14 December 2011

Eat 1, Freeze 1, Gift 1

Rachel's Bread, pre-decorations.

I am pretty loose-y goose-y when it comes to holiday traditions.Very few things recur from year to year: I may or may not have a Christmas tree (even though I love a good tree); I may or may not send out cards; I may or may not make a Christmas dinner.

It's not that I'm a Scrooge, but because there are no kids around, the man and I tend to lean toward the side of doing whatever we feel like doing. (Last year, we made homemade pizza on Christmas Eve and binged on cookies on Christmas Day, before and after a big breakfast starring French toast.)

There is one thing, though, that I have managed to do most every year since I was 15 years old, thanks to a recipe shared with me by my best friend growing up, Rachel.

When I say best friend, I mean best friend. Rachel knew me inside and out and loved me anyway. She was the one person who "got me."

Years ago, I tucked away our many notes from high school, passed during biology lab and complete with illustrations, in a greeting card box — to be whipped out whenever I needed a good laugh or even a good cry. This box of notes is one of my prized possessions. It's moved with me from Connecticut to Maine to Maryland to Florida to Connecticut (again) and finally here, to Vermont.

In these notes, we referred to each other as "Fat Ass" and "Jelly Belly." We drew pictures of where we'd rather be. We talked about the boys we liked — actually, usually men — really attainable chaps like those who starred opposite Julia Ormond in period films like "Young Catherine" and the 25-year-old substitute teacher. We trusted each other with our deepest, sometimes dark, secrets.

We cried in each other's arms, and I have never laughed as much as I did while hanging out with Rachel.

When Rachel became a vegetarian, I decided I would still love her. And when I moved out of state and left all my friends behind, Rachel decided she'd still love me.

Not long after we graduated college, Rachel died.

It's still somewhat unbelievable to me that my young, beautiful, intelligent, compassionate best friend is gone — I miss her every day — and for a long time I couldn't forgive myself that I wasn't there with her at the end. Maybe I haven't yet.

I was far away, in the throes of my early 20s, out of touch with the people in the small town we had grown up in, and I had no idea she was sick.

It happened that fast.

Making Rachel's Bread, a braided breakfast or coffee bread, is the one tradition I manage to continue from year to year. Rachel taught me how to make it in her mother's kitchen. She showed me how to fake a braid and turned me on to dried apricots. She also showed me that a little Christmas kitsch with maraschino cherries and white icing is a good thing.

Braided "candy cane" bread filled with dried apricots and maraschino cherries is perfect for breakfast or coffee talk. Each recipe makes 3 loaves, so you'll have a couple to gift if you tire of the ubiquitous cookie tray.

Rachel's Bread
(makes 3 loaves)
Note: Rachel's original recipe uses active dry yeast (2 packages), mixed with water. I use instant dry yeast, so I mix it with the flour first before adding to the rest of the ingredients.

2 cups sour cream
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1/2 cup warm water
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs
6 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons instant dry yeast
1 1/2 cups dried apricots, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups drained maraschino cherries, finely chopped
melted butter, for brushing on baked bread
icing (2 cups confectioners' sugar mixed with 1-2 tablespoons water)

In a bowl, combine instant dry yeast with flour. Set aside.

Over low heat, melt 1/4 cup butter with sour cream, stirring until combined. Remove from heat.

Transfer sour cream mixture to a large mixing bowl. Add water, eggs, sugar, salt and a bit of the flour mixture. Beat until smooth.

Add the rest of the flour, kneading until smooth, about 10 minutes.

Transfer dough to a lightly greased bowl, flipping so that it's grease side up, cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Punch down dough. Divide into 3 equal parts.

Roll each part into a 15x6-inch rectangle.

With a sharp knife, make 2-inch cuts at 1/2-inch intervals up each long side of the rectangle.

Place fruit in the middle and criss-cross the dough strips over top.

Stretch loaf to 22 inches and twist into candy cane shape.

Place breads on greased baking sheets and bake at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

Transfer to wire racks.

