An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


A Baker’s Fairytale

Once upon a time, in a kitchen far away, there lived a little baker. Day in and day out, the little baker would fire up the oven and punch out dough after dough, fearlessly conquering scores of wild yeasts within. All the villagers depended on the little baker to slay these fickle beasts, feeding the town and keeping it safe all in one deft thrust of the rolling pin. Years of practice rewarded the little baker with flawless, lofty loaves, perfectly soft and tender through every slice, until one fateful day when a stack of sad, half-eaten toast arrived at her doorstep along with a hastily scribbled note. Scrawled out in the uncertain, tilting print of a child, it read:

Go back to the old formula! We hate this new stuff. It tastes like wet cardboard and it’s so bad, even the jam slides right off in protest. Did you switch to GMO flour? Is it gluten-free? Whatever you’re doing differently, stop it!

The little baker was perplexed. The formula was the same as ever, simple but reliable, exactly as it had been when she first learned to tame the wild yeasts years ago. Perhaps it was the little baker that had changed. Growing weary after just the first few loaves, it became a struggle to keep the oven light on late into the night, as the wild yeasts grew restless and unruly. Slowly, almost imperceptibly at first, they were beating down the little baker’s spirit, draining her of all the magic it took to transform humble dough into delicious bread.

Crestfallen, the little baker mournfully shoveled the cold, abandoned toast into her mouth while whipping through every cabinet in the kitchen. Surely, there was a secret ingredient in here that could turn things around. The villagers all depended on her! Alas, nothing turned up; just the standard salt, sugar, and flour that had always been there remained in amply supply, and nothing more. The little baker retreated to her bed, falling heavily onto her pillow and immediately drifting into a strange dreamland…

Everywhere around the little baker, the air glittered with rainbow colors. What is this strange sorcery?, she wondered to no one in particular. It seemed to fill the entire room, invading her very pores, becoming a part of her. The little baker’s hands began to glow with a peculiar warmth, as though they were on fire.

The little baker woke with a start, panicked that morning had already broken and the daily bread still needed to be made. Had she gotten drunk on over-fermented yeast in that toast? No matter, there was a job to do, even if the magic was gone.

When the little baker stepped into the kitchen, she couldn’t believe her eyes. Sitting there on the counter, still slightly warm, was a golden brown loaf of bread. Surely, she would have remembered baking such a beautiful specimen, but the little baker was certain she went straight to sleep last night. It looked fairly humble, and yet there was definitely a different energy about it. The loaf hummed with potential.

Tentatively, the little baker wielded her sword-like bread knife and plunged it into the heart of this suspicious beast. As the first slice fell away, she gasped.

Swirled throughout the standard crumb, a rainbow of fairy dust had embedded itself into the loaf. Without missing a beat or stopping to lavish the bread with any sort of accouterments, the little baker hungrily devoured the first wedge in record time. Impossibly light yet satisfyingly chewy at the same time, it was a world apart from the sad, standard loaves she had churned out just the day prior. Sweet and slightly sticky in all the right ways, the fairy dust within didn’t taste of a rainbow, but it possessed an undeniably enchanting power, elevating the unremarkable baked good into something positively spellbinding. How it happened, where it came from- The little baker hadn’t the slightest clue, but it filled her with a new, indefatigable zest, impassioned once more to reproduce this miracle.

Even though the little baker never did discover the source of the fairy dust, nor create another loaf quite so otherworldly, her breads once more began to rise to the occasion; filled not with magic, but simply the little baker’s passion, the bread never tasted better.

(This loaf was inspired by fairy toast, and created in celebration of the 10th annual World Bread Day.)

World Bread Day 2015 (October 16)

Fairy Swirl Bread

1 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Teaspoons Active Dry Yeast
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Tablespoon Vital Wheat Gluten
3/4 Teaspoon Salt
3 – 3 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour

1/2 Cup Rainbow Sprinkles

In a small saucepan, combine the non-dairy milk and sugar over medium heat. Warm the mixture gently, bringing the temperature up no higher than 110 degrees; exceed that, and the poor yeast will all be killed instantly. Aim for around 100 degrees or just warm to the touch, turn off the heat, and sprinkle the yeast on top. Let it sit and become bubbly; about 5 minutes.

Pour the yeast mixture into your stand mixer with the dough hook installed, and introduce the oil and vanilla as well. Add in the wheat gluten, salt, and 3 cups of the flour. Start the mixer on low speed to combine, allowing a few minutes for the dough to begin coming together. If it seems excessively wet, go ahead and add the remaining flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until it mostly pulls off the sides of the bowl and feels tacky but not sticky. Let the dough hook knead it for about 10 minutes before scraping it out, kneading it briefly by hand, and shaping it into a smooth, elastic ball. Drop the ball of dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let it rise for about two hours in a warm place.

