Friday, April 30, 2010

He'd Been Known to Bake Bread: Grandpa Joe (Honey Oat Sandwich Bread)

The last few days have been bittersweet, as a very important member of our family passed away on the 26th. My father-in-law, known to us lovingly as Grandpa Joe, left us quietly on Monday morning. A smart, interesting, funny guy who loved a good laugh, he was also distinctive in appearance--large in frame, with a nice face and a snowy white mustache and beard. Meeting him for the first time 20 years ago, I inevitably thought of Santa Claus. He did a lot of smiling that day, and I recall feeling that he was very warm and welcoming to me.

A long-time high school biology teacher and then a counselor, Grandpa Joe never lost his willingness to share knowledge. Just for fun, he enjoyed posing little trivia questions to family members out of the blue. I remember how he'd focus his gaze on me and say very pointedly, "Jane, this one's for you . . ." then he'd let loose with an arcane query on a topic about which I may or may not have had the slightest inkling. If I managed to respond correctly, he'd acknowledge that with a grin and comment, "Not bad, Jane. Not bad."

Oh sure, he'd had a few grouchy moments over the last couple of years as his energy diminished. But now those moments just seem like isolated stitches in the broad colorful fabric of who he was. This is my favorite line excerpted from his obituary, which was written by my husband:  "He loved singing, a good meal, was known to bake bread, and had a wonderful sense of humor." Yeah, the man even liked baking bread. He greatly appreciated well prepared food, loved watching cooking shows, and he read cookbooks. How many fathers-in-law do those things?

And the guy did love to sing. Last Saturday evening, from his hospice bed, he gifted us in a quavering voice with the melody from a couple of old tunes. When asked about his favorite music, he exclaimed over the obvious pre-eminence of Frank Sinatra. What wasn't to love about a man like that?  J.R.R. Tolkien said, "If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world." Well, the world will be a little less merry now without Grandpa Joe in it and, somehow, we'll have to pick up the slack.

When I made this loaf of fresh bread the other day, I was thinking of him. I believe he would have liked it.

Love you, Grandpa Joe. See you again someday.

About this recipe . . .

Besides honey and oats, this yeast bread also includes whole wheat- and white flour. It's a dense, moist loaf with a slight and pleasant sweetness. Very easy to make, and probably very difficult to screw up, this a good uncomplicated recipe from the excellent book, King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking. I've made at least half a dozen items from this book with fine results each time.

The only change I made to the recipe was to omit nuts from the dough, and I reworded the instructions, throwing in my own two cents here and there. I hope you like this hearty loaf of bread. It's tasty toasted and buttered, but also awfully good untoasted and topped with a little peanut butter. Really satisfying.

Honey Oat Sandwich Bread

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Lightly grease a standard size loaf pan (9" x 5") and a medium size bowl. 
1 and 1/4 cups boiling water
1 cup old-fashioned oats (I only had quick oats on hand so I used those instead)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into pieces (okay if it's cold)
1 and 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup honey (I used clover honey)
1 cup traditional whole wheat flour
1 and 2/3 cups unbleached All-Purpose flour
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk (if yours isn't fine and powdery, crush it before adding it in)
2 tsp. instant yeast

In the bowl of your mixer, stir together the water, oats, salt, butter, and honey. Let this cool.

In an ungreased bowl, whisk together the whole wheat flour, white flour, dry milk, and yeast. Pour this into the mixer bowl with the water-oat-honey mixture.

Put the mixer bowl onto the mixer. Using the dough hook, knead until a smooth dough forms (I mixed mine on the lowest speed for about 4 minutes; you may also choose to do this by hand, if you prefer).

Put the dough into the lightly greased medium-size bowl and cover it (I used a clear plastic food-safe box turned upside down to help create a warm moist environment) for about 1 hour, until doubled in bulk.

Once doubled, oil your hands, and thenn deflate the dough gently. (You won't need to do this on a floured surface, believe it or not.)

Shape it into a 9" log, and nestle it into the greased loaf pan.

Cover it with greased plastic wrap, and put it again in a nice proofing environment--someplace kind of warm and not too dry. Let it rise again for at least an hour or more, until it's crowned about 1.5" above the sides of the pan. About half an hour into the rising time, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Uncover the risen bread carefully, put it in the oven on the middle rack, and bake it for approximately 40 to 45 minutes. Put a foil tent over the loaf about 20 minutes into baking to prevent overbrowning. Test the bread for doneness by poking it with an instant read thermometer; when the middle of the loaf reads 190 degrees, the loaf is done.