Brush with melted butter. Once mostly cool, drizzle breads with icing and decorate with extra cherry slices.

Eat one. Gift one. Freeze one for Christmas morning.

20 November 2011

Spice and Everything Nice

Pumpkin Bread is in the oven as I write this, filling the house with the scent of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and everyone's favorite Thanksgiving squash that begins with a 'P.' I haven't had breakfast or lunch yet today — it's 1:45 p.m. EST — and I will be hard-pressed not to do things to that bread that I really shouldn't. Things like slicing it fresh out of the oven. Or burying my face in it. Or licking it.

But I won't.

I'll let the loaves cool on wire racks — completely — before swaddling them in plastic wrap and aluminum foil. I'll let them hang out for a day or two before I ravage them. I won't lick them so that I might share them with others.

Pumpkin Bread
(I copied this recipe out of a magazine several years ago; wish I could give proper credit. ... It makes 2 standard-size loaves.)
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 3/4 cups brown sugar, packed
15 ounces pureed pumpkin
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
2/3 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and lightly flour two standard-size loaf pans (9x5-ish inches).

Whisk together dry ingredients in small bowl. Set aside.

Gratuitous Pig Butt Shot

In large bowl, mix brown sugar, pumpkin, oil, eggs and water.

Stir in dry ingredients until thoroughly combined.

Divide batter equally between prepared pans and bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour.

Remove loaves from pans and let cool completely on wire racks.

08 November 2011

A Saucy Reminder

The man and I went apple picking several weeks ago. Back at our place, we went apple eating. I made pies and cakes and, of course, sauce — twice. 

Applesauce is so easy to make that it didn't occur to me to post a recipe for it until now. I figured everyone's doing it, and why not? There's no point buying the jarred stuff unless you can't get your hands on apples.

I made my last batch in a slow cooker, but a covered, heavy-bottomed pot over low heat works just as well.

Spiced Applesauce
(Use this as more of a loose guide than a recipe. I NEVER measure when I make applesauce, and nothing has ever gone terribly wrong. Also, note that there is no sugar listed here; I don't use it. If your apples are tart, feel free to add a bit of sugar.)
10 apples of your choice, peeled and chopped into 1-inch chunks (I used macintosh and cortland.)
1-2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Toss everything into the slow cooker, set on low. (Alternatively, hold back on the spices and use them to flavor the end product. I realize some folks don't like brownish applesauce.)


Stir once in a while.

Cook until sauce has reached desired consistency. Mine took only about 3 hours — my pot runs hot and I like a few chunks in my applesauce.

06 November 2011

Cider Duffins

Cinnamon-sugar donut muffins with a touch of cider syrup.

I don't know about where you live, but here in Vermont come fall, cider donuts reign supreme, calling to tourists and locals alike from mom-and-pop bake shops, roadside stands, apple orchards, even gas stations. Sweet and fattening, these golden-brown chubbers are often sold in brown paper bags slightly stained with oil. More often than not, they're still warm from the fryer. Praise be.

Thankfully, luckily, perhaps dangerously, cider donuts are easy to replicate at home in the form of Cider Duffins (you guessed it, a cross between a donut and a muffin). The batter is simple, and there's no need for deep-frying. A swim in a butter bath before a tumble in cinnamon-sugar achieves borderline perfection in the donut mouthfeel department. If there is such a department. 

Cider Duffins
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 egg
1 tablespoon Cinnamon Cider Syrup*
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 24-cup mini-muffin pan.

Whisk together flour, nutmeg, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In large bowl, mix brown sugar, melted butter, egg, Cinnamon Cider Syrup and milk. 

Stir in flour mixture until combined.

Spoon batter into mini-muffin tin. (I used a 1-inch scoop and was not able to fill the entire tin — made about 18 as I recall.)

Bake in preheated 375-degree oven for 15-17 minutes. (While duffins bake, mix cinnamon and granulated sugar in small bowl.)

While still hot from the oven, dip each duffin in melted butter, then roll in cinnamon-sugar mixture. Set on wire rack to cool (or don't bother and just eat straight away, as we did this morning).

