Archive for the ‘Breads’ Category

Soft Pretzels

I’ve had this post in draft form for more than a week, waiting for inspiration to strike.  I have come up with nothing profound to say about these soft, chewy, salty knots of pleasure, except they are delicious, remarkably easy, and were a huge hit at Morgan’s class Halloween party.  That’s all I got.  Hope you’ll try them.

Soft Pretzels

Adapted from Alton Brown


1½ cups warm water (110-115° F)
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. kosher salt
2¼ tsp. instant yeast
22 oz. all-purpose flour (about 4½ cups)
4 Tbsp. melted butter*


Cooking spray
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tbsp. water*
Pretzel (or kosher) salt

Combine 1 1/2 cups warm water, sugar, salt and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.  Mix on low speed (or just use a spoon) to dissolve the yeast.  Add in the flour and melted butter and mix just until the dough comes together. Knead on medium speed until the dough is smooth and clears the sides of the bowl, about 5 minutes.  Transfer the dough to a bowl lightly sprayed with Pam or other cooking spray, turning once to coat.  Cover with plastic wrap or a damp clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place, about 50-55 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

Preheat the oven to 450° F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and spray lightly with cooking spray. Bring the water and baking soda to a boil in a large wide saucepan or skillet.  In the meantime, divide the dough into 8 equal pieces for large pretzels, or 16 pieces for smaller pretzels (perfect for kids).  I found that the large pretzels weighed about 4 oz. each, the small ones, half of that. Working with one piece at a time, roll a segment out into a 24-inch long rope (12 inches for the small ones).  Make a U-shape with the rope and holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and onto the bottom of the U-shape in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment lined baking sheet.  Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 or 2 at a time, for 30 seconds.  Remove from the water with a slotted skimmer, drain well before returning to the baking sheet.  Once all the pretzels have been boiled, brush the tops with the egg wash (if using) and sprinkle lightly with salt.  Bake in the preheated oven until dark golden brown, about 12-14 minutes.  Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

* I made these pretzels in vegan form, due to some extreme allergies among Morgan’s classmates.  I substituted Earth Balance vegan spread for butter, and omitted the egg wash.  The results were very good, and the vegan dairy-free version was nearly as delicious and beautiful as the original recipe.

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Pumpkin Problems Persist

Consider this a public service announcement from your friendly neighborhood food blogger.

It’s fall (at least according to the calendar) and bakers’ minds turn to things like apple pie and pumpkin bread.  Yesterday, I went to make some pumpkin muffins and a loaf of pumpkin bread to go with some soup I’d made for dinner.  When I opened the (two) cans of Libby’s pumpkin, I noticed that they were a little lighter and a little thinner in consistency than usual.  But, honestly, it’d been a while since I’d made anything with pumpkin, so I overlooked the variation and proceeded with the recipe.  This recipe is one I’ve made 100 times, if I’ve made it once.  It’s been my “go to” pumpkin bread recipe for 15 years. It’s the very definition of “tried and true.”

So, imagine my shock and disappointment when the muffins and the bread turned out pale and flat, the texture heavy to the point of almost being gummy.

I did a little research.  I found out that almost all pumpkins that are destined to be canned are grown within 100 miles of Peoria, Illinois.  Which is great, unless you have a freak weather problem in Peoria. Then you and everyone else who wants to make pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving are going to be out of luck! You may know that last year’s pumpkin crop was a loss, because the fields were so wet at harvest time that tractors were up to their axles in mud.  Pumpkins apparently like it hot and dry.

Stores ran out and there has been such a shortage of canned pumpkin that cans were reportedly being sold on eBay for $30 apiece!  Early reports from this year’s harvest were cautiously encouraging.  But the weather reports showed that the season was wet at first, and the early harvest may have been affected.  In addition, there is some concern over the crop being vulnerable to blight, due to all the moisture these past two or three years.

