bread

olive oil zucchini bread + ancient grains by Annie Jefferson

The notion of choice in flour as a central determinant in the flavor and texture of a dish is a relatively new one when it comes to everyday home baking. We talk often about white wheat versus all-purpose white flour, bleached versus unbleached, enriched, self-rising, sifted or not. We talk about the protein content of different types of flour - bread, pastry, cake - and how it affects the composition of a pound cake or a croissant or a country loaf. But that a particular flour has the potential to actually play the role of manipulator of flavor - such as a spice like cinnamon - and texture - like poppy seeds - isn't an idea that's played with as much outside of professional kitchens.

This week I've started working with feedfeed as the editor of their Ancient Grains feed. From the more commonly recognized barley, spelt and farro, to the lesser known Kamut, teff and sorghum, ancient grains are a grouping of grains and cereals that date back to prehistoric times and have managed to remain relatively whole and untouched by the modern food industry, especially in comparison to certain other wheat and corn varieties. Ancient grains have been making the rounds in recent years - showing up in supermarkets, recipe books and pantries - and for good reason. Not only are they less processed than their modern counterparts, they’re also naturally free of or low in gluten, which appeals to a rapidly expanding gluten-sensitive cohort. Even more enchanting are some of the stories that accompany these grains, like the idea that you can work Kamut, a grain found in King Tutankhamen’s tomb, into your next lunchtime salad.

This recipe takes advantage of the generous zucchini, which comes hot into the summer months, producing more of itself than we know what to do with. Recipes for zucchini quick breads tend to be similar - flour, sugar, egg, oil, and of course zucchini. This one uses extra-virgin olive oil in place of standard vegetable oil for its peppery fruitiness, ground ginger and nutmeg for their warm spiciness, lemon zest for brightness, walnuts for crunch, and finally einkorn and spelt flours because I promised ancient grains, and these are great and forgiving ones to start out with when it comes to baking.

While incorporating ancient grains into everyday cooking presents loads of new and exciting options for salads, soups, risottos (even popcorn!), the options multiply when you consider the possibilities of the grains in their milled state. In order to get the most out of it, flour needs to be understood in a much broader way than just one of the obligatory building blocks of baked goods or pasta or pizza. If we think of flour as its own special ingredient deserving as much thought and experimentation in a recipe as a spice, and each type of flour with its own unique and characterful personality, baking becomes much more interesting. Ancient grains have lots to offer in this department: wheat flour varieties include einkorn, Kamut, spelt and emmer. Teff, sorghum and amaranth are examples of non-wheat ancient grains - grasses or pseudocereals - which can be ground into flours and used in baking.

So far, I've discussed Einkorn here as it relates to gluten/modern flour intolerance, and I've used spelt flour in this millet and sea salt banana bread and this meyer lemon poppyseed cake. Both flours are great in place of white or wheat flour in baking - and can be substituted 1:1 in most cases - whereas other alternative flours, especially the non-wheat varieties, will require recipes specifically developed around their unique compositions. Spelt flour generally has a nutty, slightly sweet flavor and is very light and tender as opposed to regular wheat flour. If all-purpose white flour is tasteless and lacking when it comes to flavor, Einkorn instead has a unique and robust richness, as well as a light nuttiness. As a result, this zucchini bread is light, tender and moist in texture, and rich, sweet and nutty in flavor. 

I will be incorporating ancient grains more and more in the coming months, so check back and please share your own experiences baking with alternative flours below! 

OLIVE OIL ZUCCHINI BREAD
Recipe adapted from A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus: Menus and Stories

makes two 6-by-3.5-inch or one 9-by-5-inch loaf pan

note: this recipe yields a quick bread that's slightly less sweet than you may be used to; feel free to up the sugar content by 1/3-2/3 if you prefer sweeter

INGREDIENTS
3 cups grated zucchini (from 1 pound zucchini)
1 inch piece ginger, grated
1 1/3 cups natural cane sugar, divided
1 cup (about 153 grams) einkorn flour
1 cup (about 153 grams) spelt flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon finely grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 large eggs, at room temperature
Grated zest from 2 lemons
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

METHOD
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour your pan(s).

