May 02, 2010

Please Pass the Butter - Fennel-Olive Oil Quick Bread

Nothing says thank you quite like a homemade hostess gift - something delicious from the kitchen. When the hostess in question also happens to be a famous cookbook author and teacher, the stakes are pretty high. So when Bonnie Stern invited us to a Friday night dinner, it seemed only fitting to bring a loaf of freshly baked bread, packaged with two pounds of homemade butter. It might seem like carrying coals to Newcastle but who can resist fresh bread and butter?

Fennel-Olive Oil Quick Bread
from Olive Oil: From Tree to Table

It`s likely you have all the ingredients on hands for this easy three-step quick bread, and if not, it`s worth making sure you do. Simple, and simply scrumpcious, the bread can be made and baking in the oven while your guests are nibbling on appetizers.

Makes one loaf (can easily be doubled)

3 c self-rising flour
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp crushed fennel seeds
2 tbsp chopped fresh fennel tops, (or fresh dill tops); use 1 tbsp dried dill if fresh herbs are unavailable
1 can (12 oz) light beer
2 to 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1.  Preheat an oven to 375°F.  Oil a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan with olive oil.

2. Combine flour, sugar, fennel seeds and fennel (or dill) tops in a medium bowl.  Add the beer and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until well mixed. 

3.  Pour the batter into prepared loaf pan and pour the olive oil evenly over the top.  Bake until the top is golden, 50 to 55 minutes.  Slip loaf carefully out of pan and tap it on the bottom; if it sounds hollow and is also a nice golden colour, the bread is ready.  Cool on a wire rack until barely warm and break out the homemade butter.

Don't be alarmed at what seems like a lot of oil; it will get absorbed by the dough and won't result in oily bread

Whenever I bring a hostess gift to someone's house, especially something homemade, I like to think of creative ways to package everything up.  The homemade butter was easy: natural parchment paper and twine gave it the right rustic feeling.

I took advantage of Easter to stock up on cute bags and colourful grass that, taken out of context, would not be construed as particularly Easter-like, and could be used year-round.  This adorable bag was actually from Pottery Barn Kids, re-purposed here into a nifty "butter basket".  I wrapped the bread in a pretty napkin, easy to be reused by the hostess as a bread basket liner.

I added a bottle of Bottlegreen Elderflower Cordial for Ray, who creates the fabulous cocktails in the house