Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Whole Wheat Banana Bread.


As much as I love long and slow bread, there is ample room in my heart for quick breads.  Nailing down a favorite would prove difficult: I have spent sleepless nights envisioning almond poppy seed bread or lemon poppy seed bread, I've picked up my walking pace to get home and make Dorie's Oatmeal Breakfast Bread.  A few weeks back I caught a nasty flu bug and lost my appetite for the better part of two weeks.  The experience left me completely over sugar.  It's weird; I still have absolutely no taste for anything sweet (though this berry trifle I made for Easter dinner did hit the spot I admit...).  Five pounds lighter as I head into spring is a good thing I suppose, and with that new-found lightness I went back to my baking schedule slashing sugars even more than before.  I'm wondering if it will stick and I'll turn into one of those people who don't look so forward to dessert...

B.S. (before sickness), I had devoured two baking books: Ovenly by Erin Patinkin and Agatha Kulaga and Huckelberry by Zoe Nathan.  I baked quite a bit from each, admiring both equally for their creative flavors and make ahead ease.  I can't quite get over the Ovenly adaptation of Mollie Katzen's whole wheat banana bread, which I in turn adapted further and have been making weekly.  My boys like it so well I haven't been able to branch out from banana, but I would really like to try it with pineapple puree that's been well drained.  The fruit and maple syrup make it plenty sweet, so I cut out the sugar all together and no one's the wiser.  And of course, extra virgin olive oil is standing in nicely for the recommended flavorless oil.

whole wheat banana bread

Whole Wheat Banana Bread (adapted from Ovenly)
1 loaf
  • 2 bananas, mashed to equal 1 cup
  • 3/4 c. whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 c. ap flour
  • 1/4 c. flaxseed meal
  • 1 T. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt
  • 1/2 c. maple syrup, preferably dark
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 1/3 c. Greek yogurt (regular yogurt or buttermilk also works, sour cream was suggested)
Preheat oven to 350 with rack in the center.  Grease a 10x4 (or 9x5) loaf pan with butter and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flours, flaxseed meal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together and set aside.  In a large bowl, whisk the maple syrup with the eggs, olive oil, and vanilla until well blended. Add the yogurt and mashed banana and whisk until nearly smooth.

Fold the dry ingredients into the wet, taking care not to over mix.  Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 50-55 minutes until a tester comes out clean.  Cool in the pan for 5 minutes before removing the loaf to a wire rack to cool completely.  Try to resist slicing it until it has cooled at least 1 hour.

whole wheat banana bread

I'm pretty sure the best way to eat this is with a good amount of butter, and it's your call if you would like to toast it first.  If you forgot to buy salted butter like I did last time I was shopping, just sprinkle the top with a little flaky salt.  This bread ages very well, the wheat flavor deepening and the flax becoming more nutty tasting the next day.  Stored at room temperature, you can easily keep it for 4 days or so - it would likely fare longer if stored in the refrigerator.  You could easily add nuts, but I like the soft texture without them for a change of pace.
We had one warm week last month, enough of a breath to carry us through the early part of spring that seems perpetually cool and damp.  It's good quick bread weather for a while yet and I don't mind. Once the world heats up, I don't have the craving for fast bakery like I do just now.  Then I like to let the warmer weather work its magic on the wild yeast and daydream of baking outdoors in an earth oven.  Meanwhile we're keeping an eye on the daffodils and magnolia trees, eagerly anticipating the first of the chives which miraculously seem to have grown overnight due to the rain.  Sometimes it's easy to wish away this type of weather, but all too soon summer will arrive and I'll wish for these cool, dreary days!  Better make some more coffee, slice some bread, and enjoy it while I can.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Old is new again: Chocolate Olive Oil Bundt Cake.

I don't spend so much time around adults.  Because of this, I find that I carry on whole conversations with myself in my head.  As I'm washing the dishes I think about recipes, where things originate and who changed them to accommodate what was in hand.  I'll waiver my opinion if necessity was the mother of invention, or if times changed and so did palates.  I'll wonder just how many times the same chocolate cake was recycled and made new.  And then I'll revisit my stacks of old timey recipes and see what I would do differently or if I would even bother making half of them anymore.

