southern California date nut bread

February 29, 2012 § 3 Comments

One of my childhood food memories is Van de Kamp’s date nut bread that mom would buy as a breakfast treat. I liked it best toasted. I remember its deep molasses color in contrast to the white smear of cream cheese, very moist texture and sweetness.

Enriched Hot Dog Buns (sliced)

The Van de Kamp’s bakery belongs to Los Angeles’ past now. It started as a family-owned business in 1915 that expanded to a chain of bakery outlets with a central production facility in just fifteen years. Distribution then started into grocery stores, and the business grew to include coffee shops and later frozen foods. Starting in the 1950’s it changed hands a few times, with part of the operation becoming a national brand under Pillsbury Co. in 1984. Around the same time, an East Coast bakery named Entenmann’s entered the California market by building a modern bakery plant and distributing a streamlined product line into supermarkets. Van de Kamp’s filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1990, its date nut bread and windmill cookies gone forever. I found a recipe and tweaked it to come up with a date nut loaf that lacks the dark color, but has the same sweet moist dense taste that I remember.

My sis sent me 5 pounds of California Palm desert dates (three varieties) and large pecans from Georgia for Christmas. They’re both delicious, and having a surplus of dates inspired me to make the date nut bread.

The liquid ingredient for this recipe is dates puréed with water. Check carefully to make sure you’ve gotten all the pits out! Lovely burnished loaves just out of the oven.

Date Nut Bread

(makes 2 loaves; recipe works at 5000 ft.)

1/2 pound moist fresh dates, pitted

2 cups water

juice of one orange

2 cups (10 oz.) all-purpose flour

1 cup (5 oz.) whole wheat or emmer flour (or use all-purpose)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

4 oz. butter, room temperature

1 cup dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs, room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup toasted pecans or walnuts, chopped

Butter and lightly flour two loaf pans. Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Place the pitted dates into the blender container and add enough water to cover them. Purée until smooth, add the rest of the water and the orange juice and blend again. Set aside.

Combine the flours, baking powder and baking soda and mix thoroughly to blend.

Cream the butter, sugar and salt in the mixer until lightened. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each; add the vanilla.

Alternately add the dry and wet ingredients mixing just enough to combine after each addition. Start with 1/3 of the dry, 1/2 of wet, 1/3 dry, rest of wet, rest of dry. Scrape the sides of the bowl down once or twice during this process. Add the chopped nuts and fold into the batter. The batter should look somewhat smooth.

Divide the batter between the two loaf pans and spread so it’s level. Bake for about 1 hour, until a toothpick comes out clean or with just a few crumbs. Rotate the pans if needed for even baking. Cool for 15 minutes, remove from pans and let loaves cool on a rack. This bread keeps well wrapped, and can be sliced and frozen (place wax paper between the slices).

Enjoy a slice toasted with cream cheese with your morning coffee


rolling in dough

February 24, 2012 § 5 Comments

$$$ Well, I wish!

Actually this is what we’re talking about.

Essential tools for rolling dough – pastry brush, straight pin, bench scraper

Rolling a tart, pie or cookie dough to an even 1/8-inch thickness can be an intimidating task, but one that bakers need to become comfortable with. Here are the guidelines I give pastry students to help them roll doughs with more confidence. Of course, there’s no substitute for practice, practice and more practice!

