Bread

Year Round Recipes: Russian Black Rye Bread

While I’m not a particularly avid sports fan, I’ve always held a certain fascination for the Olympic games, as they stand as a multicultural link between our modern world and the games’ mythical origins over 2700 years ago. And what I love the most about our modern Olympic ritual is the transportation of the games to a different country for each biannual incarnation. As the spotlight of the games moves across the globe, we are allowed a unique opportunity to stop, examine, and celebrate the culture and history of countries outside of our own. With the games being in Russia this year, I have been relishing the chance to take a moment and discover for myself the cultural heritage of this year’s Olympic hosts. Because of my fascination with culinary history, I have been particularly excited to try out some of Russia’s traditional cuisine, especially since my knowledge of Russian delicacies really begins and ends with caviar and vodka. Today, then, I thought we’d dig right into the heart of Russia’s rich culinary past with a culinary form that embodies the stark duality of historic Russia: suffering and triumph.

Deep, dark, and dense: Russian Black Rye Bread is as functional as it is flavorful!

Deep, dark, and dense: Russian Black Bread is as functional as it is flavorful!

Just like any other ancient civilization, Russia’s food history seems to begin with the humble loaf of bread. However, what makes Russia’s bready origins unique is the rye grain native to eastern Europe which has allowed the Russian people to triumph over the adversity of their country’s climate. Producing a denser, darker, more flavorful and healthful loaf than traditional wheat grains, rye bread (also known as “black bread” due its dark brown color) allowed the Russian people to avoid starvation in the harsher periods of their tumultuous history. As the rye bread has followed the Russian people into modernity, it has grown to represent the overcoming of incredible difficulty, and the prosperity that can be found after hardship. So, while our cultural eye is fixed on Russia for the Olympic games, let’s take a moment to break the bread that has allowed the Russian culture to flourish into the modern age!

Russian Black Rye Bread Recipe

7. Place the dough on a floured surface and knead for 3 - 5 minutes. Keep adding rye flour if the dough is too sticky to work with

The key to perfect Russian black bread lies in hearty, dark rye flour

Ingredients

  • 1 1/ cups warm water (100 – 110 F / 37 – 43 C)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 2 Tablespoons molasses
  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 1 1/2 – 2 1/2 cups rye flour
  • 3 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder [This is a modern addition to the recipe to deepen the color of the bread, and is completely optional]
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons caraway seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 2 Tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Directions

  1. Mix the molasses and yeast into the warm water, and let the yeast proof for 10 minutes, or until the top of the liquid becomes foamy. Set aside.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the bread flour and 1 1/2 cups of the rye flour. Stir in the [optional] cocoa powder, brown sugar, salt, caraway seed, and fennel seed.
  3. Pour the yeast mixture, melted butter, and apple cider vinegar into the large mixing bowl and stir until the ingredients combine to form a rough dough.
  4. Place the dough on a floured surface and knead for 3 – 5 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. If your dough is wet and difficult to work with, knead in additional rye flour in 1/2 cup increments until the dough is only lightly sticky.
  5. Transfer the kneaded dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a clean cloth, place in a warm spot, and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
  6. After the dough has risen, punch it down and divide into two equal pieces. Roll the pieces into loaf shapes, and place each in a 9 x 5 inch, greased loaf pan. Cover the pans with a clean, floured cloth and let rise again for 30 minutes.
  7. Cook the loaves in a 400 F / 200 C oven for 25 – 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the bread reaches an internal temperature of between 180 – 190 F /82 – 87 C.
  8. Remove the finished loaves from the pans and let cool completely on a wire rack.
  9. Slice, toast, and enjoy this piece of Russian history with a healthy topping of butter and caviar, a nice sharp cheese, or your favorite sandwich toppings!

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As always, thanks for stopping by for this week’s recipe! I hope to see you again on Sunday for another taste of cultural cuisine!

Keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Bread, Cooking, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Year Round Recipes: English Muffins

If you stopped by earlier this week, you may have seen that I’ve had to adjust my weekly posting schedule due to my new work schedule. Wrapped up in this time change has been the rather sudden (and not entirely welcomed) need to wake up around 3:00 a.m. each morning to get ready for work (a complete reverse from my previous routine of working at 3:00 p.m.). So, in order to survive the eternal darkness of the early morn, I’ve found myself in dire need of a substantial, yet quick breakfast staple to really get me going. After suffering through a week of instant oatmeal (a far, unsatisfying cry from the hearty baked oatmeal I’d relied on in the past), I knew this next week had to improve. To remedy my dismal breakfast dilemma, I decided to try my hand at making one of my absolute favorite breakfast foods: the English muffin (or “toaster crumpet”)! With its origins stretching all the way back to the original Anglo-Saxons (inventors of the true crumpet – essentially an English muffin with the nooks and crannies on the outside), the modernized English muffin has long proven its worth as a staple at the breakfast table. And, with its soul- (and appetite-) satisfying nooks and crannies making perfect wells for everyone’s favorite spread, butter, or jam, the English muffin is a wonderfully universal answer to the eternal question: “What’s for breakfast?”

