Salted Caramel Pear Pie

With another Pi Day on the horizon, it was time to scratch my pie-baking itch. I really wanted to make a fruit pie; and while spring may technically be on the horizon, here in sometimes-it-snows-in-May Toronto we’ve been on a decidedly wintry kick. Ergo, no good looking rhubarb / berries in sight. I did, however, spot some delicious looking pears at the market; and since I haven’t gotten to bake with pears as much as I’d like this pear pie was born.

I adapted this recipe from Yossy Arefi’s Sweeter off the Vine: Fruit Desserts for Every Season. Yossy’s recipe uses a homemade creme fraiche salted caramel sauce, which sounds amazing; but I just used some leftover salted caramel sauce from a previous baking project. I decided to add some of the tang back in by using sour cream in my pie crust. A bit of dairy is a lovely addition to a pie crust — it adds depth of flavor and tenderness. You can also use buttermilk or yogurt if you don’t have sour cream.

Speaking of pie crusts, here I detail pretty much how I make all my pie crusts nowadays. The method may seem a bit involved, but it really doesn’t take much more time than a “normal” pie crust and you end up with a lovely, flaky crust that’s a dream to roll out. I credit The Bojon Gourmet for these crust “tricks;” she has an awesome, detailed tutorial that I highly recommend! I typically replace about 1/3 of the flour in my pie crusts with whole grain flour for flavor (health benefits are just a plus!); you could substitute rye or whole wheat for the spelt or use a combination; or just go all AP if you want.

I added one step to the filling, which is to macerate the fruit with the sugar and lemon juice and reduce the resulting liquid down to a syrup. (I frequently do this with other fruit pies to concentrate the flavors and avoid a soggy bottom crust.) My pears didn’t give off a ton of liquid so you can probably skip this step if you’re pressed for time or don’t want to bother.

My friends and I really enjoyed this pie. It’s lightly sweetened and warmly spiced, and the pears keep their texture nicely — they soften, but still retain some body (I personally don’t like an overly goopy filling so this is right up my alley). This is definitely a winning alternative to a typical apple pie and I can see this making an appearance at a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner in the future!

Salted Caramel Pear Pie with a Spelt Sour Cream Crust

Makes one 9-inch Pie | Adapted from Sweeter Off the Vine

For the Spelt Sour Cream Crust:

  • 240 g all purpose flour
  • 100 g whole spelt flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 255g very cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1/4 c sour cream, very cold
  • 1/4 c ice water, plus more if needed

For the Salted Caramel Pear Pie Filling:

  • 2 1/2 pounds ripe but firm pears, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced (I used a mix of d’Anjou and Bosc)
  • 50 g / 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 32 g / 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • Juice of 1 small lemon
  • 1/2 cup salted caramel sauce, plus extra for drizzling (I like this recipe)

To Finish:

  • 1 large egg, beaten with 1 Tbsp water or milk
  • 1 Tbsp turbinado sugar

Method:

  1. Make the pie crust: Combine the flours and salt in a large bowl. Add the butter and toss to coat. Working quickly, press the butter into flat sheets, occasionally tossing with the flour to make sure each piece is coated. The butter pieces should range in size from a dime to a quarter.
  2. Add the sour cream and 1/4 c ice water and use your hand or a wooden spoon to gently combine. If the dough seems dry, sprinkle more ice water on 1 tsp at a time until the dough just comes together. Your dough is ready if you can pick up a handful and it stays together. At this point the dough will still look quite rough and shaggy.
  3. Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface (I like to use a Silpat), divide into`12 roughly equal portions, and fraisage each piece across your surface using the heel of your hand or a bench scraper. The idea is to create streaks of butter within your dough. Pile the fraisaged pieces and pat into a rough rectangle. Wrap with plastic and refrigerate for about 15 minutes, or until cool but still pliable.
  4. Using a lightly floured rolling pin and flour on your surface as needed, roll the dough into a rough rectangle about 1/4″ thick. Fold into thirds like a letter, brushing off excess flour before folding. Give the dough a quarter turn and repeat the rolling and folding. (Refrigerate 10 minutes between turns if the dough feels warm or sticky at all.) At this point the dough should be quite smooth and easy to roll. Then loosely roll the dough up like a jelly roll, starting from a short end. Cut into two equal pieces, wrap each portion in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours (or overnight).
  5. Prepare the filling: Combine pears, sugar, and lemon juice in a large bowl and stir to combine. Cover and allow to macerate at room temperature for at least half an hour (or up to several hours).
  6. Grease a 9-inch pie plate. On a lightly floured surface (again, I like a Silpat for this), roll out one portion of your dough into a rough circle about 12 inches in diameter, about 1/8 – 1/4″ thick, working from the center out and rotating a quarter turn with each roll. Flip the dough occasionally and lightly flour to ensure it doesn’t stick. Transfer the dough to your prepared pie plate (if you’ve rolled on a Silpat, this is as easy as flipping the whole thing over your pie plate, peeling off the Silpat, and easing the dough in), trim the overhang to about 1 inch, and refrigerate until needed.
  7. Roll your other piece of dough as the first. If you’re doing a lattice top, use a ruler and pastry cutter to cut your strips. Refrigerate until needed.
  8. Put a colander over a saucepan and dump the macerated pears in. Boil the remaining juices until syrupy, pour into a small bowl, and set aside to cool. Combine the flour and spices and toss with the pear slices.
  9. Neatly arrange about half the pear slices into your bottom pie crust, trying not to leave any gaps. Drizzle with 1/4 c salted caramel sauce. Add the remaining pears and drizzle with the reduced juices and the remaining 1/4 c salted caramel sauce. Top with the other half of the crust as desired, and crimp the edges to seal. Freeze for about 15 minutes, or until pastry is firm.
  10. Preheat oven to 425F with a rack and baking sheet in the bottom third of the oven. Prepare the egg wash. When the pie is ready to be baked, lightly egg wash the entire surface, being careful not to drag any of the filling onto the top (it will burn). Sprinkle with coarse sugar.
  11. Transfer the pie onto the preheated baking sheet in the oven and bake for about 45-60 minutes, or until the crust is well-browned and the filling is bubbling. Rotate the pan halfway through. If the pie is browning too quickly, lower the heat to 375F after half an hour and/or tent with foil to prevent burning. Cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

