I like to cook. I especially like to cook new things that I’ve never tried. For me a recipe for a new dish is more like a suggestion that I feel free to play with to suit my own and my family’s tastes.
I love to bake. I love using the same basic ingredients, with variations for flavor, and creating such a immense variety of things. Eggs, flour, sugar, butter, dairy, leavening, salt and vanilla – a simple palette and an infinite gallery of creations.
I’m a lucky baker (with that bread exception I mentioned in my first post). The first thing I ever baked that was more complicated than a single-layer cake or chocolate chip cookies was homemade pies for a Thanksgiving dinner for 30 people, the first year I was married. I made 4 pies and my pie crusts worked! They weren’t perfect, but they were reasonably flaky and tender and held the filling in. I remember thinking “Wow, I wonder why people think pie crust is so hard”.
The clincher was deciding to make chocolate eclairs for my husband for our first Valentine’s day together (We’d been married 4 years, but he’d always been out to sea in February). I’d watched Alton Brown make pate choux on Food TV and it just didn’t look that hard. It looked time consuming, but not difficult. I tried his recipe and everything came together just like it was supposed to. I made homemade vanilla pastry cream from another Food TV recipe and it came together just like it was supposed to. I used a zip bag with the corner cut out of it to fill them, dipped them in melted chocolate and Voila! I had homemade chocolate eclairs. I still treasure the look of pure bliss and surprise on my husband’s face when he tasted the first one and said “Oh, my God, these are better than anything I’ve ever tasted”. That was it, I started baking everything from scratch and never looked back.
I try to buy local produce and meat and cook with what’s in season as much as is practical and within my budget. I’m lucky, I live in a farm state and one with lots of small farms that produce wonderful organic products. So here’s my first baking post using local, seasonal ingredients.
Did you know that Wisconsin produces 57% of the US cranberry crop? Neither did I, until today and I live here.
I use a scale to measure ingredients so I’ll be listing them by volume and weight.
2 cups all purpose flour (8 1/2 oz)
3/4 cup sugar (5 1/4 oz)
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon (optional)
1 large orange, zest and juice.
1/4 teaspoon orange oil or real orange extract (optional for extra orangey goodness)
3/4 cup (6 oz) of buttermilk, sour cream or yogurt
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon of vanilla
3 tablespoons (1 1/4 oz) of canola or vegetable oil
1-1 1/2 cups (5 -7 1/2 oz) of cranberries, fresh or frozen, coarsely chopped.
1/2 cup (2 oz) chopped nuts (optional)
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease a 9 x 5 in. loaf pan.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda and cinnamon. In a separate bowl mix the orange juice, orange zest, buttermilk (or sour cream or yogurt), egg and vegetable oil together. If you use a scale to measure you can put each ingredient in the bowl one thing at a time, zero out the weight after you add each ingredient and only get 1 measuring cup and your measuring spoons dirty. I love it. Add your wet ingredients to the dry and mix until evenly combined. Don’t stir it to death, the more you stir anything with flour in it the tougher texture you will get. Gently stir in the cranberries and nuts and pour the batter into the loaf pan. Bake for 55-65 minutes, until a tester (I use a bamboo skewer since a toothpick isn’t long enough) comes out clean and the loaf starts to pull away from the edge of the pan. Cool the bread on a cooling rack for 15-20 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool to room temp. This bread doesn’t cut very well when it’s warm, if you can stand it, let it cool completely, wrap it up, and let it sit overnight (refrigerated or not).
Try serving it with a smear of cream cheese-mascarpone icing. I love to mix these two soft cheese for spreads, both sweetened and unsweetened. American cream cheese has that little acid bite and mascarpone has this incredible buttery-smooth texture on your tongue. Soften half a block of cream cheese (4 oz.) and whisk it with 1/2 cup (4 oz) of softened mascarpone until smooth, add in sifted powdered sugar 1 tablespoon at a time until it is as sweet as you want it Add in a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract or 1/2 teaspoon of pure almond extract for a truly sublime flavor. I warned you that I didn’t do low-fat or low-cal.
Pics to follow as soon as I figure out how to get them here.