Cannoli

If there were ever a hard month to work a Daring Bakers challenge into the schedule, November would be it! This past week has been filled to the brim with cooking pies, cakes, enchiladas (no one ever said I was normal). And I was only responsible for a small part of my family’s Thanksgiving meal — I don’t know how folks responsible for the entire dinner manage to get everything finished!

Speaking of Thanksgiving, it was grand — lovely food and a lovely time with family. The yeast rolls, as always, were my favorite part, but the turkey made a fine showing:


The juicy stuffed bird my parents made. That’s my mother’s china in the background, which I promised her I would not sell on eBay after she dies (isn’t this the sort of discussion everyone has over Thanksgiving dinner?)

Back to the Daring Bakers Challenge, though!

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.

What’s funny about this challenge is that just a couple of days prior to Lisa’s announcement, I was walking through the grocery store pondering cooking techniques I wanted to try. I settled on deep frying as one thing that still really mystified me. When this challenge was issued, it just confirmed for me what I’ve remarked every month about the Daring Bakers; that is, that the group helps me stretch my skills with each new “daring” recipe.

I enthusiastically shopped around online for some cannoli forms, though other daring bakers got inventive with tinfoil. Look, he even has a little blueprint drawn out! Leave it to an engineer, right? Other than the forms, I was all set: big heavy saucepan, candy/fry thermometer, big round cookie cutter, and bottle after bottle of vegetable oil.

Turns out cannoli are quite simple! After mixing and chilling the dough, I rolled it out (springy, but otherwise nice to work with), cut some circles, and rolled them out until they were extremely thin. While my first shell turned out a little dark (you really have to remove them a touch before you think they’re done), overall, they were a success!


Three topping selections and some chocolate-dipped edges!

I filled my shells three ways. All started with the same traditional sweetened ricotta base, but one group was then covered in chopped hazelnuts and hunks of dark Ghirardelli chocolate. The next batch was covered with chopped peanuts and Reese’s Peanut Butter Chips. Finally, the last group of cannoli were coated with a big handful of Hershey’s Cinnamon Chips. These were my favorite; the cinnamon chips amplified the subtle cinnamon flavor of the shells. No matter which way we ate them, though, they were delectable little three-bite desserts, with the perfect ratio of crunch to cream.

No need to be intimidated by this Daring Bakers Challenge. While it pushed me out of my comfort zone, it was relatively simple and definitely a lot of fun. Thanks to Lisa for a delicious mission!


My favorite topping: cinnamon chips!

Cannoli



Recipe by: adapted from Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, Allen Rucker, Michelle Scicolone
Yields: 22-24 4″ cannoli
Printable version of this recipe

Cannoli Shells Ingredients:
2 cups (250 grams/8.82 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons(28 grams/1 ounce) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.06 ounces) unsweetened baking cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon (1.15 grams/0.04 ounces) ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon (approx. 3 grams/0.11 ounces) salt
3 tablespoons (42 grams/1.5 ounces) vegetable or olive oil
1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.18 ounces) white wine vinegar
Approximately 1/2 cup (approx. 59 grams/approx. 4 fluid ounces/approx. 125 ml) sweet Marsala or any white or red wine you have on hand (I used Sauvignon Blanc)
1 large egg, separated (you will need the egg white but not the yolk)
Vegetable or any neutral oil for frying – about 2 quarts (8 cups/approx. 2 litres)
1/2 cup (approx. 62 grams/2 ounces) toasted, chopped pistachio nuts, mini chocolate chips/grated chocolate and/or candied or plain zests, fruits etc.. for garnish
Confectioners’ sugar
*Note – If you want a chocolate cannoli dough, substitute a few tablespoons of the flour (about 25%) with a few tablespoons of dark, unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch process) and a little more wine until you have a workable dough (Thanks to Audax Artifex).

Cannoli Filling Ingredients:
2 lbs (approx. 3.5 cups/approx. 1 kg/32 ounces) ricotta cheese, drained
1 2/3 cups cup (160 grams/6 ounces) confectioner’s sugar, (more or less, depending on how sweet you want it), sifted
1/2 teaspoon (1.15 grams/0.04 ounces) ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon (4 grams/0.15 ounces) pure vanilla extract or the beans from one vanilla bean
3 tablespoons (approx. 28 grams/approx. 1 ounce) finely chopped good quality chocolate of your choice
2 tablespoons (12 grams/0.42 ounces) of finely chopped, candied orange peel, or the grated zest of one small to medium orange
3 tablespoons (23 grams/0.81 ounce) toasted, finely chopped pistachios
*Note – If you want chocolate ricotta filling, add a few tablespoons of dark, unsweetened cocoa powder to the above recipe, and thin it out with a few drops of warm water if too thick to pipe.

