<![CDATA[The Bread Monk - My Bread Blog]]>Wed, 20 Dec 2017 09:55:42 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Wood fired pizza oven]]>Mon, 18 Dec 2017 17:46:15 GMThttp://breadmonk.com/my-bread-blog/wood-fired-pizza-ovenPicture
It has been so long since I posted that I feel I should apologize to my loyal Breadheads! I'm not sure what has kept me from blogging, but I suspect that at least part of the reason is that I haven't done much of anything new lately. I've bake a lot of potato rolls and made a few waffles, baked cookies once or twice. But no new recipes, nothing exciting---until this past weekend, when I finally had the chance to make pizza in an authentic wood-fired oven. To a pizza lover like me, that's like getting free play-off tickets!

PicturePizza Party fundraiser for the Knights of Columbus
I often am assigned to hear confessions and celebrate Mass at a parish about 45 minutes from the abbey, Immaculate Conception Church in Morris IL. Every year they have an Oktoberfest auction  (a fundraiser for their grade school) and for a few years now I have offered "Baking Lessons with the Bread Monk" as an item up for bid. (I have no idea how much money it generates.) I had done a pizza fundraiser at the parish on behalf of the Knights of Columbus, so my dough tossing skills were well known. As a result a couple of years ago I was asked by the auction winners to have a pizza night in their home. I brought all my stones, pans and peels, along with a Mason jar of my own sauce, homemade sweet hot Italian sausage, and a double batch of pizza dough. We had a big crowd of family and friends enjoying some excellent pizza. In fact the the evening was such a success that the family had a wood fired pizza oven installed on their patio!

I got an invitation to bless the oven and bake in it, and let me tell you I was excited! I've been reading about wood-fired ovens for years and have high hopes to put one in at the abbey eventually. When I arrived with my supplies, Greg had had a fire going for several hours, so the interior temperature of the oven was just under 800 degrees, perfect for making thin crust, Italian-style pizza. I used a very simple dough recipe---flour, water, yeast and salt---kept the toppings to a minimum as well. One appetizer pizza was simply mornay sauce, sun dried tomatoes, and sliced almonds, the other a bruschetta topping with diced tomatoes, onion, kalamata olives and some grated cheese. Later on we enjoyed a meat lovers' (lots of teenage boys around!), a Four Cheese Tomato Top (a perennial favorite), and a supreme pizza that developed some lovely light char around the edges of a thicker crust.   

A "Supreme" pizza indeed!
I knew in theory that pizzas in a wood-fired oven bake more quickly and need to be rotated more often, but in practice there was a bit of a learning curve! But I'm feeling a bit more confident and the next time I think I can avoid a burnt crust like this one on the bruschetta pizza. A little hint: in the winter when tomatoes are from the hothouse rather than the garden, a splash of balsamic vinegar can brighten up the flavor.
A little dark on one side but we ate every bit of it!
Started on your New Year's resolutions yet? "Make more pizzas in a wood fired oven" is definitely at the top of my list for 2018! 
<![CDATA[St. Nicholas Cookies]]>Fri, 24 Nov 2017 18:24:06 GMThttp://breadmonk.com/my-bread-blog/st-nicholas-cookiesPictureAdservice Printmarketing, The Netherlands, posted on www.stnicholascenter.org
November 28th I'm giving a presentation on Christmas baking (private event for a club) and I've been putting together my PowerPoint presentation, mostly using my own photos but occasionally making use of online images---with appropriate credit given of course! I start with the feast of St. Nicholas on December 6 and work my way all the way through Our Lady of Guadalupe, Santa Lucia Day, Christmas Eve and Day, and all the way to Epiphany. I include recipes from several cultures and traditions, with foods in honor of Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the shepherds, the angels, and the Magi. Most of the material comes from my book 'Tis the Season to Be Baking, but this week I was inspired to expand my presentation to include a traditional cookie for St. Nicholas' Day called speculaas.

A version of  speculaas can be found in any country where St. Nicholas is honored, but especially in Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and the Ukraine. They are a spiced cookie with similar flavors to gingerbread but without the molasses. They can be molded or rolled out and shaped with cookie cutters. Go to www.stnicholascenter.org for recipes, cookie cutters and other resources. (I used the recipe for "Dutch Spice Cookies"). Having cleaned out my mother's house in the past year (the one with 9,000 cookie cutters in the basement), I didn't need to shop. I had the perfect cookie mold in storage, just waiting to be used.

