Friday, January 27, 2012

Swirly Cinnamon Raisin Bread

I've recently become obsessed with creating an awesome but easy cinnamon-raisin bread.  The idea took hold during a conversation with a friend who suggested that Cook's Illustrated No-Knead Bread would work as a cinnamon-raisin loaf.  I was struck by that though, and since it is the easiest bread by far, I made a couple of loaves the next day.  The results were solid, but not quite what I had in mind.  Because the CINKB is both fat-free and slow-fermenting bread that develops a lot of gluten, it resulted in a tougher loaf than what I was looking for.  Still looking for a lighter, low-fat bread (as opposed to a buttery, brioche-based cinnamon-raisin bread, which would be very tender and delicious, but too rich for my purposes), I decided instead to try a classic white sandwich bread.   These breads are often milk-based, and contain either butter or oil, but are still fairly light.  The first one I tried was good, but it didn't produce as big a loaf as I imagined, and the weight of the raisins in the dough interfered with the rising and left a big empty pocket of air inside.  For take 3 I turned to the Cook's Illustrated companion, Baking Illustrated, and tried their American Sandwich Bread.  In addition to producing a nice big loaf, it's a relatively quick recipe to execute--just over 2 hours from start to finish.  It took a couple of iterations and adjustments, but I've finally achieved what I consider a delicious but not-too-indulgent-for-everyday-breakfast bread.  For ample cinnamon flavor I mix  ground cinnamon directly into the dough and roll cinnamon sugar into the loaf before it goes in the pan, producing an attractive sweet and spicy swirl.  A healthy dose of plumped raisins are kneaded directly into the dough so they're evenly incorporated, ensuring that with every bite you're rewarded with soft, sweet, raisin-y goodness.  My favorite way to enjoy this bread is simply toasted with a light smear of butter and a steamy cup of Earl Gray Tea. 

Every Day Cinnamon Raisin Bread (Loosely adapted from Baking Illustrated) 
Makes one 9-inch loaf

* 3¾ cups (18¾ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
* 1 Tablespoon Kosher salt
* 1 Tablespoon + 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided
* 1 cup warm milk--whole is recommended, but I use 1%
* ⅓ cup warm water
* 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
* 3 tablespoons honey
* 1 envelope (or 2¼ teaspoons) instant yeast
* 1 packed cup (5 ½ ounces) raisins
* 5 packed Tablespoons of brown sugar--light or dark is fine

1. Adjust your oven racks to the two lowest positions and prepare your oven for proofing by heating it to 200 degrees F. Once the oven temperature reaches 200 degrees F, turn it off.  Place a shallow baking pan on the bottom rack and set a few cups of water to boil.

2. Plump your raisins by covering them with very hot water, or cover with water and microwave for two minutes.  Set aside for 10 minutes.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine 3½ cups (17 ½ ounces) of the flour, the salt and 1 Tablespoon of cinnamon.  In a microwave safe measuring cup (at least 2 cup capacity), mix the milk, water and butter, and heat until the butter is melted and the liquid is warm (should be about 110 degrees.  If you let it get too hot--and I do this sometimes--allow to cool for a few minutes).  Add the honey and yeast and whisk together.

4. Turn the machine to low and slowly add the liquid/yeast mixture. When the dough comes together, increase the speed to medium and mix until the dough is smooth and satiny, about 5 minutes.  If the dough begins to creep up the dough hook, stop the mixer and push it down.  If the dough is sticking to the sides of the bowl, add some flour, a tablespoon at a time (up to 4 Tablespoons) until it no longer sticks.  Once your dough has kneaded for 5 minutes, drain your raisins and add them to the mixer.  Knead for an additional 1 to 2 minutes, until the raisins are incorporated.  If they're being stubborn you can also work them in by hand.  Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface; knead to form a smooth, round ball (and finish incorporating the raisins), about 15 seconds.

5. Place the dough in a lightly oiled large bowl and turn it around the bowl to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the warmed oven.  At this time take your boiling water and pour it into the pan on the bottom rack to create a nice steamy environment.  Let the dough rise until it doubles in size, 40 to 50 minutes.  

6. In a small bowl, combine the 2 teaspoons cinnamon and the brown sugar and set aside.  Lightly oil a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan. Dust your counter with a bit of flour and turn the dough out onto it.  Gently press the dough into a rectangle 9 inches across and about twice that in length.  Cover the surface with the cinnamon-sugar mixture.  Start rolling the dough from a 9-inch side.  When you get to the end, pinch the seam closed.  Place the dough in the greased pan, seam side down, and cover it again with plastic wrap. 

