Thursday, October 29, 2009

Heart of Wheat Bread

Once in a while I come across a recipe that is so phenomenal that I know it will become part of my repertoire. This was the case with the Heart of Wheat Bread from the Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. In all its simplicity -after all its ingredients are only flour, water, honey, yeast, salt, and a healthful addition of wheat germ - it is perfection. I have made it countless times and every time I’ve made it I’ve doubled the recipe to make two loaves. It is an easy bread to put together; you mix up a sponge, cover it with a flour and yeast mixture and let it sit for four hours. After a 20 minute autolyse you add the salt and you mix the dough for 7 minutes. The dough is silky and lovely to work with. After you give it two rises you shape it and place into a loaf pan and give it its final rise. It is placed in a hot steamed oven where it gives the best oven spring ever. After about 30 minutes it is done, but I turn off the oven and leave it in for another 5 minutes for a crisper crust. I take it out of the oven and - this part is very satisfying for a bread baker - it crackles, it crackles like no other bread does. The bread is talking to me and it’s telling me that I’m in for a treat. How I wish I could cut into it as soon as it comes out of the oven, but I (not so)patiently wait for it to cool, and then I have a slice with butter and it never disappoints. Its crust is crisp and its crumb has just the right amount of chew. The next morning I look forward to breakfast because it makes the most wonderful toast. Rose writes that "..eating it inspires absolute and reverential silence!” That’s exactly how I feel.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Starkey Hill Hike & Pot Luck Lunch

Sunday, October 18, 2009
Fall is a perfect time for a hike. The air is crisp, the trees are ablaze in their autumn colours and there are no mosquitoes to contend with. Our friend Julie, organizer of events, planned an outing where we would hike through a trail close to property once owned by her grandparents. Invitations were sent out and in the end twelve friends met at the trail’s entrance. It could not have been a better day for it, there was not a cloud in the sky and the air was comfortably cool. It was not a long or difficult trail to walk except for a network of tree roots that criss-crossed the path underfoot or rocks menacingly peeking through the earth so that you had to watch your step. I had my trusted walking cane, a broken branch I picked up on a hike many years ago. It is naturally ergonomically shaped - at least I think it is, because it has a natural curve in the middle of it and if you can believe it, it even has a handle. An expert might tell me that it is too long for my height but it has served me well providing me with support for my bad knee and balance and stability through tricky passages. We passed large coniferous forests, with their only pines at the top of the tall trees where they met the sun, and several vignettes along the way, one of which laid a plaque with a dedication to the Starkey family that once owned the land.

We walked in twos as the path did not allow for more than that, and you had to line single file when someone was coming from the opposite direction. I’ve always liked how when you pass perfect strangers on a hike you greet each other with a friendly hello, as this rarely happens on city streets. As we walked we enjoyed a nice conversation with whomever we were walking with, but as we walked along someone would inadvertently fall behind or move forward and you would have a new partner to speak with, so conversation was varied and interesting. Before we knew it, we had walked about four kilometers and we were back were we had started from.

We headed back to Rod and Julie’s for a pot luck lunch that included wonderful butternut squash & pear soup, a delicious spicy chicken chili, lasagna, a tasty artichoke and mushroom salad, pasta salad, coleslaw and Caesar salad and bread followed by a lovely pumpkin cheesecake, brownies and fresh apple cake and coffee.

By the end of the day we were already discussing next year’s hike.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

My First Blog

The last time I tried to create a blog I was given message that I could not proceed and I couldn’t figure what it was so I thought providence was sending me a sign that I had nothing interesting to write about so it intervened to save me from embarrassment. Well maybe not, but I left it, thinking I would try again sooner or later so here I am with the help of my computer savvy daughter trying once again and keeping my figures crossed that this time my entry will be accepted.

Marie Wolf (breadbasketcase) made The Best and Easiest Home-made Bread recently and I wrote her telling her that I would give this bread a try, so here it is. I started it on Thursday evening and let the sponge sit overnight in our cool kitchen so that it would be ready for the final mixing and rising Friday morning and hopefully ready for lunch. The dough was pretty easy to handle and I let it rise in my banneton, but the kitchen was cool because it is so cold outside and it took a little longer to rise. I inverted the dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment, slashed the dough and set in the oven to bake. The finished loaf is quite lovely and I was quite excited about it. My son and I had some for lunch and it was good. Thank you Marie for posting the recipe, I’m always happy to try new ones.

My husband and I are joining about 16 friends and acquaintances on a hike tomorrow and then going back to our dear friends Rod and Julie’s home for a pot luck lunch and I offered to bring dessert. I hummed and hawed about what to make and finally decided on a Fresh Apple Cake because apples are in season and thought it to be a fitting dessert for a fall day. The recipe comes from the Fanny Farmer Baking Book by Marion Cunningham. I made this cake years ago and remembered it to be quite good. It is a spicy cake chock full of finely diced apples, raisins and chopped walnuts and perfect with a cup of coffee or tea. Since my husband doesn’t like fruit in desserts I also made a batch of brownies. Hopefully the hike plus the pot luck lunch and good company will become an annual tradition to look forward to.

The recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar but I find that it is quite sweet so I've decreased the sugar to 3/4 cup. I doubled the recipe to make a 13 x 9 inch cake.
Fresh Apple Cake
(one 8-inch square cake)
There is no need to peeel the apples for this moist and spicy cake. It is at its best the day it is made and absolutely delicious plain or frosted.
1/3 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
2 cups finely chopped raw apple
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease and flour an 8-inch square pan. In a large mixing bow, beat the butter until it is smooth and creamy. Gradually add the sugar and continue beating until well blended. Add the eaggs and vanilla and beat well. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves, and sift them together into the butter-sugar mixture. Beat until smooth and well blended: the mixture will be very stiff. Add the chopped apple, rainins and the optional walnuts, and beat well.
Spread evenly in the prepared pan. Bake for about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack. Serve warm or cool, with whipped cream or vanilla ice-cream, if you wish.
Fresh Pear Cake. Substitute 2 cups finely chopped raw pear for the apple.

Well here it is, my first blog and thank you Melinda for giving me the push I needed.