* I buy my Cinnamon Cider Syrup, a tasty coupling of maple syrup and boiled cider, from Wood's Cider Mill just up the road in Weathersfield, Vermont. Look here for more info.

05 November 2011

Sweet Deal from The King

Love & Scraps fans: This post is especially for you.

King Arthur Flour shared with me an exclusive offer to share with you — 20 percent off a $90 (or more) order. Quick! Stock up your holiday baking supplies! This offer is valid through November 6 (that's Sunday, tomorrow, so get on it).

I don't normally put myself out there for products/brands/companies, but I make an exception for employee-owned KAF — generous, warm-hearted people and phenomenal products.

Follow this link to shop for your favorite baking goodies!

21 August 2011

Coconut Love

Oatmeal Cookies with Toasted Coconut and Bittersweet Chocolate

I can't seem to get enough of coconut these days, as evidenced by my recent posts for Pineapple Coconut Cream Pie and Love-My-Butt-the-Way-It-Is Bars — and by several extreme closeups of the stuff found on my digital camera.

I lust it.

And I lust it even more toasted (the coconut, that is, not me).

A pile of goodness, ready to be folded into oatmeal cookie dough.

So, given my lack of self-control when it comes to the white stuff and my surplus of old-fashioned rolled oats, I decided oatmeal cookies with toasted coconut were the way to go this week. They baked up chewy (in the middle) and crisp (along the edge) and after downing a few with a glass of cold milk, these swiftly became my favorite cookies. This week, anyway.

Oatmeal Cookies with Toasted Coconut
(adapted from Ghirardelli's recipe for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 granulated sugar
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups bittersweet chocolate chunks
1 1/2 cups flaked coconut, toasted*

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, spices and salt. Set aside.

In large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Mix in vanilla and egg until just combined.

Add flour mixture, mixing to combine.

Stir in oats.

Fold in chocolate chips.

Gently fold in toasted coconut.

Drop by rounded tablespoon — I use a 1-inch scoop (I like 'em jumbo and uniformly jumbo at that) — onto ungreased, cool-to-the-touch cookie sheets.

Dough love. (Truth be told, I give the dough balls a smoosh with the back of the scoop after placing on the cookie sheet.)

Bake for 8-11 minutes, depending on how chewy or crispy you like your cookies.

Let cool for about a minute on the cookie sheets, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.


(*To toast coconut, spread flakes evenly on ungreased cookie sheet and bake in 375-degree oven for about 5 minutes, giving the flakes a toss every couple of minutes. Let cool completely before using in recipe.)

13 August 2011

Cool Like Me

As much as I love to bake, I've avoided preheating the oven these last few weeks. With raging humidity — and without air conditioning — baking is decidedly less fun. I have no interest in sweating more than I already am.

Luckily for me, and thanks to my aunt, I have in my possession a recipe that likes to keep things cool — Pineapple Coconut Cream Pie. Short of cooking up a custard in a saucepan and browning a meringue topping in the oven for a few minutes, there's not much heat involved. Just some beating and whipping and the promise of cool, creamy pineapple-coconut bliss.

And, considering it's a cream pie, it's relatively light — there's no heavy cream or milk involved — proving that, with a couple of eggs handy, nearly anything is possible.

Pineapple Coconut Cream Pie (recipe courtesy of Aunt-to-Yours-Truly Lori Johnston)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups water
8-ounce can crushed pineapple
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup flaked coconut
1 9-inch single-crust pie shell, baked and cooled (I went the crumb-crust route using vanilla wafers, melted butter and a bit of sugar, but the recipe calls for a classic pastry crust. Do what you will.)
meringue topping:
2 egg whites
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup flaked coconut

In a heavy saucepan (with the burner off), whisk together 1/2 cup sugar, flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Add water, undrained pineapple and egg yolks, stirring after each addition.

Turn the heat to medium and cook until mixture begins to boil (about 6 minutes).

Blend in butter and lemon juice. Remove pan from heat and let cool.

