Archive for Bread

Blueberry “Cream Cheese” Bread Pudding

No matter how many times I make bread pudding (it’s so easy you can do it every day), I’ll never get tired of it. The crusty edges, the oozing center. And you don’t have to be ashamed about eating it for breakfast.

Here’s a simple bread pudding with summer blueberries. I thought cream cheese would go well in it, but I wanted to keep it healthy and substituted Greek yogurt. It’s a lazy person’s cheesecake, but in no way does it taste like a slacker’s dessert.

blueberry bread pudding

Blueberry “Cream Cheese” Bread Pudding

Inspired by Emeril Lagasse

Oil, for greasing pan
8 slices day-old crusty bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
4 large eggs
1 cup Greek yogurt* (recommended brand: Fage)
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups milk
2 cups blueberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Grease an 8×8-inch pan with oil.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, yogurt, sugar and vanilla until very smooth. Stir in milk and add the bread and blueberries. Let sit for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake until the pudding is set in the center, about 55 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes. Bread pudding is best hot out of the oven, or refrigerated after a day.

*To make Greek-style yogurt, put 2 cups of plain yogurt in a strainer lined with cheesecloth, a coffee filter, or a paper towel (made without bleach). Place the strainer over a large bowl and drain in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours, or until the yogurt is as thick as sour cream. Makes 1 cup.

Related links:
Nutella bread pudding recipe

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One Person’s Trash is Another’s Nutella Bread Pudding


Nutella bread pudding

When eating out, I am notorious for bringing home every piece of uneaten food. I’ve asked waiters to wrap cranberry compote (what else will go with leftover pumpkin pancakes?) and the bread basket. This weekend, I took home leftover bread cubes from the fondue at Artisanal. If you’re paying for quality, why let it go to waste?

Laugh all you want, but if you threw that bread in the trash, you would have missed out on Nutella bread pudding. It’s like baked French toast with swirls of chocolate. Bread pudding is perfect for stale artisanal bread, the kind that’s marked 50% off at the end of the day (although white sandwich bread will do). Hot out of the oven, you get the contrast of a jiggly, spongy bottom and a crunchy, crouton-like top. Bread pudding is also divine cold, in a cold pizza/morning hangover type of way. Not that I would know.

In New Orleans, my friend Erik spent a grueling night scrubbing burnt bread and custard off a pan because we didn’t use a water bath. At the risk of offending Erik, I never use a water bath for bread pudding at home. I like the crusty edges.

Not only is this recipe a delicious way to clean out your pantry (I used soy milk and leftover Nutella babka), but it’s low in fat, too.

Nutella Bread Pudding

Adapted from Emeril Lagasse and Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich

Oil, for greasing pan
1/4 cup Nutella
8 slices day-old crusty bread or Nutella babka (about 4 cups when cut into 1/2-inch cubes)
4 large eggs
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups milk (soy is fine)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Grease an 8 by 8-inch square pan with oil.

Spread Nutella on four slices of bread and top with remaining pieces of bread. Cut the sandwiches into 1/2-inch cubes.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar and vanilla until very smooth. Stir in milk and add the bread. Let the mixture sit for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake until the pudding is set in the center, about 55 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes. Slather the top with more Nutella, if desired. Bread pudding is best hot out of the oven, or refrigerated after a day. Microwaving it makes it rubbery.

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Nutella Babka

Babka muffins

For years, I’ve fantasized about the perfect chocolate babka. Maybe it’s because my parents always packed me plain Cheerios and All Bran sticks for breakfast. Babka would have been out of the question. Too much chocolate. Too much sugar. Too much butter.

But anything else would be poser babka. My idea of babka involves a danish-like dough and layers of chocolate in every bite. There’s so many versions of babka, though, that it’s easy to get lost. The Russians, Polish and Jewish all have their variations. Fortunately, Smitten Kitchen pointed me to Martha Stewart’s recipe, which has 2 1/4 pounds of chocolate and 5 sticks of butter. It makes three loaves, so one loaf “only” has 3/4 pound of chocolate and a 1 2/3 sticks butter.

chocolate

World Nutella DayI know I wanted chocolate and butter but not that much. I significantly reduced the butter, but to keep the dough moist and soft, I added mashed potatoes. (You can enrich any bread with mashed potatoes, as long as it’s about 1/3 the weight of the flour. Potato starch works magic in the dough.) Since World Nutella Day is Feb. 5, I attempted a Nutella babka.

