Prague

4 Jan

praha

Within two hours of landing I had already convinced my father to head to a smoky pivnice around the corner from our rented apartment to grab a beer. Three tall glasses of Kozel later, we finally returned home. The bar was a grungy hostel staple, with only two kinds of pilsner on tap. Despite the abundance of bawdy Commonwealth accents trumpeted back and forth, the beer was good. Light and flavorful, with just the right balance of carbonation, the Kozel provided a perfect welcome back to the city.

The next morning my family headed across the street to the bakery to pick up some rohliky for breakfast. Biting into one of these unassuming Czech rolls forcefully brings back memories of my childhood. Traditionally made, rohlíky are relatively small to American eyes, only a little longer than the distance between the heel of your palm and the tip of your middle finger. Each is rolled from a triangular piece of dough, with the point tucked securely around the middle of the roll. While most countries in Europe have a staple carbohydrate of this nature, the standout quality that I have found replicated nowhere outside of the Czech Republic is the texture of rohlíky.  The rolls are possessed of a sturdy, somewhat hardened exterior, and they grow crunchy at their tips if they sit on the shelves for too long, which is why they are made fresh daily. Often sprinkled with coarse salt or seeds, the thin outer crust contrasts with the softer bread at the center of the roll, which is best pulled out in chunks and eaten with your fingers. Salted butter, jam and soft cheese all complement the bread, but our first morning we ordered one each and ate them plain while heading towards Old Town.

Later in the day I split a trdelník with my mother while wandering through the bustling Christmas market in Old Town Square. Trdelník are a delicious Central European pastry, and numerous sweet stands speckled the central plaza, catering to cold and famished market-goers. A strip of dough is wound in a tight coil around a broad pipe and quickly cooked. Once baked, the pastries are rolled in coarse vanilla sugar and almond slivers, then deftly handed across the counter with a napkin. These sweets are best eaten by peeling off one warm sugary coil at a time, normally while struggling to avoid being caught in the photographic scope of seven different Japanese tourists.

Dinner that night was a much-touted Czech specialty, eaten just across the river at a Greek-Czech hybrid restaurant. All day long I noted the presence of “roasted pig’s knee” on restaurant chalkboards across town, and decided to investigate. The slab of meat the waitress carried out was as large as my head, a Gordian knot of pork encased in thick and crispy roasted skin. The crackling skin stuck to my teeth like toffee, and the tender meat was embellished with the spicy one-two punch of piquant mustard and horseradish that were brought out in little bowls as an accompaniment. I am nothing if not a thorough eater, and I so sedulously removed every scrap of meat from the bones that all of the articulations of the pig’s forelimb were clearly revealed by the end of the meal.

For dessert we headed back east across the river to Café Slavia, an establishment notable for its ornate Old Europe charm. White-jacketed waiters bustle back and forth, elaborate cakes are arranged like antiques behind delicate display cases, and you are encouraged to check your coat at the door. As my father likes to remind me, the kavarna was a favored stomping ground of Havel and his revolutionary compatriots in the days when communism still cast its pall over the capital. After even a brief visit it’s easy to see why – the institution’s expansive picture windows overlook the Vltava River and the sweeping, impassive architectural silhouette of central Prague. Sitting at a window table as dusk falls slowly across the landscape, you can picture young revolutionaries gazing out at a majestic city burdened by darkness, plotting her redemption. Appropriately we ordered hot chocolate that was viscous and darkly sweet, with just a hint of salt, so rich that it tasted a bit like blood.

Lunch the next day was eaten on foot while rapidly navigating the holiday crowds swarming around the Andêl metro station. My father and I were headed south to Smíchov to take a tour of the Staropramen brewery, and I had insisted on eating at least one hot dog during our time in the city. I have long maintained that street hot dogs in Prague are some of the best in the world. The truly delicious ones can’t be found in restaurants or fast food chains, but are grilled and served up at the little stands that are most frequently found near major transportation hubs. My father still makes fun of my mother for the time she went up to a local vendor and asked him for three pátek. The man looked at her for a moment before grinning and saying that he wished he could have three of them too. My mother had been one consonant off – In Czech, pátek means “Friday” while párek means “hot dog”.

