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Cherry Almond Granola

26 Nov

Sometime in the past decade or so, I became a stingy Scottish granny. At least, this is what I have been told. Well, I haven’t been told that I, specifically, have turned into a stingy Scottish granny, but I have been told, many times over, that my non-Indian grandmother often referred to herself as being a stingy Scottish lady, and, well, it appears as though that apple hasn’t fallen too far from its tree. But allow me to back up just a bit.

Over the summer, I spent several lovely mornings in the company of my best friend, who had just had a baby. We spent our mornings together chatting, squeezing her new baby, and walking to a nearby place to get coffee. One day, while waiting in line, I was gazing at the selection of baked goods, practically drooling all over the glass as I ogled their offerings of scones bursting with fruit, cookies packed with nuts, and a huge, nearly overflowing glass jar of granola. The granola was a deeply golden brown, studded with big chunks of dried cherries and slivers of almonds. I could practically feel the crunch of the granola between my teeth as I brought my face closer and closer to the display counter, almost certain that the only thing that would make my coffee even better was a big bowl of cherry almond granola.

And then, like something out of a cartoon—I mean, you could practically hear the record needle come to a scratching halt as my eyes hit the price tag—I noticed the going rate for a bowl of granola: $6.

Now, I realize that complaining about the cost of a pastry or breakfast item or, really, anything at all that comes from a restaurant is ridiculous, being as though the entire existence of restaurants if contingent upon charging lots of money for stuff that people simply don’t feel like making at home themselves, but the price of that granola set something off in me. $6 for a cup of granola with a scoop of yogurt on it? You can buy a three pound tub of oats for less than that, and I happen to know from experience that granola is made up of mostly oats. So, I did what I had to do. I took that knowledge and made my own cherry almond granola. And I did it my way—free of oil, low on sweetness, big on crunch, and heavy on the almond, I can’t imagine that the $6 granola tastes any better than this, and I don’t think I’ll ever bother to find out. I’ll be too busy spending $3 on a couple of shots of espresso with a splash of milk tossed in. Because that, of course, makes perfect financial sense. Ahem.

Last Year: Crisp Spiced Nuts and Kicking Off the Holidays

Cherry Almond Granola Recipe

6 cups rolled oats (not quick cooking)

1 cup sliced almonds

¼ cup wheat germ (optional)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

pinch of sea salt

1 cup unfiltered apple cider

¼ cup grade B pure maple syrup

1/3 cup almond butter

1/8 teaspoon almond extract

½ cup dried cherries, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large baking dish, combine oats, almonds, wheat germ, cinnamon, and sea salt. Stir with a wooden spoon or toss with your hands to combine.

In a medium bowl, or in a large measuring cup, whisk together apple cider, maple syrup, almond butter, and almond extract. Pour the apple cider mixture over the oat mixture, and stir to thoroughly combine.

Bake the granola in the center of the oven for 2 hours, stirring once or twice just to keep the granola from sticking to the bottom of the baking dish, until the mixture is crisp and golden. Remove from oven, stir in the dried cherries, and allow to cool completely before packing away in an air-tight container.

Pane Coi Santi, Bread of Saints

4 Sep

Sometimes it still confounds me that for many years I was hesitant to attempt making any yeast-based breads that extended beyond a basic pizza crust. I contribute this lack of confidence to a spotty history of using my purchased yeast in a timely manner (thus rendering it dead and unusable). To boot, there is also my rather sad history of trying to make whole wheat bread 15 years ago in what can only be called The World’s Coldest Apartment, where the lack of heat (we’re talking steam from my breath being visible inside the house here, folks) inhibited my bread dough from rising. To add insult to my bread-baking confidence’s injury, I still ate the squat, leaden loaves that I ended up baking. If I was too poor to pay for heat, you’d better believe I was also too poor to throw out food, unpalatable as it may have been.

Now, having worked with yeast-based breads for many years, I find the process of making bread to be a soothing respite from my generally busy day-to-day schedule. Proofing bread involves a lot of waiting, so when making bread I am not only involved in the process of physically making the bread, but also waiting around while the bread slowly proofs, coming to leisurely life before my eyes. Some people might find this maddening, but I rather enjoy it. Truth be told, however, I usually use my bread proofing time to conquer all manner of mundane tasks like cleaning the kitchen or, you know, working. Because I am no fun at all.