Remove the bread from the oven, and take it out of the pan after 1 minute; put it on a rack to cool. If you like, brush melted butter lightly on the top of the loaf when you remove it from the pan; this will help the top crust stay nice and soft. Cool it on the rack completely before trying to slice it.

P.S. Did I forget to mention that Grandpa Joe used to keep honey bees? I would give anything to have a picture of him in his bee-keeper suit.

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Friday, April 23, 2010

All Happiness Depends on Blueberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake . . .

"All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast." -- John Gunther

What befits an unhurried breakfast on a sunny spring morning more perfectly than a slice of fresh homemade coffeecake? A relaxed breakfast can be just the gentle launching pad one longs for at the start of such a day.  

Best enjoyed in a quiet cozy nook with someone you love, or lounging alone in the most pleasant corner of your own backyard, this is the kind of meal that leads you to appreciate morning's finest attributes.

"Full many a glorious morning have I seen." -- William Shakespeare, Sonnet XXXIII

Adapted from Margaret Fox and John B. Bear's book, Morning Food, this recipe isn't complicated, but it does take time to assemble. By necessity, I made a few minor changes to the original formula, though nothing that radically altered the intended character of the finished product.

Instead of using yogurt, I subbed in sour cream with a little milk; instead of using apple juice in the mixture with the berries, I used strained orange juice with a smidgen of added sugar. I also omitted lemon zest from the batter, because I didn't want a strong citrus factor. And, as usual, I reworded the instructions here and there.

The resulting coffee cake was pretty darn delicious, I must say. Not too sweet, not too cream cheesy. And the thin, crunchy almonds in the topping? Well, let's just say "yum" and leave it at that.

Oh, yes--one more thing I must divulge. You know the kind of recipe that, once completed, impels you to express deep and abiding love for your high-capacity dishwasher? Well, I won't lie to you, this is one of those. Mmm hmm, it's a bit of a dirty-dish factory.

That, however, is not sufficient reason to avoid making this treat. Often, the end justifies the messy means, and that's more than true in this case. So, go get yourself some blueberries--fresh or frozen will do--and pull out your springform pan. And have yourself a lovely breakfast.

Blueberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour, or spray with baking spray, a 9" springform pan.

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (I used frozen Maine blueberries; they're tiny and very sweet.)
1/4 cup orange juice, strained to remove pulp
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. cornstarch
2 tsp. water
2 and 1/4 cups All-Purpose flour (I used unbleached)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt (I actually used slightly more than this, but less than 1/2 tsp.)
3/4 cup sour cream (I used regular)
3 Tbsp. milk (I used 2 percent)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large egg, beaten
6 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 cup sliced almonds

In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring to a boil the berries, orange juice, and 2 Tbsp. sugar. Over very low heat, simmer for 3 minutes, stirring periodically.

Combine the cornstarch and water in a little bowl. Add 2 Tbsp. of the blueberry mixture into the bowl and stir, then pour this back into the saucepan. Continue to simmer and stir for about 1 minute, until the mixture is reduced to about 3/4 cup; set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, place the 3/4 cup of sugar and the flour; pulse for a few seconds to combine. Add in the cold butter chunks, and pulse until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs.

Separate out 1 cup of this mixture and set it aside in a small bowl; this will be used later for the topping.
Dump the rest of the flour mixture from the food processor bowl into a large mixing bowl. Into this, stir the baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In another small bowl, by hand, mix together the sour cream, milk, the beaten egg, and vanilla. Pour this  into the flour mixture in the large bowl, and stir to combine. The batter will be quite thick.

Using a small offset spatula, spread the batter evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan and then up the sides about 1/2 an inch or so; you want to create a shallow well.

Pulse the cream cheese, 1/4 cup sugar, egg, and lemon juice in the food processor until smooth. Spread this on top of the batter to within about 1/4 inch of the sides.
Now pour all of the blueberry sauce on top of the cream cheese mixture. Use the spatula to spread it around; it needn't reach too close to the sides of the pan.

Into the bowl with the reserved flour mixture, add the sliced almonds and toss them around to combine. Sprinkle this all over the blueberry sauce and the exposed batter edge; the top should be completely covered.

