Tag Archives: gourmet

Soda Bread

Irish Soda Bread Yesterday in between segments on the television about who would be slotted into which bracket of this year’s NCAA tournament and my husband’s less than thrilled reaction at the spread being focused on mega conference teams, I decided to make soda bread.  I’d spotted the recipe a few weeks ago and turned down the page in the magazine hoping not to forget.  No sooner had I put the liberally flour-sprinkled loaves into the oven  that he commented like he always does.  “Mmm…smells good.  What is it?”

“Soda bread,” I answered, smiling because it hadn’t been in the oven long enough to smell like anything other than the flour which had begun to brown on the baking sheet.

“Oh, yah.  It is about that time of the year, isn’t it?” he finished, eyes never leaving the television, his Sony perched in his lap, fingers busy filling in the bracket slots for the tournament.  Ahh…March Madness.  Yes, even I fill out one of those brackets hoping from one year to the next that pure luck will outsmart basketball brilliance and that I will walk away with the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Or something like that.

I didn’t grow up eating soda bread but probably should have since it doesn’t require much beyond flour, milk, and baking soda and would have fit right into our meals.  Definitely simple fare.  Although I can remember my mother’s corned beef and cabbage, I’m not all together sure we had it for St. Patrick’s Day dinner — but must have because from my own experience it’s not often that I see it at the grocery store at any other point in the year.  No, I started the St. Patrick’s Day dinner when we lived at our old house, not too far from my husband’s parents who would come to enjoy it with us.  Even though our idea of a corned beef dinner isn’t Irish at all, that’s what we’d have — with soda bread.

Many of the soda bread recipes I’ve tried are anything but light and fluffy.  The dough can be fairly sticky and wet and sometimes it never quite got done in the middle as it baked.  The bite of baking soda could be noticed in each bite.  Not very appetizing.

But I think I’ve found the perfect recipe.

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Gourmet’s Orange Pumpkin Cloverleafs

We live on a hill.  Some may not call it that, but I do, and depending on which direction you approach our hill, it resembles something quite large with very steep roads leading to it, making it a challenge if one happens to be stuck behind a truck, a school bus, or someone who has passed a driver's test but hasn't yet figured out that the gas pedal is what makes the car proceed in a forward motion if it's properly in gear.

But I digress.

Living on this hill provides us a view of the Pacific from one window and from two others, the skyline of the area near downtown and the mountains in the eastern part of the county.  Actually, the view of the Pacific is about 16 inches if I strain, sneaking out my ruler just to make sure, and the other more a craning of my neck around my neighbor's Texas Cherry Brush hedge that is more like a jungle.  On days like today when the weather is not exactly as most expect it to be, I look at both horizons and notice the dark grey upper sky heavy with rain clouds.  The sun is struggling to shine somewhere East casting the mountains in varying shades of grey and adding to the ominous look of the storm clouds.  The Pacific is indiscernible, as grey as the sky. 

I love rainy days. 

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So it seems appropriate that I bring you something that is about as close to packaged sunshine as I can find.  If you're lucky enough to get one right from the oven, the warmth speaks for itself.

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Cracked-Wheat Topknots

When it comes to baking bread, I’m still in the semi-novice stage.  Sure, I’ve baked many a loaf in my life, and some far better than others, but I’ve got a comfort zone that’s quite different than the wild and frequently erratic boundaries I work within when it comes to cooking in general.

No, bread is still somewhat of a novelty.

When I make bread, it’s an occasion in and of itself.  And although I’m getting better at actually accomplishing other things when I’ve got a batch going, I’ll never quite get to the point where I won’t worry about whether I’ll forget the dough in my oven proofer
after I’ve left to run some errands, or sitting patiently in a strange place on the floor, no longer basking in the warmth cast by the winter sunshine.  Or just wondering why there is so much difference between one recipe and the next when it comes to yeast.

