Yeasted Breads

A Wedding and Focaccia

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This summer is packed with eventful occasions, not the least of which has been my niece’s wedding. It was held at the homeplace of the grandparents who raised her from the time she was two years old, when her birth parents were both taken from her in a freak accident. It was an outdoor wedding held in the beautiful backyard of my in-laws. The service was held on top of a hill overlooking the orchards and a soybean field. The bride was escorted up the aisle by her two older brothers, one flanking her on each side. They gave her away to her groom and I don’t believe there was a dry eye on top of that hill at that moment.

After the ceremony the guests meandered down the hill gradually to the tent where the reception was held. The gorgeous floral decorations were put together by a cousin from the South, using young little apples from our orchards and greenery. The cake was a highly successful collaborative effort between her and my sister-in-law who lives locally. I thought it was a wonderful symbol of the combined effort of the two families, one in the North and one in the South, to provide a safe haven for these young people who had lost their parents at such a young age.

A tribe of aunts, cousins and the maternal grandmother came from South Carolina early in the week to help prepare for the big day. An aunt who is gifted with organizational skills set up a plan in which we relatives took turns providing the lunches during this week of set-up. On my allotted day, I took ingredients for build-your-own-sandwiches and made focaccia that morning to assemble them on. Focaccia is essentially a slightly puffy flat bread that is drizzled with olive oil, herbs and other toppings. I have made focaccia many times as a side, but this was the first time I used it as a sandwich base. It will definitely be repeated! I cut them in rectangles, then split them in half lengthwise to layer with sandwich toppings. It was a simple but delicious repast a little out of the norm.

I grow my own herbs in pots, but we sell several varieties at Martin’s Family Fruit Farm, as well as the tomatoes, peppers, onions, lettuce, fresh garlic, and cheese. For the sandwich toppings I offered Tuscan ham, smoked turkey, cheese, sliced onions, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and various spreads. 

This post is sponsored by Martin’s Family Fruit Farm. The stories and recipes are my own. 

A Wedding and Focaccia

Ingredients

Dough:

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Focaccia triangles
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour or a mixture of grains and wheat flours
  • 2 teaspoons white sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1/4 cup oil

Toppings:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 – 3  tablespoons grated parmesan or feta cheese
  • 3 tablespoons chopped mixed fresh herbs or 1 tablespoon dried herbs
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • generous grinding of coarse salt (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper 
  • 2 medium plum tomatoes, very thinly sliced (optional)
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced (optional)*

Directions

Stir the dry ingredients together for the dough. Add warm water and oil and stir until well combined. It should be a soft but manageable dough. Turn out onto a well-floured surface and knead well until the dough feels springy. Cover with the bowl and let it rest for 15 minutes to half an hour. 

While the dough is resting grease a 15″x 10″ cookie pan and prepare topping ingredients. Turn on the oven to 400°F (204°C). Roll out the dough to a 16″x 11″ rectangle. Fit into the prepared pan. Dent surface of dough firmly with your fingers. Drizzle oil over top and brush to coat, allowing oil to puddle in the dents. Sprinkle with the remaining ingredients, laying tomato and onion slices on last, if using. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until nicely golden. Let cool for about 15 minutes before cutting into rectangles. A pizza cutter works really well for this. Cut in half for sandwiches with a serrated knife. Best served warm. 

*Sometimes I carmelize the onions for the topping. That adds a nice touch. Simply fry the onions slowly in a pan with butter until they are deep golden in colour before adding on top.

 

 

 

 

 

Maple-Glazed Cranberry Apple Loaf

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Maple-Glazed Cranberry Apple Loaf

As I stated in my introduction to my blog, I absolutely love to make bread. I am convinced that the process is healing to the soul, and will lift up the downcast spirit. It is so rewarding to stir together flour, salt, yeast, and liquid (henceforth known as The Basic Four), let the mixture sit until it rises into a beautiful airy cloud, then shape it and bake it into golden crackling loaves. The transformation is astounding.