Unlike their muted American counterparts, Czech hot dogs are incredibly flavorful. However, a large part of their charm is in their particularly central European presentation. Instead of buns, rohliky are speared with a sharp metal stake, and once the centers of the rolls are hollowed out they are filled with a generous helping of hořčice, incomparably spicy Czech mustard. As a rule, the mustard is gradually drawn down by gravity to pool in the bottom of the rohlík, and so has a tendency to well-up, geyser-like, at inopportune moments. The hotdog was just as satisfying as I remembered, and true to form I managed to get mustard all over my clothes while trying to follow my father’s tortuous path through the throng of Christmas shoppers.

While párek v rohlíky is one of my customary on-the-go meals, one of our last nights in Prague I was able to enjoy my favorite Czech dinner. We ate with old family friends at a small local hospoda in Prague 6. My order of smažený sýr, or fried cheese, is a dish popular in several countries in the region, and for good reason. Thick wedges of mild yellow cheese are dipped in a breadcrumb batter then fried, topped with homemade tartar sauce, and served with a side of boiled potatoes drenched in butter. While the meal sounds excessive, it is the perfect palliative to combat a day spent immersed in the fierce Prague cold.

Truth be told, the cold is only drawback to visiting Prague at this time of year. Having lived in Canada I can attest to the uniquely insidious nature of winter in central Europe. Unlike the biting cold of eastern Canada, which is violently and immediately painful, central European cold slowly settles over you, chilling first your outer layers before it seeps, bit by bit, to your very core. As you walk through the muted winter light, your feet and your fingers gradually grow numb and the cold burrows deeper into your body until it envelops your very bones. Brief respite can be found by huddling in stores or metro stations, but soon as you venture outside you are once more steeped in its relentless chill. Prague’s winter cold is persistent as a drug addiction, and just as difficult to shake, which is likely one of the reasons Czech cuisine so heavily emphasizes beer, meat, potatoes, and cheese.

Even though the weather is formidable in the winter, a trip to the city at any time of year is worth it. Sitting in the airport while watching the first delicate snowflakes of our visit drift towards the tarmac, I had no regrets. Well, I had one. I hadn’t gotten a chance to order palicinky, the lightly sweetened Czech pancakes that are filled with chocolate syrup and topped with vanilla ice cream.

I suppose I will have to add those to my long list of reasons to visit Prague again…

Homemade Pizza Part III – assembly

26 Dec

mozzarella & mushroomsOnce you have the dough and sauce ready, homemade pizza is a cinch. I often make both components well in advance and store them in the fridge for up to two days in advance, a trick that allows this dinner to come together relatively quickly.  The recipes for pizza dough and tomato sauce that I posted previously make two medium thin-crust pizzas, enough to serve two to four people. I would suggest using at least 8 oz of shredded mozzarella (e.g. one cheap grocery store block) per pizza if you want to make a pie with the cheese-to-sauce ratio shown above. More cheese, however, it always welcome, and I have topped that mozzarella base with goat cheese and fresh mozzarella slices with great results. Adding fresh basil just after the pizza comes out of the oven provides a great burst of traditional pizzeria-style flavor, and I highly recommend it. However, if you can’t find any fresh herbs, it’s hard to go wrong with the magical equation of bread + tomato sauce + cheese…

prosciutto & arugula

Ingredients

  • Two prepared portions of pizza dough (e.g. one batch of the dough recipe)
  • One batch of tomato sauce
  • 16 oz mozzarella cheese
  • Cornmeal (enough so the dough doesn’t stick to the counter)
  • Parchment paper
  • Fresh basil
  • Other toppings of your choice

olives & basil

Instructions

1. Preheat your oven to its highest temperature, which is normally ≥500F. If you’re using a baking stone, make sure to preheat it in the oven so it can get hot gradually.

2. Take the dough out of the fridge, cover lightly with plastic wrap or with an overturned bowl, and allow to rise for 15 minutes.

3. Sprinkle the counter with cornmeal, then roll the dough out until it is quite thin, at least 12″ in diameter. If you prefer a thicker crust, make the necessary adjustments.

