Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Big Storm Coming? Stock Up on Flour and Yeast! Bake Rosemary Asiago Bread!

Today's Winter Storm Warning:


How to prepare? I stock up on flour and yeast! I'm "on vacation" until January 6 (I'm self-employed so I asked myself if I could take a Christmas break and the answer was "yes"). What do I do when I'm snowbound? I bake! There's no better time to bake bread than during a winter blast - I'm ready!

My favorite bread flour is King Arthur brand. Its high (12.8%) protein level assures a strong rise every time, which is essential as I most often combine it with rye or whole grains. This dependable flour, which is milled from hard red spring wheat grown in the Dakotas, is the best I've ever used. The King Arthur folks offer this tip when using their bread flour: "High-protein flour absorbs more liquid then medium-protein flour. When baking with bread flour, add about 2 teaspoons extra liquid for each cup of flour (or more, in order to produce dough that's the consistency the recipe calls for)."

My favorite yeast? SAF Instant Red - and for high sugar doughs, I use SAF Gold. Both are reliable, reliable, reliable. You don't need to proof these yeasts - just add them along with the dry ingredients. Stored in the freezer, SAF yeast will stay vigorous for up to a year.

King Arthur Bread Flour is widely available here in the Chicago area, along with King Arthur whole wheat, white whole wheat, and all-purpose flours. I buy SAF Red at GFS retail outlets (Gordon Food Service) and have also spotted it at Costco. SAF Red and Gold can also be ordered from the Baker's Catalogue at King Arthur Flour. Both products will produce excellent results even in the hands of beginning bakers. Now get out there and bake! Here's a recipe to get you started:


2 packages active dry yeast or 2 teaspoons SAF Instant Yeast
1 cup warm water (105º to 115º)
6 cups bread flour (King Arthur preferred)
1 tablespoon dried rosemary, crumbled or other single or mixed dried or fresh herbs
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups (16 oz. container) low-fat small-curd cottage cheese, at room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature, plus 1 extra egg for brushing the loaves if desired
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or butter, plus extra for greasing the rising bowl
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
1 cup grated/shredded Asiago, plus additional Asiago for the top of the loaves
2 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled and diced (jarred in water is fine - drain well) (optional)

In a medium bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water for 5 minutes, or until the mixture is foamy. Add 1 tablespoon of the sugar and 1 cup of the bread flour, stir, and set the sponge aside for ten minutes (it should rise substantially). In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine 4 cups of the bread flour, rosemary, remaining sugar, and salt. Add the cottage cheese along with the yeast sponge, egg, olive oil, additional cheeses, and bell pepper. Mix on low speed, using the paddle attachment, until the dough comes together, adding the additional 1 cup flour if needed. Switch to the dough hook attachment and knead for about five minutes at medium speed. Drop the dough (it will look shaggy) onto a lightly floured surface and knead for an additional 2-3 minutes by hand, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Transfer to a large oiled/buttered bowl and turn it over to coat with the oil. Cover with a tea towel and place in a warm place free of drafts until doubled in volume (about 1 to 1-1/2 hours).

Punch the dough down, cover, and let rest for 10 minutes (this gives the gluten a chance to relax). Divide the dough in half and shape into 2 free form rounds, pinching together the seams at the bottom. Place on a greased sheet (or use Reynolds Release foil or parchment paper). Lightly coat the tops with olive oil or very soft butter*, cover, and let rise until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400º F for at least 20 minutes (you may use a baker's/pizza stone).

Score the loaves with two deep slashes or a crosshatch pattern using a very sharp knife or baker's lame, and lightly press about 1/4 cup grated or shredded Asiago onto the top of each of the loaves. *Alternatively, for a crisp crust, brush each loaf with an egg wash made with one beaten egg and 2 teaspoons water. Sprinkle each loaf with about 1 teaspoon dried or fresh rosemary. Place in the oven and immediately turn the oven down to 350º. Bake 40 minutes or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom or a thermometer inserted in the center of the loaf reads 190º to 200º F. Remove loaves immediately and cool completely on a rack before cutting or storing.

