Posts filed under ‘culinary’

Another Brioche

So, after wistfully mentioning baking brioche in my last post about the knit stitch, I decided, yes. Let’s bake brioche.

I’ve always been off-put by the number of eggs and quantity of butter needed for what ends up being a somewhat unremarkable bread, but I gave it a go. I worked from the recipe in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, which means that I ended up with about 3x the bread that I wanted to bake, but the rest got divided up and put into the freezer to be baked another day.

Yum, yum, yum.

Brioche (the bread kind)



1 1/2 c. warm (110F) water
1 1/2 T. yeast
1 1/2 T. kosher salt
1 1/2 c. (3 sticks) unsalted sweet cream butter, melted
8 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 c. honey
7 1/2 c. all-purpose unbleached flour, plus some for dusting

1 T butter for greasing
1 egg
1 T water
2 T sanding sugar

In the bowl of a large stand mixer, combine water, yeast, salt, melted butter, eggs and honey, and mix on medium until combined. Add flour to mixture gradually, switching to dough hook of mixer when dough begins to form. Mix thoroughly, 2-3 minutes on medium (there may still be some lumps). Dough will be loose and sticky, but will firm up upon chilling.

Let dough rise in a warm still place ~2 hours, until it has doubled in volume and collapsed. Punch the dough down, and place in the refrigerator to chill thoroughly.

Once chilled, dough is ready to work. Butter/grease the cups of a muffin tin. Dust the surface of the brioche dough with flour, and with floured hands pull off a rounded tablespoon of dough and roll it into a smooth ball. Repeat two more times, and place the three small balls in one cup of the muffin tin. Repeat for the remaining cups. Place the tray in a warm still place to rise (I like the inside of the oven with the light on), for 60-80 minutes.

The remaining dough can rest in the fridge for up to 5 days. To freeze, divide up the remaining dough into 2-3 large balls, wrap individually in plastic wrap, and place within a freezer bag or other airtight container.

Just before baking, set the oven to 350F. Combine the remaining egg and water, and beat until just frothy. With a pastry brush, coat the tops of the risen brioches with the egg wash, then sprinkle with sanding sugar (granulated sugar also works). Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown.


February 11, 2013 at 10:51 am Leave a comment

Back in the saddle…with cookies.

Dear readers, I’ve been remiss. I went and vanished on you. But I have a very good excuse…his name is Jean-Luc, and he’s stolen my heart, as well as much of my spare time.

he’s the little one on the right, if you hadn’t guessed…

Not surprisingly, my life has become a little more oriented toward the Sesame Street crowd, and you may see a different kind of emphasis on this blog (to some extent – I’m not going all crazy-mommy on you, and if I do, call me on it!). So, instead of giving you just any cookie, I’m giving you a tried-and-true Lactation Cookie recipe.

The idea is that you make and eat a batch of these to help with issues of low supply if you’re breastfeeding. Do they work? Maybe, but even if they don’t, they’re totally yummy, and full of good stuff like folic acid, fiber, protein, iron, and more. When you’re making them, just call them oatmeal-raisin cookies, though, or the menfolk in your life might not want to try them. Actually, what am I saying? Call them lactation cookies, and you’ll get to keep the whole lot of them for yourself!

I’ve written out the recipe exactly as I made them last, including my quirky penchant for using multiple flours and oats, never quite bothering to measure the vanilla, and only stocking the house with salted butter. The recipe is an amalgam of two that are out there on the web:’s Oatmeal Cookies – “The Best” and Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Lactation Cookies, by Noel Trujillo. The elements that make it beneficial for lactation are the oats, the brewer’s yeast, and the flax seed meal, which you can add willy-nilly to any old oatmeal cookie. Here’s the resulting recipe:

Lactation Cookies
makes 4 dozen cookies

3 eggs, well beaten
1 c. raisins
1 generous tsp. vanilla extract
3 Tbs. ground flax seeds (flaxseed meal)
2 Tbs. water
1 c. salted butter at room temperature (if using unsalted, add 1 tsp. salt with dry ingredients)
1 c. brown sugar, firmly packed
1 c. white sugar
1/4 c. wheat germ
4 Tbs. brewer’s yeast
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 c. all purpose white flour
1 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. old fashioned oats
1 1/2 c. extra thick rolled oats
1/3 c. chopped walnuts
1/3 c. chopped pecans

