Ok, I’m in love with oatcakes. At least this recipe. In celebration of national oatmeal month (January) I dove into my collection of recipes to find some outstanding ones using oatmeal. I almost overlooked this one.
Oatcakes are savory biscuits (although sweet ones are out there) that are like crackers, and are great served with tea as a crisp alternative to cookies. My kids love them, and lathering them up with a small spread of cream cheese and a raspberry or cherry jam makes them irresistible.
Lots of recipes call for cutting them into rounds, but I find cutting them into squares or rectangles gets rid of the problem of excess dough you need to reroll – just roll out the dough into a square or rectangle, and cut into smaller versions. I docked mine with the tip of a fork, but that isn’t necessary.
Some recipes call for nothing more than oatmeal, butter, and baking soda, with some hot water to bind it together. I add some brown sugar and a bit of salt to bring some flavor. These crackers are good with just about anything. If you add another tablespoon of brown sugar, they turn into almost a sweet and simple oatmeal cookie.
It’s no secret that I love love love tomatoes from the garden. This year, I planted wild tomatoes, San Marzano plum tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, yellow and red cherry tomatoes, and Black Krim tomatoes. I had tomatoes to my heart’s content. And sometimes when I’m slicing a fully ripened tomato, I get a flashback memory of my grandmother serving up a sweet version of tomatoes when I was a kid.
She liked to garden, too, and she did it on a big scale. She had the green thumb of all green thumbs, and every once in a while, she would make me a special treat: sliced tomatoes with cream and sugar. Served cold, there was just enough sugar to complement the light acid of the fresh tomato. To fully appreciate this dish, though, there is no way it could be recreated with tasteless supermarket tomatoes. The tomatoes called for here must be vine ripened.
This recipe below is adapted from The Southern Junior League Cookbook, and features cherry tomatoes sweetened with brown sugar, lightly sauteed in butter and served with cream. For those who have never had tomatoes with cream and sugar, it is an unusual treat. I like my tomatoes cold, but this recipe caters to those who like the dish warmed.
Melt the butter in a heavy skillet, and add in the butter and salt. Stir.
Add in washed and dried tomatoes, and stir gently until the tomatoes begin to split.
Add the cream, and serve.
This recipe is adapted from The Southern Junior League Cookbook: The Best Recipes from the Junior Leagues of the American South, edited by Ann Seranne from 1977. The book has all kinds of classic recipes from 29 different Junior Leagues from southern states.
The warm weather is upon us, and with it comes picnics and potlucks. Picnic cakes are the quick and easy solution if you are tasked with bringing a dessert: they are portable, store well at room temperature, and are typically baked in a 9 inch by 13 inch pan. I’m working on posting my top 10 picnic cakes, and this one ranks high with my kids.
The spice cake contains sour cream mixed with a little baking soda to give it extra richness as well as lightness. The brown sugar meringue topping has chopped pecans folded inside, and it bakes up to a lovely, toasty color when the cake is finished.
Enjoy it with your favorite iced coffee or sweet tea.
Delicious brown sugar and pecan meringue tops a spice cake.
2 1/3 all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, separated
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup milk
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Grease a 9 inch by 13 inch baking pan. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Place the flour in a small mixing bowl. Stir in the baking powder, salt, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and nutmeg. Set aside.
Stir the sour cream with the baking soda and milk until smooth. Set aside.
Cream the butter with the granulated sugar and 1/2 cup brown sugar until blended well. Add in the egg yolks and the vanilla extract, and mix thoroughly.
Mix in the sour cream mixture, and blend well.
Add in the flour mixture, and mix until smooth.
Transfer cake batter into the prepared pan, and spread evenly.
In a clean mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until firm peaks form and add in the brown sugar gradually. Continue beating until stiff peaks form. Fold in the chopped pecans. Spread this over the top of the cake batter.
Bake in preheated oven for about an hour, until the topping is golden brown and the cake tests done.
Breaking Breads by Uri Scheft gives spirit to old favorites, and is a reflection of the author’s travels. Traditional challah, laminated breads, flatbreads, and stuffed breads are all greatly described and made, and he mixes contemporary ingredients with traditional methods. And it’s not just about yeast breads – we are presented with wonderful treats for afternoon tea or coffee, too, and all the things to serve them with, a surprising focus on the savory here.
Secrets of Well-Proofed and Well-Handled Dough
While there are non-bread recipes, the bulk of the book details on creating the best bread at home, from start to finish. Actually, the introduction contains a great section on bread basics, from ingredients and mixing, to baking and creating your own steam oven easily at home. Scheft even goes into bakers percentages (using flour as your 100% benchmark) and the proper way of scaling up a recipe precisely and mathematically, since baking really is a science.
