Friday, September 18, 2009

LiveSTRONG with a Taste of...Corn: Bacon Cornbread {bba}

A couple of days ago my baking friend Di, of the blog Di's Kitchen Notebook, had a lovely post. She baked beautiful - and delicious looking - intensely yellow lemon bars, and posted them as a tribute to her first husband, in connection with of the LiveSTRONG with a Taste of Yellow food blogging event dedicated to cancer awareness (in support of Lance Armstrong's LiveSTRONG Foundation). I was touched and inspired by Di's story, and when I realized that I had just that day baked some very yellow cornbread I decided to join in the event also (the main requirement is to prepare a food or drink with a yellow ingredient and write a blog post featuring it).

Hardly a day passes when I'm not touched by cancer in ways big or small, and I'm sure that's true of the vast majority of you all too. Friends, neighbors, acquaintances, relatives, strangers in the news tell their stories . This illness strikes every manner of folk, and like ripples from a stone cast into a pond, the effects of the disease spread, affecting not just the patients but those around them, their medical providers, and their care givers.

The person who I'd like to honor with this post - this bread! - is my father Joe, who died from the effects of a brain tumor on January 2, 2007. He was smart, funny, stubborn, reserved, and generous. He made his living in computers, almost from the day that they were invented, and after he retired Dad always stayed techologically current; until the day he died at age 80 he'd sit at his computer conducting his business affairs and Googling anything that came his way. In his retirement he became a used book dealer, and so many of my treasured cookbooks (and many many other books) came from him.

My dad died before I became a food blogger, but I know he'd be tickled by my two blogs, and being a fan of all things delicious, he'd love reading about - and tasting as often as possible - the food I cook and bake in my kitchen. He loved meat, and he loved bread, and I have a very strong feeling that he'd have loved this bacon cornbread! And I have to say that every time I think about how my father would have enjoyed this bread, I really, really wish he were here to taste some (it's tucked snugly in my freezer).

the bread:

I baked Peter Reinhart's Bacon Cornbread because it is the next bread in our A-Z progression through his wonderful book The Bread Baker's Apprentice. It is the one and only quick bread in the entire book; Reinhart says he had to include it because it is so perfect.

There are many people who hold very passionate - and quite differing - opinions about how cornbread should taste. The short rundown is that, in the US, Northerners tend to like sweet cornbread, and Southerners, who have a penchant for making everything in the kitchen just a little sweeter, actually like "unsweet" cornbread. (Go figure!) I've lived in both regions and eaten - and baked - plenty of cornbread, and I'll enjoy any cornbread that isn't dry and isn't toothachingly sugary.

I read lots of advance reports from the BBA Challenge participants raving about this bread, so I was hopeful that we'd enjoy it also.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- My original plan was to skip the whole corn kernels that are in the recipe, and to make bacon-topped muffins (which Reinhart gives as a variation).

- After some back-and-forth with a few of my baking friends, I decided to make some kernel-less muffins and bake the rest of the batter, including the fresh corn, in a small cast iron skillet. I cut some fresh corn off the cob and set it aside. (You can guess what happened, right?)

- The recipe specifies "polenta" style coarse ground cornmeal. I didn't have any, but did have a ton of other cornmeal. Rather than buy special cornmeal, I used 2 different kinds of cornmeal and threw in some stone ground grits for good measure.

- I used used maple syrup in place of honey.

- My bacon was Broadbent black pepper bacon.

- Reinhart says to fill the muffin cups full, but I found they were too full, and they rose + spread more than I wanted. The only way I got them out of the pan was because it was silicone.

- I preheated my iron skillet in the hot oven. Then I poured in bacon grease, added the batter, studded the top with bacon and popped it in the oven. At which point I discovered the bowl of corn kernels. I pulled it back out and tried to tuck some in and around the bacon, as I watched the hot iron skillet begin to bake the batter before my eyes. I didn't get much added before putting it back in the oven.

- The cornbread in the iron skillet popped right out of the pan. I let it cool, then wrapped it tightly and froze it whole.

the verdict:

My husband, who doesn't usually care one way or the other about cornbread, said, "this is da#n good!" I had been concerned about the amount of sugar and other sweeteners in the batter, but the finished bread was moist, savory, a touch sweet (but thankfully not sugary) The crumb was sturdy and tender.

The more I think about it, the more I think it was a perfect tribute to my Dad.

{Note: Those of us in the Slow & Steady subgroup of the BBA Challenge are trying to post our breads every two weeks. I was a week or so late with my Cinnamon Raisin Bread and am actually a few days early with this Cornbread, but I wanted to meet the LiveSTRONG With a Taste of Yellow deadline. I will be posting the Cinnamon Raisin Bread roundup in a few days and the Cornbread roundup in late September.}

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Quest for a Perfect Cinnamon Raisin Bread {bba}

I've never been that kind of person who is always winning things like lotteries and drawings. But back in 1988 we won a trip to Aspen, Colorado in an American Express promotion. (Actually it turned out to be quite a lucky year for us; we also won a trip to Palm Beach, complete with a set of luggage!)

We chose to take the Aspen trip in the summer when we could hike in the Rockies. So in July 1989 our family had a lovely week in a condo on the mountain at Snowmass. My parents and brother decided to join us and rented a nearby unit. Five adults to watch 2 children (ages 1 and 3) made for a very relaxing trip indeed.

