Maybe it’s because I’m a late February baby, but I’ve always had a thing for Valentine’s Day. Abundance of twee notwithstanding, I just sort of love the idea of a Love Day. Granted, there have been years when I was Valentine-less, but even then I guess it was the hope that one day I would have a Permanent Valentine that buoyed me, along with a legit excuse to get chocolate wasted. These days, I still get chocolate wasted on Valentine’s Day, and this year in particular I’m pretty excited about celebrating some Big Love with our Little Family. There’s a lot that’s happened in the past several months, plenty of ups and downs and stressing until I think I might lose it (and on a couple of occasions I totally have). But we might (maybe? Please, universe?) be entering a bit of sweet spot right now, a little calm before the next inevitable storm. And so I say, bust out the chocolate. Turn dessert into breakfast, or vice versa. And good grief, don’t forget the Champagne.
While I hesitate to call it an all-out phobia, I will say that my, um, reticent nature towards baking with yeast has been well-documented in the past. I know I’m not the only one out there who suffers from this fear, and let’s face it–yeast is a funny thing. I mean, it’s ALIVE, for cry-yi. Unpredictable, with a mind of its own! And how do you choose the right type of yeast? What if you only have active dry and the recipe calls for instant? How can you really know for sure if the dough has doubled? The world could explode with such Oprah-esque Life Questions.
Well. Recently I’ve tried to tackle that fear for good, experimenting with different breads, rolls, even cakes that use yeast as their puffing (and flavor) agent. I’ve been inching closer to becoming One With the Yeast. Baby steps.
The time is upon us: It’s just about fall, y’all! Soups and stews are about to be all up in my area on the regular. It’s about dang time. To celebrate, I want to share with you the ultimate carb-y accompaniment that is my new obsession. Pretzel Rolls. Like the perfect shopping mall/ballpark soft pretzel, in a totally different form. You’ve never met a more addictive dinner roll, I’m telling you.
It feels like approximately 50 years ago, but once upon a time I had a job as a makeup artist for a very fancy, stylish cosmetic line. I would travel around to upscale department stores like Saks and Neiman Marcus where I ordinarily would have no business being, and design new makeup looks for ladies of all shapes, sizes and colors and promote the brand. It was a pretty rad job, I have to say. But my favorite days were the ones in my hometown of Chicago, when I visited what used to be the historical Marshall Field’s on State Street (which is now a flippin’ Macy’s, DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED). It was a beautiful store with fun clientele and a gorgeous cosmetics department. But what I really loved was my lunch break there, because the top floor had a café with floor-to-ceiling windows, a stunning city view, and a place that had the most glorious seasonal salads, all served with a moan-inducing pretzel roll. Deeply golden with a chewy crust, smattered with crunchy coarse salt. Huminuh.
All right, so I know I’ve told all y’all more than once about my totally irrational fear of yeast-raised doughs. I don’t know what it is–I suppose perhaps I lack a Bread Thumb or somesuch. Or maybe my standards are too high (insert witty comment from husband here). But for whatever reason, I’ve had way more misses than hits when it comes to making bread. And with all of the amazing artisanal breadmakers here in the Bay Area, there’s little reason to make some myself, other than that nagging voice in the back of my head telling me that I need to conquer my baker’s Achilles’ heel. Oddly, that voice sounds a lot like Justin Bieber. I still haven’t figured that one out.
Anyway, when it comes to breads, I tend to be drawn to recipes that are of the Bread for Dummies sort. The kind that have millions of positive reviews or have things like “Foolproof”, “No-Knead” or “Easy” in the title always catch my eye. And if the recipe is by a baker I love so much I have him at the table of my long, loud lunch daydream along with Lynne Rossetto Kasper, Ina, Shirley Corriher and Christopher Kimball, then all the better. Enter Nick Malgieri’s Quick Brioche.
