Tag Archives: quick bread

Recipe Review: Sweet Potato Bread with Caramel and Aleppo-Spiced Pecans by Gerardo Gonzalez (Epicurious, September 2014)

SweetPotatoblogNoahVerrier

“Sweet Potato” oil on canvas panel, 10X8, by Noah Verrier featured on Verrier’s Daily Paintings blog on 17 June 2009

The sweet potato [Ipomoea batas (L.) Lam.] is a tuber vegetable plant that originated and was domesticated millennia ago somewhere between the Yucatan Peninsula of modern Mexico and Orinoco River in modern Venezuela. Our modern sweet potato is a member of the morning glory family Convolvulaceae family and possibly only distantly related to the potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) of the nightshade Solanaceae family. Sweet potato is purported to be the only globally important food crop among the Convolvulaceae. A raw, unpeeled sweet potato is rich in antioxidants and fiber. The sweet potato is not grown from seed, and does not tolerate frost. The sweet potato plant does not tolerate water-logged soils, and does best in sandy soil. University of Missouri Extension suggests home gardeners plant the tuber slips in raised beds or a black plastic mulch pieces and then cover with an organic mulch such as straw or hay.

Sweet potatoes have become a prominent component of the US “Southern” identity in the past couple of decades. The tuber was documented as being grown in Virginia in 1648. Sweet potato was documented as being grown by the local Native American residents when the first Acadian Canadians, now known as Cajuns, arrived in Louisiana in the mid-1700s. The sweet potato probably was not present at the Massachusetts Pilgrim’s Thanksgiving celebrations unless the Native American neighbors brought them. Yams (Dioscorea species) originated in Africa, and probably were also unknown to the Pilgrims and their rocky New England soils.

Recently Southern US themed women magazines have celebrated preparing sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and everyday meals. Fried sweet potato fries and baked chips are popular sandwich side dishes. Mashed and baked sweet potatoes are more common at restaurants. What modern sweet potato enthusiasts conveniently forget is that sweet potatoes were the food of poor people, both black and white and all those colored folks in between. If one had any money one did not eat sweet potatoes. Once people left poverty and the South behind it is my understanding no one wanted to even smell sweet potatoes except when the “traditional” American holiday dinner required it.

We found ourselves with an abundance of purchased sweet potatoes several months ago. When cured correctly, sweet potatoes last up to 10 months if dry and stored at 55 to 60°F (12.7 to 15.5 °C) at high humidity. These potatoes that we acquired were not cured well and needed used as soon as possible. One can only eat so many of variations of mashed sweet potatoes.

The sweet potato bread recipe called for a pound of sweet potatoes. I weighed out 16 ¾ oz raw sweet potatoes. The recipe called for piercing the sweet potatoes several times then baking on a baking sheet, but I did not do that. I peeled and then wrapped the potatoes in aluminum foil and baked at 400 °F (204.4 °C) for an hour. I pureed the baked sweet potatoes and scooped out 1 ⅓ cup of sweet potatoes into a mixing bowl and allowed the purée to cool so not to cook the eggs. I used half-and-half and not whole milk. A quarter cup (2 oz) half-and-half is easier to obtain than 2 oz whole milk. Use a tasteless oil such as canola so that the sweetness of the potatoes comes through. The dry ingredients were added as instructed in batches to the wet ingredients. It is very important to use cake flour. Cake flour is milled finer than all-purpose flour. Cake flour produces a more delicate crumb and texture than all-purpose flour which is more desirable in a heavier batter quick bread. It is important to gently stir until all the dry ingredients are just moist. The batter does not photograph well.

halfway through baking (640x442)

the sweet potato bread after 30 minutes of baking

I poured the batter into a greased loaf pan. The oven was set to 325 °F (162.7 °C). As directed I turned the loaf 180° around 30 minutes into the baking time. The recipe says allow 60 to 75 minutes to bake. It took 70 minutes baking for the toothpick to come out clean.

after 65 minutes

toothpick after 65 minutes of baking

clean toothpick 70 minutes

a clean toothpick after 70 minutes of baking

After the bread (cake) had cooled it slipped out of the loaf pan easily. I topped the loaf with 3 tablespoons dulce de leche. Amazing stuff that dulce de leche. I sprinkled about ⅛ teaspoon salt over the caramel topping. I could not find any Maldon type salt except in a King Arthur Flour catalog, so I used a medium ground sea salt. I toasted ⅓ cup chopped pecans, the recipe called for ¼ cup, in a 325 °F (162.7 °C) oven for about eight minutes stirring frequently for even toasting, and pressed the pecan pieces into the caramel. I could not find Aleppo pepper flakes outside of a catalog or the internet. I am not sure what 1 ½ teaspoon pepper flakes would add.

sliced sweet potato bread

sliced sweet potato bread with dulce de leche and toasted pecans

The sweet potato bread was cake-like and we ate it as a dessert. It was amazing. This bread/cake was very moist and maintained its moistness over a couple of days. I have made this recipe several times over the past couple months. This is a type of bread/cake that you would spend $4.5 for a slice in a nice coffee shop. Did I mention the break/cake is amazing?

