Bread Illustrated’s Potato-Dill Sandwich Bread… err, Minus the Dill

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Is it normal to want to weep when looking at a picture of beautiful bread?

Dill is a weird thing.

I like (but not love) dill pickle chips. I like (but not love) dill on smoked salmon.

I just can’t really think of many instances where I looooove dill.

I have never had a piece of bread and thought, “Man, you know what this is really missing? Dill.” So I have skipped past the Bread Illustrated recipe for Potato-Dill Sandwich Bread, time and time again, as I have baked my way through the book for the last year.

Until I recently had a eureka moment: what if I baked the potato bread… without the dill?

Now, I’m sure the dill adds a nice touch to this bread, but approximately half the bread I bake gets used for toast, which peanut butter and/or jam – and there’s just something about the combination of PB, J, and D that grosses me out. So I took some creative liberties and went ahead and baked this pillowy, ultra soft bread without dill.

I know – pretty radical.

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The potato is this recipe appears in the mashed variety, so the first step is to cube a potato, boil it, then mash it to smithereens with some butter.

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The dough only calls for 8 ounces of ‘tots, and I found that one decent sized potato makes enough for two loaves (put the rest of the mash in the fridge – you’ll need it sooner than you think because this bread goes down quick and easy).

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The mashed potato gets combined with some bread flour, salt, and yeast. The instructions say to do it by hand, but I used a flexible spatula and things seemed to turn out okay. Then, the stand mixer does its thing for about 10 minutes. (After the 10 minutes is when you would theoretically add the dill).

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As with other sandwich breads (including my favourite old classic, which gets baked once every week or two in my neck of the woods), the potato bread gets a little hand kneading, then rises for an hour and a half, then gets shaped and rises for a second time before baking. Handling this dough can only be described as utterly delightful. It is the softest dough I have ever felt. Dragging it into a perfect little ball is highly pleasant.

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While the dough tastes nothing like potato, the mashed potatoes are everything to this recipe. The texture is out of this world – soft (even when toasted) and a little chewy. This is a weird description, but stay with me here: this bread is what they were trying to achieve when they made Wonder bread. Rather than being dry and bland, this bread is moist and bouncy and tastes like something. That “something” is hard to describe – a little buttery, maybe?

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It’s well worth a go. And if you dare to make it with dill, let me know how it works out.

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Bread Illustrated’s Pan-Grilled Flatbread

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I swear I’ve made Bread Illustrated’s Pan-Grilled Flatbread recipe before, but I can’t seem to find a blog post about it. If I didn’t blog about it, does it even count? Probably not.

The flatbreads popped into my mind when I was invited to a friend’s house for a curry dinner. What goes better than naan and curry? Nothing – because it is the best.

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Technically, this is a recipe for flatbread, not naan specifically. But as the opening write up for the recipe says, flatbreads are eaten all over the world and they pair deliciously with stews and curries of all kinds. So they were definitely well-suited for the occasion.

Although the flatbreads are pretty easy and quick to make (you can make them in an afternoon and have them ready for dinner), I find anything that you have to make multiples of – rather than one big loaf – can be a little labour intensive. This recipe claims to yield four 9-inch flatbreads, but I made eight 6-inch(ish) ones.

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The Bread Illustrated flatbreads are made with a combination of bread flour and whole-wheat flour, as well as some of the usual suspects (yeast, salt, water) and some non-so-usual suspects (olive oil, sugar, and yogurt). You’re supposed to use plain whole-milk yogurt. I had 5% (I think) on hand, so I used that, but the recipe warned they may be a little tough if I sacrificed the whole-milk aspect. Mine were a little chewy, but still delicious.

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Step one is to mix the dough in the mixer for a total of 10 minutes. Then you knead by hand for 30 seconds or so and let the dough rest in a bowl for a couple of hours. So far, it’s the same process for your typical dough.

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Before…

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And 2 hours later!

