Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I Missed My Bran Muffins

Update 3/30/08: Here's the thing about baked goods without much fat (preferably animal)... they don't keep that well. These tasted good for about 24 hours. Charitably, 36. After that they just tasted kind of... eh. And then they started to grow green whiskers. I think my preferred everyday-type breakfast bread is now my mom's Date and Nut bread. Recipe to come shortly. And I'll probably continue to tinker with the muffins. Maybe they can be frozen and baked to order...

Original Post:
Ever since my run-in with the nutritional info in the Starbucks Bran Muffin, I've been avoiding them, and I've missed the nice nutty breakfast-y thing to go with my occasional cup of morning coffee. A couple of recipes for low-fat bran muffins from various sources that I can't remember (and so shall undeservedly remain nameless) resulted in vile, vile little glop pellets.

Those of you who will judge me for using margarine (no matter how chi-chi, organic and appropriately omega-3 balanced) or egg-replacer need to just stop reading right now. We both know who you are. Yeah, I know they're processed foods. They're most definitely not "whole". But whatever. I had egg replacer and Earth Balance Buttery Sticks in my house because of some vegan baking I'd been doing for friends. And it's actually fine. You have to choose your applications, but in this case, with all kinds of other flavors going on, it's just not going to be an issue. In a situation where their function is primarily baking chemistry, that is, to get the texture of the muffin to turn out right, and the flavor is primarily concerned with the nuttiness of the grains and the kick of the ginger and spices (not to mention the nice lemony undertone) the lack of real buttery goodness is much less of an issue than it would otherwise be in, say, blueberry muffins.

That being said, if you don't do much vegan baking, and you want to add an egg, 1/12 of an egg actually doesn't add much cholesterol (17-20 mg) or saturated fat to your morning muffin. 1/4 cup of butter instead of the Buttery Sticks would add more saturated fat (1.3 g) and cholesterol (10mg) to each. Using both would just give you a little bit less flexibility throughout the rest of the day, and one of the whole points of the better bran muffin was not to have to skip dessert because you had a bran muffin for breakfast. It's about choosing your battles, people. Buttery Sticks where you won't taste 'em and they don't really matter so you can have the nice creme fraiche-enriched pan sauce for dinner.

I compared a lot of muffin recipes (because I didn't want these to end up in the trash). Delores Casella's A World of Breads (now out of print but available used from Amazon) had a great section on building your own muffin recipe. She had an idea about substituting nut butter for part of the butter, which I think worked really well.

Anyway... these are really good by any muffin standard. I might cut down the sugar next time.

1/2 cup Bob's Red Mill 8 Grain Cereal
1 cup Lowfat Yogurt
1/2 cup 1% Milk

3/4 cup Whole Almonds

1 cup White Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 cup Wheat Germ
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Salt

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) Butter or Earth Balance Buttery Sticks
1 cup Brown Sugar (firmly packed)
1 Egg or Egg Replacer
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 tsp Nutmeg
1 tbsp Vanilla
Zest of 1 Lemon

1/2 cup Crystallized Ginger (small pieces)
1/2 cup Dried Fruit (I used Bing cherries)

Preheat oven to 400. (Don't forget, because you don't want your muffins sitting around once the baking powder/soda has been activated by the wet ingredients.)

1. Add the 8 Grain Cereal to the yogurt and milk and mix around. Let it sit and get soft while you're doing the other stuff.

2. Toast the almonds. Optional but tasty. I put them on a little cookie sheet in my toaster oven on "medium toast" but you could also put them in the oven on 375-400 for about 5 minutes. You really need to watch them so they don't burn.

3. While they're toasting, combine the dry ingredients (wheat flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder) except the wheat germ (which you're going to toast and then add to the dry ingredients... again, optional).

3. Put the almonds in the Cuisinart, and get them as close to butter as you can. Mine mostly just got really finely ground. Not a big deal. Then add the butter/y sticks and beat it with the almonds for 30 seconds or so. Then add the brown sugar... another 15 seconds or so. Then the egg/replacer, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and lemon zest... couple of pulses til mixed.

3. Toast the wheat germ (same deal as the almonds, but for about half the time). Add to the dry ingredients. Add the ginger and fruit to the dry ingredients.

4. Add the almond stuff to the yogurt and cereal and mix.

5. Add the wet and dry ingredients and mix just until all the dry ingredients are wet.

6. Divide among 12 lined muffin tins. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. (Don't be tempted to underbake.)

Nutritional Info (calculated by nutritionsource.com):
Calories: 282
Fat: 8.8 g
Saturated Fat: 1.5 g
Cholesterol: 2mg
Sodium: 224 mg
Carbohydrate: 46g
Dietary Fiber: 4.4g
Sugars: 28.9g
Protein: 6.5g
Calcium: 11%
Iron: 9%

MUCH better than Starbucks (and, of course, tastier). And definitely better than a quarter pounder.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Adventures in Panettone

I guess I'm now sufficiently recovered from the holidays and caught up with work to FINALLY brain dump about all the panettone goings-on that led up to Christmas morning. (Also the debut of PICTURES! I'm still getting the hang of the whole taking pictures of food thing, so bear with me.) I've been making panettone at Christmas for about 7 or 8 years now, generally using a recipe from an old Cucina Italia. It's always been spectacularly delicious (mounds of egg, butter, rum, candied fruit... what more do you need to know, right?) but it's also always been a bit dense, reluctant to rise, unhappy at being retarded in the fridge overnight (cause you gotta have warm panettone on Christmas morning, apparently) and, more than once, returned to the oven in a panic after finding the middle wasn't done.

