Category Archives: Bread, baking and other miracles

Memoir of a muffin

When I tasted my first bran muffin at the corner of College and Bathurst at The Mars, it was a revelation. I was 19, wore a peasant skirt over Kodiak boots and rolled my own cigarettes with Drum tobacco. I thought myself street-wise but was anything but … Just incredibly curious and always, always hungry. Thus, that first ravenous bite into a Mars bran muffin – dark with molasses and dense like black forest cake – is pure gold in my food memory bank.

My boyfriend Bob was also a revelation. Nothing about him resembled where I came from. He hadn’t grown up in North Toronto or gone to Upper Canada College (like my brother, father or grandfather) but he sure knew enough about betting to pique my father’s gambling instincts  and instill a gin rummy playing camaraderie between them.

One summer evening at a family cottage dinner, my stately grandmother innocently asked “And what is it that you do, my dear?” while passing Bob the gravy boat.

“I’m a bookie,” chirped Bob grinning like a cherub, thrilled to make this reveal. Nonnie promptly cleared her throat and my grandfather mumbled “Holy sailor” but no one else asked another word, quickly sweeping this unpleasant news under the nearest carpet.

IMG_2896But back to the muffin. The Mars muffin. It was big, filling and dotted with plump, fat raisins. They were served hot from the oven, sliced in half with a large pat of cold butter wedged inside and fully melted in seconds. Diners, breakfast eggs, take-out baklava and percolated coffee played large in my coming of culinary age. These gigantic muffins were new to diners in the 70s and customers would line up in front of the cash register hoping to leave with half a dozen of these towering –no, glistening – babies stuffed inside a Mars embossed, white cardboard box.

Near that same cash register, along the long, white Formica diner bar, were stools occupied by inner-city characters of dubious distinction. Bob seemed to know them all. They had nicknames like Baldy, Joe the Dipper or Car Fare. Some came “packing” and others had Mafia affiliations following them like shadows.

Bob, being Bob, liked to break away pieces of my W.A.S.P. veneer by unexpectedly pushing me in front of one of these cigar smoking men at the Mars saying, “Hey Dukey, meet my girlfriend Lynn.  She’s a Haver-girl.” I seethed at these embarrassments…  but they didn’t stop me from moving to New York with Bob a year later and attending an Ivy League college while he worked as a bouncer at Studio 54.

IMG_2898But back to the muffins.  I made some today in my West coast kitchen as the rain pelted across a gray, foggy horizon in a day-long deluge. I searched through my baking boxes and pulled out a bag of wheat bran, which now looks oddly old school next to newer fibrous fads like chia, flax or hemp. I found some spelt which adds such friendly nuttiness to any baking equation.

I mixed the dry and wet ingredients in two separate bowls. Quick breads and muffins all like this preparatory segregation with just minimal combining prior to the bake. Crosby’s molasses is a necessary must if you want real tasting bran muffins. And remember to measure the oil in the measuring cup first as prep for the molasses, which will slide out of the measuring cup effortlessly if you do.

Unlike the Mars bran muffin, these ones are good for you: moist, satisfying and rich. I’m willing to place a double-or-nothing bet on Crisco as the trans-fat source of those yesteryear muffins. Yet still, I savour that muffin’s nostalgia and happily munched on all these memories when creating, baking and eating my latest version.

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Banana Bran Muffins

Healthy, fibre-full muffins with a rich, moist texture and just a hint of banana or apple flavour.

Dry Ingredients:

1 ½ cups          wheat bran

¾ cup               all purpose flour

¾ cup               spelt

¾ cup               raisins or chopped dates

1 tsp                 cinnamon

1 tsp                 baking soda

1 tsp                 baking powder

½ tsp                salt

Wet ingredients

2 eggs              mixed

1 cup               mashed, really ripe bananas (about 2 ½) OR unsweetened apple sauce

¾ cup              plain yogurt

½ cup              milk

1/3 cup            molasses

¼ cup              vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 400 F

Mix dry and wet ingredients separately in large bowl.  Combine until just mixed. Use a ¼ cup measure to dollop into large paper muffin cups. Bake 20 minutes.  Makes 12 large muffins.

