Runner Beans

April 17, 2011

Birthday Recap: Let Me Eat Cake

Birthday Recap: Let Me Eat Cake

pancake cake

Pancake Cake: layers of crepes, fruit and whipped cream.

When Sam asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday last Friday, I told him what I wanted to eat beginning with breakfast and moving throughout the day. When I was little, birthdays were the days we kids got to determine the menus. My parents let us pick out any type of cereal we wanted for our birthday breakfast—even sugar cereals. My fascination with Sugar Smacks and Honeycomb cereal has since diminished, but the idea that birthday breakfasts should be special remains with me.

It was about a year ago that I first saw a photo of a birthday pancake cake and knew that I wanted it for my next birthday breakfast. The pancake cake was made popular by a Swedish children’s book and, I believe, is popular in Europe. The pancake cake is made of crepes layered with fruit and yogurt or whipped cream. We made whole wheat & oat flour crepes and layered them with mashed banana, blueberries, raspberries, kiwi and shredded coconut. Meyer lemon whipped cream added the perfect amount of creaminess, so much so that we decided to skip the yogurt (if you wait for the crepes to cool, it won’t melt the yogurt or whipped cream like it did on our cake!). The amazing thing about this pancake cake is that we made it with no added sugar (none in the crepes, fruit or whipped cream), so that meant we could have cake again in the evening!

coconut cake 2

A beautiful Coconut Passionfruit Cake from Tartine Bakery.

After a fabulous dinner at Foreign Cinema with my parents and Sam’s parents, we came back to our place and enjoyed a Coconut Passionfruit Cake from Tartine Bakery. Sam completely surprised me with this cake; I had no idea he was planning to bring home a cake, let alone trek all the way to the Mission to get it. Now this wasn’t just any cake: every time we go to Tartine I marvel at the beautiful coconut cake they always have in the bakery case. It tasted every bit as good as it looks: the passionfruit filling was flavorful and complemented the coconut well, and the layers of white cake were delicate and moist. I’m usually a chocolate cake kind of girl, but this cake was perfect. So this year my birthday was bookend-ed with cake, and really, what better day is there to eat cake in the morning and evening than your birthday? Next year, when Sam asks me what I want to do for my birthday, I already know my answer: Let me eat cake.

coconut cake

April 13, 2011

Heidi Swanson Cookbook Signing and Olive Oil Crackers

Filed under: breads, Informational, Recipes — Tags: , — Andrea @ 2:50 pm

Heidi Swanson Cookbook Signing and Olive Oil Crackers

Super Natural Every Day 3

Olive Oil Crackers

From top to bottom: Cumin Cayenne Crackers; Salt & Pepper Crackers, Parmesan; Pepper & Lemon Zest Crackers

Last Thursday evening I went to my first cookbook signing. I had only been to one other book signing and that was the poet Billy Collins three years ago (he drew a birthday cake in my book when I told him it was my birthday). This time the honored author was Heidi Swanson, a San Francisco food blogger (see her blog: 101 Cookbooks) who had just published her second cookbook, Super Natural Every Day, a companion to her first book Super Natural Cooking. As you can guess from the name, Heidi Swanson’s creed is to cook with natural, fresh, local and in-season ingredients. I didn’t even realize that Heidi Swanson was a vegetarian until a friend pointed it out to me—her food looked so wholesome and appetizing that I didn’t even miss the meat.

Now this wasn’t just a cookbook signing; it was also a potluck. Attendees were encouraged to bring a food dish from one of Heidi Swanson’s recipes or something of their own creation. I’ve culled her online recipe archives several times, and it was delightful to taste recipes I’d only seen online: soba noodle salad, millet muffins, Breton buckwheat cake, rosemary olive oil cake. I brought Chili Lime Tequila Popcorn, which had exciting flavors but could have used a little longer in the oven to dry completely. If I can master it, this popcorn will definitely become a party staple for me.