The dough should more than double in volume, at which point you’re ready to punch it down and shape it. Lightly flour a clean surface and turn the dough out onto it. Either use your hands or a rolling pin to press it out into a rectangle. The most important dimension to keep in mind is the width, so that the final loaf fits comfortably inside the pan. Keep it around 8 – 8 1/2 inches on two sides, but roll it out as long and thin as possible. You may want to let the dough rest and relax periodically to stretch it even further. The longer you can make the dough, the more impressive the final swirl will be.

Scatter the sprinkles evenly over the entire surface of the dough except for an inch of one of the shorter sides. Starting at the fully sprinkled end, roll it up as if you were making cinnamon buns and pinch the finishing edge closed. Lightly grease an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 loaf pan, and drop the rolled dough into it, seam side down. Cover and let rise again, for about an hour, or until the loaf is almost peeking out above the rim of the pan.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Once the loaf is risen and ready, tent very loosely with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the foil at this point, drop the temperature down to 350 degrees, and bake for a final 5 – 10 minutes, until golden brown all over. Let it rest in the pan for 10 – 15 minutes before transferring it to a wire rack. Cool completely before you even think about slicing it, no matter how incredible it smells. Trust me, your slices will be much more fluffy (and less smeared with molten sprinkle filling) with just a little bit of patience!

Makes 1 Loaf

Printable Recipe


Baker in the Rye

Few foods can link cultures and cuisines across the globe quite like the humble loaf of bread. A simple concept at heart, made of little more than yeast, flour, and water, the process of transforming dough into a fluffy, leavened loaf is a remarkable feat of science and art, all kneaded into one. This uniting factor has never been more true, nor more visible, than every 16th of October, when eaters everywhere celebrate World Bread Day. Now in its eighth year running, I’m proud to say that I will have proofed and baked with the best of them for the past seven; a pretty impressive record for someone who periodically neglects their blog for unspeakable stretches of time.

With a hard and fast deadline, the time to act was now, no room for dawdling despite a crazy work schedule. I can’t explain why this date holds quite such importance to me, but participating in the festivities became my top priority. Shaking the light dusting of flour out of my loaf pans and warming up the ice-cold oven, ambition surging through my weary heart after a full day’s work, it was nonetheless the perfect opportunity to tackle something new: Rye bread.

Sure, it’s not the most lovely or universally loved loaf, but rye has a dark, seductive charm all its own. Dense, hearty, and complex, it’s no anonymous sandwich bread, that’s for sure. Flecked with aromatic caraway seeds, the flavoring takes a sharp departure from tradition from there. Root beer, my favorite childhood beverage, adds sweet, woodsy nuances, perfectly paired with the unique character of rye. It won’t beat you over the head with root beer essence- This isn’t isn’t a soda cake, after all- but it’s definitely present in every savory bite.

Rather than merely munch on my new creation, lightly toasted and slathered with buttery spread, I thought it more fitting to dress the thin slices up for the occasion. Decked out for a party of any sort, my rye forms the foundation of bite-sized canapes, topped with a smear of tart, unsweetened Greek-style almond yogurt and a simple pimento olive tapenade. The salty, sour accompaniments compliment the inherent sweetness of the soda beautifully, without obscuring the flavor of this bold bread.

Happy World Bread Day! Be it a sweet or savory event, here’s hoping it’s nothing but delicious.

Root Beer Rye Bread

1 1/3 Cups Regular Root Beer Soda (Not Diet,) at Room Temperature
1 Teaspoon Root Beer Extract
1 1/4-Ounce Packet Active Dry Yeast
1 1/2 Cups Rye Flour
2 Cups Bread Flour
2 Tablespoons Flaxseeds, Ground
1 1/2 Teaspoons Caraway Seeds
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Olive Oil

To begin the dough, measure out the root beer and sprinkle the yeast over the liquid, and let it sit for 5 – 10 minutes, until bubbly and active.

Meanwhile, stir together rye and bread flour, ground flaxseeds, caraway seeds, and salt in a large bowl. Add the yeasted soda and olive oil, and slowly begin to incorporate the liquids into the dry goods. Use the dough hook attachment of your stand mixer to make light work of the job, or be prepared to get your hands in there and get dirty. The resulting dough is very dense, so resist the urge to add more water. Continue to knead the dough for about 10 – 15 minutes until smooth and slightly elastic.