  1. Allow enough time to chill and rest the dough thoroughly after you make it. This firms up the butter, so the dough won’t be too soft or sticky. It also relaxes the gluten, which can cause the dough to shrink back while you’re rolling it out.
  2. If the dough is too hard when chilled, either give it several minutes to warm back up slightly, or use your rolling pin to press or gently pound it to make it pliable while still cold. Doughs can become too breakable or sticky once you’ve rolled them thin, so its best to roll them out as cold as possible, but without being brittle and crumbly.
  3. Get all your tools, dusting flour, pans (already prepared with parchment or greased) out before starting.
  4. Try to evenly dust the surface with flour. I put a little flour into my hand, close my fist loosely and scatter the flour out between my fingers with short, quick tossing movements. Cover a little extra surface so you can quickly drag or invert the dough into more flour if needed to prevent sticking. Working quickly and efficiently is important when rolling out buttery doughs!
  5. Put a little flour in your hand and run it over the rolling pin to coat it lightly with the flour. Repeat this as needed if you notice the dough starting to stick to the pin.
  6. Try to roll with even pressure of your hands on the ends of the pin and in a direction straight away from your body.  Don’t roll off the edge of the dough (it gets too thin). That edge will get rolled as you rotate the dough around. If you want a circle, give the dough a slight turn of 45° or less, roll again away from your body. Keep repeating this, turning the dough over occasionally and dragging it through more flour if it starts to stick; use the bench scraper to free it if it does. It should only take you a couple of minutes to roll the dough out to the desired size. Check to make sure it’s large enough for your pan by placing the pan on top of the dough and eyeballing to see if there’s enough to go up the sides.
  7. Use your pastry brush to remove excess flour from both surfaces of the rolled out dough (yes, you will have to flip it over). I find it’s better to use a little extra flour to prevent any sticking, rather than fighting with the dough because you’re only using a little flour. Quickly move the rolled dough into the pan, center it and finish shaping it to fit. If at any time the dough becomes too soft or sticky, move it onto a parchment-lined sheet pan and place in the freezer or refrigerator for a quick chill until it’s firm enough to handle again.
  8. If you’re making something like cinnamon rolls (or spiral rugelach) you’ll want a rectangle. Simple rotate the dough 90° when you turn or invert it while rolling until you have the desired shape and size. If you’re going to fill and roll up the dough, you only need to brush off the flour on one side, as you can brush off the other side as you roll up the dough around the filling.
  9. Here are some pictures using the chocolate sweet dough so you can see the flour before and after using the pastry brush on both sides. I worked quickly enough that the dough stayed together fine, even when rolled to less than 1/8-inch and flipped over.

Dough rolled to 1/8-inch with flour picked up from the board

Same side after brushing excess flour off

The other side after flipping over and brushing off the flour

I cut and baked 2″ cookies out of the dough. They reminded me of those chocolate wafers I can’t find at the grocery store anymore. I could use these instead for a chocolate cookie pie or cheesecake crust.

IDBAD!? really?

February 23, 2012 § 2 Comments

I’ll bet you and your best four-legged (or in my case, three-legged) friend didn’t know that today was 
International Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day! I found this bit of canine culinary history in the online edition of the Green Valley News.

The earliest dog biscuits, courtesy of the Romans, were very old, hard, stale bread. Later, in the 19th century, hunters fed their canine friends hard barley meal biscuits for energy to sustain a long hunt. In 1860, James Spratt, an electrician from Cincinnati, created Spratt’s Patented Meat Fibrine Dog Cakes. Today there is a wide variety of dog biscuits and treats available for our furry friends.

So in the spirit of IDBAD, and because it snowed again today which made it an official Bake Day, I came up with a new dog cookie for Hana. It’s based on Morning Glory muffins which have carrots, apple, nuts and raisins. Just be sure to leave out the raisins, one of the four foods NOT to feed your dog (grapes, raisins, onions and of course chocolate).

Some of Hana’s favorite foods go into these dog biscuits including a HUGE locally grown carrot

Good Morning Dog Biscuits (yields about 6 dozen small biscuits)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat, emmer or spelt flour

1 cup barley flour

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground ginger

2 eggs

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

2 carrots, grated

1 apple, grated

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Combine all of the dry ingredients and set aside. Combine the wet ingredients (everything else). Add the wet mixture to the dry mix and mix until blended and you have a stiff dough. You may need to adjust the consistency by adding a little flour or water, depending on the size and juiciness of the carrots and apple. Drop by the spoonful onto a parchment-lined baking sheet allowing about an inch of space between each. Bake for an hour or slightly longer until completely hard. Turn off the oven and leave the biscuits in the oven as it cools to completely dry out.

Hana patiently waits for her cookies to come out of the oven. WOOF!

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

February 22, 2012 § 1 Comment

“Let the good times roll!” is the theme of Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday) celebrations across the country. I almost let this somewhat localized holiday pass without commemoration since I was busy reading over 200 TWD blog posts yesterday and testing a date nut loaf recipe. So I squeezed in a reasonable facsimile of a Chicken Jambalaya for a late supper with what I had on hand, and with mostly local ingredients from the freezer or pantry that I had put up last season. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a stand-in for Andouille sausage, but otherwise, not bad for a “day’s work” and a winter’s meal in Colorado!

