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For Want of a Cookie


You know how people always say don’t go grocery shopping hungry? I think I may need to apply a similar rule to recipe research: don’t go browsing while indecisive. When I sat down at my kitchen table to figure out what dessert to bring to tonight’s potluck, I knew I needed something easy to eat, small and sampler-plate friendly that would suit a smorgasbord for 15. But with not much more of an idea than that, once this Libra started spotting cookie recipes in line with my pantry stores, well, it was hard to stop at one.

Or two.

Or three.

Luckily, at that point I was out of time, out of counter space, and out of sugar, or else things could have taken a serious turn towards the diabetic.

The first of these recipes comes from a new-to-me site that I immediately paged through back to front, drinking in all the phenomenal photography and stopping here and there along the way to get to know the woman behind the lens. I can’t wait for her next post.

The second two are both from Joy the Baker, who I hear has a new cookbook out. Based on my experiences with these two cookie recipes (selected from among her top picks) I suspect that the book contains some real winners. If I had had any puff pastry in the house, you couldn’t have held me back from making a go at just one more cookie.

Want to make a batch of your own? I suspected as much. This way to the recipes!

Cocoa and Coconut Bits: It’s a potluck in 2012, so something vegan and also gluten free (unless you avoid oats, as well) seemed a good idea.

Citrus Sables: I used lemon and orange.

Dark Chocolate, Walnut and Golden Raisin Cookies: Though I used cranberries and almonds.

Where All Roads Lead: Banana Bread


When I thought about working on a banana bread recipe, my mental picture book immediately flipped back to the stop Brian and I made in Maui along the phenomenally picturesque Hāna Highway (a.k.a. The Road to Divorce Court, due to how stressful the single-lane, twisty driving can be–just add rain for extra fun on the way back!). A little detour on this trek put us in front of a food cart that our guidebook indicated was an island must-try–Aunt Sandy’s banana bread at the Keanae Landing Fruit Stand. While some quick Googling did not turn up the famed roadside attraction’s secret recipe, it did teach me that I am not the first food blogger to have considered re-inventing it at home.

Nor the second.

Not to be put off the path so easily, however, I read and researched various takes on banana bread in general and the Hawaiian vacationer’s experience in the specific, and even re-examined my vacation photographs, looking for clues. However, as the recipes got more and more complicated, my memories were telling me that the bread was quite upfront about its banana-ness. With that image in mind, I decided I would start with the banana bread recipe that appears in my heavy duty vegetarian cookbook for the fat-to-flour-to-baking-soda-to-liquid proportioning (the science of baking still eludes me somewhat), strip it down even further, and build it back up. In the end, I didn’t ditch the walnuts nuts, but chopped them small (while dreaming of macadamias), swapped coconut oil for butter plus a handful of shredded coconut for added tropical-ness, and spiced it up as suited my tastes.

Genuine vacation photo of Aunt Sandy's banana bread. I don't see nuts. Do you see nuts?

While the road to Hana may be narrow and fraught with blind curves and steep drop-offs, the path to tasty banana bread seems wide open, welcoming interpretation. I wouldn’t dream of comparing mine to Aunt Sandy’s, but even from miles away, the attempt has left me feeling just a bit of that Hawaiian sun. In Baltimore. In February.

banana bread ingredients

Aunt Molly’s Banana Bread
based on 100 internet recipes and 1 woman’s memories of Maui

1/2 cup coconut oil
3/4 cup brown sugar (up to 1 full cup if you like it sweeter)
2 eggs
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups AP flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Preheat over to 350F. Grease a 9″x5″ loaf pan and line bottom and sides with a piece of parchment, leaving enough overhanging that you’ll be able to lift the bread out when baking is complete.

Measure flour, baking soda, salt, spices, nuts, and coconut into a medium bowl and run a whisk around it to evenly combine.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or using a hand mixer, cream oil and sugar, then mix in the eggs one at a time, and then bananas and vanilla extract, scrape the bowl down in between additions. Next, stir in dry ingredients with a spoon just until combined and spread evenly into the loaf pan. Bake for 55 minutes, or until golden and cake tester comes out clean. Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack.

When cool, wrap it in plastic wrap and carry it around in your purse for a couple hours in order for the full vacation/nostalgia effect to kick in. Best rabidly torn off in hunks and eaten when desperately in need of an afternoon snack, legs knee deep in warm ocean water.


A Little Piece of My Heart


A few years ago, a very dear friend gave me a Hungarian cookbook that had once belonged to her grandmother. My gram was Hungarian, but never met a recipe she wanted to follow or write down, so this book has been my next best reference whenever I get homesick for the meals she used to make.

That goes some way towards explaining how I found myself paging though it on a recent 25 degree day, sick and cold and thinking of nothing but the comfort of soup with dumplings. However, a yellowing bookmark was still tucked into its pages marking off the recipe for Hungarian Love Letters and, what can I say? The antihistamines had me lulled into a sentimental mood, and with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, the next thing I knew I was baking.