I don't make nearly as much dessert as I used to (although it would seem that is usually what I end of writing about), and when I do feel the need to make something I slash the sugar mercilessly.  I almost make a point to see how much I can cut before a boy will notice, and to my endless amazement it never happens.  They see chocolate.  They eat.  Maybe that is just the way our brains work.  (That also works with adding vegetables into chocolate covered things: zucchini, squashes, carrots, and beets have all been eaten this way too, none the wiser.)

I might not have a knack for a lot of things, but I have the uncanny ability to remember desserts that were eaten and enjoyed and who ate them and enjoyed them.  My special skill allows me to recall then that the last time I made this recipe, a faded photocopy of a Hershey's chocolate bundt cake that my mom wrote upon in her perfect penmanship her mark of highest approval "very good!", was in 2011 when we had a houseful of my husband's friends over to watch the Pacquaio/Marquez fight.  For that occasion I didn't cut the sugar or use olive oil, I made it pretty much as directed and frosted it with melted chocolate chips.  And it was eaten completely.  But my tastes have changed since 2011, and one thing that I find myself loving even more than less sugar is olive oil and chocolate together.  

olive oil chocolate bundt.

For at least the last year, pretty much every time I see a baked good call for canola or sunflower oil - any "flavorless" oil really -I use olive oil instead.  I never worry about the density or richness of olive oil overpowering things... and maybe because I love the flavor of good olive oil so much it never does.  I am able to find the once elusive California Olive Ranch oil easily now, and it is my baking staple.

This cake lasts well for about 4 days if covered well.  I generally store cake at room temperature, and this one develops better flavor on the second day - although the texture is really very nice the day it is baked.  You would do well to serve this sans frosting and with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or just dusted with powdered sugar.  I made half of the recommended amount of frosting "glaze", which is glossy when first topped and then dries matte. Beating the batter well causes the cake to dome up (as seen in the picture above), but when inverted it isn't noticeable. 

Chocolate Olive Oil Bundt Cake (adapted from Hershey's)
serves 8-12
  • 1 2/3 c. ap flour
  • scant 1 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. cocoa powder (I use a blend of natural and dutch cocoa)
  • 1-2 t. espresso powder, optional
  • 1 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • 1/2 c. olive oil 
  • 1 1/2 c. buttermilk
  • 1 t. vanilla
 Heat oven to 350 degrees and butter and flour a 12 cup bundt pan and set aside.

Combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder (if using), baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Measure olive oil, buttermilk, and vanilla into a smaller bowl, and add all at once to the dry ingredients.  Beat on medium-high speed with a hand mixer (or by hand if you like) for a full 3 minutes, making sure the sides are scraped well into the batter.

Pour into prepared pan, and bake in the center of the oven for 50-60 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes before inverting and allowing to cool completely before frosting.

Chocolate Glaze
(double this amount for a thicker topping)
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 2 T. water
  • 1/2 c. bittersweet chocolate chips
Bring the sugar and water to a just boil in a small saucepan, stirring to be sure the sugar is dissolved completely.  Remove from the heat and stir in chocolate chips, stirring well with a spatula to melt them evenly.  Immediately spoon (or spatula) the thick glaze onto fully cooled cake.

olive oil chocolate bundt.

I have no completed cake picture.  In part because I didn't feel like setting up a tripod in the fading light just before the daylight savings time change... but also in part because I feel the increasing need to only photograph things when I feel like it.  Another thing I think about when washing dishes is if there are any food bloggers that can tell stories without the aid of photography?  While the two go hand in hand, sometimes it's more important to just eat the end results and be satisfied with the enjoyment of cake.  Especially when they have been few and far between.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Decades, Sprouted Wheat.

