Finnish Easter Bread

My house smells heavenly tonight. Enough so the new scent totally eradicated the terrible odors from the morning’s attempt to dye Easter eggs naturally.  (I mean, I suppose that worked – they’re definitely natural colors: tan and hallucinatory pink.)

The loveliness in the air is Finnish Easter Bread.  It’s from Bernard New Clayton’s Complete Book of Breads (1973, Simon & Schuster). I made it because I wanted to see if it was any different at 5000 feet elevation and because – well, because it sounded utterly glorious.

And it is. This is an enriched yeast bread, enriched with the triad of eggs, butter and milk – more than one kind of milk even. It’s seriously, beautifully enriched. It’s also stuffed with chopped almonds, golden raisins, orange and lemon peels and cardamom, which happily is lovely because it’s awfully expensive.

The bread took a long time, even in my fast-rising high altitude aerie. Even so, most of the individual rises did move faster than the recipe indicated, because that’s what happens up here in the foothills. Most of the time I’m not in a hurry for my bread to rise faster – I dislike the idea of the rapid rise yeasts because I want the bread to develop with fuller flavor of a slower rise. Also, reading through one fat cookbook on baking, either a test kitchen or the King Arthur Flour baking book, I now don’t remember which, I ran into the fact that it’s perfectly all right to add extra yeast to something if you want it to rise faster. Never knew that. I did know about retarding the rise by leaving it in the fridge, either so it can be baked at a specific time, or to let the flavor develop.

his one starts with a sponge, then goes to a beautiful healthy rise, then forms into two loaves.  The recipe says it can be baked as one loaf – I can’t imagine doing so – I’m pretty sure that mass of dough weighed 5 pounds. It calls for pails (like milking pails, which I don’t happen to have laying around) or large coffee cans (ditto) so I used Panettone wrappers from King Arthur Flour.  They’re wonderful though I do put a piece of foil or a baking tray under them, especially in a recipe loaded with butter, just in case something leaks. (I have a history of setting my oven on fire.)

Only good things can come of a tall, proud, aromatic bread that comes out of the oven and gets brushed with butter while still hot. It took somewhere between five and six hours, but it’s worth it!

The Sponge

2 cups all purpose flour

2 packages active dry yeast (not rapid rise)

1 ½ cups Carnation canned milk

½ cup hot water

 

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The sponge, rising

 

The Dough

5 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

2 sticks salted sweet cream butter, softened

1 ½ teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons cardamom

2 teaspoons grated lemon peel

2 tablespoons grated orange peel

1 cup golden raisins

1 cup chopped almonds

1 cup milk, room temperature

2 cups light rye flour

4 to 5 cups all purpose flour (I used 3 ½ )

Butter, melted

Even on a wet, fresh, kind of cold day like this was, the desert atmosphere only used 3 ½ of the 4 to 5 cups of flour. Calls for bread flour. I used all purpose. For the rye flour I used light.

The sponge is supposed to take an hour – I think it took half an hour to more than double at 5000 feet. It really, really rises – use a big mixing bowl.

Mix flour and yeast, stir in the canned milk and hot water, and mix with a wooden spoon until the lumps are out of the mixture. Cover with plastic wrap (I was out, so slit open a gallon sized zipper baggie and put that over it). Allow to rise until double.

Before starting the dough, grease a large mixing bowl and set aside.

For the dough, stir down the sponge and add the egg yolks, sugar, butter, salt, cardamom, lemon and orange peels, raisins and almonds. Stir until well mixed.

Stir in the rye flour and the milk. This is a very soft, sticky dough at this stage. I added about a cup of the all purpose flour before turning it out onto the floured board and working in about 2 ½ more cups of flour.

Recipe calls for kneading for 10 minutes. I did 6 because I have no patience and because by then it felt right – not clinging all sticky to my hands, not dry and hard. In fact, this is a wonderful dough to knead, very elastic and bouncy, and very large – it weighed a ton. Transfer to the prepared, greased bowl, cover and let rise for about an hour, or until doubled.

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Once the dough has risen, turn out onto the floured board and punch down. The recipe calls for 4-quart pails. I used two King Arthur Flour’s bakeable paper Panettone pans, which were about perfect. The dough is only supposed to go halfway up the pan – I think I was at 2/3 of the way up and I’m very happy with the way they turned out.

This rises very fast, covered with a sheet of wax paper. Preheat oven to 350, and bake for one hour. One of the few breads I’ve seen tested with a metal skewer or straw for doneness. Remove from oven and brush with butter. I let mine sit on a rack for about 20 minutes, then peeled the paper off them.

They’re lovely. And they smell far, far better than the muddy naturally dyed Easter egg experiment of this morning.

Natural Easter Eggs – Muddy, Muddier, Muddiest

My house smelled terrible this morning. I decided to hard boil eggs, which smells bad enough without adding to the miasma, and then I added to it anyway.

This is something I did years ago, and it seems like when I did it before I had much more vibrant results. In several different kettles and pots, I turned my kitchen into a steam room what with the sun and wet outside. It rained all morning in my North Valleys and now the sun is kind of out – only kind of. It doesn’t seem to want to commit. But the day is beautiful and I might actually get to hike in the foothills this afternoon. (Note: No, I didn’t. It rained, then the wind blew like crazy, and then the weather went all out and just started snowing again. Hours later, it still is.)