English Muffin Recipe

A hearty, heart-warming batch of English muffins almost ready to enjoy!

A hearty, heart-warming batch of English muffins almost ready to enjoy!

Makes 8 – 10 muffins

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup warm water (100 – 110 F / 37 – 43 C)
  • 3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup milk (I used soy)
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons butter (vegan substitute works perfectly, too!)
  • 2 Tablespoons honey
  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Corn meal

Directions

  1. In a small container, combine the warm water and yeast; let sit for 10 minutes until the water is cloudy and the yeast has started to foam.
  2. Over medium-low heat, combine the milk, butter, and honey in a small saucepan and cook until the butter has melted. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool for 2 – 3 minutes.
  3. Measure 1 1/2 cups of flour into a medium sized bowl and set aside.
  4. Gently stir the yeast mixture into the saucepan, and pour the combined ingredients into the flour. Stir until combined.
  5. Add the remaining 1 cup of flour and the salt to the bowl and stir to form a rough dough. Place the dough on a floured surface and knead for 3 – 5 minutes, or until the dough is springy and lightly sticky (you may need to add some additional flour to eliminate excessive stickiness). Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.
  6. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and dust with corn meal. Set aside.
  7. Flatten your rested dough to a thickness of about 1/2 inch / 1.5 centimeters. Using a biscuit cutter, round cookie cutter, or round implement of your choice (I used a mug), cut out your muffins and transfer them to the prepared baking sheet. Reroll the scraps and continue cutting out as many muffins as possible.
  8. Sprinkle corn meal over the tops of the muffins, cover with a clean towel, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
  9. When your muffins have risen, heat a heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Dust any excess corn meal off of your muffins, and gently transfer them to the hot skillet (allow enough space in the pan so that the muffins aren’t touching). Cook for 8 – 10 minutes, or until the bottoms are well browned. Flip and cook for another 8 minutes. Transfer muffins to a wire rack to cool.
  10. Slice, toast, and enjoy with your favorite spread!

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As always, thanks for stopping by!

Keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Bread, Breakfast, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Year Round Recipes: Sugar and Spice Pull-Apart Bread

With February and Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I was hoping to attempt a dessert this weekend that, for me at least, represents some of the history of the holiday’s founder, Saint Valentine. Unfortunately though, this recipe (which I will hopefully attempt next weekend) required the use of a friend’s typically outdoor deep fryer. And, with several inches of snow allegedly in the forecast (as of this afternoon, the forecast seems woefully incorrect), said deep fryer would have to wait until the skies cleared. So, using what I had on hand, I thought I’d share one of my favorite styles of yeasted dessert in the meantime: pull-apart bread!

Intricately simple, and incredibly delicious!

Intricately simple, and incredibly delicious!

Hailing back to at least the 1940’s, the pull-apart bread is a fun, easy-to-make dessert that can be adapted to any season or taste. Adding a little pumpkin puree to the batter can transform this year round recipe into an autumnal classic, or even throwing a few sliced peaches or strawberries into the mix could suit the lighter, sweeter tastes of summer! However, for beating back the dreary January forecast, I prefer to stick with a classic sugar and spice variation. Typically, my spice of choice would be tried and true cinnamon, but with some mixed spice leftover from our hot cross bun excavation (you can find the recipe for the buns and the mixed spice here: Hot Cross Buns), I couldn’t pass up the chance to experiment with a spicier-than-usual loaf of pull-apart bread!

Sugar and Spice Pull-Apart Bread

 

The groundwork for a tasty loaf of spiced sweetness

The groundwork for a tasty loaf of spiced sweetness

Ingredients for the Bread:

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup milk (I used soy)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/4 teaspoon (one packet) active dry yeast
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup plus 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs

Ingredients for the Sugar and Spice Topping

  • 3 Tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons mixed spice

Directions

  1. Place the butter and milk into a small saucepan, and cook over medium-low heat until the butter melts. When the butter has melted, remove the pan from heat, stir in the water and vanilla extract, and let cool until between 100 – 110 degrees F / 37 – 43 C. Stir in the yeast and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and let proof for 10 minutes, or until the yeast is light and foamy.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together 2 1/4 cups of flour, remaining sugar, and salt.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk the 2 eggs and set aside.
  4. Pour yeast mixture into the flour and stir until combined. Mix in the whisked eggs until a rough dough is formed. Knead in the last 3/4 cup of flour, turn dough onto a floured surface, and knead for 5 minutes, or until the dough is elastic and only slightly sticky (you may need to add some extra flour to cut down on the potential stickiness of the dough).
  5. Place your kneaded dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a clean towel, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until the dough has doubled in volume.
  6. Meanwhile, whisk together the sugar and spices in a small bowl and set aside.
  7. When your dough has risen, return it to a floured surface and roll it into a roughly 12 x 20 inch (30 x 50 cm) rectangle. Brush the dough with the melted butter and coat completely with the sugar and spice mixture.
  8. Slice the dough into 6 equal vertical strips (see pictures below for a visual guide). Stack the strips on top of each other and slice into 6 equal stacks of square pieces. Layer the dough squares in a 9 x 5 greased, floured loaf pan. Cover the pan with a clean towel and let rest and expand for 30 – 45 minutes.
  9. Preheat your oven to 350 F / 175 C. Bake your pull-apart loaf in the oven for 30 – 35 minutes, or until deeply golden brown (if you remove the loaf when it’s only light brown, the body of the bread will most likely still be undercooked).
  10. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 10 – 15 minutes. Turn onto a wire rack to continue cooling completely.
  11. Enjoy a warm, spicy piece of pull-apart bread!

