Almond Olive Oil Cake

Something happened last week that made me literally forget about everything, and move on up to live in a cloud for a few days.  Jim asked me to marry him and as much as I didn’t think I could get any higher over it, you all pushed me further up. Thank you for all the congratulations!  We had no idea that so many of you had been following out little love affair over the past years and were so elated over the response from our engagement post. Thank you!

I hope I can repay you for such goodness with this almond olive oil cake.  It’s not mine, as Gina DePalma created it, and Sassy Radish posted it (and urged me to try) a few weeks back.  And while I can’t actually give it to you, unless you live in the tri-state area and would like to come over for a cup of tea while I bake us one, it’s so easy to make you may be able to do it quickly enough to think it was somebody else working, and not you.  It’s worth the 10 or 15 minutes of prep that you’ll put into it, and then some.  It’s also worth finding some natural almond flour (or making your own) to use in it.

Natural almond flour is almost coarse grain, with specks of almond skins and a nutty, intensely almond aroma.  It brings a great deal to the cake, even unglazed.  Though when the cake is topped with nutty browned butter, the almond flavor is heightened right up onto the cloud with me.  After one bite (and before the many, many bites that followed) I had already deemed this cake my favorite cake, one that may even end up served to a few of my closest family and friends in a year or so, on some certain day.

If you make this cake, don’t skip the browned butter, or the toasted almonds on top.  Besides the natural almond flour, the topping is what turns this cake into a favorite cake.  It’s rich and intensely flavorful, toasty and warm.  The zests add a bright contrast to what can be too much nuttiness otherwise.  I baked mine in a 9 inch spring-form, but I’m sure you could do it in a bundt for an even prettier presentation.  Because for as easy as it is to make, it’s a celebration cake, a wow factor cake, and of course, a thank you for your kindness cake.

[Editor’s Note:  I’ve made this cake again since this post, and the glaze turned out much thinner and soaked into the cake more—something I prefer.  Not sure why the glaze turned out like this in the picture the first time I made it, maybe I let it cool too long or something, but don’t be worried if yours looks different.  And either way, it’s delicious.]

Almond Olive Oil Cake

by Gina DePalma on Serious Eats, via Sassy Radish

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup blanched or natural almond flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • Grated zest of 1 medium lemon or 1/4 a medium orange
  • 1/2 cup orange juice

For the Glaze:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk
  • A few drops of fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup sliced, blanched almonds, toasted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan or springform pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, almond flour, baking powder and salt to thoroughly combine them and set aside.

Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl and whisk them lightly to break up the yolks. Add the sugar to the bowl and whisk it in thoroughly in both directions for about 30 seconds. Add the olive oil and whisk until the mixture is a bit lighter in color and has thickened slightly, about 45 seconds. Whisk in the extracts and zest, followed by the orange juice.

Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and whisk until they are thoroughly combined; continue whisking until you have a smooth, emulsified batter, about 30 more seconds.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake the cake for 30 to 45 minutes, rotating the cake pan halfway through the cooking time to ensure even browning. The cake is done when it has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan, springs back lightly when touched, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow the cake to cool for ten minutes in the pan, then gently remove it from the pan and allow it cool completely on a rack.

While the cake cools, make the glaze. Melt the butter over medium heat in a small, heavy saucepan. When the bubbles subside, lower the heat and watch the butter carefully, swirling it in the pan occasionally to distribute the heat. When the butter begins to turn a light tan color and smells slightly nutty, turn off the heat and let the butter sit. It will continue to darken as it sits.

While the butter cools, sift the confectioner’s sugar into a medium bowl. Whisk in the milk until completely smooth but thick, then slowly whisk in the butter. Taste the glaze and add a few drops of lemon juice to balance the sweetness. Stir in the toasted almonds. Spread the almonds and glaze onto the top and sides of the cake and let it sit until set and dry.

Chocolate in the morning.

I’m guessing that no one needs another post about Molly’s french chocolate granola—the recipe that spread like wildfire through the blogging world last spring.  I remember reading it and thinking—oh, my, god—and promptly bookmarking it.  Then, as these things do, I forgot all about it and continued to make do with store-bought granola.

