Monthly Blog Post – Rose’s Bread Bible Bakers: July 2017

I’ve been participating in and posting about my baking experiences with Rose’s Bread Bible Bakers for just over a year now and it has been a fantastic experience.  Rose’s Bread Bible is so rich with instruction, recipes, and inspiration.  My fellow bakers are a true group of bread aficionados and I learn a little something extra as I read their monthly posts.  As I continue this bread making journey, I am surprised by the number of recipes in the book that I had never tried, but have become favorites as a result of this journey.

Our July selection is a good example of this.  In browsing through the book over the years, I never had a serious interest in baking this one because based on the title I thought it seemed strange.  The secret ingredient for this bread is a poorly kept one as it is listed in the title.  Frankly, my pre-conceived notions about the results that ingredient would yield, despite what Rose says in the introduction caused me to miss out on this fantastic bread for no good reason.  Perhaps I would have tried it sooner if the name had simply been “Feather Loaf.”

While this isn’t the quickest recipe to make due to the sponge and multiple rises, the results are delicious with a subtle sweetness from a combination of honey and banana.  In addition to acting as a sweetener, the banana when coupled with a touch of butter keeps the bread moist.  The full name for this wonderful bread is Banana Feather Loaf.  I must warn you, the recipe produces a result that is nothing like the photo below.  Now there is nothing wrong with a traditional banana nut bread, I do bake and enjoy them, but when thinking about this recipe you have to get this image out of your head.  By the way, the texture of this bread reminded me of our June project which I’ll link to here.

no banana bread-2459926_1920.jpg

Image of peeled and sliced banana
The surprise ingredient in this bread which provides subtle flavor

Before we continue further, I wanted to share an article I found which details 16 Surprising Facts About Bananas.  Here are three of the 16 facts I found particularly surprising:

  • Bananas were first introduced to American consumers in 1876 at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition.
  • Americans consume over 28 pounds of bananas each year, with over 96 percent of households purchasing bananas at least once each month.
  • A small banana provides 27 mg magnesium, which may help boost mood. Men and women need 420 mg and 320 mg of magnesium per day, respectively. Low levels of this mineral are linked to depression, anxiety, irritability and other mood disorders. Since many of us don’t get enough magnesium in our diets, consider a banana as your chill pill.
Image of three whole bananas in a wire basket
One of these bananas will add subtle sweetness and moisture to this bread

Putting this bread together is a breeze if you have experience with Rose’s recipes and techniques.  I had a couple of concerns which as I’ll explain were unfounded.  Because I was short on time, I let my starter ripen for about four hours before mixing.  Additional time would of course further develop the flavor, and there is no concern about the banana taking over since it is not added until you go to mix the dough.

Although I’m in that 96% of households that typically purchase bananas monthly, I did not have any fresh bananas on hand.  I regularly visit the little area in the back of the produce department when I grocery shop to look for overly ripe bananas which have been marked down.  This enables me to save a bit on the purchase (although according to the article cited above banana prices have been on a steady decline) and then I prepare them for freezing.  I typically peel the banana, slice it and wrap it in wax paper before placing in a ziplock freezer bag.  I normally use these frozen bananas for smoothies, but I decided to use one for this recipe.  It works fine, however, when thawed, the banana will have a bit of extra moisture which I recommend pouring out before mashing.  Also. the banana does brown a bit as it thaws, but the little bit of browning that occurs doesn’t seem to discolor the finished dough.

Preparing the dough was simple and straight forward, although I did feel there was a little less dough than normal for my loaf pan, and that it was a bit slow to rise.  Once the dough went in the oven it was necessary to reset the timer and change the temperature several times.  This bread really does brown quite a bit, and I fought the urge to tent it with foil as Rose did indicate that it browns quickly which is why the multiple temperature changes are needed.  When I took it out of the oven I was a bit concerned about the color and whether it would taste burnt — the color of the crust did not seem to impact the deliciousness of this bread in the least.

If you have an overly ripe banana lying around your kitchen, this is a great recipe to use it for as the other ingredients are likely to already be in your pantry.  By the way, if you’ve been following the blog, you’ll know that one of the tests that I put my loaves to is whether it makes a good sandwich.  This bread was the foundation for a fantastic grilled ham and cheese sandwich and a really tasty smoked turkey sandwich.  It was also nice toasted so it’s a versatile, all around winner that deserves a spot in your baking rotation.




My First Lattice Pie (and Other Summer Pie Making Adventures)

I recently attended two classes that I signed up for this summer to improve my ability to bake pies from scratch, and I made my very first lattice pie.  I think as a result that I’m on track to achieve my #piegoals this year.  You can read more about the start of my 2017 pie making journey here.

Cut my pie into four pieces, I don’t think I could eat eight.

– Yogi Berra

I’ve baked four pies at home over the last month to reinforce what I’ve learned from those two classes.  Let me first tell you about those experiences.  I have taken a number of classes over the years at Sur La Table and was really excited last fall when a new, more convenient location opened in Westwood Village.  I also had the opportunity to take my first class at The Gourmandise School in Santa Monica, CA.  Both of these classes were taught by professional pastry chefs, and these experiences have really helped me grow my skills this summer.