This recipe is a work in progress. This potato bread version isn’t as rich as danish, but with all that chocolate, I don’t mind. If you want real babka, by all means, use 1 2/3 stick of butter (and omit the mashed potatoes.) Also, baking Nutella breaks down its smooth texture and hazelnut flavor, so the filling wasn’t quite how I wanted it.

The version pictured above was baked in muffin tins, but I recommend using a loaf pan. You want the filling to stay moist, and if it’s exposed to too much heat, it will turn grainy and possibly burn.

Nutella Babka

Adapted from Martha Stewart

Makes 1 loaf

This babka has never-ending folds of chocolate. I like to unravel every spiral and chew through the long strip. It’s more fun to eat, and it lasts longer that way. Please excuse the funny measurements; I scaled down the recipe so it makes a more manageable amount.

For dough:
1/2 cup cooked mashed potato (see instructions below)
1/2 cup lukewarm buttermilk or potato water, 110 degrees
1 2/3 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 cup plus a pinch of sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
2/3 large egg yolk, room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1/3 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, room temperature

For filling:
7 ounces (about 1 1/6 cup) very finely chopped bittersweet chocolate (or 6 ounces 60% chocolate and 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Nutella
2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

For glaze:
1 teaspoon milk
Some reserved egg from the dough

For streusel:
1/2 cup powdered sugar (or 1/4 cup granulated sugar)
1/3 cup plus 1/9 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup lightly toasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

Make dough:
Peel, cube and boil (until soft) one small potato, weighing about 3 ounces, in just enough water to cover. Strain out the potato pieces and mash them with a fork. Set aside the potato and water to cool. Freeze any extra water in ice cube trays. Use potato water in place of the liquid in any bread recipe. It’ll make the dough soft and sweet.

Pour lukewarm potato water or buttermilk into a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast and pinch of sugar over milk; let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

In a bowl, whisk together sugar, 2/3 egg, and 2/3 egg yolk. Add egg mixture to yeast mixture, and whisk to combine.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flour and salt. Add egg mixture, and beat on low speed until almost all the flour is incorporated, about 30 seconds. Change to the dough hook. Add 2 tablespoons butter, and beat until flour mixture and butter are completely incorporated, and a smooth, soft dough that’s slightly sticky when squeezed is formed, about 10 minutes.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead a few turns until smooth. Butter a large bowl. Place dough in bowl, and turn to coat. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.

Make filling and shape dough:
While the dough is rising, place chocolate and cinnamon in a large bowl. Stir to combine. Stir in the Nutella until well combined.

Generously butter a 9x5x 2 3/4-inch loaf pan line with parchment paper. Beat remaining 1/3 egg with 1 teaspoon milk; set egg wash aside. Gently punch down the dough, and transfer to a clean surface. Let rest 5 minutes. On a generously floured surface, roll dough out into a 16-inch square; it should be 1/8 inch thick.

Brush edges with reserved egg wash. Crumble the chocolate filling (reserve 2 tablespoons) evenly over dough, leaving a 1/4-inch border. Refresh egg wash if needed. Roll dough up tightly like a jelly roll. Pinch ends together to seal. Twist 5 or 6 turns. Brush top of roll with egg wash. Carefully crumble 2 tablespoons filling over the left half of the roll, being careful not to let mixture slide off. Fold right half of the roll over onto the coated left half. Fold ends under, and pinch to seal. Twist roll 2 turns, and fit into prepared pan and cover loosely with plastic wrap.

Make streusel:
In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, salt, hazelnuts and butter. Using a fork, stir until fully combined with clumps ranging in size from crumbs to 1 inch.

Squeeze the streusel in the palm of your hand so large clumps remain. Uncover the loaf and brush the top with egg wash. Sprinkle the streusel on top. It will seem like you have too much streusel, but pack it in there. The dough will expand later. Re-apply the plastic wrap and let stand until the dough reaches the top of the pan and is about doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Bake loaf:
Fifteen minutes prior to baking, preheat the oven to 350F. Bake until the top is golden brown and the bottoms sound hollow when tapped (when loaf is removed from pan), about 40 minutes. If the top browns too quickly, cover the loaf with aluminum foil.

Transfer to wire rack and cool for at least 30 minutes. Remove from pan. Serve slightly warm. Babka freezes well for up to 1 month.