In any case, I called the people at Libby’s to report my pumpkin problem.  They were very nice on the phone, I must say, and took my information, promising to send me a coupon to replace the inferior cans.  While the nice lady on the phone said they hadn’t had any reports of problems with this year’s crop, I hung up with a feeling of uncertainty.  Was I getting the straight story, or was this PR on the company’s part?  Or perhaps they just didn’t know that they did have a problem?  I might have been one of the first consumers to bake with the canned pumpkin.  Maybe I was the canary in the coal mine. She informed me that the cans I used were filled two months ago (which means late July or early August, an early crop).  From my reading, that means they were growing when the fields in Illinois were pretty wet, still.  Her hypothesis was that the cans were frozen in transit (on one of those refrigerated trucks), which can cause the pumpkin to turn watery, I guess.  But that wouldn’t explain the pale color, in my opinion.

Anyway, I’m blogging about this because I want to spare you, dear readers, the heartache of flat, gummy muffins.

What do I suggest?  Well, first, consider using local pumpkins (it’s surely been hot and dry here in Colorado!) and make your own pumpkin puree.  Secondly, consider baking something fall-like that doesn’t require pumpkin.  Maybe zucchini bread or apple tart or corn muffins (what I made last night).  If you do use canned pumpkin puree, I would drain it in some cheesecloth suspended over a bowl for an hour or two, to reduce the moisture.

Good luck, and let me know what you learn!!!

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I’m not a fan of food that tries to be something it’s not.  For example, I never appreciated tofu hot dogs and tofurkey at Thanksgiving.  There are whole strains of vegetarianism that adopt this approach, I know, but they leave me cold.  You can eat wonderful vegetarian foods, delicious and satisfying in every way, without having it pretend to be meat. Similarly, folks I know who have to eat a gluten-free diet due to celiac disease or gluten intolerance enjoy a great variety of tasty and satisfying meals, without having to bake something that pretends to be bread.

Where this approach fails is when one begins to feel deprived, left out, or conspicuously different.  If you’ve grown up eating something that has all sorts of memories and symbolism attached to it, and now can no longer have it in your diet, it’s normal to feel that as a loss.  Food has emotional and cultural power; it’s not just a bunch of nutrients for our body.

So it is that I found myself searching on the internet for recipes for Gluten-Free Cinnamon Rolls recently.  I’d been invited to Easter Brunch at our good friends’ home, and I had offered to bring sweet rolls.  Two of the guests at the table were gluten-intolerant, including a two year old who would not take kindly to being told “no, you may not have the sweet, gooey, enticing treat that everyone else is having.”  The older guest would presumably have been more gracious, but nonetheless disappointed.  So, I took it upon myself to find an acceptable alternative.

And what I found is that some very creative and determined people had been working on this problem for some time.  If you must be gluten-free, this is a good time to do it.  There are many more options than there were just a few years ago. One particularly great resource is the website, Gluten Free Girl and the Chef, which is where I found this terrific recipe.  Turns out, Gluten Free Girl had been working on finding acceptable cinnamon rolls, making batch after batch, and recently declared these rolls to be “The Cinnamon Rolls of My Dreams.”  Which is pretty high praise, I think.

The dough takes a bit of getting used to — it doesn’t behave quite like a normal gluten-filled dough would.  But her instructions are very clear and helpful, and the rolls turned out to be a convincing facsimile.  Everyone at the table enjoyed them, and no one had to feel deprived.  Which is something to celebrate, any time of year.