Theoretically these eggs should be sunny yellow, gold, rust, pink and robin’s egg blue. My kitchen stinks and the upstairs smells worse and the eggs are muddy, darker muddy, slightly more dark muddy and a pink that requires significant imagination to actually see it as pink. I call it Hallucinatory Pink – just imagine the color, no muss, no fuss. It’s pale enough I just used those hardboiled eggs for the fifth brew – soaking them in pickled beet juice for the robin’s egg blue.  In the beet juice, where they’ve been all day, they’re turning a speckled, unenthusiastic pink.

 

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Seriously, chickens produce more brightly colored eggs.

 

Here’s what I did, which resulted in 10 hardboiled eggs that look used, somehow. Last time I had better results. Despite that, this won’t be the last time I try it.

For the lightest, which were supposed to be gold, the eggs were boiled with a single onion skin.  I used yellow onions, which made sense to me, and wherever I originally found this idea (a book I’ve since lost or mislaid) there was no specification for what kind of onion.

For the next up in the mud spectrum, what should be rust is supposed to be caused by a handful of onion skins. In both instances, the skins and eggs are boiled together like normal hardboiled eggs. Only muddier looking.

The darkest of the mud colors is supposed to be a bright sunny yellow. It’s brown, speckled and kind of ominous, and was caused by half a teaspoon of turmeric in the water in which the eggs were boiled.

 The only-pink-if-you-imagine-the-are eggs were done with water, vinegar and red cabbage leaves, which smell exactly like you might imagine. The eggs were unimpressed, so they’re turning “robin’s egg blue” … maybe … in pickled beet juice, which also doesn’t smell terrific.

Naturally dyed eggs are often baked into Easter breads. I think I’ll just let these sit and get eaten.  The Finnish Easter Bread I made today doesn’t need the ornament of muddy looking eggs – it’s fabulous on its own.

Brown Butter Cookies

So I did everything wrong while creating this recipe and ended up with a delicate, crispy-bottomed, soft-topped little cookie.  Go figure!

Not sure what I was even aiming for.  I love butter.  My Grandmother used to nibble it, just butter, and I tend to do that also.  In the long run, I suppose it cuts down on the carbs.  No middleman necessary for our butter.

I also love salted sweet cream butter.  Many, many recipes advise not using salted butter.  I only use salted butter unless whatever store I’m in is totally out of the good brands of it.  My favorites, in order, are Land o’ Lakes, Challenge, Tillamook, and out of order, Costco’s brand is really good and really inexpensive.

I browned the butter first, and did that wrong.  Because it’s salted butter, the milk and salt solids rose to the top in the pan, and stayed a frothy cream color.  I kept stirring and picking the pan up and swirling until I looked beneath the froth and discovered my brown butter was deep brewed tea brown.  I thought I’d have to start over, but it just tasted stronger, and sweet, and lovely – and burned my lips thoroughly.  (Patience is not my strong suit.)

Let the butter cool, then broken two large eggs, room temp, into the bowl of the standing mixer, poured in the butter and one cup granulated sugar.  Beat until frothy, then mixed in the dry ingredients alternately with what ended up being 1 cup milk (also room temp).  Probably should have had a teaspoon of vanilla, but I’m always, always out of vanilla, and I quite like these cookies without. 

The resulting batter was so liquid-y I added another half cup of flour to the one-and-a-half I already had.  It was still so soft the half I wrapped in wax paper to try chilling was a pancake in the fridge.  If I bake it at some point, I’ll check back with how it did.

The half of the batter I baked I doled out in goopy one tablespoon ice-cream-scoops onto a parchment paper-lined sided cookie sheet and baked at 350 for 13 minutes.  They’re actually pretty amazing. 

 1 stick salted sweet cream butter, melted and brown, cooled

1 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs, room temperature

1 cup whole milk, room temperature

2 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

 Break the eggs into a mixer bowl.  Add the sugar and melted butter and beat until well mixed. 

 In a small bowl, mix the flour with the baking soda and salt.  Add alternately with one cup milk until well mixed.  Drop by tablespoonsful onto a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet.  Set wide apart – they spread.

 Bake for 12 to 13 minutes, until bottoms of the cookies show golden brown and the tops gently set.  Cool on the pan on a rack for five minutes, then transfer to the rack to cool.

 

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The injured looking cookie is one I poked to see if they were set at that moment.  They weren’t.

 

 

A Blustery Night’s Chili Braid

Friday, April 7, was a blustery day in my high desert.  Rain in the morning to add to all the flooding that’s been going on all winter.  There are impromptu lakes and streams everywhere in our foothills.  The rabbits, birds and squirrels don’t need the glass pie plate of water I keep out for them in the back yard.  Wind rocked the house most of the day and by evening rain started.  Hard.  Lots of rain.  Because that’s what everyone wants when we’re already flooded.  The world smelled good, though, and around 6 or 7 p.m. when I went outside, the even felt like a brisk October.  Pretty – just out of place.

Good night for chili.  If there’s someone in your household who reacts to beans of any sort the way my husband does (Toxic sludge! Run!) this is a filling, hearty chili that would lend itself easily to all sorts of variations.  I’ve fallen in love with it for the simplicity of having a one-piece meal – anything added for a side dish could be equally easy but this doesn’t even require garlic bread: it’s all part and parcel.