DIRECTIONS FOR SHELLS:
1. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer or food processor, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the oil, vinegar, and enough of the wine to make a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and well blended, about 2 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge from 2 hours to overnight.

2. Cut the dough into two pieces. Keep the remaining dough covered while you work. Lightly flour a large cutting or pastry board and roll the dough until super thin, about 1/16 to 1/8” thick (An area of about 13 inches by 18 inches should give you that). Cut out 3 to 5-inch circles (3-inch – small/medium; 4-inch – medium/large; 5-inch;- large. Your choice). Roll the cut out circle into an oval, rolling it larger and thinner if it’s shrunk a little.

3 Oil the outside of the cannoli tubes (You only have to do this once, as the oil from the deep fry will keep them well, uhh, oiled..lol). Roll a dough oval from the long side (If square, position like a diamond, and place tube/form on the corner closest to you, then roll) around each tube/form and dab a little egg white on the dough where the edges overlap. (Avoid getting egg white on the tube, or the pastry will stick to it.) Press well to seal. Set aside to let the egg white seal dry a little.

4. In a deep heavy saucepan, pour enough oil to reach a depth of 3 inches, or if using an electric deep-fryer, follow the manufacturer’s directions. Heat the oil to 375°F (190 °C) on a deep fry thermometer, or until a small piece of the dough or bread cube placed in the oil sizzles and browns in 1 minute. Have ready a tray or sheet pan lined with paper towels or paper bags.

5. Carefully lower a few of the cannoli tubes into the hot oil. Do not crowd the pan. Fry the shells until golden, about 2 minutes, turning them so that they brown evenly.

8. Lift a cannoli tube with a wire skimmer or large slotted spoon, out of the oil. Using tongs, grasp the cannoli tube at one end. Very carefully remove the cannoli tube with the open sides straight up and down so that the oil flows back into the pan. Place the tube on paper towels or bags to drain. Repeat with the remaining tubes. While they are still hot, grasp the tubes with a potholder and pull the cannoli shells off the tubes with a pair of tongs, or with your hand protected by an oven mitt or towel. Let the shells cool completely on the paper towels. Place shells on cooling rack until ready to fill.

9. Repeat making and frying the shells with the remaining dough. If you are reusing the cannoli tubes, let them cool before wrapping them in the dough.

DIRECTIONS FOR FILLING:
1. Line a strainer with cheesecloth. Place the ricotta in the strainer over a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Weight it down with a heavy can, and let the ricotta drain in the refrigerator for several hours to overnight.

2. In a bowl with electric mixer, beat ricotta until smooth and creamy. Beat in confectioner’s sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and blend until smooth. Transfer to another bowl and stir in chocolate, zest and nuts. Chill until firm.(The filling can be made up to 24 hours prior to filling the shells. Just cover and keep refrigerated).

ASSEMBLE THE CANNOLI:
1. When ready to serve..fill a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain or star tip, or a ziplock bag, with the ricotta cream. If using a ziplock bag, cut about 1/2 inch off one corner. Insert the tip in the cannoli shell and squeeze gently until the shell is half filled. Turn the shell and fill the other side. You can also use a teaspoon to do this, although it’s messier and will take longer.

2. Press or dip cannoli in chopped pistachios, grated chocolate/mini chocolate chips, candied fruit or zest into the cream at each end. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and/or drizzles of melted chocolate if desired.