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You have four days to make this cake

king cake with jambalaya and rice and beans

Mardi Gras has a reputation for being an extended “Girls Gone Wild” party, and wrongfully so. The Mardi Gras or Carnival season begins on the “Twelfth Night,” when Jesus showed Himself to the three wise men. For one month, New Orleanians celebrate with parties, parades and elaborate costumes. Some, like the Mardi Gras Indians, spend the entire year hand-sewing 300-400 feathers for a costume. The beauty of Mardi Gras is that everyone–friends, strangers, whites blacks–celebrates together. It’s such a big deal in New Orleans that Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras day) is a legal holiday.

No other food marks Mardi Gras like king cake, a cinnamon roll-like wreath. The top is sprinkled with purple, green and yellow sugar, signifying justice, faith and power (respectively). A baby figurine is also hidden inside. It’s good luck to find it in your slice, but you also have to host the next party and supply more king cake.

I tried the king cake recipe that appeared in the article I wrote for the AP, but Southern Living’s is better. It’s even better than the king cake shipped from Randazzo’s Bakery in New Orleans. The addition of sour cream (reduced-fat is fine) makes the cake stay moist and soft for days. It also makes the cake taste tangy and more buttery.

Please make this cake before next Tuesday, though. Eating king cake out of season is as unfashionable as eating fruitcake outside of December. (Although some argue that fruitcake should never be eaten, I disagree.)

Recipe: Southern Living’s traditional king cake

More info about New Orleans: CulinaryCorps cooks up a storm in New Orleans

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Chocolate No-Knead Bread

chocolate no-knead bread

Chocolate bread is nature’s perfect food. Bread is basic nourishment for the body, while chocolate is nourishment for the soul. Think of pain au chocolat (chocolate croissants) and chocolate toast, which prove that chocolate and dough just go together.

When I was a teenager, I saw Martha Stewart make chocolate bread from Balthazar Bakery. It was real artisan bread, not a muffin, with Valrhona cocoa powder and chocolate chunks. It sounded so naughty, yet so good.

When I moved to New York and finally tried that coveted bread, I was disappointed. While it was carefully crafted, the dough tasted bitter and wasn’t chocolaty enough for me. Fortunately, Au Bon Pain had crusty chocolate-cherry-walnut bread, and Fresh Direct distributed Ecce Panis’ bake-at-home chocolate rolls. When the rolls were fresh out of the oven, the chocolate oozed out of the feathery insides. (Note: Au Bon Pain no longer makes chocolate bread, and Fresh Direct only has chocolate bread pudding now. Boo!)

Since chocolate bread is going extinct, I compiled recipes from reputable sources, such as Balthazar, Nancy Silverton’s Breads from the La Brea Bakery, and the Institute of Culinary Education. I then made a lazy version by throwing cocoa and sugar into Sullivan Street Bakery’s famous no-knead bread recipe.

This is dessert for breakfast. I love toasting this bread, slathering on peanut butter and sprinkling bittersweet chocolate on top. The chocolate immediately melts into sweet lava. S’more sandwiches, filled with graham crackers and marshmallows, are especially good.

I realize that people are trying to eat healthily since it’s New Year’s, but this bread isn’t that bad for you. It’s low-fat, has a fair amount of fiber and has a little more sugar than commercial bread (and fortunately no high-fructose corn syrup).

For more no-knead bread, try my 100% whole wheat variation.

Chocolate No-Knead Bread

The sugar makes this bread chewy and moist, but it’s not too sweet for a good old peanut butter sandwich. If possible, use the metric measurements, as they’re more accurate.

Adapted from Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1 1/2 hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

2 1/3 cups (287 grams) all-purpose flour, plus 1/4 cup more for dusting
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (143 grams) whole wheat flour (recommended brand: King Arthur)
1/3 cup (31 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably natural process (not Dutch-processed)
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (75 g) sugar
1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) instant yeast (or 1/4 plus 1/16 teaspoon active dry yeast*)
1 ¼ teaspoons (8 grams) salt
Scant 1 3/4 cups (387 grams) water
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed
1 tablespoon milk, for brushing
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

1. In a large bowl combine the flours, cocoa powder, sugar, instant yeast, and salt. Add the water and stir until blended. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Liberally flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Brush the top of the loaf with milk and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1 1/2-pound loaf.