Sourdough Burger Buns

I know it’s a little early to be thinking about BBQ season, but here in Toronto winter has been surprisingly mild. So mild, in fact, that we actually pulled out the grill out a couple weekends ago!

My husband really enjoys BBQ’ing, and one of his specialties is homemade burgers. It’s been my goal to find a homemade burger bun recipe to contribute to the mix, and this is it! I actually started making the yeast version of these awhile back, but now that my sourdough starter is nice and healthy I wanted to convert the recipe to SD. The sourdough adds a subtle tang, and also helps keep these buns fresh a little longer.

These buns are light brioche style, so they’re slightly eggy but not too rich. They’re soft, but sturdy enough to hold hefty fillings without disintegrating into a sloppy mess. I love them lightly toasted so you get the outside crunch plus the soft interior — the best of both worlds!

I’ve broken this recipe into a two day process, though you could probably start these in the morning and have them ready by dinner. In the bulk fermentation step, just let the dough roughly double in size before proceeding.

Sourdough Burger Buns

Makes 8

Ingredients

  • 354 g flour (I use half all purpose, half bread)
  • 110 g heavy cream, at room temperature
  • 110 g water, at room temperature
  • 37 g sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 8 g salt
  • 35 g unsalted butter, softened
  • 125 g mature liquid sourdough starter
  • Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 Tbsp water or milk)
  • Sesame seeds (optional)

Method

  1. Combine all the ingredients except the salt and butter and autolyse (rest) for 1 hour. I find it easiest to combine the wet ingredients in a jug and mix it into the flour using a rubber spatula.
  2. Add salt, and knead dough until gluten is moderately developed. The dough will start out sticky and rough but should gradually come together and feel quite smooth and stretchy. Add butter in two batches, mixing in the first completely before adding the second. Continue kneading until the gluten is very well developed and the dough passes the windowpane test as demonstrated here. The dough should be smooth and supple (and quite lovely to handle!). This will take quite some time, especially if done by hand. Consider it your arm workout for the day!
  3. Transfer dough to a clean bowl, cover with plastic, and allow to rise at room temperature for 2 hours. Refrigerate overnight.
  4. The next day, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into 8 equal parts, and roughly shape as balls. Cover with oiled plastic and allow to rest for 1 hour.
  5. Prepare a baking sheet lined with parchment or a Silpat. When the hour is up, reshape each portion into a tight ball and flatten gently into a disc. Arrange on baking sheet at least 2 inches apart. Cover again with oiled plastic and allow to rise again at room temperature until puffy and nearly doubled. (I needed to run some errands so I put the dough in a cool part of the house and let it go for 5 hours. In a warmer room I suspect it would take 3-4 hours.)
  6. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400F and set an old cookie sheet on the floor of the oven. Brush each bun with the egg wash, followed by a sprinkling of sesame seeds.
    Transfer the buns to the preheated oven and immediately pour a cup of hot water into the baking sheet on the bottom of the oven (be careful! Wear oven mitts and use a long-spouted kettle if possible). Bake buns for 18-20 minutes or until rolls are nicely browned on top, rotating the sheet halfway through baking. Cool on a rack completely.

Quick Leek and Potato Clam Chowder (Dairy-Free)


My husband is an excellent cook, and he had always planned on wooing his future wife with creamy, New England-style clam chowder. So when he found out while we were dating that I was lactose-intolerant his dreams were dashed. However, determined to produce some type of chowder I could enjoy, he came up with a leek and potato version that has become a wintertime staple in our house. It’s quick and hearty, and enjoyed by both the lactose tolerant and intolerant. Because the ingredients are quite simple, the key to success with this soup is to season in layers and to not overcook the potatoes — they should be tender, but still have some body to them. You can puree this soup if you want it smooth, but I prefer to just mash it with a potato masher, leaving it a bit chunky.

Quick Leek and Potato Clam Chowder (Dairy-Free)

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 4-5 medium leeks, rinsed and white parts chopped into half-moons (about 6 cups, chopped)
  • 2 pounds yukon gold potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 4 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 1 quart chicken broth, preferably low-sodium
  • 1 10 oz. can baby clams, liquid included
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • Olive oil
  • Salt, sugar, and pepper
  • Dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • Dash of Old Bay

Optional garnishes:

  • Chopped scallions
  • Bacon bits*
  • Sour cream

Method:

  1. Heat a couple glugs of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the onions, celery and garlic and saute until the onions are softened, 2-3 minutes. Season with salt, sugar, and pepper.
  2. Add the leeks in 3 portions, seasoning each batch generously with salt, sugar, and pepper and letting it wilt down before adding the next batch.
  3. When the leeks are softened, add the potatoes, broth, juice from the clams, bay leaves, and thyme. Bring to a boil, then cover and turn to low to maintain a gentle simmer. Simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.
  4. If you want a smooth soup, puree using an immersion blender or food processor. If you prefer it chunky, use a potato masher to mash the soup to your desired consistency.
  5. Add the clams, Worcestershire sauce, and Old Bay. Taste to check for seasonings.
  6. Serve with optional garnishes, a green salad, and a loaf of crusty bread.

