I swear I had the best, the very best, intention to post something today involving loads of vegetables. I’ve been roasting them like mad after all, and have made some really wonderful soups without even a teaspoon of cream or butter. I found whole grain pasta at the grocery store and made a sort of olive oil/parsely/spinach sauce to slick upon it that was so good I didn’t take a photo before we ate it all for dinner last night – no cheese needed – thus ‘forcing’ me to recreate it soon not only so that I can take notes. And after baking off another round of peanut butter cookies flecked with chopped bittersweet chocolate I am officially on a sugar fast for the foreseeable future.
But (and there’s always a caveat, no?) first I wanted, nay, needed to share just one more sweet treat to work down the backlog of baked goods posts I have marinating away in my drafts folder. And this one, if I may say so, is a real winner of a recipe, one you will want to tuck away for a rainy day like I did, or at least a day when you have a good few hours to spend in your kitchen and want to get your hands messy with flour.
Nearly two months into Life in Morocco, I find that my cooking style has changed a bit. I have always been inclined toward, as Alice Waters so aptly put it, (the art of) simple food, but even more so in this new reality of having a very small child, less time that I once did, and a lack of impetuousity owing to said small child but also due to our living situation. I will confess that one of the most difficult parts of living where we do — lovely light-filled kitchen aside — is that there is not much readily accessible nearby. Nor is there a decent public transporation system; I never thought I’d miss the oft-cursed Muni but these days, why yes … I truly do. In our old neighborhood in San Francisco there were many little corner markets, a Safeway a 10-minute walk away, an overpriced but still decent organic market a few blocks up the hill, the Saturday farmer’s market down the street, etc. etc. Here, not so much.
So it’s not possible for me to ‘pop off’ to the store on a whim if I decide that Saturday afternoon is a fine time to make a minty quinoa-feta salad (not that I’ve located feta here yet, which is another story) and I’m out of mint. Also, it seems that if something is not in season here you’ll simply have to wait until it is — which, really, is the best way to eat but then your options are necessarily a bit more limited. Je suis americaine, you know, and I am used to an overabundance of options! I’ve happily been able to get my spinach fix but for example there’s a serious lack of other greens and I’m not sure if I ever will be able to get those unless I grow them myself (chard I don’t think being very ‘big’ in N. Africa. Update! There’s been a sighting at the outdoor market downtown, along with lots of other delightful things like baby arugula and Italian cheese and I will be availing myself of that soon for sure. So I guess, forget what I just wrote?).
In truth it’s been rather nice to pare down even more than usual. We’ve been doing lots of brown rice bowls with roasted vegetables, pastas with simple sauces, quick stir-fries or fried rice with veg, lentil soups, and so forth. Not having acces to tofu has made me get more creative with vegetarian protein options – lots more eggs and legumes these days – and I’m not using any processed ‘faux meat’ products anymore. This is simple, hearty, real food that’s put together without much time or fuss.
Still, I do like to occasionally fuss – hence my penchant for baking. A week or so ago I decided that I must, I really had to, make cinnamon rolls. Of course making cinnamon rolls from scratch (and decidedly not vegan ones) involves making a brioche dough as well as the filling … regardless, I decided that last Friday Sierra’s morning cat naps were the perfect opportunity to do so.
I’ll get to the cinnamon rolls eventually, because they were very, very good, dangerously so in fact, but the point of today’s nattering about sweet things is that the recipe I’ll include here for the dough makes a lot, enough for at least four batches of some sort of brioche-involved sweets. I baked a small round of the rolls last weekend, and then, who knows why, I thought I’d use another pound of the dough to make a sort of buttery chocolate loaf. It was babka-esque, though not as sweet, delectably buttery and with a sturdy crumb. I used a filling from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem for their ‘Chocolate Krantz Cake’ (as detailed by Tara of sevenspoons.net). Actually, I used the method as well though I didn’t make the same dough recipe, preferring instead to use the brioche I had on hand.
This would be lovely at a brunch party or as part of your mid-morning coffee break. Or, you could do as I did when I got home from my run yesterday, still a bit sweaty from being out in the good sun for the whole of it and definitely a bit starving from the exertion, and brew up a quick cup of tea and wolf it all down to the tune of the horse clopping by on the street. I describe where we live as a sort of ‘urban suburb’ that’s populated by a lot of higher-income folk (thanks, USG, for the housing assignment! Sigh.), but then I’ll look out the kitchen window and see the guy and his semi-dilapidated cart and rather woebegone horse hauling the yard waste and somehow it soothes me just the tiniest bit …
Vegetables next. I swear.
Makes about 4 loaves
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1 tablespoon granulated yeast (1 packet)
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
8 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
Place the water in a a 5-quart bowl, or lidded (not airtight) food container and mix in the yeast, salt, eggs honey, maple syrup and melted butter. Add in the flours, stirring well with a wooden spoon until all of the flour is incorporated.
Cover (not airtight), and allow to sit at room temperature for about two hours.
Place dough in the fridge and chill for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight. Dough is sticky after the initial rise but easy to work with after it is cold. Dough will keep for 5 days in the fridge and up to 2 months in the freezer (freeze after 5 days if you are not going to use it all; divide the dough into 4 equal pieces for easy use).
For the Chocolate Filling, adapted from Jerusalem
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 oz good-quality dark chocolate, melted
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
3 teaspoons maple syrup
Method, adapted from Jerusalem
Grease a loaf pan and line bottom with parchment paper.
Make the filling by mixing together the confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, chocolate, and butter to form a spreadable paste.
Remove the dough from the fridge and roll out on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle measuring about 15 by 11 inches. Trim the sides to make them even, then position the dough so that a long side is closest to you. Use an offset spatula to spread the chocolate mixture over the rectangle, leaving a 3⁄4-inch border on all sides.
Use both hands to roll up the rectangle like a roulade, starting from the long side that is closest to you and ending at the other long end. Press to seal the end onto the roulade and then use both hands to even out the roll into a perfect thick cigar. Rest the cigar on its seam.
Trim about 3⁄4 inch off both ends of the roulade with a serrated knife. Now use the knife to gently cut the roll in half lengthwise, starting at the top and finishing at the seam. You are essentially dividing the log into two long even halves, with the layers of dough and filling visible along the length of both halves. With the cut sides facing up, gently press together one end of each half, and then lift the right half over the left half. Repeat this process, but this time lift the left half over the right, to create a simple, two-pronged plait. Gently squeeze together the other ends so that you are left with the two halves, intertwined, showing the filling on top. Carefully lift into a loaf pan. Cover the pan with a wet tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
About 45 minutes into the rise, heat oven to 375 F.
Remove the tea towels, place the loaf on the middle rack of the oven, and bake for about 30 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.
Remove from oven and leave in pan. Immediately brush the maple syrup over the top. Leave the loaf until it is just warm, then remove from the pan and let cool completely before serving.