In The Beginning…



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Today, Fran suggested I create a blog to document my new culinary journey. This meander has no real direction, other than what I dream up on my way home from work, or what we eat at a restaurant or see in a commercial, and say “Hey, that looks like it would be good to try at home” and I do. (Header photo of Middlebury falls where we grew up is by my life long friend David Griggs. Please visit his website

To date, the brews I make on our patio are from kits, but I am now considering either buying the components and making adjustments, or if I feel really brave, going all-grain instead of extract brewing. (This would mean something to other home brewers, or anyone who Google’s “all grain home brewing”.)

To start, I will time travel back a few months and post a few items I particularly liked over the past year or so.

Mah Jong Snacks Anyone?

Last week Fran’s mah jongg group met at our house. While they tend not to each very much before, during or after their games, but I was asked to make something for this week. I had not made pan au chocolat in quite a while and had just seen this recipe for Oreo macarons online. There were very few of anything left.


Macarons and Pain Au Chocolat






Pain au Chocolate


  • Puff pastry
  • Chocolate
  • Confectioner’s sugar


  1. Roll out puff pastry
  2. Dust with confectioner’s sugar
  3. Cut into 2” wide
  4. Lay chocolate at one end, roll one time, press down gently and roll again, press gently again
  5. Add second row of chocolate and roll one last time, press gently
  6. Chill overnight
  7. Brush with egg wash
  8. Bake 360 deg 20-25 min on parchment lined baking sheet

Oreo Macarons


  • 3 eggs whites, room temperature
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1¼ cups powdered sugar
  • ¾ cup superfine almond flour
  • 2 tablespoons dark cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoons black food coloring
  • 2 cups of powdered sugar
  • 1 cup of softened butter
  • 1 teaspoons of vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons of milk
  • ½ cup cookies and cream filling
    • 8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature (takes about 2 hours to reach room temp)
    • 4 oz. salted butter, at room temperature (1 stick)
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla
    • 2 cups powdered sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 285ºF/140ºC.
  2. In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites until frothy.
  3. Keep beating and slowly add sugar until stiff peaks form.
  4. Sift powdered sugar, cookie crumbs, almond flour, and cocoa powder over the egg whites.
  5. Fold the dry mixture into the egg whites completely, but make sure to not overmix or the macarons will not rise.
  6. Once the batter reaches a lava-like consistency, add the food coloring. Mix until just combined, without over mixing.
  7. Place the mixture into a piping bag or zip-top bag. Cut of the tip to pipe.
  8. Pipe 1½-inch dollops onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Tip: take a little batter to “glue” down the edges of the parchment paper so it stays put.
  9. Let the cookies rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour, until they are no longer wet to the touch and a skin forms on top.
  10. While resting, make the filling
    1. Cream together the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until smooth.
    2. Mix in the powdered sugar until smooth.
  11. When the cookies are dry to the touch, bake for 15-18 minutes until they have risen.
  12. Let rest for 10 minutes before filling. To fill, pipe about about a tablespoon of the buttercream onto one macaron and place another on top.
  13. Macarons are best kept refrigerated until serving.

Tilt-a-whirl Down on the South Beach Drag

The other day, Fran watched Biscuit Week on the GBBO (I had fallen asleep on the couch) and decided Mary Berry’s Viennese Whirls might be a good next bake for me;  I made them this morning and will take them to Daniel and France’s house to day for our day-after Father’s Day dinner.

Baked Whirls

These resemble shortbread cookies/biscuits with raspberry jam and buttercream filling. The cookie should be firm enough to handle, but soft enough to melt in your mouth with each bite. The trick is to adjust the viscosity of the dough to allow it to be piped into 2″ diameter circles using a star tip. To accentuate the whirl shape and  texture, chill the piped biscuits in the refrigerator for 15 minutes before baking. (I didn’t do this and they lost some height and swirl detail.)


I was also making some raspberry jam, so I just sieved some to use for the cookies. I also added some meringue powder to help the buttercream harden a little to make the filling a little firmer without having to keep them refrigerated.


Completed Whirls


For the jam

  • 200g (7oz) raspberries
  • 250g (9oz) jam sugar

For the biscuits

  • 250g (9oz) very soft unsalted butter
  • 50g (1¾oz) icing sugar
  • 225g (8oz) plain flour
  • 25g (1oz) cornstarch

For the filling

  • 100g (3½oz) unsalted butter, softened
  • 200g (7oz) icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbl Meringue Powder


For the jam,

  1. Put the washed raspberries in a small, deep-sided saucepan and crush them using a potato masher. Add the sugar and bring to boil over a low heat. When the sugar is melted, increase the heat and boil further for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and carefully pour into a shallow container (pass it through a sieve if you’d rather not have seeds in your jam). Leave to cool and set.