LISA’S TIPS AND NOTES:
– Dough must be stiff and well kneaded
– Rolling the dough to paper thinness, using either a rolling pin or pasta machine, is very important. If the dough is not rolled thin enough, it will not blister, and good cannoli should have a blistered surface.
– Initially, this dough is VERY stubborn, but keep rolling, it eventually gives in. Before cutting the shapes, let the dough rest a bit, covered, as it tends to spring back into a smaller shapes once cut. Then again, you can also roll circles larger after they’re cut, and/or into ovals, which gives you more space for filling.
– Your basic set of round cutters usually doesn’t contain a 5-inch cutter. Try a plastic container top, bowl etc, or just roll each circle to 5 inches. There will always be something in your kitchen that’s round and 5-inches if you want large cannoli.
– Oil should be at least 3 inches deep and hot – 360°F-375°F, or you’ll end up with greasy shells. I prefer 350°F – 360°F because I felt the shells darkened too quickly at 375°F.
– If using the cannoli forms, when you drop the dough on the form into the oil, they tend to sink to the bottom, resulting in one side darkening more. Use a slotted spoon or skimmer to gently lift and roll them while frying.
– DO NOT crowd the pan. Cannoli should be fried 2-4 at a time, depending on the width of your saucepan or deep fryer. Turn them once, and lift them out gently with a slotted spoon/wire skimmer and tongs. Just use a wire strainer or slotted spoon for flat cannoli shapes.
– When the cannoli turns light brown – uniform in color, watch it closely or remove it. If it’s already a deep brown when you remove it, you might end up with a really dark or slightly burnt shell.
– Depending on how much scrap you have left after cutting out all of your cannoli shapes, you can either fry them up and sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar for a crispy treat, or let the scraps rest under plastic wrap and a towel, then re-roll and cut more cannoli shapes.
– Push forms out of cannoli very gently, being careful not to break the shells as they are very delicate. DO NOT let the cannoli cool on the form, or you may never get it off without it breaking. Try to take it off while still hot. Hold it with a cloth in the center, and push the form out with a butter knife or the back of a spoon.
– When adding the confectioner’s sugar to the filling, TASTE. You may like it sweeter than what the recipe calls for, or less sweet, so add in increments.
– Fill cannoli right before serving! If you fill them an hour or so prior, you’ll end up with soggy cannoli shells.
– If you want to prepare the shells ahead of time, store them in an airtight container, then re-crisp in a 350°F (176 °C) oven for a few minutes, before filling.
– Practice makes perfect. My first batch of shells came out less than spectacular, and that’s an understatement. As you go along, you’ll see what will make them more aesthetically pleasing, and adjust accordingly when rolling. My next several batches turned out great. Don’t give up!!


Cutting out cannoli and getting ready to fry.



My first little cannoli! Then all the cannoli ready for dipping and filling.


Don’t forget to check out the Daring Bakers blogroll for other fantastic cannoli!

Thanksgiving Recipe Ideas

The students have all closed their novels and packed up their supplies for Thanksgiving Break, so it’s time for me to take a deep breath and relax — until the baking begins tomorrow, of course! Because I enjoyed reading Jillicious‘s list of things she’s thankful for this year, here are a few of my own:

  1. Jesus, who made the greatest sacrifice for me.
  2. My family — they’re crazy, wonderful, and so supportive.
  3. Mike, who has never disliked anything I’ve ever cooked, whether overseasoned, underseasoned, burnt, or weird.
  4. Cake.
  5. Friends, for joining me in ridiculous escapades.
  6. My students, who make me laugh every day and (usually) make me feel like I’m making a difference through my teaching.
  7. Writing.
  8. Byrd and Squirt, my poodle and red-eared slider. One is fluffy and hyper, the other is scaly and . . . frowny; nevertheless, they’re both the sweetest pets anyone could ask for, and have made my little apartment a home.
  9. My snuggie. Shut up; it’s comfortable!
  10. Food, which is one language through which history, family, culture, and emotion has been communicated to me. I love joining the conversation.

On that note, here are some dishes that have warmed the pages of Willow Bird Baking in the past months that would be lovely on your Thanksgiving dinner table. May you enjoy the sharing of mirth, love, and calories with your family this year!



Mini-Pies: Pumpkin, Peach Crisp, and Sour Cream Apple — Add some variety to your Thanksgiving pie choices! Everyone gets to choose their own flavor. The pumpkin and peach pies are especially scrumptious.





Jack-O’-Lantern Whoopie Pies — These cakey cookies are hearty, moist, spicy, and addictive. Whoopie pies should be part of every family’s Thanksgiving tradition.







Peach Crisp Pie — Delicious, gooey peaches and crispy oats fill a tender, flaky crust. This is my favorite pie of all time!





Best Ever Cream Cheese Pound Cake with Easy Caramel Frosting and Spiced Apples — This moist, dense, finely-crumbed cake is heavenly with or without some spicy cinnamon apples on the side. “Best Ever” is not an exaggeration!



Chocolate Tart — Tired of pumpkin? If you’re a chocolate lover, this tart is a must-eat. Rich, indulgent chocolate fills the buttery tart crust, and a pile of freshly whipped cream accompanies each bite. This post also includes a bright and tangy Raspberry Cream Cheese Tart.


