Another star recipe from Folks at King Arthur Flour May 17, 2010

It’s good to be back!  I haven’t posted anything since mid-April.  I was knee-deep in work.  Wish I could say I was away, spending my days and nights basking in the flavors of Provence or Florence, but I was right here, banging away furiously at my computer.



When deadlines loom large, the kitchen gets a break.  Instead of churning butter and scalding milk, I was feverishly churning words and translating documents instead.  When the folks at King Arthur Flour in Vermont sent me their usual blog, I was charmed by the picture of their cinnapineapanana – try saying that without twisting your tongue!  This cinnapineapanana was inspired by Ricardo Neves Gonzalez’s Jewish Strudel.  The winning combination of cinnamon, dried pineapple and fresh bananas was a palate pleaser.  I’ve eaten a lot of strudles in my life and some of them leave that sticky, over-sugary feeling.  Not this one.



After I read the instructions and looked at the pictures, I was convinced that this was something I had to try.  I had never made a strudel before.  With my tired mind awash in words, I needed to get my hands on dough and this recipe came at about the right time.  Successful?  You bet!  Delicious recipe?  Yes, yes, yes!  It worked like a charm.  You too can learn to make it, KAF explains the steps in detail.  It may look complicated but I breezed through it.  Get it here.


 Here’s my version:


KAF's jewish challah1

I should have taken shots of the slices but after our first bite, I forgot about the camera.  The only changes I made to the recipe were:

  • replaced the honey with 1/4 cup white sugar
  • made my own cinnamon filling ) by mixing 1/4 cup of sugar with 1 tbsp of cinnamon, 3 tbsp of water and a knob of butter (as KAF suggested).  I’m sure KAF’s cinnamon filling would give this strudel that extra oomph taste-wise.
  • sprinkled a few almond slices on top


I think I will use the dough recipe as a master recipe for other sweet breads because the taste was perfect.  And in spite of the 45-minute baking time, it came out soft and chewy.  I was a tad apprehensive about the long baking time (as you can see some parts of it are too dark) so I’ll reduce baking time by 5 minutes the next time I make it. 


This was a jewel of a strudel.  Making it was also a stress-releaser.  After my first slice, I was ready to start banging away at my computer again!



Farl: Three Experiments, One Basic Recipe March 6, 2010

Every morning, I look up the "Word of the Day" in the Montreal Gazette.  If it’s a word I think I might use, I memorize it and  write it in my notebook; if it’s a word that produces no reaction, I head for the business section.

Two weeks ago, one word caught my eye:  farl.  The Gazette defined it as a "wedge of oat cake".  I had never heard of it so I went on the Internet for a recipe.  It turns out that farl is also known as Irish Soda Bread.  The one I chose was Peter Mum’s recipe which you’ll find here:  Read his article; he not only shares the recipe, but also talks about the history of soda bread and how different regions in the UK make it.  The variations are regional.  What he says:


"In Ireland, "plain" soda bread is as likely to be eaten as an accompaniment to a main meal (to soak up the gravy) as it’s likely to appear at breakfast. It comes in two main colors, brown and white, and two main types: cake and farl. People in the south of Ireland tend to make cake: people in Northern Ireland seem to like farl better — though both kinds appear in both North and South, sometimes under wildly differing names.

Cake is soda bread kneaded and shaped into a flattish round, then deeply cut with a cross on the top (to let the bread stretch and expand as it rises in the oven). This style of soda bread is normally baked in an oven."


Discovering farl was a godsend.  One, it has only four ingredients, two, you don’t need yeast, three, you knead for only 30 seconds, and four, you can substitute the buttermilk by combining milk and vinegar (1 cup milk to 1 tsbp vinegar).  The best reason?  You can bake it or cook it on a heavy skillet!

I wasn’t sure I would like farl.  The list of ingredients sounded as bland as a poor man’s snack.  There was nothing "sexy" about it, but I liked the word so much that it’s been added to my dwindling vocabulary.  And  I enjoyed Peter Mum’s romantic narration so decided I had to try it.

Whoa! Glad I did…

The first time I made it, the taste hit me.  This is just about the best homemade bread you can make for your favorite people.  Although the shape and texture went awry, I developed a schoolgirl type of crush, making it two more times and improvising like a scientist gone mad.

