If you've been reading this blog regularly, then the chances are that earlier in the week you read about my new blog event "Make it with ...... Mondays", giving you an opportunity to explore and cook with some of those ingredients that you don't use everyday, or maybe take up the challenge to take a common ingredient and try using it in an unusual way. This week we're cooking with saffron - you can visit this page to learn a little bit more about saffron, and how to join and cook along with "Make it with ..... Mondays".
Saffron is an ingredient I use quite often, usually in a dressing, sauce, or broth, as well as in risottos and pilafs, but I was keen to try and use it in a different way. So, looking for inspiration, the first person I decided to turn to was Mark Bittman. Now if I was fortunate enough to own a copy of Bittman's big red book, How to Cook Everything, then in an instant I would have had it off the shelf for a browse - sadly I don't. I do, however, have the next best thing (maybe even better) - I have the How to Cook Everything iPhone application. This handy application contains every single one of the 2000 recipes, plus variations, that appear in the big book, as well as "how-to" illustrations - what's more I don't need the benefits of a weight-lifting programme to be able hold it; I can cross-reference recipes with built-in shopping lists; and I can take it to the supermarket in my handbag - can't do that with the big red book! Sounds great doesn't it - well, here's something that will sound even better - I have one of these handy-dandy little apps to giveaway (works on iPod Touch or iPad as well), so keep reading.
But for now, back to the saffron. A quick search of "saffron" in the HTCE app turned up 38 great-sounding possibilities, but the one that really jumped out at me was this Saffron Fruit-and-Nut Bread, a variation on Bittman's Rich Golden Bread. Now, you already know that I like making things from scratch - though to be honest this often has more to do with wanting to know exactly what is in my food, than any desperate need to make every single thing I eat a "hands-on" experience. Bread is a really good example of this. I love home-made bread and making my own - there are few things more wonderful than the smell of baking bread wafting through the house. However, I'm not really that enthusiastic about getting my hands in there and getting down and dirty with dough - I just don't seem to have the right touch for bread dough (same with pastry). This is where my trusty bread machine comes in handy - I know exactly what I'm getting in my bread, there are an infinite number of variations I can try, and the machine can do all the work for me - that's a win-win as far as I'm concerned.
So I set about converting Bittman's recipe for use in my bread machine, which is really just as easy as working out the order in which you should put the ingredients into your pan. Obviously you should check the instructions for your own machine, but in most cases the appropriate order of ingredients seems to be liquids and fats in the bottom, then the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, etc), then any other additions (fruit, nuts, seeds), and lastly the yeast. This order is particularly important if you are setting a delayed start on your machine so that you wake up to a fresh loaf of bread in the morning, for example - so you wouldn't want your yeast sitting in the bottom with the liquid and sugar as it would start activating long before your bread starts mixing - make sense? If you would like the original version of this recipe (and all its variations, which include Rich Golden Rolls, Rich Golden Sandwich Bread, Cocoa Swirl Bread, Poppy Seed Swirl Bread, Cinnamon Buns, Orange Date Buns and Bacon-Cheddar Buns) then you will need to get either the How to Cook Everything cookbook or iPhone application (don't forget my giveaway - keep reading). Here is my adaptation for using a bread machine:
Saffron Fruit-and-Nut Bread Recipe
Adapted from recipe by Mark Bittman
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe
(Important Note: Because this recipe uses fresh milk and eggs, I do not recommend that you use the delayed start function of your bread maker)
1 cup dried fruit (raisins, cherries, cranberries, apricots, or mixture)
1/2 cup brandy or rum or apple juice (I used Marsala)
1 cup milk
2 large eggs, preferably free-range
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3-1/2 cups high-grade bread flour
(I used a stoneground, organic white flour)
pinch of saffron threads
1/2 cup almonds or pecans or walnuts (I used almonds), coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons active dried yeast
(if using Surebake, or other yeast with improvers, then use 3-1/2 teaspoons)
Before you begin put the fruit into a small bowl, heat the alcohol or juice, pour it over the fruit and set it aside to soak for about 30 minutes. Then drain well, reserving the soaked fruit.
Now put the milk, eggs, butter, salt, sugar, flour and saffron into the pan of your bread machine IN THAT ORDER (or whichever order is recommended for your machine).
Then add the previously soaked fruit and the chopped nuts. Last of all sprinkle the yeast over the top of everything.
Now you could finish this bread completely in the bread maker (as I did on this occasion), in which case choose either the Basic cycle or Sweet cycle and press Start.
Alternatively, you could choose the Dough only cycle. At the end of the cycle, remove the dough from the machine, form it into a round ball, place it on a lightly floured bench, sprinkle with a little flour, cover with a clean teatowel, and allow it to rest for about 20 minutes. Butter a shallow baking dish or cake pan that will comfortably hold your loaf of bread, but which the loaf is not yet filling. Cover with the teatowel again and set aside to to rise for at least an hour, until approximately doubled in volume. Brush the top of the loaf with a little melted butter and bake in an oven preheated to 175 degrees C (350 degrees F) for about 40 minutes, until the crust is golden.
Once removed from the bread maker or oven, turn immediately out onto a wire rack to cool.
When you can control yourself no longer, slice and serve.
This bread had a beautiful, rich moist texture, and kept beautifully - when I ate the last slice this morning (5 days after I made it), it was still fresh and moist. It was also extremely good toasted. Normally when I use saffron I always infuse it first in some warm liquid, but since the original recipe called for just adding the saffron into the dry ingredients I resisted the urge to the contrary and did the same thing. I'm glad I didn't give into temptation. Certainly if I had infused the saffron first the colour would have been much deeper, but then really who could complain about the colour of this? Also, infusing would have certainly released more of the flavour - as it was, the fragrance came through quite strongly and wafted up towards me in a heady rush each time the knife sliced through the loaf, and the flavour was just enough to give that "what's that unusual taste?" quality without dominating - complex, earthy and interesting without slapping you in the face. Any more would have been too much. So, as it turned out, I don't think infusing the saffron strands first would have enhanced this in any way, and may even have been detrimental.
Final verdict - this one is a keeper - I am definitely trying this again - next time I'm going to experiment with some other fruit and nuts, and I'm thinking that next time I will maybe turn this into some rolls or a braid and finish off in the oven.
Now about that giveaway. Firstly, in order to win you need to have either a US-based iTunes account (in which case the appropriate code enabling you to download the application will be sent to you), or if you live outside the US then you need to have a PayPal account (in which case the value of the purchase price of the application in your country will be sent to you).
Then one entry to win this application is as simple as leaving me a comment below.
For a further entry, link up a post featuring our special ingredient (saffron) here at "Make it with ..... Mondays". Older posts are welcome, and you can link as many posts as you like as long as the featured ingredient is used, and each one will get an entry. If your post also happens to be a Bittman recipe then it will score an extra entry.
And for a further entry still, link up any post featuring a Bittman recipe here at the Tackling Bittman Recipe Hop.
Entries will close midnight Thursday 13 January (NZ time) and the winner will be chosen by random number generator and announced on Monday 17 January.
Interested in cooking some more with Mark Bittman? I highly recommend any of these Mark Bittman books:
This post is my submission to "Making it with ..... Mondays" # 1 challenge saffron and Tackling Bittman Recipe Hop 3. I'd love you to come on over and join in the fun. I'm also submitting this post to the Tackling Bittman Giveaway hosted this month by girlichef who is giving away a copy of Mark Bittman's "The Food Matters Cookbook".