Posts Tagged ‘baking’

Making Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread

Whole wheat Irish soda bread hot out of the oven

Whole wheat Irish soda bread hot out of the oven

I’ve been intrigued by all the Irish soda bread recipes I’ve seen in my cookbooks. Each book seems to have one, and they always look relatively quick and simple — especially because the bread is made with baking soda and baking powder as the leavening agent, not yeast, so it doesn’t need time to rise. The only thing holding me back from making the bread was that I either needed yogurt, buttermilk, or milk heated with vinegar to make it, and I don’t often have those ingredients — or at least enough of those ingredients — around.

This week, though, I had some plain yogurt in the fridge, and I wanted to try a quick bread recipe. I decided to use the recipe in How to Cook Everything since most of the other recipes just listed how to make the bread with buttermilk.

I preheated the oven, mixed up the dough in the cuisinart, let it sit for a few minutes while the oven finished preheating, shaped the bread into a loaf, created a cross-hatch pattern with a razor, and put it in the oven. 45 minutes later, it was done. I couldn’t believe that I had made this loaf of bread in about an hour start to finish.

I used half whole wheat flour and half regular flour, and it turned out tasting hearty and healthy. The loaf was pretty dense and heavy, and the bread tasted especially good toasted with butter or cheese. It sliced really well, and I was able to slice it quite thin, and it was good for sandwiches, too.

If you’re intimidated by how long bread usually takes, or if you’re just looking for something quick, this is a great recipe to try.

Recipe: Whole Wheat Irish Soda Bread


1.5 cups buttermilk or plain yogurt
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups wheat flour (replace with all-purpose flour if you want a white loaf)
2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
butter or oil for greasing the baking sheet


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Mix the dry ingredients together, then add the yogurt or buttermilk to make a soft dough (it shouldn’t be too sticky). After kneading/processing, it should be smooth and elastic.

Let the dough rest for a few minutes before shaping it into a round loaf. Slash the top with a razor blade (I chose to do a cross-hatch pattern). Put on a greased baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes.

When done, the bread is supposed to sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.

Making Whole Wheat Pita Bread

Whole wheat pita bread fresh out of the oven

Whole wheat pita bread fresh out of the oven

This week, I decided to make pita bread from a recipe in Paul Gayler’s Burgers cookbook. I used to buy it a lot, but haven’t had it in a while, and I had some halloumi and other ingredients that seemed like they would work well in a pita sandwich. I decided to make them with half white and half whole wheat flour to make them a bit healthier.

Pitas rolled out and ready to go into the oven

Pitas rolled out and ready to go into the oven

The dough was very simple — just flour, water, salt and yeast. The recipe made 8-12 pitas — I decided to make 12. After letting the dough rise, dividing it into 12 pieces and letting those pieces proof, I took a rolling pin to them to make the pita rounds. Then I put them on a hot baking sheet into the oven, which was set at the highest setting.

The first batch of pitas

The first batch of pitas

The first batch puffed up a bit, but the second batch was the best — enormous pillows of puffy bread. The third batch was the least puffy — I’m not sure why.

They tasted pretty good — pretty much the same as store-bought wheat pitas. They probably would have tasted better if I did them with all white flour and didn’t roll them quite as thin. They weren’t as soft as I would have liked, and they were a bit dry. I’ll probably make some baked garlic pita chips in a few days with whatever I have left.

And just for laughs, check out this little illustration I did back when I was living in London about how in the UK pita is pitta.

Making Montreal Bagels… In Southern California

Montreal bagels just out of the oven

Montreal bagels just out of the oven

I’ve been talking about making bagels for a long time. I’d read about making bagels in a Slate article about making staple foods from scratch (the article was also my inspiration for making crackers), and it was what initially inspired me to start making bread and baking more in general. In the piece was a link to a recipe for Montreal bagels in the New York Times.

