BitterSweet

Sweet Musings with a Bitterly Sharp Wit


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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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Simmer Down Now

Sweet dreams beget savory cravings. Balancing out long days of baking that spill over into visions of sweets well into my waking hours, the first thing on my mind in the morning is anything but another sugary meal. Spice, zest, acidity; anything to wake up my taste buds without another saccharine treat. Syrup-drenched pancakes still beckon, as does that comforting crunch of frosted cold cereal flakes, but an innate yearning for bolder seasoning pushes me further into the pantry for alternative options.

Bleary-eyed and barely conscious, finding any shortcut for satisfying that gnawing hunger is a merciful windfall. I’m certainly not above lazily throwing a slice of bread under the broiler and calling it a day, but when it takes only a few minutes longer to whip up a truly satisfying, savory meal, why not make something a bit more special? Perusing the usual pantry options after one particularly brutal wake up call, finding a packet of taco simmer sauce was like uncovering the holy grail right in your own backyard.

Recently released by Simply Organic, their ingenious Southwest Taco Simmer Sauce promises warm notes of chili peppers, tangy tomato, rich cumin, and savory oregano, and it doesn’t disappoint. Claiming that it’s best with beef and positioned merely as a taco night aid struck me as rather shortsighted, though. Maybe it was the sleep-deprived delirium that inspired my unconventional #OrganicMoments, but all I could think about was a fresh, spicy take on French Toast.

Thickly sliced country bread takes a dip in a rich bath of coconut milk, infused with this delicately nuanced blend, coming together almost instantly. A crisp sear on the outside locks in a rich, savory custard interior, a perfectly proportional contrast to delight the taste buds. No sugar need apply for this bold new breakfast option. Best of all, such a unique palate of flavors means that it needn’t be confined to the AM hours; ideal for brunch or dinner as well, the concept easily transcends traditional mealtime boundaries.

Toppings are hardly necessary when you start with such a brilliant base, but it’s impossible to resist a few generous slices of luscious avocado, at the very least. Pepitas add a hearty crunch, and the brightness of simple pico de gallo perfects the meal for me, but the sky is truly the limit. Dream up your own #OrganicMoments with a wide range of savory finishes, such as vegan cheese or sour cream, sliced tomatoes, grilled corn, shredded cabbage, or black beans. On the other hand, simply going au naturel and digging right in wouldn’t disappoint.

This post was made possible thanks to sponsorship by Simply Organic.

Savory Tex-Mex French Toast

3/4 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1 Packet Simply Organic Southwest Taco Simmer Sauce
1 Tablespoon Arrowroot
1 Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
4 – 6 (1-Inch Thick) Slices Hearty Country Bread

To Serve:

Sliced Avocado
Pico de Gallo
Toasted Pepitas

In a large, shallow dish, whisk together the coconut milk, simmer sauce, arrowroot, and nutritional yeast. Once smooth, dip the first two slices of bread into the mixture, allowing the pieces to soak for about a minute before flipping them over to the opposite side. You want to saturate the slices without having them disintegrate into the liquid.

Meanwhile, begin heating a large skillet over medium heat. Use nonstick or lightly grease any other material. Once hot, gently place the saturated bread onto the sizzling surface, and let cook, undisturbed, for 3 – 4 minutes. Peek to check on the underside; if it’s nicely golden-brown, go ahead and give it a flip. Cook for another 3 – 4 minutes on the opposite side.

Transfer to a serving plate and top with as many of the suggested garnishes as desired. Repeat with the remaining bread, and enjoy!

Makes 2 – 3 Servings

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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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Plot Twist

It’s one of those days. The sky is still dark when you finally wrestle off the heavy covers and swing your feet out of bed, never seeming to lighten a single shade all day. Rain falls intermittently, just enough to mock any attempt made to leave the house while remaining dry. Strangers hustle by with umbrellas carelessly outstretched, acting more as blunt weapons than shelters from the elements. How many times can you get whacked in the face during a brief 10-minute walk? Oh, let’s keep a tally and find out; it’s easy to lose count while tabulating the results in your head.

You know the script and play your part, muddling through as best you can, but wait- Who’s writing this story anyway? Why should you stick to your lines when a much more satisfying ending could be crafted with a bit of improvisation?

Here’s the plot twist you’ve been craving. Get home, throw off your muddy boots, cozy into a soft sweater, and break out the flour and yeast. There’s no antidote to those days, but there is a salve, and it comes in the form of baking bread. Something about the kneading of dough is indescribably cathartic, while the warmth of the oven can melt the iciest of hearts. Merely the smell of fresh dough transforming into golden brown loaves has a wholly restorative quality, even before taking a single bite.

