The Best Homemade Pita Bread

pita_wheat_plated

Can you pass up freshly baked bread? I can easily pass on the bread basket served at most restaurants, unless with one sniff as the basket is laid before me, it’s freshly baked, warm from the oven.  Then I need to immediately rethink my ordering to balance out the bread.  I am one of those, do not combine foods girl.  That means no protein and carbs at the same meal.  Yes, it gets tricky with sandwiches and spaghetti and meatballs, but I’ve done it for so many years, I hardly think about it.  When I eat pasta, I eat pasta!!  but no meatballs!

And when I eat bread, it has to be worth every bite.  There is a pita bread that I so love and miss from Ohio that every time I visit I have to bring some back with me.  They make it ultra thin, soft with a slightly chewy texture.  I can eat them warm from the oven, toasted for a crisp crunch, topped with a tossed salad, perfect with hummus and especially good paired with a warm brie which we enjoyed over the holidays.  Continue reading “The Best Homemade Pita Bread”

Sicilian Pizza

Sicilian PizzaSicilian pizza = family gatherings.  It would not be a family gathering without including the Sicilian pizza, especially through the holidays.  My mom would bake sheet after sheet pan of pizza to serve our hungry family, uncles, aunts and cousins.  Grabbing squares of pizza, it didn’t matter if they were hot or at room temp or even leftover cold straight from the fridge!  Way back then, I never knew there were round pizzas!  The round ones came from the pizza restaurants, and we never ordered a pizza!

I rarely bake the thick crust pizza.  My favorite is the thin crust, as in my Napoletana Pizza I make every Friday evening.  But when I drift back down memory lane as I was this morning, thinking of Christmas past, there was no other pizza in my life than the thick, square cut Sicilian pizza. Continue reading “Sicilian Pizza”

French Gingerbread, Pain d’epices

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Baking, sharing, holiday love from my kitchen.  It’s a year round love of giving but more so at the holidays.  Extra batches of cookies are baked, double the pies and my single loaf pan is set aside to fill smaller pans for sharing.

This is going to be truly a simple Christmas season for me this year.   Out of work for 3 months now, gifting to others will be homemade, handmade gifts from the heart, warmth from friendships and family.   This year will be more on moderation and celebrating the reason for the season, the birth of baby Jesus. Continue reading “French Gingerbread, Pain d’epices”

Pumpernickel Bagels

I have a secret love for pumpernickel bagels.   It’s really not so secret if you’re within my close circle of friends.  The thing with pumpernickel bagels is that most bagel shops or breakfast diners either do not carry enough and sell out quickly or simply do not offer pumpernickel!  There are always plenty of plain (boring), everything (love it but then again, it’s a plain bagel with sprinkles), poppy seed (don’t smile when eating), garlic (not my favorite morning flavor), chocolate chip (maybe for dessert), blueberry (um, no), onion (same as garlic, not for breakfast), whole grain (healthy, but did they use enriched wheat flour?) Continue reading “Pumpernickel Bagels”

Italian Fried Dough

Fried…dough…really?  Just around the time when those healthy eating resolutions are starting to weigh heavy (no pun intended) and that strong willpower is beginning to weaken….ooh, I am so sorry.

But just take a bite…a little bite….warm and soft with a sweet sugary kiss on the lips.  If you grew up on these as I did, it is a sentimental kiss, one that warms my soul with precious memories. Continue reading “Italian Fried Dough”

Fresh Peach and Pecan Quick Bread (giveaway winner announced)

I tend to shy away from baking quick breads for two reasons, 1) the amount of sugar and oil in the recipes shocks me and, 2) if I’ve not given the bread away, I will sliver them to death because they truly do taste so good!