But this weekend, with quitting my job and the consequential worrying about money, store-bought granola suddenly seems an extravagance, as well as (so I’ve learned) down-right silly.  Store-bought granola doesn’t hold a candle to homemade, especially when it’s made with high-quality chocolate.  This chocolate granola, adapted just slightly from Molly’s, makes the perfect breakfast; it’s hardly sweet, with an undercurrent of bittersweet chocolate that echoes caffeine.  It calls to me wake up while at the same time rubbing my back, soothingly, telling me to pamper myself, to eat chocolate in the morning.

So that’s my plan.  I’m going to eat chocolate, in the form of granola, every day while I am in this transition period—while I sort out a few things and decide what’s on my horizon.  But to be honest, I don’t think I’ll stop eating it… ever.

Molly’s Chocolate Granola

adapted from Orangette

  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • ½ cup raw almonds
  • ½ cup raisins
  • ½ cup, or more, finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
  • Pinch of salt
  • 6 Tbsp. mild honey
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

In a large bowl, combine the oats, almonds, raisins, chocolate, and salt. Stir well to blend.

In a small saucepan, warm the honey and oil over low heat, whisking occasionally  until the honey is loose. Pour over the dry ingredients, and stir to combine well.

Spread the mixture evenly on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden. Set a timer to go off halfway through the baking time, so that you can give the granola a good stir; this helps it to cook evenly. When it’s ready, remove the pan from the oven, stir well – this will keep it from cooling into a hard, solid sheet – and cool completely.

When cool, transfer the granola to a large bowl, storage jar, or zipper-lock plastic bag.

Double-Vanilla Pound Cake

I have two bonafide comfort foods: roast chicken and vanilla (not together, though I recently spied a recipe with both).  Either are liable to stop my tears when I’m crying, or calm me out of a panic.  Comforting in a different kind of way than chocolate or soup is—not sick day comforting, or got the blues comforting—but a in-serious-need-of-a-life-change-and-a-hug comforting.

As some of you know, I’ve been needing just that lately.  A big life change has hit me unannounced and I’m still settling into it.  It’s nothing serious, or life-threatening; it may actually be positive in the end.  But for now, I need comfort.  Comfort in the form of double-vanilla pound cake.

This pound cake, from my new favorite baking book, is intensely vanilla.  Not too sweet, the vanilla doesn’t become cloying—like so many packaged sweets and soft-drinks; no, it’s the flavor, the beany, earthy, fragrant sweetness of vanilla that defines this cake.  It’s scattered with black specks of the real thing and vanilla extract sits sweetly in the background.

I’m sad to say that I overcooked the cake by a few minutes (stressful days can do that to you) and it was a touch too tough.  The flavor was all there though, so I couldn’t keep my mouth shut about it here.  I’ll surely make it again.  Everytime I need a hug.

Double-Vanilla Pound Cake

makes one loaf

from Cindy Mushet’s The Art & Soul of Baking

  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 ½ sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (7 ounces) sifted cake flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¹/3 (3 ounces) sour cream, at room temperature
  • Preheat the oven to 350ºF and position an oven rack in the center.  Lightly coat a loaf pan with butter, oil, or high-heat canola oil spray and fit it with parchment paper to extend up both long sides to the top of the pan.

    Place the sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Use a paring knife to split the vanilla bean lengthwise, then turn the knife over and use the dull edge to scrape the seeds into the sugar.  (Save the pod for another use.)  Blend on low speed until the seeds are evenly dispersed.  Add the butter and beat n medium-high until the mixture is very light—almost white000in color, 4 to 5 minutes.  Scrape down the bowl with the spatula.

    Beat the eggs with the vanilla in a small bowl.  With the mixer running on medium speed, add the eggs to the butter mixture aout 1 tablespoon at a time, allowing each addition to completely blend in before adding the next.  About halfway though turn off the mixer and scrape down the bowl, then continue adding the eggs.  Scrape down the bowl again.

    With a fine-mesh strainer, sift the cake flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl and whisk together.  With the mixer on the lowest speed, add the flour mixture and sour cream alternatively, beginning with one-third of the flour mixture and half the sour cream, repeat, then finish with the flour mixture.  Scrape down the bowl and finish blending the batter by hand.

    Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Baked for 45 to 55 minutes, until firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Transfer to a rack to cool completely.  When cool, remove from the pan, peel off the parchment paper, and serve.

    Printable Recipe

    Cilantro, my love.

    These Parsi-style scrambled eggs are what I like to call a “Jimmy Dish.”  It’s just what my man loves: golden-yolked, farm-fresh eggs, jalapeno, a dash of dairy, and lots and lots of cilantro.  He found the recipe in Saveur magazine a few days after I got laid up with a bad back. I could tell by the look on his face that cilantro was involved. My boyfriend is obsessed with the herb.

    Not that I don’t share his enthusiasm; you won’t catch me in the “anti-cilantro community.” I love the pungent quality of its delicate leaves.  Cilantro’s bright, citrusy taste reminds me a bit of fennel without too much distinct licorice flavor.  I love cilantro.  Always have.  And I guess I’m a tad bitter that, when Jim came into my life, he laid claim to it.  I had thought I loved cilantro just as much—no, more!—than the average Joe.  And, since I’d spent more time in Southern California than most of my New Jersey friends, I thought I was entitled to be cilantro’s #1.  But no.  Jimmy thinks he’s a hot rock because he spent a whole year in Southern California shooting meth and—more importantly—eating burrito after burrito just teeming with cilantro.

    Well, big whoop.  I’m here tonight to reclaim cilantro with these eggs.  Even if Jim found the recipe first.  And even though he actually cooked these eggs while I took pictures—the green guy’s mine.

    So, now that that’s established, let me take a deep breath and tell you about the eggs.  Jalapeno gives enough heat to snap at your tongue every few bites while the eggs and cream keep that heat in check.  Roma tomatoes allow for this to be made year-round, and you won’t even notice their lack of flavor.  And the cilantro, well, I think you’ve learned that I have strong feelings there.  The cilantro adds a brightness, it practically shines through the yellow eggs.

    We like to mix in the cilantro stems, finely minced, while we are whisking the eggs and cream together.  The stems are a bit juicer and more flavorful than the leaves, and using them in cooking is a wonderful trick I learned from fellow-cilantro addict Jamie Oliver.  And that guy knows his herbs.

    These are great for breakfast, but I like them for dinner with a big pull of multi-grain bread.  And, of course, lots of cilantro on the side.

    Parsi-style Scrambled Eggs

    (with ungodly amounts of cilantro)

    serves 2-3 hungry people or 4-6 as part of a spread

    adapted from Saveur Magazine, Issue #114

    • 4 tbsp. unsalted butter
    • 1 small white onion, finely chopped
    • 1-2 serrano or jalapeno chiles, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
    • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
    • 2 plum tomatoes, cored and chopped
    • 8 eggs, beaten
    • 1⁄2 cup 1 bunch chopped cilantro leaves and stems
    • 1⁄4 cup heavy cream
    • Kosher salt, to taste

    Melt 3 tbsp. butter in a 12″ nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 10 minutes. Add chiles and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to soften and brown lightly, about 3 minutes. Add remaining butter and tomatoes; cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes release their juices, about 6 minutes.

    Add eggs, cilantro stems, cream, and kosher salt. Reduce heat to medium and slowly cook the eggs, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until soft curds form and the eggs just set, about 6 minutes.

    Transfer eggs to a platter. Sprinkle remaining cilantro over eggs and serve hot, with toast.

    Voilà… a pumpkin bread with prunes steeped in orange tea.

    This pumpkin bread is dotted with prunes that were steeped in Mighty Leaf Orange Dulce tea—and before you run away thinking The nerve! This chick wants me to go out and buy Mighty Leaf Orange Dulce tea for a stinkin’ pumpkin bread recipe give me a chance to explain my case.

    This pumpkin bread is worth every penny you spend on the tea (and if you buy it loose-leaf by the pound, it actually isn’t expensive.)  It’s warm but bright and citrusy.  There’s cinnamon, allspice, orange zest, and pumpkin.  It’s orange and purple, which is totally cool.  It’s different from any other pumpkin bread.  And better, in my opinion.

