Archive for the ‘bread/muffin recipes’ Category

The past few months, my cooking has changed.  It’s not that I’m cooking any less often, it’s just that my cooking is much more opportunistic (last week’s post is a perfect example) and limited in scope.  Fettuccine Alfredo.  Spaghetti Carbonara.  Grilled flatbread topped with whatever’s getting old in the refrigerator.

I gaze longingly at my long-neglected recipes for homemade gnocchi, brioche, and other favorites that require patient, loving, or sustained attention.  I check out Bon Appetit’s Fast, Easy, Fresh cookbook from the library, and even these recipes seem overly time consuming.  I miss long, leisurely days moving about the kitchen, but cooking just doesn’t rank very high on my priority list at the moment.

Thank goodness for no-knead bread.  The only drawback is the flip side of its greatest strength.  The recipe is so simple, it’s easy to forget to make it.   More often than not, I’ll climb into bed, read a little bit, and it hits me.  Ugh.  I forgot to make bread.  It happens so frequently, I’ll just heave a sigh and say, “Shoot.”  And my husband will say, “Oh.  Yeah.  We forgot to make a bread.”  He’ll put on his robe, go downstairs into the kitchen, and mix the dough.  It takes under five minutes, but still . . . what a guy, huh?

If you haven’t tried Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread, what are you waiting for?  It’s the best, crusty, old-world bread you’ll ever make at home without 1) perfecting old-world techniques and 2) owning specialized equipment.  We make a loaf at least once every week or two, and if you buy Lahey’s book, you’ll find endless variations on the original loaf.

It takes just a few minutes to make the dough, then it rests overnight.  The next day, you shape it, let it rise a bit, then bake in a very hot oven.  It couldn’t be easier — just remember to make the dough before you go upstairs to bed.  Or marry a really good guy.  🙂

No-Knead Bread
Adapted from Jim Lahey, My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.


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In the dead of winter, when the days are short and the sun slants low on the horizon, I occasionally yearn for a taste of summer — just a little reminder that summer is coming, despite appearances to the contrary.  I won’t go so far as, say, gazpacho (out-of-season tomatoes are a baaaaaaaaaad thing).  But I need a change from root vegetables, stews, and braises.

This weekend, we had a big snow storm in North Carolina.  We’ve been snowed in for three days and they just announced that school is cancelled tomorrow as well.  Despite all the snow, or maybe because of it, I wanted to bring a little ray of Tuscan sunshine inside the house.

This lemon olive oil cake was perfect.  It’s light, tender, lemony, with a hint of olive oil.  The cake offers almost endless variations for those who love to mix and match flavors: add savory herbs (thyme, lavender), sweet spices (nutmeg, cloves, cardamom), tangy citrus (orange juice, lime zest), ground nuts (almonds, hazelnuts), liqueurs (Grand Marnier, Amaretto), whatever you like to make it your own.  Like Tuscany itself, the cake is light, glowing, soothing, beautifully understated.

Apparently, olive oil cakes have caught on like wildfire at veddy fency coffee shops, and now I know why.  Pour yourself an espresso and give this one a try.

Lemon Olive Oil Cake

Adapted from The Craft of Baking by Karen DeMasco

Makes one 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf

Unsalted butter, softened, for the pan

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 large eggs

1/2 cup granulated sugar

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons whole milk [1% is fine, too]

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 tablespoon Demerara sugar

Good quality lemon olive oil, for drizzling [or substitute a confectioner’s sugar/lemon juice glaze, or let the crunchy sugar topping stand alone]

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Generously butter an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan.

In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Fill a medium saucepan with 2 inches of water and bring it to a simmer.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the eggs, granulated sugar, and lemon zest.  Set the bowl over the saucepan of simmering water and whisk until the mixture is warm to the touch, about 2 minutes.  Transfer the bowl to an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Beat on medium speed until the mixture thickens, is pale yellow, and forms ribbons when the whisk is lifted, 5 to 6 minutes.

Meanwhile, in another bowl, whisk together the extra-virgin olive oil, milk, and lemon juice.  When the egg mixture has thickened, slowly drizzle in the oil mixture with the machine running.  Reduce the speed to low, add the flour mixture, and mix just to combine.  Drizzle in the butter and mix just to combine.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the top with the Demerara sugar.  Bake, rotating the pan once after 40 minutes, until the top of the cake is golden, the center bounces back when touched, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes.  [Keep an eye on the cake as it cooks.  Mine was done after 35 minutes.]  Unmold the cake from the loaf pan and let it cool completely on a wire rack.  Serve at room temperature or toasted, with slices drizzled with lemon olive oil, if desired.

