End-of-Year Party Pretzels

June 30, 2012

I made homemade pretzels for my youngest son’s “last day of school” party. I’ve made them before (following this recipe) and they have become one of my son’s favorite 5-star treats. But the pretzels are only great on the day they are made; overnight they become just average.  In the past, I had to wake up at 3AM to have them ready by 7AM. Because recent events have left me exhausted, I alter that perfect 5-star recipe so that I could get more sleep. My son and I prepared the dough, let it rise, and rolled out the pretzels the night before. We refrigerated the pre-made pretzels, and I only had to wake up at 5:30. I took them out of the fridge and let the dough come up to room temperature for an hour (while I did my regular shower and dressing routine). They only took about 30 minutes of work to finish boiling then baking them. Success!

27 perfect, fresh pretzels ready at 7AM; $2.85. A son who is proud of his father; priceless.

I increase the original recipe by 50%, which increased the yield from 12 to 18 full-sized pretzels. I reduced the pretzel size by 1/3 which meant that I was able to make 27 pretzels; enough for everyone in the class. To accomplish this I rolled out 18 twenty-inch batons (in Day 1 – Step 9.)  I cut off 13″ to make “O”s. I then twisted together  2 of the 7” leftovers to form “X”s.  However, there are also other ways in which I could have gotten the desired number of pretzels; for example reduce the pretzel size from 2-ounces down to 1-1/2 ounces. The only real requirement is that you do the math to ensure you’ll have enough before shaping the pretzels.


  1. But there is a huge difference between 3:30AM and 5:30AM, and for me 5:30 is just 30 minutes prior to my usual wake-up time. But I realize most people would consider that too early, and you will add only 45 minutes to your morning routine. Happy sleeping.
  2. Let them cool at least 10 to 15 minutes before packing them up, or the trapped moisture will make them soggy.
  3. While the pretzels are best while they are still warm from the oven, these were still described by my son’s classmates as “awesome”.

Rating: 5-stars.
Cost: $2.85 for 18 full-size Pretzels.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Wake up at: 5:30 AM.  Ready:  7:00 AM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe for Soft Pretzels is here. The descriptions of how I cooked them over the two days are given below:

1-1/2 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons honey
1-1/2 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
4-1/2 cups (24-3/4 oz) bread flour
3 tablespoons baking soda
3 tablespoons coarse salt

Day #1.

  1. Stir the water and honey together in a Pyrex measuring cup, microwave for 1 minute. Ensure the water is about 105-degrees. Add yeast, whisk together and allow to hydrate for 10 minutes. You should see bubbling.
  2. Place the salt and flour and in bowl of standing mixer equipped with dough hook. With the mixer on 2 running, slow add the honey/water mixture.
  3. Increase the mixer speed to 6 and mix the dough for another 4 minutes; a ball of dough will form.
  4. Knead the dough by hand for 30 seconds on a lightly floured counter. Form into a smooth ball.
  5. Spray a large mixing bowl with non-stick cooking spray. Place the dough in the bowl and turn the dough to coat in the oil. Tightly cover with plastic wrap and allow rise at room temperature for 1 to 1-1/2 hours (depending upon room temperature);  until it has doubled in size.
  6. Gently deflate the dough. Re-cover and allow to rise again for 30 to 40 minutes until it has doubled in size.
  7. Line two baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.
  8. Divide the dough into 18 equal pieces (roughly 2-ounces each). Roll each piece into a 20″-long by 1/2″-wide rope.  Roll them first to about 12”, let them rest while you roll the remaining. This extra relaxation time will make them easier to finish rolling. Shape each rope into a pretzel (or whatever shape you choose) and place on the parchment-lined baking sheet.
  9. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight after shaping.

Day #2

  1. Remove dough from refrigerator and allow to come up to room temperature to 40 minutes. Try placing the baking sheets on-top of the stove as you pre-heat the oven, which will help to gently bring the dough up to room. (Note: Don’t mis-read that to think I’m suggesting inside the oven).
  2. Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees.
  3. Add 6 cups water into a 12-inch skillet. Stir in the baking soda, and bring to a boil over high heat. It will heat faster if covered.
  4. Using a spatula (with slots), gently place the 3 to 4 pretzels into the boiling water, top-side down for 30 seconds. Using tongs and spatula, carefully flip over and boil the second side for another 30 seconds. Remove the pretzels, drain briefly on wire rack, then place back onto the prepared baking sheet. The pretzels won’t rise much so you can place them pretty close.
  5. Sprinkle with coarse salt and bake for 14 minutes, until the pretzels are well-browned, turning the baking sheet around halfway through baking.
  6. Let the pretzels from cool on a wire rack for 8 minutes (no longer to serve warm) or at room temperature.

The Hourglass Effect in Baking Loaves

June 22, 2012

I just baked my last loaf of Sandwich bread for the school year, and wanted to share a little of what I’ve learned this year. For those new to my blog, beginning last September, I’ve been baking my kid’s sandwich bread every week. They love the fresh bread and seem genuinely disappointed when my schedule forces me to buy store-bought Arnold’s. About 6 months ago I noticed that my American Sandwich Bread was showing a tendency to collapse in on itself. Some slices, particularly mid-loaf were hourglass-shaped rather than rectangular. This was not happening originally (either with Chris Kimball’s original recipe or my loaves from a few months prior). See the photo below.

Mis-shapen and poor edges.

