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With the first flush of warm weather comes my craving for interesting non-alcoholic drinks. I love a good beer after a long day, but I’m not always down with the alcohol, for a variety of reasons. Making funky, not-too-sugary drinks is an easy trick to keep in your pocket, or in this case, the back of the fridge for those days when you want something a little fresh & fancy. There are lots of commercially-made & small-batch products out there, but I have a hard time throwing down that much money on a regular basis. That said, definitely take a look at Bittermilk & 1821.Bitters for pre-made mixers, shrubs & syrups.

Soft Cocktail Syrup Master Recipe

Yields ~16 ounces

1 c sugar

1 c water

Bring to a full boil over high heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar.

1-2 ounces lemon juice, to taste

Remove syrup from heat & stir in lemon juice. Let cool completely before transferring to a bottle; store in fridge for up to 2 months.

Dilute to taste in plain or seltzer water, with plenty of ice.

Yep. That’s it.

 

OKAY BUT there’s more you can do here, I promise!

The master recipe is just the starting point; what makes this whole thing fun is what you add to the base mixture:

Infusing the Syrup

Before putting your sugar & water on to boil, add fresh or dried herbs, tea leaves, hops, wide strips of citrus zest, whole or powdered spices, vanilla beans, whatever you have on hand that sounds interesting! You can get super fly & throw in half a cup of fresh berries: strawberries, red raspberries, blueberries, blackberries… Smash them with a spoon as the syrup start to warm to extract all their flavor & gorgeous color. Vanilla is an easy, safe place to start, as is fresh mint, & lemon zest. Strain your syrup to remove the solids before storing (but stick that vanilla bean in the bottle, it’s too precious to throw away).

Adding Sweetness

You can replace some or all of the white sugar in the master recipe with honey or brown sugar, or even maple syrup. This is a great place for those fancy honeys to really shine; lavender, orange blossom, wildflower, acacia, go nuts.

Changing Up the Acid Stage

Lemon juice is an easy starting point; it’s cheap, fairly neutral, & most of us have a bottle in the fridge. But lime, orange, & grapefruit juices work just as well, if not better. If you want to go next-level, experiment with vinegars (go easy until you know how punchy you like your acid). White vinegar is strong & clean & won’t interfere with other flavors, but balsamic is insane with fresh berries in the syrup.

Flavored Seltzers

Experiment with all the bonkers varieties out there to add another layer of flavor to your soft cocktail. We usually have lime in the house, but some of my best drinks have come from using orange-vanilla or grapefruit flavors.

Iced Caffeine

Hell, skip the seltzer & jack up your iced tea/iced coffee. Mint & lime syrup in iced coffee is the JAM.

Bitter Face

Fancy bitters are fantastic to add a more grown-up feel to things; they cut the sugar a little & make your drink feel a little more like a familiar cocktail.

Garnish Game

I honestly don’t get too crazy with this end of things; I’m not Tom Cruise. But if I have some fresh mint or basil to smash up in the glass, or some fresh/frozen berries or fruit chunks that sound like they’d add something fun to the mix, I’ll throw them in.

Pick Your Vessel

I like my soft cocktails in straight sided mason jars; they’re the right mix of informality & charm, & the markings on the sides are great for measuring so my syrup-to-water ratios are consistent. But use whatever makes you happy. This would be an awesome time to break out the fancy tumblers/wedding crystal/super extra souvenir glasses hiding in the cabinets.

So at the end of the day, this is a really fun, endlessly adaptable thing to add to your repertoire. Go, try out some weird concoctions & find your new favorite.

***

YES OKAY I’ll give you some specific recipes, you miscreants.

Liquid Sunshine

To the Master Syrup recipe add:

A heaping teaspoon ground ginger

A heaping half teaspoon turmeric

2 T goldenrod or other wildflower honey

Use lemon juice for the acid stage

Cut with plain or lemon seltzer to taste

 

Hopped Lemonade

To the Master Syrup recipe add:

~1/2 c fresh hop flowers (I haven’t tried it with dried brewer’s hop pellets, but I bet it would work)

Use the full 2 ounces of lemon juice for the acid stage

Cut with plain water or plain/lemon/grapefruit seltzer

 

Pink Moon

To the Master Syrup recipe:

Substitute 1/2 c pink grapefruit juice for 1/2 c of the water

Add a split vanilla bean & 2 T dried lavender flowers

Skip acid stage

Cut with plain/grapefruit seltzer or iced black coffee (trust me on this one, it’s transcendent)

 

The Usual

To the Master Syrup recipe add:

A large handful of fresh mint leaves

A split vanilla bean

Use lime juice for the acid stage

Dilute in lime seltzer with a mint sprig smashed in the bottom of the glass

 

Black Tie Cherry

To the Master Syrup recipe add:

1 cinnamon stick

Clementine/orange zest strips

A handful of sour/black cherries

(This is effectively mimicking the flavors of an old fashioned mix)

Use the juice of the clementines or oranges as the acid stage, topping up with lime juice as needed

Dilute in orange vanilla seltzer, add another handful of cherries & a squirt of bitters

 

 

 

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Everyone has a different compass when it comes to the perfect cinnamon roll: doughy, cakey, sticky, glazed, no glaze, high, low, crunchy, squishy… This is an adaptation of a recipe I picked up in culinary school, one that has become our household Easter ritual. They’re a nice balance of all of the above attributes, and go together pretty easily, so they’re just right for holidays & events. Bonus: you make the dough ahead of time, so that in the morning, you just have to roll, fill, & slice, a process that takes all of half an hour. Make a pot of coffee while you’re waiting for them to rise, set the table while they’re in the oven, & prepare to be the Big Breakfast Hero.