 

The saga of a starter

I recently gave some of my sourdough starter to a dinner party guest. I had known Donna only a few hours when I passed her the salad and piped up, “Want some of my starter?”

She just seemed like the kind of lady who I could trust with a living piece of ­­my baking.

Donna had made a splash of an entrance earlier in the evening, ambling up the pathway with an armful of gifts: a two-pound bag of daffodil bulbs she’d arduously dug out of her garden; a spray of wild daisies and sea mist from her fields; and a large fistful of dill that she urged me to dry and re-seed.

The twain had met and I couldn’t stifle the urge to give back.

IMG_7883But that night, after the guests departed and a very full dishwasher rumbled in the kitchen below, I lay sleepless, fearing Donna had left my precious offspring in the trunk of her car, or indoors in a smelly closet, or amid cobwebs in an attic storage room.

I emailed Donna the next morning, very early, nagging with the bossy subject heading, “Feed your sourdough starter”.

I’d barely pushed “send” when my phone rang.

“I fed it,” she reported instantly. “I gave it 3.5 ounces of distilled water and 3.5 ounces of organic white flour. It has some bubbles. What next?”

IMG_8618What Donna should do next is enough to fill a book. I’ve been kneading and mixing and pulling lovely mounds of dough for almost two decades and am still transfixed by the mystery of it all.

Is the starter active and vibrant enough to use? Am I using the right flour? How’s the temperature: Should we rise at room temperature or refrigerate? Does an overnight rise mean 8 or 12 hours? Did I stretch and fold the dough enough?  Am I shaping properly?  Will we get a better rise if I bake in a combo caste-iron cooker or a steamed oven, outfitted with unglazed quarry tiles? Does it matter if I wash my KitchenAid mixer bowl with soap or should I just clean and scrub with hot water? Should the bulk ferment take one and a half hours or three? Is it better if my starter has been kept alive for a decade, or a month?

Baking draws me in like a puzzle and rewards every time.

However, everything, I mean everything, predicates on a live starter. And Donna had to promise me she wouldn’t kill it.

After the first feed, I recommended she wait 24 hours then remove 3.5 ounces of starter, throw out the remainder and feed it with 3.5 ounces each of water and flour in a glass bowl that is big enough to let it grow three to four times in size. Mix it with a fork until smooth and fully dissolved, then cover with plastic wrap. If desired, mark the surface line with a piece of masking tape on the outside of the bowl so that rising progress can be  clearly gauged.

IMG_1093After each feed, Donna will get to know her starter better and better.  She’ll know how many surface bubbles appear, how high it can rise and that critical moment just before it drops and deflates.  After one to three days of consecutive feeding, she will watch her starter grow to its fullest potential within 8 hours. Now it’s ready to use.

I can’t tell Donna exactly when that will happen because temperature, flour and water all affect the outcome. As will the energy she gives – for the baking gods are always about us.

But once it’s ready, she can make a levain. If Donna bakes bread every day, she won’t need a starter because she’ll remove and set aside 1.5 ounces of her levain and use it in the next day’s levain. But that’s unlikely.  Donna has told me she wants to bake only once a week.  That’s why she needs a starter and this recipe.

The rest is all up to the magic of baking .

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50% Red Fife Levain

  • Servings: 2-3 loaves
  • Print

This levain highlights the richness of whole wheat without letting it overtake. Toast it for  breakfast with almond butter and blueberry preserves – bliss!

LEVAIN

8 oz               organic unbleached white

5.2. oz           water (spring is best)

1.3 oz                starter

Mix in a medium glass bowl until a stiff dough forms. Cover with plastic wrap. Ferment at room temp 12 -16 hours.

FINAL DOUGH

1 lb                 red fife or organic whole wheat

8 oz                organic unbleached white

1lb .6 oz         water

2 tbsp             honey

.6 oz                sea salt

Levain minus 1.3 oz (reserve in a small bowl in the fridge).

Put all the ingredients of the final dough in the bowl of a spiral mixer, mix for 3 minutes at first speed, then 3 minutes at second speed. Transfer to a lightly oiled large bowl covering with plastic wrap, or in a plastic tub with a lid.

