Wednesday, April 29, 2009

{Yeast #21} Italian Cheese Bread for Spring

Think of a wonderful picnic in a meadow in early Spring (the day after Easter, for example). What would be in your picnic basket? That is the question posed by Italian blogger Cindystar, the host of April's Bread Baking Day (#21), as she chose the theme "Spring Country Breads":
"I would like to share with you a virtual pic-nic on Easter Monday. In Italy it's a popular tradition to have an outdoor trip in the countryside, on that special festive day all families and friends gather together, lay a blanket or a tablecloth on the grass and have a sort of epicurean brunch (never missing hard boiled eggs, part of tradition!)with children enjoy playing outdoor and adults lazily enjoying the first warm spring sun."
I've recently made and posted two different types of typical sweet Easter breads (Hot Cross Buns, traditional in England, and a yeasted version of Dove Bread, an Italian favorite) and thought I'd try something different for this event. I paged through my bread books, and in Rose Levy Berenbaum's book The Bread Bible I found a lovely-sounding savory bread with an unlikely-sounding name: "Stud Muffin" (so called because it is studded with cubes of cheese before baking) She describes it as an Italian bread for Easter, a variation of a recipe from Perugia, Italy, called "torta di Pasqua" ("Easter cake" - although it is not a sweet one like the Colomba Pasquale/ Easter Dove.) How perfect! It's a bread intended for just the type of event Cindy evokes for us. And it's Italian!!

Stop by Cindystar in early May and see the roundup of Spring Country Breads. You are bound to be amazed at the wonderful creations of bakers literally all over the globe. This bread is also going to Susan at Yeastspotting, a fabulous weekly roundup of all things bready and yeasty. I'm always inspired by the handiwork of the bread baking bloggers!

Oh, and leave a comment on my 200th Post for a chance to win a $20 King Arthur gift certificate.

See those bits of browned gruyere?
n.o.e.'s notes:

- The baking pan is one of the keys to getting this bread to turn into a "muffin." My closest baking dishes were both 1.5 quart rather than 2 quart, so I prepared 3/4 recipe.

- I followed Beranbaum's directions for the "ultimate full flavor variation" which involved leaving the sponge at room temp for 1 hour, then in fridge for 8+ hrs, before incorporating it into the bread dough.

- Beranbaum gives detailed food processor instructions for preparing this bread. These are great because you use cold ingredients, rather than warm. The food processor tends to (over)heat the dough; generally you want to use your ingredients right from the fridge.

- I had a little bit of fun measuring my egg with the digital scale to get the appropriate 3/4 amount, but I'll spare you the gory details.

- My Parmesan cheese was Australian (shhh, don't tell Cindy!)

- The dough weighed 790 grams (Rose gives you the approximate weight of your finished dough, which is kind of cool)

- After hand kneading, the dough was incredibly soft and supple dough with flecks of black pepper. It was a total pleasure to work with the dough.

- The dough didn't rise much in the fridge, but as instructed I deflated it regularly just the same.

- The next day the dough rose very well - it's supposed to "nearly triple" and mine definitely did that. It deflated just a bit when I brushed the surface with egg. Luckily it puffed nicely in the oven. And smelled divine at the same time.

- After taking the bread out of the oven, the bread cools on its side on a soft pillow, to protect it as it's cooling. Apparently this bread is too fragile to stand on its base without collapsing. So it rests on a pillow for an hour, with lots of hovering by the proud mama/baker, who turns the bread every few minutes.

- I've wondered a lot of things in my admittedly short yeast-baking career. (Did I knead the dough enough? Did I add too much flour? Did I kill the yeast? Did I remember the yeast? Does my bread hate me?) But I've never thought I'd be asking myself: Is my bread resting comfortably? Is the pillow soft enough? Do I need to turn my bread to the other side for a few minutes? Perhaps a soothing lullaby?

the verdict:

After all of the sweets that have come out of my oven in the past couple of weeks, this bread was a breath of fresh air on a Spring day. Actually if you make this bread it might have you seriously wondering if you've died and ended up in heaven. Cue the harps; it's that perfect.

See those melty bits of Gruyere? Swoon!
"Details," you say?

Little bits of Parmesan and Romano cheese are dotted regularly throughout each slice of bread, and every now and then you hit the jackpot - a bread hole completely coated in Gruyere! And if that isn't enough, the black pepper is what puts this bread over the top. Well, and the fantastic moist crumb. Yum!!

I wanted to experience this bread the traditional way, so I took Beranbaum's suggestion and piled some prosciutto on a slice. It was the most perfect ham 'n cheese I've ever eaten!! Or imagined, for that matter. But as wonderful as that was, I most enjoyed this bread all by itself, just barely warm. It was also pretty great at room temperature. In fact this bread was so fabulously seductive that I had to put in the freezer after a day or two - just to avoid hearing it call my name. The cries are much more muffled through the freezer door.

the recipe:

I was unable to locate a link for this recipe, so I've gone ahead and typed it up the way I baked it - 3/4 recipe. I've slightly condensed/reworded too.

Stud Muffin

Rose Levy Beranbaum The Bread Bible

Here is the way that I prepared this bread. Beranbaum gives lots more specific information in her book, especially for various methods of mixing the dough. I used my food processor, which I think is her preferred manner for this formula.

1.5 quart soufflé or other deep round baking dish, well greased

baking stone (or baking sheet)


117g (4.1 oz, or 2/3 cup + 1 T) unbleached all-purpose flour (Beranbaum specifies King Arthur, Gold Medal, or Pillsbury only – I used King Arthur)

1.8 g (½ tsp) instant yeast

133 g (4 oz, or ½ cup) water

In a medium bowl, whisk flour, yeast, and water until very smooth, to incorporate air, about 2 minutes. Will be the consistency of thick batter. Scrape sides of bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and allow to stand for 1-4 hours at room temperature.

“Ultimate Full Flavor Variation”:

For best flavor development, allow to ferment for 1 hour at room temperature and then refrigerate for 8-24 hours.