After dough has had some time to rise, it’s ready for action. You split the dough into quarters (or, in my case, eighths) and roll each one into a ball. The book shows a technique of pulling it around your thumb and pinching the seams – it works pretty well. The balls of dough rest – meanwhile, you can heat up a skillet on the stove.

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The recipe calls for a cast-iron skillet. I do not own such a thing, but my sturdy Le Creuset dutch oven can hold heat pretty well, so it made do in this recipe.

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One by one, the pieces of dough get stretched and rolled out. You stab each flatbread with a fork, oil the skillet, mist both sides of the dough with water (this keeps them soft, not crusty), then let it sizzle away for 2-4 minutes per side (I stuck with 2 per side). I set up stations so that while one flatbread was cooking, I’d roll out the next piece of dough to have it ready to go.

Side note: since making this recipe, I have  received a tortilla press (merci Lise!) It would have come in handy for this one… stay tuned for future tortilla press action.

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After both sides have cooked, you brush the pieces with melted butter and sprinkle it with sea salt. I do not recommend missing this step – it makes it soooo delicious. I kept my finished flatbreads in aluminum foil and prior to serving, we tossed the foil packet in the oven for a few minutes to heat it up.

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I don’t have a picture of the breads with the curry, but they paired fabulously, of course. Yes, it’s more effort to make these than it is to pick up a packet at the grocery story – but it’s infinitely better.

Dorie’s Cookies “My Newest Chocolate Chip Cookies” Recipe Review

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A picky comment – the photography in Dorie’s Cookies is not my favourite. But as I continue to bake (and photograph) my own cookies, I’m realizing it is kind of hard to photograph cookies in exciting, unconventional ways. Respect to food stylists!

It is no secret that Cedric is a fan of chocolate chip cookies.

As I have previously explained, in our household, we like to make a batch of cookie dough and freeze individually portioned cookies so that when the need for something sweet hits, we simply have to throw a few cookie pucks in the oven and voila: instant fresh-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies.

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Recently, our freezer stash dwindled down to dangerously low supply levels and I decided it was time to make a new batch. Naturally, I knew I had to try a chocolate chip cookie recipe from my new Dorie’s Cookies cookbook – but which one?

I should have known that a cookbook devoted entirely to cookies would contain more than one chocolate chip cookie recipe – it is, after all, a classic. Here were my options:

  • Kerrin’s Multigrain Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • My Newest Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • My Classic Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • Two-Bite One-Chip Cookies

I opted for “My Newest Chocolate Chip Cookies” – Dorie’s latest remix of her original “My Classic Best Chocolate Chip Cookies” recipe.

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So what’s different about this recipe? Most chocolate chip cookie recipes vary only very slightly – but even the smallest change in sugar/butter/flour ratio, type of sugar used, cooking temperature, and cooking time can have radical effects. (Yes, chocolate chip cookies can be radical.) This particular recipe features a blend of all-purpose and whole-wheat flour and white and brown sugar for optimal chewiness. It uses baking soda, not baking powder, and it calls for a couple of unconventional spices (for chocolate chip cookies at least): nutmeg and coriander.

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I didn’t have any coriander on hand (isn’t coriander cilantro? do I really want that it my cookie?), but Dorie says that we can use our discretion when it comes to including or omitting the spices. I kept the nutmeg but left out the coriander.

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This recipe is as quick to make as any chocolate chip recipe is, though it calls for at least an hour in the fridge before baking. I rolled up most of my dough into individual cookies to freeze for later, but I did bake a few so that I could give this recipe the review it deserves.

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The recipe says to bake for 9 to 11 minutes. I left mine in for 10, and they looked perfect coming out: pale in the middle (chewiness galore!), brown on the edges. The pictures in the cookbook look a little darker than mine, but after I let mine sit for a few minutes, they were the perfect texture. If I had let them get darker, I think they would have been too crispy for my liking.

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Right out of the oven

The greatest challenge with chocolate chip cookies is knowing that they taste even better if you let them sit for a little while and cool fully – but also knowing that there is nothing better than a still-hot cookie with chocolate that oozes. I compromised: I ate my cookie straight out of the oven, and I left two cookies to cool fully for Cedric to sample when he got home.