4. If you are using a pizza pan, transfer to the rolled-out dough to the pan at this stage. If you are using a baking stone, flip a 9×13 baking sheet over and cover with parchment paper. Transfer the flattened dough to this makeshift pizza peel.

5. Top the dough with tomato sauce, using the back of a large spoon to spread it out relatively evenly over the dough. Leave a 1/2″ to 1″ margin around the edges of the crust.

6. Sprinkle the sauce with the shredded mozzarella and whatever other toppings you choose. If you have fresh basil, tear it into chunks but wait to add it to the top of the pizza until it has just come out of the oven.

7. If you are using a pizza pan, bake in the preheated oven for 7-10 minutes, until the cheese has browned slightly. If you are using a baking stone, open the oven and carefully slide both the parchment paper and piza onto the stone, baking for 7-10 minutes.

I always check my pizzas constantly as they cook, because cooking times vary depending on the temperature of the oven and what implement you’re cooking the pizza on. Better safe than sorry, as wasting an entire pizza would be a tragedy of near unspeakable magnitude.

Homemade Pizza Part II – the sauce

24 Dec
poached tomatoes

poached tomatoes

I know that this is not traditionally the time of year for pizza, but perhaps at some point in the coming week of yuletide withdrawal you will have a hankering for something that involves no roasted meat, no mashed potatoes and no elaborately decorated cookies. Should that be the case, I strongly suggest you top your pizza with this sauce, original recipe found here.

finished_tomato_sauce

If you want to flaunt your kitchen know-how, make sure to open all of the doors in your house so that the smell can waft freely from room to room. The mingled scent of olive oil, sauteed garlic, simmering tomatoes and the sweet hint of wine and spices in this recipe will revive any appetites that have been overcome by holiday excess. In fact, I once sherpa-ed all of these weighty ingredients  over to a friend’s house instead of making it in advance, just so that her condo would absorb the smell of this as it was cooking. I know, I know – I’m generous enough to deserve some kind of medal.

Until one is minted, I am prepared to accept pizza as adequate recompense for my selflessness.

garlic

This makes around two cups of sauce, give or take, enough to cover two medium-sized thin crust pizzas. Garlic, wine and red pepper flakes can be adjusted to taste. I always make my sauce extra garlic-y, and no one has complained yet. As a caveat, this recipe produces a sauce with a distinctively orange hue, so do not panic if you don’t get the familiar deep red colour you were no doubt expecting. While not as aesthetically appealing as the pre-made jarred stuff, this tastes a heck of a lot better, and once the pizza is baked you won’t be able to tell the difference.

Ingredients

  • 8 medium tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 – 4 tbsp white wine
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1/8 – 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

Instructions

1. Boil a pot of water and poach the tomatoes for one minute only, then drain in a pasta strainer and allow to cool. After they have cooled to the point that you can touch them, use a paring knife to split the sides of the loosened skin, and peel it off.

2. Heat the olive oil in a pot over medium heat and then add the garlic, stirring for a minute.

3. Before the garlic begins to brown, add the wine, sugar, salt and red pepper flakes and tomatoes. Break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon or spatula.  Simmer the sauce for around half an hour so that it thickens, checking on it every ten minutes or so.

Homemade Pizza Part I – the dough

19 Dec

ImageI am of the opinion that pizza is one of the great human universals, up there with birth, death, and procrastinating on the internet. I’ve met people with odd and frankly baffling food aversions over the years, (Mushrooms? Check. Onions? Check. Bacon? Check. Eggplant? Check.) up to and including a friend who is currently a line cook at one of the most touted restaurants in the country… who would not eat tomatoes until her early twenties. However, I have yet to meet anyone who shies away from the great Italian equalizer that is pizza.