The color photos throughout Breaking Breads show the perfect baked recipe and step by step instructions on how to complete tasks. Examples include showing how to shape and braid a perfect challah and how to stretch the paper thin strudel needed for all its glorious wafer-thin layers. And let me tell you, nothing is as much fun as stretching strudel dough over a large table.
Most of the recipes have long instructions, but don’t be turned off by that. It is like the author is there instructing you step by step. Without his clear guidelines it wouldn’t be as easy to recreate some of the treasures in the book.
All the recipes make you want to spend a few days in the bakeshop baking, but my favorite recipe in the book isn’t even a bread at all, though. It’s a Middle Eastern twist on the traditional Mexican wedding cookies or Russian tea cakes (same thing) – with the addition of tahini paste and sesame seeds. A really lovely book all around.
Middle East version of the sweet baked snowballs we call "Mexican Wedding Cookies" or "Russian Tea Cakes." They are rolled in sesame seeds rather than powdered sugar before baking.
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup almond flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup tahini sesame paste
Scant 1/2 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon white rum (optional)
1/4 cup sesame seeds, plus more if needed
Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together in the bowl of a stand up mixer. Add in the almond flour and sugar. Mix on low speed to combine, and then add the butter, tahini paste, honey, and vanilla. Mix on medium low speed until the mixture is pebbly with no butter pieces larger than a small pea, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the rum now, if using. Continue to mix the dough until it is just combined.
Pour the sesame seeds into a small bowl and set aside.
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Adjust one oven rack to the upper-middle position and another to the lower-middle position, and preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
Using your hands, roll the dough into balls about the size of a large marble (you should get roughly 40 cookies that size). Dip one side of a ball into the sesame seeds, place it sesame-side up on a parchment lined sheet, and press gently with your finger to flatten it slightly. Repeat with remaining balls.
Bake the cookies, turning the sheets and rotating them between top and bottom racks midway through, until the are firm to the touch and only slightly golden, about 8 minutes. Do not overbake them.
Let them cool completely on the pans before transferring them to a rack.
Puff pastry is any baker’s (and mom’s) best friend. It comes in frozen so it’s easy to always have on hand, and after it is thawed can be used to not only create desserts but can be used to make simple but delicious dinner and lunch treats. Inevitably, if you are cutting out shapes from the sheets, you’ll have leftovers. What to do with the leftover puff dough scraps? Leftover dough palmiers is a great idea.
If you’ve never had a palmier, you are missing something good. Palmiers are one of those wonderful and crispy treats that require only a couple of ingredients: sugar folded into puff pastry sheets. But they can quickly turn savory, too. Palmiers also create delicious appetizers or amuse bouche when things like nuts, green onions, cracked pepper, and cheese are folded into the rolled out puff pastry.
Here is a recipe from Manu Feildel that makes great use of puff pastry scraps, Leftover Pastry Palmiers. I use the same technique but have used regular sugar in the past to roll the puff dough palmiers into. I think the powdered sugar is a great idea. Just remember that when reusing scraps of puff pastry to always layer them one on top of the other rather than just bunching them up into a ball and then trying to roll it out. Puff pastry dough is composed of many individual layers and to keep the dough from getting too tough, and to keep the layers, don’t try to form it into a round disk like a pie dough, just roll it out. Like in the video below.
What is “Real Bread?” According to the The Real Bread Campaign, co-founded in 2008 by Andrew Whitley and the charity, Sustain, it is bread that is made without artificial additives or processing agents. At the very basic definition, bread contains just flour and water, and a little salt for flavor and sometimes sugar. The Real Bread Campaign is a community effort to support local bakers and the art of breadmaking, and the effort has spread to over 20 countries.
Homemade Bread at Home
Baking bread at home for me is both cathartic and energizing – it gives me an outlet during a busy day and both relaxes and energizes me. From the first addition of yeast to the water and watching it foam, to kneading it and dividing it into loaves. I have to admit that having a convection bread maker has made the process so much easier and at times I don’t even think about the process; I just love the feeling when I grace my dinner table and make my kids’ sandwiches with unprocessed bread. I’m a busy mom and run from practice to practice, and having a machine knead it for me is wonderful.
Making bread now is quick and easy even though the process still takes more than 3 hours to complete. And every single loaf made this way from my very basic bread recip tastes just the same as the previous.
What is Slow Bread?
Enter in slow bread. Slow bread is more than just spending time kneading and causes you to actually think about the fermentation process. It uses less yeast and needs a much longer fermentation time. It is in this fermentation process that the flavors of the bread come through. Not only does the crumb of the bread improve along with the digestibility of it, but the actual flavor improves as well.
Chris Young writes in the introduction:
Increasingly, however, Real Bread Bakers are reminding people that long and slow tends to be far more satisfying than a quick finish. Far from farinaceous folly, a long-proved dough has more time to develop flavour, tends to produce a less crumbly loaf, and in the case of genuine sourdough, might even offer health benefits.
