baking

Pear-Rosemary Bread

by Caroline

I don’t normally buy single-ingredient cookbooks (with an inventory of over 100, I’d be seriously jeopardizing my shelf space if I did), but years ago I found a small, beautiful pear cookbook on a remainder table. For $2, I figured if it had just a couple good recipes, it’d be worth the money. In fact, it has several good recipes, but this one is my favorite, a sweet-savory loaf that’s delicious with a smear of mascarpone or cream cheese. (For another pear bread, without the rosemary, try this recipe).

2 c flour
2 t baking powder
1/4 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1 pound Bartlett, Comice or Anjou pears (about 2 medium), cored, peeled, and chopped
2 t chopped fresh rosemary
grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1 T lemon juice
6 T buttter
1/3 c plus 1 T sugar
2 large eggs
1 fresh rosemary sprig

Preheat the oven to 350, and butter and flour an 8″ loaf pan.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl, then set aside.

Use a food processor or blender to puree the pears with the chopped rosemary, lemon zest and lemon juice.

Beat together the butter and 1/3 c sugar until creamy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time (don’t worry if it looks a bit curdled). Now add the flour and pear mixtures alternately to the butter mixture, mixing just until the flour is incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes. Dip the rosemary sprig in water, roll it in the remaining tablespoon of sugar, and place the sprig on top of the loaf. Continue baking for another 30-40 minutes, until the loaf is brown and springs back to the touch.

Let cool in the pan on a rack for 15 minutes, then unmold and cool completely before slicing.

Chocolate Almond Apricot Biscotti

by Caroline

You never know what will draw you into a recipe. A picture? An ingredient? Sometimes it’s a word; any recipe with the word “caramelized” in it gets me. Or it can be a phrase, as in the line that grabbed me several years ago when I spotted this recipe in Sunset magazine and made it part of our regular cookie repertoire: “These biscotti are crumbly delivery systems for chewy apricot bits, hunks of dark chocolate, and crunchy almonds.”

I got out a bowl and got to work.

Ingredients:
1 3/4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
3/4 cup diced dried apricots
2/3 cup slivered almonds
4 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350° and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a food processor, pulse flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt 5 to 6 times to blend.

In a small bowl, whisk together melted butter, vanilla, and eggs; add to flour mixture and pulse 10 to 12 times to form a dough.

Turn dough out into a large mixing bowl. Add apricots, almonds, and chocolate, and stir to mix thoroughly.

Put dough on baking sheet and form into two 12-in.-long loaves. Flatten tops slightly and bake until loaves are golden but give slightly when pressed, 25 to 30 minutes.

Remove loaves from oven and reduce temperature to 325°. Let loaves cool 5 minutes, then cut on the diagonal into 1/2- to 3/4-in.-thick slices. Arrange slices flat on baking sheet and bake until lightly browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Cool completely on racks.

Pear Blueberry Cobbler

by Caroline

Last week’s CSA fruit share brought us pounds and pounds of Seckel pears, beautiful brown pears ranging in size from a large cherry to a more traditional fist of pear. I’ve never cooked with Seckel pears before and I found lots of recipes that feature them peeled, cored, poached and then crowning a tart, their stems poking up: gorgeous, but way too much effort for me right now.

I considered pear bread, but with my parents in town, I wanted to make something new. So, I poked around some more and eventually found this terrific cobbler recipe, which uses dried blueberries and cornmeal biscuits. A winner! The biscuits are so good, this recipe’s worth saving just for them, but the combination of crunchy cornmeal biscuit, sweet pear and tart dried blueberry is really fabulous.

For the biscuits:
1 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup stone-ground cornmeal (medium grind)
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup chilled heavy whipping cream

Pear filling:
6 pounds firm but ripe Seckel pears, Taylor Gold pears, or Bosc pears, peeled, cored, cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces (about 12 cups)
1 cup apple juice
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon (scant) coarse kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, diced
1 1/2 cups dried wild blueberries (9 ounces)
Vanilla ice cream

For biscuits:
Whisk flour, cornmeal, 1/4 cup sugar, baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt in large bowl. Add chilled butter; rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add cream; stir just until moistened. Gather dough together; form into 8-inch-long log. Cut log crosswise into eight 1-inch-thick rounds. Spread 3 tablespoons sugar on plate. Dip 1 cut side of each biscuit into melted butter, then dip buttered side in sugar. Place biscuits, sugared side up, on platter; sprinkle any remaining sugar over top. Cover and chill.