*Note: if serving with bacon bits, I will first fry the bacon until crisp in the soup pot; then use a portion of the drippings to saute the vegetables.

Meyer Lemon and Raspberry Scones

lemon raspberry scones

Scones are one of those coffeeshop items that I love to order but often find disappointing. Either they’re too cakey or over-the-top heavy. My ideal scone is crisp on the outside and tender on the inside, slightly sweet but able to withhold a generous amount of jam/curd/clotted cream. After yet another recent disappointing scone purchase, I decided it was time to scour the interwebs and find a go-to scone recipe for myself.

It’s not too often I succeed on the very first try, but, boy, were these good scones. I based them off the very well-reviewed Royal Wedding Scones on Food52. Lemon and raspberry is a favorite combination in this household, but you could easily change up the fruit and spices based on season and preference.

Scones are definitely best the day you make them (preferably while still a little warm from the oven), but you can freeze these unbaked and bake straight from frozen (you may need to add a few minutes of baking time). I’ve also had success freezing baked scones and reheating them in a 350F oven for 12-15 minutes or so.

Meyer Lemon and Raspberry Scones

Adapted from Food 52 | Makes 8

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups / 313g AP flour (I’ve successfully replaced about 1/3 of this with spelt flour)
  • 1/4 cup / 50g granulated sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 6 tablespoons / 86g chilled unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 3/4 cup frozen raspberries
  • Zest of 1 meyer lemon
  • 1/2 cup cold heavy cream, plus more for brushing on tops of scones
  • 1/2 cup cold buttermilk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Coarse sugar, for sprinkling

Method:

  1. Line a 6-inch round cake pan with plastic wrap. Set aside.
  2. Put sugar and lemon zest in the bottom of a large bowl. Rub the zest into the sugar to release the oils.
  3. Add the remaining dry ingredients to the sugar-zest mixture and whisk to combine.
  4. Add the cold butter to the dry ingredients and cut it in using a pastry cutter or your fingers. You should have varying sizes of butter pieces, ranging from pea to nickel shaped.
  5. Gently fold in the frozen raspberries.
  6. Combine the wet ingredients in a small bowl and whisk well to combine. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, gently folding in with a fork. Do not overmix.
  7. When a shaggy dough begins to form, dump the contents onto a lightly floured surface. Gently fold the dough onto itself just enough so it becomes a cohesive mass. Transfer to the prepared cake pan, cover, and freeze for about 30 minutes or until slightly hardened.
  8. While scones are chilling, preheat oven to 425F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat. When scones are chilled, invert round onto a lightly floured surface and cut like a pie into eight wedges. Transfer to prepared sheet pan. Lightly brush the tops with cream and sprinkle with coarse sugar.
  9. Bake for 20-25 minutes, rotating pan halfway through. Scones are done when a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Sugared Cranberries

red velvet cake

I really enjoy making birthday cakes for my friends. Partially this is because yes, I do like making cakes but when it’s for someone you know you have a chance to think about what that person likes and dream up something special just for them.

This cake was made for a good friend who I’d been told was especially fond of red velvet cake. Truth be told I didn’t have a red velvet cake recipe I liked (most are too oily or taste like a weak chocolate cake…but red), but after scouring the interwebs for a bit I came upon this recipe. The author addressed all my red velvet concerns so I gave it a go.

After trying the cake, the birthday girl told me, “Wow, I actually really like this red velvet cake!” This surprised me because, well, I figured she always liked red velvet cake since it was her favorite. It turns out she thought red velvet cake was interesting because so many western people were fascinated with the flavor, and when she moved to Canada it was something she looked forward to trying. But she didn’t actually really like red velvet in particular. Except for this one!

Anyways, I loved this cake too and I’m not a huge red velvet person either; I thought the texture was perfect and it baked up beautifully. I dressed this simply with my go-to cream cheese frosting and some sugared cranberries, which has been my garnish of choice this season — they’re quick and easy, and they taste good too!

Finally, I got the news yesterday that my instagram account was included in Saveur’s list of 20 Favorite Food Instagrams of 2016! It was quite a surprise and I’m honestly shocked to see my name next to some insta-stars. I’ll admit, I was a bit of a latecomer to the insta-game (Snapchat in 2020, anyone?) but it’s become my favorite form of social media and the source of a lot of my kitchen inspiration. I’m happy to share a little of what I do there, the successes and the failures — and am grateful for the many talented people I’ve met along the way!

Now for some cake!

sugared cranberries

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Sugared Cranberries

Makes 1 3-layer, 6 inch cake | Serves 8-12
Cake recipe adapted from Cake Paper Party

Ingredients:

  • 85 g butter, room temperature
  • 58 g vegetable oil (I used grapeseed)
  • 200 g granulated sugar
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk (or 1.5 eggs — crack the second one, weigh it, and add half), room temperature
  • 85 g AP flour
  • 70 g cake flour
  • 1 T natural cocoa (not dutch process)
  • 3/4 t baking soda
  • 1/2 c buttermilk, room temperature
  • 60 g sour cream, room temperature
  • 1/2 T white vinegar
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 1 T red food coloring (preferably gel) or red velvet essence (I used essence)

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour 3 6-inch pans.
  2. Beat butter, oil and sugar on medium-high speed for 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time and beat until incorporated.
  3. Combine buttermilk, sour cream, vinegar and vanilla and whisk to blend.
    Sift together flours, baking soda, salt and cocoa. Add dry mixture to butter mixture and stir on low until just combined. Add half of buttermilk mixture and stir until it is just incorporated. Add remaining liquids and stir to combine.
  4. Gently stir in red food coloring and mix for about 30 seconds, scraping down once.
  5. Divide batter evenly among prepared pans and bake for about 20-25 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean and the top springs back when lightly pressed. Cool for at least 15 minutes in the pans before turning out onto a wire rack. Cool completely before frosting. (I recommend freezing the cakes, wrapped in plastic, until firm before assembly as this cake is quite tender.)

Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients:

  • 225 g unsalted butter, softened
  • 270 g powdered sugar, sifted
  • 300 g cream cheese, COLD and cubed

Method:

  1. Beat butter until pale, about 2 minutes.
  2. Add powdered sugar and continue beating until frosting is very pale and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.
  3. Add cream cheese and beat until just smooth. Beat on low for a minute or two to get rid of any air bubbles. Best used immediately.

Sugared Cranberries

Ingredients:

  • A couple large handfuls fresh cranberries
  • 1 egg white, beaten (I use pasteurized)
  • 1/2 c sugar, preferably caster (you can grind granulated sugar in a food processor, or just use granulated — caster will give you a more “snowy” effect)

Method:

  1. Spread out a piece of parchment paper big enough to hold all the cranberries in a single layer.
  2. Coat the cranberries with the egg white set them on the paper to soak up some of the excess liquid (if they’re too wet, the sugar will clump).
  3. Toss the cranberries in the sugar and set them back on the parchment to dry completely before using and / or eating!

To Assemble:

  1. Level your cakes (this is easiest to do when they’re completely cool; I like to stick them in the freezer for about 10-15 minutes right before assembly). Choose a layer for the bottom and put bottom-side down on a cake board.
  2. Spread about a 1/2 cup of icing evenly over the first layer. Repeat with the next two layers. Add a thin layer of icing over the entire cake. Refrigerate for 15-20 minutes to set the crumb coat.
  3. When the cake is chilled, add a second, thicker layer of icing over the entire cake. You can keep the sides smooth, or use an offset spatula / butter knife to create the swirl effect. Hole the spatula at a 45-degree angle to the cake while spinning your turntable, slowly, all the while slowly dragging your spatula to the top. Repeat on the top, starting from the outside and drawing your spatula in to the center.
  4. Decorate with sugared cranberries and a few sprigs of rosemary, if desired. Keep the cake refrigerated; bring to room temperature about an hour before serving.

red velvet cake 2

Sourdough Hokkaido Milk Bread Twists

cinnamon raisin twist bread
One of my latest bread obsessions has been the twisty loaf. I’ve been wanting to try making those babka-esque twists that are all the rage these days, because who can resist a little swirly and pretty? Clearly, not me.

Twist breads are great for the holidays. They’re surprisingly easy to shape and faster than making a bunch of rolls; they can be equally appropriate for Christmas brunch or a potluck dinner; they double as decoration. Plus, they’re a chance to flex your culinary creativity — change up the fillings to suit your tastes and/or fridge contents!

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After making a fair share of these guys I’ve learned a few tricks that can really help your twist breads shine in looks and flavor! While I did all my testing using my sourdough hokkaido milk bread recipe below, you should be able to use your favorite enriched bread dough (i.e. babka / challah / cinnamon roll / non-sourdough hokkaido milk bread dough, etc.) to make a twist bread. I would recommend a dough that is soft but sturdy enough to be rolled out fairly easily. My trusty pumpkin version of this bread works equally well as a base, and I’ve included a couple other flavor variations below as well.

Twist bread tips:

  1. Don’t roll your dough too thin.
    I tried rolling my dough various sizes, and finally settled on an oval of about 10″ x 12″ as the ideal size for my loaf pan. I follow a process very similar to this one. You can roll your dough thinner to get more of a swirl, but (at least for my recipe) the bread will be more dense. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; but personally I prefer fluffier bread to more swirl. The nice thing about the oval shape is that the ends don’t get too thick when you tuck them under. (I never bother trimming the ends.) It’s also easy-peasy to fit the loaf into the tin; no double-helixing / multiple criss-crossing required.
  2. Don’t rush the proofing. Enriched breads take extra long to proof, whether or not it’s sourdough. In my room-temperature kitchen, this recipe takes at least 6 hours for the final proof. I’ve tried rushing it and the texture just wasn’t the same. I know mine is ready when the loaf has puffed to fill the pan almost to the top.
  3. Thick, strongly flavored pastes work best for fillings. For ease of rolling and the best swirl effect, a thick paste works better than lots of chopped up ingredients. I tend to not measure my filling ingredients; but in general I use roughly 1/2 a cup of filling per loaf. Again, I opt for a less-is-more approach here: too much filling can weigh the bread down, making it more dense and cakey. You may have to experiment a bit to find your ideal filling-to-bread ratio, but that’s half the fun.

    A few ideas for fillings: fruit and nut butters, thick jams/compotes, cream cheese + fruit curd, pesto, grated cheese, etc. This is a great place to use up some of those half-eaten jars of jams and spreads. If I want to do a fruit filling (such as cinnamon raisin), I’ll rehydrate dried fruit in boiling water for an hour or so, drain, then pulse in a food processor with a healthy amount of cinnamon sugar and softened butter. I do find it helps to incorporate the butter into the paste rather than layer it, especially if you are doing a sweet loaf. Otherwise the sugar can turn into syrup and leak out, resulting in a sticky bun situation.