Lightly grease a second bowl, drop the dough in, and cover with plastic wrap. Stash it in the fridge and allow it to sit overnight. It may not rise at all in that time, so don’t stress over the volume at that point.

If the kitchen is fairly warm, let it sit out until it reaches room temperature. Otherwise, use the “proof” setting on your oven to warm it back up.

Lightly grease an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan; set aside.

On a clean, very lightly floured surface, turn out the dough and use your knuckles to gently press it down down into a fairly even rectangle, being careful to keep the width no longer than the length of your loaf pan. Roll up the rectangle as tightly as you can manage. Pinch the seam closed and place the bundle with the seam side down in your prepared loaf pan.

Let the bread rise proof for 2 – 4 hours. That may seem like a lot, but it really does take its sweet time to rise. It won’t balloon up in a big way, but it should reach the top of the loaf pan. At that point, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Bake for 40 – 45 minutes, until deeply browned all over. Let cool completely before slicing thinly.

Makes One Loaf

Printable Recipe


One Lump or Two?

Standard holidays may routinely sneak up on me, suddenly appearing on the calendar only days prior to any celebration, but October 16th is a different story. Uncharacteristically prepared for this particular date, nothing would stop me from participating in the 7th edition of World Bread Day. Unofficially the best day for bread, bloggers and bakers across the globe are called upon to share their latest yeasted exploits, producing loaves, rolls, pastries, flat breads- You name it, you’ll find it in the blogosphere today. Since joining in on the fun way back in 2007, not a single Bread Day has passed me by, and that’s not about to change for as far as I can foresee.

World Bread Day 2012 - 7th edition! Bake loaf of bread on October 16 and blog about it!

This year, inspiration came straight from my archives. Filled with forgotten recipe fragments and bare-bones ideas, this loaf was surprisingly well fleshed out already, simply waiting for the chance to be baked. A gently spiced, swirled loaf inspired by the traditional Dutch Fryske Sûkerbôle, the concept had haunted me for years. Finally, I had my star ingredient to make it all happen: Large crystals of amber brown rock sugar, glittering like gemstones, straight from Germany.

Literally translated as “sugar loaf,” somehow it stuck out in my mind as being called a “sugar lump bread,” which may be an oddball, awkwardly wordy title, but more accurate in the case of my rendition. Besides, aren’t you more curious about a bread made with whole lumps of sugar, rather than one that sounds merely sweet? Rolled up tightly like a giant cinnamon bun, almost all of the sweetness is confined to periodic pockets of lightly molasses-flavored cubes. Gooey and melted around the edges from the oven’s warm kiss, larger pieces remain crunchy in the center, creating an irresistible textural combination, made all the more enticing by the surrounding soft, buttery crumb.

It may not look like anything special from the outside, or even from the look of the recipe, but this is one loaf you’ll have to make – and taste – to believe.

Almost meltingly tender, the loaf borders on the richness associated with brioche or challah, but without any of the heaviness. Though the original plan was to turn a few thick slices into french toast, I never made it that far. Even untoasted, untopped, and completely unadorned, it was one of my favorite breads in recent memory. Seemingly overnight, the entire loaf disappeared- And I only got two slices myself! Let that be a warning to any bakers who dare try this addictive bread… Hide your sugar-flecked treasure well, or be prepared to start whipping up a second batch right away!

Sugar Lump Bread (Fryske Sûkerbôle)

3/4 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk, Warmed
1 1/4-Ounce Package Active Dry Yeast
4 1/2 – 5 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 6-Ounce Container Vanilla Soy or Coconut Yogurt
6 Tablespoons Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted
3 Tablespoons Amber Agave Nectar

1 Tablespoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Cup Amber Rock Sugar, or Brown Sugar Cubes

1 – 3 Tablespoons Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Tablespoon Turbinado Sugar

To begin the dough, warm the non-dairy milk to just about body temperature, or around 100 degrees. Approximately 1 minute in the microwave should probably do the trick; there’s no need to break out the thermometer here. Sprinkle the yeast over the liquid, and let it sit for 5 minutes, until bubbly and active.

Meanwhile, stir together 4 1/2 cups of the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add the yeasted “milk,” yogurt, melted margarine, and agave, and slowly being to incorporate the liquids into the dry goods. Be prepared to get your hands in there and get dirty, as it should take a good bit of handling to bring the dough together. You want it to be stretchy and tacky, but not sticky, so add in up to 1/2 cup of flour if necessary. Continue to knead the dough for about 10 minutes until smooth and elastic.