In a mixing bowl, mix the grated zucchini with 1/3 cup of sugar. Pour the mixture into a fine-mesh strainer and place the strainer over a mixing bowl. Fill another smaller bowl halfway with water and carefully set the water bowl directly on top of the zucchini to help press the water out of the zucchini.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg. In another bowl, whisk together the remaining cup of sugar, eggs, lemon zest, grated ginger and vanilla until well blended. Slowly beat in the olive oil in three stages, whisking after each to ensure it is thoroughly combined.

Gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until no white clumps remain. Working in handfuls, squeeze the remaining water out of the zucchini. Add to the batter and stir gently until evenly distributed. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and sprinkle the turbinado sugar over the top of the loaves. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 40 to 45 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.

Cool the bread in the pan for about 20 minutes, then turn it out onto a cooling rack and let it cool completely.

mexican molletes by Annie Jefferson

Think of Molletes as the Mexican answer to the cold cut sandwich. They're a simple staple found in food stalls and coffee shops across Mexico. They're best made at home, however, thrown together in minutes using three main ingredients - bread, beans and cheese - and grilled under the broiler until the cheese is toasted and bubbly. The word 'molletes' is actually Spanish in origin and refers to a flatbread made out of an oval-shaped loaf of bread and traditionally served for breakfast with olive oil and rubbed garlic. In Mexico, it refers to the grilled bean and cheese sandwich that belongs in your Mexican food repertoire immediately.

Last summer I served last-minute molletes at a picnic using french bread - in place of traditional Mexican bolillo - because that's what we had lying around. It was truly a successful marriage of cuisines, with crispy-soft baguette being the best of sandwich breads and beans and cheese the most accommodating of ingredients. I also put them together like a sandwich, rather than open-faced as is typical, with two slices of bread and grilled on each side, like a panini. Immediately this turned them from a snack into the main course, and served alongside guacamole, pico de gallo and salad greens, they were easily one of my favorite meals of the summer.

IMG_6580.jpg

Traditionally molletes are made with refried pinto beans. Here we use black beans, dried, soaked, simmered with aromatics and seasoned with spices, which takes some time and planning, but is well worth the effort. I cook black beans from scratch at least once a week and love getting lots of flavor and heat into them as they soften. See the spices below and play around with the ingredients using what you like. Sometimes I'll throw in a tablespoon of soy sauce or maple syrup to add a range of flavors, and always a splash of apple cider vinegar. However you go, it's important to get some acid and fat in there at some point. For the bread, I used what I and LA Mag agree is the best baguette in Los Angeles, from the Rose Cafe in Venice. And rather than traditional chihuahua cheese we use simple cheddar for it's sharp flavor and divine melting power, but again, you can use whatever cheese you like.

This sandwich works so well because of the crisped up crunch of the bread crust and the pack of rich, savory flavor in the middle. It's served hot and melty, but this is tempered by the fresh sides - guacamole, pico de gallo, pickled onions, etc. The best part is using an unexpected medium - french bread - to deliver familiar Mexican flavors to your mouth.

MEXICAN MOLLETES
Makes 4 sandwiches

INGREDIENTS
1 loaf of french bread, or bread of your choice
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups refried beans (recipe below)
cheddar cheese, shaved or thinly sliced

METHOD
Remove the ends of the baguette with a sharp knife, and cut the remaining into four equal pieces. Cut each in half lengthwise and lay out the four pairs open face in front of you. Spread a thin layer of butter on each. Next, spread two spoonfuls of beans on each piece of bread and then layer several slices of cheese on top. Place each top piece back on top of its pair, so that you have four sandwiches. 

Heat a large cast iron over medium low heat and melt a knob of butter, swirling it around to cover all surface area. Working in two batches, place two sandwiches at a time in the pan and place a second cast iron on top of the sandwiches to press them down. Heat for about 4 minutes, checking for burning, and then flip. Cheese should be all the way melted when they come off the heat. Repeat with the other two. Alternatively you can use a panini press. The molletes will keep warm and melted in the oven.

Serve immediately with condiments, such as guacamole, pico de gallo, pickled onions and hot sauce. You can also cut each sandwich into two or three pieces to make them more bite size.
 

BLACK BEANS

INGREDIENTS
1 cup dried black beans
sea salt
1 small onion, halved
3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 carrot, peeled and cut into large pieces
1 celery stick, cut into large pieces
1 bay leaf
1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons coconut oil, olive oil or butter
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
1 teaspoon paprika


METHOD
Pick through beans and rinse under cold water. Place beans in a large bowl and add enough water to cover them by 2 inches. Soak overnight.