  4. Bake and cool fully. It can be a bit tricky to judge when these loaves are finished, as the filling can hide bits of uncooked dough. Your best bet is to check the internal temperature: it should register at least 195F. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out cleanly. Also keep in mind that if you’ve rolled out your dough thinner to start with and/or used a lot of filling, your bread will take longer to fully cook. When in doubt, let it go a few minutes longer, and tent with foil to keep the top from burning.

    Also, cool your bread fully to room temperature before serving. This helps the bread fully set and avoids that icky gummy taste that comes from slicing too early. Better to fully cool, then gently rewarm for 5-10 minutes than cut too soon.

  5. Glaze it! A healthy dose of simple syrup (1 part sugar dissolved in 1 part water) applied to your loaf right after baking adds an attractive shine and keeps your bread tasting fresher for longer. Be generous — about a 1/4 cup for sweet loaves, a little less for savory. Warmed jelly or honey also works (you won’t need as much), but if you’re planning on having your loaf around for more than one day simple syrup is your best option. Right after glazing is also a good time to add any garnishes: toasted seeds / nuts, finely chopped herbs, pearl sugar, etc.

Time to get twisting!

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Sourdough Hokkaido Milk Bread

Adapted from The Fresh Loaf | Makes one 8.5″ x 4.5″ / 9″ x 5″ loaf

Levain Ingredients

  • 18 g mature sourdough starter (100% hydration)
  • 30 g milk
  • 56 g bread flour

Mix and ferment at room temp (73F) for 10-12 hours. When ready it should be puffy and domed and you should see large bubbles if you pull back the top.

Final dough ingredients

  • 276g bread or AP flour (I used half bread flour and half AP flour for a balance of chewiness and volume)
  • 45g granulated sugar
  • 34g softened unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 6g fine grain sea salt
  • 101g whole milk, room temperature
  • 86g cream, room temperature
  • 20g milk powder
  • All of the levain

To Finish

  • Egg wash (1 egg, whisked with 1 tsp water or milk), for brushing
  • Filling of choice, approximately 1/2 a cup
  • Simple syrup, for glaze
  • Optional garnishes (toasted nuts, seeds, herbs, etc.)

Method:

  1. Mix together all final dough ingredients except the salt and butter until just combined. Cover and autolyse (rest) for 30-60 minutes.
  2. Add salt, and knead dough until gluten is moderately developed. The dough will start out sticky and rough but should gradually come together and feel quite smooth and stretchy. Add butter in two batches, mixing the first completely before adding the second. Continue kneading until the gluten is very well developed and the dough passes the windowpane test as demonstrated here. The dough should be smooth and supple (and quite lovely to handle!). This will take quite some time, especially if done by hand. Consider it your arm workout for the day!
  3. Transfer to a clean bowl, cover, and bulk rise at room temp (73F) for 2 hours. The dough will be noticeably expanded, but not doubled. Fold, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
  4. The next day, take the dough out and transfer to a lightly floured surface. Rest for one hour, covered by lightly oiled plastic.
  5. Grease and line a 9×5 loaf pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang of at least 2 inches on the long sides (for easy removal later).
  6. On a lightly floured surface (I prefer a Silpat), roll out the dough into an oval roughly 10 x 12 in. Spread your filling evenly over the surface, leaving a 1/2 inch border along one short edge. Turn the dough so the short end without the border is facing you. Brush the opposite end with water, and gently but tightly roll up like a jelly roll. Once rolled up, roll gently back and forth a few times to seal. Transfer the log to the fridge or freezer for about 10 minutes to firm up (optional).
  7. If desired, trim about 1/2 an inch off each end (I don’t bother because I don’t mind if the ends don’t have filling; but if you do, trim them). Using a bench scraper or sharp knife, cut the dough in half lengthwise. Place the two sides next to each other, cut side up. Gently pinch the tops together and twist the two together, keeping the cut sides up. Transfer twist to the prepared pan. (See here for a some helpful pictures.)
  8. Cover with plastic and proof for about 6 hours at room temperature. When ready, the dough should look very puffy and have risen to the top of the loaf pan.
  9. When the loaf is nearly finished rising, preheat the oven to 400F and prepare the egg wash. Just before baking, brush the surface lightly with egg wash.
  10. Bake for 20 minutes at 400F, then turn the oven down to 375F, rotate the pan, and bake for about 15 more minutes or until the loaf is well browned and registers at least 195F in the center. If the loaf is browning quickly, tent with foil. (I cover mine for the last 10 minutes or so.)
  11. Immediately after taking the loaf out, brush all over with simple syrup and top with garnishes, if desired. Cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Dough Variations

  • Matcha: replace 10g of flour with 10g culinary grade matcha powder. Pairs well with chocolate and black sesame fillings.
  • Eggnog: replace the milk with full-fat eggnog, decrease the sugar to 34g, and add some freshly grated nutmeg to the dough. Pairs well with cinnamon sugar and cranberry fillings.

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DIY Christmas Tree Forest: Treats for Toys

full christmas tree forest

As cliche as it sounds, I love Christmas. I have many fond memories of driving around looking at lights (with McDonald’s hot chocolate and apple pies, which were the real highlight), dousing sugar cookies with red and green sprinkles, and playing for candlelight services. Nowadays, Christmastime is even more special for me because it means traveling back to Seattle to see family, friends, and all my old haunts. I don’t know how long this tradition will last, but I definitely will enjoy it while I can.

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When Gastropost asked me to help create something with Rice Krispies for the Treats for Toys campaign, I jumped at the opportunity because playing with food for a good cause is totally something I can get behind. My treat was inspired by a couple of things: first, those little miniature Christmas scenes that stores set up during the holidays; and second, one of my favorite childhood Christmas activities: picking out a Christmas tree. This year is the first I can remember NOT having a tree — between having a destructive busy toddler and traveling it doesn’t make sense (sniff sniff) — so in lieu of that I made an edible forest. And of course I had to add my favorite mountain pillows, Bambi, one of Marcus’ cars, and a little snow to jazz it up a little. Honestly, it was so fun. AND easy. The hardest part was trying to find decent light during naptime to photograph it!

