sage advice: make this pumpkin bread now

I know I’ve made pumpkin bread for you before but I promise you there is room in your recipe book for this version too.  The difference here is I left out chocolate chips and added sage.  The addition of sage made my kitchen smell like Thanksgiving which was an added bonus.

The bread is moist and sweet but the sage gives it a hint of a savory vibe, which in this case is a good thing.  The recipe was meant to be baked into small loaves so that you can have one for yourself and give the rest away to friends.  What lucky friends!

Pumpkin, Sage, and Browned Butter Quick Breads (from “Martha Stewart Living” magazine, also found at www.marthastewart.com)

  • 6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for pans
  • 1/4 cup fresh sage, cut into thin strips, plus more, whole, for garnish
  • 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup solid-pack pumpkin (from one 15-ounce can
  • 1 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour eight 2 1/2-by-4-inch loaf pans. (The smallest pans I had were 3 1/4-by-5 3/4-inch loaf pans so I buttered and floured four of them and they worked just fine.) Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add sage strips, and cook until butter turns golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer mixture to a bowl, and let cool slightly.

Meanwhile, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt.

Whisk together pumpkin, sugar, eggs, and browned butter with sage. Add flour mixture, and whisk until incorporated. Divide mixture evenly among 8 pans. Smooth tops gently using an offset spatula.

Place pans on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake until a tester inserted into centers comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Transfer pans to a wire rack, and let cool for 15 minutes. Invert pans to remove breads, transfer to wire rack, top sides up, and let cool completely. Garnish with whole sage leaves before serving.

rosemary bread

When I first moved to Wisconsin I stayed in temporary corporate housing for the first month while I searched for an apartment.  The temporary housing was lovely and all but it had that kind of generic, sterile, hotel vibe to it.  Tan carpet, tan couch, beige walls, wooden fruit on the kitchen counter for decoration, sateen bedspread, that kind of thing.  The good news about the temporary housing was that it was within walking distance of a great produce market/speciality food store that immediately made me feel at home.

My first night in town I walked over and picked up the essentials: cheese, sausage, bottle of wine, fruit, and a loaf of bread.  And not just any bread but a fancy loaf of rosemary bread.  Best decision I made.  I ate it sliced with butter on it (delicious) and made grilled cheese with it (even better).  I had forgotten about that wonderful bread until I saw this recipe in a magazine I picked up a few months back.

This bread was very easy to make at home, though be aware that you have to do some serious kneading and allow plenty of time for the dough to rise so it cannot be made in a hurry.  But good things shouldn’t be rushed.  Also note that the original recipe called for 3 to 5 minced cloves of garlic so I split the difference and made mine with 4 and though I love garlic I found it too overpowering here.  If you’d like to add the garlic I recommend using no more than 3 cloves but certainly feel this bread would be great without it.

Rosemary Bread (from Homemade Bread magazine)

For the bread:

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon active-dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed (optional)
  • 2 tablespoon fresh rosemary, snipped
  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour

For the tops of the loaves:

  • 1 egg white, beaten to a froth
  • 2 teaspoon fresh, whole rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt

For the baking sheets:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal

In a large bowl, combine the water, sugar and yeast, and let this rest until foamy, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the oil, sat, lemon juice, garlic and rosemary.  Stir in the flours; then knead for 10 minutes.

Oil a clean bowl, and then roll the dough around to oil the surface.  Let it rise until doubled, about one hour.

Once risen, knead the dough again for five minutes.  Let it rise for another 20 minutes.

Divide the dough into two equal parts, and shape each into a small ball-shaped loaf.  Place each on an oiled baking sheet that has been lightly dusted with cornmeal.

Brush the foamy egg white on the tops of the shaped loaves, and sprinkle with coarse salt and rosemary leaves, pressing lightly into the surface of the dough.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rise for 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  With a sharp knife or kitchen shears, make 3 ¼-inch-deep cuts in the top of each loaf.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the crust looks light brown and the loaves make a hollow sound when lightly thumped on the bottom.

Cool on wire rack.  Makes two 6-inch round or oval loaves.

milk & honey (and raisins too)

Last week I had a request for a bread recipe so this past weekend I leafed through a bread cookbook I was given for Christmas to make good on the request.  I was feeling for a slightly sweet bread so decided to make a loaf that involved milk, honey, and raisins.