In two weeks, I'll have been married for a decade.  A decade.  That frame of time seems both long and short as I look back over it.  Time in general has started to feel completely relative in nature: in perpetual fast forward as I look at my boys growing bodies day by day, in slow motion as I watch things in the kitchen sprout and grow, in stubborn reverse as I look back over the things that might have been or could have been if events hadn't played out the way they did.  

A decade, almost all of it full of slow food and homemaking as a profession.  I don't know many who do their taxes and put "homemaker" down in the box - every year I think of that.  The term, also in print on my boys' birth certificates, seems antiquated and humbling and yet it is the thing I am most proud of.  I never dreamed I'd even have children let alone have the autonomy to watch them closely every day, hold onto the minutes, the hours, the years and try (at times) to remember to not wish them away.  I never knew how happy tending a home full time would make me, and I worry that if I ever had to be doing something else full time it would kill me.  I watch over my home, the center of which is (of course) this kitchen, and there is nothing else I'd rather be doing.

Another relationship began 5 years ago, the one involving wild yeast.  That relationship parallels the ones with my husband and children in perplexingly similar ways.  Living, breathing, growing, changing, I can't neglect it and I can't ever predict it.  Just when I think things are going horribly, out pops a tremendous and amazing reminder that slow and steady wins the race.  That glorious things can come from strange circumstance.

sprouted wheat, Ball jar.

In the new batch of cookbooks rented, I've been enjoying Peter Reinhart's Bread Revolution.  It focuses on sprouted wheat breads both with conventional yeast and wild yeast and also a host of quick bread and baked good recipes using sprouted grain flours.  When I had first sprouted my own wheat a few years back, I couldn't get over the flavor of it - but I did notice the difference in how it baked.  Reinhart of course is able to explain this better than I ever could, and leave it to him to come up with a whole book full of recipes highlighting how to use it in the very best way.

Sprouted sourdough almost seems redundant.  After all the process of culturing regular flour with the wild yeast innoculant renders the whole loaf already easier to digest, a true whole and fermented food.  Before reading about it, I never thought the result would be that much better but boy was I wrong!  The flavor is incredible; it's wheaty, earthy, and almost sweet.  It makes the best toast I've ever eaten.

sprouted wheat berries
sprouted wheat flour

The dough seems harder to work with, it's stickier (Reinhart advises oiling your hands, but I just used water and folded the dough in the bowl I mixed in rather than putting it on the counter each time) and more "relaxed" in feel than dough made with regular flour.  I didn't pay good attention to the time when I began and had to get up in the night to form my dough into a loaf - and then rather than set more nighttime alarms, I decided to cold proof it in the fridge until morning.  All of my variables and I was sure the bread wouldn't be anything to speak of, but like sourdough always does it surprised me with it's wonderfulness.

009 :: 02.04.15
Click the photo to read the baking notes.

Isn't that always the way?  The bread always changes the rules just when you think you know it all.  And there is always, always something more to learn.  I made this loaf alongside a whiter one, plain sourdough as I'm used to making.  The boys all wanted this one before the other and it really was that unique.  When toasted, it became brittle and almost graham like.  There is just the heel left, and I'm saving it for breakfast tomorrow with more marmalade.  I will eat it slowly and plot my next sprouted baking experience.

sprouted toast.
I still can't decide if I should make another batch of the kumquat & blood orange marmalade...

I seem to save the heels of bread to toast and eat myself, like I save up all the small moments in my day to day family life that one day I'll likely use to comfort and warm myself.  In another decade, my oldest boy will likely be out of the house and the growing baby boy will be almost a teenager.  I will be greyer and telling more tales of bread, hopefully still learning more and more about it. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Kumquat & Blood Orange Marmalade.

