Saturday, April 25, 2009

Batter Up!

We had one cheery week of spring weather and overnight it turned chilly and overcast again. A quick glance at the exterior temperature gauge told me that once more, we were looking at optimum conditions for a hearty pot of homemade lip-smacking-stick-to-your-ribs soup. From my pantry shelves I pulled out a recent discovery from my market’s bulk food section: an odd bean medley of peas, garbanzos, soy, lentils plus a few other unidentifiable items. Since I had no directions, I could only surmise that it would likely require a good two hours of steady simmering.

Into the pot the collection went with a couple slices of bacon, carrots, onions, celery and peppers, some coriander, dried thyme, bay, freshly ground pepper and plenty of water to cover. Once the soup was underway, it didn’t take me long to conclude that a loaf of freshly baked bread would be the ideal accompaniment.

This past winter I have enjoyed playing with old-fashioned batter breads. These yeasty jewels are delicious, versatile, and ready to eat in about two hours. Busy homemakers have relied on their convenience for decades because they are practically fool proof and require no baking expertise. They are beaten and not kneaded, require only a brief rise, plopped and spread into a pan, given another quick rise, and then baked to perfection. Still, the loaves yield a lovely crumb sturdy enough to slice thinly for toast, sandwiches or general snacking.

If you have followed my Blog, then you know I am a confirmed cornmeal fan – and that is exactly where we are headed. A slight amount of cornmeal adds a blush of color, crunch, and sweetness to our loaf, and creates an ideal companion for the sumptuous split pea mega soup. It's best if you can resist temptation and wait for your bread to cool, but if you can't - slice away! Enjoy it warm slathered with butter, and if your are lucky, perhaps a steamy cup of soup.

Cornmeal Batter Bread
1 envelope rapid rise yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup liquid (water or milk, or any combo)
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups flour, approx.
1/2 cup cornmeal, plus additional for pan
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 Tbsp. shredded Parmesan Cheese (opt.)

In 1/4 cup warm water dissolve yeast. Separately, heat 1 cup liquid until hot, add sugar and salt and stir to dissolve.

In mixing bowl, combine 2 cups flour, cornmeal, and baking soda. Add part of the hot liquid and begin stirring. Beat in the yeast mixture, the oil, and the remainder of the hot liquid; continue beating 3-5 minutes, adding additional flour as needed to make a fairly stiff batter. Spray a medium sized bowl and dump the dough into the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place until doubled, 30-40 minutes.

Meanwhile spray and dust 9x5" baking pan with cornmeal. When dough is doubled, scrape it into baking pan and smooth evenly. Let rise until it reaches top of pan, 30-40 minutes.

Meanwhile preheat oven to 375 degrees. Optional, sprinkle top with shredded Parmesan cheese prior to baking. Bake 45 minutes until brown and sounds hollow when thumped on bottom. Cool on rack. Yield: 1 loaf. ~~

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Song for Biscotti

My last blog on Apple Crisp Bars prompted ChyAnn to write asking if I had any more high protein, low sugar/fat cookie or bar suggestions. Thank you, ChyAnn for the perfect segues – and another opportunity to sing the praises of Biscotti.

I highly recommend biscotti as a healthful all-purpose dessert option. Their signature crunchiness makes them suitable for storage and will thus rank high among the handy dandy pantry players. They are an easy snack on the run, a great solution for drop in guests served with coffee or tea, and are beautiful as part of a dessert plate with fresh fruit, or as a stand alone with ice cream.

Biscotti’s name is derived from their biscuit-like quality as well as their unique twice baked cooking process. This second baking makes biscotti ideal for dunking in coffee, tea, milk, and most especially into the Italian’s beloved vin santo. This superb dessert wine is a classic ending to a heavy meal, and a crisp biscotti is the perfect vehicle for maximum dunking capacity.

If you purchase biscotti commercially, as with all convenience and specialty foods, it’s important to read the label carefully since they can be loaded with empty calories, high in fat, sugars and preservatives.

