Friday, July 31, 2009

The hard way

There is something I want to teach all of you.

Something important; something maybe nobody else will tell you. Maybe they think it's obvious, maybe they think you already know, maybe they think it's so logical as to be unnecessary to articulate. But I am just going to go ahead and say it:

When cooking with male zucchini blossoms, remove the stamens.

But Dianne! -- you are thinking -- isn't it the female flower that has the stamen? Because in that one song in Grease 2, when the biology class is singing about reproduction, doesn't a girl get the line, "Make my stamen go berserk"? Well, yes, she does. But even so: the male flower has a stamen, the female a pistil. And, culinarily speaking, stamens taste awful.

I don't mean just run-of-the-mill awful, like, no thanks, I'd rather not have any more of that. I mean, terrible, like, what else can I eat right away that will be strong enough to get this acute bitterness out of my mouth? What's that, a dried chile? No, not strong enough.

(Remove me!)

I learned this lesson the hard way, friends.

For you see, I have a garden full of male squash blossoms (the females are happily growing the vegetables I'm harvesting every few days). And I had my eye on this dish, which is pasta served in a broth flavored with vegetables and zucchini flowers. So I harvested a bouquet of blossoms last night and started cooking. Everything was going so well: the colors were vibrant and lovely and everything smelled so fresh as it was simmering away. I put a twist of the sauced fettuccine on Husband's plate, scattered it with a pinch of grated Pecorino and handed it to him while he said that it was pretty enough to be served to him in a restaurant. He took a bite and started to say, "Dianne, this is so goo..." but before he articulated the "d" his voice trailed off quietly. I took a bite. Then I promptly picked up his plate, my plate and the skillet full of leftovers and deposited their contents straight into the garbage disposal. I wanted all evidence of that dish gone, ground into oblivion wherever it is that the refuse from the disposal goes.

I gulped down some water. I inhaled a piece of bread. I planned what to do next. Luckily, I had some emergency pesto in the fridge. It wasn't until I had eaten a large serving of fettuccine with garlicky pesto and then several mallows that the stamen bitterness was gone from everywhere but the very back millimeter of my tongue. It didn't go away completely until I brushed my teeth twice and the sun had come up the next day. Even now, writing about it, I can sort of taste it back there, menacing me with all the rage of a promising dinner gone very bad.

I am not exaggerating. People, remove the stamens.


Adapted from Orangette

This dish is very delightful when cooked with stamen-less blossoms. It is fresh and savory, resplendent with the color and vibrancy of the garden at the height of summer.

2 T. olive oil
2 T. unsalted butter
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
Leaves from 10 sprigs of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped (about 1/2 c.)
12 zucchini blossoms, stamens and stems removed, quartered from stem to tip
Kosher salt
6 saffron threads
2 c. chicken broth
1 egg yolk
A pinch of sugar
1/2 lb. fettuccine
Pecorino cheese, finely grated, for garnishing

Place a large pot of salted water on to boil.

(On the left: a flower part you remove [zucchini blossom stamens]. On the right: a flower part you add [saffron, a.k.a crocus stigmas].)

In a large skillet, warm the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, carrot and parsley. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the zucchini blossoms, a pinch or two of salt and the saffron; stir gently to mix.

Add about 3/4 c. of broth and stir to combine. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the rest of the broth a little at a time, taking about 5-8 minutes to add it all. Stir frequently. Allow the sauce to simmer until most of the broth has evaporated away and only a thin film of thickened broth remains in the pan. Remove from the heat.

When the large pot of water is boiling, add the pasta and cook until al dente according to the package instructions.

While the pasta is cooking, place the egg yolk in a small bowl and whisk lightly.

When the pasta is almost ready, place the zucchini blossom sauce back over medium heat. Use a measuring spoon to scoop up about 3 T. of the pasta cooking liquid. Whisking constantly, gradually add the cooking liquid to the egg yolk. Pour the egg yolk mixture into the zucchini blossom sauce in the skillet, stirring well. Add a pinch of sugar and stir. Using a spider or tongs, transfer the cooked pasta from its pot into the skillet. Toss with the sauce for about 30 seconds, then serve topped with grated Pecorino.

Serves 2.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Snapshots from a traveler #7

When my friends Kerrie and Greg visited last year from Australia, we took a short trip to Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake. This great sign (and photo of the Queen) adorned the walls of a small bakery that sold amazing wild blueberry scones.

Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada, August 2008.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Without having baked daringly

I don't know exactly what it is I'm doing with my life, but I do know that whatever it is, it leaves precious little time for the Daring Bakers. Month after month, I lose track of time and end up faced with the posting day without having baked daringly. It was so bad last month that I missed it entirely. That almost happened again this month, until I decided that the July recipes were too delectable to ignore. They are cookie recipes, for crying out loud, and one involves homemade marshmallow. I'm not too busy for homemade marshmallow.

The July Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose chocolate-covered marshmallow cookies and Milan cookies by pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

So yesterday, before I weeded the tomato garden but after the required Sunday morning blueberry pancakes, I got to work. I always say that Husband and Mom have the same taste in sweets. Hand the two of them some marshmallows -- or marshmallow fluff -- and they will be happy campers. So I was especially excited that this month's challenge involved homemade marshmallow, as Husband has been asking me for some time to try my hand at them. And I knew I could easily pawn off a good number of the finished marshmallow cookies on Mom, so they weren't loitering around my kitchen quietly -- and chocolately -- negating the benefits of my nascent running routine. Mom will look at the tin of cookies, mutter something like, "Mallows..." in a hushed tone that makes it seem like she is getting away with something, then she'll be off, whisking herself and the mallows away for secret eating.

As for the Milan cookies, they are a homemade version of Pepperidge Farm's Milano cookies. I remember eating Milano cookies a lot when I was young and thinking that they were very grown-up and sophisticated -- much fancier and more mature than those childish Chips Ahoy. I would pull them out of my lunch bag in 4th grade and feel like a gourmand, like someone with a very special and very sweet secret. Yes, these are the things I thought about in 4th grade. Along with how to meet Michael Jackson.

Anyway. You can see why I made these Daring Baker cookies a priority this month, even when I would have preferred to rest and relax or maybe even take a nap instead of baking them down to the wire in a harried fashion. I can relax tomorrow.

And while I'm relaxing tomorrow, I will be doing so with a mallow and a Milan cookie in my hand.


Adapted from Gale Gand

These cookies need some chilling time in the fridge, and some cooling time after they're baked. So be sure to take that into account when planning to bake them.

For the cookies:

3 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 t. kosher salt
3/4 t. baking powder
3/8 t. baking soda
1/2 t. cinnamon
12 T. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 large eggs, beaten
Homemade marshmallows (recipe follows)
Chocolate glaze (recipe follows)

First, make the cookies. Combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon in the bowl of an electric mixer. Whisk to combine. Add the butter to the dry ingredients and, using the paddle attachment, mix on low speed until the butter is incorporated and the mixture appears sandy. Add the eggs and mix well. Form the dough into a disk and wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to 3 days.

When you're ready to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough until it's 1/8-inch thick. Use a or 1 1/2- or 2-inch round cookie cutter to cut out cookies; re-roll the dough scraps to cut more cookies.

Transfer to the baking sheet and bake for 10-11 minutes, or until light golden brown. Transfer to a cooling rack and let the cookies cool to room temperature.

While the cookies are cooling, make the homemade marshmallow.

When the cookies are cool, pipe a "kiss" of marshmallow on each cookie. Let the cookies set at room temperature for 2 hours.

During the last 15 minutes of this resting time, make the chocolate glaze.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat. One at a time, gently drop the marshmallow-topped cookies into the chocolate glaze and roll to coat completely. Lift the cookie out of the glaze with a fork and allow excess to drip back into the bowl. Place on the prepared pan and set at room temperature until the chocolate has cooled, 1-2 hours. My chocolate didn't set at room temperature, so I placed the cookies in the freezer for a few hours to harden the chocolate. And, it turns out, I liked the taste of them cold.

For the homemade marshmallow:

1/4 c. water
1/4 c. light corn syrup
3/4 c. sugar
1 T. powdered gelatin
3 T. cold water
2 egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 t. vanilla extract

Combine the 1/4 c. water, corn syrup and sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring it to a boil over medium heat and cook until it registers 235 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer (soft ball stage).

Sprinkle the gelatin over the 3 T. cold water and let dissolve.

Remove the syrup from the heat, add the gelatin mixture to it and whisk to combine.

Using an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites until soft peaks form. Pour the syrup into the egg whites in a slow stream. Add the vanilla and continue mixing on high speed until the mixture thickens.

Transfer the mixture to a piping bag fitted with a 1/4- or 1/2-inch plain tip. Allow the marshmallow to rest in the piping bag for about 5 minutes before using.