Many expect the liquid we mix the yeast with to be a specific temperature — usually between 105-115 degrees F — and we’re admonished that if the yeast doesn’t bubble and foam happily in the little bowl, then we’re to toss it and begin again.

Other recipes tell us to just throw everything in a mixing bowl at one time, not worrying about the temperature or a waiting time — and never a threat of possibly needing to begin again or risk less than puffy gluten-packed wonderfulness.

But when I get that first whiff of bread in the oven, there’s no way I can take it for granted, and as much as I’d like to admit that we’ll use it for sandwiches during the week, or that I’ll let it cool completely, then freeze it like a more organized and purposeful cook than I might be, I know we’ll simply enjoy it.  We’ll enjoy it like fresh cookies hot from the oven, or a sweet pie baked for a special occasion.

The guys will look at it, then at me, then back at the bread and ask, with hope and longing in their eyes, “Is this for eating?”

Clearly, we need to get a grip!  So when Sandy of At the Baker’s Bench posed an offer to our recent holiday cookie-baking group to join her in baking bread throughout February, I thought absolutely, and “Let Us Bake Bread” was launched.  Once a week for a month I’ll post one of the recipes featured in Gourmet’s article, “Roll with it” in this month’s issue.  I decided to get it rolling with Cracked-Wheat Topknots because I’m a fan of crunchiness in bread regardless of whether it’s due to nuts or whole grains, and I just happened to have some bulgar in my pantry just waiting for a place to get happy.

In case you’ve forgotten who my cookie conspirators were, I’m joined in this yeasty frivolity by Judy of No Fear Entertaining, Courtney of Coco Cooks, Andrea of Andrea’s Recipes, and Claire of The Barefoot Kitchen.

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Flourless Chocolate Almond Spice Cookies

This is my last official 12 Days of Cookies entry, finished a week behind my other cookie-baking buddies:  Andrea of Andrea’s Recipes, Claire of The Barefoot Kitchen, Sandy of At the Baker’s Bench, Courtney of Coco Cooks, Judy of No Fear Entertaining, and Jerry of Cooking by the Seat of My Pants.  And you’d think I’d be completely done with all cookies after this marathon, but I agreed to baking a few more for a good friend’s party yesterday.

I think it’s fitting that these flourless bites of chocolate and almonds found their way onto her big cookie platter, don’t you?

One of Gourmet’s Favorite Cookies from December 1994, Heart-Shaped Chocolate Almond Spice Cookies, or “Basler Brunsli” are a pleasant shift from the norm both in taste, ingredients, and preparation for me.  The “dough” is predominantly nuts and chocolate with egg whites and sugar.  A food processor makes the prep simple.

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Chocolate Coconut Slices

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If I think about it, I’m only a day behind on my production for our 12 Days of Cookies Extravaganza, and that’s not too bad.  If I hadn’t gotten into the kitchen early this morning, I’d be two days behind because no sooner had I popped my latest creation in the fridge, than I was banished outside to keep the dog company.  The nice thing about it was that although a bit chilly in the shade, a clear blue sky and Santa Ana winds helped keep me on task as I trimmed creeping fig from the back wall, raked up the piles I’d created over the past few days, and then settled down on our bench to relax and look at recipes seriously lacking in sugar and butter.  Perhaps by osmosis I might be able to gain from the healthiness, right?   Right, and pigs fly, lady.

I hadn’t originally intended on making Chocolate Coconut Squares, Gourmet’s favorite cookie from 1997 because my husband isn’t too fond of coconut.  Unfortunately, I love it in all shapes and forms, so I decided to treat myself since these require only a short baking time on the front end, and a long refrigeration time.  The most interesting aspect of this recipe was making a custard base to stir into the chocolate before refrigeration.

I’m thinking these are perfect if you’re in the mood for something a little fudge-like, but more creamy, and with a fantastic coconut crust.  I decided they deserved to be partied up a bit by presenting them in wedges and a lace petticoat.

Nice.  IMG_7870

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