Monday, April 30, 2012

Chocolate Peanut Cookies

I had been looking for an excuse to try this idea for a simple variation on a basic drop cookie. I thought it might be good to add some cocoa to this chocolate chip cookie and replace the chocolate chips with cocktail peanuts. I didn’t really have a good reason to make cookies, but did I need one?

My advice to you is to make cookies before you “need” a cookie. While I was contemplating my excuses for a comforting bite or two, my husband got hit by a car on his bike. Happily, he was not injured at all (although the bike wasn’t so lucky), but I think it’s fair to say he needed a cookie after his ordeal. And when I learned that the driver, who couldn’t be bothered to refrain from turning left just because someone else was in the middle of the intersection, going straight, and therefore having the right of way, was not issued a citation, I was the one who needed a cookie! Trust me, mindfully savoring a chocolaty cookie with plenty of crunchy peanuts can go a long way toward preventing a confrontation with police.

These cookies are just as easy as any homemade chocolate chip cookie. They turned out more cake-y than fudgy, but I think the addition of chocolate chips or chopped chocolate would make them gooier if that’s what you like. I liked the slight saltiness of the cocktail peanuts, which I didn’t chop. They break up just a little when mixed into the batter, but for the most part, they stay big and chunky and crunchy.

These Chocolate Peanut Drop Cookies are simple and satisfying, a nice combination of cocoa and peanuts. So, again, my advice for today is make these (or any other cookie you like) now, because you never know when you’re going to need one. Some more advice: always wear a helmet when biking, and, for goodness sake, start seeing bicycles before someone gets hurt!!


Chocolate Peanut Drop Cookies
I prefer to let this cookie dough rest in the refrigerator before baking, but if you don't have that kind of time, you could bake these just after mixing. 

1 ½ sticks (3/4 cup) butter, at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups cocktail peanuts

1. Place the butter, granulated sugar and dark brown sugar in a large bowl or in the bowl of a heavy-duty electric stand mixer. Beat on medium speed until pale in color and very creamy. Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each is added. Beat in the vanilla extract.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Stir or whisk together to combine well. Add to the butter mixture a little at a time and mix on low speed until well combined.

3. Add the peanuts and either stir them in with a spoon or mix them in slowly with the electric mixer until well distributed through the dough.

4. Cover the dough and chill for 1 hour or even overnight, or wrap very well and freeze for up to a month (I have frozen similar doughs longer.)

5. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 F. Lightly spray cookie sheets with cooking spray or line them with parchment paper.

6. Scoop or pull pieces of cookie dough about 1 ½ tablespoons in size and shape into rough balls. Set the dough balls on the prepared cookie sheet(s), at least 2 inches apart.

7. Bake at 375 F about 9-10 minutes, or until the cookies appear dry on the edges but still slightly moist in the middle

8. Remove from the oven and cool on the pan on a wire rack for about 2 minutes. Remove the cookies from the pan and cool on a wire rack. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature for a few days or wrap well and freeze.

Makes 50-60 cookies.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Rustic Rhubarb Pie (with Ginger)

First of all, I hope you’ve noticed that The Messy Apron has received a bit of a visual update. I didn’t really want to change it much, but there have been some software updates for this blog engine and a slightly refreshed image was going to make those easier for me to deal with. Everything should be exactly where it was before. (If something is broken, please let me know.)

But now the really important stuff: rhubarb! This is rather embarrassing, but I still have a few big bags of frozen chopped rhubarb that I put up last fall. And the plants in the backyard are growing fast and ready to eat. How did this happen?!

I was looking for something relatively simple for dessert that would feature rhubarb. Something beyond a basic rhubarb compote or strawberry rhubarb sauce. I went with a rustic galette flavored with fresh ginger and vanilla, two flavors that I think are wonderful with rhubarb. I used the Easy Cream Cheese Pastry recipe I posted here, and that made this a pretty easy and stress-free dessert.

