February seems to have more than its share of ugly weather. If it’s not snow or freezing rain or 40 MPH winds, it’s low, gray overcast and bone-chilling damp. When I’m stuck indoors on days like that, my best remedy for cabin fever is to turn on the oven and bake something. This past week, I’ve entertained myself by trying new recipes for breakfast muffins, afternoon tea cake, and dinner bread. Here’s how they worked out.
Sundowner Yogurt Corn Muffins
A while back, I wrote here about my search for a really good corn muffin recipe and regretted the fact that the best one I’d come up with had turned out rather dry. My friend Jennifer then sent me her recipe. It took me a long time to try it, but now I finally have – and it’s terrific. Much better than the one from Joy of Cooking that I’d been using.
Jennifer’s recipe is actually for cornbread, baked in a square pan, but it worked just fine for me in muffin cups. It has several differences from the Rombauer version. It uses less cornmeal in proportion to wheat flour. It says to cut cold butter into the dry ingredients rather than stirring in melted butter. It uses a generous amount of yogurt instead of milk, some baking soda instead of all baking powder, and brown sugar rather than white.
I divided the batter over the 12 cups of my big muffin tin, which baked up into fairly small muffins, but delicious ones. (Tom quickly ate two, the first morning.) They were fully corn-flavored and beautifully moist. Next time, I might divide them only among eight cups. Or I might make a bigger batch! They still taste fine after freezing and defrosting for later breakfasts.
Quick Persimmon Bread
Rummaging in my freezer, I came upon a cup of almost forgotten persimmon puree, left over from the steamed persimmon pudding I’d made for Christmas. Time to use it! None of the persimmon recipes I could find in my cookbooks or online appealed to me, so I thought I’d try using the puree instead of mashed banana in Joy of Cooking‘s recipe for Quick Banana Bread, which I like a lot.
Since quick breads rise from baking powder, not yeast, they’re really more like simple cakes than bread. My persimmon puree behaved well in the mixing and produced an attractive golden brown loaf with a soft, loose crumb. But the fruit flavor was extremely mild – bananas assert themselves much more in this recipe than the persimmons did. And though there was ⅔ cup of sugar in the loaf, it was only lightly sweet.
I had envisioned the bread as a nice accompaniment to a cup of tea on a cold winter afternoon, but it didn’t have enough character to be interesting that way. Toasted for breakfast a day later, topped with butter and jam, it was a little better, but it shouldn’t have needed all that help. So, all in all, this was a disappointment.
Whole Wheat No-Knead Bread
I make no-knead bread often when I want a small crusty loaf for a family dinner without going through the work of making regular French or Italian bread. Mine is not the famous no-knead bread recipe from the New York Times in 2007, which became a craze. That is very good, but it takes 18 hours of rising and bakes in a searing hot cast iron pot, so it’s not a spur-of-the-moment thing to make. The recipe I use, also written about in the Times a year later, is far easier and quicker and makes a reliable simple loaf.
The loaf also keeps well for a few days – surprising, considering that most breads containing only yeast, flour, salt, and water start going stale the next day. For my mini-version I’ve cut the quantities and tweaked a few techniques. Previously I’ve used all-purpose flour, but this week I thought I’d try it with half whole wheat flour and half bread flour.
That worked out quite well. The crust was a little crunchier than my all-purpose-flour version, the crumb had the right balance between airiness and chewiness, and the gentle whole-wheaty flavor gave the bread the character of a good Italian peasant loaf. I think I’ll adopt this as my standard version of the no-knead recipe.