So you want to bake with sourdough

Ever since seriously starting my sourdough journey about nine months ago and quasi-journaling my progress on Instagram (and on this site), I’ve gotten a number of questions about how to get started as a home sourdough baker. I’ve listed some tips along with several of my favorite books and sites in a previous blog entry, but I wanted to follow up with a few more ideas now that I have a few more loaves under my belt, in hopes that it’ll help all the hopeful sourdough bakers out there.

Commit to baking with sourdough at least once a week.

If you’re really serious about wanting to learn how to use sourdough in your baking, there is no substitute for just doing it. I had my starter lurking in the fridge for a couple of years before I really started using it; and it wasn’t until I started baking with it regularly that I saw any improvement in my breads. This sounds stupidly simple; but if you’ve ever tried to start exercising or learn any new skill, you know it’s harder than it sounds. So do what you need to do — make a goal, start a journal, have someone ping you once a week to ask what you’re making — and just start doing it. (One of the benefits of this is that you’ll be forced to feed your starter; and a fed starter = happy starter = better end product, so everyone wins.)

Invest in a few tools, but don’t break the bank.

One of the joys of bread baking is that, at the core, it’s very simple. The only ingredients you really need are flour, water, salt, and yeast (in our case, wild). When you’re first starting out, you don’t need fancy equipment or flours. There are a few essentials, for sure: a good bench scraper, a digital scale, and a working oven. If you’re wanting to make crusty hearth breads, a pizza stone or dutch oven is super handy. Beyond that, you can survive for awhile. As you get more experienced, you’ll learn the aspects of your bread you want to improve and can invest in the tools needed for that (i.e. a lame, a digital thermometer, and bannetons). But I’d encourage anyone just beginning to start simple and work on fundamentals like proper fermentation/dough development and shaping, because all the fancy equipment in the world won’t improve your bread if you’re not working on these skills (I still feel like I have a long ways to go in these areas!).

Ask lots of questions.

If you start getting even the tiniest bit into sourdough you will quickly learn that you’ve entered what can be a very nerdy world. It’s also an extremely welcoming world where bakers are generally quite happy to share the knowledge they’ve spent hours acquiring. You’ll find plenty of forums and websites online (I’ve listed some of my favorites here), as well as many Instagram accounts where people are quite detailed about their baking philosophies and thought processes. Do your due diligence and try to figure out the answers through your own research and experimentation, but also don’t be shy — ask if you really don’t understand something or can’t figure out what’s going wrong.

Work sourdough into your schedule — not the other way around.

While I recommend following recipes closely the first several times (particularly when it comes to fermentation times, always knowing that your environment can affect timings greatly), there will undoubtedly come a time when you want to make bread according to your schedule, not a recipe’s. This is where you’ll have to sit down and figure out when you want your bread to be ready and how to get there. Sometimes it’s as simple as leaving your shaped loaf in the fridge until you want to bake it, but often you will have to be a little more nuanced than that. Learning your starter’s behavior is a big step towards scheduling freedom, so I recommend starting there. Then get to know the “sweet spots” in your environment (usually a nice warm corner or your turned-off oven with the pilot light on) and make note of the approximate fermentation times for your loaves. Once you have a baseline, you can manipulate your temperatures (to a certain degree) to speed/slow the process down. This takes considerable trial and error, but once you get a hang of manipulating times and temperatures to bake when you want, you’ll be much more likely to make sourdough a regular part of your life.

Ready to get started?

Here are a few recipes on this site to get you going!

Happy baking!

Auditioning for the Great Canadian Baking Show

great canadian baking show sign
At the Great Canadian Baking Show audition!

If you had told me three years ago that I would spend last Saturday auditioning for the Great Canadian Baking Show, I would have thought you were ridiculous. Three years ago I had never made a layer cake, much less a loaf of sourdough bread. But life can take some funny twists.

How it all started

Thanks to getting married, immigrating to Canada, and the subsequent funemployment while waiting for my work eligibility to kick in, I decided to delve into something I enjoyed but had little experience doing: baking. At that point I didn’t have any specific goals or recipes I wanted to master; I just needed to keep my hands and brain busy learning. And since it was gobsmack in the middle of a bad Canadian winter, staying inside next to a warm oven seemed like a good hobby to pursue. So I started checking out books from the library, perusing a few food blogs, and trying recipes that looked good.

Eventually I started gravitating towards certain types of baking: notably pies, cakes, and bread. I have a tendency to get slightly obsessive, especially if something doesn’t turn out the way I planned (read: I can be a perfectionist and generally don’t believe in half-assing things). So for example, if I made a bad pie crust, you’d better believe a bunch more pies would show up in the next few weeks (after an appropriate amount of internet research on how to fix pie crusts and comparison of dozens of recipes). It sounds a little crazy and it probably is; but that’s how I learned: I made mistakes and tried to fix them. I read a lot and bugged baker friends with questions / advice / requests for recipes. And I just baked a lot, typically 3+ times a week. And somewhere in there I started this little blog to keep track of recipes. (Writing things down has always helped me understand processes better, so even if I use a recipe from somewhere else I usually rewrite them to include steps and tips that make sense to me.)

The Application

Fast forward to earlier this year. A couple months ago, my husband forwarded me an article about a casting call for the first season of the Great Canadian Baking Show. I didn’t think much of it except, “Oh cool, the Great British Bake Off is the best and I’m glad they’re bringing it to Canada.” Within a day a couple other friends had sent me the same link with encouragement to apply. I figured I had nothing to lose; so one evening I sat on the sofa in my sweatpants and filled out the online application.