Fold 1 cup coconut into cooled filling. Pour into prepared (*cooled*) pie crust.

Pineapple-coconut bliss in a vanilla-wafer crust.

Beat egg whites with 1/2 cup sugar and 1/8 teaspoon salt until stiff peaks form.

Gently fold in vanilla and 1/3 cup coconut.

Spread meringue over pie filling.

Bake at 425 degrees until meringue is light golden-brown (about 4-5 minutes).


Beat the heat with pie, people. Pineapple Coconut Cream Pie.

28 June 2011

Fresh, Local Berries

Picked up at a local farm, these strawberries are dandy on their own, but I may have to dress them up ... with shortcake ... or sweet tart dough. 
Check back soon.

11 June 2011

The Pleasures of Pig

My handcrafted, blown-glass pig salt-and-pepper shakers. I picked them up at the League of N.H. Craftsmen's annual fair.

In the first chapter of Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder recounts in vivid detail butchering time at the little house, including several pages dedicated to breaking down the family hog into various delectable pork products — hams, shoulders, side meat, spare-ribs, belly, the head for headcheese, "and the dishpan full of bits to be made into sausage."

First, though, Pa has to kill the hog. And while Laura is bothered a bit by the pig's demise — she covers her ears to block out the squealing, even after Pa reassures her that "it doesn't hurt him ... we do it so quickly" — this doesn't stop her from using his bladder as a plaything after the dirty work is done. (An illustration in the book charmingly depicts Laura and her sister Mary swatting the air-filled, balloon-like bladder back and forth in the yard.)

I remember reading this passage as a child and thinking, "Wow. That's so cool. I want a pig's bladder."

Anyway, the only thing that seems to give Laura more pleasure than the bladder-cum-beachball is roasting the pig's tail over hot coals, nibbling on the crispy meat, then sharing the bony scraps with her faithful bulldog, Jack.

Clearly, this was the best of times, but why am I telling you about this now? On a blog that worships at the altar of baked goods? Well, I have no good reason, actually, other than to share my passion for all things pig and to remind you to support food producers who respect and use all parts of my pig friends.

And to make the point that I have no problem thinking you're cute and wanting to eat you.

08 June 2011

King Arthur Flour: The People, The Place, The Pie

Instructor Michelle Kupiec demonstrates how to make pizza margherita during Blog & Bake 2011 at King Arthur Flour's Baking Education Center in Norwich, VT.  (By the way, Michelle didn't laugh at me when I somehow managed to drop my pizza on the floor before making it to the wood-fired oven. Michelle told me to make another one. Michelle's nice like that.)

Over the course of the last two days, I have accumulated 297 new photos, developed dozens of girl crushes, added 5 pounds to my derriere (I'm sure, but I didn't really check and I don't really care), received baking instruction from The Source of all sources, garnered a reputation as a pizza dropper (more on this calamitous act later), cultivated fresh friendships over dinner (thank you, Sara Moulton, for showing us how to make it and for being so generous of spirit) at an historic Vermont inn (if you haven't been, get thee to the Norwich Inn post haste), produced pages of chicken scratch that I like to call "notes," and been given an inside look at operations at the world's best flour company — I'm sure you've figured this out by now — King Arthur Flour.

Bread, fresh from the oven at King Arthur Flour. Need I say more?

Gratuitous Strawberry-Rhubarb Tart shot. (I'll tell you more about this little round of heaven later.)

You see, The King invited a handful of food bloggers and writers from across the country to Blog & Bake 2011, and I was lucky enough to be among them.

B&B ended late yesterday afternoon (sniff), and I told myself I wouldn't shower this morning until I told you about the fabulous goings-on. And so here I sit with frizzy hair, caffeine coursing through my veins, wearing the most forgiving of my elastic-waist pants, trying to figure out how to tell you everything without driving you (and me) crazy.