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We both really liked this cookie. I’ll have to try a few more of the freezer ones before I make a final judgment call, and I’m definitely looking forward to trying some of the other chocolate chip cookie recipes in this book (the Kerrin’s recipe includes buckwheat flour and kasha – I don’t even know what kasha is!)

One final note on chocolate chip cookies: some people wonder if there is really such thing as a bad chocolate chip cookie. Oh, but there is – and for some reason, cafes and bakeries often serve substandard versions. As a kid, I loved the Tim Horton’s and Subway ones, but now the texture bothers me and so does the crystalized sugar taste. One local cafe (I won’t name names) serve puck-like chocolate chip cookies that are too hard and crumbly; another is disappointingly bland and low on actual chocolate.

So yes, it is possible to botch the chocolate chip cookie. And no, that is not a concern with this recipe – thankfully.

Bread Illustrated’s Morning Buns: The Best Recipe You’ve Never Heard Of

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Even after a year of poring through my Bread Illustrated cookbook, I’m still coming across brand new recipes that, for whatever reason, haven’t caught my eye before.

Case in point: the recipe for morning buns.

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What is a morning bun? Before I made it, I had never heard of this tasty little pastry. The opening vignette makes it sounds like a sort of combination cinnamon bun and croissant, and that’s pretty spot on – except it’s even easier to make than either of those recipes.

Morning buns have one bonus flavour that I definitely associate with mornings: orange. The recipe contains a bit of orange juice in the dough and orange zest in the filling, giving it a delicious hint of oranginess.

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I mentioned that this recipe is easy to make – in fact, in can be made in a single morning (hey – maybe that’s why it’s called morning buns!) The folks at America’s Test Kitchen have devised a super simple way of cheating your way around a laminated dough, making it infinitely more practical to make than tasty – but notoriously finicky – croissants. Their trick: a solid large Ziploc bag. Put your dry ingredients in the bag (all-purpose flour, a bit of sugar, some yeast, and salt) and add in slices of chilled butter (I sliced mine then put them in the freezer for 5 minutes or so to ensure they were nice and cold). Then, you shake the bag around to coat the butter with the flour mixture, and roll it out a few times to form nice little butter flakes. It’s almost too easy (no such thing!)

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The baggie contents are then transferred to a bowl, where the wet ingredients are added: the orange juice, some sour cream, ice water, and a single egg yolk. You’re supposed to mix “until combined”. I was nervous about overmixing, so I used a delicate hand, even though the dough looked pretty loose.

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The next stage involves kneading the dough by hand. I was sure mine wasn’t wet enough, but after a bit of manhandling, I was surprised to see it came together relatively quickly (the recipe said 30 seconds – mine was closer to a minute).

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Usually, when you’re making a dough, at this stage you have to chill it before rolling it out. You’d probably have to do that if you were baking the morning buns on a hot day, but I followed the recipe and rolled it out right away into a big 20 x 12 inch rectangle. It was easy to roll out and with a bit of flour dusting, I didn’t have any problems with it being overly sticky, nor did bits of it flake off for being too dry.

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The large rectangle gets rolled tightly into a log, then flattened into a 12 x 14 inch rectangle. It’s like a mini lamination, I suppose. The log is loosely wrapped with greased saran wrap, then it goes in the freezer for just 15 minutes.

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Those 15 minutes can easily be filled by preparing the muffin tins (which have to be lined with paper and sprayed with cooking spray – a first for me) and throwing together the filling. The filling consists of white and brown sugar, a bit (2 tsp) of cinnamon, some orange zest, and a little vanilla.

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When the 15 minutes in the freezer are up, the dough gets rolled out into a big rectangle and the mixture gets sprinkled on. The rectangle gets rolled into a log and reshaped, then the ends are chopped of to ensure each bun has a pretty little spiral.