The recipe can be found at: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/sweet-potato-bread-with-caramel-and-aleppo-spiced-pecans-51249830

“Sweet Potato” oil on canvas panel, 10X8, by Noah Verrier featured on Verrier’s Daily Paintings blog on 17 June 2009 http://noahverrier.blogspot.com/2009/06/sweet-potato-oil-on-canvas-panel-10×8.html

If you want to know more about the harvest of US sweet potatoes, here is a report from NPR.  “Behind Your Holiday Sweet Potato Dish, Hard Work In The Fields” by Dan Charles. Updated January 11, 201612:12 PM ET, Published November 24, 20155:32 AM ET http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/11/24/457203127/behind-your-holiday-sweet-potato-dish-hard-work-in-the-fields

If you want to grow your own sweet potatoes, the University of Missouri Extension has a nice write-up. http://extension.missouri.edu/publications/DisplayPub.aspx?P=G6368

Recipe Review of Dried Apricot-Pecan Bread, in The Best Quick Breads (2000) by Beth Henspergen

Apricots are important icons to several cultures around the world. The stone fruit is as important as olives to other cultures. Like olives in some places in the Middle and Near East, intentionally destroying an apricot tree is such an extreme insult over which people that are willing to kill. The apricot we know today may have been developed in Armenia up to 8,000 years ago. Apricots have been identified as cultivated in India 5,000 years ago. Spanish Missionaries carried apricot seedlings west across North America as they carried the Gospel and sought golden salvation in the Mediterranean-climate of California. The pale orange fruit dries into a golden bronze coin when not treated with preservatives. Apricots were an important commodity in along the Persian and Silk Road trade routes. Today, Turkey is the largest producer of dried apricots.

Two loaves of Dried Apricot-Pecan Bread from The Best Quick Breads (2000) by Beth Hensperger

Two loaves of Dried Apricot-Pecan Bread from The Best Quick Breads (2000) by Beth Hensperger

The recipe for Dried Apricot-Pecan Bread is one of my favorite quick bread recipes. I shared it at work several times a year. My English and Irish co-workers called it a wonderful tea bread. I considered this the best critique available. It is best served cool and sliced thin with a very sharp knife. Sweetened butter is best.

I need to first say I love this cookbook, but that does not mean the recipes do not need to be tweaked to bake the best bread.  I have been using the cookbook for over ten years and each recipe has its own adjustments.

I recommend the Turkey apricots over the California apricots. I use kitchen scissors to cut the dried fruit into not quite match stick size, but maybe two match sticks wide pieces. When you hydrate the 12 oz chopped, dried apricots, you can use 8 oz water, or orange juice, or orange liqueur.

There is nothing special to the mixing of the dry ingredients. Use the best flour you can afford. It really does make a difference in the finished bread. The 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour which the recipe called for and I used in the photographed loaves here was ground by my father from wheat berries he purchased from King Arthur Flour at their office in Atchison, Kansas in a Vitamix food processor. My family takes flour quality very seriously.

The recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar which is included in the first step when you marinate the apricots. I used a half cup of finely granulated sugar and in this batch I think that was to much. The surface of the bread was much to brown, in my opinion. That said, I had a nice center crack on one loaf, which indicated good expansion during baking. The recipe calls to allow the dough to rest 15 minutes before placing in the pre-heated oven. I allowed the dough to rest 20 minutes before baking.

It has been suggested if I want to avoid the quick bread from cracking on its top surface I need to allow the dough to rest before baking. I think this is important especially when dealing with quick bread recipes that rely on baking soda for expansion, such as this recipe. The 4 oz plus a little orange juice added at the end provides the acidity to trigger the baking soda and any expansion that occurs before and during baking.

When combining liquids, mix the two eggs with the 4 oz orange juice, then add to the rest of the ingredients. I do not recommend substituting orange liqueur. You need the orange juice acidity to interact with the baking soda.

My main complaint about the recipes in the cook book is that they consistently do not call for enough liquid to adequately combine the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients. I have had the best results in hand mixing this recipe. It is very important to not over-mix but the dry ingredients do need to be evenly moistened. Add more liquid, here orange juice, a tablespoon at a time until the flour does not stick to the mixing bowl. The recipe calls for 60 minutes baking time, but this recipe is done, provides a clean toothpick when inserted into the top of each loaf, right at 50 minutes.

Dried Apricot-Pecan Bread is wonderful at a brunch, on a picnic served with paper-thin slices of honey ham and a small amount of marmalade, or as a mid-afternoon snack with cream cheese. This quick bread can be as sophisticated or as simple as you desire.

The recipe book I use is The Best Quick Breads: 150 Recipes for Muffins, Scones, Shortcakes, Gingerbreads, Cornbreads, Coffeecakes, and More published in 2000 by The Harvard Common Press. ISBN: 1-55832-171-3  It appears the book was republished in 2012.

http://www.harvardcommonpress.com/the-best-quick-breads/