Though the idea of rolling out dough into very thin sheets initially filled me with serious dread, I have to say that this dough was fascinatingly easy to work with. It doesn’t stick (as long as the counter is floured) while rolling or even hint at breaking when picked up. I was not moved to foul language even once during the assembly process. So bake with confidence! If I can do it, I suspect most will have no issue.


Why, yes, that *is* a lot of butter; it will be worth it.

I also used my food processor a lot. I’m sure you can make this with a pastry cutter and a box grater just like grandma used to do in the old country but (see above about the foul language) I’m glad I had mechanical assistance.

In the golden light of the late afternoon, when all that flaky goodness was served with hot tea, it felt like a love letter indeed.

Hungarian Love Letters/Szerelmes Level

Hungarian Love Letters/Szerelmes Level
adapted from Flavors of Hungary : Recipes and Memoirs by Charlotte Biro (1973)

For the pastry

2 2/3 cups AP flour
1 1/4 cups butter, cubed
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
1/2 cup cold milk

For the filling

3.5 oz walnuts, finely chopped
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup raisins
2 lbs green apples

1 egg, beaten, for wash

Place flour and butter cubes in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until butter is broken down into coarse bits. Beat egg and yolk into the milk and, with the processor running, add this mixture to the flour and butter. Turn dough out onto the counter and work any remaining dry bits in with your hands until a smooth dough is formed. Divide into three equal pieces, flatten each into inch-thick ovals, and wrap with plastic. Refrigerate for three hours.

In a medium bowl, mix walnuts, sugar, graham cracker crumbs, and cinnamon. Peel, core, and shred apples. Preheat over to 350F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment. Remove chilled dough one piece at a time and roll out into a thin sheet (mine was 11×14). Place dough on baking sheet and top it with two-thirds of the nut and crumb mixture. Sprinkle raisins evenly over top. Roll out and top with second layer of dough. Squeeze excess juice from shredded apples and distribute over the top of the second dough sheet, then sprinkle remaining nut mixture evenly over the fruit. Roll out the final piece of dough and lay it over top.

Hungarian Love Letters/Szerelmes Level

Using a bench knife or similar, square up the edges of the dough and discard excess. Generously brush pastry with egg wash. Using a fork, punch lines into the top of the pastry. I divided mine into 12 squares and punched out the lines along those division, to vent the pastry and aide in cutting them through after baking.

Bake for 35 minutes or until evenly browned. Place on a wire rack and cool completely. Serving this with a bit of freshly whipped cream would not be a bad idea.

Pas Grand Chose


After two consecutive weekends making sourdough bread using recipes that took literally days to complete, I was transfixed by this little gem while paging through the new King Arthur Flour catalog with my morning coffee: a recipe for French Herb Bread. It wasn’t just that I had recently stumbled across an adorable little bag of Herbes de Provence in my pantry (a souvenir of a French vacation–sadly, not mine). It was that the whole kit and kaboodle went into the mixing bowl in one go and would come out of the oven just a few short hours later. I was smitten, and the butter wasn’t even melting on the bread yet.

By 8:15 a.m., it was measured and mixed and proofing in the oven. By lunchtime, there was toast and by 11 p.m. there was still time for just one more slice before bed, with no one else the wiser. Good thing it’s a quick mix.

French Herb Bread

Look, ma! One bowl (and practically clean already).

French Herb Bread
from King Arthur Flour

1 1/4 cups warm water
2 T olive oil
3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) AP Flour
2 T nonfat dry milk
1/2 cup dried potato flakes
2 T herbes de Provence
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. instant yeast

Place warm water and yeast into a bowl or stand mixer. Stir to dissolve. Add remaining ingredients and mix, then knead, by hand or by dough hook. Mine was soft and light, but not sticky. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for one hour.

French Herb Bread dough

After the first rise is complete, deflate dough and shape into a loaf. Place in a lightly oiled 9″ x 5″ loaf pan, cover loosely with greased plastic wrap, and allow to rise again until it has crowned about an inch over the rim of the pan. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F. My second rise took no more than 30 minutes, so don’t delay getting your oven to temperature.

Bake the bread for 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from pan and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Let’s Get Re-Started (Sourdough Edition)

Sourdough Bread

Sourdough baking is an art. I keep reading that, over and over again, in baking instructions and supportive blog posts. But what I’m beginning to realize is that sourdough is not just an “art” in terms of its many variables, but also in how it will test you, the artist: thrill you with its vigor, slay you with its stubbornness, awe you with the perfect caramel color of its crust, yet refuse to follow whatever logic you thought you grasped about baking bread when you walked into your kitchen. Or at least that’s the line I’ve been feeding myself, since two weekends of trials have left me a little hungry for, you know, actual edible bread.