When you look closely there are actually two problems with the slice you see. First, is obviously the shape. The hour-glass shape reduces the surface area on which peanut butter and jelly can be applied, meaning my son will be hungry by the end of the school day. Second, you can see that the dough near the edges is uneven. The crumb in the center of the loaf is open, but is yellow and stringy along the edges.

The main changes that I had made that may have been to blame: (1) switching from Active Dry Yeast to Instant Yeast. Instant Yeast has more bang-for-the-buck, so it is possible that the increased potency was causing the problem. I eliminated the ginger powder (which I had been adding to help the yeast increase its effect) and cut back on the yeast, but with absolutely no improvement. I am sure this was 100% blameless. (2) My kids like a softer crust, so I had reduced the cooking temperature and increased the cooking time. But it’s possible that the softer crust couldn’t support the weight of the loaf. I readjusted the time and temperature, and there was some improvement; maybe 25% better. (3) Because  my two boys need to make 10 sandwiches per week, the last change I made was to switch to a pullman loaf pan. It is bigger and has more rectangular shape.  This turned out the main cause; in order to fill the large loaf pan I was letting the bread rise a little too much, so the loaf was too weak. As the air inside the loaf contracted during cooling, it sucked the sides inward causing the mis-shapen loaf.

My main theory was that the dough isn’t strong enough to hold outer edges in place. Briefly here are some other things I tried, which turned out not to be my problem:

  1. Too much bottom heat. I raised the rack from the bottom of the oven to the middle. This didn’t help at all, in fact, made the problem even worse.
  2. There are some talk on the internet about Tight fitting lids. While I was just using foil, I tried tenting it more loosely. Again, this made no difference and only controlled how toasted the top of the loaf became.
  3. Some on the internet claimed that Bread Flour was too strong for bread making process. I tried using All-purpose flour, but again the problem was worse. I am sure that my loaves were too weak; not too strong.
  4. Too high an improver level or too strong an improver. This is done by including enzymes (such as amylases and proteases) to act on the starch and gluten.  This is why I eliminated the ginger powder from my bread; to decrease the excessive enzymatic activity. It didn’t help, but I never re-started adding ginger powder, because I had switched from Active Dry Yeast to the more potent Instant Yeast.
  5. But still the internet insisted that the problem was NOT the weakness of the dough, but rather that the dough is too strong. There was a concrete recommendation to reduce the Ascorbic acid because it was over-strengthing the gluten. I did try eliminating the ascorbic Acid, which I add to change the pH of the bread to inhibit mold. It made no difference, so I re-started using the Vitamin C, because I needed my loaf to last for 5 days.
  6. There was also some talk about a long, slow baking contributing. I went back to the original cooking temperature and times that Chris Kimball gave in his recipe. It did help a little, but my kids disliked the darker crust.
  7. I also tried turning off my convection, but that didn’t help.

In the end, the cause turned out to me my new loaf pan. It was large and my solution is two-fold. (1) instead of trying of over-rise the bread in order to fill the larger loaf pan, I increased the flour and water. Viola! Problem solved 100%. (2) I mention this second reason, because even with my new formula there were weeks when I accidentally allowed the dough to over-rise, but those weeks meant an imperfect loaf. So I repeat; It is important that you don’t allow the dough to rise past the normal doubling in size.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $.90 for 29-ounce loaf.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 4:00 PM. Finish time 7:30 PM. (But don’t slice for another 3 hours)

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared and baked the bread today are given below:

3-1/2 oz warm water
1/8 teaspoon rapid-rise yeast or dry active yeast
3-1/2 oz flour

Wet Ingredients:
1-1/4 cup milk (10-1/2 ounces)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon rapid-rise yeast or dry active yeast
1 tablespoon granulated lecithin

Dry Ingredients:
3-1/2 cups bread flour (18-1/2 ounces)
2 teaspoons table salt
1/4 teaspoon fruit fresh or other powdered Vitamin C

  1. About 12 to 24 hours before making the loaf, prepare the sponge by heating water in microwave for 15 seconds to 105-degrees. Whisk in yeast and let it hydrate for 5 minutes. Finally, whisk in flour, cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm spot in your kitchen for up to 24 hours.
  2. Adjust an oven rack to low-middle position. Pre-heat the oven to 200-degrees, then turn it off. You will use the residual heat of the oven to speed the first rise.
  3. Add 10-1/2 ounces of milk to a Pyrex measuring cup (at least 2 cup capacity). Heat in microwave for 45 seconds until mixture reaches 105-degrees. Mix in olive oil, sugar, yeast and granulated lecithin; allow to hydrate for 5 minutes.
  4. Add sponge and dry ingredients (15-oz bread flour, 2 teaspoons salt, and ascorbic acid) to the bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook.
  5. Turn on standing mixer to lowest speed and slowly add liquid; use a rubber spatula to scrape out measuring cup. After the dough has come together, increase speed to 4 on KitchenAid mixer (medium-low on other models). Continue mixing for 10 minutes, stopping twice to remove the dough from hook. The dough will become smooth, add a little more flour or water if necessary. Lightly flour a work surface and gently turn out the dough. Knead by hand for about 15 seconds to form a smooth ball.
  6. Lightly oil a large glass bowl with non-stick cooking spray, add dough and roll around to lightly coat the dough ball. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in your warm (but turned off) oven. The dough should take about 45 minutes to double in size.
  7. Spray your loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray. Gently turn the dough out onto floured surface. Gently press the dough into a rectangle that corresponds exactly to the length of your loaf pan. Lightly spray the dough rectangle with a water bottle before rolling to try to prevent large air bubbles (or brush water on using a pastry brush). Roll the dough into a tight cylinder so that it corresponds to the length of your loaf pan, firmly pressing down as you roll to ensure that the dough sticks to itself and that there are no large air bubbles. Pinch the seam closed along the length of the cylinder, and put into your loaf pan seem-side down. Softly press the dough so that it touches all four sides of the pan.
  8. Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap, realizing that the loaf will grow above the top of the pan. Place it in a warm spot in your kitchen for between 1 to 2 hours. Depending upon pan size, wait until the dough grows to fill your loaf pan.
  9. About 20 minutes prior to baking, begin pre-heating your oven to 400-degrees. Adjust an oven rack to middle position; any lower and your bottom crust will be too hard.
  10. Carefully remove plastic wrap, spray the loaf three times with water from a spray bottle, and place loaf pan in oven. After 5 minutes, reduce oven temperature to 325-degrees and turn loaf 180-degrees. Bake uncovered for 8 additional minutes. Tent with aluminum foil to keep the loaf top very soft; baking for another 12 to 14 minutes until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf reads 195 degrees. Carefully remove bread from pan, and let cool on a wire rack for 3 hour before slicing.

