Category: loaves

All about sourdough starters.

Happy April! I hope you all had a lovely holiday this past week, regardless of which one you celebrated. Or at the very least, I hope you had just an all-around pleasant week/weekend. I’m exhausted from this past month, so I’m desperately trying to catch my breath. But other than that… I had a great week, and a great holiday.

Before I begin this post, let me say this: I’m no bread expert. I’m no canning expert either, however, and yet I did a little tutorial on the basics of that last summer. But you know, I have made plenty of loaves, plenty of pizza crusts and plenty of yeast-based things to know the basics. Enough to know a thing or two about it. All that said, I’m not a professional breadmaker. I’m not even an every day or every week breadmaker. I make bread whenever I feel like it, and I haven’t done an obscene amount of research beyond what I need to know. That said, I do know enough to ensure that my bread always rises and is never gummy or too tough. I know enough to always use fresh yeast- when in doubt, throw it out. And I also have some experience with starters. Also known as “biga”, “mother dough”, “poolish” or “the thing that makes sourdough bread taste that way.” Starters are a bit more complex than just regular breadmaking, so I’ve done a bit more research into them.

Starters frighten some people. Understandable. They hear the words “fermentation,” “constant feeding” and “can explode in an airtight container” and they get turned off. Or they assume it’s too much work. And I don’t really blame them, because I was the same way. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: things that you’re frightened by are rarely as scary as they seem in your mind. That goes for most things in life, including cooking or baking. A starter really isn’t all that hard, or scary, or dangerous. Yes they can “explode” if put in a container that’s sealed. But this is something that’s very easily circumvented and it really isn’t a big issue at all… especially if you pay attention or have a basic concept of science.

But that’s my point with this blog to begin with: everyone can bake.

Everyone can cook. Everyone can make bread. You don’t have to be a professional or come from a family of cooks- you just have to want to. You just have to have a desire to learn.

This is going to be a very long post with a lot of information. Let’s start (ha ha) with the history of starters, shall we?

A pre-ferment is a fermentation starter used in bread making, and is referred to as an indirect[1][2] method. It may also be called mother dough.

A pre-ferment and a longer fermentation in the bread-making process have several benefits: there is more time for yeast, enzyme and, if sourdough, bacterial actions on the starch and proteins in the dough; this in turn improves the keeping time of the baked bread, and it creates greater complexities of flavor. Though pre-ferments have declined in popularity as direct additions of yeast in bread recipes have streamlined the process on a commercial level, pre-ferments of various forms are widely used in artisanal bread recipes and formulas.

The common, but undocumented, origin given for the term poolish is that it was first used by Polish bakers around 1840, hence its name, and as a method was brought to France in the beginning of the 1920s. “Poolish” however is an old English version of “Polish”, whereas the term seems to be most used in France (where “polonais” is the word for “Polish”). Some nineteenth-century sources use the homonym “pouliche”, a French word that typically means a female foal.[15] With either spelling, the term only appears in French sources towards the last part of the nineteenth century. There is not currently any credible explanation for the origin of the term.

-Wikipedia

This is no-knead sourdough bread, isn’t it pretty? Recipe is down further in this post.

Alrightly then. Interesting, correct? And now let’s find out what exactly is meant by “starter”:

Fermentation starters (called simply starters within the corresponding context) are preparations to assist the beginning of the fermentation process in preparation of various foods and fermented drinks. A starter culture is a microbiological culture which actually performs fermentation. These starters usually consist of a cultivation medium, such as grains, seeds, or nutrient liquids that have been well colonized by the microorganisms used for the fermentation.

These starters are formed using a specific cultivation medium and a specific mix of fungal and bacterial strains.[2][3]

Typical microorganisms used in starters include various bacteria and fungi (yeasts and molds):

Rhizopus, Aspergillus, Mucor, Amylomyces, Endomycopsis, Saccharomyces, Hansenula anomala,Lactobacillus, Acetobacter, etc. Various national cultures have various active ingredients in starters, and often involve mixed microflora.[2]

Industrial starters include various enzymes, in addition to microflora.[2]

A pre-ferment is easy to make and usually consists of a simple mixture of wheat flour, water, and a leavening agent (typically yeast). Two schools of thought exist regarding the inclusion of salt or sugar. They both act to inhibit or slow yeast growth, as determined by time to proof or rise,[16] so they are not usually included and instead are added to the final dough. Ultimately, the amounts of each ingredient, and when they are added, depend on pre-ferment and final-dough formulas.

When expressed as a bakers’ percentage, 50 parts of flour added to 50 parts of water or 1-to-1 is 100% hydration, and results in a relatively fluid pre-ferment. Stiffer doughs such as 50% hydration or 2-to-1, may also be used. After mixing it is allowed to ferment for a period of time, and then is added to the final dough as a substitute for or in addition to more yeast. There are distinctly different brew types of pre-ferments designed for computer-controlled bakeries that use a rather different series of ingredients, including oxidizers, needed for continuous dough-production processes.[17]

Fermentation is sometimes performed in a warm place, or a humidity- and temperature-controlled environment. Cooler-than-room or refrigeration temperatures decelerate growth and increase the time interval,[18] while slightly warmer temperatures accelerate growth and decrease the time interval. Too warm of a temperature slows growth, while even higher temperatures will kill the yeast. Death of the yeast cells occur in the range of 50–60 °C (122–140 °F).[19][20][21] When cooling a levain or sourdough pre-ferment, if the dough temperature drops below 10 °C (50 °F) it affects the culture and leads to the loss of a particular aroma in the baked bread.[14]

To allow room for the pre-ferment to rise, the ingredients are mixed in a container at least four or five times their volume. This is about the point in time when some process similarities of yeast pre-ferments to sourdough or levain starters begins to diverge. The typical amounts of time allotted for the yeast pre-ferment period may range from 2–16 hours, depending on the dough’s temperature and the added amount of viable yeast, often expressed as a bakers’ percentage. Spontaneous sourdough starters take, at a minimum, several days, and are subject to many variables.[3]

To make a sourdough starter from scratch, the minimum-needed ingredients are flour, water, and time. This starter is maintained with daily feedings or refreshments of fresh flour and water or, new dough. It ferments at room temperature until the desired age or minimal number of refreshments, following a refreshment schedule that may include acceleration of time intervals leading into the final dough, then is added to the final dough. When maintaining a starter’s existing weight, it is advised to discard 60% (or more) of the starter, replacing that discarded dough with new dough. If an increased amount of starter is required, simply add new dough. 40-parts-to-60-parts of old-dough-to-new-dough by weight, or 2-to-3, is known as the back-slopping ratio, and changes to that ratio change the pH of the just-refreshed dough.[8] To make a primary-culture levain, Calvel used salt, but less of it than would be typical for many final-dough formulas.[note 3]

-Wikipedia

Yes, it’s a lot to read. But honestly, if you’re going to make something, you should know how and why you’re doing it that way, don’t you think?

At any rate, starters sound very complex, but they really aren’t. Usually they consist of three-four inital ingredients, a fermentation period, feedings, and then refrigeration. Some use a bit of the original dough. Some are thick and some are liquidy. But they all do the same basic thing; add flavor. And all you have to do is keep it warm when it needs to be, and keep it fed and refrigerated when it needs to be. It’s not hard, and it’s not at all easy to screw up. Most starters are incredibly strong & tough- even if you forget to feed them for a while, you can usually get them going again with a little flour and water (equal parts), for example a 1/2 cup of each. The reason they can’t be sealed is because they’re fermenting; there are gases building up almost constantly in there. If you close it off airtight, there’s no where for the gas to go. Kind of like a shaken bottle of Coca-Cola.

(One thing to note before I continue: you shouldn’t have homemade yogurt & a starter going at the same time in the same room/area. They will contaminate each other. For real…)

The starter pictured above (at the top) was used to make the bread pictured above (& below), which is a sourdough no-knead bread with poppy seeds. I’m going to give you two starter recipes here, that one being the second. As a matter of fact, for that one you don’t even really need a recipe, since it’s usually equal parts water/flour with yeast. But I’m going to give you a guideline anyway. The first one I used to make Levain bread a few years ago, and it’s amazing. While it’s slightly more complicated than the second, it yields good results. It also lasted a very long time until I ultimately did kill it when my refrigerator died. Cue ‘Taps.’

