Friday, April 13, 2018

Easy Amish Sweet Bread

Maybe it's the fact that spring is (finally!!) in the air, but I've recently had the urge to get back in the kitchen and bake. I'm more of a cook than a baker, and winter is my time to happily make casseroles, soups, and anything that can fit in a crockpot, but for some reason spring always brings out my inner baker. So when I realized that I actually have a bit of free time today, my first thought was, "Hey! I'm going to bake some bread!"

I felt like trying something new, so I scrolled through Pinterest, and I kept coming across recipes for something called "Amish Bread" that looked a lot like plain old white bread. But one variation I found referred to "Amish Sweet Bread," and that caught my attention. Apparently this recipe has a slightly higher sugar content, so it's more like a coffee bread or a quick bread, which I thought my kids would really like. This is a super-easy, minimal ingredients recipe that I'm sure I'll throw together often from now on.

Seriously, it only calls for 6 ingredients, all of which I always have on hand: water, sugar, yeast, oil, salt, and flour.

The first step is to proof the yeast. Put two cups of warm water into a large mixing bowl (you'll eventually add all the ingredients to this bowl, so be sure it's big enough). Technically, it should be about 110 degrees, but who wants to bother with a thermometer? Use "hand-washing warm" water and you'll be about right.

Stir in 2/3 cups sugar, or less if you want the bread to be less sweet. Don't worry about the sugar dissolving. Add 1-1/2 tablespoons of yeast. They don't seem to make 1/2-tablespoon measuring spoons any more - I remember my mom having one, but none of my sets do. I'm way too lazy to measure out a tablespoon plus 1-1/2 teaspoons, so I just eyeball it. Yeast is pretty forgiving.



Once everything's been stirred together, let it sit at room temperature for 10 minutes or so to do its thing. When the time is up, it should be nice and foamy. Don't worry if there are still a few lumps or if not all the sugar is dissolved.

Stir in 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt and 1/4 cup oil (I used vegetable oil). 



At this point, I moved over to my hand mixer with dough hooks. If you have a stand mixer, use it! If you have a hand mixer but no dough hooks, just use the regular beaters. You'll just have to stop and mix by hand a little sooner as the dough gets stiff.

Add 5-1/2 to 6 cups of flour gradually, about a cup at a time. Start on low speed to avoid clouds of flour everywhere, then crank it up to a slightly higher speed as the flour gets incorporated.

Don't forget to scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula now and then, and be sure to scoop underneath the dough ball to bring up the wet batter from the bottom, especially if you're using dough hooks.


Once the dough forms a fairly solid mass, you can switch to folding the flour in with your spatula, or just start to knead by hand. Even if it's fairly sticky at this point, it'll hold together enough to knead. Just scrape underneath now and then, because the flour tends to stick to the bottom of the bowl.


You can move the dough to a floured board to knead it if you want, but I've discovered that kneading right in the bowl is easier and gives you one less thing to clean. The only drawback is that the top of the loaf is often not as perfectly smooth as when you knead on a board, due to the bits of flour and dough that stick, but I'm willing to sacrifice perfect looks for not having to scrub my bread board. If you find your bowl slides around as you knead, toss one of those round rubber jar openers under it.

Knead the dough until it's smooth and elastic

Oil a large bowl (I rinse out the one I've been using and spray it with cooking spray), then place the dough in the bowl pretty-side down, then flip it over so it's coated with oil all over. You can spray the top with a little more cooking spray if you like. 


Cover it with a towel (it's supposed to be slightly damp but I didn't bother) and allow to rise in a warm place for an hour or until doubled. My oven has a "proof" setting, but any warm place without a draft will do: top of the fridge, near a radiator (not too near!), sunny spot on the counter.

The dough should be nicely rounded and "poufy" when it's done rising.

Next comes the best part of baking bread: punch it down! With your fist, push the dough down right in the center. When you remove your hand, the dough should hold the indentation.


With a sharp knife (dip it in flour if necessary), divide the dough into two equal portions.

Grease two standard-sized loaf pans and lay each half of the dough in a pan, tucking under the cut edges to make a nice smooth top.