The cake is best eaten the day it is baked but can be kept at room temperature, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 3 days.

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This cocoa-banana bread exposed a serious flaw our new house.  And it’s not just a matter of taste, like ugly counter tops or bad wallpaper.  No, it’s the oven.  For all you inveterate bakers out there, you know this is a problem not to be taken lightly.

So, here’s the situation.  The oven has all digital controls.  I can’t just twist a knob to 375 degrees and walk away.  I have to program the temperature by pressing buttons.  That makes my oven sound hip and cool and futuristic.  It’s not.  It’s old, tiny, and poorly designed.  Because these very same buttons control the timer.

The cocoa banana bread cooks for 30 minutes, then it’s tented with foil to avoid over-browning.  So I program my oven, set the timer for 30 minutes, and go on my merry way.  After 30 minutes pass, I hear the timer, turn it off (as one will do with noisy beeping sounds), tent the pan, reset the timer for another 30 minutes, and go on my merry way again.  When the timer goes off a second time, I return to the oven to check the bread.  It hasn’t risen properly and it’s still more batter than bread.  Hm.  I set the timer for another 15 minutes, stick it back in the oven, and realize the oven is cool.  Not cool as in “groovy.”  Cold.

I bring all of my Sherlock Holmes powers of deduction to bear and realize, with sagging shoulders, that when I hit “clear” to stop the timer from beeping after the first 30 minutes, it also cleared the temperature to zero and turned off the oven.  Sigh.

My daughter wanted to take a bike ride through our new neighborhood so I put the bread back in and willed it to cook fast.  After another 20 minutes, I pulled it out even though it still left streaks on the tester.

After our bike ride, we came back inside to try the bread.  Chocolate and banana struck my husband as a weird combination, but think banana splits and Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey.  They work.  This bread does, too, in flavor.  But the texture is unforgivably dry.  Every time I cut a slice, a shower of crumbs decorates my counters.  Days after we finished up the bread, I still found cocoa banana bread crumbs in various corners of the kitchen.

My 4-year-old, who never pulls a punch when it comes to evaluating my cooking, was spot on in her assessment.  I said, “Do you think it’s good?”  She said, “Yeah, it’s good.”  I said, “Do you think it’s really good, or just ok?”  “Just ok.”

Thanks to Steph of Obsessed with Baking for providing yet another reason to start shopping for a new oven.  You can find the recipe for this cocoa banana bread on her site or on page 46 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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When my husband and I met in graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, we ultimately managed to create a more perfect union; but we came at it from entirely different points of view.  He came from Florida, and announced to all of his friends and family that he was going “up north” for a Ph.D.  I was born and raised in the Northeast and a little hesitant about going “down south” for graduate school.

I distinctly remember hanging out in the graduate student lounge one afternoon, musing aloud about the sticky, humid nights that never cooled off properly, the ominous kudzu twining around trees, and the strange ritual of undergraduates dressing up for football games (who wears a tie to a football game?), when a native North Carolinian and fellow student cut me off with an abrupt, “Well, then, go home, Yankee.”  Yikes.

I’ve since settled in Chapel Hill, and over the years I’ve grown rather fond of the temperate year-round climate (as long as I can spend the summer in Maine…), the relaxed pace, and, of course, southern food.

This recipe for sweet potato biscuits reflects two southern staples rolled into one.  It gave me a chance to use some local sweet potatoes, which are plentiful at my local farmer’s market, and the low-protein flour so widely available in the south.  And I had biscuits!  Hot from the oven, this is one of my favorite southern treats: cream biscuits with homemade jam; herb biscuits with bacon, egg, and cheese; buttermilk biscuits slathered with butter.

Dorie suggested that we use canned sweet potatoes in syrup, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that.  So I baked the sweet potatoes and mashed them with a fork.  They gave the biscuits a pretty orange hue without making them heavy.

These are soft, with a light and tender crumb, and they’re a nice combination of savory and sweet.  My husband and I had ours with cheddar corn chowder and that was great, but really, who needs to pair biscuits with anything at all.  Just eat them straight from the oven with some good butter.  Come to think of it, these would be great for a fall football tailgating party.  Just remember to wear your high heels….