Now, Montreal bagels are something special. They’re thinner and denser than bagels you get elsewhere. They only come in two flavors: sesame and poppy seed. They’re also slightly sweet because they have honey in them. And you can’t get them anywhere but Montreal.

I’ve brought Montreal bagels to relatives in Toronto on a road trip. I used to bring them back to camp in northern New York. My grandmother even flies with a few bags of them when she comes to visit us in California. For Montrealers, no other bagels can compare to the ones they can get at home.

I was worried that the recipe wouldn’t taste accurate. That something would be fundamentally different out here in Southern California that prohibits us baking these tasty breakfast treats. Thankfully, my fears were unfounded. Even without a wood-burning oven or Montreal water (they say the New York water is what makes the bagels and pizzas there so good… why not the same for their neighbors a few hundred miles north?), the bagels were delicious.

Best of all, these didn’t take that long to make — with a measly 20-minute first rise and a 15-minute second rise. All in all, from the start of making the dough to making the rings, to boiling and baking, the process took less than 2 hours. It would be even faster if my Cuisinart were bigger, I were faster at making the rings, or I could boil more than 3 at a time.

I found that my oven cooked the bagels a bit unevenly, with the ones toward the sides of the pan getting a bit darker, but in all, they turned out really well. All 18 of them. I was worried at first because they looked so tiny when I first made the rings, but they really expanded when I boiled them.

Caroline took a bite and said “This is the best bagel I’ve ever eaten.” For me, it was like taking a nibble out of my childhood. We ate the bagels with some cream cheese, tomatoes, salt and pepper, and capers. Caroline also put honey on hers (not the same part as the cream cheese).

I only wish I knew I could make these sooner… like when my family moved here 17 years ago.

My bagel with cream cheese, tomato and capers

My bagel with cream cheese, tomato and capers

Fantastic Foccacia, a Roasted Beet Salad and Sicilian Pasta

Focaccia bread with rosemary and sea salt just out of the oven

Focaccia bread with rosemary and sea salt just out of the oven

This week’s bread experiment was my very best yet. I made focaccia bread with rosemary and sea salt, and we ate it hot out of the oven with olive oil. The bread was simple to make, and the secret was dousing it in a good deal of olive oil — and adding generous amounts of sea salt and rosemary to the top before baking.

I found this recipe in my Burgers book again. It’s definitely a winner in the bread category.

To go along with the focaccia, I created a dinner using a number of vegetables I got in my first-ever delivery from L.O.V.E. Delivery — an organic food delivery service that I signed up for. I got my first box on Wednesday, and I’ll be getting one every other week.

Roasted beet salad with walnuts and goat cheese

Roasted beet salad with walnuts and goat cheese

I made a salad with the beets — oven roasted at 400 degrees in foil for an hour, then cooled, sliced, and marinated in mustard, vinegar and olive oil — lettuce, walnuts and goat cheese. I’d never cooked beets before, but roasting is simple enough, and they turned out perfectly. The combination of flavors with the mustard, walnuts and goat cheese worked really well. I did try to toss the salad, though, instead of serving it individually, and the whole thing turned magenta.

Sicilian Broccoli and Cauliflower Pasta topped with parmesan and toated pine nuts

Sicilian Broccoli and Cauliflower Pasta topped with Parmesan and toasted pine nuts

For the main course, I made a Sicilian Broccoli and Cauliflower pasta from the Oxbow School that I found on the 101 Cookbooks blog. I got to use some more of the veggies that were delivered this week (broccoli, cauliflower, onion), as well as saffron, garlic, red pepper, rosemary, pine nuts, golden raisins and parsley. It was pretty simple to make and was unlike any pasta I’d ever made before, with its nutty and slightly sweet taste and rustic feel.

Focaccia Bread with Rosemary and Sea Salt

Focaccia Bread with Rosemary and Sea Salt - just drizzled with olive oil

Recipe: Rosemary and Sea Salt Focaccia


  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 tsp yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • coarse sea salt
  • rosemary


Combine flour, salt, yeast, water and 2 tbsp olive oil. Mix until well blended and knead the dough until smooth and elastic.