Cover and proof the loaves in the pans for another half an hour.

The loaves should be about to the top of the pan when they're done proofing. Pop them into the oven at 350 for 30 minutes, until the tops are golden brown.

Place them on a wire rack to cool in the pans.

I like to slather the tops with butter. It's not necessary, but it makes them look pretty and - if possible - smell even better than they already do.

Let them cool on the racks for a few minutes, then loosen with a knife if needed and turn the loaves out on the wire rack to finish cooling.



When completely cooled, slice and enjoy!


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Friday, March 16, 2018

Irish Food That's Not Corned Beef and Cabbage

Last year around this time I posted a blog entitled "Irish Recipes That I'd Actually Make". I'm not a fan of corned beef and cabbage nor of Irish soda bread, but I do like making themed recipes around holidays. Last year's recipes were beef stew, shepherd's pie, bangers and mash, boxty, steak pasties, and Irish whiskey cake. This year's recipes are lamb stew, potato rolls, Dublin Coddle, steak and Guinness pie, whiskey roasted salmon, and Bailey's chocolate chip cheesecake. Please note that none of these recipes involve cabbage of any kind. (You're welcome.)

Lamb Stew
Lamb and beef are both common proteins in Irish cooking. so it's no surprise that stew recipes for both abound. The Guinness adds a depth of flavor, but if you're not a beer drinker and don't want to have to bother with buying a single bottle of it, just substitute additional chicken broth. You can also freeze individual portions; simply thaw in the refrigerator overnight and then warm in a saucepan, adding a bit of water if needed.
2 pounds lamb stew meat, cut into 1" cubes
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-1/2 cups chicken broth
12 oz. Guinness stout (or additional chicken broth)
6 medium red potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
4 bay leaves
2 fresh thyme sprigs
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
1-2 teaspoons salt, to taste
1-1/2 teaspoons pepper
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream (or half and half)

Heat the butter and oil in an oven-safe Dutch oven and brown the lamb. Remove meat and cover to keep warm. In the same oil, saute carrots and onions until tender but still crisp. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Gradually add broth and beer. Stir in lamb and remaining ingredients except cream. Cover and bake at 325 degrees for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, until meat is tender, stirring every 30 minutes. Discard bay leaves, thyme, and rosemary. Stir in cream and return to oven for a few minutes until heated through.

Potato Rolls
What better to sop up the remains of the stew than a good, hearty potato roll? The potato gives a light texture and creaminess that nothing could improve, except possibly a good dollop of fresh Irish butter.

1 packet yeast (2-1/4 teaspoons)
1/2 cup warm water (handwashing warm)
1 cup mashed potatoes (real or instant)
2/3 cup butter
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk, scalded and cooled to lukewarm
5-6 cups flour
Melted butter

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water and set aside. Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or a hand mixer, combine potatoes, butter, eggs, sugar, honey, and salt. Beat on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Stir the yeast mixture into the cooled scalded milk and add to potatoes, mixing on low speed until blended. Gradually add flour until a soft dough forms. Using a dough hook, knead for 5 minutes on low (if you don't have a dough hook, knead by hand in the bowl). Spray a large mixing bowl with nonstick spray and place the dough inside, turning to coat. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled. Punch down and shape into rolls. Place rolls 2" apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet or arrange in three 8- or 9-inch round pans (recipe makes about 21 rolls). Cover and let rise again until increased by one-third. Bake at 400 degrees for 12-13 minutes. Remove from oven and brush tops with melted butter.