For the biscuits,

  1. Preheat the oven to 375F. Line 3 baking sheets with non-stick baking parchment. Using a 2″ round cutter as a guide, draw circles on each sheet of paper, spaced well apart. Turn the paper over so the pencil marks are underneath.
  2. Measure the butter and icing sugar into a bowl and beat until pale and fluffy. Sift in the flour and cornstarch and beat well, until thoroughly mixed. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a medium star nozzle. Pipe 24 swirled rounds (not rosettes), inside the circles on the baking sheets.
  3. Bake in the center of the oven for 13—15 minutes, until a pale golden-brown. Cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely and harden.

For the filling,

  1. measure the butter into a bowl and sift the icing sugar on top.
  2. Add the vanilla extract and beat with a wooden spoon or an electric whisk until very light and smooth.
  3. Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a large star nozzle.

Spoon a little jam onto the flat side of 12 of the biscuits and place jam-side up on a cooling rack. Pipe the buttercream over the jam and sandwich with the remaining biscuits. Dust with icing sugar to finish.


For this recipe you will need a piping bag, a medium star nozzle, a large star nozzle, 3 baking sheets. If your kitchen is warm and you have time you could try placing the whirls in the fridge for 15 minutes before baking. This will help them hold their shape while cooking.

Bree Orc(he) or Brioche Donuts

My title is a shout out to LOTR fans.

I saw Paul Hollywood make brioche donuts on the GBBO last week. They looked so good. Boom!

For those unfamiliar, brioche is a pastry of French origin that is similar to a highly enriched bread, and whose high egg and butter content give it a rich and tender crumb. (Wikipedia) Brioche dough is light, sweet and fluid.

Here is my very slight adaptation of Paul Hollywood’s recipe:

  • For the dough:
    • 500g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
    • 7g salt
    • 50g caster sugar
    • 10g instant yeast
    • 140ml warm whole milk
    • 5 medium eggs
    • 250g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
  • For the filling:
    • 200g milk or semi-sweet chocolate, broken into squares
    • 1 large raspberry per donut
  • 3 quarts vegetable oil
  • Caster sugar for dredging


  1. Put the flour and sugar into the bowl of the mixer, fitted with a dough hook, and add the salt to one side and the yeast to the other. Add the milk and the eggs and mix for about 8 minutes until smooth.
  2. Knead the dough on a slow speed for 5 minutes then gradually start to add the butter. Once all of the butter has been incorporated and the dough is smooth and sticky, increase the speed and knead for a further 6 minutes. Pour the dough into a large bowl (remember that the dough will almost double in size), cover with cling film and place in the fridge overnight.
  3. Lightly dust the work surface with flour, turn out the dough and roll into a large rectangle.
  4. Roll the dough into a long log, about 2” in diameter and 16” long
  5. Divide the dough into 20 balls (about 40g each). Flatten each one out a little and put 10g of chocolate in the middle – you may have to break the chocolate into smaller pieces so it sits snugly in the middle. Form the dough into a ball around the chocolate and roll to smooth.
  6. Place the balls on a lightly floured tray and cover with a clean plastic bag or cling film and leave to prove for an hour or until doubled in size.
  7. Heat the oil in the fryer to 350oF and gently place the doughnuts, 2 – 4 at a time, into the pan or the fryer. They will puff up and float so you will need to turn them over periodically so that they cook evenly on all sides. They brown quickly because of the sugar and butter in the dough, but you need to cook them for about 10-12 minutes so that they cook through and the chocolate melts.
  8. Remove from the fryer with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Dredge with caster sugar and serve.

