Recipe Linky: Simple Recipes and Bread Paring Ideas from Panera

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What comes to your mind when you think about bread? If you're a sometimes-boring eater like I am, you conjure images of pre-cut slices found in a supermarket or for more exotic days a loaf from a bakery or deli. After a few hours with Panera'??s VP of Bakery Development, Tom Gumpel, I realized bread is a timeless food that can enhance how we eat.

Ingredients for the asiago strata bread pudding

Tom'??s passion for bread involved a mini bread lesson where myself and several bloggers learned how to make a delicious savory asiago strata (layered) bread pudding and a melt-in-your-mouth chocolate pecan babka '?? a Russian/Polish bread. Starting with simple ingredients such as those you can pronounce (Panera doesn'??t use additives or preservatives and even ferments in their bread right in their trucks) the lesson broke down how simple it is to break out of the too-familiar breadbox. (See recipes below)

I not only learned how to make these relevantly easy recipes but that bread, like a fine wine, can be paired with certain meats, cheeses or spreads to really enhance the flavor of a meal. For example, a sourdough bread pairs well with grilled vegetables and meat and a whole grain bread works well with egg sandwiches. These pairings go beyond the bread and butter mantra that this especially important as we teach our children how to enjoy and savor new foods. After all, Tom stated that a recent New York Times article indicated that bread is over 30,000 years old '?? sounds like this international staple is here to stay. So why not learn how to make it, savor it and truly enjoy it?

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Asiago Strata 
Serves: 6-8 people
Assembly time: 10-15 minutes
Bake time: 35-45 minutes
Ingredients
2 tablespoons sweetened/salted butter (soft)
1-1/2 cup milk
1 cup cream
3 whole eggs
pinch of salt
pinch of cracked black pepper
1 loaf (18 ounces) Asiago bread
1 cup Asiago cheese, shredded (or other cheese shredded)

Directions
Preparation: Pre-heat oven to 325F. Brush the sides and bottom of 8'? baking dish or casserole dish with softened butter.

Custard: In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the milk, cream, eggs, salt and pepper and set aside.

Assembly
Cut the Asiago bread across the loaf in thin, even slices, approximately ¼ '??thick. Start assembly of the strata by placing bread slices on the bottom of the dish until bottom is completely covered. Sprinkle shredded Asiago cheese as necessary on the bread slices to cover completely. Cover with another layer of bread slices and sprinkle cheese on top, again covering bread slices completely.

Continue to build the strata for as many layers as dish allows, then pour custard mixture over top of strata.

Cover the strata and refrigerate for 15 minutes, allowing the bread slices to soak in custard mixture.

Baking 
Place the strata pan on a cookie sheet to catch any dripping of the custard. Set the strata in the center of the pre-heated oven and allow to bake for approximately 35- 45 minutes. The custard should gain a rich dark color and rise slightly from the pan (it will settle after removal from the oven). Carefully remove from the oven and set aside to cool for 15 minutes before unmolding.

Service 
Carefully invert the strata by placing a 10'? plate over the top of the pan and slowly flip the plate and pan over together. Place on the counter and allow the strata to fall from the pan onto the plate. If the strata does not release from the pan, cut around the sides of the pan and try to invert again. Serve hot or warm as an accompaniment with meat and vegetables to fill out the meal.

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Chocolate Pecan Babka 
Makes: 3-5 Babkas
Assembly time: Dough 20 minutes (not including rest times), fillings 15 minutes each
Final Babka: 15 minutes
Bake time: 25 -35 minutes

Dough Ingredients
5 oz unsalted butter (soft)
5 oz sugar
5 oz whole milk
5 oz water
5 oz whole eggs
1 lb 13 oz bread flour
1 tblsp dry instant yeast
¼ oz salt

Chocolate Ganache Filling
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate (finely chopped)
4 oz heavy cream
1 Tblsp corn syrup
Pecan Topping
1 lb pecans (coarsely chopped)
Egg Wash
1 egg
1Tbls milk
Pinch salt

Dough Instructions
In a separate mixing bowl, combine the flour with the instant dry yeast using a hand whisk.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all other ingredients. Place the flour mixture into bowl on top of other ingredients.

Turn the mixer on low speed and blend for 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, scrap sides and bottom of bowl and turn mixer on medium speed and continue to mix for 8-10 minutes or until a smooth, homogenous dough is achieved.

How to Make Bread Last
Information Provided by Panera Bread
What'??s the best way to keep bread tasting fresh? Here'??s the secret:
Tom Gumpel, the head baker for Panera Bread, doesn'??t just know how to make fresh, great-tasting bread; he also knows how to keep it fresh and great-tasting a little longer if you can'??t buy it daily.

There are two basic strategies, he says. The one you use depends on how long you plan on keeping the bread:

Three days or more: As soon as you get home, cut off the portion you won'??t be eating immediately and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. Then bundle it in aluminum foil and freeze. '??It'??ll last a week to a week-and-ahalf, no problem,'? says Gumpel. When it'??s time to enjoy it again, remove the foil and plastic while the bread is still frozen, rewrap in foil, and place in a 350-degree oven for 5 to 15 minutes (depending on its size). '??Just knock the chill off,'? says Gumpel. '??You don'??t need it hot.'? There'??s no need to spritz it with water either. The bread will draw moisture from the inner ice crystals.

One or two days: Never refrigerate bread. '??That ruins the starch, and it'??ll get that day-old feel faster,'?
says Gumpel. If it came in a paper sack, repackage the loaf in a plastic bag. This will help the bread retain its moisture. For more recipes, check out the Panera Cookbook ($14.21)

Serena Norr is a NYC-based writer/editor, soup-maker, and more importantly, a mama. You can read more soup recipes on her blog: seriouslysoupy.blogspot.com. 
Momtrends was not paid for this post.

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