Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Fresh Blueberry Pie

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Summer weekends in the city. When, no matter how early you wake up, the sun is already up before you with the promise of a day full of surprises. An afternoon walk means a series of encounters, random, mostly unexpected, that seem to beg to be written about: the shrieking kids running in and out of a gushing fire hydrant; the old man sitting under a beach umbrella on the sidewalk with a chess set in front of him waiting for a willing (daring?) opponent; the samba blaring out of a third floor apartment’s open window, whose occupant is sunbathing on her fire escape. There is both a sense of excitement and a languid attitude in the air. People are less grumpy, more outgoing, less likely to grumble because you are blocking their path on the sidewalk.
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There is an ease to everything. Clothes are looser, smiles are easier, food tastes better. When the heat peaks in the middle of the afternoon, there is a primal human need for a cocktail, cold and preferably fizzy, that just comes to the surface. At dinner time, the outdoor tables of restaurants are packed, no matter the raucous traffic just a few feet away. Rosé is abundant and dishes are fresh and simple. And when time for dessert comes, if it’s not ice cream, then it’s a fresh blueberry pie, summer itself on a plate, a perfect ending to a perfect day.DSC04116Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Fresh Blueberry Pie – Slightly adapted from Food 52 Genius Recipes

Ingredients:

One uncooked single pie crust
1 tablespoon egg white, lightly beaten (optional)
4 cups fresh blueberries, rinsed and dried
1/2 liquid cup and two tablespoons water, divided
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cup whipped cream (optional)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Place the pie crust in a 9-inch pie plate and crimp the border with your fingers. Line the crust with parchment, pleating it as necessary so it fits into the pan, and fill it with pie weights (rice or dried beans work well). Bake for 20 minutes. Carefully lift out the rice or beans with the parchment. With a fork, prick the bottom and sides, and bake 5-10 minutes, or until the crust is pale golden. Check after 3 minutes and prick any bubbles that may have formed. Cool the crust on a rack for 3 minutes, so it is no longer piping hot, then (optionally) brush the bottom and sides with the egg white — this will help keep the bottom crust from getting soggy.

Measure out 1 cup of the blueberries and place them in a medium saucepan together with the 1/2 cup water. Cover and bring them to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and the remaining 2 tablespoons of water. Set it aside.

When the water and blueberries have come to a boil, lower the heat and simmer, stirring constantly for 3 to 4 minutes or until the blueberries start to burst and the juices begin to thicken. Stirring constantly, add the cornstarch mixture, the sugar, lemon juice, and salt. Simmer for a minute or until the mixture becomes translucent. Immediately remove it from the heat and quickly fold in the remaining 3 cups of blueberries.

Spoon the mixture into the baked pie crust and allow to sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours before serving. When set, the berries will remain very juicy but will not flow out of the crust. Serve with whipped cream if desired. This pie can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Peach Pie Braided Bread

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One of the things I experienced for the first time in my life when I moved to the U.S. in 1990 was the mall. Growing up, we had heard of malls and seen them in movies, but we never had one where I lived. So there I was in Philadelphia, with just a suitcase and in need of bedding and other basics for my new college dorm room. I was quickly given directions to the Gallery, Philly’s largest mall. I took the subway (another first) and landed at the glass and steel entrance. I pushed through the revolving doors and I was instantly in love.DSC03175

It’s funny how all the things that over the years I’ve come to hate about malls are the exact ones that made me love them when I first experienced them. There was the clean, almost antiseptic smell, a mix of marble, perfume, and ozone, that made me think clean! and safe! I loved the constant muzak, so calm and innocent, sort of like a glistening snake smoothly gliding towards you in the sunlight. I thought that having all those stores in one place was such a great convenience (no need to walk out in the streets!) and I loved the little stands that dotted the middle of the mall, mimicking actual street stalls. Never mind that what they sold was nothing but gimmicks and AS SEEN ON TV! products.DSC03167

But my absolute favorite was the food court. Cheap and barely edible Chinese food? Bring it on. Cheesesteaks with four tiny slices of steak under a mountain of processed cheese? I was all in. Pizza with greying ham and canned pineapple? Heaven.

My tastes have obviously changed over the years and I look back at all that food I ate in abject horror. But there’s one thing I can’t help but remember fondly: Cinnabons. You could smell the sugar, cinnamon, and butter about five minutes before you hit the food court. Each bun was the size of a small baby’s head. I would start from the outside layers, like peeling an onion, and work my way to the insanely rich middle. I would devour the whole thing in minutes, making sure to get all the cream cheese frosting that got stuck on the cardboard box. I was still a teenager and eating a whole Cinnabon after two huge slices of “Hawaiian” pizza was not a problem.