Delightful Day of Rest

Last night Fran and I co-hosted the Oneg Shabbat at our local temple. For those who are unfamiliar with an Oneg, it is a celebration of the beginning of Shabbat (#4 of the Ten Commandments) and is usually accompanied with food and socializing after Friday evening services.  Each family of the temple is urged to host or co-host one Oneg a year. We co-hosted with our friends Ellen and Mark, and in absentia, Annalee and Jerry.Eclairs and Dipped Strawberries

I offered to make pastries (surprise, surprise) and settled on eclairs and Kouign-Amanns (QUEEN-ah-mahns.) We called on Wednesday to check on the expected attendance (which is always a crap shoot which is perhaps the wrong metaphor.) It was a teen appreciation Shabbat. We also added some fruit bowls and a vegetable tray for the health-conscious Californians. Since I needed a chocolate glaze for the eclairs and I Kouing Amannfigured it would be easy enough to use that as a base to dip a few strawberries. Those plus a few blackberries would add some color and be a good garnish for the patters. Ellen and Mark added some cookies, ruggala and chocolate chip Mandelbrot (like a biscotti) and some cheese and crackers for Annalee and Jerry and another woman donated a large plate of chocolate chip cookies.

Well, the long and short of it is, we ended up with about one large platter for every two people in attendance.  Mark estimated there were about 40 people present. I was pleased there were no eclairs left to bring home, and the Kouign-Amanns would likewise have disappeared had I not snuck some out for Frances. We will bring them to her tomorrow when we go to the Founder’s Day Party to celebrate the opening of the newest Coconut’s Fish Cafe, 20010 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino, CA.

For some unknown reason the veggie platter was left all but untouched. (We left it for the Torah study group that meets Saturday mornings.)

Olive Breadsticks, Revisited

I made a batch of these breadsticks a few months ago and yesterday I realized I was ready for a few more. These are great plain as snacks or with a nice marinara sauce for dipping or as a side with pasta. The slight tartness of the olives adds a nice balance to the sweetness of the bread. My problem is I eat too many.

These breadsticks are easy to make. The only tricky part is cutting, handling and shaping the slack dough. After rising, the dough is soft, sticky and wet. Use a LOT of flour Breadsticks2on your work table and generously dust the top of the dough before you gently form it into a rough rectangle about 16″ x 14″. Cut the rectangle in half (two 7″ smaller rectangles) then cut each of those into about 1″ strips, avoiding dissecting any olives. Use your bench knife and separate the first strip by flicking it onto the flour next to the dough rectangle. Pick it up with flour dusted fingers, place on the parchment-lined baking sheet and stretch it to about 10″ and try to straighten. I was not totally successful in straightening the breadsticks, but it doesn’t hurt the flavor.

Wascally Easter Wabbit

It’s always fun when Easter and Passover coincide. This doesn’t happen as often as you might imagine, and this non-coincidelitization is not by accident. In 325 CE the Council of Nicaea established that Easter would be held on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after first day of spring unless the full moon is on Sunday when Easter is delayed by 1 week. Passover commences on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Nisan and lasts for either seven or eight days depending on the Jewish tradition being observed. The Jewish month is lunar based and varies substantially from the Gregorian calendar. I know, TMI. Anyway, this decreases the chances of Easter falling on the same day as Passover, but doesn’t eliminate it, as in this year. Following the Jewish Passover dietary restrictions for the 8 days of Pesach (which I don’t; The first two days are enough for me) while preparing desserts for Easter is… interesting.

Several years ago I purchased a Wilton Egg Mold to make an M&M cake for Robin’s birthday and a football for another party, and now an Easter egg cake. This mold creates perfect egg shaped cakes, but has some challenges. The mold measures 9″x6″x6″ which means you need to time the bake for a 6″ deep cake, but the ends are thinner so don’t over bake and burn the ends. I found doubling the baking time is about right, i.e. 60 minutes for a recipe for a standard 2″ deep pan calling for 30 min.

Another problem is sealing the two halves during the bake. The chocolate cake recipe I prefer adds a cup of boiling water just prior to pouring. This makes a very low viscosity batter which is easy to spill, hence you don’t want to move the mold after it is filled. Mold with stringTying the two mold halves together without sloshing batter is a challenge. I place the string across the oval stand prior to placing the empty mold on it. The mold should be filled to the top rim with batter. Thus far, doing this assured the top half is filled with cake. I Egg Mold with Clipsthen place the top half on and tie the string around both. This time I also added 5 paper binder clips positioned around the edge of theEgg Mold two molds. (I would use 7-10 clips, if I had them.) Do place the mold on a cookie sheet to catch spills and choose one that does not warp in the heat.

If there is little leakage, and the bake is properly timed, and you coated the molds with release spray you should end up with a beautiful Peanut M&M – Football – Easter Egg – shaped cake. A couple of other hints with this mold: remove the top half 5 minutes after removing the cake from the oven, Chocolate Cakethen remove the cake from the bottom mold 5 minutes later. You may have to shake the pan slightly for the cake to release. Cool on a rack.