Photo of a small strawberry rhubarb pie topped with a lattice crust
My first lattice pie made during class at Sur La Table filled with fresh strawberries and rhubarb

The Easy as Pie class at Sur La Table featured a Lattice Top Strawberry Rhubarb pie and a Dark Chocolate Ganache and Salted Caramel Tartlet.  These were two very different fillings and used very different techniques so there was a definite broadening of my skills here.   Specifically around tempering chocolate, making a ganache, and making caramel.  This is a little embarrassing, but I will admit that I had never had a pie with baked strawberries, let alone one with strawberries and rhubarb so it introduced me to a whole new universe of strawberry pie making.  The only type of strawberry pie I experienced growing up here in Southern California was like those served at Marie Callender’s restaurants.  These are more like a fresh strawberry tart with a glaze and whipped cream on top.  I suspect there are regional customs at work here.  If anyone can enlighten me further on this I’d love to understand more.

Fresh peach pies with crumble topping (top) and apple pies (bottom) from class.
Fresh peach pies with crumble topping (top) and apple pies (bottom) from the Gourmandise class.

The class at Gourmandise was titled (most appropriately I might add) 4th of July Pies and had us preparing two fresh fruit pies — one with apples, and a second with peaches.  In addition to making the pie crust entirely by hand, we also made a crumble topping by hand for the peach pies.  I had lots of left-over pie dough after class to play with so I made a fresh cherry pie (pictured at the start of this post) for my family 4th of July gathering.  More on that later.

I learned a lot from the two classes and walked away with loads of tips from each.  In some ways, the instructors contradicted each other just a bit.  For example, at Sur La Table we were encouraged to start with a disc of dough if we wanted a round piece of dough when we finished rolling, or a square if you wanted a square piece when finished.  To me, this made a lot of sense.  At Gourmandise, we started with somewhat triangular wedges (we cut each disc into quarters to begin rolling) which to me made things a bit more difficult.  In both classes, however, we got great tips which enabled us to roll out the dough in such a way that it remained flaky and baked up nicely.  Other differences I think were based on the preferences and experience of the instructor and I just needed to decide for myself.  One example is cutting your butter into cubes instead of starting with whole sticks.  I don’t think you can skip cutting the butter into the cubes if you are using a machine.  A second difference is using an egg wash versus milk.  Either wash will work and provide good results as confirmed in Art of the Pie by Kate McDermott, but I think I have a preference for the nice shine you get from an egg wash.

Image of Strawberry-Rhubarb Pies​ from cooking class at Sur La Table with pre-baked tart shells in the background ready to be filled
Strawberry-Rhubarb Pies from cooking class at Sur La Table

One of the things I loved about the Sur La Table class is that we were able to get hands-on experience with four different methods of preparing dough — strictly by hand, by hand with a pastry cutter, with a food processor, and with a stand mixer.  Before attending class, I was a food processor method aficionado.  Now, I prefer the mixer approach with my KitchenAid stand mixer.  It is nice and neat (unlike the hand methods) and I get an even flakier result that I was getting with the food processor.  We also got to make a sweet tart dough which was delicious with the ganache and caramel tarts.

Overall I was also very pleased with the Gourmandise experience.  For me, they are a great local resource but in my opinion, one of the greatest testaments to the quality of their culinary program is the fact that we had a number of attendees traveling 60+ miles by car to attend, and one attendee who flew in from Austin, TX.  The in-class discussions about different types of flours, fats, and pie pans were really helpful.  We were encouraged to be confident when working with our dough (I was a bit timid) as it can smell fear a mile away .ca16d76a2decc397630fdd082cc78f35-emoji-faces-smiley-faces

This Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie has been brushed with egg wash and is oven ready
This Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie has been brushed with egg wash and is oven ready
Baked Strawberry Rhubarb pie
During baking, the juices from this pie bubbled out all over my baking sheet, and it was still too runny

After attending any class or lesson I believe that you need to put your newly gained knowledge to work.  In this case, it meant making more pies at home.  Following the Sur La Table class, I decided to make a Strawberry Rhubarb pie at home using their recipe.  Although it worked, I had way too much liquid in the pie filling after baking so that was a disappointment.  If I were to make this one again, I would need to use more thickener as the amount in the recipe clearly wasn’t enough.

I still had a bit of pie dough leftover and decided to use it for a small blueberry pie.  Since I had a small amount of dough, I used a small oval baking dish and just under a pint of berries.  After the watery filling with the Strawberry Rhubarb pie, I decided to try tapioca flour as the thickener with the blueberries and it worked but I still had juices overflowing.  I didn’t really follow a recipe, rather I improvised from a recipe in The Art of the Pie using 2 tablespoons of sugar, 2 teaspoons of tapioca flour, a few drops of lemon juice, a pinch of nutmeg and about a teaspoon of Grand Marnier.  This was delicious although the filling bubbled up over the decorative flowers I made as I was short on dough.  Definitely, needs more dough — overlapping flowers would have helped reduce or elminate the overflow..


Picture of a homemade cherry pie
My latest pie creation is a fresh cherry pie with a lattice crust

After the class at Gourmandise, I made the cherry pie pictured here and at the top of this post.  I used leftover dough from class and followed the recipe linked to above from Art of the Pie.  This pie was a real crowd pleaser with very positive critical feedback from my uncle.  His feedback was that the dough needed more salt (I agreed).  I took some more of the remaining dough, rolled it out after sprinkling with freshly ground sea salt and used it for a mini pie with a bit of leftover cherry filling and it was fantastic!  By the way, for this lattice pie I rolled my dough into a square before cutting the strips which worked really well.  Notice that this pie did not have juices running over.  I bought a pie bird to help with this problem, but I forgot to use it. OtherFINAL  Fortunately it wasn’t really necessary this time around.

