Rustic Wheat Berry Bread (With No Actual Fruit Berries)

Here’s a recipe name that’s misleading: Rustic Wheat Berry Bread.

While a strawberry-raspberry bread sounds weirdly appealing, this recipe contains neither. Rather, it has wheat berries, which are just little grains that apparently people use to make stuff. I thought I’d have a hard time finding them at Nesters, but when I asked about them, the clerk knew where they were immediately. I am always so impressed when the clerks know exactly where obscure ingredients are, as an aside. There must be ten thousand different products in a regular grocery store.

I digress.

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The rustic wheat berry bread is basically a fancy way of saying whole wheat loaf. But it’s a little bit cooler to make than your usual whole wheat because you get to soak the wheat berries and then pulverize them into some kind of wheat goo. Behold:

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Step One: Soak the “berries”

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Step Three: I can’t believe it’s not hummus!

I have to say, I felt awfully fancy soaking wheat berries. I remember going to a Cornucopia event once and the presenter was talking about soaking all these grains and nuts and sprouts and things, and it all sounded great but like an awful lot of work. Well, I’m officially a soaker now. Maybe this was a gateway recipe into a world of soaked food. I better buy some more small bowls!

The wheat berries have to be soaked for 12 to 24 hours. I erred on the conservative side and left them soaking for 24 because there’s a little troubleshooting text box that says “Problem: The wheat berries don’t completely break down. Solution: Soak the berries for at least 12 hours.” I thought I could really just avoid the whole problem by giving it a full day. It worked.

You also have to make a sponge for this recipe. I made it at the same time I soaked the berries because it can sit out for 24 hours. Boom – perfect timing.

After a restful 24 hours, the remainder of the recipe involves the usual flour mixture + sponge, mixing, waiting, mixing, waiting, folding, waiting, etc.

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After all was said and done, my dough looked tinier than usual. This is not a loaf that would command $15 at a Farmer’s Market. More like $5.

I think my horrible slashing (i.e. the cutting into the dough) is partially to blame. I don’t use a cool razor thingy like they do in the book – I just use a kitchen knife. I used to use kitchen shears, but it gave it a puckered look. I tried to make a snazzy square slashing shape, but my cuts were in adequate and it just looks a little bit pathetic.

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It may be tiny and pathetic, but it was tasty. If I’m fully honest, I’m not sure it’s worth going out and buying wheat berries and going to the trouble of soaking and all that – this bread isn’t that much different than a regular pain de campagne. However, since I still have half a box of wheat berries, I’ll certainly make it again. Next time, I’ll be a little more aggressive with my slashes. Zorro style.

A Savoury Sage-Polenta Bread

I’ve shied away a little from some of the more savoury bread recipes in Bread Illustrated. I think that’s because I consider them a little less versatile (i.e., not so tasty with Nutella in the morning). But I’m pleased to say I’ve finally dipped my toes into the world of savour with the Sage-Polenta Bread recipe – and it was delicious!

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As the recipe name would suggest, there are two star ingredients in this loaf: sage and polenta.

The sage is just right – enough to give it a nice, herb-y flavour, but not so much that it screams “SAGE!!!!!!” in your face. The four teaspoons of minced sage provide a subtle but present taste.

The polenta is pretty cool – you don’t just use cornmeal, you actually whip up some polenta and mix it into the dough. Whereas the sage lends to the flavour, the polenta is all about the texture. It gives the bread a substantial quality that’s hard to describe – not quite dense, but definitely hearty. It would be a great bread to pair with a nice soup in the fall or winter, or to support a fully loaded sandwich (you know the kind – with artichokes and roasted red pepper and fancy deli meat). The cornmeal also plays a supporting role in the crust. While most loaves are dusted with flour, this one is dusted with a combination of flour and cornmeal. This gives the crust an appealing grit (but don’t worry, it’s not overpowering – it’s not like eating spoonfuls of raw cornmeal).

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As for the recipe itself, it’s a two day affair. You start by making a simple sponge, which sits for 6 to 24 hours. Then you whip up some polenta, let it cool, and divide it in half: some gets mixed into the sponge, while the rest gets added to the dough a little while later.

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It’s usual bread business from here (lots of waiting and folding), and then comes the fun part: shaping the loaf. This recipe called for an almond shape loaf, which feels fancier than the usual ball (or should I say boule) shape. After the initial shaping, you let it rise under a couche (i.e., a dish towel, in my kitchen) – as you can see, I had a little gaping at the seam, but I just pinched it all together and it was good as new.

