Monthly Blog Post – Rose’s Bread Bible Bakers: July 2017

I’ve been participating in and posting about my baking experiences with Rose’s Bread Bible Bakers for just over a year now and it has been a fantastic experience.  Rose’s Bread Bible is so rich with instruction, recipes, and inspiration.  My fellow bakers are a true group of bread aficionados and I learn a little something extra as I read their monthly posts.  As I continue this bread making journey, I am surprised by the number of recipes in the book that I had never tried, but have become favorites as a result of this journey.

Our July selection is a good example of this.  In browsing through the book over the years, I never had a serious interest in baking this one because based on the title I thought it seemed strange.  The secret ingredient for this bread is a poorly kept one as it is listed in the title.  Frankly, my pre-conceived notions about the results that ingredient would yield, despite what Rose says in the introduction caused me to miss out on this fantastic bread for no good reason.  Perhaps I would have tried it sooner if the name had simply been “Feather Loaf.”

While this isn’t the quickest recipe to make due to the sponge and multiple rises, the results are delicious with a subtle sweetness from a combination of honey and banana.  In addition to acting as a sweetener, the banana when coupled with a touch of butter keeps the bread moist.  The full name for this wonderful bread is Banana Feather Loaf.  I must warn you, the recipe produces a result that is nothing like the photo below.  Now there is nothing wrong with a traditional banana nut bread, I do bake and enjoy them, but when thinking about this recipe you have to get this image out of your head.  By the way, the texture of this bread reminded me of our June project which I’ll link to here.

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Image of peeled and sliced banana
The surprise ingredient in this bread which provides subtle flavor

Before we continue further, I wanted to share an article I found which details 16 Surprising Facts About Bananas.  Here are three of the 16 facts I found particularly surprising:

  • Bananas were first introduced to American consumers in 1876 at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.
  • Americans consume over 28 pounds of bananas each year, with over 96 percent of households purchasing bananas at least once each month.
  • A small banana provides 27 mg magnesium, which may help boost mood. Men and women need 420 mg and 320 mg of magnesium per day, respectively. Low levels of this mineral are linked to depression, anxiety, irritability and other mood disorders. Since many of us don’t get enough magnesium in our diets, consider a banana as your chill pill.
Image of three whole bananas in a wire basket
One of these bananas will add subtle sweetness and moisture to this bread

Putting this bread together is a breeze if you have experience with Rose’s recipes and techniques.  I had a couple of concerns which as I’ll explain were unfounded.  Because I was short on time, I let my starter ripen for about four hours before mixing.  Additional time would of course further develop the flavor, and there is no concern about the banana taking over since it is not added until you go to mix the dough.

Although I’m in that 96% of households that typically purchase bananas monthly, I did not have any fresh bananas on hand.  I regularly visit the little area in the back of the produce department when I grocery shop to look for overly ripe bananas which have been marked down.  This enables me to save a bit on the purchase (although according to the article cited above banana prices have been on a steady decline) and then I prepare them for freezing.  I typically peel the banana, slice it and wrap it in wax paper before placing in a ziplock freezer bag.  I normally use these frozen bananas for smoothies, but I decided to use one for this recipe.  It works fine, however, when thawed, the banana will have a bit of extra moisture which I recommend pouring out before mashing.  Also. the banana does brown a bit as it thaws, but the little bit of browning that occurs doesn’t seem to discolor the finished dough.

Preparing the dough was simple and straight forward, although I did feel there was a little less dough than normal for my loaf pan, and that it was a bit slow to rise.  Once the dough went in the oven it was necessary to reset the timer and change the temperature several times.  This bread really does brown quite a bit, and I fought the urge to tent it with foil as Rose did indicate that it browns quickly which is why the multiple temperature changes are needed.  When I took it out of the oven I was a bit concerned about the color and whether it would taste burnt — the color of the crust did not seem to impact the deliciousness of this bread in the least.

If you have an overly ripe banana lying around your kitchen, this is a great recipe to use it for as the other ingredients are likely to already be in your pantry.  By the way, if you’ve been following the blog, you’ll know that one of the tests that I put my loaves to is whether it makes a good sandwich.  This bread was the foundation for a fantastic grilled ham and cheese sandwich and a really tasty smoked turkey sandwich.  It was also nice toasted so it’s a versatile, all around winner that deserves a spot in your baking rotation.

 

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Monthly Blog Post – Rose’s Bread Bible Bakers: June 2017

“Blues is to jazz what yeast is to bread. Without it, it’s flat.”

Carmen McRae

Crispy on the outside with a soft moist interior.  Wow, our assignment this month was a big winner!  Our June Rose’s Bread Bible Bakers assignment was for a fantastic Potato Buttermilk Bread.  It was similar to the Olive bread we made a few months back in that it uses a biga or starter so you’ll want to allow plenty of fermentation time for full flavor development.  The addition of buttermilk and potato flour gave this loaf a nuanced, but lovely flavor and tenderness.  Rose warns in her introduction to the recipe that the potato flour promotes a very brown crust, and it certainly does.  Watch this one carefully while it’s in the oven.