I didn’t think about it at all, really, until a few weeks ago when someone from the network called me for a phone interview. I was honestly just thrilled to know I’d made it past the first cut. When an email came a couple days later with an invitation to a live audition, I was shocked (and super excited)!

The Great Canadian Baking Show Audition

The chocolate raspberry cake I almost brought to my audition.
The next few weeks were spent preparing for the audition. Not much information was given, except that we were to bring a “signature bake” and would be asked to bake an undisclosed recipe using the equipment and ingredients provided. I focused my efforts on practicing techniques I wasn’t familiar with (to get used to being uncomfortable); and on deciding what to bring as my signature bake. It was a toss-up between a layer cake or a loaf of sourdough bread (the two things I like making the most); so I decided I’d make both and see which one turned out better. The week of the audition I prepped the ingredients for the cake (chocolate raspberry, of course) and made the same loaf of bread multiple times so that I’d have the best chance of success when it counted.

The morning of the audition I still hadn’t determined what to bring as both bakes had turned out as well as I could have hoped. My first instinct was the cake, because it had more immediate visual impact. But my husband nudged me to bring the bread, pointing out, “This is your recipe and a true signature bake; if you’re proud of it, you should win or lose with that.” (Have I mentioned my husband is the best? Taste-tester, child-wrangler, ingredient-buyer, soundboard, voice of reason — I’m truly blessed.) So in the end, I packed up my humble loaf of bread and a jar of homemade cultured butter and drove off to the audition site.

sourdough bread signature bake
My “signature bake” — a loaf of sourdough bread.
Due to NDAs I can’t divulge much about the actual audition itself (sorry, you’ll have to audition yourself to get the full scoop!), except to say I had a blast! I had imagined myself in front of a scary panel of judges, trying to slice my bread without shaking or cutting myself and hoping I wouldn’t make dumb mistake like mixing up the sugar and the salt. In reality it was more like hanging out with a bunch of other baking nerds, whipping up delicious things and eating really good food (yes, we got to try each others’ stuff!). I felt totally relaxed throughout the whole process, and in the end I believe bringing the bread was the better choice (thanks again, husband!). It was well received and stood out in its simplicity (and lack of sugar).

I don’t know if I’ll make it any further in the Great Canadian Baking Show process, but I certainly have no regrets about trying. At the end of the day I was more inspired than ever to keep baking, learning, and improving. It was refreshing to meet a variety of other people — from engineers to students to salespeople — who bake just for the love of it. And I was reminded of the joy of creativity. Whether you cook, bake, sew, write, build — what a vital and refreshing part of the human experience. I’m thankful that I can make my cake…and eat it too.

audition group shot
A big happy (and maybe slightly sugared-out) baking family

Berry Balsamic Pie + Pie Tips

berry pieSummer is here, which for me means it’s farmers’ market season! One of our favorite Saturday summer activities is going early to our local market and letting the fresh produce inspire us for the next week’s meals. I especially love checking out (and sampling) the fresh berries — I can eat them like candy. And then, of course, there is pie. Delicious berry pie.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been working on improving my pie game. My first couple of homemade crust attempts were pretty scary and not so pretty, but each time I’ve learned something new and I finally feel like I’m getting it down. I know there are a million tips out there for making perfect pie crusts; and I think every pie maker eventually learns what works best for him or her. But for what it’s worth, here are some things that have helped me improve my pies.

Cold ingredients = more tender, flaky pie crust. Everyone emphasizes this because it’s true. I chill my flour and freeze my butter at least 1/2 an hour before mixing up a crust. If you ever feel your butter starting to get too soft, just stick your operation in the fridge for 10 minutes so you don’t end up with melty butter.

Fraisage and roll. I’ve started using these techniques for my last few crusts. It’s not necessary, but it does seem to make the crust flakier and easier to roll out in the end. I especially recommend these couple extra steps with partially whole-grain crusts.

Chill out. Pies bake up best from a chilled state. Your crust won’t shrink as much and the lattice you spent so much time doing will have a better chance of not collapsing into your filling. I like chilling my completed pie at least 20 minutes before baking (or until crust is firm). You can also roll out your bottom crust the night before and chill it in the pie plate, covered. Chill your lattice strips before weaving too; they’ll be easier to work with.

Macerate your fruits. With fruit pies, toss your fruit with a few tablespoons of sugar and let sit for an hour or more. This will draw out the juices which you can either leave behind or boil down and add to your pie in a concentrated syrupy form (i.e. your pie will be flavorful but not soggy from all the excess juices).

Take it easy with the decorations. I love looking at beautiful, fancy pie crusts on Instagram and Pinterest; and designing a fancy top is a great way to flex your creative muscles while making a traditionally rustic dessert. Just be careful not to overhandle your crust and go too thick on your cutouts / braids / lattice. Otherwise your top crust will take a lonnng time to bake and end up being tough and gross; and that would just be sad. Also, if you do want to make one of those extra fancy crusts with the braids and lattice and cutouts, plan to make at least 1.5 times a regular amount of crust. (For the pie pictured here I used a normal double crust recipe but used every last scrap.)

Happy pie making!