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As always, thanks for stopping by for this weekend’s recipe!

Keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Bread, Dessert, Odds and Ends, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Year Round Recipes: Brioche

Since the invention of cooking, an invisible, yet incredibly impactful war has been fought over the nature of the craft. And, whether you realize it or not, you’ve probably already taken a side in this particular culinary skirmish. I speak, of course, of the veritable tug-of-war that exists between the scientific and artistic viewpoints that so many of us take when regarding the preparation of our meals. In the scientific camp (the faction I once fought valiantly to defend), strict classifications, exact measures, and precise cooking times decide the quality of a recipe. For the artistic gourmands, seasoning by taste, not measurement; cooking until “it looks right;” and creative deviation from the cookbook are strong influences in the baking process. Since I’ve recently been relying on older recipes that hail from a time before standardized measurements (e.g. where the directive “add nutmeg, but not too much” is not uncommon), I’ve reluctantly pulled myself away from the scientific mentality and have begun artistically experimenting with my cooking. And, while this has resulted in mixed levels of success, I thought I’d take the time to celebrate the best of both camps with this week’s international bread recipe!

The art of brioche

The art of brioche

Hailing from the Norman civilization in the 15th century, brioche has spent much of its 600 year lifespan torn between science and art. Being a proudly French creation, a land which has long prized the exactness of its world-altering cuisine, brioche was born and raised in the scientific method. As France and brioche evolved, and the appreciation for butter grew, marketplace bakers gradually perfected their flour-to-butter ratios to fit their shoppers’ exact expectations. For the wealthy, flour and butter were measured at a 3:2 ratio, and for the average eater, a 4:1 ratio was implemented (For the curious, that measures out to between 1/2 – 3 pounds of butter per batch of brioche!). However, after the mathematics of brioche were complete, the artistry of the piece began to shine. Because of its leavening and lack of sugar, brioche appears to be a typical variant on bread; however, the high butter content, flakiness, and density pushes brioche towards pastry. Landing in the murky middle ground of the viennoiserie (a scientific classification for leavened baked goods that are nigh-impossible to classify) the creative decision of what to do with a brioche loaf is left up to the consumer. Because of its undefinable propensities, the brioche makes a beautifully rich canvas for the most artistic of eaters. A perfect companion to both to sweet preserves and savory spreads, brioche brings something to the table for everyone to enjoy!

For our recipe today, you’ll find a few modifications for the modern kitchen (mainly, we won’t be using pounds of butter). But, you should note that the process for making brioche still follows the recipes of old, meaning that the process is not complex, but it does take time. Brioche must sit overnight to be workable, so keep this in mind before you bake a loaf or two! Now, with our caveats out of the way, let’s dig in!

Brioche Loaf Recipe

Makes 1 9×5 inch loaf

Flaky, rich, and simply perfect for the scientific artist in all of us!

Flaky, rich, and simply perfect for the scientific artist in all of us!

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast (about half of one packet)
  • 1/4 cup warm water (100 F / 37 C)
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs and 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup softened butter
  • 1 teaspoon cold water

Directions

  1. In a small container, combine the yeast and warm water and let proof for 10 minutes, or until the yeast begins looking foamy.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in the yeast mixture and two whole eggs. Stir to form a rough dough.
  3. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 – 10 minutes.
  4. Flatten the dough and spread one third of the softened butter over the dough. Fold the dough and knead thoroughly for 2-3 minutes to fully incorporate the butter (this step will be messy, but so very worth it!). Let the dough rest for 5 – 7 minutes, and then repeat this process two more times to knead in all of the butter.
  5. Place the completed dough in a greased bowl, and roll the dough to coat it in oil. Cover with plastic wrap to hold in the dough’s moisture, and place in a warm location for 1 hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.
  6. Punch down the risen dough, cover again with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight, or for at least 6 hours.
  7. After chilling overnight, turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 2-3 minutes to warm the dough slightly. Form the dough into a loaf and place in a greased 9×5 bread pan. Cover with greased plastic wrap, place in a warm spot, and let rise for 1 more hour.
  8. While your brioche is rising, preheat your oven to 400 F / 205 C. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and cold water to make an egg wash. Set aside.
  9. After the dough has risen in the pan, brush liberally with the egg wash and bake in your preheated oven for 25 minutes, or until the dough takes on a deep golden color.
  10. Once the brioche is finished cooking, remove from the oven and leave in the pan for 10 minutes to cool. Transfer the loaf to a wire rack and let cool completely before serving.
  11. Enjoy the buttery perfection that is brioche: an exquisite blend of history, science, and art!