Well, almost stress-free. You see, rhubarb is rather juicy stuff. In the original recipe, it was suggested that after letting the rhubarb stand with sugar for a while, a lot of the liquid will be thrown off and you can remove the rhubarb with a slotted spoon, leaving behind most of the juices that would make a soggy pie. Well, I don’t know if it was because I started with rhubarb that was still slightly frozen, but I didn’t get any pools of liquid in the bottom of the bowl when I prepared the filling. What I did get was pools of sugary rhubarb-ginger syrup that oozed out of the cracks in the pie crust and caramelized (okay, burned) in the oven. I made this twice, both times with rhubarb that had been frozen, and this happened each time. (I think I need to improve my pie crust skills!)

Since the galette was still great (and nothing caught on fire), I decided to get over the little mess, which was pretty easy to clean because I baked the galette on a pan lined with a silicone baking mat. I hope to keep making this because it is so simple to prepare for all the deliciousness it brings, and I’m sure I’ll have plenty of fresh rhubarb with which to try it. I think I’m probably just going to have to accept that this will be a bit runny and gooey at least some of the time, but what’s really important is the wonderfully sweet, tart, floral and slightly citrusy flavor of well-sugared rhubarb with ginger and vanilla. And gilding a slice of this galette with a scoop of vanilla ice cream isn’t such a bad idea, either.

Rhubarb-Ginger Galette
Adapted from this recipe at Simply Recipes

1 recipe single pie crust dough (I used Easy Cream Cheese Pastry)
3 cups rhubarb (¼ inch slices)
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon vanilla extract egg wash (egg beaten with a splash of water or milk), optional

1. In a medium-size bowl combine rhubarb, sugar, flour, and ginger. Let stand 15 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 375 F. Roll out the pie crust into about a 12 inch circle (or unfold a store-bought crust) and transfer it to a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil, parchment or a silicone baking mat.

3. Spoon the rhubarb mixture onto the middle of the crust leaving a few inches of crust on the outside border. If the rhubarb mixture is especially juicy, leave behind most of the liquid as you scoop the mixture out of the bowl. This will help keep the pie from getting too soggy.

4. Fold the crust border up over the edges of the filling, leaving much of the filling exposed in the middle. Brush the crust with egg wash if desired.

5. Bake at 375 F for 35-40 minutes or until the crust is crisp and golden brown and the rhubarb is tender. If the filling is cold, it will take longer to bake. Unless you are an expert pie-maker, I suggest you expect some of the liquid from the filling to leak out of the pie to make a semi-burned mess. (Using a lined pan under the pie will help with the cleanup.) Cool completely or serve slightly warm with vanilla ice cream.

Makes about 6 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Rhubarb Yogurt Cake, Rhubarb Sour Cream Muffins, Rhubarb Custard Bars

One year ago: Chickpea and Spinach Curry

Monday, April 23, 2012

Slaw with Orange Tahini Dressing

I wish I had an interesting story to go along with this recipe. It deserves one. The simple and perhaps unexciting truth is that I wanted to try the orange-tahini combination in the dressing for this great-looking salad. I figured that with spring really here, apparently to stay, I might not have much more time to dwell on oranges. Plus, the delicate baby lettuce mixtures available from local sources and growing in pots on my patio (that part of this story is actually pretty exciting) are soon going to leave me with no interest in cabbage…at least for a while.

I’m glad I hadn’t completely turned my back on such wintery foods as cabbage and oranges just yet because this salad was delicious. Cabbage can probably take on just about any style of dressing that you like, so I wasn’t all that surprised that this creamy orange-tahini one went well. I had also added some thinly-sliced chard to the slaw mix, however, and the dressing was great on that too. The texture of those chard ribbons also served to fluff up the salad a bit, keeping it from getting too dense under the rich, creamy dressing.

And so, wonderfully flavorful and substantial enough to be a light main dish, this salad is exciting enough to be its own story. Its origins are nothing new if you’re a slaw fan: shred or slice some vegetables, in this case cabbage, carrots, chard, scallions and parsley, and mix them with a creamy dressing. Things get a little more exotic and exciting when the tasting comes in: crunchy cabbage and tender chard, sweet carrots, a bit of onion, aromatic orange zest, and rich sesame paste emulsified with extra-virgin olive oil and sweet-tart orange juice. Delicious. Tossing together another bowl of this lovely stuff could go a long way toward helping me wait for my baby lettuces…for a little while, anyway.

