Raisin wreath holiday bread from Sunset

Lord, I’ve seriously been dragging when it comes to getting stuff up on this blog. For one, this Belgian cramique, aka eggy raisin wreath bread, was something I made for the holidays.

The recipe:

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water (~110 degrees)
  • 3 eggs
  • 5 1/2 to 6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup seedless raisins
  • 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Belgian cramique
Complete with topknots a la mini brioches, the raisin wreath holiday bread was certainly fun to make and funny to behold.

Belgian cramique Belgian cramique Belgian cramique
I started by heating the milk in a small pot with some butter, sugar and salt to about 110 degrees. I gave the pot a stir, then dissolved the yeast in warm water, which I then combined with the milk mixture along with a few eggs. After adding the liquid into a large mixing bowl, I gradually beat in about 5 cups of flour.

Belgian cramique Belgian cramique Belgian cramique
In went the raisins. Then I plopped the soft dough ball onto a well-floured surface and got to kneading, adding flour to keep the dough from sticking. Once smooth and satiny (about 15-20 minutes later), I placed the dough in a greased bowl, making sure to oil the top as well. I covered the whole thing, and let it sit for about 45 minutes until it had doubled in size.

Belgian cramique Belgian cramique Belgian cramique
I took the dough, punched it down and kneaded a few times before dividing it in half. From each half, I made 6 equal parts (making 12 total). I pinched off about an inch-and-a-half-sized ball from each part to reserve for the topknots, then proceeded to roll the larger pieces into round balls. I arranged the large balls in a couple of well-oiled cake pans, 6 in each. Shaping the reserved dough into small teardrops, I made a hole in the tops of the large balls with my pinky finger and then popped the teardrops into ‘em. I covered the whole shebang one more time to let rise another 45 minutes. Once risen, I gave the wreaths a nice basting with an egg yolk-water mix, then slid them into a preheated 350 degree F oven.

Belgian cramique
The Sunset Breads cookbook says to bake the raisin wreath holiday bread for about 45 minutes until richly browned. I’d say keep an eye on them at about 35 minutes in—mine were definitely ready to go sooner than expected.

Bon Appetit’s persimmon bread

Persimmons are in season from November to February, and I made sure to get a bunch of the luscious fruit a couple months back from the SF ferry building’s farmers market. I’m partial to the Hachiyas, which are heart-shaped and edible when super-soft to the touch. I waited for them to get really ripe before popping them into the fridge so that I could eat them like ice cream.

But then I stumbled across a lovely recipe for persimmon bread in the January 2012 issue of Bon Appetit magazine, and of course, I had to give it a try.

The recipe:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter plus more for pan
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour plus more for pan
  • 1/2 cup raisins (I used the golden variety)
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 4 large, very ripe Hachiya persimmons
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk (I subbed plain yogurt with good results)
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated orange zest
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup of pecans, crushed (this isn’t in the BA recipe, but I’m partial to pecans and their savory crunch)

Persimmon bread
According to Bon Appetit, if you don’t have any Hachiya persimmons handy, then using 1 cup of canned pumpkin will work just fine.

Persimmon bread Persimmon bread Persimmon bread
I first got the raisins plumping in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of hot water. Then, in another bowl, I whisked together the flour, whole wheat flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. In yet another bowl, I scooped the persimmons, which I’d thawed after removing from the freezer, out of their skins.

Persimmon bread Persimmon bread
I then puréed ‘em with a hand blender. Once smooth, I added the yogurt and orange zest. At this point, I flipped on the oven to 350 degrees F.

Persimmon bread Persimmon bread Persimmon bread
I whisked the persimmon purée, yogurt and zest until smooth, then set it aside. In another bowl, I beat the butter a couple of minutes, then added the sugar and beat a few more minutes, until it got light and fluffy. In went the eggs, which I beat in thoroughly. I then added in the persimmon mixture and combined well. I added the dry ingredients in three parts, folding until just mixed in. The raisins went in last. I poured the batter into a buttered and well-floured pan, then popped it into the oven for about an hour and change.

Persimmon bread
The result: a fragrant and uber-moist breakfast bread that pairs perfectly with a piping hot cup of coffee.

Ina Garten’s jalapeno cheddar cornbread

Ina Garten of the Barefoot Contessa really knows how to make delicious comfort food that’s easy to make and awesome for entertaining, including this cheesy, buttery cornbread. I decided to whip up this calorie-laden quick bread to pair with smoky, chipotle-spiced baby back ribs and a tangy, crisp carrot-apple slaw. It was a good choice indeed.