Bulk fermentation at room temperature 2.5 hours, stretching and folding twice at 50 min intervals. (To stretch and fold, run your hand under cold water and use your wet hand to pull up the dough to as high as it will stretch, then fold over surface, pushing down firmly.  Turn the dough a quarter turn and repeat three times).

Preshape into 2-3 pieces for free form or sandwich loaves. Bench rest 5 min. Place into floured banneton or oiled loaf pans. Put in large plastic bags and close with twist ties.

Refrigerate 5-6 hours.

Preheat oven loaded with dutch ovens (if making banneton loaves) on second from the bottom rack at 500 F for 30 min. Invert bannetons loaves on to parchment-lined baking sheet. Score. VERY carefully place inside hot lidded dutch ovens, bake 20 min, remove lids, reduce to 460 F, bake another 20 min. or until golden brown. For sandwich pans, preheat oven at 460 F for 20 minutes and bake for 35- 40 min. spraying loaves with mister before closing oven door to provide steam.

Buttery Banana Bread

IMG_6129Oh, the trials and tribulations of banana storage! Buy a big bunch and they all reach the right eating ripeness at the same time. There’s that two-day “perfect banana” window, then black dots start to hit those yummy yellow specimens like a rash. Before you know it, you’ve got some sorry, black and withered bananas languishing in the fruit bowl. Continue reading

Make it a pie, mate!

I like to hang with like-minded individuals. Translation: all my friends live to eat – ravenously!  Including my book club buddy and fellow running mate Glennis, who dropped this bomb last week, “My Kiwi friends just opened a bakery.”

She barely finished her sentence before we hightailed over to Wiseys Pies & Bakehouse (874 Eglinton Ave. E. (416) 423-9473).IMG_8672

Truth be told, my expectations were low. I’ve never been a fan of savoury pies (i.e. chicken pot pie), knew nothing about New Zealand baking and was dubious that anything other than speeding TTC buses and barreling semi-trucks could be found at the corner of Eglinton and Laird.

But one look at their spiffy logo and expansive storefront windows and I knew Wiseys meant business (despite opening just a month ago). Glennis and I walked in to their bustling bakery/cafe and were mesmerized by the bounty of it all.

IMG_8640Unlike many independent coffee shops in Riverdale that stock the same old muffins, croissants and scones, Wiseys bakes everything in house and much of it with true Kiwi flare.

Take the Sally Lunn Bun. It’s a sweet dough bun full of sultanas about the size of a personal pizza that’s covered in white or pink icing then dipped in coconut.

“A bunch of blokes will take that out for a smoker,” explains owner/head baker Gary Wise. In other words, this bun is fit for a crowd and enjoyed during work breaks in New Zealand.

Gary, Glennis and Karen.

Gary, Glennis and Karen.

Then there are the pies. As ubiquitous as fish and chips in New Zealand, Wiseys “hand held” take-away personal pies drew a lineup outside their doors at their June 28 opening. A lineup of ex-pat New Zealanders, that is, prompting Gary to shout out “Let the Canadians try one!”

Wife and co-owner Karen Kriese-Wise likes to pull out Wiseys Pie Chart for the uninitiated. IMG_8662Each pie, whether it’s mince (ground beef), steak and mushroom, butter chicken or potato top (there are currently a dozen different varieties) has a unique slash in the pastry to signify what’s underneath. Hand-held pies cost $5 or $6 and family-size, large pies $17.

I chose Thai Green Curry Chicken IMG_8663and fell in love the first mouthful. Emerging warm from the heated display case, my pie had a crisp, golden crust and its rich coconut chicken curry filling made for a spicy, breakfast pick me up.

Glennis ordered the raspberry cream bun and dug into its pillowy, sweetness laden with freshly whipped cream and jam. IMG_8660

Not a coffee drinker, Glennis was lured by Karen’s offer of another Kiwi-invention, a “flat white” which straddles the line between latte and cappuccino. Wiseys use beans from Pilot Coffee Roasters (Tasting Bar at 50 Wagstaff Drive) not only because they are excellent but surprise, fellow New Zealanders are at the helm there, too.