42 g (1.5 oz) Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, cut into chunks

42 g (1.5 oz) Romano cheese, cut into chunks

257 g (9 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour (same brands as above)

3 g (1 tsp) instant yeast

5 g (¾ tsp) salt

2 g (1 1/8 tsp) black pepper

42 g (1.5 oz, or 3 T) softened butter

88 g (3 oz, or 3/8 cup) cold water

¾ large egg (about 33 grams not counting shell)

53 g (1 ¾ oz) Gruyere cheese, cut into ¼ inch dice

In food processor with regular blade, process Parmesan and Romano cheeses until finely grated (powdery). Transfer to a bowl and switch to dough blade.

In medium bowl, whisk together all but about 21 grams of the flour, the yeast, salt, and the black pepper. Empty it into the food processor, and scrape the sponge on top. Add the butter.

In measuring cup with a spout, whisk together the cold water and egg. With the machine running, slowly pour the mixture into the feed tube. Stop the machine, add the grated cheese mixture, and process for about 15 seconds, until the dough forms a soft, shaggy ball. If the dough does not form a ball, add some of all of the remaining flour by the T, processing in 4-second bursts. The dough should feel slightly sticky.

Empty the dough onto a lightly floured counter and flatten it into a rectangle. Press 3/8 cup of the Gruyere cubes into the dough, roll it up, and knead to incorporate evenly. The cough will weigh about 780-788 grams.

Put dough in a lightly greased bowl, mark where doubled will be, then cover the bowl and refrigerate the dough 8-24 hours. Pat down several times in the first hour or two until the dough stops rising.

When you are ready to shape the dough, turn it out onto a counter and knead it lightly (It will be supple and smooth). Round it into a ball. Push down into prepared pan; it should fill the pan about half way. Cover lightly with a piece of wax paper and let rise in a warm area (80 – 85 degrees!) until almost tripled, about 3-4 hours. The center should be ½ - 1 inch above the rim of the dish.

45 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have a shelf at the lowest position and place a baking stone or foil-lined baking sheet on it before preheating.

Brush the surface of the bread with a bit of lightly beaten egg. Insert remaining cubes of cheese into the dough using a chopstick; first gently twist chopstick into dough then use chopstick to push in a cheese cube, leaving it visible. This was tons of fun!

Place the dish on the hot stone. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until bread is golden and instant read thermometer registers 190 degrees.

Remove bread from the oven and set on a wire rack for 30 minutes.

With the tip of a sharp knife, loosen the sides of the bread and unmold the bread onto its side onto a soft pillow (covered with plastic wrap to keep it clean) on the counter to finish cooling. This will prevent the soft fragile sides from collapsing; turn it a few times to speed cooling, but always leave it on its side. It will take about an hour to cool completely.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

{TWD} Chocolate Cream Tart, or The Day I Liked Chocolate Again

That crust is just a bit fragile!
Back in "the" day, I had a reputation as a chocolate fanatic. And while I still really like chocolate, there are times when enough is enough, and a bit more is, well, too much. I reached that point right after Easter. I'd given up all sweets for Lent, and then found myself awash in Easter bunnies and not one, but two, intense chocolate creations. I was totally chocolate-d out, but decided to make this tart fresh on the heels of the torte and the cake because my book group was meeting Easter week. I knew they'd be the perfect targets for me to unload this group to enjoy a good chocolate tart. (Planning is a bit trickier when the dessert is not susceptible to being frozen or easily transported.)

The recipe sounded like a bit of chocolate overkill. Chocolate filling in a chocolate crust? I was veeerrrry tempted to substitute a different - nonchocolate - tart crust, but since I was serving this to a large group of people who had not just made and eaten two cakes, I baked the tart as written.

And I've got to confess to a healthy dose of skepticism about this recipe. Back in our pre-TWD days, my daughter J.D.E. baked Dorie’s Tarte Noire - which is a totally and amazingly delicious chocolate tart. I didn’t think this would come even close to measuring up.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- This tart has three components: chocolate crust, chocolate pastry cream filling, and sweetened whipped cream. I made a full recipe in a rectangular tart pan that is equivalent in size to the round pan that Dorie specified.

- The tart dough was not sweet - at all, really. Dorie was telling stories when she said it's delicious on its own.

- I'm pretty sure I overworked the tart dough. I forgot to reread the instructions and then got carried away pressing it in the pan.

- I froze the tart dough in the pan for a good hour.

- I was pretty cavalier in my foil-buttering, so my crust stuck and crumbled apart when I pulled the foil off. Of course I had forgotten to keep a bit of dough out for patches.

- I cooked the pastry cream over med-low heat. It thickened really fast, and in fact I caught it trying to scramble but I took the whisk to it very vigorously and it relented of the mischief tht it had planned. It still was not as smooth as I'd like but I pretended not to notice.

- For chocolate I used Trader Joe's 72% bar chocolate. It comes in thin 3.5 oz bars, so two were perfect for this recipe. Even better? I could break them while they were still wrapped in their foil and just empty the foil packets into the pan - no chopping required.

- I eliminated another dirty dish by measuring the milk by weight right into the saucepan. It's the little victories, people.

- After putting in the butter the pastry cream seemed really oily - it almost didn't incorporate but it finally came together.

- I probably should have built up the tart crust walls a bit higher, because I ended up with an extra bowl of pastry cream after I assembled the tart. It turns out that some people churned theirs into ice cream, but I've been content to eat mine from the fridge with a spoon.

- I was sure that I'd stopped the mixer at the perfect time for soft luscious whipped cream, but somehow by the time I spread it on top of the tart it didn't look as silky as I'd hoped. I would have liked piped whipped cream on this tart, but seeing as I would have been the one to do the piping, it didn't happen. I decided to dress the tart up with a row of something all lined up. All I could put my hands on was mini chocolate chips, and lining them up neatly before they melted (or I lost patience) was a bit beyond my decorating abilities.

the verdict:

In the end, it didn't matter that my crust was a touch crumbly, or my pastry cream was a bit thick and grainy, or my whipped cream a tad dry, or my decorating more than a little wobbly. No, what really stood out was how fabulous this tart tastes! Oh, my, those three elements: crust + filling + whipped cream combine for a total flavor experience that is OUT OF THIS WORLD!!! It shook me out of chocolate overdose and landed me right back on my chocolate-appreciating feet.