Put the loaf back in the oven until it nearly doubles again in size, 20 to 30 minutes.

7.  Remove the rising bread from the oven and heat it to 350 degrees F.  With the pan of hot water still in the oven, bake the loaf for 40 to 50 minutes.  If you have a digital thermometer, the bread's internal temperature will be 200 degrees F when it's done.  Turn the bread out onto a cooling rack and cool fully before slicing.  This bread will keep for several days in a ziplock bag at room temperature. 


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Food Processor Pie Dough

This recipe, which has become my go-to for for both sweet and savory applications, is my own personal cross between Martha Stewart's all-butter pie crust and the Cook's Illustrated "Foolproof" pie crust.  Making pie crust in a food processor is incredibly fast.  When I need to make multiple pie crusts, around Thanksgiving, for example,  I cut all my butter and put in the freezer, then scale out my dry and wet ingredients.  When the butter is very cold (at least 15 minutes), I make the crusts back to back--no need to clean out the bowl between batches.  Each crust only takes about two minutes once your ingredients are assembled, so it really couldn't be easier, and it will impress everyone who's lucky enough to taste the fruits of your labor. 

The key to a great crust is to move quickly and not overwork the dough.  Dough becomes overworked and tough in two ways.  The first is the over-incorporation of butter, which can happen if you process it too much at the beginning.  The little chunks and streaks of butter that remain after mixing melt when the crust bakes, creating flaky, tender layers.  So keep those buttery chunks and streaks!  The second thing to be aware of is too much gluten formation, which is caused when flour and water mix.  In bread, gluten development is good, because it creates structure and chewiness.  In pie crust, gluten formation is undesirable for the same reasons.  So, you want to mix as little as possible to minimize gluten formation.  (The use of vodka in this recipe also minimizes gluten development, because it's only 60% water--the rest is alcohol, which evaporates while baking.)

Single Pie Crust for a 9 or 10 inch pie or tart
* 1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (6 ¼ ounces)
* 1 scant teaspoon kosher salt
* 1 Tablespoon of sugar (FOR SWEET PIES ONLY.  OMIT FOR SAVORY PIES!)
* 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes, frozen
* 2 Tablespoons vodka, cold
* 2 Tablespoons ice water


1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the flour and salt (and sugar, if using) with a couple of quick pulses.  Add the butter and do about 8 quick (1-2 second) pulses, until the butter is somewhat distributed and the flour looks a bit like cornmeal, but there are still larger chucks of butter, too.  With the food processor running, pour the water and vodka (you can combine them first to make this quick), through the feed tube, and process for no more than 10 seconds, until the dough looks evenly moist and is clumping together.  It won't be a cohesive mass, but when you pinch some together between your fingers it should hold.  If it crumbles, add another tablespoon of ice water with the processor running.

2.  Spread a piece of plastic wrap out on the counter and dump the dough into the middle.  Carefully pull out the blade.  Use the plastic wrap to corral the dough and press it into a round, about 5 inches in diameter.  Wrap it tightly, and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to two days.  

3.  When you're ready to use the dough, lightly flour your work surface, and place the dough on it.  Flour the top of the dough as well.  Roll the dough out starting from the center and working in all directions, to maintain an even thickness.  Check a few times to make sure it's not sticking to the counter--add more flour if you need to.  Roll the dough until it is a 12-inch circle, about 1/8 inch thick.  Carefully drape it over the rolling pin and transfer it into your pie plate or tart pan.  Ease it in, using one hand to work the extra dough from the inside around the edge and push the dough and the other hand to pat it into the plate.  Don't stretch the dough, or it will shrink up when it bakes.  

4. If the dough seems too soft at this point, put the pie plate in the fridge, with overhang in place, for about 15 minutes.  Otherwise, trim the edges so there is a 1/2 inch overhang.  Fold this over onto the edge of the plate, and either flute the edge or press down around the edge with a fork.  If you're using a tart pan with fluted sides, this part is particularly easy, because you just have to fold the extra dough over so that the top of the dough is flush with the top of the pan.  Voila, no crimping necessary!