Cinnamon Rolls

Yields 15

The night before:

1 1/4 c milk

4 T unsalted butter

1/2 t salt

2 eggs

1/3 c sugar

2 t vanilla extract

1/4 cinnamon, nutmeg, or allspice

2 1/2 t instant yeast

4 c all purpose flour, more as needed

Warm the milk, butter, & salt in the microwave just long enough to melt the butter; the mixture should be cuddly warm, not hot. In your stand mixer bowl or a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, & vanilla, then add the warm milk mixture & stir to combine. Add your spice of choice, about 3 cups of flour, & the yeast, & stir on low with a dough hook or a sturdy wooden spoon to combine. Add your remaining flour, 1/4 c or so at a time, mixing well between additions, until you have a smooth, soft, mostly-not-sticky dough. Knead on the machine or by hand for another 2 minutes, then cover your bowl & let the dough rest for about ten minutes to let the flour hydrate.

Knead your dough a little longer, adding flour if needed to produce a dough that is deliciously supple & smooth but firm enough that you can turn it out onto a floured counter without it oozing all over the place. Knead your dough a few turns just to make sure it’s nice & smooth, then return it to your mixer bowl.

Cover your dough with plastic/beeswax wrap/a cheap shower curtain & put it in the fridge to rest overnight. (You can absolutely make the dough & bake your cinnamon rolls in the same day; just let the dough rise in a cool place for a few hours until doubled in size. Chilled dough is much easier to shape than warm dough, so pop it in the fridge for the last hour or so before you want to start shaping it.)

In the morning:

Oil a 9×13-inch casserole dish

6 T unsalted butter

1 C brown sugar, dark or light

1 T ground cinnamon

1/4 t salt

(If you like super goopy, sticky bun style rolls, double the filling amounts)

Melt the butter in a medium mixing bowl, then add the remaining ingredients & mix into a smooth, runny paste.

Pull your chilled dough from the bowl onto a floured counter & pat it into a rough rectangle. Dust well with flour & roll out to a rectangle about 18×13 inches (the size of a half sheet pan, if that’s a good reference for you), rotating often to make sure the dough isn’t sticking to the counter. the final dough should be about 1/4 inch thick.

Using a spatula or large spoon, spread the butter & sugar filling evenly over your dough, leaving a one-inch border along one long edge.

Starting at the other long edge, roll up your dough gently but firmly into a long, even cylinder, tugging on the bare corners to keep them squared up & even. Pinch the edge into the roll to close the seam, & give the whole thing a gentle roll back & forth to even out any thicker areas & make sure nothing’s sticking.

Using a serrated knife & a gentle touch, cut the cylinder into fifteen even slices & arrange them cut side up in your oiled dish, 3 rows by five rows. (I try to put the larger slices at the edges & the smaller ones in the middle, to help things cook more evenly.) They will look ridiculously professional, so revel in that for a minute.

Cover the dish gently with plastic wrap or a clean tea towel & let rise at room temperature for about half an hour, until your slices have plumped nicely & started to fill in the gaps. Preheat your oven to 325F.

When your rolls are ready, bake for about forty minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. Look for golden tops & just a little pale dough hiding in the joins between the rolls. If you’re fussy about doughy middles, push gently on the center of one of the rolls in the middle of your dish; if it is firm & springs back, you’re good to go. If you like doughy middles, pull your rolls before they firm up completely, after about 35 minutes.

Let cool at room temperature for at least twenty minutes unless you like awful heartburn.

Optional Icing:

2 T unsalted butter, very soft

4 T Greek yoghurt or cream cheese, room temperature

Pinch of salt

A splash of vanilla extract

Powdered sugar as needed

In a medium bowl, whisk together the butter, yoghurt/cream cheese, salt & vanilla until smooth. Add powdered sugar a spoonful at a time until your favorite consistency & sweetness is achieved; keep tasting it as you go, erring on the side of not-as-sweet. Chill the icing for a few minutes to help it thicken up a bit.

Cut your rolls apart & serve bottoms up, showing off that sugary glaze, & scraping up any extra that gets left behind in the pan. Let each person add icing as they see fit, because life’s too short for unsatisfactory icing experiences. Eat these in 3-4 days, & keep them wrapped tightly to prevent them drying out, but I don’t remember stale cinnamon rolls ever being a problem…

 

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After I posted my basic bread recipe last week, I had several questions about a healthier/whole grain loaf. Good news: you can totally take my basic recipe & pump it up into a grainy, chewy, good-for-you loaf with minimal effort. How funky you make this bread is totally up to you; keep it easy with things you probably already have in your pantry, like rolled oats, sunflower seeds, & whole wheat flour, or branch out into more interesting flours like rye or barley, whole grains like bulghur wheat or wild rice, & tasty flax or millet. The world is your… um, bread oyster. Yeah.

This is just a variation on my original bread post, but I’m going to write out the full recipe & process again here, so you don’t have to click back & forth between posts if you’re making the whole grain version. I went with a round loaf for this one, rather than the oval from the original recipe, but you can make whatever shape suits your fancy.