Slow Dough: Real Bread and the Recipes
This is The Real Bread Campaign’s first cookbook, and the 90 recipes it contains are wonderful. The recipes were contributed by bakers in the industry, and all have been tested. Their names and a brief bio are alongside each recipe.
You’ll find everything from a very basic white loaf using ‘old dough’ to boost flavor to a gorgeous beetroot sourdough. The cookbook begins with a great overview of the slow bread movement and what the bread really is all about. Terms, techniques, ingredients, and equipment are defined, and really great info is presented on the kneading process with Q&A (How do I knead? For how long? How do I know when the dough is properly developed?).
The bread recipe chapters are divided by how the bread has been leavened: pre-ferment, long ferment, and sourdough. The last chapter incorporates the bread leftovers into new menu items.
This is a perfect companion for home bakers and those who bake for a living. It is refreshing that this is more than simply a collection of slow bread recipes but a full guide on why and how slow bread is good to bake.
According to realbreadcampaign.org, all author royalties of this book go to support their campaign.
Pulla is a Finnish cardamom-spiced coffee bread. This version is a long ferment dough made into buns.
15 green cardamom pods
1 teaspoon fresh yeast
3 1/2 tablespoons softened butter
3 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 1/4 cups milk
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten, for glaze
Crush the cardamom pods in a mortar and pestle, discard the husks and grind the seeds.
Rub the yeast and butter into the flour, then add the milk, egg, sugar, salt, and cardamom and mix thoroughly. Cover the dough and leave to rise slowly in the refrigerator overnight.
Grease a large baking sheet with butter. Divide the dough into 12 equal sized pieced, shape each into a ball, and place on the baking sheet, 2 inches apart. Cover and leave to rise at room temperature for about 1 hour.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Brush the top of each pulla with beaten egg and bake for 10 to 15 minutes until golden brown.
This recipe was adapted from Slow Dough Real Bread: Bakers' Secrets for Making Amazing Long-rise Loaves at Home by Chris Young and the Bakers of the Real Bread Campaign, Nourish Books, 2016.
High speed mochi making, mochi-tsuki. Mochi is a Japanese dessert with various fillings. This video shows Mitsuo Nakatani in his restaurant, Nakatanidou, in Nara, Japan. How fast is he? “Three poundings per second.”
Here’s a step by step video on creating a solid multi-colored chocolate lace wrap with a floral design. Julia M. Usher created this video, and in it uses untempered couverture chocolate.
The video is below. But first, here are some handy tips if you are wanting to create lace wraps using untempered chocolate for your next project:
Use acetate rather than parchment paper. Acetate will give a shine to untempered chocolate; parchment will give it a dull look.
When choosing acetate, use the thinner sheets over the thicker ones. The thinner ones pull away from the chocolate lace much easier.
Any guidelines marked with a marker should be on the opposite side of the piping side (mark then flip over). This will avoid any transfer of marker onto the chocolate.
The length should be the cake diameter x Pi (3.14), adding an extra couple of inches to make up for the chocolate bulk and to ensure you have enough of the length to fully cover the cake.
Use untempered couverture, and quality brands of chocolate at that. Tempered chocolate will set up too fast as you are piping it and may be hard by the time you are done or even during piping.
The untempered chocolate should be melted slowly. Melting it too fast may make the chocolate seize.
The outline colors with any dark chocolate should be done first.
Start with darker colors in the project and work to light. That way, if you have leftover darker colors, you can mix in plain white chocolate to create the lighter colors so no waste and no having to create multiple extra shades.
If the chocolate isn’t flowing as smooth, add in a few flakes of Paramount crystals or cocoa butter to help loosen the chocolate to make it flow smoothly.
The chocolate lace wrap should be interconnected in some form when you create it so it is a continuous design and nothing falls out as you wrap it.
Partially set up the wrap in the fridge so it holds its shape. Too soon and the melted chocolate (untempered) may run. Too much chilling and it will be difficult to wrap.
Then anchor the end where you want the back to be, aligning to the bottom of the cake. Press it slightly and gently to the cake to secure. If there is any overhang along the top, piping a border will help stick the lace to the cake and help prevent it from coming off.
Place back in the fridge until the chocolate sets up. Final setting time – as long as it takes to set up the chocolate fully and the acetate pulls off easily.
Carefully remove the acetate beginning with the overhang section. Score any extra chocolate pieces off with a hot knife – just to the spot where it meets to prevent any gaps.
Finish up with any extra accents or beads on the outside with chocolate, optional, and the cake is ready to serve.
Artisanal bread. Image by Flickr user Rahim Packir Saibo via a creative commons license.
A Journey to the Dark Side of Bread. Matthew Zuras interviews Zachary Golper via Munchies on Vice following the release of Bien Cuit: The Art of Bread, showcasing his secret to a perfect loaf of bread: long, low-temperature fermentation, which allows the dough to develop deep, complex flavors.