Sunday, October 26, 2008

Oatmeal-Molasses Bread

Fall makes me want to bake. It's probably the changing leaves, the chill and the all-encompassing wetness that puts me in the mood for homemade soup and bread. Of course, the blazing heat of a PNW summer also makes me want to fire up the oven, so maybe I just really like this hobby.

So it's fitting that I chose a bread recipe from "Dairy Hollow House Soup and Bread" book: "Rabbit Hill Inn Oatmeal-Molasses Bread". We seem to be on a molasses kick at our house.

I went a little overboard on the blackstrap molasses, since there were only a few tablespoons left in the bottle and I love the taste. The loaf on the left has that extra molasses kneaded into the dough, and the one on the right just has the molasses smeared on top. (What's the effect of molasses as a glaze? Let's find out!) I also added vital wheat gluten, as I've taken to doing for my bread. If it's added any lift or shelf life, I wouldn't know because I haven't done a non-additive control.

My right wrist is bothersome, so I left the majority of the kneading up to the stand mixer and dough hook. It's a pretty sticky dough anyway.

I baked them at 375F for 30-odd minutes, spritzing with water generously and turning halfway through, then pulled them out when their internal temp was 210F. So what effect does a molasses glaze have on a bread? The crust is darker by a good lot, but there aren't other differences that I can tell.

They took forever to cool, but are deliciously worth the wait! They're sweet--thanks to the molasses--and like a sandwich bread in texture. The oatmeal didn't survive to lend anything to the texture, except perhaps to make it moister. I love how the molasses is swirled into the kneaded-in dough. It's almost like a cinnamon loaf.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

iron chef -- brussel sprouts!

Chairman Gretchen says: A la cuisine!

In a house of two excellent cooks, iron chef battles are inevitable. We had some extra brussel sprouts lying around and couldn't agree how we wanted to prepare them, so we each made our own rendition. I like mine quickly sautéed over high heat, which keeps them fresh and crispy, with that excellent peppery bite. I've come to learn this is the South American style, where young women are deigned ready for marriage when they learn to slice greens as thinly as possible. Apparently, I have a while. This shredded preparation lets the sprouts cook in about a minute over medium high heat. Bacon was, of course, added.

Jess' preparation was more traditional. The sprouts were halved and tossed with olive oil. Again, bacon was added. They were baked until soft and roasty. Yum!

little cakes

I like challenges. I like trying difficult recipes just to see if I can do them. It seems that once you have built up a set of core techniques and fluency with recipe language, there aren't many things you can't do.

When my mother emailed me this recipe for madeleines (ahem--lemon-glazed madeleines) I knew this was my next opponent. I had been schlepping the fancy pans around with me for years, and never had the courage to use them.

Oh my. Warm from the oven, they were divine. I had planned to bring these to a friend's farewell party, but I doubt they will last that long. I might just make a fresh batch tomorrow.


Our house has been completely inundated by tomatoes this season. We have about five cherry tomato plants in our side yard that just don't know when to stop! I've even had enough to make tomato sauce from scratch... twice! That's a lot! I was too busy eating to take pictures of the finished product, but it was so good I wanted to share the recipe, adapted from the indelible Marcella Hazan (The Classic Italian Cookbook):

2 lbs fresh ripe tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1/2 cup olive oil
medium-sized sweet onion, finely minced
~1/4 tsp granulated sugar

~2 tsp salt
1 small can tomato paste (totally cheating)
A few sprigs of fresh oregano, stems discarded.

wash tomatoes, then cut in half. Simmer in a covered saucepan for 10-15 minutes until flesh softens.
2. Purée tomatoes in food mill or food processor. If using the processor, push the purée through a fine-mesh strainer to remove seeds and skin.
3. Add the olive oil to a clean saucepan, add the onion and sauté until just translucent. Add the tomato purée, paste, sugar, salt, and oregano. Cook uncovered at a steady simmer for 40 minutes or until desired consistency. Check seasoning and adjust as needed. Add some fresh leaves of oregano right at the end for color.

Since I used cherry tomatoes as the base (Roma is more traditional), I added less sugar. Also, cherry tomatoes have a higher ratio of gooshy seed:usable flesh, so I added the tomato paste to thicken things up. This was not in Maricella's original recipe. Also, she calls for the classic Mirpoix (holy trinity) of onion, carrot, and celery. I personally don't enjoy veggie chunks in my pasta sauce, so I only used the onion. I also like oregano in my tomato sauce, so in that went.

Like I said, the sauce was polished off before photographic evidence could be collected, so here's a picture of the tail-end of the harvest. I had to use three times this quantity for the sauce. Also, the zucchini and raspberry plants found the energy to give us a small sample.


OK, molasses cookies typically mean "winter" to me, but I could not resist! I was craving their fabulous spiciness and wanted the house to smell glorious. In my family, there are two competing recipes, one from my maternal grandmother's family, and one from my paternal great-grandmother. I will be comparing them later, but since the recipes are tucked in my mother's recipe box, I used this recipe for Molasses Crinkles (Gourmet, 2004).

As anticipated, the house smelled amazing for hours. However, I let half the dough soften too much on the counter, causing the second batch to spread too thin during the baking. Despite being shapeless blobs, they were still chewy and delicious.


This year I could not wait for fall weather to come around. We had (in my opinion) a rather wimpy summer, with a poor berry harvest and uninspiring stone-fruit crop. I just wasn't excited anymore. So when nights started crisping a few weeks ago, I could hardly contain my enthusiasm. I immediately dusted off the Crock Pot and made some beef stew and whole-wheat bread. This was my first attempt at a whole-wheat loaf, and I was pretty pleased with the results. I made one loaf plain, and two loaves as cinnamon/current whole-wheat. A few slices left out overnight to stale made excellent french toast!

This is the cinnamon variety (note the brown "swirl"...I've got to practice that swirling technique). Not much left. I got the recipe for Basic Whole-Wheat Bread and variations from Real Bread: A fearless guide to making it by M. Baylis and C. Castle (pg 69).