Potato Dinner Rolls with Parmesan and Black Pepper

June 3, 2012

I made Chris Kimball’s new potato bread dinner rolls, and chose this variation that includes Parmesan cheese because I thought that it would add great flavor. I was somewhat disappointed, given them just 3-star. My son said that these potato rolls were not as good as store-bought potato bread. Considering their freshness, that is stinging criticism from a 13-year-old boy. In my opinion the problem may have simply been a lack of salt. Anyone who has eaten under-salted bread knows the severity of the issue, but it’s so basic that Chris Kimball should have certainly perfected the amount of salt. He includes just 1 teaspoon of salt; half the salt included in the rustic dinner rolls a few weeks ago.

The rolls were good, but needed more salt.


  1. I used a little more than 1 pound of russet potatoes in order to obtain my 1/2-pound of mashed potatoes. I gave the extra mashed potatoes to my youngest son, who absolutely loves mashed potatoes.
  2. Chris Kimball warns against using potatoes that are too hot in step 5. But by the time you are ready to mix it will almost certainly be lower than 110-degrees.
  3. Be sure to use bread flour, as all-purpose flour does not contain enough protein to support the potatoes.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. My descriptions of how I prepare it today are given below:

1 pound russet potatoes
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2-1/4 cups bread flour (12 1/3 ounces)
1-1/2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (3/4 cup)
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 large eggs

  1. Peel your potatoes and cut into 1″ cubes. Put potatoes in medium saucepan and add enough water to cover, but don’t salt the water. Bring up to boil over high burner, then reduce to medium-low. Simmer for 10 minutes so that the potatoes are cooked through.
  2. Before draining potatoes, reserve 5 tablespoons of the potato cooking water.
  3. Drain potatoes and return them to the saucepan set over a low burner. Cook them for 1 minute, shaking occasionally, so that all moister from the surface of the potatoes evaporates. Then remove from heat.
  4. Process the potatoes through ricer (or mash them well using a potato masher). Measure 8 ounces and put in bowl.  Cut the butter into 4 pieces and stir into potatoes until melted.
  5. Add bread flour, 1/2-cup Parmesan (1-oz), yeast, sugar, salt, and pepper in bowl of stand mixer. Ensure the potato mixture isn’t more than 110-degrees, then add to flour mixture. Mix together with your hands until combined, leaving a few large lumps isn’t a problem. Add 1 egg and the potato water you reserved in step 2. Turn on standing mixer (equipped with dough hook) to low, and mix for 10 minutes until the dough becomes soft. Don’t be fooled into adding more water too early in the mixing process if the dough appears too dry.
  6. Spray a large bowl with non-stick vegetable spray. Empty dough only counter and shape into a dough ball. Add to prepared bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let sit at room temperature for 40 minutes until the dough has doubled in size.
  7. Empty the dough out onto an un-floured counter (lightly dusting with flour only if dough is too sticky to handle). Pat dough into an 8″ square of even thickness. Use a chef’s knife to cut dough into 12 even-sized pieces (3 rows by 4 rows). Each roll should weight 2 ounces. Separate and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  8. Form each piece of dough (keeping remaining pieces covered with plastic wrap) into smooth balls. Chris Kimball recommends a technique of cupping your hands around the dough ball, and moving in circular motions on the counter-top (without applying any pressure on the dough). This will allow the inherent tackiness of dough to work itself into smooth, even balls. Place rolls on prepared baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic and allow to rise at room temperature for 40 minutes until they have doubled in size. Meanwhile, adjust a rack to upper-middle of your oven. Pre-heat to 425-degrees.
  9. Lightly beaten 1 eggs with 1 teaspoon water and pinch salt. Brush each roll carefully with a little egg wash. Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon of grated Parmesan cheese on each roll (1/4 cup total). Bake in your 435-degree oven for 12 to 14 minutes until the rolls become deeply golden brown. Be sure to rotate the rolls halfway through baking to ensure even baking. Put baking sheet on wire cooling rack for 5 minutes, then remove from baking sheet and allow them to cool directly on the wire rack for another 15 minutes. They can be served warm or at room temperature.

