ricotta with figs and comb honey and oatmeal bread with dried fruit and pecans

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One of the best things about having a 20-something daughter who lives in Brooklyn on the border of Williamsburg and Greenpoint (hipster alert!)–aside from the whole "gainfully-employed, self-supporting, I-moved-out-and-mom-turned-my-room-into-a-kitchen-annex" thing–is that when we come to visit, we have a dizzying array of incredible restaurants to choose from. Truly–along with the pleasure of seeing our totally cool kid–it makes that bumper-to-bumper drive on the Long Island Distressway completely worthwhile. The Brooklyn of my youth–when even entertaining the idea of venturing there would strike fear into the hearts of our parents–has certainly changed and among other things, it's a foodie paradise. 

Our latest visit found us brunching at 5 Leaves on Bedford Avenue, a tiny little place on the corner with a casual neighborhood vibe and friendly staff. Mr. Dough had the Big Brekkie with a side of swoon-worthy bacon, Junior Dough the Mushroom Toast and I went for the Moroccan Scramble–eggs, chickpeas, avocado, sourdough and merguez–all delightful. But the highlight was the starter we shared–house made ricotta with comb honey, figs and sprinklings of thyme and sea salt with a fruit-nut bread. Simple, fresh, cozy, flavorful and absolutely memorable. I was immediately inspired to try this at home, boys and girls!

From the comedians…er, cheesemakers at Bedford Cheese

Cheese is one of those things that I've dabbled in on the homefront. I took a short class at Sur la Table, a "Cheese Lover's Romp" through some of Manhattan's iconic cheese shops with Alexandra Leaf at the Institute for Culinary Education (the info cards at Bedford Cheese alone are worth the trip) and enrolled in the Artisan Cheesemaking course on Craftsy (love these classes), but for the most part decided that–despite the grand plans I had for building a cheese cave in my basement a la Murray's–cheese was probably one of those things best left to the experts, mainly because of the time factor. Wait MONTHS for a cheddar to ripen? ME? When I can BUY some? I don't think so. The whining and carrying on waiting for my cheese to reach perfection would have been epic.

Ricotta though, is the cheese for those of us whose inner 5-year-olds need instant gratification. (Okay, there's a TEENSY bit of waiting so you'll have to distract your annoying inner 5-year-old with something shiny in the interim. Like buying fun stuff on Amazon. Not that I'd know anything about that.) It really is easy to make and once you do, you'll never want to go back to store-bought again. Recipes abound on the interwebs, but all of them are pretty much the same. Heat some milk, maybe with some cream, throw in some acid (usually lemon juice or vinegar) or use buttermilk, let it get all curdy, drain and ta da! There you go. Fresh ricotta. A no-brainer, really.

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So I was good to go on the cheesy end of this inspired-by equation, but a little stumped by the bread, a whole-grainy, fruity, and NUTTY affair that I did not eat. Why? Because, nuts. My nemesis. I have a lifelong hatred of nuts–it's a texture thing, mainly. I'm militantly anti-nut and avoid them like the plague, unless I can pick them out (which makes me REALLY popular in social situations, as I mutter to myself while searching for microscopic nut bits…and people move ever so slowly away from me). In case of the bread at 5 Leaves, the nuts were too small to pick out so I never did taste what the rest of the Dough clan was raving over, and I was flying blind when it came to my own take on it, which CLEARLY could have been made sans nuts. Why didn't I, you ask? Well…don't (ask that is, because I don't know. The spirit of the "inspired by" challenge, I guess, being true to the original. Or I'm just plain nuts. Ha! Sorry.) After much angsty deliberation, I decided to base my concoction on a recipe for oatmeal blueberry bread from the French Culinary Institute's The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Bread Baking, a recipe that in turn was based on one in Jeffrey Hamelman's Bread.

Nuts or not, all I know is that at day's end, we ended up devouring both the bread (well, in my case, what was left of it after it was de-nutted) and the cheese, and afterwards Mr. Dough and I sat on the sofa like a couple of beached whales, sighing contentedly. How good was it? Well, Mr. Dough, upon tasting the ricotta, actually offered up an effusive compliment WITHOUT BEING NAGGED. This, my friends, is an occurrence that happens with only slightly greater frequency than an appearance of Halley's Comet. And to get something more than a non-committal "It's good, I guess…?" Well. I nearly wept. I also texted a photo to Junior Dough, with the message "Be jealous. Be very jealous." (Okay, it was kinda mean of me.) To which she replied, "I hate you so, so much right now." Hee.