Despite my “third time’s a charm” success with those Tartine bread experiments last year, I admittedly lost interest in the labor-intensive process over the very hot summer. I revitalized my sourdough enthusiasm this winter with a brand new starter (for $6.95, it was just too tempting a creature to not tack on to my last King Arthur Flour order). It’s a vigorous little beast, but user error on my first Tartine re-try resulted in a flat loaf and a poorly cooked pizza, all on the same day. It was quite dispiriting.

But onward and upward to true adventure, eh? I tossed the photographic evidence of my failures into that “disasters” sub-folder I’m saving for a rainy day post of hilarity, and this past weekend I gave it all another go. For this venture, I settled on the King Arthur recipe that came packaged with the starter itself, but this being art, I immediately started tweaking. I couldn’t help myself! Once again the half of the dough I relegated to pizza crust was not food blog worthy (attributable, I believe, to a too-soft dough combined with my over-heavy hand with the olive oil). The loaf of bread the recipe produced, however, deserves a turn on the Wonderland catwalk. It might not be my perfect sourdough statement–yet!–but its thick and crispy golden crust and perfectly tangy wide-holed crumb are worth passing on, even if my poor bread slashing damaged its cover-girl good looks somewhat.

That just makes it “artisan,” right? The education continues.

Sourdough Bread

Sourdough Bread: It's science!

Sourdough Bread: Preparation

Sourdough Bread
adapted from King Arthur Flour

8 oz sourdough starter
12 oz warm water
21 oz flour
1 T kosher salt
2 tsps sugar

Feed your sourdough starter. After 10 hours at room temperature, remove an 8 oz portion and combine with the water and 12.75 oz of flour. Mix by hand (literally: after my Tartine training, I get my clean fingers in the dough whenever I can). Cover and let rest at a cool room temperature for 4 hours, then refrigerate for 12 hours.

When ready to proceed, remove dough from the refrigerator and knead in the salt, sugar, and enough flour to make a soft dough. I left mine a little on the wet side, but this is an art/science, like people keep typing. Experiments are needed to achieve the ideal crust/crumb/sourness/rise/etc. to suit your tastes. It is, perhaps, the ultimate story problem.

Cover and allow to rise until quite puffy (mine took 4 hours using my oven’s proofing feature). Remove the dough from the bowl and divide into two portions.

Shape each piece of dough into a round and place, top side down, in a rice-flour-dusted, cloth-lined banneton. Leave to rise an additional 2-4 hours.

When ready to bake, place a dutch oven or other appropriate covered pot in the oven and preheat to 450°F. When hot, remove the cooking vessel and (placing a circle of parchment inside to prevent sticking if desired) gently flip one portion of dough out of the basket and into the pot. Slash the top of the dough (a razor blade will work if you don’t have a lame, just be careful not to burn yourself on the hot pot), cover with the lid and return to the oven, baking for 25 minutes. Remove the lid and continue baking for an additional 20 minutes, until crust is deeply golden.

Remove and allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Repeat the process to bake your second loaf.

Kiss Me, I’m Irish (and I Baked the Soda Bread)


Last Christmas I was gifted a heavenly amount of King Arthur flour, and as we cruise into Christmas 2011, I can’t help but reflect on all the bread and pizza and pies it has been turned into over the past twelve months. However, a package of Irish-Style Wholemeal Flour somehow wedged itself behind some boxes in the pantry and was forgotten about completely until this past weekend. Conveniently, the back of the bag offered a tempting recipe for soda bread, but it required buttermilk. I didn’t have any, but what does fresh Irish Soda bread need more than anything? Good butter, of course. So I decided I would knock down two pins with one throw, as it were, and make my own butter while using the reserved buttermilk for the bread. That would be so cool. You can totally do that, right? Well….

On reflection and after some further study, I realize that I made a miscalculation. As I did not gather my milk over many days in the barn before churning it, nor did I culture it (as a store-bought product would have been processed), my buttermilk was probably missing the acidic quality that you’re looking for when triggering your soda bread chemical reaction. That said, even if my bread could have been lighter and fluffier, its rough wheat character still tastes great and is quite satisfying–especially toasted and topped with a schmear of fresh dill butter.

And next time, I guess I’ll forgo the DIY heroics and just buy a bottle of buttermilk at the store like a normal person.

Irish Brown Bread

Irish Brown Bread
adapted from the package of King Arthur Irish Wheat flour

4 cups Irish-Style Wholemeal Flour (I needed a bit more, probably due to my buttermilk snafu)
2 T sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons oil

Preheat oven to 400 F and line a baking sheet with parchment.

Whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and baking powder to evenly incorporate. Pour the buttermilk and oil into dry ingredients and quickly stir together into a shaggy dough, kneading just a bit with your hands to pull it together into ball.

Move the prepared dough onto the baking sheet and score a deep cross into the top with a large bread knife. Sprinkle the top with a mix of sesame and poppy seed, if you like, and place in the hot oven for 40 minutes or until the top is browned and a cake tester comes out clean. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

Irish Brown Bread