By the way, the book Art of the Pie has been a great resource for me.  I think a hands-on class like one of the two I took is really helpful and provides supervised hands-on experience.  The book, however in my mind really shines when it comes to the recipes.  I wasn’t really blown away by any of the fruit pie recipes from the classes, but when I’ve followed Kate’s recipes at home I’ve had great results (like that fresh cherry pie following this recipe or the fresh apple pie you can read about in the post about my 2017 #piegoals).  This fresh cherry pie was my latest, and tastiest fruit pie ever.  I did not experience any overflow from the juices so it was neat and tidy unlike the two prior baked-at-home pies.

Whew, it has been a busy pie baking summer.  I have plans for a savory summer pie as well as a review of some of my favorite pie making tools that I will share soon.  Be sure to follow the blog or you can follow me on social media to stay up to date.  In the meantime, enjoy the remainder of summer and take advantage of the season’s bounty.  Enjoy life, eat more pie!




BBB AKA Big Beautiful Bread

Reader note:  I liked this bread so much that I decided to try it again and experiment a bit further with the ingredients.  The results were fantastic, and I’ll append the post below with the details.  This bread should be added to your baking to-do list.  There is a saying they have in Singapore — “die die must try”.  This is that bread.

If you’ve followed along on the blog, you might recall a recent post about my go-to bread — Sheryl’s Harvest Grains Loaf.  I find this to be a reliable recipe for when time is short and I want a healthful whole grain bread.  You can find the recipe here.  Last week I thought I would take a look at the King Arthur website for additional recipes that I could try which use the harvest grains blend.

I happened across this recipe for A Simple, Rustic Loaf (it’s a winner with a five-star rating) and thought I’d give it a try.  This recipe baked up as a huge crispy crusted loaf with a delicate interior — this bread is very different from my go-to loaf in a few very important ways.

  • First, this loaf needs much more time as it uses the sponge method.  I prepared the sponge and let it sit at room temperature overnight which enabled fantastic flavor development.  The small amount of rye flour also contributes to the flavor.  In addition to the fermentation time, this bread needs extra time for a second rise.
  • Second, this bread uses a smaller amount of the harvest grains mixture relative to the flour, and there is no whole wheat flour so the texture is much lighter.
  • Finally, this bread has no sweetener or oil added.

I followed the recipe as written with three changes.  First, I add vital wheat gluten whenever my recipe uses whole grains or a seed mixture like the harvest grains blend.  For this recipe, I added 2 tablespoons.  Second, I did not have pumpernickel flour and used rye flour instead.  img_0142Finally, I baked the recipe using my La Cloche baker which you can read more about here.  The La Cloche ensures a fantastic crisp crust.  To use this recipe with the La Cloche, you will want to pre-heat the oven with the dome inside at 450° for an hour before baking.  If your oven is like mine, you will want to remove the upper rack before you begin the pre-heating and create more space to accommodate the La Cloche.  I also pre-heated my baking stone on the rack where I will place the baker.  When you’re ready, pop the bread in the oven (the bottom of the baker goes on top of the hot stone) and carefully put the very hot dome on top.  Bake at 450° for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 400° for 15 minutes.  Finally, remove the dome and bake for 5 more minutes for a total baking time of 35 minutes.  By the way, there is no need with the La Cloche to spray the bread with water or use a pan of ice cubes to create steam.  As you can see below, I had great oven spring and ended up with a loaf that was so big, I couldn’t fit it into my bread keeper without cutting it in half.


This was a really happy experiment, and I’m sure this big beautiful bread will become a regular in my repertoire.  Don’t fret if you don’t have the Harvest Grains blend.  As much as I love it, I know how it is when you are out of an ingredient and need to substitute.  There are plenty of ideas for how to improvise if you look through the reviews on the recipe page.  Let me know if you try this one, I think you’ll really enjoy it.

Experimentation Update

As mentioned above, I made this bread a second time.  This time I decided to make a change to the amount of all-purpose flour used in the dough.  Instead of 9-1/2 ounces, I used 7 and then added 2-1/2 ounces of King Arthur’s Ancient Grains blend.  This whole grain flour is a blend that includes 30% each amaranth, millet, and sorghum flours and 10% quinoa flour.  I honestly had not gotten a lot of use out of this flour and needed to try and use it up which led to this experiment.  The resulting bread had a slightly earthy but complex flavor that was indescribably delicious.  Be sure to add the vital wheat gluten as I describe above.  This dough rose really quickly creating another BBB — the first rise only took 50 minutes.

Monthly Blog Post: Rose’s Bread Bible Bakers April 2017

“The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight…”

M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating

Our Bread Bible Bakers project for the month of March was originally Walnut Fougasse.  I honestly did bake the recipe in March but must admit that I was really very disappointed in the outcome and delayed writing the post for a full month.  I was really lacking in enthusiasm about this one, and waited another month to edit the post — definitely not like me.  I had never had a fougasse before, so as a result of my profound disappointment in this recipe I sought out another fougasse recipe which I baked for comparison.  I had intended to try this one again but just never got up enough enthusiasm to try it again until tonight.