The benefits of using a starter? Well, for one, that sourdough taste. Two, once you’ve got a starter you don’t have to worry about having yeast on hand, your starter is all you need to make bread or pizza crust rise. Of course, that is if you desire that flavor. And once you have that bread made, you can even save a small piece of it and use that as a new starter. Once you start using a mother dough you can experiment with how much of it or how strong or “alive” it needs to be for your enjoyment. Some people say that you should feed it once every 8 hours for the three days leading up to baking. Others say as long as it smells okay and has bubbles it’s good to go. I assume this is a matter of taste, as I’ve done both methods and can’t say I ever had a problem with the taste or the rise of my bread.

Neither of these starters are better than the other, they’re just different. Try whichever one you want to start with, and if you like it, keep it up. No need to mess with a good thing!

SOURDOUGH STARTER A

Ingredients:

  • 3 packages active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water ( 105-115° degrees F)

Starter feed:

  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons instant potatoes
  • 1 cup warm water (again, 105-115° degrees F)

Directions:

  1. To make the starter, mix the yeast and warm water in a small bowl. Put into a plastic container, seal, and refrigerate for 3-5 days.
  2. To make the starter feed, combine the sugar, potatoes, and water in a small bowl and stir into the starter. Cover loosely (to allow some of the pressure to escape as the gases build) and let stand at room temperature for 5-12 hours. The mixture will be bubbly.
  3. When ready, take out 1 cup to make bread and loosely cover the starter and return to the refrigerator. Feed again after 3-5 days. If not making bread after feeding the starter, take out 1 cup and discard it to avoid depleting the starter. NOTE: do not put the lid on tight.

SOURDOUGH STARTER B

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

Directions:

  1. In a ceramic bowl, add warm water and yeast. Mix with wooden spoon until the yeast is dissolved.
  2. Stir in flour. Mix until smooth.
  3. Pour starter into a plastic container that is at least four times larger than the liquid amount of the starter. This is because the starter will expand. Cover with a cloth napkin or tea towel and hold in place with a rubber band.
  4. Set the starter in a warm spot for 5 days. Stir each day. Refrigerate and use as needed, at least once a week. Replenish every other day (aka “feed”) with equal amounts of water and flour (1/4 cup each is fine, even less works as long as it’s equal amounts). If you’re not baking, remember to throw out a cup every week to leave room. Again- DO NOT PUT THE LID ON TIGHT!

See, they’re not that hard.

What I did this time was I halved the above recipe (B) and used a glass quart-sized Ball jar with a bit of waxed paper (with holes poked in it) held on with a rubber band on the top. I also labeled it because my fridge is filled with all kinds of concoctions in jars, like flavored milks, and you don’t want anyone to be half-awake and take a gulp of this. So far I’ve just used it in the following bread recipe, but I found it to do the job. If you find your bread isn’t quite sour enough, you can add a bit more starter next time, or do a refrigerator extended fermentation using the dough once it’s made… but that’s a whole ‘nother story! And funny enough, I just so happened to screw it up! I didn’t feed it enough during the initial 3-5 day initial fermentation period, and it had to begin to eat itself so to speak. It smelled of alcohol- straight alcohol, like I was brewing beer. Not a faint white wine-ish smell, a complete & total brewery smell. Like the smell of a freshly poured pint of Sam Adams lager. So I decided to ditch it & start over. There are ways of fixing it but I didn’t want to be bothered. On the whole, a faint vinegar smell & an alcohol smell are just fine during certain points in the starter-creation process. Even the development of “hooch”, a dark-colored or clear liquid alcohol that forms on top of your starter, is totally normal. Some people just stir it back in, others pour it off. Generally speaking, a starter goes through a variety of odors before its fully going. Unless it smells like rotten eggs, a bottle of beer or has mold on it, you’re probably okay.

Double, double, toil and trouble… an active starter doing it’s thang

Also, just something to note: the firmer the starter, the more the acetic bacteria love it, and the wetter the starter the more the lactic bacteria love it. So if you’ve got a firmer starter, you’ll probably have more of an alcohol-y or vinegar-y smell than if you’ve got a really liquidy starter. And also, the firmer the starter, the more sour the bread will be.

You can only use a small amount like 1 tablespoon water/1tablespoon flour to feed the starter once it’s in the fridge & the growth slows. I’ve even gone days or weeks without feeding it and it’s still been alive & kickin’! However, if you feed it too little during the first few days of the fermentation period, you’ll get bad results. Take notes from my mistakes. Consistency during that time is key. And pretty much any container is fine- I’ve used Tupperware with plastic wrap & a rubber band on top, glass jars & Pyrex bowls. As long as it has room to grow & bubble it’s all good.

Note: different recipes will call for different amounts of your starter. Some will call for 2 cups, which might deplete or almost deplete your stash. That’s okay- just add more flour and water (EQUAL PARTS) and let it re-ferment, repeating the initial process. There’s no way to screw this up, I promise, unless you forget to feed it during the crucial first days, don’t feed it enough during those crucial first days or you make one & then your refrigerator dies in the height of a mid-September 95° F heat spell and you totally forget about it and it smells really weird & has a weird color growing on it by the time you get around to normal life again.

Not that I speak from experience or anything.

Also, make sure you feed your starter the day before you want to use it for baking. This is important, especially if you don’t feed your starter often or you’re forgetful. You want it all bubbly and alive when you use it so you get that really good flavor. I forget to do this sometimes and my bread turns out just fine, so don’t stress it, but if it’s been a LONG TIME since you’ve fed it, you might want to feed it once or twice before using it, just to make sure it’s healthy.

If you have any problems with your starter, I suggest checking this FAQ page. It’s got a lot of great information.

Now. Are you ready for a recipe to use up that smelly ol’ starter you just made? Good, ’cause here it is.

Panera, eat your f*cking heart out.

SOURDOUGH NO-KNEAD BREAD (adapted from a recipe at Breadtopia)

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 cups white bread flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup starter

Directions:

  1. Mix together the dry ingredients, then mix in the water until the water is incorporated. You can use a wooden spoon or your hands, or even a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook on low speed if you must. Place the dough in a bowl coated lightly with olive oil and cover the dough with plastic. Let sit for 12-18 hours (I usually go with 10-12 hours, 18 is a bit much) at room temperature.
  2. Unwrap the dough and fold it over onto itself once or twice. Recover loosely with plastic and rest for 15 minutes. Transfer to well floured towel, and sprinkle with flour. Cover with another towel and let rise about 1 1/2 hours.
  3. Transfer to a 6-8 quart French or Dutch oven, or ceramic/Pyrex container with a lid that’s been preheated to 450-500° F degrees, and bake covered for 30 minutes (before baking I sprinkled mine with poppy seeds). Then, remove cover and bake an additional 15 minutes.
  4. Let cool completely on rack.

It’s really that easy.

I swear.

Now you can use that delicious sourdough bread for grilled cheese sandwiches. Trust me, it’s insanely good.

Some folks have a bit of a problem with using starters in their bread, they find the dough is maybe too wet and won’t hold a shape. As long as it’s a general roundish shape, and not a completely flat pancake that won’t rise at all, you’ll get bread from it. The wetter your dough the larger the air holes in it, which I happen to like, so I prefer to find a happy medium with a not-so-stiff dough that still holds it’s shape well. It’s all about experimenting and trying things, and I have to say I never had an issue that turned out to be an inedible bread! Most mistakes are still edible, if not perfect. But this way you’ll know that next time, you’ll have to add a bit more flour during the beginning stages. Like buttercream, bread dough isn’t always an exact science. Sometimes you need more milk or sugar in buttercream, sometimes you need more flour in bread dough. As long as you get a good rise in the oven, what’s known as an “oven spring”, then it doesn’t matter that the dough is too wet or too spongy or too dry. Here’s a bit more info about wet/liquid vs. firm/stiff starters.

And also, the type of flour you use and even the type of water you use can make a difference in your dough, so you might need more flour or less flour than a recipe calls for. It isn’t a big deal, trust me.

Like I said: the wetter the dough pre-baking, the bigger the holes in the finished bread. So if you always wondered how to achieve that, it’s a higher water content in the mix that causes a really wet dough.

Bottom line: anyone can make bread, and anyone can make sourdough bread using a starter! It’s NOT that difficult. If you’re interested in making yeast-based bread, and/or experimenting with starters in different kinds of bread, there are quite a few recipes I’ve posted over the years. From bagels to beignets, to cinnamon rolls to basic French bread and sourdough. Some require stand mixers, some don’t, some use starters, some don’t. You can find them all at the Recipe Index, under “Breads and Rolls (yeast).”