Gluten-Free Cinnamon Rolls

Adapted from Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef


1 1/2 cups water

3 tablespoons sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons active-dry yeast

4 ounces almond flour (1 1/4 cup)

4 ounces corn flour (3/4 cup)

4 ounces sweet rice flour (3/4 cup)

4 ounces potato starch (2/3 cup)

4 ounces tapioca flour (1 cup)

1 tablespoon xanthan gum

1 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup milk powder (we used goat milk powder in this batch)

2 large eggs, at room temperature

Filling for Cinnamon Rolls

4 ounces unsalted butter (1 stick or 8 tablespoons)

2/3 cup brown sugar

4 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 cup raisins

Cream Cheese Frosting

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

4 tabelspoons cream cheese, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups powdered sugar

Activating the yeast. Bring 1 cup of the water to 115°. This is a good temperature for yeast — not too hot, not too cold. If you want to be particular about it, you can use a thermometer to measure the temperature. I like to turn on the tap water and run it over my wrist. When the water feels like the temperature of my skin (with no cold splashes or hot pockets), it’s ready. Mix the water, yeast, and sugar in a medium-sized bowl. Set it aside to rise, about 15 minutes.

Mixing the dry ingredients. Combine the almond flour, corn flour, sweet rice flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, xanthan gum, and salt together. Whisk them together in a food processor, or in a stand mixer, or with a whisk. Combining them into one flour will help the final cinnamon rolls to be light, rather than dense and lumpy. Add the brown sugar and milk powder. Stir to combine.

Finishing the dough. Bring the remaining 1/2 cup of water to 110°. If you have a stand mixer, move the dry ingredients into the bowl of the stand mixer. (If not, you can make this dough with a hand mixer or by hand.) Turn the mixer on medium-low speed and add the yeasty water, then the eggs, 1 at a time, mixing in between. Mix for a few minutes until the dough comes together. If the dough feels a bit too dry, add the remaining water. (I always seem to need it.) The dough should be soft and a bit shaggy but not soggy. It will NOT be as firm as you expect a gluten dough to be. Instead, you are aiming for pliable and a bit spongy, like a cookie dough.

Yeast doughs will vary in behavior depending on the weather. These measurements are a guide. If you find you need another splash of water to make the dough feel right, then go ahead. If the dough feels too wet (like you need to wipe your hands after touching it), then add a touch more potato starch. Start to trust your instincts.

Letting the dough rise. Move the dough to a large greased bowl. Cover with a clean tea towel and set the bowl in a warm place in the kitchen. Allow it to rise until it has doubled in size, about 1 hour. The dough will have become a bit more pliable, a little more like gluten dough, at this point.

Rolling out the dough. Grab a Silpat (or piece of parchment paper) and lay it on a large baking sheet. Move 1/2 of the dough onto the Silpat and cover it entirely with plastic wrap. Slowly, roll out the dough to the edge of the baking sheet. (You’re rolling out its width, first.) I try to make the dough the width of the rolling pin. Next, spin around the baking sheet and roll out the dough lengthwise. You probably won’t take it as far as the edge. Simply roll it out to about 1/2-inch thick. Take off the plastic wrap.

Making the filling. Melt the butter on the stove, on low heat. Put half the brown sugar, cinnamon, agave nectar, golden raisins, and walnuts onto the rolled-out dough. Drizzle 1/4 of the melted butter on top.

Rolling the dough. Here’s the important part: go slowly. Grab the Silpat on the edge farthest from you and pull it up gently. The edge of the dough should start to roll away from the Silpat and toward the dough. If not, then nudge it with your fingers. Make tight rolls, moving slowly and patting the dough gently as you go. Roll the dough, then press it down with the Silpat, then roll some more, with the dough falling toward you, going slowly. If the filling oozes out as you reach the end, that’s okay. It’s a sign you’re going to have good cinnamon rolls.

(Nothing of this should be about being perfect, anyway.)

Cutting the dough into rolls. Go grab your dental floss. Yes, your dental floss. Cut a long piece of it, longer than two hand widths apart. Slide the piece under the log of dough, then bring the two edges together to cross over the top. By doing this, you should be slicing a piece off the log. This makes for lovely, neat pieces, instead of jagged hunks. Make your way down the log of dough with the dental floss. You should end up with about 8 pieces, with ragged end bits as well.

