sweet bread from valtellina

If everyone in the world had to bake a loaf of bread from scratch, the world would be a better place. 

Let me elaborate.


Basically, bread baking is a huge pain in the butt.   It requires patience, planning skills, and upper body strength — all things that I lack…

If it’s such a pain, then why do I bake bread from scratch?  Because baking bread has taught me many life lessons… and because that first slice, fresh out of the oven with a big smear of melted butter (because I totally deserve it) is worth all the hassle and *minor* mental breakdowns. 


Anyways, here are the things that bread has taught me: 

Bread has taught me to plan ahead.  I’ve learned the hard way that if dinner’s at seven, I better start the loaf at four.  There are few things more painful to watch than hungry people crunching on spinach salad while the bread is still in the oven — especially when they can smell all of that carby-goodness wafting out of the oven. I’ve also learned not to run out the door while the dough is rising.  Personally, errands always take twice as long as they should.   Thus, I end up  returning to a kitchen that smells like a brewery and being confronted by a ball of dough the size of a large toddler. 


Bread has taught me perseverance (and given me some *somewhat* defined biceps).  Sure, there are dough hooks, bread machines, and other fancy kneading gizmos — but I’m a firm believer that the best loaves come from some good, old-fashioned pounding.  The glutens in the dough need to be stretched and warmed by human hands.  It’s a labor of love.  With every loaf of bread, I knead a little bit of my soul and spirit into the dough.  That sounds so incredibly cheesy, but you can taste the difference, I swear.  


Bread has taught me that patience pays off.  I am the kind of girl who seldom uses measuring cups and has no idea where my teaspoons are.  I have one “cup”-ish sized mug that I use for everything.  I’ve got to admit I love to cut corners (and hate doing dishes).  I feel like I’m totally winning at life when I make a layer cake in one salad bowl with a fork.  But bread baking requires patience and a lot of spoons. I’ve learned to even break out the kitchen scale when baking a loaf of bread.  Crazy stuff, I know…  But it’s all for the love of bread.  


Lastly, sometimes, yeast can just be a little bit of a bitch.  You can use all the measuring spoons in the world, and your bread will still sometimes come out of the oven looking like a hot mess.  Bread has taught me how to say “hey, it’s ok.”  When my country boule ends up looking like a giant chicken McNugget, I’ve learned just to call it “rustic.” No one complains. Trust me.  Especially when I serve it with Vermont maple butter. 

This my adaptation of a traditional recipe for bisciola — an artisan fruit and nut loaf from the Lombardy region of northern Italy, bordering Switzerland.  The addition of figs and anise seeds makes it both sweet and savory.

Have you ever made bread from scratch?

With love, 
Erica


 


  • 1/3 cup hazelnuts
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 2 1/2 cups
    all-purpose flour, divided

  • 2 cups
    whole-wheat flour

  • 1 1/2 cups
    warm water 

  • 1
    package dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)

  • 1 cup
    coarsely chopped dried mixed fruit (I used apricots, figs and dates)

  • 1/3 cup
    packed brown sugar

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 1 teaspoon
    salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons anise seeds 
  • 1
    large egg, beaten 
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
Combine 1 cup of all-purpose flour, warm water, and yeast in a large
bowl, and stir well with a whisk. Cover and let stand at room
temperature 1 hour.


Add the nuts, 1 cup all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, dried
fruit, anise, sugar, 2 tablespoons oil, salt, and egg to yeast mixture, and
stir until a soft dough forms (dough will feel tacky). Turn dough out
onto a lightly floured surface. 
Knead dough until smooth and elastic; add enough of remaining all-purpose flour, 1
tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands.  Place dough on a
baking sheet coated with cooking spray.
Shape into an 8-inch round
loaf. Brush dough with 2 teaspoons oil. Cover and let
rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 45 minutes or until
doubled in size. (Press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains,
the dough has risen enough.)
Preheat oven to 375°.
Uncover dough. Bake at 375° for 35 minutes or until the loaf sounds
hollow when tapped. Remove loaf from baking sheet; cool on a wire rack.
Adapted from La Cucina Italiana
 


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raisin bran muffins

I am a bit obsessed with breakfast — and you guys are used to me whipping up dishes like cinnamon cloudcakes swimming in pools of melted butter, and french toast casserole oozing with blueberry syrup.

But let’s talk muffins. I pinned this recipe a few months ago, and it got overlooked in lieu of more exciting dishe such as nutella swirl cookies filled with coconut mascarpone. However, I was getting tired with my daily bowl of Quaker Oats, and this was just the thing. 

aren’t these muffin cups cute?

 These aren’t your streusel-topped, butter-laden, monster muffins (a.k.a breakfast cupcakes). These are just simple, wholesome, and delicious muffins. They allow me to start my day on a good, energized note.  

so yummy warm — with a big smear of cream cheese

I love to eat one of these on a weekday morning alongside a big cup of milky coffee, or with a little pot of strawberry yogurt. Another way I love to enjoy these is crumbled on top of one of my “smoothie bowls” instead of granola.

What is your favorite make-ahead weekday breakfast?

With love,
Erica

Adapted from Pastries from La Brea Bakery by Nancy Silverton

2 cup (125g) wheat bran
1 cup, plus 1/2 cup (190g total) dark raisins
1 cup, plus 1/2 (370ml total) cup water
1/2 cup (120g) buttermilk or plain low- or non-fat yogurt
a few swipes of fresh orange zest (unsprayed)
1/2 cup (105g) packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (125ml) vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1/2 cup (65g) flour
1/4 cup (35g) whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Line a 12-cup muffin tin (with 1/2-cup indentations) with paper liners.
2. Spread the wheat bran on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for
six to eight minutes, stirring a few times so it cooks evenly. Let cool.
3. While the bran is toasting, heat 1 cup (135g) of the raisins with
1/2 cup (120ml) of the water. Simmer for ten minutes, or until the water
is all absorbed. Puree the raisins in a food processor or blender until
smooth.
4. In a large bowl, mix together the toasted bran, buttermilk or
yogurt, 1 cup (250ml) water, then mix in the raisin puree, orange zest,
and brown sugar.
5. Stir in the oil, egg and egg white.
6. Mix together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and
sift directly into the wet ingredients. Stir until the ingredients are
just combined, then mix in the remaining 1/2 cup (55g) raisins.
7. Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, making sure the batter is
mounded slightly in each one. Because muffin tins can very in size, if
your tins are larger, make fewer muffins.
8. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the muffins feel set in the center.