Unsurprisingly, I have a completely homemade pizza recipe handy in my arsenal, one traditionally used when I invite people over to dinner to repay them for some kindness they have bestowed upon me. Or because it is a Sunday.

dough

In the next three posts, I outline how to disrupt the global economy by hacking into the IMF mainframe*, I mean, how to create your own pizza from scratch. The dough recipe is relatively low maintenance, but the tomato sauce, while worth it, takes a little more coddling. If you’re the sort of person who prefers the destination to the journey itself  (i.e. you just want some tasty pizza and you want it NOW goddamit), the tomato sauce can easily be swapped out for a jarred sauce of your choosing. I will readily admit that I have willingly used this crutch when lazy, starving, or both.

I’m not budging on the homemade dough though. That’s a dealbreaker, ladies.

*Just checking that you (and/or any governmentally-sponsored keyword searches that may be scanning this post) are paying attention.
olive oil, yeast, honey, salt, water & wine

This makes enough dough for two medium-large thin crust pizzas. The original recipe, found here, produces only enough dough for one pizza, a quantity that seems infinitesimally small in relation to my gluttony. As a result, I have always doubled it. The pizzas themselves will serve two people, with leftovers, or four people, if served with a side. Don’t expect leftovers if you serve this to more than two people – I have never been able to have pizza for breakfast when this was enjoyed by that many souls.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cups flour

    This is the appropriate level of "shagginess" to expect from your dough. Do not panic. Do not add extra liquid. This is what it is supposed to look like.

    This is the appropriate level of “shagginess” to expect from your dough. Do not panic. Do not add extra liquid. This is what it is supposed to look like.

Instructions

1.  Whisk together water, wine and active dry yeast. Let this mixture sit for a few minutes while you assemble your other ingredients.

2. Add in honey, olive oil and salt. Whisk to combine.

3. Add in flour and stir together with a large wooden spoon, until the dough comes together into a shaggy, poorly delineated mass, as outlined in the photo above. At this point, feel free to plunge your hands into the bowl until the dough starts to behave itself, or turn the whole mess out onto a lightly floured counter and knead it for a few minutes until it falls into line. Either way, make sure to knead it until it becomes smooth and elastic.

4. Lightly coat the inside of a large bowl with olive oil (for better flavor), or spray it with Pam (for greater efficiency). Cover the bowl with saran wrap, a lid, or a damp dish towel, and let it sit for one to two hours, until the dough has doubled in size.

5. After the dough has completed its first rise, divide into two equal portions using a large knife or dough scraper/

Alternative Rise Methods: This whole process can also take place overnight in the fridge, during a “cold rise”. The same technique works over the course of an eight-hour work day, if you want to make the dough before you leave and bake the pizza upon your return. The dough will keep in the fridge for up to two days if wrapped tightly in saran wrap, or in the freezer for up to a month. To use after freezing, simply place it in the fridge for eight hours or over-night so that it thaws, and then roll it and prepare it as outlined in the “assembly” post, which will come soon!

unassuming dough....

Three Cheese & Roasted Butternut Squash Galette

14 Dec
Purportedly feeds eight people...Unless they share my enormous capacity for food, in which case it feeds about five.

Purportedly feeds eight people…Unless they share my enormous capacity for food, in which case it feeds about five.

A few weeks ago I was given The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook as a gift.

(Pause while we all think about this means for my academic productivity of late. Very similar to this scenario, only replace ” eat bacon” with “open the cookbook”).

Within a week I had tried out four of the recipes (this galette, the eggplant calzone, the sesame turkey meatballs, and the vanilla sheet cake, for the curious). Most of its pages are already heavily bookmarked. Any of my friends who have had access to it recently have added their own suggestions, so it is currently weighted down with no less than four different colours of post-it notes, expressing a two-level system of urgency, which ranges from “I am intrigued by this” to “You must make this immediately or we are no longer friends”.

Initially I was surprised by my interest in the “vegetarian” section of the volume, until I realized that all of the recipes I had bookmarked also incorporated copious amounts of cheese. My slightly-adapted version of Perelman’s galette is actually something of a pastiche – I used her cheese combination from the eggplant calzone, replacing the more difficult to find fontina (which stumped the deli-workers at my local grocery store) with a mixture of shredded parmesan, goat cheese and ricotta. In true graduate student fashion, I also tweaked it to make it more logistically feasible and economical, incorporating dried herbs instead of fresh ones and swapping out the cayenne pepper, which I did not have on hand, for smoked paprika, which is one of my favorite spices.