Many years ago my childhood best friend gave me a recipe for strawberry bread.  She forewarned me of the amount of oil – 1 1/2 cups! and the amount of sugar – 2 cups!  She followed the warning stating that despite the huge amounts of oil and sugar, I had to make is as it was well worth it! Continue reading “Fresh Peach and Pecan Quick Bread (giveaway winner announced)”

Sun-dried Tomato and Basil Flatbread

I thought I’d share with you how I use some of the prepped foods I had previously posted.  As I mentioned before, each week I like to prepare different mixes of ingredients that I can use to compliment recipes or meals I’ll make through the week.  Some of these can be purchased, as in marinated artichokes or sun-dried tomatoes.  But to me, the flavor cannot ever compare to homemade nor do they have the personal touches that I like to add.  Continue reading “Sun-dried Tomato and Basil Flatbread”

Mardi Gras Kings Cake

You don’t need to live in New Orleans to enjoy the local festivities of Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday!  There is something so colorful and fun about the New Orleans’ Kings Cake that I have to make it every year just to feel like I’m celebrating right along with the folks in New Orleans. 

Fat Tuesday is right around the corner wrapping up the the Mardi Gras or Carnival Season that is so well celebrated in New Orleans.  The season begins on January 6, also known as “King’s Day” honoring the meeting of the Three Wise Men with the baby Jesus.  The hiding of the baby in the cake was to symbolize the finding of the baby Jesus.

Before my move to Florida, I had considered a relocation to New Orleans.  I made several trips there to look around and during those times, the city grabbed my heart.  The people there seemed to live life to the max, enjoying food,drink and festivities of all the seasons.  It was there that I tasted my first Kings Cake, so sweet and naughty…it was love at first bite! 

There are many versions of the recipe; Jessica at Kitchenbelleicious posted her second version just the other day.  This is made as a brioche dough with a filling of both cream cheese and apples.  There are several steps involved but so well worth it!  Sprinkle on the colored sugars, the more the merrier and enjoy!!

Kings Cake

adapted from the LA Times test kichen

For the Apple filling:

2 tablespoons butter

2 large tart apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, quartered and sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch slices

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup toasted pecan pieces

1 tablespoon Apple Jack Brandy

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in the apple slices, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt, and cook, stirring frequently, just until the apple starts to soften, 3 to 4 minutes (the slices should still be crisp). Remove from heat and stir in the toasted pecans and Apple Jack Brandy. Remove to a separate container, cool, cover and refrigerate until needed.

For the Cream Cheese filling:

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons sugar

1/2 beaten egg (save the other half egg to make the egg wash for the cake)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat together the cream cheese with the vanilla, salt and sugar. Add the beaten egg to the cream cheese mixture and beat until thoroughly combined. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

For the Brioche:

3/4 cup milk, divided

1 package (2½ teaspoons) active dry yeast

1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar, divided

2 eggs, plus ½ beaten egg (use the remaining half egg leftover from the cream cheese filling), divided

10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) butter, at room temperature

3 1/2 cups (15.75 ounces) bread flour, plus more for dusting

1/2 teaspoon salt

Apple filling

Cream cheese filling

In a small pan, heat one-half cup plus 2 tablespoons of milk over medium heat just until warmed. Remove from heat and pour the milk into a small bowl or measuring cup. Stir in the yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar, then set aside until the milk is foamy and the yeast is activated, about 10 minutes.

Whisk the 2 eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer using the whisk attachment (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer) until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Stir in the yeast mixture and remaining one-third cup of sugar until fully incorporated.

If using a stand mixer, switch to the paddle attachment. With the mixer running, add the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until incorporated.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. With the mixer running, add the flour mixture, one spoonful at a time, until fully incorporated.

Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead until it is soft and somewhat silky (it’s a rich dough and won’t be entirely smooth), 5 to  7 minutes. Place the dough in a large, oiled bowl and lightly cover with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1½ hours.

When the dough is doubled, punch it down (it will be very smooth and elastic) and roll it out onto a lightly floured surface into a 10-by-28-inch rectangle. Lightly cut the dough lengthwise to divide the dough into 2 equal halves.

Spoon the apple filling down the length of one side, leaving a 1½-inch border on the top, bottom and sides. Repeat with the cream cheese filling down the other side of the dough, leaving a 1½-inch border on the top, bottom and each side. Lightly brush the edges and center of the dough (along the score) with the egg wash to moisten. Gently and carefully pull the dough over the cream cheese filling, sealing the edge of the dough. Repeat with the apple filling. Press the sealed edges, making sure they are secure (otherwise the fillings could spill out while the cake bakes).