Cabbage and Chard Slaw with Orange-Tahini Dressing
Inspired by this recipe at My New Roots

I like to use a Microplane grater to zest citrus fruits. Be sure to remove the zest before squeezing the oranges for juice. It’s much easier.

zest of 1 orange
2 tablespoons olive oil (preferably extra-virgin)
½ teaspoon coarse salt
¼ cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons tahini
½ small head cabbage, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
1 cup thinly sliced Swiss chard leaves
2 large carrots, grated (about 1 ½ cups)
2 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
½ cup chopped fresh parsley

1. In a small bowl, combine the orange zest, olive oil, salt, orange juice, water and tahini. Whisk together until thick and very smooth. Set aside.

2. Combine the cabbage, chard, carrots, scallions and parsley in a large bowl. Pour the dressing over the cabbage mixture and stir well to combine and coat the vegetables with the dressing.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Cabbage Slaw with Spicy Peanut Dressing, Cabbage Slaw with Feta and Olives, Winter Squash and Chickpea Salad with Apricots and Tahini Dressing

One year ago: Warm Noodles with Cilantro and Coconut Lime Dressing

Thursday, April 19, 2012

White Beans and Arugula

This recipe was a salad recipe. And it had roasted red bell peppers in it, but I thought sun-dried tomatoes would be nice. And it called for arugula, but I couldn’t get any arugula (and the arugula I planted hasn’t grown enough yet). And I got some spinach and chard to try instead. And I thought maybe it would be interesting as a warm dish with cooked greens. But then I thought it would be better as a salad after all. And then I found some beautiful baby arugula. And then it got cold and rainy and windy and nasty outside and I thought it would be best to make this a warmer, cozier dish.

That’s pretty typical of the way things go in my kitchen (and in my head), the way a recipe goes from an original source through the gauntlet of my mind and the markets I frequent and the weather. In the end, this was a really nice, rather simple vegetarian dish of beans with wilted arugula and thick strips of tangy-sweet sun-dried tomatoes. Sometimes dishes based on beans or grains or both can be a little bland, really more suited to accompany a savory, flavorful main dish, but I firmly believe that the little bit of vinaigrette that was meant to dress this as a salad made a big difference in boosting the flavor of this one. Of course the peppery, bitter arugula and the tomatoes, plus the onions and garlic were no slouches in the flavor department, either.

Of course, when it gets warm again, I’m convinced I will be enjoying this as a salad. I just won’t wilt the arugula, or whatever greens I can get a hold of. I could also try the roasted peppers of the original recipe, or use fresh tomatoes. Really, there’s a lot that could be added to this and a lot of ways to go with the flavors: artichokes, fresh herbs, feta or Parmesan cheese. Dishes like this represent a method that can be applied in whatever direction the cook desires. Hey, wait, this dish represents two methods, a warm bean dish with wilted greens and cold bean salad with fresh greens. And then…well, enough of my stream of consciousness. You’ve got things to do.

White Beans with Arugula and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Based on a recipe (for a salad) in Cooking Light magazine

¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
½ teaspoon coarse salt, divided
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup finely-chopped red onion
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
4 cups arugula, chopped if the leaves are large
1 ½ cups (about a 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed) cooked Navy beans (or other white beans)

1. Place the sun-dried tomatoes in a small, heatproof bowl. Pour at least ½ cup boiling water over them to completely cover. Let stand at least 15 minutes to soften the tomatoes. (If you use oil-packed tomatoes, you can skip this step, but you will need about ½ cup water later.) Remove the tomatoes and reserve the water. Chop the softened tomatoes into thin strips and set aside.

2. In a small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon olive oil, red wine vinegar, honey, ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper. Whisk to combine. Set aside.

3. Pour the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet. Heat over medium heat until the oil is shimmery and flows easily when the pan is tilted. Add the onion and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt. Saute 3-4 minutes, or until the onion is softened and begins to brown. Add the garlic and cook about 1 minute more.