Variation:

Double chocolate-cherry-walnut bread: After the first rise, pat the dough into a large rectangle on a well-floured surface. Sprinkle 1/3 cup each of good chocolate chunks; toasted, chopped walnuts; and dried cherries on top. From left to right, fold 1/3 of the dough over like a book. Fold over the other side of the dough and pat down into a tall rectangle. From top to bottom, fold 1/3 of the dough down. Fold the remaining bottom 1/3 to meet the top. Using your fingers or the heel of your hand, pinch the seams closed. Continue on with step 3 and let rise until double (it may take longer than the usual two hours, because of the weight of the mix-ins).

Notes:

  • * If substituting active dry yeast, proof it in 1/4 cup of lukewarm water (reserved from the total water) for 10 minutes. Add the yeast with the rest of the water when mixing it in the dough.
  • To make a sandwich loaf, turn out the dough on a floured board after the first rise. Gently pat the dough into a 5-by-9 inch rectangle and roll up the length of the dough. Pinch the seam closed with your fingertips or the heel of your hand. Rock the dough to even it out. Cover it with an inverted mixing bowl and let rise, seam side down, for about two hours. A half hour before baking, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F, with a standard 9-by-5-inch loaf pan inside. When ready to bake, brush the pan with oil and generously dust with corn meal or wheat bran. Drop the dough in the pan, seam side up (it’s okay if it looks messy). Shake the pan to even out the dough. Brush the top with milk and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Cover the loaf loosely with aluminum foil (leave room on top for the dough to rise) and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 15-30 minutes more.

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It’s not fruitcake II-Christopsomo (Greek “Panettone”)

Christopsomo - Greek Christmas breadMerry Christmas! My mom is the only person I know who asks people to give her fruitcake on this day. She even went through the trouble of buying candied maraschino cherries so she could make her own. At the last minute, she backed out because of the two-hour bake time. Now we have all these neon fruit pieces but no cake. To tell you the truth, I’m actually dissapointed.

For everyone else, I’ve presented fruitcake alternatives, like panforte nero, “friendship bars” and now Greek Christmas bread. Several countries have their own version of holiday bread. There’s Italian panettone, German stollen and Alsatian kugelhopf. They’re delicious but are enriched with lots of butter. Greek christopsomo, however, has relatively little olive oil, but it’s still moist and feathery. It’s like a healthy panettone that’s flavored with wine, figs and spices. In Greece, it’s so popular that’s it’s enjoyed year-round.

Photo: About.com

Christopsomo: – hree-STO-psoh-moh -Greek/Cypriot Traditional Christmas Bread

by Rea Varveris, the New School of Culinary Arts

Bread is the most important of the Greek holiday foods. Historically, flour and yeast were scarce and expensive and thus saved for special meals. The careful preparation of the traditional Christopsomo or Xristougenniatiko psomi, or Christ’s Bread is said to ensure the well-being of the home in the year to come. It is a rich, round loaf decorated with a cross, or with pieces of dough formed into symbols representing the family’s life (initials, birth dates, ages, boats, animals, etc).

On Christmas Eve. the head of the household blesses the loaf and then cuts a piece for each person with a wish of “Kald Christoúyena” (“Good Christmas”) or “Chrónia polla” (“Many years”).

Ingredients:
8 cups all-purpose flour
l teaspoon salt
3 pkg. dry yeast
1 cup warm water (105 F)
1 cup warm red wine
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
zest of 2 oranges
1/4 cup fresh tangerine juice
zest of 2 tangerines
1/4 cup Greek cognac
1 cup sugar
1 cup sultanas (golden raisins)
1 cup currants
1 cup dried figs, chopped
1 1/2 cups of toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup toasted pignoli (pine) nuts, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon pulverized masticha (mastic) or 1 teaspoon crushed anise seed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Topping for Decoration:
milk
16 whole walnuts in their shells
3-4 tablespoons sesame seeds

Directions:

1. In a small bowl, mix the yeast with 1/2 cup of warm water and 1 teaspoon of sugar, stir until dissolved and set aside for 10 minutes, until it bubbles.

2. In a large mixing bowl, sift the salt with 2/3 of the flour. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the yeast mixture, the remaining warm water, and the wine. Mix until a soft dough forms, cover with waxed paper and a damp towel, and set aside to rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until doubled in bulk.

3. Punch the dough down and knead for several minutes until any air pockets are gone. Add the oil, orange & tangerine juices, zests and cognac. Sift in the remaining flour;

4. In a small bowl, mix the sugar, raisins, currants, dry figs, walnuts, pine nuts, masticha or anise, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg until blended, and add to the dough.