I am a sucker for brioche. My first real taste of it came from the legendary LaBrea Bakery in Los Angeles and it pretty much ruined me for life–I’ve never tasted one so light and delicate, and yet so buttery and rich. Toasted with blackberry jam, oh my Lord, you may never eat anything else again. I didn’t hope to reach such great heights with this particular recipe, but nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised with the results. The day it was made, you could find at least one person, full grown or tiny, with a hunk in his or her hand at all times–the whole loaf disappeared within a day.
For a dough that comes together in a flash in the food processor, the flavor and texture here is especially impressive. I’m talking big results for very, very little work, guys. It baked up all fluffy inside and deeply golden with a beautifully glossy crust. Afterwards, the only thing Justin Bieber was dogging me about in the back of my head was the fact that the nice little braid I had going when it went into the oven sort of stretched out and pulled apart unattractively down the center–other than just putting it in a loaf pan next time, any pointers as to how I can remedy this and get this whining, shaggy-haired teeny bopper off my back, friends?
Adapted from Nick Malgieri’s The Modern Baker
Note that the butter used here is cold, not softened as in other brioche recipes. Keeping the butter cool here will help it withstand any heat from mixing in the food processor. You can make one large braid, or divide the dough in half and make two loaves with it in two buttered 9×5 inch loaf pans, which may take a few more minutes to bake.
Makes 1 16-inch long braid, or 2 standard-sized loaves
1 /2 cup milk
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1 additional large egg, beaten with a pinch of salt
Heat the milk in a small saucepan or in the microwave until it is just lukewarm, about 110 degrees F. Pour the milk into a small bowl and whisk in the yeast. Use a spoon to stir in 1 cup of the flour. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside until it is bubbly and slightly risen, about 20 minutes.
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade (or the dough blade, if you have one), combine the butter, sugar, salt, eggs and egg yolks. Pulse until the butter is finely chopped and equally distributed throughout the mixture, which will appear curdled and separated (but won’t worry–it will come back together when flour is added).
Scrape the yeast mixture into the food processor and pulse 6 times to mix. Add 1 cup of the remaining flour and pulse until the mixture is smooth. Scrape down the bowl. Add the rest of the flour and pulse again until well-mixed. Let the dough rest in the food processor for 10 minutes.
After the rest, start the processor and let it run continuously for 10 seconds. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. With the help of a bench scraper, knead the dough 5 or 6 times, or until it is slightly more elastic.
With the bench scraper or a knife, divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Roll each each piece into a thick, even rope about 12 inches long. If the dough is too sticky to work with, refrigerate it for 20 minutes and start again.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the three ropes lengthwise on the sheet, with about 1/2 inch in between them. Starting in the middle of the loaf, braid the ropes together towards you, pinching the ends together gently and tucking them under the loaf. Rotate the pan and repeat, braiding the rest of the loaf.
Cover the braid with a towel or buttered plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in bulk, 1 to 2 hours, depending on how warm the room is.
When you’re ready to bake, position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees.
Just before baking, brush the braid lightly all over with the egg wash, being careful not to let it puddle in the creases of the braid. Bake until the bread is well risen and beautifully golden and glossy, about 35 to 40 minutes. Slide the parchment onto a wire rack to let the bread cool before slicing.
Oh, my God, you guys. Guess what I’m doing this weekend? Going away, with just the husband. Like, away from this house while Little C frolicks here with her visiting Gramma. During this weekend, I will be in a magical land called Napa wherein my towels, sheets and dishes will be washed by other people. I will also be eating only at restaurants (one extra fancy) and drinking lots of delicious alcohol in the name of “wine tasting”. I am so pumped. Please don’t hate me. I mean, I’d hate me, if it wasn’t…me.
Know what I did last weekend? I did laundry. And cleaned. And went to Fairyland. And made and cleaned up after about 100 meals. All well and good. But I’m thinking that even if there is a massive natural disaster, this Napa weekend will totally top last weekend. Except for the waffles I made on Sunday. They were ethereal, transcendent, these waffles. So even if you won’t be getting away for the weekend, whipping up a batch of these waffles will transport you, if only for breakfast time.
