Halloween Bread Trials

A friend who knows me really, really well recently sent me a link to the Necro Nom Nom Nomicon — more specifically, to the instructions for how to make Brimstone Bread. This is totally up my alley, especially this time of year. The photos are spectacular, and the instructions seemed pretty clear, so I knew I had to at least try this recipe for my upcoming Halloween party. That being said, I also thought it would be the better part of valour to give the recipe a try before I depended on it on the day of the party. That’s never a good time to experiment with new dishes.

I was really happy with how the finished rolls looked! I didn’t have any instant bread mix, so I whipped up some of the dough for Nan’s Pan Rolls, which I have baked so many times now that I find them extremely simple. I only made up half of the recipe, since this was just a test, and then I divided the dough in half again to try the Brimstone Bread alongside a second recipe. I found the bread tasted pretty good (not surprising since I rather like Nan’s Pan Rolls), but I wasn’t terribly fond of the taste of the blackened crust. I’m wondering if it would taste better as a sweet roll, like an apple cinnamon roll with a sweeter, spiced topping. I think I need to experiment more on this one for the flavour, but the technique is sound.

The kids loved this roll, and were thrilled to see that the colour was part of the bread and not just an icing or some such. I will probably be making this bread again for the party if only for this reason.

My husband pointed out to me that the dough, when thoroughly saturated with food colouring, strongly resembles PlayDoh. I have to say that I agree. However, PlayDoh doesn’t rise, and it’s a lot easier to shape than a well-kneaded bread. The latter likes to snap back to its original shape.

Another thing to keep in mind when working with high concentrations of food colouring is that it will stain your hands and nails. Most of the colouring wore off within a day or so, but if you have to make a first impression after making these breads, wear gloves. The black dye is especially potent — this photo was taken after thoroughly scrubbing my hands. To protect your clothes, I’d suggest wearing an apron as well, or just wearing clothes that you don’t care if they get stained.

On the other hand, once the dye is worked into the dough and baked, it doesn’t rub off onto everything and stain. This is the complete opposite of coloured icing. It’s a great argument for serving dyed bread at a party when it can be pretty much guaranteed that one of the guests will spill something somewhere, usually on the one surface that you can’t easily clean and yet will show every stain.

The second half of Nan’s Pan Rolls dough went into making a miniature loaf of Voodoo Bread. I was a little worried that the crust might end up being too tough after changing the formula a bit with the dye, but it just ended up being a tiny bit more crispy.

I think I really should have made a full-sized loaf of this one, actually, to show off the internal swirls. There just wasn’t enough dough to do a proper roll. Even so, I am very satisfied with this recipe and I plan to make it for the party. My youngest is even more enthused with the Voodoo Bread than the Brimstone Bread, partly, I think, because she calls it Rainbow Bread. I think that I might try making this bread in different colours for special occasions once I have mastered the swirl technique. Also, I think I’ll use a lighter purple dye for the Halloween party loaf.

Last of the Zucchini

One of the biggest challenges about this time of year, at least to me, is to either eat or preserve all of the fresh produce that comes my way before it goes bad. It seems to me like the utmost example of taking what you have for granted to let food — especially fresh, homegrown, delicious food — go bad. Practically speaking, this does mean freezing, drying, or canning a lot of it to eat over the coming winter. But it also means a lot of meals made with just-picked ingredients.

Over the last few days I’ve finally managed to cook my way through all of the zucchini from my friends’ gardens (although I may end up with more in the next little while, not that I’m complaining). Last night for dinner we dug into another loaf of Harvest Garden Bread (which contains zucchini), Baked Panko Zucchini Sticks, and haddock baked under a generous coating of Blender Salsa (page 92 of Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning for Small Spaces (Marisa McClellan, 2014)), which was made almost entirely from produce grown in my garden.

Then it was Double Chocolate Zucchini Muffins for dessert. I had never tried this recipe before, but it was highly recommended to me by a friend, and now I realize why. These muffins are moist, dark, rich, and chocolatey. They also aren’t as unhealthy as other muffins with similar flavour. I mean, it would be a stretch to actually call them health, what with the chocolate chips and the oil in there, but there is more zucchini in the recipe by volume than flour, and that has to count for something, right? 10/10, will definitely bake this one again.

Harvest Garden Bread Recipe

Last week Thing 1 and I tried our hands at making Confetti Bread (page 67 of The Complete Guide to Bread Machine Baking from Better Homes and Gardens (1999)). While in general I really like this book and I have found its recipes to be quite reliable, this loaf did not turn out as planned. It looked like this:


Failed Confetti Bread

The poor, sad thing just didn’t rise. The loaf was much too dense and wasn’t even baked the whole way through. The cookbook even warns that you might have to add additional flour to the dough after the first knead (which I did), and it still fell flat. I think that this is because a bread machine recipe just can’t predict the moisture content of the vegetables, and bread machines need very precise measurements because they just can’t compensate for change on the fly.