Dublin Coddle
The "coddle" in Dublin Coddle is because this dish is cooked slowly and gently. You can find slow cooker recipes, but this version cooks in a 300-degree oven for a few hours instead. Some recipes also include carrots, which add color, flavor, and nutritional value, and feel free to use whatever fresh herbs you have on hand. Any version is delicious!
10 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1-3/4 pounds pork sausage (about 5 links)
4 small yellow onions, diced
2 tablespoons fresh minced parsley
3-1/2 pounds russet potatoes, roughly peeled (i.e., leave some strips of peel on)
salt and pepper
2 cups chicken or beef broth

In an oven-safe Dutch oven, brown the bacon over medium to medium-low until cooked and crispy (about 18-20 minutes). Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. In the same pan, sear the sausages for 3-4 minutes on both sides, then slice into thirds. Remove the pot from the heat and layer onions with a pinch of salt and 1/3 of the parsley, bacon, sausages, another third of the parsley, potatoes, another pinch of both salt and pepper, and the remaining parsley. Pour chicken broth over, cover, and return to heat. Bring to a boil, then bake (covered) in a 300-degree oven for 1-1/2 hours or until potatoes are fork tender. Serve with crusty bread.

Steak and Guinness Pie
Pies and pasties (a free-form pie, not baked in a dish) are both popular in Irish cuisine. You can make homemade pastry if you like, but frozen puff pastry is a lot easier and (almost) as delicious. The beef is the star of this dish, anyway.
1-1/2 pounds stew beef, diced
salt and pepper to taste
2 heaping tablespoons flour
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
2-3 carrots, peeled and chopped
2-3 potatoes, peeled and chopped
about a handful of fresh rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, or a combination
2 cups Guinness stout, other stout beer, or beef stock
28 oz. canned diced tomatoes
1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted
1 egg, beaten

Season the beef generously with salt and pepper and toss in flour to coat (easiest to do in a big ziploc bag). In a large, deep pan, heat the oil over medium-high and brown the meat. Do in two batches to avoid overcrowding the pan. Add the onion and cook for 1 minute, then add the carrots, potatoes, and herbs. Cook for 4 minutes or so, then add the Guinness (or stock) and tomatoes, and bring to a boil. Stir and reduce heat to low, then simmer for 2 hours until the meat is very tender and the sauce is thickened. Season to taste. Pour the meat and sauce into a large baking dish (or individual ramekins). Roll out the puff pastry until about 1/4" thick. Cut out a circle about 1/2" larger than the diameter of the bowl. Brush the rim of the bowl with beaten egg and lay the pastry circle on top, pressing down the edge to seal. Lightly score the top of the pastry in a criss-cross pattern and brush with remaining egg. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.

Whiskey-Roasted Salmon
I don't generally think of fish when I think of Irish cooking, but I'm not sure why, because a good deal of Ireland is coastline! But it's the delicious honey and whiskey marinade that makes this particular recipe a real Irish dish. Grill the salmon if you can, but if grilling isn't an option, baking it in the oven works just fine.
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup Irish whiskey
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
1-1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste
4 salmon fillets

Mix together all ingredients except fillets. Place the fillets in a shallow rimmed dish and pour the marinade over them. Marinate for 1 hour at room temperature or 4 hours in the fridge. Remove from marinade and grill on a greased grill or place on a greased rack over a roasting pan and bake at 450 degrees for 10-15 minutes, basting once with remaining marinade halfway through cooking.

Bailey's Chocolate Chip Cheesecake
Okay, this is probably not a "traditional Irish recipe" by any stretch of the imagination, but it involves Bailey's Irish Cream, which makes it Irish, and it looks AMAZING, which makes it included here.
For the crust:
1/2 cup toasted pecans, cooled and crushed
2 cups Oreo cookie crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter, melted

For the filling:
2-1/4 pounds cream cheese, room temperature
1-2/3 cups sugar
5 eggs
1 cup Bailey's Irish Cream Liqueur
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

For the topping:
1 cup chilled whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon instant coffee powder
chocolate curls, for decoration

Combine all crust ingredients and press into a 10" springform pan, covering the bottom and 1" up the sides. Bake at 325 degrees for 7-10 minutes.

Beat cream cheese until smooth. Gradually beat in sugar, then eggs, one at a time. Beat in Bailey's and vanilla. Sprinkle half of the chocolate chips into baked crust, then spoon in the filling and top with the remaining chocolate chips. Bake at 325 degrees for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, until puffed, springy in center, and golden brown. Place a pan of water on bottom rack of oven while baking to keep moist.