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Uhh… what happened?

I loved this loaf. It’s made me more amenable to some of the other recipes in this book. Fig and fennel, caramelized onion… what next!

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Good as new!

Bobbette & Belle’s (Sober) Drunken Mixed Berry Pavlovas

Yes! It’s time for sweet treats again!

I hosted a few girlfriends for dinner the other weekend, which seemed like the perfect excuse to try another recipe from the Bobbette & Belle cookbook that I’ve been baking my way through. The recipe for Drunken Mixed Berry Pavlovas seemed like a good pick for celebrating the start of summer – it’s light, it’s full of berries, and it was the perfect treat to cap off the first truly hot day of the year. (There have since been plenty of scorchers – summer is officially here.)

The bulk of this recipe is preparing the meringues. This is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get recipe: if you follow the directions, your meringues will turn out exactly as they’re supposed to. At least, that’s what happened to me – and trust me, it doesn’t always work out that way.

First, you whip up four egg whites, then you gradually add in granulated sugar and fold in cornstarch, vanilla, and vinegar (seems weird, but you can’t taste it). Some meringue recipes call for piping out the little bowls, but this one goes the rustic route: you just scoop out six mini mounds of meringue and smooth them out into nests. The pro tip from the book: wet your spoon with hot water to keep the meringue under control.

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The meringues take an hour and fifteen minutes to bake, and then you have to let them cool in the oven for at least as long. They’re supposed to remain white – mine were more of an ivory or possibly even a rose gold if you squint hard enough (I just think rose gold meringue sounds so trendy).

The “drunken mixed berry” part comes from the berry topping. Though I followed the meringue recipe to a tee, I took a few liberties with this part. I kept my topping sober and omitted the three tablespoons of Grand Marnier, which meant my topping was less liquidy. I also skipped out on blueberries because I had to stay within my monthly grocery budget and the strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries seemed sufficient. I omitted the lemon and mint garnish because that felt too fancy – but don’t worry, I kept in the whipped cream (I even whipped it “just before serving” as instructed, even though that is such a weird step when you’re hosting people for dinner and don’t have an at-home chef on hand to do it for you).

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My little pavlovas were delicious and made a wonderful dessert. The meringue was spot on – the outside was light and crispy, and I believe the term “melt in your mouth” was developed specifically to describe meringue. The insides were chewy and just moist enough, making it delicious and virtually impossible to eat without using your hands.

Apologies for the non-fancy photos – Cedric had the nerve to take his camera on a ski trip, leaving me with my measly iPhone to capture the meringue memories!

Volunteering at Survival of the Fittest (i.e., An Excuse to Write a Running Post)

Baking bread is not the only thing I do in my spare time – but you wouldn’t know that by looking at my blog. To balance things out a little, I figure I’m due to write another post about running.

Upcoming Races

I got a little caught up in recovering from my sprained ankle and diving into a short but sweet training session for the Loop the Lakes 21k – and I kind of forgot I have another race that just so happens to be in TWO SHORT WEEKS! How did that happen?! I haven’t done a lot of longer runs lately, so I’ll try to squeeze a few in the coming week so I’m not totally in over my head for the Comfortably Numb Trail Race on June 10.

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Views from a lookout on a recent run with the Timber and Tor running groups at Capra

I’m also planning on running a smaller (I think – I don’t know much about it) 15k trail run in West Vancouver next weekend. I haven’t registered for it yet and I haven’t look too much into it, but it sounds like a fun thing to do… so why not, right?

Volunteering

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Views from bib pick up – what what!

The good news is that I’m doing plenty of race day mentality training by volunteering at the local races. This weekend, I volunteered at Survival of the Fittest (part of the Coast Mountain Trail Series), which took place right here in Squamish. I had some pretty glamorous volunteer roles: bib pick up and timing.

I’m not being sarcastic – these roles are way cooler than marshaling. First of all, there’s lots of action. I was right at the start/finish, which was pretty exciting. It dawned on me that I’d never actually been around the finish line when the winners run through it – I’m always rolling in waaaaaay later. It turns out, there are no fireworks – it’s actually a little bit quiet for the first few finishers just because there aren’t as many people hanging around yet. The buzz really starts when a few dozen people have already crossed the finish line.