    I made it this weekend, but it’s been brewing in my brain for a while.  I wanted to bake a pumpkin bread but didn’t want the same ol’ thing… and it was early morning on a gloomy Saturday and I sure as hell wasn’t going to get dressed and go shopping.  Prunes were in the pantry.  But prunes?  Kinda boring, no?  So after brainstorming on what I could do with them—didn’t have Armagnac, no brandy—I gave up and decided to have a cup of tea.  And voilà… a pumpkin bread with prunes steeped in orange tea was born.

    Now, you don’t really need to buy Mighty Leaf Orange Dulce tea for this recipe but I can’t take responsibility if it doesn’t taste as mind-blowingly delicious with Lipton.  The Orange Dulce has notes of vanilla, and jasmine—so if you can, buy a tea with that profile.  The tea, which the prunes are steeped in, flavors the whole bread much more than I thought it might.  The bread is almost deceiving in all it’s flavors—one thinks ones getting a plain ol’ pumpkin bread but is surprised at the floral quality, the bright orange.  I gave a piece to Jim—not telling him what was in it—and he spent a long time guessing at “that wonderful background flavor” before I told him about the tea and orange zest.

    So.  Since we’re a few weeks into the season and you may have baked your fill of pumpkin breads by now—but you still can’t stop the pumpkin season feeling—try this bread.  It’s easy to make but it tastes far from easy. The recipe also yields two loaves.  Put one in the freezer for when you get stuck with relatives during the holidays.  Or you can just nosh on the two loafs for the next two weeks—this bread has a long shelf life since it is super-moist from the pumpkin puree.  Jim (my ex-meth-addict author of a boyfriend) got off 5 years probation on Friday and I plan to serve this bread as a warm comforting Sunday breakfast to the guests who’ve stayed over at our big Jim-Got-Off-Probation-And-We’re-Spit-Roasting-a-Lamb! Party. Should be a blast—Jim and I were planning to go on a heist or commit some crime like that—but his parent’s convinced us to stay home and roast a lamb.  It’s not illegal, but I guess we’ve gone 5 years abstaining from crime—why not another weekend?  (Totally kidding about all of that, Mom.)

    Hope you are enjoying your weekend and not getting put on probation!

    Pumpkin and Prune Tea Bread

    makes 2 loaves

    • 3 cups flour
    • 1 tsp baking soda
    • 1 scant tsp ground clove
    • 1 generous tsp ground cinnamon
    • 1 tsp ground nutmeg (freshly ground if you can)
    • 1/2 tsp salt
    • 2 1/2 cups sugar
    • 1 cup vegetable oil
    • 3 eggs
    • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
    • zest of 1/2 orange
    • 16 ounces (1 can) pumpkin puree
    • 12 prunes steeped in Mighty Leaf Orange Dulce tea (or any other orange-black tea)

    Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Grease and flour two loaf pans.

    Sift flour, baking soda, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.

    Combine sugar and oil and beat with a handmixer or in a stand mixer for about 2 minutes, until well combined and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating all the while, 3 to 5 minutes in total.  Add pumpkin, and orange zest and beat one minute more.

    Add flour mixture in 3 additions.  Once mixed, divide batter between the two loaf pans.

    Drain prunes.  Without drying, add the prunes to the top of the breads.  Make sure to bruise them up a little (without pulling them to pieces) so the juice runs out and into the batter.

    Bake for 60-70 minutes, checking that a toothpick comes out clean when done.

    Gingerbread to get me through.

    I’ve been bedridden since Monday and probably will have to stay put for another day or two—I had another epidural steroid shot this week and man, oh, man I do not fare well with those shots.  I can’t stand up straight, can’t lie anyways but flat on my back, and certainly can’t cook.

    I’m thankful, however, for a few things that are getting me through it all: Jimmy has been wonderful–waiting on me hand and foot.  And to stop from being insanely bored, I spent a lot of time futzing around with the HTML of the site and am quite pleased with the new Caviar and Codfish layout (please let me know what you think!).  Then there’s the handful of recipe posts that I’ve got sitting on the back burner, just waiting to be written and the photos to be uploaded.  These posts (along-with a few Tivo’d cooking shows—Jamie at Home, Mexico: One Plate at a Time—that I haven’t had the time to watch until now) should keep me busy.  And finally, there’s gingerbread.  I knew that after my shot, the chances of being laid out were pretty great, so I made sure to bake something this weekend.  And something is right.  This gingerbread is warm, spicy, and not too sweet—the perfect treat to get me through.