I especially love crusty, chewy bread, and have long wanted to delve into the world of artisan bread baking, but never got around to it. The artisanal enjoyment was initiated on our first trip to Europe; ohhh, the breads and cheeses that assaulted our senses there! I still remember what our tour guide said to us as we were leaving France’s luxurious three hour gastro pleasures, and heading to Germany, the Land of Hard Work and Practicality. In a heavy, affected German accent, he pronounced, “No more creme sauces and croissants; ve vill now be entering Germany, vhere you vill get bredt and vater, and you vill be tankful!” We all roared with laughter and the phrase has stuck in our memories. And we were indeed very thankful for the chewy bread.

When a recipe for a no-knead artisan bread burst on the scene a few years ago, I was skeptical, but after reading the testimonials of soaring successes, I thought I would jump on the bandwagon and give it a try. So I watched the sale flyers and bought myself a cast iron Dutch oven to experiment with it. Oh. My. Word. I became an instant believer.

You simply stir together The Basic Four, cover it, let it sit for 12 – 24 hours on your counter, and bake it in a covered heavy baking dish in a screeching hot oven. It takes only 5 minutes to stir together, but you should allow at least an hour and a half for the baking process. If you want really detailed instructions, Simply So Good does a fantastic job of covering all the bases. I use less salt and heat the pot immediately with the oven for convenience’ sake.

To The Basic Four, I added a quarter cup of brown sugar, one teaspoon of cinnamon, half of a Zestar apple, coarsely chopped, and half a cup of dried cranberries. After baking, I brushed the top of the loaf with maple syrup immediately after removing it from the pot. Presto. Basic turns into amazing in a fraction of time. Not that basic isn’t also amazing, depending on the moment. It definitely is amazing dipped in olive oil, herbs, and balsamic mixtures.

I have tried myriad combinations, both savoury and sweet. This one was developed about a week ago when I wanted to take advantage of our fresh apple season that is happening now AND I had beautiful dried cranberries here that I picked up at Johnston’s Cranberry Marsh in Bala, Ontario. They do fantastic tours of their place. Do visit them if you have the chance sometime. We will be selling heaps of their fresh cranberries in time for Thanksgiving, since apples and cranberries are a thankworthy team. Then we freeze them until Christmas, and sell them frozen. We do fantastic tours of our farm too, by the way. It looks pretty these days with the apples waiting to be harvested.

Speaking of pretty, so is this bread. Just look at it. You can do this too.

Maple-Glazed Cranberry Apple Loaf
No-knead rules!

 

Maple-Glazed Cranberry Apple Loaf
Look at that moist spongy interior!

 

I tried out the freshly baked bread on a friend and her 4-year-old, my oldest daughter and my 1-year-old grandson. Every single one of them approved it for the blog.

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Lining up for the chomp. Isn’t he absolutely adorable? Yes. Yes, he is.

 

More pictures of other breads I’ve tried…click or hover on the pictures to see the descriptions. And that’s it. I’m stopping now. My keyboard is getting wet.

TRUE STORY: I was bragging this bread up to this very same friend last winter and telling her that it’s virtually foolproof. I promised her I would supply the bread if they had us at their place for dinner that Sunday. I baked an aged cheddar, garlic and cracked pepper loaf before church, took it along in the very hot pot and let it sit in the car. Well. What a sorry, deflated, soggy loaf I presented at noon. I hadn’t baked it quite long enough and the steam created a sauna for the bread as it cooled. Breads do not like saunas after they are baked. So this apple/cranberry loaf was to redeem both the bread and my baking skills in her eyes. I still claim that it’s foolproof, but not idiotproof, apparently.

The bread should be stored in a paper bag until it’s cut, then the rest can go into plastic, but it will lose its crisp crust and simply be chewy.

Apples? I like to use a firm, sweetly tart apple for this sort of thing. The first time I used Gingergold, this time it was Zestar, next time it will be Cortland or Honeycrisp. Always, always store them in the fridge in a crisper or bag. Do not store them with pears. The apples exude ethylene gas that will over-ripen the pears in a hurry.