On really lazy nights I just make the chili and toast garlic bread with it rather than making the yeast bread to wrap around the chili and bake.  When that’s the case I top my bowl with grated sharp cheddar and chunks of tomato.  Rick adds just grated parmesan.  There’s a slight sweetness to it when it’s made in the braid so possibly a green salad (we kind of don’t do green salads here) or sharp apple slices or green grapes would be nice on the side.

Overnight the rain became that white fluffy kind of “rain” that sticks to the ground and powders the foothills.  I foresee having the leftover chili loaf for lunch.  It’s that kind of brisk day in April.

The Chili

1 pound lean ground beef (we choose 93 percent lean or leaner)

Olive oil

½ yellow onion, chopped

1 cup tomato sauce

1 ½ teaspoons chili powder

½ teaspoon dried basil

½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated

 

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil (about a tablespoon’s worth) while you chop half a yellow onion.  Sauté until soft.  Break up the ground beef while browning in the pan.  While the meat is browning, add the seasonings to the tomato sauce.  This is a tasty chili with moments of hot as in spice – for a hotter chili, add more chili powder in judicious increments.  Once the meat is browned and broken up, mix in the tomato sauce and remove the pan from heat.  Set aside.

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The Bread

½ cup warm water

1 package active dry yeast (not rapid rise)

1 teaspoon sugar

½ cup warm milk

1 tablespoon oil (canola or vegetable or olive – I’ve never tried it with olive)

1 teaspoon garlic salt

2 to 2 ½ cups unbleached flour

To make the bread, dissolve the yeast in the warm water in a large bowl.  Once the yeast is dissolved, add the milk, sugar, oil and garlic salt.  Stir well.  Depending on the humidity, the bread can take up to 2 ½ cups of flour but despite the wet and wild day outside mine only used two cups and a scant handful last night.  Stir until the dough is slightly sticky, then turn out onto a floured board and kneed for 2 or 3 minutes.  This is a soft dough.

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Oil a flat cookie sheet and sprinkle corn meal over the surface.  Roll out the dough on the cookie sheet (a towel underneath will mostly keep the whole thing from shifting around as you roll it out).  Roll into a roughly 12×14-inch oval.  Scoop the meat onto the bread dough, and sprinkle the cheddar over.

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At an angle, using a serrated knife, make cuts in the dough about once every 1 ½ inches on each side, leaving a chunk at either end uncut.  Fold the “wings” up to meet each other over the filling, bringing the ends up to create heels.

Cover and let rise for 30 minutes.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 35 minutes or until golden.

IMG_4346Didn’t manage to get a photo of it once baked – we kind of ate it.  Next time!

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Victorian Milk Bread

Sometimes a yeast dough kneads like a bowling ball and sits there uncooperative all the way through the suggested rises, its back to you like a cat that’s sulking.

Very rarely have I had a yeast bread fail. I don’t think this is so much my prowess as a baker as it is that yeast bread is pretty forgiving. I’ve forgotten to add ingredients from butter to eggs to the rest of the liquid and added them in as late as when I’m kneading on the board and thinking This dough feels strange….

It would be nice if recipes noted when the bread is one of those come-from-behind late bloomers. This one sat sullen in the favorite brown bread bowl. It sat sullen through its second rise, too, looking so unhappy I left it for more than 90 minutes when the usual Northern Nevada 5000 feet above sea level rise is 45, 60 minutes at max.

Outside the day was sunny, but only 48 degrees. This is a very strange winter that doesn’t seem to want to go away, and the humidity was 40 percent. I’m used to summer humidity of 15 or so. It was 66 degrees in the house, and apparently the bread dough didn’t like that, either.

Eventually I got tired of waiting for it and abused it into the S-shape the cookbook calls for, then preheated the oven to 400 and let the bread rise in the pan on the stove top. At which point it rose nicely and in about 45 minutes.

This was a bread that – as some do – caused my husband to comment that most breads are just bread, homemade or not. Which is all I was looking for – bread – but still, when you fight with something for half a day, you expect a payout.

Which I got. We ended up finishing most of the loaf because when it was cold it was very good. I never tried toasting it, but the bread held together well, without crumbling, and probably would be great toasted. It had a nice, tight crumb and a crispy crust. I tried to forget the wash that goes on it and ended up brushing it on minutes after it went into to the oven.

The egg wash made for a crispy crust but was a little bland. Next time I’ll either try salt in the wash or once the bread is out of the pan and on a rack, brush it with salted butter.

The recipe comes from Ultimate Bread, Eric Treuille & Ursula Ferrigno, 1998.

2 teaspoons active dry yeast (not rapid rise)

1 teaspoon sugar

1 ¼ cups lukewarm milk

3 ½ cups unbleached flour

1 ½ teaspoons salt

Egg glaze – 1 egg and 1 tablespoon milk

Start by sprinkling the yeast and the sugar over ½ cup of the lukewarm milk in a small bowl. Allow to sit for 5 minutes, then stir to dissolve the yeast completely.

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The recipe calls for all the flour and salt in a large bowl. I scooped 2 ½ cups of the flour into the bowl and mixed in all the salt, holding out 1 cup of the flour because of the dry desert.

Make a well in the flour and pour in the milk, sugar and yeast mixture. Draw flour in from the sides of the bowl as you stir, creating a sticky dough. I ended up using all of the remaining milk and not all of the remaining flour, even with 40 percent humidity for the day.