Local ingredients: tomato sauce, dried paste tomatoes, garlic, onion, celery root (substitute for celery), leftover roast chicken, frozen chicken stock (not shown), hot coppa, frozen roasted bell pepper

Purple rose garlic stores well; most are firm and haven’t sprouted in my basement. Amish paste tomatoes are super sweet; they have thin skin and few seeds, so meld into whatever you’re cooking. Hot coppa is an extravagant substitute for the tasso ham, so I only used one slice, but it added a lot of flavor to the jambalaya. Nearby Cure Farm raises Mangalitsa and Berkshire pigs and some of the meat goes to Il Mondo Vecchio, an artisanal meat curer in Denver. They turn it into really delicious and local pancetta, prosciutto, hot coppa, lardo and other salumi products which are then available to buy at the farm.

I really had to pinch hit with the seasoning mix using poultry seasoning and chili powder plus some chile flakes. Yeah, sounds weird, but it was tasty and I’m sure not authentic. One of my sources for spices and dried herbs is an online purveyor based in Denver called Smith & Truslow. All of their products are organically grown and processed, and ground spices and blends are made in small batches for freshness.

After I cooked the “Holy Trinity” of chopped onions, bell pepper and celery (root) in a little fat (coppa trim and butter), I added the seasonings, salt, pepper and rice to toast.

Meanwhile, I heated the chicken stock and tomato sauce with the dried tomatoes to rehydrate them. Later I added the still frozen leftover chicken to heat through too, bringing everything up to a simmer.

Everything is combined, covered and gently simmered for about a half hour to cook the rice. (Actually, this is how you would make a rice pilaf, except without so many extra goodies.) Since my oven was still on from baking the date nut loaves, I just put the pot into the 325°F oven and didn’t have to worry about it. Keep the rice covered while it’s cooking; you don’t want to keep peeking and stirring. You just lose heat and moisture and the rice can break up and turn mushy. I probably could have used a little more liquid for a soupier consistency; this reminded me of a very flavorful risotto, which isn’t bad either. A simple green salad, some baguette and a glass of red wine or a beer, and “laissez les bons temps rouler”!

Make-Do Chicken Jambalaya, serves 2 generously (loosely based on a recipe I found at NoLa Cuisine, substitutions welcome!)

1-2 tablespoons butter or fat

1 link Andouille sausage, chopped

1/4 cup chopped Tasso ham

1 small onion, chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

seasoning mix (1/4 tsp cayenne, 1/4 tsp thyme, 1/2 tsp rubbed sage, 1/4 tsp dried basil) or substitute 1 tsp poultry seasoning, 1/2 teaspoon chili powder (you get cumin here), pinch chile flakes

1/2 tsp coarse salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup rice (long grain is traditional, I had short grain)

2-4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tomato, chopped

1/2 cup tomato sauce

1 1/2 cup chicken stock

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1-2 cups leftover chicken, chopped or shredded

Parsley and/or green onions, finely chopped for garnish

Preheat oven to 325°F if using. Heat fat/butter in a sauce pot over medium heat, add meats and Holy Trinity (onion, bell pepper and celery) and cook until onion is translucent. Add the seasonings and sauté for a minute, then add the rice cooking and stirring to toast. Add the garlic and tomatoes after the rice has cooked for a few minutes.

At the same time, heat the chicken stock, tomato sauce and Worcestershire sauce in another pot; add the chicken to the liquid so everything is hot.

Combine everything in the larger pot, bring to a boil and cover, then lower heat to a simmer or place the pot in the hot oven. Check after a half hour to see if the rice is tender and liquid mostly absorbed. Serve garnished with the parsley and/or chopped green onion.

chocolate truffle tartlets

February 21, 2012 § 17 Comments

For Round 2 TWD bakers made David Ogonowski’s Chocolate Truffle Tartlets with his sweet chocolate dough from Baking With Julia. A quick google of his name revealed that like me, David was a career changer, leaving the world of mathematics to become a pastry chef. However, he made the move much earlier in his career. I also procrastinated getting this baking project done, but it made a rich sweet decadent Sunday supper dessert a couple of nights ago. The recipes were very do-able for an afternoon while also preparing dinner, but to save time I opted to make a 9-inch tart instead of the small tartlets. Making a large tart allows for a higher filling to crust ratio, as I only used half of the dough but all of the filling.