(You don't have to use a glass with feet, but it doesn't hurt.)

For the chocolate glaze:

24 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped
4 oz. vegetable oil

Combine the chocolate and vegetable oil in a double boiler or a heat-proof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Melt the ingredients, stirring occasionally to combine. Use immediately.

Makes about 24 cookies. Store the cookies in the refrigerator or freezer...preferably the freezer.


Adapted from Gale Gand

For the cookies:

12 T. unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 c. powdered sugar, sifted
6 egg whites
2 T. vanilla extract
2 T. lemon extract
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

For the filling:

1/2 c. heavy cream
8 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped
Zest of 1 orange

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.

Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the egg whites gradually, mixing to combine well. Add the vanilla and lemon extracts; mix to combine. Add the flour and mix until just combined.

Place the batter in a pastry bag fitted with a plain 1/2-inch tip. Pipe 2-inch "lines" of batter onto the prepared pan, spacing them about 2 inches apart.

Bake for 10 minutes, until light golden brown around the edges. Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool on the pan.

\While waiting for the cookies to cool, make the filling. Place the chocolate in a bowl. Place the cream in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan and scald over medium heat. Pour the cream over the chocolate; whisk to melt and combine.

Add the zest and blend well. Set aside the mixture and allow it to cool at room temperature (the mixture will thicken as it cools).

Assemble the cookies. Spread a thin amount of the filling onto the flat sides of the cookie, then press the flat side of a second cookie on top. Repeat with the remaining cookies (duh; if you quit after filling just one cookie, that would be very lame indeed).

(Again with the insolent cookie. This one has a ganache-tongue.)

Makes 3 dozen cookies.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Bread Baker's Apprentice 10/43: corn bread

My Dad recently told me that he doesn't like it when I write only about food. He wants me to tell a story each and every time. Which I would love to do but, you know, sometimes I don't always have a tale. Sometimes I am at a loss for words. (How is that possible?!) But since Dad worked so hard at my house today -- without any lunch, even -- to build the final piece of my glorious pantry, I shall regale him (and everyone else) with a vignette that has nothing to do with Peter Reinhart's corn bread.

When I was little, maybe eight or nine years old, Dad's friend Ross had a powerboat that he kept docked in Sandusky, Ohio, on the shore of Lake Erie. There were a few wonderful summers when we'd go out on that boat all the time, speeding to and fro along the Ohio shore, darting here and there and making a lot of noise and eating sandwiches. The marina wasn't that far from Cedar Point, and I'd always nag and beg and plead to take the boat to the amusement park so we could take a quick ride on the Gemini, the Mine Ride or Cedar Downs, the awesome fast-moving carousel that had racehorses (the horses would "race" each other and when I was very young I used to think that it was actually the rider's skill that made a horse win or lose). But on Ross' boat, no matter how much I nagged, we never went to Cedar Point.

Until one day when we found ourselves out on the open water, determinedly heading in a specific direction. I kept repeating, "Daddy, are we going to Cedar Point? Daddy, are we doing to Cedar Point??" He kept saying, "No. No, we are not." I knew him too well, though; a tiny smirk emerged behind all the "no"s and a slight twinkle in his eye let me know that something was up. Sure enough, we puttered into the marina serving the park and though it was late in the day I was absolutely thrilled for a few hours to run amok and scream.

During my lifetime I've probably been to Cedar Point 20 times. But -- with the marked exception of the time I was little and Dad won me a big stuffed dog -- I don't remember any of those trips like I remember that late afternoon "surprise" visit. And (cue his twinkling eye) Dad probably even rigged the carousel so my horse would win.

And so from that hot summer day many years ago to this hot summer day, when I made corn bread. I have always considered corn bread to be a cooler-weather bread, seeing as how it goes so well with chili and soup and the like. But the Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge already has me accustomed to baking out of season, so what's the big deal about corn bread on a hot July day? Exactly.

Plus, I told myself, it might make even more sense to make Peter Reinhart's corn bread in the middle of summer: his recipe includes corn kernels, and we all know that corn is best in summertime.

Now, I already have a favorite corn bread recipe, one cooked in that most favorite piece of cookware, a cast iron skillet. I was curious to see how Reinhart's would measure up. Sure, his recipe includes all sorts of elements meant to thrill and excite the eater: bacon, for one (well, turkey bacon, in my case) and the aforementioned fresh corn. So on paper, it is the superior corn bread.