The dough needs to be cohesive enough it can be lifted from the bowl while leaving some sticky bits behind, but not so dry it’s flaking off flour and pieces of itself. It’s better to under flour than to get carried away – you can always add more flour; you can’t add less.

Move the dough to a dry, floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. I actually came closer to kneading for the full 10 minutes than I usually do because it was such a rock-hard dough.

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Place the dough in a clean bowl and cover with a dish towel. Allow to rise for 45 minutes, unless your bread behaves like mine. Then keep checking on it and giving it pep talks until it grudgingly rises. The photo shows the unwilling dough after 50 minutes.

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Once the dough is risen, punch it down and leave it to rise a second time. This bread really benefited from being in the sun on my kitchen table, and even more so when it moved to the top of the preheating oven. If you discover your bread is sluggish, try putting the bowl on the top of stove while the oven preheats. Or instead of the 2 teaspoons of yeast, maybe start with 1 tablespoon of yeast (the equivalent of 3 teaspoons).

After the second rise, punch the dough down gently and shape into a roll, then twist into an S-shape. I just used my standard sized light nonstick bread pan and oiled it gently. Nonstick is a nice idea and sometimes it even works. No reason not to help it out a little. Let the bread rise or proof in the pan covered with a tea towel until risen an inch over the top of the pan.

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The authors suggest adding a little sugar to a milk glaze before applying, but this is an egg glaze with milk in it. Seems like the top would brown very quickly if both milk sugar and actual sugar were in the glaze. Even without the sugar I covered my bread at about 30 minutes, just laying a piece of foil across the top.

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When I try the bread again, I may try two small loves, free form, and brush one with the egg glaze with sugar added, and the other with the egg glaze and salt added. Or make three micro loaves and brush the third with salted butter once it’s out of the oven.

Or just try the recipe three more times, one wash for each. It turned out a tasty loaf that would make good sandwiches – no reason not to experiment.

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Beer Batter Maple Bacon Spring Break Cupcakes ~ a la Two Broke Girls

I love the show Two Broke Girls, love the relationship between the friends and the entire concept (at least through the second season, which is as far as I’ve binged so far). The idea of owning a bakery has been a dream of mine for a long, long time. The virtual bakery is a way to write my way into the dream, because I’m always going to be a writer first and neither bakery owner nor writer sounds like something that could be added part time.

When I first saw the first season’s two-part finale with Martha Stewart, I became enamored of Max’s Homemade Beer Batter Maple Bacon Spring Break Cupcakes. I went looking for a recipe and found one online that led me to the beer I’m using (a light, citrusy brew) and the idea for a white cake, not chocolate. Have to admit, I didn’t realize Max’s was chocolate and I’m not a fan of chocolate. I made the one I found online [https://londonfare.wordpress.com/2013/03/01/beer-batter-maple-bacon-spring-break-cupcakes/] and it’s good, but I wanted to try it with my own cupcake recipe, a 1-2-3-4 cake, and add in the high altitude parts.

This is the result. I made them on March 21, following intermittent desert rainstorms when our humidity is about as high as it ever gets – 90 percent. The temp was around 40 and while there wasn’t a lot of wind, what there was held icy raindrops even as the sun continued to shine. Because that’s what it does here.

The cakes

6 tablespoons shortening (I used stick Crisco, not the butter flavored)

1 cup sugar minus 1 tablespoon

2 tablespoons hot water

2 eggs, room temperature

1 tsp vanilla

1 ½ cups cake flour plus 2 tablespoons (I’ve never used cake flour in my life – this was unbleached)

7/8 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup beer plus 2 tablespoons plus 3 teaspoons

Cream shortening and sugar thoroughly. Add hot water and beat until mixture is light and fluffy. Add eggs, unbeaten, one at a time, and beat mixture well after each addition. (Note: Breaking the eggs into a glass dish before adding to the batter gives you a chance to check for and pick out any shell fragments.)

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Sift dry ingredients together into a medium sized bowl or if, like me, you don’t have a sifter, put the flour, baking powder and salt into a sieve and shake it into the bowl. Add to the eggs, sugar and shortening alternately with the beer, making sure the batter is always soft enough to stir easily. When dry ingredients and beer are both added, add the vanilla.

Spoon or pour the batter into prepared cupcake tins; makes 12. Bake in a 365 degree oven for 22 to 25 minutes. Check by inserting a sharp knife or toothpick into the center of a cupcake or two to check for doneness; cupcakes are baked when no batter sticks to the tester.

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The frosting

1 ½ sticks butter, softened (I use salted butter for pretty much everything – YMMV)

2 cups powdered sugar

3-4 (or even 5) tablespoons maple syrup

Beat the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer until smooth and well beaten. Add the first cup of powdered sugar and 1 to 2 tablespoons of the syrup. Run the mixer until fairly well mixed, then add the remaining sugar and the other 1 to 2 (or even 3) tablespoons of syrup, one at a time. Frosting should be thick enough to easily frost the cupcakes, not runny.

While the cupcakes are cooling on a rack, cut up as many strips of bacon as desired into half-inch strips. Cook in a frying pan until crispy, drain thoroughly on paper towels.

When the cupcakes are cool, frost with the maple frosting. There’s no rule that requires you to use a decorator bag. A tablespoon, knife or spatula will probably work just about as well. When the cupcakes are frosted, either sprinkle on the bacon, place it artfully, or turn the cupcakes upside down in the bacon bits. There’s no way to do this wrong, and definitely no way to lose.