Experiment, enjoy… and good luck!

Irish tea, bread & sympathy.

Coming from a family environment where my main grandparental influence came from my maternal grandparents, I’m pretty well versed in all things Irish (and German- but that’s another post). My grandmother Agnes was full-blooded Irish, second generation born in New York, and my grandpa was 1/4 Irish, 3/4 German. My grandpa passed away when I was very small, about 6 years old. But my grandmother was with me my whole childhood and young adult life. She passed away when I was 30, so I’d say that from her I got a full course in Irish-American tradition. Tea was a big part of this. My grandma drank tea all day. ALL DAY. She never drank coffee, not unless it was a fancy coffee once in a while after dinner, or an Irish coffee at one of her favorite Irish pub/restaurants that me & Jay used to take her to. My whole life, tea was a major player in everything. If you were sick- have a hot cup of tea with honey or lemon (or both). Sad? Have a hot cup of tea with milk & sugar. And in the summer, as expected, there was always iced tea.

The same can be said for Irish soda bread. I’ve made all different kinds, ate all different kinds, both homemade & store-bought. My favorite still remains; the Irish soda cake. I could eat it morning, noon & night. But I still come up with new ones to try, despite my allegiance. And this one is a recipe I tore out of Gourmet or Bon Appétit ages ago and never made. It’s from Downey’s in Philadelphia, and the addition of dark brown sugar intrigued me.

Soda bread (Serbian: česnica/чесница, Irish: arán sóide, Scots: fardel) is a variety of quick bread traditionally made in a variety of cuisines in which sodium bicarbonate (otherwise known as baking soda) is used as a leavening agent instead of the more common yeast. The ingredients of traditional soda bread areflourbread sodasalt, and buttermilk. The buttermilk in the dough contains lactic acid, which reacts with the baking soda to form tiny bubbles of carbon dioxide. Other ingredients can be added such as butter, egg, raisins or nuts.

In Ireland, the flour is typically made from soft wheat; so soda bread is best made with a cake or pastry flour (made from soft wheat), which has lower levels of gluten than a bread flour. In some recipes, the buttermilk is replaced by live yoghurt or even stout. Bakers recommend the minimum amount of mixing of the ingredients before baking; the dough should not be kneaded.

Various forms of soda bread are popular throughout Ireland. Soda breads are made using either wholemeal or white flour. In Ulster, the wholemeal variety is usually known as wheaten bread and normally sweetened, while the term “soda bread” is restricted to the white savoury form. In more southern parts of Ireland, the wholemeal variety is usually known as brown soda and is almost identical to the Ulster wheaten.

The Soda farl or “Griddle cakes”, “Griddle bread” (or “Soda farls” in Ulster) take a more rounded shape and have a cross cut in the top to allow the bread to expand. The griddle cake or farl is a more flattened type of bread. It is cooked on a griddle allowing it to take a more flat shape and split into four sections. The Soda Farl is one of the distinguishing elements of the Ulster Fry, where it is served alongside potato bread, also in farl form.[11]

MY VERSION OF DOWNEY’S IRISH SODA BREAD

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons, plus additional for dusting
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 sticks unsalted butter, softened and cut into pieces
  • 4 tablespoons well-shaken buttermilk at room temperature
  • 1 large eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425° F with rack in the middle. 
  2. Blend flours, brown sugar, baking soda, salt and butter in a large bowl with a pastry blender or your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal.
  3. Stir in buttermilk and eggs until smooth dough forms. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and divide into small round individual loaves (I got four). Space them evenly on a lightly floured baking sheet. Sprinkle with flour, and cut an X in the top of each loaf with a sharp knife.
  4. Bake 20 minutes, then reduce oven to 375° F and continue to bake until a wooden pick or skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, about 15 minutes.
  5. Transfer loaves to a rack to cool. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature with butter, creme fraiche, marmalade or jam.
  6. Bread is best the day it’s made, but can be frozen. Just wrap it tightly in 2 layers of foil and freeze no longer than one month. Refresh, wrapped in foil in a 325° oven until heated through, about 20 minutes.

 

This recipe can be made into one large, round loaf or doubled and made into either three long “baguette” style loaves or two large round loaves.

You can feel free to add raisins (or Jameson soaked raisins) or caraway seeds, if you wish. I come from a family that happens to prefer it plain, as do I, so I rarely if ever add anything to it. It’s best, like stated above, the same day. But I wrapped it in foil and reheated it slightly the next day & it was perfect. Also, it’s just personal preference as to what to serve with it. If you’re having it with a meal, then butter is the norm. If you’re serving it with tea or coffee or as a snack, then jam, orange marmalade, clotted cream or creme fraiche is good. But it’s great plain too.

And I must say, as much as my old standby recipe is my favorite, this one was really, really good too. If you never found a soda bread you like.. I suggest you try making some of your own, that way you can tweak it and add or subtract the elements you want to. You just might end up a fan.

Speaking of hearty…

(…not that anyone was… or wait…)

For Christmas 2011, it seemed like everyone gave me a stack of cookbooks. One of the ones Jay gave me was the Williams-Sonoma Bread book. I haven’t made many things from the book yet, just a few. Give me a break- I have a bajillion cook books I’m trying to get through! But one of the things I keep making over & over again from the book is the beer bread. And it became Jay’s favorite thing ever the minute it came out of the oven. Trust me- that’s a big deal. He’s a picky one, and he BARELY eats any of my goodies! (side note: feel free to tell him in the comments that he’s crazy, and remind him how some would kill for that opportunity)

I’m telling you, though, once you make a good beer bread, you never want to stop. You want to just keep making it using all kinds of beer, any kind of beer you can get your hands on; all of a sudden it’s “Mmm this beer is good… I bet it’d make a great beer bread!” I’ve tweaked some of the amounts of things just a bit, based on my experience making it, so that’s the version I’m giving you. It’s such a rustic bread, it always reminds me of old fashioned pioneer breads or Colonial bread, so it’s only fitting I used Samuel Adams beer.

Either way, no matter what beer you use, it’s so incredibly SIMPLE to make and it’s always a hit.

Also, just a note: I’ve made this bread with Samuel Adams Summer Ale, Blue Point Oktoberfest, Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Harp Lager, Guinness stout and now, Samuel Adams Winter Lager. Every single beer gave the bread a totally different flavor, and yet every single one made it delicious. I haven’t hit on a bad one yet!

JAY’S FAVORITE 5-INGREDIENT BEER BATTER BREAD (adapted from Williams-Sonoma’s Bread book)

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 rounded tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 bottle beer, (12 fl oz/375 ml), unopened and at room temperature*
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter (I use unsalted, but if you’re using salted just use half the amount of salt in the recipe), plus more for greasing the pan

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 375° F. Grease (with softened butter) a 9″-by-5″-inch loaf pan. Set aside.
  2. In a bowl, stir the flour, brown sugar, baking powder and salt together. Open the beer and add it all at once; it’s going to foam up. Stir briskly just until it comes together & everything is combined (the book says 20 strokes). The batter will be a little lumpy- that’s okay. It might even be a big ball of dough (like a regular bread dough), and that’s fine too.
  3. Pour (or scoop) into the prepared loaf pan. Tap the pan on the counter to even it out, and pat it down if it needs it. Drizzle with the melted butter.
  4. Bake until the top is crusty and a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean, roughly 35-40 minutes. Let the loaf rest in the pan for 5 minutes, then turn it out onto a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature the day it’s made. Cut into thick slices and serve with plenty of butter.

*Avoid using an overly bitter beer; you’ll get very unsavory results.

Jay likes to eat his either right out of the oven or warmed up in the toaster oven, with salted butter. Depending on the kind of beer you use, I think it can be spectacular with soup, especially an Irish potato soup. However I do find it’s best when warm, so if you have leftovers be sure to heat them up a little, or even toast them slightly. Unlike the Guinness ginger cake, which keeps for days, this doesn’t keep well over long periods of time. It’s best to eat it within one to three days (three days being tops). It won’t go bad after that but it just won’t taste as good… it gets a bit rubbery.

It’s absolutely best the day it’s made, however.