This tart easily rates in my top 5 Dorie recipes. (along with the French Pear Tart, the Dimply Plum Cake, the Tall Creamy Cheesecake, and the World Peace Cookies. Oh, and the Chocolate Armagnac Cake. Well, you get my point.)

I served this to book group, and people were in agreement that it was delicious. AT said that it would be even more fantastic with a drizzle of raspberry coulis. Her husband JT disagreed: "It's perfect - don't change anything." When I asked him if he liked this one or the pear tart better, he said, "Don't make me have to pick."

proving once again that rustic is my only option!

Thanks to Kim from Scrumptious Photography who chose this week's recipe - you made me very happy indeed! Stop by Kim's post to get the recipe.

And finally, stop by and leave a comment on my 200th Post for a chance to win a King Arthur gift certificate.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Herb and Asparagus Salad with Deep Dish Individual Ham Sausage Quiche Flans

Every month Megan of My Baking Adventures chooses a "challenge" recipe for the intrepid cooks in the Tyler Florence Fridays group. Luckily this challenge is optional, or I'd have been kicked off the island long ago, seeing as I have yet to attempt any of the challenge dishes. They always sound so good, but I've not been organized enough to easily work specified recipes into my cooking "plans." The baking assignments (from TWD and now SMS) have been more than enough structure for me!

When I saw that the TFF April challenge recipes would be Tyler's Deep Dish Ham Quiche (and Asparagus Salad, too) the prospects didn't seem good. My husband has an almost knee-jerk tendency to reject pork products - especially ham - and is deeply suspicious of the fat and cholesterol in eggs. ("What about the bacon?" you ask. He does indeed eat food cooked with lardons of bacon, but there a little bit of bacon delivers a huge flavor impact so he's willing to make an exception. Well that, and the Benton's bacon we use is pretty amazing...) A ham quiche, especially a deep dish one calling for 12 eggs (not to mention a quart of cream!) wasn't likely to meet with a warm reception at our dining room table. And as luck would have it April didn't present us with any entertaining opportunities where quiche would be appropriate.

But then my husband got called out of town for a 10 day business trip, which opened the window for all sorts of cooking of food that normally wouldn't "fly", including the challenge recipe! You see, I love quiche, and on previous occasions I've been known to make it when he was out of town.

Seeing as I've never one to follow the recipe exactly, I'd say my biggest challenge with the April Challenge is to see whether what I made can still be called the the TFF selection! All I can say is "Thanks for the salad," because the rest is a pretty long stretch from Tyler's original!

n.o.e.'s notes:

Herb and Asparagus salad

Let's start with the salad, because I made that first, and completed it while there was still some natural light for photos!

- I made a tiny single-portion serving, using 2 oz thin baby asparagus

- Because it was such a small fraction of the original recipe, I didn't actually weigh or measure anything, but tried to estimate the proportions as best I could. In my opinion, this was pretty close to the way the recipe was written.

- I used a couple sprigs of flat leaf parsley and a sprig of chocolate mint from my herb garden - yay for Spring! I really really really don't like dill, so I left it out. I was trying to think of what herb I could substitute but I finally decided to just go with the parsley and mint.

- Instead of drizzling lemon juice and olive oil separately, I used a lemon olive oil.

- My parmesan was from Australia! The entire salad didn't take more than 5 minutes to make, and that's including blanching the asparagus!


Although I love LOVE quiche, I just wasn't up for making a Tyler's rich recipe. I knew that I could lighten it up and still get the kind of custard-y goodness that I'd enjoy. So that's what I did. The first step? Eliminate the crust.

- Second step = incorporate cubes of gruyere. Swiss-type cheese is essential for quiche, imo. So, my stir ins were:
1/2 Vidalia onion, sliced and carmelized
1.5 oz cubed gruyere
2 oz habenero chicken sausage (left over from previous pasta dish. I really wanted to use bacon or prosciutto but I didn't want the sausage to go to waste)

- My custard was:
1 duck egg + leftover egg yolk and white from all the cooking I've been doing - probably equal to one whole chicken egg
2.5 oz cream
5.5 oz nonfat milk (lactose free Smart Balance)

- I made my "quiche" into individual flans in 8-oz ramekins. I got the bright idea to seal the bottom of each ramekin with crumb-covered tomato slices:
3 thin tomato slices
2 T seasoned dried bread crumbs (I make these from leftover bread and keep them handy in the freezer)
1 T grated parmesan cheese

I placed the 3 ramekins into a larger baking pan lined with double layer of paper towels and filled halfway with hot water.

Then covered the whole thing loosely with foil and baked at 375 degrees for around 40 minutes.
At that point they were set and nicely golden on top. And the natural light was all gone...

- The flans/quiches unmolded easily, but then kind of collapsed. It's hard to be deep without the dish, or the crust, I guess! I was surprised to see that the tomato ended up in the middle - the custard had seeped beneath and around the slices.

the verdict:

I loved this meal!

I liked the little flans with and without the salad on top. They had lots of flavor and I didn't miss the crust (no, really, it's true). The gruyere was delicious addition, and the caramelized onions gave a rustic sweet note. The sausage I used was a little assertive, so I'd use bacon or some kind of ham next time, or omit the meat altogether.

The salad was fantastic with and without the "quiche." I wouldn't hesitate to serve it on its own. Easy and delicious.

As an aside, I used to be a confirmed asparagus-hater, and I've only recently discovered (decided?) that I can not just tolerate, but actually like, asparagus. This is an about-face of epic proportions. I give the credit to J.D.E. (who asked me to buy some back in March), to Mark Bittman (who taught me how to cook it - I'll post that recipe eventually!) and to some particularly tender pencil-thin asparagus.