Feel free to experiment with different cheeses (the cottage cheese is a fixed ingredient, however). Sharp Cheddar is very good. I also like this bread with dill weed replacing the rosemary.

Note: Shaping the loaves takes a little practice. Fashion the dough into a ball and flatten slightly. Turn the ball clockwise while simultaneously stretching and smoothing the dough under with your other hand. Turn the dough over, pinch the bottom seam, and press it with your fingers. Eventually you will get the hang of it. The seam is on the bottom, so it’s not important if it’s not perfect. The bread can also be shaped into conventional loaves or dinner rolls.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Swedish Cardamom Bread

One of the first fragrances that I can recall was my mother's Swedish Cardamom Bread fresh out of the oven. It's a scent that takes me back to the Christmases of my childhood and they are fond memories indeed. Swedes use cardamom extensively in baking - in breads, coffee cakes, cookies, pastries, and Swedish pancakes. Cardamom also marries well with fruit and is used in Swedish Fruit Soup, a poached dried fruit mélange that is equally delicious hot or cold for breakfast or dessert.

A member of the ginger family, cardamom's flavor is difficult to describe (but it doesn't taste like ginger). It's strong, spicy-sweet and has a distinct lemon profile with a faint nuance of pine. Like other spices, it carries a degree of warmth. Indian restaurants often offer cardamom pods after dinner to cleanse the breath and palate. If you haven't consumed Indian or Scandinavian cuisine, you may not have experienced the exotic pull of this wonderful spice. Trust me, it's worth a try.

I buy my ground cardamom from Penzey's and replace it often - once you open the jar the flavor begins to diminish. Keeping cardamom in the fridge helps keep it fresh. You may, of course, grind your own cardamom from the pods. The seeds from inside the pod may be ground or you can grind the entire pod. I like the convenience of pre-ground cardamom - I just remember to replace it often. Penzey's sells ground cardamom in both 1.2 ounce and 2.4 ounce jars.

This bread is very rich - more like a coffee cake - and makes three braided loaves. It's delicious the day it's made but is even better on the second and third days when the flavors have had the chance to develop. It's wonderful toasted and makes an excellent - and different - French toast! The loaves freeze beautifully for a month if wrapped in a double layer of heavy-duty foil.
Although my Cardamom Bread is equal to my mom's in taste and texture, I've never mastered the braiding. I fashion the loaves into three braids. Feel free to shape yours into a four or five-braid. It helps to start in the middle. Don't worry if your braids aren't perfect!


6-1/2 to 7 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (King Arthur preferred)
2 1/4 ounce packages Fleishmann's "Rapid Rise" yeast, or 2 teaspoons SAF Instant or SAF Gold yeast
1 cup regular or superfine sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 rounded tablespoon ground cardamom
Zest (colored part only) of 1 large orange
2 teaspoons pure orange extract
2 cups whole or lowfat milk
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature plus extra for greasing the rising bowl
3 eggs (2 for the dough, 1 for brushing the loaves)
1-1/2 cups dried cranberries (such as "Craisins")
1 cup sliced blanched almonds
Granulated sugar

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine 2-1/2 cups of the flour, yeast, sugar, salt, cardamom, and the orange peel. Heat milk and butter in a medium saucepan until warm (120-130F) (the butter does not have to be completely melted). Add to flour mixture all at once. Add 2 of the eggs and the orange extract and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and beat for another minute. Add the dried cranberries (light or dark raisins may be used in place of the cranberries. If the fruit is a bit too dry, it can be plumped by letting it steep in boiling water for two minutes (drain well) or by letting it macerate in Grand Mariner or Cointreau for a day or two.) Gradually add the rest of the flour by hand to make a soft dough. Turn dough on to a floured surface and knead with floured hands for about 7-8 minutes (form dough into a ball, fold edges of dough toward center and push dough down and away with heels of hands. Give dough a quarter turn and repeat until dough is smooth and elastic, adding flour as needed. Feel free to knead by machine - mixer or food processor - but knead by hand for 2-3 minutes afterward.) Liberally grease another large bowl with unsalted soft butter. Place dough in the bowl, turning to grease it on all sides. Cover with a tea towel and let rise in a warm place free of drafts until doubled in size - about 1 hour.

