According to my National Parks Calendar and the definitive Google homepage, today is the first day of Spring!
Here in Portland, the sun has been taking turns with the rain, and there is a distinctive honesty to the air that tempts your nose with traces of winter daphne and fireplace smoke. The daffodils are out if full force, standing guard in small battalions around the city and along my walk to the store. I bought a dollar bag of organic Columbia Gorge Fujis at Limbo this week, thinking they would tide me over until the inevitable produce splurge that will be tomorrow's farmers' market. Unfortunately, the apples were a bit past their prime, which explains how I got 10 for a buck. As I'm sure many of you know, an ugly fruit has never stopped me, so I made a HUGE batch of Cinnamon Raisin bread (three big loaves) and added a few cups of diced apples for extra sweetness and texture. It's hard to go wrong with a good cinnamon bread, and the house smells almost as good as the air outside.
For some reason this dough did not want to rise, but the resulting bread was pleasantly hearty without being too dense. I used all-purpose flour instead of bread flour, but It's probably for the best, because a lighter crumb would have fallen apart in the toaster, and this bread begs to be toasted. Also, the recipe measurements are a bit wonky, as I had to convert them from metric quantities. Someday I'll get a kitchen scale, but for now, my haphazard measuring-cup methods aren't causing too many disasters.
I've got two loaves saved for a breakfast-for-dinner part tonight, complete with some honey-cinnamon butter I made by setting a stick of butter near the kitchen window, adding a few tablespoons of honey, two teaspoons of cinnamon, and mixing. Simple, yes, but this tastes SO good on the toasted bread, with the sweet bits of raisin and apple scattered through the slice.
The rest of the apples will be used to make a caramel apple pancake topping, which will be a sort of farewell to the winter flavors I've loved for the past few months before I set of for a greener palate.
Hope to see you at the market tomorrow, and I would love to hear about the signs of spring where you live, culinary or otherwise. Eat Well!
Cinnamon Apple-Raisin Oat Bread
Adapted from Jeffrey Hamelman's Bread
Makes 3 loaves
5 1/2 cups bread or all-purpose unbleached flour
1 7/8 cups whole wheat flour
1 5/8 cups rolled oats
2 1/2 cups water, divided into 2 cups and 1/2 cup
3/8 cups half-and-half or milk
3 tablespoons honey
5 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 tablespoon dry active yeast
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 cups soaked and drained raisins
1 1/2 cups diced apples
While you measure and mix the other ingredients, soak the raisins in warm water. Next, soak the oats in a large bowl in the 2 cups water for 20 to 30 minutes. Proof the yeast in the remaining 1/2 cup warm water for about 7 minutes. Mix the flours, yeast, milk, honey, oil, salt, and cinnamon into the oats. Mix well, until all of the flour is hydrated. Knead by hand for 5 minutes or in a standmixer for 3, then mix in the drained raisins. Knead or mix until the raisins are distributed throughout the dough.
Cover the bowl of dough and allow it to rise for 1 hour. Then remove the dough from the bowl and fold it, deflating it gently as you do. Place the dough on a floured work surface, top side down. Fold the dough in thirds, like a letter. Fold in thirds again the other way. Flip the dough over, dust off as much of the raw flour as you can, and place it back into the bowl. Cover the bowl and allow the dough to rise in bulk again for another hour. Then divide the dough in thirds and shape the loaves. Place each shaped loaf into a greased bread pan. Spray or gently brush each loaf with water and sprinkle with some more oats. Cover the pans and set aside to rise until the loaves crest above the edge of the pans, roughly 90 minutes. Preheat the oven to 450. Place the loaves in the center rack of the oven. After 5 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 375. Rotate the loaves 180 degrees after 20 minutes, and bake for another 15 to 25 minutes, until the tops of the loaves are nicely browned, the bottoms of the loaves make a hollow sound when tapped. Cool before slicing.