Rolled and almost ready to go into the oven

Carrot Layer Cake

May 31, 2012

I’ve never loved carrot cake, which is why this is my last recipe from the May / June issue of Cook’s Illustrated. Carrot Cake always seemed dense and unbalanced,  that the heavy carrot always meant a heavy and squat cake. Fortunately, today’s recipe is perfectly balanced with the just right amount of carrot. The cake uses a layering technique to support the weight of the moist carrot, it’s as if it defies gravity. Finally, a carrot cake truly worth of being loved. Plus it looks like a work of art. 4-stars.

Not quite level, but otherwise the best carrot cake I’ve ever eaten.

But the cake is not without its problems. The thin cake ripped as I took it out of the pan, and the parchment paper made thinner rounded corners that prevented me from orienting the pieces to even as I pleased.

Comments / Issues:

  1. I’m glad that all 4 layers cook together as a single large piece. It’s so much easier than trying to make 4 separate layers.
  2. There was a problem flipping the carrot cake. The cake ripped because it was thin (and therefore fragile) and I don’t have a cooling rack that is as large as my sheet pan. I was able to reassemble the broken parts and use them as the middle layers. It came out fine.
  3. The thick batter will not spread evenly, so you are guaranteed to have an uneven cake. Chris Kimball’s suggestion to just arrange the layers to even out the final cake would only work if you have a perfect rectangle. But the parchment paper means you’ll have thin, rounded corners. My cake only fit together one specific way; unevenly.
  4. I’d suggest chopping the pecans smaller than my pieces. It will make for a slightly more refined appearance.
  5. Chris Kimball warns against substitute liquid buttermilk for the buttermilk powder in the frosting. Obviously one is liquid and the other is powder.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $11. ($5 of which was the pecans)
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 3:00 PM. Ready at 5:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here.  My descriptions of how I prepare it today are given below:

Cake ingredients:
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour (8-3/4 ounces)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1-1/4 cups light brown sugar (8-3/4 ounces)
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-2/3 cups shredded carrots (4 carrots; about 10 ounces)
2/3 cups dried currants (about 3 ounces)

  1. Set a rack to the middle of your oven and preheat to 350-degrees. Grease an 18”x 13” rimmed baking sheet, line it with parchment paper, and then grease the parchment paper too.  Remove two sticks of unsalted butter from refrigerator so that it will have softened when you are ready to make the frosting.
  2. Shred four carrots on the large holes of a box grater or using the shedding disk and your food processor. Be sure to use the small round feeding tube (the small hole within your full-sized oval tube).
  3. In a medium bowl, add together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and cloves. Whisk together until combined.
  4. In another large bowl add sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla. Use a whisk to combine until smooth. Gently stir in carrots and currants with a rubber spatula until evenly distributed. Finally, add in flour mixture and fold in with your rubber spatula, but only until it is just combined.
  5. Empty batter onto baking sheet. Use an offset spatula to smooth surface and ensure the batter is an even depth. Bake for about 15 minutes, rotating half-way through baking, until the center is firm when touched.
  6. Allow cake to cool for 5 minutes in pan set on a wire rack. Flip the cake onto a wire rack then immediately re-flip back onto a second wire rack. The cake should be resting with the parchment side down. Allow the cake to cool for another 30 minutes.

Frosting ingredients:
16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks)
3 cups confectioners’ sugar (12 ounces)
1/3 cup buttermilk powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 ounces cream cheese (1-1/2 packages)
2 cups pecans (8 ounces)

  1. While the cake is cooking, toast your pecans and chop them coarsely. Cut your cream cheese into 12 equal-size pieces, but keep it refrigerated until you are ready to use in step 3.
  2. Add the butter, sugar, buttermilk powder, vanilla extract and salt to the bowl of a standing mixer. Mix using the paddle attachment on low-speed for 2 minutes; scrape down the bowl as necessary.
  3. Increase mixer speed to medium-low, then add cream cheese one piece at a time. Mix for 2 minutes until the frosting is smooth.

To Finish:

  1. Put cooled cake on a cutting board and cut into equal halves cross-wise. Cut length-wise so that you have 4 equal pieces, measuring about 6″x8″ each.
  2. Cut out a 6″x8″ rectangle out of stiff cardboard. Put the first of the cake piece on the cardboard. Use a spatula to spread 2/3-cup of frosting over layer. Repeat with two more layers.
  3. Place the final cake layer on top. Remove any crumbs from your spatula and frost the top with a 1-cup of frosting.
  4. Frost the sides of the cake with your remaining frosting. You just need enough frosting to hold the chopped pecans, not completely hide all the crumbs.
  5. Holding the cake with one hand, use your other hand to gently press the chopped pecans onto the side of your cake. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.

    The interior layers were not perfectly uniform; but they’re hidden.

Rustic Dinner Rolls

May 24, 2012

It has been two years since I made these crusty dinner rolls. There are one of only a few of Chris Kimball’s yeasted breads that I can make in one day (most require starting the night before).  I followed the recipe precisely and they turned out a bit too hard, almost stale-like, but because I ate them with stew there was no problem. The flavor was good, but simple. A few years ago I gave them 5-stars. So either I messed something up this time that made them too hard, or I’ve learned more about bread and am more discerning. Still they are nice, but today I only give them 3-1/2 stars.

Simple but delicious; a little too crusty.

I can’t wait to try these brand new potato rolls from the July / August 2012 issue of Cook’s Illustrated. I only have one more recipe (carrot cake) to make from the May / June issue.

