montreal-style bagels

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Today you’ll find me munching on two of these bagels {yes, goddamn it, two!} and working on the novel. After nearly two months living in my new home, I’m finally making use of my loft home office, cleaning it out, adding lamps and file folders, and here I am, writing, eating — two of the things I love to do.

If you have some time, I implore you to make these bagels. The honey delivers a subtle sweetness, and while I’ve never travelled to Montreal, these bagels are certainly making me ache for a holiday.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of The Gouda Life
For the bagels
1 1/2 cups warm water {100F}
2 1/4 tsp (8oz, 1 packet) dry active yeast
1 tsp cane sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
3 tsp grapeseed or safflower oil
1/4 cup honey
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
4 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour, divided

For boiling the bagels
1/3 cup honey
1 tbsp baking soda

For the topping
1 cup sesame seeds

DIRECTIONS
Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Let sit until frothy, 5-7 minutes. Whisk in the sugar, salt, oil, and honey and egg + yolk. On medium-low speed, mix in 1 cup of flour in until fully incorporated. Turn the speed up to medium-high, and add the remaining three cups of flour. The dough will feel sticky and shaggy, at first, but after 4-5 minutes, the dough will smooth out and wipe the sides of the mixer clean. If you find the dough is still tremendously sticky, add in 1-2 tbsp of flour until the is supple and smooth. Add the dough to a larger, greased bowl and cover for 30 minutes.

Divide dough into 18 equal portions. Stretch or gently roll, using fingertips, each portion of dough into an 8 inch rope and bring the ends together to form a circle. Pinch the ends together and then roll gently with the heal of your hand to seal. It’s important the ends are well secured otherwise they’ll open when boiling. Place bagels on 2 parchment-lined baking sheets and cover with a clean towel for 20 minutes.

Pour the sesame seeds {or any assorted toppings you wish to use} into a large shallow dish.

While the bagels rise, bring 16 cups of water to a boil in a large pot or dutch oven. Add the baking soda and honey and turn down to a simmer. When ready, add the bagels 4 at a time to the simmering water. Let cook for 1 minute on each side. Remove with a deep-fryer spoon or slotted spatula/spoon, drag through the sesame seeds on both sides and place back on the baking sheet. Repeat with all bagels.

Preheat oven to 500. Place 1 sheet of bagels in for 10-12 minutes or until starting to brown on the bottom. Flip bagels and cook for another 5-8 minutes, watching closely after 5 minutes so they don’t over cook. They should be golden brown. Serve with creamy butter, cream cheese — or do as I shamelessly did, add a few slices of genoa salami, arugula and whippped butter. DIVINE.

Keep in airtight container in the fridge for 1 week.

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hot cross buns {without the cross}

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It feels nice to be a human again. After a week of disturbed sleep, a case of the blues and a hacking cough, I feel as if I’ve finally turned a corner, nipped this flu in the proverbial bud as it were. I’ve still got the terrible cough, but at least I can move without wincing and my mind is finally focused and clear. So much so that I printed out a few chapters from my novel last night and spent some quiet time editing.

Looking back, it’s incredible how a bout of illness can cast a dark film over the whole of one’s world. This makes me even more grateful for the calls and notes from friends and loved ones, which served as little shards of light intent on nicking away at the dark.

I’m saying dark a lot, I realize, perhaps one of the reasons being is that I changed the title of my novel from Mammoth to Follow Me Into the Dark. I always tell writers that a book is never what you set out for it to be. Once you think you’ve identified what it is, it changes its form. Novel writing is tricky this way, and while working pretty deep in the second, meatier part of my novel, I started to think about light and dark as easy and much more subtle metaphors, as opposites and partners. I played with inverting our meaning of light and dark, and all of this felt right for the story I’m trying to tell. Vague, yes, but this was a pretty big breakthrough for me as I hit 170 solid pages.

Then there’s PART THREE. GULP.

Anyway, in lieu of not working out for four days {I decided to stop being a hero and rest and recover}, I baked like a fiend, and thank god I made these hot cross buns without the cross because right now I’m hankering for one of these bad boys slathered in almond butter.

Enjoy your week!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Donna Hay, with modifications
For the buns
1 tbsp active dry yeast
½ cup (110g) cane sugar
1½ cups (375ml) lukewarm milk {temperature barely hits 100F}
4¼ cups (635g) unbleached, all-purpose flour, sifted
2 tsp mixed spice
2 tsp ground cinnamon
50g (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg
1½ cups (240g) dried cherries + cranberries
unsalted butter, to serve

For the glaze
1 tbsp water
2 tsp gelatine powder
½ cup (110g) cane sugar
¼ cup (60ml) water, extra

DIRECTIONS
Place the yeast, 2 teaspoons sugar and the milk in a large bowl and set aside for 5 minutes. The mixture will start to foam, indicating that the yeast is active. Add the flour, mixed spice, cinnamon, butter, egg, sultanas, mixed peel and remaining sugar to the yeast mixture and mix until a sticky dough forms. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for 8 minutes or until elastic. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a clean, damp cloth and set aside in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

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Divide the dough into 12 pieces and roll into balls. Arrange the dough balls in a lightly greased 22cm square cake tin lined with non-stick baking paper. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside in a warm place for 30 minutes or until risen.