Lightly grease a large bowl, drop the dough in, and cover with plastic wrap. Allow it to sit at room temperature for about 1 hour, or until doubled in volume.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. Set aside.

On a clean, floured surface, turn out the risen down and use your knuckles to gently punch it down, redistributing the bubbles evenly. Sprinkle a little bit of extra flour over the top, and use a rolling pin to smooth it out, being careful to keep the width no longer than your loaf pan. Roll it out as long as possible, so that the whole rectangle is about 1/4 inch in width. The flatter you can roll the dough, the more of a swirl you will achieve.

Evenly sprinkle the cinnamon over the entire surface of dough, except for 1 inch at the edge, in order to seal the loaf later on. Follow that with the sugar lumps or cubes, distributing them randomly but as evenly as possible. Starting at the short end that is fully covered in cinnamon, begin to roll up the rectangle as tightly as you can manage, until you reach the bare inch of dough. Brush a dab of water on the edge, and pinch it to the rest of the loaf to close the roll. Place the loaf with the seam side down in the prepared loaf pan.

Let the bread rise at room temperature for 45 minutes – 1 hour, until the top of the loaf is peaking above the rim of the pan. Gently brush entire exposed areas with non-dairy milk, and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Move the bread into the oven and bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until amber brown. Let cool completely before slicing and savoring.

Makes One Loaf

Printable Recipe


A Sour Note

It’s true what they say; All you need is loaf.

Wait, that’s not how the song goes? What a shame, because on yet another glorious World Bread Day, it seemed like the ideal anthem for us flour-encrusted and loaf pan-wielding bakers across the globe. Celebrating all things doughy and yeasted, it’s an event that I wouldn’t miss for anything, if only to take advantage of the excuse to bake another lofty loaf.

Bake Bread for World Bread Day 2011

Let it be known that I am a terrible sourdough keeper. “But it’s so easy!” they cry, “I’ve had my sourdough starter for 50 years!” they insist. Well, that’s well and good if you can manage such a feat, but I have now effortlessly killed off two previously hearty mothers in short order, and am not exactly eager to give it another go. Nope, it’s all faux sourdough for me from here on in.

Utilizing “yogurt” or “sour cream” and citric acid, to impart a pleasingly tangy flavor, but relying on commercial packaged yeast for a fool-proof lift, it strikes me as the best sort of compromise. Rather than developing a hard, crackled crust and tough inner structure, this imposter sourdough has a much softer, more tender crumb. Not quite fluffy but definitely chewy, it makes for a delightfully toothsome base for sandwiches or simply toast.

Faux Sourdough
Inspired by King Arthur Flour

1 1/2 Cups Warm Potato Water*
1 Tablespoon Granulated Sugar
1 1/4-Ounce Package Active Dry Yeast
1 6-Ounce Container Plain Greek-Style Coconut Yogurt or 3/4 Cup Vegan “Sour Cream”
4 1/2 – 5 Cups Bread Flour
1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Citric Acid
1/16 Teaspoon (Pinch) Ground Ginger

*By “potato water,” I mean the water that was used to boil potatoes, which is full of tenderizing starches and excellent for bread making. Pasta water can also work, or in a pinch, 1 teaspoon potato starch whisked into the water.

To begin, dissolve the sugar into the water and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow it to proof for about 5 minutes, until active and frothy. Mix in the “sour cream” or “yogurt,” and begin to work in the flour, 1 cup at a time. Add in the salt, ginger, and citric acid along with the first measure of flour. Use the dough hook on your stand mixer if you have one, and allow it to knead slowly and create a sticky but workable dough. Err on the side of using less flour for now; You can always work more into it later.

Let the machine continue to knead the dough for about 10 minutes on low speed. Cover the bowl, stash it in the fridge, and allow it to sit for 12 – 24 hours. Yes, that long! Your patience will be rewarded.

Lightly grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan, and set aside. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and have more flour ready if needed. Knead the dough by hand, adding more flour if too sticky, for about 10 minutes. Let it rest for another 10 so that the gluten can relax a bit before shaping. Flatten the dough into a rectangle slightly shorter than 9 inches, and then roll it up tightly. Place the roll seam-side down in your prepared loaf pan.

Allow the loaf to sit for 60 – 90 minutes, until just barely peeking out above the rim of the pan. Bake in a 375 degree preheated oven for 35 – 40 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack completely before slicing.

Makes 1 Large Loaf

Printable Recipe


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