Punch dough down. Cover again with the tea towel and let rest 10 minutes. Divide dough into thirds. Divide each third into 3 equal size pieces. Roll each piece into a 16" rope on the floured work surface. Braid the ropes and pinch and tuck the ends to seal. Place on a greased cookie sheet. Repeat twice with remaining dough. Cover with tea towels and let rise in a warm place until almost doubled - about 30 minutes. Heat oven to 350F. Brush loaves with beaten egg and press about a 1/3 cup of the almonds onto each loaf. Sprinkle liberally with granulated sugar. Bake until golden brown - about 30 minutes. Let cool on pan 5 minutes and transfer to racks to finish cooling.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Swedish Limpa (Rye Bread with Orange, Molasses, and Anise)

Do you know where Santa's reindeer are raised and trained? Sweden! The guy in the middle is Blitzen, who is charged with training the other two, Erik and Axel. They've been going through several exercises in preparation for the big event on Christmas Eve. Word has it that Santa now has an on-board satellite navigation system. That plus his Blackberry should keep him on track (he probably subscribes to Wired magazine). Erik and Axel will be filling in for Dancer and Prancer, who will be taking a much needed vacation after 20years of service.

Word has it too that Santa loves Limpa and takes a loaf along in his sleigh. He gets mighty hungry during the long winter night of delivering gifts! I don't have a photograph of my Limpa because I haven't made it as yet this year. I might not get to it until after Christmas as my cookie baking will be taking much of my time in the kitchen. Nevertheless, I keep getting requests for the recipe. So ... here it is, sans photo.

Limpa is a bit sweeter than New York /Jewish Rye, Russian Rye or Pumpernickel. I love eating and baking rye bread - all kinds. In his book "The New Complete Book of Breads", Bernard Clayton says, "rye is the glamour flour of the dark grains". I agree. If you haven't worked with rye flour before, this is a good recipe with which to begin as it doesn't require a starter or sponge and comes togther rather quickly (yet is full of flavor!). Carefully read through the recipe and you'll be fine. Questions? Just send me an e-mail or contact The Baker's Hotline at King Arthur Flour (802.649.3717).


• 3 to 3-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour or bread flour (King Arthur brand preferred)
• 3 cups medium or dark rye flour (Bob's Red Mill Dark Rye Flour is excellent and widely available)
• 2 envelopes Fleishmann's "Rapid-Rise", Red Star "Quick-Rise", or 2 teaspoons SAF Instant Yeast (preferred)
• 2 teaspoons vital wheat gluten* (optional but helpful)
• 2 cups milk (nonfat is fine)
• 1/2 cup light molasses (such as "Grandma's Original")
• 1/4 cup orange marmalade mixed with a one tablespoon orange juice.
• 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter - plus extra soft butter for greasing the rising bowl
• 1 teaspoon fine sea salt (do not use iodized salt)
• 1 tablespoon anise seed (or 1-1/2 teaspoons ground anise)
• 1 tablespoon fennel seed (or 1-1/2 teaspoons ground fennel)
• 1 tablespoon caraway seed (or 2 teaspoons ground caraway)
• 1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
• Zest of 1 large orange (colored part only)
• 1 egg yolk lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon of water
• Cornmeal (if using a baking/pizza stone)

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine 2-1/2 cups of the unbleached flour, yeast, vital wheat gluten, salt, spices, and the orange peel and blend well. Heat milk, butter, molasses, and marmalade in a medium saucepan until warm (120º) (the butter does not have to be completely melted). Add to flour mixture all at once and blend at low speed, using paddle attachment, until moistened. Beat at medium speed for 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and beat for another minute. With mixer running on low speed, add rye flour and additional all-purpose flour 1/2 cup at a time and knead until dough pulls cleanly away from sides of bowl and forms a ball - about 2 minutes. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rest for 20 minutes. This autolyse period gives the flour a change to hydrate.

Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead for about 5-8 minutes (form dough into a ball, fold edges of dough toward center and push dough down and away with heels of hands. Give dough a quarter turn and repeat until dough is smooth and elastic. Feel free to knead 3-4 minutes with the electric mixer using the dough hook but knead by hand for 2-3 minutes afterward.) Rye flour is inherently sticky and recalcitrant. Use a metal dough scraper to gather up the dough. Resist the urge to add additional flour - the dough will become less difficult as you work with it.

Liberally grease another large bowl with unsalted soft butter. Place dough in the bowl, turning to grease it on all sides. Cover with a tea towel and let rise in a warm place free of drafts (the oven is a good place - turned on for one minute at 300º and then turned off) until almost doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Gently deflate dough. Let rest 10 minutes, covered. Divide into two equal parts. Shape into round loaves, seam side down (this takes a little practice - just keep rotating the dough in a circular motion on the work surface between your hands, while keeping it taught. It doesn’t have to be perfect). Place on a baking sheet covered with Reynolds Release foil or parchment paper or directly on a baking/pizza stone sprinkled with cornmeal (you don't need to preheat the stone). Cover with a tea towel and let rise in a warm place, about 30 minutes. You can also shape into traditional loaves. Scoring of the crust before baking is not necessary but as Bernard Clayton advises, prick the top of each loaf with a toothpick, 1" or more deep in a dozen places so that steam can escape.

Preheat oven to 375º for at least 20 minutes. Combine water and egg yolk and brush on loaves. Reduce the oven temperature to 350º and bake for 45 minutes or until loaves sound hollow when lightly tapped and/or an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaves read between 190º and 210º (most reliable method). Ovens vary so your loaves make take more time. Cool on wire racks. When completely cool, store in plastic bags, leaving the bags partially open (round loaves fit perfectly into gallon size Ziploc bags). For a softer crust, omit the egg wash and brush the loaves with very soft butter immediately after baking.

Notes: Limpa is delicious the day it is made but is even better on the second and third days when the flavors have had the chance to develop. It's wonderful toasted and great with cheese and/or a well-crafted beer, ale or stout. *Hodgson Mill Vital Wheat Gluten with Vitamin C and Bob's Red Mill Organic Dark Rye Flour are widely available in the baking isle of most supermarkets. Similar brands can also be had from The Baker's Catalogue at King Arthur Flour. Rye flour has very little gluten. The Vital Wheat Gluten helps to ensure a higher rise (as does the higher protein bread flour) and the Vitamin C extends freshness. Yeast dies at 138º. Liquid should feel comfortably warm on the wrist, as with a baby's bottle. For accuracy, use a thermometer. For seedless rye, ground anise, fennel and caraway may be used. All are available from Penzey's.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Have Yourself a Vegetarian Christmas - Pumpkin Lasagna with Rosemary and Four Cheeses

This Pumpkin Lasagna is a gorgeous vegetarian main dish - fragrant and full of flavor. For those of you who might think to turn your nose up to pumpkin in lasagna - think squash - not pie!

Serve with green beans ( I buy the frozen haricot vert from Trader Joe's) dressed with butter, hazelnut oil, toasted hazelnuts, and shallots; homemade cranberry sauce; and a green salad with pears and cider vinagrette. The colors on the plate are festive indeed! Serve something chocolate for dessert.

Please use high quality cheeses. Inferior cheeses will render this dish ordinary.



One pound dried lasagna noodles, preferably De Cecco brand (do not use “no-boil” lasagna)


1 large can (29 ounces) pure pumpkin puree (do not use pumpkin pie filling)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2-3 fresh sage leaves
1 teaspoon dried crushed rosemary
2 teaspoons Mrs. Dash Original Blend
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/3 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
1/2 cup mascarpone
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 cup freshly grated Asiago
1/2 cup freshly grated Gruyère
1/4 cup creamy goat cheese
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

Béchamel Sauce

1/4 cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons fresh creamy goat cheese
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg


1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs mixed with ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
3 fresh rosemary sprigs

Heat a large stockpot of lightly salted water to a boil; fill a large mixing bowl with ice and water. Boil the noodles until al dente, about 8 minutes; drain. Transfer to the ice water. Drain the noodles well in a large colander and toss with a teaspoon of oil to keep pasta from sticking. Set aside.