The cookbook emphasizes whole grains and the vast majority of the recipes call for a mix of whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour.  (There is an entire gluten-free section which I plan to experiment with over Lent as I have already decided to give up wheat this year.  Oh boy…)

The recipe is very simple, though not something you can whip up in a half hour because the dough has to rise several times throughout the process.  Which makes it a perfect weekend baking project!

The result is a dense loaf that is only mildly sweet which I quite enjoyed.  It is wonderful still warm with butter (as is all bread I’ve ever encountered) and coffee.  If you are a fan of light and airy bread then this is not the recipe for you as the whole wheat does make it a bit heavy (see use of the word “dense” above.)

And I discovered this morning that this loaf also makes a beautiful French toast.  Bake away!

Milk and Honey Raisin Bread (from “Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day” by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois)

Makes enough dough for at least two 2-pound loaves.  The recipe is easily doubled or halved.  (I recommend halving it unless you have VERY large mixing bowls.)

  • 4 ¾ cups whole wheat flour
  • 4 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ tablespoons granulated yeast, or 2 packets
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • ¼ cup vital wheat gluten
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups lukewarm water
  • 1/3 cup honey or agave syrup
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¾ cup raisins
  • Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water) for brushing on the top
  • Raw sugar for sprinkling on top

Whisk together the flours, yeast, salt, and vital wheat gluten.

Combine the remaining ingredients and mix them with the dry ingredients without kneading, using a spoon, a food processor (with dough attachment), or a heavy-duty stand mixer (with paddle).  You might need to use wet hands to get the last bit of flour to incorporate if you’re not using a machine.

Cover (not airtight), and allow the dough to rest at room temperature until it rises and collapses (or flattens on top), approximately 2 hours.

The dough can be used immediately after its initial rise, though it is easier to handle when cold.  Refrigerate it in a lidded (not airtight) container and use over the next 10 days.

On baking day, grease an 8 ½ x 4 ½ -inch bread pan.  Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 2-pound (cantaloupe-size) piece.  Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.

Elongate the ball into an oval and place it in the loaf pan; your goal is to fill the pan about three-quarters full.  Allow the loaf to rest, loosely covered with plastic wrap, for 90 minutes (or 40 minutes if you’re using fresh, unrefrigerated dough).

Thirty minutes before baking time, preheat the oven to 375 degrees, with a rack placed in the center of the oven.

Just before baking, use a pastry brush to paint the top crust with egg wash, and then sprinkle with raw sugar.

Bake for about 45 minutes, until richly browned and firm.  Smaller or larger loaves will require adjustments in resting and baking time.

Remove the bread from the pan and allow to cool on a rack before slicing and eating.

tips for a successful holiday party

‘Tis the season to invite friends, family, and coworkers into your home to celebrate the season.  I did just that this past Saturday and thought it might be helpful for those of you who will be doing the same in the coming weeks to learn from my mistakes via a few helpful tips…

1. You are not Martha Stewart and any attempts to recreate the beautiful and festive scenes that grace the pages of her magazine would be pure folly.  She has teams of people who make it look perfect.  You have a full-time job and limited time and resources.  Furthermore, no one is expecting you to be Martha Stewart so stop expecting it of yourself.

I did well to get the holiday table set early in the day before all of the food was done and long before guests arrived.  Granted, I wasn’t able to buy the adorable vintage Christmas tablecloth I had seen at an antique store before Thanksgiving because by the time I went back someone else with (clearly) impeccable taste had already snagged it.  (Note: when you see something you love in an antique/secondhand/thrift store, buy it right away.  Even if you think $30 is a little steep for an adorable vintage Christmas tablecloth with matching napkins, but are later reminded that even at Target or TJMaxx you will be charged $30 for a cheaply-constructed new tablecloth with an inferior design and then kick yourself for being a cheapskate in the first place.)  So I had to settle for my second favorite antique store tablecloth with giant gaudy poinsettias and pom pom fringe.  It worked.  I also planned to make cute little placecards for all of the food and beverages so guests would know what they were partaking in.  Ran out of time.  It happens to the best of us.