(Sometimes I bake the ragged ends separately, as little cinnamon swirls. Sometimes I just throw them in.)

Preparing to rise the rolls again. Pour 2 tablespoons of the melted butter into the bottom of a pie pan. Place the sliced rolls into the buttered pan, tightening the rolls if they have begun to unravel. Set them aside to rise.

Repeat this process with the other half of the dough and remaining filling.

Allow the rolls to rise for 1 more hour. Gluten-free doughs do not rise as high as gluten doughs do on the second rise, but they do puff out nicely. It’s worth it.

Baking the rolls. Preheat the oven to 350°. When the oven has come to temperature, slide in both pans. Bake until the rolls fill firm to the touch when you press on both sides of one, but still with some give, about 25 minutes.

Allow the rolls to cool for about 10 minutes, then invert them onto a plate.

Frosting the rolls. Put the butter and cream cheese into a food processor. Whirl them up. While that is mixing, pour in the vanilla extract. Add the powdered sugar in handfuls, looking at the texture of the frosting between batches. It usually takes about 2 cups for frosting to be thick and rich in our food processor, but you may like a different texture. This is only a guide.

Frost the rolls when they have reached room temperature. 

Go at it.

Makes about 15-16 cinnamon rolls.

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Bunny Bread

My mother’s family has this fun tradition of making a sweet bread for Easter morning, in the shape of a bunny.  (Well, usually in the shape of a bunny, but some odd branches of the family tree have been known to bake an Easter Chicken or two… )  My mom used to make two, and she’d bring one to the newest neighbor or to the minister or some other lucky person.  I knew I had become an adult woman when I made my own bunny, and invited her to my house for Easter brunch, and she proclaimed it, “the best bunny ever!”  Sadly, she died just six weeks later.

I’ll be baking a bunny again this year, with my daughter’s help, no doubt. It’s a mildly sweet, rich, eggy bread that goes well with eggs and fruit and asparagus or whatever you’re serving.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Wellen’s Easter Bread


3/4 cup milk

1 stick butter

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp. salt

2 Tbsp. yeast

1/2 cup warm water (~110 degrees F)

4 1/4 – 4 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, sifted

2 eggs


Scald milk.  Add butter, sugar and salt, and stir until butter is melted and sugar has dissolved.  Cool to room temperature.  In small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water.  Add cooled butter mixture, eggs and 4 cups flour to bowl on stand mixer or large mixing bowl. Add yeast.  Stir to blend.  Knead 5-8 minutes. Dough should be soft and elastic.  Add just enough flour to handle easily.  Put dough into greased bowl, and cover with damp kitchen towel. Let rise in warm place one hour or until doubled in volume.  Punch down. Form into bunny shape on greased cookie sheet.  My grandmother always put a colored egg on the tail and used jelly beans for eyes and a nose.  Let rise.  Bake at 375 degrees F 20-30 minutes.  Glaze when cool.

Hilde’s Cinnamon Variation:

Roll out the piece of dough to be used for the body of the bunny.  Sprinkle with brown sugar, cinnamon and raisins.  Drizzle with melted butter.  Roll up, as you would for a loaf of bread.  Try your best to shape it back into a bunny body shape.  Remember that all sins can be covered with glaze later.


1 lb. powdered sugar

Milk, a few Tablespoons, just enough to thin

1/4 tsp. almond extract

As you can see, this is not exact.  I just put some powdered sugar in a bowl, add milk and stir, adjusting the amount of milk and sugar to get a glaze that will barely pour.  Wait until your bread is completely cooled to glaze.  I’ve learned it’s best to wrap up the bunny without glaze and glaze it on Easter morning, so it doesn’t get messed up when I wrap it.

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As I write this, I am madly packing for a family trip to Seattle and Vancouver.  One of the things I’ve learned about myself is that I like to come home to a clean house and refrigerator.  There’s nothing worse than arriving home, tired and hungry (because they don’t feed you anything on planes these days) to a dirty, messy house with spoiled food in the fridge.