Berry Balsamic Pie

Adapted from Four and Twenty Blackbirds

For the crust:

  • Your favorite double all-butter double pie crust (9-10 in.); I like this for a classic all-butter and this for a partially whole-grain

For the filling:

  • 3 Tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 2 lb. mixed berries, rinsed and quartered if large (5 to 6 cups) — I used a mix of strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries
  • 1 small baking apple (such as Northern Spy or Golden Delicious)
  • 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. minute tapioca, finely ground
  • A few grinds fresh black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • Egg wash (1 large egg whisked with 1 teaspoon water or cream and a pinch of salt)
  • Demerara sugar, for finishing


  1. Sprinkle the granulated sugar over the berries. Stir gently to combine and allow the fruit to macerate at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
  2. Roll out half of your pie crust and place it into your greased pie plate. Refrigerate while preparing the filling. Roll out your top crust and either leave whole or cut lattice strips if desired. Transfer to a parchment-lined sheet and refrigerate as well.
  3. Peel the apple and shred on the large holes of a box grater. Drain the berries of excess liquid and combine with the shredded apple.
  4. Sprinkle on the balsamic vinegar and Angostura bitters. In a separate bowl, mix together the brown sugar, tapioca, black pepper and salt. Gently fold the sugar mixture into the berry mixture.
  5. Pour the filling into the refrigerated pie shell, arrange the lattice or pastry round on top, and crimp as desired. Chill the pie in the refrigerator for 10 to 15 minutes to set the pastry. Meanwhile, position the oven racks at the bottom and center positions, place a rimmed baking sheet on the bottom rack, and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  6. Brush the pastry with the egg wash; if your pie has a lattice top, be careful not to drag the filling onto the pastry (it will burn). Sprinkle with the desired amount of Demerara sugar. Place the pie on the rimmed baking sheet on the lowest rack of the oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pastry is set and beginning to brown.
  7. Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees, move the pie to the center oven rack, and continue to bake until the pastry is a deep golden brown and the juices are bubbling throughout, 35 to 40 minutes.
  8. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 2 to 3 hours. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. The pie will keep refrigerated for 3 days or at room temperature for 2 days.

Chinese Swiss Roll

sliced swiss roll

Sometime last year, I thought it would be fun to make a Swiss roll. Even though my family didn’t eat much cake when I was growing up, we did all enjoy these roulade cakes from the local Asian supermarket — usually plain, but also coffee or chocolate flavored. If you’ve never had one before, Swiss rolls are a light and fluffy sponge cake usually rolled up with whipped cream. They are a nice, not-too-sweet dessert that pairs well with coffee or tea.

Anyways, my first Swiss roll attempt was a flop. The cake broke when I flipped it out of the pan. It tasted ok, though the bake was a bit uneven (probably because I didn’t rotate the pan and slightly underbaked it). I didn’t try again until last week, when I was looking for a recipe to use up some whipping cream from my last cake.

Second attempt: also a fail. The cake made it out of the pan in one piece, but it stuck to the paper and broke when I tried to roll it.

At this point, it became less about actually wanting to eat Swiss roll and more about wanting to BEAT MY NEMESIS. I read a bunch of Swiss roll recipes and tips and decided to try a different baking method. I was really careful about measuring out all the ingredients ahead of time and prepping the various baking utensils and surfaces. And…success! The cake came out in one piece and actually resembled a roll when all was said and done. I tried again a couple days later just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke, and it worked again! Very exciting.

untrimmed swiss roll

Some things I learned:

  • Measure out all your ingredients ahead of time and read the instructions through to the end a few times. The batter isn’t hard to put together, but it does require you to move quickly so your batter doesn’t collapse.
  • I highly recommend weighing your ingredients for best results.
  • Watch the cake carefully at the end, checking every 30 seconds or so when it’s near the end. Because it’s so thin, it can go from underdone to overdone just like that. That being said, make sure the cake is completely done before you take it out our you’ll end up with gross mushy cake.
  • I’ve tried to explain the rolling process below, but it’s easier to watch it. This video from Fine Cooking is helpful.

uncut swiss roll

Chinese Swiss Roll

Serves 8


Batter A

  • 3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 50g / 1/2 c caster sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 85g / 1/3 c milk, at room temperature
  • 55g / 1/4 c neutral oil
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g / 1 c cake flour, sifted
  • 1 tsp. baking powder

Batter B

  • 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/8 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 50g / 1/2 c caster sugar


  • 1-2 tbsp icing sugar

Filling & Garnish

  • 1/2 c whipping cream
  • 3-4 tsp caster sugar or to taste
  • Icing sugar, optional garnish


  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Line a 13″ x 9″ inch baking pan with parchment paper. Set aside.

Batter A:

  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolks, caster sugar and salt into a thick batter. Pour in milk and mix well. Pour in oil and vanilla extract and mix thoroughly. Sift in cake flour and baking powder into the batter and stir slowly into a thick batter. Do not overmix.

Batter B:

  • In a clean mixing bowl, beat egg whites and cream of tartar on high speed until foamy. Slowly add in the caster sugar and beat to stiff peaks.


  1. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the egg yolk batter. When they are almost combined, add another 1/3 of the whites. When almost combined, add the final 1/3. Fold gently, but thoroughly. When you are finished, the batter should be a uniform color with no streaks of white remaining.
  2. Immediately pour batter into prepared oven and spread evenly with a knife. drop the tin on the counter several times to pop and large air bubbles. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 15-17 minutes, rotating pan once after 10 minutes, or until the cake is springy to the touch and a tester comes out clean.
  3. While the cake is baking, prepare a clean linen tea towel (larger than the cake) and measure out some icing sugar.
  4. As soon as the cake is done, run a knife around the edges. Allow to cool for a minute or two. Sift the icing sugar over the top of the cake. Spread the tea towel over the cake, and place a large sheet pan or cutting board on top of the tea towel. Invert the cake onto the towel. Gently remove the parchment paper. Starting on a short end, gently but tightly roll the cake up with the towel inside. Allow cake to cool completely inside the towel.
  5. When the cake is cool, beat the whipping cream and sugar to taste to stiff peaks. Gently unroll the cake and remove the towel. On one short end of the cake (whichever looks more curled), use a sharp knife to score three parallel lines about 1/2 a centimeter apart (this will help the rolling process). Spread the cream evenly over the cake, leaving about an inch around the edges so the filling doesn’t seep out. Starting from the scored end, gently roll the cake back up. Transfer seam side down to a serving plate, and refrigerate at least an hour before serving.