For Grace’s 1st birthday I am making a cake for  about 100 people. I want this to be a smooth surface (i.e. fondant) but dislike store bought fondant. This weekend I made a Fondant Covered Chocolate cakebatch of marshmallow frosting to try it on the Easter egg cake. It was easy to make, roll and drape. While intensely sweet (read: marshmallow and confectioners sugar) it tasted much better than store bought, plus it cuts easily to make decorations. This fondant may be flavored, but will be very sweet no matter what flavor. This fondant is smooth and soft, IMG_0025easy to drape and form. The pink band around the cake is a band of colored fondant, wetted and wrapped around the cake.

I wanted the second cake to be a chocolate covered egg with lots of colored royal icing decoration. I envisioned a chocolate egg, like the hollow chocolate eggs you buy in the market for Easter. Alas, my tempered chocolate set to quickly and would not pour over the crumb coated cake. I had to spread it as quickly as possible, but was not quick enough. It was too thick and lumpy.  If anyone has suggestions to remedy this I would appreciate your input. The Finished Tempured Chocolate Yellow Cakepiping is all buttercream, both white and colored. I was going to make buttercream roses for the toppers, but by the time I finished the rest, my hand was cramping and decided simple dropped flowers (Wilton #193 tip) would suffice. I added the jelly beans for some additional color, they probably weren’t needed but we like jelly beans.

At the end of the meal there was 1/3rd of the white frosted cake left, a 1/4 of the chocolate and almost none of the outstanding carrot cake Fran made. Both 9″ tarts (one creme patisserie/fruit and one chocolate/orange) were left. Not a bad effort for 20 adults.


Chocolate Cake

  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water

Yellow Cake

  • 4 1/2 cups (570g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cup (460g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 3/4 cups (700g) granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (240g) sour cream, at room temperature
  • 2 cup (480ml) whole milk, at room temperature


  • 4 cups of powdered sugar (or 1 box)
  • 1 Cup (2 sticks) of softened butter
  • 1/4 cup meringue powder to make a crusting frosting
  • 2-3 teaspoons of vanilla
  • 1-2 tablespoons of milk
  • Violet food coloring (a little of this will make the frosting white, not yellow from the butter coloring. Just a little on the end of a tooth pick is enough)

Marshmallow Fondant

  • 500 g marshmallows
  • 1000 g confectioners sugar
  • 1 tsp white vanilla
  • 2-3 Tbl water

Tempered Chocolate

  • Scharffen Berger Semi-Sweet Dark Chocolate (I like this brand but any would do)


Chocolate Cake

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Spray both halves of the egg mold.
  2. Use the first set of ingredients to make the cake. In a medium bowl, stir together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add the eggs, milk, oil and vanilla, mix for 3 minutes with an electric mixer. Stir in the boiling water by hand. Pour to fill the bottom mold to the brim.
  3. Bake for 60 minutes in the preheated oven. (Bake time make take some experimentation)  Cool for 5 minutes before removing the top half and another 5 minutes before rolling the cake on a rack to cool completely.

Yellow Cake

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C). Spray both halves of the egg mold.
  2. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside. Using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on high speed until smooth and creamy – about 1 minute. Add the sugar and beat on high speed for 3 full minutes until creamed together. The mixture should be a light yellow color. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. On medium-high speed, add 1 egg at a time, beating well after each addition until both are mixed in. On high speed, beat in the vanilla extract and sour cream. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.
  3. With the mixer running on low speed, add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients alternating with the milk. Start and end with the dry ingredients. Mix each addition just until incorporated. Do not overmix this batter. The batter will be smooth, velvety, and slightly thick.
  4. Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan. Smooth it out into an even layer.
  5. Bake for 60 minutes in the preheated oven. (Bake time make take some experimentation)  Cool for 5 minutes before removing the top half and another 5 minutes before rolling the cake on a rack to cool completely.


  1. Add powdered sugar and meringue powder to mixing bowl.
  2. Add softened sticks of butter
  3. Add vanilla. If you want white buttercream use clear imitation vanilla.
  4. Add 1 tbsp of milk.
  5. Beat on low until powdered sugar is incorporated. Then move mixer up to medium-high speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When completely mixed the frosting may appear dry.
  6. Add more milk, a little bit at a time until frosting is the proper consistency.
  7. Again, for white frosting now add a little violet food coloring. I use the end of a toothpick and add just a little at a time. Mix thoroughly.