This week’s recipe isn’t for a Cinnabon but it’s for its distant cousin, a healthier and more seasonal version. It will fill your kitchen with the aroma of buttery cinnamon sugar but also with the smell of baked peaches. It’s best eaten warm, with your hands, and with no regrets.DSC03186Peach Pie Braided Bread – Slightly adapted from Joy the Baker

Ingredients:

For the Dough:

2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3/4 cup whole milk, warmed to a warm lukewarm
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
a bit of oil for greasing the bowl

For the Filling:

1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 ripe peaches, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes
1 large egg, beaten for egg wash

Directions:

In a medium bowl stir yeast with sugar. Stir in the lukewarm milk and then add the egg yolk and melted butter. Whisk together until thoroughly combined. Allow mixture to rest for 5 minutes. It should foam and froth.

In a large bowl whisk together the flour and salt.

Make the dough by hand: Pour the milk mixture over the dry ingredients and start kneading it until it pulls away from the edges of the bowl. Place dough on a lightly floured counter and knead by hand for about 10 minutes more. Dough ball should be smooth and damp, without being too sticky. Shape dough into a ball.

Make the dough in a mixer: In a mixer with the dough hook attachment, add the dry ingredients and the milk mixture. Mix at medium speed for about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and not too sticky. Shape dough into a ball.

Grease a large bowl with olive oil. Place the dough in the bowl and cover. Allow to rest at warm room temperature for about 1 hour, or until doubled in size.

While the dough rises, whisk together the butter with sugar and cinnamon for the filling. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375º F. Grease a 10-inch cast iron skillet. Set aside.

After the dough has doubled in size, place it on a lightly floured counter and knead twice. Using a rolling pin to roll the dough to a rectangle of about 18×12 inches.

Spoon the cinnamon filling over top, spreading evenly, leaving a clean 1-inch border around the edges. Sprinkle the peach pieces over the cinnamon filling. Start by rolling the longest side of the dough. The roll will be a bit lumpy because of all the fruit. Using a sharp knife, cut the log in half length-wise leaving 1-inch of the edge uncut.

Start braiding the two pieces, by carefully lifting the left strand over the right strand. Repeat this motion until you reach the bottom of the dough. Press together to seal. Join the two ends, creating a circle with the dough and press together.

Using both hands, transfer the dough ring to the prepared cast iron skillet. Brush the bread with the beaten egg.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and bubbling. Allow to cool for about 30 minutes before slicing and serving.

Crispy Broccoli with Black Vinegar

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Imagine this. You are sitting at a restaurant. You order food and a bottle of wine that you’ve never tried before but sounded interesting on the menu. When the waiter pours a glass for you and you taste it you immediately love it. “We should find this and buy a few bottles,” you say. So you pull out your smartphone, open an app, and take a picture of the wine label. Despite the dim lighting, the app immediately recognizes the wine and shows you how much other users have liked it. Right there, next to the name of the wine is a red button with the price per bottle. You click it and within ten seconds, you have ordered half a case of the wine. Three days later it shows up at your doorstep.

Ten years ago, this would have been an “in the future” scenario. But it’s exactly what Steve and I did a few weeks ago while eating at a restaurant called The Gorbals. The app is called Delectable and it works like magic. Even though Steve and I both work in tech, we still find ourselves awestruck at times at how amazing technology can be.

We were also awestruck by some of the food we had that night, including a dish of crispy broccoli, doused in an umami-rich vinaigrette. I immediately identified that it was made with black vinegar, also known as Chinkiang vinegar. It’s a Chinese vinegar made by adding acetic acid and bacteria to glutinous rice, but also to wheat, millet, or sorghum. It’s deep and soulful, with a light smokiness, a strong malt flavor, and a very distant hint of sugar.

The very next day, I bought some broccoli and tried to recreate the recipe. I am pretty sure that they deep fried their broccoli but I was able to get pretty similar results by roasting it at a high temperature in the oven. The result is an addictive combination of sweet, salty, and sour. Make a lot. You will eat it.

And while we’re at it, can someone create a device, which I can point at a cooked dish and it figures out the exact recipe with which it was made? In the future, I guess…
DSC04092Crispy Broccoli with Black Vinegar

Ingredients:

1 lb (480 g) broccoli florets
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons black vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425º F. Place the broccoli florets in a large bowl and add salt and pepper. Add the 2 tablespoons of oil and with your hands toss the florets well. Place in a large baking sheet and roast in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes or until the tips of the florets are very dark brown.