Set the springform pan on top of a sheet pan and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the filling seems set, and the cake is topping is light golden. Cool the cake in its pan, on a rack, for 10 minutes.

Remove the sides of the pan and let the cake cool the rest of the way on the rack. When it's cool enough, slide it off the bottom of the springform pan onto a serving dish.

"To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning."  -- Henry David Thoreau

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Now That's Dark Chocolate! . . . Glazed Black-Cocoa Brownies with Coconut and Rum

It's finer in texture than the finest top-soil. A gentle breeze sends it flying. If not handled gingerly it makes an awful mess, like ashes spilled from a fireplace. What is it? It is utter darkness in cocoa form. Tres noir. Like a night sky with no moon.


Where natural cocoa is mild and welcoming, black cocoa is intense and vaguely threatening. Bitter in a way that only a true chocolate lover can appreciate, it takes no prisoners. A profoundly dark version of regular Dutch process cocoa--but one that has been extremely alkalized--black cocoa is typically used in combo with additional chocolate components.

About this recipe . . .
These brownies have their genesis in a simple fudge brownie recipe that I encountered last year in Midwest Living magazine's February 2009 issue. Those basic brownies were good, but I substantially revised the formula to what I think was very interesting effect. I did this by adjusting the proportion of flour, changing the variety of chocolate used, adding in unsweetened coconut and black cocoa, and reducing the amount of vanilla while adding in dark rum. Finally, I augmented the baked brownies with a shiny dark glaze. 

This recipe makes a tender and cake-like brownie, with a moist and slightly gooey texture. The glaze sets up quickly, but doesn't dry hard; it stays reasonably soft without becoming sticky or drippy.

Glazed Black-Cocoa Brownies with Coconut and Rum

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter or grease a 9" by 13" baking pan. Cut parchment paper to fit the pan and to overhang all four sides by at least an inch, then lightly butter or grease the parchment.

For the brownies:

1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
8 oz. dark chocolate
2 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 and 1/2 Tbsp. dark rum (I used Myers's Rum, Original Dark)
3/4 cup All-Purpose flour (I used unbleached)
3 Tbsp. black cocoa (I used King Arthur brand; if you don't have this, you can use Dutch process, or better yet Hershey's Special Dark cocoa)
1/2 cup grated unsweetened coconut (if not in your grocery store, you can find this in health food stores; note that it's grated vs. shredded, thus much finer and completely dry vs. moist)
3/4 tsp. salt
1 pinch cinnamon
1 and 1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 Tbsp. large flake coconut to use as garnish (optional)

In a heavy sauce pan, slowly melt the butter, dark chocolate, and unsweetened baking chocolate over very low heat. Stir frequently and gently, until the mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a medium bowl, stir together both of the sugars, the eggs, the vanilla extract, and the rum.

Pour in the chocolate mixture and stir to combine.

In a small bowl, mix together the flour, coconut, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, and black cocoa.

Fold this into the liquid mixture, and stir to fully combine. The batter will be quite thick, but should still be easily spreadable. Using a rubber spatula, spread the batter evenly into the pan.

Bake for about 30 minutes or so, checking the brownies at 25 minutes. The brownies are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean, and the brownie top-crust no longer appears wet.

Let the brownies cool in their pan, on a rack, for about half an hour. In the meantime, prepare the glaze.

For the glaze:

2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
2 Tbsp. hot water
1 Tbsp. dark rum
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. Hershey's Special Dark cocoa powder, or Dutch process cocoa (I would advise against using black cocoa powder in this glaze, or just use a tiny bit; it's bitter flavor might prove to be too much, but, hey, you're the driver!)
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar

Mix together the hot water and the cocoa powder in a small bowl. Stir into this the melted butter,vanilla extract, and rum. Add the confectioners' sugar and stir until the mixture is completely smooth.

While the brownies are still just slightly warm, carefully remove them from the pan by pulling up firmly on opposite sides of the parchment paper, and setting them down quickly, still on the paper. (The glaze will spread more easily if the brownies are not completely cold at this point.) Using an offset spatula, spread the glaze before it has a chance to firm up.

Let the glazed brownies cool completely before you try to cut them. If you like, use a cookie cutter, and garnish them with a bit of large-flake coconut.

I think these are even more delicious the second day . . . and the third day . . . and the fourth day . . .

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