The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Terrell's blog

  • Pin It
Terrell's picture
Terrell

Back in the fall I promised my niece-in-law that I would make kolaches for her birthday at the end of November. Which I did, using the recipe from the point of departure. They were OK, but not quite right. Too dry, a little doughy and the flavor was not quite the same. Wait a minute, you say, not the same as what? What the heck are these kolaches of which you write?


 Apricot Kolaches       Apricot Kolaches


Right smack in the middle of Texas there's an area that was populated by people of Czech descent. Well, a bunch of Germans, too, but right now we're interested in the Czechs. They brought a number of traditions from the home country that have worked their way into local culture, most prominently the sweet roll that makes a true Texan's heart do a little extra thump---the kolache. When I was little, the ladies from the Catholic church in Ennis would come up to our church in Dallas to fundraise by selling home-baked kolaches to the big city folks. We didn't get quite as excited as we would for Christmas that weekend but it was right up there with, say, Easter. Mom would buy six dozen and freeze five of them to be brought out for special occasions during the year. We got to eat one box that morning. Now, you have to realize that there are nine kids in my family. Add two parents and that meant that we each only got one kolache. And I still remember those five or six bites as a highlight of my year.


After a couple of my brothers moved to Austin to go to the University (no need to qualify which university in Texas) our kolache supply got a little steadier. Anyone who made the drive between Dallas and Austin was required to stop in West, Texas (the name of a town, not a region that is in central, not west, Texas) and pick up a couple dozen. It was a regular enough occurrence that we could request certain fillings instead of just grabbing whatever was available. I always went for apricot first, cream cheese second. Or maybe prune. And then, I grew up. Moved away. Lost my source and only ever got a kolache fix if my visits to Dallas happened to coincide with an Austinite's. Joined that community of expat Texans who could only dream. Now and then I'd find a bakery that claimed to make them but they were never anything close to what I remembered. You know, if it's not right, it's just not right.


Now you probably think I'm crazy, just wierd to feel this way about a pastry, but I am not alone. My niece who requested them for her birthday isn't even a Texan, just married to one. When I went looking for a recipe on the internet, the passionate postings about dough and fillings were everywhere. They all seemed to point one direction, however. The recipe posted on The Homesick Texan blog seemed to be the place to go for the real thing. There were 138 comments on the post that all say pretty much the same thing, "Oh my god these are amazing, just the way I remember them." So I used her dough recipe exactly. I subbed in some other fillings since I was out of apricots but that's not important. It's the bread that matters. And now there are 139 comments on that post including mine which says, "Oh my god these are amazing, just the way I remember them."


I'm not going to reprint her recipe. You can go see it for yourself. I will just tell you that I found I had to bake them a little longer than her timing states, more like 20-25 minutes. It may just be that I need to check my oven temp. There are some tiny details that she leaves out that make them even more perfect like you should put them close enough together on the baking sheet so that the oven spring makes them just kiss each other and you wind up with a slightly squared off, not perfectly round finished product. I found the Posypka recipe needs either more butter or less flour/sugar to make it clump properly. She only includes a recipe for apricot filling but it seems more authentic to have a variety so I made three kinds. I used some Trader Joe organic strawberry preserves for some which, while cheating, still came out well. I took some plum conserve my brother made from his home-grown red plums, drained out most of the liquid and mashed up the plum bits. Those, too, were pretty successful. And I really wanted some raspberry ones so I just tried some raspberry jam I had in the fridge. This was way too watery and made a mess on the cookie sheet. They also got the 'best taste' vote from all my testers so I'm going to work on how to make a drier version next time. I also have a request for the cottage cheese/cream cheese filling from my nephew. Can't wait to try it.


Homesick Texan Kolaches

Terrell's picture
Terrell

Greetings, bakers!