Rolled oats, sunflower seeds, poppy & flax seeds, whole wheat flour

Whole Grain Bread

Yields 2 loaves

2 1/2 c water, milk, buttermilk, or a combination thereof

1 1/2 c rolled oats, multigrain hot cereal, bulghur/cracked wheat, wild rice, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, or a combination thereof

Scant T salt

2-4 T sugar, honey, maple syrup (may be reduced or omitted)

4 T butter or vegetable oil

Scant T instant yeast

2 c whole wheat, rye, barley, or other whole grain flour

2-4 T seeds (poppy, flax, millet, sesame)

2 T vital wheat gluten (may be omitted)

Appx 3 c all purpose or bread flour, more as needed

Step 1: Hydrating your grains & starting your wet phase

At the end of this phase, you’ll have all of your liquid, salt, sweetener, fat, & any optional grains gently warmed & melted & ready for your flour & yeast.

Bring your 2 1/2 c of liquid to scalding, either by boiling water in a kettle, or heating your milk in a saucepan/in the microwave. While things are heating up, place your grains in your mixing bowl. Add your butter/oil, your optional sweetener, and your salt. When your liquid is really hot, pour it over the grains, etc., & stir to combine. Let sit uncovered for about twenty minutes, stirring occasionally, until your grains are softened, your butter melted, & the mixture is only just warm, not hot, to the touch. When in doubt, let it cool a little more. This is your wet phase. Welcome!

Step 2: Adding yeast & flour

Once your wet phase is cooled (it should feel warm enough that it’s sort of nice to cuddle in the bowl, but definitely not the kind of temperature you’d want your bath, or your coffee), top it with your whole grain flour, your seeds, & your gluten, then add your yeast. Using a dough hook if you’re using a mixer, or your very clean hand, mix it together into a sloppy batter, making sure the yeast isn’t clumping up. Add another 2 cups flour & mix gently to combine into a sloppy dough. Add more flour 1/2 c at a time, mixing each addition in completely before adding more.

The final amount of flour will vary greatly depending on how thirsty your whole grains were, which whole grain flour you’re using, bread vs all purpose flour, the time of year, the age of your flour. Don’t just keep adding flour because the recipe calls for it; making bread is less about precision & more about intuition. Don’t panic, you got this!

As you add flour, your dough will start to pull together, & you’ll start to see the stretchy gluten strands developing. If you’re using a mixer, the dough will start to crawl up the hook & stick to the bottom of the bowl; this is totally okay. If you’re mixing by hand, take your time & try to keep your dominant hand in the dough while your other hand holds the bowl & adds the flour; you’ll end up less of a sticky mess this way.

The number one mistake bakers make is adding too much flour to their bread dough. Forget everything you ever heard about the dough having to clean the sides of the bowl before it’s ready; that’s only right for a few kinds of bread, & definitely not what we’re making here. You’re looking for a soft, stretchy dough that is starting to pull away from the bowl a little, but is still pretty sticky at the bottom. When you get to this stage, stop mixing, scrape the dough off your hands (an old gift/credit card is perfect for this), & let the dough rest for five minutes; this lets the flour finish absorbing the liquid in the dough, giving you a much better idea of the final texture of the dough.

After five minutes, mix the dough again for a few turns & decide if it needs a little more flour; it’s okay if it’s a little sticky, but you do want a dough that you can actually get out of the bowl without it oozing all over the counter.

Step 3: Kneading

When you’re satisfied with your dough texture, dust a little flour on your counter & turn the dough out onto it. Use your hands & your dough scraper/gift card to fold the edges into the center to make a rough ball, & dust it with a little more flour. Gently knead your dough for a few minutes to smooth it out:

Use your dominant hand to gently pull the top edge of your dough up & towards you & down, while your non-dominant hand cups the side of the dough reassuringly. Use the heel of your dominant hand to gently push that top edge down into the center of your dough, then away from you; think of it like cranking a handle towards you, up, towards you, down, away. Then use both hands to rotate the ball of dough a few inches around, & repeat your cranking motion – hey, you’re kneading bread!

Your dough will be a little sticky to handle at first; just keep dusting it very lightly with flour so you can keep your hands relatively clean. As you knead, your dough will magically tighten up, smooth out, & start to feel bouncy & springy & alive.

Step 4: The Rises

Once you get that magic bouncy feeling in your dough, enjoy it for a few more turns, then flip your dough over so the smooth side is on top, & plop it right back in your mixing bowl – no oil for you, sucker! A well kneaded dough doesn’t need it. Cover your bowl with plastic/beeswax wrap, or a cheap shower cap, & let it sit at room temperature to rise. You don’t need to put it somewhere particularly warm unless it’s the dead of winter & you don’t have heat; the residual warmth from the wet phase will be plenty of heat.

Neat trick: you can do steps 1 to 3 in the evening, after dinner, & instead of leaving your dough at room temperature, you can put it in the fridge to rise overnight. This does magical things in terms of flavor development & texture, & allows you to have freshly baked bread for brunch without getting up at 5 in the morning.

You can do a single rise, allowing your dough to double in size once before shaping it into loaves, but I like to do two rises; I find I get a better texture in the finished bread, & it tends to keep fresh a bit longer. But one rise is totally fine, especially if you’re new to the game.

Step 5: Shaping & Proofing

Once your dough has doubled your preferred number of times, enjoy the never-gets-old thrill of punching it down by gently plunging a very clean fist straight through the center of your dough. Listen to the hiss and praaaap of the built up air escaping, & marvel at the deliciously pillowy texture of your dough. It’s truly one of life’s best littlest joys.

