Breads and Baked Goods

Beer Bread with Bacon and Chives (did I mention the bacon?)

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July is Craft Beer Month here in the state of Michigan, so to honor this wonderful month I wanted to make some Beer Bread.  Did you ever want a nice loaf of bread but didn’t want to deal with the hassle?  It’s a pretty involved process — proofing the yeast, mixing and kneading the dough, letting the dough rise, letting the dough rise again, and whatnot.  Don’t get me wrong, making a nice bread from scratch is something to be proud of.  Not a lot of people can do it well.  But what about the rest of us?  That’s why I like this recipe.  It is one of the easiest recipes that I know, and plus it involves beer!  Well, at least the base recipe is very simple; just take out the butter, chives, and bacon.  But come on — it’s butter and bacon!

So let’s talk about beer for just a second.  I only have a couple of summer favorites — 1) Old Speckled Hen from Suffolk, England, 2) San Miguel from the Philippines, 3) the fabulous Allagash White from Portland, ME, 4) Newcastle from Scotland (I think), and 5) a Michigan beer from Bell’s brewery called Oberon.  Oberon has kind of a cult following with some pubs and fans celebrating when the first batches come out for the year.  I used to have a calendar that marked the “opening days” of all their beers.  Not sure where it went though.  But I luv Oberon; nothing goes better with Michigan summers than a slice of orange and an ice-cold glass of Oberon!

But back to the bread.  This is a fairly hearty bread.  It can hold its own against bigger flavors, but you don’t necessarily want a competition for your attention.  This is great just on its own.  Maybe put a couple of slices in the broiler or toaster for a couple of seconds and you should be all set.  Here’s what you need:

  • 1 bottle of beer (I used Bell’s Oberon)
  • 3 c. self-rising flour
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 2 T. chopped chives
  • 4 strips of crispy bacon, chopped
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 stick of butter, melted

1.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a 9-in loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside.

2.  Put all the ingredients except the butter together in a bowl.  Using a wooden spoon, mix the batter well, until combined.  The mixture will be very thick and sticky.

3.  Transfer the dough to the loaf pan and pour the melted butter on top.  Bake for about 1 hr and 15 minutes, until nicely browned on the top.

4.  Turn out onto a wire rack to cool.  If done correctly, the bread will be pretty dense and crusty.

Notes — You can try a whole bunch of different herbs in this one.  I just use chives because I have them growing out back. . . Also try a whole bunch of different beers and ales.  Guinness makes a wonderful beer bread as does a Sam Adams Cranberry Lambic. . . Like I said above, take out the butter, bacon, and chives (not that you would) and you have the base recipe.  You can take the base and modify it as you like. . . maybe a little cheese on top because butter and bacon apparently isn’t enough. . . PS — the ends are the best cuz those slices have the most crust, which has been surrounded by butter for over an hour!  Look, I never said that this was healthy. . .

Gougere (aka Cheezy Poofs)

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Happy Bastille Day!  So to celebrate I thought I’d make some Gougere.  That’s just French for “cheese puffs”.  Well, probably not, but that’s what they are.  But I was thinking one day about making certain sweet items more savory.  Cream puffs came to mind, so I was thinking about what would be a way to make them less sweet.  And — Bam! — cheese would work.

After doing some digging, it turns out I’m not all that much of  an innovator.  Looks like the French did this like millions of years ago.  Maybe I should read more French cookbooks.  This recipe basically follows your simple pate-a-choux recipe which is essentially a 1-1-1-4 combination.  That is 1 stick of butter, 1 cup of water, 1 cup of flour, and 4 eggs.  Plus any salt, pepper, and sugar you might add.  This makes about 40, depending on how big you make them.

Anyhoo, here’s what you need:

  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 t. salt
  • 1 t. sugar
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 c. grated Gruyère
  • 1/2 c. grated cheddar
  • 1/4 c. grated parmesan
  • 5 eggs
  • 3 T. fresh herbs
  • 1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper

1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Make an egg wash by mixing together one egg and 1 T. heavy cream; set aside.  Bring 1 c. water, the salt, sugar, and butter to a boil in a saucepan.  Cook until butter is melted.  Add in the flour all at once and stir to combine.

2.  Cook the flour combination for about 5 minutes, until there is a film covering the bottom of the pan.  Transfer to a bowl.

3.  Add the cheeses to the mixture and mix well.  One at a time, add 4 eggs, mixing after each addition.  Now add the herbs and black pepper and incorporate.

4.  Using a piping bag, pipe out 1 – 2 inch rounds onto a lined baking sheet.  If needed, dip your finger into a bowl of water and smooth out the tops.  Brush the puffs with the egg wash and top with a little cheese if you have any leftover.