Here’s my farl story in three parts.  First, here are the ingredients from Peter Mums’ recipe:


3-1/2 cups flour (either cake flour or all-purpose)

1 tsp sugar (optional)

1 tsp salt

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)

8-10 fl ounces of buttermilk


First Farl:  I combined 35% whipping cream and 35% cooking cream and mixed in 2 tbsp of fresh lemon juice (to make my buttermilk).  These creams were almost expiring and I didn’t want to waste them.  Bad move.  I paid dearly for that unjust act.  This is how the farl came out, looking more like a weather-beaten baseball glove minus the fingers.  It was hard.  But the taste was something else.  I was smitten!



Second Farl:

Made my buttermilk by using 1-1/2 cans of evaporated milk mixed with 2 tbsp of white vinegar.  I left it for 20-30 minutes to let the vinegar sufficiently sour the milk.  I then baked the bread at 450 degrees for 10 minutes and then at 350 degrees for another 30 minutes.  Tremendous rise (for a no-yeast bread).  Excellent flavor. 


re-recombined farl 2

Third Farl:

This time I used 2 cups all-purpose, 1 cup whole wheat flour and 1/2 cup semolina flour.  I also added dried potato flakes because I was afraid the whole wheat and the 45-minute baking time would harden the bread.  I also used more milk and the dough was really wet, so wet in fact that the 30-second kneading was a struggle.  When it came out of the oven, I smothered the crust with butter.  The result?  Again, delicious bread!


re-recombined farl3

Farl will be part of my breakfast and snack routine from now on.  We ate the first slices with strong cheddar cheese.  The next morning, we put slices in the toaster oven and slathered peanut butter on them.  Farl will go with anything.  Or with nothing.  Either way, it’s wonderful bread.


The method is idiot-proof:

Pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees.

Step 1:  sift your dry ingredients once, making sure the salt, sugar and baking soda blend into the flour.

Step 2:  put your sifted ingredients into a large bowl and make a hole in the center.

Step 3:  pour your buttermilk (or your improvised buttermilk).  You may want to add the milk gradually.  Don’t be afraid to end up with a tacky and wettish dough.  Once blended, transfer your dough on to the counter and knead for 30 seconds – no need to do it vigorously and don’t knead for more than 60 seconds!

Step 4:  form into a ball and put it on a cookie tray or pan.

Step 5:  bake at 450 degrees for first 10 minutes.  Reduce to 350 degrees and bake for another 35 minutes.

Step 6:  Farl is done when golden brown in color and it produces a hollow sound when tapped from the bottom.  Transfer to a cooling rack and cover with a clean kitchen towel.

Warning:  Farl – or Irish Soda Bread – is addicting.  So far no cure has been found…


Bread Play! February 25, 2010

Ever since I learned how to make challah, I’ve had this child-like propensity for playing with flour and testing my not-so-nimble fingers to make different bread shapes, taking my arthritic imagination to task.  It was snowing heavily one day in early February and this kind of weather would have most kids rushing out to build a snowman and hurling balls of snow.  I’m not a kid, I dislike snow, so I stayed indoors.  Yet I was in a playful mood and wanted to shape something aimlessly – certainly not a good thing when you’re trying to save your ingredients because they’re suddenly expensive these days.  My ingredients did not really go to waste, as you can see:

bread pizza2                                              bread pizza3

Swirls, twists, the letter S, a collar, a baseball bat or a rabbit – there are several shapes you can experiment with.  These shapes were produced using a pizza recipe from Peter Reinhart, but you can take your own favorite pizza or bread recipe and create these shapes.  My “collar” bread on the left came out the way I imagined it, but I was slightly disappointed with my “S” breads.  What I did wrong is that I did not roll out the strands thinly enough.  Because this pizza recipe has yeast, I should have made the shapes ultra-thin because they rise once they’re snuggled in a hot oven.  I lost the “S” there so my breads came out looking more like uneven body parts.  What I mean by body parts…er…

bread pizza

For this “collar”, I divided my dough into two and rolled out each one into a strand thinly – to a length of about 16 inches.  Then alternating the strands, I cross them over, somewhat like making a hair braid, but only with two  strands.  Braid them tightly, not loosey-goosey style, because once in the oven, they’ll balloon up!

