Category Archives: bread

Chocolate Rum Raisin Bread Pudding

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CHOCOLATE EVERYWHERE. That is the Internet this week. Complain not I, and far be it from me to snub such a worthy tradition. Enhanced with liquor and buckets of delicious fat, no less.

You can even make your own chocolate. I have not embarked on that particular mission yet, and I’m not sure that I will. Seems like a lot of time/effort/cost for something that is an international product anyway. Maybe if cacao starts growing wherever I am.

Not one of my typical vegetable semi-healthy (I’m going to be honest, I’m not a health fanatic or a vegetarian, I just like veggies. Not that there is anything wrong with either of those two categories of being) recipe here, folks. It’s mid-February and you need to indulge your sensibilities.

So, bread pudding. The beauty of this is that it makes use of old bread, in case you forgot to freeze half that loaf you made last week, or someone came by and left you extra bread from something that you couldn’t eat fast enough. Or, you could buy a loaf expressly for this purpose, cut it into chunks, and watch impatiently as it dries out enough to soak in eggs and cream and turn magically into rich, delicious custard smothered in deep chocolate (you don’t actually have to wait impatiently. You can just toast them in the oven. But, I’ve heard that pleasure comes more from anticipation anyway, so may as well take the time).

People sometimes ask me, “Are you a cook or a baker?” Like many other areas of my life, I have yet to figure this out, and shall continue to (naïvely?) ask, “Can’t I be both?” I have been getting more and more into cooking recently (evidently), but I got my start in baking. And there is something magical about the way something can transform fantastically in a hot oven.

There are many things you can do with stale bread. But this is the best, because it is chocolate. And not just chocolate, a deep, rich, thick, creamy, dark, warm, soft chocolate. I want more, now.

Recipe from NPR. I have explored a number and this is the greatest.

Chocolate Rum Raisin Bread Pudding
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 (+...)cup dark rum
Butter for pan
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
8 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
6 eggs, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips, or more chopped chocolate
1 stale 10-ounce baguette (or whatever, although I'd avoid super seedy bread), cut roughly in 1/2-1 inch size chunks

Pour rum over raisins in a small bowl and set aside for a while (side note: this is a great trick for, well, everything. Best oatmeal raisin cookies EVER). Butter a 9×13 baking dish (size doesn’t matter as much here, unlike items like cakes, so use what you have, it will somehow fit. If you have extra you can always cook mini puddings in muffin tins or little bowls).

Heat up milk and cream together until quite hot (microwave or stove, your preference). Add chocolate (or pour over chocolate—I tend to heat up the milk in a Pyrex measuring cup and put the chocolate in a bowl; that way I only have a couple dishes to wash), let sit for a minute or so, then stir so chocolate is melted. Mix in eggs, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon and stir quickly (make sure the mixture is not hot enough to cook the eggs—you don’t want them to curdle—and stir immediately. If you are worried, mix eggs, sugar, etc. separately first). Stir in raisins and rum and chocolate chunks.

Place bread chunks in pan, and pour the mixture over top, trying to get as much contact with the bread as possible. Let sit for a while (at least an hour), squishing it down every now and again so that all the bread gets soaked. It will expand considerably. I also moved it around a bit to try to get an even distribution of chocolate chips.

Preheat oven to 325ºF, and when both oven and bread are ready, bake for 45 min-1 hour, until custard is more or less set and the top is crispy. A knife inserted in the pudding should come out streaky but not liquidy. Serve warm, with whipped cream (spiked with rum), if desired. When you eat leftovers, I recommend warming it up (microwave is fine) and dousing with rum before consuming.

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On an entirely unrelated note, don’t make these mistakes with cheese!

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Maple Dill French Toast for dinner

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I love it when experiments work out. This is another come-home-need-something-fast kind of meal where I also felt like cooking something real (although unclear what exactly real means), especially since it was CSA-pickup day (always exciting).

I ate this for dinner but I can also imagine it performing spectacularly on a brunch menu. The onions lend just enough sweetness to tie in the green beans and maple syrup, and the dill finishes melding everything together. I don’t even really like dill. But I don’t think this would work without it, and I very much enjoyed this dish. So.

Maple Dill French Toast with green beans and onions
Green beans
1/2 an onion
Salt
2-3 pieces of bread (depending on thickness)
2 eggs
A splash of milk, or water
Butter
Fresh dill
Maple syrup (must be real!)

Toast bread if it is cold/frozen.  Beat together eggs and milk with a fork and place is a flat dish with sides (like a pie pan). Put the bread in (as long as it isn’t too hot) to soak up the egg, turning it over every now and again.

Meanwhile, chop up the onions: I like slicing them longways (along the longitude lines, if each onion was a planet) for this, because they hold together a little better (this is also what you want for grilling, if you have a grill). If you want them more caramelized, slice them the other way because they’ll break apart a little more. Pinch the ends of the beans and break/chop into a few pieces. Sauté them together on high, stirring often, for a few minutes until soft. Remove from pan and place on plate (if you have two pans you can do this and cook the French toast at the same time (what a concept!)).

Put some butter in the pan and make sure it is hot, then carefully place the soaked bread (they should have soaked up all, or at least almost all, of the egg by now) in the pan over medium-high heat (very thick toast should be cooked lower so the inside gets cooked before the outside gets burned). Cook until brown on one side, then flip over and brown on the other. When they are almost cooked, melt a little butter in the corner of the pan and added chopped dill, sautéing just enough to extract some flavors. Remove toast from pan, top with dill, veggies, and a little maple syrup (go easy on the syrup—you want it to add flavor, not too much sugar). I think you could add some syrup to the pan with the dill/butter to make more of an official sauce, but I didn’t feel like getting my pan all sticky so I didn’t bother.

