Franciscan

Baking with Br. Chris

Third of seven parts

Great way to start the day

This trio of sweet breads, favorites of Br. Chris Cahill, could star at any holiday brunch.

The Sour Cream Muffins rival anything you buy in a bake shop. Best served warm, "They’re very crumbly," says Chris. "They make a mess. It’s worth it."

SWEET N SAVORY SOUR CREAM MUFFINS
(Makes 2 dozen regular muffins or 14 large)

Preheat oven to 350°.
Grease muffin tins or use paper muffin cups.

Filling and topping
In a bowl combine:
1 cup flour
1¼ cups sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon
Cut in 1 stick of softened butter (1/2 cup) to make a slightly moist but still crumbly mixture.

Muffin mix
In a large bowl mix wet ingredients:
2 cups sour cream
4 eggs

In another bowl mix dry ingredients:
3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda

Pour dry ingredients into wet (perhaps in several stages) and mix, adding
1/2 tsp vanilla
Mix only until well combined. This will be very thick and sticky.

To assemble:
Put a spoonful of batter in bottom of muffin cup and cover that with filler mix (a teaspoon or more).
Put another spoonful of batter on top of this, then cover with more filling.
Bake for 20 minutes.
(Recipe from Elaine Corn, the Louisville Courier-Journal.)

From Beard on Bread, here’s a more "banana-y" version of the popular quick bread, rich in flavor. It also makes great toast. "The top may crack during baking," writes author James Beard, "but that is of no great consequence."

BANANA NUT BREAD
(Makes 1 large loaf)

1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup honey
2 eggs
1-1/2 cups mashed, very ripe bananas (3 good-size bananas)
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sliced nuts, almonds or your choice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 12 x 4-1/2 x 2-1/2 inch loaf pan.
Cream the butter with a wooden spoon. Add the sugar and honey and beat till creamy and light. Add the eggs, one at a time, then thoroughly mix in the bananas. Sift together the flour, soda, and salt and blend thoroughly into the mixture. Finally fold in the nuts. Pour batter in loaf pan. Bake 1 hour, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
(From Beard on Bread by James Beard; Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.)

The base for these Buttery Almond Bear Claws can be made ahead and refrigerated for up to three days.

BUTTERY ALMOND BEAR CLAWS
(Makes 18 bear claws)

1 cup butter or margarine
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
3 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 can evaporated milk (5½ ounces)
3½ cups flour
Almond Filling (recipe follows)
3/4 cup sliced almonds
Sugar for sprinkling

Melt butter, then let cool to 110°. In a bowl, dissolve yeast in water. Separate eggs, reserving 2 of the whites in a bowl and remaining white in another bowl. Stir egg yolks into yeast mixture, along with the 1/4 cup sugar, salt, evaporated milk, and cooled butter.

Place 3½ cups flour in a large bowl, pour in yeast mixture, and beat well. Cover and refrigerate for at least a day or up to three days. Prepare almond filling (see below) and refrigerate; also refrigerate egg whites.

To shape bear claws, punch dough down and knead briefly on a well-floured board to release air. Roll into a 13½-by-27 inch rectangle, using a ruler to straighten edges. Cut dough lengthwise into 3 strips, each 4½ inches wide. Divide filling into 3 portions; on a floured board, roll each portion into a 27-inch rope. Lay an almond rope in center of each dough strip; then flatten rope slightly with your fingers.

Fold long sides of each strip over filling. Cut each filled strip into 6 pieces, each 4½ inches long. Arrange, seam side down, on greased baking sheets.

Using a floured sharp knife, make a row of cuts 1/4 inch apart halfway across each piece; curve each bear claw so cut pieces fan out. Lightly beat remaining egg white and brush over bear claws; top with sliced almonds and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Let rise, uncovered, in a warm place until puffy (about 20 minutes). Bake in a preheated 375° oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to racks to cool.

Almond filling
In a bowl, smoothly blend 1/2 cup butter or margarine (softened) with 1 1/3 cups powdered sugar. Add 2/3 cup all-purpose flour and 1 (8 oz.) can almond paste. Stir until crumbly and evenly mixed; then beat in 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel and 2 of the reserved egg whites. Stir in 3/4 cup of finely chopped almonds. Cover and refrigerate until firm (several hours, or up to 3 days)
NOTE from Br. Chris: I have been having trouble finding almond paste lately. I have taken to getting twice as much in marzipan and using half as much powdered sugar.

(Recipe from Breads: Step-by-Step Techniques, Sunset Publishing Corp.)

THURSDAY: Baking bread for dinner

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