Of course I made a few changes to the recipe to suit my needs…

  • I passed on the fraisage and mixed the dough just until it started to clump together in my smaller KitchenAid mixer; it needed more moisture so I used the whole egg instead of just the yolk, which makes for a slightly sturdier dough
  • I used 2 tablespoons of cocoa nibs instead of the biscotti bits to cut the sweetness, and could have used more
  • I don’t think the pans need greasing; there is plenty of butter in the dough, but don’t refrigerate the tartlets in their pans–the butter hardens like glue!
  • I added 1/4 teaspoon salt to balance the sweetness of the filling, and could have added more
I learned a new trick when I baked the tart shell and a long crack showed up after baking, rats! I took a small scrap of dough, quickly rolled it between my hands into a skinny worm-like shape, pinched off the length I needed and fit it over the crack and pressed it down. Popped it back into the oven for a few minutes, and since the tart was still hot it seemed to bake enough without the crust getting burnt. Saved me from a leaky tart stuck in the pan later!
Do take a close look at the photo of the “ribboned” egg mixture if you’re new to that technique. I’ve found that students almost always under beat their egg foams the first time, and you need a strong foam to hold onto the air that’s incorporated during whisking.
Another trick is to use your whisk to fold two mixtures together (but never flour). Just use the normal folding motion; each of the tines of the whisk acts like a spatula, so it’s like folding with more than a dozen spatulas at once and is very efficient. Finish with a rubber spatula to get the sides and bottom of the bowl.

Mix dry ingredients

Cut in cold butter pieces on low speed

Mix until butter pieces are no larger than peas

I used a whole egg and coffee from breakfast for the liquids

Mix just until the dough comes together

Portion and wrap dough to chill or freeze

Label and date extra doughs before freezing

Tart dough rolled, shaped and docked before chilling again

Line with foil and fill with weights to blind bake; be sure to push beans up the sides

Cocoa nibs and small copper pot I like to use to melt chocolate over low heat

I added cocoa nibs and orange zest to the melting dark chocolate and butter

Whisk egg yolks and sugar on high speed

Whipped yolk-sugar mixture shows a good ribbon when the beater is lifted

Lighten cooled chocolate mixture with some of the egg foam

Pour chocolate mixture back into the egg foam and first “fold” in with the whisk, then switch to a rubber spatula to finish

Place the chopped white and milk chocolates into the cooled tart shell

Pour the chocolate-egg mixture over the chopped chocolates

Level the filling before baking

Large tart bakes 15-20 minutes until barely set in the center

Sprinkle with powdered sugar after cooling

Completely remove peel and cut orange segments out for garnish

Filling has a soft set at room temperature and shows white and milk chocolate pieces

A small serving is plenty of this rich dessert!

I liked the soft consistency of the barely set chocolate custard when eaten just after the tart cooled to room temperature. But the the filling was too rich and sweet for my palate; perhaps a higher percentage chocolate would work better for me, and I would omit the chopped white and milk chocolates as well. For all you chocolaholics out there, remember that a little salt, coffee or vanilla accents the flavor of chocolate in your cooking and baking. I’m going to run around the block now!

baguettes at home

February 17, 2012 § 1 Comment

Sourdough bâtards and baguettes

Yesterday was a bread bake day, and our “house bread” is sourdough. I have a starter from my culinary school days, when I was a student (not an instructor). And since I was one of those “career changers” (from the software industry to the food industry), my starter is only thirteen years old. Considering all the changes in my life over this time, I’m happy that my starter’s still with me. It’s happy, since I’m baking bread at home pretty often now. Of course, we don’t try to eat this much bread at a time, so loaves are always shared with friends. Love it!

