Category Archives: Breads & Crackers

Comfort on a cold day: Toasted Anise Cake

frozen_fennel

During the coldest days of the year, I make frequent trips out to the chicken coop. The hens are fine of course, they’re rated to about -20F (-30 if you speak Celsius), and a few of them will happily wade around in snow up to their egg-holes as long as the sun is shining — but the eggs freeze solid and explode if left in the nests for too long.

frozen_chicken_coop

no_skating

I’m nowhere near as cold-hardy as the chickens, but once I’m outside I marvel at the stark beauty of the icy yard and almost manage to forget about the cold.

ice_on_the_pond

ice_designs

In the end I’m always glad to be forced out into the elements, because it makes the house seem that much warmer when I come in.

bake_in_loaf_pan

Especially when I have a batch of these toasted anise cake slices fresh out of the oven. They make the house smell heavenly, and the crunchy texture (similar to biscotti) is perfect alongside a steaming hot cup of coffee or tea. Or a bowl of sorbet, when the days get warmer again.

enjoy_with_coffee_or_tea

Toasted Anise Cake

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours

Yield: About 12 cookies

Toasted Anise Cake

These toasty cake slices are similar to biscotti, and are delicious with a hot cup of coffee or a bowl of lemon sorbet.

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/3 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons anise seeds, finely crushed
  • Special equipment:
  • mortar & pestle
  • stand mixer
  • 8 1/2 by 4 1/2" loaf pan

Instructions

  1. Put rack in the middle of oven and preheat to 350F. Lightly butter and flour loaf pan.
  2. Crush anise seeds using mortar and pestle.
  3. Sift together flour, baking powder, anise, and salt in a small bowl.
  4. Beat eggs and sugar in a mixer bowl at high speed until tripled in volume, and thick enough to form a ribbon that takes 2 seconds to fall apart when beater is lifted (about 12-18 minutes)
  5. Sift flour mixture over egg mixture in 3 batches, folding in each batch.
  6. Gently stir in butter, and immediately pour batter into loaf pan and smooth top.
  7. Bake until loaf is golden brown and a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35-45 minutes. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, and then turn out onto a cutting board (right side up) and cool for 30 minutes.
  8. Preheat oven to 400F.
  9. Trim ends and cut loaf into 1/2-inch-thick slides. Arrange slices on a baking sheet and bake until undersides are golden brown, about 7 minutes. Flip and bake until the other side browns, about 5 minutes more. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Notes

Adapted from Gourmet.

http://www.homegrowngourmet.org/toasted-anise-cake/

Unruly Hens and Old Fashioned Gingerbread

frozen_sunset

We’ve barely begun 2014, but the sun sets a bit later each day and I can feel the promise of spring on the horizon.

The hens are feeling it too; egg production is ramping up and it’s getting harder to enforce their early winter curfew.

Most of the chickens follow me right out to the coop, but I almost always have to round up a few stragglers at bedtime. It’s normally a quick and easy affair, but the other day was something else entirely.

beeline_for_the_birdfeeder

It was sunny when I let the chickens out, so they happily plowed through an acre of snow just to get to the bird feeder. Then, a cold front came through and they didn’t want to walk back through the snow to get back home.

A couple of the hens started to follow me out to the coop, but I came back to find they’d given up and planted themselves in the garden, fluffing their feathers like little down jackets. One after the other, I scooped them up and carried them to the coop, their feathers warming my hands as they settled into my arms. I’m pretty sure they were grateful.

I soon realized I wasn’t done giving free rides out to the chicken coop, and that not everyone would be as cooperative. The other hens huddled together, eyeing me uneasily, reluctant to be picked up but not wanting to run out into the snow.

Most allowed themselves to be caught without any trouble, but not Shelly. She dodged me several times, but finally I managed to come within an inch of grabbing her. That is when she completely freaked out.

Shelly is a pretty small chicken, and I knew from her past adventures that she is better at flying than most. But I was shocked when, with a series of loud squawks, she launched herself off the ground and flew across the entire garden, about 150 feet. And then she started gaining altitude and fluttered up onto a tree branch, about 8 feet off the ground.

oh_shelly

I scrambled up onto a piece of lawn furniture and grabbed hold of her tail before she could fly up to a higher branch, prompting her to go hide under the big spruce tree instead (with four of her friends). It took me over an hour to get them all in for the night.

sunset_stream

Today, most of the hens are out in the snow again, pecking at the door and lurking on the back steps. Probably waiting for me to give them a ride home.¬†Or maybe they’re just hoping I’ll let them in, where there’s freshly baked gingerbread and chai tea, and it’s (slightly) warmer than outside.

morning_tea

As excited as I am for the spring weather to get here, I’m always sorry to see gingerbread season end. In case you’re wondering, gingerbread season starts when the first chill of autumn creeps into the air, and ends after the last blizzard of April — if to you gingerbread means houses and cookies shaped like little men, you’re definitely missing out on the best part of the season. Fortunately, you still have time to catch up.

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Tiny Cheese Crackers

I avoid processed junk food as a general rule, preferring to make my own from scratch. This doesn’t mean there aren’t processed foods I find delicious; it just means I avoid buying them, because I know it’s hard to overcome the hard-wired human instinct to consume as much fat, salt, and sugar as possible. Or in my case, an entire box of Cheez-Its.

bake_on_cookie_sheets

So I never buy Cheez-Its anymore (but I am still guilty of the occasional box of Cheddar Bunnies.) To compensate, I developed an obsession with making my own from scratch. After several test batches over the years, I’ve finally tweaked the recipe enough to capture my favorite things about Cheez-Its. And then make them even better.

makes_this_many

Of course, that means they’re just as fatty and salt-laden as the store-bought kind (probably even more so.) But at least you know what’s in them.

snacktime

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