Like I said, with this batch I used Samuel Adams Winter Lager. It came out wonderful (again), ironically with a kind of banana-y note to it. I cannot stress the following enough: Be very careful of the beer you use! A bitter beer will make a really nasty bread. A sweet beer will make a sweet(er) bread, etc. For example: a dark, creamy porter or stout will make a bread better for dessert or breakfast, whereas an ale or lager will make a better savory bread. Beware of IPA’s & pilsner’s; they can be a bit too bitter or hop-y. Very crisp beers aren’t suited for this, really, because there’s very little else in the bread to help flavor it. If you use a chocolate or cream stout or maple pecan porter or something, you could probably add some chopped nuts to the bread too, or mix a little brown sugar into the melted butter before you drizzle it on top. If you’re not sure of the different styles of beer & what they’re like, try checking out this website. I’d also recommend using a fancier (read: better quality) beer than, say, Coors Light or Budweiser. Those don’t have much flavor to impart, and the bread probably wouldn’t turn out very good.

If you’re a beer lover, I’m serious; you need to try this bread. Start out with a sweet beer & ease into the experimentation. Soon you’ll hit on one that’s your absolute favorite!

The perfect November pound cake.

;

Ah, November. You crept up on me this year. I wasn’t expecting you so soon! It seems like literally yesterday I was posting on the first day of October. And I’m still in Halloween-mode, to be honest. Mainly because I feel like there was no Halloween. Hurricane Sandy came & that was that. I just got power back last night- I had been without power since Monday night! But the calendar doesn’t care what I’m thinking, does it? No it doesn’t. Nor does Mother Nature. If you can spare a few bucks, or some pocket change, please donate to the Red Cross & help those affected by Hurricane Sandy. I’m lucky to have power, food & a house. Not everyone is. Please help feed, clothe and shelter your fellow human being in need.

I’ve mentioned before that when you’ve got a food blog, or you just bake often, you get a lot of requests. My dad always wants lasagna or blueberry cake/pie/cupcakes, Jay always wants beer bread, maple cookies or applesauce cake (even in the middle of summer), my aunt wants strawberry jam, etc, etc, etc. The list goes on. And my mother…. well, my mother usually has an entire list of things. I’m forever getting e-mails from her that contain recipes, or recipe ideas. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s just outright- “Hey, make this for me?” And that means that a good percentage of the time, I’m making things I don’t really like or I wouldn’t eat. Which is fine by me. Not only does it give me more blogging material, it spices things up a bit. Who wants to make the same vanilla cupcakes over & over?

So when I’m presented with an opportunity to use cranberries & orange in something, I jump at it. It’s November, guys. It’s cranberry time.

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This is all Entenmann’s fault. When I was a kid growing up, Entenmann’s baked goods were the bomb dot com. Everyone- I mean everyone- had an Entenmann’s cake or box of donuts in their kitchen. The glazed Pop’Ems, the marshmallow iced devil’s food cake, the Holiday butter cookies, the French all butter crumb cake…

Entenmann’s is a company that is over 100 years old and originated in New York. In the 1800s, William Entenmann immigrated to New York in the United States of America. William learned the trade of baking from his father in Stuttgart, Germany, and used his acquired skills to work in a bakery in the United States, eventually opening his own bakery in 1898 on Rogers Avenue in Brooklyn.[1] Later, William moved his bakery to Bay Shore, Long Island. Home-delivery was a substantial part of the bakery that William owned, eventually turning into 30 home delivery routes by the time his son, William Jr., took over the bakery.[1] While William Jr. headed the bakery, it flourished; Frank Sinatra was a weekly customer.[1]

William Jr. died in 1951 leaving the bakery to his wife Martha and their sons, Robert, Charles and William. The family decided to phase out bread, focus on pastries and cakes, and start supplying grocery stores as opposed to home delivering. In 1959 the Entenmann family invented the “see-through” cake box that is used by many today.[2] In 1961, the business grew, with new bakeries and factories in Bay Shore, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Plans to expand nationally stalled in 1970. Entenmann’s Bakery, with the assistance of new product consultants at Calle & Company reformulated heavier New England style baked goods into lighter offerings more suitable for hotter, more humid test markets such as Miami, Florida and Atlanta, Georgia. Entenmann’s successful national expansion quickly followed suit. In 1972, Entenmann’s started to sell chocolate chip cookies and has since sold more than 620 million cookies.[2] Since its first opening in 1898, Entenmann’s has been selling “all butter loaf cake” and sold more than 700 million to date.

The pharmaceutical company Warner-Lambert purchased Entenmann’s in 1978 and sold it to General Foods in 1982. General Foods merged with Kraft in 1990. Kraft sold its bakery business to CPC International (later Bestfoods). Bestfoods was purchased by Unilever in 2000, which sold its baking division to George Weston, a Canadian baked goods and supermarket business, the next year. Weston sold its United States interests including Entemann’s in 2008 to Mexican conglomerate Grupo Bimbo. Other Bimbo Bakeries USA holdings include companies such as Thomas’, Brownberry, Boboli, Arnold, Oroweat, Freihofer’s, and Stroehmann.[3]

-Wikipedia

A couple of weeks ago, I was food shopping with my mother. She had hurt her ankle, & was limping along with my assistance. She spotted the Entenmann’s display and made a beeline for it. My mom is a big fan of anything sweet; baked goods, cookies, candy, candy bars, etc. So she saw the display, and immediately zoned in on the seasonal Cranberry Orange loaf. She picked it up and I said, “No, ma, really. Come on. I can make that for you.” She initially resisted a bit, there were a few longing looks (and I think she might have said, “Are you sure?”… what is THAT about!?), but then she gave in. There is no bigger insult to someone like me than a family member buying a supermarket cake or box of cookies. At least buy stuff from a bakery. Just please don’t buy the styrofoam cupcakes that Costco sells. I’d permit Entenmann’s… in certain dire circumstances… but seriously… I bake ALL THE TIME. How are you gonna be in the supermarket with me & pick up BOXED CAKE. No. No, no, no.

I know she really wanted that cake. But mom, why buy it when I can make it for you!? And… uh… make it better.

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‘Cause see, the Entenmann’s cake might be scrumptious. But it doesn’t come with an orange butter rum sauce on top, which mine does.

And just so you know- that brown Kraft paper makes things a hell of a lot easier to clean up. Especially when you’re using a messy sauce or glaze & want to take photos (or maybe if you have kids… *cough*). I highly recommend it. Plus it’s great not only as a “tablecloth”, but as wrapping paper. A gift wrapped with Kraft paper, twine & some dehydrated citrus slices is rustically beautiful. Even to give this loaf as a gift, it’s a great wrapping idea. Okay, sorry- back to the cake!

CRANBERRY ORANGE LOAF CAKE

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2-3/4 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons grated orange peel
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries*

Directions:

  1. Butter and flour a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan, set aside. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Stir in vanilla, orange juice and orange peel. Combine flour, baking powder and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with sour cream. Fold in cranberries.
  3. Pour into the greased pan. Bake at 350° for 65-70 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack to cool completely.
  4. Spoon orange butter rum sauce (if desired) over the top. Wait 3-5 minutes for it to set, then serve.
*You could use fresh cranberries too (& you can also toss in some walnuts, or even unsalted shelled pistachios, if you like)

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ORANGE BUTTER RUM SAUCE

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Directions:

  1. Add the orange juice, flour, sugar and heavy cream to a medium saucepan. Cook (constantly stirring) on medium heat until combined, then add the butter.
  2. Stir until the butter is melted, combined, and the mixture is thickened. Add the rum. Continue cooking until thick & smooth. Stir it constantly while it cooks, or it’ll scorch & burn.
  3. Remove from heat, and let sit 5 minutes.
  4. Spoon over pound cake.

The butter rum sauce isn’t terribly attractive on it’s own, but it tastes spectacular. Especially on the cake.

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The cake is moist & delicious, not too much cake-y, not too much bread-y. Just perfectly in the middle of a pound cake & loaf cake. Just as good in the morning as it is at night.

And here’s a little tip. If you’re making this for a large crowd, you can double the recipe and make it in one 10″ tube pan, or just double it and make two 9″ loaf pans. The same goes for most pound or loaf cakes, or even regular cakes, actually. Here’s a conversion table for pan sizes. And most cupcake recipes that make 2 dozen will also make two 9″ cake layers. Same goes for the reverse: if you find a recipe that calls for a bundt pan or tube pan and you only want to make a small cake, then you can usually halve it (or in some cases maybe quarter it), and most layer cake recipes will convert into 2 dozen cupcakes (sometimes a little more). This particular recipe would definitely be amazing doubled and made in a 10″ pan, a great Thanksgiving dessert. But this way, it’d make a great Thanksgiving breakfast. Keep the sauce on the side if you want, that way people who aren’t into rum sauce for breakfast can avoid it. But seriously? It’s a holiday. You can so have rum sauce with breakfast!