On Monday I made Heidi Swanson’s Olive Oil Crackers. These are super simple to make, though it does take a bit of time to roll out the dough, cut shapes and bake in small batches. The fun thing about these crackers is that you can top them with whatever seeds, spices or cheese you like. I made Cumin Cayenne, Salt & Pepper and Parmesan, Pepper, Lemon Zest crackers. You wouldn’t guess it from looking at these crackers, but they’re actually half whole wheat. Using white whole wheat and semolina flour maintains a light texture and color, while olive oil gives them a crispness to rival any other cracker. The crackers were delicious served with our log of goat cheese rolled in blueberries and cinnamon and are an ideal accompaniment for pre-dinner wine and cheese. Next I’d like to try a recipe for a hearty afternoon snack cracker, maybe the oat cracker recipe on 101 Cookbooks. Anyone else bake their own crackers or have suggestions for a favorite cracker recipe?

April 7, 2011

Baklava Brioche

Filed under: breads, Recipes — Andrea @ 3:47 pm

Baklava Brioche

Baklava Brioche 1

The humble remains of the loaf: a testament to its sheer delicousness.


Baklava Brioche 2

Swirls of pistachio-honey filling encased in brioche dough = yum.


Occasionally I am blessed with a large group of guinea pigs…ahem…friends on whom I can try new recipes. This week was Sam’s and my turn to bring snacks to our Tuesday-night Bible study, so I ventured into unknown territory and made a new recipe: Baklava Brioche, an egg-rich yeast bread filled with a pistachio-honey mixture. Since the recipe for this bread comes from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, I got to take advantage of the book’s signature bread making method: mix the dough the night before, let rest in the refrigerator overnight (no need to knead!) and shape and bake the next day. With a little planning and this special method, an otherwise complicated bakery-style bread becomes accessible to the home baker.

The bread dough incorporates white whole wheat flour (to make it the tiniest bit healthier) and vital wheat gluten (to help the whole grain dough rise). Honey, eggs and butter create the soft, pillowy texture typical of brioche. The pistachio filling is similar to a baklava filling: ground pistachios, honey, brown sugar, butter. With all the butter, sugar and eggs in the bread, you might be wondering if I made a typo in quoting the cookbook name: Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. No, this is indeed the correct cookbook; just think of this Baklava Brioche as special occasion bread, perfect for a gathering with friends or an Easter brunch. It’s good to watch what we eat, but sometimes it’s good to break the rules. And with this Baklava Brioche, I think you’ll find it’s quite easy to break the rules, even if you are at Bible study.

Baklava Brioche

Makes one 2-pound brioche

AKA Pistachio Twist, recipe from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, p 297

1½ pounds whole wheat brioche dough (see recipe below)

Pistachio Filling:
1 cup finely ground pistachios
½ cup brown sugar
2½ teaspoons orange blossom water or rose water
3 Tablespoons honey
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Pinch of salt

To Brush/Sprinkle on top of Loaf:
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 Tablespoon water)
Raw sugar
1 Tablespoon finely ground pistachios

  1. Make the pistachio filling: Combine the ingredients for the pistachio filling in a small bowl. Set aside.
  2. Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough and cut off a 1½ -pound (small cantaloupe-size) piece of dough. Dust with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.
  3. With a rolling pin, roll out the dough until it is a ⅛-inch-thick rectangle. As you roll out the dough, use enough flour to prevent the dough from sticking to the work surface, but not so much as to make it dry.
  4. Spread the pistachio filling evenly over the rolled-out dough. Roll the dough into a log, starting at the long end. Pinch the seam closed.
  5. Gently stretch the log of dough so that it becomes thinner, about 1 ½ inches in diameter. Fold the log in half and gently twist the log like a twist tie. Lay it on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Cover the log loosely with plastic wrap and allow it to rest for about 1 hour.
  6. Fifteen minutes before baking time, preheat the oven to 350°F, with a rack placed in the center of the oven. (Or adjust preheating time according to the temperament of your oven)
  7. Brush the loaf with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar and the 1 tablespoon of ground pistachios. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes, until golden and well set in the center.
  8. Allow the brioche to cool on a rack before slicing and eating.