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Preheat oven to 200°C (400°F). Place the extra flour and the water in a bowl and stir to combine. Place in a piping bag or a plastic bag with one corner snipped off, and pipe crosses on the buns. Bake for 30–35 minutes or until golden and springy to touch.

While the hot cross buns are baking, make the glaze. Place the water in a small bowl and sprinkle over the gelatine. Set aside for 1–2 minutes or until the gelatine is dissolved. Set aside. Place the sugar and extra water in a small saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Use a wet pastry brush to remove any sugar crystals on the side of the pan. Add the gelatin mixture and cook for 1–2 minutes or until the gelatin is dissolved. Brush with the warm glaze while the buns are still hot.

Serve warm with butter. Makes 12.

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homemade english muffins {fancy-pants}

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We won’t talk about the fact that it took me two weeks to write ten good pages of my novel, that I’m 40% done with a book I thought I’d finish come March. I’m trying really hard not to beat myself about this, about the fact that Fridays were supposed to be devoted to writing when the day, in actuality, has been about rest. And while I know my lovely agent is excited for this book, the best writing I’ve done in years, I hear an old teacher’s voice reverberate, and she tells me that no one is waiting for my book so why not focus on making it good.

I took one of those Buzzfeed career quizzes today, the sort of quiz that defines your vocation based on a series of random questions that are set to profile you in some way. I got “Writer,” and I shook my head because that’s only one of three things I consider myself to be. If there was a term for who I am professionally, I venture it would be “Creative,” because this is who am I and how I imbue all the things that I do, whether they’re marketing or organizational projects, baking or novel-writing.

So today I offer you homemade English muffins, which were supposed to resemble large mushrooms, capped domes and the like, but they don’t. Funny how some things are never what you want them to be.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Sarabeth’s Bakery: From My Hands to Yours.
1 cup whole milk {I used 2%}
1 cup water, divided
2 ½ tbsp butter, cut into small cubes
2 tbsp cane sugar
1 tsp sea salt
3 ½ tsp activated dry yeast
1 egg, beaten
4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
butter for rings
½ cup instant polenta

DIRECTIONS
Bring milk, water (3/4 cup), butter, sugar, and salt to a simmer. Stir frequently so the ingredients dissolve and the butter melts evenly into the mixture. Transfer to a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, and cool to room temperature (approximately 30 minutes). Sprinkle yeast over remaining 1/4 cup of warm water (105-110F) and let stand for five minutes. Whisk the yeast and water to dissolve. Add the yeast mixture to the milk mixture. Add egg. Beat on low to combine, and gradually add the flour, scraping down the sides of the bowl so all of the flour is absorbed. The batter will be sticky, and once a dough forms, increase to high speed and beat for 30 seconds. Refrigerate, tightly covered with cling film, for 4-8 hours.

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Butter the inside of 12 entrement rings (3 inch diameter 1 ½ inches tall). If you don’t have rings, a muffin tin will absolutely do. Coat insides with polenta. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and arrange rings on it. Sprinkle approx ¼ tsp polenta in each ring.

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After at least four hours, stir the batter with a fork, and fill rings using a 2 ½ inch scoop. Sprinkle each top with ¼ tsp polenta.

Fill two large classes with hot water. Bookend the sheet pan with the glasses and cover the lot of it with a large kitchen garbage bag and tie tight. You want to make sure that no air enters the bag, and that the water doesn’t touch the muffins. Proof for 1 ½ hours, or until the muffins rise above the rings.

Preheat oven to 350˚F bake for 25 minutes, let stand for 5 minutes, then remove rings.

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the easiest no-knead bread you’ll ever bake

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Forgive me this brevity, but I’ve spent the better part of this weekend trying to write from viewpoint of an eight-year-old child, the world through her eyes, as it were. The world as she experiences it, first-hand. This chapter was more difficult than I had imagined, while it was easy to have her observe the more sophisticated dialogue and surroundings around her as a means to give weight and perspective against her narrative, I found achieving her voice challenging. I wrote her as an adult would write her, and I had to go back and spend six hours on six pages, obsessing over diction and word choices. Often, I kept returning to Emma Donoghue’s The Room, for reference, but still.