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Keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Bread, Cooking, Dessert, History, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Year Round Recipes: Flour Tortillas

With what is being called an “arctic hurricane” currently dropping our temperatures to around -20 F (-29 C) today, I wasn’t feeling too inclined to go grocery shopping, despite the larders being quite lacking in recipe-making essentials. So, scrapping my original plans for this week, I, with a veritable forager’s mentality, took to the cupboards to uncover what ingredients might still remain. Amidst the remnants of near-empty butter containers, dwindling yeast stores, and a less-than-impressive cache of dried fruit, I did find a long forgotten stick of vegetable shortening, a sack of unbleached flour, and a fresh can of baking powder, that modern yeast-replacer. With these spare, yet limitless, ingredients in hand, and hungry for something warm and filling, I grabbed a skillet to try my hand at an ancient North American staple: tortillas!

Stemming from the great agricultural revolution of 15,000 – 10,000 BCE, corn tortillas are the product of North American mankind’s first attempts at true cooking. Before the power of yeast could be harnessed, flatbreads like tortillas ruled the agrarian diet. Now, because of our own cultural shifts, many of us in the United States have replaced corn/maize flour with wheat flour, a possibility first introduced by the Spanish colonizers in the 16th century. So today, we’ll be looking at how to make flour tortillas, instead of the traditional corn. Another modern adjustment to the traditional tortilla recipe that I was forced to make today involves the use of vegetable shortening. In a traditional tortilla, lard would be the ingredient of choice, but, with lard being an ingredient I don’t typically stock in my kitchen, I was forced to switch to shortening. Because I’m not a tortilla purist, I feel perfectly fine advising you to use whatever lard-replacement you have on hand (even butter could work in a pinch)!

Flour Tortillas Recipe

 

A dozen delicious tortillas, just waiting to be rolled!

A dozen delicious tortillas, just waiting to be rolled!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (or white whole wheat)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon lard/shortening
  • 3/4 cup water

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  2. Using your hands, mix the lard/ shortening into the flour mixture until evenly distributed (keep mixing until no large chunks remain).
  3. Stir the water into the flour until it forms a sticky dough. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and need for 2-4 minutes, or until the dough is smooth, springy, and only slightly sticky.
  4. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and roll each piece into a ball. Using a floured rolling pin, flatten each ball as thinly as possible.
  5. Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat, and cook each tortilla until the underside is crisp and bubbly, flip over and continue cooking until crisp.
  6. Place your finished tortillas in a clean, warm dishtowel, or in a tortilla warmer, to hold until the entire batch is finished cooking.
  7. Serve hot or cool with any toppings you have on hand! These tortillas are wonderful for tacos, beans, or quesadillas, and can be used for sweeter recipes as well (I’m currently enjoying them topped with cinnamon sugar)!

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As always, thanks for stopping by! Be sure to stop by next Tuesday for another international bread recipe that’s perfect in any kitchen!

Stay warm and keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Bread, Cooking, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Winter Recipes: Amish Poppy Seed Bread

A Slice of Pennsylvanian Friendship

Besides providing the world with Hershey’s chocolate, central Pennsylvania is probably best known for being the home of the largest Amish population, colloquially known as “Amish Country.” At the heart of the Amish belief system, which dates back to the teachings of Jacob Amman in 1693, there exists a strong focus on family and community. And from this emphasis arose the culinary tradition of “friendship bread” that still continues today. Similar to traditional sourdough bread recipes, friendship bread begins as a bread starter, a mixture of yeast, sugar, flour, and water that is periodically “fed” to increase in size. When a friendship bread starter is big enough, it is typically separated into three portions, one for use in the household, one to store for the next week, and one to pass onto a friend or neighbor who will subsequently multiply their portion to pass to another member of the community.

In the non-Amish world, however, it is, unfortunately, quite difficult to find a community of friends and neighbors who want to continually make a loaf of bread every week. For that reason, the winter recipe we’re digging up today is not a true friendship bread, as it uses baking powder in place of the yeast starter. However, this recipe was passed on to us from an ex-Amish friend of our family, so, in true friendship bread spirit, I thought it only right to pass it along to all of you! What makes this recipe perfect for the Christmas season, is that it makes perfectly gift-able loaves that can be shared just like traditional friendship bread.

Amish Poppy Seed Bread

Poppy seed bread: a slice of central Pennsylvania's culinary history!

Poppy seed bread: a slice of central Pennsylvania’s culinary history!