But in reality, I have to admit, I like my old standby more. It is rustic and crispy and crunchy, whereas Reinhart's is moist and sweet, almost like a corn bread cake. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But there's something I like about lifting a wedge of the plain stuff out of a blackened cast iron skillet and eating it right away, while the crumbs tumble down my forearm. With Reinhart's I feel like I need to get a plate and fork.

Which is not to say that Reihnart's corn bread is going to waste. Such a thing could never happen, not in my house. And I might even find myself making it again, as I am certain that the bacon topping and sweet kernels suspended throughout the crumb would please many a palate, especially around Thanksgiving time. But until then, I'm sticking with the old fave, the Cedar Downs of corn bread. See how I brought that all together, Dad?


The Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge asks that we do not share Reinhart's recipes. But if corn is rearing its pretty little tasseled head at your local market, pick up five or six ears and turn your copy of the book to page 151. Pay no attention to the temperature outside; think only of the corn bread.

Also, check out some of my fellow Bread Bakers and their fruitful attempts to bake corn bread in the sweltering heat:
  • Over at Way More Homemade, Donna also compares corn bread recipes and chooses another over Reinhart. I don't feel so alone anymore.
  • At Appoggiatura, Haley initially doubts Reinhart but is won over. I particularly enjoy her lament of dirty bowls (this recipe does require a lot of bowls), as I feel like I spent the entire weekend doing dishes.
  • The Other Side of Fifty turns her cornbread into salad!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Snapshots from a traveler #6

Cheyenne is a great little town. And not just because of the awesome ranchwear.

Cheyenne, Wyoming, September 2007.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

And quick

I went out of town last weekend. Took a very brief -- but very wonderful -- trip to New York City to see Sir Paul McCartney perform at Citi Field. Husband got the tickets, and I just couldn't not go. I mean, someone offers you a chance to see Mozart perform, you take it. That's how I feel about the Beatles: their music will be celebrated 400 years from now. So you don't pass up the chance to see one live and in person.

The show was amazing. Paul is such a professional; there is no other way to say it. He is 67 years old and didn't so much as take a sip of water during the high-energy, nearly three-hour set. He hit every note, his voice as perfect as it was 40 years ago. If I age half as well as he has, I will consider myself to be very lucky, indeed. Highlights included personal favorite "Mrs. Vandebilt," off Band on the Run, as well as "My Love" and Abbey Road's "Something" and "The End." Hearing Paul sing "And in the end / the love you take / is equal to the love you make" made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I can't stop thinking about it.

Though I was in town for Sir Paul, that didn't stop Husband and I from gallivanting around two boroughs on food-related pursuits. Friday we enjoyed a very late dinner at Co., Jim Lahey's minimalist shrine to perfect pizza dough. We ordered the spinach-laden Popeye, bright and salty and smoky, as well as a pizza bianca, an artichoke and arugula salad and a cup of ribollita, digging in with great gusto as a particularly fabulous waiter strutted by our communal dining table singing along to RuPaul: "Sashay. Shante."

Saturday we spent the late morning on Arthur Ave. in the Bronx, the borough's little Italy, packed full of imported Italian foodstuffs and pastry shops. I found the brand of Sicilian olive oil that I normally buy at only 60% of the price I usually pay. I also procured a Nutella-like pistachio spread and a pound of Sardinian cheese. A more fruitful morning it could not have been.

We next meandered to Chelsea Market, snacking on Italian pastries along the way. Husband's office is in that building, so we stashed my Arthur Ave. cheese in the office fridge, confident that no hungry employees of Major League Baseball would decide that they needed a large hunk of Sardinian cheese. We then had a look around the Italian grocery in Chelsea Market, where I discovered bottarga- and artichoke-flavored malloreddus. Next stop: New York Cake & Bake, a veritable smorgasbord of baking supplies. I was in heaven among the cake boards and hefty rectangles of Valrhona baking chocolate.

Finally, we headed to Manganaro's in Hell's Kitchen, of recent Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations fame. As Husband and I gorged on very large chick-parm sandwiches, the friendly woman behind the counter told me that she didn't know if the family's younger generation wants to continue the business. She said she didn't even know if she wanted them to -- she thought about the decades she has spent there and concluded that you have to have a passion for the place to give your life over like that. She was honest, and friendly, and inquired several times if I liked her sauce. I did. Manganaro's is well worth a trip (488 9th Ave.).

Thereafter we went to Queens and participated in the mass adulation of a Beatle. But I already told you about that.

