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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panettone

I love preparing breakfast the night before.  There is nothing better than going to bed knowing that there is a super delicious breakfast waiting for me in the fridge… especially when that breakfast is this Italian panettone.

Panettone originated in Milan, and is traditionally eaten around Christmastime. Many traditional panettone recipes are very labor intensive, but this one is quite simple, and just takes a little bit of planning ahead.  I throw in whatever dried fruit happens to be in my pantry — this time I had cherries, cranberries and some golden raisins.

This is going to be my go-to breakfast when we have guests over this holiday season.  I can make the dough the night before, and everyone can wake up to the sweet smell of freshly baked bread (and I won’t have to wake up early to knead anything!).   I may even make it in double batches so that I can have leftovers. This would make some delicious french toast.  I even found some very cool recipes for panettone stuffing and panettone eggnog bread pudding!

I made mine in a standard 9-inch cake pan, but if you have one of those beautiful, slender panettone pans, by all means use it! (I’m quite jealous if you do!).

With love, Erica


Ingredients
2 ½ tsp. active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
2 Tbs. white sugar
2 eggs
½ cup nonfat plain yogurt (I used 0% Greek yogurt)
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon salt
4-5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 cup dried fruit (cherries, raisins, cranberries etc.)

1 vanilla bean, scraped  (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
1/4 cup milk
1/8 cup brown sugar

Combine yeast, water, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and let stand until foamy.  Add eggs, yogurt, lemon zest, vanilla bean and salt. Mix well. Stir in flour ½ cup at a time, scraping sides of bowl
down, until dough starts to form (after adding ~3 cups).  Throw in dried fruits Switch to the
dough hook and continue adding flour (about 1 more cup) until dough
forms a manageable mass.  Continue kneading for 5 to 10 minutes, adding
flour as necessary.
Form dough into a large ball and coat all sides with vegetable oil.  Let dough rise in a warm place until
doubled, about 1 hour.
Form dough into a ball and place in a greased 9-10 inch round pan. 
Cover loosely with plastic wrap and cool rise in the refrigerator
overnight.
The next morning, remove pan from refrigerator and let come to room
temperature (about 1 hour before baking).  Brush with milk and sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake in a preheated oven at
350 F  for 45 minutes, or until loaf is golden brown and a toothpick
inserted in the center comes out clean.  (If bread browns too quickly on
top, cover with a piece of foil.) 

From Apricosa