This is a relatively versatile recipe, and the proportions of cheese and spices I have suggested here could easily be adjusted. I think fresh mozzarella and basil would work quite well in place of the sage and three cheese combo, while the butternut squash could easily be swapped out for crumbled sausage or ground beef or turkey for a more carnivorous twist on the recipe.

Morals of the story:
(i) If you haven’t purchased this cookbook, go do so immediately,
(ii) Three cheeses are often better than one,
(iii) Almost anything tastes better in a pastry crust.

Finished Galette

Serves 4 – 8, depending on appetites. If you’re serving 8, include a side salad, dessert, copious amounts of beer, or all of the above. Preheat the oven to 400F before starting to make the filling.

Ingredients for Crust

  • 2 & 1/2 cups AP Flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Two sticks unsalted butter, cold
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup very cold water

Instructions for Crust

1. Whisk together the flour and salt together in a medium-sized mixing bowl.

2. Using a pastry cutter, incorporate the butter into the dry ingredients.

3. Whisk together the sour cream, white wine vinegar and cold water. Incorporate these wet ingredients into the flour-butter mixture, using a spatula and your hands, if necessary. You can also turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it a bit until it comes together.

4. Shape the dough into a disk. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least one hour, and up to two days.

This is a good demonstration of both the spacing of the filling and the pleating technique used to shape the free-form galette.

This is a good demonstration of both the spacing of the filling and the pleating technique used to shape the free-form galette.

Ingredients for Filling

  • One medium roasted butternut squash, cubed into 1-in squares (To roast: spread two tablespoons of olive oil on a baking sheet. Sprinkle squash with 1/2 tsp salt and black pepper to taste. Bake for 30 minutes at 400F, flipping pieces every ten minutes or so to ensure that they roast evenly).
  • Three medium sweet onions, caramelized (To caramelize: Cut the onions in half and thinly slice them. Melt 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp olive oil in a medium sized pan, then add the onions. Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp sugar and 1 tsp salt, then cook for 25 minutes until softened and browned. Finish by sprinkling with 1/4 tsp smoked paprika).
  • 8 oz total of crumbled goat cheese, ricotta and shredded parmesan ( I used around 100 grams of goat cheese, 100 grams of ricotta and 30 grams of parmesan, but you can certainly tweak the preparations relative to your preferences).
  • 3/4 tsp dried sage
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • One egg

Instructions for Assembling Galette

1. Mix together roasted squash, caramelized onions, cheese mixture, sage, salt & pepper together in a medium sized bowl.

2. On a lightly floured surface, roll out chilled dough into a 17-inch circle. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper

3. Spread filling in the center, leaving a 2.5 inch margin for pleats. Using the technique in the photo shown above, pleat the edges of the galette so that they surround the filling.

4. Brush the sides of the galette with egg wash (one egg mixed with one tsp of water). Bake at 400F for 30-40 minutes, or until the edges of the galette are golden brown.

5. Serve to people you want to owe you a favor in the future….

Delicious. Keeps well when refrigerated too!

Delicious. Keeps well when refrigerated too!

Swedish Cardamom Bread

18 Dec

During the summer after my first year at university, I spent four weeks working on a project run out of the University of Oulu, in Finland. I braved the northern wilds with four other McGill students, and we quickly became fast friends. Together we were exposed to the horrors of Finnish coffee (unspeakable), the mediocrity of Finnish beer (tolerable), and the surprisingly tasty, and ubiquitous Finnish breakfast pastry, a cardamom spiced sweet bread called pulla. Despite the inadequacy of the local beverages,  the experience was incredible and since then the scent of cardamom has been enough of an olfactory trigger to bring me back to that time.

Unsurprisingly, I was elated when I found this sweet bread recipe. Like the Finnish pulla, it’s a lightly sweetened breakfast offering, spiced with a touch of cardamom. This ‘coffee bread’ is basically a Scandinavian take on cinnamon rolls. You make a yeasted sweet bread dough, allow it to rise for an hour, roll it out, add your fillings and roll it back up. Then you do some moderately fancy scissor-work, which I found to be the most trying part of the ordeal – a closely guarded secret from my misspent youth is that I was forced to repeat Kindergarten because of scissor issues, and since then I have been particularly sensitive to my failings in this department.