For pear filling:
Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Place pears in large bowl. Add next 5 ingredients; toss. Let stand 10 minutes, tossing occasionally.

Transfer pear filling to prepared dish. Dot with diced butter. Cover dish with foil. Bake until pears are almost tender, about 50 minutes. Remove dish from oven; stir dried blueberries into pear filling. Place biscuits atop filling. Continue to bake uncovered until filling is bubbling thickly, biscuits are pale golden, and tester inserted into biscuits comes out clean, about 35 minutes longer (biscuits may look cracked). Cool 30 minutes. Serve warm with ice cream.

Quick Yeast Bread

by Caroline

We love bread. And while it is very easy, living in San Francisco, to buy a different kind of delicious bread every day, we love to make it, too. I learned by watching my mom make bread every week, and my kids are learning the same way. In fact, if I can send my children out into the world with one lesson learned in my kitchen, I’d like them to feel that producing homemade bread is not a tricky thing.

I think we’re off to a good start. Ben invented his own bread recipe (which is really not half bad) when he was five, and now we’ve added another easy bread recipe to the repertoire. “Quick” and “yeast” rarely come together in bread recipes, but they do in this new one from Heidi Swanson (which she adapted from another source; I do love how recipes travel).

The next time you’ve got a hankering for fresh bread, give this a try; it’s barely an hour from the idea till you’ve got a piece of warm bread in your hands.

1 1/4 cups warm water (105-115F; if it feels neutral — not too hot nor cold — on your wrist, it’s the right temp)
2 teaspoons active dry yeast (one packet)
1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1 1/2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt
1 tablespoons butter, to grease the pan

In a medium bowl, sprinkle the yeast onto the warm water and stir until the yeast dissolves. Stir in the honey and set aside for a few minutes, until the yeast blooms and swells a bit – 5 – 10 minutes.

In the meantime, mix the flours, oats, and salt in a large bowl. Add the wet mixture to the dry and stir very well.

Grease an 8-cup loaf pan with butter. Turn the dough into the pan, cover with a clean, slightly damp cloth, and set in a warm place for 30 minutes, to rise.

Preheat the oven to 350F, with a rack in the middle. When the oven’s hot, bake the bread for 35-40 minutes, until golden and pulling away from the sides of the pan.

Remove from oven, and turn the bread out of the pan quickly. Let it cool on a rack so it doesn’t steam in the pan. Serve warm, slathered with butter.

Makes 1 loaf.

Adapted from Gran’s Kitchen: Recipes from the Notebooks of Dulcie May Booker.

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

by Caroline


A friend of mine reviews reviews for websites; you read that right: if you write a product review of an item you buy online, chances are she or one of her colleagues will vet your review before it is published, checking for inappropriate language, slander, and other no-no’s. But even acceptable reviews are often riddled with punctuation and grammar errors, and I often think of my friend, waging a lonely, one-woman battle against misplaced modifiers and comma splices. The excerpts she posts on Facebook every day — especially the ones with grammatical errors that introduce unintentionally hilarious meanings (think, “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”) — make my day.

But it’s got me thinking about recipe-writing and reviewing. I use recipe websites all the time, and often use the reviews to guide my choices, but I’m always amazed (and kind of amused) at the reviews that say something like “This cake was terrible!! I cut the sugar by 50%, replaced the butter with pureed prunes, and used wheat germ and ground flax instead of white flour; it was so dry! it wasn’t nearly sweet enough! I won’t ever make this again!!” (Online reviewers always use multiple exclamation points). Yes, well, serves you right, I think.

I adapt recipes, and I do often cut sugar or replace shortening with ground flaxseed meal, but usually not until the second time around. It doesn’t seem right to tinker until I really understand what the recipe’s doing. And when I tinker, I’ll let you know so that you can make your own decisions about the changes.

The chocolate zucchini cake recipe I made this week from Epicurious has a raft of reviews and for some reason this time they really drew me in. As usual, a number of reviewers simply praised the recipe; others (helpfully) explained changes they made and their result; others criticized the recipe after make unsuccessful changes; and then — my favorite — others told off the critics who had made ill-advised substitutions:

“Yep, if you start making substitutions, don’t blame the recipe.”

And even better:
“Did anybody actually make THIS cake???? By the time you make all the substitutions and revisions, it’s not the same cake. Who gives a rat’s behind about what everyone did to alter the cake, just RATE THE DAMN THING! Whooo, now that i got that off my chest, yes, I do feel better. Incidentally, the cake I made using THIS recipe, was fabulous.”

I have to agree. I made this cake and it is good.