Marshmallow Fondant

  1. Grease (well with Crisco or equivalent) a heat proof microwavable bowl
  2. Place marshmallow in the bowl and sprinkle 2-3 Tbl water over the marshmallows
  3. Heat in a microwave in 30 second increments until the marshmallow is melted and smooth. Don’t overcook and burn.
  4. Grease (well) dough hook and stand mixer bowl and add melted marshmallow.
  5. Add confectioners sugar a cup at a time and stir on medium until incorporated.
  6. Add the vanilla during one of the sugar additions.
  7. Reserve about a cup of sugar to use during hand kneading
  8. Grease (well) your workspace and hands and turn the fondant out.
  9. Cover with sugar and begin kneading, adding more sugar as necessary until the fondant is smooth and not sticky.
  10. Use a greased rolling pin and roll the fondant out to required size. For this cake I rolled it out to about 18″ x 14″. It was easy to pick up and drape over the cake.

Tempered Chocolate

  1. Cut 1 lb of chocolate into small pieces (or pulse in a food processor)
  2. Place chocolate in a heat proof bowl over simmering water (the bowl should not touch the water.)
  3. Heat the chocolate while stirring until melted, continue heating to 120 deg
  4. Remove the bowl from the heat (dry the bottom of the bowl. Any water will cause the chocolate to seize.)
  5. When the chocolate cools to 82 deg, place back on the heat and heat to 90 deg.
  6. Pour the liquid chocolate over the cake. This will cool the chocolate and make it set into a thin crust. My problem was I let the chocolate cool too much before trying to pour. Next time I will leave the bowl on the hot water and remove both from the heat. Hopefully this will keep the chocolate thin enough to pour. If anyone has suggestions I would appreciate them.

Tart vs. Prostitute

I decided to make a new dessert for Passover this year. Of course, leavening agents, such as flour, yeast etc are prohibited from Passover foods, so the chocolate/orange tart I was considering was out… or was it?

My research into Passover prohibitions and tarts logically led me to a discussion of the difference between tarts and prostitutes. Using the Wiki dictionary (the source of all truths) I find the word prostitute, as a verb, is to use one’s talents in return for money, or fame, or perhaps a few nights lodging, whereas a tart, as a noun, is a small open pie, or piece of pastry. Dictionaries are like statistics: what do you want them to say?

This research actually stemmed from looking at the story of Solomon deciding which woman was the real mother by offering to split the child with his sword and giving half to each woman. The women were actually prostitutes, but their profession was either superfluous to the story, and Solomon’s decision, or not, depending on the interpretation. And, of course, as usual in midrash, there are many more opinions than “opinioners.”

I find it interesting that a judge can rule on a case 3000 years ago by purely considering the facts of the case and not the legal standing of the two women. Some say wisdom began flowing from his mouth when he threatened to cut the child in half. Today so many people with questionable legal standing are unable to appeal to the legal establishment for fear of reprisal due not to the injury they may have sustained but rather for the superfluous state of their resident status. And therefore, so often judgement is rendered without any wisdom present.Almond Flour Tart Shell

Anyway, I decided an almond flour tart shell with chocolate mousse and orange zest swirl is appropriate and fitting for our Passover this year. I made a shell to be confident it would have the taste and texture required, and it did. It doesn’t roll our like a standard AP flour
dough, but can be formed into the tart shell by hand and pastry weights should keep the shape well enough to form the final tart. Because there is less binding agent in almond flour, I doubled the amount of egg.  I will probably increase the almond flour content by 25-50% to make the dough easier to handle and hopefully a little more pastry-like. The chocolate and orange ingredients are allowed anyway, substituting almond flour for AP flour where appropriate.

Please pass over me when the gefilte fish is served!


For the Tart Shell

  • 100 g cold butter cut into small cubes
  • 200 g almond flour (I may increase this by 50g, not sure yet)
  • 60 g icing sugar
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 eggs (100g)

For the Chocolate Filling

  • 75g butter
  • 115g dark chocolate (no more than 60% cocoa solids), finely chopped
  • 115g caster sugar
  • 55g almond flour
  • 4 medium eggs

For the Orange Filling

  • 25g butter
  • 50g white chocolate
  • 1 orange, finely grated zest only
  • 35g caster sugar
  • 25g almond flour
  • 2 medium egg yolks


