Lazy Baking — Oat Bran Sourdough Muffins

It’s Tuesday night and I can’t make bagels. I want to make bagels, I have all the ingredients for bagels, and I love making bagels. But after putting in a full day of work, my energy is sapped and I can’t face rolling 18 bagels and then staying up for another three or four hours waiting to put them into the fridge overnight. What I need is to mix, bake, and go to bed. (Well, OK, I might sneak an episode of Breaking Bad in there somewhere.)

Mix, bake, sleep… sounds like muffins to me. Sourdough, of course. And using some of that big bag of oat bran that stares me in the face every time I look at the pantry shelf seems like a good idea, too. Sourdough oat bran muffins are not in my repertoire, but what the hell, I’ll just try something. At worst, I’ll have lost 30 minutes and 63 cents’ worth of oat bran, and I can go to bed saying I tried.

Believe me when I say a new recipe almost never works for me on the first attempt, but these are actually pretty good! They have the texture I appreciate in a muffin — coarse and chewy and nothing like a cupcake. The 15-muffin batch size is a bit unconventional, but I can live with that. And they’re rather plain looking, aren’t they?

But they really do taste very good, although I can imagine all sorts of ways they could be spruced up with the addition of nuts, fruits, spices, gumball machine rings, etc. What are your ideas? Share them in the comments, or better yet, bake up your own take on these very easy muffins and send me a photo and a link to your recipe (must include sourdough starter and oat bran!). If I have any takers, I’ll post them in a roundup in a couple of weeks.

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Pandoro and Friends

2012, be warned: 2011 is a tough act to follow. The beautiful and exciting things that came my way in 2011 are too numerous to count, but Number Two on the list has to be the trip Jay and I took to Morocco and Venice in November (with Number One being our wedding a month later). And while the highlights of that trip are also too numerous to count, our day in Verona is on that list for sure.

The charming city of Verona is an easy 80-minute train ride from (equally charming) Venice, and we thought it would make a lovely day trip. Jay was thinking history, culture, architecture, photography. I — obviously! — was thinking Pandoro pans. I have been coveting genuine Italian pans for this star-shaped golden holiday bread forever, and they just can’t be found in the US. But Pandoro originated in Verona, so I was sure I could find some there.

And find them I did, but that wasn’t the best part. The best part was how I found them. I remembered that the lovely and talented Cinzia also hails from Verona, and when I emailed her to ask about where I might buy the pans, she not only came through with the name of a shop (Plurimix), but she came into the city to meet us! Over lunch and a slice of Nadalin (another Veronese holiday bread, reportedly the forerunner of Pandoro), I found Cinzia to be every bit as warm and delightful as her blog.

And that, my dear friends, is the real pleasure I derive from writing this blog: connecting with wonderful people all over the globe, whether face-to-face or through virtual pathways.  I can’t think of a nicer way to observe BreadBakingDay — the monthly event that celebrates baking and breaking bread together — than with Pandoro dedicated to Cinzia (who happens to be hosting BBD this month, too!), Zorra (creator of BBD), and all of my bread-baking friends everywhere.

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Cinnamon-Raisin Sourdough Bagels

There’s been a lot of bagel-making going on around here. More about that in a later post. These cinnamon-raisin bagels are a lot like the blueberry bagels, only with raisins. And cinnamon. Go figure.

And speaking of figures — at 85 grams, these bagels a little smaller than the 100-gram ones I’ve been doing recently. The missing 15 grams doesn’t seem to make the bagel appreciably smaller, but if I’m eating one every day (and I might be), those eliminated grams should eliminate more than three pounds from my waistline over the course of a year.

I guessed at how much cinnamon to add to the dough. It wasn’t a bad guess, but if you like your bagels really cinnamon-y, I think you could double the amount and still be in the ballpark. The bagelpark? Whatever.

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Open Sesame

The inspiration for this seeded bread came from Pain de Beaucaire, which uses a unique shaping technique to create a rustic, bran-speckled fissure in the loaf with no slashing required. Here, the bran is replaced with black sesame seeds, for a nutty flavor and dramatic presentation. Sandwiched between two slurry-slathered layers of dough, the seeds cause the loaf to open down the middle.

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Sourdough Blueberry Bagels

Blueberries are everybody’s darling lately: antioxidant-rich, cancer-fighting, cholesterol-lowering, brain-sharpening, blood pressure-controlling, diabetes-battling. And they taste good, too! Even when they’re not in season, I usually keep a bag on hand in the freezer for smoothies, and a store of dried berries to throw into my oatmeal.

I can’t imagine why it took me this long — that is, until my number-one bagel eater made the request — to make blueberry-studded bagels. To keep the berries as intact as possible, I incorporated the dried berries into the mostly-mixed dough without soaking them first. I did make the dough a bit wetter than usual to allow for the berries’ absorption of some water.

If you haven’t made bagels before, don’t be intimidated! Bagels are one of my favorite things to make. There’s lots of hands-on time with the dough, a plus in my book. For more of my bagel opinions, take a look at my basic 100%-sourdough bagel recipe.

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Sourdough Banana Bread

I came up with this sourdough quick bread by heavily tweaking one of my favorite “regular” banana bread recipes. Why the adaptation? It could be that I believe that my changes — incorporating a hefty amount of sourdough starter, significantly reducing the amount of sweetener and fat, and replacing the butter with olive oil — transform what is essentially cake into something falling somewhere between turnip greens and quinoa on the healthy food scale. Or it could be that sourdough just makes everything better, and that’s reason enough.

The idea in adaptations like this is to substitute all or a portion of the flour in the original recipe with the flour in the sourdough starter. But one challenge in adapting pastry recipes is that the starter must be fairly liquid (around 100% or more hydration) in order to incorporate easily with the other ingredients without having to work it very much, which would produce gluten development that is generally undesirable in pastries. How can you bring all that water along without making the batter too wet?

If the original recipe calls for water as an ingredient, the amount can be reduced to account for the water in the starter. Otherwise, it’s a little tricker. If there are other liquids, such as milk or egg whites, you might substitute a powdered form of that ingredient, such as milk powder, and let the starter water stand in for the liquid component of the ingredient. Reducing the amount of sweetener can also help make a batter less “wet” (as well as, of course, less sweet, which I generally find to be a good thing).

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