Meanwhile, make the dressing by whisking together the vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, and 1 tablespoon oil. When broccoli is done, place it in a large serving bowl and pour the dressing over it. Gently toss it in the bowl to get it dressed. Serve immediately.

 

Apricot Cherry Tart with Pistachio Frangipane

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When I was little, there were many bakeries in our city where one could get bread and other essentials but there were only a few confectionaries (patisseries) that specialized in sweet things, like cakes and cookies. One of those was Hurricane. It’s probably the oldest confectionary still in existence in the city. It’s tucked away in the old part of town, a veritable hole in the wall, with enough room for five or six small tables that surround an ancient wood-and-glass case (the same one since I was a kid) that has always contained cookies for sale.DSC03089

Back then, Hurricane was considered fancy and it was rather expensive. Before I was even born, this was a place where ladies of high society would go for tea and cookies, served in real china by the family that owned it. For me, Hurricane has always been a bundle of memories. There was the smell of sugar and butter that reached out to the street and around the corner, driving me crazy with desire. There were the butter cookies with their tips dipped in chocolate sprinkles. There were the kok, a traditional dessert of thick pastry cream sandwiched between two cake-like cookies, with the top cookie covered in vanilla or chocolate glaze.DSC03090

But above all, I remember the varkoulles, or little boats. They consisted of a cookie shell in the shape of a small boat, filled with a frangipane filling. They tasted intensely of almonds and the shell gave a satisfying crunch when bit into, only to give way to the soft, almost creamy filling. They were my absolute favorites and they filled me with joy when my parents would buy them for us. It was probably with them that my love affair with frangipane started.

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What’s there not to like? A mixture of nuts, sugar, flour, butter and eggs, at just the right ratio, bakes into a filling that is incredibly satisfying no matter what surrounds it. It’s what makes the French galette de rois, a traditional New Year’s pie made of puff pastry filled with frangipane, such a delightful treat. And it’s what makes this apricot cherry tart irresistible. And the fact that it is a single (food processor) bowl recipe makes it even better. If you don’t have apricots or cherries at hand, switch it up. Plums, apples, pears, or any fruit that’s not too juicy will do fine. If you don’t have pistachios, you can use almonds, which is the more traditional version of frangipane.DSC03117
Apricot Cherry Tart with Pistachio Frangipane – Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients:

Crust
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (4 ounces or 115 grams) cold unsalted butter

Filling
3/4 cup (a scant 4 ounces or 110 grams) shelled unsalted pistachios
1 tablespoon (10 grams) all purpose flour
Few pinches of sea salt
6 tablespoons (75 grams) sugar
5 tablespoons (70 grams) cold unsalted butter
1 large egg
1/4 teaspoon almond extract, 2 teaspoons brandy or another flavoring of your choice (optional)
8 firm-ripe apricots, pitted and cut in half
8 sweet cherries, pitted and cut in half
To finish
Powdered sugar or 1/4 cup apricot jam

Directions:

Heat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Make the crust: Combine the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Cut the butter into chunks, and add it to the bowl, then run the machine continuously (don’t pulse) until the mixture forms large clumps. It might take 30 seconds to 1 minute for it to come together. Transfer the dough clumps to a 9 inch fluted tart pan with removable bottom and press it evenly across the bottom and up the sides. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes to allow the dough to rest (this will reduce shrinkage when you bake it). Bake for 15 minutes, until very pale golden. Let crust cool.

Make the filling: In the same food processor bowl (no need to clean it between these steps), grind your pistachios, sugar, flour and salt together until the nuts are powdery. Cut the butter into chunks and add it to the machine. Run the machine until no buttery bits are visible. Add any flavorings and egg, blending until just combined.

Spread filling over cooled crust. Place apricots and cherries cut side down onto the pistachio filing. Bake for 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the pistachio portion comes out batter-free. Let cool completely in pan.

To finish, you can make a shiny glaze for your tart by warming apricot jam in a small saucepan until it thins, and brushing this mixture over the top of the cooled tart. Or, you can dust it with powdered sugar.

Strawberry Lemon Pie

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I’m not a fan of bitter things.When my tongue encounters bitter, my brain says “danger! inedible!” When people get excited about a salad of bitter greens, I don’t really understand it. It’s why I never accept the offer of “freshly ground black pepper” at restaurants. It’s why I rarely enjoy beer, and when I do, it’s wheat beer that’s ice cold on a blistering hot day, and even better, with some ginger ale or 7-Up added to it.