4. Add the arugula and about ¼ cup of the tomato soaking water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the arugula is well wilted, about 2 minutes. Add the beans, sun-dried tomatoes, and about ¼ cup more of the tomato water. Cook until most of the liquid has evaporated.

5. Remove from the heat. Pour the oil and vinegar dressing mixture over the beans and stir to coat. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 2 main dish or 4 smaller side dish servings.

Other recipes like this one: Sloppy Beans and Tomatoes, Stewed Beans with Bacon and Caramelized Onions, White Beans with Sage and Garlic, White Bean Stew with Tomatoes and Rosemary

One year ago: Vanilla Ice Cream

Monday, April 16, 2012

Three Years and Fried Potatoes

My brother and his fabulous lady friend recently went on a very strict diet. It might be described as a modified low-carb diet with emphasis on lean proteins, fruits and vegetables. I, personally, would describe it as starvation. Well, the diet did seem to have good results, and, a little envious of the dieters’ determination (they did this thing for 40 days!), I thought perhaps I should try something like that. But then I came to my senses. What, after all, would I be able to post to The Messy Apron if I was eating like that?

Today marks the beginning of the fourth year of this silly little project and I am forced to admit that I’m addicted. I base my grocery list on what I want to post. I get nervous if I haven’t tried a successful new recipe in a few days. The camera is never far from the sunny spot under the window in the living room where I take most of my shots (the kitchen windows don’t let in enough light most of the time.) I’m constantly thinking of what I’m going to write about each ingredient and recipe. This is the way I do things now. The Messy Apron is a lifestyle.

If I’m going to be honest with you, I have to say that this last year or so has not been good for me on a personal level. No matter how sad, lonely, worrisome or frustrating things get, however, I’m not the type to lose my appetite. In fact, I’m not even the type to lose interest in cooking or baking or trying new dishes or writing about them. Like Grandpa Vic always said, you gotta eat something, and I’ve been fortunate enough to always have something to eat, and to have the time, interest, and skill to make that something pretty good.

That doesn’t mean that everything has to be all fancy and trendy all the time. There is a time and place for something as humble (though delicious) as fried potatoes. In fact, there are many times and many places for fried potatoes. Last weekend in my kitchen, is just one of them. I partially cooked some russet potatoes in the microwave (leaving their skins on) the night before, then chopped them up and cooked them in butter in a cast iron pan the next morning. I love scallions with fried potatoes, so I added a finely chopped one, and I happened to have some leftover Easter ham that went in as well. Perfectly delicious, simple happiness without a lot of fuss. You can make these any time for any meal. I just happen to like them alongside an over-easy fried egg and toasted whole wheat bread.

Fried Potatoes with Scallions and Ham may not be part of a restrictive weight-loss diet, but they are part of The Messy Apron diet, which means they are something I made, photographed, and wrote about on these pages. Nothing profound, nothing extraordinary. After three years, I think it’s safe to say that such is how I do things, and I think we can all expect a lot more of the same in The Messy Apron’s year four. Happy birthday, you messy little blog. You’ve been a good friend to this hungry cook!

My newest imaginary friend, which I created in October, is a blog on the books I’m reading, The Distractible Reader. Drop by any time!

Fried Potatoes with Scallions and Ham
You could use any cooked potatoes for this recipe. I recommend cooking them by boiling or in the microwave (see below) with their skins on, then cooling them before cutting them to fry. They seem to hold together best when prepared this way.

You could add other things to these potatoes as well, such as bacon, cheese or bell peppers.

1 – 1 ½ pounds potatoes (or start with cooked potatoes)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ - ¾ teaspoon coarse salt, or to taste
1 scallion, finely chopped
about ½ cup diced, fully cooked ham
a few grinds fresh black pepper

1. (If starting with cooked potatoes, skip this step.) Pierce the skin of the potatoes all over with a sharp knife or fork. Place the potatoes in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high 3 minutes. Rearrange the potatoes in the bowl (Use an oven mitt or towel to handle them. They are very hot.) Microwave about 2 minutes more or until the flesh gives when squeezed. (Again, they are hot so use some protection for your hands.) Allow the potatoes to cool a few hours or overnight.

