Sunday, April 29, 2012

Pane di Noci - Walnut Bread

After running some errands, Randy and I decided that we would go out for pizza instead of going home to cook dinner. We wanted to try the newly opened pizza place on St. Clair Avenue with a rather interesting name of Pizza e Pazzi.  The direct translation to this is not Crazy for Pizza or Nuts for Pizza but Pizza and Crazies. Wow I thought, only the Italians with their romantic language can get away with a name like that. I imagined opening up a pizza joint and calling it Pizzas and Crazies and laughed thinking that no one would set foot in the place, yet Pizza e Pazzi constantly has lineups out the door.

Even though we were there for pizza, shortly after we were seated our server brought us a basket of assorted breads, which they informed us are baked daily on the premises. Randy chose a chiabatta bun and I opted for a slice of walnut bread. After smearing the bread with a pad of butter, I was quite pleased with my choice, and had that basket included a wheel of brie and some olives I could have easily called it dinner and left quite satisfied.

A few days later as I once again leafed through the Italian Baker by Carol Fields I happened to come across a recipe for Walnut Bread, and with the incredible slice I'd had at Pizza e Pazzi still fresh on my mind there was no doubt I would give this recipe a try.

I was quite happy that the recipe was for a straight dough method which meant I could get started right away.  The only extra step in this recipe was to toast the walnuts lightly. I was so happy that I didn't have to rub the skins off the walnuts, a step I loathe because as much as I rub I rarely get enough skins off.

The walnuts were added to the dough while it was mixing in the KitchenAid as opposed to adding the nuts by hand after the dough has been kneaded for awhile which made the whole process very easy.

After one rise I shaped it into a long log and joined the ends to form a ring.

After about 50 minutes in the oven you are rewarded with a very large ring worthy of oohs and aahs.

The difference between this bread and the bread I had at Pizza e Pazzi was that this bread's crumb was much darker as if it had been made with whole wheat flour. The darker crumb, however, comes entirely from the ground walnuts. And as far as taste I'd almost say that this one was better. It was especially good on its own with some butter. In her introduction Carol Fields wrote that Italians like eating this bread with soft fresh cheese but I thought it would also make great chicken sandwiches as well. With a ring as large as this one was I was able to have my fill and store some in the freezer. I highly recommend this bread and if you like nuts in your breads you'll go crazy for this one.

Pane di Noci - Walnut Bread

2 cups (200 grams) walnut pieces, plus 4 to 6 perfect halves for the ring mold.
2-1/2 tsp. active dry yeast (I used instant)
1/4 cup honey
1-1/3 cups warm water
2 tbsp. olive oil
3-3/4 cups (500 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/2 tsp. salt

Toast the walnuts on a baking sheet in a 400 F. oven for 10 minutes.  Chop the walnuts to coarse crumbs with a sharp knife or in a food processor fitted with the steel blade.

Stir the yeast and honey into the water in a mixer bowl; let stand until foamy, abut 10 minutes.  Stir in the oil with the paddle. Add the flour, salt and walnuts and mix until the dough come together. Change to the dough hook and knead until soft, moist, and fairly dense. 4 to 5 minutes.  Knead briefly by hand on a lightly floured surface.

First Rise - Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled, about 1 -1/4 hours.

Shaping and Second Rise - Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Without punching it down or kneading it, shape in into a log and join the ends to make a ring.  Your may place the ring in an oiled ring mold with 4 to 6 walnut halves set in the bottom, so that when the bread is baked and turned out of the mold the nuts are on the top. The dough can also be baked in a free-form ring or round loaf. Place the free-form loaf on a floured peel or oiled baking sheet. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled about 1 hour.

Baking- Heat the oven to 400 F. If you are using a baking stone, turn the oven on 30 minutes before baking and sprinkle the stone with cornmeal just before sliding the loaf onto it. (I used parchment paper on a cookie sheet). Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 F.and bake 40 minutes longer. If you are baking the bread in a ring mold, bake the loaf out of the pan on a baking sheet or stone for the last 10 minutes to brown the bottom and sides. Cook completely on a rack.