So yeah, I think I done good.

P.S. There is, unfortunately, only one cheese photo here. That's because I spaced out while making it and then only managed to take a few of the finished product before our inner 5-year-olds starting having a tantrum.

Oatmeal Bread with Dried Fruit and Pecans

Ingredients

  • 200g Dried Fruit, chopped  (I used a mix of white figs, unsulphered Turkish apricots, Medjool dates and a few cranberries)
  • 161g Whole Wheat Flour
  • 130g Rolled Oats
  • 403g Water (I used the reserved water from soaking the fruit. Why throw away all that fruity goodness?)
  • 484g Bread Flour
  • 136g Milk
  • 48g Honey
  • 48g Vegetable Oil (I use Safflower)
  • 19g Salt
  • 4g Instant Yeast (the original recipe calls for 11g of fresh yeast, which, when converted comes to 4.07g of instant. Of course, I measure it out accurately on my sub-gram scale because I'm insane. Don't be like me.)
  • 130g Toasted Pecans
  • Additional Rolled Oats for coating loaves

Directions

  1. Put dried fruit in a heat-proof bowl, add enough boiling water to cover and let sit for about an hour. Drain, reserving water, and let cool.
  2. Put whole wheat flour and rolled oats in the bowl of a mixer, add the reserved soaking liquid (adding fresh water to make up the difference, if needed) and stir to combine. Let sit for 30 minutes.
  3. Add bread flour, milk, honey, oil, salt and yeast to the oat mixture. Using the dough hook of your mixer, blend on low speed until combined, then increase the speed to medium for about 7 minutes (dough should pull away from the side of the bowl).
  4. Add the soaked, drained fruit and the pecans and mix on low speed until combined (I had to mix by hand for a bit to make sure they were fully incorporated).
  5. Place the dough in a large bowl or container that's been lightly coated with oil (I use spray). Cover and let rest for about an hour.
  6. After one hour, uncover the dough and fold, then cover and let rest for another hour.
  7. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into two rounds. Cover with plastic and let rest for 15 minutes.
  8. Lightly butter or oil two 9-inch loaf pans.
  9. Uncover the dough rounds and lightly flour your work surface, if needed. Degas each dough round and shape into a loaf.
  10. Dampen a kitchen towel (non-fuzzy kind) and place on one half of a sheet pan. Place rolled oats on the other half. Take each loaf and roll on the damp towel to moisten, then roll in the oats to cover. Place loaves seam side down in the prepared pans. Cover with plastic (or shower caps!) and proof for about 90 minutes.
  11. About an hour before baking, place a steam pan in the bottom of your oven and preheat to 450°.
  12. At baking time, uncover the loaf pans, place in the oven and immediately add about 1 cup of ice to the pan to create steam.
  13. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 400° and bake for another 30 minutes or until golden brown.
  14. Remove from the oven, transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.

Fresh Ricotta with Figs and Comb Honey

Ingredients

  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 3 Tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • fresh figs
  • comb honey
  • fresh thyme (I used lemon thyme)
  • sea salt flakes (such as Maldon), optional
  1. Directions
  2. Attached a deep-fry or candy thermometer to a 3-quart saucepan (non-reactive like stainless steel) and add the milk, cream and salt.
  3. Heat to 190°, stirring occasionally so the milk doesn't scorch.
  4. As soon as the milk comes up to temperature, remove the pan from the heat and pour in the lemon juice, gently stirring it once or twice. Let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes.
  5. Place a few layers of cheesecloth in a strainer (I wet the cheesecloth which makes it kind of non-stick) and place it over a large bowl (the whey drains into this bowl). Gently pour the milk mixture (curds and whey, Miss Muffet!) into the strainer and let it drain. The longer it drains, the firmer the ricotta, but you should allow at least a hour of draining. (I planned on letting it go for two but we got antsy.) Serve at room temperature of transfer it to a container and store in the fridge for up to 3 days.
  6. To serve, spoon ricotta into a serving bowl. Cut fresh figs in quarters and arrange around the ricotta. Break off pieces of the comb honey and place over the top of the cheese. Strip thyme leaves from stems and sprinkle over the cheese. Sprinkle with sea salt, if desired.