BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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Bae Goals

It must be something in the water. Perhaps it’s something in the air. Surely, there’s some secret ingredient that separates true bagels from merely ring-shaped buns. What else could explain the mystique behind “authentic” New York bagels, impossible to replicate beyond city borders? Defined more by texture than flavor, burnished crusts lacquered with any variety of seeds and salt give way to distinctive density and chew that enthusiasts laud. A quick dip in a boiling vat of malt-enriched alkaline water is the key factor that makes a bagel more than mere bread, much like soft pretzels.

Simple enough in concept, but intimidating in execution. Traditional recipes call for lye, in all its caustic glory, which is threatening enough to send me straight to the bakery, rather than the kitchen. Bagels were longtime residents on my list of baking goals, growing longer and less likely to be accomplished with every passing year. That was until I joined forces with chef Philip Gelb and lucked into one of his infamous bagel baking classes.

Demystifying the yeasted rings with a no-nonsense approach that anyone with even a passing culinary curiosity could happily jump right into, all fears of failure evaporated along with the rising steam.

Baking soda stands in for the deadly lye, reducing the risk of severe bodily harm right off the bat. Believe it or not, all the rest is fairly standard procedure; a vigorous mixing, resting and rising, shaping, and baking are all that separate you from savory satisfaction. No satanic incantations, obscure tinctures, nor acts of God need apply.

Bagels can take shape either by punching out the centers with a quick jab of the fingers, or rolled into snakes and connected at the ends. Personally, I prefer to poke out the middles as there’s less danger of them coming undone in the bubbling water bath.

Though technically optional, it’s hard to beat the classic “everything” topping, a melange that can include almost a full shelf out of the average pantry, which can make up for almost any other shortcomings. Instantly evoking that classic deli flavor, it’s actually the onion flakes that I find most essential to the combination. All else is flexible, but if you’re truly flummoxed by the proper ratios, you can even buy ready-made blends. Such shortcuts are completely acceptable when you go through the trouble of baking the bagels from scratch, if you ask me.

Purists will argue until they’re blue in the face about what makes for the best bagels, but this much I know is true: Nothing beats the ones coming out of your own oven, hot and fresh, just barely cool enough to slice. Such beauty needs no further toasting to perfect (perish the thought!) but a thick schmear of hummus or cream cheese never hurts.

World Bread Day, October 16, 2017

I’m delighted to finally share such a delicious victory today for the 11th annual World Bread Day. After so much agita, it’s a joy to finally take this project off my list of lofty goals, and move it onto the list of everyday staples. Don’t buy into the hype- Or the sad, stale carb bombs sold in most grocery stores. Even if you’re not a bagel-fanatic, baking is believing!

Bagels
By Chef Philip Gelb of Sound & Savor

1 Teaspoon Active Dry Yeast
4 Tablespoons Rice Malt, Barley Malt, or Agave, Divided
2 Cups Warm Water (105 Degrees Fahrenheit)
1 Teaspoon Salt
2 Cups Whole Wheat Flour
3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 1/2 Teaspoons Baking Soda
Dried Garlic, Dried Onion, Sesame Seeds, Poppy Seeds, and/or Coarse Salt (Optional)

In a large bowl, combine the yeast, 1 tablespoon of malt, and the warm water. Let the yeast proof until the surface becomes foamy; about 5 minutes. Whisk in the salt. Add the whole wheat flour and 2 cups of the all-purpose flour, stirring with a wooden spoon until incorporated.

Place the dough on a sturdy, clean surface and slowly work in the rest of the all-purpose flour. Knead for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Coat the dough with olive oil, place in a bowl, and cover tightly with a clean dish towel.

Let rise until the dough has doubled in volume; about 1 hour, though time may vary greatly due to temperature and altitude.

After the dough has doubled, knead it lightly for 1 minute. Divide the dough into 12 equal parts. Roll each piece into log and then fold it into a circle, firmly pressing the seam together. Place each bagel on a lightly floured surface, cover with a clean towel, and let rise until doubled; about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 500 degrees and place a baking stone inside, if using. Otherwise, the bagels can be baked on a standard sheet pan. In a large pot, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil and add the baking soda along with the remaining 3 tablespoons of malt. The baking soda is necessary to properly texture and brown the bagels.