However, the loaf smelled absolutely delicious when it was baking, and the flavour of the bread backed up that smell. Well, except for the red pepper part, but that’s probably just my preference (I’m not a real fan of sweet peppers). I was inspired to try to create a similar loaf by hand to get all of those flavours that I liked, but I wanted it to be a nice fluffy loaf with a crisp crust. As a bonus, this recipe includes both zucchini and carrots, which many gardeners have an overabundance of this time of year. (If you don’t garden, these veggies are also cheap in stores in the fall.) I was very happy with the result.


Successful Harvest Garden Bread

So here’s the recipe:

Harvest Garden Bread
Yields one loaf

Line two small bowls with paper towel or clean dish towels.
Grate separately:
3/4 cups carrots
2/3 cups zucchini
Place the carrots into one bowl and the zucchini into the other. Leave them in the bowls so that the towels absorb excess moisture while you perform the next steps.
In a large bowl, mix together:
1 cup warm water
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup finely sliced green onions OR chives
In another large bowl, mix together:
4 cups all-purpose white flour
1 1/2 tsp white sugar
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp dried thyme OR 2 1/4 tsp minced fresh thyme
2 tsp quick-rise instant yeast
Squeeze the zucchini and the carrots in their towels to remove excess moisture. Add the vegetables to the bowl containing the liquids and stir.
Gradually mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. When mixture becomes too difficult to stir with a spoon, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and continue to incorporate the ingredients by kneading.

Once all ingredients have been kneaded in, the dough may be too moist, sticking to both your hands and the kneading surface. If so, you may need to gradually add:
up to 1/2 cup all-purpose white flour
This additional flour will compensate for the moisture of your vegetables. If the dough is still too sticky once the additional flour has been kneaded in, continue to add flour one tablespoonful at a time until the desired consistency is reached.

Oil a large mixing bowl. Form the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean, damp tea towel. Place the bowl in a warm, dry area with no drafts. Allow the dough to rise until double, about 2 hours.

Punch down the dough. Grease a 9.5″ X 5.5″ loaf pan. (A slightly smaller loaf pan may be used, but you will end up with a more mushroom-shaped loaf.) Shape the dough into a loaf to fit the bottom of the pan. Cover the pan with a clean, damp tea towel and allow to rise again until double, about 1 hour.

Preheat your oven to 400ºF (204ºC).
While oven is preheating, mix together:
1 egg white
1 Tbsp cold water
Brush the top of the dough evenly with the egg & water mixture to create a glaze.
Bake loaf for 30 to 40 minutes, until top of loaf is lightly browned and the loaf sounds hollow when removed from the pan and tapped on the bottom.

If you try out this recipe, I’d love it if you’d leave a comment and let me know what you think! And if you make any changes or if you find any errors, I’d love to know that too.

Mom’s Birthday Dinner

We celebrated my mother’s birthday this past Saturday. At her request, I hosted dinner at my house and made her up some of my ramen — which somehow she had never tried before. The version that I chose to make was Furikake Salmon Ramen (page 82 of Simply Ramen by Amy Kimoto-Kahn (2016)); the recipe is also available online here. This recipe uses a shoyu base (page 8, or online at easypeasyjapanesey.com), which I made up in advance in my slow cooker. I remain rather enamored of this base recipe, but every time I make it I remind myself that sometime I really need to try the tonkotsu base, which is my favourite but appears much more difficult. I used soft-boiled eggs instead of marinated half-cooked eggs, mostly due to time constraints. I also used packaged noodles; one of these days I will make my own, but that really requires a pasta maker, which I don’t own. I didn’t use the kind from the instant soup packages, as I find they get soggy much too quickly, but instead a package of dried noodles on their own for which I unfortunately can’t read most of the label.

The real star of this dish is the salmon. I was lucky enough to find it on special at the grocery store, pre-portioned and ready to go. The furikake topping was delicious even though I used North American mayonnaise instead of Japanese-style. There were some leftovers and I really look forward to having them served over rice in the next few days. I think that this topping is going to become part of my regular dinner roster; it would probably be good on other pink, oily fish like sea trout.

In our family, there’s always dessert with a birthday dinner, even if you’re stuffed from the meal itself — that just means that you take a breather and have the treat later in the evening. This year I made apple pie using fruit that I’d grown on my own tree in the back yard. For the chocolate lovers, Dad made brownies with chocolate icing, which were delicious and, if you know my dad, a very special treat, since he rarely bakes. We served it all up with whipped cream and/or vanilla ice cream (and dairy-free alternatives thereto). Oh, and candles! I was thrilled to find that it’s possible to get the candles that burn with coloured flame at the dollar store these days. I used to have to go downtown to a specialty store to buy them.