If you look closely, my strands are not even – they become smaller at the ends (see left side).  That’s what happens when I get impatient rolling out dough into strands.  When the dough is difficult to handle, it’s hard to stretch them evenly.  I have good days though when dough can work like a charm – it’ll go wherever you want to take it.  A lot depends on various factors – the room temperature, the kneading, the combination of ingredients, etc. On those days when dough acts like a temperamental child,  I should take more time to evenly distribute the dough’s thickness from one end to another.  For this bread I was happy, even if I could not get the strand to be uniformly sized from one end to the other.

bread pizza 4  For the S bread on the right, this is a shape I got from Peter Reinhart’s book.  Again you divide your dough into strands, the number of which depends on how many “S” breads you want to make.  Roll them out very thinly – and evenly.  A 12-inch strand is good, but in this case, I should have rolled it out longer.  Working both ends simultaneously, you take the end of each strand and roll it as you would do for cinnamon rolls or a jelly roll; one end going outwards (away from you) and one end going inwards (towards you).

I tried looking for a YouTube demo.  There were some on other shapes but nothing for this S-shaped bread.  Here’s a CRUDE drawing I did using Word’s drawing tools.

s shape drawing

I did say it was crude so forgive me!

Keep the knots or curls as close together as possible.  Some bakers coil it around only once – you can do that too.  In fact, the picture above shows that there’s only one coil, but it started out with many coils like my drawing on the left.

I find bread sculpting relaxing…you would too if you like rolling up your sleeves and working your hands into dough!  It reminds me of the days I used to play with clay.  Now, if we could only have bread in as many colors as clay.  With food coloring products, that’s not impossible to achieve!


Reinhart’s Portuguese Sweet Bread: a Sure Winner! February 14, 2010

My dentist says I have an incurably sweet tooth.  That explains why she goes to great lengths to clear the plaque off my ivories.  I floss twice a day, mind you, but my sweet tooth negates all the diligent dental care I pay for.


One day, after having just finished my workout at the gym, I had this craving for a “sweetish” kind of bread.  I went scavenging on the Internet for a simple recipe, but none caught my fancy only because of information overload.  After 20 minutes, I gave up – there was just too many sweet bread recipes to choose from. 


Then I remembered.  I had Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker Apprentice (BBA).  Why don’t I try that? I settled on his Portuguese Sweet Bread (page 215 of BBA).  His recipe called for three kinds of extracts:  lemon, orange and vanilla.  I only had pure vanilla extract.  The store didn’t have the lemon and orange extracts so I bought Dr. Oetker’s artificial lemon and orange flavors, which come in small vials. 


One thing that intrigued me was Reinhart’s advice about this bread:  He said:


“Because of the high amount of sugar, the dough will brown very quickly, but don’t be fooled into thinking it is done.  It will get darker as the center gradually catches up with the outside, but it will not burn.  The final color will be a rich mahogany brown.


I was skeptical at first.  To me, bread shouldn’t be baked for that long.  I’m fixated on the “22 minutes” and unless I’m baking sourdough, 30 minutes would ruin the bread’s texture.   I reluctantly followed his advice of baking it for 50-60 minutes and Reinhart, the master bread maker, was right!  (Don’t argue with success, as someone used to say).


My loaves did have that rich mahogany color that he promised, and they were the exact color match of his photographed loaves.


sweet port1

This recipe is in my “keeper” file.  I can see how it would be the perfect Easter treat.  The combination of orange, lemon and vanilla tasted like spring.  You should have been at my place while they were baking.  The sweet scents pervaded every nook and cranny, lingering long enough after they were sliced and eaten.  Baking this bread gave my place that fresh and fruity ambiance!