To serve

  • Slice the ends off the cake and dust with additional icing sugar if desired.

Another Chocolate Cake

This past Valentine’s Day, I asked David what kind of cake he wanted. He told me, “I like that chocolate raspberry one.” I like that one too, but was also itching to try some new recipes. So I made another chocolate raspberry cake, this time with Swiss meringue buttercream (more on that later), espresso ganache, and more of that raspberry sauce from the original cake, because it’s just that good.

I never baked layer cakes until last year. My family wasn’t really into cake (often we’d just turn a carton of ice cream into birthday “cake” by decorating it with candy and sprinkles), so there wasn’t much reason to learn. While I think I’m still more of a pie person in general, I’ve started to find real enjoyment in making layer cakes. In a weird way it reminds me of planning a themed concert, which was one of my favorite parts of running a chamber music collective. We’d start out with a theme, and then try to think of different ways of representing that theme. Contrast was important, but all the components still had to make sense together. Other considerations included timing, instrumentalists available, and audience.

With layer cakes, you choose a general cake flavor, then the contrasting / complimenting ones. You have to plan when to make each component so that that everything will be ready at the same time. In my very limited experience, I’ve learned that it’s a 3 day process for me — bake the cake layers first so they can chill/freeze, then make all the components (frosting, filling, glazes etc.), and finally assemble everything and decorate. I’m sure it could be done in a single day, but I usually don’t have that much uninterrupted time; plus, it keeps me from burning out and getting lazy (which is when I tend to forget / drop things).

Anyways, if you got through all that cheesy analogy stuff, wow — thanks. You’re probably a good friend of mine or a family member, ha. So about this cake…

I’d been wanting to bake this particular chocolate cake for awhile as I’ve seen it raved about on The Vanilla Bean Blog, Hummingbird High, and a few other baking blogs. Also, it has coffee, which is never a bad thing in my book.

The consensus: this cake is a keeper. It’s moist and not too sweet, with a beautiful dark color from the cocoa + coffee combo and a rich chocolatey flavor. The other cake has a finer crumb and a nice buttery mouth feel, but this one is more moist. Let’s just say I’d make both of them again.

Buttercream: frosting is my least favorite part of cake (unless it’s cream cheese frosting) because it’s often so cloyingly sweet. So, I wanted to try making Swiss meringue buttercream, because it seems to be the preferred frosting for a lot of pro bakers — main reasons being it’s easy to work with and not too sweet. However, it’s also a bit finicky to make because you have to dissolve the sugar in the egg whites and make sure all the ingredients are the right temperature before combining everything. There are lots of articles about “how to fix buttercream” and “why your buttercream broke” etc. etc., so I knew I was in for a bit of a challenge.

Honestly, I didn’t have a lot of fun making this buttercream. I don’t own a stand mixer, so it took a LOOOOOOONG time to beat the egg white mixture with my handheld until it was cool enough to add the butter. I also made it the night before decorating (because that was when el bebe was asleep for the night and I’ve learned not to attempt lenghty-ish processes during the day), so I had to re-beat it the next day anyways. I found it difficult to keep at a good temperature for decorating because our kitchen was a smidge warm, plus I did get interrupted a few times by the infant child. So I had to keep refrigerating and re-beating and it got a little annoying. In the end it turned out ok — it was much less sweet than American buttercream. There are a ton of recipes out there, so next time I might try one with a higher proportion of egg whites to butter because I’d like to get it even lighter and silkier. Also, I’d probably borrow a stand mixer. And make it the day of decorating. Basically I need more practice and experimentation.

Ganache/Glaze: SO GOOD, and so easy. I had to freeze the leftovers so I wouldn’t eat it all with a spoon. I basically let it sit while I wrestled with the buttercream. Definitely not high maintenance. If I ever feel like making truffles, I’d fill them with this ganache.


Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Buttercream and Espresso Ganache

Makes one 2-layer, 8-inch cake


  • 2 cups (200g) cake flour
  • 2 cups (400g) granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup (69g) good cocoa powder (I used dutch processed)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk, shaken (I substituted 1T vinegar plus enough milk to equal 1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup freshly brewed hot coffee (I used dark roast)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease two 8×2 inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then grease and flour the pans.
  2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a large bowl and whisk to combine.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla. With a mixer on low speed, slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry. With the mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  4. Divide the batter between the prepared pans (it will be very liquidy) and bake for 35-40 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 30 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely, removing parchment paper. Note: these cakes are quite delicate, so I recommend refrigerating and then freezing the layers overnight before decorating so they will be easier to handle.


Use your favorite vanilla buttercream (this is a good start) with a few spoonfuls of raspberry sauce and/or food coloring to get your desired shade of pink.

Espresso Ganache / Glaze

Makes one cup


  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken into 3/4 -inch pieces
  • 3/4 c (6 oz) heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder


Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. In a small saucepan, heat the cream until bubbles appear around the edge; remove from the heat (this can also be done in the microwave). Add the espresso powder and stir to dissolve. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let stand for several minutes. Stir the chocolate until melted and smooth. Let the ganache stand at room temperature until firm enough to spread.

Raspberry Sauce

Make one portion of the recipe here.