Let the dough rise in a greased bowl for an hour.

Knead the dough for a few minutes longer, roll it out into a rectangle/oval about 1/2 inch thick, and leave to rise on a greased baking sheet for 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Use your fingers to make indentations in the dough about 1/4 inch deep and drizzle about half the remaining olive oil over the dough. Sprinkle a generous amount of sea salt and rosemary on top, then bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown.

When out of the oven, drizzle or brush the remaining olive oil over the top of the bread. Leave to cool for a few minutes, and serve warm.

Four of us ate half the loaf with dinner.

Thanks, Kacie and Rachael, for coming over, helping me cook and taking photos!

A Giant Sesame Ring and a Delicious Moroccan-Themed Dinner

Yesterday I wanted to bake again, but I didn’t feel like making baguettes. I looked through a few of my cookbooks and found a recipe for a sesame in The Vegitarian Epicure. It turned out to be a pretty simple ad quick bread — about 3 hours from start to finish, which of course involved about 2 hours and 45 minutes of waiting for it to rise and bake.

The recipe was simple enough — flour, salt, egg, oil and yeast, and though I had some problems with the food processor (I should have put the water in first, since after I poured it on top it started dripping out the bottom), I cleaned everything up, did a little extra kneading by hand, and added a little more water back in to get back on track. It rose for about an hour before I formed it into a ring in a shallow cake pan, and then another hour later, I brushed the top with an egg yolk and put on the sesame seeds (it basically looked like a giant bagel).

Before putting the ring in the oven

Before putting the ring in the oven

That’s when I ran into a little more trouble. I started to preheat the oven, but when I came back to it, it was cold. We’d had a problem with the stove earlier in the week and though the pilot lights for our burners were on, the one for the oven wasn’t relit. And let me tell you, lighting the pilot light on my Maytag oven was not really a one-person job — after many failed attempts, I finally had to lie completely on the floor with my arm entirely in the broiler holding a lit match, and stretching my other arm up to push in the oven temperature knob. I finally got the oven back in working order, but it had already been about 20 minutes since I was supposed to put the ring in the oven, and it seemed to be rising faster and faster.

The monstrous sesame ring just out of the oven

After the ring had been baking for 50 minutes, I opened up the oven to find an enormous loaf of bread that wasn’t much of a ring at all — there was just the slightest remnant of the hole in the center. In any case, the bread tasted very good, and I would definitely try it again, maybe on a cookie sheet this time, too, so I could make it a bit bigger and hopefully preserve the ring shape.

While The Vegitarian Epicure said to serve the sesame ring with a greek feast, I decided to head to the other side of the Mediterranean and make a Moroccan-inspired meal. My sister had brought me some spices back from Morocco about a month ago, and I’d been waiting to use them for a tasty meal — so far I’d only used them to season roasted chickpeas. I decided to make a saffron rice pilaf, which I modified slightly from a recipe I found online, and then I improvised a lentil and eggplant curry with moroccan spices, which turned out very tasty — and I’ve posted the recipe below. I also served some hummus with tomatoes, cucumber and lavosh bread.

Half-Eaten sesame ring, lentil and eggplant curry, and saffron rice pilaf

Half-Eaten sesame ring, lentil and eggplant curry, and saffron rice pilaf

Of course, I didn’t think to take a picture of the meal until we were all served, but it was very tasty. I also took all the photos on my iPhone, so I apologize for the blur and sort of funny colors.

My parents and sister joined us for dinner (this was definitely a meal to share), and after we ate everyone tested out their arm strength on Evan’s pull-up bar (I put some photos of the pull-ups on Facebook). I can’t do a pull-up and neither can my sister, but we learned that our parents can!