Gently pull your dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured counter & pat it into a plump rectangle; don’t use a lot of force here, your dough doesn’t need to be bullied to do its job. Use your dough scraper or a knife to divide your dough into two mostly equal parts, & move one to the side.

Firmly but tenderly pat & press your first dough half into a rough square, then pull the corners into the center to start shaping your round loaf. Gently pull the edges into the center, too, working around until you have a nice round shape. Pinch your edges closed & turn your loaf over so the seam is on the bottom. Use the pinky edges of your hands to tuck around the edges of your loaf, gently shaping it into a plump round. Repeat with the other half of your dough.

If you want to get really sexy, spread about half a cup of rolled oats into an 8 inch circle on your counter. Spray or brush the top of your loaf with a bit of water, then gently pick it up & cradle it in your hand, top side up. Tenderly roll the wet surface of your dough in the oats, keeping your hand on the dough, rocking it around to get oats over as much of the surface as you can, then roll your hand back the way it came so your loaf is upright again. This is a spectacularly sexy & satisfying maneuver that will make you feel like A Real Bread Baker(tm).

Place your shaped loaves onto your baking pan of choice; I use a half sheet pan with a Silpat because I am lazy & don’t mind “rustic” shapes to my bread, but you can absolutely use lightly oiled round cake pans as well. Either way, once your loaves are situated, spray them liberally with cold water & leave to rise at room temperature. You don’t need to cover them unless you’re in a really drafty kitchen, or you think the cat will jump on the counter to investigate.

Preheat your oven to 375F, & allow your loaves to rise for about 40 minutes as the oven gets good & warm. Spray the oats with water every ten minutes or so, to keep them moist & improve their chances of staying on during baking.

Step 6: Baking

Check in on your loaves after about half an hour or proofing; they should be rising nicely. Gently prod a loaf with your finger; if your fingermark bounces back out, your loaves need a bit more time. If your fingermark stays, it’s time to get in the oven!

I don’t do any fancy glazes or scoring with these loaves; this is everyday bread, cut-to-the-chase bread, get-in-my-belly bread. I do use a serrated bread knife to make one shallow slash running the length of the loaf, just to help it expand in the oven. Be SUPER gentle when scoring your loaves; too much pressure or tugging/tearing will deflate them.

Once slashed, get your loaves in the oven with a minimum of door banging & pan slamming. Then leave them alone!

Check on your bread after half an hour; it will be big & beautiful & starting to brown. If your oven tends to cook unevenly, this is a good time to GENTLY turn your pans; again, to banging, no slamming.

After 45 minutes, your bread should smell amazing & be nearly done. Using oven mitts or a clean tea towel, gingerly turn a loaf over & knock on the bottom; if it sounds hollow & deep, it’s done! If it still sounds a little dense & flat, give it another ten minutes in the oven.

When you’re confident your bread is finished, pull it from the oven & let it cool on the pan for five minutes before transferring to a cooling rack; DON’T let it cool in the pan, unless soggy crusts are your thing.

Step 7: Waiting is the Hardest Part

I know, it’s torture, but let your bread cool for a minimum of twenty minutes, ideally an hour, before slicing into it. Cutting into hot bread is always disappointing; the starches are still gluey and the interior is doughy & sticks to the knife & it’ll give you heartburn for days. Trust me, let your bread settle & cool properly & you will be rewarded.

Once cooled, store your bread in a ziploc bag at cool room temperature, & it will keep for a week with no trouble. It also freezes beautifully, & makes a wonderful gift in these lonely times.

Thanks for reading, & I hope you can get baking soon!

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So, we’re deeper into COVID-19 life, when it seems that all the world is baking bread. Which is fine, except that yeast has suddenly become impossible to find. If you managed to stock up on flour but missed the yeast, don’t panic. Irish soda bread is my weeknight go-to when I forgot to make bread over the weekend, or when I want something fast to satisfy my British baked goods cravings. It’s also a great place to start if you’re new to making bread from scratch; no special equipment, no funky ingredients. If you don’t have buttermilk on hand (who ever does?), use my favorite trick of mixing plain yoghurt (regular or Greek) with an equal amount of milk or even water in a pinch, or gently curdle regular milk with a little lemon juice. What’s important is that your liquid has some acidity to it, to activate the baking soda.

Irish soda bread is often made with whole wheat or graham flour, sweeteners, & lots of raisins, but that’s not what’s going on here. This is a plain white loaf that you can serve with dinner, breakfast, tea, & anytime in between. Adding in dried herbs, especially rosemary, make it nice with soup, & the fennel seed & raisins thing is a combination I’ve done for years; it’s so tasty & interesting, give it a try sometime.

Photo credit: Craig Lee for New York Times

Irish Soda Bread

Yields 1 loaf

Preheat oven to 375F, & line a baking sheet with parchment.

4 c all purpose flour

1 t baking soda

1 1/2 t salt

2 c buttermilk OR 1 c plain yoghurt & 1 c milk or water mixed until smooth OR 2 c milk & 2 T lemon juice mixed together

Optional 2 T dried herbs OR 2 T fennel seeds & 1/2 c raisins or golden raisins

Sift together the flour, baking soda & salt into a medium bowl. Stir in any herbs or additions. Add buttermilk & mix first with a fork, then with a rubber spatula, making sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl for any dry flour. The dough will be thick & sticky. Dust the counter with flour & turn out the dough, kneading gently two or three times just to make sure the dough is smooth & fully mixed. Pat into a round loaf & transfer to your prepared baking sheet. Use a serrated knife to score a large X into the top of the loaf & bake immediately; baking soda waits for no one!