5. Knead well until the dough is firm and doesn’t stick (about 10 minutes), cover, and allow to rise for 1/2 hour.

6. Punch dough down and knead for a minute. Reserve one fistful of dough, and shape the rest into a circular loaf. Or you can divide it into 2 loaves, 10 inches each, and place on a lightly-buttered baking pan . Cover with a dry cloth and a damp cloth over that, and place in a warm place to rise again, until doubled in size.

7. Use the small piece of dough to create designs. Roll into long strands, as demonstrated in class, and shape a cross on the loaf. Press whole walnuts into the top. Brush with milk and sprinkle sesame seeds on top.

8. Preheat oven to 400F degrees

9. Place a pan with at least 1 inch of water in the bottom of the oven. Place christopsomo in the preheated oven on the middle rack and bake for 15 minutes, then remove the pan with the water, reduce heat to 350°F. and bake for another 25-30 minutes or until brown and the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

10. Remove from oven, and cool on a rack. Serve cut into thick wedges and drizzle with honey. This bread will keep for at least 3 days at room temperature

Notes:

Masticha or Mastic - a dried pine resin: is a flavoring made from the sap of the mastichodendro bush, which grows only on the island of Chios. The resin exuded by the Mediterranean plant “lentesk” is used as flavoring in some Greek and Turkish baked goods. Even though people tried to take mastic to different countries in the past, amazingly enough mastic is impossible to grow in any other part of the world except Chios. Always pulverize masticha with a pinch of sugar, flour or semolina.

Mahlepi: or Mahleb: cherry kernels, is an aromatic spice from the pulverized pit of the black cherry. Used in the Middle East as a flavoring in baked goods.

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Fall Baking Preview

Summer vacation’s over, so it’s time to get down to business. Baking business, that is. While last year was prevalent with home baking handbooks (in the vein of Baking: From My Home to Yours and Tartine), this year has more niche, sophisticated books. I can’t wait to see these books by the baking super stars.

Warning: with the exception of the first title, I haven’t actually seen these books, so these selections may be skewed.

Pure DessertChocolate’s first lady is back after four years on hiatus, but this time, she’s giving chocolate a back seat. Pure Dessert devotes each chapter to an artisan ingredient, such as dairy, sugar, grains/nuts/seeds, herbs/spices/flowers, wine, fruit and last but not least, chocolate. These recipes are pared down to the essentials. There’s no frosting or other hullabaloo, just interesting flavor combinations like kamut pound cake and sesame brittle ice cream.

Alice Medrich previously wrote the books on chocolate, including Cocolat, Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts and Bittersweet. She’s tied with Alton Brown for being my biggest culinary inspiration. I’ve made a gazillion of her things, like low-fat chocolate mousse truffles and chocolate-hazelnut cake, with great success.

Release date: Sept. 5.

Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain BreadsEver since I made bagels from the James Beard and IACP award-winning cookbook, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, I’ve been a fan of Peter Reinhart. His new book promises the same artisan type loaves, but with whole grains.

While I was a recipe tester for the book, he was an excellent teacher, even over e-mail. He walked the testers through growing wild yeast with nothing more than flour, water and pineapple juice. Even though I wouldn’t feed some of my early loaves to my enemies, Peter kept encouraging us to continue. After a year of keeping my wild yeast starter, I gave up on it and killed “the beast.” It was a hassle feeding it every couple of days and using the excess for muffins and crumpets.

Luckily by then, Peter developed recipes that used packaged yeast. The final recipes I tested – the 100% whole wheat challah and potato rosemary – were good for whole wheat breads but not as good as white flour breads.

Release date: Aug.

Sticky, Chewy, Messy, GooeyI don’t know of a more inviting cookbook name than Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey. If you’re like me and adore caramel and chocolate sauce, this book looks good. Chocolate caramel-pecan souffle cake, cinnamon-donut bread pudding and double-crumble hot apple pies sound like guilty pleasures.

Release date: Aug. 6.

Dolce Italiano

Mario Batali’s Babbo cookbook had some interesting recipes, like olive oil gelato. Now there’s an entire cookbook devoted to Babbo’s desserts in Dolce Italiano. If you think Italian desserts are just dried out sponge cakes, Gina De Palma shares recipes for sesame-white corn biscotti and Greek yogurt cheesecake with pine nut brittle.

Release date: Oct. 15.