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A mediocre photo of the not mediocre view at the end of the race

Next weekend, I’ll be volunteering at the Be Fearless race around Alice Lake/Quest University (it’s a long one – 11k, 21k, or 42k). I’ll be doing my thing as course marshal. I think I need to find a cowbell.

Current Plans

Current plans: keep on running. Don’t die at Comfortably Numb. Keep all toenails.

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(I’ve never actually lost a toenail. I think it’s because I trim my nails a lot and wear shoes that fit properly.)

The Humble American Sandwich Bread

This post is a shout out to American sandwich bread (specifically, the recipe for American sandwich bread in the Bread Illustrated cookbook).

I will admit that I almost didn’t deem this recipe worthy of its own blog post. It’s just sandwich bread, after all. But then I decided that sometimes, the most exciting recipes are the ones that take something totally normal and turn them into something completely mouthwatering that makes you want to devour the entire loaf before it has fully cooled. (Just me? Maybe.) Case in point: my homemade kaiser buns.

Since my sourdough culture has blossomed (matured? ripened?), I have taken to baking sourdough breads (a regular loaf or an Auvergne crown) on Mondays. Well, technically, I start the baking process on Mondays – but the bread isn’t actually ready until Wednesday. Gotta love sourdough!

Now, if our bread consumption is above average on a particular week (such as a recent week, when I shared the bread with my book club), then I need something simple that will fulfill our toast and sandwich requirements and that preferably does not take three days to bake.

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The answer to my breadly prayers: American Sandwich Bread. The back end is a stump because I always saw off the crusty ends when the bread is still warm and eat them on the spot. Mmm.

Normally, my go to loaf is the Easy Sandwich Bread in the “Starting from Scratch” chapter. This dough is easy peasy – it only takes about two hours to throw together, I always have all the ingredients on hand, and I’ve figured out how to take even more shortcuts (skip the egg wash and the butter glaze).

But today,  I decided to mix it up a bit and try the American Sandwich Bread recipe in the “Sandwich Breads” chapter. Yes, there is an entire chapter dedicated to sandwich breads. Rejoice!

The ingredients in the American sandwich bread recipe are virtually identical to those in the easy sandwich bread recipe, except for the former calls for some whole milk (we had 2% in the fridge, so that’s what I used). I made the whole-wheat variation, although I realized at the last minute that the variation called for 3 tbsp of toasted wheat germ. I don’t have this, so I didn’t include it.

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Rise, baby, rise!

The process between the two recipes is similar, except the American sandwich bread calls for just a little extra at each step: extra time in the mixer, extra time rising, extra effort in shaping. While the easy sandwich bread batter is just poured into the loaf pan, the American sandwich bread is rolled.

The result? The two breads taste pretty similar, but I think the American sandwich bread has a slightly more polished look to it. (Photographed: American on the left, easy on the right.) When you slice into it, it just looks a little prettier than the easy bread. It’s really not that much more effort to make, so I’ll probably make this one again. After I’ve tried the other 9 recipes in this chapter, that is.

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Middle Eastern Za’atar(ish) Bread

One night a few weeks ago, I had planned to make some soup for dinner.

You know what goes well with soup?

Bread. (Duh.)

I was looking for a bread with a bit of substance – like the red pepper coques I made a little while ago – and settled on the recipe for Middle Eastern za’atar bread. I’d never heard of it before, but the write up in the Bread Illustrated cookbook tells me it’s a popular Arabic flatbread and assured me that “you can find za’atar in the international foods section of your supermarket or at Middle Eastern markets.”

Za’atar is a blend a thyme, sumac, and sesame seeds – and it is not easy to find in the international foods section of my local supermarkets. No problem, I thought – I’ll just make my own blend. Right – except where does one find sumac in Squamish? Not at Craig’s or Nesters, apparently. I probably should have gone and foraged in the woods. Except, wait – doesn’t sumac have poison ivy-like qualities?

I ended up making a blend of sesame seeds, thyme, oregano, and salt – so definitely NOT real za’atar. At this point, I have to wonder – am I even reviewing the real recipe? It reminds me of those recipes I see online – something like “Orange Poppy Seed Loaf”, and some brilliant commenter will write, “I’m allergic to citrus and we didn’t have any poppy seed, so I replaced it with banana and walnuts. I’m also gluten free so I omitted the flour. The recipe was way too gooey and I didn’t even get the taste of orange! One star.”