I give you Marion Cunningham’s storied Raised Waffles, people. And I mean the culinary goddess Marion Cunningham, not the mom from Happy Days. And someday I’ll tell you how many years I lived not realizing they were two separate people.
But ohhhh, these waffles. So light, so crisp, so not at all sweet as to perfect balance with a good dose of maple syrup. The yeast flavor is so unexpectedly delicious, like the best parts of waffles and brioche having a baby.
And the very best part is you start the batter the night before. All you have to do in the a.m. is whisk in some eggs and baking soda–super easy, even with just one with one eye open and one tiny person clinging to your PJ pants. Who will not be accompanying us this weekend as we eat lots of beautiful food and imbibe in one of the most gorgeous places in the planet. Okay, now I’m just sort of bragging.
Marion Cunningham’s Raised Waffles
Adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible
There are a few blog posts out there that have less than raves about this recipe, but for me, I found my experience with them to be completely awesome and I’ll pass along what worked for me. First, follow the instructions to the letter. Don’t short the rise time on the counter–start these the night before or pick another waffle recipe if you can’t. The magic of these waffles is because of a long, overnight rise for crazy lightness and tons of flavor.
Know that these waffles do have a yeasty flavor and are not sweet at all, so don’t expect an Eggo. Also, I found a lot of people online complaining about how rich with butter these waffles were, so for fun, I cut the butter down to 5 tablespoons instead of a whole stick. They turned out beautifully. It also seems that those who have a Belgian-style waffle iron don’t have as much success–mine is a standard waffle iron, the kind with lots of little squares rather than a few larger wells. Make a full batch; the waffles freeze and reheat in the toaster beautifully.
Serves 6 to 8
1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups warm milk ((I think anything but skim would be fine here)
1/2 cup melted butter (I cut this amount down to 5 tablespoons, no problem)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
In the biggest mixing bowl you own (the batter will rise to double its original volume) sprinkle in the yeast over the warm water. Let stand to dissolve for 10 minutes. Add the milk, butter, salt, sugar, and flour and stir to blend. Give it a blast with a handheld mixer on a low speed for just a moment to really smooth it out–you don’t want any lumps. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand overnight at room temperature.
The next morning, just before cooking the waffles, whisk in the eggs and the baking soda–the batter will be very thin. Depending on the size of your waffle iron, pour about 1/3 to 1/2 cup batter onto the hot iron (use a light hand at first and check your progress–this waffle batter expands rather impressively. Bake until golden and crisp. This batter will keep for several days in the refrigerator.
Ahhhh…weekends. Otherwise known as the time I can work it OUT in the kitchen while my sweet Little C gets down with some Daddy time–preferably somewhere not all up in my area. So by, oh, say, Thursday, I get to thinking about what recipes I’m going to tackle over the weekend, what with all my wild, impending freedom and all. If you feel me here, then I hope you’ll make this awesome recipe for baked doughnuts your weekend project, too. If this scenario is completely foreign to you, and your weekend plans usually involve things like imbibing in a place that’s not your living room and then having a childless brunch the next day, well, a) tell me what that’s like, and b) these will be just the thing for you, too.
Now, I was a little wary of the concept of a baked doughnut at first. I mean, really, people, if you’re going to have a doughnut, just go for it, fried, glazey goodness and all, AMIRITE? Well, I was craving doughnuts something fierce on a recent weekend, and wanted to try making some from scratch. But the more I thought about dealing with hot oil and the greasy aftermath and that heavy, fatty air that was sure to hang around the house for days afterward, the less appealing a traditional doughnut recipe seemed. Can one make baked doughnuts?, I wondered, and if I made some and told you about them, would you all think I was going all Susan Powter on you? Risky.
But thanks to half a pot of coffee and a couple hours to myself to putter about a gloriously quiet house, I had all sorts of moxie on that particular day, and a quick Google search landed me on one of my favorite blogs and a recipe for baked doughnuts that looked especially promising.
Despite my recurring fear of yeast doughs that we’ve gone over before, I found this recipe to be fabulously simple. It’s a lot like a pizza dough or white bread dough, but there’s a little extra butter and egg worked in to deliver a bit of richness and keep the finished product moist. So maybe like a Brioche Light for Dummies. Just my thing.