On a grocery run to stock the condo with breakfast food my husband picked up some bread and thus we discovered the Holy Grail of cinnamon raisin bread. Rudi's Bakery made the best we'd ever tasted. We bought loaf after loaf that week, and brought some home in our luggage, but all too soon we reached the end of our supply.

For Christmas that year I called Rudi's Bakery on the telephone. No, they didn't distribute their bread outside of Colorado, nor did they take orders - usually. As a special exception the fellow at the bakery actually agreed to sell me 5 loafs of the raisin bread and personally went to the post office to mail it to me! I still count that as the best Christmas gift I ever gave my husband!

Fast forward to about 5 years ago: Whole Foods opened a location just a few miles from us. My first time in the store I wandered the aisles and browsed all the departments to see what kinds of things the store carried. When I came to the bread shelf I could hardly believe my eyes: Our old friend Rudi's Cinnamon Raisin Bread was right there in front of me. I scooped up a few loaves and we were delighted to find that the bread tasted just as good as we remembered. Seems that in the intervening 15 years, Rudi's Bakery had gone national. So we've had a ready source for what we'd come to believe is the best cinnamon raisin bread on the planet.

Rudi's bread is the standard by which I judge every other cinnamon raisin loaf I've ever tasted. So far, none has come close. I'm not sure when I'd have ever dared to undertake homemade cinnamon raisin bread but BBA Challenge gave me the push; Cinnamon Raisin Bread happens to be the next bread in Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. (And, yes, there has been a lot of cinnamon goodness lately here on Corner Loaf)

Rather than make the bread exactly as written, I decided to make a run at Rudi's! This meant making a few changes to transform a white cinnamon bread to one that was about a third whole grain.

A week later I baked the Transitional Cinnamon Raisin bread, from Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads, which is about half whole grain and half white flour. I've included both baking sessions in this post, starting with the BBA bread.

Cinnamon Raisin Bread - The Bread Baker's Apprentice

n.o.e.'s notes:

- You can find the recipe on the Google Books preview, here.

- This bread is made with the direct method, which means that it is mixed and proofed in one day, with only a short wait for the dough to "ferment" on the counter.

- Instead of the 16 ounces of bread flour of the recipe, I used 10 ounces of bread flour, 2.5 ounces of oat flour, 2.5 ounces of white whole wheat flour, and 1 ounce of high-gluten flour.

- I mixed golden and dark raisins.

- For some added depth of sweetness (and because Rudi's has it) I added 2 tsp molasses.

- I divided my dough into three portions:
-- The first loaf was cinnamon and raisins only
-- The second loaf was cinnamon, raisins, and walnuts kneaded together into the dough
--The third loaf had the raisins kneaded into the dough, and walnuts swirled into the loaf along with brown sugar + (more) cinnamon. I've become a big fan of making my cinnamon sugar with brown sugar.
homemade on the left, Rudi's on the right
the verdict:
I gave away the cinnamon + raisin loaf. We toasted up slices of the other two loaves and Rudi's. The non-swirled bread was the closest to Rudi's, so we compared it in taste-test fashion. They were all seriously delicious pieces of toast. Rudi's is closer grained, and I thought it was chewier, more cinnamon-y, and a bit sweeter. But we thought the BBA bread tasted just as delicious as Rudi's! In fact, my husband said he preferred my bread, but I think he was just being sweet. When it comes to the swirled bread, though, even I agreed that it was better than Rudi's. It's hard to beat swirled cinnamon sugar!!

Peter Reinhart Transitional Cinnamon Raisin Bread

There are a lot of raisins in this bread, but the food processor chopped them into bits!
I've been wanting to make the Transitional Cinnamon Raisin Bread ever since I got Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads book. I figured I'd bake it right after his regular Cinnamon Raisin Bread, and while it wouldn't be a true head-to-head comparison, it would be close.

n.o.e.'s notes:

- You can find the recipe on the Google Books preview, here.

-This bread is made with the indirect method, spread over 2 days, with both a biga and a soaker (two different types of mixtures that sit, or ferment, for a day; one in the fridge and the other on the counter)

- The raisins are added to the soaker so they get nice and tender. The biggest problem with that for me is that I used my food processor to mix the dough, so the raisins got chopped up rather than remaining whole in the finished bread. If you use a stand mixer, or mix by hand, your raisins will stay whole.

- Also, the food processor stopped mixing slightly before the biga and soaker were fully incorporated, so there are light and dark steaks in the bread's crumb (as you can see in the picture, above).

- Again I added a bit of molasses.

- I split the dough into two loaves, and made both with a swirl of walnuts, brown sugar + cinnamon. I'm not sure why my swirl almost disappeared this time around, but it added some delicious flavor.


This was a wonderful, hearty, chewy, cinnamon raisin bread. As with all of the breads I've baked from Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads, the bread was not tough or dry at all - the pre-fermenting method brings out the flavor of the grain and keeps the bread nice and moist. It tasted a bit fuller and nuttier because of the whole grain. We thought it was perfect toasted and spread with butter, and, believe it or not we actually preferred this one to the other cinnamon raisin bread. It is a close grained bread and the whole grain flavor pairs beautifully with the spice and sweetness of the (chopped) raisins. The few extra steps are definitely worth the end result: cinnamon bread perfection!

[Edit to add: Sending this wonderful bread to Yeastspotting, a weekly roundup of all things yeasty]