Obviously this couldn't go on.

Two or three years ago, I actually embarked on my adventures in sourdough bread baking (I'll post those too, maybe, when I feel like I've worked out some of the kinks) when I read about natural yeast panettone in Peter Reinhardt's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. Hey, I wanted "world class" panettone, too. But I spent a couple of frustrating Octobers in a row failing miserably to get a starter started in my apartment (while succeeding beyond my wildest dreams in getting said apartment to smell like baby puke). And then early last year, I ordered some starter from King Arthur, and my sourdough bread baking odyssey began. Then I saw the pandoro from Bruno's Bakery (now Settepani) in Brooklyn in Maggie Glezer's Artisan Baking... more inspiration. I sought guidance on TheFreshLoaf.com and Susan over at WildYeastBlog came through big time with a spectacularly detailed and illustrated post about making outstanding panettone (follow the link for the recipe I used). Yay Susan! Thanks again!

In the meantime, I'd asked my sister, who conveniently lives in Brooklyn, for "research loaves" of panettone and pandoro from Settepani. She came through, too. We tore into the panettone and the pandoro a couple of weekends before Christmas while on a family holiday-visiting tour of New England. (The fact that we, four adult people stuffed into a Toyota Camry for an entire 4-day weekend with what seemed like several months worth of luggage, did not just flat out kill each other, must, in part, be due to the outrageous deliciousness of this panettone.) Sorry about the dark picture.

The Settepani panettone was rich and fragrant with lovely open crumb structure and a distinct chew. Mine (previewing here for a moment), following Susan's instructions was anything but dense, and SO airy as to almost melt in your mouth. Two rather distinct categories of bread, really. Since I was so obsessed with getting it to lighten up, it's a little odd that, for what I think of as panettone, I preferred Settepani's more substantial loaf. Maybe it's just force of habit and all those years of dense-but-yummy have ruined me for the airy goodness of the new version. Though how I'd copy it, I'm not quite sure... maybe a drier dough, I think. A quest for next October/November, clearly.

Settepani's pandoro (left) was quite something as well, airy-er than the panettone, but, texture-wise, still another thing entirely from what I made this year (or in previous years). Definite ropy texture and a lovely buttery flavor with a very faint almost almond-y or nutty undertaste (though there aren't any nuts in the recipe).

So, inspired by Settepani's masterpieces (and desperately craving more buttery goodness) the moment of truth came on Christmas Eve. I had been hard at work turning my liquid starter into a firm "Italian" (or, maybe more accurately, Italianate) starter according to Susan's instructions. I've experimented a bit with firm starters and Maggie Glezer says they're supposed to quadruple in 4-8 hours or less. It always had before. But, just to be difficult, it was only doubling... and a half, or so. I briefly considered going the yeasted route, but decided to brazen it out. (Thank you again, Susan and Dolf for answering panicked posts on CHRISTMAS EVE!) And it worked really, really well.

A couple of things I did differently from Susan's recipe:
--Based on a recommendation in the Settepani pandoro recipe, I decided to use high-gluten flour (ie, beyond regular bread flour) so I used King Arthur's Organic High Gluten Flour, which I'd ordered from their website. And, man, this stuff was high-protein. But the downright weirdest thing about this (very, very wet) dough was that it had this texture sort of like the green slime that used to come in plastic eggs when I was a kid. Straight offa Nickelodeon, being dumped on someone's head. And I could feel the little cells of bread... little bubbles that popped in my fingers as I touched it. I don't know whether regular bread flour would have had this effect or not, but, anyway, it was fun at the time.

--Along with some of the water (I used about 1/3 to 1/2 of the liquid specified) I did add the rum the fruit had been soaking in. The yeasties (natural and SAF Gold) had already been giving off a boozy aura all on their own... like their little office Holiday party gone a little bit too far... but once I added the rum, it started to smell a bit like, well, cleaning up the morning after the party, when you find all the half-finished bottles of beer and melted frozen fruity drinks abandoned and beginning to take on their own funk. I was a little worried. But once it baked, it definitely had the nice rummy, buttery, rich flavor I was craving, so all's well that ends well.

--I didn't really decorate them. I also realized too late that I was out of razor blades. I considered going into a CVS, just to see what would happen when I walked up to the checkout counter late on Christmas Eve with nothing but a packet of straight-edged razor blades, but, fortunately or unfortunately, the opportunity didn't arise. I made do with a reasonably sharp knife, but I don't think the technique of the slash was as important with this bread as it is with regular sourdough bread.

--I added about 100g more fruit than Susan's recipe. It didn't seem to hurt the height at all. My family still wanted more. (Though, there was this odd effect in which the fruit seemed to hide in the texture of the bread. Like, you'd cut into it, and it wouldn't seem to be a fruity piece, and yet you'd get a mouthful of fruit nevertheless. Oh, it was so good...)

--I also didn't get the diastatic malt powder, so I think you can see how the crust is somewhat paler that it might be otherwise, but still quite nice.

Here they are on Christmas morning, the best present a girl could ask for, unlike in previous years, happily risen above the lip of the paper.

Here they are, cooling on my mom's old Gourmet magazines. Dolf... thanks for the tip about the singed skewers... aluminum foil to the rescue.

I managed to stave off the hungry hordes for about45 minutes before tearing into the first loaf. Didn't seem to hurt it any. I mean, before it was devoured.

I think this bread has the best crumb structure of any I've ever made. I think I've been too casual about gluten development previously. This had the extra boost of the high-protein flour and I also folded twice during the bulk rise, since it seemed so wet and formless.

There you have it, folks. Fantastically satisfying bread event.