Thursday, November 12, 2009

Raisin Pecan Bread

I just love fruit and nut breads so when I came across the recipe for Cherry Pecan Bread on Bread Cetera I knew that I would be baking this bread, except I would substitute the cherries, which I am not a fan of, for either raisins or cranberries. Actually the original recipe which was created by James McNamara, of Wave Hill Breads in Wilton, Connecticut called for cranberries, but SteveB of Bread Cetera is not a fan of cranberries so he substituted them with cherries, hence the name Cherry Pecan Bread on his site, and now it has since had two reincarnations in my kitchen as a Cranberry Walnut Bread and a Raisin Pecan Bread.

I expand the sourdough culture the day before I plan to make the bread and the next morning, putting the recipe together is pretty straight forward except that while I am measuring all the ingredients and reading through the steps I feel like I’m following instructions for a lab experiment rather than a recipe. Also, I think a novice baker would find these recipes a little frustrating as they are written assuming you know a thing of two about bread baking. Nevertheless SteveB has links to formulas and procedures, helpful videos and some of the nicest photos of bread I’ve ever seen, and if the rest of the breads are as good as this bread is then it is worth reading through the site and learning as much as possible before starting out.

The recipe makes two large loaves but I decided to divide the dough into four smaller loaves and shaped two in a fendu and two as batards. The bread pictured on Bread Cetera’s site is shaped in a Fendu, French for split: you shape the dough into a boule, flour the middle top lengthwise and with a dowel, press along the floured area and roll the dowel back and forth creating a "valley" in the centre about two inches wide. Then you bring the dough on either side of the “valley” to meet creating a crevice in the center and gently turn the loaves up side down on a floured couche to rise. I don’t have a couche, so I made a makeshift couche with a folded tablecloth and instead of making a mess with flour I placed the shaped dough on parchment. This worked out just fine except, I didn’t get the nice effect of flour on top of the finished loaves that a floured couche would give. Just before baking you gently flip the loaves right side up again and place on a sheet pan lined with parchment. I was anxious to see what they looked like so I flipped them before I should have and let them sit on the baking sheet and they began to pull apart in the middle so you can see mine didn’t turn out quite right.

The very first time I made this bread I used cranberries and walnuts and now that I’ve made it with raisins and pecans I can honestly say they were both very good and excellent served with a soft blue cheese like cambozola.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Apple Pie

Every year I make two apple pies to bring to my parents for Thanksgiving dinner. So on that weekend my husband Randy and I go to the apple orchard in King City, a twenty minute drive north from where we live and pick Northern Spy, my favourite pie apple. They are the very best apples (in my opinion) because they are slightly tart and hold their shape beautifully during baking.

I could kick myself this year for not bringing my camera with me. In all the years that we have been picking apples I don’t remember ever seeing trees laden with apples so abundant that they showed no mercy to their branches drooping low to the ground. I was able to fill my bag from one tree leaving plenty for someone else to pick, whereas in past years I would walk the entire row looking for the perfect apple, eventually filling my bag and irritating my husband to no end. Much to his shock I had filled my bag quickly and only had one more bag to fill, but this time with MacIntosh and Cortlands for eating, and there were plenty still on the trees even though picking these varieties had begun earlier.

My family celebrates Thanksgiving on Sunday so that morning I made the pies. I have been using the same recipe for the pastry for years because it works so well for me. My method of making pie dough is the antithesis of everything I have read about pastry as I don’t chill my pastry. I know there is merit to this rule yet my pastry is always very flaky without chilling. I was taught in high school home economics class to never overwork pastry if you want to achieve a flaky crust and I have applied that lesson ever since. After I’ve cut the fat into the flour I use ice water to bind the mixture and I use a fork to lightly stir the mass until it just comes together and then use my hands to ever so gently pat it together to form a ball. I cover the dough and let it rest while I prepare the apples. Hubby had peeled the apples so I just had to cut them up, add the sugars, flour, lemon rind, salt and cinnamon and toss. I lined two glass pie dishes with the pastry, piled in the apples, dotted the filling with some butter and rolled out the remaining pastry to cover the apples. I fluted the edges, cut a few slits to allow the steam to escape, brushed it with a bit of milk and sprinkled turbinado sugar on top and it was ready for the oven.

The aroma of apple and cinnamon wafting through the house was wonderful, no wonder they say if you are selling your home, put a pie in the oven for a quick sale. In about 50 minutes the pies were done.

Served barely warm with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream it is a heavenly dessert.

Deluxe Apple Pie

From Crisco’s No Fail Pastry
Make a double crust

2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. salt
1 cup shortening*
6 – 8 tbsp. ice cold water

In a bowl stir flour and salt together. With a pastry blender or two knives cut in cold shortening until it resembles course meal. Add the ice water and with a fork stir the mixture just to combine, do not overwork. When it comes together, gather the mixture with your hands and form into a ball, again not over working the dough. Divide the dough into two portions and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to use.

A mixture or shortening and butter can also be used for a richer crust.

Deluxe Apple Pie
From Five Roses – A Guide to Good Cooking

6 apples, preferably Northern Spy
6 tbsp. brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. salt
2 tbsp. butter
½ tsp. grated lemon rind

Preheat oven to 450 F. Prepare pastry and line a 9” pie plate, reserving some for top crust. Core, peel and slice apples. Combine brown sugar, sugar, flour cinnamon and salt together, then mix with apples. Spread apple mixture into unbaked pastry shell. Dot with butter, sprinkle with lemon rind then cover with top crust, sealing carefully and making slits to allow steam to escape. Bake in a hot oven then reduce heat to 350 F. and bake 30 to 35 minutes.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Onion Foccacia and Apple-Cinnamon Crumb Coffee Cake

October 31, 2009

I had been out and about most of the week so I hadn’t baked anything and now it was Saturday, it was gloomy outside and I wasn’t going anywhere so I was itching to bake something, but what? I’d been thinking about pizza but I didn’t want pizza for dinner, I had already taken out some chicken breast from the freezer. An onion foccacia is similar to pizza, and it would make a nice accompaniment to dinner. I had also received my copy of the Heavenly Cakes this week and really wanted to make the Apple-Cinnamon Crumb Coffee Cake as I had plenty of apples from a recent visit to the orchard even if I only needed one. I would make both.

I mixed up my regular pizza dough recipe which is really a fougasse recipe but makes a great base for either pizza or foccacia. As a matter of fact I use this recipe to make baguettes also. When you find a winner you stick with it. Once the dough was mixed and in my makeshift bread rising container (a large plastic tub, that had originally contained bread crumbs, just the right size for 1-1/2 pounds of dough) I thinly sliced four onions and threw them into a fry pan with some olive oil and a few sprigs of rosemary, freshly cut from my rosemary plant, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. I turned down the heat and let the onions cook slowly until translucent without browning so they would be sweet and delicious.

Assembly was easy enough – stretch out the dough on a large sheet pan, top with onions and let it rise for about half an hour. Bake at 400 F for about 20 minutes and it’s done.

While the dough was rising I made the cake. I assembled the crumb topping, reserving part of it. I made a small mistake here, when I read the ingredients I failed to see “melted” next to butter and used soft butter instead. Oops. When I make mistakes I feel like I’m in a classroom and I’m being docked marks for carelessness. Next time I will read carefully – lesson learned. Next I sliced the apple and added the lemon juice and set it aside. Mixing the cake was easy, though not creaming the butter with sugar etc, throws me for a loop. The mixed batter was light and lovely and ready for the pan. I scraped some batter in the pan, sprinkled in the reserved crumb topping, added the apple slices, overlapping them slightly and topped with the remaining batter. I then partially baked the cake, added the crumb topping, this steps prevents it from sinking into the batter, and finished baking the cake.

The kitchen smelled divine. With the onion slowly cooking on the stove top and the cake in the oven it was like it was Thanksgiving again.

The cake was ready and it looked just like the picture in the book, and it tasted wonderful, not too sweet and the cake was tender and the crumb topping didn’t suffer much from my error, it was lovely.

Basic Bread Dough for Fougasse
By Patricia Wells

Makes 1 ½ pounds of dough

1 tsp. Active dry yeast
1 tsp. Sugar
1 1/3 cups Lukewarm water (about 105 degrees_
2 tbsp. Olive oil
1 tsp. Sea salt
3 ½ cups Flour, plus more if necessary

In the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with a dough-hook attachment, combine yeast, sugar, and water, and stir to blend. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in the oil and salt.

Add the flour, a little at a time, mixing at the lowest speed until most of the flour has been absorbed, and the dough forms a ball. Continue to mix at the lowest speed until soft and satiny but still firm, 4 to 5 minutes. Add additional flour, if necessary, to keep the dough from sticking. The dough will be quite soft.

Transfer the dough to a bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator. You may also let dough rise at room temperature until doubled. Simply punch down the dough as it doubles or triples. Use to make one large or several small fougasse.
In a large baking sheet with sides stretch dough out to cover the pan and cover to rise 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Onion Topping

¼ cup olive oil
4 yellow onions sliced 1/8 to 14 inch.
2 sprigs of rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste

In a fry pan add oil, heat and add onions, rosemary and season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 20 minutes on low heat until the onions are soft and translucent without turning brown.

Scatter onions over risen dough and bake on a pizza stone in a 400 F. oven for about 20 minutes or until edges are golden.