The recipe:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, plus extra to grease the pan
  • 8 ounces Cheddar cheese (Ina calls for extra-sharp, but I opted for medium)
  • 1/3 cup chopped scallions, white and green parts, plus extra for garnish (3 scallions)
  • 3 tablespoons jalapeño, seeded and minced (2-3 peppers—I’ve used serrano when jalapeños weren’t available)

Jalapeno cheddar cornbread ingredients Jalapeno cheddar cornbread ingredients Jalapeno cheddar cornbread mix
First, I prepped the ingredients, chopping the scallions and jalapeños as well as grating the cheese. Then I mixed the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl. This is when I got the oven going to heat up to 350 degrees F.

Jalapeno cheddar cornbread mix Jalapeno cheddar cornbread mix Jalapeno cheddar cornbread mix
In another bowl, I combined the milk, eggs and butter. The dry ingredients then went into the milk-egg-butter bowl and got a a few good stirs—not too many mind you as I didn’t want to overwork the batter. I then folded in the scallions, jalapeños and 2 cups of the grated cheddar.

Jalapeno cheddar cornbread
The batter went into a couple of well-oiled bread pans. Before popping them into the oven, I topped them off with the remaining scallions and cheese.

Jalapeno cheddar cornbread
About 30-35 minutes later, I pulled out these hefty cheddary-rich hunks. Next time, I think I’ll throw in another jalapeño to pump up the heat. Otherwise, I love this cornbread recipe pretty much the way it is.

Sunset’s poppy seed bread

I was in the mood to bake bread and not just your basic white loaf, but one with a little arts-and-craftiness to it. Sunset‘s Poppy Seed Bubble Loaf recipe fit the bill. Fun times in the kitchen. Note to self: must make time to bake more bread through the holidays and into 2012.

poppy seed bubble loaf

The recipe:

  • 1/4 cup warm water (~110 degrees)
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 cups warm milk (~110 degrees)
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 6 to 6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup poppy seeds

bubble loaf yeast starter bubble loaf bubble loaf
I started by combining the yeast with warm water and 1 tablespoon of sugar. After about 10-15 minutes, the mix got thick and bubbly—letting me know it was time to get going. I added the milk, oil, salt, other tablespoon of sugar and the yeast mixture into a large bowl, then stirred in ~5 cups of flour, a cup at a time.

bubble loaf bubble loaf bubble loaf
By the 5th cup, the ball of dough started to pull away from the sides of the bowl. So, I plopped it out on my well-floured counter where I proceeded to work the dough over by hand for about 15 to 20 minutes, adding the rest of the flour as I went, until it had become a smooth, satiny ball.

bubble loaf bubble loaf bubble loaf
With the kneading complete, I threw the dough into a well-oiled bowl and covered it to let rise in a warm place until it had doubled in size—about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. After the hour-plus of resting time, I punched the dough down and started pinching off pieces to roll them into smallish balls. I then dipped the tops of these balls into melted butter, then into poppy seeds, finally stacking them, seed side up, into a well-oiled pan.

poppy seed bubble loaf
After a final rising of about 45 minutes, I baked it off in a 375 degree F oven for about an hour. This is how it turned out. A buttery, poofy poppy seed bread that forms a great crust on the outside, but stays moist and springy on the inside. And pulls apart with ease.

Saveur’s cheddary cheese breadsticks

Ever since I had my sister gift me a subscription to Saveur magazine last holiday season, I’d been meaning to make this simple and seemingly scrumdiddliumptious cheddary breadsticks recipe from the December 2010 issue. Yep, it took me this long to get around to making ‘em. Chalk it up to getting busy with a new job. But heck, I finally did it, and for a good reason: as part of my Thanksgiving holiday contribution for a turkey and trimmings over-the-top feast at chez friends in Tiburon.

The recipe:

  • 1 cup finely grated cheddar
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika (I opted for the non-sweet variety)
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
  • 1 egg, beaten

Saveur cheese twirls Saveur cheese twirls Saveur cheese twirls
After grating the cheddar, I threw it in a bowl with the flour, salt, paprika, cayenne and cold, cubed butter. I worked them together to form a crumbly mixture.

Saveur cheese twirls Saveur cheese twirls Saveur cheese twirls
This is about when I flipped on the oven to 400 degrees F. I then got to stirring in the beaten egg into the mostly dry ingredients. I added in a couple of teaspoons of water, but then found the dough to be a bit too wet, so I dusted it with just a tad more flour before taking it out of the bowl. I divided it in half, and placed one piece in plastic wrap to keep in the fridge. Working quickly, I rolled the other half out on a well-floured work surface. Saveur says to roll and then cut the dough into about 8″ x 1/4″ strips. I simply used a butter knife to cut away, and then slip each of the strips up off the work surface as I went along.