Bake for approximately 45 minutes, until golden brown. Using oven mitts or a clean tea towel, gingerly turn your loaf over & knock on the bottom; if it sounds hollow & deep, it’s done! If it still sounds a little dense & flat, give it another five minutes in the oven.

Transfer to a cooling rack & let cool completely before slicing; much like yeasted bread, hot soda bread is gummy & gluey when sliced.

Since there’s little to no fat in this recipe, it won’t keep quite as long as other breads, so eat it in 1-2 days unless you are toasting it before eating.

 

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I may have gone to fancy pastry school, but at the end of the day, a good dense, fudgy brownie gets me every time. This is an amalgam of several recipes I’ve used over the years, compiling what I feel are the best parts of each. If you are more of a cakey brownie person… I don’t even know what to do with you, sorry.

I’m sharing my favorite trick to substitute cocoa powder for baking chocolate: for every ounce of baking chocolate you need, use 1 T butter & 3 T Dutch process cocoa powder. Sometimes you think you have baking chocolate in the pantry & get all fired up to make your favorite brownies & it turns out all you have is cocoa powder. Not that it’s ever happened to me. Nope. The batch pictured actually used organic cocoa butter instead of the extra butter because I’m the lunatic who has THAT in the house & not baking chocolate. It turned out exceptionally well, if a little expensive to repeat on the regular.

Fudgy Chewy Brownies

Yields 16 2×2 brownies

Preheat oven to 350F, & spray & line a square pan (8×8 or 9×9 inches) with parchment.

5 ounces unsalted butter

4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate OR an additional 2 ounces unsalted butter & 12 T Dutch process cocoa powder

3 eggs

2 t vanilla extract

1 3/4 c sugar (substitute up to 1 c dark brown sugar for extra EXTRA chew)

1 1/4 c all purpose flour

1/2 t salt

Optional 1/2 t cinnamon or ancho chili powder, or both

Optional 1/2-1 c chocolate chips or toasted walnuts

Melt the butter & baking chocolate/butter & cocoa powder in a saucepan over low heat or in the microwave, stirring frequently until completely melted & incorporated.

In a medium bowl, beat together the eggs & vanilla with a fork until well combined, then add the warm butter & chocolate mixture. Mix with a fork until smooth & fudge-like (it will thicken up considerably, don’t panic).

Add sugar, flour, salt, & optional spices & stir to combine, switching to a rubber spatula & scraping the bottom of the bowl to ensure all the flour is mixed in completely. The batter will be very thick & oily looking, & you’ll think you’ve messed something up; it’s all good, you’re right on track.

Fold in the optional chocolate chips or nuts, & spread the batter into your prepared pan. Push & pat it into the corners & smooth it level; once in the oven, this batter doesn’t move much, so it’s important to get it level at this stage.

Bake for approximately 40 minutes, until the center is set & an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cool completely before lifting out of the pan & cutting into 16 squares. Or 4, I’m not judging anyone at this point. The edges will be crisp & chewy, the center fudgy wudgy & glorious, but these aren’t so high in sugar they’ll make you regret everything. But they will make you the most popular person in the house. Use your power wisely.

Ways to Push This Over the Edge into Sweet Sweet Insanity

I can’t take credit for these; Panes Bread Cafe in Lakeview, Chicago, ran these variations on the regular when we worked down the block & it was EPIC.

Spread half the batter in your prepared pan, top with one of the following, then carefully spread the rest of the batter on top:

16 mini Peppermint Patties

9 regular sized Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

16 regular, Double, or Megastuff Oreos

Bake as above.

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The world is in a panic, cities are enacting shelter-in-place, & we are barely a week into what promises to be a very long spring devoid of social contact. I cannot wait until CORVID-19 is a distant chapter in the history books. Until then, here’s how to bake your own bread when the grocery store is barren and your spare loaves have all been eaten. The following assumes you have access to a few things like flour & yeast that, mind bogglingly, may not be readily available in your area right now. I am so sorry if this is the case, & hope it isn’t so for long. Here’s to better times. I love you all so much.

You can make this bread using a stand mixer, or do it all in a large mixing bowl by hand. I’ve not tried this recipe in a bread machine, so don’t quote me on that one.

Basic Yeast Bread

Yields two loaves

2 1/2 c water, milk, buttermilk, or a combination thereof

1- 1 1/2 c rolled oats, multigrain hot cereal, or bulghur wheat (optional)

Scant T salt

2-4 T sugar, honey, maple syrup (may be reduced or omitted)

2-4 T butter or vegetable oil

Scant T instant yeast

Appx 5 c all purpose or bread flour, more as needed (may substitute up to 2 c whole wheat flour)

Step 1: Hydrating your grains & starting your wet phase

At the end of this phase, you’ll have all of your liquid, salt, sweetener, fat, & any optional grains gently warmed & melted & ready for your flour & yeast. Depending on what add-ins you’re using, the method will be a little different:

If you’re using rolled oats, hot cereal, or bulghur wheat:

Bring your 2 1/2 c of liquid to scalding, either by boiling water in a kettle, or heating your milk in a saucepan/in the microwave. While things are heating up, place your grains in your mixing bowl. Add your butter/oil, your optional sweetener, and your salt. When your liquid is really hot, pour it over the grains, etc., & stir to combine. Let sit uncovered for about twenty minutes, stirring occasionally, until your grains are softened, your butter melted, & the mixture is only just warm, not hot, to the touch. When in doubt, let it cool a little more. This is your wet phase. Welcome!

