Baking is getting more festive by the day. The BreadLab is a mess after a trial bake for the X-mas specials that are up for the coming two weeks.
The flavor and texture of chestnut can really lift a dish, when used in moderation. The other week, running through Amsterdam's hottest local produce supermarket Marqt, there were some fresh chestnuts available. They would look real rustic, together with the red onions and roseval potatoes in the basket on the kitchen table...
They have been screaming not be wasted for looking pretty ever since, and today, when the sour cherries on syrup started their siren song, things started coming together. The theme clearly being nuts and fruits, let's cross the channel and ponder on that typical British dish;
Something allegedly edible that I managed to avoid for its name alone in the first two decades of my life. To the foreign ear it sounds like something with mutton sausage and a lot of gravy in it, that has been sitting in the cellar for three months. There is a lot of that where I come from. No need to explore.
Only to find out in the next decade that there is actually no meat involved at all, well... suet. But that was way back when. I do sometimes use lard and suet and the likes, but this sweet bread needs to go down easy with every one.
After making a basic mincemeat, boil the fresh chestnuts in their skins until tender, but still chewy. Chopping them up I decided to just chuck them in with the mincemeat, and that worked wonderfully well.
Sour cherries belong to New Year's Eve for me. I never knew that until I rediscovered the taste of them recently, the syrupy variety. I was immediately taken back; in my young years, when the adults would be seriously boozing in the New Year, the kids were allowed to drink something that was called "children's-liquor" (No, I kid you not). It came in a bottle that vaguely resembled the grown-ups' version. It was a deep red, sweet as hell and... without alcohol (I guess the marketing guys drew their lines somewhere in the sixties...). But that didn't seem to matter to us, as I remember. For me it was one of the high lights; that entire day, going around the neighborhood to wish every one a Happy New Year, and every house I entered had a glass of that stuff waiting. My Italian shop around the corner carries some nice jars with sour cherries on syrup, the blue one;
Raisins, apples, lemon zest, currants. Take whatever you have lying around to whip together a fruity, spicy layer of mincemeat that will ooze through the monkey bread during the bake. The chestnuts are optional if you are an avid hater (there seem to be quite a few out there), but it does give the flavor a nice twist, and, if chopped coarsely and not boiled to pieces, a different texture that works well with all the sticky caramel and the soft buns.
Since my first monkey bread, traditionally round, was rising all over the place, out of its baking tin, I decided the second bake would have to be in the biggest tin around... and that happened to be a square one. A happy accident, I would say!
Square Chestnut-Mincemeat Monkey Bread
For the (mini portion) mincemeat:
1 small apple 100 gr. boiled chestnut, coarsely chopped 30 gr. raisins 25 gr. currants 30 gr. prunes 20 gr. sour cherries (on syrup) dark beer, about 60 ml. 75 gr. brown sugar pinch of lemon zest dash of lemon juice a nob of butter pumpkin pie spice to taste, about ¾ tsp rum
If you like your apple firm, leave them out, while you bring the beer and all the other ingredients to a slow boil. When everything comes together and the butter is mixed in, add the apple and turn off the gas. Stir and cool.
You can find some good tips over here on how to boil your chestnuts, if you chose to go DIY all the way.
For the dough:
500 gr. bread flour 14 gr. instant yeast 150-175 ml lukewarm whole milk 2 beaten eggs 50 gr. butter 2 tbs honey 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice 1½ tsp salt
to sugar the monkey dough:
100 gr. caster sugar 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
For the caramel sauce:
100 gr. butter 50 gr. dark brown sugar
Mix the dry ingredients together in a stand mixer. Add just enough milk for the dough to come together. Add the eggs and the butter little by little after about 4 minutes. Mix on low speed for about 15 minutes to develop an elastic dough. Transfer to an oiled container, cover and rest until double in size, for about an hour to one hour and a half at room temp.
Mix together the fine caster sugar with the spices. When the dough has risen, deflate it gently and shape into a cylinder. When the dough resists, give it a few minutes rest before you continue. Cut up the doughroll in small pieces, deliberately uneven in size and shape. Toss the dough pieces in the sugar and place in the oiled tin. They will expand considerably; loosely spread the first layer around your BIG (improv) monkey bread pan.
Scoop the cooled down chestnut-mincemeat over the first layer of dough, and then cover with a second layer of sugared dough bits. Cover and let proof untill the dough has puffed up.
Preheat the oven to 180° C. Heat the butter with the brown sugar and gently pour this over the proofed dough.
Bake for about 35 minutes, turning it halfway into the bake to ensure even browning. Be careful with the top; don't let it burn!
After the bake, let the bread cool for about 10 minutes before inverting the monkey bread onto a rack. Leave to cool completely before slicing.
Enjoy! You can really do me a big favor by endorsing the BreadLab initiative. Every 'like' will get us closer to funding a 6 episode documentary on 'the best bread in the world'. Thank you in advance!