Thanks to Erin of Prudence Pennywise for selecting sweet potato biscuits.  You can find the recipe on her site or on page 26 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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My good friend’s husband recently calculated how many meals he has left before, well… before it’s too late.  He came up with a number, in part, as a way of importuning his wife to amp up the home-cooked meals, to make ’em count.  I sympathize with the guy, and I’ve had a version of this same thought myself.  Mine wasn’t focused on the number of meals I have left.  But I occasionally lament the wonderful food (or wine) I might never get to try in my lifetime either because I haven’t heard of it or, worse, never got around to it.

It occurred to me again, recently, when I first tasted Vietnamese coffee.  I just couldn’t believe that 1) I’d never had it before and 2) I almost turned it down that afternoon, again.  I adored it.  I went out and bought myself a Vietnamese coffee maker.  I checked Vietnamese cookbooks out from the library. I made Vietnamese coffee ice cream.  It was a revelation.  But it was a near miss.

In a way, the same can be said for ingredients that I use, but never really attend to in any meaningful way.  Take allspice.  I’ve used it in plenty of pies, muffins, and quick breads.  It’s the wallflower of spices: a quiet, unassuming little companion to cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.  The other spices all have distinct individual identities (in my experience).  I grew up eating buttered toast with cinnamon and sugar.  I’m unusually sensitive to nutmeg and instinctively cut back on the amount recommended in baked goods and creamy pasta dishes.  I can’t think of Christmas at my parents’ house without remembering the smell of oranges studded with cloves.  But allspice?  It’s just along for the ride.

So it was a pleasure to make muffins that feature allspice as the main ingredient.  It has its own sweet, spicy bitterness that combines the best of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, and it deserves a shot at star billing.

My allspice received particularly close attention, because I only had dried allspice berries in the house, so I had to grate each one on my microplane.  I promise you’ll never forget the taste of allspice again after spending a good portion of the morning grating these tiny berries, with your nose inches from the grater, fingers micro-centimeters from being shredded.  If you’re looking to achieve zen-like mindfulness in the kitchen — or perhaps its opposite, depending on your temperament — this is a good hobby.

These muffins were subtle, delicate, and lightly sweet.  I tend to like muffins very moist, so a bit of sour cream in the batter would have been a welcome addition.  And I forgot, as usual, to lightly press the streusel into the batter, so it didn’t stick particularly well.  But these muffins are the perfect vehicle for most any spice and it has me thinking it would be fun to make them again with cardamom, mace, star anise.  So many spices, so little time.

Thanks to Kayte of Grandma’s Kitchen Table for selecting allspice crumb muffins.  You can find the recipe at her site or on pp. 16-17 of Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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All I needed was an apple and a jar of applesauce.  Trips to the grocery store don’t get any easier than that.  Dash in, grab, go.  But as I approached the produce section, I could feel that creeping sense of dread.  Here we go again.

Organic vs. conventional.  The question sits there, forcing me to reveal my moral fiber.  I fidget.  I look at the ground.  I weigh the price difference in my head.  I think of that article that says apples are the worst offenders when it comes to pesticides.  I think of my children biting into the apple.  I ponder my husband’s rollback at work (in case you haven’t heard of that one, it’s the opposite of a raise).  I recall scenes from Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  And I’m paralyzed.

I don’t have the same problem with meat.  I’m a recovered vegetarian.  It’s a condition that I have to manage, a bit like diabetes or alcoholism.  I still can’t stare at a whole chicken for too long before putting it in to roast.  I don’t eat anything too rare.  And I definitely can’t watch my dad drop lobsters into the pot.

When it comes to meat, I made a decision to buy organic or grass-fed or free range or whatever needed to happen to ensure that the animal wasn’t raised in a hell hole.  But I haven’t codified my attitude toward produce in the same way, and so I become a freak sideshow.  “Look, mommy, they have a living statue in Trader Joe’s!”  (At least if I spray painted my face silver and threw a hat down on the ground, I could earn enough change to afford the organic apples.  Now there’s a virtuous cycle.)

With a name like “applesauce bars,” I’m likely to choose organic.  The bars sound so wholesome, precisely the kind of thing you tuck into little Susie’s lunchbox.  And I suppose this implies that my favorite Apple Rum Raisin bread, fallen creature that it is with 1/2 cup of rum in the batter, deserves conventional apples?  This is not a tenable moral philosophy, and it’s fair to say The NY Times’ Randy Cohen, a.k.a. the Ethicist, will not be calling me for a consult anytime soon.