Glennis is picky about the coffee she doesn’t usually drink and loved her flat white, as did I. It didn’t hurt that a crispy little chocolatey cookie comes on every saucer. There’s an extensive list of coffees on the Wiseys’ blackboard including a Long Black, which is Kiwi for an “Americano” and if you’re bringing children, it’s nice to know you can order a “Fluffy” which is frothy hot milk topped with chocolate or sprinkles.IMG_8666

Translations don’t end there. Try an Afghan Biscuit, which is a brown, crisp, cocoa-rich cookie full of corn flakes, or a Lamington. Baker Gary likes to “dress up” his Lamingtons “the posh way” splitting a round sponge cake into two thin layers, filling it with whipped cream, jam and strawberries then blanketing with chocolate ganache.

Chelsea Bun and Saskatoon Berry and White Chocolate Scone

Chelsea Bun and Saskatoon Berry and White Chocolate Scone

Wise is full of ideas and has plans to introduce more to the bakery. He’s got three new pies in the works: Lamb and kumera (the Maori word for sweet potato), beef and dark ale, plus The Popeye: beef, spinach and potato mash. Also coming are fresh artisan breads, sandwiches and a Pavlova for Christmas. He might even bake up some ANSACs, named for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and developed during World War I.

I’ll leave that one to your imagination, or reconnoiter your way over to Wiseys for a live tour.

Breaking West Coast Bread

There are few things I like to do more than visit bakeries. Good bakeries, that is. And I knew Victoria, B.C. was going to oblige.

It all started with this faction of folks I know who all either live in Victoria, or wish they did. They are all foodies. And they keep bragging about Victoria’s great coffee and artisanal bread.

IMG_8339Fol Epi (398 Harbour Rd #101,
(250) 477-8882) was on the top of their list. The French name was unforgettable. Fol means “wild” and epi is a classic, long and narrow loaf shaped like a branching wheat stalk.

“Look for the silo,” advised Victoria resident Kent Green when he heard I was coming into town. “They grind their own flour!”

I never found the silo but I did see the huge stone grinder through the window of this unique destination. Fol Epi is located at Dockside Green, a 15-acre sustainable, LEED-certified development in Victoria’s inner harbour and the perfect venue for this organic bakery where baker Cliff Leir has installed not only a flour mill, but a wood-fired oven.IMG_8338

He’s using only two, organic, Canadian-grown grains at his bakery – Red Fife and rye – yet outputting a large variety of breads including the namesake epi, baguette, boule, rye round, whole wheat, and ciabatta. Not only is Leir grinding flour daily but he is also sifting his Red Fife into a more refined flour suitable for the baguette and ciabatta.IMG_8406Not surprisingly, this chef is a member of Slow Food Canada and while “artisanal” is a label many use with abandon – Leir defines the term. His breads are all leavened with wild yeast (aka natural starter) and often take up to 24 hours to ferment. Humidity and temperature affect these breads immensely. Factor in the fluctuating heat of a wood-fired oven and this becomes an ultra-challenging place to bake consistently high-quality loaves.

I’d say Leir revels in it. I spoke to him briefly when visiting Fol Epi this month and when I suggested his bread baking routine presented a few hurdles, there was a knowing twinkle in his eyes. Then he simply smiled and nodded.

He does, however, have a very modern four-deck electric baker’s oven where he produces a variety of high-selling pastries, from croissants, to canel cakes to macaroons.

Then there’s the rich aroma of Caffe Fantastico wafting through his bakery. He shares the building with one of Victoria’s top espresso shops, where they roast their own beans, of course!

IMG_8310Coffee and pastries go hand in hand. And that same special synchronicity happens in “Vic West” at Fry’s Red Wheat Bakery (416 Craigflower Rd; (250) 590-5727 ). Equipped with a cafe latte from The Spiral Coffee Co. next door, I ambled into this quaint little bakery owned by Byron Fry who started his bread-baking career with a mobile oven, visiting farmers’ markets. In 2012, he finally settled and opened this shop only to learn that in 1897 his great grandfather had established a bakery right across the street. In tribute, Fry uses his family’s historical logo and name. And he doesn’t veer too widely from the artisanal methods employed more than a century ago.IMG_8315

Like Fol Epi, he bakes out of a wood-fired oven that he had custom built on the site. He also uses organic grains, heirloom wheat and natural starters to create loaves that are rich in taste, such as IMG_8311Whole Wheat Country, German Rye, Pain Rustique, Cinnamon Raisin Rye, Flax Rye, Sunflower 100% Rye, Focaccia (Olive-Rosemary-Roasted Garlic) and baguettes.