notes on ingredients: For flax meal, you can’t beat grinding fresh flax seeds yourself – I use a clean coffee grinder and get great results. If you’d rather get pre-ground meal, be sure your meal contains the flax oils that contain most of the nutritional benefits. (thanks to reader Kulow for bringing this to my attention!) Brewer’s yeast can be found at Whole Foods or natural food stores; it’s similar to but different from nutritional yeast, and the original lactation cookie recipe recommends not substituting. You can omit the wheat germ if you don’t have it (although it’s full of folic acid, good for sharing with pregnant friends). I like to use a mix of white and whole wheat flour, but 2 1/2 c. of white flour would be fine. Likewise, I love Bob’s Red Mill rolled oats for texture, but you can use 2 1/2 c. total of whatever oats you like. I use walnuts and pecans, but other dried fruits, seeds, nuts, or chocolate (I recommend a good dark chocolate) would all be great, just fold in at the last step! The flax, brewer’s yeast, and oats are the “lactation” elements, but they’re tasty for everyone!


  1. In a small bowl, combine eggs, raisins, and vanilla. Cover and let sit for at least 1 hour; can be kept in refrigerator overnight. This is the secret step that makes them awesome. Don’t skimp on the vanilla!
  2. Preheat oven to 350.
  3. In a small bowl, combine flax meal and water; allow to sit for 5-10 minutes.
  4. In a large bowl (or stand mixer) cream together butter and sugars. Add in flax seed mixture, wheat germ, brewer’s yeast, salt (if using unsalted butter), cinnamon, and baking soda. Gradually add in flours until completely incorporated.
  5. Incorporate raisin and egg mixture. Stir in oats and nuts.
  6. Spoon out in heaping tablespoons onto a baking sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes (do not overbake, cookies will just have started to brown at edges), allow to cool. Enjoy!

March 26, 2012 at 7:59 pm 2 comments

Sourdough madness

For anyone questioning my sanity, I’m willing to offer you the final nail in the coffin, and that is undoubtedly my relationship to my sourdough starter. No, I’ve never baked sourdough successfully before. Yes, every time I’ve tried to cook with this starter (pancakes anyone?), the results have been pretty pathetic. And perhaps that’s why I’m so crazy about this starter – I’m good at baking! Really! So I should be able to keep a sourdough starter alive!

Well, this year I bought a packet of freeze-dried starter from Amazon, San Francisco variety, and started it off last week. It’s getting nice and cold in this part of the country, and heating the house via the oven sounds pretty good to me. Unfortunately, I’m apparently incapable of reading directions (I can follow them, but not read them in the first place. Go figure), and for almost a week was significantly underfeeding my starter.

Once I realized my mistake – the guilt! The pangs of conscience! My darling starter, you’re an innocent in this cruel world, and I can’t even feed you right! Bad enough that the house is cold, we keep odd hours, and sometimes we feed you too late…but I haven’t even been feeding you enough!

Seriously, I pay more attention to the starter than the cat. Poor Lydia. Proof in the pudding? Concerned that I had irreparably damaged the starter, I’ve been monitoring it every 4-6 hours. But I can’t be home every 4-6 hours every day, and Tuesday I’m out of the house from noon until 10pm. Oh noes! So? Yesterday Sourdough came to school with me. What, you didn’t get the memo that it was “Bring your Live Active Cultures to Work” day? I’m sure I saw someone with some kimchee…

Anyway, as if that were bad enough…now I’m mustering up the guts to actually bake with this starter. The last time I tried to bake with a sourdough starter it was awful, so I’m worried. Granted, that was a much different starter, but…

Baking with a sourdough takes time and planning. And I’m not super great at that. I like my recipes to come together at the 11th hour; my most common baking failing is trying to pry a cake out of a pan much too soon before it’s cool. Sourdough, on the other hand, requires days of preparation. You need to feed the starter over the course of a few days such that it grows to the proper proportions. It has a much longer rising/proofing period than your average yeast bread. How is a girl to keep track of it all, and know when she should start the process rolling?


I spent the afternoon learning how to use conditional expressions in Excel to make a spreadsheet that would take an input time (start time, middle-time, end time, etc.) and extrapolate the rest of the procedure. So, I could say that I want to put the bread in the oven at 8am on Sunday morning, and can get a timeline of what I need to be doing. In this case, I’d need to get started with the refrigerated starter at 8pm on Thursday. Or, if I have 1/2c fresh unrefrigerated starter (as I do), I can wait until 8am on Friday to start the doubling process.

Certainly there was an easier way than the nested =IF(…, then) commands I had to write, but heck, it works, and I know how and why. Want to make some sourdough? If you’re local I’ll share my starter, and I’ll even share my spreadsheet!