I bought this cookie mold for my mom while I was at school at St. Meinrad Archabbey, at their (now defunct) Abbey Press. They had some kind of yard sale, and I found this terracotta mold for all of $3.00. Based on its condition when we found it in the house, I don't think Mama ever used it so I decided that a test was in order, if for no other reason than to get some photos for my presentation.  I found the recipe online at the aforementioned St. Nicholas Center and mixed up the dough in a jiffy. Some recipes call for chilled dough, others say to use the dough at room temperature--the instructions that came with the mold suggested the latter. They also said to dust the mold with flour, but flour didn't want to stick to it, so I measured out the dough (about 3 tablespoons) and rolled it in flour before putting in the mold---worked like a charm!  The cookies popped out of the mold without any difficulty.  

The result was three dozen of these adorable cookies which made the kitchen smell delightfully like Christmas in spite of it being the day after Thanksgiving. I don't need Black Friday to get myself into the holiday spirit! You'll have to special order the mold for yourself (some resources HERE) unless you are lucky enough to find one in an antique mall or flea market. Longaberger made one but it's too large for my taste and it's harder to get the cookie out of such a long mold.

I might also add that having experimented extensively, I think speculaas are equally delicious with cold milk, warm tea or hot coffee, but you will have decide for yourself. December 6 isn't far away--get baking!

<![CDATA[Baking mix for the holidays]]>Tue, 21 Nov 2017 17:13:28 GMThttp://breadmonk.com/my-bread-blog/baking-mix-for-the-holidaysPicture
Do you have guests this Thanksgiving weekend, or other holiday visitors to cook for later in the year? Here's a recipe for a healthier alternative to commercial baking mixes. I've posted it before and done a number of live demos on the subject this fall, but I thought it would be timely to offer it again.

Most baking mixes use shortening and have a number of preservatives and therefore are more “shelf-stable” as they say in the food biz. My version has no preservatives and uses butter (far fewer trans fats, but it must be refrigerated), which with the addition of whole grains makes it a healthier alternative. You can use it one-to-one in any recipe that calls for baking mix. Several recipes are provided to keep your guests happy all weekend long!
Multigrain Baking Mix
3 cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups whole wheat flour
¾ cup quick cooking oatmeal
½ cup yellow cornmeal
¼ cup milled flaxseed
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into slices
 (Use only 1 stick of butter for a reduced fat version)

Place dry ingredients into food processor and process until thoroughly mixed. Add butter and pulse until well blended. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 6 weeks (depending upon how fresh your butter is). If you use salted butter, reduce the salt in the recipe by ½ teaspoon.
Baked Cinnamon Donuts with Chai Glaze
1¾ cup of baking mix
1/3 cup granulated sugar
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¾ cup 2% milk
1 egg
¼ cup vegetable oil
Chai glaze (see directions)
Preheat oven to 375° F. and lightly grease a donut pan. In a medium-size bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, and cinnamon and whisk thoroughly to combine. In a separate bowl, whisk together milk, egg and oil. Pour milk mixture into dry ingredients and stir until smooth. Divide batter into pan. Bake in preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until slightly firm to the touch and an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pans for five minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack; frost while warm.
Chai Frosting
Make one cup of sweetened chai tea. In a small sauce pan, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Reduce to about ¼ cup of thick syrup. Immediately add 1 cup of powder sugar and a pinch of salt, and whisk until smooth. While mixture is still warm, use to lightly glaze donuts.
Welsh Cakes
2 cups baking mix
1/3 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly-ground nutmeg
½ cup currants or raisins
1 large egg
1/4 cup cold milk
Butter for the pan