The next day, drain and rinse the beans in a colander until the water runs clear. Place in a large saucepan and once again add enough water to cover them by 2 inches. Add a pinch of salt, onion, garlic, carrot, celery, bay leaf and lemon. Stir to combine and allow to come to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook for about an hour, stirring when you think of it.

After an hour or so, remove aromatics and stir. Continue to cook without the lid until most of the water is absorbed. Once the majority of the water is absorbed, add apple cider vinegar and allow to cook off for about 5 minutes. Stir in oil or butter, then spices and taste for salt. Remove from heat and allow beans to rest with lid on for about 20 minutes before serving.
 

kumquat day by Annie Jefferson

When life gives you 4 pounds of kumquats, make cake, curd and marmalade all in one day. Kumquat day.

My boyfriend’s parents cook on a farm near Santa Barbara and sometimes deliver us truckloads of beautiful, organic surplus produce. Today it was gigantic dirt-covered red beets, bright green shishito peppers, perfectly polished mouth popping baby tomatoes, and more fresh green herbs than I could possibly figure out what to do with before they begin to wilt.

Among the loot was also a massive bag of kumquats. Kumquats are a small citrus variety that taste like a lemon, an orange and a lime all at once. They’re the only citrus whose skin is tender and sweet enough to eat, and you must eat the skin! Unlike other citrus, the rind of the kumquat is the sweet part and the inside the tart part.

A single kumquat tree, depending on its size, can produce hundreds, often thousands of the little fruits every year. And so you have people like me, whose lives have suddenly, without warning, been thrown into kumquat production overdrive.

I started with a curd. I once had to make a vegan version of lemon curd for a cake recipe and I actually prefer it and have stuck with it ever since. The coconut milk makes it as creamy as you'd want a curd to be and the mixture thickens up flawlessly with a few spoonfuls of cornstarch. Curd made with kumquats is slightly more puckering than with lemon, and the flavor is really discernibly unique. You can strain out the rinds halfway through the recipe for a more uniform curd, but I love the little flecks of orange and the added texture.

I ended up swirling some of the curd into a loaf cake and jarring up the rest to give away to some curd-deprived vegans (with this recipe you’ll end up with a little extra).

The flavors here aren’t all soft and sweet like you’d expect from a typical loaf cake. You get hit with the unexpected tangy bite from the kumquats immediately. It’s evened out by the sweetness and nuttiness of the cake, but it’s there and it’s interesting. Mixing curd into the center ensures the whole thing is full of moisture – it’s like a built in spread.

IMG_5396.jpg

I’d never made marmalade with kumquats before, but with over 3 pounds to go, it seemed like the right thing to do. The great thing about marmalade is that because citrus peel naturally contains high levels of pectin and marmalade by definition includes the peel, you don’t need store-bought pectin to help it bind together. The little bits of kumquat get softened into a perfectly tender, almost Sour Patch Kids-like chewy consistency. I added the seeds from a whole vanilla bean for a smoother layer to the flavoring – I often find marmalade too one-dimensionally tart – and for the little black flakes that get set into the gel. I love this recipe, I doubled it this time and I’ll make it again and again.

Were I to make a FOURTH kumquat dish, I would have reduced the marmalade into a glaze and made a kumquat drizzle cake, but – I’m happy to say – kumquat day is over.

 

KUMQUAT CURD CAKE

KUMQUAT COCONUT CURD

INGREDIENTS
1 cup coconut milk
juice of 1/2 a lemon
30 kumquats, seeded and halved
1/2 cup coconut sugar (regular sugar will work too)
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla extract

METHOD
Heat coconut milk, lemon juice and sugar in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once warmed but not boiling, add kumquats. Stir and simmer, allowing to infuse for 10 minutes.

Transfer kumquats and liquid to a food processor and pulse until kumquats have been chopped to small flecks of orange. Return mixture to saucepan and heat over medium heat. Add cornstarch one tablespoon at a time, constantly stirring for 6-8 minutes until the mixture thickens to a creamy consistency. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract. Allow to cool as you make the cake batter.

