Pan de Muerto

pan de muerto

Pan de muerto is the traditional Mexican sweet bread eaten during Día de los Muertos, observed November 1 and 2 to honor loved ones who have died and celebrate the eternal cycle of life. The signatures of this soft, sweet, orange- or anise-scented bread are the “skull” and “bones” and that decorate its top and sides.

This pan de muerto recipe is richer in butter than one I have made in the past, and zestier with the use of sourdough starter. I present it in honor of mis muertos, who made my life richer and zestier in countless ways:

My father: Charles W. Tenney, Jr., a brilliant mind and playful wit, who encouraged me to dream first and ask questions later.

Charles W Tenney Jr

My maternal grandparents: Mary Strawson, who taught me  to make things with my hands, and Stanton Strawson, who thought hammering together wooden vessels to float in the tide pool was a perfectly wonderful pursuit for little girls.

Stanton and Mary Strawson

My paternal grandparents: Mildred Tenney, who loved nothing more than sitting down at the piano to play a lively tune, and Charles W. Tenney, Sr., who gave me stamps that inspired me to learn how to use an atlas and discover more about the big world out there.

Mildred and Charles Tenney

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National Doughnut Day!

Some people keep lists and calendars to remind themselves of food holidays: National Raisin Bran Cereal Day, International Nacho Day, Lobster Thermidor Day, and so on. I prefer to keep track of these things the way nature intended: by taking a morning peek at Facebook and noticing doughnuts everywhere. Doh! It’s national Doughnut Day! I was caught off-guard, but it was early in the day so I had time to recover.

I made baked yeasted doughnuts that you can really sink your teeth into. If you like those soft, lighter-than-air Krispy Kreme things, don’t make these. These are to those what Guinness Stout is to cotton candy (it’s also National Mixed Metaphor Day, by the way).

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Stollen

Today is December 16, 2011. Is this an important date because …

A) It’s the posting (and my hosting) day for the Bread Baking Babes

B) I get married today

C) Both of the above, and by the time you read this I will have pulled the Stollen from the oven, dusted the flour off my dress, and made my way to City Hall to exchange vows with my beautiful, brilliant, sweet, funny, gentle, loving…

Ahem. Back to the Stollen. A perfect choice for this month, because it practically makes itself, leaving us Babes to occupy our minds with… whatever other things we may wish to occupy them with.

Stollen is one of my favorite holiday breads, and quite easy to make. It is a traditional bread from Dresden, Germany, and the shape is said to represent the swaddled child in the manger. You kind of have to use your imagination to see this.

Mixing the dough is simple if you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, although it takes some time. Just throw the ingredients in the mixer, turn it on, and go buy a wedding dress or something.The dough will be ready when you get back.

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Gibassier

Gibassier-wild-yeast

When I was a student at SFBI, if you had asked any of us for a short list of our favorite sweet breads, Gibassier would have been on it every time. To get an idea of our collective response to the mere mention of this regional brioche, delicately flavored with orange and and anise and enriched with olive oil, think Les Simpsons en Provence: “Mmmm…. Gibassier!”

There seems to be some disagreement about whether Gibassier and Pompe à ‘Huile — one of the thirteen Provençal Christmas desserts — are the same thing. I don’t know the answer, but why quibble? I’m pretty sure no one will complain if this bread winds upon your dessert table — at Christmas time or any other time, with or without twelve other sweets — or on your breakfast table or your coffee table.

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Apricot-Pistachio Sticky Buns

apricot-pistachio-sticky-buns-2-wild-yeast

In these sticky buns, the traditional raisins and pecans are replaced with dried apricots and pistachios. Shelled pistachios can be a bit hard to find, but I came away from my last flour run to Costco with a big bag, roasted and salted. Of course, just about any nuts and dried fruit will work. Just remember to get a big package of napkins at Costco, too; they’re not called sticky buns for nothing!

apricot-pistachio-sticky-bun

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Seed Grissini

I have sung the praises of grissini (thin crisp bread sticks; literally “little snakes”) many times before, but let’s review:

  • simple to make
  • easy to vary with different flours, toppings, etc.
  • look striking in a bouquet or bundle
  • great party food; no slicing!
  • lots of dough hands-on time, and much more satisfying than Play-Doh
  • disappear quickly
  • satisfy the “crunchy” food group daily requirement

Sesame and fennel seeds are classic for grissini, but I find I have trouble making mine stay on. I solved that problem here by putting the seeds into the dough rather than on top. (Coarse salt, however, always belongs on top!) Mixing the dough in the food processor, as I’ve done here, chops the seeds, so if you prefer them whole, mix by hand or in a stand mixer.

Buon appetito!

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