Bread is Life Quick Bread

Friends, Paris. What can I add to the conversation about what happened last Friday?

"Peace for Paris" by Jean Jullien

“Peace for Paris” by Jean Jullien

I’m devastated and so very sad. Paris is one of my happy places. I’ve always felt safe there. Safe and happy. I’m heartbroken for the city and her people, for France and its citizenry, as they, like the rest of us, try to understand this very complicated world.

One of the bakers I follow on Facebook, Painrisien, posted a lovely sentiment on Saturday morning – that the boulangeries were open, even in the affected areas, and that the bakers were plying their centuries-old trade because life continues and bread is life.

DSC00064 I closed my laptop then and set aside my phone. I went to my kitchen, another of my happy places, and took down the flour and sugar, pulled out the butter. Baking is my security blanket when the world gets crazy. I love the alchemy and the physicality, I love knowing that ingredients, mixed in the right proportions, will always become bread. Reflexively, I began making Pulla, my mom’s Finnish bread. I wanted the familiarity of baking by heart, the homey fragrances of wDSC00220arm milk and cardamom, and the work of kneading the dough. Kneading bread, feeling it transform beneath my hands, gives me a soothing sense of control. Once the Pulla was set aside to proof, I washed the dishes and scrubbed the counters. I cleaned the stove and the floors. And it wasn’t enough. I needed more.

I scanned the cupboards and counters: There was the last of the candied orange peel, the rest of the chopped dried cherries/apricots/peaches from last week’s apple pie, a handful of dried cranberries. There was an apple in the bowl, an orange in the fridge. There was a dollop of creme fraiche and the last of a container of buttermilk.

I shredded the apple and zested the orange. I mixed all the dried fruit together. Flour, sugar in a bowl.IMG_2986 Eggs, crème fraiche, buttermilk whisked together with vanilla and a couple of spices. I combined it all and made what has to be said, is the most delicious quick bread I have ever had. Ever, no lie.

It never fails. The joy, the pleasure, the magic of baking – it brings me back from the brink every time.

Bread is life. Make the bread.

 

Dried Fruit Quick Bread

Set the oven to 350F. Butter a 9×5-inch loaf pan and line the bottom with parchment.IMG_3148 Set aside.

Ingredients

1 cup shredded apple, juice squeezed out

1 ¾ c chopped dried fruit – I used cranberries, cherries, apricots, peaches, and candied orange peel

1 ¼ c flour

¾ c sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

½ tsp baking soda

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp nutmeg

1 tsp – 1 Tbs orange zest, to taste

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

½ c melted butter, cooled

¼ c crème fraiche

¼ cup buttermilk

1 tsp vanilla

Preparation

Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add dried fruit and stir to distribute evenly. Make a well in the middle.

Whisk together eggs, crème fraiche, melted butter, buttermilk and vanilla, and pour into the well in the dry ingredients. Stir with wooden spoon until well combined. The batter will be thick and sticky.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for about an hour, checking at 50 minutes. A tester inserted in the middle should come out clean. Cool in IMG_3146pan on a rack for about 10 minutes. Remove from pan, peel off parchment, and let cool to a warm room temperature. Wonderful with butter, or toasted with a little jam.

Enjoy.

And remember: If we stay away, if we become too afraid to go to Paris (or anywhere else our heart desires), the darkness wins. Which can’t happen, not in the City of Light, not anywhere. Blessings.

Feelin’ Like Fall Peanut Butter Cookies

It’s been a tough autumn here in Southern California. Temperatures have been close to IMG_2682100 degrees all across the Southland, with regional blackouts due to 24/7 AC and beach dwellers who are normally proud of their “we don’t need AC” status, flocking to packed movie theaters for relief. There have been a few classic SoCal fall days mixed in, though, with breezy temps in the low 70s and cool nights that might tumble into the low 60s – those are baking days.

This past weekend was cool and cloudy, perfect for making soup and peanut butter cookies. I like my peanut butter cookies crisp with a hint of chocolate, so I use equal amounts of white and brown sugar, and add cocoa nibs. It’s the perfect cookie: Easy to pull together and, with a couple of hours of Hulu to catch up on, the right amount of baking time.

Feelin’ Like Fall Peanut Butter Cookies

Yield 2-3 dozen

Ingredients

1 ¼ c flour

¾ tsp baking soda

1 c (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened (beat cold butter between wax paper sheets with a rolling pin)

½ c light brown sugar, packed

1 large egg

¾ tsp vanilla extract

1 c chunky peanut butter (I use Skippy)

½ c cocoa nibs

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment (parchment makes a crisper cookie than Silpat).

Combine flour and baking soda in a small bowl and set aside.

IMG_2680Beat butter and both sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer on medium until fluffy. Add the egg and mix until combined. Mix in vanilla, then peanut butter. Beat well. Scrape down the sides and then add flour mixture. Beat on medium speed until well combined. Mix in cocoa nibs.

Remove bowl from mixer and give the dough a few turns with a wooden spoon or spatula to make sure the nibs are thoroughly mixed in.

Use a small ice cream scoop or rounded tablespoon to scoop up dough. Roll into balls and placeIMG_2684 on cookie sheets, spacing about 2.5 inches apart. Sprinkle generously with crystal sugar.

Bake, rotating sheets halfway through baking time, 20 minutes. Cool on rack.

Enjoy! Great with tea or cold milk. (The crispy makes ‘em dunkable.)