Ingredients for Bread

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups oil (straight olive oil works well)
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons butter extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons poppy seeds

Ingredients for Glaze

  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon butter extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 F / 175 C.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, beat together the 3 eggs, sugar, oil, milk, vanilla, butter, and almond extracts. Stir in the poppy seeds until evenly distributed.
  4. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix until blended.
  5. Spray mini bread pans with olive oil or non-stick cooking spray. Pour batter into the pans until 3/4 full. Run a knife through each loaf to release any bubbles.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the loaves have risen and are golden brown.
  7. While the loaves are baking, mix together the orange juice, sugar, and extracts for the glaze.
  8. Immediately after you remove the finished loaves from the oven, pour glaze over the top of each loaf. Let cool for fifteen minutes, loosen loaves from the pan, and remove each loaf to cool completely.
  9. Enjoy a loaf with a mug of hot cider, or pass one along in the spirit of Amish friendship!

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As always, thanks for stopping by the dig! I truly hope you get a chance to try out this delicious piece of Pennsylvania food history!

Happy holidays, and keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Bread, History, Pennsylvanian Recipes, Winter Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Winter Recipes: Braided Spinach and Ricotta Bread

The Traditional, Twisting Challah

The Traditional, Twisting Challah

When this tumultuous week first began, I had high hopes of baking a traditional challah bread in recognition of this being the week of Chanukah. However, upon an initially innocuous run to the store for some last minute baking supplies, I had a rather unfortunate (but thankfully painless) run in with a hit-and-run driver. So, with my trip to the store rather forcefully postponed, I’ve finally been able to get back into the kitchen! Now, with the holiday week ending tomorrow, I made a last minute decision to try a wonderfully braided bread recipe that’s inspired by challah, but, after reading up on this ancient loaf, most certainly can not claim to be challah bread. However, keep an eye out for my (most likely woeful) attempt at weaving challah bread in the Spring, nearer to the time of Purim, a celebration that’s main focus is freedom and feasting: two things that are truly near to my heart!

Without further ado, let’s dive back into breakfast with a loaf of braided spinach and ricotta bread!

Braided Spinach and Ricotta Bread Recipe

 

Challah-inspired, braided bread that's bursting with seasonal flavor!

Challah-inspired, braided bread that’s bursting with seasonal flavor!

Ingredients for Filling:

  • 10 ounces of cooked, drained spinach
  • 3/4 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 Tablespoon dried basil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Ingredients for Dough:

  • 2 eggs (save one for an egg wash)
  • 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup warm water (between 100 – 110 F / 37 – 43 C)
  • 1 cup all purpose flour (or white whole wheat)
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast (about half of one packet)
  • Sesame seeds to garnish

Directions:

  1. In an empty frying pan/skillet, toast the 1/4 cup of pine nuts over medium high heat. Toss or stir the nuts every 30 seconds for 3 – 5 minutes, or until the nuts start turning brown and smell toasted. Place toasted pine nuts in a bowl to completely remove them from the heat.
  2. Drain your spinach as much as possible and place in a medium bowl. Add the oregano, thyme, basil, garlic, pine nuts, cheese, and flour to the spinach. Stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover your bowl and refrigerate until needed.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together 1 egg, sugar, oil, salt, and warm water.
  4. In a medium bowl, mix together the flours and the yeast. Pour the egg mixture into the dry ingredients, and mix to form a rough dough.
  5. Place dough on a lightly floured surface and knead until springy, or about five minutes.
  6. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and roll to coat. Cover with a clean towel, place in a warm place, and let rise for 1 hour.
  7. Preheat your oven to 350 F / 175 C, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  8. Transfer your risen dough to the baking sheet, and stretch it diagonally into an oval that reaches both corners of the sheet and is around 6-8 inches wide (see pictures below).
  9. Place your filling in the center of the dough, and shape it into a column that is no more than 2 inches wide and leaves about 1 inch of room at the top and bottom.
  10. Starting at the top, cut uniform strips into the sides of the dough on the diagonal (about 1 inch wide). Fold the top of the dough over the filling.
  11. To braid your bread: fold one strip over the filling, and then overlap with a strip on the other side; repeat until you reach the end of your bread. Before overlapping the final strips, fold the bottom flap of the bread up over the filling, and then cover with the remaining strips.
  12. Beat your remaining egg in a small bowl, and brush the top of the bread with the egg wash. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, and bake in your preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until golden brown.
  13. Enjoy a warm slice of beautiful, braided bread, bursting with flavors of the season!

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As always, thanks for stopping by for this week’s (delayed) breakfast recipe! Be sure to stop in this Saturday for a bubbly remedy for all that ails ye!