I've had marmalade on the brain.  It kind of started with the several jars of it still left on the shelves from last year around this time.  It was a good and bitter marmalade, but very soft set - runny even - and I was not grabbing it for my toast as I thought I would.  The thing about old jars on the shelf is that they translate as food clutter to me, and I feel true guilt about it.  Fortunately, a conversation with Deena some time ago led me to remember that her friend used up old marmalade in granola so that's what I did.  I strained out the citrusy bits and subbed it for the honey or maple syrup.  It's good granola: a not stop-dead-in-your-tracks good, but more of a serviceable good.  And it's nice and crunchy too.  It will not be a bother to eat.

marmalade granola

It seems with less time to do actual experiments in the kitchen, I have more time to daydream about what I would do if I did have the time.  I think about what ingredients I'd like to work with and which flavors I'd combine, and then when the time presents itself I'm more than ready to make the most of it.  I'd been thinking about combining kumquats and blood oranges for weeks now, since I first saw the two of them popping up on my grocery trips.  I wanted to add chiles too because we all know that I'm a complete sucker for sweet and spicy things.  Late last week I finally got my kumquats and blood oranges, and on Friday night after the boys were all in bed I got to begin my 2015 marmalade.

blood oranges.

This marmalade may exist in some form somewhere else, but if it does, I don't know about it because I did absolutely no research on it.  I combined techniques I've read about and done in the past with the wisdom of Linda Ziedrich's ratios, and am beyond pleased with the result.  This marmalade is a good balance of sweet and tart and doesn't really read as bitter the way some marmalades do.  As a bonus, it's also a gorgeous color.

kumquat blood orange marmalade

I started tasting a variety of dried chiles after I tasted the sugared blood orange juice/kumquat and orange peel mixture.  My original thought was to use guajillos (my favorite) or mulato chiles but I didn't want to overpower the pretty unique citrus flavor going on.  Then I turned to my new favorite chile flake the Urfa Biber and decided it was just a little too strong.  I settled on New Aleppo, which has a spicy, almost strawberry flavor to it.  I'm calling it New Aleppo after reading this article on how the Aleppo now available from northern Syria is unfortunately impossible to get.  It's a horribly sad thing, for more reasons that just the loss of a spice. 


kumquats & blood oranges

kumquat blood orange marmalade 
(2)

Begin the day before you'd like to can and use organic citrus if possible.

Kumquat & Blood Orange Marmalade
makes about 2 1/2 pints
  • 1 lb. blood oranges
  • 10-12 oz. kumquats
  • 5 cups filtered water, divided
  • 4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 t. Aleppo pepper (optional but encouraged)
Wash all the citrus well.  Peel the blood oranges with a potato peeler, leaving behind the white pith. Slice the peel into the thinnest shreds you can and place them in a large preserving pot.  Quarter the remaining oranges, pith and all, and pop them into a smaller pot with  2 cups of water.  Bring them to a boil, lower to a simmer and cover them with a lid.  Cook for 30-45 minutes until they are fully soft and can be easily mashed with a masher.  Let them cool slightly.  Meanwhile:
Slice the kumquats as thin as possible into rounds.  Nick out any seeds and save them on the side.  Add the kumquat slices to the orange shreds in the preserving pot, tie up the seeds in a small piece of cheesecloth, and add 3 cups water.  Bring the pot up to a boil over medium high heat, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.  Remove from the heat, cover, and let sit overnight at room temperature.

When cool enough to handle, pour the mashed blood orange into a jelly bag (or similar) and allow to drain for awhile.  (If you get impatient as I do, squeeze the bag to glean as much juice as possible in a shorter amount of time.  Generally, this isn't something canners recommend since it can cause cloudy preserves - but I'd always rather have the quantity that the clarity!)  Transfer the juice to a jar and refrigerate until you are ready to continue.

Ready jars, lids, rings, and a boiling water bath.  Add the blood orange juice, sugar, and Aleppo pepper to the preserving pot (you should have 4 - 4 1/2 cups of total liquid), stirring well over low heat to dissolve the sugar.  Then bring the mixture up to a boil over medium high heat.  Stir regularly at first and constantly towards the end.  Heat to 220 degrees or to desired set on a cold spoon or plate.  Take the pot off the heat and let it stand 5 minutes before ladling into jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, then remove the canning pot from the heat and let the jars stand in the water for 5 minutes before transferring to a towel-lined countertop.

blood orange juice
I was surprised at how colorful it the blood orange juice remained.  At the bottom you can see the sediment that comes from squeezing the jelly bag, I figured it was good pectin and I suspect I was right.