LOAF CAKE

INGREDIENTS
1 cup (120 grams) whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup (120 grams) spelt flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
3/4 cup (170 grams) canola oil
1/2 cup (120 grams) greek yogurt
1/4 cup (85 grams) honey
2/3 cup (135 grams) natural cane sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 4 kumquats
2 eggs
1 teaspoon turbinado sugar for sprinkling

METHOD
Preheat your oven to 350° F. Grease and flour a loaf pan.

Combine flours, baking powder and sea salt in a bowl. In a second bowl, whisk together oil, greek yogurt, honey, kumquat zest, vanilla extract, and sugar. Whisk in one egg at a time until fully incorporated. Pour dry ingredients into wet ingredients and stir until combined.

Pour half of the cake batter into the bottom of the pan. Spread two thirds of the curd over the top of the batter, taking care not to let the curd touch the edges of the pan. Pour the remaining batter over the top of the curd and smooth out the top. Pour the remaining curd over the top of the batter. Using a butter knife, neatly swirl the curd back and forth across the pan, again being careful not to let it touch the pan. Sprinkle sugar in the raw over the top of the loaf.

Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to fully cool before cutting into the loaf, as the curd will pour out of the middle unless given time to firm up.

 

KUMQUAT + VANILLA BEAN MARMALADE

INGREDIENTS
1.5 pounds kumquats, rinsed, seeded and cut into quarters
3 cups water
1 pound granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, cut in half and seeds scraped out

METHOD
Rinse, seed and cut kumquats into quarters. It helps to use a sharp knife to both cut the kumquats and poke out their seeds.

Combine kumquats, water, sugar, scraped seeds and shell of the vanilla bean in a large saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and allow to boil for 5 minutes without reducing heat. Continue to boil until the mixture reads 220° F on a cooking thermometer. As a note, I’ve made marmalade without a thermometer and it’s turned out fine…just be sure you get the mixture boiling long enough before turning down the heat.

Return mixture to a simmer, stirring constantly, and cook until it has transformed into a thick gel like consistency. Allow to cool before storing in clean jars. Marmalade will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator (or longer if you use a preserving technique).

not-so-chiquita banana bread by Annie Jefferson

Last week I listened to an episode from one of my favorite radio shows about the troubled state of the banana and its surprisingly dark history. The sadness of the story stayed with me - I found myself wanting to stay a little longer in the world of the banana rather than just moving on to the next.  The next morning I made my version of the classic banana loaf using three overripe bananas that had been neglected in my fruit bowl for I'm not sure how long. As it baked in the oven, here's what I learned about the fruit we love so much, but know so little, and how its bread friend became such a lasting hit.

Our old friend Miss Chiquita, in all her cheery tropical intrigue, hides behind her colorful skirts a dark history when it comes to the yellow rinded fruit berry that's become so commonplace on the American kitchen counter. As with much of the food we consume here, the supply chain is hazy and there is a great chasm between the grower over there and the eater over here.

Together with Dole, Del Monte and Bonita, Chiquita Banana makes up 80% of banana sales in the US, and these sales are huge - bananas are the most profitable supermarket item, more so than apples and oranges combined. And when a big bunch of ripe bananas is waiting for you week after week on the shelf of your local grocery store for 58 cents a pound, any understanding of the great complexities of such a species or where it comes from is easily glossed over.

In the Southern half of the world – where bananas are grown – the banana as we know it is in grave danger. The variety of banana we eat today is called the Cavendish. There are thousands of other banana varieties, but because of its relatively superior transportability and longer shelf life, the Cavendish is the only one that’s mass produced and exported. This is an example of a monocrop, whereby acres and acres of land are artificially groomed to produce the same exact crop year after year in order to maximize efficiency and profitability.

Bananas are by no means the only example of this kind of singularly focused mass production. Monocultures are the underpinning of the modern industrial food system: wheat, corn, oats, oranges, even livestock all follow this model. Many argue that agriculture was never meant to function in such a narrowly focused state, and the result has been a system that spawns sickness, abuse and destruction.

The banana story is no different. One of the results of this lack of diversification is soil that becomes stale and resistant over time, leading to greater vulnerability to weeds, pests and pathogens. Enter the Panama Disease, a fungus that wiped out the once ubiquitous Gros Michel banana variety – which was slimmer, creamier and more flavorful than today’s banana – and which now threatens, in spite of the widespread use of pesticides, to extinguish the Cavendish we love so dearly. It was a similar monoculture disaster that caused the great Irish Potato Famine of the mid-1800s.