Maple-Glazed Cranberry Apple Loaf

Ingredients

The Basic FourIMG_20170921_094254902

  • 3 cups all-purpose or bread flour (I used half AP and half multigrain bread flours for this loaf)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fast-rising or instant yeast
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt or 3/4 teaspoon regular table salt
  • 1 1/2 cups of cool tap water

Additions:

  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup brown sugar, depending how sweet you like your stuff
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 firm and tart medium apple, washed, unpeeled, and chopped in 1″ chunks
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • maple syrup for glazing the top of the loaf

Directions

Stir together all the ingredients except the maple syrup in a glass or metal bowl big enough for the dough to double in size. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit on the counter for  approximately 12 – 24 hours. I often stir it together around 7:00 pm, then bake it the next morning. 

When you’re ready to start baking, turn the oven on to 450° F. Immediately put a 5-6 quart/litre cast iron or other heavy oven-proof pot in the oven. DO NOT GREASE THE PAN, or it will smoke like crazy. Let it heat for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, remove bread from the bowl with a large scraper, and turn it out onto a heavily floured pastry mat or parchment paper. Flour the top of the loaf, then using your hands or two dough scrapers, curve the sides and tuck them loosely into the bottom so that you have a nice round loaf. Lightly cover again with the plastic and let it rest while your oven is heating. 

When the oven and pot have heated for 45 minutes, remove the pot and set on a heatproof surface. Remove cover, lift up the bread with the parchment or two dough scrapers and carefully drop it into the pan. You should hear the apples sizzle from the heat. Put the cover back on top, place the pot in the oven, and bake it for 30 minutes, still at 450°. After 30 minutes, remove the cover and bake for 10 to 15 minutes until the top is deep brown. This apple version will be darker than the Basic Artisan Loaf is because of the whole grain flour and brown sugar. When it’s brown, take it out and immediately remove it from the hot pan with two sturdy lifters. Brush the top of the loaf with pure maple syrup. Cool on a wire rack. I dare you to leave it for more than 15 minutes. Chow down. It’s really good as is, but you can slather it with butter if you wish. Or Brie cheese, or maple butter, or apple butter … you name it. 

Makes 1 loaf.

 

 

Bonnie’s Egg Bread

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Two things conspired to formulate this post. One: I had Egg Cheese whey in the fridge, and Two: I had volunteered to bring Bonnie’s Egg Bread to the Easter dinner with my husband’s family. This recipe is a tradition in our Martin family. It was made originally by my dear sister-in-law, Bonnie, but she called it Grandma’s Egg Bread, because it was one her grandma in the States used to make. Bonnie was tragically killed at the age of thirty-two in a fluke accident eighteen years ago, along with her husband, Sandy; my husband’s brother. She was a vibrant person who flung her whole being into everything she did. She and Sandy were wonderful parents for those six short years, and we still miss them terribly at our family gatherings. We recall and imitate Sandy’s most common greeting, “Hey, (insert name). God is good!” Everywhere he went; at work, at church, and at home; this was his salutation, and he lived as though he meant it. So we make this bread in memory of Bonnie, and reminisce about them, wondering what they would think of their three children all grown up into strong young adults now. In fact, their oldest son is getting married this summer! Another milestone reached.

As I twist and braid the ropes of this bread together, another memory surfaces. I was the oldest of seven girls (yes, you read that correctly; SEVEN!), and from the time our hair was long enough, it got braided into two braids. There were also two boys, but thank goodness, their hair didn’t require braiding. On Sunday morning, Mom would be busy getting the baby ready for church, and combing the little toddler’s hair while Dad peeled and sliced many pounds of potatoes for the Sunday dinner of scalloped potatoes with sausage: one of our favourites. It was also an easy meal to prepare for up to thirty potential diners, since we rarely knew who would be showing up for dinner after church. We two oldest girls would set up our makeshift hair salon in the washroom; each of us braiding a younger sister’s hair as she perched on a low stool in front of us. We became masters at braiding; not too tight, not too loose, but just right. We heard squawks of displeasure or discomfort if it wasn’t just right. Then we piled into our big station wagon and trundled off to church, all spiffed up, with our braids swinging jauntily.