If you’re skipping the grains:

Gently warm your 2 1/2 c of liquid in a saucepan or microwave, & melt your butter, if applicable. Add to your mixing bowl along with your salt & optional sweetener, & stir to combine. Let cool for a few minutes until just warm. When in doubt, let it cool a little more. This is your wet phase. Salud!

Step 2: Adding yeast & flour

Once your wet phase is cooled (it should feel warm enough that it’s sort of nice to cuddle in the bowl, but definitely not the kind of temperature you’d want your bath, or your coffee), top it with about a cup of flour, then add your yeast. Using a dough hook if you’re using a mixer, or your very clean hand, mix it together into a sloppy batter, making sure the yeast isn’t clumping up. Add another 2 cups flour & mix gently to combine into a sloppy dough. Add more flour 1/2 c at a time, mixing each addition in completely before adding more.

The final amount of flour will vary greatly depending on if you used the hot grains, any whole wheat flour, bread vs all purpose flour, the time of year, the age of your flour. Don’t just keep adding flour because the recipe calls for it; making bread is less about precision & more about intuition. Don’t panic, you got this!

As you add flour, your dough will start to pull together, & you’ll start to see the stretchy gluten strands developing. If you’re using a mixer, the dough will start to crawl up the hook & stick to the bottom of the bowl; this is totally okay. If you’re mixing by hand, take your time & try to keep your dominant hand in the dough while your other hand holds the bowl & adds the flour; you’ll end up less of a sticky mess this way.

The number one mistake bakers make is adding too much flour to their bread dough. Forget everything you ever heard about the dough having to clean the sides of the bowl before it’s ready; that’s only right for a few kinds of bread, & definitely not what we’re making here. You’re looking for a soft, stretchy dough that is starting to pull away from the bowl a little, but is still pretty sticky at the bottom. When you get to this stage, stop mixing, scrape the dough off your hands (an old gift/credit card is perfect for this), & let the dough rest for five minutes; this lets the flour finish absorbing the liquid in the dough, giving you a much better idea of the final texture of the dough.

After five minutes, mix the dough again for a few turns & decide if it needs a little more flour; it’s okay if it’s a little sticky, but you do want a dough that you can actually get out of the bowl without it oozing all over the counter.

Step 3: Kneading

When you’re satisfied with your dough texture, dust a little flour on your counter & turn the dough out onto it. Use your hands & your dough scraper/gift card to fold the edges into the center to make a rough ball, & dust it with a little more flour. Gently knead your dough for a few minutes to smooth it out:

Use your dominant hand to gently pull the top edge of your dough up & towards you & down, while your non-dominant hand cups the side of the dough reassuringly. Use the heel of your dominant hand to gently push that top edge down into the center of your dough, then away from you; think of it like cranking a handle towards you, up, towards you, down, away. Then use both hands to rotate the ball of dough a few inches around, & repeat your cranking motion – hey, you’re kneading bread!

Your dough will be a little sticky to handle at first; just keep dusting it very lightly with flour so you can keep your hands relatively clean. As you knead, your dough will magically tighten up, smooth out, & start to feel bouncy & springy & alive.

Step 4: The Rises

Once you get that magic bouncy feeling in your dough, enjoy it for a few more turns, then flip your dough over so the smooth side is on top, & plop it right back in your mixing bowl – no oil for you, sucker! A well kneaded dough doesn’t need it. Cover your bowl with plastic/beeswax wrap, or a cheap shower cap, & let it sit at room temperature to rise. You don’t need to put it somewhere particularly warm unless it’s the dead of winter & you don’t have heat; the residual warmth from the wet phase will be plenty of heat.

Neat trick: you can do steps 1 to 3 in the evening, after dinner, & instead of leaving your dough at room temperature, you can put it in the fridge to rise overnight. This does magical things in terms of flavor development & texture, & allows you to have freshly baked bread for brunch without getting up at 5 in the morning.

You can do a single rise, allowing your dough to double in size once before shaping it into loaves, but I like to do two rises; I find I get a better texture in the finished bread, & it tends to keep fresh a bit longer. But one rise is totally fine, especially if you’re new to the game.

Step 5: Shaping & Proofing

Once your dough has doubled your preferred number of times, enjoy the never-gets-old thrill of punching it down by gently plunging a very clean fist straight through the center of your dough. Listen to the hiss and praaaap of the built up air escaping, & marvel at the deliciously pillowy texture of your dough. It’s truly one of life’s best littlest joys.

Gently pull your dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured counter & pat it into a plump square; don’t use a lot of force here, your dough doesn’t need to be bullied to do its job. Use your dough scraper or a knife to divide your dough into two mostly equal parts, & move one to the side.

Firmly but tenderly pat & press your first dough half into a rough rectangle, then roll it into a cylinder, starting at a short side of the rectangle. Apply a little bit of traction as you roll, just to stretch the outer surface of the dough a little. Pinch your edges closed & turn your loaf over so the seam is on the bottom. Use the pinky edges of your hands to tuck around the edges of your loaf, gently shaping it into a vague oval. Repeat with the other half of your dough.