There are however a few exceptions. I like gin and tonics, for example. Their bitterness is somehow balanced by the bubbly effervescence, the acid of the lime, and the floral notes of the gin. Or this recipe for strawberry lemon pie, where I find the addition of a slight bitterness intriguing. Strawberry is traditionally paired with rhubarb for the added acidity that cuts through the berry sweetness. But this recipe swaps rhubarb for lemons, sliced very thin (rind, pith and all). The result is perhaps the most complex strawberry pie I’ve ever tried. There’s sweetness from the strawberries, acid from the lemon flesh and zest, bitterness from the pith, and fat from the buttery crust. The pie feels…adult, somehow.
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It’s also a great metaphor for being American (this being July 4th weekend and all). One of the (many) things I love about this country is its simultaneous love of and constant experimentation with tradition. Being a relatively young country and one that has been built over the years by waves of immigrants, the U.S. manages to constantly reinvent itself by holding on to the essence of what makes one American: the acceptance and embrace of change. Yes, there are plenty of Americans who consider themselves conservative and talk about how they don’t accept change, but over time, most of them also get carried forward by the forces of transformation, progress, and change.

So, make this strawberry lemon pie, traditional (it’s still a pie after all), but also different and new, and have a great fourth of July.
DSC04072Strawberry Lemon Pie – From Bon Appétit

Note: The recipe provides directions for making a lattice pie (see photo above). But you can make any kind of double-crust pie you want.

Ingredients:

Double Pie Crust
All-purpose flour (for surface)
1½ cups granulated sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
Pinch of kosher salt
2 pounds strawberries, hulled, quartered
2 small lemons, very thinly sliced, seeds removed
1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon water
2 tablespoons demerara or turbinado sugar

Directions:

Roll out a disk of dough on a lightly floured surface to a 13″ round. Transfer round to a parchment-lined baking sheet and chill while you roll out remaining disk of dough to a 13″ round (about ¼” thick). Cut second round into 4 strips, about 2 ¼” wide. Stack strips on top of first round of dough, separating with a sheet of parchment. Chill while you prepare filling.

Preheat oven to 350°. Combine granulated sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a large bowl. Add strawberries, lemon slices, and vinegar. Toss to coat fruit evenly in sugar mixture, separating lemon slices that stick together.

Beat egg with 1 tsp. water in a small bowl just to blend. Lift parchment with strips of dough onto work surface. Using your hands, or wrapping dough around a floured rolling pin if your nervous, carefully transfer round of dough to a 9″ pie dish. Lift up edges and allow dough to slump down into dish. Trim edges of dough with kitchen shears to even out, leaving at least a 2″ overhang (or, you can leave untrimmed if you want a rustic look); brush edge with half of egg wash. Scrape in strawberry filling along with any accumulated juices in bowl.

Lay 2 strips lengthwise over pie filling, then arrange remaining 2 strips crosswise across pie, working alternately over and under lengthwise strips to create a lattice pattern. Fold edge of bottom round up and over strips and press to seal. Brush dough with remaining egg wash; sprinkle with demerara sugar.

Place pie pan on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet (juices may bubble over—this is what the foil is for). Bake until crust is deep golden brown on top and bottom and juices are bubbling, about 1 ½ hours. Transfer pie to a wire rack and let sit at least 4 hours before slicing.

Do Ahead: Pie can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill.

 

Plum Ice Cream

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It was a spring evening in 1997. There I was, with my boyfriend at the time and four of our friends, all gay men, sitting around a TV in a suburban living room, somewhere in northern New Jersey, waiting for the world to change. We knew this was coming. Everyone knew. But it didn’t make it any less monumental for us.

Our conversation stopped as soon as the show started. We watched with the cautious anticipation of those whose hopes had been dashed too many times before. But there she was on the screen, leaning over a podium microphone and pronouncing those words “I’m gay,” accidentally broadcasting them over an entire airport. We laughed nervously, not quite ready to feel relief. She had done it. Ellen had come out on TV. The first time a main character on a hit TV show came out as gay (along with the actress who portrayed it).
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It’s been eighteen years since that night. We knew then that Ellen’s coming out was just another brick in the house we were all building. A seemingly small one (it was, after all just one character in one show that ended up being cancelled after one more season). But it turned out to be much bigger than we had thought. It was the beginning of us being seen and heard, in TV shows and books, in songs and movies, and eventually, in towns and neighborhoods where we had been all but invisible. It was the start of a movement that said: here we are, we are people, who live and love and die like you, who stress over who will take the kids to soccer practice or agonize over what to wear on that first date, who want to reach out and wipe with our thumb the drop of plum ice cream that’s stubbornly stuck to our lover’s lower lip but we are afraid to do so in public. We are like you.