After the bagels finish their second rise, boil each bagel for 1 minute on each side, keeping the water at a consistent, rapid boil.

Now your bagels are ready to bake. If you want, you can top them with any or all of the seasonings your heart desires, patting them gently into the top to make sure they adhere. Transfer carefully to your baking stone or sheet pan, and bake for about 15 minutes.

The bagels are best served within 15 minutes of emerging from the oven!

Makes 12 Bagels

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The Loaf of My Life

Darkly burnished to a deep caramel color, the exterior crackled with every bite, crisp crust shattering upon impact into a thousand explosively flavorful crumbs. Venturing deeper into the slice, the chewy matrix of long-fermented wheat gluten tangled into a soft, springy pillow cradling a shallow pool of hummus. This was my first experience with Tartine bread, and it was nothing short of transcendent. Even this most basic loaf, a simple staple made of only flour, water, and salt, conveyed a passion for the craft that translates to a remarkable finished product. For better or for worse, I was hooked.

The trouble with falling in loaf (yes, pun intended) with one of these beauties is that it spoils you, making it difficult if not impossible to enjoy the average supermarket loaf ever again. Then, to get your fix, you have to seriously commit yourself to this new relationship; each handsome slab of yeasted glory is a full three pounds by weight, which is no small undertaking for a single eater.

No matter how many sandwiches I made, the loaf never seemed to dwindle. Wasting such a gem would be unthinkable, so it was high time to seek alternative eating options.

Bread pudding is capable of condensing unreasonable servings of bread into deceptively small portions, making the dessert ideally suited to this task. After the third or fourth forkful, the full slice equivalent will be the last thing on your mind, drowned out by the comforting scent of cinnamon and ginger, carried by a wave of succulent summer peaches. Comfort food isn’t just for the colder months, although with that said, I can just as easily envision this same satisfying formula with apples, pears, or a perfectly autumnal combination of the two.

Turning on the oven in the heat of August may give you pause, but don’t let it stop you entirely. Just make sure you have plenty of vanilla ice cream on hand to cool things down.

Southern Peach Bread Pudding

3/4 Pound Crusty Bread, Sliced into 1-Inch Cubes (About 7 – 8 Cups)
1 Tablespoon Arrowroot
1 1/2 Cups Fresh Peach Puree*
1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
3/4 Cup Coconut Sugar or Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/4 Cup Melted Coconut Oil
2 Teaspoons Ground Cinnamon
1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Chopped Peaches
1/4 Cup Chopped Pecans

*To make peach puree, simply pit fresh peaches and toss them in your blender, processing until completely smooth. Peel the fruits first if the skins are particularly tough or your blender is a bit under-powered.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.

Toss the bread and arrowroot together in a large bowl, mixing well to coat the pieces with starch. Set aside.

Separately, combine the peach puree, non-dairy milk, oil, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and salt, stirring until the mixture is homogeneous. Pour the liquid mix all over the bread, and let stand for about 10 minutes to soak in a bit. Gently fold in the chopped peaches, making sure that they’re well distributed throughout.

Transfer to you prepared baking dish and sprinkle evenly with chopped pecans. Bake for 45 – 50 minutes, until golden brown all over. The edges should appear set, but the interior will remain quite soft and moist; be careful not to over bake it.

Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. You can either take the time to make nice, neat slices, or just grab a large spoon and scoop it out onto plates. Either way, it’s best served warm, and with a generous serving of vanilla ice cream melting over the top.

Makes 10 – 14 Servings

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Let Them Eat Cornbread

Unwittingly, shamefully, it seems I’ve committed yet another culinary corruption. It was a crime of passion, as most are, born of unrequited cravings stemming from a deep, indecipherable source, compelling yet not entirely comprehensible. True love could hardly be described as rational, illuminating a clear path towards happiness, which is how this particular journey somehow got derailed into delinquency.