It's been a pretty good week in Portland. After months of being out of work, I have two jobs, seem to be on track for a third and I'm pretty sure at least one of those will continue post-Christmas. I know it's just seasonal work, but I'm really feeling like this Portland experiment has just taken a decided turn for the better. To celebrate, I decided to do a sweet bread this week. Thumbing through the Point of Departure, the bread book I've been baking my way through, I came across a recipe for a Cardamom Braid. That fit the sweet bread criteria and seemed appropriate for the seasonal nature of the new job. My brother married a woman who is half Swedish and cardamom braid is mandatory at their Christmas morning celebrations. She won't open a present until the braid is sliced and ready to eat. It's always delicious so I decided to see how close this recipe would be to theirs. Turns out, it's not quite the same. Lydia's version is flatter and sweeter, probably uses a softer dough and more sugar. I also seem to remember a bright yellow color, possibly saffron, that this one doesn't have. And my crust was way browner, partly my fault from letting it bake a few minutes too long, but also inherent in the recipe. Hers is barely golden and very soft, definitely not the crispy crust I got. On the other hand, the taste of my loaf was excellent, slightly sweet with a spicy cardamom flavor. I also liked the moist, chewy texture. I'm thinking next time a lower oven temperature, a slightly softer dough and brushing with something other than milk might get me exactly what I want.


Cardamom Braid from The Better Homes and Gardens Homemade Bread Cook Book

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

  • 1 package active dry yeast

  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

  • 3/4 cup milk

  • 1/3 cup sugar

  • 1/4 cup butter

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

  • 1 3/4 to 2 cups all purpose flour (I substituted white whole wheat flour here with excellent results)

  • small amounts of milk and sugar for brushing and sprinkling


In a large bowl combine one cup of all-purpose flour, the yeast and the cardamom. In a small saucepan heat the milk, sugar, butter and salt until warm, stirring frequently to melt the butter. Add the milk mixture to the dry ingredients. Add the egg. Beat the mixture well for several minutes. Stir in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough. (I used almost all of the two cups but I think I will back that off slightly next time.) Turn out onto a floured surface and knead till smooth, about 5 or 6 minutes. Place in greased bowl, turning once to coat and let rise, covered, until double, about an hour and a half.


Braided    Risen


When double, punch down and divide in thirds. Let rest while you prepare a pan. I use two nested jelly roll pans lined with parchment paper but you can grease if you prefer. Roll each third into a 16-inch rope and place about one inch apart on prepared pan. Braid loosely, pinching the ends together and tucking them under. Cover and let rise until double, about 45 minutes.


Preheat oven to 375. (Next time, I'll try it at 325, I think.) Brush with milk and sprinkle with a tablespoon of sugar. (I plan to look for some decorative sugar for this step.) Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. (I got distracted and let it go almost 30 which was too long.) Remove from baking sheet and cool on wire rack.


Baked


I'm looking forward to making this for Christmas morning with the great-nephews. I think it will be a hit. Any of you Scandahoovians out there want to give me tips for making this perfect?


 Sliced

Terrell's picture
Terrell

I am extremely pleased to say that the book I've been reading this week, 52 Loaves: One Man's Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning and a Perfect Crust by William Alexander is a vast improvement over the previous bread-related memoir I reported on. It's possible, even probable, that you need to be at least a little baking obsessed to enjoy it as much as I did but anyone who has baked at all or even those of you who just really appreciate a good, chewy bite of the staff of life should appreciate this chronicle of a year of bread. Alexander, author of the 2007 book on gardening The $64 Tomato in which he told of his quest for the perfect garden, seems to have a problem with obsessions. Fortunately, he's very funny about it.


In 52 Loaves, he decides that he must, absolutely, recreate the perfect flavor, crumb and crunch of a piece of bread he ate some years ago while on vacation. He reasons that if he bakes the same artisan peasant bread every week for a year, he will come to understand it down to its tiniest filament of gluten and thus be able to achieve his goal. Along the way he guides the reader through the mysteries of wheat and flour varieties, the true nature of yeast, explains in plain English the fearful calculus of the Baker's Percentage and allows us to follow him into the subterrenean kitchens of the Paris Ritz. He travels to meet bakers, scientists and like-minded enthusiasts. He even grows, harvests, threshes, winnows and grinds his own crop of wheat. Best of all, he is hilarious as he describes his attempts to make his perfect loaf. In the last section of the book, he convinces the monks at a monastery in Normandy to let him come bake bread in their ancient community. This section is weightier and clearly important to the author. He seems to finally get close to the "why" of his bread obsession.


I highly recommend this book for any novice bakers (and even for people who have more than a few loaves under their belts). I guarantee it will make your own struggles with levain and alveoli easier and much, much funnier.