And before I go, just a reminder. Make sure that all you U.S. citizens who are registered to vote get your asses to the polls on Tuesday! It’s important, and it’s something we’re privileged to be able to do. I really don’t care who you vote for… just vote. And if you aren’t registered: for shame. But consider this a kick in the booty to register for next time. And I know it’s going to be hard for those displaced by Sandy, but there are still places for you to vote. Pass this info & this info on if you know someone affected by this tragedy, please. The election will NOT be postponed because of the hurricane, so we need to get out there & get people voting.

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To Autumn.

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Autumn hasn’t always been my favorite time of year. When I was a child, I didn’t like it because it meant summer was over and school was starting. No more sleeping late and floating in the pool all day, no more beach days, no more “fun.” As I got older, fall started to be my favorite season. I started to appreciate more the absolute beauty of it; the changing leaves, the pretty colored skies. I love sweaters and boots and knubby socks. I still despise the winter though, and all it’s grey-ness, snow and ice. That won’t ever change. If I could live somewhere that gave me the definite changing of the seasons but just skipped over the snow & -12°F temperatures we tend to get in the deep winter? Hell, I’d move there today. However the beauty of fall? That’s something I can’t deny. Summer is lovely.. slow, warm, soft and hazy. Summer is fans, porch swings and lemonade. Fall is crisp, golden, hurried. Fall is apple cider, pumpkins, the crunch of leaves under your feet and scarves. And most of all, fall is Halloween, which is my most favoritest holiday ever. So that means I’ve grown to love fall, and the clothing that comes with it. So I’m really, really, really going to miss summer, especially this year, for a lot of reasons. Most of which are sentimental and personal, which I’m not going to get in to here. And despite the weather, as of 6 days ago it’s official: summer is over & it’s completely autumn.

So in honor of that, today I present you with a delicious pound cake, loaded with flavor, moist and delicious, with a lovely sugary “crust” on top, and of course, served with whipped cream and some halved plums I canned in syrup.

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Plums are around from May through October, the peak time for them being August. But to me, they’re strictly a late-summer fruit.

A few days ago, I posted the spiked chocolate plum jam, with beautiful photos of the jewel-like deep purple plums in a bowl and the resulting beautiful, purply-red jam. But I didn’t tell you that I only used half of the plums in that jam. The other half? Well three were eaten right off the bat, and the rest were halved and canned in syrup. In terms of “whole fruits”, not jams or preserves, I had only ever canned peach slices, clementine slices & whole strawberries in syrup before, so I thought it was time I did something bigger. Canning whole fruit kinda scares me- I mean, how the hell do you fit a ton of whole nectarines into a JAR? Weird. It can only be explained by magic.

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Anyway, I halved the plums so I could fit more into one pint jar. If you want to make more than one jar, or you’re using quart jars, then double/triple/quadruple/etc, the following recipe to suit you.

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1 PINT of PLUMS IN SYRUP

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 – 1 lb. plums (purple or prune plums, Damson plums or Greengage plums work best)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sugar

Directions:

  1. Sterilize your jar, and pop the lid into a bowl of hot water. Keep the jar hot. Combine the water & sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
  2. Wash the fruit. If you’re halving the plums like I did, cut them in half and remove the pits. If you’re canning them whole, poke 3-4 holes in the skin of each plum to avoid “bursting” in the jar.
  3. Pack the plums tightly in your jar. Squeeze them in as best as you can without bruising or squashing them, they shrink up once they “cook” in the syrup.
  4. Pour the hot syrup over the plums, leaving 1/2″ headspace. Gently remove air bubbles with a knife or thin spatula. Adjust headspace if needed by adding more syrup.
  5. Wipe rim, place lid and screw band on to fingertip tight. Process in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes.

Because my pint jar is the Collection Elite jar, it’s a different size and shape than the conventional pint jars. If you use a regular one, you might need a little extra fruit to fill yours (or maybe less, depending on the size of the plums you’re using).

And when you’ve got such a beautiful looking jar of plums, you need something to serve them with. And for that reason, there’s pound cake.

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Last summer I made a pound cake that was so incredibly delicious, so amazing, so perfect… that it was world-renowned. Maybe not world-renowned, but at the very least it was the talk of the family. It was almost obnoxious how “adults” almost killed one another to grab a slice. But I understood, because it was that good. I served it with a rhubarb-ginger jam the first night, after that it was eaten a variety of ways: with ice cream, plain, with fresh fruit, etc. Basically I’m using a lot of words to say this: it was amazing. I didn’t really think that any other pound cake could top it, actually, until I found one at the King Arthur Flour website that sounded equally delicious, but was slightly smaller in a lot of ways (except that whole five eggs thing). I didn’t want to make the other one again, because I was just making it to serve with the plums for a simple little dessert, and that’s quite a large cake. So I made this one.

And I figured best case scenario, I get rave reviews about the plums, the whipped cream and the cake itself. And on the other hand, at the very least it would just be the vehicle that transported the plum halves and piles of homemade whipped cream into people’s mouths.

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But I needn’t have worried. Jesus Christ on a cracker, this was some good shit. Was it as good as that other pound cake? Yes, however if I’m being honest, the other one was just a smiiiidge better. But more importantly- this makes a smaller cake. So if you have no use for a massive 10″ bundt-shaped pound cake but you still want a moist & delicious one, this one’s for you. If you’re feeding a lot of people, or you’re making it for a party or a bake sale, and you want a top-notch pound cake, then by all means make this one.

GOLDEN VANILLA POUND CAKE (taken & adapted extremely minimally from the King Arthur Flour website)

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt (1/2 teaspoon if you use salted butter)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 5 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 3/4 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Topping:

  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon water

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9″ x 5″ x 2 3/4″ loaf pan, or a 12″ x 4″ x 4″ tea loaf pan. To avoid overflow, be SURE to use the correct size pan!
  2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, beat together the butter, cream cheese, salt, sugar, baking powder & vanilla extract until well combined.
  3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition; the mixture may look slightly curdled/grainy. After you’ve added the final egg, beat at high speed for 3 minutes. Once all the eggs are added, stir in the milk.
  4. Sprinkle in the flour gradually, with the mixer going at low speed. Mix just until combined. The batter will be smooth and thick, but still pourable. Pour and scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
  5. To make the topping, combine the sugar, vanilla, and water. Stir until the mixture is syrupy. At first it’ll seem very stiff, but will become “drizzle-able” as you stir. Set the topping aside.
  6. Set the cake on a baking sheet, for easiest handling and as a precaution against potential overflow (which shouldn’t happen if you use the correct size pan). Bake it for 55 minutes (for either size pan).
  7. Remove the cake from the oven, and brush/drizzle with the sugar mixture. Return the cake to the oven for an additional 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven, and set it on a rack. Insert a toothpick into the center; it should come out clean. If you use an instant-read thermometer, the center should register about 200°F to 205°F. The very top, right under the crust, will still be kind of soggy; don’t worry about it.
  8. After 5 minutes loosen the cake’s edges and turn it out of the pan to cool completely on a rack.

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I was shocked when this cake came out so perfect. Usually I have a terrible time with loaf cakes; for some reason almost every time they overflow like crazy. I have no idea why. It’s as if all my loaf pans are magically from another planet. I measure them every time to make sure they’re the right size, yet almost every time I get overflow. But not this time! It just came out like… well… a piece of cake. The whipped cream is the always intriguing “whipped cream in a jar.” It’s very simply made by combining heavy whipping cream, powdered sugar & pure vanilla extract in a jar. Then you just shake it! For people like me who never have whipped cream in the house, but who usually have heavy cream, it’s an easy and fun way of making your own without whipping (no pun intended) your mixer out.

WHIPPED CREAM IN A JAR (adapted a bit from The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 teaspoons confectioner’s sugar
  • 2-4 drops vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Put all three ingredients in an 8-ounce jar. Close lid.
  2. Shake jar vigorously for about 3-5 minutes or until it becomes whipped cream (you’ll be able to feel when it no longer “sloshes” and it gets thick). Eat!
  3. Store in the fridge for a day or two tops, but best when eaten as soon as it’s made.

Who can turn down pound cake & homemade whipped cream? And the plums were the highlight, for sure. Who knew such a simple pairing, the components of which are all so incredibly easy, could make such an impressive dessert when put together?

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What a lovely way to welcome fall. See you all in October.

