For Sweetness

Sometimes it’s hot and you still need to turn the oven on and BAKE things.

Sometimes you read 2 dozen recipes and none of them are the one you want to use.

Sometimes you want to slap yourself in the face for not being better to yourself.

Sometimes you just need a little sweetness in your life. (But not toooo much.)

And sometimes, you have too much zucchini.

Yes, I’m talking to you, because I didn’t plant any this year. (But if you have extra, I’ll take it off your hands…)

This recipe was born from all of these sometimes. It’s not zucchini cake, which is what most of the world is really making when they say “zucchini bread.” It’s a bread for toasting in the morning, or putting a scoop of ice cream onto in the evening without getting a totally insane sugar high that prevents you from going to be bed at a decent hour.

It’s chocolatey and subtly spiced, with a moist but toothsome crumb.

And! It makes 2 loaves! That means there’s one for you and one to take down the street to the neighbor who keeps mowing your lawn for you out of the blue, or to leave for your house-sitter to ensure the pets are well loved while you are half a world away.

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
10-12 oz zucchini, grated. (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup any type of plain yogurt
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup or so of water

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Whisk together all the dry ingredients, including the sugar. In a separate bowl, mix together the eggs, oil, yogurt, and applesauce until smooth. Add the liquid to the dry and mix until just a bit of dry flour remains. Then add in the zucchini. Mix it all in, adding just a bit of water at a time as needed to make it easy to work with. You don’t want it to be too wet.

Divide into loaf pans prepared with baking spray, butter and flour, or parchment paper.

Bake for 35 minutes, then rotate and bake for 10 to 15 minutes more, or until it passes the toothpick test. Let cool in the pans a bit, then turn out onto a rack to cool the rest of the way before slicing. Stores great in the freezer in individual slices or whole loaves.

Sweet Mourning

This weekend I got some time to myself. Just me and a friend and a few sad bee carcases.

I know, it’s a little morbid. But you have to be realistic when you keep bees. You will inevitably kill a few by accident in the process, and sometimes, you lose a whole hive.

One of the hives I keep with my friend Meghan didn’t survive the winter. Our theory is that they got chilled when the roof of their hive body sprung a leak of sorts and the walls of the wooden boxes they called home became damp and mildewy. Meghan also said she suspects the queen was never very strong to begin with, and that she thinks she died back in November. It’s taken till recently for the last of the colony to die off in the cold, lonely winter.

It made us both a little sad, but it also made us a little bit happy because there was still some honey in those combs!

The harvest took us longer than we expected due to problems with mold on some of the combs, so mid-harvest I had to head home to eat lunch with my favorite people. As a result I didn’t get to see how much honey there was in the end. I did however get to sneak away with a little jar of sweet goodness. We all sampled it with our lunch and it was very good indeed.

I said a little thank you to the bees who gave their lives to provide us with something so amazing, and I said the same little thank you yesterday morning when I poured a tiny drizzle over the pears I sauteed to go with our breakfast–a bread pudding made of leftover wacked out sourdough.

Friday night I took a loaf of sourdough out of the freezer for our Shabbat bread. A pretty miserable loaf of sourdough at that. When I originally baked it on Monday, I baked it in a hurry, which is ironic considering it took three days to actually make the bread itself. In my haste to get it in the oven on time for dinner guests after arriving home late to start our meal, I forgot to slash the tops. It was like adding insult to injury–the bread was slightly underproofed. It baked up flavorful but on the dense side, and the crust never really browned, just toughening up as it went along. It was so weird.

It did make killer bread pudding though. I mixed it up Saturday night and popped it in the oven first thing Sunday morning: I cut off most of the offending crust (the top part was OK, and I like the chewiness of a little bit left in a bread pudding) and cut it into rough cubes, poured on some custard and let it soak overnight. It’s the closest you can get to a decadent breakfast that makes itself. I will spare you the pictures. It wasn’t pretty in the least.

This isn’t a traditional bread pudding. It’s eggier to satisfy a morning hunger, and it’s less sweet than usual to make room for the sweetness of the pears I set alongside. I hope you’ll give it a try next time you have an ugly loaf of bread sitting around, offending your sensibilities.

It was the perfect thing to eat before a trip to the Sunday Farmer’s Market. A trip that was made (mostly) in the sun.

And yes, we still ate a huge muffin as a snack.

Cardamom Breakfast Bread Pudding with Sauteed Pears
makes one dish about 9″x 13″ or a comparably sized pan, serves 6-8

For the Bread Pudding:
1 loaf sourdough bread, crust removed (or mostly removed)
6 eggs
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup cream or half & half (you can use all milk if you like, it will be less rich)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp ground cardamom
1/2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
pinch salt
butter to grease the pan
1 cup raisins or other dried fruit cut into small pieces, optional

For the Pears:
6 small–or 4 large–firm pears, such as Bosc
1/2 cup honey, more or less to taste
2 Tbsp butter

Make a day in advance for the most satisfying results. Bake in an oven preheated to 375ºF.

Cut the bread into thick slices and then into cubes about 1″ in size. Set aside.