So, last night, as I was doing the final load of laundry, I noticed several very ripe bananas in the fruit bowl on the counter.  “Hmmm…,” I think. ” Those are not going to make it.”  And so, because I’m a little bit crazy, I decide to make banana muffins at ten o’clock at night. The good news is that this recipe is tried and true, easy to put together and tastes great.  When you choose to bake the batter into muffins, rather than a loaf, you save a lot of time. An hour after I was originally inspired by those lonely browning bananas, I was putting the cooled muffins away for our breakfast.

Now, if I can just be equally inspired to dust and vacuum and clean the bathrooms, I’ll be in good shape!

Whole Wheat Banana Muffins

adapted from Sunset’s Book of Breads


1/2 cup butter, melted

1 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup mashed banana (about 3 large or 4 small)

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1/3 cup hot water

1/2 cup chocolate chips or chopped walnuts, optional


Mix melted butter and sugar.  Add beaten eggs and mashed banana, blending until almost smooth (I like a few little banana lumps).  In a separate bowl, combine the flours, salt, and soda and mix thoroughly.  Add dry ingredients alternately with the water to the sugar/butter mixture.  Add nuts or chocolate chips, if desired.

Spoon batter into greased muffin tins, about 1/3 cup of batter per muffin.  (My yield was 15-16 muffins.) Alternately, you may scrape all the batter into a 9×5 inch loaf pan to make one loaf.

Bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes for muffins, or 70 minutes for a loaf.  Check for doneness by lightly touching the tops of the muffins to see if they spring back just a bit.  You don’t want to overbake them!  You can test the loaf with a toothpick or wooden skewer.  It should come out clean when the banana bread is done.  Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.

Nutritional info per muffin:

Calories: 192, Fat: 7.7 grams, Cholesterol: 36.5 grams, Protein: 3 grams, Sodium: 173 mg, Carbohydrate 29.1 grams, Fiber 1.6 grams, Sugar: 15 grams, Calcium: 9 mg

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Today, we are going to be talking about Yankee food (and I don’t mean hot dogs at the ball park). To understand Yankee food, you have to answer the question, “What is a Yankee?” To people in the Western Hemisphere, a Yankee is someone from North America (think “Yankee, go home!”). To North Americans, Yankees live in the United States. To Americans, a Yankee is someone above the Mason-Dixon line. People in those northern states would say a Yankee is someone who lives in New England.  To New Englanders, a Yankee lives in Vermont. And Vermonters would say a Yankee is someone who eats apple pie for breakfast…

… or maybe baked beans and brown bread.  This recipe was given to me by an old friend whose family had been in New England so long that they had land that had been given to them as payment for service in the war — you know, the Revolutionary War.

Food can reach back and teach us about the past.  In those early days when white folks first settled New England, they ate what they could grow. Beans were (and still are) cheap and filling, and meat was used sparingly. This bread uses modest amounts of wheat, which was less available than other grains, contains no precious oil or butter, and is steamed in the manner of old English puddings.  The result is a delicious, hearty and healthy meal and a lesson in American history.

Nancy’s Boston Baked Beans

Warning! This makes a massive amount of beans.  Feed your family.  Feed your neighbors.


One onion, quartered

2 lbs. Jacob Cattle Beans, or other small white bean (I used Great Northern beans)

8 oz. salt pork (can substitute bacon if necessary)

1/4 cup brown sugar

2/3 cup molasses

2 tsp. dry mustard

4 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. pepper


Soak beans overnight in a large pot with water covering the beans by two inches.  In the morning, parboil the beans for 30 minutes or until the skins start to come off when you blow on them.  Drain.

In large bean pot or dutch oven, place quartered onion, and cover with beans.  Place salt pork on top of beans. Mix the sugar, molasses, mustard, pepper and salt with 2 cups boiling water. Pour mixture over the beans.  Add more water to cover the surface of the beans.  Cover the pot with a lid and bake at 300 degrees F for 6 hours or more, adding more hot water as the beans cook.  Serve with brown bread (recipe below).