Enjoy!

The Bread Diaries: Intro + Sourdough

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(Note: this is a long post (although mostly because there are a bunch of pictures). If you just want some general bread tips, scroll down near the bottom, where I have bolded some general tips I have collected.)

I have been making a lot of bread lately. Part of it is that I inherited some sourdough starter from my previous roommate, and that encourages you to make copious amounts of bread like nothing else. Then we had an event that could use up excess bread and, well, I went a little crazy.

But, I do feel like I learned some things. Bread (like anything else) gets easier and more intuitive with practice. That said, it is fairly easy to make good bread without practice, although if you are looking for a specific type it can be a little trickier. My favorite beginner easy recipe is the famous New York Times no-knead bread recipe, which also might be one of my favorite all-time breads, especially with a little whole wheat.

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I am also a big fan of ciabatta, which I’ve been working on recently, or a general good rustic loaf/pain de campagne: good rise, chewy, crusty, holy.

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I’m going to include links to a couple different recipes here. To be honest, I think bread takes some personal time to really get used to. But there are sites that can help you speed up your journey. I’ve mentioned King Arthur flour before, and how I like them because they are a B-Corporation, but also because they have a tremendous lexicon of recipes (and a great blog called Flourish. What a great name). They have a good sourdough rustic loaf recipe, as well as a general rustic loaf with detailed instructions. This is one of my favorite kinds of bread and very doable.

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Let me talk about sourdough a little. I have to admit, in the beginning having a sourdough starter was a little stressful. It was like getting a new pet. Or at least another plant (of which I have quite a few), but one that required feeding EVERY DAY. At the same time each day. Absurd. Before that scares you off, I have now determined that keeping sourdough in the fridge is perfectly acceptable, and means you only have to feed it (which means using it, as I’ll explain in a second) every week or two.

A starter is basically a mix of flour, water, and yeast. You can actually pay a lot of money for a good starter, basically paying for the flavors of the yeast collection. Some have been maintained for thousands of years or something. That all seems a little crazy to me – yeast is alive, and my guess is that it adapts to the local environment, which will change the flavor profile of your bread; so paying for an amazing Italian starter (also known as a biga) will only get you so far. Not that I’m an expert or anything. P1010960

I keep my starter in a jar, covered with a coffee filter. If you keep it out, you feed it every day, maybe even twice a day. Begin with half a cup of starter, and add a little less than a cup of flour and about half a cup of water. Stir. The next day it should grow (it’s alive, how exciting!), and will crest and then fall again. Sourdough Home has more details on this process if you are looking for more resources. How much it rises depends on temperature, humidity, etc. I usually end up with about 1 1/2 cups of starter. Take out a cup – this is what you bake with – and then feed the remaining half a cup again to keep it going.

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The cup that you have taken out is ready to be used! I have mostly been making sourdough like I would normal bread, except without yeast (although sometimes I do add a little extra yeast if I’m worried my sourdough wasn’t very happy that day). And I’ve been experimenting, and honestly I think you can do pretty much whatever the heck you want with bread. Basic guidelines: 1 cup starter, 3 cups flour, 1 cup water, 1 tsp salt. Mix it up, knead, and let it rise.

Watching the rise:

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At the end of the first rise: very high, lots of bubbles
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Check out those gluten strands!
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Ready for a second rise
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Ta-da!

Some tips: All bread is essentially flour, water, salt, and yeast. More water will make a holier dough, like ciabatta, but it also makes it more difficult to knead and keep shape (I am currently making a loaf with a lot of water that is rather flatter than I intended, because it kept spreading out on the baking sheet. Hence the NYTimes tip of putting it in a pot). However, you can still knead wet, sticky dough – just keep your hands wet. Wet dough doesn’t stick to wet hands. Either keep a bowl of water at hand or keep one hand clean to turn on the sink if you are close by. A cold rise (i.e. put it in the fridge) I think is what makes it chewier, although that is a fairly recent hypothesis. When using sourdough, less starter and a longer rise means more sourdough flavor, because it has more time to develop. If you want to use whole wheat, make sure you add at least half white flour or it won’t rise properly (unless you don’t mind having a dense bread). Whole grains are a good addition to lots of breads. Eggs will make a richer dough, as will butter. Oil and honey or other sweetener makes it softer. For a hard crust, spray with water (in a clean spray bottle) every few minutes for the first 15 minutes or so of baking (I still don’t have a spray bottle, which is a little silly because they are pretty inexpensive, so I’ve just been taking handfuls of water and throwing them into the oven. It sprays around a lot but seems to work). Transfer to a cooling rack right after taking it out of the oven to prevent the bottom crust from getting soggy.

Storing: crusty breads can be kept on the counter, without a bag or anything. Just prop them up on the cut end. Other breads should be kept in a bag. They keep fresh for a few days. All breads also freeze super well – usually I make a loaf, eat about half of it, then slice and freeze the rest (make sure to slice before freezing, it makes your life a lot easier. Unless you want a fresh whole loaf for future dinner parties, in which case you can freeze whole, and then warm it up by putting it in a cold oven, then turn on the oven to about 400 and leave it in for about 20 min, depending on the size of the loaf).

If you are looking for something a little homier (meant to be slathered with plenty of butter, even more so than most breads), Easy Little Bread from 101 Cookbooks (who also have a good ingredient search and some good recipes if you want more vegetable ideas) is a good recipe.

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You can also add stuff to bread. I made dill bread using Smitten Kitchen’s recipe, which turned out very well. I have also made cinnamon swirl bread (without the topping), although I messed up the egg bit and added a little too much filling, so it pooled in one section of the loaf. I do like egg filling better than just butter/sugar/cinnamon though. I think I’ll make separate posts for those later.

Happy bread making! Have fun! Post questions!