The deep brown color of the crust was a stark contrast to the crumb.  Despite the long baking time, the bread was soft inside.  The crust wasn’t tough.  Here’s what the bread looked like after slicing:


sweetport2                         sweetport3

Peter Reinhart recommends the sponge method for this bread which you make 90 minutes ahead.  It calls for 1/2 cup of unbleached bread flour, 1 tbsp of sugar, 2-1/4 tsp of instant yeast and 1/2 cup of water at room temperature.  I wish I could post the recipe here, but I don’t think it would be fair to Reinhart. His book is copyrighted, and like a good citizen, I can’t violate the laws.  I’m sure your local library has it.  If it isn’t, ask your librarian if he’d do an inter-library loan for you.  The book’s title is Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart, ISBN:  978-158008-268-6.


If you really want the recipe and can’t find it anywhere, e-mail me at  I’ll be happy to send it to you.  It’s just unethical to post it for the whole world to see (not that the world visits my blog!)


The other ingredient you should use is powdered milk.  Reinhart in fact almost always recommends powdered milk because he says it gives breads a distinctive taste and that once you use it, you’ll never want to use liquid milk again.  I’m not sure about that.  I think it’s because using powdered milk versus liquid milk will not drench the dough, making it difficult to handle.  I’ve worked with certain doughs before that seemed like an acrobatic feat.


You’ll love this Portuguese Sweet Bread.  Dr. Oetker’s artificial extracts, by the way, worked wonders.  They’re definitely not a bad idea if your runs out of the pure lemon and orange extracts.





For my 1st Sourdough, this ain’t bad! January 27, 2010

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to learn how to make sourdough bread, an intimidating experience because you can’t make it until you’ve succeeded in building your starter.  Some make their starters with minimum effort – their starters come alive after just a few days, while others have a hard time getting that wild yeast to “go and multiply”.  You can read my previous post on how I made mine.  The image I posted shows what a healthy starter  looks like, ready for use (usually after 7-10 days):

I didn’t want to use my starter right away even if experts encourage using it as soon as it’s ready.  I put mine in the fridge after it became bubbly and frothy and left it there, feeding it once a week.  I wanted to make sure that the sour taste of sourdough would be there; I had read that initial attempts to make breads with sourdough starters won’t yield that sour taste because it  takes time, practice and skill. 

I waited four weeks before trying my first recipe – Norwich Sourdough – introduced by Susan in her Wild Yeast blog ( She adapted it based on Jeff Hamelman’s Vermont sourdough.  She has other recipes on there and I’ll be trying my luck with them this year.

I don’t know if I mentioned this on my previous post, but some starters have been handed down from one generation to the next.  Don’t be surprised if someone says that her starter is 25 years old!  Starters are like family heirlooms. 

The wait was well worth it.  I didn’t come out with a masterpiece that will give the world’s boulangers a run for their money, but for my very first try, I was delighted at the outcome.

sourdough post

  Over at the Fresh Loaf (, those with considerable sourdough  experience judge their breads in terms of:  (a)  flavor, (b) crust, (c) crumb, and (d) scoring.  Master bakers like Peter Reinhart and Jeff Hamelman also use these criteria when they give instructions on how to come up with a close to perfect sourdough.

I have only admiration for those who churn out perfect and flawless boules, bâtards, miches and baguettes! 

Using these same criteria, how would I rate my Norwich Sourdough?  The report card which I posted on The Fresh Loaf is reproduced here:

score card

Most sourdough enthusiasts agree that the more holes your sourdough bread has, the better.  As you can see from my bread slice, my sourdough doesn’t have many. In time I’ll figure out how to get more holes:  is it (a) higher hydration, (b) more stretch and folds, or (c) both?  Opinions vary.  The only way for me to find out is to stop asking questions on forums (because for every question, I’m likely to get 11 answers) and start experimenting. 

The flavor of this Norwich sourdough was outstanding, and I gave my crust a good score (it could be better).  My crumb – whoa – could use more work.  It had that chewy and dense texture.  I prefer sourdough breads with that  “airhead” quality.

As for scoring, that’s the least of my worries right now, although from discussions I’ve read, good scoring skills would enhance the appearance of your bread.  What happened to my Norwich sourdough bread was I was too ambitious with my lame (blade), and slashed my bread more than was necessary.  As people say, there’s a trick to slashing; I have to get the hang of positioning my blade at the right angle.

Another thing:  when I baked this sourdough bread, I thought I could get by without bannetons.  Big mistake.  Because sourdough bread needs to go through a long proofing process, bannetons are indispensable.

