Saturday, April 24, 2010

Raisin Focaccia

I recently discovered Yeastspotting, a site to showcase your recently baked bread. This is the brainchild of Susan of and each Friday a new line up of all types of breads are featured. What a wonderful resource to find new bread recipes! It is here that I saw a raisin focaccia by baker Sandra of My Daily Bread and my mouth watered. I love anything made with raisins and I’ve been making savoury versions of focaccia for too long to remember, so why didn’t I ever think of this combination for a sweet version of focaccia? I left a comment on Sandra’s blog only to find out that this recipe is in Peter Reinhart’s The Baker’s Apprentice which I have. Focaccia originated in the Ligurian region on the north west coast of Italy, where you will find the picturesque port or Portofino and the Ligurian capital of Genoa. Peter Reinhart writes, “ that there is a strong tradition of sweet, or breakfast-style, focaccia in Liguria”. It is mentioned as a variation to his herbed focaccia on the side bar, but I hadn’t noticed it before, but with fairness to me, I haven’t made this particular focaccia as I have another recipe for focaccia that has always worked for me and have stuck to. On Saturday I had whipped up a batch of dough to make carmelized onion and rosemary focaccia which I’ve already blogged about. Only this time, just as Sandra had done, I divided the dough in two; one for the onion focaccia and one for the raisin focaccia.

It was very simple; just knead in plenty of raisins to the dough and let it rise until doubled. Punch the dough down and after a brief rest shape the dough out flat on a baking sheet, cover with plastic and allow to rise until doubled. I sprinkled some turbando sugar on top and baked it at 400F. for about 20 minutes.

To say I love this thin, sweet focaccia loaded with raisins would be an understatement. I love love love this focaccia! It satisfies my sweet tooth without being overwhelmingly sweet. It hits the spot for a snack or as an accompaniment to a cup of tea or coffee. Come to think of it a combination of raisins and cranberries would be a great in this focaccia as well.

A week later having devoured this excellent foccaccia and wishing I had more to snack on I mixed up another batch of dough to make more. Only this time, again dividing the dough, I made one with potatoes and onions on my son's request and one with raisins and cranberries. The Potato focaccia turned out really well even though I forgot to add some fresh rosemary. The Raisin Cranberry version was also delicious.

I liked how Sandra arranged her slices of raisin focaccia for her photo that I took a photo of mine similarly arranged. I hope she doesn’t mind. I’m glad that she posted this on yeastspotting otherwise I may not have discovered it in The Baker’s Apprentice for quite awhile.

You will find the dough recipe in the Carmelized Onions Focaccia blog. If you make a full recipe just add about three cups of raisins to the dough in the last few minutes of kneading. Let the dough rise until doubled. Stretch it out in a 12 x 17 inch sheet pan. Let is rise and sprinkle with turbando sugar and bake at 400F for about 20 minutes.

Potato Focaccia
adapted from Jim Lahey Potato Pizza

2 potatoes
1/2 onion sliced thinly
1 tsp. salt, divided
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
olive oil to drizzle over potatoes

Make dough (see Carmelized Onion Focaccia blog) while the dough rests prepare potato topping.

Slice potatoes very thin using a knife or a mandoline. Then soak them in water to remove excess starch and prevent discolouration. Drain slices in a colander, toss with 1/2 tsp. salt, and set aside for ten minutes; drain any accumulated water. In a medium bowl, combine potatoes, sliced onions, rosemary and 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and set aside.
Stretch out dough on a prepared rimmed baking sheet and let it rise for about one hour. Evenly spread potatoes over the surface of the dough up to the very edge, or about 1 inch from the edge if you desire a crust on your focaccia. Season with remaining 1/2 tsp. salt and olive oil.
Bake at 425 F. for about 30 minutes.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

It is believed that this Roman dish was developed during the Second World War when American soldiers stationed in Italy supplied bacon and eggs to Italians who made this pasta dish and cooked it over charcoal, hence the name carbonara which is derived from the Italian word for charcoal. But the origin of Spaghetti alla Carbonara is obscure and another theory is that it was fed to coalminers to provide them with a substantial and nourishing meal. Yet another theory is that it was made with squid ink that gave it a charcoal colour. I’d heard that it was called Spaghetti alla Carbonara because the generous sprinkling of freshly ground pepper resembled charcoal. How ever it originated it is a fast and delicious pasta to make and when I want to make something quick or don’t particularly feel like cooking, this dish fits the bill.

I was taught to make it by my aunt in Italy over thirty years ago where it was simply made with eggs, pancetta, parmigiano cheese and pepper. But I have since adopted the North America version of adding cream, onions and bacon. We will be visiting Rome this summer and my husband will no doubt order this pasta, if it is on the menu, as it is one of his favourite pasta dish. It will be interesting to see how the Romans make it.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

2 tbsp. olive oil
8 slices of bacon or pancetta, chopped
1 small onion, diced
4 eggs
4 tablespoons cream
½ cup of grated parmigiano cheese
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Salt to taste

Cook 450 gr. of spaghetti in boiling salted water.