So happy birthday to my mom! Love always to the woman who helped shape me into the person that I am (whether that’s a good thing or not is a matter of opinion).

Oven-Baked Oatmeal Wheat Bread Recipe

Out of sheer curiosity, back in May I tried out the recipe for Microwave Oatmeal Wheat Bread (page 128, Basic Microwaving by Barbara Methven, 1978). The loaf ended up having a heavy, hard, and, chewy without actually being crunchy. It wasn’t horrible, but I didn’t see myself ever cooking it in the microwave again.

I did promise myself that eventually I’d try to recreate this dish in the oven, and this week I finally got around to it. As I had suspected, the issue with the texture had nothing to do with the ingredients and everything to do with the cooking method. When I prepared this loaf the standard way for an oven, it was still dense — but that is to be expected when you use ingredients like whole wheat flour, oatmeal, and molasses. However, it was not chewy at all; it was lighter in the middle with a thin, crisp crust. The dark flavour of the bread went well with roast meats, deli meats, and cheeses — or just on its own with butter.

Without further ado, here’s how I made this bread in the oven:

Oven-Baked Oatmeal Wheat Bread
Yields one loaf

In a large mixing bowl, stir together:
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup rolled oats (not instant)
1 package (7g) quick-rise instant yeast
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
Add to dry ingredients:
1 cup warm water
1/3 cup cooking molasses*
1/4 cup lard, melted
Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients until they are evenly mixed. Gradually mix in:
1 1/2 to 2 cups all-purpose flour
After the majority of the flour is added, transfer the dough to a floured surface and start kneading. Gradually knead in the remainder of the flour. If the dough starts to become difficult to knead, stop adding flour. When flour is fully incorporated, dough should be smooth and elastic, but not sticky. If dough is sticky, add all-purpose flour 1 Tbsp at a time until stickiness abates.

Knead for an additional five minutes, until dough is smooth. Oil a large mixing bowl. Form the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean, damp tea towel. Place the bowl in a warm, dry area with no drafts. Allow the dough to rise until double, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Punch down the dough. Grease a cookie sheet. Shape the dough into a ball, then flatten it into a thick, circular loaf. Put the dough on the center of the greased pan. Cover the pan with a clean, damp tea towel and allow to rise again until double, about 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat your oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Bake loaf for 15 minutes. Turn heat down to 350ºF (177ºC) and bake for about 15-20 minutes more. Check to see if the bread is done by removing it from the cookie sheet and tapping it on the bottom. When cooked through, it should make a hollow sound. Remove the bread from the pan immediately and place it on a wire cooling rack. Slice and serve immediately, or allow to cool thoroughly before wrapping in plastic to be eaten later.

*Fancy molasses may be substituted for cooking molasses, but if you do so, omit the sugar.

Chocolate Fudge Zucchini Cookies: Rebaked

My kids and I munched our way through my first batch of chocolate fudge zucchini cookies in a matter of days, so I decided to bake some more.

Although I loved the flavour and moist softness of the original recipe, I wasn’t terribly happy with the texture that the grated zucchini gave to the cookies. This time I microwaved the zucchini first, covered, for four minutes, which softened it up nicely. Then I ran the zucchini through my blender until it had the consistency of a smoothie. I followed the rest of the recipe to the letter, and it worked out wonderfully. No stringy bits, just fantastic chocolate flavour and moist texture.

My kids prefer this version too. Thing 1 was quite willing to model the non-stringy inside of the cookie for me so long as she got the broken cookie as payment.

Chocolate Fudge Zucchini Cookies

I recently discovered that the Canada Agriculture and Food Museum has a whole list of recipes that it provides free of charge in PDF format. There are a number of what I would consider typical, traditional Canadian dishes on there — but there were also a number I’d never heard of as well. So of course I had to check them out.

I’d been craving sweets, so I decided that the first recipe I’d try from this collection was the Chocolate Fudge Zucchini Cookies. Also, although I didn’t grow any myself this year, zucchini is in season and hence is really affordable at the moment. And wow, was I ever happy with how these cookies turned out! They were soft and moist without falling apart, and incredibly rich. The recipe called for the cookies to be dropped by tablespoons onto the baking pans, but although the composition of the dough was too thick for this and each cookie had to be hand-formed, I don’t think that this affected the final product in a negative way.

I think that the only thing I’d change about this recipe is how the zucchini is prepared. The recipe calls for it to be finely shredded, but I found that this still left a few stringy bits in the otherwise-soft texture of the cookie. In the future, I might try peeling the zucchini first, or running it through the blender to change the texture. I wouldn’t want to get rid of it, though, as that’s what makes it so moist!