As with the Olive bread mentioned above, I used the King Arthur Flour Artisan Bread Flour with outstanding results as usual.  I also tried their dried buttermilk powder for the first time which worked well, and I believe I will buy more once I use this up as it is much more convenient than having to go to the store for buttermilk since it isn’t a staple in my refrigerator.  For the potato flour, I picked up a bag from Bob’s Red Mill at my local Whole Foods.

Since I had not baked this bread before, followed all of the directions to the letter until it was time to bake the bread.  I always love using the La Cloche for the artisan-type free form breads.  For some reason, I forgot to put the bread on the La Cloche base,  and placed it directly on the hot baking stone that I had preheated with the dome.   As a result, I did have a bit of scorching on the bottom of the loaf, but it still turned out fantastic.  I baked the loaf under the dome for 25 minutes after lowering the temperature, and had I left it any longer I believe it really would have burned.

Potato Buttermilk​ loaf after the second rise
Potato Buttermilk​ loaf after the second rise

By the way, this bread used a good bit of vital wheat gluten which I suspect is essential.  My doughs typically rise in far less than the suggested time.  If a recipe says allow 1-1/2 hours, mine is often ready in 45 to 60 minutes.  Not so with the first rise on this one.  It took the full recommended time for the first rise, but the second rise did happen a little more quickly.

A lovely ham sandwich
A lovely ham sandwich

If you follow my bread posts, you’ll know that any bread I make is likely to end up in a sandwich, and this one was no exception.  In addition to the ham sandwich shown, it made a fantastic grilled cheese.  Rose says that this bread does not freeze well and is best eaten within a day.  I recently got a new bread keeper from King Arthur, and it has done a stellar job keeping this bread fresh for two days so far.  I’m confident that this tasty bread will be gobbled up before it has a chance to go bad.

If you’re interested in trying the recipe, you can find it here.  You won’t be disappointed.  Let me know if you try it.

 

Rose’s Bread Bible Bakers: January 2017

Our January Bread Bible Bakers project is one that had me happy, yet annoyed at the same time.  The olive bread recipe this month is one of my favorites, but I was annoyed by having to wait to slice into it until I managed to get a decent photograph of it.  I was experimenting with a new camera lens and couldn’t get the focus right.  I was impatient like the Cookie Monster in the Apple commercial last year and ended up taking some of the shots with my iPhone instead of my DSLR.  ICYMI, you can watch the commercial here, I’m sure you’ll be able to relate LOL.

I’ve been baking this recipe for years, and the only thing I do differently from the recipe has to do with the preparation of the olives.  I’d say that nine times out of ten I use pitted kalamata olives that I usually have on hand in my refrigerator at all times.  When I prepare the biga, I also take a moment to measure out my olives in a small bowl.  I will usually add some sort of herbs or spices, for example, fresh rosemary or oregano.  Depending on my mood, I may also add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, a bit of lemon zest, or perhaps a clove of garlic and a bit of olive oil.  When I’m ready to chop the olives and add them to the dough, I make sure to add a bit of extra flour, perhaps double what Rose recommends to ensure the olives and added oil don’t make the dough soggy.  For this version I used a Turkish pepper spice mix along with a clove of garlic which I had sliced.

For those who don’t have the book, but are curious about the recipe, Rose published an article 20 years ago where she discusses a sourdough version which I believe was her original inspiration for this bread.  Now that I’ve discovered the sourdough version, I can’t wait to try it.  You can find that version here.

This recipe is really simple to make, and I’m able to get consistently good results.  I use my handy La Cloche baker which has been such a good investment for me over the years.  For more about this clay baker click here.  When entertaining, I will double the recipe because this bread is so good that everybody will want more.  A loaf of this bread isn’t that large and will go very quickly.  Serve this bread warm with some good olive oil and balsamic on the side.  I splurged a few months ago and bought what to me was a hideously expensive bottle of 12-year old balsamic from Sur la Table.  This stuff is absolutely heavenly and deserves your best olive oil to go with it.  I also used some of this bread for a smoked turkey sandwich which was another delicious use of this bread.

 

Monthly Blog Post: Rose’s Bread Bible Bakers December 2016

This is our final Bread Bible project for 2016, and I must say that being a part of Rose’s Bread Bible Bakers has been a real treat.  In addition to baking and eating some great breads, being part of a fantastic bread baking community, and continuing my growth as a baker, I’ve also had the opportunity to broaden my bread comfort zone if you will.  I do want to give a special shout-out and thank you to the members of our bread baking community.  We are a fantastic international group of bakers, and if you want to join the remainder of our journey just click on the link here.  I’ve posted below a photographic summary of our activity since May.  Although I’ve been baking from this book for several years, through this bake-along I’ve tried several recipes for breads that initially did not appeal to me, but will now become part of my repertoire.  Our December bread is a great example.