Cornbread, soft and sweet, haunted my dreams. Containing an impossibly dense yet fluffy crumb, melting away to a light, satisfying coarse grit on the tongue, this was the stuff of legend, a memory logged long ago during those early formative years that lack clear timestamps. It wasn’t any old Jiffy mix calling to me from beyond the periphery of cognition. It was cornbread you eat as an event by itself, not a mere side dish to a grander spread; cornbread that stole the show.

Without a second thought or further consultation, propelled by sheer passion and blissful ignorance, I tore into the cabinets to assemble my team. Cornmeal, coconut milk, olive oil, and sugar; all guilty by association. Any born and bred southerner could see in an instant where this is going by now, but in the heat of the moment, this uninformed Yankee hadn’t a care in the world.

Encrusted with a crunchy crumb topping and pock-marked with juicy red berries, still hot from the kiss of the oven, it was a sight to behold. Exactly what I had always wanted out of a cornbread without being able to fully verbalize the details, it exceeded expectations in a single bite. Though considerably more decadent than perhaps originally intended, one could hardly hold such delicious extravagance against it.

Hardly an hour passed before I settled in with a glossy food magazine that by some ironic twist of fate focused in on cornbread. Unscrupulously, the author decried the sugared excesses of modern cornbread recipes, claiming that true cornbread should remain entirely austere; unsweetened, unembellished, little more than baked corn puree. Strongly worded with equal parts revulsion and horror, I immediately understood the error of my ways.

Cake. This is corn cake. Are we clear? A mighty fine corn cake at that, but under no circumstances should it be categorized as cornbread. Can I plead innocence if we reconsider the end goal? Don’t call it a side dish and don’t invite it to dinner. Honestly, it won’t be offended! Rather, save it for a midday snack with a glass of iced tea, after the main meal with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or heck, save yourself a wedge for a rich breakfast treat in the morning.

Truth be told, this crime occurred so long ago that my original corn cake was prepared with red currants, found during a very brief seasonal window, and I was too ashamed to admit my wrongdoing at the time. Thankfully, I can attest that this treat won’t suffer the least bit if you swap them for ripe raspberries, or omit the fruit addition entirely. It’s highly flexible and fairly infallible, even if you prepared it as individual cupcakes. Just remember that this is a cake, through and through, and you’ll be golden.

Cornbread Crumb Cake

Crumb Topping:

1/3 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1/3 Cup Coarsely Ground Yellow Cornmeal
1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/8 Teaspoon Salt
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Cornbread Cake:

1 Cup All-Purpose Flour
2/3 Cup Finely Ground Yellow Cornmeal
1/3 Cup Coarsely Ground Yellow Cornmeal
2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
3/4 Cup Fresh Red Currants or Raspberries (Optional)
1 Cup Light Coconut Milk
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Unsweetened Applesauce
1/3 Cup Light Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Teaspoons Lemon Juice

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees lightly grease an 8-inch round baking pan; set aside.

Begin by making the crumb topping first. Combine the flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, and salt in a small bowl. Drizzle the olive oil all over and use a fork to mix, forming chunky, coarse crumbs. It may seem dry at first but don’t be tempted to add more liquid; slowly but surely, it will come together, and there’s no need to stress if it remains fairly loose. Set aside.

Moving on to the main cake, in a large bowl, mix together the flour, both types of cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and soda, and salt, stirring to thoroughly combine. Add in the currants or raspberries if using and toss to coat. This will help prevent them from simply sinking to the bottom during the baking process.

Separately, whisk together the coconut milk, olive oil, apple sauce, brown sugar, and lemon juice. Once smooth, pour the liquid mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients, and use a wide spatula to gently incorporate, being careful not to crush the berries or over-mix the batter. It’s perfectly fine to leave a few errant lumps in the matrix.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and sprinkle evenly with the crumb topping.

Bake for 40 – 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool for at least 20 – 30 minutes before slicing and serving, if you can bear the wait. It’s also fabulous at room temperature and can (theoretically) keep for 3 – 4 days if kept wrapped or sealed in an air-tight container.