This is one of my favorite breads. I generally buy a loaf of it from Pearl Bakery, a wonderful little bakery downtown that turns out a fantastic selection of breads and pastries. The Pearl Bakery’s pane coi santi, a traditional Tuscan bread that is dotted with dried fruit, toasted nuts, and a varying selection of seasonings, is a slightly different animal than the version I make. Theirs is made with a levain, a natural sourdough starter with a mild and pleasantly sour tang that gives the bread a good, hearty body. My version has a softer crumb, with a lightly chewy crust and a body that is decidedly less dense. Both versions are tasty, but, not having the gumption to start my own levain (perhaps this will be my next step in bread baking), I instead start my bread with a sponge of rye and wheat flours left to sit overnight and develop a slightly tangy and complex flavor. I also use dried sour cherries in my version in lieu of the Pearl’s golden raisins, and I think the swap is a good one. The sour/sweet note of cherries adds a nice touch to the heat of the black pepper that lingers in the bread, nicely bridging the two flavors together.

Even if you are not a bread baker by nature, I think you should take a stab at this bread. In reality, the preparation is not at all difficult, and, if nothing else, you’ll be giving yourself a bit of time to sit around and wait on your bread, perhaps while reading a book, catching up on email, or, if you’re as insufferably over-focused as some people around here, cleaning or working. Really, though? I think you should go with reading.

Last Year: Seared Tuna Steaks with Salsa Verde

Pane Coi Santi Recipe

Part of the base of this recipe hails from the basic country bread recipe in The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book, but the tweaks and additions added to it that transform it into pane coi santi are mine.


1 cup warm water

1 cup whole wheat flour

½ cup medium rye flour

½ teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast

Bread Dough

3 ½ to 3 ¾ cups bread flour

2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast

1 1/3 cups warm water

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

1 cup coarsely chopped, lightly toasted walnuts

1 cup dried sour cherries

To make the sponge:

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl, then stir until completely incorporated. The mixture will be sticky and somewhat shaggy. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 6 to 24 hours, until the sponge has risen and fallen. I find it best to mix the sponge in the evening, then allow it to sit overnight.

To make the bread:

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine 3 ½ cups of bread flour, honey, and yeast. With the mixer on low speed, or, if mixing by hand, while stirring with a sturdy wooden spoon, add the water and mix until the dough comes together, 1 to 2 minutes. When the dough comes together, stop mixing, then cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 20 minutes

After 20 minutes, remove the plastic wrap and add the sponge, sea salt and black pepper. Knead the dough on medium-low speed if using a stand mixer, or knead the dough by hand while it is still in the bowl. If you are kneading the dough by hand, you will need to add in a bit more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough ceases to become a sticky mess. Mind you, the dough will be very sticky no matter what you do, so a reasonable amount of stickiness is to be expected. The same advice applies to mixing the dough in a stand mixer: if the dough is unrelentingly sticky, add in more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough clears the sides of the bowl. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, anywhere from 8 to 10 minutes. Add the walnuts and dried cherries during the last minute of kneading.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand to form a smooth, tight ball. Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1 ½ hours.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Using your fingers, gently deflate the dough. Gently stretching and pulling, shape the dough into a 12-inch by 16-inch rectangle, with the long side facing you. Using a sharp knife or a bench scraper, divide the dough into two 12-inch by 8-inch rectangles. Roll each rectangle into a tight log by folding the top two corners towards the middle of the rectangle, then tightly rolling the dough, tucking as you roll, into a loaf. Pinch the end seam closed.

Line a large overturned or rimless baking sheet with a sheet of parchment paper. Place the two loaves on the parchment paper, spray or brush lightly with oil, then cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 1 to 1 ½ hours.

Half and hour before the dough is done rising, adjust an oven rack to the lower middle position and preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a heavy baking sheet or  baking stone on the lower middle oven rack and allow to heat up for 20 to 30 minutes.

