With so many bakers exploring gluten-free options, here’s one to try: chestnut flour. When this traditional Italian ingredient turned up in local markets recently (fall is the best season for the new crop of chestnut flour), it seemed an interesting alternative for cookies or pastries, like the crescents (a.k.a. Russian tea cookies, Mexican wedding cookies) in which chestnut pieces substitute so gloriously for pecans or walnuts. (A note: we’re not talking about water chestnut flour here. That’s a totally differet animal).
So, admittedly, chestnut flour’s gluten-free properties weren’t even a factor until the idea of incorporating it into a yeast bread came to mind. Paleo bread recipes, common across the Internet, weren’t the ticket; the search was on for a more rustic recipe in the Italian tradition. Chestnut trees were once so common in Italy that the flour was considered a downmarket ingredient, used in pasta, polenta, cakes and breads to cut the more precious wheat flour.
That’s how it’s used in this recipe for Chestnut-Walnut Bread which needs some regular flour to develop the gluten, and thus structure. Chestnut flour’s naturally nutty, somewhat sweet character gives gives the bread an alluringly distinctive taste in a loaf that bakes up with a tender, finely textured crumb — denser than a typical wheat flour loaf, but not heavy.
On the other hand, chestnut flour’s natural properties make it a more a natural fit for quick breads, like this Chestnut-Chocolate Tea Bread that bakes up beautifully moist and tender.
Over the years a vendor at the local farmer’s market has occasionally offered a corn bread. Not a cornbread, the often sweet quick bread, but a yeast bread with some cornmeal added to the dough that was baked into a round loaf. During the summer it made a marvelous BLT. But its appearance was sporadic, and I hadn’t seen it in quite awhile. Or thought much about it. Until a trip to Slovenia, where, lo and behold, a yeast-raised corn bread was part of the bread basket wherever we went. Toasted, it was fabulous for breakfast, with a drizzle of honey.
Sure, cornbread, that American staple, is a great option to accompany chili, stews and other hearty winter fare. But you really ought to give corn bread a try.
Two favorites for a Corn Bread/Cornbread Throwdown:
Maple Cornbread: Via King Arthur Flour, a ,moist easy-as-pie recipe that smells heavenly when baking, thanks to a touch of maple syrup.
Rhode Island Corn Bread: From the Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant cookbook. The name says New England, but this recipe captures the taste of those wonderful Slovenian bread baskets.
I know, I know, povitica/potica has made a few appearances here at Three Points Kitchen. But the Eastern European nut bread is a family holiday tradition, especially as part of the Easter basket and subsequent dinner. But part of the fun of baking comes from where experimentation and exploration can take you.
OK, sometimes innovation is a matter of necessity. Arriving in D.C. for Kate’s annual Easter feast, I realized I’d forgotten the walnuts needed for the traditional povitica filling. Kate suggested substituting pistachios from a stash she had on hand. My mother would not have approved (she barely tolerated the cheese filling option that is also traditional), but our revolutionary idea proved relevatory. Swapping out ground pistachios for the same amount of walnuts in the basic recipe, keeping the cinnamon and adding a touch of almond extract, took this batch of povitica to a delicious new place. The Turkish turn it took seemed entirely in keeping with the culinary influences found throughout states of the former Yugoslavia from where our family recipe hails, and the swirl of green pistachio filling lent a springtime touch.
Sorry mom, but this one’s a keeper. Try the recipe here.
Standard football-watching food in Nebraska and Kansas–a beef and cabbage-filled pocket sandwich called a bierock–comes courtesy of the German immigrants who settled the plains and their ancestors, including my family, who kept the tradition alive.
The bierock’s modest ingredients and homey appearance belie how tasty it is, especially with a dab of horseradish sauce on every bite. The basic yeast dough, enriched with butter and eggs, folds around the three- to four-ingredient filling (if you stick to tradition). Baked to a golden brown, brushed with melted butter, a bierock straight out of the oven reveals steamy deliciousness. And it is a heck of a lot better than delivery pizza at any party.
Christmas may be a hazy, food-coma hangover, but that does not mean pastry season is over. Indeed, today we have entered King Cake time, the weeks between Epiphany and Mardi Gras–the last night before Lent and its prescription of 40 days of restraint.