Saveur cheese twirls
I twirled each of the strips between my fingers and placed them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, which I then threw into the oven for ~10 minutes. As the first tray baked, I rolled out, cut and twirled the other half of the dough.

Saveur cheese twirls
Once cooled, these cheesy breadsticks (or twirls as I like to call ‘em) turn into some really tasty crispy, savory snacks-cum-accompaniments to any fine meal.

Pastries at Paul put SF’s boulangeries to shame

Per my previous post, if there’s one thing the French know how to do really well, its baking flakey, buttery pastries that put our SF boulangeries to serious shame. Even the chain boulangerie Paul—that’s thankfully as plentiful in and around Paris as Pret a Manger (another fave) is in London—produces the most ethereal creations: light and airy, way too easy to inhale.

Paul chausson aux pommes
Maybe it’s a good thing we don’t have access to Paul or other Parisienne pastries of this caliber in SF—otherwise I’d most certainly turn into a porky pig.

Paul chausson aux pommes close-up
Hmm, on the other hand, it just might be worth it.

I love pain

And I’m not talking about the bad kind of pain, but the really good French stuff—that is, bread along with all of its wonderful carb brethren. The French really know how to do it. In fact, I became painfully (pun intended) aware of this when I ordered my usual chausson aux pommes at La Boulange on Polk Street today and found it heavy and pedestrian as compared to the light, flakey, delicate puffs of buttery goodness I inhaled during my bon vacance in Bordeaux and Paris.

Au Petrin Moisagais boulangerie
KG, BB and I stumbled upon this lovely, old boulangerie during one of our visits into town—that town being Bordeaux, France. (We were staying on an old estate in St. Quentin de Baron about 40K away.)

Au Petrin Moissagais wood-fired oven
As soon as we walked inside Au Petrin Moissagais, we were assailed with the amazing aroma of bread, tarts and other baked goodies all fired in the hundreds-year-old wood oven in the way back of the bakery.

Au Petrin Moissagais bread
We’d already loaded up on plenty of baguettes for home, but couldn’t resist picking up a peach tart for that evening’s post-dinner finale. It was sublime.

Breaking bread in Bordeaux

It’s been a long time since I last visited Lower East Side brasserie Schiller’s Liquor Bar for a boozy and breadtastic brunch with friends. But one thing’s for sure: I will never forget the fabulous bread basket furnished by sister establishment Balthazar Bakery, known by all carboholics for its heavenly goods.

Schillers Liquor Bar bread basket
It’s no surprise why this particular bread basket came to mind this week of all weeks: I’m headed to the French countryside by way of Paris very soon … and I’m looking forward to eating a ton of buttery pastries on a daily basis. Cheese, wine and other French staples too.

But the best way to start the day? By breaking bread—croissant, pain au chocolat, chausson aux pommes. Mais oui!

Cook’s Illustrated rum raisin bread pudding

Bread pudding, with all its creamy custardy goodness, screams comfort food. I was having dear friends J&J over and decided Cook’s Illustrated Rum Raisin Bread Pudding recipe deserved a place in the Sunday supper line-up. What may have once been a humble dish meant to use up the remains of dried-up, days-old bread has now morphed into a sinfully rich finale for any meal.

Rum raisin bread pudding

The recipe:

  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I probably threw in a pinch more)
  • 1 (14 oz) loaf challah bread, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (about 10 cups)
  • 2/3 cup golden raisins
  • 5 teaspoons dark rum (added a couple more swigs, making it ~8 teaspoons)
  • 9 large egg yolks
  • 4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

bread pudding, step 1 bread pudding, step 2 bread pudding, step 3

In an oven preheated to 325 degrees F, I baked the bread cubes—tossing them occasionally—on a couple of baking sheets for about 15 minutes; I also switched the sheets halfway through for even baking. Once done, I took the cubes off the hot sheets to cool for about 15 minutes, and set aside about 2 cups.