While living a day where I took on the role of revisionist, this lovely loaf of bread steadily ascended. And this morning, I sliced into this hot loaf, slathered it with butter, and got excited to start the day.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

DIRECTIONS
In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups (5/8 = 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp) water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

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Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

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At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

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rosemary focaccia + felicia in the kitchen? {hmm…}

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Today I spent the day with two markedly different women who are creators and builders. Both are strong, outspoken, passionate, and live a life of their own design. These are women who’ve walked away from the confines of a cubicle and the overhead glare of lights in search of something extraordinary. Strange hours and weekend work are the norm, but this doesn’t faze them because they design their days. They are the people who walk the park during the day and write their way into the gloaming. I admire them this, their propensity for the hustle and their desire for a career with purpose.

I talk a lot about what I’ve left behind but little of where I’m going. Today, I prattled on about indecision. I’ve never been in a place where this is so much choice, but at the same time there has never been a less clear and definitive path. And while there is a real and pragmatic need to be met (rent, student loans, credit cards, cat, etc), there is also something seemingly innocuous. A figure just beyond the periphery, and I’m trying to be the sort of person who rolls with it, who crosses all applicable body parts in the hope that this path will reveal itself. So I went on about this, spoke mostly about the industry of food and my passion for it, specifically pastry, and my friend shook her head, smiled, and said, From an outsider your path is clear. You’re on to something big. I can see it, and I’m not even an outsider. So when I talk about all these different things, these choices, maybe the path is within these things I’m pursuing, it’s just a matter of organization.

I can’t help but think of this quote by Doris Lessing, which came to me at precisely the moment it needed to:

“Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.”

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I’ve never wanted to own a pastry shop. I never wanted to be a recipe developer. I never wanted to pipe or create insane feats of gastronomy. After reading Provence, 1970, I felt an odd kinship with the great M.F.K. Fisher. Not that I would even dare compare myself to this great light, but the idea that my food writing could be deeply informed by education of technique gives me pause. I have so many ideas in my head right now — my burgeoning magazine, books, all that sort of thing — but I’ve always wanted to have an innate understand of pastry. Deeper than the practiced home baker, but a grasp of the basic alchemy.

I think I want to apprentice in a pastry shop or a bakery. I don’t know how I’ll get this to happen. I don’t have a plan just yet, but I know that this is something I want to try on for size.

So this is me, inching closer to the impossible. Trying to figure it all out.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Sarabeth’s Bakery: From My Hands to Yours
2 cups cold water
2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
3 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour, as needed
1 3/4 tsp fine sea salt
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus additional for the bowl

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DIRECTIONS
Sprinkle the yeast over 1/4 cup warm water (105-115F) in a small bowl. Let stand for 5 minutes, then stir to dissolve. Pour into a mixer bowl. Add 1 3/4 cups cold water and the rosemary and whisk to combine.

Attached the bowl to the mixer and fit with the paddle attachment. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add half of the flour, then the salt. Add enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough. Replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook. Knead on medium-low speed just until the dough is smooth and it cleans the bowl, about 3 minutes. Do not over-knead. Gather up the dough and shape into a ball.

Coat the inside of a medium bowl generously with olive oil. Place the ball of dough in the bow, and turn to coat with oil. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let stand in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Pour 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a half-sheet pan, and spread evenly with your fingers. Punch down the dough and transfer to the oiled pan. Using your hands, coax and stretch the dough to fill the pan. If the dough is too elastic, cover the dough in the pan with plastic wrap and let rest for 5 minutes, then try again.

Choose a warm place in the kitchen for proofing. Slip the pan into a tall “kitchen-sized” plastic bag and place two tall glasses of very hot water in the bag at opposite ends of the pan to keep the plastic from touching the dough. Tightly close the bag, trapping air in the bag to partially inflate it. Let stand in a warm place until the dough looks puffy, about 45 minutes.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees F. Fill a spray bottle with water. Remove the glasses from the bag, then the pan. Using your fingers, gently dimple the top of the dough. Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over the top of the dough. Using the palms of your hands, taking special care not to deflate the dough, very lightly spread the oil over the focaccia.

Place the focaccia in the oven. Aiming for the walls of the oven (and not the top of the focaccia), spray water into the oven. The water will create steam to help crisp the focaccia. Bake until the focaccia is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Cool in the pan for 20 minutes before serving. Cut into rectangles and serve warm or at room temperature.

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homemade buttery brioche bread loaves

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This weekend is proving to be pretty spectacular. I spent Saturday surrounded by brilliant friends {old and new}, all of whom are hatching plans for greatness. One of my dearest friends is launching a chocolate business, but more on that tomorrow. As always, I feel privileged to know so many great, strong women who are making things HAPPEN.

Today, I plan to travel to Long Island to see my pop for a day of horses, driving, and The Cheesecake Factory {his favorite}. I also plan to bring him a fresh loaf of this brioche, which is honestly the gift that keeps on giving.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Joanne Chang’s Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe
makes 2 loaves
2 1/4 cups (315 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 1/4 cups (340 grams) bread flour
1 1/2 packages (3 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast, or 1 ounce (28 grams) fresh cake yeast
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp (82 grams) sugar
1 tbsp kosher salt
1/2 cup (120 grams) cold water
6 eggs
1 cup plus 6 tbsp (2 3/4 sticks/310 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 10 to 12 pieces

Note: Do not halve this recipe. There won’t be enough dough to engage the dough hook of your mixer, and the dough won’t get the workout it needs to become a light, fluffy bread. Don’t worry about having too much: Both the dough and the baked loaves freeze well, and having a freezer filled with brioche is never a bad thing.