To Assemble

  1. Allow cake rounds to chill completely. Level if necessary.
  2. Set one layer on a cake round or platter and spread with a layer of ganache (you can be fairly generous, though reserve at least 1/3 cup or so if you want to glaze the top and sides), topped with a layer of raspberry sauce (leave a thin border around the edge so your fillings don’t seep out from the weight of the top layer).
  3. Set the other layer on top; spread a thin layer of buttercream over the top and sides. Chill for at least half an hour before spreading a heavier layer of frosting over the entire cake.
  4. Chill again for at least half an hour before adding ganache drips along the sides and spreading it over the top (you will need to gently heat the ganache to get it to a glaze consistency — this was about 20 seconds in the microwave for me). Style Sweet CA has a great tutorial on drippy cakes.
  5. Garnish as desired (I used fresh raspberries, cocoa nibs, and crushed pistachios). Chill if not serving right away, but serve at room temperature with plenty of raspberry sauce. Cake keeps well in the refrigerator for several days.

Carrot Cake with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

carrot cake yayDavid and I are celebrating our second anniversary today — yay! As part of the celebration, I thought it’d be fun to make carrot cake, which was the top tier of our wedding cake. I’d actually never made carrot cake before, despite it being one of my favorite types. But I knew exactly what I wanted — moist but not too oily, tons of carrots, nuts and raisins but no pineapple or coconut, and — of course — delicious cream cheese frosting.

For the cake, I reviewed dozens of recipes before settling on the Flour Bakery one as my starting point. For the frosting, I went with the recipe used on our original wedding cake — a white chocolate cream cheese concoction from The Cake Bible. White chocolate may sound like a strange match for a carrot cake, but it really works nicely — the chocolate lends a rounder, richer flavor compared to just plain icing sugar; and a touch of lemon juice provides the perfect tang. This frosting is definitely decadent — I frosted the cake conservatively (with about half a cup left over), and that was rich enough for my taste.

carrot cake side

carrot cake single

Carrot Cake

Adapted from Flour by Joanne Chang | Makes one 2-layer, 8-inch cake


  • 4 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups (360g) light brown sugar
  • 1 cup (200g) canola oil
  • 3 tbsp buttermilk, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (70g) Greek yogurt, room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups (320g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • 4 cups (520g) grated carrot, tightly packed (about 4 medium)
  • 1 cup (160g) raisins, soaked for at least 1 hour in boiling water and drained
  • 1 cup (100g) toasted walnuts, chopped (100g)


  1. Position a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 2 8-inch cake pan and line the bottoms with parchment paper; then lightly grease parchment.
  2. Using a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment (or a handheld mixer), beat together the eggs and brown sugar on medium-high speed for 3–4 minutes, or until the mixture is light and thick. (This step will take 8–10 minutes if using a handheld mixer.) In a small bowl or pitcher, whisk together the oil, buttermilk, and vanilla. On low speed, slowly pour the oil mixture into the egg-sugar mixture. This should take about 30 seconds.
  3. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Using a rubber spatula, fold the flour mixture into the egg-sugar mixture. When most of the flour mixture has been incorporated, add the carrots, raisins, and walnuts and continue to fold until the batter is homogeneous. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans.
  4. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown and spring back when pressed in the middle with a fingertip. Let cool completely in the pans on a wire rack. Refrigerate or freeze cake rounds until ready to frost.

White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

Adapted from The Cake Bible | Makes enough to frost one 8-inch, 2 layer cake

  • 9 ounces (255 grams) good-quality white chocolate, chopped
  • 12 ounces (340 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (170 grams) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 tbsp (23 grams) lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • Pinch of kosher salt


  1. Melt the chocolate in the microwave in 15 second increments, stirring in between. When the chocolate is almost all melted, allow the residual heat to complete the melting. Cool to room temperature.
  2. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth and creamy. Gradually beat in the lemon juice and melted chocolate. Use immediately to frost cakes (can be refrigerated up to 2 weeks ahead; bring to room temperature before using).

To Assemble

Allow cake rounds to chill completely. Level if necessary. Set one layer on a cake round or platter and spread with a thin layer of frosting (about 1/2 – 3/4 cup). Set the other layer on top; spread a thin layer of frosting over the top and sides. Chill for at least half an hour before spreading a heavier layer of frosting over the entire cake. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled. Cake keeps well in the refrigerator for several days.

New York Style Bagels

A few years ago, I got into a bread baking kick where I wanted to bake ALL THE BREADS. There’s something therapeutic about kneading dough and watching very basic ingredients transform into loaves of deliciousness. (Needless to say, I could never be gluten-free.) Although most bread recipes take quite a bit of time (this one included), a lot of that is simply waiting. And waiting is probably the hardest part!

I love making individual-sized breads and rolls, so bagels have been on my to-bake list for awhile. I’m happy to report they were a resounding success — my husband says they were the best bagels he’s ever tasted! Crisp exterior with just the right amount of salt and a wonderful chew — perfect with a schmear of cream cheese. The original recipe for these New York style bagels is from one of my favorite bread experts: Peter Reinhart. His Bread Baker’s Apprentice is one of my favorite cookbooks and showed me it was possible to good bread in a home oven. While there is a recipe for bagels in BBA, I chose to use a version from Epicurious because it made a smaller batch and the process was a little streamlined.

As with all Peter Reinhart recipes, there are a lot of detailed instructions; and you’ll definitely want to read the recipe through to the end a couple times to get a feel for the process. However, it really isn’t too difficult — if you’ve made soft pretzels before, you’ll find bagel-making very similar.


  • I’ve edited the recipe to reflect the methods and timeline I used. Consult the original for other options.
  • The original recipe in BBA suggests high gluten flour as ideal for bagels. I couldn’t find it easily so I just used bread flour. The bagels were satisfyingly chewy, though I do want to try high gluten sometime.
  • The original recipe says the yield is 6-8 bagels. I like mine smaller so I made 12, and they were still pretty good-sized.
  • The original doesn’t call for an egg wash, but after reading comments online I decided to use one to ensure the toppings would stick well.