    While this gingerbread is certainly healing, I can also imagine it for a sophisticated tea-party treat.  Less sweet than your holiday gingerbread, using only a small amount of brown sugar and molasses, this cake focuses more on buttery moistness and its dominating fresh ginger flavor. The pear to use in this cake should be firm but fragrant, so it keeps its shape while baking but also has a sweet pear taste.  Pair it with a nice oolong, break out your good tea set, and you’ve got the blueprint for a perfect, breezy autumn afternoon.

    Dark Gingerbread Pear Cake

    Makes one 9-in cake//from Gourmet, October ’08

    Anyone notice the picture of this cake in Gourment Magazine?  It was a flat cake with the pear bits on the bottom – not how the cake comes out when made according to the magazine’s directions.  What’s up with that?  Am I missing something?

    • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1 stick unsalted butter
    • 1/4 cup water
    • 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
    • 1/2 cup molasses (not robust or blackstrap)
    • 3 large eggs
    • 1/4 cup grated peeled ginger
    • 1 Bosc pear

    Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan, knocking out excess. Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, and salt. Melt butter with water.

    Beat together brown sugar and molasses with an electric mixer until combined. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well. Beat in flour mixture at low speed until just combined. Add butter mixture and ginger, beating just until smooth. Pour into cake pan.

    Peel pear and cut into 3/4-inch pieces. Scatter over batter. Bake until a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Cool slightly.

    Tastes like home.

    I don’t normally post the “old stand-bys,” the banana breads and blueberry muffins that all cooks have snug in their oldest recipe boxes. I figure we all have our favorite recipe, or method, for making these foods, so why throw my version in and muck everything up?

    That’s not to say I don’t love reading about them on other blogs. Whenever I see a banana bread or simple blueberry muffin I remember that it’s high time I make some again. These posts are my gentle reminders, telling me that I’ve gotten too caught-up with newfangled, out of the ordinary recipes. I’ve lost track of the foods that are simply needed if you want a warm, cozy home.

    Zucchini bread brings me home. Just one whiff of the baking bread zips me back to my mom’s kitchen, where my sisters broke eggs and I begrudgingly measured flour (I wasn’t a cook back then, though I loved to eat) and my mother helped us read the recipe from her big old cookbook.

    I loved zucchini bread… I still do. The combination of cinnamon and clove remains my favorite for baking. It shouts family, holidays, sitting around the kitchen—love. I was amazed when I realized that I’d never baked it for Jim. Me, with all my domestication and home-cooked meals, the frilly aprons that I wear when cooking to feel more 50’s housewife, my nurturing need to feed him.

    Maybe I wanted to keep my childhood memory to myself. Maybe, living too far from my sisters and mother to see them often enough, I felt like I needed to horde away my treasured thoughts of them—I wasn’t going to share.

    Then I came to my senses. How silly of me! Every man (or woman) should, at least once, come home to a freshly baked loaf of zucchini bread, made by someone they love. Everyone should experience this dense, moist loaf, warm with the scent of cinnamon and clove and flecked with little green bits of summer. The crisp, sugary crust should be bitten into by every single person on this earth, because it’s that good.

    There’s a reason why it’s a old favorite.

    Zucchini Bread

    makes one loaf

    • ½ cup buttermilk*
    • ¼ cup vegetable oil
    • 1 ½ cups sugar
    • 3 eggs
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla
    • 2 cups grated zucchini (about 1 large or 2 small)
    • 2 cups AP flour
    • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • ¼ teaspoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • ¾ teaspoon ground clove
    • 1 cup golden raisins

    Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9-by-4 inch loaf pan. Combine buttermilk, oil, and sugar in a medium bowl or your stand-mixer workbowl and whisk until light-colored and fluffy, a few minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla and whisk a few minutes more (it will seem very liquidy now, that’s okay). Fold in the zucchini.