Overnight Yeast Rolls — These fluffy, delicious, buttery yeast rolls are part of my family’s annual Thanksgiving tradition. When I realized I was old enough to make them myself (and at any time of year, too), it was one ecstatic day in the kitchen!


Cardamom Pumpkin Macarons — Having an elegant Thanksgiving? These gluten-free cookies combine cardamom with traditional Thanksgiving pumpkin. Macarons are the perfect bite: crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside.



Barefoot Contessa’s Carrot Pineapple Cake — Looking for a big, beautiful cake to adorn your Thanksgiving table? Barefoot Contessa’s Carrot Pineapple Cake is brimming with hunks of pineapple, carrot, walnut, and raisin. With cream cheese frosting slathered on in a thick layer, it’s an elegant and decadent Thanksgiving dessert.

Green Chile TURKEY Enchiladas — Okay, these don’t quite fit on the Thanksgiving dinner table, but maybe you find yourself wondering what to do with all your juicy turkey leftovers? These Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas can be transformed into turkey-filled treats, and what a great way to spice up leftovers. The recipe is so seductive, yet very simple — it won’t take up all of your Black Friday!


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Creamy Chicken and Green Chile Enchiladas with Mexican Sausage Rice

I guess this is supposed to be a Thanksgiving post, but . . . it’s not. I had the best intentions! See, there was major pot luckage scheduled for tonight: a Thanksgiving potluck with my Sunday school class including all of the traditional turkey day fixins. I tried to sign up to bring a dessert, but wouldn’t you know, they started the sign-up sheet on the other end of the class and three people tackled dessert before it got to me. I signed up for sweet potatoes instead and started making great plans: I was going to make my mom’s marshmallow-topped sweet potatoes, and for anyone crazy enough not to love those, Ezra Pound Cake‘s Rosemary Roasted Sweet Potatoes. I was prepared! And then . . . suddenly . . . I was sick. SICK. I could whine about this for paragraphs, but suffice it to say, I have been one sore-nosed, tickly-throated, marathon-sneezing unhappy camper. So . . . I raised the white flag and canceled my RSVP to the potluck.

Something did raise my spirits, though. Something decidedly un-Thanksgiving-dinneresque. Barbara Bakes posted a provocative picture of a cheesy, saucy enchilada that revved up such a strong craving that Barbara might have almost acquired a new roommate. Or at least nightly dinner guest. I started making new plans. While I may have been too sniffly for a large festive gathering, I could at least invite Mike over for a Mexican feast: Creamy Chicken and Green Chile Enchiladas with Mexican Sausage Rice.

These enchiladas are pure comfort food. They’re gooey with a sumptuous, tangy, creamy, salsa verde-based sauce. Mike and I are thrilled to have over half a pan to devour as leftovers! They’re also so simple to make. I used a store-bought rotisserie chicken instead of roasting my own, cutting down on the cooking time (cut me some slack — or I’ll start whining again). These amazing enchiladas are definitely on the “make again” list.

The Mexican Sausage Rice was also good, though perhaps it needed a little spice punch. Right off the stove it seemed a bit mellow in flavor, but it did begin to taste bolder as the flavors were allowed to meld. I’m looking forward to eating some heaping scoops of it with lunch tomorrow after it’s been refrigerated overnight. The corn adds the perfect sweetness to contrast the sausage, chili powder, and chiles. You should also know that there’s a whole truckload of optional add-ons at the end of the recipe (see below) that I forgot to add — toasted pumpkin seeds, cheese, lime — all of which might’ve brightened the flavor. I’ll have to give them a try tomorrow.

Where’s the dessert, you ask? You’ll have to wait for that one! You see, I didn’t just lie in bed and whine this morning (that was only the first couple of hours). I also completed my November Daring Bakers challenge, which Mike and I enjoyed after our Mexican feast. Dessert definitely derailed the nationality of our meal, but I can’t say another word about it. Check back in soon to see! In the meantime, go assemble some of these simple, rich, comforting, cheesy enchiladas.