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $1 for 16 rolls.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Started: 2 pm Ready:  6:30.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe for Rustic Dinner Rolls is here, and was also featured back in Season 10 of ATK. The descriptions of how I prepared the recipe today are given below:

1-1/2 cups water (12 ounces)
1-1/2 teaspoons Active Dry Yeast
2 teaspoons honey
3-1/2 cups bread flour (18-1/2 ounces)
3 tablespoons whole wheat flour (1 ounce)
2 teaspoons table salt

  1. In a Pyrex measuring cup, heat water in microwave for 1 minute to 105-degrees. Whisk in yeast and honey, and allow to hydrate for 5 minutes. Make sure that there is no honey sticking to the bottom of the measuring cup.
  2. Add both types of flour to (but not salt) the bowl of a standing mixer. With the standing mixer equipped with dough hook, slowly add yeast mixture and mix on lowest setting for 3 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature 30 minutes.
  3. Remove the plastic wrap from the bowl and sprinkle salt evenly over the dough. Knead on low speed (2 on KitchenAid) for 5 minutes. Twice during mixing, stop the mixer and use a spatula to scrape dough from dough hook. After 5 minutes, increase speed to medium speed (6 on KitchenAid ) and knead for 1-1/2 more minutes. The dough should smooth and only slightly tacky.
  4. Spray a glass bowl with non-stick cooking spray, transfer dough to bowl, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise for 1 hour until it doubles in size in a warm, draft-free place. In winter, you’ll have to use your warmed, but turned off oven to help.
  5. Using a greased spatula, fold the dough over onto itself; rotate bowl quarter turn and fold again. Rotate bowl again and fold once more. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise 30 minutes.
  6. Repeat folding, and place on replace plastic wrap, and let dough rise until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes.
  7. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle evenly with a very thin coat of flour.
  8. Carefully remove dough from bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Cut the dough in half with a bench scrape or chef’s knife and carefully stretch each piece into a 16”-long cylinder. Cut each cylinder into quarters; then cut each piece into two (yielding 16 pieces). Lightly dust the tops of each piece with more flour.
  9. Flour your hands and briefly roll each piece in your palms to coat with flour; shake off any excess. Put 8 pieces of dough in each cake pan; placing one piece of dough in the center and the other seven pieces like the spokes of a wheel, making sure that the cut-sides face up.
  10. Set an oven rack to the middle of your oven and pre-heat to 500-degrees. Cover pans with plastic wrap and allow the rolls to rise for about 30 minutes until they have double in size. You can also test it because the dough will spring back if you gently press with your finger.
  11. Discard plastic wrap and lightly spray the rolls with water. Bake for 10 minutes until the rolls are brown. Turn the oven down to 400-degrees. Remove rolls and turn them out onto a rimmed baking sheet. After 5 or 10 minutes the rolls will have cool enough to handle. Pull them apart and place on baking sheet. Bake at 400-degrees for 10 to 15 minutes; rotating the pan half-way through baking. They should have a deeply golden crust, and sound hollow if you tap their bottoms.
  12. Allow to cook on a wire rack for 30 minutes to an hour before serving.

Rosemary Focaccia

May 14, 2012

This is my all time-favorite bread; rich with olive oil and topped with freshly chopped rosemary. I usually serve it beside a plate of olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. Also, It is one of the easiest breads to make; not even requiring a standing mixer. Just one bowl. It has the wettest dough of any bread I’ve made. With an 80% hydration level your hands must be well-floured when initially shaping the dough (in step 7); but after coating with olive oil you’ll have no such worries. This is definitely 5-star bread.


  1. This is the best of about three of Chris Kimball’s bread recipes that doesn’t require a standing mixer (or lots of manual kneading). Instead it uses a process called “Autolyse” to develop gluten; replacing kneading with a long fermentation process.
  2. Another noteworthy element is to briefly delay adding the salt by 15 minutes, which will hastened the gluten development by a full hour. This is because salt inhibits flour’s ability to absorb water thus slowing down the activity of the enzymes that break down protein to form gluten. If you add the salt when first mixing the dough, then just be sure to give the dough some extra time.
  3. I made this bread today because a co-worker gave me a beautiful rosemary branch. Apparently, she is blessed with a sizable rosemary bush that sometimes prevents her from opening her car door. Because it is a mature bush the needles were larger and more flavorful that anything you can buy in a supermarket. Wow…she is so lucky.
  4. Given the free rosemary, I only spent 40-cents on ingredients to make these two loaves. I gave the second loaf to a neighbor, because this 5-star bread will become just 3-stars overnight.

Rating: 5 stars.
Cost: 80-cents.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Medium/Low.
Start time 2:00 PM. Finish time 6:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. The descriptions of how I prepared this today are given below:

1/2 cup (2-1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (2-2/3 ounces) water
1/4 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast

2-1/2 cups (12-1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus extra for shaping
1-1/4 cups (10 ounces) water
1 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
2 + 1 teaspoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