I have a few sourdough recipes I rely on, depending on whether I want to use a loose wet starter (like a heavy pancake batter) or a drier stiff starter (like bread dough) as I did in the previous Sourdough Sunday post. If I want to speed up the process or am looking for milder flavor, I’ll build a wet starter from my refrigerated storage starter (also know as a “mother”). My starter keeps its activity pretty well in the refrigerator, and I usually only have to feed it once before it’s ready to act as a leavener. But most recipes suggest two feedings to build up your starter’s bulk and activity if you’ve refrigerated it more than a week. You can tell that these loaves still had plenty of “push” in them when baked, as they burst through some of the score marks compared to the ones I baked on Superbowl Sunday. I should have scored them deeper this time to prevent that; deeper cuts would also have given them a more open crumb and better oven rise too. Don’t be afraid to be bold when baking bread!

Starter ready to work

Very Important! Don’t forget to save a little and feed it to store in the refrigerator for the next bake!

Starter in the mixer bowl

Mix room temperature water into the starter

Add flours (I used 3 parts white bread flour, 1 part mix of whole wheat and rye)

A rough mix with the flat beater

Cover and rest (autolyse)

Pause for some nerdy technical detail: Autolyse (which means “self digest” or “self destruct”) is when you mix the flour and water (including wet starters or “pre-ferments”) of a bread recipe and let that rest for a time. The flour and water are mixed enough so they are incorporated but you stop before developing gluten by kneading. During this early rest time the dough becomes stronger and more extensible, able to stretch without tearing. The well-hydrated flour proteins form stronger gluten strands, while the protease enzyme (in the flour) breaks down some of the gluten for better extensibility. Since this happens without mixing, less oxygen is incorporated into the dough; oxidation bleaches color, whitening the natural cream color of the flour, and causes loss of the wheat’s flavor in the bread (à la industrial white wonder breads). We also learn when TWD’ers made “White Loaves”, that long and fast kneading burned out KitchenAid mixers and occasionally caused them to walk off of counters when unsupervised. This is why I opted for a very looong autolyse this time (almost an hour), as a tripled recipe probably exceeded the capacity of my 6-quart mixer.

Sprinkle the salt evenly before kneading

After a minute on low speed 2, gluten develops quickly and the dough climbs up the hook. Yup! Too large of a batch for my mixer.

Dough turned out onto floured board after first bulk rise

Dough after folding in thirds in both directions (“punch down”)

Final bulk rise; keeping track of time

Dough turned out after final bulk rise; note its increased volume and “billowiness”

Start to divide and pre-shape to make two large loaves and three baguettes

Pre-shapes resting under plastic to prevent a dry “skin” from forming here in Colorado

Final shaping done; loaves and baguettes ready to proof (since it’s winter I can retard them overnight in the cold garage)

The next morning, proofed baguettes on floured couche (heavy cotton cloth folded to keep loaves apart and absorb moisture)

At this point I have already baked off the two large batârd loaves, so the oven is already hot and steamy from the pan of water I used in that bake. As I replenish the hot water in the pan, I realize that my baguettes are too long to slide onto my baking stone. Sacrebleu! So I transfer them to a parchment-lined baking sheet to get them into the oven.

Baguette has been lightly floured before rolling over onto the flip board

Baguette now right side up on flip board

Transferred to pan. Whoops! Should have used the scale when I divided the dough yesterday; the skinny one will be done first

Scored and ready for the oven

Scores didn’t open into classic “ears” but good oven rise and color

Nice open crumb, slightly chewy crust

Remember the starter?

Here’s starter that I saved and fed when I made the dough yesterday. I keep it as a drier stiff starter so it takes up less room (this is a small pint-sized container) and doesn’t over-ferment while refrigerated between baking days, about ten days apart.

Hana approves!

Happy Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2012 § 3 Comments

When I awoke this morning, I fully intended to do some sweet baking for my sweet heart. But last week’s “Last Chemo” must have kicked my butt a little extra, just for good measure I suppose. I just didn’t have the energy to stay on my feet in the kitchen. Lucky for me, we have a new cute little Walnut Café in the neighborhood, and cupcake creator (aka cupcake countess) Nicole had just the what I needed, the perfect little Red Velvet cupcake with cream cheese icing and a heart! Thank you, Nicole!

Perfectly moist Red Velvet cake with tangy cream cheese icing! Hana visualizing from her sub-cupcake location. I should mention that Nicole is a former star student from my teaching days; you make me proud, Nicole!

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