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Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,-
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

“To Autumn”, John Keats (1795 – 1821)

Fi, fie, fo, fum, I smell soda cake & Jameson.

Sometimes when I make Irish soda cake, I feel like I’m in the story Jack in the Beanstalk & I’m Jack, but everyone around me are the giants. It’s so amazing, and it smells so good, that people just go nuts for it. I think if I fell on the floor & was unconscious, they’d step over me to grab a piece. I’m serious. And I don’t really blame them. Don’t believe me? Check this out. Chrisie told me she loves my Irish soda cake and she even took to Facebook & elaborated on how much:

I guess that means she really likes it. See what she said about the tea-soaked raisins? It gave me an idea. Now me personally? I’m not into raisins. I did like the California Raisins, though. But anyway, I thought of her tea-soaked raisins which made me think of rum-raisin, and then my brain went straight to Jameson Irish whiskey. And then it went to Jameson-soaked raisins. I wasn’t going to put them in the cake, but on top. And I decided, like Chrisie, to make the cake into little muffins or cupcakes. Then I’d top them with a vanilla-Jameson glaze & some Irish whiskey-soaked golden raisins.

Shut the front door, right?

And yes, I left some plain with just a nice, sugary crust on top.

IRISH SODA MUFFINCAKES WITH JAMESON-SOAKED RAISINS & JAMESON GLAZE

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling on top
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsps. melted shortening (or butter)
  • 1 cup buttermilk

Directions:

  1. Make wet dough: mix salt, baking powder, baking soda, flour and sugar. Beat eggs lightly and add melted shortening and buttermilk.
  2. Mix all together until combined. If too watery, add a bit more flour. If too thick, add a bit more buttermilk.
  3. Prepare a muffin tin with liners. Fill each liner with two-three tablespoons of batter.
  4. Before putting in the oven, sprinkle sugar on top (if not using the raisins & glaze).
  5. Bake at 375 degrees° F for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

JAMESON-SOAKED RAISINS

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup golden raisins
  • 3-4 tablespoons Jameson Irish Whiskey (enough to cover the raisins)

Directions:

  1. Place raisins in a small bowl and pour whiskey over them.
  2. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit in a cool, dry place for about a half hour, 45 minutes.
  3. When ready to use, remove raisins using a small strainer to remove excess whiskey. Use the whiskey in a drink or even in the glaze (below).

JAMESON WHISKEY GLAZE

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons Jameson Irish whiskey (or whatever brand you prefer), you can use whatever is left after the raisins have soaked too
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. For glaze, pour sugar & Jameson into a saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil over high heat; boil rapidly for 1 full minute. Remove from heat, whisk in butter & vanilla. Let set to thicken slightly for a few minutes. Place raisins on top of the muffins. Using a spoon, drizzle glaze over cooled muffincakes, making sure to cover the raisins.

Forreals, yo.

I prefer to use golden raisins on these because let’s face it- regular raisins can look like mouse crap. Sorry if that ruined your appetite, haha. And of course, the colors of the golden raisins go better with the color of the cakes and the green liners anyway. Those fancy “ruffled” liners are by Wilton. I baked the muffincakes in regular white liners, then put them in the fancier ones after they’d cooled.

So basically, feedback on these has been “holy balls” & “wow” & statements along those lines. I didn’t have any, ’cause like I said, I don’t like raisins. But.. if you want to be on a super Jameson kick, then pair these with some Irish coffee. Or Irish coffee my way, which is coffee with milk & sugar & Jameson, then topped with whipped cream.

Panettone Al Cioccolato.

Don’t you love espresso? I do. Well, I love coffee of all kinds. One of the best gifts Jay ever got me was my Keurig. Yes- I am aware that I have said that about both Lola, my laptop (a.k.a. “June Carter”) & most recently my iPhone (through all my Andy Rooney-like anti-iPhone “you are all sheeple” grumblings I’ve come to realize this thing is amazing), but it’s kinda sick how much I love this Keurig. He gives good gifts, what can I say? I definitely inherited my love of coffee from my parents, despite wondering as a child how people could drink so much of it in one day when they could just have a can of Coke. They weren’t the kind of people that had one cup at 8 a.m. & the coffee machine was cold until the next morning, they were the kind of people who had cup after cup after cup all day long. And I never understood that.

Until now. Things have changed. I love coffee, I love fancy coffee, I love frapps, I love cappuccino, I love it all. But sometimes I just enjoy a simple espresso. And sometimes… I like some frothy milk on top.

So yeah, I like coffee. I find it’s pretty much a perfect match for anything- cookies, cupcakes, cakes, pies, muffins, even ice cream. But for the purposes of this post, I had it with some panettone. Yes, panettone. What could go better with espresso than panettone?

Panettone (pronounced /pænəˈtoʊni/[1]) is a type of sweet bread loaf originally from Milan (in Milanese it is called panaton),[2] usually prepared and enjoyed for Christmas and New Year in Italy, Malta, Brazil, Germany and Switzerland, and is one of the symbols of the city of Milan. Maltese nationals are also traditionally associated with this sweet loaf. In Latin America, especially in Venezuela, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Peru, it is a Christmas dinner staple and in some places replaces roscón de reyes/bolo rei (King cake).

It has a cupola shape, which extends from a cylindrical base and is usually about 12-15 cm high for a panettone weighing 1 kg. Other bases may be used, such as an octagon, or a frustum with star section shape more common to pandoro. It is made during a long process that involves the curing of the dough, which is acidic, similar to sourdough. The proofing process alone takes several days, giving the cake its distinctive fluffy characteristics. It contains candied orange, citron, and lemon zest, as well as raisins, which are added dry and not soaked. Many other variations are available such as plain or with chocolate . It is served in slices, vertically cut, accompanied with sweet hot beverages or a sweet wine, such as Asti or Moscato d’Asti. In some regions of Italy, it is served with crema di mascarpone, a cream made from mascarpone, eggs, sometimes dried or candied fruits, and typically a sweet liqueur such as amaretto; if mascarpone cheese is unavailable, zabaione is sometimes used as a substitute.

Efforts are underway to obtain Protected Designation of Origin and Denominazione di origine controllata status for this product, but, as of late 2008, this had not occurred.[3] Italian Agriculture Minister Paolo De Castro was looking at ways to protect the real Italian cakes from growing competition in Latin America and whether they can take action at the World Trade Organization.

-Wikipedia

But no, this is not the stuff that comes in a box that you can find in every Italian family’s home at this time of year. This is homemade stuff, made with ingredients that make it practically irresistible to me; chocolate chips. I’m personally not big on the dried fruit or citron thing. But when I saw the recipe I knew I’d have to alter it to suit me. It’s made in a buttered brown bag… how the hell was I supposed to resist? So here’s my version of panettones… little ones that are easier to give (and eat!).

CHOCOLATE CHIP MINI-PANETTONE’S

Makes 7

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon warm water
  • 1 envelope active dry yeast (about 1 scant tablespoon)
  • 1 ¼ cups flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 tablespoons warm milk
  • 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 large eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • pinch salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pure vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
  • ½ cup chocolate chips
  • ¾ teaspoon heavy cream

Directions:

  1. Pour warm water into a bowl, and sprinkle with half of the yeast. Stir with a fork until yeast has dissolved, then let stand until foamy, 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. Stir in ⅛ cup flour, and cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let stand in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 30 minutes.
  3. Pour warm milk into a bowl, and sprinkle with remaining yeast. Stir with a fork until yeast has dissolved, then let stand until foamy, 5 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together sugar, whole egg, 1 egg yolk, salt, and vanilla. Whisk in milk mixture.
  4. Beat butter and remaining flour with a mixer fitted with a dough hook on medium speed until mixture is crumbly. Reduce speed to low, and gradually add egg mixture. Raise speed to medium, and beat until smooth. Add yeast-and-flour mixture, and beat on high speed until dough is elastic and long strands form when it’s stretched, about 5 minutes (it will still be very sticky.) Stir in chocolate chips.
  5. Transfer to a buttered bowl, and cover with buttered plastic wrap. Let dough stand in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours. Preheat oven to 400° degrees, with rack in lower third. Turn dough out onto a floured surface, and divide into 7 little portions of dough. Knead a few times, then shape into balls. Drop each ball into a buttered brown paper mold (see below for directions) and loosely cover with buttered plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until rises slightly to the top, about 30 to 45 minutes. Whisk remaining yolk with cream, and brush onto tops of balls. Cut an X in the top of each ball with kitchen shears (I didn’t do this).
  6. Bake 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350° degrees, and bake until tops are golden brown and rise slightly above rims of molds, about 15 minutes. Tent baking sheet with foil if tops are beginning to get too brown. Transfer panettone to a wire rack to cool. Panettone can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Pre-baking, & pre-egg wash!