2. If people offer to bring food, let them.

I have a tendency to want to do everything myself.  Bad idea.  Let people bring something!  It’s great because it means less dishes for you to make and also might expose you and your guests to a wonderful type of food you’ve never had before.  Or it just might make your food seem even better in comparison. 🙂

3. Pick places to take shortcuts.  Rather than making all dishes from scratch why not buy a few ready-to-serve options like nice olives, a variety of cheeses for a simple cheese plate, and crackers?  Yes.  Totally do that.

I had visions of making six different appetizers and three desserts.  I realized that wasn’t so much going to happen when it was 1pm and guests were arriving in six hours and I had just gotten home with groceries.  So I wound up making the three desserts, made four of the appetizers, sent my trusty helper out to buy pre-made (gasp!) vegetable dip rather than the carmelized onion variety I had planned to make, and when three guests arrived exactly on time (who does that?) and offered to help I put them to work.  There’s no shame in it!  People like to help!

4.  Have great beverage options, preferably of the booze-variety.

Even my non-alcoholic beverage of the evening (spiced cider) got spiked by the end of the night.  It was a great time for all.

I am sharing the four appetizer recipes I made– bonus post today!  The irony is that three of the four recipes came from Martha Stewart publications… Maybe I was a little closer to channeling her for my party than I thought…

Rosemary Roasted Nuts (recipe found at www.marthastewart.com)

  • 2 cups mixed nuts, such as cashews, walnuts, and pecans
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
  • 1/3 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • Coarse salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, roast nuts until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Line another baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.

In a large skillet, heat butter, sugar, and rosemary over medium-high. Add nuts; stir until butter mixture is golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes.

Spread nuts on prepared baking sheet; season with salt. Cool to room temperature, tossing occasionally, about 15 minutes.

Herbed Flatbread (recipe found at www.marthastewart.com)

  • 1 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast (from one 1/4-ounce envelope)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface and hands
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for bowl
  • Coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 large egg whisked with 1 tablespoon water, for egg wash
  • Sea salt, for sprinkling
  • 1/4 cup fresh rosemary or thyme (or a combination)

Place water in a medium bowl; sprinkle with yeast. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in flour, oil, 2 teaspoons coarse salt, and the sugar. Stir until dough forms.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface; knead with floured hands until smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough stand in a warm, draft-free place until it doubles in volume, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Divide dough into 16 equal pieces; cover with plastic wrap. Roll out 1 piece to roughly 4 by 10 inches on a lightly floured surface; transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush with egg wash; sprinkle with sea salt and herbs. Repeat with remaining dough, arranging 4 pieces per sheet.

Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until crisp and golden, 18 to 22 minutes. Let cool on sheets on a wire rack.

Cook’s Note: Crackers can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Baked Brie

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium onion, cut into fourths and thinly sliced
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • 1 round (15 oz) Brie cheese
  • ¼ cup coarsely chopped pistachio nuts, slivered almonds, or walnuts
  • Crackers

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt butter in 10 inch skillet over medium heat.  Cook onion in butter 10 minutes, stirring frequently.  Stir in cranberries, brown sugar, and vinegar.  Cook about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until mixture is thickened and caramelized.  Lightly brush ovenproof plate with oil.  Place cheese on center of plate.  Bake uncovered 8 to 10 minutes or until cheese is soft and partially melted.  Spoon onion topping over cheese.  Sprinkle with nuts.  Serve with crackers.

Pancetta Wrapped Figs (recipe found at www.marthastewart.com)

  • 1/2 cup red-wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon light-brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon juniper berries
  • 10 whole black peppercorns
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 cup dried Black Mission figs, stemmed
  • 12 ounces pancetta, sliced into 1/8-inch-thick rounds and cut into      1/2-inch-thick strips

Bring vinegar, water, sugar, juniper berries, peppercorns, and cloves to a boil in a small saucepan. Add figs, and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Let stand, covered, to bring to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Transfer figs to a cutting board using a slotted spoon; cut in half. Wrap a pancetta strip around each half. Transfer, seam side down, to a wire rack set on a baking sheet. Bake until pancetta is browned, about 30 minutes. Secure each with a toothpick. Serve warm.

it’s the great pumpkin (bread), charlie brown

I’m crazy for pumpkin this time of year.  I’ve already had pumpkin ravioli, pumpkin chocolate chip bars, and pumpkin muffins so far this season so figured it was time to whip up some pumpkin bread, too.