Eighteen years ago, six gay mean watching TV in New Jersey could not have predicted (and they did not) that one day relatively soon, they would be witnesses to the Supreme Court (or at least most of it) saying yes, your love matters as much as anyone else’s. That they, some of them by now married with kids, would finally see the roof finished over that house they and those that had come before them had been building for decades. There are still things left undone, without a doubt, and there are others who still vow to tear that house down, but for now, that roof has finally made that house a home. 

DSC03200Plum Ice Cream – From The Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accompaniments

Ingredients:

1 lb (450 g) plums
1/3 cup (80 ml) water
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (180g) sugar
1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon kirsch

Directions:

Slice the plums in half and remove the pits. Cut the plums into eighths and put them in a medium saucepan with the water. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in sugar until dissolved. Let cool to room temperature.

In a blender, purée cooled plums with cream and kirsch until smooth.

Chill mixture in refrigerator until very cold and freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Johnnycake Bread

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I took a two-week break from the blog because Steve and I were on vacation. We took 10 days off and spent five of them in Paris and five of them in Norway.

Paris was lovely, as always. We had incredible weather the entire time (as well as in Norway). We saw our good friends who live there and we explored some new restaurants. One night they took us out to Claude Colliot for my birthday, where the meal was beautifully prepared, with fresh ingredients and unfussy preparation. On another night we went the the Frenchie wine bar, where we had “bar food” that was better than what most restaurants serve. On our last night, our friends introduced us to Le Sergent Recruteur. The meal was fantastic. The service exceptional. The first course alone, a mix of tomatoes with a licorice-like herb (not tarragon), covered by a disc of frozen tomato water, was worth the price of the whole meal.

But perhaps the biggest surprise was our lunch at Lafayette Gourmet, the newly renovated high-end food market in the center of Paris. We found the whole market a little too sterile for us, the food displayed like jewels, the walls pure white  and pristinely clean. But we ate lunch at the butcher stand (all of the different stands also serve as restaurants). We both had steak and it was one of the tenderest, most delicious pieces of beef we’ve had in a long time.DSC03940

Next, we flew to Oslo, Norway. Norway is a beautiful country. We took the train from Oslo to Bergen on the west coast and hit a fjord cruise on our way back to Oslo, the steep slopes of the mountains on both sides of the boat watching us as we dodged the hordes of screaming kids that had joined the cruise with us. The train ride to Bergen was almost better than the fjord cruise. Our train went from sunny Oslo up to completely snow covered mountains (at 2,000 meters above sea level) and down to cloudy and cool Bergen in the span of seven hours.

We ate some good food in Norway and some not so good (like the hot dogs we ate on the train because nothing else looked good). In our hotel in Oslo, we were surprised to find out that our room not only included breakfast, but also included a “light dinner” every day, which was a full dinner with soup, appetizers, a main dish, and dessert, all for nothing. Given how insanely expensive everything in Norway was, this was very welcome. The breakfast buffet every morning was huge, with everything from eggs and “Norwegian paté” (no idea what was in it, but it was tasty), to fruits and muesli, pickled herring, breads and cheeses, including traditional Norwegian brown cheese, or brunost.

Oh my god, the brown cheese! Shaped in a cube with the color of dulce de leche or caramel sauce, it didn’t look very inviting. But I took a slice and as soon as I put it in my mouth I was hooked. The cheese is made with milk, cream, and whey which are boiled until the milk sugars caramelize. This gives it a sweet, caramel-y taste and a wonderful stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth texture. It’s like cheese made out of caramel. I went crazy with it and had it every morning. I don’t know where I can find it in the U.S. but I’ll look for it. I think it will be fantastic on top of a slice of this johnnycake bread.
DSC03918Johnnycake Bread – From Bon Appétit

Ingredients:

¼ cup vegetable oil, plus more for pans
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup cornmeal
¼ cup granulated sugar
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
¼ cup mild-flavored (light) molasses
1 tablespoon maple sugar or raw sugar

Directions:

Heat oven to 325°. Lightly oil two 5×2½” loaf pans (or one 8½x4½” loaf pan). Whisk flour, cornmeal, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center, add eggs, milk, molasses, and ¼ cup oil, and whisk in dry ingredients. Divide between pans. Sprinkle with maple sugar.

Bake breads until golden and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 40–45 minutes for small loaves (50–55 minutes for large loaf). Transfer pans to a wire rack and let cool 10 minutes before turning out.

DO AHEAD: Breads can be made 1 day ahead. Store wrapped tightly at room temperature.