I muse how the rising of the bread is so symbolic of this Easter season where we commemorate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who was “punched down” into death, only to rise again in three days, undefeated by the ultimate enemy. Without that life-changing event, we would have no hope of ever seeing Bonnie and Sandy again. With it, we as separate people are braided together in a common love; knotted tightly together at each end.

See why I say baking bread is therapeutic for me? Look at all the memories that just this one type of bread unleashed!

I use fresh eggs that are picked up by Pullets Plus at local farms and then delivered to us at Martins Family Fruit Farm, all nicely cleaned and graded. These eggs, used with the whey drained from the Egg Cheese, combine to make one of the tastiest breads ever. Its soft, slightly sweet golden interior and glistening seeded crust will look stunning in a basket on your Easter table. It’s a rich, almost Brioche-type of bread, perfect for a special occasion.

Eggs should be stored in the fridge for optimum freshness, especially after being washed. As it is with apples and peaches, the bloom, which is the shell’s natural protective coating, is removed when they are washed. I learned this a couple of years ago, and was intrigued by the similarity to apples.

 

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The finished product, all toasty brown. 

Bonnie's Egg Bread

Ingredients

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  • 2 cups scalded milk or heated egg cheese whey
  • 1/2 cup cooking oil or butter
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 3/4 cup white sugar (I use only a half cup)
  • 3 large eggs, beaten lightly
  • 2 packages ( 2 tablespoons) rapid-rise yeast
  • 7 1/2 – 9 cups all-purpose or bread flour
  • 1 egg, whisked with 2 tablespoons water for egg wash
  • sesame seeds

Directions

Turn oven light on to provide a warm place for the bread to rise. Heat milk or whey until steam begins to rise. Measure the oil, sugar, and salt into a large bowl. Add milk or whey and stir until the salt and sugar are dissolved. Let cool until the mixture is warm, not hot. Whisk the lightly beaten eggs into the warm liquid. Stir the yeast into 2 cups of the flour, and whisk the flour into the liquid. Continue adding the flour, a cup or 2 at a time, stirring vigorously after each addition. When the mixture is too stiff to stir easily, turn it out onto a thickly floured surface. Sprinkle a little flour into the bowl and you should be able to scrape out the dough fragments that cling to the bowl. Add them to the dough and continue adding, folding, and kneading in the rest of the flour until you have a dough that is smooth and soft, but not sticky. Sprinkle a little more flour in the bottom and sides of the bowl to keep it from sticking. Shape the dough into a round ball, and put it into the bowl. Toss a bit more flour on top of the dough. Cover with a large plastic bag or a slightly moistened tea towel and place in the oven with the light on or another warm, draft-free place to rise.

When the dough has doubled in size, usually about 60 to 90 minutes, punch down and cut into 6 (or 9, for the smaller loaves) even portions. Roll each portion into long ropes, about 1 1/2″ thick for the large loaves and 1″ for the small, and 16″- 20″ long. Pinch 3 of them together at the top, and begin braiding loosely, pinching them together again at the bottom. Tuck the top and bottom underneath the braid a little. Repeat with the remaining ropes. Grease large baking sheets and place each braided loaf in the centre. I like to use greased parchment paper on the pans to keep the egg wash from sticking. Cover and let rise again until doubled. This second rising will probably only take half an hour if your kitchen is warm. Preheat oven to 350° F. While oven is heating, uncover the loaves and brush them with the egg wash. Sprinkle the tops with sesame seeds. Bake the loaves for approximately 25 minutes until they are a deep golden colour. Remove from oven and allow to cool on wire racks. Slide a metal lifter under the loaves to loosen  before removing from the pans. Cool completely before slicing. I slice them into 18 – 20 pieces.

Yields 2 large or 3 small loaves