So what was wrong with this bread recipe the first time around?  I found the dough to be very tough or dense and very difficult to work with.  In fact, the dough was so tough that the whole process of kneading in the walnuts by hand was a challenge, and kneading in additional oil after the dough had risen was a mess.  This was so bad that I found myself checking Rose’s website for possible errata to explain this.  The only unusual ingredient was the scalded milk which should not have caused a problem.  I just don’t know what happened here, the flavor of the bread was OK, but the texture and appearance really weren’t very good.

The next day I did a bit of research on fougasse and found a number of recipes.  None of them used as much oil, and none had you knead it in during the rising process.  None of them used milk as the liquid either.  I ended up with a very delightful bread based on this Fougasse recipe with olives and herbs from Saveur magazine.  I was a bit jaded from my experience with the Walnut Fougasse so I cut the recipe by 2/3 to make a single loaf just in case it didn’t turn out well, but as I said it was delightful.

Fougasse with kalamata olives and herbs

Fast forward to today, as I finally sat down to write this post.  I decided to give this one another try as I wanted to just double check the measurements.  Once I measured the flour I decided to go ahead and bake this one again.  I typically use my kitchen scale for measuring ingredients like flour, and the first time around I measured 1 imperial pound as the recipe called for.  This time I measured using the dip and sweep method, as well as using both imperial and metric measurements with my scale to check accuracy.  I got the same result with all three methods which as Martha Stewart would say is a good thing.

Next, I scalded some milk since it needed time to cool.  I even went to the trouble of looking for advice on scalding milk which I found here on  Nothing earth shattering here, although they specifically advised to let the milk cool to 110°.  I dutifully did so using my instant read thermometer (it was actually down to 95° by the time I was ready to mix).  I did not check the temperature the last time so don’t know if this was a factor or not.

This second batch of dough was still dense, but after letting it rest for 15 minutes I did manage to knead in the walnuts by hand.  Although my walnuts were pre-chopped I did chop them even more based on my experience last time.  I do think having them chopped pretty small is key to kneading them in successfully.  Kneading in the first tablespoon of oil was OK, but I found myself having the same fundamental concerns about this recipe as I did the first time.  It is really hard to get a nice smooth dough with this recipe and approach.  Although the finished texture the second time seemed to be a little better, this recipe is still a no go in my book.  It is such a no go, that I was pretty unmotivated on photos for this post as well as the writing.  This is the first and only failure I’ve experienced with The Bread Bible.  After baking this one twice, I’d say to this recipe “hey, it’s not me, it’s you.”

I’d love to hear from others who have made this recipe with success or who have tips that might help.

Sheryl’s Harvest Grains Loaf

If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you know that I do love to bake bread (I like to eat it too!).  As much as I love freshly baked bread some recipes take more time and effort than others.  Since I don’t have unlimited time for baking, I’ve had to search for a bread recipe which meets the following criteria:

  • Quick to make with only one rise
  • Improved nutritional value from whole grains without being dense or bitter
  • Additional taste, texture, and nutrition from seeds and grains
  • Freezes well so I can have some on hand without having to bake


This loaf makes great grilled ham and cheese sandwiches

The recipe that I am sharing in this post meets all of these requirements and has become my go-to quick and easy loaf.  This one is great for sandwiches (grilled ham and cheese anyone?) or toast.  In addition to baking it for my personal consumption, I often like to take along a baked offering when visiting friends or family.  One of my uncles raves about this bread, so I try to make it whenever I know I’ll see him.

I originally found the recipe for Michelle’s Harvest Grains Loaf a couple of years ago.  The recipe was originally written for a bread machine, so I have adapted the technique for my KitchenAid stand mixer and made a couple of tweaks based on my learnings from baking with Rose’s Bread Bible over the years.  I’ve also made a few modifications to the ingredients.  The most significant one is the addition of vital wheat gluten which enables me to achieve the light texture I wanted even though the recipe uses whole grains and seeds.  I use the Bob’s Red Mill product because it does the job and is readily available at my local supermarket or at Whole Foods.

The hero ingredient in this recipe is the harvest grains blend.  I haven’t seen anything like this anywhere else.  It is super tasty and filled with goodies like poppy seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, and oats.  I was absolutely heartbroken last year when I accidentally ended up with almost a whole two-pound bag worth of the mix on my kitchen floor.  Apparently, the lid on the canister wasn’t on securely, I didn’t have a firm grip, and the rest is history.  I had to turn around and immediately reorder, but fortunately, there was a reduced price shipping deal at the time.  The grain blend is really important to the success of this recipe so I recommend ordering it just for this recipe, although there are several other recipes on the King Arthur site you can try in order to get more use out of the product.  One other recipe I’ve used it in with good success is for Harvest Grain Buns (dinner rolls) which were a hit on our Thanksgiving table.