New York Style Bagels

Adapted from Peter Reinhart via Epicurious | Makes 6 large or 12 small bagels



  • 1 tablespoon (0.75 oz / 21 g) barley malt syrup, honey, or rice syrup, or 1 teaspoon (0.25 oz / 7 g) diastatic malt powder
  • 1 teaspoon (0.11 oz / 3 g) instant yeast (Note: I used a heaping tsp of active dry, and it worked fine)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (0.37 oz / 10.5 g) salt, or 2 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (9 oz / 255 g) lukewarm water (about 95°F or 35°C)
  • 3 1/2 cups (16 oz / 454 g) unbleached bread flour

Poaching liquid

  • 2 to 3 quarts (64 to 96 oz / 181 to 272 g) water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons (1 oz / 28.5 g) barley malt syrup or honey (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon (0.5 oz / 14 g) baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon (0.25 oz / 7 g) salt, or 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt


  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • Any mixture of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, dried onion flakes, dried garlic flakes, and coarse salt


Do ahead

  1. To make the dough, stir the malt syrup, yeast, and salt into the lukewarm water. Place the flour into a mixing bowl and pour in the malt syrup mixture. If using a mixer, use the dough hook and mix on the lowest speed for 3 minutes. If mixing by hand, use a large, sturdy spoon and stir for about 3 minutes, until well blended. The dough should form a stiff, coarse ball, and the flour should be fully hydrated; if it isn’t, stir in a little more water. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.
  2. Resume mixing with the dough hook on the lowest speed for another 3 minutes or transfer to a very lightly floured work surface and knead by hand for about 3 minutes to smooth out the dough and develop the gluten. The dough should be stiff yet supple, with a satiny, barely tacky feel. If the dough seems too soft or overly tacky, mix or knead in a little more flour.
  3. Place the dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight or up to 2 days.

Baking Day

  1. Remove the dough from the refrigerator 60 to 90 minutes before you plan to bake the bagels. Prepare a sheet pan by lining it with parchment paper or a silicone mat, then misting it with spray oil. Divide the dough into 6 to 12 equal pieces. (A typical bagel is about 4 ounces or 113 grams before baking, but you can make them smaller [I made 12]. If you make more than 6 bagels, you may need to prepare 2 sheet pans.) Form each piece into a loose ball by rolling it on a clean, dry work surface with a cupped hand. (Don’t use any flour on the work surface. If the dough slides around and won’t ball up, wipe the surface with a damp paper towel and try again; the slight bit of moisture will provide enough traction for the dough to form into a ball.)
  2. Use both hands (and a fair amount of pressure) to roll the ball into a rope about 8 inches long on a clean, dry work surface. (Again, wipe the surface with a damp towel, if necessary, to create sufficient friction on the work surface.) Taper the rope slightly at each end and moisten the last inch or so of the ends. Place one end of the dough in the palm of your hand and wrap the rope around your hand to complete the circle, going between your thumb and forefinger and then all the way around. The ends should overlap by about 2 inches. Squeeze the overlapping ends together by closing your hand, then press the seam into the work surface, rolling it back and forth a few times to seal. Remove the dough from your hand, squeezing it to even out the thickness if need be and creating a hole of about 2 inches in diameter.
  3. After 1 hour, check whether the bagels are ready for baking using the “float test”: Place one of the bagels in a small bowl of cold water. If it sinks and doesn’t float back to the surface, shake it off, return it to the pan, and wait for another 15 to 20 minutes, then test it again. When one bagel passes the float test, they’re all ready to be boiled. If they pass the float test before you are ready to boil and bake them, return them to the refrigerator so they don’t overproof. About 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 500°F (260°C) and gather and prepare your garnishes (egg wash, seeds, onions, garlic, and so on).
  4. To make the poaching liquid, fill a pot with 2 to 3 quarts of water, making sure the water is at least 4 inches deep. Cover, bring to a boil, then lower the heat to maintain at a simmer. Stir in the malt syrup, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Gently lower each bagel into the simmering poaching liquid, adding as many as will comfortably fit in the pot. They should all float to the surface within 15 seconds. After 1 minute, use a slotted spoon to turn each bagel over. Poach for another 30 to 60 seconds, then use the slotted spoon to transfer it back to the pan, domed side up. (It’s important that the parchment paper be lightly oiled, or the paper will glue itself to the dough as the bagels bake.) Brush the top with the egg wash and sprinkle on a generous amount of whatever toppings you like as soon as the bagels come out of the water.
  6. Transfer the pan of bagels to the oven, then lower the oven heat to 450°F (232°C).
  7. Bake for 8 minutes, then rotate the pan and check the underside of the bagels. If they’re getting too dark, place another pan under the baking sheet. (Doubling the pan will insulate the first baking sheet.) Bake for another 8 to 12 minutes, until the bagels are a golden brown.
  8. Cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing or serving.

Baked Donuts, Two Ways


unfrostedHappy New Year! We had a great time spending the holidays with my family in Seattle. Now that my brothers and I are scattered around North America, it’s rare for us to all be in the same place at once. So it was a treat to have everyone “home” again, joking and eating and enjoying each others’ company. Of course, it was particularly special this year because it was Marcus’ first Christmas. Naturally, he got the most presents (even though he slept through us opening them for him…).

It’s become customary for David and me to cook a couple meals when we’re back in Seattle, with one of them being breakfast / brunch. This year, we scored a couple donut pans during some after-Christmas shopping; so we decided to try our hand at baked sour cream donuts. We tested a couple recipes, and this one was the clear winner. I know some people will pooh-pooh thought of baked donuts; and I won’t pretend these are like the deep-fried delights we all enjoy. But they are pretty darn tasty — the double rising power of yeast and baking powder give these babies a nice light texture. Plus, they are super easy and quick to whip up — you can mix, bake, and glaze a batch in under an hour.