Combine baking mix, sugar and spices in a medium-size bowl and whisk to blend.  Stir in the currants. In a separate small bowl, beat the egg with the milk; stir into mixture to make a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead briefly, 8 to 10 strokes. Lightly flour the board, then roll the dough to a 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into rounds with a fluted cookie cutter (2½” or 3”size).  Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-low heat (or use an electric skillet set to 350° F).  Brush the surface of the pan lightly with butter and cook the cakes for about 3 minutes per side, or until they are golden brown. (I usually test one first to make sure I have the temperature correct--they should come out soft in the middle but not at all doughy).  Remove to a wire rack and sprinkle with granulated sugar.  Serve warm.
Versatile Coffeecake
Cinnamon Streusel
1/3 cup baking mix
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons firm butter or margarine
2 cups baking mix
2/3 cup 2% milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg
Heat oven to 375°F. Coat a 9-inch round cake pan with cooking spray. In small bowl, rub together streusel ingredients until crumbly and set aside. In another small bowl or pitcher, combine milk, sugar and egg and beat well. Pour into medium bowl with bakijg mix and stir until just blended. Spread in pan. Sprinkle with streusel. Bake 18 to 22 minutes or until golden brown.
  • make a double batch of the streusel, and use half for a filling between layers of the batter
  • Fold 1 cup of blueberries or raspberries into the batter before placing it in the pan.
  • Use cake and pastry filling to make a marbled cake
  • Use allspice or Chinese five spice in place of the cinnamon, and add a half cup each of chopped dates and toasted pecan pieces to the batter.
Here are the proportions from the classic Bisquick recipes:
N.B.: You may need slightly more milk (or slightly less mix) with a multigrain baking blend.
2 cups baking mix
1 cup milk
2 eggs
N.B.: I think these are better with 1¼ cup on milk and only one egg.
2 cups baking mix
1 1/3 cups milk
1 egg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
N.B.: When I make these waffles, I use two eggs, separated, and beat the whites to stiff peak stage and fold them into the batter for extra light waffles.
Blueberry Muffins
2 cups baking mix
1⁄3 cup sugar
2⁄3 cup milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 egg
3⁄4 cup frozen blueberries
Heat oven to 400 degrees and coat muffin pan with cooking spray. Combine sugar, milk, oil and egg in a small bowl and beat well. Place baking mix in a medium bowl and add liquid, stir until just moistened. Gently fold in the blueberries. Divide batter evenly in 9 muffin cups.
Bake 13 to 18 minutes or until golden brown.

<![CDATA[The pleasures of canning pizza sauce]]>Mon, 28 Aug 2017 20:22:23 GMThttp://breadmonk.com/my-bread-blog/the-pleasures-of-canning-pizza-saucePicture
Br. Luke has been bringing in tubs of tomatoes from the abbey garden, so I decided it was time to put up my yearly supply of pizza sauce. Although I have a recipe for "Big Ol' Batch of Pizza Sauce" I let the herb garden decide on the seasonings for me. As you can see, it's a banner year for garlic chives, and since they tend to self-sow rather vigorously it seemed best to harvest the abundance before they had a chance to take over a portion of the lawn. The other standout in the herb garden this year is the oregano. I already had one variety of it growing in abundance, and I planted two more varieties after our herb guild plant sale in May. So garlic chives and oregano were the primary flavorings, along with seasoned salt and a bit of thyme. The tomatoes were so sweet that I had to add red wine vinegar to give the sauce enough acidity. We had plenty of mason jars to choose from and the kitchen's giant steam kettle, normally used for big batches of spaghetti, makes a sizable container for the hot water bath. I'm blessed to live in a monastery with a long history of food preservation---we've got all the equipment!

I also had plenty of practical, professional know-how, thanks to a recent program from Illinois Extension at my herb guild's monthly meeting. The demonstrator showed us how to can peach preserves, but gave us plenty of resources for other kinds of canning. Find out more:  web.extension.illinois.edu/foodpreservation/tomatoes.cfm I learned a lot about canning and freezing produce by exploring all the resources they have available.

Unfortunately, I didn't use a proper jar on one of the pints of sauce and it didn't seal, so I had to put it in the fridge to use as soon as possible. Oh, darn.

<![CDATA[The Happy Little Rolling Pin]]>Wed, 09 Aug 2017 13:52:12 GMThttp://breadmonk.com/my-bread-blog/the-happy-little-rolling-pinPicture
Last week I posted a blog about upcycling along with a call for entries to win a less-than-perfect vintage rolling pin with a stained barrel and one bent handle. I received about 40 entries via Facebook, email, and the comments section of this website. Some of there were quite profound, other more whimsical or humorous, but most of them expressed a love for old kitchen utensils with a story behind them. A sampling:

This little rolling pin makes me smile. My mom loved to bake and so do I. She had one just like this:). It would have a good home here in my kitchen. 

Almost every tool in my kitchen has a story. My cookie cutters were my mom's.  (She and my dad were married in 1948.) Those cutters have made what seems like millions of cookies over the years. I use my grandma's kitchen scale, my husband's great grandma's cookie press. In fact, almost tool is well over 50 years old.....measuring cups, spoons....if only I could hear the stories of all the foods they helped make. I love the way my wooden spoons are worn smooth from all the years of use. I'm sure my old kitchen tools would love to welcome another member to our kitchen. 

Loved reading your story of the life of well worn rolling pins. I use my Mom's and have been asked more times than I can remember if I want a new one. My response is always the same. The one I have has history that I cannot give up. Having a pair would allow for new recipes to find a new home. My family recipes will stay with Mom's pin but I'm ready to have a friend bring its history to my home.

