Orange Poppy Seed Bread

There are always a few recipes that stay with us as fond memories from our childhood. This recipe is most certainly one I carried with me after I left home. It was a favorite of my mother’s, who would bake it for family gatherings, or simply because one of her children requested it. I loved to cut a slice from the middle, which was richly laden with the orange glaze drizzled atop the loaf. I so enjoyed the tiny bites of poppy seeds, exploding under my teeth while I savored every bite. I am a huge fan of marzipan, and really anything flavored with almond, so perhaps that’s why this bread has appealed so greatly to me throughout my life. You could substitute lemon in place of the orange juice and zest called for in the recipe, if you prefer. This bread is fantastic served at brunch, afternoon coffee, or as a light dessert post dinner. It also makes a lovely gift. Perhaps this recipe will become a favorite of your family, just as it did in mine.

3 eggs, room temperature, slightly beaten
1 1/2 c. oil (canola, safflower, or vegetable, preferably organic)
1 1/2 c. whole milk, room temperature
2 c. sugar
3 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 Tbsp. poppy seeds
zest of one orange
3-4 tsp. pure almond extract

For the Glaze:
1 orange, juiced
1/4 c. granulated or powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (optional)

Grease and flour two 8.5 x 4.5 x 2.5″ loaf pans. Set aside and preheat the oven to 325°F. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and poppy seeds in a large bowl; whisk to remove any clumps. Combine the eggs, and with the mixer running on medium-low, add the oil, sugar, almond extract, and orange zest in the bowl of a stand mixer. Starting and ending with the dry ingredients, alternate between adding the dry ingredients and milk to the egg mixture. Pour the prepared batter into the loaf pans and bake in the oven on the middle rack of the oven for about 1- 1 1/4 hours, or until a toothpick, inserted into the middle of the loaf removes cleanly.

Allow the loaves to cool for about 10 minutes on a wire cooling rack before attempting to remove them from the pan. If they do not remove easily, run a sharp knife around the edges of the loaves. Meanwhile, prepare the orange glaze in a small butter warming pan. Add all the ingredients and allow the sugar to completely dissolve into the juice. Place the wire cooling rack over a baking tray, and pour the glaze over both loaves. You may want to poke a few holes into the tops of the loaves so more glaze penetrates into the center. Some glaze will accumulate in the baking tray. Simply remove the wire rack and pour the remaining glaze back into the butter warmer and re-pour the contents over both loaves again. Once the loaves have cooled slightly, you can eat a slice (or two!) immediately, or once the loaves are completely cool, you can wrap them in plastic or aluminum foil. This bread freezes nicely, but I have not yet ever had a loaf left over to store in the freezer!

Paratha- Indian Flat Bread

Let me start out by saying that I have a great affinity toward any sort of bread that has been kneaded into existence. One of my greatest joys while traveling is to taste the locals’ version of dough.  The breaking of bread is sacred and sustains life. Ok, I’m getting too deep now. Bread is delicious, and I don’t know too many people who don’t enjoy sinking their teeth into a freshly baked loaf. Is it just me, or is the sound of a perfectly baked French baguette something from heaven?

Indian breads have always piqued my interest. I will never forget the time I was served a poori bread larger than my head at an Indian restaurant in New York City. It was fantastic to pull a chunk off the enormous orb, only to witness it slowly deflating. While I marveled at the bread, it just seemed like I would need a commercial deep fryer to pull that off, so attempting to recreate it at home quickly crossed itself out in my mind.

Then I was introduced to another Indian bread: paratha. I loved its flaky, buttery texture. Not until a dear friend of mine demonstrated in my home how to make paratha bread, did I fully understand how its fascinating shape was formed. While this bread is slightly more labor intensive than an average loaf of bread, it does makes up for it by not having to rise and rest for hours and hours.