  • 1 1/3 cups warm water
  • 2 tablespoons agave nectar or honey
  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed or other vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup Harvest Grains Blend
  • 2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 cup King Arthur Premium Whole Wheat Flour or White Whole Wheat (I normally use the white whole wheat, but the regular works fine too)
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast — I use the SAF Red Instant from King Arthur
  • 2 tablespoons Bob’s Red Mill Vital Wheat Gluten


  1. In the workbowl of your electric stand mixer, i.e. a KitchenAid combine all of the dry ingredients, except the salt by hand to distribute the ingredients.  With the machine on low speed, pour in the water, oil, and sweetener until a rough dough forms.
  2. Cover the workbowl with a towel and let the dough rest for 20 minutes.
  3. After the dough has rested, add the salt and knead the dough by machine on medium-high for 7 minutes.  You should now have a smooth supple dough like the image below.
  4. Lightly grease an 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ bread pan.
  5. Shape the dough into a log and place it in the pan.
  6. Allow the loaf to rise, covered, until it’s crowned about 1″ over the rim of the pan.  In my experience, with the yeast specified above, I  typically am ready to bake within 45 minutes.  I forgot to set my timer, so the results shown here were after a 60-minute rise.
  7. While the bread is rising, preheat the oven to 350°F.
  8. Bake for 35 minutes, or until the bread’s interior temperature registers 190°F on an instant-read thermometer.
  9. Remove the bread from the oven, remove it from the pan, and cool it on a wire rack.
  10. Store, well-wrapped, for 5 days at room temperature, or freeze for up to 3 months.

2017 #piegoals

I recently shared a blog post about making individual-size fruit crisps as a diet friendly and quick alternative to making a whole pie.  As part of that post, I mentioned that one of my goals is to up my pie-making game and that to start the process I had purchased the book Art of the Pie by @KateMcDermott.  I had originally intended to make an apple pie as part of my Christmas brunch menu but ran out of prep time — I had to cut and run with my other deserts.  I had already prepared a chocolate pound cake recipe and homemade cinnamon ice cream so those would just have to do.

Once I got past the holiday, I was able to resume work on the apple pie I had originally planned.  This ended up being my second pie recipe from Art of the Pie.  I wanted to share the results of this effort, and talk about some of the actions I plan to take to increase my pie making skills this year.  Note that most of my emphasis will be on the aesthetic aspects rather than how to prepare the dough and filling as I’m already getting good results in those areas.  Any advice or suggestions you may have for me as I begin this journey will be greatly appreciated!

For this pie I decided to use McDermott’s traditional crust which is prepared with a combination of butter and shortening.  The dough recipe recommends that you roll and use it on the same day that you make it.  The directions are written for manual preparation, however I used my normal food processor technique.  I also ended up rolling this pie crust four days after making it.  The crust was nice and flaky once baked, but I did find that the dough softened up very quickly when I took it out of the refrigerator.  This put pressure on me to work quickly which is a bit at odds with my focus on aesthetics.

Brushed with egg wash and ready to bake

I decided to focus my attention on decorating the top of the pie using a small tear drop shaped cutter that I recently purchased as part of a set from Sur La Table. When I looked these up on the website I read that these were intended for cutting aspect, but they were just fine for cutting pie dough.  My idea was to create a design in the middle of the top and to use the cut outs as a replacement for simple knife slashes to permit venting .  To do this I had to roll the top crust out and guesstimate where I thought the center would be and use the cutter to make the cut outs.  I then needed to carefully transport the top by loosely wrapping it around my rolling pin and hope to place the top in the correct position.  I think I got pretty close on that.  Although I managed to place the top, I didn’t have enough crust around the edges of the top and bottom to create a nice fluted edge all the way around so I tucked the edges into the side of the pan as neatly as I could.  I also developed a tear in the crust that I had to struggle to repair.  I’ll need to practice this stuff a bit more in my future attempts.  The final step relative to the crust was to place my tear drops around the top of the crust and apply an egg wash.

For the apple filling I used McDermott’s recipe for The Quintessential Apple Pie.  I had it in my head that I would need to peel the apples before baking, and I was thrilled to skip this step per the recipe directions.  One of the recommendations is to use two  apple varieties for depth of flavor.  I am not a great apple connoisseur but I used a combination of organic Jonagold and Opal apples.  As I tasted the apples before baking, I found that I really liked the flavor of the Opal apples.  I did a bit of research as I wasn’t familiar with this cultivar — I discovered the likely reason for the lack of familiarity.  According to the website, this is an apple which is available during a limited season, from December to March.  In the U.S. they are grown exclusively at Broetje Orchards in Prescott, WA.  This cultivar is relatively new having been discovered in Europe in 1999, and they are a cross between a Golden Delicous and a Topaz.  These apples were introduced to the U.S. market in 2010, and what really has me sold on these is that they do not brown when cut.  Another unique characteristic is that they are organic, Non-GMO Project verified.  I purchased these at my local Whole Foods Market, and look forward to experimenting further with them.  If you would like to try them, take a peek at the website for a grocer near you.

While drafting this post, I mentioned these non-GMO apples to a friend who innocently asked what GMO really meant.  I explained to her my understanding which was basically correct, but I found a lot of additional info on the topic.  I will provide links to a couple of interesting articles here, but the important point to remember is that with GMO or genetically modified organisms (AKA genetically engineered) we do not fully understand the potential negative impact of these foods hence the risk of the unknown.  What is a GMO, and how are GMOs different from hybridized foods, for example pluots which are a cross between a plum and an apricot?  According to the GMO Awareness website,

“Genetic modification is the process of forcing genes from one species into another entirely unrelated species. Unlike cross breeding or hybridization—both of which involve two related species and have been done without ill effects for centuries—genetic engineering forcefully breaches the naturally-occuring barriers between species.”