Keep digging!
~Nate

 

Categories: Autumn Recipes, Baking, Bread, Breakfast, Winter Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Autumn Recipes: Cinnamon Swirl Raisin Bread

The Source of Cinnamon

The Source of Cinnamon

The Source of Cinnamon

With cinnamon always at the ready in our modern kitchens for spicing up coffees, teas, breads, cakes, candies, and potpourris, it’s almost impossible to imagine a world where this commonplace commodity was simply untasted and untouched by the common people. However, in the ancient world (at least 3,000 years ago), cinnamon was only known to grow on the small island nation of Sri Lanka (located off the coast of India). Cinnamon’s isolation in the times before globalized trade caused the price of 12 ounces of cinnamon (current market price: ~$10 USD) to be sold for over five kilograms of silver (current market price: ~$3,370 USD). With such a high price point, the use of cinnamon was limited to a very niche market: Gods and kings.  Cinnamon became prized for its use in religious ceremonies (most notably in Egyptian embalming and mummification rituals and in the Jewish practice of anointing priests with spiced oil and offering consecrated spice mixtures in the Tabernacle).

By the time of the ancient Romans (according to a document from 301 CE), the cost of cinnamon began to fall, now costing only 125 denarii per pound, or roughly the amount made by a farmer in a week. This (relative) drop in price led to cinnamon’s use as an aromatic addition to funeral fires. According to legend, Emperor Nero is said to have used Rome’s entire annual supply of cinnamon to use in the pyre for his wife, either to show his grief and love for his beloved, or to mask the smell of the fire in order to hide his guilt for, allegedly, causing her death.

While cinnamon was used sparingly in food and drink during this time period, most culinary historians point to the 18th century as the true turning point for cinnamon’s role as an ingredient in food instead of religious ritual. By the late 1700’s, the European superpowers had fully annexed the cinnamon shores of Sri Lanka and India, and began growing their own cinnamon groves in their Asian landholdings, providing the common cook access to a near limitless supply of  cinnamon.  And, for better or worse, this unending supply of what just might be the modern world’s favorite spice continues to this day.

Can Cinnamon be Seasonal?

Since our first few excavations, we’ve been digging into recipes and skills that have been heavily reliant on the seasonality of key ingredients (pumpkins, apples, and peanuts, primarily), a practice I cannot help but stand behind.  I find seasonality to be truly important in our modern kitchens because, with so many ingredients forever present in our modern grocery superstores, it’s far too easy to forget that every ingredient still has a season. And it just so happens that we’re in the midst of one of cinnamon’s two harvest times right now! From October to January, and from May to August, the rainy seasons in Sri Lanka provide cinnamon harvesters with the pliable bark necessary to successfully gather the spice. So, with November falling nicely in that window of seasonality, I thought autumn would be the perfect time to make a batch of cinnamon swirl raisin bread, a modern twist on an ancient ingredient!

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread Recipe

Ingredients for Bread

  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1 cup milk (I used soy, but any milk will work)
  • 4 Tablespoons butter (I used 2 Tablespoons butter and 2 Tablespoons applesauce)
  •  2 teaspoons salt
  • 5 1/2 cups all purpose flour + 2 Tablespoons (I used white whole wheat for a healthier kick)

Ingredients for Filling

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons cinnamon (about 4 full cinnamon sticks, if you’re grinding your own)
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 2 teaspoons water

Directions

  1. Place raisins in the cup of hot water to plump up for 10 minutes. Then, drain the raisins and pour the leftover water into a large mixing bowl.
  2. Add the yeast to the water and stir until dissolved.
  3. Stir in the milk, butter, and salt, followed by the flour. Stir until the mixture forms a rough dough, then knead for 8-10 minutes, or until the dough easily forms a lightly sticky ball (see pictures below). If the dough is very sticky, add another 1/2 cup of flour and continue kneading.
  4. Toss the plump raisins with 2 Tablespoons of flour to absorb any extra moisture. To incorporate the raisins, flatten your dough and cover with half of the raisins. Fold the dough in half from top to bottom (see pictures below), and then repeat. Continue kneading the dough for 3 – 4 minutes so evenly distribute the raisins.
  5. Return the dough to the mixing bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
  6. While waiting for the dough to rise, mix the cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl; and mix the egg and water in another bowl.
  7. When the dough has doubled in size, divide it into two equal pieces. Flatten each piece until it is about the width of your bread pans, then stretch it as long as possible (see pictures below). Coat each piece with the egg wash and generously sprinkle the dough with cinnamon sugar.
  8. Starting from the bottom, tightly roll up the dough and pinch the seam closed. Place the rolled loaves in your bread pans and let rise for another 35 minutes (or until the loaves are about 1 inch above the edge of the pans.
  9. Preheat your oven to 375 F / 190 C, and coat the top of the risen loaves with egg wash and cinnamon sugar.
  10. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes, until the loaves are golden brown.
  11. Let cool completely, and enjoy a spicy slice of cinnamon raisin swirl bread!