Meanwhile, for the sauce, melt butter in a large saucepan over low heat; sprinkle in the flour, stirring continuously with a wire whisk. Cook, stirring constantly, 5 minutes. Whisk in the milk; whisk in the goat cheese, salt and pinch of nutmeg. Heat to a simmer; cook, whisking often, until thick and creamy, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, cover with waxed paper to prevent a skin from forming, and set aside.

For the filling, combine pumpkin puree, thyme, sage, rosemary, Mrs. Dash, nutmeg, breadcrumbs, mascarpone, additional cheeses, brown sugar, goat cheese, salt, and pepper in a very large mixing bowl. Taste the filling and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Preheat oven to 375°. To assemble lasagna, spread a third of the pumpkin mixture on the bottom of a lightly greased 13“ x 9” baking pan (Pyrex or Corning Ware are fine). Cover with a layer of lasagna noodles, placed lengthwise side by side, overlapping the edges. Spread another third of the filling over the noodles; top with ¾ cup of the béchamel. Top with another layer of noodles, the remaining filling, and another ¾ cup of béchamel. Cover with a final layer of noodles and the remaining béchamel. Sprinkle with breadcrumb/Parmigiano-Reggiano mixture. Place the rosemary springs diagonally across the top. Cover the lasagna with lightly buttered Reynolds Release foil, folding the edges over the sides of the pan. Bake lasagna until heated through and bubbling, about 50 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until the topping is golden brown, about 7-10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven; cool 10 minutes. Cut into rectangles or squares.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Easy Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

These cookies are so easy, you should smudge your face with a little flour before you serve them so your friends and family will think you've been working really hard all afternoon. (Remember those old '80s Rice Krispies commercials where the mom tosses flour on her self because her family was too stupid to know that Rice Krispie treats are ridiculously easy to make and she figured manipulation is a good a way as any to have fun and get attention?) These cookies are great for dunking in milk and are also good for breakfast!

Remember: Always use the finest ingredients you can afford. It makes all the difference in the world.

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies
(Adapted from Williams-Sonoma's "Essentials of Baking")

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate chopped
1/4 cup unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Dutch process cocoa
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs (room temperature)
2 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract (splurge on Nielsen-Massey or Penzey's brand ("Double Strength" if you can find it.)
1-1/2 cups (9 oz.) semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup confectioners sugar

Melt the butter and chocolate on top of a double boiler, over simmering water, and stir often. Remove and set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, sift together the dry ingredients — flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine eggs, granulated sugar, and vanilla and beat 2 -3 minutes. Mix in the melted chocolate mixture until blended. Gradually fold in the dry ingredients and mix until incorporated. The dough will be very stiff! Mix in the chocolate chips.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Place rack in center of oven and preheat to 325F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. (This keeps cookies from sticking to the pan or overbaking on the bottom. It also makes for easy cleanup.) Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a small bowl.

Roll a rounded tablespoon of dough between your palms into a 1 inch ball (don't make them any bigger unless you want GIANT COOKIES), and roll it in the powdered sugar. Place the cookies about 3 inches apart on the cookie sheet.

Bake the cookies, 1 sheet at a time, until the tops are puffed and crinkled and feel firm when lightly touched, about 13-17 mins. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, and then transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

These cookies will stay fresh for up to three days when kept in a sealed, airtight container and stored in a cool place.

Today's post is courtesy of my daughter Annie, who is in the middle of a baking marathon. I can only hope she is gearing up for St. Lucia's Day (December 13), the beginning of the Christmas season for Swedes. I'm counting on freshly baked Lussekatter.