    In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, powder, salt, cinnamon, and clove. Stir to combine. Mix the raisins into the flour then combine everything with the wet mixture. Stir until completely combined, but no more.

    Pour batter into loaf pan. Bake for about an hour, or maybe 70 minutes, or until the top is firm and a toothpick comes out clean. Let the loaf cool in the pan for a bit before turning it out onto your counter. Enjoy with a cup of tea and some smooching.

    *I use buttermilk to lighten up the batter but if you don’t have it, you can substitute oil in its place, using 3/4 cup oil for the recipe.

    Seeduction.

    I always admire those bloggers who give us two-part posts about foods. They show us something—a sauce, some ice cream—and tell us that it went so well with…something, but we’ll hear about that tomorrow. And then the next day, right on cue, we get the perfectly paired pasta, or chocolate cake. I really admire that.

    For me, I can’t think that far ahead. I made that cherry jam the other day, ate a few spoonfuls, and then stuck it in the fridge door. I had made it because I was afraid my cherries would go bad, I didn’t have what to do with it in mind. And then I effectively forgot all about it.

    Yesterday, for a completely unrelated reason, I went about making a seed bread. There’s a bread from Whole Foods that Jim and I buy weekly called “Seeduction” bread. Besides blushing whenever I have to order it from the nice, portly employee in the bread section, I’m beginning to hate buying this bread for the cost. It’s about 6 dollars for a medium sized loaf. What with my accident, and all the money I’ve been spending to get better lately, that’s a lot of money for a bread that usually goes stale before the two of us can finish it. But don’t get me wrong, it’s good bread—chewy, wholesome, very tasty—and I don’t mind paying for quality food. Well, at least I don’t mind paying for quality food that I otherwise don’t want to (or can’t) make myself. I’ll pay loads for a good chocolate or coffee, or cheese. But I don’t spend my money on chicken stocks, sauces, or prepared foods. I make these things myself, for a fraction of the price, and they taste better than store-bought.

    That got me thinking—why not make my own “Seeduction” bread? Surely it’d be sexier for me, rather than that nice, portly gentleman, to present Jim with the “Seeduction.” But I’d always shied away from making my own whole-grain bread because of some gut-feeling that it couldn’t be done without a kitchen-aid mixer. I never, however, looked far enough to figure out the truth. Whole-grain breads are easily, wonderfully made in a food processor. The blade of the processor has enough “umpha” to work the dough, kneading it further than my puny arms could take. It takes all of a few minutes. The result is a hearty, soft in the middle, seed-riddled bread that could easily pass for an entire lunch-time meal. And, like icing on the cake, it is the perfect bread to slather cherry jam all over. The sweet, dark jam is a match made in paradise with the earthy bread. I wish I could take credit for planning that in advance. But I’ll settle for the happy surprise.

    Seeduction Bread

    makes 2 round loafs//adapted from The Bread Bible by Beth Hensperger

    • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
    • 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast (one packet)
    • 1/4 cup honey
    • 2 3/4 cups bread flour
    • 1 cup whole wheat flour
    • 1/2 cup couscous or bulgur or cracked wheat
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
    • 1/4 cup sunflower oil
    • 1 cup cool water
    • 1 cup raw sunflower seeds
    • 3 tablespoons poppy seeds
    • 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons raw pumpkin seeds

    Pour lukewarm water into a 2-cup measure and sprinkle with yeast. Mix in honey and let sit for about 10 minutes, so it gets foamy.

    Put flours, couscous and salt in the bowl of your food processor and pulse to combine them. Pour the sunflower oil and cool water into the yeast mixture and then, while the processor is running, pour everything through the feed tube of your food processor lid in a slow and steady stream. Let it run until the dough stops sticking to the outside walls of the processor and forms a ball. Add a teaspoon or two of water if it’s not sticky enough to form the ball, or flour if it looks too wet. Let the processor run for another minute to knead the dough.

    Remove the dough ball to a greased bowl and flip it once so all sides of the dough get a little greased. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm spot for 2 hours.

    Line a baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat mat. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface. Knead the dough a few times and form into a large oval. Sprinkle with the seeds (reserving 3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds) and fold in half. Knead the dough so that you distribute the seeds evenly. Divide the dough into two and form tight round balls. Coarsly chop the remaining pumpkin seeds and roll the tops of the dough balls in them. (You could substitute poppy seeds here.) Place on the baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise for 45 minutes to an hour.

    Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Bake the breads on the center rack for 35 minutes, or until they are golden and sound hollow when tapped. Cool before slicing.

    Pan de Muerto

    That I am not a religious person is an understatement. I’m not a lapsed follower, a confused agnostic, or spiritual in any way that involves more that a belief in the Earth, science, and Nature. I am 100% atheist and very comfortable being so.

    So, I don’t believe we go anywhere after we die (though, yes, I know, I can’t actually prove it) and I pay no mind to the thought of Heaven or Hell. That said, I do have immense respect for the dead, those we knew personally and our ancestors, as well as the affect of the dead on the living. The emotional rollercoaster we ride when faced with a loved one’s death is life-changing, and the ability of the living to keep on living after this happens is worthy of celebration. Celebrating our lives in the face of death, the lives of those who’ve come to pass, and the lives of the ancestors who gave us our rich history is not a strictly religious ideal, but more of a human one (though hey, animals mourn too).

    Rituals celebrating the dead have gone on for thousands of years, and the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico trace back to the Mayan and Olmec civilizations. The Day of the Dead celebrations on November 1 and 2 are a way for people to pay respects to the dead—decorating graves and making delicious offerings. Everyone who likes to cook knows how great it feels to give food to loved ones, so why not deceased loved ones? By offering the deceased the food that you put your sweat and tears into (not literally!), you get to benefit from that warm, fuzzy feeling.

    There are a few traditional foods used for offerings at the celebrations (and lots of traditional liquors), including sugar skulls and Pan de Muerto. Skulls have long been used as a festive and celebratory symbol of the dead, like in the floor mosaics of Pompeii, and weren’t always the scary Halloween-or-poison symbols that we have today. Pan de Muerto, “Bread of the Dead,” is a semi-sweet bread, sometimes decorated with skulls, or formed into a skull and bone shape. Anise almost always flavors the bread, and some recipes, like this one, call for orange.

    Pan de Muerto

    This bread, which uses a lot of flour, goes perfectly with coffee or tea, and I imagine orange marmalade would be quite wonderful on it as well.

    Makes 2 small loaves.

    • 2 T anise seeds
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 2 T grated orange zest
    • 1/2 ounce (2 packages) active dry yeast
    • 3/4 tsp salt
    • 5 cups flour, plus extra for work surface
    • 1 1/2 sticks (12 T) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
    • 4 egg yolks plus 2 eggs, lightly beaten together
    • 1 or 2 of the egg whites for brushing loaves
    • 1/2 tsp vegetable, corn, or canola oil

    In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, bring 2 tablespoons anise seeds and 3/4 cup water to a boil. Remove, cover, and let sit about 10 minutes. Pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer, reserving the water and the seeds.*

    Meanwhile beat the sugar and zest until sugar is moistened, about 30 seconds. Add the 2 tablespoons of drained anise seeds, yeast, salt, and 3 cups of flour, and beat to mix, about 30 seconds. Add the reserved anise water and melted butter and beat (not vigorously) until incorporated, about 45 seconds. Add the yolks and beaten eggs and beat until incorporated and dough is sticky, about 1 minute. Slowly add the remaining 2 cups of flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until fully incorporated.

    Lightly dust a work surface with flour, turn the dough (along with any scraps at the bottom of the bowl) onto it, and knead for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Coat the interior of a large mixing bowl with oil, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil, cover loosely, and place in a warm, draft-free spot. Let rise until it doubles in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

    Lightly dust a work surface with flour, turn the dough onto it, punch down, and divide into 2 equal pieces. Shape the dough into 2 round balls and use the heel of your hand to flatten into disks about 2 inches thick. Place the disks as far apart as possible on a large baking sheet. Cover the loaves loosely and place in a warm, draft-free spot. Let rise until they double in size, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

    In a small bowl beat the reserved egg white with 2 teaspoons water and brush all over the loaves. Bake at 375º, rotating the baking sheet halfway through, until the loaves are well-browned and crusty, 25 to 30 minutes. Place the bread on a wire rack and cool to just warm or room temperature before slicing. Serve up on your most beloved gravestone—or just eat it all yourself, in celebration of those underground (I’m sure they won’t mind!)