I'm excited to have such a fantastic way to enjoy asparagus! This was a great dish/two dishes.
Thanks, Tyler and thanks, Megan for choosing it as our challenge.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sweet Melissa's Granola Breakfast Cookies

Cookies for breakfast? That's a concept that only crosses my mind as a guilty pleasure, not a menu plan! But this week the Sweet Melissa Sundays bakers are whipping up Granola Breakfast Cookies, so I gamely joined in. Now, I've made granola cookies once before, using Dorie Greenspan's recipe for the cookies and my homemade granola. My conclusion then? I really liked the granola better by the handful than in cookies. I was wondering if I'd end up feeling the same way about Melissa's.

This was actually a compound recipe; one of the ingredients for the granola cookies is Cherry Almond Granola, a Sweet Melissa recipe that's on the previous page of the cookbook. Although I knew that I could substitute other granola, Melissa's recipe sounded interesting, mostly because of the dried milk powder. Since I have that on hand from bread baking, I went ahead and made a batch of the granola, which gave me enough for the cookies, a quart to give my brother and some left over.

I will save the detailed granola review for when that recipe is chosen for Sweet Melissa Sundays, but here are a few notes: I baked it at the long end of the recommended time and it turned out quite crispy. I ran out of currants (for the second time this month!?) and the neighborhood Publix doesn't carry them so I subbed some chopped dates and figs along with the recipe's golden raisins and cherries. This granola has a nice combination of spices, though it's a bit sweet for my taste.

n.o.e.'s notes:

I made a few minor changes to the cookie dough:

- left out cinnamon and added 1/4 tsp ginger 1/4 tsp of mixed spice

- added 1/2 tsp vanilla extract and 1/4 tsp almond extract

- used 1 1/4 c whole wheat flour and 1/2 c white whole wheat [edit: the recipe called for whole wheat flour, so I was trying to lighten it up a bit]

As I put them in the oven, I had fond hopes that these would taste like yummy molasses cookies with some great stir-ins added. But that was not to be...

My cookies did not spread at all. They were kinda lumpy and looked rubbery. I put the second half in mini muffin pans and they ended up looking better but still strange.

the verdict:

My cookies were really odd looking and tasting. They were really dense and really sweet. Although they were plenty moist, they tasted kind of "health food-y" and dry. The granola was almost lost in all that denseness. They almost reminded me of a Lara Bar (which I do like) but not quite.

When I was out to dinner last night (where the dessert was apple beignets with absolutely scrumptious granola ice cream!!!) I mentally reviewed my cookie disaster. Suddenly it hit me: I bet I'd left out the egg! I remembered getting it out of the carton and putting it in a bowl on the counter, but I didn't remember cracking it. Aha! When I got home I headed straight to the kitchen, sure I'd find the egg sitting in the bowl. But it wasn't there...

So I'll never know what I did wrong, but I don't plan to try this recipe again to find out. The taste wasn't quite my cuppa tea, and really, I prefer my granola out of cookies more than inside of cookies. I love granola as granola and when I want a cookie, I want to indulge!

Jessica of Singleton in the Kitchen chose this week's recipe. I love Jessica's blog because she's always cooking up yummy treats (especially for her bf) and she loooves a great breakfast! You can find the recipe on her blog post, along with a fun taste test between this recipe and Dorie's.

Before writing this post I sneaked some peeks at some of the other Sweet Melissa Sundays bakers for the real scoop. Here's what I found:

1. Their cookies look like cookies, and

2. They actually like the cookies

You might, too!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Hats off to the Future Chefs!

The National ProStart Student Invitational culinary competition is being held this weekend in San Diego - teams of high school students must prepare a 3 course meal in 60 minutes. 37 teams from across the US are participating.

Among its host of rules, the contest has significant limitations that most of us don't face in our home kitchens:
- no running water or electricity
- 2 banquet tables are the workspace for the 4 cooks
- 2 propane burners are the only source of heat to prepare 5 dishes.
A panel of judges will grade them strictly on such things as: sanitation, technique, waste, knife skills. A separate panel conducts a blind judging of the food.

Last week I had the opportunity to see the Georgia team in action at a pre-Nationals demonstration. What a fascinating glimpse into the development of some dedicated and inventive future chefs! The students on Meadowcreek High School's team are repeat Georgia state champions and are looking to improve their top-10 finish from last year's National event. They work with a faculty member (modern day "home ec" teacher) and also with a professional chef mentor. The students developed/adapted the recipes themselves, and worked it into a sample menu offering:

Here's what each of the students did:

Student #1: "Fabricated" the chicken. Started with a whole chicken and cut it, ending up making "airline" chicken breasts that she then filled, rolled, and cooked. Then made a sauce. (question: why is cutting a chicken into pieces called "fabricating"? Seems like it's the opposite!)

Student #2: Prepared vegetable timbales and polenta cakes

Sorry about the bad pictures! The plating was professional quality but by the time I could get close the 2 servings were being divided and distributed to the 6 randomly-chosen tasters. The appetizer was already gone!
Student #3: Made caramel for the bottom of the flans and for sugar baskets. She next stirred up a custard, which she baked into flans in a steam oven over a propane burner (she developed the technique). She also prepared two kinds of berry sauce and hand-whipped berry cream. Lots of tricky techniques in under an hour!

Student #4: Prepared the appetizer from start to finish - mixed up a saffron pasta, rolled it very thin, filled with a shrimp mixture, quickly cooked it, then made a lovely pan sauce.

It was fascinating to see how they took turns with the two burners, and how they kept everything warm, including the plates.

I had a blast watching them cook. Good luck to all the hard-working student chefs!

Friday, April 24, 2009

200 Posts, a King Arthur Giveaway, and Some Fun Links!

If you know my blog, you know that in any given post there's likely to be some math lurking somewhere, ready to pounce on you and make you scream or break out in a cold sweat. So, I'll just cut to the chase and give some numbers and calculations right here at the front end, but there are some rewards here too!