Devour. Everybody loves bacon.

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Best Cheddar Cheese Bread – Honest

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Spring can come and go in a day in the desert.  This year it’s lasting.  60s one day, 40s the next.  Sun one day, freezing wind the next day, snow after that.  I’m ready for summer, but I can’t deny this is a beautiful year. And just about perfect weather for making bread.

 The Best Cheddar Cheese Bread in the World

No exaggeration.  Even people who look at homemade bread as “Yeah, it’s bread…” become converts after trying this bread.  It’s simple, and uses four ingredients, plus water.

I made this Friday night, to take to a gathering of writers where our hostess made six or seven different soups.  Everything was warm and friendly and delicious.  This bread is a welcome addition to breakfast (with bacon!) or afternoon snack (tart apples set it off nicely) or with a soup or stew, or any meat course at dinner. And it’s easy!

I first made this in college.  As a listless, uninterested student who frequently stayed home and baked and read novels rather than attending class (an awful lot of the teachers read out of the book – I was convinced I could do that on my own), I had time to bake.

In college my roommate and I moved into the 8plex across the street from the university as soon as it was built.  Four apartments upstairs, four down.  We chose downstairs, one of the two two-bedroom units, and because we didn’t know Reno isn’t the most social town and that we were being strange, we greeted everyone who moved in.  So we knew Leslie and her boyfriend upstairs and their two redheaded children and their big, black, we-don’t-have-a-dog-we-can’t-have-a-dog-in-this-building Labrador.  We met Ramana when he moved in, John and Barbara when they moved in and didn’t talk to anyone because, we thought – correctly, as it turned out – they were dealers.  We met Valerie who decorated with big butterflies and clearly didn’t own a kitten in the no-pets building, and Ray, who didn’t have parrots.  And we all began partying together, despite being very different people.

And I learned to make bread.  This cheese bread was the second I ever attempted and I’ve been making it ever since.  The recipe only started changing the last couple years, when Rick and I moved into the North Valleys.  At 5000+ feet, in very arid desert, the directions are a little different from what I did before, and from whatever was originally called for in a recipe I lost track of years ago.

Ingredients

1 envelope active dry yeast (not rapid rise) or 2 ¼ teaspoons or one nice yeast scoop’s worth

1 ¾ cups very warm water ( ¼ cup + 1 ½ cups)

2 ½ teaspoons salt (I love sea salt for its graininess/size)

4-5 cups unbleached flour

2 cups sharp cheddar, grated (extra sharp cheddar is nice too – I’m very fond of Tillamook)

Vegetable or canola oil to grease the pans and the bowl

Makes one loaf, standard size loaf pan, and one free form round loaf

Into ¼ of the 1 ¾ cups of water in the single bowl needed for this recipe, add 1 envelope instant (not rapid rise) yeast.  If you prefer your yeast in a jar or package, this is the equivalent of 2 ¼ teaspoons.

Sprinkle the yeast over the flour and let sit a couple minutes while you draw your remaining 1 ½ cups of warm water and 2 ½ teaspoons of salt.  I love sea salt, for its slightly larger crystals, but really any salt will do, including those little packets Wendy’s gives out, which I hoard against those weird times that I run out of salt.  (Salt’s one of those things I never expect to run out of.  Vanilla, on the other hand, disappears instantly.)

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Add the salt to the yeast and water when the yeast is mostly or totally dissolved, and stir, then stir in the remaining warm water.  From here I usually add 3 to 3 ½ cups of the flour, rarely more unless it’s pouring rain outside.  This is one of those times our dry, very low humidity desert makes a difference – it’s really easy to add too much flour to yeast doughs.  To me yeast doughs seem very forgiving – you could add more water, but eventually the mix will be off between flour, yeast, salt and water.  Easier to add the flour slowly and judiciously.

That said, the first 3 cups I just dump in and start stirring.  From there I add a handful at a time from the measuring cup (often saying aloud to passing cats or anyone listening which cup of flour I’m on so I don’t lose count).  As soon as the dough is cohesive enough to be lifted out, but still showing large areas of very wet dough (see photo) I use flour already measured in the cup on my pastry board and lift the dough onto it.

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Note

At this point it’s a good idea to soak the bowl you’re using if you’re going to use it for the rising.  This bread rises in an oiled bowl and if you might not want to stop and wash the bowl and your fingers after all that nice kneading.  If the bowl hasn’t been soaking, scrubbing out the instantly dried sticky dough is irritating and takes longer than I want to spend.  If the bowl’s been soaking in very warm water, and is washed and rinsed in the same, the dough has a lovely warm cradle to start rising in.  Some breads benefit from a long slow rise to develop taste – this one tastes just fine with a normal rise, so warming it is just pleasant, neither necessary nor inadvisable.

Dough rises three times.  The first and second in the oiled bowl, covered with cling wrap or a clean tea towel.  When you put the dough in the bowl, turn it so all sides are lightly covered with the oil.  Both rises take roughly 45 minutes in my high desert to probably 90 minutes at lower and/or damper elevations.  After the first rise, lightly flour your fingers and gently press he dough back down, recover and let rise the second time.