Here, our Breakfast Biscotti is a welcome change from packaged Granola Bars. There’s plenty of protein and fiber, fat and sugar content is minimized, dried fruit offers additional sweetness and texture, and the small amount of orange zest adds a perky dash of brightness. No surprise, cornmeal is included for crunch and color, and any nut may be substituted or omitted altogether. If counting calories based on 36 cookies these are slightly over 90 calories each.

Since there’s shaping and hand work involved, with the exception of cutting into portions, these would make a great kid project.

Breakfast BiscottiFrom Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Cafe

3 eggs
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon orange zest, grated
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cup oats
1/2 cup wheat germ or soy protein powder
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup almonds, chopped
6 dates or other dried fruit, pitted, minced (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a cookie sheet, or for easy clean-up, line it with parchment.

Into large mixing bowl, break eggs, add sugars, thru extracts and beat until smooth.

Combine dry ingredients separately. Using spoon, add dry to wet, mixing thoroughly; it may be necessary to use hands as it thickens and becomes dough-like.

Moisten hands slightly and divide batter in half; form 2 logs @ 2" in diameter. Place on sheet with space between them.

Bake for 20 minutes until golden and slightly brown on edges. Remove from oven and cool slightly. Reduce heat to 350 degrees.

Transfer logs one at a time to a cutting board. Using serrated knife, at a good angle, cut into 1/2" thick slices. Return to baking sheet, laying the cookies cut side down. Bake 8 more minutes. Turn them over and bake for another 8 minutes. For extra crunchy, turn off heat and leave in oven for an additional 15 minutes.

Let cool on racks. Store room temperature airtight or freeze. Yield: 36 cookies

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Blondies Bars and Bites Revisited

Back story: My fascination with bar cookies began in earnest about 7 years ago when I was looking for easy sweets to take to potlucks and outings while living in Stuart, Florida. In my sugar-logged mind, it didn’t take long before I was baking so many varieties that I needed an outlet for all my excesses. Soon, I was peddling them around the countryside at local farmers markets, country clubs, delis and restaurants; thus, Blondies Bars and Bites was born.

As need increased, so did my kitchen requirements, and the ideal setting and location was discovered just around the corner from my home. With the wave of a wooden spoon Culinary Distractions was in business complete with a charming gourmet Studio, state-of-art commercial kitchen and catering operation. Naturally, Blondies, Bars and Bites made a major contribution and they were always the Stars, as far as I was concerned.

It’s no surprise that I still lapse into the bar mode on occasion and obsess over a new variation of an old familiar treat. This time it happens to be Apple Crisp Bar. This is the perfect time of year to be fiddling with this specialty, since apples are abundant, affordable and delicious.

When sorting out apples, select those that are crisp, juicy and sweet such as Gala, Golden Delicious or Granny Smith. You will need less sugar, there will be more moisture, and the flavor will remind you of that all-American treasure, Apple Crisp - in forkless, finger form!

Since bars can have an inordinate amount of butter, my challenge was to create the flavor and outcome without unnecessary fat. Here, that is achieved with the addition of an egg, which also provides additional texture and moisture. You will use the same mixture for the bottom “platform” and well as the topping “crumble”.

Enjoy this easy all-purpose sweet at your own potluck or outing, for dessert served warm topped with ice cream, or wrapped for a quick snack on the run.

Apple Crisp Bars

1 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup oatmeal
6 tablespoons butter, cut in chunks (approx 1/3 cup)
1 egg, lightly beaten

Apple filling:
3 apples, golden delicious, granny smith etc, any/or combo,

partially peel, core, cut into small chunks
1/2 lemon, juice of
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon sugar, more, if apples are not sweet
1/4 teaspoon each cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line and spray 8x8" pan.

In food processor combine flour thru salt, add oatmeal, cut in butter until crumbly. Add the egg and combine well. Reserve about 3/4 cup of mixture for topping. Pat the balance evenly into pan.
For apples: in bowl, sprinkle apples with lemon juice. Combine the dry items and toss with apples to coat. If there is excess, add it to the topping. Spread apples into pan in even layer. With fingers, crumble the topping over the apples. Spray top lightly with oil and bake until bubbly and topping browns, about 45 minutes.

Cool a bit on rack and cut into 9-12 bars.


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