In the United States, New Orleans has made King Cake synonymous with Mardi Gras. Named for the visit of the three Magi to the newborn Christ child, the cake comes in so many variations that one needs a few weeks just to fully enjoy them all. It can take the shape of a cinnamon-scented ring of bread sparsely dotted with candied fruit (Spain and Latin America) or an almond-paste-filled circle of layered puff pastry (France). One commonality is a buried trinket–a plastic or ceramic baby figurine or a dried bean to symbolize the infant Jesus–which bestows various honors upon the person who gets the item in her or his slice. Mexico, where I first encountered the bread, has my favorite tradition: The person who wins the baby has to make tamales for everyone on Candlemas, February 2.
Mexico’s cake, rosca de reyes, is a vaguely sweet yeast bread (akin to pan de muerto), formed into a ring and finished with a sugar topping that may also include candied fruit and/or nuts. It is tasty–and lovely with a cup of coffee for breakfast. However, I like my desserts sweeter and have long been drawn to the French version (galette des rois) and its layers of sweet almond filling.
So I pulled together a hybrid to celebrate Día de Reyes, a basic sweet dough filled with a rough almond paste, rolled like cinnamon rolls, shaped and baked into a ring, and glazed when cool with almond icing. I just might call it a rosca des rois.
It may look like Halloween, but the concept behind Mexico’s Días de los Muertos—for all of its skeleton decorations, sugar-covered skulls and cemetery visits—could not be further from our evening of witches and candy overload. Rather this festival, a mix of pre-Columbian and Catholic traditions marked November 1–2 (All Saints and All Souls Days), is a celebration of ancestors, a national memorial day to the dead.
And like so many Mexican festivals, it cannot be celebrated without food.
The Day of the Dead inspires fanciful and abundant baking, specifically of pan de muerto, a slightly sweet, decorated yeast bread enriched with butter, milk and eggs. Traditionally baked as a boule, decorated with “bones” and liberally covered with sugar, the bread may also take the shape of skulls or animals. And depending on the baker, it may be orange, cinnamon, nutmeg or anise scented.
Think brioche with a sense of whimsy.
Some recipes call for a slow-rising sponge or other complicated procedures. I do a simplified version of the bread, building on several recipes and using instant yeast, which requires no proofing or dissolving. The key here is to be prepared with room-temperature ingredients and warm milk so the yeast can grow.
The final product is a beautiful yellow loaf with a soft texture and large crumb, perfect for snacking (especially with a steaming cup of Mexican hot chocolate) or as a foundation for French toast—and both a worthy offering to the ancestors as well as a source of comfort to the living (especially straight out of the oven).
UPDATE: Here’s a great pictorial from NPR on the Day of the Dead!
I made every attempt to eat my weight in pastries on a recent trip to Istanbul. Sadly, I did not get to try everything. But I left with a new, minor obsession for a tiny breakfast bread served at my hotel–three bites of soft dough rolled with a sweet tahini filling and covered with finely chopped pistachios.
I am happily immersed in attempting to recreate it. And while my first attempt was yummy–and close to the original–the end result was not quite exact.
What I am attempting to make may very well be this bread, perhaps just made into small pieces (all the better for package tourists to fill their pockets for the day ahead). The bread also reminded me of povitica / potica — another nut-filled and rolled bread of Eastern European origin, with the swirls facing sideways instead of upward (as they do with a traditional cinnamon roll).
My first crack at this started with my usual sweet dough recipe, which I stretched then rolled with a tahini filling (1 cup tahini, 1 cup of sugar and a few pats of butter, maybe three tablespoons, melted). I divided the dough into four parts (as if I were making mini cinnamon rolls). The aesthetics were not quite there–cut too large, maybe, or the dough rolled too thickly. The taste was pretty close, though.
I’ll let you know when I hit the mark–which will probably involve a little less yeast and more stretching. But if you are hankering for a new taste at brunch, try the tahini filling in lieu of cinnamon/butter/sugar in cinnamon rolls. It’s delish — nutty, creamy and sweet.