2. Chop the potatoes into about 1-inch cubes. Melt the butter in a cast iron pan over medium heat. Add the potatoes and salt. Cook the potatoes in the butter over medium heat until they are golden brown, stirring occasionally. (I like to use a spatula to get under them better.) This could take 20-30 minutes.

3. Stir in the scallion and cook until the scallion is well wilted. Stir in the ham and cook about 3 minutes more, or until the ham is heated through. Taste the potatoes for salt and add more if desired. Stir in the pepper.

Makes 3-4 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Grilled Potatoes with Lime-Herb Dipping Sauce, Red Flannel Hash with Spicy Mustard

See the sidebar to the right for a link to all of my favorite recipes from the month of April.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Got Easter Eggs? Make Egg Salad (with Lemon and Fennel)

I must not have liked egg salad as a kid. I know we dyed lots of hardboiled eggs for Easter, but my only after-Easter memories of colored eggs involve my brother knocking them into the woods with a baseball bat. Well, now I make hardboiled eggs just to make egg salad, and if I had any dyed eggs in my refrigerator, I’d be making bowl after bowl of the version I tried recently with lemon and fennel.

The lemon flavor in this egg salad comes from both lemon juice and zest, and the fennel comes from just a bit of fennel bulb and some minced fennel frond. Neither is an over-powering addition but both give just a hint of unique flavor to what could rapidly become a boring use of leftovers. Since this only uses a tablespoon of fennel bulb (or stem) and a tablespoon of fennel fronds (the wispy, dark green leaves), I would recommend having a recipe handy to use up the rest of the fennel bulb. And if you don’t like fennel, you could try replacing the bulb (or stem) with celery and the fronds with dill weed. In fact, I’m looking forward to trying that variation myself. (Maybe I should have taken some of those colored eggs we dyed “for my niece” home with me.)

Whatever I put in my egg salad that is on the chunky or crunchy side, I like to keep to a small, finely minced amount. It’s way too easy to dominate the delicate texture and flavor of the eggs with too many big, awkward crunchy things. If you’re not all that into eggs flavor-wise, you could season the salad with spices or sauces (like hot sauce) without running the risk of ruining the texture. And speaking of texture, while my mom mashes her eggs for salad with a fork, making almost a paste before stirring in the dressing/sauce, I prefer to keep mine a little chunky. The yolks kind of blend in with the dressing as I stir (which is fabulous), but I like a delicate, medium-coarse chop to the egg whites. You can do what you like, of course.

I suppose a post on egg salad should include at least one paragraph on hard-boiling eggs. I get good results when I start with the eggs in a medium-size pan of cold water and bring the water just to a boil over medium heat. I then put a lid on the pan, remove it from the heat, and let it stand for 15 minutes. After that I drain the hot water and cool the eggs, first in cold water, then in the refrigerator. This method allows the eggs to cook all the way through and rarely results in that weird greenish ring forming around the yolk.

When it comes to peeling hardboiled eggs, you may be on your own. Supposedly, your best bet for getting a nicely peeled egg with little or none of the cooked white sticking to the membrane under the shell is to use an egg that’s been sitting in the refrigerator for a few weeks. While I can say that I’ve never had any luck peeling a fresh egg, I cannot say that I’ve had consistent results when peeling older eggs. They seem to like to stick with their shells, too, although sometimes if I run water on the egg so that it gets between the white and the shell membrane, the egg will peel a little easier. I wish I could give you something more fool-proof, but at least now you know why I chose to post on a chopped egg salad, in which the aesthetics of the peeled hardboiled eggs isn’t so important, instead of deviled eggs.

Lemon-Fennel Egg Salad
Adapted from a recipe in Bon Appetit magazine

You can chop or even mash your eggs as coarsely or finely as you like. I prefer my egg salad a little chunky, so chop my eggs somewhat coarsely.