Terrell's picture
Terrell

I've been making a lot of bread lately. Had some extra that I either needed to throw away or make something out of. They won't let you feed it to the ducks in Portland, you know. So, I used my remarkable internet research skills to look for recipes using leftover bread. Apparently, many people just make bread crumbs and put them in the freezer. I was looking for something a little more exciting. The New York Times happened to have a recipe for panade published last week in an article about young yuppy farmers (you may have to register to see the article.) It was interesting but it uses a lot of cauliflower, not one of my favorite foods, so I kept looking. Epicurious had a strata recipe with spinach that got a ton of comments but it was one of those recipes that you have to make eight hours ahead. I rarely know what I want for dinner until I get right up to it so I hardly ever plan that far ahead unless I'm cooking for company. The strata sounded good though so I checked around for something similar and came across this recipe from Martha Rose Schulman, also in the New York Times. Her recipe just mixes all the ingredients and pops it right in the oven. It sounded perfect, so I stopped at the grocery store on my way home and picked up the cavolo nero or black leaf kale that I was sure was in the recipe. I checked the dried mushrooms she calls for, was appalled at the price and decided to substitute fresh criminis instead. Last night, ready to cook, I pulled up the recipe again. Hmmm, her recipe is for cheese strata with chard. Why was I so sure it was black kale? Ahh, the kale was in the panade. OK, another substitution. Of course I was also using my leftover whole grain bread for her french baguette and some random bits of cheese I wanted to clear out of the fridge instead of the Gruyère she listed. I guess we'll see how it comes out. An hour or so later and I was pretty pleased with myself. I had accomplished my goal of using up some of that bread and made myself a pretty tasty dinner. Here's the recipe...


Strata with Cavolo Nero and Mushrooms (seriously adapted from Martha Rose Shulman)

  • 4 or 5 thick slices of whole grain bread (I used about 4 cups of my Pilgrim's Bread)

  • 1 tablespoon butter

  • 1/2 pound of crimini mushrooms, coarsely chopped

  • half bunch (about 8 ounces I think) of cavolo nero/dark leaf kale, stemmed and cleaned

  • 3 garlic cloves, 1 cut in half, the other two minced

  • 2 cups of milk (I used 2%)

  • 3/4 cup of grated cheese, tightly packed (I used what I had in the fridge, about half goat cheddar and half kasseri)

  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary

  • salt and pepper to taste

  • 4 large eggs

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • freshly ground pepper


Cavolo Nero   Crimini


Preheat the oven to 350. Oil or butter a two quart baking dish or gratin pan. If the bread is soft, as mine was, toast it lightly and then rub each slice front and back with the halved garlic clove. If your bread is really stale, you can skip the toasting. Cut into 1 inch dice. Place in a large bowl and toss with 2/3 cup of the milk. Set aside.


 Mix


In a large skillet, saute the mushrooms in the butter for 2 to 3 minutes, just until they smell good. Remove from skillet and set aside. Add the still wet kale to the skillet and cook over medium high heat until it starts to wilt. Cover the pan and let the kale steam until it has collapsed, about 5 minutes. Add more water if needed but just enough to steam not boil it. Uncover and stir. When all the kale has wilted, remove from the pan and rinse in cold water. Squeeze to get out the remaining moisture and then chop and set aside. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to the skillet and quickly saute the minced garlic over medium heat. Stir in the mushrooms, rosemary and kale. Stir together and season with salt and pepper. Remember that the cheese and bread both have salt in them so adjust your seasonings with that in mind (my dish turned out slightly too salty because of this, I think). Remove from the heat and add the kale mixture to the bread cubes. Add the grated cheeses (not the Parmesan, that comes later), toss to mix and then arrange in the prepared baking dish.


Saute


Beat the eggs in a medium bowl. Add the remaining milk, the 1/2 teaspoon of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Pour over the bread mixture. Press the bread down into the eggs. Sprinkle the Parmesan on the top and drizzle the other tablespoon of oil on top of that. (The oil thing is in Martha's recipe. I have to admit that I couldn't tell there was oil there and will probably not waste the effort next time I make the dish.) Place in the oven and bake 40 to 50 minutes until puffed and browned. Serves 4 to 6.


Cheese Strata with Kale and Mushrooms


Martha says you can do all the hard work ahead, up to the egg step, and it will keep, covered, in your fridge up to a couple of days. Add the egg and milk when you're ready to bake. Next time I make this I will probably halve the recipe and bake it in a small dish. It's way too much for one person to dispose of. I'll likely let the bread sit out to get a little more stale before toasting. And as I said, I will cut the salt a little bit. The crimini were fabulous, great flavor. It was, however, the rosemary that really made it.


Dinner time

Subscribe to RSS - Terrell's blog