Thursday, October 29, 2015

Whole Wheat Bread with Hazelnuts and Cranberries

There are too many things to do. I don’t care who you are. There are just too many things to do. I’ve begun to understand that getting things done is really a matter of making good decisions. Decisions about what things to buckle down and do.

I finally decided to get this bread made when I realized I might not have much more time to use the fresh sage that’s still growing in a pot on my porch. I loved the idea of combining nuts, dried fruit, and fresh herbs in bread (raisins and rosemary go really well in this bread). I was a bit concerned, however, about the 100% whole-wheat-ness of the original recipe. I’ve always held on to at least a bit of white flour when baking bread, just because of my preference for its texture.

There was an entire 5-pound bag of white whole wheat flour (whole wheat flour from a lighter-colored variety of wheat) in my pantry, though, and I can’t remember what I was planning on using it for, so I took the leap and tried the white whole wheat in the bread, and left out the refined white flour. I was still a little worried, because I had tried white whole wheat flour before and found it disappointed. I think whole-grain proponents have been pushing that variety as if it could fool you into thinking it’s white flour, but really, it acts like whole wheat flour when baking. For this reason, I added a hefty dose of vital gluten to my bread. I need my bread to be like bread, not like crumbly bricks.

The 100% whole wheat-ness of the final result was pleasant and did not detract from the delicious flavors of good hazelnuts and hazelnut oil and cranberries, as well as the haunting lilt of the fresh sage. I made the dough into two small round loaves, enjoying it on its own or alongside a soup or stew, rather than as a sandwich bread, although I think it would be delicious as the platform for tartines or crostini. It’s great all by itself, though, and I love the combination of the nutty whole wheat, hazelnuts, sage, and sweet-tart cranberries.

I’m glad I decided to make this bread, and I’m glad I decided to try white whole wheat flour again. Never mind that I didn’t have any regular whole wheat flour to play with anyway. I was happy to have one less decision to make, so I could get something delicious done.

Hazelnut Cranberry Bread with Sage
Based on a recipe in Vegetarian Times magazine

I managed to find toasted and skinned hazelnuts in the store, but you can use the method in this post to toast and skin raw nuts if you wish.

1 ¼ cup warm water (about 100 F)
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast (1 envelope)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons hazelnut oil
3 ½ cups white whole wheat flour, divided
2 tablespoons vital gluten flour
1 ½ teaspoon fine salt
¾ cup chopped hazelnuts, preferably toasted and skinned
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
¾ cup dried cranberries

1. In the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer (or another large bowl), combine the water, yeast and brown sugar. Let stand about 5 minutes, or until the yeast appears foamy.

2. Add the hazelnut oil, 2 cups white whole wheat flour, and gluten. Mix at low speed using the paddle attachment for the mixer (or stir together if working by hand) to form a batter. Cover the bowl with a towel and let stand about 30 minutes.

3. After 30 minutes the batter should have puffed up from the activity of the yeast. Add the salt and about ½ cup flour. Begin kneading using the dough hook for the mixer. Continue kneading, adding as much of the remaining flour as you can while still keeping the dough smooth and stretchy. (If working by hand, stir in as much of the flour as you can, then turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead in enough flour to make a smooth, elastic dough). The kneading process (whether by machine or by hand) should take about 10 minutes and result in a stretchy but smooth dough.

4. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and work in the hazelnuts, sage and cranberries.

5. Shape the dough into a ball. Spray a large bowl with nonstick cooking spray (or grease it with oil or butter). Place the dough in the greased bowl. Spray or grease the top of the dough ball. Place a sheet of plastic wrap on top of the dough. Cover all with a towel and let stand about 1 hour, or until the dough has roughly doubled in size.

6. Gently deflate the risen dough and shape it into a ball again. Cover and let stand about 5 minutes. Prepare a baking sheet by greasing it, or covering it with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Divide the dough in half and shape it into two balls. Cover and let stand about 1 hour, or until the dough has roughly doubled in size.

7. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Slash the dough balls across the top with a sharp knife.

8. Bake at 375 F for about 35 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown and crusty on the outside, and tests done on the inside (it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom, or a thermometer probe inserted in the bread reads about 200 F.) Cool completely on a wire rack.

Makes 2 round loaves of about 8-10 slices each.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Maple Date Oatmeal Bars

This delicious and easy bar recipe is a little variation on these dried cherry bars I posted about back in the spring. It was going to be hard to beat that Archive recipe, but I really wasn’t hoping to do so. I just wanted another little friend to accompany me for dessert and afternoon snacks.

I came upon some really delicious dates in the refrigerated section of my favorite food procurement establishment, and I couldn’t wait to try them out in these bars. Those dates were caramel-y sweet, chewy, sticky and fruity; a real eye-opening experience to someone accustomed to dry packaged dates whose sugars have nearly crystallized (not that I’d turn those down). It was hard not to just save them for eating out of hand. I’m a cookie girl, however, so the idea of using the fabulous dates in a recipe was going to prevail.

I cut back on the sugar compared to the cherry-oatmeal bars, partly because such was suggested in the original recipe, which called for cranberries, but gave suggestions for other dried fruit variations, including dates. Tasting my super-sweet dates, of course, only emphasized the wisdom of such a move. Half of the sugar I did add to the date-sour cream filling was in the form of brown sugar and the other half was maple syrup. I happened to find some Grade B maple syrup, which is stronger in flavor and can help enhance flavors more in baking. I cannot say that it really had a strong influence on the taste of the baked product, but it was all really good just the same.

Yup, I’m thrilled to have this delicious version of simple oatmeal bars, and the success of this recipe just inspired even more ideas for variations. Just about any dried fruit would work, I think. Could I use other forms of fruit besides dried fruits? Is there some way I could adapt this for fresh fruits? Could I use jam or applesauce? Could I get away with eating these at other times than dessert or afternoon snack time? Like breakfast? Sounds good to me!

Maple Date Oatmeal Bars
Based on a recipe in 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 vanilla extract

For the filling:
1 large egg white
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons maple syrup (I used Grade B)
¾ cup sour cream
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/3 cup chopped pitted dates

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 ½ cup brown sugar. Add the oats and stir to combine well.

3. Pour in the melted butter and ¼ teaspoon vanilla 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 2 tablespoons brown sugar, maple syrup, and sour cream until smooth. Whisk in the flour. Whisk in the 1 teaspoon vanilla. Stir in the dates.

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 40-45 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. Cool completely before cutting into squares.

Makes about 16 bars.