Anyone who has made cinnamon rolls from scratch will attest to the fact that it’s not a simple process, what with the first rise and roll out and second rise, a baking saga that leaves your kitchen covered in a dusting of sugar, flour, cinnamon and melted butter. However, the results are always well worth the messy effort. Unless, of course, you screw up and burn the cinnamon rolls, which is understandably tragic.

Happily, the fillings for this cardamom bread are also quite versatile – I used a combination of brown sugar, cinnamon, slivered almonds and almond paste, but you could likely use jam or cream cheese in a pinch – pretty much anything you’d want to put in a breakfast pastry! While not as sweet as cinnamon rolls, the ‘christmas bread’ doesn’t suffer for it, and on the whole is lighter and less guilt inducing than most other glazed breakfast pastries. The lightly sweetened dough allows the flavor of the cardamom to take centre stage, while complementing the richest and most flavorful  elements of the filling – particularly the almond paste and toasted almonds. The recipe itself is filched entirely from Simply Recipes, but I’ve added a few tips that will make working with the dough a bit easier, and I’ve discovered that you can flash freeze the whole shebang after the second rise, which makes it a cinch to prepare in advance. Given that this recipe yields two ‘wreaths’ of cardamon bread, I would strongly recommend making one and freezing the second one.   So – on to the recipe!

Ingredients for Dough
  •  2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast, dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water
  •  1 cup whole milk
  •  1/2 cup white sugar
  •  1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg
  •  1/2 tsp salt
  •  1 & 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 4 cups AP flour, + additional for flouring surface

To make the Dough

1. Heat the milk over medium-high heat until it steams, then remove from heat and stir in butter and sugar until the mixture is smooth.

2. In a large bowl, add the dissolved yeast/water mixture to the milk mixture. Stir in the egg, mixing until smooth.

3. Add the salt and cardamom.

4. Add three cups of the flour until the mixture has pulled together, adding up to one more cup as needed. The finished dough should be soft, but not overly sticky. I wound up using all four cups of dough, plus additional dough when flouring the counter. Knead the dough for 7 – 10 minutes, or until it has come together.

5. Place dough in an oiled, covered bowl and allow to rise for an hour or until it has doubled in size. While the dough is rising, assemble your fillings!

 

Filling Ingredients

  • Two tbsp melted butter
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar, 1 tbsp white sugar + 2 tsp cinnamon, mixed together
  • 1/4 cup almond paste, chopped into small chunks
  • Half cup slivered almonds, toasted

After the dough has risen, I would recommend putting it in the freezer for ten minutes or so to make it easier to  handle and roll out!

To Make the Filling & Finish the Wreath

1. If you are baking the wreaths right away, preheat the oven to 350 F.

Lightly flour a broad surface (I used my kitchen table, for extra space). Dust a large rolling pin with flour. Take half of the dough and rolling into an 8″ x 16″ rectangle, trying to maintain a relatively even thickness across the entire dough.

2. Brush the rectangle with butter, leaving a 1/2 inch gap around the edges of the dough, to make it easier to work with.

3. Sprinkle buttered area evenly with sugar/cinnamon mixture.

4. Sprinkle on any additional toppings, including the almond paste and slivered almonds.

5. Carefully roll up the dough tightly, and join the ends together so that it forms a circle, making sure to seal the seams by pinching them together. If you find the two ends of the ‘log’ are pretty much just dough, lacking any filling, you can trim them (which I did).

6. After you have joined the ends of the dough together to form a circular log, take a pair of kitchen scissors and cut the wreath into even sections, cutting about 3/4 of the way through the dough,working from the outside of the circle to the inside. Use scissors to partition the entire circular log into such sections, pushing alternating sections to the right or the left as you go, to create the desired wreath shape. See below for desired outcome, or check the Simply Recipes post for more detailed guidance in the form of step-by-step photos.