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This little forest scene would make a great centerpiece for a holiday party, or a fun craft project for the family. (My husband and I did it as a little date night activity; I probably had more fun than he did but he’s a good sport, lol.) Of course, you don’t need to make a forest scene. Individual trees would make great gifts or stocking stuffers — just be sure to make them soon before gifting (like the day of or night before) and keep them in an airtight container/wrapping so they don’t dry out. You should get about 18 small trees from one recipe (about 1/3 c mixture for each tree).

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Want to join in the fun? Create a toy-inspired Rice Krispies treat, upload it to the Treats for Toys site or social media (using the #treatsfortoys hashtag), and Kellogg’s will donate $20 to the Salvation Army to buy real toys for children in need.

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DIY Christmas Tree Forest

Recipe adapted from Kelloggs Canada / Treats for Toys | Makes about 18 small trees

Ingredients:

For the trees:

  • 56 g / 1/4 c unsalted butter
  • 250 g marshmallows (I used mini)
  • 168 g / 6 c Rice Krispies (or other rice puff cereal)
  • Green food coloring (I used gel, a couple drops each of Wilton Moss Green and Americolor Leaf Green)
  • Sprinkles / mini M&M’s / small candies for decorating
  • Small chocolates (such as Snickers’ bites or Rolos) for the trunks

For the rest of the scene:

  • 56 g / 1/4 c unsalted butter
  • 250 g marshmallows (I used mini)
  • 168 g / 6 c Rice Krispies (or other rice puff cereal)
  • Graham crackers
  • Icing sugar
  • Toy car
  • Baker’s twine

Method:

  1. First, make the trees. Melt the butter over low heat in a large pot (big enough to hold the Rice Krispies). When the butter is melted, add the marshmallows, stirring frequently to avoid sticking. When the marshmallows are almost melted, stir the food coloring a drop at a time until you reach your desired shade of green (go a little bolder than you want as the color will be slightly muted by the cereal). When the marshmallows are melted and the color is evenly dispersed, turn off the heat, add the cereal, and stir to coat evenly. Allow to cool for a minute or so (it’s hot!), then, using well-greased hands, take a small handful at a time and form into pyramids or cones, whatever your preference. Pack firmly but not so hard as to crush the cereal. Place on a piece of parchment paper to set. If you’re making a forest, try to vary the shapes / sizes a little for a more realistic effect; and if you want a tree for the top of the car, make sure to form a tree that will fit properly (for my car this was quite small). The mixture is most pliable within the first 5-8 minutes after mixing, so try to work quickly (or have a couple people help).
  2. When the trees are still a little pliable but not so hot as to melt your sprinkles, decorate. Press the candies / sprinkles into the sides of the trees. (I just pushed them in and they stuck fine, though if your sprinkles are flat you may need to use some royal icing to glue them on.) Press a chocolate into the bottom for the trunk. (You can also glue with icing / cut a toothpick in half, poke one end into your chocolate, and poke the other end into the tree for more security.)
  3. Once your trees are decorated, make your snow scene. Make another batch of Rice Krispies as above, but omit the food coloring. Press into a greased quarter-sheet pan. To make a road, break your graham crackers along the perforations and line them up through the center of the pan. Press the trees into the Rice Krispies along either side of the road, staggering the sizes. Tie the small tree to the top of the car using baker’s twine. When the Rice Krispies are totally cool, dust some icing sugar over the top for a snow-like effect. Enjoy!

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Turkey and Sage Pot Pie

When it comes to pies, I’ve definitely been more on team sweet than team savory. But after watching Great British Bake Off and seeing those hand-raised hot water crusts, picnic pies, and pasties, I was itching to make some kind of savory pie. We ended up having a family Thanksmas dinner a bit early this year because a few of us are traveling over the holidays, so a fridge full of turkey leftovers presented the perfect opportunity for some pie-experimenting.

Pie fillings are quite adaptable; I think as long as you have the right consistency and amount, you can play around with the ingredients and flavorings. I really wanted to make a pot pie filling that didn’t contain milk or cream sort-of-not-really for health reasons (I’m lactose intolerant; I can handle butter and small amounts of dairy, but cream sauces generally don’t go over well). Originally I was going to use some leftover mashed potatoes for thickener, but someone ate them…so pureed squash it was! My family enjoyed this gravy, but if you prefer something more traditional you can sub some of the stock for whole milk or cream. Also, I know peas usually show up in these sort of pies but I am NOT a peas fan so none here! If you don’t have such aversions, feel free to stir some in with the sage at the very end.

I used this sourdough crust adapted from Maurizio (subbing buttermilk for the vinegar and omitting the sugar; I also added a few healthy grinds of black pepper and the leaves of one thyme sprig), and it was perfect for this — sturdy yet flaky and packed with flavor! If you’ve got starter on hand I definitely recommend this route, but if you don’t your favorite pie crust recipe will do nicely. I added a couple of turns to the pastry which gives it extra flake and makes it easier to roll out, IMO — also totally optional. The filling is the perfect amount for my deep-ish pie dish; if you use a normal pie plate you’ll probably have some leftover for a baby pie or to eat over rice.