Thursday, April 5, 2012


I just had to post these nut filled, melt in your mouth morsels that I learned to make from my mother-in-law and were always made for Easter. The original recipe used fresh yeast in the pastry which was totally foreign and a bit intimidating to me at the time some thirty plus years ago.

This recipe which I found later does not use yeast but is almost identical in taste and produces the most flakiest pastry ever. I did alter the recipe slightly by using butter instead of margarine which made all the difference in the world. As the commercial goes, "butter is better". On Easter morning we would devour these addictive cookies with cups of coffee.

I wish you all a very Happy Easter.



4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups salted butter
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 cup sour cream


4 cups walnuts, ground
1 cup sugar
½ cup milk
1 tbsp. almond extract

Cut butter into flour until crumbly. Add egg yolks and sour cream and knead into a smooth dough. If the dough is very sticky knead in a little flour. Divide the dough into thirds. Take one portion of the dough and cover the rest with plastic wrap. Roll the dough out quite thin on a floured surface into a rectangle. To ensure that the dough does not stick to the counter lift the dough from time to time while rolling out and sprinkle the counter with flour. With a sharp knife cut the dough into 2-inch squares. Mix filling ingredients together and place 1 teaspoonful onto each square. Roll from one corner to form a crescent. Repeat with remaining dough. Place on ungreased cookie sheets close together and bake for about 10 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and cool on racks for a few minutes then roll each cookie in icing sugar.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Spaccatini - Little Cleft Rolls

These little rolls from The Italian Baker by Carol Fields are probably my new favourite roll. At first I was wondering why these rolls from Lugano which is actually in Switzerland were featured in The Italian Baker, but upon further investigation I learned that this scenic and picturesque town on Lake Lugano on the Italian border also known as the "Monte Carlo of Switzerland" is the largest Italian speaking city outside of Italy. So having these fabulous rolls in the Italian Baker makes perfect sense.

I was attracted to the recipe for how easy it was to make. The night before I prepare a biga; a little flour, water and yeast mixed together and allowed to sit in a cool room overnight where it triples in volume.

In the morning I add this biga to more flour, yeast, water and salt and knead it to a smooth dough and set it in a greased bowl to rise.

In about a hour and a half the dough has come up to the top of the bowl and is ready for shaping. By the way may I mention here that this is one of the most velvety doughs I have ever worked with, to say that it feels like a baby's behind wouldn't be far off.

The recipe makes 16 rolls; I divided the dough into quarters then each quarter was divided into 4 pieces each weighing 55 grams.

The most time consuming part of making these little rolls is depressing a small dowel into each one to form a cleft. Now I suppose if you wanted to elimate this step, say because you were in a hurry, and just let the rolls rise and score with a knife no one would be the wiser. However if you did this just call them something else. I looked up the word spaccatini and found nothing, but the word "spaccare" is the verb for "to break or to split" so I am guessing that the little split in these rolls is where they got their name.

These are then placed top side down on a floured surface, covered with a towel or in my case plastic wrap and allowed to rise for about an hour or until they are doubled. I forgot to take a picture of the rolls on the parchment upside down and also of the rolls turned back cleft side up where I reemphasized the cleft by scoring the crease with a sharp knife.

They are baked in a 425 degree oven for about twenty minutes and when they are done you are rewarded with these crusty rolls with a lovely slightly chewy crumb. So whether you are Swiss or Italian I can't imagine that you would turn these down.


Spaccatini – Little Cleft Rolls


Makes 2-1/3 cups (about 585 grams)
¼ teaspoon active dry yeast
¾ cup warm water
¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon water, room temperature
2-1/2 cups (about 350grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
Stir the yeast into the warm water and let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining water and then the flour, 1 cup at a time.
Mix with a wooden spoon for 3 to 4 minutes or mix with the paddle attachment of the mixer at low speed for 2 minutes.
Remove to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise at a cool room temperature for 6 to 24 hours. The starter will triple in volume and still be wet and sticky when ready. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. When needed scoop out desired amount.


