The latter happened to be the case both yesterday and this morning. Earlier in the week, I baked up a loaf of Anadama Bread, using the recipe from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. The recipe yields two standard-sized loaves, so although I could probably finish off both loaves myself within a few days, I've managed to restrain myself enough from going to town on that bread that there was still a sizeable hunk of it remaining yesterday afternoon.
Up until that point, I had mostly been enjoying the bread without adornments, just sliced and toasted. Once or twice did I dress my toast with a thin layer of low-sugar apricot preserves. A few mornings ago, I mixed up the bread routine by making French toast with pecans, using a hybrid of recipes from Vegan with a Vengeance and Skinny Bitch in the Kitch. I sweetened my version up by adding vanilla and almond extracts, ground cinnamon, and maple syrup (the last component both in the batter and over the top). It was mighty tasty, but I figured I can't eat all of that bread in French toast form, as delectably tempting as that sounds. Toast is so much more convenient. I just needed to give it a little something-something to make it more interesting. Nutella, the ubiquitous chocolate-hazelnut spread, would have been an option in my pre-vegan days, but the presence of unsavory ingredients rendered it useless to me.
I had seen several recipes for homemade versions of gianduia, the generic name for Nutella and its spreadable choco-nutty brethren that is so popular in Europe. I thought about attempting one of the recipes that don't call for hazelnut extract, an ingredient I can't seem to locate in any markets around here, but then still hesitated when noticing the inclusion of hazelnut butter, another elusive ingredient. Some versions, such as Mihl's recipe over at seitan is my motor and Isa and Terry's in Veganomicon, only require whole hazelnuts, which are toasted and processed into homemade hazelnut butter. But I often have doubts about my food processor's ability to adequately grind food to its required state, based mostly upon the appliance's apparent refusal to chop dates to my liking. But gianduia sounded like just the right thing to doll up that plain ol' toast, so casting my doubts aside, I decided to try my hand at Mihl's version, beginning with the homemade hazelnut butter.
After toasting two cups of raw, whole hazelnuts in the oven at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes, I allowed them to cool slightly before loading them into my food processor. After several pulses, things were looking good: the metal blade was doing a nice job of chopping up the nuts into smaller and smaller piece that eventually gained a flour-like consistency. So I let the blade whir. This is where that "Why haven't I done this sooner?" moment came in. That hazelnut flour was amassing into a thick blob--so thick that I needed to scrape the sides down every now and then. After a couple of minutes, that mass became smooth and glossy. My poor food processor, plagued by my doubts of its capability to handle even basic grinding, proved me wrong and produced a fine batch of homemade hazelnut butter! Requiring one ingredient and a little patience, homemade hazelnut butter is quite possibly one of the simplest things to create, convincing me that I had waited too long to finally make it.
The rest of the gianduia recipe was even easier. Besides replacing the sugar with about 1 1/2 T agave and adding a pinch of salt, I followed the recipe as written. In a matter of minutes, I had my very own vegan gianduia! It's not a smooth as Nutella, but it's definitely spreadable and I actually like the texture of the ground hazelnuts, having always preferred crunchy peanut butter over smooth. Somehow, I managed to wait long enough to allow the gianduia to set up in the fridge before spreading any of it on a slice of leftover Anadama Bread. The slightly sweet combination of rich chocolate and toasty hazelnut was just the thing for the toast, and I'm so glad that I now have a Nutella replacement to use in other decadent applications as well.
Revelation number two arrived today, unsurprisingly, in bread form. Lately, I've had a continual inclination to attempt to bake melonpan, a sweet Japanese bread with cookie topping that traditionally contains no melon but is formed to resemble one (although some versions now contain melon extract). It's a unique treat that is easy to find in well-stocked Asian groceries, but unfortunately, these pre-made rolls are usually not vegan. For that reason alone have I not eaten one since adopting a vegan lifestyle. Perhaps it is something about the shape or whimsy of the bread that made me think of it whenever I spotted aisles of Easter-themed candies, or maybe it's the fact that one of my good friends is enjoying a trip to Tokyo right now while I can only hear about it and watch Kurosawa films at home, or it could be that I'm suddenly missing the taste all over again, but in any case, I've had melonpan on the brain. So it was only logical that I bake some of my own in vegan-friendly form.
I had perused Colleen Patrick Goudreau's recipe for Melonpan (Japanese Cookie Bread), available in The Joy of Vegan Baking, when I first received a copy of the cookbook as a Christmas gift two years ago. I made a mental note to try it one day, but the cookie step kept pushing the recipe down on my "to do" list, despite looking fairly easy to complete. It actually is really no more difficult than combining a standard bread recipe with a cookie one. I made a few alterations: for the bread dough, I used whole wheat pastry flour for 3/4 cup of the all-purpose flour called for, omitted the sugar, added 1 T agave, and mixed in nondairy milk when the dough was too dry to properly knead; for the cookie portion, I used only 1/2 cup vegan buttery spread, replaced 1/4 cup of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat pastry flour, replaced regular sugar with raw sugar, and added 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract. Unsatisfied with Colleen's method of just piling the cookie around the bread dough balls--I didn't think it would result in the melon-like appearance I was accustomed to seeing in pre-made melonpan--I went with other proposed methods found online for creating the cookie topping, creaming the margarine with the sugar and vanilla before adding the dry ingredients. I then rolled the dough into balls and allowed them to chill in the refrigerator before rolling each one out into a 1/4-inch thick disc. For each bread roll, I draped a cookie disc over the dough, gently sealing it around the bread only down to the baking sheet and not covering the bottom of the roll. Then I used the back of a knife to carefully score a diamond pattern on the cookie topping. I baked the rolls as directed.
The baked melonpan was exactly how I had hoped it would result, both visually and taste-wise. It looks like a melon but tastes like the cookie bread of my childhood, maybe better, because it's a home- and handmade, vegan creation filled with nostalgia. And yes, it was definitely prompted me to wonder why it took me until today to bake up my own batch. I mean, really, I love baking bread, sweet treats, and creative challenges--especially those involving recreating non-vegan favorites--so everything about baking my own melonpan should have gotten me to try it sooner. But wishing isn't productive, and I did finally try the recipe, so I can't complain and am actually quite pleased with experience and results alike.
Now to figure out a way to fit in more time for kitchen experimentation...