Whole Wheat Brioche Dough

Makes enough dough for at least two 2-pound loaves

Recipe from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, p 275

Ok, here’s the complicated part: this recipe makes more than twice the amount of dough you’ll need for the Baklava Brioche above. You can either (a) cut the recipe in half, guessing what half of 5 eggs looks like (this is what I did) (b) or you can make a full batch of dough and freeze the rest for another loaf of Baklava Brioche in the future (c) or you could experiment with another type of filling (such as cinnamon sugar) with the remaining dough.

4 cups white whole wheat flour
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1½ Tablespoons granulated yeast, or 2 packets
1 Tablespoon kosher salt (or 2 teaspoons table salt)
¼ cup vital wheat gluten
2 cups lukewarm water
¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
¾ cup honey
5 large eggs

  1. Mixing and storing the dough: Whisk together the flour, yeast, salt, and vital wheat gluten in a 5-quart bowl, or a lidded (not airtight) food container.
  2. Combine the liquid ingredients and mix them with the dry ingredients without kneading, using a spoon, a 14-cup food processor (with dough attachment), or a heavy-duty mixer (with paddle). The dough will be loose, but it will become firmer when chilled. You may notice lumps in the dough, but they will disappear in your finished product.
  3. Cover (not airtight), and allow the dough to rest at room temperature until it rises and collapses (or flattens on top), approximately 2 hours.
  4. Don’t try to use it as it is without chilling for at least 2 hours. Refrigerate it in a lidded (not airtight) container and use over the next 5 days, or store the dough in the freezer for up to 2 weeks in an airtight container. Freeze the dough in 2-pound portions. When using frozen dough, thaw it in the refrigerator 24 hours before use, then allow the usual rest/rise time.

April 5, 2011

Cherry Hazelnut Muesli from “Good to the Grain”

Cherry Hazelnut Muesli from Good to the Grain

Cherry Hazelnut Muesli 2

And now, another recipe from Good to the Grain: Cherry Hazelnut Muesli. In this version of muesli, hazelnuts and rye flakes are toasted in the oven and then mixed with dried cherries, cranberries, quinoa flakes and wheat germ. This muesli is more of a classic cold cereal than Swiss Birchermuesli, which is soaked overnight in yogurt and fresh fruit. Don’t get me wrong: this muesli would taste great with yogurt and fresh fruit; they’re just not the crux of this recipe—a simple pour of milk is all this cereal needs in the morning.

Cherry Hazelnut Muesli 1

Cherry Hazelnut Muesli 5

Cherry Hazelnut Muesli 4

Buy dry roasted hazelnuts to simplify Step 1 in the recipe. You could also experiment using different grain flakes or dried fruit. I recommend trying the Cherry Hazelnut Rye version below before experimenting—I think you’ll agree it’s quite delicious.

Make the Cherry Hazelnut Muesli

Recipe from Good to the Grain, by Kim Boyce (p 146)

Makes 4 cups


1 cup raw whole hazelnuts, skins on
1 teaspoon olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups rye flakes
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon wheat germ
½ cup quinoa flakes
Generous ⅓ cup dried cherries [I like to use dried tart cherries]
Generous ⅓ cup dried cranberries

  1. Place the oven racks at the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Toss the hazelnuts together with the oil and salt and spread them on a baking sheet. Toast for 16 to 18 minutes, stirring the nuts halfway through. The nuts should be fragrant and dark brown, but not burnt. Leave the skins from the nuts on for a rustic touch in both taste and appearance.
  2. While the nuts are toasting, spread the rye flakes in a single layer on another baking sheet. Toast the rye flakes in the same oven simultaneously for 10 minutes, until golden and crunchy. Remove from the oven and let cool.
  3. Once the nuts have cooled, roughly chop them, leaving a few whole. Add them to a large bowl along with the rye flakes, ¼ cup wheat germ, and quinoa flakes.
  4. Mix the cherries and cranberries with the remaining wheat germ, to prevent sticking. Chop them into halves or thirds, leaving some whole. Add them to the bowl and toss together with your hands.
  5. The muesli can be eaten immediately, or you can wait until it’s completely cooled and store it in an airtight container. It will keep for at least 2 weeks.

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