As for these bars, you could make them with one of Snow White’s poisoned apples and they would taste great.  The bars are soft, tender, with flavors of apple, spice, and a sweet brown sugar glaze.  I expected them to have a firmer texture, something my kids could carry around in one hand and eat without it falling apart.  But they’re tender like a piece of cake, which is lovely, albeit best eaten with a fork, or standing directly over the pan (my preferred method).

Thanks to Karen of Something Sweet for selecting these applesauce bars.  You can find the recipe on her site or on pp. 117-118 of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours.

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Nancy of The Dogs Eat the Crumbs has long been one of my favorite Tuesdays with Dorie bloggers.  She’s smart, creative, funny, and her recipe reviews are always spot on.  Last month she celebrated her one year blogiversary and as part of the festivities she gave away a pair of vintage one pound loaf pans.  And I won!

Nancy recommended all kinds of wonderful recipes worthy of my shiny new pans, but one stood out: maple blackberry coffee cake.  I’m spending the summer in Maine, where the blackberries aren’t ready yet, but we are in prime wild blueberry season.  Once Nancy told me the pans were in the mail, I gathered all my ingredients in anticipation.  The package showed up, and I was chopping, mincing, and mixing the batter within minutes.

And let me tell you another thing about Nancy.  She’s reliable.  If she says a recipe is good, well, get in the kitchen and start cooking.  This coffee cake is splendid.  If you’re used to playing around with a coffee cake by substituting yogurt for sour cream or swapping almonds for pecans, or (go wild!) adding a vigorous grating of orange zest, well, get ready for this.

The recipe calls for maple syrup, berries (blueberries, huckleberries, blackberries, cranberries, or whatever you like), rolled oats, lemon zest, almonds, rosemary, and thyme.  The combination is complex, sweet, savory, and sublime.  A recipe worthy of my gorgeous new pans.


Thank you, Nancy, for such a wonderful gift.  I’ll think of you every time I bake with these, and I expect that will be just about every week.

Maple Blueberry Coffee Cake Recipe

Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

I used Nancy’s 1-pound loaf pan (size 10 1/4″ x 3 5/8″), but you could use an 8 or 9-inch cake or pie pan.  Just check as it’s baking as the cooking time will vary.  I’m not a fan of whole wheat flour (I know, I know….), so I substituted all-purpose unbleached flour.  If you have real maple syrup, by all means, use it in the cake and the topping.  If you have the fake stuff, use light brown sugar instead.

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour [I used all-purpose unbleached flour]
3 tablespoons rolled oats
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
scant 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
1/4 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 cup maple syrup, room temperature
1 large egg, room temperature
zest of one lemon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/3 cups fresh wild blueberries (or other berries), well picked over

1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour [I used all-purpose flour]
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut 1/4-inch cubes
1/3 cup maple sugar (or brown sugar)
1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme
1/2 cup chopped pecans or almonds

special equipment: a 1-pound loaf pan

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees, rack in the middle. Butter a 1-pound loaf pan, and line with parchment paper. Alternately, you could just butter and flour the pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, thyme, and rosemary. Set aside. In a separate large bowl beat the butter with an electric mixer or by hand – until light and fluffy. Drizzle in the maple syrup and beat until well incorporated, scrape down the sides of the bowl a couple times along the way. Beat in the egg, lemon zest, and vanilla extract, scraping the sides again. Add half of the flour, stir just a bit, now add a splash of the buttermilk, stir again, but not too much. Add the rest of the flour and stir a bit, and now the rest of the buttermilk. Stir until everything barely comes together and then very gently fold in one cup of the blueberries. Scrape the batter evenly into the prepared pan and set aside.

To make the streusel topping, place the flour, butter, maple sugar, thyme and almonds in a food processor and pulse 20-30 times or until the topping is a bit beyond sandy/crumbly. It should be moist-looking – on its way to being slightly doughy. Crumble 2/3 of it over the cake batter, sprinkle the remaining 1/3 cup blueberries on top of that, and then add the last of the crumble. Barely pat in place with your fingertips.

Place the coffee cake in the oven and bake for 45 minutes or until the top is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool for five minutes and then remove it from the pan to cool on a rack (this way the cake won’t steam in the pan as it’s cooling).

Serves 12 – 16 modest slices.

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