That rolling pin would look amazing in my kitchen right next to my great aunt's picture and her bread recipe that she made for years. My daughter Shana had it engraved on a bread board for me last Christmas. I taught my baby girl how to make Aunt Joeys' bread when she was in high school. It is a family tradition!! 

It reminds me of my childhood.  My mother had one like it.  Red handles.  She would make wonderful things in the kitchen , and let me help her roll.  It would be a blessing to have .  

I have a red handled rolling pin! One handle Slightly bent.  It was handed down to me from my mother when I was first married (35 years ago).  I put it in the drawer and bought myself a new fancy plastic rolling pin.  One day I used the wood rolling pin and have never stopped.  I never realized the true feel of old wood, or the love it can make happen.  A good rolling pin has memories.  I have a connection with my past, my mom and grandma, and knowing my family probably Aunts and other loved ones have touched those handles.  

We enjoy using the older utensils that our grandparents used. The wooden rolling pin and old fashion potato masher also come to mind. The older utensils have character and a story to tell and make them so worthy of being passed on to children with memories and stories. We are proud to have children who share in our fun in the kitchen and our oldest has started trying his hand at homemade breads and pies. 

There is no piece of plastic or silicone that can replace the memories attached to the tools of our past. I have the special green jadeite bowl my grandma let me stir Jiffy cornbread and muffin mixes in. The giant yellow Pyrex that held wax bags of Halloween popcorn. The white enamel pan, always from the Woolworths, that held the nightly peels from Grandpa's apples. The tinny lamb mold passed down for generations of Easter cakes. Food is family. Memories cherished and lessons learned. 

My kitchen would make a great home filled with love, respect, and appreciation for this little rolling pin of the past. The one I currently use is a broomstick handle one that was my grandmas. If only that little pin could talk and share recipes! In my kitchen I have choppers and donut cutters, and biscuit cutters from the past, I use them because I feel a connection to our pasts that we shouldn't lose or forget. Where ever this little rolling pin ends up I hope it it truly loved!

My next door neighbor, Mrs. Norton, made mouth watering Butter Horn Rolls. As a child, I had the pleasure of standing on a chair watching her roll out her dough and raise her dough over the warm water well in her stove top. Upon her death, her family cleaned out everything. Lost was the beloved white granite pan used for popcorn and watching Lawrence Welk, and the red-handled rolling pin with stories to tell.

Several people wrote in to request the pin for someone else: to make a special pie for dad's birthday, to make memories with grandchildren, etc. One in particular caught my eye: 

I saw that you were giving away a wooden rolling pin. I would like to enter my son, Ben.  He is 16 and likes to make bread. This year he made pie crust for his 4H project and he was chosen to take to the State Fair.  I would love to surprise him with a wooden pin like his great grandma would have used.

As a guy who entered baked goods at the Heart of Illinois Fair in Peoria for years, I thought Ben needed a decent rolling pin for the competition, so I restored a rolling pin that was in somewhat better condition and mailed it to his mother. She emailed to say she received it today and he'll be able to use it for his (hopefully) winning entry! Nothing I like better than encouraging another generation of bakers.
Many of the entries offered spiritual insights into the meaning of a less-than-perfect rolling pin:

I love the idea of you giving away the rolling pin. So, here’s why it should be in my kitchen. Like you, I learned from my mom how to cook and bake. My two grandmothers, Frieda and Katherine (who was married to a Lutheran pastor) also taught me how to bake! The rolling pin is not perfect. I’m not perfect. My friend, Peter Mayer who is the lead guitarist for Jimmy Buffet has a song, “Still in One Peace” that has a line “we are blessed and we are broken.” It is in the kitchen when I am baking that I feel most connected to Jesus the Bread of Life. As you say, “it isn’t bread unless it is blessed, broken and shared.” So, when I bake bread, I give most of it away.

Reclaim, refinish, reuse.
It's beautiful---I hope you find it a new home.
Even an old piece of wood deserves a second chance.

If God didn't love imperfections I would be in a lot of trouble:~) I would love to add this rolling pin to my kitchen.
This rolling pin is a physical example of our human spiritual life. Any brand new rolling pin is made in the​ image and likeness of Christ. This battered, bruised and bet up rolling pin is the image and likeness of our sinful nature. Restoring it is a sign of the forgiveness Christ bore for us on the cross. It's got the wounds to prove it. It would be treasured and used in my kitchen as a physical reminder of what Christ did for me on the cross. Of course I would expect it to blessed by your hand as Christ servant sealing in future blessings he promised all of us. This would make it complete and renewed in Christ again.