Recipe can be doubled, probably tripled too, FYI.

Okay so what I did was I cut up some brown paper lunch bags & used those as the “liners” or molds. It’s really easy, all you have to do is cut circle-squares (uneven circles or rounded squares) or tear them. Melt about 4-5 tablespoons butter and get a pastry brush ready. Then check & see if the paper fits in your muffin pan. If it doesn’t, trim it, if it does, butter it by brushing it on one side generously with butter & place it in a cavity, pressing down so it stays in place. Then plop a ball of dough on top of it. So simple. But you can also use these liners as well, if the whole DIY thing isn’t your bag (no pun intended). And if you’re a stickler, you can use real panettone paper molds. However I like to be very hands-on & creative, its a good outlet, & I’m always doing shit like this so for me it was a snap. If you do choose to DIY it, then use an old muffin tin. That’s what I did because I like my new ones to stay nice & clean & shiny. I keep an old one around for when I make pupcakes or popovers or stuff like this.

You can also substitute any dried fruits for the chocolate chips, and also add lemon or orange zest to the batter. But just so you know, the first batch of 7 that I made went all in one night.

Super easy, really. And delicious. Let’s face it, edible gifts are sometimes the best gifts. Like I said before- homemade jellies/jams/marmalades, breads, cookies & even homemade limoncello or vanilla extract can make a great gift. It doesn’t take much to personalize an edible gift. I happen to think homemade gifts are worth more than bought gifts, if there was time & effort obviously put into it. Someone once said the greatest gift a person can give you is their time, and if they made you a really beautiful homemade gift then that’s exactly what they did.

And I don’t mean a piece of construction paper with glitter on it, either. That’s only acceptable if you’re 10 or younger, sorry.

Dia de los Muertos/Noche de Altares.

I hope your Halloween was awesome! Mine was pretty good- tons of treats (& maybe some tricks). I was pretty bummed that I didn’t get a lot of trick-or-treaters, but what can ya do. I guess times are changing.

Each year, this particular time of the season is my favorite. I love fall weather, when it’s cool but not too cold yet (well, usually, this year we had snow before Halloween), the leaves are changing (again, usually, not so much this year), and of course Halloween & Dia de Los Muertos. The Mexican Day of the Dead has always been a holiday I’ve appreciated. The concept of it is one I think more Americans should embrace.

Dia de los Muertos is a traditional Meso-American holiday dedicated to the ancestors; it honors both death and the cycle of life. In Mexico, neighbors gather in local cemeteries to share food, music, and fun with their extended community, both living and departed. The celebration acknowledges that we still have a relationship with our ancestors and loved ones that have passed away.

- source

This year it especially hits home for me. Halloween marked the beginning of a long season of “first holidays” without my grandmother. My grandmother loved Halloween, as did her mother before her. And ever since I was a child, my Nana told me about All Saints’ Day/All Souls’ Day. She told me about all the superstitions her Irish grandmother & mother told her as a child. And those two holidays have a big tie-in with Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). The main difference being the Irish are very melancholy, sad and superstitious about it, whereas the Mexican view is much more celebratory: celebrating the dead AND the living, and reflecting but not being regretful. I love that! I’m not religious, not particularly spiritual, yet I find this to be a wonderful “holiday” that most Americans get totally wrong but could really, genuinely learn from. I also love the tradition of going to the cemetery & cleaning up & sprucing up the graves, decorating them & making them beautiful. Too many Americans forget about their deceased ancestors remains, and don’t bother to ever “visit” them… and trust me, the “Perpetual Care” you pay for ain’t so perpetual. Not only that, but opening yourself up to another culture & it’s traditions is so amazing. You learn so much, & not just about yourself.

Anyway, one of the most famous images of the Day of the Dead, aside from the sugar skull, is the Catrina, or the female skeleton. Popularized in 1913 by José Guadalupe Posada in a print/zinc etching he created of a figure he called La Calavera de la Catrinas or La Calavera Catrina.

© José Guadalupe Posada

On that same note, one of my favorite artists, Sylvia Ji, paints a lot of Catrina-themed women. I just adore her work and I think they’re so beautiful. The Catrina or Calavera is another aspect of Dia de los Muertos that makes me love it. I’m so inspired by these, as well as the imagery of Dia de los Muertos.

….

Last year I made tres leches coconut cupcakes for Dia de los Muertos with little hand-painted sugar skulls. I still think they were completely amazing & adorable… but I didn’t want to repeat the same thing this year; I hate reruns. I wanted to do something a bit different. My friend Xenia asked me for my grandmother’s photo to add to her altar which was chosen for Noche de Altares (A Night of Altars), an event in Santa Ana that takes place tomorrow, November 5th. I was flattered that she would think of me… but also it gave me the bug. So I thought it was a great idea to make my own! It was a very small & simple one, but I think it served the purpose. I used the traditional marigolds, but some chrysanthemums too. So here are some pictures of my altar, and once the event is over I’ll add the pictures of Xenia’s as well, or a link to her post about it.

It’s just a small, simple altar, but I think it’s beautiful. Represented in the altar: my grandmother Agnes & grandfather Clarence, my great-great-grandmother Winifred Mackin, her daughter Mary & husband Thomas Rooney, my other great-great-grandmother Frances Hebrank & her husband Henry Sonnanburg, my great-uncle Pat, my great-aunt Winnie & her husband Sam Prybuski, my uncle Kenny, my great-aunt Eleanor Sonnanburg & her husband Frank Rooney, and my great-uncle Jack Sonnanburg; all deceased. I think it’s a gorgeous tribute. So in addition to creating my own altar this year, I also made Pan de Muerto. My grandma loved my baking, and my uncle Pat couldn’t eat a lot of sugar or carbs, being a diabetic, so as my offering to them this Day of the Dead, I thought this was appropriate on so many levels. Plus, it’s a day for celebrating life too, and what’s more celebratory than baking delicious bread & enjoying it!?

PAN DE MUERTO (BREAD OF THE DEAD) (from Look What We Brought You From Mexico! by Phyllis Shalant)

Makes 8 to 10 servings

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup milk
  • ¼ cup (half a stick) margarine or butter, cut into 8 pieces
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • ¼ cup very warm water
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, unsifted
  • ½ teaspoon anise seed
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons sugar

Directions:

  1. Bring milk to boil and remove from heat. Stir in margarine or butter, ¼ cup sugar and salt.
  2. In large bowl, mix yeast with warm water until dissolved and let stand 5 minutes. Add the milk mixture.
  3. Separate the yolk and white of one egg. Add the yolk to the yeast mixture, but save the white for later. Now add flour to the yeast and second egg. Blend well until dough ball is formed.
  4. Flour a pastry board or work surface very well and place the dough in center. Knead until smooth. Return to large bowl and cover with dish towel. Let rise in warm place for 90 minutes. Meanwhile, grease a baking sheet and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  5. Knead dough again on floured surface. Now divide the dough into fourths and set one fourth aside. Roll the remaining 3 pieces into “ropes.”
  6. On greased baking sheet, pinch 3 rope ends together and braid. Finish by pinching ends together on opposite side. Divide the remaining dough in half and form 2 “bones.” Cross and lay them atop braided loaf.
  7. Cover bread with dish towel and let rise for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix anise seed, cinnamon and 2 teaspoons sugar together. In another bowl, beat egg white lightly.
  8. When 30 minutes are up, brush top of bread with egg white and sprinkle with sugar mixture, except on cross bones. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.

I made mine a bit differently. I used about a ½ teaspoon anise extract in the actual dough, seeing as how I had no anise seed. I used 100% butter, not margarine. Also, obviously, I made my bread in a round shape and covered it with a rough-shaped cut-out dough skull & crossbones. Of course, as the bread bakes & rises the shapes don’t exactly stay together but I think that adds to it. You can also paint the dough or color parts of it using food coloring. The anise didn’t make it overwhelmingly “licorice-y” at all, so don’t be afraid to do it. It actually was so subtle, I could barely taste it. I put this bread in the ‘quick & easy’ category because I was surprised at how simple it was to make. I think it definitely makes things easier if you have a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment, however. The crumb of the bread was fantastic, too.