Brown Bread

This is traditionally made in old coffee cans, but coffee doesn’t come in cans so often anymore, so one has to improvise. Improvising makes real Yankees happy.  Do not go to your local kitchen supply store and buy a fancy pudding mold.  That would offend those thrifty folks, whose motto was “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”


1 cup yellow cornmeal

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup whole grain rye flour

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. salt

2 cups buttermilk

1 cup molasses

1 cup raisins or dried currants


Generously butter one 9×5 inch loaf pan or 2 clean 28 ounce tin cans.  Mix first 5 ingredients in large bowl.  Add buttermilk, molasses and raisins and stir well to combine.

Transfer batter to prepared loaf pan or divide between the two prepared cans.  Butter a piece of foil and use it to cover the pan well, buttered side down.  Secure with kitchen twine.  Place loaf pan in a large wide pot (I used my stock pot).  Pour enough water into pot to come halfway up sides of loaf pan or cans.  Bring water to boil, then reduce heat to low.  Cover pot and simmer until tester inserted into center of bread comes out clean, about three hours.  Add more water to pot as necessary to keep water halfway up sides of pan or cans.

Remove pan or cans from pot.  Cool bread in pan for 15 minutes before gently removing.  Slice and serve, either warm or at room temperature.  Brown bread is very good smeared with cream cheese.

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In my experience, kids love to be in the kitchen when you’re cooking.  When you can, it’s great to involve them, even when the “help” is not really so helpful.  At 8, Morgan actually contributes some real assistance from time to time, but mostly she tastes and comments and inspects things as I go along.  I credit her interest in cooking in part to her great preschool teachers at the Boulder Journey School.  There, the kids in her class made two cookbooks, one for bread and one for soup.  The bread cookbook was alphabetical, A is for Apple Bread, B is for Banana Bread, etc.  Not only did the kids participate in reading, measuring, mixing and baking, they also wrote out the recipes and illustrated the cookbook!  Needless to say, it was charming, and made a lovely gift for the parents.  But no doubt the greatest gift of all is a child who has an appreciation for and interest in real cooking. I believe that knowing how to cook brings lifelong happiness.  And that’s a lesson worth learning.

This yeasted bread is lightly sweetened, and studded with chunks of apple.  It makes a great breakfast bread, snack, or even a somewhat virtuous dessert.  I haven’t tried making sandwiches with it, but I bet they’d be awesome.

Makes two 9″ round loaves.


3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

3 packets active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water (between 85 and 110 degrees F)

2 apples, peeled and chopped

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

3 cups all purpose unbleached flour, plus some extra


Put milk, butter, brown sugar and salt into a small saucepan.  Heat until almost boiling (this is called scalding) and the butter has melted.  Set this mixture aside and let it cool down to room temperature.

Dissolve the yeast in warm water.  Add 1 teaspoon sugar.  After it foams up, add the yeast mixture to the (cooled) milk mixture in a mixing bowl on a stand mixer.  Add chopped apples, eggs, flour and cinnamon.

Knead with a dough hook in a KitchenAid mixer (speed 2) or by hand for 5-8 minutes, adding just enough extra white flour for the dough to come together in a ball and clean the sides of the bowl.

Put dough into another large greased bowl.  Cover with a damp kitchen towel and put in a warm (but not hot) place.  Let it rise for one hour, or until it is doubled in size.

Punch down the dough.  Shape it into 2 round domes and put each on a greased pie pan or a cookie sheet. Let it rise 20 minutes more.  (This is a good time to turn on your oven and let it preheat.)

Bake the bread at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.  You can check to make sure it’s done by thumping the top.  It should sound hollow, and be golden brown on the top.

Now the hard part: let it cool enough to cut off a slice.  Yum!

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