Creamy Chicken and Green Chile Enchiladas



Recipe by: Dinners for a Year and Beyond
Yields: about 12 enchiladas

Ingredients:
4 bone-in chicken breasts or purchased already cooked rotisserie chicken
olive oil
salt
pepper
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1/3 cup flour
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup salsa verde
1/2 cup light sour cream
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
12 6-inch corn tortillas (I used flour tortillas)
3 cups shredded light Mexican blend cheese

Directions: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place chicken on a large baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in oven for about 40 – 50 minutes or until the internal temperature is about 170 degrees. Remove from oven and let cool. When cool enough to handle, shred chicken into bite-sized pieces and place in a bowl. Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat a large saucepan to medium high and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the onions. Saute for 8 – 10 minutes or until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cumin and saute for an additional minute. Stir in the flour until blended and cook for a minute. Slowly pour in the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Cook for 2 – 4 minutes or until thickened. Add the salsa verde, sour cream, and cilantro. Stir to combine. Season the creamy green chile sauce with salt and pepper.

Add about 1 cup of the creamy green chile sauce to the shredded chicken and stir to combine.To assemble enchiladas get a large baking dish and spray with cooking spray. Dip a tortilla into the creamy green chile sauce and put it on a cutting board. (You can also put tortillas in the microwave for a few seconds to make them easier to work with.) Put a big scoop of the chicken mixture in the center, sprinkle with a little of the cheese, and roll up the tortilla to enclose the filling. Place the enchilada in the baking dish. Continue to fill all of the tortillas and put them in the baking dish. Pour the remaining creamy green chile sauce over the top and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Bake uncovered for about 20 – 25 minutes until bubbly and the cheese is melted. Serve hot with sour cream.

Mexican Sausage Rice
Recipe By: Jimmy Dean
Yields: about 8 cups

Ingredients:
1 pkg. Regular Flavor Jimmy Dean Pork Sausage
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 cup uncooked long grain rice
1 pkg. (10 oz.) frozen whole kernel corn, thawed
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 can (10 oz.) diced tomatoes & green chilies, with liquid
1-1/2 cups water or chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 can (15 oz.) cooked black beans, drained and rinsed
4 thinly sliced green onions (optional)
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted (optional)
sour cream or shredded Cheddar cheese (optional)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro (optional)
1 lime, cut in eighths (optional)

Directions: In a 3 or 4-quart saucepan, cook sausage and onion over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until meat is thoroughly cooked and no longer pink. Add rice, corn, cumin, chili powder, tomatoes & green chiles, water or stock and salt; stir once to mix. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low and simmer 25 minutes without stirring. Gently stir in black beans; add green onions if desired. Garnish with any or all optional ingredients.


Rice and enchiladas getting started!


Enchiladas in the oven and finished Mexican Sausage Rice.


Enjoy!


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Freshly Baked Cheese Bread

Every now and then, I’ll stumble upon an opportunity to walk down a silent gravel road or drive through seemingly endless farmland. My heart always feels simultaneously full and a little desperate during these bits of quiet countryside — desperate for what, I’m not sure. Maybe just to spread out a blanket and stay awhile? To escape the scatter and pace of the indoor internet version of life? To hug as many fat farm animals as possible?

I’m pretty sure it’s all of those things rolled into one. My desires seem to be whispering to me: sloooooowww dowwwnnn. Every now and then I’ll whine a bit to Mike about wanting to live on a farm, and he’ll start in about how much work it is, how financially unstable it can be — but I still can’t help running through (tickless, snakeless) fields in my mind.

That’s what farmers do, right? Run through fields? Ah, well, anyway . . .

Another experience recently evoked that desperate/full heart feeling: the rustic, yeasty, floury, humbling, satisfying process of baking fresh bread. I don’t mean a quick-mix bread, though I love those as well; I mean honest-to-goodness yeast fermentation, mixing and kneading with ardor, proofing, baking, tearing, sopping, devouring bread. Cheese bread, to be exact.

My bread fanaticism began when publishers sent me a copy of Andrew Whitley’s new book, Bread Matters: The State of Modern Bread and a Definitive Guide to Baking Your Own. To be perfectly honest, I waffled for awhile about this book. Did the busy modern cook have time to pour over the 138 pages that precede the first recipe? At one point as I was reading, though, a thought struck me: perhaps I was viewing all of this with my fast-paced lens. Maybe ignoring that urge to slow down and — in this case — enjoy the process of crafting a loaf of bread was compounding the problem. Maybe the busy modern cook would feel a little less like the energizer bunny if he or she watched yeast ferment on the counter for a couple of days. Who knows?