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Categories: Autumn Recipes, Baking, Bread, Breakfast, History | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Barley Bread for Breakfast

Barley Grain

Barley Grain

Welcome back to the dig!
Today, we’re traveling back 8,000 years to unearth the origins of this week’s key breakfast ingredient: Barley! Near the end of the stone age (also known as the Neolithic time period), the men and women of the fertile crescent, a band of well-watered land spanning from Egypt in Northern Africa to the Persian Gulf in Southwest Asia, were on the brink of a discovery that would change the world forever. These people groups and civilizations had abandoned nomadic lifestyles in favor of settling down in one general area. For settlers in what is now known as the West Bank region, the existence of wild cereal grains inspired them to develop what may be the first, true system of agriculture. Out of this initial grain of inspiration grew an ancient food revolution, where farming and the domestication of crops became truly widespread.

Out of Three, One

During the dawn of agricultural technology, three cereal grains were formally domesticated (part of the Neolithic Founder Crops): einkorn wheat, emmer wheat, and barley. While einkorn and emmer can still be found today, and are prized for their ability to grow on poor, mountainous soils, barley clearly won the popularity contest when it came to Neolithic grain choice. From Egypt to Nepal, barley was domesticated and prized for its adaptable use in beer and bread.

Barley for Sacrifice, Health, and Exorcism

Beyond its use in food, however, barley enjoyed a baffling level of popularity in religious circles. In the Jewish Pentateuch (written sometime between 1,400 and 500 BCE), barley was specifically called on to be used as a religious sacrifice. In a hadith attributed to the Prophet Muhammad in the 600’s CE, the founder of Islam prescribed barley as a medicinal food, which could cure a variety of ailments. Perhaps most interestingly (to me at least), the Anglo-Saxon leaders, most likely between 900 – 1,000 CE, fed cheese on barley bread (imbued with exorcising words of power) to accused criminals in the belief that a guilty man would be unable to eat the bread, and would instead be racked with convulsions and choking. This mystical use of grain was not invented by the Anglo-Saxons, but instead was borrowed from the ancient Greeks, who developed the fortune-telling practice of Alphitomancy, or “divination using barley.”

Greco-Roman Barley Bread

Roman Coin Depicting Barley and a Date Palm

Roman Coin Depicting Barley and a Date Palm

When we’re asked to think of ancient culture, images of alabaster columns, enormous temples, both to gods and to entertainment, and Italian cooking often come to mind. Even Google, when searching for the innocuous term “ancient” instantly suggests that we peruse the ghostly white ruins of Greece and Rome. Because of the unmistakable impact that these ancient civilizations have had on our modern world, I’ve decided to devote our first, ancient breakfast recipe to these cultural monoliths. According to some scholars and researchers, the most common food eaten for breakfast in these ancient realms would have been a hunk of bread (barley bread for the Grecians and Roman gladiators, wheat bread for the rest of Rome). If you had the means, it was also common to adorn your bread with honey or dried fruit (a practice I highly recommend for today’s recipe).

Barley Breakfast Bread Recipe

Complete recipe yields one short loaf of unleavened (yeast-less) bread

Ingredients

  • 3 cups barley flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 Tablespoons baking powder
  • 2 Tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup olive oil – avoid extra virgin olive oil (or another oil of your choice)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk

Directions

  1. Wet and Dry Barley Bread Ingredients

    Wet and Dry Barley Bread Ingredients

    Preheat your oven to 350 F / 175 C

  2. Lightly coat a 9″ x 5″ bread pan with oil
  3. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, salt, and baking powder
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, oil, eggs, and milk
  5. Add the wet ingredients to the dry mixture, and stir well until combined
  6. Pour the batter into your greased bread pan, and cook for 25 – 30 minutes, or until the bread reaches an internal temperature of 190 F / 85 C
  7. Allow to cool in the pan for several minutes before turning the loaf onto a cooling rack.
  8. Let cool, then slice and enjoy with a drizzle of honey, and a dried date or two!

Because this bread lacks the fluffiness-imbuing element of yeast, the final consistency of this recipe feels and tastes more like a dense, lightly sweetened cake. Because it is so dense, dipping or drizzling it in honey (or a moistening agent of your choosing) is recommended. However you take your barley, though, I hope you’ve enjoyed this excavation into barley: a grain with a mystical past and a healthful future!

Until next time!
Nate

Categories: Baking, Bread, Breakfast, History, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Breaking Ground and Breaking Bread: A Tradition 30,000 Years in the Making

As this is our first expedition into the excavation of food and cooking, I thought it best to build our foundation on what might be considered the cornerstone of true baking as we know it. Often cited as the most frequently eaten food item in nearly every culture (both modern and ancient), bread has long established itself as a true necessity in every kitchen. But for all the credit we give to this versatile, delicious, and (when prepared well) soul-satisfying food-staple, I believe most of us (myself included) take bread’s journey for granted. For when we look deeper at bread’s history, the lovable loaf becomes far more interesting than the sum of its ingredients.

The Lore of the Loaf

While it may seem as though bread simply appears on our grocery store shelves every week, our modern method of seemingly instant and reliable bread production belies the accidental and unpredictable origins that faced the pre-historic loaf.
Bread’s beginnings, while difficult to solidly determine, seem to reside in the middle of the Upper

An artist's depiction of the Red Lady of Paviland being coated in red ochre.