I think your rolling pin is prettier because of the "flaws" they tell a story that someone loved this and used it enough to give it those flaws.

God gives us everything on earth to nourish us properly, we just need to know how to use what we're given.

The winning entry came from Angie Hentz of Pontoon Beach, Illinois. I was genuinely moved by the beauty and tenderness of her description of her grandmother's fried pies.

My maternal Grandma was not known as a traditionally good cook. It is rumored that one of the first times my Dad met her, she was serving spaghetti mixed with cut up hot dogs. However, I always enjoyed what Grandma fixed when I was with her...grilled cheese, cereal, and stewed tomatoes straight from the can! There was, however, one thing that everyone loved from Grandma's kitchen...fried pies. Around Christmastime, she would boil the dried fruit all day and using her trusty butter knives, cut the lard into piles of flour. I can still see her little fingers dip into the water & sprinkle it in as she mixed the dough. When it was time, her rolling pin came out & smoothed the masses of what looked like messy crumbles into beautiful dough. She dipped her trusty jelly jar in to flour & cut rounds to fill with the thoughtfully cooked fruit. She would lay the fork-crimped little packages into the Crisco filled cast iron pan & magic would happen. The most heavenly smell wafted from her tiny kitchen and when those little pies were lifted out, and placed in the powder sugar filled paper bag, we knew that deliciousness was near. I don't have a lot of kitchen memories from my Grandma, but I will hold close to my heart the taste, smell, and warmth of those fried pies that were made with love. I would be so honored to pass on the loving memory of my Grandma's pies to my girls using your well-loved rolling pin.
I don't have a picture of a fried pie, so this peach galette will have to do!
My sincere thanks to everyone who entered. I enjoyed this a lot and will certainly have to do something like it again. Maybe the next thing will be a contest for a decent chef's knife----I have somehow managed to collect six of them (long story), and that's contrary to monastic poverty!

God bless and happy baking!
<![CDATA[Upcycling]]>Thu, 27 Jul 2017 16:16:44 GMThttp://breadmonk.com/my-bread-blog/upcyclingPictureBabka with a caramel and chocolate ganache filling.
Recently I posted a picture on my Facebook page of a chocolate babka I made using leftovers. We had mashed potatoes for supper, and about 3 cups remained, which is enough for a triple batch of Best Ever Crescent Roll Dough, which I find makes outstanding dinner rolls and coffeecakes. As I mixed the dough up I remembered that we also had some candy that was beginning to go a bit stale and was best used for baking. So I chopped up some walnut penuche and small pieces of dark chocolate and put them in a sauce pan. In another saucepan I heated up some half and half, then poured it over the candy and stirred it over very low heat until it was smooth. The result was a rich chocolate caramel ganache that made the perfect filling for babka. I had enough for two babka, one of which was devoured by the brethren at breakfast. The other I took as a treat for the staff at the doctor's office where I go for my diabetes---the irony was not lost on me or the secretaries!

     When I shared the picture on Facebook, one Breadhead posted the comment "Another creation from 'Father Waste Not Want Not'! accompanied by a smiley emoticon. Seems that my love for using up what's in the pantry has been noticed by my fans! The abbot has commented on this tendency once or twice as well, with paternal approval for my monastic frugality, which I actually inherited from my Depression era grandmother. I hate to see anything go to waste, especially food, and I'm more likely to be inspired by what's in the fridge than what I see on Pinterest. Leftover corn goes into cornbread, an abundance of spinach from the garden means spinach pesto for pizza, stale bread is transformed into croutons or crostini.
     The same compulsion fuels my love for thrift stores and flea markets. You may have already seen Bread Blogs about the bread quilts I make out of vintage dresser scarves and embroidered linens, or how I accessorized my monastery room with reclaimed oak and old rolling pins. I even made my trash receptacle out of an oak desk that had been water damaged. I'm grateful that in addition to learning how to bake from my mother, I was taught woodworking by my father, who was an amateur (but talented) carpenter. In my shop there is a lot of lumber rescued from pews, kneelers, desktops and bleachers, waiting to be transformed into a treasured piece of furniture or funky accessory.

     That's why there is a large plastic tub in my shop filled with vintage rolling pins in need of restoration. I'm pretty particular about which ones I buy. They have to be less than $10, without plastic or ball bearings (preferably made entirely of wood) and in need of TLC. I or one of stage crew will strip off the old grime and stains with coarse sand paper, refinish the barrel with a finer grit, and repaint the handles as necessary. Then they get treated with Boos Block Mystery Oil to restore the wood. I've done a few this week, now that the weather isn't so beastly. My shop is attached on the stage in the (un-airconditioned) gymnasium, and it gets plenty hot and humid back there---last summer it got so hot in the stage right stairwell that the heat sensor went off and summoned the fire department! 