(a) - This is my 200th post.

(b) - I've been blogging just over 40 weeks, so that works out to a steady rate of just under 5 posts per week.

(c) - I will give one of you lucky readers a gift certificate to King Arthur Flour., in an amount equal to one dime per blog post since the inception of The Dogs Eat the Crumbs - yep, that's $20.00 for you to spend on anything King Arthur sells. My blog has spent a bunch of time lately exploring yeast recipes, and I'll credit King Arthur with getting me started with bread baking - with some delicious and easy recipes, and with ingredients and equipment to ensure success. But you don't have to bake with yeast to love King Arthur! They have a cool print catalog and an online version - including the latest sale items. You could choose one (or more) pieces of bakeware (the bake-and-give disposable pans are very cool) or an assortment of ingredients, or a few fun gadgets!

There is nothing tricky about this giveaway. No hoops to jump through or stories to recount. No math whatsoever! Just leave me a comment before 11:00 PM EDT, May 1, 2009. Include your name and a way to contact you (a blog url or an email address). I'll assign one entry for each different person who comments, and will use a random number generator to come up with a winner. I have an actual gift card that I can mail to you, but - and here's the best part - you can start using the certificate immediately after winning - once I email you the certificate number!

OK, so when I figured the amount of this gift certificate, I though it was cool that a dime for each blog post equals $20.00. Of course, being me, there were a few more calculations. What if I got paid by the post? Hmm, a dollar per post - I'd have $200 in my pocket. $5 per post would leave me $1000 richer. Wow, what if I were to get an hourly wage for my blogging time? Given how much time I've sunk into writing 200 posts, that would be real money! Which sort of brings the question of "opportunity cost" (and "waste of time") into sharp focus...

Well, while I'm on the subject of wasting time, just in case you are looking for some food-related sites to explore, here are some of the ones that I've found interesting lately:

---The 50 best British recipes, as solicited by the Guardian:
Simple recipes
Medium recipes
Difficult recipes

---The oh-so-talented baker Rose Levy Berenbaum was commissioned by epicurious to write an article called "how to cook - bread"

---The Times Online lists the Top 10 Blogs for Home Cooks.

---Check out "blogs with bite" - a semiregular listing of really interesting food blogs. Here are the last 3 editions:


---Here's a cool link to 39 recipes by Suzanne Goin

--- Saveur has a fascinating glimpse of what cookbooks are on the shelves of professional chefs.

Cookie dough makes us happy!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

French Green Lentils with Sausages

OK, I know that we're well into Spring. And food bloggers everywhere are posting wonderful seasonal dishes, featuring things like fresh green peas, strawberries, and asparagus. But here at The Dogs Eat the Crumbs Headquarters, we operate a little differently. Namely with a severe posting backlog. Say, a 50+ post backlog. There are a bunch of things that I've cooked that I either need to post out of season or hold until the appropriate season comes back around. I'm doing my share of carrying over posts (one for summer squash has been in the "drafts" collection since, well, last summer, and I have some Christmas posts that may have to wait until the next time the holidays roll around). But I've got a recipe or two for dried beans/lentils that are are likely to sneak their way into this blog in the very near future. Pantry staples are seasonless, right? Plus, the recipes are just too yummy to wait!

From the minute I saw this recipe for Sausages with French Green Lentils on the Saveur website, I knew I would have to make the dish. Although the French make this recipe with a traditional French pork sausage (read: "hard to find"), Saveur assures us that sweet Italian sausage is a fine substitute. I ordered some fresh sweet pork sausage from the farm box, and picked up some green lentils at Whole Foods. Finally I had the ingredients in place!

This was a difficult dish to photograph, especially since we were hungry and ready to eat it!
n.o.e.'s notes:

- I increased the recipe because I had 1 lb of lentils and the recipe calls for 12 oz.

- The Farm Box sausage turned out to be a very mildly seasoned sausage.

the verdict:

The subtle and perfectly balanced flavors of this dish surpassed my very high expectations, and won highest ratings from my husband. Although we typically love our food good and spicy, the mild nature of this sausage paired perfectly with the sublime seasoning of the lentils.

I loved this so much that when we were done eating I had the strongest feeling that I needed to call someone or email, or, heck even shout from the rooftop to say: "People, you HAVE to make this dish!" The lentils are cooked and seasoned perfectly. They do pair well with the sausage, but could easily stand on their own. Oh, and the leftovers were delicious - and they freeze well.

So, here's the deal. If you like lentils at all, do yourself a favor and try this dish. If you've ever wondered about lentils, this is the recipe to start with. If sausages are not your thing, you can (and should) still make the lentils. If you like things a bit spicier, you could pair the lentils with other sausages or meat. Hmm, what else? If you don't think you'll make lentils until cold weather returns, bookmark this recipe and make it later! You will thank me.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

{TWD} Four Star Bread Pudding

I come by my love of desserts, as they say, "honestly." The sweet tooth gene was passed directly to me from my mother, who in turn received it from her mother. Luckily a few of my grandmother's dessert recipes have also passed down to me. One of her specialties was a chocolate bread pudding - the recipe was originally from the 1937 Better Homes and Gardens! I have distinct memories of this dessert, although my mother prepared it far less frequently that her nearly-daily apple pie.

Although the ingredients and methods of Dorie's recipe differ significantly from my grandmother's, I was excited to try this week's Chocolate Bread Pudding., chosen by Lauren of Upper East Side Chronicle. You can find Dorie's recipe on Lauren's site (or on page 410 of Dorie's book); for my grandmother's recipe, just scroll down to the end of this post.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- My freezer contained half a kugelhopf that I made in February. It had turned out a little dry (but with great flavor) so I figured it would be the perfect base for this bread pudding.

- With my husband out of town, I made 1/4 recipe. The P&Q contained many reports of extra custard, so I used 1/3 recipe's worth of bread cubes (4 oz rather than 3 oz).