I hope all my family had a wonderful Day of the Dead, wherever they are in the great beyond. Maybe they came to pay a visit & saw my altar for them.

..

“As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well used brings happy death.” Leonardo da Vinci

No pain, no gain.

Of course by pain I mean the French word for ‘bread.’ Duh. And by gain? I mean weight. Haha. Yeah I know, I shouldn’t quit my day job.

Don’t you just love bread? I certainly love bread. All kinds of bread. Soft white bread, dense 9-grain bread, whole wheat bread, sandwich bread, artisan bread, ciabatta bread, sourdough bread… you get the idea. I’d never go on a diet where bread was a no-no. Actually, I’d never go on a diet, period. Thankfully I’m blessed with good enough genes so I can fit into my jeans. Hah. Lately I’ve been on sort of a carb-kick, well actually a bread-kick, and the desire to make my own was upped to the highest levels possible. Especially after making some garlic knots. I have been craving homemade bread with salty, creamy butter for ages now. I just needed to get off my lazy ass and make some, which is where this post comes in.

Abby’s Sweets has a recipe for French bread from Taste of the South magazine and just looking at her pictures of it sold me. It sounded very easy, the rising times didn’t seem incomprehensible, and I figured it was worth a shot. And it really was easy. I made it and when I was finished I actually looked at the clock and was amazed; it hadn’t taken much time at all. I was sitting there, eating warm slices of delicious bread before I knew it. Therefore, I put it in the ‘quick & easy’ category, although I’m aware that those words to some people imply opening a can or defrosting something in the microwave. Those people should either close this page right now, or attempt to make something more complex than a Hungry Man dinner. YOU CAN DO IT. I promise. This bread does not involve a starter and it comes together really easily.

Okay so, I love making breads, but the thing that I hate is the kneading. Sure, I could just leave it in the mixture & have the dough hook mimic the kneading, but I think hand-kneading really makes a difference, so I always try to do it. But boy, did I get a workout with this one! 10 minutes of kneading this bread and my muscles rivaled Popeye‘s, without the benefit of spinach. It really is a stiff dough. I used 5 cups of flour and it was more than enough, but it’s one of those things, you have to play it by ear. Or uh, by hand? Add more flour as needed, if the dough is sticky, add more. If it’s not, then don’t.

Lola wanted some face-time again, and I can’t blame her. She did all the heavy-lifting & hard work. All I did was buy the ingredients, measure them out, knead the dough, grease the bowl, divide the dough, shape the loaves, bake them… hey, wait a minute. I did most of the work! Sneaky mixers, tryin’a take all the credit. She’s still beautiful though, so here she is. Love her. Appreciate her. Be jealous of her. My mixer can kick your mixer’s ass any day, and not get the slightest chip in her enamel.

(Honestly, if there’s anyone out there reading this who doesn’t have one of these & bakes a lot or is contemplating getting one but is on the fence- stop whatever you’re doing & just order one. It will change your fucking life. BUY ONE. NOW. Go. I’ll wait for you… *lengthy pause* Done? Good. You won’t be disappointed.)

FRENCH BREAD (from Abby’s Sweets/Taste of the South)

Le pain ingredients:

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 (.25 oz) package active-rise yeast
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 5 ½ -6 cups bread flour, divided
  • ¼ cup cornmeal

Le pain directions:

  1. In a medium bowl, combine warm water, sugar and yeast. Let stand until foamy, approximately 10 minutes.
  2. In the bowl of a large stand mixer, combine yeast mixture, 1 tablespoon oil, salt and 3 cups flour. Using the dough hook attachment, beat for 2-3 minutes, scraping sides of bowl as needed. Stir in enough of remaining flour to make a stiff dough. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth, approximately 1o minutes.
  3. Grease a large bowl with remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Place dough in bowl, turning dough to coat all sides. Cover, and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, until doubled in size. About 1 ½ hours.
  4. Punch dough down, and divide in half. Shape dough into 2 (approx. 17″ x 3″ inch) loaves.
  5. Spray 2 baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray. Sprinkle evenly with cornmeal. Place each loaf on a prepared baking sheet. Make 4 cuts diagonally across the top of each loaf. Cover, and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  7. Bake until crispy and golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Just a side note: Only use stainless steel, Pyrex or plastic bowl for the dough. Don’t use aluminum or any other reactive metal- it’ll mess with the rising. It’s also important to use bread flour, or a flour with a high-gluten content. That gives the bread it’s heft, and it has a higher protein content which results in the perfect texture. You could use all-purpose, and get a decent bread out of it, it just won’t be as chewy or have the right feel to it. I’d just use the bread flour if I were you. And if you do not have a KitchenAid stand mixer, or a stand mixer at all, especially one without a dough hook… I don’t recommend using a hand mixer. Even if it has a dough hook attachment. You’ll end up with a burned-out motor and a doughy mess. You’re better off using your hands if anything. But like I said- get a stand mixer!

I don’t like measuring, and I certainly don’t like being told how big or small to make my bread. So when it came to shaping them into loaves, I just winged it. No idea how long or wide they were. They were not 17″ though. I made mine more misshapen/rustic, and slightly shorter & wider. It’s an absolutely gorgeous bread when finished baking; it would make a beautiful grilled cheese (especially with this recipe), an amazing bruschetta, and a perfect hearty sandwich bread.

However… like I said, it’s fantastic alone with just butter.

“Lift-me-up” chocolate chip sour cream loaf.

When I was little and I was sick, and I wasn’t eating, my mom would bring me Entenmann’s chocolate chip crumb loaf or chocolate chip sour cream loaf (which it seems they don’t make anymore) and mint chocolate chip ice cream. Needless to say I never had any trouble eating those. Chocolate chip items have always had a kind of comforting effect on me. So when I was feeling a little down and sort of under the weather last week, I made a chocolate chip sour cream loaf to indulge in while watching one of my absolute favorite Christmas movies, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. If that combination won’t cheer you up… nothing will!

Aren’t my Christmas dessert plates adorable? Yes they are… & yes, I cut very messy slices.

..

CHOCOLATE CHIP SOUR CREAM LOAF (from Nancy Creative)

Get this:

 

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose  flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips (more if you like more, less if you like less, or you can use regular sized chips if you prefer)

And do this:

  1. Preheat oven to 350° degrees.
  2. Grease and flour your loaf pan. In medium bowl, stir the flour, baking powder, and salt, blending well; set aside. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and blend well, then add the sour cream and vanilla and blend well.
  3. Gradually add the flour mixture to this egg mixture and mix until well blended. Fold in the mini chocolate chips, distributing evenly in batter.
  4. Then fill your loaf pan with the batter and bake at 350° degrees for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let loaf cool in pan 5-10 minutes before removing, then cool completely on a wire rack.

This is a thick batter, and it rises nicely, but not really too crazy. My pan is roughly 9x5x2.75″ and it rose beautifully, right to the top of the pan. On another note, I have no idea why my loaf pans are so much larger than everyone else’s. I have one older pan that was my mother’s that is super large, at least 10″ by 5″, and then two of the above size. Am I crazy? Are everyone else’s loaf pans 8.5″ x 4.5″? Well, I guess it’s just one more way that I’m different & unique. By the way, my loaf cake took about 65 minutes to bake. My oven is so weird.

Of course I decorated it for the season.

See? Came out of the pan perfectly.

My dad used to say he was afraid to bend over during Christmas-time for fear he’d get a tree or lights shoved up his… you know what. That’s how festive we are around these parts. I decorate everything. Even my loaf cakes.

Okay, so, this loaf is amazing. I love what the sour cream does to it. Since the batter is so thick, I put it in the pan and then tapped the pan on the counter a few times to even it out, then using a greased knife, I spread it out and pushed it around so it was evenly filled. I then tapped it on the counter a few more times. That seemed to do the trick; it baked up nice and evenly. Also, make sure you grease and flour your pan thoroughly before filling it. This loaf will never ever come out of the pan if you don’t.

If you wanted to make it as a hostess gift for the holiday, sprinkle some confectioner’s sugar on top (or a chocolate frosting) and maybe put some holly berry toppers on it, then wrap it in clear cellophane, tire a pretty satin Christmas-y ribbon on it, stick a pretty candy cane in the bow, and voila. It’s ready to bring to someone’s house, and trust me, it’ll get a better reception than fruitcake.

It’s almost Christmas. Did you get all your shopping done yet? And your baking? I most certainly did not. Looks like I’ll be shopping and baking on the 24th!