Here are real GMO examples from GMO Awareness:

“Other examples of GMOs include strawberries and tomatoes injected with fish genes to protect the fruit from freezing, goats injected with spider genes to produce milk with proteins stronger than kevlar for use in industrial products, salmon that are genetically engineered with a growth hormone that allow them to keep growing larger, dairy cows injected with the genetically engineered hormone rBGH (also known as rBST) to increase milk production, and rice injected with human genes to produce pharmaceuticals.”

According to The World’s Healthiest Foods website:

“GE foods by definition contain novel proteins that were not present in the food prior to its genetic modification.  Since proteins are often the basis for an allergic food reaction (our immune system will sometimes make antibodies to help neutralize proteins that are interpreted as being potentially dangerous to our health), many scientists have speculated that novel proteins in GE foods may cause these foods to trigger allergic reactions more frequently than their non-GE counterparts.”

The net is that while there is no scientific evidence proving these GE foods are bad, there isn’t proof that they are good either.  By the way, my understanding is that organic foods (if truly organic) by definition are non-GMO, but non-GMO foods are not necessarily organic.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming after what my Mom would call a bird walk — the pie filling.  The one other thing I’d like to point out about the filling recipe is that Calvados was an optional ingredient.  That is not something that I had on hand, however I had just received my holiday order from King Arthur Flour.  One of the items I purchased this time was boiled apple cider.  This was a first time purchase for me — I decided to give it a try as my #piegoals were top of mind.  This stuff really helps to enrich the flavor of the apples and it seemed to combine well with my Bragg’s apple cider vinegar.

So, how did the completed pie turn out, and what did I learn from the experience?  The first thing I would mention is that somewhere in the book I read that with a fruit pie you can end up with a gap between the underside of the top crust and the top of the filling.   The solution if you don’t want the gap is to partially pre-cook your filling.  Now you could reasonably deduce that since I was happy to not peel the apples that I didn’t really want to pre-cook the filling.  Your deductive reasoning would be absolutely correct as I was pressed for time.  I didn’t think that the gap would bother me, but not having the gap really would make it easier to have nice looking slices.  The aesthetics of the slices were challenging with the combination of the teardrop cutouts and the gap between the crust and the filling.  My learning here is that there is a good reason for “minding the gap” as they say in London.

Second, while not peeling the apples first is a great time saver, my suspicion is that some skins when cooked will not provide the most pleasing flavor.  There was an occasional bite with a mild aftertaste that I couldn’t place.  My suspicion is that it came from the skins of the Opal apples.  While it wasn’t “bad” I’d rather do without it.  My thought is to bake a whole Opal apple to test my theory.  The lesson here is to know your apple varieties and the taste of the baked skin before making a decision “to peel or not to peel.”  While this lesson is specific to apple pie, the concept may apply to other fruits so it is worth thinking about.

While apple pie is great on its own, I thought it would be even better to serve it up with some home made cinnamon ice cream.  I found a recipe on which I made as directed with one exception.  Once I prepared and cooled the custard, I put it in the refrigerator to chill overnight with the thought that it would provide additional time for the flavors to mingle.  This ice cream was approved by kids and adults alike, and I would definitely recommend it.

Williams-Sonoma Classic Cajeta Caramel Sauce

To top things off, I splurged on a jar of gourmet caramel sauce from Williams-Sonoma.  The taste of this sauce is absolutely fantastic, however it does not drizzle easily.  I think you need to warm it up somehow (stovetop or microwave) to get the consistency just right.  You can find the sauce here.

Overall the pie was a success from a taste perspective, and I gained more experience with the decorative aspects of pie making.  The apple flavor of the bubbling juices as the pie came out of the oven was definitely enhanced by the boiled cider.  As I think about how to further develop my pie goals and a plan to achieve them, clearly practice will be essential.  One idea is to look for a bake-along similar to Rose’s Bread Bible Bakers.  Other ideas include my own “self-study” program, attending a class at Sur La Table or another local cooking school, and looking for pie specific blogs.  A trip to Kate McDermott’s pie camp would provide an intensive learning opportunity.  Any other ideas?  And for you pie experts, how did you do it?  I want to know!  In the meantime I will update you on my progress via the blog and on Instagram using the hashtag piegoals.

Monthly Blog Post: Rose’s Bread Bible Bakers December 2016

This is our final Bread Bible project for 2016, and I must say that being a part of Rose’s Bread Bible Bakers has been a real treat.  In addition to baking and eating some great breads, being part of a fantastic bread baking community, and continuing my growth as a baker, I’ve also had the opportunity to broaden my bread comfort zone if you will.  I do want to give a special shout-out and thank you to the members of our bread baking community.  We are a fantastic international group of bakers, and if you want to join the remainder of our journey just click on the link here.  I’ve posted below a photographic summary of our activity since May.  Although I’ve been baking from this book for several years, through this bake-along I’ve tried several recipes for breads that initially did not appeal to me, but will now become part of my repertoire.  Our December bread is a great example.