When the dough is done rising, remove the plastic wrap and, using a very sharp knife, slash the tops of each loaf with three diagonal cuts. Lightly spray the tops of the loaves with water. Carefully slide the loaves, still on the parchment paper, onto the heated baking sheet or baking stone in the oven. Immediately reduce the oven temperature to 425 degrees. Bake the loaves, rotating halfway through baking, until they are dark golden brown and an instant read thermometer inserted into the center of a loaf registers 210 degrees, about 35 to 40 minutes.

Remove loaves to a wire rack to cool for at least 1 hour.

Makes two large loaves.

Lime Pecan Bars

12 Jul

Does anyone here have a single favorite cookbook? This is something I think about often. Most likely because, when asked the question myself, I tend to freeze up and stammer about categories of cookbooks, eras of cookbooks, and whether or not “favorite” can mean the same thing as “most utilized,” etc. It’s not that I have commitment issues with my cookbooks, it’s just that, when the word favorite is used, I never really know how to distill all the elements of a great cookbook into one choice. Maybe there’s an algorithm somewhere that can help me figure this one out. Something like number of recipes I’ve made more than once from a certain cookbook, divided by number of changes I’ve had to make in each recipe to make it work, plus number of food splatter stains adorning each page, multiplied by number of times I have had actual dreams about certain foods in each cookbook. Surely someone can figure this one out for me.

I’ll go ahead and submit a cookbook for mathematical consideration: Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts. This cookbook contains several recipes I’ve visited more than once, nearly all of which I have tinkered with in order to really make them noteworthy, and is patterned with numerous stains and splatters. I have yet to have any actual dreams about the desserts in this book, but, worry not, there is still time.

My only complaint about this cookbook lies with element number two of the equation. Most of the recipes in this book sound absolutely delicious, but lack the sort of punch they need to really make them shine. The problem, of course, could be entirely mine, considering the fact that this cookbook was obviously not made to please my personal palette alone, but I still find myself adding and subtracting from each recipe whenever I endeavor to make something from the book. These lime pecan bars, in particular, have been a sticking point for me. The recipe printed in the book, though passable, has never been what I might consider to be a solid, go-to recipe. I’ve worked my way with it over the years, but no matter what I did, the final texture of the bars always seemed a little off—a tad too gummy for my tastes, and never as tart as I think a citrus bar should be.

However, I am proud to say that, after a few years of off-and-on experimentation, I think I have finally cracked the code of this treat. I upped the lime juice quotient by almost 30%, changed the ratio of eggs to flour, reduced the sugar percentage accordingly, pinched in some sea salt, and tinkered with the baking time. It only took me a half dozen batches or so over the course of a few years (two batches in this week alone), but I think I have done it. A creamy custard baked atop a crisp and slightly nutty base, it is a dessert both pleasingly tart and satisfyingly sweet, without falling too much in the category of either. It is very nearly perfect, and I can say with certainly that this recipe, at least, is now one I can call a favorite.

Last Year: Nectarine and Raspberry Galette in a Cornmeal Crust, and Roasted Asparagus and Lemon Chèvre Galette . What can I say? I like a nice galette.

Lime Pecan Bars Recipe

Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts


½ cup pecans

¼ cup lightly packed light brown sugar

¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour

¼ cup unsalted butter, melted

pinch of fine grain sea salt


3 large eggs

1 large egg yolk

¾ cup sugar

1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

2/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

1 teaspoon very finely grated or chopped lime zest

pinch of fine grain sea salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly butter the bottom and sides of an 8” by 8” square baking pan.

In the bowl of a food processor, or by hand, finely chop the pecans. Add the sugar, flour, melted butter, and sea salt, and process or blend with a fork to form a crumbly mixture. Press the crust into the buttered pan, coaxing the crust about ¼ of an inch up the sides and pressing it into place. Bake the crust in the center of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until it is golden brown.

While the crust is baking, prepare the filling by whisking together the eggs, egg yolk, and sugar. Whisk in the flour, lime juice, lime zest, and salt. As soon as the crust is done baking, remove it from the oven, pour in the lime mixture, and return the pan to the oven. Bake for 17 to 20 minutes, until the center is no longer wobbly and the top of the bars are only slightly firm to the touch (a finger touched in the center of the bars should leave only a slight indentation.

Remove the bars from the oven and cool at room temperature for 1 hour.

Bars can be cut into 12 medium-sized rectangles, or 16 smaller squares.

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