It also became clear that bread is Andrew Whitley’s passion, and here I was, reading through a whole-hearted, sometimes playful, sometimes vehement opus! Within the pages, bread became political capital — something to fight for — as well as a connection to the past and a work of art. This wasn’t just a cookbook; it was a masterpiece of bread!

Politically speaking, Bread Matters is the namesake of Whitley’s organization, which is devoted to changing people’s mindset about bread. It’s a noble mission, considering the dirty economic battle being fought for our allegiance. Society is saturated with advertising offering more more more faster faster faster, as a stroll through any grocery store will confirm. Frozen meals, baking mixes, and preserved foods abound, and healthful foods are only offered insofar as they’re profitable and trendy. While I’m vehemently not a food snob and don’t mind a baking mix here and there, I am incensed by the idea that the food industry is pumping products full of corn and chemicals in order to turn a profit. Conscience has been consumed in capitalist lust. Whitley charges that you should be angry, too, and that, “One way of fighting back is to refuse to buy foods produced in ways we find unacceptable.”

Beyond the political, though, Whitley connected with some powerful inner urge of mine in a section entitled, “The simple life”:

[Artisans] gain satisfaction from intimate contact with the materials of their trade and from direct involvement in the whole process from flour to baked loaf. The feel of soft, warm dough under the hands, the sight of an oven well set with loaves, the beguiling smell of baking bread, the satisfying sound of crackling crusts — all these can be yours when you make your own bread.

While I may not be able to own a farm, I can pick up some pure, natural ingredients and set out to make freshly baked-from-scratch bread. I can be literally in touch with my product from start to finish, control every addition, and enjoy the fruits of my own labor. With this compelling inspiration, I grabbed up Bread Matters to search for my first recipe. The book is physically lovely and almost like a loaf itself, with a smooth cream cover and some heft to it. Two sections of plates show rustic images of various breads. I chose a savory, tangy bread to try first: Cheese Bread.

The process was just as Whitley described: a few minutes of work here and there (he calculates around 30-40 total) punctuated by periods of waiting. In this particular bread, I prepared a sponge that fermented for a couple of days, and then worked that sponge into a basic bread dough. This dough rested a couple of hours before the extra goodies were added to it and it was shaped. After a final proof for the better part of an hour, it was into the oven and out in a flash. I was frustrated at a few points by Whitley’s apparent vagueness (“Proof until well-risen”), and at other points by his apparent nit-pickiness (“bring the final dough to […] around 81°F”), but in the end, everything worked out perfectly. Incidentally, who knew kneading could be so much fun?! Mike snapped this blurry shot of me mid-laugh:

My freshly baked cheese bread was thick and hearty, with the subtle tang of fermentation and the warmth of chili powder and cumin. Mike and I enjoyed it with a pot of steaming chicken and dumplings (which, okay, turned out too salty due to over-reducing the broth — nothing some bread sopping can’t fix!)


Freshly baked cheese bread and steamy chicken and dumplings.

We devoured two entire loaves with dinner, but still had one loaf left over. What did I do with that last loaf after being so charmingly domestic and wholesome throughout the breadmaking process? That’s right, I sliced that baby down the middle, toasted it in some butter, and filled it up with eggs, cheddar cheese, bacon, and some fresh chopped parsley (see? healthy!) Breakfast of champions! No matter what you’re, ahem, planning on doing with your delicious cheese bread, I do hope you’ll give this freshly baked bread a try.




A less wholesome use for baked-from-scratch cheese bread!

Now for the task of summarizing my review of Bread Matters. I wouldn’t have purchased this book had I seen it sitting on a shelf. I’ve never thought of myself as a “bread person,” and thus the subject wouldn’t have caught my eye. There are also only two small selections of plates in the book — a drawback for me, since I love cookbooks with tons of images. That being said, I’m so glad publishers sent it to me for free — so I could review it and tell you that I would’ve been missing out. It’s certainly worth the $23 it’s currently selling for on Amazon, since it’s done much more than provide me with a few bread recipes. It’s really changed my mindset and been a lovely introduction into the bread craft. Because of the thoughtfulness and care with which the book was written, and because of the connection I feel with Whitley’s perspective on baking, I do wholeheartedly recommend Bread Matters.