    Optional: Mix 3-4 T of sugar with 1/2 T of ground cinnamon. Paint 2 T of melted butter over loaves and then sprinkle with the cinnamon-sugar. Hey, it’s sweet bread, right, so why not go all out!?

    *If you don’t like the anise seeds in the bread, boil them in water to make the anise-flavored water and then discard the drained seeds. You’ll still have the (though a bit subtler) flavor of anise.

    My First Bread: Wheatgerm Bread

    I am a proud non-owner of a Kitchen-Aid Mixer.

    Okay, not really. But I am a proud non-owner of a Kitchen-Aid Mixer who decided that she will attempt her first bread without said Mixer and now she feels very accomplished and skillful and has since gotten rid of that monkey on her back who kept whispering that she needed a Kitchen-Aid Mixer to feel complete as a cook.

    See, I’ve yearned to bake my first bread for a while now. The thing was, I thought I needed a mixer, because all of the recipes for bread that I knew of called for (or just assumed you were using) one. I never brought it up with other bread-makers I know (Mom, Nana) so I had no idea how easy it is to make hand-made bread. And then three things happened:

    1. I realized that I am not, and will not in the near future be, able to afford a Kitchen-Aid Mixer, and I do not, for the time-being, want to compromise with a lesser model.

    2. I bought two cookbooks, The Cook’s Book, and The Art of Handmade Bread, which had recipes that didn’t involve mixers and a ton of instructional pictures.

    3. I spoke with my mom, who laughed and told me bread is very easy to make.

    So, here it is. And I am so freakin’ proud of myself. I’ve been slicing off pieces all week, and while I made this last Saturday, it is still springy and fresh tasting today. I know exactly what went into this bread, I know how healthy it is for me, and I know how long it has been on this earth. I didn’t pick this up off a dusty shelf. It doesn’t contain bleach or whatever makes white bread white. It’s mine. All mine.

    And yours, too, if you want to make it:

    Wheatgerm Bread

    from The Art of Handmade Bread

    Time: 30 minute prep, 2-6 hour rise, 45 min bake

    • 1½ oz. whole-wheat grain, with water to cover
    • ¾ cup toasted wheatgerm
    • 3½ cups whole-wheat bread flour
    • ¾ tsp fine sea salt
    • 1½ cups water at 68ºF
    • ¼ cup orange juice at 68ºF
    • 2 Tbsp honey
    • 1¾ tsp fresh yeast, crumbled
    1. Place whole-wheat grains in a small saucepan, cover with water and simmer for 30 minutes, adding water as it evaporates. Remove from heat, add cold water to the pan to cool grains then drain through a fine-mesh seive.
    2. Put flour, salt, and toasted wheatgerm in a large mixing bowl. In another bowl mix the water, o.j., and honey, and stir in crumbled yeast and cooked grains from step 1. When yeast has dissolved, add liquid to dry ingredients and mix with your hands. Dough will be very sticky and you’ll have doughy hands, but don’t worry about that! When evenly combined, cover the bowl and leave for 5 minutes.
    3. Meanwhile, grease and flour a bread loaf baking pan. Then rub 1 tsp of corn or olive oil on your kneading work surface. Remove dough from bowl and knead for 10 to 20 seconds. Form into a ball, put back into bowl, cover, and leave for 5 minutes. Repeat kneading, cover, and leave for another 5 minutes. Repeat kneading again, cover, and leave for 10 minutes.
    4. After 10 minutes, pat the dough into a rectangular shape measuring roughly 10″ left toright and 8″ front to back. Roll the dough inward, starting at the end furthest away from you, rolling as tightly as you can. Tap the ends inward and drop into your greased pan.
    5. Cover with a cloth and place pan in a warm place (I used my laundry cabinet, above the washer). Check on it in about 1 and ½ hours. It took mine 6 hours, but when the dough rises ½ inch above the pan’s edges. use a sharp knife to cut several diagonal slashes in your dough and then bake in an oven preheated to 425ºF for about 45 minutes or until browned.