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After chopping the log into 12 pieces, each piece is plopped into a cup on the muffin tin – then, for the first time really in this recipe, it’s time for a long-ish wait for 1 to 1.5 hours. It was on the cool side when I cooked these, so I gave it a full 1.5 hours.

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The bake starts with a burst of heat – 5 minutes in a 425 degree oven until the buns just start to rise – then it’s down to 325 degrees for 40 to 50 minutes (mine were in for 45 exactly). It’s an agonizingly long time because it doesn’t take long for the kitchen to start to smell really, really good.

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Once out, the buns cool for 5 minutes, then you can discard the now-sticky paper liners and let everything cool on a wire rack. Thankfully, there’s none of the “Let cool for 3 hours” nonsense – the directions say “Serve warm,” so I happily obliged.

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The morning buns taste like they’re way more complicated than they really are. I think the texture is similar to what my kouign-amanns would have taste like if I hadn’t botched that recipe. The outside is crisp and flaky, and there’s a kind of caramelly crispness to it from the sugar that has oozed through the pastry. They’re not nearly as cinnamon-y as a cinnamon bun, but the taste of cinnamon is there and it goes exquisitely with the orange.

The middle of the bun is kind of softish – not in an undercooked way, more like the middle of a croissant or other pastry.

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I feared that Cedric and I would demolish the dozen more quickly than is socially acceptable, so I wrapped half of the batch up in saran wrap, put them in a freezer bag, and hid them away in the freezer. They thawed out very nicely.

I’m still not totally sure what a morning bun is, in terms of it’s exact definition or history, but this I know: I love them.

Bread Illustrated’s Flour Tortillas: You’ve Never Met a Tortilla Like This Before

Here’s what nobody tells you when you decide to become a bread baker:

You will never be able to go back store bought bread.

I mean any kind of bread.

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Take tortillas, for instance. I acknowledge that my words ooze of bread snobbery, but I just can’t stomach spending $5 on a pack of bland, dry tortillas, when I know I’ve got all the ingredients needed to make my own delicious, flavourful ones at home.

Except, of course, making bread is time consuming. Mixing, waiting, weighing, rolling, and cooking 12 individual flour tortillas is painfully slow compared to the quick-and-easy route of store bought.

It’s a baker’s curse!

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I’ve actually made the flour tortilla recipe from Bread Illustrated many times before, but for some reason, I’ve never posted about it. I decided to document the process during my most recent bake.

The Bread Illustrated recipe calls for simple ingredients: all-purpose flour, salt, water, and vegetable shortening. I use butter instead, and it works perfectly well.

Although they take a bit of time to whip up, the process of making tortillas is actually very easy – you don’t even need a stand mixer.

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Using your hands, you rub the butter (or shortening) and flour together, kind of like you do when making pie dough, only there is way less butter so it kind of feels like you’re not doing it right. Everything comes together when you add in water and mix it all together. Even though I measured things out by weight, not volume, I found myself a little short on water, so I added a couple of tablespoons to make a nice lump of dough come together.

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Next, you knead the dough for half a minute or so and divide it into 12 equal pieces. I’ve always just roughly eyeballed the pieces but this time, I actually measured them out so that they all weighed the same 2 ounces. You absolutely don’t have to do this (in fact, I suggest skipping it unless you’re a contestant on the Great British Bake Off: Tortilla Week).

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The 12 pieces get rolled into little uniform balls, then you cover them with plastic wrap and pop them in the fridge for at least 30 minutes and up the 3 days. I kept mine in for a couple of hours.

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The next step is where it gets a little tedious. You roll each ball of dough out between two layers of parchment paper until they become flat little tortillas.

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One by one, the tortillas get cooked in a non-stick pan with a bit of vegetable oil – just one minute per side, but multiply that by 12 and you’re standing there for nearly half an hour. I made the most of my time by rolling out each piece while the tortilla before it cooked over the stove top.