Off to the store…again!


Think "Soft" and "Wheat" are Contradictions? January 23, 2010

Filed under: Breads — sotsil @ 5:32 pm
Tags: , , ,

Not these wheat buns which I made last week. 

wheat buns1

I had close to a bag full of whole wheat flour and thought it was time I used some before it turned stale.  Since I started baking 11 months ago, I’ve been hesitant to make rolls with wheat because I was afraid they wouldn’t have that tender texture that white dough bread recipes are known for.

I took an old recipe which I posted some months back:  This called for white flour.  To vary it, I substituted the white flour with whole wheat flour and combined it with an equal amount of cake and pastry flour.  I also threw in 1/4 cup of potato flakes and 1/4 cup of almond powder.  Some bakers make pastry with mashed potatoes to make them ultra soft and flaky, but I opted for potato flakes so I could skip two steps (boiling and mashing).

These wheat buns did not disappoint.  They stayed soft until the third day without refrigeration.  I put about 6 buns in the freezer.

You can hardly taste the almond powder.  I think I won’t add this ingredient the next time.  I will also take out the bread crumbs as a topping and substitute the matte finish of the egg wash with a more glossy finish.  A wash made of egg yolk and 15% cream would yield that shiny look.

Critics will say I negated the benefits of whole wheat by adding cake and pastry flour.  I’m afraid I can’t resist this flour, even for making breads.  Truth is, I don’t use it to make pastry (since most recipes call for all-purpose anyway); I use it every time a bread recipe contains wheat flour.

You’ll welcome these to your breakfast table.  They go nicely with an egg salad filling mixed in with bacon bits or just your blueberry or strawberry jam.  You may want to try it with goat cheese as well!  For a more attractive appearance, you can also use a bread stamp (the petal bread stamp would make these wheaties a tad sexier) or slash them artistically!

wheat rolls2


Stale Croissants? No Problem! January 18, 2010

What do you do with stale bread?  Make a pudding.  What do you do with stale or leftover croissants?  Again, make a pudding!

cran pudding2

I can’t think of any other way to recycle bread and baked goods.  Of course I can always reduce them to bite sized pieces and throw them into my favorite soup but I like my soups unadulterated!

My brother and I enjoyed this pudding.  One, it did not need any syrup.  Two, the croissants produced a lighter and flakier pudding as opposed to using bread; although this texture is apparent only when the pudding comes out fresh from the oven.  Three, there are only 5-6 ingredients and you most likely have them already.  Four, you can make this pudding with store-bought croissants if you have no leftovers.  The ones I bought were from Mourelatos, a Greek supermarket in my city, and they were huge.  These croissants did not feel greasy or over-buttery and when I sliced them, they had nice little holes in the crumb – a good sign!

When you refrigerate the pudding and eat it again the next morning, it loses a bit of that flaky and light texture but the taste is more enhanced because the cranberry seeps in.  After you take a slice, break it again into thinner slices before  microwaving.  Nuked for 22 seconds, it tastes heavenly.  There’s something about cranberries in baked goods that I can’t put my finger on.  It’s one item that I will always keep in stock; sometimes I think they taste better than raisins.

But don’t let me mislead you.  The recipe calls for cranberry sauce – not fresh cranberries.  You spread it generously over the first layer of broken croissant pieces.  When you put your second layer of croissants, you can top it with a handful of dried cranberries for decoration.

If you want to make this pudding (great for cold winter mornings), you can get it here:  This is my other blog on French to English translation, and this was the first recipe I featured when I translated French recipes into English.  I plucked it out of Coup de Pouce, a French Canadian weekly published by the Transcontinental Group of Companies.  I did not use 6 croissants.  I used only 3 and halved the recipe.  Once they’re sliced, they adequately fill up a 8 x 11 casserole with two layers.

Seeing that this recipe is both in French and English, your daughter who’s studying French and who likes to bake might want to try it; this time, she won’t need her bilingual dictionary.  But she will need the croissants, cranberries and the other ingredients!

Want to see what a slice looked like before I devoured it, along with piping hot French mocha coffee and cold grapefruit juice?

cranb pudding3

Fattening and swimming in calories?  Yes but…who cares?