A few notes:

  • See this post for some general pie baking tips.
  • I think the trick to avoiding a soggy bottom crust is starting with chilled pastry AND filling. If you add the filling when it’s still warm, you’ll melt the butter in the bottom crust and likely end up with goop. I also baked the pie on a preheated stone in the lower third of the oven the entire time. If you don’t have a stone, preheat a sheet pan in your oven and bake your pie on that.
  • A few weeks ago I made a small batch of apple jelly and have been using it as a secret flavor ingredient in stews and marinades — I love it! That being said, I know it’s not a common ingredient to have around; so you could probably substitute 1/4 c of apple juice or cider for stock for a similar effect.

Turkey and Sage Pot Pie

Makes one deepish 9-inch pie

Ingredients

  • 1 recipe of your favorite double pie crust
  • 3 cups cooked turkey, shredded or diced
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 c mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 c flour
  • 1/4 c butter
  • 1 1/2 c turkey or chicken stock (I used low-sodium)
  • 1/2 c squash puree
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 T apple jelly (optional, see notes above)
  • 1/2 c leftover gravy
  • 2 T finely minced fresh sage leaves
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tsp water or milk, for egg wash

Method

  1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, saute the onion and garlic in olive oil until slightly softened, 2-3 minutes. Add the carrots and celery, season with salt and pepper, and saute until carrots are slightly softened but not mushy, about 5-7 minutes. Remove vegetables from saucepan and set aside.
  2. In the same saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour all at once, stirring constantly, and cook for 1-2 minutes until a golden paste forms. Slowly pour in the stock, stirring constantly to avoid clumping. When the gravy is slightly thickened, stir in the leftover gravy, squash, and optional jelly, followed by the bay leaf and mushrooms. Turn down to medium low and simmer for 3-4 minutes, or until the mushrooms are mostly cooked. Add the reserved vegetables and turkey. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the turkey is heated through, then remove from the heat and stir in the sage. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes, then cover and refrigerate until cooled completely (about an hour).
  3. Preheat your oven to 400F with a rack (and baking stone, if you have one) in the bottom third of the oven.
  4. While the filling is cooling, prepare the pie crusts. Roll out your bottom crust and transfer it to a greased pie plate. Trim crust so you have an overhang of about 1 inch. Cover with plastic and refrigerate while you roll out your top crust. Cut into strips for a lattice, if desired, or keep whole. Transfer to a sheet pan and refrigerate until ready to assemble.
  5. When your filling is chilled and oven is ready, spoon the filling evenly into the bottom crust (remove the bay leaf). Top as desired (with a lattice or not), and crimp the edges to seal. Refrigerate for about 10-15 minutes, or until the pastry is firm.
  6. When ready to bake your pie, gently brush the egg wash over the top, being careful not to drag the filling onto the crust. Cut a few steam vents in the top if baking a non-lattice pie. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn the oven down to 375F and bake for another 30-45 minutes, rotating halfway through for even baking. The filling should be bubbling and the pastry golden brown. (Note: if your pastry is browning too quickly, tent with foil.) Allow to cool slightly before serving.

How music taught me to bake bread

November 17th is Homemade Bread Day, so in honor of that I thought I’d share a bit about my bread-baking journey and offer some tips for those of you wanting to get started. I love learning new culinary skills, particularly those involving flour — but bread-baking, particularly with sourdough, is the first I consciously decided to take seriously. After being an occasional bread baker for several years, I took the plunge this past summer and made it my goal to be able to consistently turn out decent loaves by winter. I revived my two year old starter that had been hanging out in the fridge, and haven’t looked back since.

Although there have been failures and frustrations, I’ve definitely seen improvement in just a few short months; and bread baking has become something my family and I truly enjoy and make a part of normal daily life.

I’m a harpist and pianist by training and was for several years a private music teacher. In retrospect, I approached learning to bake bread much the same way I’d start a student or myself on a new piece of music.

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Practice.

One of the skills you obtain in music training is how to sit in a room by yourself for hours, concentrating on minute details. No joke, I’d have hour and a half lessons on a single page of music. Nothing can replace consistent and well-informed practice as a musician, and the same is true for any other skill you want to learn. In the context of bread baking, this first meant taking out my starter and feeding it twice daily at room temperature. This forced me to learn how my starter behaved and just the act of discarding and feeding made me more eager and likely to plan bakes. Are there ways of baking with sourdough that include less “wasting”? Sure, but for me the daily interaction was a key element to learning quickly and, I think, worth the price of a little flour.

Then there is also the practice of actually baking. You just have to start doing it. Once a week, twice a week — just do it consistently. You will have failures and bricks and you’ll probably drop a loaf here and there; dust the flour off your pants (and everywhere else in your kitchen) and try again.

Finally, the practice has to be informed. I spent way too much time in music school “massaging the strings” (i.e. aimlessly playing things over and over again hoping it’d get better). Turns out you can get a lot more done in a lot less time if you know what you’re striving for and tackle that problem head-on. Because I only bake once or twice a week as opposed to 40 hours / week of practicing while in school, the practice has to be that much more informed if I want to see improvement between loaves.

One thing I wish I’d started sooner is taking better notes on each bake — how long did I autolyse? How many folds? How long did the bench rest go? What temperature did I bake this at? This may seem a little obsessive, but it’s a lot easier to diagnose problems if you have some hard data and see where things may have gone wrong. It’ll also help others help you if you have that information ready — there are a lot of really generous, talented bakers out there who are more than willing to answer questions and help us newbies out!

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Know the terms.

One of the first things I would make my students do was look up all the unfamiliar terms in their music. It’s an easy way to get the gist of how a piece should sound without even putting your fingers on the strings. Same thing with baking — a little technical knowledge helps a ton! Get a couple of good books on bread (I’ve listed a few at the end of this post) and familiarize yourself with the basic terms of bread baking. You’ll be able to understand recipes a lot faster; and again, when you ask people for help you’ll get a lot more out of their advice. I was never great at math or science; so if I can learn baker’s math so can you.