  1. Make the biga the night before. Microwave water on high for 15 seconds to bring water to 110-degrees. In a large bowl, combine flour, warm water, and yeast. Using a wooden spoon stir for 1 minute until there is no more dry flour. Tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Allow to stand at room temperature (about 70 degrees) overnight. If your overnight kitchen is closer to 60-degrees you can use a warmed (but turn-off) oven to help.
  2. The next day, microwave 10-oz water in a Pyrex measuring cup on high for 40 seconds to bring water to 110-degrees. Add flour, warm water, and yeast into the same bowl as the biga. Use a ribber spatula to stir for 1 minute until there is no more dry flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 15 minutes.
  3. Evenly sprinkle 2 teaspoons kosher salt over dough, stir into the dough for 1 minute until completely incorporated. By withholding the salt for 15-minutes the gluten development will be hastened by a full hour.  Re-cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes.
  4. Spray a rubber spatula with non-stick cooking spray. Fold the dough over onto itself; gently lift one edge of the dough and fold it over towards the center of the bowl. Rotate the bowl 90-degrees and repeat folding process for a total of 8 folds. Re-cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes. This process will stretch the gluten and help it more fully develop.
  5. Repeat folding, turning, and rising 2 more times, for total of three 30-minute rises. Meanwhile, adjust a rack to the upper-middle of your oven, place a baking stone on rack, and pre-heat to 500-degrees at least 30 minutes before baking. If you don’t have a baking stone than you can use an overturned heavy-duty baking sheet.
  6. Coat two 9″ round cake pans with 2 tablespoons olive oil each. Sprinkle each pan with 1/2-teaspoon kosher salt.
  7. Carefully pour out dough onto a floured counter. Dust the top of dough with flour and divide in half using a bench scraper of chef’s knife. With floured hands, form each piece into a rough 5″ round by gently tucking the edges underneath.  Put each piece of dough in pan, smooth-side down. Slide it around pan to coat the bottom and sides. Flip dough over, then cover tightly with plastic wrap; repeat with second piece of dough. Allow dough to relax for 5 minutes, which will make it easier to stretch. Use your finger tips to stretch dough to the edges of pan. (If dough resists too much then allow it to rest for another 5 to 10 minutes).
  8. Poke surface with a dinner fork between 25 to 30 times; especially to pop any large bubbles. Evenly sprinkle chopped rosemary over the top of dough. Cover and allow dough to rest another 5 to 10 minutes.
  9. Put cake pans on baking stone and reduce oven to 350-degrees. Bake for 23 to 25 minutes or until the tops are golden brown; rotating pans halfway through baking. If one loaf is slightly smaller it may need to come out of the oven first, to prevent the bottom from burning.
  10. Allow pans to cook on a wire rack for 5 minutes, before removing loaves from pan. Brush the loaf tops with any oil remaining in pan. Allow bread to cool on wire racks for 30 minutes before serving.

This focaccia taste amazing when dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.


April 25, 2012

I haven’t made donuts for 2 years because the last ones were such a big disappointment, with some of them as hard as a hockey puck. Today they came out much better, but still I am not completely satisfied. I believe that I rolling out in step 7 to 3/8″ is too thin, so I modified the recipe to 1/2″-thick. At first my oil was too hot because the oil wasn’t deep enough for my clip-on candy thermometer to properly register the temperature. The donuts overcooked within 1 minute, but when I lowered the temperature they came out much better. I was looking for chocolate glaze, but again ended up with chocolate frosting. At best, I consider these a work-in-progress; 3-1/2 stars (which is not very good for a donut). Please fell free to add comments with suggestions about how to make the donuts fluffier and how to improve the consistency of the chocolate glaze.

they were just okay; 3-1/2 stars


  1. The donuts are best eaten the day they are made. Without any preservatives these donuts became stale quickly, even when tightly wrapped in plastic. I’d suggest freezing half your donuts. When you are ready to eat them, heat them up in the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds.

Rating: 3-1/2 star.
Cost: $1.50 for 10 donuts, plus donut holes.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Huge.
Start time 9:00 AM. Dessert time 1:00 PM.

3/4 cups milk
5 tablespoon butter
2-1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2-3/4 cups all-purpose flour (14-1/2 ounces)

  1. Put milk and butter in micowaveable bowl or measuring cup and microwave for 1 minute. Alternatively you could melt it a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the milk and butter until just melted. Then set aside.
  2. Add 1/4 cup of 110° water to the bowl of a standing mixer. Add the yeast and let stand 5 minutes.
  3. After 5 minutes, add the remaining milk and butter to standing mixer, then add the egg, sugar, salt and half the flour.
  4. Mix with dough hook on low, increasing to medium until well combined.
  5. Add the remaining flour on low, increasing to medium until dough pulls away from the bowl and becomes smooth, 3 to 4 minutes.
  6. Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise until it has doubled in size; about 1 hour.
  7. Transfer dough to lightly floured  surface and roll out to 3/8″ 1/2″-thick. Use a donut cutter to create the donuts, pressing down firmly and rotating cutter at least 90-degrees to ensure a clean cut.
  8. Do not try to re-form the scraps to form more donuts, because the flour from the counter will prevent them from holding together. Instead you should make donut holes without adding additional flour.
  9. Transfer  the donut rings and donut holes to a lightly floured baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 30 minutes.
  10. Meanwhile, preheat oil in Dutch oven to 360°, about 15 minutes.
  11. Working with 3 or 4 rings at a time, gently place doughnuts in the oil.
  12. Cook for approximately 1 minute per side until lightly golden brown, being careful not to overcook. Use a slotted spoon and tongs remove from oil and allow some of the oil to fall back into the fryer for a few seconds, then transfer to a wire rack set over a foil-lined baking sheet and allow to cool for 15 minutes prior to glazing.

Chocolate Glaze:

1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoon milk or half-and-half
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 oz dark chocolate
3/4 cups powdered sugar

  1. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butter and chocolate until fully melted.
  2. Remove from heat and stir in powdered sugar and milk.
  3. Let cool slightly then dunk doughnuts.