Sourdough baking timeline spreadsheet

October 26, 2011 at 3:27 pm 2 comments

Making pies

Every time that Jonathan goes away and leaves me with this big house to myself, I have the impulse to do two things: spend money I shouldn’t, and bake rich desserts. Buying lovely things and baking lovely desserts really triggers the same pleasing feeling in me, and I really think that the way I managed to stay afloat in Russia on $400 a month was to sink most of that into butter, flour, eggs and sugar.

(By the way, if you’re ever in Russia, Finland or Scandinavia and want to flex your culinary skills, I highly recommend you bookmark this site: Anglo-Finno-Russo-Scandinavian Food Glossary. Really helpful to figure out what’s actually in those strange packets you buy.)

Anyhow, the last two times he’s been gone, I’ve resisted spending oodles of moolah on electronics (in June I bought a new computer the first night he was gone), and instead have been getting busy in the kitchen. First, it was chocolate cupcakes with a pink buttercream frosting. Delicious, but I realize that my current go-to chocolate cake recipe might be a little too home-made tasting for me these days. I like it because it uses cocoa powder and only requires one bowl (yes, I’m lazy and don’t like setting up a make-shift double-boiler on the stove, and cleaning melted chocolate out of it later), but the taste isn’t quite what I’m looking for right now.

This time with Jonathan gone, I realized that we’d just gone food shopping and bought a huge amount of peaches, which had been on sale but were threatening to go soft and spoil in the major food-eater’s absence. So, peach pie. Easy. Except I wasn’t in the mood for just any peach pie, and I would be going to a party (tonight, as it were), and bringing some food along is only the polite thing to do. But I didn’t have enough peaches for two peach pies, one to keep and one to bring. And I didn’t have any sort of smaller pie pan to make two small pies.

But I did have muffin tins.

Hence, the idea was born to make mini pies. Not a regular pie maker, I of course consulted the internet, which told me it was a great idea and patted me on the back encouragingly. So, I went about making some mini peach pies.

On Friday morning, I made my crust, using AllRecipe’s French Pastry Pie Crust recipe, promising to be ideal for fruit pies:


  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
  • 5 tablespoons water


  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, salt, and sugar. Mix well, then cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse meal.
  2. In a small bowl, combine egg, vinegar, and 4 tablespoons of water. Whisk together, then add gradually to flour mixture, stirring with a fork. Mix until dough forms a ball. Add one more tablespoon of water if necessary.
  3. Allow dough to rest in refrigerator 10 minutes before rolling out.
I increased the recipe again by a half, and once made, kept my dough ball in the fridge for most of the day, and set off for the library. After a rousing day of researching Byzantine female monasticism, I trundled back home to revisit my pie-making ventures. Next step was to prepare the peaches.
I’d read from a peach pie website that the easiest way to skin peaches was to dip them in boiling water for 10 seconds or so, then dunk them in ice water. Sure enough, once I had done this, all I had to do was slice the peaches open, and the skins came sliding off with ease. I quartered the peaches to remove the stones, and then sliced them into small, 1/4 inch slices (the short way) to make bitty slices for my mini pies.

Next, because they were sort of juicy, and I didn’t want runny pies, I set them in a colander over a bowl to strain a bit, while I worked on my filling and crusts. The recipe I was working from didn’t mix the peaches with anything, but layered them with a butter/flour/sugar mix in the crust.

  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter

I subbed out half the white sugar for brown sugar, and then mixed it to a crumble. Then, I rolled out my pie crusts, and using a wide-mouthed water glass, punched out the rounds for my pie crust bottoms. They took a little bit of manipulating, but they were just about the right size for my muffin tin (could have been a bit bigger, to make that pie-like lip – I’ll know next time). I layered in peaches and crumble until the cups were full, and ended up with 18 peach mini-pies, but still a lot of crust, so I made two blueberry compote mini-pies as well, using a few spoonfuls of compote that guests had left us as filling. Then, I used the remaining crusts to make lattice tops (because what’s a fruit pie without a lattice top?) and was the mini-pie lattice top expert by the time it was done. Popped them in the oven at 350, and expected them to brown quickly, but the butter content in the crust and filling just made them very bubbly. After half an hour with only the beginnings of browning, I switched the broiler on for a few minutes to get them nice and golden.

And since we’re talking about making pies, the song “Making Pies” by Patty Griffin is firmly entrenched in my mind.

The video is just a montage someone spliced together, but the song is lovely.

Off to eat some breakfast and get me to the yarn shop. Autumn is in the air, so it may be a busy day!

August 14, 2010 at 8:43 am 1 comment



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