Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Oatmeal Cherry Bars

Oooh, these bars! I’m a sucker for bar cookies anyway, but these! They’re just simple oatmeal crumble bars with dried fruit, but somehow they are surprisingly delicious. I think it’s the filling.

I can’t remember why this particular recipe clipping was in among my “try it now” recipes. It did offer variations in which different dried fruits could be used (it was originally written for dried cranberries), which is my kind of recipe. I had some really good dried cherries I wanted to use as part of a pathetic attempt to clear out the pantry, and this seemed like a great place to use them. I didn’t use the citrus juice and zest in the original recipe, instead adding some extra butter to replace the juice (Shame on me!) and living without the zest.

It’s nothing particularly new to have an oatmeal-based crust on the bottom of a pan of bars, some of which is set aside to make a crumble topping. What seemed unique to me, however, was the makeup of the filling. Maybe I’m out of touch, but I couldn’t remember seeing a filling for bars with a sweetened sour cream base. And it’s really, really good!

The crust and topping get firm upon baking, but not overly crunchy. They stay fairly soft and not too crumbly. The filling is moist and fruity just the right complement to the oat-y base. These bars are not too sweet, and I might even eat them for breakfast. After all, they’re loaded with oats and fruit. That sounds like breakfast to me!

Seriously, though: if I’m the only one in the world who hadn’t heard of this kind of bar cookie before, I stand humbled. And relieved that I don’t have to live without them anymore. They could be endlessly varied with all kinds of dried fruit, other flavor additions, and, perhaps, even chocolate. My kind of recipe, indeed!

Oatmeal and Dried Cherry Bars
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine

For the crust and crumble topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup light brown sugar
1 cup quick-cooking oats
8 tablespoons butter, melted
¼ teaspoon almond extract

For the filling:
1 large egg white
½ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 1/3 cup dried cherries

1. Preheat oven to 325 F. Spray a 9-inch square baking pan with cooking spray or grease it with butter. Set aside.

2. In a medium-size bowl, combine the 1 cup flour, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon. Whisk together. Whisk in the brown sugar. Add the oats and stir to combine well.

3. Pour in the melted butter and ¼ teaspoon almond extract. Stir together until the dry ingredients are completely moistened. The mixture will be crumbly.

4. Reserve ½ cup of the oat mixture and set aside. Press the remaining mixture into the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Set aside.

5. In another medium-size bowl, lightly beat the egg white. Whisk in the sugar and sour cream until smooth. Whisk in the flour. Whisk in the vanilla and ½ teaspoon almond extract. Stir in the dried cherries.

6. Pour the filling mixture over the crust in the baking pan, spreading evenly. Sprinkle the reserved crust mixture evenly over the filling, squeezing together to from clumps.

7. Bake at 325 F for 40 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. Cool completely before cutting into squares.

Makes about 16 bars.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Recipe Revisit: Stout Chocolate Cherry Bread

This is an old recipe, one that I’ve posted before. We love it in our house, but I never made it very often. I finally realized that I tended to avoid it because it was a bit of trouble to make, requiring a refrigerated overnight starter that then had to be brought back to room temperature before being used to make a very stiff dough that was hard to work the chocolate and dried cherries into. This recipe had to be made simpler and more effective if I was going to make it more than once or twice a year.

I really didn’t notice any negative difference in flavor or quality of this bread dough when I cut the starter time to 2 hours and left it at room temperature. I still think that if you do want the convenience of popping the starter in the refrigerator for 12 hours to work its magic while you pretty much completely ignore it, that would work just fine.

I also cut down the amount of flour in the recipe, a move that seemed pretty obvious once I thought of it. I used to just put into my dough whatever volume or weight of flour was called for in a recipe. After some years of experience in bread baking, I have learned that a bread dough needs as much flour (or water) as it needs, and it’s better to learn what a good dough is supposed to look and feel like: smooth and stretchy and slightly sticky in some cases.

Both of the simple changes I made to this delicious bread help make it a better bread that’s easier to produce. It’s slightly bitter in flavor from all that super-dark beer and super-dark chocolate. The dried cherries give it some sweet-tart bursts in every slice. This is a great bread for breakfast or an afternoon snack with coffee or tea.

Back in March I was going to post this recipe as Reason #2 to not drink all the Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day (with this beef stew being Reason #1). Now, I can firmly recommend it as a good reason to go out and acquire some more!