An artist’s depiction of the Red Lady of Paviland being coated in red ochre.

Paleolithic age in Europe, roughly 30,000 years ago. While culture and civilization as we know it had not been fully derived by this time, people groups were beginning to develop unique identities. Ceramics adorned with artwork, cave paintings, and the use of dyes (notably used in the creation of the Red Lady of Paviland, a near-complete human skeleton ceremoniously dyed with red ochre) all seem to stem from this time period; and, most important for the inception of bread, cooking on heated stones finally came into vogue during this era. No longer did Paleolithic men and women have to subsist on raw grain and water gruel, but, with the application of their revolutionary cooking technology, they were able to enjoy the first steaming morsels of unleavened flatbread. With portable bread in hand, this discovery exploded across the ancient world, giving rise to many of our modern flatbreads (tortillas, pitas, and naan, just to name a few).

Bread’s Rise

But how did bread grow from flat discs into the fluffy, rounded loaves we know today? The answer to this question baffled pre-modern man for over 20,000 years, as the means to attaining yeast, the microbial agent that “puffs up” our modern bread, would require not just a mastery over fire, but the control of the winds themselves.

Pictorial account of ancient Egyptian breadmaking

Pictorial account of ancient Egyptian bread making

Although you might not be aware of it, you’re currently surrounded by the very yeast particles needed to create a satisfyingly airy loaf of bread. The trick to creating that loaf, however, is in capturing and controlling that yeast (a wildly unpredictable process that I hope to showcase in a future excavation). Historians suggest that yeast could have been used in the ancient world, if only by accident. While yeast may have wandered into the bread dough being prepared for the fire, the true, intentional use of yeast falls to the Egyptians. Because the ancient Egyptians (around 5,000 years ago) left behind preserved food stores, scientists have been able to inspect the air-bubbles left in ancient Egyptian bread: air bubbles that indicate the direct handiwork of tiny yeast organisms. From here, yeast became an integral component in not only the nutrition of modernizing cultures, but also in the sordid side of cultural advancement as well (most notably in the beer and wine making industries). While bread continued to evolve on a small scale as it encountered new cultures and time periods, leavened bread has remained relatively unchanged from antiquity to the present.

So, to celebrate such a time-worn, and ancient practice, my first recipe for today will introduce a simple, yet fulfilling and delicious bread recipe that can form the basis for your own experimentation and advancement of the bread making tradition! I chose to pair flax seeds with this week’s bread, as the use of flax also dates to the Upper Paleolithic: again, roughly 30,000 years ago. Feel free to substitute the flax with the seeds, nuts, or fruits of your choice!

Melding Ancient Practice with Modern Technology: Whole Wheat and Flax Bread Recipe

Complete recipe will make two loaves of bread

Ingredients

  • 3 cups warm water (between 100 and 110 degrees F / around 45 C)
  • 2 packs of active dry yeast (roughly 2 Tablespoons)
  • 2/3 cup honey (divided equally into two parts)
  • 5 cups bread flour
  • (Optional) 3 Tablespoons flax seeds
  • 3 Tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 2 – 4 cups whole wheat flour
  • (Optional) 2 Tablespoons butter, melted

Directions

  1. Mix warm water, yeast, and 1/3 cup of honey in a large bowl. Add the bread flour and flax seeds and stir until combined. Place in a warm place for 30 minutes, until the dough has risen (see Before and After #1 at the end of this post)
  2. When the dough has risen, mix in 3 Tablespoons melted butter, the rest of the honey, and the salt. Stir in two cups of wheat flour.
  3. Cover a flat surface with flour and kneed the dough until it’s not real sticky. The dough will pull away from the counter, but still be sticky to the touch. You may have to add additional wheat flour – I usually add an extra 1 to 1 1/2 cups, but this amount varies each time.
  4. Place the dough into a large, greased bowl, and turn the dough until it is covered in oil. Cover the bowl and let rise in a warm place until doubled – this typically takes around 1 hour (see Before and After #2).
  5. When the dough has doubled, punch it down and divide it into two loaves. Place loaves into two 9 x 5 inch loaf pans. Let the dough rise another 10 – 20 minutes until the dough is at least one inch above the edge of the pan (see Before and After #3).
  6. Bake the loaves at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 25 to 30 minutes.
  7. Optional (but highly recommended): Brush the additional 2 Tablespoons of melted butter onto the tops of the loaves to prevent them from hardening.
  8. Let cool completely before slicing.
  9. Enjoy a taste of modern history!

    The Finished Loaf!

    The Finished Loaf!

I truly hope that you’ve enjoyed this first excavation into ancient baking! Stay tuned for the second half of our ground-breaking introduction, which will be a bit more GrecoRoman!

Keep digging!
~Nate


Before and After #1

Before and After #2

Before and After #3

Categories: Baking, Bread, History, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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