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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

Blueberry Streusel Muffins

29 Aug

The butter is, of course, a necessity. Particularly when these are fresh out of the oven...

These muffins were originally meant to be my attempt at Smitten Kitchen’s rhubarb streusel muffins, but I neglected to take into account the sorry state of my rhubarb….

Let this be a lesson to anyone tempted to freeze their produce indefinitely. Bad idea.

After leaving the rhubarb to defrost overnight in the fridge and finding it waterlogged and impotent when I arose at 7:00 to make the muffins, I moved on to Plan B, and decided to use some of the frozen blueberries that I had also been stockpiling in the freezer, though these had likely only been hoarded for six months. Tops. I hope.

I’ve probably had the berries for at least a year too, in all honesty. Let’s hope big agribusiness is better at long-term preservation of their fruits than my somewhat amateur “sharpie-labelled Ziploc bag system”, which is particularly inefficient when the bag opens at some as yet undetermined point and sits gaping in your freezer for an unknown amount of time. But I digress…

Rhubarb drama aside, these muffins were great. They taste fairly healthy relative to your average saccharine Starbucks fare (which is actually misleading given the amount of butter and sour cream they call for, but I live to pretend to be nutritionally virtuous), and I get the feeling that you could easily sub in any berry you can think of, or even apple chunks, in place of the rhubarb. Without further ado:

Streusel Topping:
1/4 cup  AP  flour
1/4 cup Whole Wheat flour
1 tbsp white sugar
3 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
Pinch of salt
3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted 
 
Muffins:
1 large egg 
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tbsp white sugar
5 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3/4 cup sour cream
¾ cup AP flour 
¾ cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup frozen blueberries 

Muffin batter with frozen blueberries & streusel.

Fortunately, these were also fairly easy to prepare:

In muffin tins with streusel topping.

1. Preheat oven to 375 F, and spray a 12-muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray;

2. Mix together dry streusel toppings (AP flour, whole wheat flour, sugars, spices, salt), then stir in the melted butter until the topping is as crumbly as that which rests upon your favorite coffee shop muffin or coffee cake;

3. Mix together dry elements of muffin mix in a small bowl – both flours, baking powder and sugar, and salt;

4. Whisk together wet elements of muffin mix in a medium-large bowl: the egg, both sugars, the sour cream and the melted butter;

5. Whisk together dry muffin ingredients, wet muffin ingredients, and around 1/3 of the streusel topping. Divide the batter evenly into the prepared muffin tins, and top each muffin with an equal amount of the remaining topping. As a warning, if you don’t measure out precisely 1/12th of the streusel mixture for each muffin, the resulting streusel imbalance will cause the muffin tops to variously collapse in upon themselves like dying stars or explode forcibly all over the interior of your oven;

5 1/2. Clearly I jest. Just throw some streusel on top of each muffin;

6. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of one of the muffins comes out clean (as a caveat, avoid pricking the bluberries, for they can severely impede your ability to determine the ‘done-ness’ of the muffins…)

7. Consume immediately*, slathered in butter. Share with anyone you wish charm, delight, or guilt-trip in the near future.

* In my world, “immediately” always translates to “After allowing to cool on a rack for 5 minutes”, because burning your tongue directly after baking something, so that you cannot fully savor whatever it was you just invested so much time and effort in fabricating, is a terrible shame.

All lined up on the cooling rack, fresh out of the oven.

Delicious from superior view...

AND from lateral view. Enjoy!

Berry Syrup

17 Aug

I know, I know. I’m a little bit berry obsessed right now. I had a pot luck to attend a few days ago, and I wanted to bring a topping for the pound cake that I was making. I had a 1/2 cup of crushed blueberries left over from making jam the day before, and I bought some strawberries and raspberries to round out the sauce I planned to make.

It’s actually a really good thing that I made it, because the poundcake turned out to be quite dry, and was far less than the sum of its parts when it came to ingredients (I added both lemon zest and vanilla extract, and got a dull-tasting, dry cake). However, the syrup is delightful, and I plan on adding it to vanilla ice cream at the slightest provocation in the next few days.