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DIRECTIONS
In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the all-purpose flour, bread flour, yeast, sugar, salt, water, and 5 of the eggs. Beat on low speed for 3 to 4 minutes, or until all of the ingredients have come together. Stop the mixer as needed to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure all of the flour is incorporated into the wet ingredients. Once the dough has come together, beat on low speed for another 3 to 4 minutes. The dough will be very stiff and seem quite dry.

On low speed, add the butter one piece at a time, mixing after each addition until it disappears into the dough. Then, continue mixing on low speed for about 10 minutes, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. It is important for all of the butter to be mixed thoroughly into the dough. If necessary, stop the mixer occasionally and break up the dough with your hands to help mix in the butter.

Once the butter is completely incorporated, turn up the speed to medium and beat for another 15 minutes, or until the dough becomes sticky, soft, and somewhat shiny. It will take some time to come together. It will look shaggy and questionable at the start and then eventually will turn smooth and silky. Then, turn the speed to medium-high and beat for about 1 minute. You should hear the dough make a slap-slap-slap sound as it hits the sides of the bowl. Test the dough by pulling at it: it should stretch a bit and have a little give. If it seems wet and loose and more like a batter than a dough, add a few tablespoons of flour and mix until it comes together. If it breaks off into pieces when you pull at it, continue to mix on medium speed for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until it develops more strength and stretches when you grab it. It is ready when you can gather it all together and pick it up in one piece.

Place the dough in a large bowl or plastic container and cover it with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly onto the surface of the dough. Let the dough proof in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or up to overnight. At this point, you can freeze the dough in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

To make two brioche loaves, line the bottom and sides of two 9 by 5 inch loaf pans with parchment, or butter the pans liberally. Divide the dough in half and press each piece into about a 9-inch square. The dough will feel like cold, clammy Play-Doh. Facing the square, fold down the top one-third toward yo, and then fold up the bottom one-third, as if folding a letter. Press to join these layers. Turn the folded dough over and place it, seam-side down in one of the prepared pans. Repeat with the second piece of dough, placing it in the second prepared pan.

Cover the loaves lightly with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot to proof for about 4 to 5 hours, or until the loaves have nearly doubled in size. They should have risen to the rim of the pan and be rounded on top. When you poke at the dough, it should feel soft, pillowy and light, as if it’s filled with air – because it is! At this point, the texture of the loaves always reminds me a bit of touching a water balloon.

Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a small bowl, whisk the remaining egg until blended. Gently brush the tops of the loaves with the beaten egg.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the tops and sides of the loaves are completely golden brown. Let cool in the pans on wire racks for 30 minutes, then turn the loaves out of the pans and continue to cool on the racks.

The bread can be stored tightly wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 3 days (if it is older than 3 days, try toasting int) or in the freezer for up to 1 month.

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rosemary + roasted garlic bread

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When I bake, my kitchen’s a bit of a hurricane. My apartment is small, six hundred square feet {with an abnormally large three hundred square foot deck}, and I like it that way because there’s less space of which to fill with unnecessary things. Though I’d rather give up my bedroom to have an enormous kitchen with oceans of the counter space. Instead, I try to make the best of what I have, make efficient use of storage, but there’s always piles of nuts and herbs and boxes of things and cookbooks on the counter.

It’s a mess, but it’s a beautiful mess. It’s my mess, always undone, always inviting. The opposite of the whitewashed Kinfolk life, where space is abundant, kitchens are basked in efulgent light, and the linens are bespoke and handwoven.

Last night, I spent the better portion of the evening making this lovely bread from the Kinfolk cookbook. When I unearthed it from the oven, I felt victorious. Roasted garlic and rosemary perfumed the room, and there’s nothing better than slathering cool butter on hot, homemade bread.

Although I had to do a bit of tinkering with the original instructions, the bread delivers — an absolute must-bake. Part of me wonders if I should publish corrections to all of the recipes in need of help in this lovely tome.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from The Kinfolk Table: Recipes for Small Gatherings, with modifications
1 large head of garlic
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for brushing + serving
2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp cane sugar
1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1 cup water, warmed to 110F
3 cups bread flour + 1/4 cup on hand in the event your dough is too sticky
2 tbsp minced fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper
Coarse sea salt
Balsamic vinegar
Special equipment: Thermometer, pastry brush, spray bottle with a bit of water, stand mixer + dough hook attachment, baking sheet

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DIRECTIONS
For roasting the garlic: Pre-heat the oven to 400F. Cut the head of garlic in half and drizzle with 3 tbsp of olive oil, making sure the interior and exterior are coated. Season the cut sides with coarse sea salt. Press the garlic halves together and wrap tightly with tin foil, roasting for an hour until the cloves are juicy, golden, and soft. Set aside on a rack to cool.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the sugar and two teaspoons of salt in a large bowl. Stir in the yeast and water, and allow the mixture to stand until it foams, approximately 10 minutes. If your yeast doesn’t foam, dump it. It’s not activated and won’t give your dough the height and softness that will make it divine. The reasons for your yeast not activating: you’re either using bad {or expired} yeast, or your water was too hot. That’s why a thermometer is key. I tend to boil my water and watch the temperature rise.