Mix the eggs, milk, cream, sugar, spices and salt in a large bowl. Add the bread and, using a large spoon or your hands, turn to coat all the bread evenly with the milk mixture. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, turn on the oven (375ºf) and grease your pan. Pour in the bread mixture, stirring well one more time before doing so. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until completely set. It might take longer if you bake it in a deeper pan.

While the pudding bakes, core the pears (peel if you like) and cut into eights. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and add the butter to the pan. Once the butter is melted, add in the pears and let brown for a few minutes before adding the honey. Stir to coat and then turn down the heat and continue to cook until the pears soften but before they turn to mush. Turn off the heat if your pudding still needs a while to bake. Cover, and reheat briefly over medium heat if need be before serving.

Once the pudding is set, take it out of the oven and let sit for about 5 minutes before serving to allow the custard to set a touch more and to bring down to an edible temperature. Serve everything warm.

Wild Beasts

I recently took on a project that I’ve been meaning to do for a while and I’ve been putting off and putting off, mostly because it’s kind of high maintenance and I’m kind of a low maintenance type of girl. The project was to grow a wild yeast culture using the organic grapes that grow in our P-patch. 

This year the grapes were ripe right before we were due to go out of town for a week, so I picked them and then froze them, hoping that it would still work but setting my expectations fairly low in case it didn’t. I figured with that handicap and the fact that our house is almost as cold as it is outside, I wasn’t sure any yeast could survive, let alone thrive.

The starter in it’s early home, by the oven.

I’m using the method from Nancy Silverton’s Breads from La Brea Bakery. I was given a copy of this book as a wedding gift (I think?) and haven’t had a chance to use it at all since every recipe in the book calls for a starter of some sort that I just didn’t have the time to set up until now. The recipes in the book are fairly technical, so it’s not the best book for beginning bakers, but since I’ve baked a bit before I feel comfortable with the way she talks about the bread. I take it all with a gain of salt because she’s way way more into bread baking than me, but even us amateurs like a good loaf now and then. She does a very good job explaining all the steps and giving tips for how to do each part of the bread making process. 

So I went ahead with all the steps. It wasn’t too complicated, just sort of messy and delicate, also requiring a heaping helping of patience. The process takes about 2 weeks, from the day you crush your grapes to the day you bake you first loaf.

The first 9 days were simple. You make a mixture of flour and water, crush the grapes and add them, all secured in a clean airtight container. You check it every day, but you don’t have to do anything else very often. 

After those first 9 days is when it gets a little more time consuming. You have to feed the mixture 3 times a day–breakfast, lunch and dinner–with a rigid schedule of how long the bread can go without being fed. And you have to dump out a ton of mixture and start over with just a little over a pound every morning. This was the part I had the hardest time with. It’s not in my nature to throw away pounds and pounds of perfectly good flour. One, we’re pretty frugal around here, and two, I’m a pastry chef. Food waste is a huge sin in professional kitchens. 

So I set out on a mission to use up as much of that dang starter as I could. I also tried to give a lot of it away, by offering starter batches to friends and people in our farm co-op. I think I ended up giving away 4 batches, and using the starter in an equal number of unexpected projects in the kitchen. 

I made lots of cracker dough to freeze for entertaining over the holidays, with cayenne and olive oil. I used some to make sourdough waffles with apple cider. Eating those was like a little preview of heaven for foodies. And I made crumpets. Dozens of crumpets, two days in a row. Some of which we ate and the rest of which maxed out what was left of our freezer space. 

I can’t share the recipe for any of these things, since I made them all up on the fly. I guess my baking and cooking knowhow came in handy here, because I was able to just add enough of ingredients X, Y, and Z to make stuff work. 

What I can share is a very simple recipe for a salad. On Friday after making crumpets for what seemed like hours, we used them as our “challah” for a Shabbat dinner with our friend Aviva. Dinner ended up being sort of rushed, as she needed to be at the airport at 6:30, but it was still good to see a friend and share a meal, and to be able to enjoy some of the fruits of my hard work in the days leading up our meal. 

The salad had endive, warm roasted beets and goat cheese and a dijon vinaigrette. That’s it, the entire recipe. Really. I think it would be equally good with some butter lettuce or blue cheese. And I suppose you could really use any vinaigrette that you like. Whatever you have lying around really. The secret is that the beets should still be warm, so the cheese and the dressing really meld all together. That’s what made it so fantastic.

I did finally get around to actually baking some real bread on Saturday–a rustic white bread, which I shaped into rolls for dipping in the minestrone I made that night. (More crust is totally better, right?) The bread was great. It rose slowly but had great oven spring, so I know my yeast is happy and healthy. Onto real challah this Friday!

Easy Dijon Vinaigrette
makes about 1 cup

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp champagne vinegar (or all balsamic)
1 Tbsp or so sugar, honey or my favorite, pomegranate molasses
1 Tbsp good dijon mustard
1-2 cloves crushed garlic
salt and pepper to taste

Shake all the ingredients in a jar, adding more mustard if necessary to achieve a very smooth, emulsified texture. Taste for acidity and add more sweet if you like. I tend to like my pretty acidic and low on the oil. Keeps in the fridge for 2 weeks or so.