Gently twist the length of the dough to form a braid-like shape. Wrap the dough so it forms an oval wreath and gently press the edges together. Carefully transfer the wreath to a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until almost doubled in volume, 45 minutes to an hour, or loosely cover and refrigerate the dough overnight, removing it from the refrigerator about 1 hour before baking for the dough to come to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Make an egg wash using the remaining beaten half egg (from the cream cheese filling) with the remaining 2 tablespoons of milk. Brush the top of the wreath lightly with the egg wash and place in the oven.

Bake the cake until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (the toothpick will remain moist if it hits the cream cheese filling, but there should be no crumbs sticking to it), about 30 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through baking for even coloring.

For the Glaze:

2 cups confectioners sugar

3-4 tablespoons warm milk

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

In a medium bowl combine the confectioners sugar and vanilla extract. Slowly pour in the milk and stir until smooth and slightly thick. Add in the milk slowly, it will become smooth fairly quickly without alot of milk.

Purple, green and yellow colored sugars for decorating

Plastic baby, if desired

Allow the cake to cool before it is frosted. Drizzle the glaze evenly over the cake, then lightly sprinkle over the colored sugars. If using the plastic baby, hide it somewhere in the cake (press the baby in through the bottom of the cake so as not to disturb the top or sides of the cake). Serve the cake warm or at room temperature.  Serves approximately 12-16.

Almond, Lemon and Thyme Bread with Fig and Lemon Jam

Quick breads many times are full of oil or butter, sugar and white flour.  I’m attracted to the “idea” of these breads but then get turned off by the ingredients.  Not that I don’t use white sugar and white flour when making my Italian cookies as I like to keep to the traditional recipe.  But  during the rest of the year, I prefer to enjoy all I eat while knowing that I’ve tweaked it to be healthier for me…and that means enjoying what I eat without any guilt!! 

I do see more recipes around switching out the butter or oil for applesauce or yogurt, white sugar to raw sugar or agave and white flour to wheat or a blend of flours.   While I don’t have a gluten intolerance, I do try to lessen the gluten I consume.  This bread could be completely gluten free by replacing the 3 tablespoons of white/wheat flour with gluten free flour.  I personally just don’t like the smell of gluten free flour!

This bread can be served for breakfast, tea, as a side with dinner or a light dessert.  I prepared a jam of sorts as I don’t can I make just enough to last me for a week.  Figs and lemons simmered with orange blossom honey, cardamon and cloves provided just enough sweetness and taste to compliment this bread. 

Almond, Lemon and Thyme Bread

3/4 cup plain yogurt

3/4 cup raw sugar (turbinado)

Zest of one organic lemon

3 large eggs, room temperature

1 cup stone ground yellow cornmeal

1/4 cup almond flour

3 tablespoons white/wheat flour (replace with gluten free flour for a gluten free bread)

1 teaspoon baking powder (Rumford Baking Powder /Clabber Girl Baking Powder are gluten free)

3/4 teaspoon citrus sea salt or Kosher salt

1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Spray a 9×5 inch loaf pan.  Combine the cornmeal, flours, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.  Set aside.  In a large bowl of an electric mixer, blend the yogurt and sugar until well combined.  Add the lemon zest and eggs, one at a time, mixing well.  Add in the flour mixture, blend to combine and stir in the almonds until just combined.  Pour batter into prepared pan.  Bake for about 50-55 minutes or until lightly golden and toothpick tested clean.  Let cool completely on wire rack. 

Fig and Lemon Jam

3 small lemons

8 dried figs, chopped small

1/4 cup raw sugar

1/4 teaspoon cardamon

1/4 teaspoon cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1  tablespoon orange blossom honey

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon citrus sea salt or Kosher salt

Prepare the lemons by slices off both ends to allow the lemon to stand flat.  Using a paring knife, cut the peel and pith off by following the curve of the lemons.  Cut the lemon segments out and chop into small pieces.  Place lemon segments and any juices into a small saucepan.  Add in the remaining ingredients and allow to simmer gently for about 30 minutes or until thickened.  Allow to cool, refrigerate for up to 5 days.