Once your yeast is activated, stir in three tablespoons of olive oil and three cups of the flour. Knead the dough in the stand mixer for six-seven minutes. The dough will look as if it won’t come together, trust me, it will. If the dough is too wet + sticky, add some of the reserve flour, a tablespoon at a time. If you’re not using a stand mixer, knead by hand (pulling with your fingers and pushing back with the heels of your hands) for ten minutes.

Add one tablespoon of the fresh rosemary, the oregano, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper and knead in the mixer for two minutes, or by hand for five minutes. Squeeze the cloves out of their skins and add them to the mixer, and gently knead until combined (30 sec-1 minute in a mixer), 1 minute by hand.

Shape the dough into a ball. Brush a large bowl with the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil, place the dough inside, and turn several times until completely coated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place for an hour, or until doubled in size.

After the first rise, punch the dough down and shape it into a round loaf. Using a sharp, serrated knife, make a criss-cross design on top. Place the loaf on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, then cover with the large bowl you used originally. Allow the dough to rise for another hour, or until doubled in size.

Ten minutes before the end of your second rise, pre-heat the oven to 375F. Brush the loaf with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and remaining one tablespoon of rosemary. Bake for fifteen minutes, then spray the loaf with water and bake for another fifteen minutes. After the half hour, increase the oven temperature to 425F, spray the loaf once again and bake for another five minutes, or until the top is golden brown.

Transfer the baking sheet to a rack and cool for 10 minutes. Serve with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and pepper. Or, you can opt for the classic — cool butter.

The bread is best eaten the day it’s made.

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honey quick oat bread + a bit of honesty

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The dismal fact is that self-respect has nothing to do with the approval of others — who are, after all, deceived easily enough; has nothing to do with reputation, which, as Rhett Butler told Scarlett O’Hara, is something people with courage can do without. Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life — is the source from which self-respect springs. — Joan Didion

I’ve been careless with myself. There was a time when I was a young girl trying on her mother’s adult clothes, standing in front a mirror, observing how a green dress fit. Turning this way and that, I realized it had fit all too well. Here was a child playing adult, taking on the shape of it, and realizing that it was a shape that had become all too comfortable. I wasn’t the girl who fell out of her mother’s heels or drowned in a waistless dress, rather I was the child where the world of adult fit, and I never grew accustomed to that. Even now, even as I write this.

For the past two months, I’ve been treading some deep waters, getting lost in the thick of nostalgia. I download the songs I used to sing off-key, and I pull out moth-eaten sweaters in hopes they’ll still fit. The wave is tremendous, so much so that it swallows you whole, and the undertow of that previous life threatens to bring you under. Because when you think about the songs and the sweaters and all of that, you forget the darkness that surrounded it. Suddenly, your memory becomes selective, surgical, and you’re forever trying to find the romance in the one part of your life you once were so desperate to leave behind.

Lately, the songs have taken on an octave that is gruesome, and the sweaters threaten to suffocate and maim. This old time is telling you to leave it, let it go quietly into the night. Don’t start poking around. Don’t get a taste for nostalgia, because it’ll only be your ruin.

tumblr_mdfbsluDqH1qdaw6do1_500Grief is a cruel thing, and there is a moment when I felt as if the losses were incalculable. And in that space of grief, which was large and seemingly bottomless, I became careless. I started drinking against my better judgment, and as the weeks progressed, the world felt sonnet small. I felt boxed in, no way out but a little light at the end of the alleyway. That light being the life that I’d built for nearly seven years calling my name. Downright shouting it. My relationship with the drink is a complicated one, one not so easily defined by labels and monikers, and for a time I thought it was something I could return to, but then I lost Sophie, and the whole of my world bleached down to bone.

I debated whether or not I should reveal this bit of information on this space — the fact that I had started drinking, it didn’t work out, and now I’m back to being off the sauce, with a team of beloveds on my back — but then I realized how much I had helped other people, friends, strangers, by being honest and brave and bold and not being ashamed of saying that I’m not someone who can handle her drink. I’m someone who, instead, has to design a more mindful and healthy life. I’m someone who doesn’t judge because, seriously, who am I to judge.