It’s a cinch to work with–a lovely, pillowy dough–and dare I say I actually had an awesomely fun, anxiety-free experience with this yeast dough? Yes, yes I did. And here is where you might suggest I get out a little more and I cover my ears and shake my head. Because–oh-ho!–the fun doesn’t stop there, people!
After you roll and cut all those cute little doughtnuts and bake them until they are just golden on the bottom, then you dip them quickly in melted butter and love them all up even more with a coating of cinnamon sugar. See? Don’t you go telling me I don’t know from fun. Awww, yeeaaahh.
All unbridled, fanciful ways aside, I was pleasantly surprised at the results of this recipe and didn’t at all feel like I was being gypped, from a doughnut-craving standpoint. Tender, flavorful, a wonderful hit of yeast and nutmeg to give you that actual doughnut satisfaction. I mean, Krispy Kremes they are not, but they are very, very good and hey, you can have two without that OHMAHGAHIJUSTATETWODOUGHNUTS feeling. It’s a new sensation for me, and I have to say, I rather enjoy it.
Baked Cinnamon-Sugar Doughnuts
Adapted from Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks
These are awesome rolled in a blend of granulated and light brown sugars, as I’ve done here, but I’m thinking they’d also be delicious glazed (skip the melted butter-dipping step) or dusted with confectioners’ sugar instead. Whatever you do, plan on eating these ASAP after baking for the best flavor and texture, and revive the leftovers with a quick zap in the microwave. The dough can be made a day ahead–just prepare it up through the cutting stage, wrap the baking sheet with plastic wrap, and let the doughnuts rise in a warm place an hour before baking. If in doubt about how long to bake these, err on the side of underbaking so the interior is tender and moist.
Makes about 1 dozen
For the dough:
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons warm milk, divided, 95 to 105 degrees (take its temperature–too hot and it will kill the yeast)
1 1/8 teaspoons active dry yeast (about half a packet)
1 tablespoons butter, melted and still warm
1/3 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
For the cinnamon-sugar coating:
1/4 cup (half a stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
Place 3 tablespoons of the warm milk in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Stir in the yeast and set aside for at least five minutes. Place the remaining 1/2 cup of warm milk in a small bowl, stir in the butter and sugar, and add it to the yeast mixture. On low speed, stir in the egg, flour, nutmeg, and salt – just until the flour is incorporated. Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough for a few minutes at medium speed. At this point, make a few adjustments – if your dough is seriously sticky, add flour a few tablespoons at a time. Too dry? Add a little bit of milk. Eventually, you want the dough to pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl and become soft and smooth. Turn out the dough onto a floured work surface, knead it a few times by hand, and shape it into a smooth ball.
Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl (cooking spray works great here), cover with plastic wrap and put it in a warm place. Let the dough rise until its doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Punch down the dough and roll it out 1/2-inch thick on a floured work surface. Using a 2-3 inch cookie cutter, stamp out circles. Transfer the circles to a parchment-lined baking sheet and cut holes in the centers with a smaller cutter, about half the diameter of the first–remember the hole will close up on the second rising if it’s too small, so make it a little bigger than what a finished doughnuts would look like (alternatively, use a doughnut cutter, if you actually own one). Cover the baking sheet with a clean cloth and let the doughnuts rise for another 45 minutes.
Bake in a 375 degree oven until the bottoms are just golden, 8 to 10 minutes – start checking around 8. Better to underbake then overbake here–pull them early if in doubt. While the doughnuts are baking, melt the 1/4 cup of butter in a medium bowl. Place the sugars and cinnamon in a separate bowl (or large ziploc bag), stirring to blend evenly.
Remove the doughnuts from the oven and let cool for just a minute or two. Dip each one in the melted butter and a quick toss in the sugars. Serve immediately.
Because I’m running 13.1 miles on Sunday. On purpose. With several thousand other crazy people. Send drugs now.