Stout Bread with Chocolate and Cherries
Based on a recipe in Cooking Light magazine

3-3 ½ cups bread flour, divided
12 ounces Guinness stout (or your favorite stout)
2 ¼ teaspoons yeast (1 envelope)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup dried cherries
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1. In a large bowl or plastic container, combine 2 cups bread flour, Guinness, yeast and sugar. Mix until very smooth. Cover with a towel and let stand 2 hours. (You could also cover and refrigerate overnight. Allow to come to room temperature before continuing the recipe.)

2. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixture. Sprinkle the salt over the batter. Using the dough hook, knead in as much of the remaining flour as you can while keeping the dough soft, stretchy, and still a little tacky. Knead for a total of about 10 minutes. Knead in the cherries and chocolate.

3. Shape the dough into a smooth ball. Spray a large bowl with cooking spray. Set the dough ball in the bowl. Spray the dough with cooking spray. Place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on top of the dough. Cover with a towel and let rise until double in size, about 1 hour.

4. Gently deflate the dough. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Divide the dough into two equal portions. Shape each portion into a slightly flattened ball and place both on the prepared baking sheet, leaving room between them to rise. Let rise until double in size, about 1 hour.

5. Preheat oven to 350 F. With a sharp knife, cut an “X” into the top of each loaf. Bake at 350 F for 25-30 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Makes 2 loaves. You can freeze one or both loaves well-wrapped if desired.

One year ago: Banana Quick Bread

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Cappuccino Coffee Cake

It’s great when an idea turns out to be a really good one. That’s what happened with this delicious coffee cake. And while I can definitely say that I got this idea, I can’t exactly say that I came up with it on my own. It’s more like I acquired it.

Actually, this coffee-flavored coffee cake is a combination of two ideas that came from other people. The authors of many cookbooks that have recipes for quick breads will tell you that muffin recipes can be converted in to coffee cake recipes simply by baking them in a cake pan. This makes perfect sense, of course. (After all, the cupcake is just a different way of baking a cake.) I decided to make a coffee cake out of the batter for these Cappuccino Muffins.

The second idea I totally stole is Dorie Greenspan’s “Cocoa Crumbs” from Baking Chez Moi. In that book, she suggests that, while she likes to bake these crumbs into crunchy bits to sprinkle on desserts like mousse or pudding, they would be also be great sprinkled on cake batter like a streusel topping.

These two great ideas turned out to make beautiful music together, or at least a wonderfully delicious coffee cake, perfect for a lazy weekend morning. I added some instant expresso to a half batch of the crumbs to give them a mocha twist, and their bittersweet crunchy goodness is a fabulous accompaniment to the soft, coffee-rich muffin-turned-cake. The cake is at its absolute best when still a little warm from the oven, but it’s great later on, too, or even the day after (just be sure to wrap it up well.)

It’s hard to know which is the more triumphant victory: the success of the cake or the success of the crumbs. You know, I think I’ll just revel in this as a win-win. I’ll try not to let it go to my head.

Cappuccino Coffee Cake with Mocha Crumb Topping
Adapted from The Ultimate Muffin Book by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough and Baking Chez Moi by Dorie Greenspan

For the Mocha Crumb Topping:
½ cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon fine salt
2 ½ tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

For the Cake:
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon fine salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 large egg
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract

1. To make the topping: in a medium bowl, combine the ½ cup flour, brown sugar, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, cocoa, and ¼ teaspoon fine salt. Mix together well. Add the 2 ½ tablespoons butter cubes and rub them into the dry ingredients, squeezing to create coarse lumps. Set aside, or refrigerate until ready to use.

2. Preheat oven to 400 F. Spray a 9-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray or grease it with butter. Melt the remaining stick of butter and set aside to cool slightly.

3. In a small saucepan, heat the milk over medium-low heat just until there are just a few bubbles around the edges of the pan. The milk will be scalded but not yet boiling. Stir occasionally to keep the milk from scorching on the bottom of the pan. Whisk in the espresso powder. Set aside to cool slightly.

4. In a large bowl, combine the flour, 2/3 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon baking powder, ½ teaspoon fine salt, and cinnamon. Whisk together to combine well. Set aside.

5. In a medium-size bowl, whisk the egg and the cooled melted butter until smooth. Slowly whisk in the milk mixture. Whisk in the vanilla and almond extracts.

6. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir until the dry ingredients are just moistened. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan. Squeeze the topping into clumps and sprinkle them over the batter.

7. Bake at 400 F for 25-30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. Cool completely or enjoy slightly warm.

Makes about 12 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Cappuccino Muffins, Hazelnut Latte Muffins, Apple Cinnamon Coffee Cake, Blueberry Muffin Coffee Cake with Crumb Topping