5.  Bake for about 20 – 25 minutes until golden and puffed.  Serve immediately.

Notes — A couple of things:  (1) Now I was watching a clip on-line from Martha and they said that you could bake these and freeze them.  I certainly hope that’s the case since I will have a lot leftover.  I have frozen some pies before with no problems so I’m guessing it should work out fine.  (2) Also, you can just drop the puffs if you don’t want to pipe them out.  Just smooth out the tops to get a nice uniform shape.  (3) You can substitute a variety of cheeses, but I’d figure you want some kind of good melting cheese at least.  I wonder what using a Stilton would be like.

Gooseberry Grunt

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Nothing says “Happy Birthday America” like a Gooseberry Grunt.  Gooseberries are native to North America, but there are also species with origins in Europe, Asia, and Africa.  They are closely related to currants and can have cross varieties between the two.  I found a University of Minnesota article with some info about both.  It has useful info on how to grow and harvest them.

As for grunts, they are one of the many types of cobblers.  I could do a whole series of stuff on different types of cobblers, but you’d probably not get 100% consensus about how to define all the different varieties.  Sometimes referred to as slumps, grunts get their name by the sound they make as they cook.  Traditionally cooked on the stovetop , the dough or crust is basically a steamed dumpling.  You use a biscuity type dough for this type of cobbler.  This recipe was baked in the oven so it probably should be called a slump, but alliteration-wise “Gooseberry Grunt” sounded better.  Which is probably why “American as Apple Pie” was more popular than “American as Gooseberry Grunt”.

This dessert has its roots in colonial New England.  I remember reading somewhere that grunts were from Massachusetts and the everywhere else in New England called them slumps.  These were attempts to recreate the steamed pudding that could find in their home country of England.  Of course, they could only use the fruits that they could find locally.  Yay! — another cultural / historical nugget!

Anyhoo, back to the recipe.  There were some raspberries mixed in so this isn’t just gooseberries.  The flavor of the gooseberry is on the tart side, but there is some sweetness there.  It’s kinda hard to really describe the flavor since it is so unique.  The texture is close to that of a grape.  There is a pic on Wikipedia showing a sliced gooseberry.  There’s also info available at the site, but you can never trust Wikipedia 100% since anyone can change the info.  But I digress. . .

Here’s what you need:

  • 3 c. gooseberries
  • 1 c. raspberries
  • 1/4 c. butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 c. granulated sugar, divided in half
  • 1 c. self-rising flour
  • 1/2 c. milk
  • 2 T. cornstarch
  • 1/4 t. ground nutmeg
  • 1 c. boiling water

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place the berries into your baking dish.  This one used an 8×8 glass dish.

2.  In a mixing bowl cream together the butter and 1/2 the sugar until fluffy.  Alternating with the half the milk, add the flour in thirds so that you start and end with the flour (hope that isn’t confusing because I can never figure out how to state that clearly).  Spoon the batter over the berries.

3.  Mix together the remaining sugar with the cornstarch and nutmeg.  Sprinkle over the top.  Pour the boiling water over everything.

4.  Bake for 1 hour.  Cool for about 15 minutes before serving so that it can set.  You can serve with ice cream or whipped cream or Cool Whip.

Bibingka — Cassava and Coconut Custard

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Here’s a recipe that is always a staple at pretty much all of my big family get-togethers.  I was trying to track down a recipe so that I could list it on the blog, but there was just a problem of getting everyone on the same page.  So luckily I was able to finally find one that was relatively simple (some recipes involved lots of different tropical fruits and cheese, which was a little weird to me — in my experience, SE Asia isn’t big on the whole cheese thing).  You will need a food processor though, but I guess you could grate the cassava by hand.

This recipe I found on the Saveur Magazine website.  From the picture in the article, this looks pretty close to what is done in my family, but I think the family recipe has some macapuno in it (here’s a link to a blog that nicely describes what macapuno is).  The topping is different, too.  The one my aunt makes is a lot more caramelized on top, almost like the topping on creme brulee, but softer.  Now, I did make one change to the recipe, mainly for time constraints.  I was making this for a party and I wanted to do most of the prep ahead of time so I mixed the batter together the night before and put it in the oven just before dinner was served.  Worked out great for me!

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 1/2 c. sugar
  • 2 T. unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 t. salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 14-oz. can coconut milk
  • 1 1/2 lbs. peeled cassava, cut into chunks
  • 1/3 c. heavy cream

1.  Preheat the oven to 350.

2.  In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the sugar, salt, butter, eggs, and coconut milk.  Whisk until smooth.  Set aside.

3.  In a food processor, chop the cassava pieces until it is finely shredded.  Stir into the egg mixture, and pour the combined mixture into a 9″ x 13″ baking dish.

4.  Bake for 40 minutes until set.  Baste with the heavy cream, and then bake for another 40 minutes until browned.  Let cool for 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

Notes — I think I might put in a little citrus zest in the next batch.  I’m still trying to get closer to what my family version of the delicacy is, so maybe I’ll add some macapuno.  You should be able to find some macapuno preserves in any good Asian grocery.