Lentil and Eggplant Curry with Moroccan Spices


  • 1 cup green lentils
  • 1 large eggplant, cut into medium-sized cubes
  • 1 onion (can also use an extra half or so for a garnish)
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped finely (can also use an extra for garnish)
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1-2 cups tomato juice
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Water (as needed)
  • Moroccan spice blend (I have no idea what was in this, but it was red and contained a ton of different flavors)


In a large pan, saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil on medium-low heat until tender. After 5-10 minutes, add in the eggplant and tomato halves, followed a few minutes after by the lentils. Add the tomato juice and extra water if necessary to come just to the top of the veggies, and add the spice blend and salt and pepper to taste (you’ll be adjusting this throughout the cooking). Keep the temperature at a simmer, and cook the vegetables until the lentils are soft, adding water as necessary to keep the mixture mostly covered (this took about an hour and a half for me).

For the garnish, thinly slice about half an onion and chop a clove of garlic. Get some oil in a pan very hot, then toss in the onions and garlic and cook until they are browned and as crispy as you’d like. You can also add some cilantro to the top to add a bit more color.

This recipe serves 4-6 people, and is great over rice.

My New Obsession: Baking Bread (and Crackers)


Evan bought me a Cuisinart for my birthday. I’d long been talking about how one would help me out in the kitchen, and I had some tasks taken care of by getting an immersion blender which had some other attachments I could use for some light chopping, but I had no idea the extent of the little machine’s power.

Reading through the manual, I learned that it was great for making bread — something I’d been meaning to try for a while, but hadn’t done yet. And as things turned out, for my first two loaves of bread, I didn’t even use the Cuisinart — I used a no-knead recipe from the New York Times on YouTube. The recipe is dead simple, as explained in the 5-minute video below, and it turned out pretty well.

My first try, the bread got a little burnt on the bottom — I had it on an oven rack that was too low. It also stuck to the cloth I was turning it out on, though that didn’t affect the final appearance much. It was also more dense than I would have liked, but I felt it was good for a first effort, and I did eat everything except for the bottom crust.

No-knead bread trial #1 -- a little burnt on the bottom

No-knead bread trial #1 -- a little burnt on the bottom

My second loaf didn’t burn at all and looked even prettier, but it still wasn’t as airy as I would have liked — maybe I need to add a bit more yeast or let it rise for a little longer.

No-knead bread trial #2 - quite a nice looking loaf

No-knead bread trial #2 - quite a nice looking loaf

My biggest bread success yet, though was making baguette’s. I once again turned to Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything and used the very first recipe in the bread section. I used the Cuisinart to knead the dough, then spent most of the day just letting it rise, occasionally separating it or rolling it into long snakes. I ended up with four baguettes, which were crusty on the outside and soft and delicious on the inside. Unfortunately, we should have eaten them all immediately, because the next day, they were not nearly as good.

The recipe couldn’t have been simpler, again using only flour, water, yeast and salt, and even though I think I overcooked them by about 5 minutes (they were a bit darker than expected), they tasted just perfect.

My first homemade baguette

My first homemade baguette

My other flour-and-water baking obsession has been making crackers. I love crackers and generally will devour and entire box myself in a single sitting. I’ve made crackers twice before, again from How to Cook Everything, and they’re incredibly easy. All you need to do is mix together a cup of flour, a tablespoon of butter, a tablespoon of salt and about a quarter of a cup of water, then roll the dough out into a thin sheet and bake. You can also sprinkle on salt, sesame seeds or other toppings, and the whole process takes about 15 or 20 minutes.

I’ve made two batches so far, and I’m partial to the ones I made with half all purpose flour and half wheat flour since they were a nice brown color. I then topped some with sesame seeds, others with salt and pepper, and others with garlic salt, and I cut them into strips before baking so they’d be relatively uniform. I haven’t taken any photos yet, but I think I’ll be making crackers a lot more in the near future. Thankfully they keep well for at least a few days.