With that in mind, I've decided on a three-part series — King Arthur Flour: The People, The Place, The Pie (and bread, and scones, and pizza, and ... ). Anyway, I'll try not to deviate from this plan for sanity's sake. Here goes:

The People
I fully embrace the risk of sounding like a schmaltzy brown-noser when I say the folks at King Arthur Flour are smart, warm, generous, funny and spunky. The same goes for my fellow bloggers/writers. The same goes for chef Sara Moulton. I learned from all of them, and I hope to share some of that with you here at Love & Scraps.

And so we begin:

Our fearless leader, King Arthur Flour's Allison Furbish, guides us on a tour behind the scenes at KAF. (Allison made Blog & Bake happen. Allison invited me. I heart Allison.)

Smiling Jean Kerr from Northeast Flavor magazine was on my pizza-dough-making team (Go, Team Brilliance!). If you haven't checked out the mag, do it. It's beautiful.

Corin Hirsch, a friend and food writer at Vermont's Seven Days, has her way with a mini-muffin. (Back story: KAF baking instructor Susan Reid encouraged us to "take as many nibbles as we can stand" from several batches of mini-muffins — each made with a different type of flour — to compare/contrast properties. ... Susan said nothing about pushing muffins into our eye sockets.)

King Arthur Flour's MaryJane and Northeast Flavor's Bonnie listen intently to ... um, something ... during a visit to the KAF test kitchen. MaryJane kicks booty on both the decorating and dinner conversation fronts. Bonnie kicks booty, too.

King Arthur Flour's Robyn Sargent teaches us basic bread-baking skills during Day 1 of B&B. Robyn is an awesome teacher. Too bad I didn't have Robyn for calculus in high school; it may have gone better ...

Blogger Amber Bracegirdle portions out pizza dough. Amber is a Texan, married to a Brit, and now lives in Jersey. Amber gave us each a present of cookies on Day 1. Amber's a sweetheart.

I've long been a fan of chef Sara Moulton. My fanaticism has only grown since Blog & Bake: she joined us for class (during which she kindly pointed out after surveying my braided bread that hers, too, was bulbous on one end — gotta love her); demonstrated how to make a scrumptious dinner; and feasted with us at the Norwich Inn, where the chefs did her menu proud.

Fellow New England bloggers Aimee and Fiona light up the room during Day 1 of Blog & Bake. (Some peeps knew each other before B&B; most didn't. ... Let no man put asunder what King Arthur Flour joined together.)

Meet Donna from Colorado. Donna and I sat together for much of B&B. Lovely though she is, Donna scared me at first with her breezy, seemingly effortless bread-baking skills. (I'm more slow and methodical.) Donna kicks serious booty.

King Arthur Flour's Susan Reid gives us the lowdown on flour — the types, the properties —while throwing in a few colorful stories. Susan knows how to have a good time while engaging her students. I mentioned "spunky" in the intro to this post. That's Susan.

"Busy at Home" blogger Glenda chills out during coffee & pastries to kick off Day 1 of Blog & Bake. Glenda traveled from Nebraska for B&B.

King Arthur Flour instructor Susan Miller pulls together pastry dough for KAF's luscious Tomato Pie (more about this later). ... Warm and funny, Susan also instructed us in making "poolish" for our pizza dough (more about that later) and pastry for our Strawberry-Rhubarb Tart (you guessed it, more later). ... Oh, and last but not least, there's Savor the Thyme's Jennifer in the background, studiously checking out Susan's method.

PJ doesn't seem to mind when we interrupt as she puts the finishing touches on some lime cookies in the King Arthur Flour test kitchen on Day 2 of Blog & Bake. You probably know smiling PJ from KAF's online community and blog. I nominate PJ for Best Smile at Blog & Bake 2011.

Writer/blogger Casey, KAF's MaryJane and Northeast Flavor's Bonnie hang in the test kitchen. My peeps!

If you need a volunteer for something, anything, may I suggest the services of Casey Barber? She likes to get a job done. She speaks up when the rest of the room goes quiet. She has awesome facial expressions — and isn't afraid to use them.

I hope you've enjoyed this glimpse into the people who brightened the last two days of my baking life. More posts (with lots more photos) are in the works, but now it's time to wash my crusty-the-clown self. Until later, then.