Savory herbs mingle with roasted garlic in a rich, aromatic filling woven through every layer of soft, tender dough. You might think that they’re fussy, or too fancy to serve as an everyday loaf, but it takes no more work than the average bread. Treat yourself to something a bit more special than the standard; take back control and write your own story.

World Bread Day 2016 (October 16)

 

These two loaves are my ninth annual contribution to World Bread Day, and second submission to the baking contest mixed up by Simply Organic and Go Dairy Free. Should you find yourself in a baking rut and need new material to revise your personal script, just hit these links for ample inspiration, both sweet and savory.

Twisted Garlic and Herb Bread

Dough:

1 Package (2 1/4 Teaspoons) Active Dry Yeast
1 Tablespoon Light Agave Nectar
1 3/4 Cups Warm Water
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Salt
2 Cups Whole Wheat Flour
3 – 3 1/2 Cups Bread Flour

Garlic and Herb Schmear:

2 Heads Garlic, Roasted
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Pumpkin Puree
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Nutritional Yeast
2 Tablespoons Simply Organic Dried Parsley
2 Teaspoons Simply Organic Dried Rosemary
2 Teaspoons Simply Organic Dried Thyme
1 Teaspoon Simply Organic Dried Oregano
1 Teaspoon Simply Organic Ground Black Pepper

In a large bowl, combine the yeast, agave, and warm water. Let stand until the yeast reactivates and surface of the liquid becomes bubbly; about 5 minutes. Stir in the oil, salt whole wheat flour, and 2 cups of the bread flour, mixing with a sturdy wooden spoon or the dough hook attachment of your stand mixer.

Once the initial addition of dry goods has been completely incorporated, add the remaining cup of bread flour. Slowly knead by hand or machine for 10 – 15 minutes until the dough is smooth, supple, and elastic. If it still seems very wet, add up to 1/2 cup additional bread flour.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel.
Let rest at room temperature until the dough has doubled in size; about 1 – 1 1/2 hours, depending on your local climate.

Meanwhile, prepare the garlic and herb schmear by first squeezing the cloves of roasted garlic out of their skins. Place them in a small bowl and roughly mash with the salt. Let the mixture remain somewhat chunky, but smooth enough to spread without too much difficulty. Add in all of the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly to combine. Set aside.

After the dough has properly risen, punch it down and divide it into 4 equal pieces. Take one at a time and on a lightly floured surface, press it into a rough rectangular shape. Use a rolling pin to further smooth it out, until it measure approximately 15 – 16 inches long (the exact width isn’t critical.) Cover the surface evenly with 1/4 of the garlic and herb schmear, and roll the dough up in a tight cylinder exactly the same way you would for cinnamon buns. Repeat this process with the remaining dough and schmear.

Now that you have your 4 filled rolls of dough, focus your attention at two at a time, to form each loaf. With the seam-sides down, use a very sharp knife to slice right down the center of each roll, but NOT all the way through. You want to reveal the layers within, but not cut the dough entirely in half. Press the tops of the two split rolls together to adhere, and very gently twist the pieces together, keeping the cut sides facing up. When you reach the end, press the bottoms together to seal, and curl both ends under to keep the pieces from separating in the baking process. Very carefully move the twisted loaf over to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and allow the loaves to rise once more, until not quite doubled in size. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes until golden brown and utterly aromatic. The tempting smells will make it very difficult to wait, but allow the bread to cool completely before slicing and serving.

Makes 2 Loaves

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Toast of the Town

Living in the land of the original $4 toast, it’s easy to become jaded about the countless open-faced sandwiches now infiltrating menus across the country. In fact, looking back at this story now, $4 seems like a remarkable bargain. It’s not uncommon to see a single slice of crusty bread command $6, $7, or even as much as $12 dollars if topped with half an avocado and paired with a frilly salad. Strange but true, the toast trend appears to be here to stay, and is only inflating alongside the inscrutable local economy.

Friends, it’s time to take toast back. I don’t mean that we should all be making Instagram-worthy edible artworks on thickly sliced, grainy artisan loaves, but that we should be able to take some average sandwich bread, throw it in a toaster, and spread something delicious on it. Is that so much to ask? I think that a lot gets lost in translation when it comes to the endless array of topping options, at least when ordering toast at a restaurant. When it arrives at the table with over an inch of spreads, vegetables, fruits, and nuts, it’s a wholly delicious creation, but don’t call it toast; you’ve gone well beyond those boundaries and into the terrain of tartines.

