Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The art of seeduction

Is that a horrible pun? Probably yes. But technically, though I wish I could, I can’t take credit for it. This is a bread that Whole Foods is apparently famous for, or at the very least, they’re the ones who came up with the wonderfully awful pun.

Two friends and I made this bread for the first time last week, and there is another batch of dough rising on my counter as I type this, only one week later. What can I say, I’ve been seeduced. (Too much? Sorry.)

I’ve always regarded bread as one of the more wholesome things you can make, itself a testament to domesticity, perhaps second only to perfectly trimmed pie crusts and embroidered aprons. It’s almost a culinary right of passage; to have bread-baking under your belt is the driving-test equivalent of adolescence.

I’ve also always regarded bread, like most things that spend the majority of their cooking time in the oven, as being finicky. The first time I can remember making bread was at my restaurant, during my stint in the kitchen. After cutting and shaping the dough, I would have to spray water into the convection oven every half minute, on the half minute, to imitate the steam injection of more schmancy bread ovens. It was all a science: each batch would bake for eleven minutes, no more, no less.

This time around, I had at least two people at any given time, hunched over the open oven with me, trying desperately to figure out if the crust was golden or if it sounded hollow when tapped. There were even frantic text messages thrown into the mix. When you can’t stick a tester in the center, or you aren’t told that it needs exactly eleven minutes, baking can actually be quite terrifying.

After all that, though, the bread came out perfectly sans spray bottles and to-the-minute-timing. I don’t know if it was all the seeds that kept it from drying out or if, like my driving test, my first go alone just needed to be borderline horrifying like some kind of initiation, but I did it. And now, I’m doing it again.

Seeduction Bread

(Adapted from Caviar and Codfish)

½ cup lukewarm water
2 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
¼ cup honey
2 ¾ cups bread flour (A/P will suffice if it’s all you have)
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ cup bulgur or cracked wheat
1 ½ teaspoons salt
¼ cup olive oil
1 cup cool water
1 cup raw sunflower seeds
3 tablespoons poppy seeds
½ cup plus 3 tablespoons raw pumpkin seeds

In a medium bowl, sprinkle yeast over the lukewarm water. Mix in honey and let sit for about 10 minutes, making sure that it foams; this is how you know your yeast is alive.

Put flours, bulgur and salt in the bowl of your mixer (you can use a food processor or your hands as well) and mix to combine. Pour the oil and cool water into the yeast mixture and then, with the mixer running, pour it slowly into the flour mixture. Let it run until the dough stops sticking to the outside walls of mixer bowl and it forms around the dough hook. Add a teaspoon or two of water if it’s not sticky enough to form the ball, or flour if it looks too wet. Let the processor run for another minute to knead the dough.

Remove the dough to a greased bowl, making sure all sides of the dough get a little oil on them. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm spot for 2 hours.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface, and knead it a few times to form a large oval. Sprinkle with the seeds (reserving 3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds) and fold in half. Knead the dough so that you distribute the seeds evenly. This will take a little while and be slightly awkward (for fair warning). Just keep going, though, eventually the seeds will stick into the dough and distribute.

Divide the dough into two and form tight round balls. Roll the tops of the dough balls in the reserved pumpkin seeds. Place on the baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise for 45 minutes to an hour.

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Bake the breads on the center rack for 35 minutes, or until they are “golden and sound hollow when tapped.” I would recommend checking every few minutes after they’ve been in for 25 minutes; my crusts ended up being a deep brown, too, if that helps. Cool before slicing.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

This week: kindle musings, and how I'm an old person in a young person's body

This week I'm blogging over at the Long River Review; its a blog run by all of us working on the magazine this year, and we talk about whatever we feel like talking about that can be linked, in one way or another, to literary things.

I blogged about e-books this week, how the men upstairs at Kindle are giving away free downloads, all with a healthy undercurrent of disdain. (Long live print media!) Last year, my Long River blogs were about the craziness of online jargon, urban dictionaries, and the like. Next thing you know, I'll be wondering why we can't all just go back to land lines and what ever happened to the good old fashioned bag boys that helped you to your car. I am, it seems, an old person masquerading as a young one.

Anyway, go check it out if you have a minute - our website just got a shmancy new face lift. I have some bread-making in the works, too, so make sure you come back to check.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Spoons or otherwise

They say you’re supposed to put a spoon under your pillow the night before a storm.

Then, by means of some fortuitous snow fairy, or whatever it is that they say, the next morning every commitment you had will be cancelled. We students call them snow days.

I thought about taking part, and maybe adding in a fork or a knife for some extra good luck, but chose to take my chances in the name of comfort. As it turns out, you actually don’t need to do it. It sounds strange, but when the weather forecast is predicting snow, eight to twelve inches to wit, snow days tend to happen, regardless of the flatwear you put under your pillow, spoons or otherwise.

I remember getting up as a young kid, running down the stairs to the kitchen in the kind of blue-dark that it always seems to be at six in the morning. I’d sit with my dad; as he watched the news, I watched only the list of schools scroll across the bottom, wary not to blink, in case I missed the A’s for Ashford.