- I "staled" my already dry bread in the oven.

- Because the kugelhopf contained some currants and golden raisins (and the occasional sliced almond) I didn't add any dried fruit to the pudding.

bread cubes all "staled" and ready to use
-The recipe was very easy to cut, aside from the egg quantity. A 1/4 recipe means 1 yolk and 3/4 of a whole egg. This is actually not too difficult to do with a digital scale. But (and if you're a regular reader, please feel free to gasp at this next bit of information) I didn't calculate. I didn't weigh. I didn't measure. I just winged it. I had a lot of egg wash left over from my Sweet Melissa apple turnovers - I'm guessing there was about half an egg and maybe a tablespoon of cream in a little container in my fridge. I've orphaned so many partial eggs in recent baking forays (7 egg whites last week alone, which I will freeze and/or use soon) and I didn't want to toss this egg wash. So I scraped it into a bowl. Then I broke yet another egg and added the yolk and some of the white.

- I reduced the cream a bit because there was cream in the egg wash. For milk I used Smart Balance nonfat lactose-free. It claims to taste as rich as whole milk so this seemed like a great use for it.

- Since I only needed 1/8 cup of sugar, I decided to use some of the fancy stuff in my stash of baking ingredients, and chose Golden Baker's sugar.

- I used Scharffen Berger 72% bittersweet chocolate. The best thing about 1/4 recipe is that chopping 1.5 oz of chocolate is no big deal!

- The pudding baked in a water bath for 25 minutes. I forgot the double layer of paper towels, but it didn't seem to be a problem.

To accompany the pudding I made some brandied whipped cream - with a whisk and a bowl and some elbow grease. Because I was making such a small amount I didn't think my mixer would whip it. It was surprisingly easy.

the verdict:

Dorie recommends this be eaten room temperature or chilled. I tried it warm, room temp, and cold. I liked it best when it was still medium-warm - with the brandied whipped cream. A little bit of the vanilla/orange/cinnamon/nutmeg flavors of my underlying bread came through in the taste of the pudding. So good! I still have a good bit of the kugelhopf in the freezer and I think It'd make a fabulous regular bread pudding, or even a version with a berry sauce stirred into the custard.

The chocolate flavor seemed stronger when the bread pudding was cold. It put me in the mood to try my grandmother's recipe!

my grandmother's (and mother's) recipe:

Chocolate Crumb Pudding
Better Homes and Gardens, October 1937

In double-boiler heat 1 oz sweet chocolate, 1/4 cup butter, 1/2 cup milk; add slowly 4 beaten egg yolks, 1/2 cup sugar. Cook until thickened. Add 2 cups soft bread crumbs, 1 cup shredded blanched almonds, fold in 4 stiff beaten egg whites. Cover and steam in double boiler 25 minutes. Serve hot or cold with cream or custard sauce.
Serves 8

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sweet Melissa's Caramel Apple Turnovers

When I was back in grade school, I used to see articles - in the Weekly Reader or the National Geographic - with pictures of mammoth fruits and vegetables that were grown in Alaska. Strawberries like my fist, cucumbers that resembled baseball bats, and watermelons the size of small cars. Surely you've seen those pictures? Anyway, when I hit the Publix produce section this week I was transported to Alaska. The Granny Smith apples were enormous! Honestly, they looked like green grapefruits. I knew that I needed 4 apples for a double batch of this week's Sweet Melissa recipe, Caramel Apple Turnovers, but that's all the detail Melissa provides. No volume or weight measures. I was pretty sure Melissa didn't intend for us to use mutant-sized apples, but I was stumped as to how many of these babies to buy. After I spent a ridiculous amount of time debating with myself what the equivalent amount of Alaska-type Granny Smith apples to Lower-48 apples would be, I turned around and spied a pile of already-bagged Granny Smith apples. No Alaska effect here: these looked smaller than usual Granny Smiths. (Why did I suddenly feel that the Three Bears were about to jump out from behind the lettuce display?) I finally gave up on "just right" apples and grabbed the pre-bagged apples. I figured I could deal with too small easier than with the mondo ones.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- Sweet Melissa's turnovers are squares of puff pastry folded around two fillings, one a sweetened ricotta mixture and the other a caramelized apple concoction.

- Apple Caramel filling:
Melissa says to cook the sugar over low heat until it caramelizes. It took forever for the sugar to turn amber, even after I turned the heat up to a strong medium. If I'd left it on low, I think it might still be simmering away. Finally it was the proper deep golden brown color. When I added the apples the molten sugar immediately seized into a hardened ball. With continued heating and stirring, the caramel eventually dissolved into the apple liquid.

- I used 4 1/2 quite petite apples, but I think 4 would have been better.

- As I cooked the apples I remembered a conversation that I'd had with JT, a member of our book group, about apple pie. "I just hate it when apples are still crunchy in a pie," he'd said. I wanted these apples to be nice and tender; after half an hour the apple mixture was appropriately saucy. I sampled a little spoonful, and what I tasted was... apple. To me the caramel flavor didn't carry through to the cooked apples. That's discouraging. If I'm going to brave the molten sugar process, I want to taste it in the finished product!

- Ricotta filling:
We had to put the ricotta in cheesecloth in a sieve, weight it and leave it overnight to drain. About a tablespoon or two of liquid came out (for my cup of ricotta). I thought
the ricotta filling was very tasty - the orange zest is quite prominent. I wasn't sure how that would pair with the (caramel scented) apples.

- There is almost too much filling for the turnovers. The ricotta kept trying to leak out and even though I crimped them with a fork, they didn't want to stay closed.

- I made a double recipe, but only baked off 4 of the turnovers, freezing the other four for later. I only mixed up enough egg wash for a single recipe, but there was a ton of egg wash left over after sealing 8 turnovers and brushing the tops of 4.