Place your shaped loaves onto your baking pan of choice; I use a half sheet pan with a Silpat because I am lazy & don’t mind “rustic” shapes to my bread, but you can absolutely use lightly oiled standard loaf pans as well. Either way, once your loaves are situated, spray them liberally with cold water & leave to rise at room temperature. You don’t need to cover them unless you’re in a really drafty kitchen, or you think the cat will jump on the counter to investigate.

Preheat your oven to 375F, & allow your loaves to rise for about 40 minutes as the oven gets good & warm.

Before

After

Step 6: Baking

Check in on your loaves after about half an hour or proofing; they should be rising nicely. Gently prod a loaf with your finger; if your fingermark bounces back out, your loaves need a bit more time. If your fingermark stays, it’s time to get in the oven!

I don’t do any fancy glazes or scoring with these loaves; this is everyday bread, cut-to-the-chase bread, get-in-my-belly bread. I do use a serrated bread knife to make one shallow slash running the length of the loaf, just to help it expand in the oven. Be SUPER gentle when scoring your loaves; too much pressure or tugging/tearing will deflate them.

Once slashed, get your loaves in the oven with a minimum of door banging & pan slamming. Then leave them alone!

Check on your bread after half an hour; it will be big & beautiful & starting to brown. If your oven tends to cook unevenly, this is a good time to GENTLY turn your pans; again, to banging, no slamming.

After 45 minutes, your bread should smell amazing & be nearly done. Using oven mitts or a clean tea towel, gingerly turn a loaf over & knock on the bottom; if it sounds hollow & deep, it’s done! If it still sounds a little dense & flat, give it another ten minutes in the oven.

When you’re confident your bread is finished, pull it from the oven & let it cool on the pan for five minutes before transferring to a cooling rack; DON’T let it cool in the pan, unless soggy crusts are your thing.

Step 7: Waiting is the Hardest Part

I know, it’s torture, but let your bread cool for a minimum of twenty minutes, ideally an hour, before slicing into it. Cutting into hot bread is always disappointing; the starches are still gluey and the interior is doughy & sticks to the knife & it’ll give you heartburn for days. Trust me, let your bread settle & cool properly & you will be rewarded.

Once cooled, store your bread in a ziploc bag at cool room temperature, & it will keep for a week with no trouble. It also freezes beautifully, & makes a wonderful gift in these lonely times.

Thanks for reading, & I hope you can get baking soon!

 

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So this recipe from Bon Appetit has been making the viral rounds, & with a surfeit of local berries in the fridge, I gave it a whirl the other week. It was… fine. But. Anything advertising itself as “snacking cake” should, in my universe, be something you can slap together when the kids are distracted by a Youtube video, ideally in a single bowl, without any precious steps like zesting lemons or thinly slicing strawberries. Also, the combined flavors of the olive oil & cornmeal really drowned out the strawberries, which is why we’re here in the first place, right? So, I fixed it. Well, fixed it to MY tastes, anyway. It makes an exceptional breakfast cake, but is sweet enough to pass as dessert, too.

I used a 9×9 pan, because I wanted a nice thick, plush cake, but you can use a 9×13 for a thinner result. Just watch the baking time, as it will be shorter than the recipe as written.

I’m including my master recipe for crumble topping, which makes far more than you’ll need for this cake. One of my best baking secrets is to always have a gallon ziploc bag of crumble made & waiting in the freezer. You can throw it on top of sliced fruit for a last minute dessert, or on top of muffins/coffee cake for an easy level-up. 

Improved Berry Snacking Cake

Makes one 9×9 cake

Preheat oven to 325F. Oil & line with parchment a 9×9-inch square baking pan.

Crumble (makes plenty of extra, can be halved if desired):

2 2/3 c sugar

2 c all purpose flour

1 c rolled oats

1/2 t salt

1/2 t cinnamon

1/4 t nutmeg OR allspice

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl.

6 ounces unsalted butter, melted

Add melted butter & mix with a fork until blended but still pebbly, with some larger chunks left.

Cake:

1 3/4 c all purpose flour

1/4 fine cornmeal OR almond/nut flour

1/2 t baking powder

1/2 t baking soda

1 c sugar

1/2 t salt

Combine in a large bowl & whisk thoroughly to combine, ensuring there are no clumps of baking powder or soda.

1/2 c melted butter OR vegetable oil

3 eggs

1 c sour cream OR plain yoghurt

3 T lemon juice

1 t vanilla OR almond extract

Combine in a smaller bowl & whisk until eggs are fully broken up. Add to dry ingredients & blend lightly with a fork. Switch to a rubber spatula & mix just until no dry pockets remain, making sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl. Scrape batter into prepared pan & spread level.

Top evenly with about 1 c of fresh or frozen & thawed berries/cut fruit: whole red/black raspberries, blueberries, quartered strawberries, diced peaches/plums/apples, whatever you have on hand/in season. (I used overripe red raspberries for this one.) Press the fruit gently into the batter a bit.

Scatter fruit with approximately 1 c of crumble mixture, to mostly cover, but still allowing some fruit to peek through. (Store the remaining crumble in a freezer bag for future projects.)

Bake approximately 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The edges will brown nicely & pull away from the pan a bit. Let cool to room temperature before serving, if you can stand it.