Makes 8 – 12 Servings

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Stud Muffins

More than mere eye-candy, these fine specimens are potential suitors with real substance. Undeniably dark and handsome, it’s hard not to fall for their good looks even at a glance, but there’s so much more to love in each tempting crumb.

Want a partner who won’t insult your intelligence? These fellas are a smart choice, made of high-fiber coffee flour and bolstered by whole wheat, staying with you all morning when so many flaky pastries will let you down. Seeking a bit of adventure in the everyday? Subtly fruity, nutty, and lightly scented with rich cinnamon, each bite provided a flavorful departure from the typical breakfast baked good.

Prepare to meet your perfect match, at least when it comes to sweet muffin romance.

Coffee Flour Crumb Muffins

2 Cups White Whole Wheat Flour
1 Cup Coffee Flour
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 1/2 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Pitted and Chopped Dates
1/4 Cup Toasted and Chopped Pecans

Crumb Topping:

2 Tablespoons White Whole Wheat Flour
2 Tablespoons Coffee Flour
3 Tablespoons Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Tablespoons Toasted and Chopped Pecans
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1 1/2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease 12 muffin tins.

In a large bowl, sift the white whole wheat flour, coffee flour, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, and salt. Stir to combine and thoroughly distribute all of the dry goods throughout the mixture.

Separately, mix together the non-dairy milk of your choice, brown sugar, vinegar, and oil. Pour the liquids into the bowl of dry ingredients, stirring lightly just to bring the batter together. Add the dates and pecans last, folding them in gently. A few errant lumps in the dough are perfectly fine.

For the crumb topping, simply stir together all of the ingredients with a fork until the mixture clumps together in large pieces, approximately the size of peas.

Distribute the muffin batter between your prepared tins, mounding them generously towards the center. Sprinkle the crumb topping over each one as evenly and equally as possible.

Bake for 20 – 24 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center pulls out clean. Let cool completely before enjoying!

Makes 12 Muffins

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Coffee Flour Brew Haha

Think outside the cup. For every scalding-hot carafe of coffee, how often have you stopped to consider what didn’t make it into that brew? Precious as they are, those beans are but a small part of a bigger plant, celebrated yet simultaneously, curiously ignored. Nutritious, perfect viable fruit is stripped away from these kernels, left to rot in the fields without a second thought. Considering just how much coffee the average office drone will down in a given day, you can only imagine the staggering amount of food going to waste.

Slowly but surely, a steady buzz is growing around turning this by-product into a worthy crop in its own right. Dried and milled, the resulting coffee flour contains only as much caffeine as chocolate (which is negligible at most), but can boast a much more measured energy boost in the form of abundant protein and fiber. Although it’s been an esoteric ingredient on the fringes of mainstream food ways, considering the fact that it’s now available at Trader Joe’s, I have a feeling we’ll be seeing a whole lot more of it from here on out.

Preserving personal health and the environment at large are both admirable goals, clearly within the cross hairs for those singing the praises of this power flour. Whether or not they’re attainable depends entirely upon more hedonistic perspectives: Taste. Leftover husks and skins don’t sound particularly delicious, and the flavor is one you might not expect based on the label. Fruity, floral, with notes of lemon and (of course) cherries, the dark brown powder tastes nothing like a cup of mud. Is that a good thing? A bad thing? Just a thing to consider?

If you ask me, that unique essence just proves how much more the coffee cherry has to offer. Functioning much like cocoa powder in baked goods, it can generally take the place of 30 – 40% of the standard all-purpose flour in a given recipe, or blended into smoothies for a whole new sweet sensation.

Of course, given the comparison to cocoa, I couldn’t resist trying it first in a batch of fudgy, gluten-free brownies.

Held together by the magic of aquafaba and crowned by a perfect crackled crust, these are pretty much my ideal cookie bars. The impulse to add a bit of coffee essence was too strong to deny, but you could just as happily omit the instant coffee powder if you’re not a natural coffee fanatic. Accenting with a pinch of cinnamon, or playing up the subtle citrus notes of the flour with a hint of orange zest, would be equally delightful.