Tart Shell

  1. Mix butter with sugar (I break up the chunks of butter by rubbing them into the sugar with my hands)
  2. Add salt then vanilla
  3. Add egg and mix well
  4. Stir in flour. Mix by hand until incorporated. I did this in 3 parts mixing well between each.
  5. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for 30 min until it firms up a bit.
  6. Butter (spray) tartlet pan
  7. Coat hands with flour and press the sticky dough into tart mold
  8. Prick holes in bottom and sides of formed dough
  9. Add pastry weights to the pan
  10. Bake in preheated oven 350o F (175o C) for 17 – 20 min
    1. Remove pastry weights with 5 min left in the bake
    2. Remove pastry shells from pans and let cool on wire rack

Chocolate Filling

  1. Melt the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water until melted and smooth.
  2. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar and flour.
  3. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and leave to stand.

Orange Filling

  1. Melt the butter and white chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water until melted and smooth.
  2. Remove from the heat and stir in the orange zest, sugar and flour.
  3. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time and pour the mixture into a bowl.

Assemble and Bake the Tart

  1. Place the tart shell on a baking tray.
  2. Pour the chocolate mixture into the shell.
  3. Drizzle or pipe the orange filling over the chocolate filling to create a swirl effect.
  4. Draw a tooth stick through the filling to create a marbled effect.
  5. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until just set around the edges, but still slightly wobbly in the centre.
  6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly, until warm but not piping hot, then serve. It is actually very good cold also.

WTF! (What The Fig!)

For Purim this year I made and donated 4 dozen hamantaschen to our California temple for their bake sale. I really, Really, REALLY liked the fig variety and knew there must be another place to use that fig purée.  I was considering homemade Fig Newtons®, but those cookies are available in those so-convenient two serving packages I thought, why try to copy perfection? I mean, artists copy Renoirs to hone their artistic skills, but only as an exercise… for practice… right? How could I chance trying to improve my baking skills and thereby perhaps plagiarize perfection?

I thought a fig-filled/short-bread cookie might Fig Shortbread Cookie 3be a good combination. The slight snap of this buttery cookie and the sweet/tartness of the fig pureé should pair well.  

I was right, but the first batch had a minor problem.  I tried to roll the shortbread dough thinner than usual for cookies, but it still ended up too thick. I rolled them directly on the parchment paper covered cookie sheet thinking they would be too fragile to move after cutting. I chickened out and still left them about 2x too thick, much like leaving your birdie putt short. (NEVER leave your birdie putt short!) By making the cookie thick, the buttery flavor of the cookie overpowered the fig flavor, so I added additional fig filling for each cookie. (What a shame.) When biting the cookie, the filling squeezes out the sides of the cookie and has to be licked off. (What a shame.)

Shortbread Cookie


  • 1 cup butter or margarine, softened
  • ¾ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 ½ cups Gold Medal™ all-purpose flour


  1. Heat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, beat butter, powdered sugar and vanilla with spoon. Stir in flour. (If dough is crumbly, mix in 1 to 2 tablespoons butter or margarine, softened.)
  2. Roll dough ¼” (or less if you can) thick on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Cut into small shapes and remove the excess, combine and roll out again, and again.
  3. Bake 10 to 16 minutes (depending on thickness of the cookie) or until set and bottoms are light golden brown. Immediately remove from cookie sheet to wire rack. Cool completely, about 30 minutes. I like to slide the parchment paper off the cookie sheet with all the cookies still attached, let cool until cookies release from the paper and leave on the wire rack until cool.

Fig Filling


  • 1 ½ scant cups chopped, stemmed, dried black figs (about 9 ounces)
  • 3/4 cup (177 ml) pomegranate juice
  • ⅓ cup (66 grams) sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 1 orange
  • 1 star anise, or ¼ tsp crushed fennel seeds
  • 1 cup water


  1. In a saucepan, combine the figs, juice, sugar, zest, star anise (or fennel), and 1 cup of water and bring to a boil.
  2. Simmer over low heat until the figs are softened and the liquid is syrupy and is reduced to about ½ cup.
  3. Let the figs cool in their syrup, then puree in a food processor until smooth. [If you dislike the taste of star anise, you should remove it before pureeing, but if you do, leave it in.

He Said With a Rye Smile

When I retired, I realized I needed a new hobby, beyond brewing beer, (I have a batch of English Bitter about to be bottled) so I decided to start baking seriously, expanding my skills and experimenting with new recipes and techniques.  Now,  having nearly mastered the concept of retirement, I bake a lot of bread. I also bake a lot of pastries, cakes, cookies, biscuits, crackers, pizza, bagels and pretzels. (I’ve gotta get another hobby!)Hubble Deep Field Image

One of the holy grails of baking is to produce a good New York Jewish Rye Bread. This bread has a tangy rye flavor, chewy crumb and glazed, blistered crust. There are as many recipes and techniques to make this bread as there are galaxies in Hubble’s Deep Field image.