Demolition Desserts

The desserts at Citizen Cake are like traditionalist meets rebel. There’s rocky road cupcakes, passion fruit mousse fillings, and cakes that are carved like geometrical shapes. If you can’t make it to San Francisco, you can make these desserts at home, thanks to Elizabeth Falkner’s Demolition Desserts. She was named Bon Appétit’s Pastry Chef of the Year in 2006 and was a finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s pastry chef of the year in 2005.

Release date: Oct.

I'm Dreaming of a Chocolate Christmas

The holidays Life wouldn’t be complete without chocolate. Although there are a million chocolate books out there, they never get old. Marcel Desaulniers, Mr. “Death By Chocolate,” shares holiday desserts in I’m Dreaming of a Chocolate Christmas. Honestly, why can’t chocolate sour cream crumb cake and chocolate-peanut butter ice cream sandwiches be year round?

Release date: Oct. 1.

Desserts by the YardSherry Yard, the pastry chef at Spago in Beverly Hills, has probably fed every major celebrity. Whereas her first cookbook, The Secrets of Baking, was a tutorial on master recipes and their variations (ie how to make a ganache and turn it into truffles, hot chocolate and frosting), Desserts by the Yard features sweets that Sherry makes for the stars. There’s even a recipe for Bill Clinton’s favorite oatmeal raisin cookies. Hmm, I wonder what Paris eats.

Release date: Nov. 1.

Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & MoreCarole Walter has written an award-winning series of other “great” cookbooks, including Great Cakes, Great Cookies and Great Pies & Tarts. I felt uncomfortable around her when I assisted in one of her classes, but in all fairness, her recipes are inventive, fool-proof and delicious. Maybe Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More will end my search for the perfect babka.

Release date: Oct. 16.

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No knead to say more: 100% whole wheat bread

100% whole wheat no-knead bread

The last time I checked, more than 200 bloggers made Sullivan Street Bakery’s no-knead bread, one of the easiest things in the world. You mix flour, salt, yeast and water in a bowl and leave it out for about 18 hours. Then you shape the dough (which is as simple as folding an envelope) and let it rise for a couple hours more. After baking, you get a crusty, spongy bread that sops up olive oil like no other. The secret, as the New York Times article said, is letting time do the work.

Although a follow-up article said you can replace up to half the white flour with whole wheat flour, I’ve never seen specific instructions for how to make a 100% whole wheat loaf. In my opinion, it’s not whole wheat bread unless 100% of the flour is whole wheat. Otherwise, you get a paltry gram of extra fiber in each slice, which isn’t even worth it.

Whole wheat bread often sneaks in white flour because whole wheat is more difficult to work with. The bran is coarse and cuts through air pockets before they finish forming. Adding vital wheat gluten (protein) makes the dough “stronger” so it can rise. Also, whole wheat flour soaks up more liquid. The dough must be very soft, like a stiff muffin batter, so the yeast can move around to do its work. I’ve heard that whole wheat bread should have 100% hydration (a 1:1 ratio of flour and water by weight).

Armed with this knowledge, I added about an extra half cup of water and 1 1/2 Tbsp of vital wheat gluten. It works, it really works!

It is not as airy as the original recipe, but it passes as everyday sandwich bread. You can add more gluten (use up to 1 Tbsp for every cup of flour), but I don’t like the taste. It reminds me of a bad protein bar.

A couple notes: you do not need special instant yeast for the recipe. I read that NYC grocery stores ran out of instant yeast because people were baking like mad. To substitute regular active dry yeast, use 25% more and dissolve it in a little of the reserved water. Instant yeast is finer and more viable, which is why you can add it directly to flour and use less of it.

I had the greatest success with King Arthur’s hard red spring wheat flour. I usually buy what’s cheapest, but other brands like Whole Foods, Gold Medal and Hecker’s are more coarse. Remember, more coarse = less rise. Flour is so cheap anyway that you can afford to spend a couple more bucks on a good brand. It could make the difference between beautiful bread and a grassy tasting doorstop. On the downside, King Arthur isn’t as nutty-tasting as other brands, but it also isn’t sour and grassy (like Whole Foods).

Because the dough is so sticky, you need about an extra half cup of flour to dust your hands and shaping surface.

Also, because the whole wheat dough is wetter, you need about an extra 10 minutes in the oven.