For the past few weeks, I knew something was wrong. And I thought about my life, and how much reconstruction I had to do on it, and I realized that I’d finally made a leap to create something real and beautiful, and why would I ruin that? Why would I chose to spend my days boxed in, when I go out and write books, meet people, build companies, love, live, eat, stretch, be.

Alcohol is the one thing that can ruin. It removes choice because you allow it to. It reduces your world to a singular, sustained heartbeat, and suddenly the vast, sweeping life as you know it becomes a metronome.

And why, why would I do that?

I made two important decisions this week that delivered my life back to me: I took the leap in faith and love and adopted Felix, and I was honest with myself in saying that alcohol may be the one thing that I need to abandon. In committing these words to this clean, white space, I open myself to judgment, misunderstanding, or petty gossip, but I don’t care. Because taking responsibility for my life and choosing to live it is my own reward. And in that new, glimmering shape, I know that there are oceans of people who are willing to shoulder me home. Never be ashamed of giving yourself your life back, ever.

So here I am, plotting all my days, giving myself a routine, and baking bread. And it feels damn good.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from Kitchen Daily
1 ⅛ cup 2 tablespoon plus 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats or quick-cooking (not instant) oats, divided
1 ⅓ cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 ¼ tsp baking powder
1 ¼ tsp salt
8 oz nonfat or low-fat plain yogurt
1 large egg
¼ cup canola oil
¼ cup clover honey or other mild honey
¾ cup nonfat or low-fat milk (I used almond milk)
¼ tsp baking soda

DIRECTIONS
Position rack in middle of oven; preheat to 375°F. Generously coat a 9-by-5-inch (or similar size) loaf pan with cooking spray. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon oats in the pan. Tip the pan back and forth to coat the sides and bottom with oats; set aside another 1 tablespoon oats for garnishing the loaf.

Thoroughly stir together whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Using a fork, beat together the remaining 1 cup oats, yogurt, egg, oil and honey in a medium bowl until well blended. Stir in milk. Gently stir the yogurt mixture into the flour mixture just until thoroughly incorporated but not overmixed (excess mixing can cause toughening). Immediately scrape the batter into the pan, spreading evenly to the edges. Sprinkle the reserved 1 tablespoon oats over the top.

Bake the loaf until well browned on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. (It’s normal for the top to crack.) Let stand in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a table knife around and under the loaf to loosen it and turn it out onto the rack. Let cool until barely warm, about 45 minutes.

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pumpkin spice rolls

pumpkin spice rolls
Happy New Year, friends! My mini respite is coming to an end as I’m back in the office tomorrow {insert wails}, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the fruits of my holiday labor. I’ve been on a bit of a bread bender lately, so after scoring a jarful of yeast I decided to go wild and make loaves of bread. And ever since I spied these lovely terracota rolls on Pastry Affair, I knew these needed to be introduced in my repertoire. Not quite savory and not quite sweet, these rolls straddle an androgynous flavor profile that makes them perfect for everything from nutella to savory, pungent cheeses. Last night I smeared cold French butter on these hot rolls and it was EVERYTHING.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from A Pastry Affair, with slight modifications
1/2 cup (118 ml) barely warm water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 large egg
1 cup (245 grams) canned pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups – 3 cups (318 grams) bread flour

DIRECTIONS
In a bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, sprinkle the yeast over the barely warm water and allow to sit about 5 minutes until activated (during this time the yeast will start to bubble and look frothy). Stir in egg, pumpkin puree, brown sugar, butter, spices, and salt. Gradually add bread flour, mixing until the dough comes together. If the dough is too dry and will not come together, add small amounts of water until it does. Conversely, if the dough is too sticky, add flour until it becomes workable; however, do not add too much flour or the bread will become dense. Now replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook and start to knead your dough on low speed.

Knead the dough for ten minutes, or until elastic. The dough will feel slightly sticky, but don’t worry — it will firm up as it rises. Cover dough with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let rise until doubled in a warm place, about 2 hours. Punch down the dough before turning out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into 12 equal portions (I did this by rolling the dough with my hands into a log so I can get ball-sized cuts) and shape each portion into a round ball. Place in a pan (or on baking sheets) coated lightly with cooking spray. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise for another 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the tops are lightly browned and the bread sounds hollow when tapped. Serve hot.