I’ve included a two glaze ideas here — zesty lemon and classic chocolate. Each recipe will make enough for a dozen donuts; I’ve halved the glaze recipes to do a mixed batch and had plenty of each left over. Or feel free to dress your donuts up with another flavor of your choice — this list is a good place to start. I’m definitely looking forward to playing around with some different flavors!


Baked Donuts

Recipe adapted from The Kitchn | Makes 12


  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons warm water or milk
  • 200 g / 2 cups cake flour
  • 215 g / 1 cup caster sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 228 g / 1 cup sour cream, room temperature
  • 56 g / 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two (6-count) doughnut pans with a flour-based baking spray, Arrange a wire cooling rack over a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.
  2. In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm milk or water and set aside. In a medium mixing bowl, sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt.
  3. In another bowl, whisk the eggs, sour cream, melted butter, vanilla, and yeast mixture until well combined. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until completely incorporated. Transfer the batter to a disposable piping bag (or zip-top bag, snipping off one corner for piping) and pipe into the prepared pans.
  4. Bake the doughnuts until puffed and golden, about 15 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool the doughnuts in the pan for 5 minutes. Transfer the doughnuts from the pan to the wire rack.

For the lemon glaze:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • 1-2 tbsp lemon juice (about half a lemon)
  • 1-2 tbsp milk, plus more to thin if needed
  • Pinch of salt
  • Poppy seeds, optional
  1. Combine the powdered sugar, lemon zest, and salt in a small bowl and stir to combine. Whisk in the lemon juice. Whisk in the milk, adding gradually until the glaze reaches desired consistency.
  2. Dip the top side of a doughnut into the glaze and twist to coat. Return to the wire rack and immediately cover with poppy seeds. Continue with remaining doughnuts. Allow glaze to dry for a few minutes before serving. (Note: You can glaze both sides if you prefer a sweeter donut.)

For the chocolate glaze:

  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons milk, plus more to thin if needed
  • Rainbow sprinkles, optional
  1. Cook the chocolate and butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until ingredients are melted (or melt in the microwave in 15-second increments). Add the powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk, and whisk vigorously to combine. If it seems too thick, add more milk, a tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached. Remove the pan from heat.
  2. Dip the top side of a doughnut into the glaze and twist to coat. Return to the wire rack and immediately cover with sprinkles. Continue with remaining doughnuts. Allow glaze to dry for a few minutes before serving.


Marcus’ Chocolate-Raspberry Cake

chococake1One month ago, I was having a baby. But before there was a baby, there was supposed to be chocolate cake.

Our little munchkin wasn’t due until September 16th, but starting around the 37.5 week mark I was ready to have this baby. Even though I had an easy-peasy pregnancy, the discomfort of wearing a watermelon-sized heater 24/7 during the hottest part of the year was getting old, fast. I had a feeling he’d show up a little early; but as the due date drew closer with no signs of baby, I was preparing myself for a fashionably late arrival (as both David and I had been).

At my 39-week checkup, my doctor performed a sweep and stretch, which can help encourage labor naturally (I think it’s something like a 30% success rate). That night I had some spotting and a sudden onset of chills. We called the public health hotline, and the nurse recommended I go into labor and delivery (even though I wasn’t having any contractions). I was pretty sure it wasn’t the real thing, but just to be on the safe side we went in. Sure enough, I was checked out and sent home — the chills chalked up to the changing weather and/or hormones released by the sweep and stretch.

The next day was one of our busier Saturday mornings in awhile. David had a funeral to attend, and my Mom and I met some old friends for brunch. On our way home, we stopped by a new coffee place we’d been meaning to try, and then went in search of ingredients for dinner. David wanted to BBQ, and we also had planned to make a good-bye chocolate cake for a church friend who was moving back to Taiwan. Once we got home, David went to start the BBQ while my mom and I started mixing up the chocolate cake. Around 5pm, I stuck the cake layers in the oven, stood up, and my water broke. I’d secretly hoped my water breaking would be how I knew it was time to head to the hospital, but I didn’t think it would actually happen that way. I remember feeling startled and calling over to my mom, “Um, I think my water just broke…” while standing in an ever increasing pool of water.

From that point, everything happened relatively fast. We checked into L & D half an hour later, and within the next hour I went from no contractions to full on 60-90 second contractions a few minutes apart. People say “you’ll just know” when you get real contractions, and I know what they mean now. I asked for an epidural, but was told it would be an extra hour before I could get one because the anesthesiologist on call was in surgery. That hour was definitely the most pain I’ve experienced. Poor David had nail marks all over his arm to prove it. When the epidural finally came, it was such a relief (seriously, thank God for drugs). The nurse checked me shortly afterwards, and told me the happy news that I was fully dilated. She had me rest for an hour, and then we started pushing.

momo1Pushing lasted two hours. As we neared the end of the second hour, my contractions started weakening and I was exhausted. The nurses decided to give me a shot of Picotin to help things along — and 12 minutes later, at 12:47am on Sunday, September 13th, little Marcus burst into the world. Hearing him scream a few moments later was one of the most relieving and beautiful sounds I’ve heard. It’s been a fascinating, sometimes frustrating, exciting, exhausting, and extraordinary month getting to know our little man. We thank God that he’s healthy and generally good-natured (except when he’s hungry) and has a ton of people around him who love him. It is also a blessing having family near and far come help; otherwise I’d be a total zombie surviving on instant noodles and coffee.

chococake2Anyways, back to that chocolate cake — my mom finished baking it, but we were too late to make it into a goodbye cake for our friend. So, when we got home from the hospital, we made some buttercream and transformed it into a “Welcome Marcus” cake. I sure hope Marcus becomes a chocolate lover, because like it or not I’m probably going to make this chocolate-raspberry cake every year around his birthday just for kicks. The recipe is adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Cake Bible, my Christmas present to myself last year. My main change was to make the buttercream with all dark chocolate instead of a mixture of milk and dark. I think it’s the perfect amount of sweetness paired with the raspberry sauce. (This is 2/3 of the original recipe, which was just enough to lightly frost the entire cake.) We also only made half the amount of raspberry sauce, but next time I’ll make the full amount because I wish I’d had more to slather on when serving — it’s soooooo good.