In a large fry pan (I use a flat bottomed wok) heat oil and add onion and bacon and cook on medium high heat until the fat has rendered from the bacon without it getting crisp, turn down the heat to keep warm. In the meantime beat eggs and add the cream, parmigiano cheese and black pepper. Set aside. When the pasta is al dente, drain and add it to the bacon mixture and toss to coat. Quickly pour in the egg mixture and toss to coat the spaghetti, the heat of the pasta will cook the egg. Serve and enjoy.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Apple & Cream Cheese Braid for Easter

I was convinced that I had walnuts in the refrigerator but when I went to retrieve them there were no walnuts to be found and I couldn’t go out to buy some because every supermarket was closed for Good Friday. I had been to the market a least three times the week leading to Easter and it didn’t even occur to me that I might need walnuts. Why would I? I was convinced I had walnuts! I had planned to make the Blooming Coffee Rings which I usually make for Easter to take to my parent’s house for dessert. I had made the dough the day before and it was sitting very nicely in the refrigerator developing wonderful flavours. I couldn’t wait till Saturday when all the stores would be open again because I had a busy day planned and would be out most of the day. I was not too pleased with myself! What to do? What to do? Well I do make a braided loaf made with a sweet dough, not this particular recipe, but it was a sweet dough nonetheless, so why not make a braid. I had made a braided bread not that long ago for New Year’s Eve so it was still fresh in my mind. I had all the ingredients so yes, I would make the apple with cream cheese braid and like the blooming coffee ring the recipe yielded two breads, one for us to enjoy and one for the dessert table on Easter.
I removed the dough from the refrigerator to sit and warm up a bit and proceeded to make the apple filling. With a recipe from the Joy of Cooking as a guide I peeled and sliced a couple of Granny Smith apples and threw them into a pan with some butter, brown sugar and cinnamon to cook for a few minutes until the apples softened a bit. For the cream cheese filling I mixed cream cheese, an egg yolk, vanilla and sugar until smooth and set it aside. I divided the dough into two portions and rolled one out to a rectangle about 14 x 9 inches and placed it on parchment. If you omit this step it will be difficult to transfer the braided dough to the sheet pan.
Then I cut three inch diagonal cuts about ½ inch apart on both sides. I spread half the cheese mixture in the middle, topped it with half the apple mixture and then beginning at one end, criss crossed the strips of dough to the other end.

I lifted the dough with the parchment paper to a large sheet pan, covered it with plastic and did the same with the remaining dough, cheese and apples. After the dough doubled I brushed it with egg wash and sprinkled it with sliced almonds. It was baked in a 350 F. oven for about 35 minutes.
When the braids were cool I wrapped them in foil and put them in the freezer to maintain their freshness for Easter.
On Easter we were all going to my parents for dinner and I had an awful lot of food, a braid, a cheesecake and other items that I had to bring over. I asked my son to get one of the braids out of the freezer from the refrigerator in the basement so that it would be thawed before we went. I had everything written on a note so that I would not forget a thing. Olives, check, boconcini, check, bread sticks, check, cheesecake, check, cherry pie filling, check, lemons, check, coloured eggs, check, chocolates check, Easter cards, check, braids, check.
Randy loaded up the car and just before walking out the door I went to get the cheesecake out of the refrigerator but it wasn’t there. My husband called to me that the cheesecake was on the table. Oh I thought, I didn’t take it out of the refrigerator, or did I and forgot I did, oh well then I’ll just put it in the car. And we were off.
Fast forward to dessert time. Coffee is poured, cheesecake is sliced and being served, fruit tray of cantelope and mixed berries is on the table. 'Randy where did you put the braid'? 'What braid'?! So after all that the braid was left at home. My son had taken the cheesecake out of the refrigerator not the braid out of the freezer. When I questioned Steven about the braid his response was "More braid for us."

My computer is temporarily down so I had to use my husband's computer to post this. I have submitted this bread to YeastSpotting, and since all my recipes are on my computer I will include the recipe as soon as I get my computer back.

Sweet-Roll Dough

2 pkg. dry yeast
¼ cup warm water
1 cup milk, warmed
½ cup sugar
2 tsp. salt
½ cup butter, softened
3 eggs
5¼ to 5-¾ cups all purpose flour

Note: If eggs are refrigerator cold, pour hot water over them and let stand for several minutes to warm before cracking.
Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water in a small cup or bowl, stir, and let stand for a minute of so to dissolve. Combine the milk, sugar, salt, butter, and eggs in a large mixing bowl, and beat well. Stir in the dissolved yeast. Add 2-1/2 cups of the flour, and beat until smooth and well blended. Add 2-1/2 cups more flour and beat until the dough holds together in a rough, shaggy mass. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a minute or two. Let rest for 10 minutes.

Resume kneading for 8 to 10 minutes more, gradually sprinkling on a little more flour if the dough sticks to your hands, until smooth and elastic. Place in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until double in bulk.

Punch the risen dough down, and it is ready to be formed and baked according to other recipes which call for Sweet-Roll Dough. You can also freeze the dough at this point, or store in the refrigerator for a few days in a tightly covered container.

Apple Mixture

3 Granny Smith Applies
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
¼ cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

In a fry pan add all the ingredients and cook for a few minutes until the apples just begin to soften. If there is a lot of syrup remove some of it otherwise it will leak out of the dough. Set aside.

Cream Cheese Filling

1 cup cream cheese
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla
1 tsp. Grated lemon rind
1 egg yolk
Mix together until smooth. Set aside.


1 egg, beaten with 1 tbsp. water
¼ cup blanched sliced almonds


Divide the dough in half. Roll each half into a 14” x 9” rectangle. Place on a piece of parchment. Spread with half the cheese mixture lengthwise down center third of rectangle. Top with apple mixture. Make diagonal cuts from outer edges one half inch apart and 3 inches long. Fold alternate strips of dough over filling. Cover and let rise 45 minutes or until double in volume. Brush the dough with egg wash and sprinkle with sliced almonds Bake at 350 F. For 30 to 35 minutes. Yield: 2 Braids.