When I got home on Sunday the garden was overrun with funky round light green zucchini, growing larger than they should be for optimal flavor. (The garden has a way of doing that when I'm away. It's like it says to itself, "She's out of town! Hurry! Grow!!") I had to do something with them, and quick.

Thus I present to you: zucchini whoopie pies.


Adapted from

These delicious treats are best made while listening to Ram. I'm just saying.

For the cakes:

2 c. zucchini, coarsely grated (about 10 oz.)
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/4 t. baking soda
1 1/2 t. cinnamon
3/4 t. ground ginger
1/2 t. nutmeg, freshly grated
1/2 t. kosher salt
3/4 c. well-shaken buttermilk
1 t. vanilla extract
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 c. light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 c. walnuts, chopped

For the filling:

1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
Scant 1/4 t. kosher salt

First, make the cakes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Line two baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper.

Place the grated zucchini on a clean kitchen towel, wrap up and squeeze to remove excess moisture. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt until well combined. In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together the buttermilk and vanilla.

Combine the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the egg and beat until well combined. At low speed, add the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture alternately in batches, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Add the zucchini and walnuts and mix until just incorporated.

Spoon 1/4-c. mounds of batter 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 18 minutes, rotating the sheets top to bottom and back to front halfway through the baking time. Tops should be puffed and golden and spring back when touched. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

While the cakes are cooling, make the filling. Sift the powdered sugar into a large bowl. Add the cream cheese, butter, vanilla and salt and beat on medium-high speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.

Assemble the pies by spreading a rounded 2 T. of the filling onto the flat sides of each of the cakes. Top with the remaining cakes. Eat.

(I don't know what it is about filled cookies, but I think they are all sticking out their tongues at me. This one especially; he is sticking out his little walnut-tongue.)

Makes 10-12 whoopie pies. Keep leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, allowing them to come back to room temperature before serving.

Friday, July 17, 2009

I swear I am being quite modest in my consumption

I'm cooking a lot of pasta this month. What can I say? As much as it will horrify my trainer that my July posts have all involved pasta and bread (and cake!), the part of me that is actually sticking to a running program for once in her life thinks it's OK to have some carbohydrates here and there. And I swear I am being quite modest in my consumption -- one serving, no seconds. My pants are even fitting a little better! So I don't feel bad at all, not even a little bit, for sharing another pasta recipe today.

Plus, this one is served with an egg. Protein!

Sister made this dish for me maybe a month ago and I've been thinking about it ever since. Seriously. I'm obsessive that way. It's spaghetti tossed with wilted escarole, turkey bacon and sherry vinegar then topped with a fried egg, a generous crack of black pepper and, of course, a scattering of sheep's-milk cheese. It might even make a better breakfast than dinner, if you can picture yourself boiling water for pasta in the early morning hours. Mostly I picture myself sleeping until the last possible moment and then eating granola at my desk, so maybe I'm not the best one to be dishing breakfast advice. Anyway.

If you eat pasta as often as I do, you might -- like me -- possess a keen eye for new pasta recipes that cross your path. After all, something has to pull you away from the marinara or pesto every so often. This dish is a good option, light but packed with a flavorful punch. Plus, you will feel righteous that you're eating greens. Which goes a long way toward alleviating some of the carb- and pasta-guilt. Should you have any of that rattling around.

Which I don't. Really. Did I mention I've been running?


Loosely adapted from Everyday Food

If you are of the bacon persuasion -- and I know a lot of you are -- you can certainly substitute the real stuff for the turkey bacon.

1 lb. spaghetti or angel hair pasta
4 T. olive oil, divided
8 oz. turkey bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large head escarole, chopped
1/4 t. sea salt
1/8 t. freshly-cracked black pepper
1 1/2 T. sherry vinegar
Pecorino, for serving

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the spaghetti, according to the package directions, until it's al dente. Drain the spaghetti through a sieve set over a liquid measuring cup or bowl to reserve about 1/2 c. of the cooking water. Transfer the spaghetti to a serving bowl; set aside.

While the pasta is cooking, heat 2 T. of the olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the turkey bacon and cook until crispy, 8-10 minutes. (If you are using bacon bacon, you can omit the olive oil.) Transfer the bacon to a plate and set aside.

Add the escarole to the same skillet and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until the escarole begins to wilt, 2-3 minutes. Stir in the vinegar and transfer to the bowl with the pasta. Add 1/4 c. of the reserved pasta cooking water and the reserved bacon; stir to combine.