To reheat buns, preheat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C). Bake rolls for 5-8 minutes, or until hot.

pumpkin spice rolls
pumpkin spice rolls
pumpkin spice rolls

honey raisin buns and another year in passing…

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We throw our parties; we abandon our families to live alone in Canada; we struggle to write books that do not change the world, despite our gifts and our unstinting efforts, our most extravagant hopes. We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep. It’s as simple and ordinary as that. A few jump out windows, or drown themselves, or take pills; more die by accident; and most of us are slowly devoured by some disease, or, if we’re very fortunate, by time itself. There’s just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we’ve ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) know these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning; we hope, more than anything, for more. Heaven only knows why we love it so…― Michael Cunningham, The Hours

Who knew that half a life ago I’d be plotting the life I was never meant to live? I remember that first day, every shadow of it. Luggage stolen at Grand Central because I looked away, just for a moment, to say goodbye to that old life and oceans of dark that permanently eddied. But I didn’t care because I was running away! When I arrived in that small room I stood bag-less before a roommate who told me she didn’t trust white people. Not one bit. And I was confused because she was where I always fit; the lithe blondes with their silver lockets and closets filled with finery frightened me. They spoke a language that marked privilege: MTV, J.Crew, REM, The Hamptons. They hailed from Connecticut, Syosset and Great Neck, Long Island, and owned watches the cost of used cars. All of them seemed to know that you had to pay for your books, while I stood in line, humiliated, because I assumed they were free, like in high school. Although we shared the same pallor and lineage, we might as well have been from different dimensions. I wanted to tell my roommate this: Mary J., Slick Rick, Big Daddy Kane and BK — believe me, I understand you.

As the weeks pressed on, I moved to a new room with a girl named Jen, who liked other girls and everyone talked about it. Made a show of not changing in front of her. Said words like dyke, and although I’d read hundreds of books by the dead, this was yet another word unfamiliar to me. In response, Jen strummed her guitar, played love songs about a girl with purple hair who took tablets and tripped into the gloaming. I told my roommate I’d never known anyone who was gay before, but if I was fine by her, she was fine by me. And so it was. Fine.

When I showed Jen my handwritten stories, poems — all siren songs to a mother who would always be my first love and hurt, she laughed. What’s a writer like you doing studying economics and marketing? Who reads Virginia Woolf while memorizing ratios? Because money made it certain that I’d never return to that dark country — I can’t write my way out. Jen left the papers on my bed and we never spoke of it again. Accounting, Futures and Options, Macro/Micro Economics, Mergers and Acquisitions, Business Law — for four years I drowned in a curriculum of money, while never realizing that the waves hadn’t receded. They’d been there the whole time, and I didn’t even know it. Because people who run block out the one thing they must know: people who run always come undone. Always. After graduation there I was again, trying to breathe underwater. Trying to numb my way through the hours, the years — all to remain afloat.

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And then the years. So many years. Where did they go? Why is it impossible to get them back? These days Jen is a graphic designer — far from the rockstar she always dreamed she’d be. Sometimes I wonder if she’s in love, found a girl with purple hair who wasn’t so lost. I wonder if Jen is happy.

This week makes another year in passing. I’m 37 and realizing that happiness is not pining after the happiness that could have been had you chosen to be someone or do something else. Happiness is right now. Happiness is being present every single hour of your life because there will be a time when one moment isn’t the one you’ll survive.

This year will be about breaking ranks and I’m enjoying the ride. I’ve signed up for scores of baking and cooking class, as well as a French immersion. And after baking dozens of fancy pastries and earthy loves, I’m starting to realize that bread, loaf, muffin and cake baking is where I’m at. I hope you enjoy these delicious buns as much as I have. They’re tender, delicious, a little sticky sweet, and a kind reminder that if you keep being present your passion will surface and find yuo.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from Averie Cooks
1 cup water, warmed (120 to 130F for Red Star Platinum yeast, or 105 to 115F for most other yeast)
2 1/4 teaspoons instant dry yeast (one 1/4-ounce packet, I use Red Star Platinum)
1 large egg
1/4 cup honey
3 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
3 1/2 cups bread flour (I use King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour)
1 cup old-fashioned whole rolled oats (not quick cook or instant)
1 cup raisins (combination of raisins, cranberries, currants, or other dried fruit may be used)
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons honey

DIRECTIONS
Add water to a glass measuring cup or microwave-safe bowl and heat on high power to warm it, about 30 seconds. Testing with a thermometer is highly recommended, but if testing with your finger, water should feel warm but not hot.

To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the water and sprinkle the yeast on top of it. Beat on low speed for about 10 seconds, just to combine; let mixture stand for 10 minutes.

Add the egg, 1/4 cup honey, oil, salt, and mix until well-combined, about 2 minutes on low to medium-low speed. Add 3 cups flour, oats, raisins, cinnamon, and beat until a dough forms. Scrape off any dough bits stuck to the paddle and remove the paddle attachment. Put on the dough hook.

With the dough hook attached, turn mixer on low speed, and slowly sprinkle in remaining 1/2 cup of flour. Knead dough for about 8 to 10 minutes, stopping to scrape down the bowl and dough hook as necessary. Dough will be firm, smooth, not sticky, and elastic. Place mounded ball of dough in a lightly greased large bowl and cover with plasticwrap. Place mounded ball of dough in a cooking sprayed or lightly greased large bowl and cover with plasticwrap. Place bowl in a warm place until it has doubled in size, about 2 hours. Tip – Preheating your oven for 1 minute to 400F, then shutting it off (make sure you shut it off), and quickly sliding the bowl in so the hot air doesn’t escape is one way to create a warm environment; think 85 or 90F summer day warm environment. A cooler environment simply means dough will take longer to rise.