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After the second rise, turn the dough out on a floured surface and knead in your grated cheddar cheese.  I like a coarse grating, so the pieces are wide and more than an inch long. I’m probably using about 8 ounces of cheese, or 2 cups or so.  It’s not an exact measurement and not all of the cheese gets kneaded in every time.

Try not to deflate the dough overly before starting to knead in the cheese.  Flatten the dough into a rough circle, sprinkle on the cheese, and start gently kneading until it’s incorporated.  It’s better to have all the cheese within the dough, not showing on the surface, or that cheese will burn or simply leak out and away during baking.  For that reason too I don’t generally sprinkle any on top of the bred.

Separate the dough into two unequal parts.  Two-thirds of the dough is used to free form one loaf for the greased or nonstick bread pan. The smaller piece is formed into a small, round loaf and does nicely in a greased glass pie pan.  Cover with a clean tea towel and allow to rise for another 45 to 60 minutes while the oven preheats to 450.

Bake both loaves for 20 minutes, then remove the smaller loaf, reduce the oven temperature to 350, and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes.  Keep an eye on it – it can quickly overcook.  If either bread becomes too dark during baking, just lay a piece of foil over top – it doesn’t have to be fitted on or anything.  Remove breads from pan and flick or tap the bottoms – they should sound hollow.  Let cool before slicing or they’ll squish and taste cloyingly wet.

Happy baking!

How much flour?                                                                                                                                            In the past I used more flour than I needed to.  Originally from wherever I learned this recipe, it called for 4 to 5 cups of flour.  Now I use 4 in winter and sometimes – but not always – 4 in summer.

Then about two years ago I started leaving just the slightest stickiness to the bread dough.  It’s very pliable, pulls out nicely, relaxes back into itself, and just the tiniest bit is sticky on my fingers.  This is a hearty bread, not light as a feather, but the taste and texture both improved when I stopped kneading in bread just before it would stop accepting more flour.

Note                                                                                                                                                        Sometimes when I’m kneading the dough I absolutely don’t care that it’s sticking to my fingers, sometimes enough to make small rolls with if I were insane enough to want to stop and do that.  Other times I can’t stand having it sticking to me.  If it starts to bother you while you’re kneading, let the dough rest while you wash your hands off, dry them thoroughly (so you’re not adding more water to the dough) and re-flour your hands and restart your kneading.  Yeast bread is far more forgiving that most people think.  It won’t care.

Note on kneading                                                                                                                                    Bread machines apparently have different functions.  I’ve never used one but I think they can be used for nothing more than the kneading.  Alternately, I have a KitchenAid mixer with a dough hook and could let it patiently knead the dough for 10 minutes if so inclined.

I’m not so inclined.  Kneading by hand puts me in touch with the dough.  I can feel how warm it is, how sticky or dry (dry would be bad – it’s impossible to take the flour out again and I don’t think adding liquid would work because again, it changes the ratio of ingredients).  I can feel how well the dough responds, how bouncy it is, how much life.  I’m very impatient in just about everything, so I’ve learned over the years that when recipes say “Knead for 10 minutes,” it’s safe in most instances to knead for four and go on your merry way.  This bread I usually give 4 to 6 minutes depending on how it feels and how I feel and I have never had this bread fail.

One last note on kneading                                                                                                                Because I write – a lot – every day, my hands from handwriting and keyboarding are sore and tired.  Probably a doctor would give me a diagnosis of some dreadful sounding syndrome that really means I just use them way, way too much. Pressure helps, warmth does too, and though mostly my hands wish I’d just stop using them and leave them alone?  Kneading feels glorious.  The warmth of the dough, the repetitive movement, the slow stretching and scrunching and folding under my fingers can make a bad hand day improve exponentially.  Absolutely can’t guarantee anyone else will have that reaction, but if you do have hand pain, explained or otherwise, give kneading a go – you might be pleasantly surprised. Plus though it might be tiring at first, all those farm wives in old pictures had nicely developed arms and shoulders and they didn’t have bread machines.  Just a thought.

At altitude this takes 45-60 minutes to rise, not 90.  Even in dead of winter as long as there’s sun (or indoor heating…) and in summer?  Definitely.

Strangely, I only have one not-so-good photo of the finished small loaf and none of the pan loaf. Guess I’ll just have to make it again…

CheeseBread

 

 

Sunny Lemon Tea Bread

IMG_3189Lemon Tea Bread

This is a family recipe I grew up making, though I haven’t made it in several years.  Spring-like, light and lovely, it’s a sharp lemon syrup and a sweet bread.  I haven’t made it in years, because my husband doesn’t like lemon and I usually make things both of us will enjoy, but the change of seasons made me crave it.

This is a sticky lovely bread with lemon peel in the batter and a lemon syrup poured over the loaf when it first comes out.  This is the first time making it at 5000 feet, though the directions I grew up with included taking 2 tablespoons of sugar back out of the one cup, which sounds like a high altitude correction.  We’ll see.

The Cake

2 cups flour

1 ½ tablespoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

7 tablespoons butter

1 cup minus 2 tablespoons sugar

2 eggs

1/3 cup milk

1 tablespoon grated lemon peel (reserve the lemon to squeeze for the syrup)

Mix the first three ingredients together and set aside.  In a mixer bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing in between, and mix for five to seven minutes on medium speed.

With mixer on low, add the flour in three batches, the milk in two, starting and ending with flour.  Stir in the peel and spread the thick, sticky batter into a lightly greased bread pan.