The recipe/method I chose was from Chef John V., A Good Cooking Recipe! This is not the easiest recipe, nor does it use the most common ingredients, however, his historical introduction rang with an authenticity that hooked me. His grandfather owned a dairy farm, as did mine. He was from Hudson NY, whereas mine was from Salisbury Vermont. He sold the farm and became a baker, whereas mine was a farmer to the end of his life. His other grandfather would work at the bakery whenever they needed help, whereas mine, did not. I didn’t say we had parallel experience, just that his sounded authentic.

Chef John V. uses some unusual, or at least uncommon (to me) ingredients that I found intriguing. Potato water: I have recipes that use small amounts of potato flour, but never potato “water”. First Clear Flour: milled from spring wheat and has a very high gluten and protein content which gives this rye its chewiness. White Rye Flour: milled from whole rye berries after the bran and germ are removed. I made the potato water and purchased the unusual flours from King Arthur (another Vermont connection.) He also uses a sour starter which requires 3 days of room temperature fermentation. When ready, the starter has a very yeasty, sour aroma – delicious.

The result of this first try was three small loaves of flavorful, aromatic, chewy crust and crumb rye bread, well worth the effort and will certainly be repeated. It might be fun to try an “easy” rye bread recipe to contrast the effort/reward of the two techniques. I think two medium sized loaves (think bigger sandwiches) would be appropropriate for this recipe.

New York Style Jewish Rye

Recipe by: Chef John V., A Good Cooking Recipe!

This recipe is as close to the original as can be. The only difference is they baked it in ovens that could inject steam during the first 10 minutes, which gave the crust its blistered look and chewy texture.

Note: This is a must have proper ingredient recipe! You can’t substitute medium rye flour without a change in texture. Light Rye or White Rye flour is a must is as 1st Clear Flour. Also note that flour has a different moisture content during the winter as in the summer, so in the winter you may need to add a bit more water and in the summer a little less. No more than a few tablespoons should do—this is a stiff dough! For your success please remember to measure exactly as baking is a science.

Serving size: 3 – 1½ pound oblong rye loaves (Note: next time 2 medium sized loaves)

Preparation time: Start to finish is 3 days including a sour starter


  • Sour Starter—
    • 1 cup warm potato water*
    • 1 cup light rye flour—see footnote
    • 1 Tbsp. yeast, dry active or 1 fresh yeast cake
    • Stir to blend well, then cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 3 days at room temperature 65-70o F

* Potato water—Peel and quarter 2 pounds of regular potatoes, cover with water and season with salt. Cook like you would for boiled or mashed potatoes, drain—saving the water the potatoes were cooked in. This is potato water, it gives bread a moist and compact texture. Save or eat the potatoes as you like.

  • Dough for the bread—
    • 2 cups warm water, about 120o
    • 1 Tbsp. sugar
    • 1 Tbsp. yeast
    • Add—starter from above
    • 2 cups light rye flour
    • 2 Tbsp. kosher salt
    • 2 Tbsp. caraway seeds
    • 4 ¾ cups first clear flour—see footnote
  • Glaze—1 cup water
    • 3 Tbsp. cornstarch mixed with ¼ cup cold water—no lumps


  1. In a mixer or by hand combine 2 cups warm water with sugar and yeast, mix and let sit for 10 minutes.
  2. Add the sour starter and the remaining ingredients. Mix on low speed for 2-3 minutes with a dough hook, then increase to medium speed and mix 6 minutes longer, be sure all the flour is absorbed into the dough by raising and lowering the bowl from time to time.
  3. Remove from the machine and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise 2 hours @ 70o or until doubled in size.
  4. Portion into 3 – 1½ pound pieces of dough and shape into oblong loaves, place on baking pans that have been sprinkled with semolina flour or fine cornmeal. Cover with a damp but not wet cloth and let rise for 40 minutes at @ 75-80o (on top of the stove is fine).
  5. Carefully remove the damp cloth, then slash the dough 3 times across the top with a very sharp knife or razor blade about ¾ of an inch deep. Immediately place in a pre-heated 375o oven, and place a pan of boiling water on the oven’s bottom. Remove the pan after 10 minutes, this will create steam and help with crust development. Continue to bake for 30 minutes or until center is 180 degrees F.
  6. For the glaze: boil 1 cup of water, mix the cornstarch with ¼ cup cold water, then combine with boiled water and stir continually until thickened. Cover with plastic wrap.
  7. Remove the bread and with a pastry brush, brush with the cooked cornstarch. A small amount of this glaze is enough, it’s used to create a shiny surface. Cool the bread on wire racks for at least 1 hour before slicing.