This particular recipe is from good ol’ Betty Crocker’s Cookbook and calls for nuts and raisins but I thought that since chocolate generally makes everything better, why not try adding it here too?

It was an excellent thought to have.  This bread is moist and a little spicy thanks to ground cloves and the chocolate chips made it feel dessert-like but I felt less guilty eating it as dessert because I figure it can’t be too bad for you since pumpkins are technically vegetables, right?  And vegetables are good for you!  For sure.

Last week was freakishly warm for October in the northern Midwest but next week it is looking much cooler which is getting me thinking about my Thanksgiving menu already.  Look for side dish and dessert ideas for Thanksgiving from me in the coming weeks!

Pumpkin Bread (adapted slightly from “Betty Crocker’s Cookbook”)

  • 1 15-ounce can pureed pumpkin
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 2/3 cup canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 cups all-purpose or whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • Mix-ins: Betty Crocker suggests ½ cup coarsely chopped nuts and ½ cup raisins, but I used 1 cup chocolate chips.  Take your pick.

Move oven rack to low position so that tops of pans will be in center of oven.  Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease bottoms only of 2 loaf pans, 8 ½ x 4 ½ x 2 ½ inches, or 1 loaf pan, 9 x 5 x 3 inches with shortening.

Mix pumpkin, sugar, oil, vanilla and eggs in large bowl.  Stir in remaining ingredients except nuts and raisins or chocolate chips.  Stir in nuts and raisins or chocolate chips.  Divide batter evenly between pans.

Bake 8-inch loaves 50 to 60 minutes, 9-inch loaf 1 hour 10 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool 10 minutes in pans on wire rack.

Loosen sides of loaves from pans; remove from pans and place top side up on wire rack.  Cool completely, about 2 hours, before slicing.  Wrap tightly and store at room temperature up to 4 days, or refrigerate up to 10 days.

My Aunt Sarah’s banana bread

In honor of Mother’s Day I thought I would bake a recipe of a favorite mother in my life– in this case, my Aunt Sarah’s banana bread.  In hindsight perhaps I should have made one of my own mother’s recipes but I had two ripe bananas in my freezer just begging to be baked into bread so that was the deciding factor.  I know my mom will understand.

I like to have bananas with breakfast but I sometimes buy too many and can’t eat them all before they go bad.  Fortunately they freeze very well so are easy to tuck away until you are ready to add them to smoothies or baked goods so they don’t have to go to waste.  I hate wasting food.

My aunt’s recipe calls for shortening but I only had about a tablespoon left thanks to a certain houseguest who has a habit of leaving small amounts of things behind after cooking and baking with them, but never fear– I always seem to have plenty of butter on hand so substituted that instead.  And it came out just fine.

The flowers on the table are in honor of you Mom…

An hour or so in a 250 degree oven and you get this:

The note my aunt included with the recipe when she emailed it to me years ago said that the best way to enjoy the bread is with butter while it is still warm.  My aunt is a very smart lady.

Happy Mother’s Day to all my favorite mother’s out there!

Aunt Sarah’s Banana Bread

  • ½ cup shortening or butter
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 very ripe bananas
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups flour

Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees.  Butter and lightly flour bread pan (I suggest using glass pans as the bread cooks more evenly in glass) and set aside.

Beat shortening and sugar with mixer and then add eggs and beat well.  Add mashed bananas and beat until combined.

To this mixture add baking powder, baking soda, salt, and flour.  Stir until well blended.

Put mixture into prepared bread pan and bake for about an hour or just until the top springs back.  (Note: I find that somewhere between an hour and ten minutes and an hour and twenty minutes is about right.  I have both under- and over-baked this bread before as there is a fine line between the two.  It’s best to keep an eye on the bread after an hour of baking and put back in oven for five-minute intervals as needed to finish baking.)

Let bread cool on rack for ten minutes.  Use knife to gently loosen sides of bread from pan and invert over cooling rack to finish cooling.  While the bread is still slightly warm put in plastic bag or wrap with foil or plastic wrap as the heat will help soften and sweeten the bread.