If you don’t have a heavy oven-ready pot or don’t want such a flat loaf, you can use a standard loaf pan. Cover the top with an upside-down casserole dish or a tent of foil so it doesn’t brown too quickly. A trick to getting nice crust is to preheat a pan (not glass-it will shatter) on the oven floor and fill it with hot water during baking. I think it’s worth the extra step. Of course, if you have a covered pot, it will create its own steam. Why does steam create crisp crusts? I don’t know, but here’s an explanation on Peter Reinhart’s blog. I tried to get the best of both worlds (loaf shape and a hot covered pot) by putting a loaf pan inside a casserole dish and filling the gaps with water. The lid kept clanking as the water violently boiled. But it created an amazing brown top and permeated my apartment with the scent of caramelized bread for a day. However, the sides and bottom of my loaf didn’t brown because it was insulated by the extra glass. I also tried putting the whole apparatus on the bottom rack and turning the oven up to 500 F. The browning was better, but the crust set before the loaf had a chance to finish expanding.

No-Knead 100% Whole Wheat Bread

Adapted from the New York Times and Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery

Time: About 1 1/2 hours plus 14 to 20 hours rising

(The metric measurements are more accurate.)

3 cups (430 grams) whole wheat flour, plus 1/4-1/2 cup more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) instant yeast (or 1/4 plus 1/16 teaspoon active dry yeast*)
1 1/4 teaspoons (8 grams) salt
1 1/2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten
2 cups minus 1 tablespoon (430 grams) water
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed

1. In a large bowl combine flour, instant yeast, salt and vital wheat gluten. Add 1 1/2 cups water and stir until blended. Keep adding water until the dough is shaggy and sticky, like a stiff muffin batter. It should not be so wet that it’s pourable. You will probably use all of the water, but different brands of flour are more absorbent. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Liberally flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

*If substituting active dry yeast, let it proof in 1/4 cup of lukewarm water (reserved from the total water) for 10 minutes. Add the yeast with the rest of the water when mixing it in the dough.

Links: Video of Martha Stewart jumping on the bandwagon and making the bread.

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Real Pan Pizza

cast iron skillet pizza

Sur la Table and the Food Network want you to believe that you need a $200 KitchenAid stand mixer or Le Crueset pan to be a serious cook. In reality, you only need $10 to buy one of the most durable and versatile pieces of cookware: the cast iron skillet. It is nonstick (no need to worry about Teflon poisoning), browns evenly and can go from the stove to the oven. I’ve had great success using it for pancakes, chicken with 40 cloves of garlic (you get an amazing crust and sweet, creamy garlic), tarte tatin and BREAD.

The secret to crusty artisan-style bread is baking on a pizza stone. Of course, it’s a huge investment. You can get around it by buying a ceramic tile from a hardware store, but what else are you going to use that tile for? Because of cast iron’s ability to hold in heat, it makes beautiful brown crusts. Plus, you can use it as a griddle, casserole dish, frying pan and bakeware.

Before Sullivan Street Bakery revealed its wildly popular no-knead bread recipe (it’s baked in a cast iron pot) and Mario Batali sold cast iron pizza pans, I made cast iron skillet-pizza, two years ago. Honest, look at the file information in the photos!

charred pizza crust

By baking in cast iron, you get charred crusts that’s the stuff of New York legends. You don’t need a pizza stone. You don’t need a coal-fired oven. Just start with your favorite pizza crust recipe and preheat the oven with the pan inside. Then, generously dust a pizza peel or cutting board with cornmeal or rice flour. Shape your crust on the board and add the toppings. When ready, slide the crust into the smoking hot pan and bake as directed.

To reheat leftover pizza, cover it any pan (cast iron or not) over low heat for 5-10 minutes, or until the crust comes back to life and the cheese is melted. Even Domino’s tastes divine this way.

Resources:

How to care for a cast iron skillet
Note that you’re not supposed to wash it, which may be good or bad, depending on how much you like clean up. Also, you can’t cook acidic foods like tomatoes in it. They are very heavy too, but that means that they practically last forever.

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The Beauty of a Bagel


Photo: Christopher Smith/New York Times

“A bagel is a round bread made of simple, elegant ingredients: high-gluten flour, salt, water, yeast and malt. Its dough is boiled, then baked, and the result should be a rich caramel color; it should not be pale and blond. A bagel should weigh four ounces or less and should make a slight cracking sound when you bite into it instead of a whoosh. A bagel should be eaten warm and, ideally, should be no more than four or five hours old when consumed.

“All else is not a bagel.” – Ed Levine, New York Times

Sometimes New Yorkers can seem like snobs, proclaiming that there is no other city in which to live. Surbanites resent that the “capital of the world” presents itself as the leader in museums, theater, fashion and media.But trust New Yorkers on this: they truly make great bagels.