Bake at 350 for 55 to 60 minutes.  Check with a toothpick or sharp knife for doneness.

This is a light, sweet bread, with a somewhat crunchy crust that’s drizzled with the lemon syrup (follows).  The bread is a fairly delicate crumb.

The Syrup

¼ cup lemon juice

5 tablespoons sugar

Combine ingredients in a saucepan and stir over high heat until it comes to a boil.  When the mixture turns clear, remove from heat and keep somewhere warm until the bread is out (or you can keep it on warm if you like – I’ve reduced too many teakettles to molten metal to do that).

Note: when the mixture is boiling with bubbles all the way across, try picking it up from the heat and seeing if it’s clear.  It’s hard to tell when it’s still bubbling.

Pour over the bread as soon as the bread is out of the oven.  I don’t remember the syrup splashing all over the place when it’s poured on, so I’m guessing when I was in high school we poured the syrup over the bread while it was still in the pan, and then hacked pieces of it out with an axe, because it definitely wants to stick in there and nothing else makes sense for getting a syrup-covered sweet bread out of a pan after about an hour in the dry Nevada climate.

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Snowy March weekend ginger cookies

IMG_4068(Iced — Maybe) Ginger Cookies

 A week before the spring Equinox, over the weekend, Mother Nature decided on one last laugh for this winter.  Throughout all of Sunday and a lot of Monday big, fat, heavy snowflakes fell, piling up, covering the hillsides and the roads and the sagebrush, creating an absolutely blinding landscape when the sun came out the next day.

Which it did.  Because this is Nevada and economic development agencies have proudly held forth that we get more than 300 sunny days a year in Northern Nevada.  Which is true.  What they don’t usually report is that the 60 not sunny days often happen in a row, creating deep, dark, depressingly gloomy Januarys and Februarys.  Or that when the sun does come out and discovers on Monday morning there’s eight inches (eight inches!) of new snow, it’s dazzling.  Beautiful but it’s like Chandler in The One in Barbados when Rachel yanks open the curtains and lets the sun in: Hey, remember when I had corneas? 

The snow melted in about two days, and now is playing games, coming back and going away, kind of like commercials on really old reruns of Law & Order late at night, when you think there might be some show between commercials.  We get sunlight in between gusts of snow.

While the snow was on the ground, I made Iced Ginger Cookies from Allysa Torey’s 2004 baking cookbook More from Magnolia.  It’s one of the first recipes I’ve made from the book.  The cookies were awesome and we ate every one of them.  The icing, offered here because it’s in the cookbook, never came together for me.  It looked like cottage cheese by the time I got tired of mixing it, and it didn’t just not taste necessary on the cookies, but not very good.  Not a problem – the naked cookies were more than enough on their own.

Next time I try these, I’m going to experiment – some orange peel in a few, maybe lemon peel in some others, a sprinkle of nutmeg on a handful, and cut up crystallized ginger in some.  If you make them, let me know if you try any variations and how they come out.

Dough

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon salt

¾ cup vegetable oil

1 cup sugar

1 large egg, at room temperature

½ cup light unsulphured molasses

 

Icing

½ cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted*

1 tablespoon solid vegetable shortening

2 teaspoons water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

The way I did this was to combine the dry ingredients through salt in one bowl, mixing.  Oil, sugar, egg and molasses went into the bowl of my standing mixer, mixed on low until nicely mixed.  Because there’s no butter needing to be creamed and beaten into submission, I did it all at once rather than creaming the fat and sugar together before adding the egg and molasses.

Took the mixer bowl off the mixer and stirred in the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon.  I use an ice cream scoop to make my cookies come out the same size – I think it’s a teaspoon size but couldn’t swear to it.  I line my trays, which are light colored and have sides, with parchment paper, whether recipes call for greased or ungreased pans or not.  It’s less muss and fuss, easier clean up.  Toss the parchment paper, and put the trays in the dishwasher.  Parchment paper may not be a green alternative, but it beats running water in the desert as I scrub for ten minutes per tray to get baked on cookie off the surfaces.

Cool cookies on the pans on a rack for 5 minutes, then transfer from pans to rack to cool completely.  Let them cool all the way before icing.  Maybe only ice a few at a time or let individuals choose to ice or not ice. IMG_4064

Spring Equinox

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Welcome to High Desert Bakery, a virtual bakery imaginarily nestled

in the very real Sierra Nevada foothills.

Spring in Nevada is ephemeral, there one minute and buried under eight inches of snow the next.  The sky pales from the hard blue of winter before hitting the electric blue of summer.  Robins return, cliché harbingers of the season.  Rabbits begin courtships in our cul de sac.  On the foothills, tiny yellow, pink and white flowers bloom among the sage.

On the Equinox and the days surrounding it, day and night are supposed to be of equal length.  I always imagined the equinox itself meant exactly 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night, but it’s not quite that neat. The closest Reno is coming is day length of 11 hours, 59 minutes and 5 seconds on the 16th and 12 hours, 1 minute and 42 seconds on the 17. I thought maybe there would be some place on Earth where the days and nights were exactly even and the variations were because of location, but apparently not. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac,

“Day and night are not exactly equal at the equinox for two reasons.  First, daytime begins the moment any part of the Sun is over the horizon, and it is not over until the last part of the Sun has set. If the sun were to shrink to a starlike point and we lived in a world without air, the spring and fall equinoxes would truly have ‘equal nights.'”

