Saturday, December 24, 2011

French Bread and Slow-Cooker Pear and Apple Butter

I have a new passion for making bread. I don't know if it's the smell of fresh bread or the feeling of working with dough and patiently watching it turn into something so delicious. I just love it. I bought myself a french bread pan last year from Williams-Sonoma and it is so wonderful for making french bread. There was a recipe on the belly band of the pan that is super easy and always comes out wonderful. I have made at least 30 loaves of this recipe since purchasing this pan. This year for the holiday, I decided to also make mini loaves. The recipe below makes 2 large loaves but I wanted to give these out as gifts with this slow-cooker pear apple butter recipe I found--recipe below. So I made the recipe for the french bread as usual but instead of shaping two large loaves, made 4 mini loaves. These are so wonderful and I hope my friends enjoy it as much as did making them!

French Bread
Makes 2 large loaves
Recipe by Williams-Sonoma

2 cups water (warm 110 F or 43 C)
1 teaspoon sugar
3 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
5 -5 1/2 cups flour (plus additional flour for dusting) (I only use 5 cups)
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 egg white, lightly beaten with a pinch of salt

Directions: In a small bowl, combine the warm water and sugar, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add the yeast and stir gently to mix. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine 4 cups of the flour and the salt. Beat on low speed just until combined. Slowly add the yeast mixture and beat just until incorporated about 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium low to medium and beat for 10 minutes adding more flour, about 1/4 cup at a time, (I only needed to use 1 cup) until the dough is elastic and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 1 minute. Form into a ball and dust lightly with flour. Sprinkle a little flour into a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk. 45-60 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Punch down the dough and knead for a few seconds. Form the dough into a ball and return to the bowl again. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk. 20- 30 minutes.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and punch down. Cut the dough into 2 equal pieces and shape each into a ball. Let rest 5 minutes.

Line a french bread pan with a clean kitchen towel and sprinkle with a little flour. Roll each ball into a log with tapered ends, about the length of the pan, and place on the towel in the pan. Cover with the overhanging edges of the towel and let rise in a warm place for 20 minutes.

Position an oven rack in the lowest position of the oven, and place a baking pan 1/3 full of boiling water on the rack. Preheat oven to 425 F (220C). Gently lift the towel holding the loaves off of the pan, taking care not to let the loaves touch each other and set on a work surface. Spray the pan with non-stick cooking spray and using the towel as a guide gently flip each loaf into a well in the pan. Brush off excess flour. Using a sharp knife, make 3-5 diagonal slashes in the loaves about 1/4 inch deep (6mm). Brush with the beaten egg white mixture. Bake on center rack until the bread sounds hollow when tapped, about 30-35 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and cool the loaves in the pan until room temperature.

These are the 4 mini loaves.

Slow-Cooker Pear and Apple Butter
Makes 6 cups
Recipe by Everyday Food

2 1/2 pounds Bartlett or Anjou pears (about 5)
1/2 pounds McIntosh or Gala apples (about 5)
1 cup packed dark-brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cinnamon stick

Directions: Peel, quarter, and core pears and apples. In a food processor, finely grate fruit (in batches if necessary), then transfer to a 5- to 6-quart slow cooker. Stir in dark-brown sugar, salt, and cinnamon stick. Cover and cook on high, 4 hours.

Remove cinnamon stick and reserve. Transfer mixture to processor (in batches if necessary) and process until smooth. Return to slow cooker, along with cinnamon stick, and cook on high, uncovered, until mixture is thick and browned, 4 hours. Discard cinnamon stick and let mixture cool. Transfer to airtight containers and refrigerate, up to 3 weeks, or freeze, up to 3 months.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Butternut Squash Soup

I love making soups in the Winter. So when I came across this butternut squash soup recipe, I had to give it a shot. It worked out great because I had all the ingredients at home already and just needed to buy the butternut squash. This soup came out nice and thick without having to use any heavy cream. This is was a super easy and delicious recipe. Enjoy!

Butternut Squash Soup
Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 3/4-inch pieces (about 7 to 8 cups)
6 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1/4 cup chopped fresh sage leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In an 8-quart stockpot, add the butter and oil and melt together over medium-high heat. Add the onion and carrot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the squash and the chicken stock. Bring the mixture to a boil and add the sage. Continue to boil until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Turn off the heat. Using an immersion blender, (I put this in my blender once it cooled) blend the mixture until smooth and thick. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Keep the soup warm over low heat.