Back to the flatbread.

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Pre-bake. In my Googling research, it appears that real za’atar bread has a thicker layer of topping. And, you know, actual za’atar.

The dough is pretty straightforward and the best part about it is this line: “Refrigerate for at least 24 hours or up to 3 days”. Three cheers for some flexibility with a bread recipe – I often find myself calculating backwards to try to time my bread just so (see: Auvergne crown). I was able to make this recipe two days in advance – woohoo!

Although it is made with bread flour, I found that the bread had a whole wheat kind of finish to it, including its darker colour throughout. I baked it as instructed and although I can’t tell you what actual za’atar tastes like, this bread still turned out well. It’s definitely a substantial, filling bread – the perfect complement to a light soup.

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The book suggests serving it with yogurt – it was tasty both with and without.

Perhaps one day I will locate some za’atar and I can try this recipe anew. Actually, there is a new Middle Eastern restaurant in town that I’ve been meaning to check out – maybe I’ll see if they can spot me some sumac!

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Race Report: The Whistler Valley Trail Run at GO Fest

When I moved to Whistler back in 2012, the May long weekend was notorious for being a total gong show. High school seniors from the city (more accurately, the city’s suburbs) would come up and let loose, causing chaos around town that ranged from mild but annoying (pulling up freshly planted tulips on municipal grounds) to intense and devastating (stabbing one another to death).

However, over the past few years, the town has rallied together to make the weekend more family friendly and less, well, murdery, through GO Fest, i.e. the Great Outdoors Festival.

One of the activities during this year’s GO Fest was the Whistler Valley Trail Run. This is a small, community-oriented 5k and 10k race through the trails of Lost Lake. The race has been going on for something like 26 years, but I think this is the first time it’s been part of GO Fest.

I actually ran the race back in 2013. At the time, I wasn’t much of a trail runner, but I did like to get out and run the roads. I remember that at about 5 different points in the course, I thought I was rounding the final corner – but the course just kept on going and going. I ended up finishing in 57:14, which placed me at 27/51 overall and 14/31 in the women’s category.

The course has changed a little since I ran it in 2013, but I wanted to see if I could beat my time from four years ago. On the one hand, I am now used to running much more technical trails and for longer distances. The trails on this particular run are green and not very technical, so I was hoping they’d feel easy. On the other hand, I’m used to pacing myself and walking on uphills – not charging through as fast as I can, as I had been back in 2013.

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The morning was perfect: sunny and not too warm yet. A small crew gathered in Ross Rebagliati Park in the heart of Whistler, and then we were off.

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Unlike my race last weekend, I was running this one solo. For some reason, I felt kind of nervous – and the feeling lasted all the way through to the end of the race. I was even nervous crossing the finish line. Why?!?!

The first 2.5 k were pretty low key on a wide, relatively flat trail along Lost Lake. I tried not to book it because I knew it was still early in the race. Then, the 5k runners split off and the 10k runners ran some more mellow trails to the turnaround point by the disc golf course. The course was very well marked with pink ribbon flags and volunteers at key intersections.

After we hit the disc golf course, the trails got narrower and a little more fun to run. The third quarter of the race varied between flat and gentle (totally runnable) uphills, then it was flat and downhill for the last few k.

My goal was to run as quickly and consistently as I could without burning myself out. I haven’t actually tried to run 10k fast and non-stop since my marathon training last summer/fall, but I have done some speed type workouts on the treadmill, so I was hoping that would sustain me. I tried channeling my competitive spirit, which is virtually non-existent because I am a very non-competitive person. I had a little back and forth going with another girl – she was faster on the uphills, but I had her beat on the downhills. I had a bit of a lead on her towards the end, but the course took us slightly uphill back to the finish and she passed me within the last 500m. She ended up beating me by 11 seconds.

But my real competition wasn’t with the random girl – it was against myself, circa 2013. DID I DO IT?

No – I crossed the finish line in 59:56.8, putting me at 30/43 overall and 18/25 women. Although it was satisfying to have sneaked in under the one hour mark, I was disappointed at having run the race almost 3 minutes slower than I had four years back. But I really did give it my all, and I felt totally spent at the end. My legs are even a little sore today!

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Found some friends at the start line!

Now I have some motivation to pick up my legs a little faster on my trail runs. 2018 Magee is going to come back with a vengeance – I feel it.