That we’re only coming close to being perfectly balanced seems just right.  The seasons change because Earth’s relationship to the Sun changes as our tilted orbit spins us.

Today is the last of the days the Equinox could have fallen on.  Spring and fall the seasonal change can vary anywhere from the 20th to the 23rd; the Solstices only happen on different days because a time zone is far enough out from UTC.  I like that fit, too, the uncertainty of spring and fall, the dead certainty of winter and summer.

High Desert Bakery is opening for virtual business today, celebrating spring with Black & Whites to represent the Equinox in all it’s mostly even glory.  The recipe is from The All-American Cookie Book by Nancy Baggett (2001).  Mine are a little less glossy and a little more lumpy looking than hers.  This is due to my running out of time (a constant in my life) and thinking that surely sifting the powdered sugar was for bakers in climates with more humidity than my high desert.  But they did come out roughly half black and half white – Equinox cookies!

There’s also a recipe for ginger cookies I made during the last insane snowstorm, eight inches in our mountainous valley.  High Desert Bakery is high desert – located in Reno’s North Valleys, we’re at 5000 feet, cooler than Reno year-round.  Two days after the snow came down it melted off in 60+ degree days.  For that, the celebration is a summery sharp lemon tea bread.  Following that is my take on a bread pudding using the last of the tea loaf.

I’m hoping High Desert Bakery becomes a place to hang out and talk about baking, drink tea and share outrageous successes and abject failures – there are plenty of both in my kitchen (some day I’ll share the Balleymaloe Brown Bread from two weeks ago and whether or not it would have been thrifty and economical to save it in case I needed a brick for something), what works for high altitude baking and for tricky recipes at sea level.  A place to ask questions of each other and offer suggestions and share recipes and a love of baking.

Welcome!  Pull up a cookie and stay a while.

Celebrating the Equinox with Black & White Cookies, the recipe taken from The All-American Cookie Book by Nancy Baggett (2001).  Mine are a little less glossy and a little more lumpy looking than hers.  This is due to my running out of time (a constant in my life) and thinking that surely sifting the powdered sugar was an instruction far more important for bakers in climates with more than 14 percent humidity on any given day.  Still, the cookies came out roughly half black and half white – Equinox cookies!

I didn’t make significant changes to the recipe as it stands, and high altitude baking doesn’t really apply to cookies – I made these to celebrate the Equinox and balance of light and dark.  Here’s how I did the Black and Whites:

The Cookies

3 cups flour (all purpose)

¾ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon baking soda

1 1/3 cups sugar

2/3 cup salted butter

½ cup (8 tablespoons) vegetable shortening

2 eggs

2 teaspoons light corn syrup

¾ teaspoon lemon extract

1/3 cup sour cream

 

The Fondants

¼ cup light corn syrup

5 cups powdered sugar

¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate

 

Mix flour, salt, baking soda in a bowl and set aside.

In a mixer bowl, mix butter and sugar on medium until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, and mix well.  Add corn syrup and lemon extract and mix well.

Add flour and sour cream alternately, beginning and ending with flour and mixing until ingredients are just incorporated.

The dough should now stand for a few minutes.  I was in the middle of multiple projects and gave it 20 minutes rather than the suggested 5 and it survived quite well.

Preheat the oven to 350 with racks in the middle.

These are big cookies.  Line 2 or 3 cookie trays with parchment paper.  The recipe I followed suggests ¼ cup of dough per cookie.  That’s what I followed, and rolled them into balls before placing them well apart from each other on the tray.  On the largest cookie sheet I think I had 6 cookies.  Let them stand while you’re shaping all of them, then press them gently flat with the palm of your hand.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the bottoms are gently golden brown.  Mine took 14 minutes.  Cool on cookie sheet on wire racks for a couple minutes, then transfer to wire racks to finish cooling.

Making the base/vanilla fondant:

Mix the ¼ cup light corn syrup and ½ cup water in the same measuring cup if you ever hope to get all the corn syrup out of the measuring cup.  Pour into a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Remove the pan from heat and stir in the vanilla, and then the 5 cups of powdered sugar (yes, sifted!).  Stir until smooth.

For the chocolate fondant:

Break up the 2 ounces of unsweetened chocolate in a small to medium sized bowl.  Pour 2/3 cup of the vanilla fondant over, followed by another ½ cup as the chocolate melts.  Mix until smooth.

Let the fondants sit until thicker and cooler.  Place waxed paper or parchment paper under the wire rack and spoon the vanilla fondant over one half of each cookie and the chocolate fondant over the other half of each.  Let the cookies sit until well set or they’re really messy to eat.  I speak from experience.

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Notes:

Being short on time I tried icing these when the cookies were cool but the fondant wasn’t.  They dripped and broke and bent and acted obnoxious.  Finally I made myself stop messing with them and ran some errands, coming home to stir the fondants (covering them with cling wrap would have prevented the slight crispiness of the surface, but stirring it back in worked, and besides, I am forever running out of cling wrap which usually only clings to me anyway).  This time I iced the cookies by dripping the cooled fondant over each half, making sure the edges were covered.

They’re sweet, very lightly lemony, with a very sweet icing, and they’re nice big soft cookies – and evenly balanced black and white, for the moment the Northern Hemisphere stands between winter and spring.

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