 

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Intellectually, I adore radishes of all makes & models… but I have a stark inability to actually eat them once I buy or grow them. It’s not that I don’t enjoy them, they just end up wilting away in the crisper drawer until I get fed up & toss them on the compost pile. So, I’ve taken to pickling them instead, which means they can live in the fridge behind the curry paste & miso until I get a craving for them. 

Fair warning: pickled radishes smell like farts. They’re high in sulfur compounds, which happily intensify during pickling. Suck it up. These are worth the funk, I promise.

pickle

Garlicky Pickled Radishes

Makes about a pint

2 bunches/appx 1 pound fresh radishes, washed & cut into bite-sized pieces  (I like French breakfast best, but you can use the standard round red ones, too, or daikon)

Several sprigs of fresh herbs (I used oregano & thyme)

1 1/2 c water

1 1/2 c vinegar (I used white vinegar, but rice/champagne works, too)

1/3 c sugar

1 T salt

4 cloves fresh garlic, cut into quarters

1 T whole peppercorns

2 bay leaves

Pack radishes & herbs into a quart-sized mason jar. Bring remaining ingredients to a boil in a non-reactive saucepan & simmer a minute or so to dissolve the salt & sugar. Pour the hot brine into the jar, filling to about half an inch from the top (you’ll likely have extra brine, which can be discarded, but make sure all the garlic & spices make it in the jar). Let cool at room temperature with the lid off for about half an hour, then put the lid on tightly & refrigerate for at least 24 hours. Should keep in the cold part of the fridge for several weeks. Serve with a nice cheese/meat board, chopped into salads, or just eaten straight out of the jar in all their farty glory.

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I always feel guilty about not using broccoli stems, but in the middle of weeknight dinner prep, I don’t have the patience for dealing with them, & they inevitably end up on the compost pile. A week or two ago, I impulsively started saving them in a plastic container in the fridge, with a nebulous idea of making some kind of crunchy salad with them. When the container was full, I had to put up or shut up, so I went digging in the far recesses of the fridge & came up with this magical slaw. It tastes a lot like seaweed salad, but brighter & more crunchy & less likely to get wedged in your teeth for days.

slaw

Crunchy Asian Compost Slaw

Makes 4-6 servings

6-8 broccoli stems

2-3 carrots

2-3 scallions

1/2 c kimchi (I used Kimchee Pride brand, nothing fancy – this brand is not vegetarian & uses anchovies, but there are vegan brands available)

2 t rice vinegar

Peel the broccoli stems to remove any tough & woody bits, & scrape or wash your carrots. Using a mandoline, box grater, or sharp knife, shred the broccoli & carrots into fine julienne strips or as close as you have the patience for. Slice the scallions into 1/2 inch strips, & chop your kimchi into similarly sized strips. Combine everything in a non reactive (glass/ceramic) bowl with the rice vinegar, cover tightly, & let chill overnight or for several hours.

Furikake (a Japanese rice seasoning made with sesame seeds & seaweed flakes)

Toasted sesame oil

To serve, top with a hearty shower of furikake & a fine drizzle of sesame oil. Have as a light lunch on its own, or pair with seared tofu/tuna & steamed rice.

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I was dorking around on Youtube last week while I ate lunch & stumbled across the absolutely delightful Food Wishes, a cooking channel hosted by April-sunshine-voiced Chef John Mitzewich. It’s like listening to Bob Ross, but with food instead of paint. One of his recipes was for the Syrian roasted pepper spread known as muhammara, & tonight I threw together my own version to have with our dinner of leek bourek, salad, & warm flatbread. 

Traditionally, muhammara uses several ingredients that may be tough to find unless you’re in a metropolitan area or have a sizable Syrian/Lebanese/Middle Eastern population, so I’ve made sure to include easier-to-source options.

muh2

Muhammara

Makes about 2 1/2 cups

2 T olive oil

2/3 c bread crumbs/panko (you can totally use gluten-free)

In a medium saute pan over medium heat, warm the oil, then add the breadcrumbs & stir to fully incorporate the oil. Toast the breadcrumbs for about 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until evenly golden brown.

2-3 cloves garlic

1/2 t salt

While your breadcrumbs are toasting, grind the garlic & salt in a food processor until finely chopped. Add the breadcrumbs to the processor bowl as soon as they’re toasted.

1 c walnuts, halves or pieces

Add walnuts to your still-warm saute pan & toast over medium heat, stirring often for about 5-7 minutes, until your walnuts are lightly browned & glossy from the oil starting to emerge. Add the walnuts to the processor bowl as soon as they’re done.

2-3 large jarred roasted red peppers, drained

2-3 T lemon juice

1-2 t balsamic vinegar or pomegranate molasses

1/2 – 1 t red pepper flakes (Aleppo, if you can find it)

1-2 t za’atar (or use a blend of cumin, sesame seeds, & thyme)

1 t smoked or regular paprika

Add the remaining ingredients to the processor bowl, pulse to get everything moving, then puree for several minutes. Scrape down the bowl several times to make sure everything is combined evenly, & taste for salt, lemon, & seasonings. Traditional muhammara is pretty spicy, but you can adjust the heat to your liking.

Serve at room temperature or chilled, with warmed flatbread or pita for dipping. It would also make a spectacular sandwich filling with spicy greens & feta cheese spread, & I bet it would be amazing with grilled chicken in a warm pita…

 

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