The ingredients are as follows:
•    2 c. Strawberries (whole)
•    1 ½  c. Rasberries (whole)
•    1 c. Blueberries
•    Juice from one lemon, seeds removed
•    ¾ cup white sugar
•    1 tbsp + 1 tsp cornstarch
•    1 tbsp maple syrup
•    1 tbsp vanilla extract
Delicious, right? I read a number of syrup recipes before concocting this, and the vanilla combined with the maple adds just the right touch of sweetness. The ingredients even look amazing:

(1) Crush all of the fruit, either by hand or with a mixer.

(2) Heat the mixture in a large saucepan over medium to high heat, stirring constantly.

(3) Stir in sugar, lemon juice, maple syrup & vanilla extract.
(4) As syrup begins to bubble, add cornstarch. Stir mixture fairly regularly to prevent syrup from adhering to sides of pan.
Once the syrup begins to thicken, it’s done! In my case this took about 10-15 minutes. Pour into a sterilized mason jar, and serve warm over ice cream or use it to imbue a particularly uninspiring dessert with flavor.

The former is of course always my preference.

Blueberry Jam

17 Aug

So I was up in Northern Quebec recently, ostensibly working on a project, but in reality spending the majority of my time picking blueberries. I devoted at least a good hour every day to gathering fruits to put in breakfast porridge and pancakes, and before I left I spent three hours in a field on a rocky hillside so that I could bring several large containers of them home. However, I couldn’t simply freeze the vast multitudes since I move in about a week, and I didn’t even want to think about the possibility of bowls of melting blueberries or slowly going bad on the lengthy car trip. I could, I suppose, have made ten different types of baked goods, but the weather here has been hovering around 31 every muggy, miserable day this week, and that much time spent in front of the stove seemed less than desirable.
Accordingly, I made jam.

The jam itself was actually fairly simple to make. The two steps that took the most time were (1) picking over and washing the ten odd cups of berries that I had collected and (2) sterilizing the infernal mason jars, which are quite pretty to look at, but far more trouble that you would expect. A friend of mine suggested that I look for a packet of Certo, which is a type of pectin product, which comes with a leaflet chock full of recipes and suggestions for the novice jam maker.

Once you have:

  • 1 packet of Certo
  • 4 medium sized mason jars
  • Around 8 cups of whole blueberries (4 cups crushed fruit)
  • 5 cups of sugar
  • 2 tbsps lemon juice

then you’re set to start making your jam.

After getting all of your ingredients together the process is even simpler – measure out the sugar, measure out the lemon juice, and mash up the blueberries.

I used a potato masher to crush the fruit.  Some people apparently prefer food processors, but I like to be able to taste individual chunks of fruit in my jam, so I’m slightly biased towards the less mechanized approach. Once you’ve got all of your ingredients ready, sterilize your mason jars. The method that I used can be found here, but the next time I make jam I think I’m going to try to sterilize them in the oven. What is most important is that you never put the glass directly into a high heat environment – you have to let the jars warm up with the air or water around them.

Once your jars are happily bubbling away (possibly waiting to burn your hands when you pull them out of the pot with barbecue tongs as mine did, but I digress), empty the 4 cups of crushed blueberries into a large saucepan or pot.  Then,

(1) Stir the lemon juice and pectin crystals into the blueberries.

(2) Bring to a boil over high heat – you might want to wear an apron. I got splattered blueberries all over the shirt that I was wearing, because they tend to get a bit overexcited when heated.

(3) Once they’re boiling, add your five cups of sugar.

(4) The Certo recipe says to allow the mixture to boil for another minute, but I let mine boil for a few more minutes and it was still fine.

(5) Remove the pan from heat, and allow it to cool while stirring fairly continuously for the next five minutes.

(6) Pour the still warm mixture into the mason jars that you have deftly removed from the pot of water in advance, without burning yourself.

(7) Put the sterilized tops on the jars, and screw on the caps. The jam will take a few hours to set – at least until the jars cool.

(8) If you are like me, you might want to write the date that you made the jam on top of the jars. Certo promises that they can be stored (unrefrigerated & unopened) for up to a year.