Book Stats: 373 pages, $34 list price ($23 on Amazon), indexed.
Accessibility: Enough information for a beginning baker; includes sections describing materials required for breadmaking, techniques used in breadmaking, etc.
Examples of Recipes: Olive and Pumpkin Seed Bread, brioche, pains au chocolat, various European festival breads, sourdoughs, ciabatta, crumpets, etc.
Overall Impression: Very thorough and provocative, but I would’ve preferred more photos.
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Other Notes: Whitley has a sweet and rather quirky conversational tone, sometimes winding through his recipes with a few tangents here and there (see the recipe below). Throughout the whole book, he passionately demonstrates the depth of knowledge he’s gained in his 25 year breadmaking career.


Same as above, but with the bread torn open so you can see its lovely innards.

Cheese Bread



Recipe from: Bread Matters: The State of Modern Bread and a Definitive Guide to Baking Your Own
Yields: 3 medium rounds of cheese bread (about 12 servings)

Sponge Ingredients:
1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast*
2/3 cup water (around 68°)
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon stoneground breadmaking whole-wheat or graham flour
*Note: book also includes measurements for fresh yeast.

Basic Bread Dough Ingredients:
1 cup sponge (from above)
1 cup plus 2.5 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon stoneground breadmaking whole-wheat or graham flour
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
scant 1.2 cup water

Cheese Bread Additions:
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup shredded cheese
2.5 cups basic savory bread dough (from above)
beaten egg, to glaze
2/3 grated cheese for topping

Directions:
To make the sponge: Dissolve the yeast in the water. Add the flours and mix to a soft sponge. There is no need to mix this vigorously: gluten development by physical means is irrelevant in dough that is allowed such a long time to ferment because naturally occurring enzymes and acids transform it anyway.

Put the sponge in a bowl with plenty of room for expansion (up to 2 times its volume) and cover with a lid or plastic bag to conserve moisture. Leave it at room temperature to ferment for 16-48 hours. During this time, the sponge will rise up and collapse. The yeast cells will multiply and lactic and acetic acids will begin to develop.

To make basic bread dough from sponge: If the sponge has been in a cool place, you will need to use fairly warm water to bring the final dough to a reasonable temperature of around 81°F (27°C). To work out how hot the water should be, follow the formula on page 68 [of Bread Matters]. For the purposes of this calculation, treat the sponge as part of the flour. Since they are equal weights, you can add their temperatures together and divide by 2 to arrive at an average. NOTE: I thought this would be the undoing of my bread, because all of this temperature business sounds so complicated. I estimated my sponge’s temperature based on room temperature, and estimated the temperature of the water (a little warmer than lukewarm). It worked out fine.

Mix all ingredients together and knead until the dough is stretchy and “silky” (not so easy to detect if you are using a high proportion of whole-wheat flour). Cover and allow to rise for an hour or so.

To make basic bread dough into cheese bread: Stir the spices into the grated cheese and add this to the prepared Basic Savory Bread Dough. Fold the cheese through the dough until it is fairly evenly distributed. You may need to add water if the dough shows signs of tightening. NOTE: I did add a bit.

Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces and mold them into round balls. Give them a minute or two to relax and then, with the palm of your hand, press them down so that they roughly double in diameter. Put these flat disks on a baking sheet lined with nonstick baking parchment, placing them far enough apart so that they will not touch.

With a plastic scraper or the back of a knife, mark the cheese breads with 2 cuts at right angles to make a cross. Simply press down on the dough aiming to cut through almost to the baking sheet but not quite. (If you press too hard and the dough breaks in 2 [or 4], do not worry: it will probably join up again during proofing or baking.)

Brush the visible surface of each bread with a little beaten egg. Divide the remaining shredded cheese and place it as evenly as possible on top of each bread, but do not put it too near the edge. The cheese will partially obscure the cuts made by the scraper, but this does not matter. As the dough proofs, it will spread the cheese out a little.

Proof until well-risen, then bake in a moderate oven (375°F [190°C]) for 15-20 minutes. These breads are small and flat, so the heat will penetrate fairly quickly to the center of the dough. Take care not to let the cheese topping get overcooked; it can change from softly melted to dried and “foxy” in a few minutes.

The deep cross you pressed into the dough should be just visible after baking and the cheese breads should break easily into 4 wedges, which make good soup rolls. NOTE: I’ll say! If you plan to fill a cheese bread, it is best to keep it as one, divide it horizontally, insert the filling and then cut the whole thing into halves or quarters.


Chicken and Dumplings on the stove and bread kneading!


Bread proofing and then baking.


Leftover cheese bread toasting and bacon sizzling in preparation for the breakfast sandwich of all time.


Bake bread! This loaf is getting submitted to YeastSpotting!