I have never been a fan of rye bread — I suspect my dislike perhaps came from a bad childhood experience.  I have a vague recollection of something my mother said was rye bread that I didn’t like, and I never tried it again.  I actually thought about taking a pass on this one, but I am so glad that I didn’t.  I type this as I finish eating a slice adorned with butter only, having had a tasty smoked turkey sandwich with my homemade cranberry chutney earlier in the day.

img_0140“Levy’s” Real Jewish Rye was a real treat with a nice crispy crust and moist golden brown interior.  By the way, I think the secret to the beautiful color of this bread is from using barley malt syrup which I buy from King Arthur Flour. The taste of rye flour is very subtle in this bread as there is roughly 20% rye flour with the remainder being white bread flour.  I used my beloved Artisan Bread Flour from KAF and Organic Rye Flour from Arrowhead Mills.  I will confess that I forgot to pick up the caraway seeds so that was the one change to the recipe as I didn’t want to go back out in the rain for them — and yes, thankfully it does rain in Southern California.

The recipe directs you to leave the sponge and flour mixture for four hours before mixing.  I was delayed returning home, so mine sat at room temperature for approximately six hours.  When I mixed the dough, I did find it a bit wetter than usual so I had to add a good bit more bread flour.  I suspect it was a result of our cool, damp weather and the excess time at room temperature.  My dough rose quite rapidly which is one of the benefits I find of using the SAF Red Instant Yeast.  If you haven’t tried it, I love that you don’t need to proof it, it’s very economical, and it usually gets results at the faster end of the time range given in your recipes.  I often find myself baking at night so I can bake and get to sleep sooner which is a plus.


This bread was a real winner, and I’ll look forward to baking it again in the future.  It is definitely proof that our childhood perceptions can be wrong.  I am looking forward to baking our remaining bake-along recipes in the New Year ahead as well as working on my #piegoals.  You’ll be hearing about them soon on the blog.  In the meantime, let me know your baking goals for the New Year.  I wish you the only best in all of your endeavors.

P.S. — I’m so excited and ready to break into my happy dance!  Our January recipe is one of my long-time favorites.  Yipee!

Sweet Potato Cornbread Muffins

Whew, the days leading up to Christmas have been quite hectic, but now it is over and a good time was had by all.  This holiday season was particularly crazed, and I’m hoping to sit down and write more about it soon.  I’ve learned some things in the process that I probably should share, but for now, let me share one of the recipes from my Christmas day family brunch buffet.

I typically host a Christmas brunch for my local family members which usually includes somewhere between 12 to 18 guests.  Last year was the first in more than 20 years that I didn’t host brunch as I was in the hospital recovering from emergency brain surgery.  Hosting my regular brunch this year was one of my goals while in rehab, and although everything didn’t go as planned, it went.  I found it difficult to prepare the menu, the house, and all of the assorted details — and take photos for the blog on top of it all so forgive me for having a limited number of photos.


Sweet potatoes provide extra texture and flavor while minimizing amount of sugar needed



As I planned the menu, I decided upon two breads for our Christmas table.  One was a typical yeast dinner roll from a recipe in the classic Fanny Farmer cookbook.  My second was based on a recipe for a sweet potato cornbread loaf in an award-winning cookbook that I haven’t used enough titled In the Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley.  The sweet potatoes are a unique ingredient which provides additional texture and natural flavor.  As a result, very little sugar is needed.

I modified the recipe to make muffins instead of a loaf.  As shown here, you’ll end up with 12 to 14 muffins.  Pre-heat the oven to 375º.  The ingredients are as follows:

  • 1 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal (I used Bob’s Red Mill from my local Whole Foods)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup full fat sour cream
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 cup cooked, mashed and peeled sweet potato.  I cooked mine in the microwave on the potato setting and then let it sit for a while to cool which made it soft and spoonable.  I cut the potato in half and scooped it out of the skin.  I used about 3/4 of one large sweet potato.
  1. Line your muffin pan with paper muffin cups
  2. Combine the cornmeal and sugar in a large bowl, then sift in the remaining dry ingredients.  Stir lightly to combine.
  3. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs, then whisk in the sour cream, vanilla, and melted butter.
  4. Stir in the mashed sweet potato, then add the cornmeal mixture stirring just enough to moisten the dry ingredients.
  5. Fill the muffin cups, and put them in the oven to bake.  Test with a toothpick after 15 minutes, but they should be done in 15-20 minutes.

You can serve these warm with plain or honey flavored butter.  Enjoy!

One Way to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth Without Wrecking Your Diet


Humor me for a moment…I started out the month filled with hopeful thoughts of baking more pies in an effort to up my “pie game.” Inspired by the awesome pie porn from the prolific @jojoromancer on Instagram, I even went out (OK, really my fingers just used the keyboard) and bought the recently published book from @katemcdermott titled Art of the Pie: A Practical Guide to Homemade Crusts, Fillings, and Life. I made a delicious pumpkin pie recipe from this book for Thanksgiving and actually did put in a little extra effort to make my first braided pie crust. I know, it is just a baby step, but as the saying goes, a journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step.


So earlier this week, I had a craving for something sweet. My mind turned to pie, but as I was home alone, baking a whole pie during the holiday season when the risk of serious weight gain is already high wasn’t a great idea. Having a whole freshly baked pie at my disposal could quite possibly lead to diet mayhem, but I came up with a diet friendly solution.