     My most recent restoration was a small rolling pin, only 9" across with a narrow barrel and red handles---because it's in the foreground of the photo, it looks larger than it is. It has a long stain down the length of it and some chips along the edges of the barrel, all of which are too deep to sand out. If you look carefully, you can see that it has a metal rod and one of the handles is slightly bent. But it still works just fine, and in spite of its faults I can't bring myself to throw it out. I keep thinking of a line in the poem "To Be of Use" by Marge Piercy: "The pitcher cries for water to carry." In the same way, the rolling pin, bent handle and all, longs for the grip of the baker and a slab of dough to work over.  But, I already own a number of rolling pins of various sizes and purposes. What to do?
     The obvious answer is to give it away, but I am reluctant to use it as a door prize, in case the winner is not so enamored with the charm of its imperfections. So here's the deal, Breadheads. If you think you would be willing to give this wounded warrior a good home, click on the button below ("Enter Here") or in the comments (which will display your email address ONLY to me) to send me an email with a short explanation of why your kitchen is the place where it belongs. (This reminds me of those Facebook posts with the pictures of unwanted shelter dogs!) On August 8th, the feast of St. Dominic, I will choose a winner and send it to you free of any charge (not even shipping and handling, unless you live outside of the continental United States, in which case we'll negotiate!)

Please note: By entering, you are giving me the right to quote from your entry in my Bread Blog without using your name, and if you win I have your permission to post your entry and your name in a post on this blog page. I promise, I won't use your email address for ANYTHING other than to contact you if you win. Enter now---the little rolling pin is waiting for your hands.

Now if you will excuse me, I have dough rising. We had deli sandwiches for lunch and there are a lot of leftover onions which are now minced and 
mixed into dough with herbs from the garden for dinner rolls.
Enter Here!
<![CDATA[Honey Oatmeal: the Bread of Gratitude]]>Thu, 20 Jul 2017 18:18:41 GMThttp://breadmonk.com/my-bread-blog/honey-oatmeal-the-bread-of-gratitudePicture
One of my most popular talks (at least in church circles) is titled "What Kind of Bread Shall We Be?" It's based on a chapter in my book Bake and Be Blessed  in which I compare various kinds of bread to different forms of Christian ministry. Some people are multigrain, with wisdom gathered from all over, others are tortilla Christians who wrap themselves around what is best in other people, others are Italian bread like my grandfather---crusty on the outside, tender on the inside! Today we had oatmeal for breakfast, and leftover oatmeal usually means honey oatmeal bread will be rising on the kitchen counter before too long. (Recipe HERE.)

Because I often make it with leftovers, I think of oatmeal bread as the "Bread of Gratitude." People who are grateful for the food on the table, who are mindful of how rare it is in this world to eat your fill and have some left over, who would never dare let food go to waste and can be thankful even for cold oatmeal---these are people who understand the nature of gratitude. 

Honey oatmeal bread is also the bread of gratitude because I know that the only reason there is a gallon jar of honey in the pantry is that Br. Luke and Br. David dressed up in full-body bee suits on a warm spring day and went out to the hives to harvest it. I watched them clean the honey room and repair the extraction equipment over the course of several days before they even got around to spinning out the comb, filtering, pasteurizing, etc. I genuinely appreciate their hard work and make an effort to tell them so every now and then. They'll be doing the same thing again in the heat of August and September.
Thankfulness has been on my heart a lot lately because I'm making a sincere effort to ramp up my gratitude's metabolism. One of the deacons of the Peoria diocese comes to me for spiritual direction, and we determined that it would be fruitful for him to keep a gratitude journal in which he daily records at least three things for which he is thankful. I decided to do the same thing myself. So every morning over coffee I sit at my desk and write down at least three gratitudes from the day before. Some samples:
  • I'm grateful that I was home and available when a friend unexpectedly stopped by needing some spiritual encouragement.
  • I'm thankful for the sacrifices made by our military personnel around the world.
  • I'm grateful that our prior Fr. Michael is so well organized in keeping the day-to-day operations of the abbey running smoothly.
  • I'm thankful for the health and strength to be able to knead a double batch of dough.
  • ​I'm grateful that my scented geranium is in bloom, and that I have the leisure time to enjoy it.
Psychologists and other scientists confirm that developing an attitude of gratitude can have significant benefits for your mental, emotional and even physical health. I've certainly noticed an increase in positive attitudes and reduced stress since I started this practice. (We'll see what happens when the school year starts again!) If writing isn't your thing, it doesn't even have to be a journal---check out some suggestions HERE.