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Gâteau aux Noix

Am I the only one who’s already drowning in holiday plans? I’ve got so many things up my sleeve that there’s no room for my arm in there. Warm, comforting things like grandmothers’ pies, flaky croissants, and freshly baked bread. Fun, festive things like visiting the Southern Christmas Show, trimming the tree, and popping the orange Chipmunks’ Christmas cassette tape into the player. Laborious, time-consuming things like catching up on grading my Mt. Everest of student work. My calendar is full of a variety of things, but what it comes down to is one word: BUSY.

Or maybe three words: BUSY BUSY BUSY.

All that BUSYness coming up is partly why this past weekend was so wonderful. Mike and I enjoyed our trip to Greensboro in our favorite way: with food! We hastily devoured McGriddles and Krispy Kremes, a delicious Thai lunch, and even a fancy dinner in downtown Greensboro. Obviously, we’re professionally trained to handle major consumption. Please don’t try this at home.


Hot doughnuts now! Two hot glazed originals, two raspberry filled, a pumpkin spice, and a chocolate custard-filled.


Sweet Mike before his test, and Thai food afterward!

We also got a chance to just relax. Well, okay, I relaxed. Mike practiced math, was tested on math, and then reflected/brooded about math. I felt a little guilty leisurely browsing the poetry section of a Borders bookstore while he took his math GRE a few blocks away! Thankfully, the test is over, and Mike can finally rest — until he gets his scores back and has to finish up grad school applications, that is. Eek, I’m getting stressed out again — back to this past weekend . . .

I browsed high and low to find the perfect cake for Mike and I to enjoy together on our trip. I wanted something hearty and rustic that could travel without much fuss. I also wanted something homey and special — something we’d remember a few months from now. When a friend sent me Molly of Orangette’s post about Gâteau aux Noix, it sounded perfect.

In fact, this very cake had made a warm home in Molly’s own travel memories — in her case, of visiting Les Eyzies-de-Tayac in southwestern France. The hotel baked these cakes and packaged slices in cellophane for them to eat during a long day outdoors. Since that trip, she’d been looking for a recipe to recreate the memory. After reading her recollections, I couldn’t wait to bake the “brown, humble, nutty” cake she described.

Indeed, she had described the gâteau aux noix perfectly. The cake retains the subtle, sophisticated flavor of dry white wine, while the nuts taste homey and familiar. It’s a simple cake that you can wrap up and cart about until you’re ready to enjoy it. I can also see this being an ideal pantry staple from which to swipe a hunk after each meal.

Mike and I first tried the cake with cinnamon whipped cream, but I decided that accompaniment eclipsed the gentle wine flavor. We then popped open a jar of pears in white grape juice (Trader Joe’s) to slice up with our cake instead. The flavors were perfect together. If you’re dying for creaminess, though, feel free to add a small dollop of whipped cream — just be sure it’s not heavy on the vanilla.

If you need a bit of simplicity in your life, then from my home to yours, here’s the cake for you!

Gâteau aux Noix, or French Walnut Cake



Recipe by: Orangette, adapted slightly from Saveur Cooks Authentic French
Yields: 1, 9-inch cake.

Ingredients:
½ cup chopped walnuts, or a touch more
3 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup walnut oil
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350. Place walnuts in a small dry saucepan and toast over medium heat, shaking pan, until nuts are fragrant, 5-10 minutes. Set aside.

Beat eggs in a medium bowl with an electric mixer. Gradually add sugar and beat until mixture is pale yellow, light, and fluffy. Add walnut oil and wine and mix well.

Generously grease a 9” cake pan (I used an 8-inch with no problem, by the way; your cake will just be a bit thicker). Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together into a large bowl. Add egg mixture to flour mixture and mix with a wooden spoon until just combined. Gently fold in walnuts, and then pour batter into prepared pan. NOTE: Mixing a touch of the flour with the walnuts before folding them in may help evenly distribute them.

Bake cake until a toothpick can be inserted and pulled out clean, about 40 minutes (mine took only 30-35, however, and required a bit of tenting with foil for the last five). Remove from oven, cool for ten minutes, and then turn out onto a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely and serve in wedges. Loosely whipped cream would be a nice accompaniment, if possible.

NOTE: We served this with cinnamon whipped cream, which may have proven too bold a flavor for this subtle cake. We then switched to serving it with jarred pears in white grape juice (Trader Joe’s), which was a perfect complement!


Mixing up the batter.


Baking and fresh out of the oven!


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