I remembered seeing in my freezer a little zip lock pouch. In that pouch was a generous amount of crisp topping that I had made as summer was coming to a close. There is an easy but delicious recipe in The San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market Cookbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Impeccable Produce Plus 130 Seasonal Recipes for a Nectarine and Blackberry Crisp. The cookbook author recommended making extra topping to freeze and use later, so my thought was why not use it to make an individual size portion of apple crisp? In the time that it took to peel and slice a single large apple, my crisp was ready to bake. Compare that with the time required to make a pie crust from scratch, as well as peeling and slicing 3 pounds of apples   — Food Network estimates the total prep and bake time for their apple pie recipe at 3.5 hours.


Individual apple crisps ready to bake in minutes


A variation of the crisp recipe can be found on blogger Tori Avery’s website. I will provide the topping recipe here and would estimate that a single recipe will likely yield four to six individual servings.

Topping Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans, almonds or walnuts (I used walnuts)
  • 6 tbsp chilled unsalted butter cut into 1-inch pieces

To prepare the topping, simply place the ingredients in your food processor and gently pulse to get a nice crumbly mixture. Package the topping up in a ziplock bag and freeze for future use.

pg1855-1372When the urge hits you, pre-heat your oven to 375° F, and get out your individual serving pans. I have a couple of old ones from Staub, which are pictured above as I prepared to put them into the oven. Mine are shallow and five inches in diameter — the closest thing I was able to find online were these from Le Creuset.   Put your pan(s) onto a baking sheet to catch any drips and facilitate putting them in and taking them out of the oven.

fullsizeoutput_793For two small crisps, I was able to use one large apple. If you have smaller apples then you will want to use two. In a small bowl squeeze approximately two teaspoons of fresh lemon juice. Peel your apple, and slice it fairly thin. Toss the apple slices with your lemon juice to prevent browning and then line your pans with the slices. Sprinkle each pan of apples with approximately one half teaspoon of cornstarch and one teaspoon (or more to your taste) of brown sugar. A dash of cinnamon is an optional add-on.    Dot each with a half tablespoon of butter cut into small pieces. Now you can sprinkle on the frozen topping and pop your pans into the oven. Bake for approximately 35 minutes until the apples are tender, the juices are bubbling, and the top is a nice brown. Let your crisp cool for a few minutes and then enjoy!

By the way, this crisp topping is extremely versatile.  I have typically made it during the summer months with blueberries, peaches, nectarines or plums.  Now that I’ve made this with apples, I can see some cool weather possibilities.  Apples are usually readily accessible and could be paired with cranberries or currants.  Pears are another idea that came to mind.  Let me know your ideas for quick, satisfying dessert options that won’t wreck your diet.

Have a safe, happy holiday season.  I wish you all the best in the New Year ahead!

Bonus Blog Post: Rose’s Bread Bible Bakers December 2016

I’ve been baking bread from Rose’s Bread Bible for many years, and over the years a number of her recipes have become staples for me. One of my staples was our first recipe from the bake-along for blueberry muffins. You can find the review of that recipe here.

main_variation_default_view_1_425x425Another go-to recipe of Rose’s is one that I bake every year during the holiday season for gift giving. It is a sure-fire crowd pleaser. Rose’s Cranberry-Banana-Walnut Quick Bread is as quick and easy to make as the name implies. I typically double the recipe and bake it in small (6” X 2.5”) disposable loaf pans that I buy at Sur La Table. You can buy these individually for $.75 US each. A double recipe will make five loaves (filling the pans almost to the top) and you may have a bit left for a muffin or two.  When baking, I place the filled loaf pans on a cookie sheet so they are well supported and I can easily transport them to and from the oven.  I bake these loaves for approximately 45 minutes at 350°.  Muffins will take approximately 20 minutes.  Naturally, they will bake a little more quickly if you bake using convection mode.

The flavor of this bread is a nice juxtaposition of sweet bananas and tart cranberries, and while the flavor combo is a bit more complex, it is no more difficult to make than your typical banana nut bread.  One important note is that Rose recommends that you cut your cranberries in half before adding them to the batter.  Being the lazy girl that I am, I just put them in the food processor and pulse for a moment.  This normally works well, but this time around I used previously frozen and thawed berries.  After thawing and pulsing, I had a bit of liquid in the bowl.  Although I drained the berries, I still ended up with a bit of discoloration in the finished bread.  For this reason, I would not recommend using thawed cranberries.  Use fresh berries, or pulse them and fold into the batter while they are still frozen.

By the way, I failed to mention that the baked mini-loaves freeze very well.  I typically bake these (and a favorite pound cake recipe) early in the month and then I put them in ziplock bags and freeze them.  As I am making my holiday rounds and know that I will see a recipient I pull one out of the freezer.


While Rose has never published the recipe outside of the book, there is a version of the recipe on that is close.  If you are looking for a giftable recipe, this may be the one for you.  I have often given these packaged in a gift bag along with a Christmas card and Starbucks gift card.  That way the recipient can get a hot beverage to accompany their sweet treat.  Don’t be surprised if the feedback you receive is that it was so good the recipient ate it all in one sitting.

If you try this recipe, I’m eager to hear about your results.  Also, if you have other baked “gift-ables”that you make, I’d love to hear about them!