I have never been a fan of rye bread — I suspect my dislike perhaps came from a bad childhood experience.  I have a vague recollection of something my mother said was rye bread that I didn’t like, and I never tried it again.  I actually thought about taking a pass on this one, but I am so glad that I didn’t.  I type this as I finish eating a slice adorned with butter only, having had a tasty smoked turkey sandwich with my homemade cranberry chutney earlier in the day.

img_0140“Levy’s” Real Jewish Rye was a real treat with a nice crispy crust and moist golden brown interior.  By the way, I think the secret to the beautiful color of this bread is from using barley malt syrup which I buy from King Arthur Flour. The taste of rye flour is very subtle in this bread as there is roughly 20% rye flour with the remainder being white bread flour.  I used my beloved Artisan Bread Flour from KAF and Organic Rye Flour from Arrowhead Mills.  I will confess that I forgot to pick up the caraway seeds so that was the one change to the recipe as I didn’t want to go back out in the rain for them — and yes, thankfully it does rain in Southern California.

The recipe directs you to leave the sponge and flour mixture for four hours before mixing.  I was delayed returning home, so mine sat at room temperature for approximately six hours.  When I mixed the dough, I did find it a bit wetter than usual so I had to add a good bit more bread flour.  I suspect it was a result of our cool, damp weather and the excess time at room temperature.  My dough rose quite rapidly which is one of the benefits I find of using the SAF Red Instant Yeast.  If you haven’t tried it, I love that you don’t need to proof it, it’s very economical, and it usually gets results at the faster end of the time range given in your recipes.  I often find myself baking at night so I can bake and get to sleep sooner which is a plus.

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This bread was a real winner, and I’ll look forward to baking it again in the future.  It is definitely proof that our childhood perceptions can be wrong.  I am looking forward to baking our remaining bake-along recipes in the New Year ahead as well as working on my #piegoals.  You’ll be hearing about them soon on the blog.  In the meantime, let me know your baking goals for the New Year.  I wish you the only best in all of your endeavors.

P.S. — I’m so excited and ready to break into my happy dance!  Our January recipe is one of my long-time favorites.  Yipee!

Sweet Potato Cornbread Muffins

Whew, the days leading up to Christmas have been quite hectic, but now it is over and a good time was had by all.  This holiday season was particularly crazed, and I’m hoping to sit down and write more about it soon.  I’ve learned some things in the process that I probably should share, but for now, let me share one of the recipes from my Christmas day family brunch buffet.

I typically host a Christmas brunch for my local family members which usually includes somewhere between 12 to 18 guests.  Last year was the first in more than 20 years that I didn’t host brunch as I was in the hospital recovering from emergency brain surgery.  Hosting my regular brunch this year was one of my goals while in rehab, and although everything didn’t go as planned, it went.  I found it difficult to prepare the menu, the house, and all of the assorted details — and take photos for the blog on top of it all so forgive me for having a limited number of photos.

 

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Sweet potatoes provide extra texture and flavor while minimizing amount of sugar needed

 

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As I planned the menu, I decided upon two breads for our Christmas table.  One was a typical yeast dinner roll from a recipe in the classic Fanny Farmer cookbook.  My second was based on a recipe for a sweet potato cornbread loaf in an award-winning cookbook that I haven’t used enough titled In the Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley.  The sweet potatoes are a unique ingredient which provides additional texture and natural flavor.  As a result, very little sugar is needed.

I modified the recipe to make muffins instead of a loaf.  As shown here, you’ll end up with 12 to 14 muffins.  Pre-heat the oven to 375º.  The ingredients are as follows:

  • 1 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal (I used Bob’s Red Mill from my local Whole Foods)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup full fat sour cream
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup cooked, mashed and peeled sweet potato.  I cooked mine in the microwave on the potato setting and then let it sit for a while to cool which made it soft and spoonable.  I cut the potato in half and scooped it out of the skin.  I used about 3/4 of one large sweet potato.
  1. Line your muffin pan with paper muffin cups
  2. Combine the cornmeal and sugar in a large bowl, then sift in the remaining dry ingredients.  Stir lightly to combine.
  3. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs, then whisk in the sour cream, vanilla, and melted butter.
  4. Stir in the mashed sweet potato, then add the cornmeal mixture stirring just enough to moisten the dry ingredients.
  5. Fill the muffin cups, and put them in the oven to bake.  Test with a toothpick after 15 minutes, but they should be done in 15-20 minutes.

You can serve these warm with plain or honey flavored butter.  Enjoy!

Everyday Whole-Grain Bread

Last week I tried King Arthur’s recipe for Everyday Whole-Grain bread and really enjoyed it.  The recipe was featured in their October bake-along and calls for 1/2 each of all-purpose and whole wheat flours.  As usual, I used their white whole wheat, and for the vegetable oil, I used olive oil.  It tasted great in my sandwiches.  You can find the recipe here.

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