With time, I’ve found that getting up before the sun just to see if I would be able to sleep in, ironically enough, defeats the whole purpose. Snow days are days designed, smack in the middle of the week, for lounging and putting off responsibilities and keeping your pjs on for much longer than is generally appropriate. They are also designed, as it happens, for baking. Because if we are being made, forced, to lounge around all day, it would be much better to do that in a house that smelled like cinnamon, roasted nuts, and honey, all baking in the form of granola.

This is a really simple granola recipe adapted from David Lebovitz; I really used it more like a base – you can add whatever fruit and nuts you like, or even chocolate if you want to be decadent about the whole thing (which I highly encourage). And speaking of adapting, I, as you know, probably can’t go an entire paragraph without emphasizing the fact that this is a recipe intended for baking, yet you can mess around with the ingredients to your heart’s desire. That, in my book (or on my blog) most definitely requires one of these (!) or two (!!), or (!!!) just to be sure how excited you know I am about it.

So make this, in sweatpants, and once it cools, pour yourself a big bowl and watch the snow pile up outside your windows.


(adapted from David Lebovitz)

To reiterate: have fun with this. Add whatever kind of nuts you like best, and feel free to play around with the spices a bit too. If you add dried fruit, like I did, make sure you stir it in after the granola has baked and cooled.

5 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 ½ cups almonds, coarsely chopped
½ cups walnuts, coarsely chopped
Scant ¾ cup packed light brown sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
Sprinkle of ground cloves
1 tsp salt

¾ cup unsweetened applesauce
¼ cup maple syrup (OR 1/3 cup brown rice syrup)
¼ cup honey
2 T vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 300F. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Combine all wet ingredients in a smaller, separate bowl, then pour them over the dry ingredients and stir to incorporate. Lay out the granola in a relatively thin layer on sheet pans. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until golden brown, but make sure to stir and rotate the pan positions every ten minutes. Give a good stir when they first come out of the oven to cool, too. After it is cooled, sprinkle a few handfuls of dried fruit over the top, if using. I did dried cranberries and raisins.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Lobsters and guest blogging

Hello, again.

I hope you've eaten your cupcakes by now. I just wanted to stop by to say that this week I'm blogging for my college's bookstore blog; a nice little space where nice people muse on books and book-related things and more books. Stop by if you feel so inclined: this week I wrote about David Foster Wallace's Consider the Lobster. It is a grand book, the grandest of books. I will leave you in suspense; if you want to know more, click the link!

Note: DFW's book has actually very little to do with lobsters. Another note: I happened to have pictures of a lobster, on a plate, so there you go.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Red velvet cupcakes, bribe-style

As of late, I’ve been bribing people with cupcakes. Red velvet cupcakes. And as you would imagine, people are much more susceptible to bribes if they include scarlet-red food coloring and copious amounts of cream cheese frosting.

I’m an editor for my college literary magazine this year, and as we are little, and modest, and frighteningly easy to not know about, we set up a booth at a one “Involvement Fair” being held on campus. I’ve come to learn that it’s essentially the hub of student-organization chaos, a blur of fliers being thrown at you, fraternity pens, and melodramatic lines like “do you care about stuff that matters?” being preached, in attempt to garner email addresses, and supposedly people who care about stuff that matters.

It’s a strange event, really, the kind of event I usually survive by fixing my gaze intently on the floor tiles in front of me. And at first, in the interest of full disclosure, I found the experience of being on the other side, behind a booth, a bit degrading. It was on the line between being like the awkward saleslady at the mall kiosk asking you if you knew anything about hair extensions, and feeling like the unwanted solicitor who calls right around dinnertime, asking for just a few minutes of your time for a 250 question survey.

So, in order to get around that, we baked cupcakes. Lots of them. All that was required of us, every once in a while, was asking if someone would like a free cupcake, and when they did, as they inevitably would, we would shamelessly and unabashedly plug our lit journal. But they owed it to us to listen. We had given them cupcakes, after all.

So that’s that. If you’re ever needing to man a booth, though I hope you’re not, words to live by: if you bake, they will come. And you even get to eat one or two while you’re frosting them, a little reward for your looming saleslady-like degradation.

Oh, right, I almost forgot: if you’re a Uconn student, and you write at all (or are an artist?!), then submit, submit, submit!! (Sorry, I had to.)

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting, Bribe-Style

(Adapted from epicurious)

3 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
4 tablespoons red food coloring
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 ½ cups buttermilk
1 ½ teaspoons cider vinegar
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda


2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

For Frosting: Beat butter and cream cheese until smooth. Mix in vanilla extract, then add powdered sugar and beat until it is all incorporated.

For CakeCups: Preheat oven to 350°F. Stick your cupcake liners into two cupcake pans; the recipe makes about 24.

In a small bowl, sift the cake flour. In a larger bowl, or in the bowl of your snazzy stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each addition. In yet another small bowl, whisk together the red food coloring, cocoa, and vanilla. Add to the batter and beat well.

In a measuring cup, stir the salt into the buttermilk. Add to the batter in three parts alternating with the flour. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated, but be careful not to overdo it. Stir together the cider vinegar and baking soda in a separate bowl, and add to the batter, mixing well. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the sides and make sure everything is mixed well.

Divide the batter among the cups. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool, first in the pans, then on a wire rack. Frost, copiously, and bribe away!