Beat together topping ingredients except chocolate curls, and spread over cooled cake. Decorate with chocolate curls. Refrigerate for one day before serving.





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Friday, March 9, 2018

Honey Buttermilk Bread

It's a snowy day, and my kids and I are all home from school. So what else to do on a snow day but bake? It keeps us warm, busy, and well fed - win, win, win! Since we had a bottle of buttermilk on hand, I decided to try a recipe for honey buttermilk bread that I've had for a while. The complete recipe is at the bottom of the blog.

The ingredients you'll need are: yeast, powdered ginger, sugar, buttermilk (or make your own with milk and vinegar), honey, salt, baking soda, flour (bread or all-purpose), and butter.

Start by getting your yeast going: in a large mixing bowl (use the bowl of your stand mixer if you're using one), combine 1 tablespoon (or 1 packet) yeast, a pinch of ginger, and a teaspoon of sugar with 1/4 cup warm (hand washing temperature) water, and let sit for 5 minutes.





While the yeast is foaming away, warm up 2 cups of buttermilk. I zapped mine in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between, for a total of 2 minutes.

Stir in 1/3 cup honey and 1 teaspoon salt, then get your baking soda ready, but don't add it yet!


Once you add it to the buttermilk, it will foam up and make a mess unless you're using a really big measuring cup. So hold the measuring cup over your mixing bowl of yeast, then add 3/4 teaspoon baking soda, stir quickly, and dump it in. (Note: I used a 1/4 teaspoon measuring spoon and added 3 spoonfuls; next time I'd eyeball 3/4 of a 1-teaspoon spoon and add the soda all at once.)

Stir the bubbling mess. (Cackling, "Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble" at this point is optional, but highly encouraged.)

Next, melt 1/4 cup butter on the stove or in the microwave. You want to do this step now so it has a chance to cool a bit before you add it to the dough.


Now, add 3 cups of flour to your buttermilk mixture. If you're using a stand mixer, just set it on low and dump the flour in all at once (cover the mixer with a tea towel to avoid covering your kitchen - and yourself - in flour), and leave it for 3-5 minutes. If you're using a hand mixer, as I did, use dough hooks (if you have them) and add the flour gradually, with the mixer on low or medium-low. I beat it for about 3 minutes, stopping a few times to scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.


Once the butter has had the chance to cool a bit, go ahead and pour it in with the mixer on low. Use the rubber spatula to help work the butter into the dough.

Now you can add 3 more cups of flour, 1 cup at a time. If you're using a stand mixer, you can probably just dump it in and let it chug away on low. With my hand mixer, I found it difficult to mix after about the first cup, so I didn't the mixer and worked the rest of the flour in by hand, kneading it right in the bowl. I only worked in about 2-1/2 cups, but the dough seemed to be a good consistency, so I just left out that last half cup.


Once the dough is smooth and elastic, you're ready to let it rise. I rinsed out the bowl I had kneaded it in, sprayed the bowl with cooking spray and put the dough in, smooth side down, then flipped it over so it was coated all over.



I covered it with a tea towel and popped it into the oven on the "PROOF" setting. If your oven doesn't have a proof setting, you can preheat it to its lowest temperature and turn it off (or leave the door ajar, depending on what the lowest setting is), or if you have a gas oven, the pilot line alone will keep the oven at a good proofing temperature. But anywhere warm will do.

Let the dough rise for an hour and a half or so, until roughly doubled in size. Then comes the fun part! Take it out and give it a good punch, right in the center.


Divide the dough into two equal parts with a knife and shape each into a loaf. Spray a couple of loaf pans with cooking spray and arrange the loaves in them, then brush the tops of the loaves with melted butter or spray with cooking spray.



Cover and allow to rise again for about 45 minutes, until the dough reaches the top of the pans.

Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Keep an eye on the loaves, and cover the tops with foil if they start to brown too early. Remove the loaves from the oven and brush the tops with melted butter. Allow to cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then remove from pans (you may need to run a knife around the edge to loosen) and allow to finish cooling on a wire rack. If you prefer softer crusts, cover the loaves while cooling.

Slice and enjoy!





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