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Work within your abilities, but don’t forget to challenge yourself.

One of the fine balancing acts as a music teacher was keeping students motivated and challenged by choosing the right mix of music. If the pieces are too easy, everyone’s yawning through the lesson. If they’re too hard, everyone’s crying.

The fastest way to get frustrated with bread-baking? Start with a difficult recipe and fail hard at the get go. And/or don’t follow the recipe and wonder why your bread didn’t turn out. Choose a good, basic recipe and follow it as closely as possible. Once you’re fairly comfortable with that, then pick something harder and/or start changing the flours around in some tried-and-true formulas to make things your own. Personally I like to alternate between “easy” (breads I’ve successfully made before) and “challenging” bakes (my own creations / new flours / high hydration doughs), which keeps both my stomach and brain pretty happy.

Love and share.

In the end, both music-making and bread-baking have this in common: you have to love it. If you truly enjoy doing either, whether or not your end product is picture-perfect is less important — you’ll have gained something in the process. The process of both can seem boring and slow; to endure at either you need to learn to love the little things: the sound of a brand new string, the smell of fresh flour, the feeling of nailing a tough arpeggio, the sound of crust crackling. It takes five minutes to perform a piece that takes months to learn. That loaf of bread you spent 48 hours making is devoured in three minutes. The journey matters.

Finally, the love is augmented by sharing. The simple act of sharing a piece of music or a loaf of bread can do wonders for a person’s day; and seeing people enjoy my music or food makes mine.

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A few recommended sites / resources:

  • The Fresh Loaf — A great forum where you can ask questions and learn from some very talented amateur bakers. I’ve started posting some of my loaves there as a bread journal of sorts.
  • The Perfect Loaf — Maurizio’s sourdough posts are incredibly detailed and helpful, and he’s great at responding to questions. I’ve tried several of his recipes with good success (though the breads are a little on the more technically difficult side). Definitely recommend reading through his tutorials on sourdough creation / maintenance if you’re new to the game!
  • My Daily Sourdough Bread — Natasa’s blog is lovely and practical. She is a very sweet and generous person too!
  • Wild Yeast Blog — Not updated anymore, but there’s a lot of good information if you dig around the archives.
  • The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, 15th Anniversary Edition: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread — the book that first got me hooked on bread baking several years ago.
  • Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes — a classic; lots of interesting technical information.
  • Tartine Bread — a modern classic; the photography and storytelling are inspiring. Tartine-style bread is quite popular (though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend starting there…) and this is the original.
  • Sourdough: Recipes for Rustic Fermented Breads, Sweets, Savories, and More — I recently bought this book and have had good success with the breads. The flavor combinations are unique and I’m looking forward to trying some of the sweet recipes as well!

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Pork and Apple Sausage Rolls

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Both my husband and I are food nerds in our own ways. I’m into baking and he’s into meat. (For the past year he’s been curing his own bacon and once you’ve had that, there’s no going back.) The ultimate dream is to collaborate on some from-scratch charcuterie boards — he’ll provide the sausages and cheeses and I’ll do the breads/crackers/dips. We’ll get there eventually. But in the meantime, these tasty little sausage rolls are a team effort that will be showing up on our appetizer tables for the years to come — he made the sausage, and I wrapped them in pastry.

I’ve made sausage rolls in the past using store bought puff pastry and that works perfectly well. But lately I’ve been into making my own rough puff. I use this pastry recipe for the base and simply add 2-4 turns to the process, resting the pastry in the fridge as needed (for me this is typically for 10 minutes after the initial mixing and after the first two turns). For or this savory application, I reduce the sugar to 1 teaspoon.

Also, the filling is very adaptable — skip the apple if you want and add in some sauteed onion and garlic; and feel free to play with the spices. You can also use regular ground pork, seasoned to taste — in this case I would add a few tablespoons of breadcrumbs and an egg to help bind the mixture together.

Pork and Apple Sausage Rolls

Makes 24 two-bite rolls or 40-48 one-bite canapes

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound puff pastry, thawed (1 store bought box or homemade)
  • 1 pound pork sausage, casings removed
  • 1 baking apple, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 scallion, finely diced
  • 4 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1 egg, whisked with 1 tbsp water
  • Flaky salt, to finish (optional)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Mix sausage, apple, and scallion in a medium bowl.
  3. In a small bowl, beat egg with 1 tbsp water.
  4. Roll out each sheet of puff pastry into a large square or rectangle (about 12″ x 12″ or 9″ x 13″) and cut each in half (for a total of four pieces).
  5. Spread a tablespoon of mustard down the center of each rectangle lengthwise.
  6. Divide the pork mixture into 4 equal parts and arrange on top of the mustard.
  7. Fold the bottom half of the pastry over the meat.
  8. Brush the top part of the pastry with egg wash and roll the puff pastry so the seam is facing down. Repeat with the other sheets. Refrigerate for about 10 minutes, or until pastry is firm.
  9. Cut each roll into the number of pieces desired (I like 6 per roll for a 2-bite snack — top photo or 10-12 for a one-bite canape — lower left photo). If making larger rolls, cut a couple steam vents on top; if making the one-biters, no vent is needed.
  10. Arrange about an inch apart on two parchment-lined baking sheets.
    Brush with remaining egg wash, followed by a pinch of flaky salt if desired.
  11. Bake 20-25 minutes, rotating halfway through, or until golden brown and cooked through.
  12. Serve warm or cold with ketchup and/or mustard.

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