Return the skillet to medium heat and add the remaining 2 T. olive oil. Working in batches if necessary, fry the eggs to the doneness you prefer. (I like a hard-cooked yellow, but I am aware that the runny yellow has many fans.)

Serve the spaghetti topped with a fried egg and a generous grating of Pecorino cheese.

Serves 4.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Snapshots from a traveler #5

Thursday, March 25, 1993
I feel like today was an almost waste of a day, except for Assisi....The drive to Assisi was beautiful and three hours long. Assisi is in the state of Umbria,* near this really big lake (I forget the name of it) and is the home (obviously) of St. Francis of Assisi. The city is on a hilltop, and is enclosed by an old wall. It and Perugia (because of that Guelph/Ghibelline thing) were archenemies in the past. Anyway, Assisi was absolutely beautiful. The streets were narrow, hilly and made of stone. Also, the Poor Clare nuns live in Assisi and can't talk to anyone else besides God. We ate yummy pizza at a cute small restaurant, and felt really Italian.

- From the diary I kept on a high school trip to Italy.

*I do not vouch for the accuracy of the factual information contained herein. But then again, I was quite a nerd in high school (not much has changed).

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bread Baker's Apprentice 9/43: cinnamon raisin walnut bread

I have always had a thing for cinnamon toast. Or, perhaps more accurately, I have always had a thing for cinnamon sugar.

I can picture it like it was yesterday: coming home from school after the first day of first grade, sitting on the chaise lounge our back porch, surrounded by hostas and tall evergreens, as Mom made me slice after slice of cinnamon toast. She kept asking me, "Do you want another piece?" And I kept saying yes.

In college I made great use of the resources available to me in the dining hall, mixing cinnamon and sugar from the coffee bar to sprinkle on buttery toast. Though maybe "sprinkle" is the wrong word; the trick to great cinnamon toast, after all, is to pour on enough cinnamon sugar so as to go beyond simply saturating the melted butter. There is no reason, at least in my book, to be moderate with cinnamon sugar.

When I read that Peter Reinhart's cinnamon raisin walnut bread includes the option of adding a cinnamon-sugar swirl to the center of the bread, I, um, decided that I had to do that. No matter that the dough itself is already infused with a goodly amount of cinnamon; it is just crazy talk to let an cinnamon-sugar opportunity like that slip away. Of course, being a Peter Reinhart recipe, I am certain that the cinnamon raisin walnut bread is delicious even without the cinnamon-sugar swirl. But it's even more delicious with it.

The recipe makes two loaves, and Reinhart suggests mixing a half cup of sugar with two tablespoons of cinnamon to split between the loaves to create the swirl. Which doesn't seem like a lot of cinnamon sugar until you begin sprinkling it on the dough. Remember how I said earlier that there is no reason to be moderate with cinnamon sugar? Clearly Reinhart agrees: there was enough of the cinnamon-sugar mixture to accumulate into an attractive and thick layer atop the dough, which I then rolled to form into the sweet loaves. There was so much cinnamon sugar, in fact, that it found an apparent weak spot in the loaf while it baked in the oven -- erupting when I turned it out of the pan with a sort of cinnamony magma that I happily ate right off the counter when it was cool enough to touch.

Like I said, I've always had a thing for cinnamon sugar. It is not always becoming.

Now, I would be remiss if I did not mention that this bread is worthy of your time based on its other merits as well. Its cinnamon-rich crumb is studded with no small amount of plump raisins and roasty walnuts. Its crust is crunchy and sweet. It is really, really good, especially when toasted and slathered with a generous pat of European salted butter.

Which is how I ate it this morning. I felt like a first grader, home from a grueling day of study, comfortable on the back porch, secure in the knowledge that life is good and it is totally acceptable to consume a dozen slices of cinnamon toast.


The Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge asks that we do not post Reinhart's recipes. But if you have an almost unnatural love of cinnamon sugar, turn your copy of the book to page 147 and get to sprinkling.

Also be sure to check out additional cinnamon-sugary goodness!
  • Flour Girl makes cinnamon sugar-encrusted cinnamon raisin cranberry rolls. Say that five times fast.
  • Two Skinny Jenkins rolls out her dough even thinner for a more defined cinnamon-sugar swirl. Brilliant.
  • Paul at The Yumarama Bread Blog considers raisin bread to be a "treat" bread, and plans to treat himself a little more often. Check out his excellent step-by-step photos.