When researching my book, I consulted with the Master Preserver at the extension office in Madison about sterilizing jars.  I never used to sterilize jars in boiling water before canning sweet preserves, and she advised me that this is not the proper thing to do - or at least proper for sweet (non-vinegar) things that are processed 10 minutes or less.  Ever since then, I dutifully put my clean jars in my water bath as the water is coming up to a boil and I let them simmer away until filling them.  I still always wonder just how many people do this, but I always then suppose it's not really adding that much work to a small batch of preserves.

I might have to make time for another small batch of this marmalade since it was so good I ate almost half of a little 4 oz. jar at breakfast time today.  But maybe I'll just appreciate the small batch I have and not over preserve.  I do seem to be eating less and less sweet preserves, and not because I don't whole-heartedly love them.  Maybe something else will spark my interest in the next few weeks of winter and I can daydream my way into another good combination.  I had better save some room on the shelf for that.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Apple Hazelnut Blueberry Muffins. And, organization.

2015 is off to a good start.  Late last year, I read Marie Kondo's bestselling book on organization after David Lebovitz mentioned it online.  It's the kind of book that repeats itself for emphasis, but I didn't mind it.  I took away a lot of good advice, and have taken to paring down tons of worldly possessions that aren't doing me any good and might do someone else better.

Harder than getting rid of paper and toy clutter is getting rid of clothes.  I HATE shopping for clothes, and really it's not a stretch to say I can't recall the last time I shopped for clothes (not counting the desperation trips to the super thrift right down the street), so I tend to packrat them even if I don't figure I'll ever wear them again.  Inspired, I did get rid of some clothes but, it's harder still for me to part with t-shirts.  Some upwards of 20 years old, t-shirts are my fashion life.  At least most of them are now filed in an orderly fashion in my drawers, folded just one more time in half than my previous t-shirt fold has saved me tons of space in my dresser - I have room in my dresser that I never knew existed.  Thank you David Lebovitz.  Your power of suggestion has saved my (organizational) life.

In addition to well organized sock and t-shirt drawers, I took another organized cue and started my new year with a solemn vow to make sure my kitchen  is completely tidied up before going to bed.  The kitchen is my domain; I spend almost my whole day in it, or the attached dining room where my son is doing his schooling work.  It's a pleasant, south-facing space that has good light and is generally fairly clean.  But I am of the ilk that does not dry her dishes but rather waits for them to dry.  I do other things when they dry, but I do not take out a towel and dry them.  I'm stubborn that way.  I realized that having to empty the dish rack in the morning and then tidy the rest of the kitchen/dining area was causing me stress before our school day even began.  

After a week of spotlessness before bed, I can attest that I feel better coming into my space in the morning.  It makes for more peaceful breakfasts, and helps the day get off to a good start.  It just makes me happy in general not to be thinking about how I should scrub out the sink as my kid is trying to do his math.  (I also let the breakfast dishes dry in the rack, but before starting on lunch, I start with a clean space again.  I find I'm doing less dishes this way too - just 3 times a day instead of what seemed like endlessly.)

Other things making me happy in general are muffins.  Muffins are not usually something I get overly excited about - they are utilitarian and something I usually make out of necessity (even though that never stops me from trying to find really good ones).  Ordinarily I'd rather make tea cakes or quick breads, anything in a loaf pan really and I'm not sure why.  Muffins have a good place in a kitchen with kids, that's for sure.  And having a supply of them for the inevitable snack request is just good thinking as a parent I guess.