7.  After shaping the dough into a wreath, cover lightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise for another forty minutes.

8. For each wreath, whisk together one egg yolk with one tbsp of cream and brush over the surface of the dough with a pastry brush. At this point, you can flash freeze the dough if you so desire (place it on a parchment-paper lined baking sheet in the freezer until frozen, and then store in a tupper ware or large ziploc bag until you are ready to bake it). If you flash freeze it, you may need to allow more time in the oven on baking day, but you won’t have to let the bread rise again, as it underwent both rises before being frozen.

9. If you want to bake it right away, do so at 350 for 20-25 minutes, or until the top of the wreath is golden brown. Careful not to over-bake, as I found that the bottoms of the wreaths began to brown rather aggressively towards the end – and mine had come out of the freezer.

10. Finally, a glaze nicely complements this bread once it has been removed from the oven and cooled. I whisked together 2 cups of powdered sugar, 1 & 1/2 tbsp milk, and 1/2 tsp vanilla to create a glaze of a consistency that was pourable, but not so liquid that it would slide right off the baked bread.

Miniature Espresso Banana Bread Muffins

26 Sep

When I’ve had a beer or two, I sometimes decide that the time is ripe to bake something. Other times I decide I desperately need to consume some Hot Pockets, immediately. I’m a bit of a hit-or-miss drunkard when it comes to class.

While a spate of drunk baking will occasionally go horribly awry (microwave brownie in a mug, anyone?), just as often my inebriation provides a solid foundation for commendable culinary exploits. The combination of slightly exaggerated self-confidence (“Yeah, I can make banana bread AND hot fudge sauce in the time it takes my friend to get back from the store with the ice cream”) with devil-may-care hand eye coordination and split-second decision making (“That looked like a tablespoon. We’ll say that’s a tablespoon. Crap – did it call for baking powder or baking soda…?”) can work wonders in the kitchen, if channelled correctly.

Such was the case with this banana bread. I was out at dinner in a little town in Appalachia, drinking a fine local brew known as Green Man IPA, when I was struck by the knowledge that we had an excess of bittersweet baking chips back at home. Immediately, my brain began to short-circuit. “Chocolate chips,” I thought to myself “Why, if we have chocolate chips, I could make that banana bread recipe I saw the other day. But I’d need bananas for that.Wait a minute. I saw some bananas on the counter this morning, and….andI think they were overripe“.

At which point brain function shut down.

It didn’t take much to convince my dinner companions that they should skip the tavern dessert and take me back to barracks, post haste. Fortunately, the banana bread was as magical as my drunken self imagined it would be. Not all that surprising given that I used an adapted version of a recipe from the Baked cookbook. I still don’t have a copy of this ode to butter and sugar, despite looking for it in every book store I’ve wandered into for the past two months. I think it’s a little like the Loch Ness monster of the baking world – massive and somewhat terrifying in its immensity, but with an insidious attraction that cannot be denied.

The first time around I made this in a loaf pan, and served thin slices warm, with generous dollops of vanilla ice cream, topped with a deluge of salted caramel and hot fudge on top (I am aware that I am ridiculous, thank you very much).  The second time around I broke out my miniature muffin tin, and it was just as tasty. If you’re making it as a dessert, I highly recommend the former course of action, but if you’re looking for a breakfast option I would take the latter route. This will make around 32 miniature muffins or 16 regular muffins, give or take.

 

Ingredients

  • 3 large bananas, mashed
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 & 1/2 cups AP flour
  • 1 & 1/2 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 1 & 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

 

 

 

 

Instructions

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Spray a miniature muffin pan or a regular muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray.

2. Beat wet ingredients (mashed bananas, white sugar, brown sugar, melted butter, milk and egg) in a large bowl.

3. Whisk together dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, espresso powder and salt) in a medium sized bowl.

4. Combine wet and dry ingredients and evenly divide batter into muffin tin, filling each cup 2/3 of the way full.

5. Bake for 15-18 minutes (miniature muffins) or 18-20 minutes (regular muffins), until the tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the centre of the muffins comes out clean.

mountain goat muffin

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