I’m not trying to be a snob. I grew up loving Noah’s and Lender’s bagels. Almost everyday in eighth grade, I went to my local Socal store, Just Bagels, where I delighted in the chocolate chip and blueberry bagels. That was before I knew better.

A bagel, contrary to popular belief, is not a doughnut-shaped roll. There should be a marked difference in texture between the crust and the interior. The crust should crack, not crinkle, when you bite into it. The insides should be chewy, elastic and moist. Its crumbs should not resemble sawdust.

A plain New York bagel is so good that it does not need to be toasted, buttered or cream cheesed.

This weekend, my friend Thom hosted an after-church brunch. It was really an excuse for me to make bagels. I normally wouldn’t make them for myself, since I don’t have enough room in my overstuffed freezer to store the leftovers. I’m a huge fan of cooking and freezing, since it keeps food fresh and offers built-in portion control.

I used a recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. If you don’t live in New York, these are as close to an authentic bagel as you can get. Hot out of the oven, these are better plain than with any spread. It sounds like heresy, but Nutella detracts from the dough.

Basically you make a sponge out of high-protein flour, instant yeast and water. Let it sit for two hours, or until double. This extra step helps the dough develop more flavor.

Then you add some more flour, sweetener (preferably barley malt) and salt. After some heavy kneading, you shape the dough and let it retard in the fridge overnight.

The next morning, you briefly boil the dough and sprinkle on toppings while it’s still wet. I used oatmeal, black sesame, flax seed, chopped almonds and white sesame. Into a blistering hot oven it goes.

Notes/tips:
The bottoms developed a crunchy golden crust, thanks to the cornmeal-covered baking sheet. However, the tops did not brown, even though I cooked them for almost double the time. I suspect it’s because I put two sheets on the middle rack, thus preventing air circulation. Next time I’ll put the sheets on separate racks and alternate them halfway through baking. Don’t spoil your hard work by pulling out the bagels before they brown.

The texture of the interior was right on, and it tasted better than any grocery-store brand. However, the flavor wasn’t as complex as my favorite bagel, Murray’s Bagels. I suspect it’s because the sponge didn’t have enough time to develop its flavor. Since I had active dry instead of instant yeast, I made some changes to the recipe. Active dry yeast does not dissolve as readily, so I mixed it with hot water rather than room temperature water, as the recipe instructed. I also added all the yeast to the sponge, since the second step didn’t involve any liquid. As a result, my sponge doubled in only an hour. To slow down the rise, I’d dissolve the yeast in cooler water. I’d also divide the yeast and dissolve the second addition in 1/4 cup water (reserved from the sponge).

High-gluten (14% protein) or bread (13% protein) flour is necessary to give the bagel its texture and structure. You can make your own bread flour by adding 2 tsp vital wheat gluten to every cup of all-purpose flour.

Don’t be greedy with the toppings–every square inch doesn’t have to be covered. Any excess will fall off and be wasted, although sprinkling the extras over rice is tasty.

My dough was dimpled rather than smooth because it was difficult to knead by hand. The entire mass was as big as a basketball! And it only made 12 regular (or 24 mini) bagels. No wonder bagels have up to 400 calories, before the cream cheese! You’ll get better results if you use a stand mixer with a dough hook. But either way, the bagels are delicious.

Here’s how to spot an authentic bagel without even biting into it:

  • The exterior should be glossy – a sure sign that the bagel was boiled before being baked.
  • Little air bubbles peaking beneath the crust is a good sign. I suspect the dough blisters because of a hot oven (hence the term “blistering hot”).
  • When you tap the crust, it should sound like you’re hitting hard candy. If it sounds like a hollow football, you’ve hit a dud.
  • Avoid all bagels from New York street carts. They’re oversized, pillowy breads that “whoosh” when you bite into them.
  • Generally, authentic bagelries do not sell “gourmet” flavors. Asiago cheese and jalapeno toppings cover up a bagel’s shortcomings. I mean, would you ever eat a plain, untoasted and unadourned Thomas’ bagel? Ewwwwwwww.

    However, Bagel Oasis in Queens seems to be an exception.

If you visit New York, be sure to stop by my two favorite shops:

  • Murray’s Bagels-242 Eighth Avenue (between 22nd and 23rd Streets) or 500 Sixth Avenue (between 12th and 13th Streets)
  • Bagelry-429 Third Avenue (at 30th Street)

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