I've been enjoying the recipes in Whole Grain Mornings (Megan Gordon) for weeks now.  It's a great book of breakfasty inspiration, which I kind of need in the box-cereal free environment that I've created for ourselves.  We eat plenty of oatmeal and other porridge, but I don't break out of my smoothie mold easily, and I've that one particular son that is so picky.  The book is arranged by season, and the winter season is where I began, making Morning Glory Oatmeal (steel cut oats, carrot, raisins, coconut, why didn't I think of that??) and Pear Hazelnut Oat Muffins.  Those muffins!  I first made them in my clean kitchen before bed, getting the ingredients measured (the whole book has metric weights!  YES!) for quick morning assembly.  I got 15 muffins instead of 12, and we ate them by the multiples.  When warm, like a portable bowl of comforting oatmeal and when cool like moist slices of cake.  Like any quick-bready recipe, I cut the sugar in half and didn't miss it at all.  And then I started playing around with the flavors.  I'm fairly certain anything you add to these muffins will be a good idea.

apple blueberry hazelnut muffins.

I actually only topped some of my muffins with nuts instead of baking them inside as Megan suggests.  The baby likes nuts and isn't allergic, but I'm not too fussy with chopping so I then have to pick through the whole muffin as he eats it.  My older boy doesn't care for hazelnuts (I know, right?  More for me.) so I put them only on the top of some of them as a solution for us all.  I like how they get all naturally toasted, and it's like staking a claim to as many muffins as I like.  Or as many muffin tops as I like.

Megan reduces the oven heat immediately after adding the muffins to the oven.  I didn't do this, and in several batches the muffins were all fine.  You may choose to lower to 375 after the muffins hit the oven if you want.

Apple Hazelnut Blueberry Muffins (adapted from Megan Gordon)
makes about 15 muffins
  • 75 g. (3/4 c.) rolled oats
  • 120 g. (1 c.) AP flour (I used wheatier Lonesome Stone AP, which is like a white whole wheat)
  • 60 g. (1/2 c.) whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3/4 t. baking soda
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. cardamom
  • 1/2 t. freshly ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 t. kosher salt
  • 215 g. (1 c.) peeled and shredded apple - 1-2 apples (do the shredding just before assembling to prevent browning)
  • 62 g. (1/3 c.) granulated sugar
  • 85 g. (6 T.) unsalted butter
  • 240 ml. (1 c.) yogurt/milk mixture (she calls for buttermilk, I make the milk about the thickness of buttermilk)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 t. vanilla
  • 1 c. blueberries fresh or frozen (add frozen still frozen and not defrosted)
  • hazelnuts enough to top muffins, about 2 T. chopped nuts per muffin
 Preheat the oven to 425, line muffin tin with liners or butter them well if you prefer.

In a small bowl, combine oats, flours, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt.  Mix well to combine. 

Melt the butter over low heat, and shred the apple.  Put the sugar in a large bowl that will become your mixing bowl.  Add the butter, and stir well to combine and start to dissolve the sugar.  Then, whisk in the yogurt/milk (or buttermilk), eggs, vanilla, and shredded apple.  Add the dry ingredients and fold/stir it in gently.  Finally fold in the blueberries.

Fill the muffin tins almost to the top.  Top with coarsely chopped nuts if desired, and bake 22-25 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.  Cool the muffins in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove them to a wire rack to cool completely.  The texture of the muffin changes as it cools - it sets up more as it gets cooler.  I've had good luck keeping them in an airtight container at room temperature up to 4 days.

hazelnuts.

In a way, this recipe reminds me of Dorie Greenspan's Breakfast Bread, which includes applesauce and oats (and I also make it with half the sugar, and just a nut topping).  She calls the bread "almost puddinglike" inside and these muffins, at least while warm, would remind you of that description.  I would expect you could use fruit sauces instead of the shredded fruit, especially if baking by weight.  I'll probably try using applesauce or pearsauce or maybe even pureed mango or something.  I do know for certain that I'm not done with these muffins.

Can a muffin make you more organized?  I like to think so.  Having that little, generally nutritious something to pop in a hungry mouth on a whim is pretty nice.  I might make a point of more muffins, and maybe even stashing some in the freezer.  I got away from muffin freezing because I tended not to grab them and then months would pass and I'd discard my labors.  But with muffins this good, there's no need to freeze.  For breakfast, snack, or even as a dessert, they have helped my year get off the ground in a very nice way.  A nicely, organized way!