Panettone, In Miniature

mini-panettone-wild-yeast

It’s panettone time again! I bake this rich, light, citrus-and vanilla-scented bread every holiday season. It’s one of my favorite things to make because, although it requires meticulous mixing and handling, a more festive bread never graced a holiday table.

This year I used my go-to recipe, which I detailed in last year’s panettone post. The only difference is that, for the first time, I baked it in these wonderful diminutive molds. Although it was a bit more work, I loved ending up with 20 small breads — each perfect for one, or sharing with a friend.

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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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Panettone

I started making panettone at Christmastime in 2006. Over these few years, I have tried variations on the recipe (here’s a chocolate one, and here’s one studded with bits of chocolate and ginger), but this is the one I keep coming back to. I still hold my breath each time I make it, because it’s fussy and needs to be pampered. But given patience, discipline, and a loving hand, it does not disappoint. Light and buttery, citrus-y sweet and holiday-special, its baking is a ritual that comforts and satisfies me. Sharing it with my family, and with you, makes me unreasonably happy.

 I first posted this panettone in 2007, and the recipe hasn’t changed. But I have accumulated a few refinements and lessons learned, so I thought it was time, once again, to tell you everything I know about making panettone.

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Sourdough Carrot-Ginger Cake

sourdough-ginger-carrot-cake-wild-yeast

Although carrot cake has been around for centuries, I think of it as the 1970s’ attempt to rationalize dessert.

Come on… it’s dessert! Putting carrots into your cake doesn’t make it any better for you than, say, putting sourdough into it. Together they make a pretty good cake, though. And a nice way to use leftover sourdough starter.

(And if you really want a healthful cake, you can substitute collard greens for carrots, spirulina powder for sugar, and fish oil for vegetable oil. There. Don’t say I never do anything for you.)

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Dulce de Leche Cheesecake

I made this dulce de leche cheesecake for my daughter M’s 21st birthday. She loves cheesecake, so I was pretty sure she’d like this, and she did. It’s a great cake for cheesecake lovers. It turns out it’s also a great cake for turning non-cheesecake lovers (people who say “I don’t like cheesecake”) into cheesecake lovers (people who say “this is the most awesome cake in recorded history” — yes, these were the actual words). That makes me happy, because she is the most awesome daughter in recorded history, so I’m glad everyone liked her cake!

Dulce de leche is caramelized sweetened milk, and it is amazing. There is no way anyone can not adore it. You can buy it in jars at Latin American markets, or make your own. I used David L’s recipe. It both flavors the filling and serves as the light-colored accent on the caramel topping. I made it less dark than some dulce de leche I’ve seen, although it’s not quite as pale as it appears in my photo.

Some hints for perfect cheesecake :

  • For a smooth batter, the cream cheese needs to be very soft. Leave it out overnight, or put it in the microwave a few seconds at a time.
  • Keep the mixer on low-medium speed, to avoid incorporating too much air.
  • Scrape the bowl and paddle diligently. There’s nothing worse than noticing a lump of unincorporated cheese stuck to the bottom of the mixing bowl as you’re pouring the filling into the pan.
  • A Springform pan can allow water to seep into the crust when you bake the cake in a water bath, even if you protect the bottom with foil. A deep, straight-sided cake pan is better. Unmold it by inverting it onto a plate and then again onto a second plate. It might stick a tiny bit but this is a creamy cake so you can smooth it out with an offset spatula and no one will notice it if the cake has a topping. If it’s to be left bare, try lightly buttering the plate onto which you invert the cake, as well as the plastic you wrap it with.
  • Cool the cake completely at room temperature before refrigerating or freezing. Leaving it in the water bath helps it cool slowly and prevents cracking.
  • For clean cuts, dip the knife in hot water and dry it with a towel before cutting each slice.
  • For a completely gluten-free cake, make the crust with gluten-free graham wafers.

I’m sorry there are no photos of the sliced cake. It went too quickly.

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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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