Bread for Cheese

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I’m addicted to cheese. It’s one of the joys in my life, besides the obvious stuff like family and friends. If only I was addicted to celery, I wouldn’t have to bake bread to go with cheese.

Bread is not something I make a lot anymore. I used to make it almost daily, mostly for my husband, who is bread-addicted. These days he’s down on carbs, so that’s why I don’t bake much anymore. But fortunately I don’t have to twist his arm to get him to eat cheese – especially good cheese.

I’ve mentioned before that the holidays make me think of all kinds of festive foods. In my house, from October 1st Thanksgiving through New Year’s it’s a food frenzy.

I not only start planning dishes with figs and cranberries and sweet potatoes, I plan the cheese itinerary. On top of that list is Époisses, which we discovered when in Beaune, which is in the Burgundy region of France, in 2002. To this day, I think it’s still banned on French transportation. And it’s a French cheese!

Although it would be classified as a stinky cheese because of the smell (think standing amongst cows in a cow paddy), it is wonderfully smooth and flavorful.

I always serve Epoisses with sliced of bread made with dried fruits and nuts. They just go together.

The other day I happened upon some dried currants, so I picked those up. And because of my love of hazelnuts this time of year, they’re going into the bread as well. For today I’ll just stick to currants and hazelnuts, but there will be a generous amount of both.

Sometimes I make the bread so dense with fruits and nuts that it’s almost like a yeasted fruitcake, but this one is on the breadier side.

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Époisses comes in a little carton. So you really don’t have to do anything presentation wise if you don’t want to. But do make sure you take it out of the refrigerator about 3-4 hours before you serve it. That’s the only way you will get the lovely runniness that typifies this unique cheese.

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Fruit and Nut Bread for Cheese Pairing

3 ounces currants
Cherry brandy or port
3 ounces toasted hazelnuts
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
8 ounces goat’s milk or evaporated milk
1 egg, whisked
Scant 5 cups of flour in total, 1/2 cup of it whole wheat flour

Place the currants in a small bowl, and cover with a liquid like port. Or, if you prefer, use orange juice. Let them soften for at least 30 minutes before draining them thoroughly right before using. You can always save the liquid for another purpose. Don’t include the liquid or the yeast may not function properly.

Have all your ingredients ready. Chop the hazelnuts and set aside.

Place 1/4 of warm water in a large, warmed bowl. Sprinkle on the yeast and sugar, and let it sit for about 3-4 minutes, or until the yeast softens.

Give the mixture a whisk, then put the bowl in a warm place for about 5 minutes. The mixture will have doubled in volume.

Add warmed milk and the whisked egg to the yeast mixture. I thought I had a can of evaporated milk, but it turned out to be goat’s milk. It still works, which is what I love about brea. It’s not like making pastry!

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Then whisk 1/2 cup of flour into the mixture. Place the bowl in a warm place and let the mixture double in volume, about 45 minutes.

Switching to a spoon or spatula, vigorously stir in 1 cup of flour. Cover the bowl with a damp dishcloth, and return it to the warm place for about 1 hour.

Next, add 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour and the hazelnuts and stir together. The bread dough is ready to be turned out onto a floured surface.

Using about 1/3 more of flour, knead the dough until smooth, then fold the currants into the dough.

Knead a few more minutes until the currants are fully incorporated, then place the dough into a greased loaf pan, or any pan or pans of choice. Place it in the warm place for at least 30 minutes, or until the dough has at least doubled in size.

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Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Farenheit.

Place the pan in the oven and bake the bread approximately 40 minutes. If you’re not sure if it’s done, you can use a thermometer to see if it has reached 195 degrees internally. It shouldn’t become hotter than that or it will be overbaked.

Let the bread cool. When you’re ready to serve it slice it with a serrated knife.

I love the pairing of a fruit and nut bread with this particular cheese, or any cheese, actually.

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Look how gooey Époisses is:

The bread is so easy to make, and it’s fun to change up the different fruits and nuts. It could have just been easily figs, cranberries, and walnuts.

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Fruit and Nut Crackers

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A while back I purchased these beautiful crackers from Whole Foods. I was visiting my daughter at the time and we paired them with cheese that night for a pre-dinner treat.

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The brand is Raincoast, and the crackers are $9.99 for 6 ounces – yes, a bit pricey. They have a few different varieties, but I don’t know how many exactly.
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Once home, I paired the leftover crackers with my faux Boursin this past July. The combination of the fruitiness with the goat cheese was just perfect.

Really, these crackers aren’t extremely sweet, even with the dried fruits. But there is just enough sweetness that they really add something to a cheese pairing of any kind.

Because Whole Foods is a four-hour round trip for me, I decided to make these little guys myself. How hard could it be?!!

This was a first for me – I typically make yeasted breads myself to pair with cheeses, like my fruit and nut bread or olive bread.

But these are simply dense little quick breads, that were then sliced, and toasted. I couldn’t wait! Most of the fun was picking out the fruit and nut combination. I decided on sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, flax seeds, dried plums, dried cranberries, and cocoa nibs.

They turned out fabulously. I had to freeze them so I wouldn’t keep eating them! But you know I’ll be pulling them out of the freezer come the holidays…

Fruit and Nut Crackers

1 cup dried fruits – I used half cranberries and half diced plums
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/3 cup flax seeds
1/3 cup cocoa nibs
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups rice milk or dairy milk
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup rye flour
1 1/2 cups white flour

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Grease 3 little pans – mine were approximately 3 1/2″ by 7 1/2″ bi 2 1/2″ inside diameter.

Combine the first 5 ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
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In a larger bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the rice milk.
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Then add the brown sugar and molasses and whisk well.
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Add the rye flour and whisk to combine.
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Then change to a wooden spoon and add the 1 1/2 cups of white flour. Stir just until combined.
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Add the bowl of fruits, seeds, and nuts, and stir just until even distributed.
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Divide the batter in between the three pans.

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Bake for approximately 25 minutes. They will look like this:
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Let the breads cool completely. Reduce the oven to 300 degrees.

Slice the breads as thinly as possible.
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Then place them on a cookie sheet and toast them in the oven for about 30 minutes.
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They will then look like this.
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Toast the remaining slices, if you can’t do them all at once in the oven. You should end up with approximately 68 crackers.
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Today I served the crackers alongside Cowgirl Creamery’s Red Hawk. It’s a washed rind cows’ milk cheese that’s really soft. It’s not as “pourable” as a French Époisses, but it’s still fabulously soft.
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It was really good with these crackers.

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