Coffee Flour Brownies

1/2 Cup Vegan Butter, Melted
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/3 Cup Aquafaba
3/4 Cup (4.5 Ounces) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, Divided
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Cup Coffee Flour
1/2 Cup Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder
1 Teaspoon Instant Coffee Powder (Optional)
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Cup Toasted and Chopped Pecans

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8 x 8-inch square pan.

Place the vegan butter, sugar, aquafaba, and 1/4 cup of the chocolate chips in a small saucepan over low heat. Gently warm, stirring constantly, until the chocolate and butter have melted, and the sugar has dissolved. It should be smooth and silky. Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla. Let cool for 10 minutes.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the coffee flour, cocoa powder, instant coffee (if using), salt, baking powder, chopped pecans, and remaining chocolate chips. Toss to combine and thoroughly coat the mix-ins with flour, to prevent them from sinking to the bottom.

Add the liquid chocolate mixture into the bowl of dry goods, mixing with a wide spatula to combine. You needn’t worry about over-mixing here, since it’s completely gluten-free! Make sure there are no pockets of flour or lumps hiding within the batter before transferring it to your prepared pan. Smooth down the top so it’s one even layer.

Bake for 16 – 20 minutes, until the top is dry and shiny. A toothpick inserted into the center should pull out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it; you don’t want it completely clean, or the brownies will end up being dry. Let cool completely before slicing.

Makes 12 – 16 Brownies

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All About That Hass

Morning, noon, or night, avocado toast always hits the spot. Something about the way a luscious, creamy slab of ripe avocado melts into a hot slice of burnished golden toast defies explanation, yielding a taste far greater than the sum of its parts. Dress it up with any variety of spices, seeds, fruits, or vegetables; there’s no way to go wrong with this universal foundation. That said, it’s hard to beat the original and I always crave even more avocado, piling it up as high as gravity will allow.

Seeking a new way to pack in even more of the rich green fruit, I turned to crafting a more perfect base. This bread gets its soft, tender crumb and vibrant hue from a buttery blend of both mashed avocado and avocado oil. It makes for brilliant sandwich bread as well, sliced thin and layered with sweet and savory fillings alike… But of course, I’d always opt to add more avocado whenever possible.

Avocado Bread

1/4 Cup Warm Water (About 100˚F)
1 Teaspoon Light Agave Nectar
1 Packet (2 1/4 Teaspoons) Red Star Active Dry Yeast
2 Large, Ripe Avocados (About 9 Ounces Total)
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1/4 Cup Aquafaba
2 Tablespoons Avocado Oil
1 Teaspoon Salt
3 – 3 1/2 Cups White Whole Wheat Flour

Combine the water and agave in a small bowl before sprinkling the yeast on top. Allow it to sit until the yeast is reactivated and bubbly; about 5 – 10 minutes.

Transfer the yeast picture to the bowl of your stand mixer and add in the flesh of the avocados and apple cider vinegar. Using the paddle attachment, begin to mix on medium-low speed, mashing the avocado until completely smooth. Once homogeneous, introduce the aquafaba, avocado oil, and salt, mixing to incorporate.

Add 3 cups of the flour and begin to mix slowly. Swap out the paddle attachment for the dough hook before adding in the remainder of the flour, if needed, to bring the dough together. Let the machine continue knead the dough for about 10 – 15 minutes on low speed, until the dough forms a smooth, elastic ball. It should be a rather soft dough, so don’t be tempted to add more flour.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and leave at room temperature for about 1 hour or until doubled in volume.

When the dough has risen, preheat your oven to 350˚F. Transfer the dough into a greased 8 ½ x 4 ½-inch baking pan and gently smooth out the top with lightly moistened hands. Let rest once more at room temperature for another 30 minutes.

Bake 40 – 50 minutes, until golden brown all over and irresistibly aromatic. Let the finished loaf rest in the pan for 15 minutes before removing it to cool completely on a wire rack. Slice, savory, and enjoy!

Makes 1 Loaf

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