¾ teaspoon active dry yeast
½ cup warm water
2 cups (500 grams) Biga
About 2 cups (250 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon (5 grams) salt
Stir the yeast into the water in a mixer bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Add the starter and mix with the paddle until the starter is broken up. Add the flour and salt and mix until the dough comes together. Change to the dough hook and knead at low speed 2 minutes, then at medium speed 1 minute. If you want, finish kneading briefly by hand on a floured surface; you will probably need 1 to 2 tablespoons additional flour.
First Rise. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled, 1-1/2 to 2 hours.
Shaping and Second Rise. Cut the dough into 16 pieces, each about the size of a lemon. Shape each piece into a ball on a floured surface; then, with the edge of your hand, a dowel, or the floured handle of a wooden spoon make a deep indentation down the center of each ball. Place the rolls cleft side down, on a well-floured surface. Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
Baking. Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Just before baking, turn each roll over and reemphasize the cleft. Place the rolls, cleft side up, on lightly oiled or parachment-lined baking sheet. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, spraying 3 times with water in the first 10 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Banana Nut Bread

It had been such a long time since I'd made this banana bread, but finally I had enough bananas at their peak to whip one up. You see, I don't usually buy a whole lot of bananas but when I do I buy enough to hopefully have some left over to make this quick bread. But then one of two things can happen that changes my plans: for one, all the bananas are eaten or two, I don't have time to bake and the bananas go from being too ripe to eat to overly ripe and ready for the garbage bin. But this time the timing was right - I had three fragrant bananas that I could smell from another room and perfect for putting into this bread.

I have had this recipe for such a long time that I don't remember where it came from but it is easy and a very good one and I wanted to share it.

I begin by toasting some walnuts in a moderate oven for about eight minutes. This prevents them from turning blue while baking in the bread.

Meanwhile I mash the bananas in a bowl with a potato masher.

In another bowl I beat the oil and sugar together and then add the eggs, and vanilla and mashed bananas and beat vigourously until the batter is well combined.

Instead of adding the walnuts at the end, I decided to add the nuts to the flour mixture to prevent over beating which would make the bread tough. It turned out that this wasn't such a good idea. You see the flour got into the small crevices in the walnuts and after it was baked and sliced you could see tiny bits of flour in the nuts. The bread was still very good but not esthetically pleasing if I were to serve it at a fancy afternoon tea party. But since I wasn't having a fancy schmancy tea it really didn't matter. However, next time instead of being clever I will just follow the recipe.

Anyway after I added the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients I poured the batter into a 9 x 5 inch bread pan and baked it for about one hour.

When it was a deep golden brown I removed it from the oven and inserted a wooden skewer into the bread to make sure it was done.

This banana bread is moist and fragrant from the bananas with a nice crunch from the walnuts. Over the years I have made many different recipes of banana bread but I always come back to this one and with good reason.

Banana Nut Bread

½ cup cooking oil
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
3 ripe bananas, mashed
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
3 tbsp. milk
½ tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup chopped toasted walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Beat oil and sugar together, Add eggs and banana pulp and beat well. Add sifted dry ingredients, milk, and vanilla. Mix well and stir in nuts. Pour into greased and floured loaf pan (9” x 5” x3”). Bake for 1 hour. Cool on a wire rack and store overnight before cutting.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Pane di Fichi - Fig Bread

I am sure I have mentioned before my weakness for fruited breads. Whether it is raisin, cranberry, blueberry, currant or you name it, it is sure to make me salivate. And if I am in a bakery and I spy a loaf of crusty raisin bread then you can bet it will find its way into my shopping cart, even if I know that I have a couple of homemade loaves in the freezer. I don't care that I can feel my hips expanding with every bite, (well maybe a little) the sheer pleasure each sweet morsel brings outweighs the cons. And not only that, once in a while for a special indulgent treat I top a slice or two with soft, melt in your mouth blue cheese like cambazoola. This delightful fig bread by Carol Fields is no exception.