Getting back to home toast, all that really matters is starting out with decent bread and slathering on a quality topping. Pick out a sweet option and you could be looking at breakfast, snack, or dessert; talk about getting a real bang for your buck. Nocciolata Dairy Free will instantly cure even the most severe chocolate craving. A flawless dupe for the beloved chocolate-hazelnut spread known as Nutella, it’s sticky yet silky smooth, and honestly sweet enough to pass for frosting. It feels outrageously indulgent to pass for a morning meal, and yet somehow easy enough to rationalize as a healthy choice, thanks to all those wholesome hazelnuts packed into each jar. Don’t question that logic; just slather it on thick, and if anything, top only with a pinch of coarse salt for maximum enjoyment.

Plain nut butters naturally make for a more neutral base, but that doesn’t mean they should lack flavor. Vivapura’s raw pecan butter is a shining example of a superlative spread, positively radiating nutty aroma upon opening the jar. It’s hard to believe that something so luscious could be just so simple, containing only nuts and salt. Almond butter may be having a moment, but pecans have all that richness, and then some.

Many have decried the toast trend, pointing out blatant price gouging as if that wasn’t the case for every other dish on offer, but that’s not my MO. I just think we should start taking toast back; back into our own kitchens, and back to its more humble roots.


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Grow, Grow, Grow Your Boat

If you’re growing zucchini in your backyard garden, or if any neighbors within a 10 mile radius are, there’s a good chance that you’re up to your ears in green squash by now. Even weeds aren’t as vigorous in most cases, crowded out by masses of tangled vines heavy with fruit and flowers. Although impressively versatile, swapping loyalties from sweet to savory associations at the drop of the hat, playing the backup or the lead singer with equal grace, there comes a point when it’s hard to contemplate another plate of the stuff. I’ve seen a particularly prolific garden down the street where zucchini line the porch, free for the taking. One of them has grown so large that it now sits regally in the deck chair, presiding over the others like a monarch, complete with a rather handsome straw hat atop its crown.

When faced with such zucchini abundance, my default answer is to bust out the trusty old spiralizer. No cooking, no muss, no fuss, and you’ve got a pile of crisp green noodles to dress up or down as you please. That’s all well and good for the average sized squash, but once you get a full pound of flesh in every squash, even the spiralizer can’t save you anymore.

Zucchini bread is a classic approach to tackling this kind of glut, but for these extenuating circumstances, it still isn’t enough. No, this calls for a full-frontal zucchini exposé, not just a handful of shreds hidden within a loaf of quick bread. Drawing inspiration from the ever-popular concept of stuffed zucchini instead, all it takes is a few simple ingredient swaps, and you’ve got a bona fide, zuchini-fied dessert worthy of any summer’s harvest.

Hollowed out and refilled with a luscious mixture of spiced bread pudding, those once unlovable giant Italian squash will finally get the praise they’re due. Never again turn away those extra-large options, claiming their interiors to be “too seedy” to be any good- A familiar refrain that I’ll admit I’m guilty of saying as well. Like any bread pudding worth its salt (or sugar, as it were) the add-ins are entirely flexible based on personal preferences. Go crazy with your favorite nut, try out different dried fruits, or go ahead, double down on the chocolate chips and indulge your inner chocoholic.

Though they don’t make for great eating in this application, there’s still no reason to toss the zucchini innards! Try chopping them up and simmer them in marinara sauce or blend them into just about any soup, for starters. You’re only limited by what your garden can produce, and if your situation is looking anything like mine, there will be quite a bit more zucchini still to come, ripe for experimentation.

Zucchini Bread Pudding Boats

2 Large Zucchini (About 1 Pound Each)
1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1/3 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 1/2 Tablespoons Cornstarch, Divided
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
2 Tablespoons Vegan Butter or Coconut Oil, Melted
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
3 Ounces Sourdough or French Bread, Cut into 1/4-Inch Cubes (About 1 1/2 Cups)
1/2 Cup Raisins or Chocolate Chips
1/4 Cup Toasted Pecans, Chopped

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper or a silpat.

Slice the zucchini in half lengthwise and scoop out the seedy interiors, leaving 1/2 – 3/4 centimeter around the border to support the boat. A thin spoon should do the trick just fine, but if you’re having trouble, try an ice cream scoop instead. Place the zucchini with the cut sides up on your prepared baking sheet and set aside.