3 c. unbleached flour (plus more for rolling out the dough)
2 tsp. baking powder
2 heaping tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. tumeric (optional)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 3/4 c. water (this is approximate; you only want enough water to make the dough come together, without becoming too sticky)
5-6 Tbl. clarified butter* or organic vegetable shortening

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl with a whisk. Slowly add the water. You may require slightly less or more water than mentioned above. The dough should be slightly more wet than pizza dough. Form the dough into a ball, cover with a kitchen towel, and set aside in a warm place of your kitchen, such as inside a turned-0ff oven or on the stove top of you have gas burners.

After about  30 minutes to one hour, uncover the dough,  pull off small fist-sized chunks, and shape into a round disk with your hands. The size of the disk depends on the size of the pan you will be using to sauté the bread at the end of the cooking process. I would make each dough disk to weigh about 1/4-1/2 pound if you have a large (12″ or more) sauté pan.

On a floured surface, roll out each dough disk to about a 1/8″ thickness. Once you have rolled out the dough, spread some clarified butter or vegetable shortening onto the surface of the dough.

With a sharp knife, cut 1″ strips, leaving a bit uncut at one side, running the entire width of the rolled-out dough. Roll each strip up like a snail’s shell until the uncut portion. Then roll up the entire piece of dough in the opposite direction, again like a snail’s shell. The dough should look something like the picture below on the right once you have completed this step.

Again, roll out the snail’s shell ball of dough with a rolling pin. You may need to re-flour your working surface again. The dough should have a few bumps in it. You don’t want it to be perfectly flat. Heat a sauté pan on medium heat. When the pan is hot, brush the cooking surface with a little bit of oil (olive, vegetable, etc.) and add the dough to the pan. Allow the dough to begin to bubble slightly before flipping over to the other side. You want the paratha bread to have a nice golden hue, but certainly not browned.

Place the pieces of bread into a large kitchen towel and–this is the fun part!–bring the edges of the towel together with your hands. While maintaing the pieces of bread inside the towel, beat the sides together, as if you were clapping your hands. This will allow the bread to break up into large pieces, which is the desired finished look. Best served warm alongside a few fabulous Indian inpsired dishes, or simply with a bowl of hummus. Enjoy!

*Clarified butter is milk fat rendered from butter to separate the milk solids and water from the butterfat. This is done by heating the butter, at which point the heavier milk solids sink to the bottom, while the water evaporates and the butter fat floats to the surface and is skimmed away. Clarified butter has a much higher smoke point than regular butter, as well as a longer shelf life. You can clarify your own butter at home, but many grocery stores now carry this product.

TDB Homemade: Croutons

Croutons are so quick and easy to make, and they are a perfect use for that day-old stale bread left over from dinner last night.

Directions:

Cut any amount of stale or slightly hardened bread into cubes and place them in a large frying pan over medium heat.  The size to make the croutons is up to you, but I like them to be around 3/4″ x 3/4″ x 1/2″.  Drizzle the cubes with olive oil and toss to coat.  Just a couple tablespoons of oil is sufficient for half of a leftover baguette — you don’t want to drench the bread.  Add flavor — sprinkle with garlic powder, dried or fresh herbs, chili powder, a little salt, freshly grated Parmesano Reggiano…you name it!  Toss the croutons in the pan periodically so that they toast evenly, allowing them to brown slightly and get crunchy.  Depending on how much moisture remains in the bread, this may take as little as 3 minutes, but usually 5-7 minutes is enough for a day-old French baguette (which happens to be my favorite type of bread to convert to croutons).

Croutons can also be made with pre-packaged sliced bread, although the more preservatives the bread contains, the longer it will stay moist, which means it will take longer to crisp up.  With any pre-packaged sliced bread, preservatives or no, a better method of cooking is to toss the bread cubes with oil and flavor ingredients in a large bowl, spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet, and bake them at 250ºF until they are dry and crispy, about 30 minutes.

And that’s it!  So easy, and so delicious.  And like so many other things, homemade croutons taste way better than their pricey, pre-packaged counterparts, which often also contain “mystery ingredients”.  Use your homemade version to top salads or soups, or try them as a tasty snack alternative to chips and crackers.  They will keep pretty well (after cooling) in an airtight container for several days.  But good luck keeping them around that long.  My last batch was gone within hours!