Naan (Indian Flatbread)

April 17, 2012

I work in IT and many of my co-workers are from India. A few of them tell me how their wives make fresh bread from them each and every day. When I saw this recipe I thought that this was what I was going to make, but it turns out that their daily bread is Roti, not Naan. Naan is more for special occasions owing to the longer preparation time and richness from the butter or gravy. I love eating fresh bread and this recipe was not a lot of work, though it took about 24 hours of clock time. However, the real reason I probably won’t make this particular recipe for Naan again (unless I have Indian friends over for dinner) is the huge mess that I made in my kitchen. There are too many easier ways to make bread. The resulting bread was 4-stars.

There has to be an easier way

Also, this post represents somewhat of a milestone for me; this is my 300th recipe.


  1. My Indian friends tell me that Naan is best served with vegetarian gravy. I wasn’t sure exactly what vegetarian gravy was, and Chris Kimball doesn’t show any, so I have provided a few examples potato-and-chickpea-based recipes here and here.
  2. Over the course of two days I dirtied the following items preparing this recipe: food processor, large bowl, Pyrex casserole, sheet pan, 12″ skillet and lid, plus flouring my counter over two days. Of course on top of that was a serving plate, measuring cups, etc.
  3. Chris Kimball also has a variation of this recipe that only requires a few hours. It still makes just as big of a mess in your kitchen, but it does so over just 3-1/2 hours.
  4. The recipe just uses regular all-purpose flour. The only thing you may not have in your kitchen is plain, unflavored yogurt.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $0.75 for 4 pieces of bread.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Medium/High.
Start the day before, then started at 5:30 PM. Ready at 6:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here. My descriptions of how I prepare it are given below:

1/2 cup ice water
1/3 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 large egg yolk
2 cups all-purpose flour (10 ounces)
1-1/4 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1-1/4 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

  1. Measure out flour, sugar, and yeast (don’t add salt until step 3) into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse for 2 seconds to combine. In a measuring cup, mix together ice water, yogurt, 3 tablespoons oil and egg yolk.
  2. Turn on food processor and slowly pour in water mixture. Continue mixing for 10 seconds until there is no more dry flour. Allow to stand for 10 minutes.
  3. Add salt to dough and process for 60 seconds; until the dough clears the sides of the bowl. I had to add a little more flour.
  4. Lightly flour a work surface and knead by hand for 1 minute, then shape into a ball. Lightly spray a large bowl with vegetable oil , add dough ball and tightly cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for between 16 and 24 hours.
  5. The next day about 45 minutes before dinner, set a heat-proof serving plate on an oven rack in the middle of your oven; I had to use a Pyrex casserole.  Pre-heat to 200-degrees.
  6. Lightly flour a work surface cut dough into 4 equal-sized pieces. Roll each into a smooth ball. Lightly oil a large plate or baking sheet, and space dough at least 2″ apart. Spray the tops of the dough with a little more vegetable spray and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Allow to sit for 20 minutes. Melt 1-1/2 tablespoons butter in microwave for 30 seconds.
  7. Working with 1 dough ball at a time,  use your hands to stretch into a 5″-disk, then use a rolling-pin finish into an evenly thick 9″-round. If the dough is sticking to the counter you may need to adjust how heavily you are flouring your board. Use the tines of a fork to poke the dough about 25 times to prevent the flat bread from becoming puffy.
  8. Pre-heat a teaspoon of oil in a 12″ cast-iron (or regular, heavy-bottomed skillet). When the oil begins to shimmer, use paper-towel to completely remove excess oil. Lightly spray dough with water and put in pre-heated pan with the sprayed-side down. Lightly spray the top-side and immediately cover. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until it becomes evenly speckled with brown spots. (while the naan cooks, repeat the stretching, rolling and poking process with the next dough ball). Use a spatula to flip and cover. Cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. If at any point during cooking the flat bread begins to puff, use the tines of a fork to deflate it. Flip the naan and lightly brush the top with 1 teaspoon of melted butter. Move oven and cover with aluminum foil.

Trip to a local bakery

March 19, 2012

A friend recently introduced me to a large bakery (really almost a factory) about 15 minutes from my house. I took my boys there over the weekend to buy bagels and also two kinds of bread for a “Spring Party”. The boys were especially amazed by the bagel machine spitting out bagels a few hundred per minute. With the bagels having been baked just minutes before, they were amazing.

Fresh bagels by the hundreds, and only 45-cents.

The bakery had more than 50 types of bread to choose from. I tried to pick loaves that were still warm. I bought a wonderful round loaf on Italian Panella, which was beautiful and tasted great. However I also needed a French baguette for some onion soup, but the loaf turned out to not be very genuine. The crumb was not at all light or airy; its crumb was more like sandwich bread than baguette.

The trip was fun, and since I was cooking dinner for 20 people, it was a nice alternative to baking.

Matt checking out the vast variety of bread.

Cinnamon Swirl Bread

March 3, 2012

I have made Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread a few times before. My previous attempts were loosely based upon Martha Stewart’s recipe, after some tweaking, the loaves ultimately came out very nicely; 4-stars. That version of the bread still hold the title bestowed by my elder son as “the best bread [I’ve] ever made”. Chris Kimball is a latecomer to Cinnamon Swirl Bread, but claims to have solved some problems that I have not. Most importantly, that the cinnamon swirl prevents the dough from fully binding to itself, leaving air pockets in the shape of the swirl and a slice of bread with a tendency to fall apart.

Delicious bread, but lacked cinnamon flavor

But deciding which loaf is better is not so simple. Chris Kimball loaf’s appearance is like a work of art, and the interior texture is amazing. He was using a Japanese Sandwich Bread (shokupan) as his base, which is heavenly. But his loaf definitely lacks both cinnamon and vanilla flavor, because he includes it only in the filling (and not in the bread itself).