So what are your three gratitudes today? I hope one of them is that you had a chance to bake or at least enjoy some homemade bread. God bless and happy baking!
<![CDATA[7 Things You'll Need to Learn to Bake]]>Wed, 19 Jul 2017 12:13:59 GMThttp://breadmonk.com/my-bread-blog/things-youll-need-to-learn-to-bakeIf you’ve never baked before, you might wonder what equipment you’ll need to get started. Obviously, you'll need an oven that can maintain a consistent temperature, whether it's gas, electric, or wood-fired. You may have almost everything you need in your kitchen right now, but here’s a helpful guide for choosing other equipment and utensils to make your first baking experience a success.
Five-quart mixing bowl
You’ll need bowls in other sizes in which to beat eggs or mix wet ingredients, but your mixing bowl should be large enough to hold two loaves worth of dough. I prefer one with high sides to keep the ingredients from escaping during mixing. Glass, glazed stoneware, Pyrex or plastic will all do the job, but a heavier bowl is a little easier to work with because it remains more stable during mixing.

I love this vintage set from Pyrex. The pattern is called "Autumn Harvest" and it was produced from 1979 to 1986. I use my set whenever I have to shoot a video.

​Accurate measuring cups and spoons
You’ll need measuring cups for both dry and liquid ingredients, and yes, there is a difference----about 5% between the two.  For liquid measure your best choice is the classic Pyrex glass pitcher, both a one cup and a two cup.  For dry measure, consider spending a little more for the heavy duty metal measuring cups and spoons---they’re often on sale at Marshall’s and TJ Maxx. I also like the measuring spoons with a long handle and a narrow bowl that can easily fit into spice jars. If you have recipes written in the European style, a scale will also be essential.
These are Cuispro measuring cups and spoons, which were rated as the best by America's Test Kitchen. The most important thing in my view is that the labels are stamped--the painted ones on cheap sets wear off in a short time.

​A large wooden spoon

This is the hand tool of choice for most Breadheads, and this is another utensil you might want to spend a little more on---I’ve snapped 8 or 9 cheap wooden spoons in half over the years. There is also an unusual mixing tool that is specific to baking called a dough whisk that mixes and aerates batters and doughs better than any spoon in the drawer. 
Did you know I have a whole series of these videos? Check out my YouTube Channel! And you can buy dough whisks on our abbey website: www.monksmarket.com. 

instant read thermometer
Get the electronic kind rather than one with a conventional dial, since they produce a precise temperature reading more quickly. You’ll use it to test the temperature of liquids before adding yeast (100
° to 110° F.), and to check the interior temperature of a loaf of bread to ensure that it is fully baked (190° to 195° F.). 
I'm using a dial thermometer here, but a digital one will give you more accurate results quickly. They costs less than $20 at stores like Target and Walmart.

​Baking Pans

To start out, you’ll need a baking sheet (like for cookies), loaf pans (I recommend the medium size, 8½” x 4½” x 2½”) and a 12 cup muffin tin. If you intend to make cinnamon rolls, a rolling pin and an 9” x 13” pan would be in order as well. As you explore the world of baking, you may start thinking about brioche pans, cast iron skillets for scones, and stoneware casserole dishes for deep dish pizza. But the aforementioned three or four pans will be adequate for most recipes.
If you are just starting to equip your kitchen and you're on a tight budget, I recommend shopping for pans at thrift stores. You'll be amazed at what you can find!

Wire Racks

You can cool your loaves on a clean dishtowel, but a wire rack allows for air circulation on the bottom of the loaf, resulting in a superior crust. You can easily drop $20 or more on a heavy-duty stainless steel rack, but the less expensive ones do the job just as well, and once again thrift shops and flea markets are a great source for them. If they are slightly rusty, you can easily clean them up with steel wool, but don't try to rescue something that's clearly been put away wet and allowed to rust all over. You can also buy a multi-tier rack that can be used to save space both in the oven and on the counter top.
In a pinch, an extra oven rack can serve as a cooling rack as well.