- I forgot all about the cinnamon sugar that was supposed to go on top.

ready for a stint in the freezer!
- My turnovers stayed in the coldest part of my fridge for at least an hour. They were chilled solid when they were ready to bake. I put them on a layer of baking parchment on top of a cookie sheet. They cooked faster than 45 minutes; turning very dark brown in less than 40 minutes. The edges stayed sealed, thank goodness.

the verdict:

I baked up four of the turnovers and served them at book group (along with a chocolate cream tart that will be posted a week from Tuesday) I cut each of the turnovers in three pieces so that everyone could get a little serving (or two). They were a huge hit with the group!

My corner piece of turnover was mostly puff pastry and not much filling. From the little bit I could taste I liked the way the ricotta tasted with the apple more than I thought I would. But for the life of me I could not taste the caramel in the apples. And I'm not sure my tasters could either.

I wish I had a video of all of us chewing bites of turnover and concentrating; trying to see if we could detect any caramel! A few of the group said that they thought they caught some caramel flavor.

My husband said he liked them even better than apple pie, which if you know the man at all, is saying something serious. He had the leftover pieces of turnover the next morning for breakfast.

I'm glad I doubled the recipe so there will be more available for him when I'm baking some form of chocolate (which he can't eat). I thought the recipe was pretty time consuming, especially making the caramel that couldn't really be tasted. I'd personally much rather have a pie. But I was in the minority here; the book group really seemed to like these. Next time I might skip the caramelization step and just cook the apples in some cinnamon sugar, and mix up the ricotta with a bit of lemon zest in place of the orange. Alternatively, I think fantastic turnovers could be made with the orange-ricotta filling and caramelized peaches.

best version?

Since I've never made turnovers, these are by default the best version I've baked! As for all apple desserts, although I'd choose a pie or a crisp first, my husband and the book group folks would no doubt grab one of these!!

Thanks, Tracey, for choosing this recipe; it made my tasters - and my husband - very happy! If you'd like to see what all the fuss is about, you can find the recipe on Tracey's blog post. Or you could purchase the Sweet Melissa Baking Book and join in the weekly fun.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Green Peppercorn Sage Gravy

I don't know about you, but every Thanksgiving, as I tuck into my favorite meal of the entire year, I find myself wondering why I cook turkey + gravy only in November (and sometimes at Christmas). "This year," I always say to myself, "I will make turkey more often." And although I usually fail pretty miserably in that resolution, this year I actually followed through. Which is pretty cool in many ways, but it means that I'm writing a post featuring turkey gravy after Easter!

Back in January, my farm box had some turkeys available for order - local, organic, free-pastured birds. I'd cooked one of these birds for Thanksgiving dinner, using Tyler Florence's recipe. It was the best turkey I've ever eaten, so I jumped on the chance for a repeat performance. The turkey that I picked up in January was 24 pounds! I again used Tyler's method to cook the turkey, and it was delicious, although it was a little comical to prepare such a huge turkey when there are just 2 of us in the house. We enjoyed a few turkey dinners that week, and then froze an entire turkey breast, 3 quarts of stock, turkey drippings (measured in 1/4 cup packets), and a passel of Ziploc bags filled with turkey meat, ranging from full slices down to little scraps.

Gotta love all that food in the freezer! I recently stumbled across Tyler Florence's recipe for Sage Green Peppercorn Gravy and decided to cook it, even though I didn't have some of the ingredients: turkey giblets or smoked turkey wings. So I improvised, using an assortment of turkey items from my freezer instead!

n.o.e.'s notes:

-I prepared a half recipe, making several changes to Tyler's recipe. My adapted version is at the end of this post.

- To compensate for the fact that I didn't have smoked turkey wings available, I added a smoky note in two ways:
1. I used some reserved bacon grease from fabulously-smoky Benton's bacon.
2. I also stirred some smoked salt into the nearly-finished gravy. I order the smoked salt (and the equally wonderful hot salt) from a little spice purveyor in central New York State.

- Since I had no giblets to chop and add to the gravy, I used small scraps of cooked turkey and some turkey drippings, both from the freezer.

the verdict:

I served the gravy with some of the leftover Tyler Florence turkey slices (yup, in my freezer.) The resulting dish was totally delicious! The gravy's flavor was complex and subtle; the smoky touches and the cognac added an understated sophistication. Luckily we had some Sister Schubert's rolls to catch all of the gravy goodness on our plates!

Now, tuck this recipe away for Thanksgiving - that's what I'm going to do!

the recipe:

Green Peppercorn Sage Gravy

adapted from a recipe by Tyler Florence.

1 T smoky bacon grease
1/2 T butter
1/2 onion, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, smashed
3 small carrots, cut in chunks
1.5 celery stalks, cut in chunks
4 sprigs Italian parsley, divided and half roughly chopped
4 sprigs thyme, divided and half roughly chopped
2 bay leaves, divided and half roughly chopped
3 T cognac
1 T flour
2 c. chicken stock
1/4 cup defatted turkey drippings
1/4 c. water
1/4 tsp. smoked salt
salt and pepper
1/3 - 1/2 cup small or shredded cooked turkey scraps
1/2 T green peppercorns

Melt butter and bacon grease in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion, garlic, carrots, and celery with 2 sprigs each parsley and thyme, 2 sage leaves, and 1 bay leaf until fragrant (about 5 minutes). Deglaze the pan with 2 T. cognac and cook for 2 minutes to evaporate the alcohol. Sprinkle in flour to tighten up the mixture and stir in the chicken broth a little at a time to avoid lumping. Simmer for about 15 minutes, until slightly thickened. With a slotted spoon or strainer, remove the pieces of vegetable from the broth.

In another pan, heat the turkey drippings. Add the remaining herbs. Season with salt and pepper and heat over medium heat. Add 1 T cognac and continue to cook until ingredients are hot and well combined and the cognac has evaporated.

Add the seasoned drippings and the turkey scraps to the broth mixture. Deglaze the dripping pan with 1/4 cup water, and add to the gravy. Simmer until the gravy is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Stir in peppercorns and serve with turkey.