Now, to the issue of blind baking, which means partially or fully baking the crust before filling it.  With quiche, you certainly can partially bake it, although it's not necessary--really a matter of personal preference.  I usually skip it because I rarely budget the time.  Some pies or tarts have unbaked fillings, such as those filled with cold cream or custard fillings--in those cases you need to fully bake the pie crust before filling.  To do this, line the pie crust with aluminum foil, and then fill with pie weights, or dried beans or rice.  Bake like this at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes.  Remove the foil and weights, then bake the pie for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, or until the crust is crisp and golden brown.  To partially bake a crust, line with foil and fill with weighs, but reduce the second baking to only 5 minutes.  Don't throw out your bean/rice weights!  Keep them in tupperware for your next pie.

To Flute Edges:  Hold your thumb and pointer finger (the one next to it) about half an inch apart, on one side of the dough (since I'm a righty, I use my left hand and work from the inside of the pie).  With the pointer finger on your opposite hand, gently push the dough between your two fingers.  Moving clockwise, place your pointer finger right next to the indent that you've created, and repeat.  You're aiming to get an even, wavy edge all around.  Believe me when I say that your first pie, or even your fifth pie, might have some wonky edges, but with a little practice this is a skill that you will master, and once you do all of your pies will look picture perfect!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Revisiting An Old Favorite

I am keenly aware of the fact that this blog needs some new content.  I'll get there, I promise!  But, in the meantime, I wanted to bring attention to an old favorite that I revisited and edited recently, which is Theo the Greek's Spinach Pie (October 2010).  I had a group of friends over for a Ladies' Night In, and made two.  My goodness, I had forgotten how much I love it!  If you haven't read about it or tried it yet (for shame!  You really should!) I'll fill you in:  it's essentially a quiche loaded with "Greek" flavors: lots of spinach, tomatoes, garlic, and feta.  And because it has so many veggies it requires relatively few eggs and uses no cream, so I like to think of it as a modestly healthier quiche alternative.  When I made it for my girlfriends I made a these adaptations:

First, to fancy it up, I used two tart pans measuring 10-inches by 1-inch, instead of disposable pie tins, which are usually my go-to (usually with premade pie crusts in them, straight from my grocery store's freezer section).  Now, my geometry skills are a little bit rusty, but I was quite an ace back in the day.  I dug into the crevices of my brain, and using a little pi r2 action determined that the volume of each tart pan is about 78 cubic inches, or about 5 cups.  As a comparison, I figured out that a disposable pie tin, which is what my original recipe was scaled for, holds about 3 ¼ cups.  Of course, I did all this math after the fact--when I was actually cooking I poured the filling into the pans, realized it was too little, beat an extra couple of eggs and poured them on top and smushed it all around.  Long story short: using 10-inch tart pans, this recipe requires 6 jumbo eggs instead of 4.  

The rest of the volume discrepancy was accounted for by the other ingredients, which I also played with.  For convenience I used 8 ounces of feta instead of the 9 I originally wrote (a 1 pound block divided between 2 pies).  Despite the larger size of the pie, I thought it was abundantly cheesy and salty, so I'm thinking that in the future I will always use 7 or 8 ounces of feta.  I also had 35 ounce cans of tomatoes on hand, so I used those instead of 28 ounce cans, so these pies were slightly heavier on the tomato.  Lastly, I had a couple of partially used onions kicking around in the fridge, so I diced those and sauteed them first, before adding the garlic--it was probably about half a cup of onion in each one.

The moral of this story is that with such a stellar flavor combination, it's easy to add a little more or less of each of the ingredients, or add a complimentary one, and the result is still fantastic.  And if you're motivated to make your own pie crust, as I was, the result is even tastier.  (I will post my recipe for a single savory pie crust soon, promise!)  The one thing I didn't account for when baking this slightly larger version is that it will take longer to bake--nearly an hour--so plan accordingly!  

If this is the first time you've stumbled upon this recipe, or if you saw it before and still haven't tried it, I really can't sing its praises enough.  New stuff in the works, so stay tuned.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Nice new banner, eh?

Hello friends, devoted readers.  How many January's ago did I say I was going to change the banner?  At least two, I'm thinking.  But look, it happened!  I gave up on the idea of a clever name, because honestly, one never came to mind.  Instead I thought I'd keep it simple, stay true to what I do, and make it match my url.  So WELCOME to the debut of the Macy Bakes blog!  (Which is the same as the old blog, just new colors.)  Fancy, right?