In her book The Italian Baker she describes this bread as "succulent and delicious as well as easy to make" and it is. This bread probably dates back to the middle ages when the Sunday bread was enriched with honey, fruit and nuts. Fortunately we don't have to have this bread on Sundays only. Paired with some soft cheese it really is a treat to eat. The only problem is limiting how many slices to allow yourself.

The recipe produces one round loaf but I divide the dough into three smaller portions. That way I can freeze a couple of loaves and enjoy them on a later date.

I highly recommend this deliciously sweet bread and whether you have it for lunch or for breakfast, you can't go wrong.

Pane di Fichi - Fig Bread

2-1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast or 1 small cake (18 grams) fresh yeast
1 cup warm water
1½ tablespoons olive oil
About 3 cups (375)grams unbleached all-purpose flour, plus 2 tablespoons for the figs
1 teaspoon (5 grams) salt
1 cup (200 grams) figs, preferably Calimyrna or Greek string figs, cut into about 12 pieces each

Stir the yeast into the water in a mixer bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in the oil with the paddle and then 3 cups flour and the salt. Mix until the dough comes together. Change to the dough hook and knead until velvety and moist, 3 to 4 minutes.

First Rise. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Filling. Toss the figs in 2 tablespoons flour to coat the surfaces. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Without punching it down, pat the dough into an oval and spread half the figs evenly over the surface; roll up the dough. Pat the dough into an oval again and sprinkle evenly with the remaining figs; roll it up again. Shape into a round loaf, being gentle but, at the same time, pulling the skin taut over the figs. Place the loaf, rough side down, on a lightly floured peel or oiled baking sheet, cover with a towel, and let rise until doubled, 1-¼ to 1-½ hours.

Baking. Thirty minutes before baking, heat the oven with a baking stone in it to 450°F. Sprinkle the stone with cornmeal just before sliding the loaf onto it. Bake 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375°F. and bake 15 minutes longer. Cool completely on a rack.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Fresh Trout with Capers - Just the Recipe

If you enjoy fish I highly recommend this very easy and tasty pan seared trout.

Fresh Trout with Capers
As seen on CityLine by Massimo Capra

Coating the filets with egg before frying helps seals in flavour, plus it keeps the trout nice and moist.

4 x 8oz trout filet
2 large eggs
3 tbsp capers
1 lemon, juiced
Salt & pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter


Crack the two eggs in a bowl and season with a little salt and pepper, beat them well and place the washed trout filets in them. Set aside.

Preheat a skillet and place the butter and oil in it, remove the trout filet from the egg and place into the foaming butter skin side up.

Cook until golden brown and then turn, add the capers and cook until done (about 2 minutes), sprinkle the lemon juice and remove from the fire after 30seconds.Remove from the skillet and place on top of a ragĂș of cauliflower, squash and leeks.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

26% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread with Seeds

I have never considered myself to be a wimp but it seems that I am. I found a recipe for Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread with only 50% whole wheat for those who prefer less whole wheat in their bread on Rose Levy Beranbaum's site which she describes as her new favourite sandwich bread. For those of us who prefer even less whole wheat in our bread she modified the recipe to 26% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread and titled it Special for Whole Wheat Wimps and that would include wimpy old me. Really, there is nothing wimpy about this bread at all. In fact it is a wonderful sandwich bread that even with only 26% whole wheat it is elevated to a healthier version than plain old white bread. I then proceeded to up the ante for an even healthier bread by adding some seeds. This recipe with a small amount of old sourdough added to it produces a lovely to work with dough and baked in a 5 x 9 loaf pan you are rewarded with a large loaf of bread worthy of man sized sandwiches.

If your omit the old sourdough Rose instructs to bake the bread in a 4 x 8 loaf pan instead. I have to admit I prefer the smaller pan size for sandwiches so next time I make this and want to keep the old sourdough in the recipe I will just remove a small portion of dough and shape it into a roll and bake it together with the loaf.

If eating this bread makes me a wimp then I will proudly carry the label, and as I am sure there are many of you out there let us raise our hands in solitarity or better yet let us roll up our sleeves and bake this amazing bread.