Marcus’ Chocolate-Raspberry Cake

Makes 1 4-layer, 8-inch cake | Adapted from The Cake Bible

Cake Ingredients:

  • 85 g / 3/4 c + 3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch-processed)
  • 1 1/2 c boiling water
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 t vanilla
  • 300 grams / 3 c sifted cake flour
  • 434 g / 2 c firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 2 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 227 g / 1 c unsalted butter, softened
  • Handful of fresh raspberries, for garnish (optional)


  1. Grease and line two 8-inch round cake pans and line with parchment paper, then grease again and flour. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. In a medium bowl whisk together the cocoa and boiling water until smooth. Cool to room temperature.
  3. In another bowl lightly combine the eggs, 1/4 of the cocoa mixture, and vanilla.
  4. In a large mixing bowl combine the remaining dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 seconds. Add the butter and remaining cocoa mixture. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase to medium speed (high speed if using a hand mixer) and beat for 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down the sides. Gradually add the egg mixture in 3 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Scrape down the sides.
  5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake 30-40 minutes or until a tester inserted near the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center.
  6. Let the cakes cool in the pans on racks for 10 minutes. Loosen the sides with a small metal spatula and invert onto greased wire racks. To prevent splitting reinvert so that tops are up and cool completely. (Layers can be wrapped tightly with plastic wrap and stored at room temperature for a couple of days, or frozen until needed.)

Dark Chocolate Buttercream Ingredients:

  • 454 g / 1 lb good quality dark chocolate
  • 227 g / 1/2 lb unsalted butter, softened


  1. Break the chocolate into squares and melt in a double boiler or in the microwave (stirred every 15 seconds). Stir until smooth, and cool until no longer warm to the touch.
  2. In a bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixture at medium speed and beat in the cooled chocolate until uniform in color.

Raspberry Sauce Ingredients:

  • 680 g / 24 ounces frozen unsweetened raspberries
  • 2 tsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 132 g / 2/3 c sugar, optional


  1. In a strainer suspended over a deep bowl thaw the raspberries completely. This will take several hours. Press the berries to force out all the juice. There should be 1 cup.
  2. In a saucepan boil the juice until reduced to 1/4 c. Pour into a lightly oiled heatproof cup.
  3. Puree the raspberries and use a find strainer to remove all the seeds. You should have 1 liquid cup puree. Stir in the raspberry syrup and lemon juice. To make a lightly sweetened sauce, measure again. There should be 1 1/3 liquid cups. If you have less, add less sugar. The correct amount of sugar is 1/2 the volume of the puree. (To 1 cup puree, add 1/2 c sugar.) Stir until sugar dissolves.

Assemble the cake:

  1. Level and divide each cake into 2 layers (for 4 layers total). Spread a thin layer of buttercream between each layer, followed by a layer of raspberry puree.
  2. Frost the entire cake with remaining buttercream. Garnish with fresh raspberries if desired, and serve with remaining raspberry sauce.

Strawberry Yogurt Bread

strawberrybreadLately I’ve been working a lot of early morning shifts, so I wanted to make something I could easily pack for breakfast. Bonus points for something that could be created from the contents of our fridge (and pantry). My default is our House Banana Bread, but I didn’t have any bananas and thought it would be fun to make something seasonal. BTW, I’m so excited for berry season! (One of the best parts of summer, IMO.)

The result was this Strawberry Yogurt Bread. Since this was envisioned as a breakfast bread, my goal was for something not too sweet and reasonably healthy (minimal oil/butter, some whole grains). I’m quite happy with how this turned out, and three days later it’s almost finished…so that’s that! Next time, I might try walnuts or pecans in place of the nuts, or swapping out the strawberries for blueberries or whatever berry is lurking in the fridge. We had a partial tub of sour cream in the fridge, so that got added in — but if you don’t have that lying around, I think you could easily add another 1/4 cup of oil or replace with more yogurt. Yay flexible recipes!

Strawberry Yogurt Bread

Makes 1 9×5 loaf


  • 1/2 c plain Greek yogurt (I used fat free)
  • 1/4 c sour cream
  • 1/4 c vegetable oil
  • 1/4 c granulated sugar
  • 1/4 c dark brown sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/3 c all purpose flour
  • 2/3 c whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 c strawberries, chopped
  • 1 handful sliced almonds


  • 1 Tbsp. Turbinado Sugar
  • 1 strawberry, sliced


  • Preheat oven to 350°.
  • In a medium bowl, mix yogurt, sour cream, oil, sugar, eggs and vanilla extract until blended.
  • In a separate bowl add flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix together.
  • Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and slowly incorporate the yogurt mixture, being careful not to overmix.
  • Fold in strawberries and almonds.
  • Spoon batter into a greased and floured 9×5-inch loaf pan. The batter will be thick.
  • Arrange sliced strawberry on top, and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
  • Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack 10 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack.