Thursday, April 19, 2018

Walnut Blondies

Let me just start by saying that I love these Walnut and White Chocolate Blondies!!

I was just going to make some simple blondies. You know, the simplest of simple bars. Kind of a chocolate chip cookie-flavored brownie. I started with this recipe at Smitten Kitchen, and, intrigued by the browned butter recommendation in that recipe, started doing some fiddling and tweaking.

What I ended up with was a wonderfully nutty bar with an almost gooey (but not quite), moist chewiness, and a delightfully sweet, somehow caramel-y flavor. I made that browned butter, swapped some of it out for walnut oil, and exchanged half of the flour for whole wheat pastry flour. I also stirred in some walnuts, then thought, do these need some kind of chocolate? Yes, I answered. White chocolate chips. Why not?

The resulting bar cookies really made me happy. The flavor of the brown butter and walnut oil were fabulous together, and the extra nuttiness of the whole wheat flour was a great compliment to those unctuous fats. The crunchy walnuts were right at home, and the vanilla-sweet white chocolate got gently caramelized during baking, contributing to the complex flavor. The interplay of all these wonderful ingredients was even more delicious than I expected!

These chewy bars can certainly be varied to meet your personal tastes or even just satisfy your need to try as many versions of the classic blondie as possible. The method is, of course, super easy, so you can make blondies over and over as needed to satisfy all your blondie lust. That’s a thing, right? Or is it just me?

Walnut and White Chocolate Blondies

¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
¼ cup walnut oil
1 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup chopped walnuts, toasted if desired
1 cup white chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray an 8-inch baking pan with cooking spray, or grease it as desired.

2. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Continue to cook the butter until it stops bubbling and turns golden brown. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.

3. In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the walnut oil, brown sugar, and egg until smooth. Whisk in the browned butter until completely combined. Whisk in the vanilla extract.

4. In a small bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, whole wheat pastry flour, salt, and baking soda. Whisk or sift together.

5. Add the flour mixture to the liquid mixture and stir until just combined. Stir in the walnuts and white chocolate chips.

6. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan, and smooth it out evenly. Bake at 350 F for 25-35 minutes, or until set and glossy on top and a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. Cool in the pan on a wire rack.

Makes about 16 servings.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Classic White Sandwich Bread

If I was writing a cookbook or a book on baking bread (and who says I’m not?), I would probably begin with something as basic as this classic white loaf of sandwich bread. I’m sure this bread, or something very much like it, was the first kind of bread I tried to make. I found it to be the easiest to master, and most other sandwich-style loves that I make are some variation on this recipe.

All that being said, I don’t make white bread very often, which is probably why I haven’t blabbed about it on these pages before. I tend to make breads with at least some whole grain flour in them, with this Wheat Sandwich Bread being my usual go-to. I tend to forget, however, just how beautiful a smooth and stretchy, almost glossy, and luxuriant a higher-gluten bread dough can be. It can be shaped into such a smooth ball with a lovely “gluten cloak” enfolding it all like a particularly cuddly and comforting blanket. And the resulting baked loaf is oh, so soft and fluffy.

I like to use King Arthur brand bread flour for my bread baking (the folks at that company do not know me or know anything about me using their products). I find that the bread flour has a very satisfying protein content that allows me to make bread the way I like to make it. By that I not only mean that the dough and the bread are the texture that I like, but also that it’s consistent and predictable enough for me to take the short-cut of using a stand mixer to mix and knead my dough, always with good results.

When I had more time, I used to knead my bread dough by hand. (Partly, I figured that I needed the exercise.) That experience was extremely valuable in terms of learning how flour, water, yeast, butter and salt can some together to form a great loaf of delicious bread. I learned how the dough should feel if it’s going to make a nice loaf, and that exact measurements in bread recipes are more like guidelines. The mixture will become a proper dough when it looks and feels like it will become a proper dough far more often than when the measured ingredients declare that their work is done.

Now, I’ve made enough dough to be able to let my Kitchen Aid do a lot of my work, while I merely supervise and quality check. I begin the dough with water, yeast and sugar in the bowl of the mixer, bloom the yeast, then add the butter and some of the flour. I let this sort of mini-starter rest for up to 30 minutes, which may not be a critical step, but I like the flavor and texture results when I do this. Finally, I add the rest of the flour and knead the dough with the hook attachment until it is smooth and stretchy, going by look and feel rather than exact measurements of ingredients or time.

The rest is shaping, resting and baking, and, if I was a skilled photographer, I could have a photo journal of the whole process. But let’s not let that distract us from the resulting delicious sandwich bread, classic in flavor, soft and fluffy in texture, but still sturdy enough to keep from collapsing or tearing when cutting. I don’t eat white bread very often, choosing at least slightly healthier recipes with some whole grains in them. That just makes a lovely slice of white bread an especially nice treat on occasion. Maybe it’s not quite cake, but, well, almost!