I tasted the pain rustique and was floored. This bread contains 30 per cent whole grains and has a faintly sour, layered flavour with a wide open crumb. The cinnamon raisin rye travelled back to Toronto with me and continued to satisfy for days, with its rich rye flavour and raisin-studded interior. Fry bakes his loaves dark, resulting in a caramelized, crackly crust flecked with deliciously burnt notes.IMG_8340

I wish I had tasted his pain au chocolate. His Tumbler account reads: “You can see the gorgeous layers created by this amazing butter from Jerseyland organic milk produced by 100 Jersey cows in Grandforks B.C .where the farmers know all their cows by name, not number. We are the only bakery in town using this butter and it makes all the difference!”

That’s something to shout about.

And me, I’ll be pouting in despair until my return back to Victoria where I plan to visit five more artisanal bakeries on my list.

 

I want a cardamom bun!

IMG_8452It wasn’t until Instagram that I came to know a cardamom bun. Not only is this pastry fun to repeat rapidly as a culinary tongue twister but it’s drop dead gorgeous, too. I found myself staring longingly at the photos posted by Bakery 47 in Glasgow, Scotland considering the sweet mystery of it all.

I wanted it.

I needed it.

I would serve it at teatime (the way those Scots must?) in all its cardamom glory. I could smell its perfume wafting through the bun’s heart and soul intoxicating each of its dainty, egg-brushed strands all buried in sugar and butter.

Something about its knots and twists kept me happily delusional until one day I shook myself into action and created my own, using my basic challah recipe as the core.

© 2014 Madeleine Greey

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Cardamom Buns

Mado’s Basic Challah Dough

It’s basic because you can use it in various ways, from cardamom to cinnamon to hamburger buns to challah loaves yet it veers from the norm with the addition of whole wheat flour and the development of a sponge starter, first.

Sponge Starter

2 cups warm milk

¼ cup canola oil

¼ cup liquid honey

2 eggs

2 cups organic, unbleached all purpose flour (I like President’s Choice)

1 cup Red Fife whole wheat flour

1 tsp SAF instant yeast

In the bowl of a large KitchenAid mixer, using the whisk attachment, combine milk, oil, honey and eggs until smooth. Add flours and yeast and mix until combined, using the paddle attachment. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for two hours until the mixture is bubbly and puffing up about 20 per cent. (With a little imagination, the surface should look like a sponge.) If desired, you can make the sponge ahead and store in the fridge up to one day in advance.

3-4 cups organic, unbleached all purpose flour

1 tbsp kosher salt

Remove wrap and add 3 cups of the flour to the bowl and salt. Using the dough hook, mix the flour for about 6 minutes at med-low speed, gradually adding more flour, tablespoon by tablespoon until the dough no longer pools at the bottom of the bowl and gathers around the dough hook.

Transfer the dough to an oiled, large bowl or dough container, cover and let rise at room temperature for 2 hours or until doubled.

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Make the filling

1 stick room temperature unsalted butter

½ cup packed brown sugar

2 tbsp ground cardamom

In a small bowl, mash the butter, sugar and cardamom until smooth.

Once the dough has finished its first, two-hour rise, transfer to a lightly floured surface, shape into a loose ball and leave to rest 5 min. Dust with flour and roll out to a 24 in x 24 in square. Spread the filling evenly over rolled out dough, then fold in half, pulling the far edge toward you to cover the butter mixture.

Cut two thin (1/4 in) slices of the dough, gently twist together and lengthen like a rope then knot. Place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and cover with a tea towel. Repeat. Preheat oven to 400F and let rise, covered with a tea towel or oiled plastic wrap for 45 min.

Baste with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse or pearl sugar. Bake for 15-18 min, or until golden brown, turning baking sheets halfway through the bake.

© 2014 Madeleine Greey