Meanwhile, I combined the brown sugar with 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar along with the cinnamon, then set that aside. I then poured some raisins and dark rum into a small bowl, which I popped into the microwave for about 45 seconds or so—basically to get the rum hot and the raisins plump. Moving right along, I started in on whisking the egg yolks with the rest of the white sugar, vanilla and salt in a large bowl.

bread pudding, step 4 bread pudding, step 5 bread pudding, step 6

Onward ho: I briskly whisked cream and milk into the egg yolk mixture. Eight cups of bread cubes promptly got a thorough dunking. I then transferred all of it into a 13×9 baking dish and let it stand for about 30 minutes. Every so often, I’d go back and press on the bread cubes to make sure all of ‘em were getting a thorough soak.

Once the 1/2 hour was up, I spread the 2 cups of cubes that I’d held back across the top and pressed down lightly on the custard. The finishing touches: dabbing melted butter over the unsoaked bread cubes (a pastry brush comes in handy here), then sprinkling the brown sugar-cinnamon mix across the top.

bread pudding, step 7

After 45-50 minutes (give or take a few minutes) in the oven, out came this wonderfully crisped-on-the-outside, moist-and-luscious-on-the-inside bread pudding. I knew it was ready when I pushed down on the center of the pudding and no more liquid oozed out. (Best to bake this dish on a rimmed baking sheet just in case the thing bubbles up and over the sides.)

One final thing: I cooled the custard for at least 45 minutes, if not longer, before we all dug in. This makes for great leftovers, and a good brunch or breakfast treat too.

Challah for any occasion

Challah first made its way into the holiday lineup back in college when I used to dream of baking bread full time. (Of course I kept that fantasy to myself—my tiger mom and dad would certainly have freaked; my dad most definitely did when I told him then that I wanted to go to cooking school to become a chef … but that’s another story.)

Anyway, challah’s a favorite of mine and my family’s. I love it for its arts and crafty-ness, and for its eggy springy goodness—I think my family would chime in on the latter. Sunset magazine’s got a good and simple recipe, but when I’m without it, the interwebs has plenty of challah recipes to choose from. I most typically pick the one most reminiscent of Sunset‘s.

The recipe:

  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1 1/4 cups warm water (~110 degrees)
  • 1 teaspoon salt (I’d add at least 2 teaspoons as this bread could do with a bit more seasoning than what’s called for)
  • 1/4 cup each sugar and salad oil (canola or another veggie oil works well)
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 5 to 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I’ll sometimes work in a smidge more as I’m kneading the dough)
  • 1 egg yolk beaten w/ 1 tablespoon water
  • about 1 tablespoon sesame or poppy seeds

 challah step 1 challah step 2
For this particular loaf, I poured out a package of yeast into a large bowl, then followed it with the warm water. The eggs, salt, sugar and oil went in directly thereafter. After I gave the whole thing a good stir, I let the mix sit for a bit to give the yeast time to feed and fester. Then I whisked in a bit of the flour.

Not too much, mind you, but enough to feed the yeast and let it bubble and grow. Then, I gradually worked in about ~4 and a 1/2 cups more flour, first using a spat, and then getting in there with my bare hands.

Once the dough started holding together, I turned it out onto a well-floured surface and started kneading (Sunset gives a range of 5-20 minutes—I usually go for 15-20 with great results). I dusted my dough with flour as I went along to keep it from sticking. Once it was smooth and satiny, I plunked it in a well-oiled bowl, turning it over to oil the top. After about an an hour and half where I left it covered and rising in a warm place, I pulled it out onto the work surface again and punched the dough down, kneading briefly again. I cut off about ~3/4 cup of the dough, covered it and set that small bit aside.

The rest of the dough I divided into 4 equal portions, each of which I rolled out into long ropes about 20 inches in length. I then took the 4 ropes and placed them side by side (again on a lightly floured work surface). Pinching the tops of one end together, I started braiding by first picking up the rope on the left, bringing it over the next one, under the 3rd and over the 4th. I repeated this process always starting with the rope on the left, until I’d gotten to the bottom and could pinch the ends together then tuck them underneath the loaf.

Now that the main part of the bread was done, I could put it on a well-oiled baking sheet (you could of course do the braiding directly on the sheet). Then I grabbed the bit of dough I’d set aside and cut it out into 3 equal parts that I then rolled out into 3 ropes about 15 inches in length. I took that and made a small braid that I laid on top of the large braided loaf. I then tented the whole thing in foil and let it rise in a warm place for about an hour until it had almost doubled in size.

Using a silicone brush, I swabbed the whole thing with the egg yolk-water mix. Then I sprinkled it with a ton of poppy seeds. Now all I had to do was get the challah into a (preheated) 350 degree F oven for 30-35 minutes until the exterior had turned to a lovely golden brown.

Et voila! A really toothsome holiday addition. Heck, challah’s a lovely addition for any occasion really.