White Rye Flour is milled from whole rye berries which has the bran and germ removed and is unbleached. Medium rye is the next grade with is darker in color and if it were to be used in this bread it would make a darker loaf but not as dark as pumpernickel.

First Clear Flour is milled from spring wheat and has a very high gluten and protein content which gives this rye its chewiness.

Retirement is Loafing… NOT!

I admit it. I have a bread machine. I was consistently underwhelmed by the results from Whitebread1this device. Currently, it is in storage in the garage. I also have a KitchenAide mixer with a dough hook and am very pleased with the consistently good results from this device. It both mixes the ingredients and does 90% of the kneading. It would probably do all the kneading but there is something satisfying about having your hand on, and in the dough, feeling it develop the gluten into a soft, resilient ball.

Here is a tip: if, while using your stand mixer to IMG_0029knead bread, it walks across the table, put a silicone baking liner under the mixer. I buy a Cooks Essentials 24″ x 72″ roll every year or so.

After a long search (and many test bakes) for a “go to” white sandwich bread recipe I found one on, of all places, the back of a bag of  Gold Medal flour, duh! I have changed the Method a little, but held pretty close to the Ingredients. I did try substituting butter for the shortening, no big difference, but don’t leave it out. I tried both bread and AP flour, and prefer bread. (I am making bread… why would I not use bread flour?)



  • 6 to 7 cups Gold Medal™ all-purpose flour* or Better for Bread® bread flour
  • 3 Tbl sugar
  • 1 Tbl salt
  • 2 Tbl shortening – NOTE: 1 Tbl shortening weighs 13g, easier to weigh than spoon
  • 4 1/2 tsp quick active dry yeast (2 packages regular)
  • 2 ¼ cups very warm water (120° to 130°F)
  • 2 Tbl butter or margarine, melted, if desired


  1. In large bowl, with the dough hook, stir 3 1/2 cups of the flour, the sugar, salt, shortening and yeast until well mixed. Add warm water. Beat  on low speed 1 minute, scraping bowl frequently. Beat on medium speed 1 minute, scraping bowl frequently. Stir in enough remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, to make dough easy to handle, not very sticky.
  2. Increase the speed to medium, KitchenAide (4 or 5) and knead for 7 minutes.
  3. Place dough on lightly floured surface. Knead until dough is smooth and springy.
  4. Spray large bowl (I use a dough rising bucket with snap on top) with canola, or other sprayable oil. Place dough in bowl, turning dough to grease all sides. Cover bowl loosely with plastic wrap (if using the bucket, spray the lid also) and let rise in warm place 40 to 60 minutes or until dough has doubled in size. (I use the proofing setting on my oven. This is a little higher temperature than recommended but the results justify the process.) Dough is ready if indentation remains when touched.
  5. Spray the bottoms and sides of two 8×4-inch or 9×5-inch loaf pans with cooking spray.
  6. Gently push fist into dough to deflate. Divide dough in half. (I find I end up with two 750g dough. Gently flatten each half with shaping into a 18×9-inch rectangle on lightly floured surface. (I used to use a rolling pin, but I prefer the texture by treating the dough more gently and not deflating too much.) Roll dough up, beginning at 9-inch side. Press with thumbs to seal after each turn. Pinch edge of dough into roll to seal and form a tight seal. Pinch each end of roll to seal. Fold ends under loaf. Place seam side down in pan. Here is another point of option. You can either brush loaves lightly with butter a this point, or for a crustier crust, don’t. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place 35 to 50 minutes or until dough has doubled in size.
  7. Move oven rack to low position so that tops of pans will be in center of oven. Heat oven to 425°F.
  8. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until loaves are deep golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. For the crusty crust, add a baking pan below the bread and pour a cup of water into the hot pan when you put the bread in to bake. Remove the pan and water after 10 minutes and let the bread continue to bake.
  9. Remove from pans to wire rack. For a softer, but still chewy crust brush loaves with butter, otherwise leave them dry; cool.