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If you’ve only ever experienced the store bought tortillas, I promise this will change your life. As with many basic breads (English muffins, dinner rolls, etc.), I have trouble describing just how good these are – the best way I can explain it is that they actually taste like something. They’re good enough to eat alone, especially if you heat them up a bit. We ate ours with Chicken souvlaki and homemade tzatziki – a meal more suited to pitas, but that tasted wonderful with these tortillas.

Bake these at your own risk – once you start, you’ll never be able to go back to the store bought stuff.

Bobbette & Belle’s Fleur de Sel Caramels: From Chaos to Caramel

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I had the brilliant idea to make fleur de sel caramels from my Bobbette & Belle cookbook and to give them out at Christmas time.

This, despite my fear of candy thermometers and all things candy making.

I just love caramel, and I knew that deep down, I had what it takes to make delectable, chewy, soft caramels. And it turns out that I did – I made many incredible morsels of caramel that certainly held their own against the fancy schmancy ones that sell for like, $12 for 6 pieces. But the road to tasty caramels was not an easy one.


Here is the truth: this post does not have very many pictures of the actual baking process. There are three reasons why:

  • When I decided to make the recipe, Cedric wasn’t home and I didn’t realize that he had taken the camera – which, to be fair, is his camera – until I was already underway.
  • It was already dark out and the non-natural lighting in my kitchen is super harsh and makes for ugly pictures.
  • Most importantly, the process was so chaotic that even if I’d had the camera and the lighting had been natural and perfect, there’s no chance that I would have had the time (or non-sticky hands) to snap pictures.

So let me tell you the story of the fleur de sel caramels using mostly my words.


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While the Bobbette & Belle recipe did ultimately produce some fine caramels, the directions were a little off. Step one is to spray a 10-inch square baking pan with cooking spray and to line it with parchment. Now, I don’t have a 10-inch pan – but I do have two slightly smaller ones, so I prepped them both. Looking back, if you only used a single 10-inch square pan, you would end up with INSANELY thick caramels. Pro tip: use two pans.

The next step appears to be very simple: you mix sugar, cream, corn syrup, and butter (all my favourite superfoods) into a saucepan, let it boil, stir constantly, and let the whole thing heat to 248 – not 245, not 250 – degrees Fahrenheit. But here’s where Bobbette & Belle confused me a little: they say to use a medium saucepan.

I put the ingredients into my medium saucepan, but everything already almost came to the top of the pan. I knew that once the mixture was boiling, it would likely overflow – a bigger pot was needed.

I have two other pot options: a big old spaghetti pot and a blue Le Creuset dutch oven. The former was presently in the fridge holding some leftover chili (specifically, the Oh She Glows vegan chili – soooo good), so I transferred the ingredients from the medium saucepan to the blue Le Creuse pot.

I turned on the element, set up a candy thermometer, and grabbed my digital thermometer for back up, then let nature do its thing.

Eventually, the mixture started to bubble – my cue to start “stirring constantly”, as per the instructions. As I mixed, the contents of the pot (as I predicted) started to rise. And rise. And rise.

My thermometer wasn’t remotely close to 248 degrees – yet I was quickly running out of space in my pot. As it approached the lip of the pot, I realized that if I didn’t act VERY soon, the whole thing was going to overflow.

I now had a predicament. The medium saucepan would be too small – I needed the big spaghetti one in the fridge. But in order to use it, I would have to take it out of the fridge, toss the leftover chili, and wash and dry the pot. This would entail taking the currently boiling pot off the heat and taking a break from constant stirring. Surely pausing a recipe midway would not be a good thing.

But what choice did I have? Just as the mixture starting to bubble over (and smoke like crazy), I turned off the now-sticky element, moved the pot, and started the process of preparing the spaghetti pot.

Long story short, I poured about half of the contents of the blue pot into the spaghetti pot, temporarily dismantled the smoke detector, and set both of the pots up on clean elements. I now had to juggle stirring both pots while constantly checking the temperature of each to ensure I caught it at just the right time. The candy thermometer was reading much colder than the digital one, so I kept dipping the digital one in and out of the pots – which caused strings of sticky caramel to streak across my kitchen and my clothes.