​A reason to bake
I briefly considered making this last item "one of my cookbooks" but then I realized that I have maintained for many years now that people don't need recipes as much as they need reasons to bake. You can get literally millions of recipes from the Internet. I typed in "white bread recipe" in Google Chrome and got over SIX MILLION web pages in .47 seconds. But what will make you try one? A sense of adventure? The desire to recapture happy memories of a beloved grandmother, or to make new memories with your own grandchildren? Interest in your family's ethnic culinary heritage? Frugality, simplicity, the desire to slow down? Or just a longing for the taste of real bread? Whatever your reason, bake with courage and conviction, be willing to fail and to learn from your mistakes, and remember what I've said since my public television days: "It's bread---it's gonna forgive you!"
<![CDATA["Creamed Corn" Cornbread]]>Mon, 17 Jul 2017 18:57:53 GMThttp://breadmonk.com/my-bread-blog/creamed-corn-cornbreadPicture
Yesterday (July 16) was National Corn Fritter Day, and I posted a link on Facebook to a previous post on The Cornbread Book by Jeremy Jackson. I didn't make corn fritters yesterday, mainly because my blood sugar was trending a bit high. But we had corn (off the cob, frozen) for supper last night, and I thought someone out to do something about the leftovers, so I decided to make cornbread, adapting a recipe in the aforementioned book (which you really should buy---it's a gem!) His original recipe uses creamed corn, something we rarely serve here at the abbey, so I adapted it by simply sending the whole kernels through the food processor and then adding them to the liquids. The resulting bread has a more intense corn flavor and doesn't suffer from the "Dry Crumblies" as some cornbread does. Here's my version:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup stone-ground cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole corn kernels, finely chopped in food processor
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup milk
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F., and grease an 8" x 8" baking pan with cooking spray. Sift the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, sugar and salt into a large bowl and stir until well-combined. In a separate bowl, whisk together corn, milk, egg, and oil.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until just combined. Don't overbeat, but be sure to use a rubber spatula to make sure there are no pockets of dry ingredients along the sides or bottom of the bowl. Pour batter into pan and spread it evenly. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the top begins turn golden brown and the bread pulls away from the sides of the pan slightly. The top of the loaf should spring back when pressed with a fingertip.

<![CDATA[National Corn Fritter Day July 16]]>Sat, 15 Jul 2017 13:43:54 GMThttp://breadmonk.com/my-bread-blog/national-corn-fritter-day-july-16Picture
Yesterday I attended the Marshall Putnam County Fair (Henry, Illinois) with my sister Angela, who, like me, enjoys eating from the "fatal food group." Enjoying lemonade shake-ups and cheesy fries with her reminded me of my family's love of summer fairs and festivals while we were growing up. Between that and National Corn Fritter Day July 16, I decided to share the following excerpt from my new book Baking Secrets from the Bread Monk" Tips, Techniques, and Bread Lore (Reedy Press) which is available on the abbey's Monks' Market website.
From the chapter titled "Food Holiday Mash-ups"

July is designated National Culinary Arts Month, with a grateful nod to culinary professionals, from TV celebrity chefs to the under-appreciated line cook who makes the best hash browns at the local diner. Culinary training runs the gamut from small classes at cooking stores to junior college degree programs to the Cordon Bleu. But the term “Culinary Arts” always reminds me of the sign above the doorway to a barn-like structure at the Peoria Heart of Illinois Fair where my mother entered her bread every year (her raisin bread took first place nearly every time she entered it).

I love fair food in general and fried foods in particular: corndogs, haystack onion rings and funnel cakes are my personal faves. But there was one year at the Heart of Illinois Fair when a local church set up a tiny trailer out of which they sold fresh corn fritters. These fried delights were dredged in powdered sugar, and served piping hot in a brown lunch paper bag. I devoured several bags’ worth over the course of the week of the fair, and eagerly anticipated their return the following year. But alas, I was disappointed in my expectation---the little trailer with the hand printed cardboard sign never returned. You’ll have to settle for the homemade version yourself, and hope they are as good as my memories.





Oil for frying

1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons of sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon of salt
2 large eggs
½ cup milk
2 tsp. vegetable oil
1 12 oz. can of corn, drained  (3/4 cup, fresh)
Powdered sugar for coating
Heat at least 2” of oil to 375 degrees F., either in an electric fryer or in a heavy pan over medium heat. You may use an electric deep fryer as well.  Measure flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a bowl and whisk to combine ingredients thoroughly.  In a separate bowl, beat eggs, milk and oil together, then stir in the corn kernels. Pour wet mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients and stir until thoroughly combined. Drop tablespoons of the batter into the hot oil and fry until golden brown on both sides---they may need some help turning over. It takes only two or three minutes for them to cook, so don’t crowd the pan or the oil will cool and the fritters will be soggy with grease. Remove the fritters to drain on paper towel, then roll them while warm in the powdered sugar to coat (some people prefer granulated sugar). Serve immediately.