In preparation, I am doing what is probably the best part about running a race–carbo-loading via copious amounts of perfectly crusty, homemade whole wheat bread with lots of butter. What, butter isn’t a carb, you say? And carbo-loading is so 80′s? Oh, you just hush. I’m running a flippin’ half marathon this weekend.
You may remember me mentioning something about this half marathon business a few months back, when I said that you may end up hearing more about the whole thing than you really wanted to know. I figured that with all the training being such a big part of my life, some of the details would eek into this space. But that hasn’t really happened. I’ve saved all the complaining about the whole thing for other lucky friends and family members. And I’ve done a lot of complaining. It’s been hard, harder than I thought.
Since the weekday “short runs” became as long as the weekend “long runs” were in the early weeks of training, it’s been tough. Not because my endurance wasn’t there–it’s amazing how quickly the body adapts to such crazy activities; I’ve had many a tearful “Rocky” moment throughout this whole experience–but because I’ve had to do all those weekday runs with a busy toddler who really doesn’t want to be in a stroller that long anymore. Pushing that behemoth of a running stroller full of whining, restless kid on a drizzly, windy San Francisco day when your running legs have seemingly abandoned you is the sort of thing that makes you unable to think of nothing but every other thing you’d rather be doing at that moment. Ugh.
On the plus side, I am fitter than ever and fit comfortably back in my pre-baby pants. I have also acquired new talents such as handing off sippy cups and snacks and fetching teddy bears that get violently chucked off the side of that aforementioned stroller without breaking stride or slowing my pace. Valuable life skills, people. Clearly, bread-baking is a much more practical skill. I think I will switch to bread baking after Sunday. So much for those pants.
Not that making this particular bread requires much skill at all. It’s one of Jim Lahey’s fabulous recipes, the guy who has incredible, actual bread-baking skills and has made his amazingly simple No-Knead method accessible to all of us who have none. I stirred together the dough in seconds one evening and had fresh, crackly, crusty whole wheat bread all set for the gorging less than 24 hours later. I barely had to do a dang thing to achieve such carb zenith. I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to get such big results with no effort. It’s a beautiful thing.
Back when I made the original, all-white-flour version of this bread, I found it desperately needed more salt, so I added it here. Also, I followed the ratio of bread flour to whole-wheat flour that Lahey suggests–increasing the whole wheat flour will result in a denser loaf, but experiment and see if you like it. I also needed to add more water then the 1 1/3 cups listed (about 1/4 cup more) to get the dough to the right consistency–you want it to be quite wet and sticky before the first rise.
2 1/4 cups bread flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon instant or other active dry yeast
1 1/3 cups cool (55 to 65 degrees) water
Wheat bran, cornmeal, or additional flour for dusting
In a medium bowl, stir together the flours, salt, and yeast. Add the water. Using a wooden spoon or your hands, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, adding a bit more water if necessary. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, at least 12 to 18 hours.
When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece. Using lightly floured hands or a bowl scraper or spatula, lift the edges of the dough in toward the center. Nudge and tuck in the edges of the dough to make it round.
Place a tea towel on your work surface and generously dust it with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Gently place the dough on the towel, seam side down. Dust the top lightly with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour if it’s sticky. Fold the ends of the tea towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place it in a warm, draft-free spot to rise again for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled and when you gently poke it with your finger, it should hold the impression–if it springs back, let it rise for another 15 minutes.
Half an hour before the end of the second rise, position a rack so that the pot will be centered in the oven, and preheat it to 475 degrees. Place a covered 4 1/2-to-5 1/2-quart cast-iron pot (such as a dutch oven) in the center of the rack.
Use pot holders to carefully remove the preheated pot from the oven and uncover it. Quickly but gently invert the dough into the pot, seam side up. Be careful!–The pot is very hot. Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.
Remove the lid and continue baking the whole wheat bread until the loaf is a deep chestnut color but not burnt, 15 to 30 minutes more. Use a heatproof spatula or pot holders to carefully lift the bread out of the pot and place it on a rack to cool thoroughly before slicing.
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