22 November 2009

Cooking With Seasons at Rancho La Puerta

Rancho La Puerta is a tony spa and frankly, "spa food" is a bit of an oxymoron. I would never buy such a book, but his came across my desk in a pile of books I purchased. I always flip though cookbooks and this was no exception. Actually, the "exception" was how good the recipes were. Loads of breads and fruits and generally yummy items one would not expect in a book about a spa. Cooking With Seasons at Rancho La Puerta is great fun and jam packed with nifty recipes.

There is a note on how to use the book. It says at one point:

"Cooking can be as improvisational as jazz."

That has always been my mantra in the kitchen. You can be Ronald McDonald and have everything you cook come out exactly the same or you can be Django Reinhardt and make everything you cook a different and lively riff. I love saffron bread and I can't wait to give my recipe this Rancho La Puerta spin.

Orange Saffron Pine-Nut Bread

1 teaspoons Spanish saffron threads
4 cups of warm water
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 cups agave syrup or maple syrup
Zest of 2 large oranges
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon sea salt
4 cups whole-wheat flour
1 cup toasted pine-nuts
4 to 5 cups unbleached all purpose flour, plus more as needed

1. Soak the saffron threads in ½ cup of water for 30 minutes.

2. Combine the remaining 3 ½ cups of water and the yeast. Let stand until frothy, about 10 minutes.

3. Stir the syrup, orange zest, saffron, melted butter and salt into the yeast until thoroughly combined. Add the wheat flour and mix until smooth.

4. Stir in the pine nuts and most of the all-purpose flour, reserving 1 cup. The dough will be a little sticky. Flour the countertop with some remaining flour and knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes, adding flour to the surface as needed to make the dough manageable. You may not use all the flour, or you may need a little more. The final dough should feel moist and a little tacky, but not sticky or wet.

5. Place the dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl. Turn over once to coat, and cover with a damp tea towel to prevent the dough from drying out. Let dough rise in a warm, draft free place until double in bulk, about 2 hours.

6. Punch down the dough. Divide into 2 equal portions. Spread each into a rectangle and pinch the ends together.

7. Place each loaf in an oiled loaf pan. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft free place until the loaves have double in bulk, about 40 minutes.

8. Bake in a preheated 375-degree F oven for one hour, or until tops are browned and the loaves sound hollow when tapped. Cool completely on a rack before slicing.

Even at a spa one needs bread.

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