sweet, hearty and reasonably nutritious. The name certainly implies some degree of health, after all.
My recipe this week comes from Greg Patent's Baking in America, which I just love and don't use nearly often enough. His Whole Wheat, Oatmeal and Raisin Muffins seemed to fit the bill of what I was looking for. Though they are not quite bran muffins, they have whole wheat flour, wheat bran, oats and a fair amount of dried fruit. They are also reasonably low in sugar and fat, making them a good choice for a weekday. Best of all, perhaps, is the fact that the batter can be held in the fridge for at least a week, so there is no need to bake off the full batch at once. Mr. Patent does note that the top of the batter may darken after a few days in the fridge, so be sure to give it a good stir before baking.
Overall, the batter came together very easily. The use of oil instead of butter meant that there was no need for creaming or melting anything. I used a mixture of dried cranberries, cherries, blueberries and golden raisins for the fruit. Using a 1/4 cup measure, I spooned the batter into paper-lined muffin tins and baked. The muffins smelled just like oatmeal raisin cookies coming out of the oven. Not really suprising given the oatmeal, raisins and cinnamon in them. The recipe calls for resting the batter before baking, so I tested unrested and rested. The rested batter produced a higher rise and domed tops, while the unrested batter resulted in flat (but equally tasty) muffins.
The muffins were very tender and not greasy at all. The dried fruit gave every bite some sweetness, as the muffin itself did not taste either sweet or unpleasantly unsweetened; it had a fantastic balance. I am sure that you could add in a few toasted nuts, if you'd like, or use some fresh fruit in addition to dried. These muffins are something that you could actually serve to company, not something that you're only eating with the justification that it isn't too bad for you. I'll definatley be baking these again.

Whole Wheat, Oatmeal and Raisin Muffins
(from Baking in America)
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup wheat bran
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup raisins (or other dried fruits)
1 1/2 cups rolled oats, slightly chopped (or quick cooking oats)
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup water

Preheat oven to 375F. Grease a muffin tin, or line with baking cups.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, wheat bran, sugars, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Stir in dried fruit and oats. In a small bowl, whisk together egg, buttermilk, vegetable oil, vanilla and water.
Add buttermilk mixture to oat mixture and stir until just combined. Let stand for 15-20 minutes. You may refrigerate the batter, covered, for about a week at this point.
Spoon batter into prepared tins by heaping 1/4 cups (about 1/3 cup).
Bake for 20 minutes, until muffins are golden brown and spring back when gently pressed. Add 5 minutes baking time if batter is cold.
Makes 12 large muffins

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Maple Pumpkin Butter

Sugar and spice are exactly what is nice about pumpkin butter.
Well, maple syrup and spices.
Pumpkin butter is my favorite, but apple butter is a close second. Some stores carry jarred fruit butters, including pumpkin, apple, cherry, apricot and others, if you don't want to make your own. Fruit butter is smoother, creamier and less sweet than jam. more concentrated fruitiness. It is a type of preserve made by cooking fruit until an almost butter-like consistency is reached, hence the name. The fruit flavor is very concentrated because, compared with many jams, not too much sugar is added, allowing the natural fruitiness and sweetness to come through. You can use it as a dip for crackers or fruit or as a spread on toast. I don't know if it will replace real butter as the toast-topper of choice, but it makes an excellent pairing or alternative (on occasion). There are many options, besides dressing up toast, that you can do with fruit butter, too. Try stirring it into a bowl of oatmeal on a cook morning or adding a spoonful to a batch of pancake batter for extra flavor. You can use it in sandwiches, or anywhere else you might use jam.
Making fruit butter is very easy: cook, puree, flavor and cook until thick. Once it is ready, you can can it in sterilised jars or store it covered in the fridge, if you are planning to use it in the next week or so. The level of sweetness and amount of spice can easily be controlled when you're making your own preserves or any sort, so this is highly customisable. Because I have been known to substitute pumpkin butter for pumpkin puree on occasion, I like to keep the spices on the mild side, but you can bring it up to pumpkin pie levels if you prefer.
Don’t feel limited by this method. See it as a guideline and change the spices or sweetness as you like it.

Maple Pumpkin Butter
For each pound of cooked pumpkin (boiled until very tender) use ¼ cup maple syrup, 1 ½ tsp pumpkin pie spices and ½ tsp vanilla.

Slice pumpkin and remove the pulp and skin. Boil pumpkin until very tender and drain the water. Allow pumpkin to cool for at least 15-20 minutes. Process pumpkin in food processor, scraping down the sides occasionally, until very, very smooth. This will probably take a few minutes. Add in maple syrup, pumpkin pie spices and vanilla. Process for an additional minute. Return mixture to the sauce pan and cook, over low heat, until it bubbles. If your pumpkin is young, dense and fresh, this may not take very long because there will not be a lot of extra water in your butter. When butter is thick and has bubbled, transfer to sterilized jars. If you plan to use it within the next week or so, you may simply store it, covered, in the refrigerator.