After years of baking bread I started making fun shapes. My first attempts were using the entire batch of dough to make one large "Fun Bun".
I made a frog for the neighbor girls.
Then a mouse for my backdoor neighbor.
I tried a pig next.
Then a lizzard???
For Easter . . .
Decided to try bread stick dough and came up with an octopus and starfish, using sesame seeds for details -
Using sweet roll dough, dried fruits, and frosting, came up with Mr. Caterpiller.
I used caraway rye dough to give the color and texture I needed for Super Bowl Sunday.
Then a grand daughter asked for a monkey. For this I used a regular rye bread dough and the caraway rye bread.
Can't forget Santa . . .I took a picture of the before baking and after to show that some distortion occurs during rising.
For the ladies I needed a flower.
My daughter-in-law likes a glass of wine so I created a cheese bread "grape cluster" for her. I really like this one because #1 you can make different sizes and #2 the bun is so tasty that you don't need anything to go with it.
So, these are my edible centerpieces. I have since gone to making as many as 12 "fun buns" out of one 3 C. (flour) dough recipe. I'll post pictures of those and then share how to's.
The ramping up for the holiday sales started about two weeks ago, but this week was definitely the bulk of it all. Each day started at the crack of the middle of the night, 1 a.m. when I awoke to get ready for the big days of baking starting promptly at 2 a.m. all this week. That meant going to bed at about 5 p.m at night, and focusing on being rested for those 12 hour days of baking.
We (the four bakers) gathered around and tabulated sales from last year to decide what should be made for the day. When that was done, roughly taking thirty minutes, we began the mixing and sponge/poolish prep.
But for me, most of the time it started with the dry mixes for the scones and cookies;
Egg nog scone ready for the mixing, just add your liquids : )
Which an hour or so later led to some rum frosted and finished egg nog scones I was rather proud of!
Then I moved on to some pumpkin batter bread and muffins, the muffins ready to go in the oven;
Then to some Oatmeal Chocolate chip walnut jumbo cookies! Scooped and ready for the oven, made about 400 jumbo sized cookies, a bunch of small ones too!
Into the oven they go! Please don't forget to pin them to prevent burnt cookies : ( No one would want that!
In the mean time, I mix up some batter breads, including a candied rum batter bread, brownie, a few muffins, and did I mention very, very large cinnamon rolls!
While all that is going on, I am helping with the sponge and doughs for the day too, in fact the first dough was a large sweet white bread for swirls;
Which was mixed till shaggy, anyone ready for those stretch and folds? Trust me, it is difficult.
I won't bore you with all the pictures I took, but we did about twelve different doughs; the first seen here;
Those are going to be cinnamon swirl breads which I made about 200 of just today alone. But why did I chose to try and document this on the busiest day of the year? Because when the next dough is ready, it is ready regardless if you are not.
Seen there is the pecan bread being dumped and ready to be shaped, although I still had a good amount of swirls to go. Working in a bakery is about being efficient and effective.
Here are a small chunk of the swirl breads I did, later on during the morning. Sorry these were all taken on my phone.
I also made rolls...so many rolls of so many kinds it is really hard to imagine. Even if I were to try and put it into prespective, it really can't be concieved unless you saw the amount personally. We would fill up a mixing bowl with dough just for rolls alone, then repeat it again later in the day. Repeat this with about six different doughs over and over again. People just love rolls.
Here are some cheese garlic rolls hitting the oven, it is one of the few breads I can still smell when at the bakery!
Of course with twelve hour days, you wonder, is it any fun? Well...I still manage to have fun with dough out of work and even at work!
I pretty much put my own little touch on the loaves you could say!
But in the end that was just a touch of my busy day today at the bakery. It would have been too hard on the other bakers if I stood around taking pictures of every dough, every kind of loaf and so on. Although I did make, cinnamon bread, cinnamon raisin, cheese, pecan, honey wheat, white, 9-grain, stollen, challah, lots of muffins and cookies and more today, and well everyday I am there! It's a labor of love and I am willing to go to bed at 5 p.m. to be able to work at 2 a.m. each day! Not many people can say that, but I certainly am glad I have found something I love! Next week will be a bit easier, bed time will be adjusted to 6:30 to 7:00 and work will start right around 3-3:00 a.m.
Of course, there is the part of the job no one talks too much about but anyone interested in this profession needs to be aware of, and that is the cleaning and lifting!
Those are easily 55 pound steel mixing bowls that need to be lifted up to a sink and rinsed, scrubbed and dried numerous, and I mean numerous times every single day. Also 50 pound bags of flour and ingredients being hussled left and right every second too.
So it is work, it really is. But I find it enjoyable and never a chore, and that is the secret I believe!
This is a formula shared with me by my friend, and one of the finest bakers I know. I made up a batch last night, and thought is was wonderful so I thought I would share as this seems to be a nice bread for this time of year.