In a medium saucepan over moderate heat, whisk together the non-dairy milk, brown sugar, 1/2 tablespoon of the cornstarch, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Bring the mixture up to a boil, stirring frequently. Add in the vegan butter or coconut oil along with the vanilla, mix to incorporate and turn off the heat. Let cool for 10 minutes before proceeding.

In a large bowl, toss together the bread, raisins and/or chocolate chips, and nuts with the remaining tablespoon of cornstarch. Once thoroughly coated, pour in the liquid ingredients and stir thoroughly to combine. Spoon the bread pudding mixture into your waiting zucchini boats, dividing it equally between the four halves. Don’t be afraid to mound it up in the centers!

Bake for 40 – 50 minutes, until the bread is golden brown and the zucchini is fork-tender. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 4 Servings

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Brazilian Bread Blowout

So a vegan walks into a Brazilian steakhouse…

Reality is stranger than fiction, and while that may sound like the opening line of a terrible joke, that is exactly what happened on a recent afternoon exploit in the city. Why, in a veritable vegan wonderland, would I willingly chose a venue best known for slinging skewered meats like a relentless barrage, bearing glistening swords of the stuff right at your table, no less? Three simple words, my friends: Free salad bar. There is such a thing as a free lunch, at least when it’s your birthday and you’re gifted with a voucher that would cover the cost of the lavish “market table,” a bottomless buffet piled high with a wealth of naturally plant-based options. Luxurious platters of naked hearts of palm, fat spears of asparagus, whole cloves of caramelized garlic, roasted red beets, and yes, even verdant kale salad all beckon atop a platform of glistening crushed ice. It’s a veggie-lovers heaven; a miraculous vegan oasis amid a desert of meat. Thus, for the grand total of $0 (plus a generous and well-deserved tip,) I shamelessly piled my plate high, going back for round after round until I swore I would need to be rolled all the way back home.

To their credit, the servers all took my curious requests in stride, even when I turned down the buttery mashed potatoes, crispy, cheese-encrusted polenta fries, and complimentary birthday dessert. “But it’s included as part of the experience!” they cried, falteringly but graciously returning the untouched bounty to the kitchen whence it came. Only when one carefully folded napkin briefly fell away to reveal a bundle of mysterious little rolls, more like puff pastry than bread, did I feel the smallest pang of regret. Pão de queijo, an entirely unique baked good never before seen through my travels or tastings, suddenly dominated my imagination. Made of either yucca or tapioca flour, the texture is dense and chewy, much like baked mochi with a savory slant. Of course, the little gut bombs positively shimmer with the rich dairy components that make up the bulk of each bite.

That is, of course, until you take matters into your own hands. By no means traditional or remotely “authentic,” my take on the celebrated Brazilian cheese bread is a quick and dirty version that requires none of the typical kneading, rising, or general fussing associated with making bread. If you’ve got a blender and 30 minutes to spare, you’re in business.

Break through that crisp, golden exterior and plunge yourself head-first into an intensely buttery morsel of bread, the likes of which no average dinner roll can compare. Part of its appeal is its simplicity; the flavor is simple and savory, bold but agreeable, easily paired with any other main or side dish on the table. Though unremarkable at first glance, these treats are big winners once you get to know them.

They may not come with the full steakhouse experience, but once you can pop one of these warm, cheesy morsels into your mouth any time a craving strikes, well… You really aren’t missing anything at all.

Brazilian Cheese Bread (Pão de Queijo)

1/4 Cup Aquafaba (Chickpea Brine)
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
3 Tablespoons Vegan Butter, Melted
2/3 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Teaspoon White Vinegar
1 1/2 Cups Tapioca Flour
1 Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
2 Teaspoons Confectioner’s Sugar
1 Teaspoons Baking Powder
6 Ounces Vegan Mozzarella-Style Cheese
1 Teaspoon Salt

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease two mini muffin pans.

Simply place all of the ingredients into a blender and pulse until smooth. You don’t need to worry about over-mixing the dough, since there’s no gluten to work up here. Pause as needed to scrape down the sides of the blender to ensure that everything is thoroughly incorporated.

Once completely smooth, pour the batter into your prepared mini muffin pans so that they’re filled 3/4 of the way to the top. Bake for 16-20 minutes, until puffy and evenly browned all over. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack for a few minutes. Don’t be alarmed if some of them fall in the center as they cool.

Serve right away and eat while still warm.

Makes 2 – 2 1/2 Dozen Rolls

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