White Sandwich Bread

1 cup warm water (about 100 F)
2 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 envelope)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon soft unsalted butter
3 cups bread flour, divided
1 teaspoon fine salt

1. Combine the water, yeast and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. (If mixing by hand, use a large bowl.) Let stand about 5 minutes or until the yeast is foamy.

2. Add the butter and 2 cups flour. Stir together on low speed (or stir with a spoon) to form a loose batter. Cover the bowl with a towel and let the mixture stand 15-30 minutes.

3. After resting, the batter should have risen and appear puffy. Add about half the remaining flour. Using the dough hook for the sand mixer, mix and knead at medium-low speed, adding as much of the remaining flour as you can. (Or, stir in as much flour as you can with a spoon and turn out the dough on a floured surface to knead by hand.)

4. Continue kneading in as much of the remaining flour as you can. You want to to form a smooth, stretchy dough that is still a little sticky to the touch. This will take a total of about 10 minutes.

5. Remove the dough from the bowl of the stand mixer and shape it into a smooth ball. The dough should be able to be stretched and shaped such that a smooth outer “cloak” forms around the outside of the ball, giving it a smooth shape.

6. Spray a large bowl with nonstick cooking spray or grease it using the method you desire. Place the dough ball in the bowl. Spray the top of the dough. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the dough. Cover the bowl with a towel. Let stand for about 1 hour, or until doubled in size.

7. When the dough has risen to double in size, gently deflate the dough and form it into a new ball. Let the dough rest about 5 minutes. Spray an 8 x 5-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray, or grease it as desired. Shape the dough into a loaf and place it in the pan.

8. Cover the dough with a towel and let stand for about 1 hour or until roughly doubled in size. The dough should be puffed above the rim of the pan by 2 inches or so.

9. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 F. When the loaf has risen appropriately, bake at 375 F for 35 minutes, or until the bread tests done, either by sounding hollow when tapped on the bottom or by reaching a temperature of about 200 F in the interior of the loaf.

10. Remove from the pan and cool on a wire rack. Wrap well to store. The bread is best within a day or two, and can be frozen in a freezer-safe bag or container.

Makes 1 loaf.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Archive Recipe: Barley Pancakes

This recipe for Barley Pancakes with Orange Juice and Vanilla has been the most commonly viewed recipe in The Messy Apron Archives for several years. I hope that a lot of you who have visited that post have also tried and enjoyed this ultimately yummy breakfast recipe. The warm, earthy, malty taste of whole grain barley flour deserves to be considered for popular appreciation, and a nice batch of pancakes is a simple and satisfying way to give it a chance.

I received a super-generous gift of homemade maple syrup from my cousin recently, which I took as a sign from the Universe that I needed to get back to this pancake recipe. Great syrup deserves great pancakes! And, if nothing else, such a popular recipe deserves some new photo images, hopefully better ones than what I was able to capture back in 2011. Really, though, the fact that these are just really, really good pancakes should be enough reason for me to be making them more often than I do. I feel a considerable amount of shame.

I don’t see any reason to mess around with this recipe, so I have presented it here as I did originally. Perhaps these pancakes would also be great with some grated orange zest mixed into the batter (grate the zest off the orange before squeezing it for the juice in the recipe), or maybe with some finely chopped walnuts or pecans sprinkled onto each pancake as it cooks. I haven’t tried these variations yet. If you get a chance to before I do, be sure to tell me how delicious they are!

I don’t know that I will ever really run out of new recipes to try, whether they’re good candidates for a The Messy Apron post or not. I’m finding that I do need to exercise some caution, however, as I explore and report on those new horizons. It would be a real shame to lose track of all my good old favorite recipes, or to never revisit something truly delicious. And a warm malty pancake scented with orange and vanilla should be revisited as often as possible.

Barley Pancakes with Orange Juice and Vanilla
Adapted from
King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking

6 ounces by weight (about 170 g) whole barley flour (about 1 ½ cups)
2 teaspoons (10 ml) baking powder
¼ teaspoon (1 ml) baking soda
¾ (about 3 ml) teaspoons salt
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons (1 ½ ounces by weight or 40 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 tablespoons (30 ml) honey
¾ cup (6 fluid ounces or 175ml) milk
½ cup (4 fluid ounces or 125 ml) fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract

1. Preheat an electric griddle to 300 F (150 C) (or preheat a skillet or griddle on the stove over medium heat.) In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the barley flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

2. In another medium-size bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk. Slowly whisk in the butter. Whisk in the honey. Whisk in the milk, orange juice and vanilla.

3. Pour the egg mixture over the barley flour mixture and stir until just combined. Spray the heated pan with cooking spray or brush it with oil or butter. Spoon or pour about ¼ cup (50 ml) of the pancake batter for each (4-inch or 10 cm) pancake, placing as many on the pan as will fit with room to spread and flip. Cook the pancakes until they are brown on the pan side 3-4 minutes. Flip the pancakes with a spatula and cook on the other side until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes more.

4. Keep completed pancakes warm in the oven until ready to serve. Serve with butter and maple syrup, or other favorite pancake accompaniments.

Makes about 12 (3 ½ -4-inch) pancakes.