3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sour cream
½ teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons minced shallots
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh fennel bulb or stem
1 tablespoon minced fennel fronds
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 small (or half of a medium) garlic clove
¼ teaspoon salt
5 hardboiled eggs, shells removed, chopped

1. In a medium size bowl, combine the mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon zest, lemon juice, mustard, shallots, fennel bulb or stem, fennel fronds, and black pepper. Stir to combine.

2. Finely chop the garlic. Sprinkle the salt on top of the garlic on the cutting board and make a garlic-salt paste as described in this post. Add the garlic-salt paste to the mayonnaise mixture and mix well.

3. Add the chopped egg and stir to coat well.

Makes 3-4 servings.

One year ago: Root Vegetable and Cabbage Stir Fry with Ginger and Lemon

Two years ago: Corn Chowder with Edamame

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Spinach-Chive Pesto

I always get so excited when the spring greens at my favorite store start getting their “Local” labels. These greens usually sneak up on me, but oddly, the weird early spring/summer got me in the right frame of mind this year. I was ready for the first locally grown bundle of spinach.

This particular bundle, which was probably grown in a greenhouse or cold frame, had developed way beyond the tender “baby” spinach stage that’s so wonderful for early spring salads. The leaves were kind of thick and gnarly and weren’t quite delicate enough to simply dress and eat with a fork. So I pureed them with some chives from my own herb garden (!), a splash of lemon, and the usual suspects (walnuts, Parmesan, olive oil) to make a lovely emerald green pesto.

This was a really nice pesto that went quite well with some rustic (very rustic) free-form pasta that I made. It was also delicious spread on some toasted baguette slices. The spinach, chives and lemon really are quite a nice combination. The chives are relatively subtle, giving it just a bit of oniony back note. (You might be able to replace them with scallion tops, which would probably be a little stronger.) The lemon juice helps to brighten the taste of the spinach, and the other flavors in the mixture are allowed to come through and play their respective parts.

This Spinach-Chive Pesto is a delightful bright green, and unmistakably pesto in form and function. Unlike basil pesto, it keeps its greenness even when stored for a couple days and doesn’t turn brown. The spinach leaves also provide a green that is not so strong in flavor as basil pesto or arugula pesto or radish leaf pesto. If you (or your kids) find those stronger greens a bit too much for the palate, Spinach-Chive Pesto might just be the way to go.

Besides, my little bed of radishes in the backyard is just coming up, my arugula won’t be ready to cut for a couple weeks, and I haven’t even considered where I’m going to plant my basil. The spinach, however, is ready and waiting in the market. Spring is here, and the pesto can be, too!

Spinach-Chive Pesto
Based on recipes in Cooking Light and Bon Appetit magazines

You could use pine nuts in place of the walnuts, or even leave them out entirely.

2 heaping cups chopped fresh spinach leaves
1/3 cup chopped fresh chives
2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted
¼ teaspoon coarse salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
¼ cup olive oil, preferably extra-virgin

1. Place the spinach, chives, Parmesan, walnuts, salt, pepper, garlic, and lemon juice in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the mixture is coarsely pureed, scraping down the sides occasionally to incorporate all the ingredients.

2. With the machine running, slowly pour in the olive oil (through the top opening of the processor) and process until smooth. Stop and scrape the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Makes about ¾ to 1 cup (I’m not sure about this measurement, but there should be enough pesto to dress at least a pound of pasta.) Serve over pasta with additional Parmesan or wherever else you like to serve pesto.

Other recipes like this one: Basic Basil Pesto, Radish Leaf and Peanut Pesto, Arugula Pesto with Kalamata Olives

One year ago: Cabbage Slaw with Feta and Olives

Two years ago: Chicken and Vegetable Tetrazzini

Monday, April 2, 2012

Oatmeal Bread

I set out to bake and compare two different recipes for oatmeal sandwich bread, one that called for soaking the oats in hot water, the other for toasting the oats and kneading them into the dough without soaking. This will end up being a shorter story than it could have been because the attempt at the toasted-oat version resulted in something resembling a brick more than a loaf (although it tasted pretty good.) The other recipe, which I adapted from Whole Grain Breads by Machine or Hand by Beatrice Ojakangas, however, was wonderful.