I'm sending this post to Tyler Florence Fridays, a weekly blog event featuring the recipes of Tyler Florence. Check out the roundup to see what the Tyler-istas are cooking up!

Friday, April 17, 2009

{Yeast #20} - Colomba Pasquale - Easter Dove Bread

Early in Lent, I saw King Arthur's recipe for Colomba Pasquale, a rich Italian Easter bread baked in a beautiful metal dove-shaped pan. (Now there's a specialty pan if I ever saw one.) More commonly, Colomba is baked in a sturdy paper dove pan. King Arthur helpfully suggests that in the event you lack a dove pan to bake your bread in, you can make a free-formed loaf which you can shape into a dove, or, if all else fails, a simple loaf pan will do the trick.

I printed the recipe, and resolved that I would bake the Colomba bread for Easter. Then I found out that there was an online baking event celebrating the venerable Colomba. The event announcement was made here:

 Happy Easter Baking
Participation for this event is fun and easy: bakers are free to use Colomba recipes of choice, and post their versions of the bread on their blogs by the end of April 18.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- I don't have a dove pan, (I do have a silicone pig pan, but it just isn't the same!) I briefly entertained the idea of making my own dove pan (my Italian blogging buddy Natalia helpfully sent me a link showing how. After I made my bread I saw that a Dutch blogger, Lien, made a slide show on her Colomba post which demonstrates how to make a dove mold.) In the end I decided to go with two regular baking pans.

- This recipe starts with a sponge. I mixed up the sponge ingredients, using the recommended SAF Gold yeast. Once it doubled, I put it in the food processor, adding the other ingredients. For flavoring the dough, I used a total of 1 tsp orange zest, 2 tsp lemon zest and 2 tsp vanilla extract.

- Colomba usually features candied orange peel, or mixed candied citrus peels. I made up a big batch of mixed peel, using double the syrup ingredients of Giada's recipe and a variety of citrus peel:
1 grapefruit
1 orange
1 clementine
1 lime
1 1/2 lemons

When the peel was cooked and cooled, I chopped it fine and added some candied blood orange peel left over from my recent biscotti. I measured out 1/2 cup of the chopped peel and added 1/2 cup of chopped golden raisins.

- I was expecting the dough to take a couple of hours to rise, but in the warm spot on top of my stove it doubled in 1 1/2 hours.

- I divided the dough in half, and put in a loaf pan and a round deep springform pan.

- The dough took about an hour and a half to crest the pan!

- The recipe calls for a meringue type topping, made from whipped egg white along with sugar and ground almonds. My egg white would not whip in my mixer, so this was sort of a disaster for me. I eventually brushed on a very thin layer of the topping. Next time I'll use my mini fp to make a topping.

- I made a dove cutout out of waxed paper and tried to sprinkle the sugar and the almonds around it, leaving a dove shape in the middle. Well, that was a total bust, so I popped the pans in the oven.

- The breads rose beautifully in the oven.

- When it came time to release the loafs from their pans, the loaf baked in the springform pan stuck to the sides of the pan just a bit. We let it cool for about half an hour, then ate it slightly warm. The two of us easily downed half of one loaf (and would have eaten more but I wanted to photograph it the next morning in daylight!

- My attempted dove didn't show up very much on the finished loaf - if you look really closely at the loaves in the picture above (and use some strong imaginations) you might be able to discern a dove shape on the top of each. Or not!

- I put my little stencil over the loves and sifted confectioner's sugar all around it.

There: now you can see the dove!

the verdict:

This bread was soooo good - tender and plenty moist, with a great subtle fruit-and-citrus flavor.

Comparing this bread to other rich fruit-filled yeast breads that I've baked:
We liked it better than the hot cross buns, and better than the most recent batch of kugelhopf.

The SAF Gold yeast did its job very well, making this bread rise quickly and successfully for me. Aside from the meringue issue, this wasn't a very difficult recipe, and I can see myself making this one again, and maybe I'll make a dove mold!

I'm sending my Colomba to "Cindystar" (Italy), host of the "Easter Baking" event, for inclusion in the Colomba roundup. If you visit her blog on April 21, you will see other versions of beautiful and elaborate Easter dove breads! [Update: to provide the link for the roundup!]

Happy Baking Easter

I'm also sending this bread over to Susan at Yeastspotting - check out all the amazing bread on that weekly roundup.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Blood Orange Honey Sorbet

In case you're encountering a surfeit of rich chocolate confections (this could apply to pretty much anyone in Tuesdays with Dorie or Sweet Melissa Sundays!), a fresh citrus sorbet is the perfect antidote. Blood oranges are plentiful in the stores right now, and this sorbet couldn't be easier to make! I served this on Easter, along with Dorie's French Yogurt Cake, and I'll cut right to the verdict and tell you that it was the perfect refreshing end to a festive springtime meal.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- I used this recipe from David Lebovitz.

- It took 5 blood oranges to get 2 cups of juice. I included some of the more tender pulp; discarded the tough fibrous pulp and the seeds. I have a little electric juicer that my brother-in-law gave me for Christmas 20+ years ago (click for a similar model). It's perfect for this task.

- I took David's suggestion, and used honey rather than white sugar. I heated 3 fluid ounces of honey slightly to thin it, then slowly stirred in the 2 cups of juice until combined.

- Then I stirred in 4 T white wine (Reisling), and chilled the mixture for a few hours before pouring it into the ice cream churn.

the verdict:

Although I don't normally like orange-flavored frozen desserts (orange is my least favorite sherbet flavor, for example) this blood orange sorbet was different. It was fresh tasting with an intense tart + sweet flavor. We loved it with the Yogurt Cake. It's also great on its own. My husband couldn't get enough, saying, "this is the best sorbet I've ever eaten."

When we lost electricity on Monday, my first thought was, "Oh, no, the sorbet will melt!" Luckily, when the power returned after 6 hours everything in the freezer - especially the sorbet - was still perfectly frozen. There's still a scoop of sorbet left, but it won't last long!