Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hot Cross Buns

Have I ever told you that my husband and I kind of got engaged on Easter Sunday? And that homemade Hot Cross Buns may have sealed the deal?

I say "kind of got engaged" because there wasn't a proposal at all, really, so much as a conversation about the future; a future we committed to create together as a married couple.

But there were Hot Cross Buns -- the first batch I ever made, and the first my husband had tasted since leaving South Africa seven years prior. You see, Hot Cross Buns are everywhere in South Africa -- at supermarkets, convenience stores, gas stations -- especially at Easter. But they're nearly impossible to find in Southern California, so I did what I tend to do: I made my own.

I don't recall the recipe I used. They were good, not great. I remember thinking they needed more raisins, sugar and spice. But hey, my husband ate them and decided to marry me, and now we have an Easter tradition and a cute story.

When I made Hot Cross Buns this year, I used Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond's recipe. It's brilliant in that she calls for layering spiced sugar and raisins in the dough, which by the way is probably the easiest yeast dough you'll ever make. I made it entirely by hand, and as long as your yeast is fresh, it's foolproof. I took only two liberties with Ree's recipe: I doubled the raisins (we really like our raisins) and was more generous with the sugar-spice mixture (mine was heavy on cinnamon, with a dash of freshly ground nutmeg and a pinch of ground cardamom).

Monday, April 25, 2011

Whole Grain & Seed Bread

I wanted something hearty and healthy to pair with the walnut butters I made this weekend, and this Whole Grain & Seed Bread was just the thing. The recipe yields two loaves; I sliced and froze one, though you could halve the recipe if desired.

Whole Grain & Seed Bread
Makes two 9x5" loaves

This bread is dense and substantial (verging on heavy) and therefore better suited to toast than sandwiches. You could lighten it by substituting unbleached all purpose flour for half the whole wheat flour, but you'd be diminishing its whole grain benefits.

4 cups warm water (It should feel neither hot nor cold when you dip your finger in it.)
1/3 cup honey
2 packages (4 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
6 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups old fashioned oats (not instant)
1 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup coarse cornmeal
1/2 cup flax meal
4 generous teaspoons sea or kosher salt
Unbleached all purpose flour for kneading and shaping loaves (about 1 cup)
Cooking spray

1. In a medium bowl or large measuring cup, stir the honey and yeast into the water and let sit for about 5 minutes or until the mixture is foamy. (If your mixture fails to foam within 10 minutes, your yeast isn't active and you'll need to start over with new yeast.)

2. Meanwhile, in a very large bowl, whisk together the whole wheat flour, oats, sunflower seeds, cornmeal, flax meal and salt. Add the liquid yeast mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until a stiff dough forms. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes, adding small amounts of all purpose flour (no more than 2 tablespoons at a time) as needed to prevent it from sticking. (Note: I divided the dough and used my KitchenAid mixer to knead it in two parts.)

3. Unless you have a bowl the size of a cauldron (lucky you for having the cabinet space), divide the dough (if you haven't already, as I did in Step 2) and place each piece in a large bowl coated with cooking spray. Cover with towels and set the dough in a warm place to rise for about 45 minutes, or until it's doubled in size and indentations remain when you press it with your fingers.

4. Working with one portion of dough at a time, punch it down and turn it out onto a well-floured surface. Dust with flour and roll into a rectangle about 10 x 15 inches. Starting with the short edge, roll up the rectangle tightly, pressing to rid it of air pockets. Place each roll in a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray, seam side down, tucking the edges of the roll under if needed. Cover with towels and set in a warm place to rise for another 45 minutes or until doubled again in size.

5. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Uncover loaves and place in oven on center rack; bake for about 40 minutes or until they're browned and sound hollow when tapped.

TIP: To get a brown and chewy crust, use a spray bottle to periodically (about every 10 minutes) spray the bottom and sides of the oven with water. (Open the oven door just enough to spray the water into the oven, then close it immediately.) Steam is an element you can easily add to your home baking repertoire to make your bread more bakery-like.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Homemade Walnut Butter, Two Ways

Have you ever noticed that, generally speaking, jarred walnut butter isn't readily available? I often find myself optimistically scanning store shelves for it, only to be disappointed by its continued absence from retailers in my area. (In case you're wondering, I'm talking about Trader Joe's, Grow, Whole Foods and Bristol Farms. Let me know if you've seen it elsewhere.)

I'm not the only one scratching my head at its omission from an ever expanding lineup of nut and seed butters. Fellow foodie (and Bar Method devotee) Diana, of Diana Takes A Bite, feels my pain, as evidenced by our recent Twitter exchanges.

Search Google for "walnut butter" and you'll find a handful of online sellers and Amazon shops (see: Artisana and Fastachi), but mostly you'll find recipes and tips for making it yourself. Which is exactly what I did.

You should, too -- it's easy, healthy and tremendously satisfying. All you need are walnuts, a food processor or blender, and maybe some sea salt, cinnamon and honey.

I'll never long for commercially prepared walnut butter again. And, to be honest, this exercise proves there's no reason to buy jarred nut or seed butters, period.

I made two batches, neither of which involved a recipe so much as tasting and experimenting along the way, so be prepared to be the same. There are worse things, right?

Toasted Walnut Butter with Sea Salt
Makes about 2/3 cup
The following quantities are approximations.

2 cups walnut halves and/or pieces
Heaping 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F and spread walnuts evenly on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Toast walnuts for about 10 minutes, stirring them around halfway through.

2. Allow walnuts to cool before transferring them to a food processor or blender. Add about 1/4 (generous) teaspoon sea salt and process until a butter forms, stopping the processor occasionally to scrape down the sides and bottom. Be careful not to over process, or the butter will quickly become a paste. Store the butter in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Raw Walnut Butter with Cinnamon & Honey
Makes about 1 cup
The following quantities are approximations.

2 cups raw walnut halves and/or pieces
Heaping 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup honey

1. In a food processor or blender, combine all ingredients and process until a butter forms, stopping the processor occasionally to scrape down the sides and bottom. Be careful not to over process, or the butter will quickly become a paste. Store the butter in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

This walnut butter begs to be spooned onto oatmeal, stirred into quinoa or spread on toast. (For the latter, I made hearty whole grain bread.)

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Bake Sale Success!

Have you heard? Bakesale for Japan has raised $120,254.38 and counting! This is no surprise considering how flawlessly the event was orchestrated by Samin Nosrat (San Francisco Bay Area and nationwide) and Breanne Varela (Los Angeles).

I was thrilled to participate at the Akasha Restaurant location along with the lovely Akasha Richardson, her husband, Alan, and a team of talented and enthusiastic bakers and volunteers. Together, and thanks to the generosity of those who showed up to buy our sweet treats, we met our goal of contributing $2,500 to L.A.'s total of $15,484.

Samin, Breanne, Akasha, Alan, Karen, Yvonne, Adriana, William, Craig, Shawn, Yuko, Mika and Becca: you are amazing.


I donated 96 Browned Butter Brownies to the bake sale and bought a bag of other bakers' goodies, including Chocolate Peanut Butter Macarons from Secret Marmalade, Lingonberry Shortbread and Whoopie Pies from Hummingbird Catering, Breanne's Granola Cookies from The Larder at Tavern, Craig's Lemon Bars, and Milk Chocolate Almond Toffee from Truly Toffee. My heart and tummy are full.