This recipe also utilizes what I call the mini-starter method, which I learned from Ojakangas’s book and now use in most of my bread baking. This involves mixing only part of the flour, and in this case the oats, with the wet ingredients and allowing the resulting batter to stand for about 30 minutes to encourage yeast growth and develop some additional flavor. While Ojakangas adds the salt to the mini-starter, however, I leave it out until I’m ready to knead in the rest of the flour. Salt does inhibit yeast growth, and I tend to have good results when I let the yeast grow uninhibited in the mini starter.

Yeah, big deal. Technical, technical, technical. But how does it taste? I’d have to say that this was one of the nicest loaves of bread I’ve ever made, and I make bread on a weekly basis. The texture was nice and soft, great for sandwiches, and the flavor was subtly grainy from the little bit of whole wheat flour and, of course, from the oats. Those oats become very well incorporated in the dough, and do not show themselves in the bread, but you can smell them and you can taste them. The flavor they brought along was enough for me, anyway, and I’ve been crazy about oats lately.

One thing I did learn from the toasted oat bread attempt was that the smell of toasted oats is absolutely wonderful and they add a delightful aroma and flavor to bread. I’m thinking I could probably toast the oats in this bread recipe before soaking them in the boiling water to add even more flavor. And speaking of flavor, how about turning this into a cinnamon raisin bread? Or adding some oats to a dinner roll or sweet roll recipe?

I’m going to need to buy more oats!

Oatmeal Sandwich Bread
Adapted from Whole Grain Breads by Machine or Hand by Beatrice Ojakangas

Adding the egg wash and sprinkling the top of the loaf with oats is optional, but looks nice and announces that there are oats in the bread. Using an egg wash gives baked goods a nice shiny, brown crust, but I usually only do it if I have some place I’m going to use the rest of the beaten in the next day or so.

1/3 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (try toasting them?)
1 cup boiling water
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast (a ¼ -ounce envelope)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons dry milk powder
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
2 1/3 cups bread flour, divided
1 teaspoon salt
egg wash (egg beaten with a little water), optional
additional oats for sprinkling on top of the loaf, optional

1. Place the 1/3 cup oats in a large bowl or in the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Pour the boiling water over the oats and let stand until the mixture has cooled to 100-115 F, 15-20 minutes. If the water is too hot, it will kill the yeast.

2. Stir the yeast into the oat mixture. Let stand for about 5 minutes or until the yeast is foamy.

3. Add the butter, honey, dry milk powder, whole wheat flour, and 1 cup of the bread flour. Mix to get a thick batter. Cover the bowl with a towel and let the batter stand for about 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, the mixture should be bubbly and puffy.

4. Stir in the salt. Using the dough hook with the stand mixer (or turning out the dough on a floured surface if kneading by hand) knead the dough, adding the remaining 1 1/3 cup bread flour a little at a time. Knead about 10 minutes adding as much flour as it takes to form a smooth, stretchy dough. Add additional flour if the dough is still sticky. If the dough is already becoming dry and stiff and you still have ¼ cup flour left or more, sprinkle in a teaspoon of water or so as needed.

5. Spray a large bowl with nonstick cooking spray or oil or butter it. Shape the kneaded dough into a smooth ball and place it in the greased bowl. Spray, oil or butter the top of the dough ball and place a piece of plastic wrap on top. Cover the bowl with a towel and let stand to rise about 1 hour or until about doubled in size.

6. Gently deflate the dough and form it into a new ball. Let stand a few minutes. Spray an 8” by 5” bread pan with cooking spray or oil or butter it. Shape the dough into a loaf and place it in the prepared pan. Cover with a towel and let stand about 1 hour, or until the dough has risen a few inches above the rim of the pan.

7. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 F. Brush the risen loaf lightly with egg wash if desired. Sprinkle oats on top of the egg wash if desired. Bake at 375 F for about 35 minutes or until golden brown and the loaf tests done (sounds hollow when tapped, has reached an internal temperature of 200 F, etc.). Remove the bread from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack.

Makes 1 8-inch loaf.

Other recipes like this one: Wheat Sandwich Bread, Overnight Granola Bread, Multigrain Baguette