The banana was handed this same fate when in the mid-20th century, the United Fruit Company saw the lucrative potential in its large-scale export. But the banana story takes an even grimmer turn when you learn about the far-reaching impact of United Fruit on the fragile economic and political development of certain Latin American countries, as well as the on the lives of banana growers around the world. Oh, and United Fruit is now called – you guessed it – Chiquita Banana.

If Miss Chiquita is the offender in the great banana crime, then banana bread is the accessory. The first banana bread recipes date back to the 1930s when handy kitchen cabinet leavening agents – baking soda and powder – were popularized in the US. Banana bread grew in popularity in the coming years, aided by what Michael Pollan calls the post-war white flour industrial complex, where, after dwindling demand during the war years, big flour companies met the postwar market with heavy marketing pushes to get America baking again.

Pillsbury initiated the great Pillsbury Bake-Off competition, Betty Crocker invented the ‘just add water and two of your own eggs’ cake mix, and Chiquita Banana, seeing an opportunity for the banana to ride the flour wake, published its first recipe book in 1949, featuring the banana bread front and center (along with some other questionable things, like the Ham Banana Roll).

And so, bananas across America were ripened to a brown rind, flour sifted to a soft grain, ovens set to 350 degrees and kitchens were flooded with steaming loaves of fresh baked banana bread, each promising to be more ‘moist’ than the next

That banana bread took hold as it did isn’t such a long shot when you think about it. Banana bread is so lovable – the homiest of comfort foods, both familiar and accessible. It’s easy to make. It’s hard to make the stuff taste bad. And bananas themselves are loved for good reason. These little packages are filled with a firm, velvety meat that’s lightly sweet with hints of pineapple and brown sugar, and a lingering vegetal flavor, almost like green bell pepper. They’re versatile for their stable structure and moisture content, used in anything from baking to smoothies to sandwiches. They even have a specific use for when they've suddenly become overripe.

But can we still eat bananas (and their bread) in good conscience? In the long term, banana companies need to promote greater genetic diversity among banana varieties. In the meantime you can look for Equal Exchange bananas at the supermarket, which ensure not only that farmers are fairly treated and compensated (fair trade), pesticides and fertilizers are controlled (organic), but also that growing practices follow the principles of “agro-forestry“, which intersperse banana crops with cacao and citrus trees, for example, (a.k.a. polyculture) to protect the natural ecosystems of the farms, thereby controlling disease and preserving the species.

In appreciation of its struggle, this recipe is here to celebrate the great banana, its journey to our hands and the growers that protect and nourish it.

Sometimes straightforward, no frills recipes are the best kind. This one has a few upgrades that lighten up the traditional blueprint. Opting for greek yogurt for extra moisture and a bit of zing, honey and brown sugar for more natural layers of sweetness, and spelt flour for it’s high-protein, low-gluten nuttiness, this recipe won’t have you feeling like you’re cooking from the Chiquita Banana Recipe Book. The quarter cup of millet brings a satisfying crunch to an otherwise homogenous texture, the flaked sea salt an unexpected hit of savoriness, and the open-faced, halved banana up top gives the old loaf a bit of a face lift that will either impress or appall anyone alive in the 1950s.

NOT-SO-CHIQUITA BANANA BREAD

INGREDIENTS
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup raw honey
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup full fat greek yogurt
3 medium, very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed with a fork
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup white whole wheat flour
3/4 cup spelt flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup millet
1 extra banana
flaked sea salt for sprinkling

METHOD
Preheat oven to 325° F and grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan. Layer a piece of parchment paper at the bottom of the pan.

Using a whisk, beat together coconut oil, honey and brown sugar in a large bowl. Add eggs one at a time, stirring as you go until well incorporated. Stir in mashed bananas and greek yogurt, whisking until well incorporated. Stir in vanilla extract.

Mix dry ingredients, including millet, in a separate bowl. Lastly, switch to a big spoon and stir in the flour, just until combined. Stir in millet.

Pour the batter into your greased loaf pan. Sprinkle with sea salt flakes. Slice the remaining banana in half length-wise and gently place both sides open-faced on top of the loaf.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown on top and passes the toothpick test. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, and on a wire cooling rack for another 20 before serving.

SOURCES
The Splendid Table, NPR
USLeap: Bananas, International Labor Rights Forum
Cooked, Michael Pollan
Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World, Dan Koeppel