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After dough has risen and doubled, punch it down to release the air bubbles, and turn it out onto a Silpat or floured work surface. Knead for about 1 minute. Mound dough into a ball, place it back into the bowl, cover it, and allow it to rest and relax for about 10 minutes, making it easier to shape into rolls.

Prepare a 9-by-13-inch baking pan by lining it with aluminum foil, spray with cooking spray; set aside.

Place dough on Silpat Non-Stick Baking Mat or floured work surface, and using your hands, roll it into a long cylinder, about 16 inches in length. Divide the log into 16 uniformly-sized pieces with a dough cutter or sharp knife. Roll each piece into a ball, creating surface tension on the top of the ball by stretching the dough over itself a bit and pinch off the bottom, tucking the dough into itself. Place each piece into the prepared pan, seam side down, uniformly spaced, four rows of four. (Dough may also be rolled into just a simple ‘plain ball’, without pulling on the top surface of dough to create tension and not bothering to pinch off the bottom a bit, but I find they rise better and are fluffier if they’re pinched off rather than just round dough globes)

After all pieces are in the pan, cover it with plasticwrap and allow to dough to rise for about 1 hour, or until rolls are nearly doubled in size. While dough rises, preheat oven to 400F. A good place for this rise is placing baking pan on the stovetop while oven is preheating for the carryover warmth.

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Prepare honey-butter mixture by melting butter in a microwave-safe bowl on high power, about 1 minute. To the melted butter, add 2 tablespoons honey and stir to combine; set aside. After the rolls have risen and before baking, brush tops and sides of dough with the honey-butter mixture, getting into the sides and crevices and with a pastry brush. Bake rolls for about 15 minutes or until golden; they bake up very fast and watch them closely so the honey-butter mixture doesn’t burn in this very hot oven. Allow rolls to cool before serving. Serve with Honey Butter or Cinnamon-Sugar Butter.

Rolls may be stored at room temperature in an airtight container or ziplock bag for up to 4 days. Rolls also freeze very well and can be made from start to finish, cooled, and placed in a freezer-safe airtight container or a ziplock for up to 3 months. When ready to serve, unthaw them and if desired, immediately prior to serving warm them in a low oven (~175 to 200F) for a few minutes and just until warmed.

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honey whole wheat bread loaf

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Few things give me greater joy than making bread. It’s so simple, yet meticulous and tactile, and who doesn’t crave a steaming loaf out of the oven? Before I tackle the art of the levain and sourdough, I thought I’d give this simple bread a go, and it did not disappoint. Slater this with creamy butter or nutella and chill-ax.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe adapted from Local Milk, with modifications.
2 1/4 cup warm water (105° F – 115° F)
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1/4 cup honey
3 1/2 cups bread flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 tbsp grape seed oil
1 tbsp unsulfured molasses
1 tbsp kosher salt

DIRECTIONS
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk, blend 1/2 cup of the water with the yeast and honey to just combine. Allow the mixture to rest until the yeast is frothy, about 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the bread + whole wheat flours in one bowl and set aside.

Once the yeast mixture is frothy, fit the stand mixer with the dough hook attachment. Add the remaining 1 3/4 cup water, oil, molasses, and about half of the flour to the yeast, and mix on low speed until the ingredients start to incorporate and cohere. Then slowly add in the remaining flour mixture and increase the speed to medium, mixing until the dough comes together, stopping to scrape down the hook and bowl as needed. Add the salt and continue to beat at medium speed for 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. The dough will still be slightly sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and shape into a ball. Place it in a large lightly oiled bowl (I used coconut spray). Rotate the dough to coat lightly in oil. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rest at rom temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.

Spray two 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inch loaf pans with coconut oil spray (or ordinary cooking spray).

Deflate the dough by lightly punching it and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide in half. Roll each half into a 9″ by 12″ rectangle, with the short side facing you. Fold the top of the dough 2/3’s of the way down then fold again so that the top meets the bottom edge. Seal the seam by pinching.Turn each roll so that the seam is centered, facing up. Tuck the ends of the roll in just so that the loaf will fit in the pan. Pinch to seal these seams.

Turn the rolls over, plump and shape with your hands, and place seam side down in the loaf pans. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature until doubled in size again, about 1 hour. While they rise center a rack in the oven and heat to 375° F.

When risen (a finger should leave an impression when the dough is poked) bake for 35 minutes or until golden brown and an instant read thermometer inserted into the bottom of the loaf reads 200° F. Remove from pans and let cool on racks.

Once cooled the bread can be wrapped and stored at room temperature or tightly wrapped in plastic and frozen for up to a month. To thaw let sit, still wrapped, at room temperature.

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