Issues / Comments:

  1. In step 10, I inadvertently rolled dough the wrong way. I ended up with an 18″ cylinder, when I should have ended up with a 7″ cylinder.  This is one thing I hate about Chris Kimball’s instructions. For example his exact instructions were, “With short side facing you, roll dough away from you into firm cylinder.” “Facing me”…nothing is facing me. I think he thinks he is being clear but I read these instructions 10 times over, and still rolled it the wrong way. He frequently describes rolling things up in this manner, and I end up rolling it the wrong way at least 50% of the time. I wish he would add a phrase at the end saying “roll dough away from you into a firm, 7-inch cylinder”.
  2. I like Chris Kimball’s technique of using a dry filling because it allows the baked bread to remain cohesive.
  3. Without any cinnamon in the bread dough, I was left wanting more flavor. The huge amount of cinnamon (3 tablespoons) in the filling could not compensate, because it was hit and miss from one bite to the next.
  4. The one teaspoon of vanilla extract is barely discernible. It needs to be doubled, at least.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $3 for 2 loaves.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Started: 11:00AM. Ready: 4:00PM. (ready for slicing at 6PM)

Chris Kimball’s original recipe is here.  The descriptions of how I prepared them today are given below:

8 tablespoons unsalted butter
3-3/4 cups (20-2/3 ounces) bread flour, plus extra for dusting
3/4 cup (2-3/4 ounces) nonfat dry milk powder
1/3 cup (2-1/3 ounces) sugar
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1-1/2 cups (12 ounces) water
1 large egg
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1-1/2 cups (7-1/2 ounces) raisins

1 cup (4 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt

Egg Wash:
1 large egg
A pinch of salt

  1. Cut a stick of butter into 32 small pieces and mix with 1 tablespoon of flour to evenly coat. Lightly beat 1 egg using a fork. Measure 12 ounces of water and heat in microwave for 1m20s until it reaches 110-degrees.
  2. Add bread flour, powdered milk, sugar and yeast to bowl of standing mixer.  Using the dough hook, turn only lowest speed while slowly adding water and egg. Increase to medium-low and mix for 2 more minutes; scrape down the sides of the bowl if needed. Tightly cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 20 minutes before adding salt.
  3. Set an oven rack to the middle of your oven, and put a loaf pan on the bottom of a turned-off oven. Begin to heat 3 cups of water until boiling,which will be used in step 6.
  4. After 20 minutes has passed, add salt and mix for 10 minutes on medium-low. Allow the mixer to continue to run while slowly adding the small cubes of butter; mixing for 5 more minutes until the butter becomes incorporated into the dough.  Add the raisins and mix for 1 more minute. Spray a large bowl with non-stick cooking spray, and empty the dough into bowl.
  5. With a rubber spatula, lift one edge of the dough and fold it over onto itself (towards the middle of the bowl). Rotate bowl 90-degrees and fold again. Continue rotating and folding a total of 8 times.
  6. Cover dough with plastic wrap and place on middle rack of your turned-off oven. Pour 3 cups of boiling water into the pan placed on the bottom of your oven. Allow to rise with the oven door closed for 45 minutes.
  7. Remove dough from oven, and gently deflate the dough by pushing down in the center. Repeat the fold/rotate as described in step 5. Again, cover dough with plastic wrap and place on middle rack of your turned-off oven. Allow to rise with the oven door closed for 45 minutes.
  8. Meanwhile, whisk together the filling ingredients, and set aside.  Grease to loaf pans.
  9. Lightly flour a work surface, and empty dough onto it. Use a bench scraper to evenly divide into 2 parts. One piece of dough at a time, work dough into a 6″x11″ rectangle. Fold dough up like a letter, to form a 3″x11″ rectangle. Roll dough up into a ball, dust with flour, then use a rolling-pin to form a 7″x18″ rectangle; it should be 1/4″ thick.
  10. Use a spray bottle to lightly spray the dough with water. Evenly cover the dough with half the filling, but leave 1/4″ border on the 18″ sides and 3/4″ on the 7″ top/bottom.  Again, lightly spray with water. Roll the dough into tightly into an 7″ cylinder, pinch the seam closed, and pinch the ends closed too. Lightly dust entire surface with flour and allow to rest of 10 minutes.
  11. Repeat with second loaf.
  12. Again working with one loaf at a time, cut the dough in half lengthwise. With the cut-side upward, stretch both halves until they are 14″ long. Place the two halves next to each other; pinch an end together and tightly braid the two strips together, maintaining the cut-side upward. Pinch the final end together, and place in loaf pan with cut-side up. The raisins that are exposed need to be pushed into the seams of the braid.  Repeat with second loaf.
  13. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise in turned-off oven for 45 more minutes. Remove loaves and pan of water from the oven, and pre-heat to 350-degrees. Allow the loaves to continue to rise for another 45-minutes until the tops rise 1″ above the pan’s lip.
  14. Lightly beat an egg with a pinch of salt. Brush the top of the loaves with egg wash and bake at 350-degrees for 25 minutes. Tent each loaf with aluminum foil and reduce oven to 325-degrees. Bake for about 20 minutes more until the internal temperature of the loaf reaches 200-degrees.
  15. Allow pans to cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes before removing from loaves. Allow loaves to cool another 2 hours before slicing. You can also wrap tightly in plastic wrap and save in the freezer until you’re ready for your second loaf.

Beautiful loaf, crust is delicious and not over done.

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