The race was on to see which pot would reach 248 degrees first. I sincerely hoped they both wouldn’t hit the temperature at the same time because there was no way I could pour two pots of bubbling caramel into two pans at once. Luckily, the blue pot hit 248 just before the spaghetti pot. I abandoned the spaghetti pot momentarily, stirred in a bit of vanilla and salt into the blue pot, then poured its contents into the first prepared baking tin. I sprinkled some fleur de sel over top, then returned my attention to the spaghetti pot, which was rapidly creeping up on 248.

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I took this photo with my phone – you can see hints of the chaos happening in my kitchen.

Once both pans had been filled, my kitchen looked like a total, utter caramel-covered war zone. While the caramel set (it needs to be cooled for 2 to 3 hours), I scrubbed the kitchen back to its original state of cleanliness. At last, it was time to cut the caramel.

The slabs of caramel are transferred from baking pan to cutting board. This is actually pretty easy, as the Bobbette & Belle instructions tell you how to make a parchment cradle of sorts. The knife gets sprayed with a bit of non-stick spray (good caramel hack!), then the chopping begins.

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Another poor quality phone photo – but mmm.

I was relieved to feel my knife glide easily into the caramel – I hadn’t overcooked it, and the fact that it held together solidly meant that I likely hadn’t undercooked it, either. Success!

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Then, the tedious part: wrapping the caramels. I cut small squares of wax paper and, one by one, wrapped each individual piece. At first, I tried wrapping them kind of like a present, but then I switched to a salt-water-taffy-esque twisted wrap. This recipe makes about a hundred caramels – that’s a lot of wrapping.

When my weary joints had twisted the last caramel, I placed them into little boxes and stored the boxes in a sealed Ziploc freezer bag. I didn’t freeze them – I just left them at room temperature. The recipe states that they can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 weeks and, in my experience, that is spot on.

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I came. I caramelled. I conquered. The caramels were delicious and my recipients savoured each and every sweet-and-salty bite. But man, these were a beast to prepare. If you dare make them yourselves, be warned: you’re going to need a bigger pot.


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Bread Illustrated’s Skillet Pizza

It’s been nearly a year since I first cracked open the pages of the Bread Illustrated cookbook. In that time, I’ve made a few different pizza variations. There was the fluffy, cloud-like thick-crust Sicilian-style pizza. There was a thin-crust flatbread style pizza. There were the calzones, which I ended up baking a second time with a proscuttio/cheese mix that was delicious.

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My most recent pizza attempt was for a recipe that seemed to be too easy to be true: skillet pizza. This recipe is in the first chapter of the book, “Starting from scratch” – a.k.a., foolproof recipes that just about anyone can do. As such, I had somewhat low expectations. I didn’t expect it would measure up to the other (very delicious) recipes I’d tried. As it turns out, I was pleasantly surprised.

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The skillet pizza dough is simple to make and doesn’t take much time. There’s no stand mixer required – instead, you pulse together bread flour, yeast, salt, olive oil, and some ice water in a food processor to form the dough. I used a whole wheat bread flour, which made for a delicious crust.

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The dough is then kneaded together by hand, then left to rise for a couple of hours. The recipe includes an easy tomato sauce recipe (which I bungled by forgetting to drain the liquid from the canned whole tomatoes – it was salvageable, luckily) and recommends simple toppings: some fresh mozzarella and fresh basil. You could probably add a little more, but this isn’t a super hearty crust and the bake time is pretty quick, so I think going heavy handed on the toppings could easily result in a sad, soggy pizza. I erred on the conservative side and stuck to the recommended toppings, and it was quite tasty.

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Cedric was eating a chocolate chip banana muffin and wanted it in the shot…

The uniqueness of this recipe is how the dough is baked. The recipe yields two smallish (11 inch) pizzas. You roll out each piece – the dough rolls very easily, by the way – and put it in an olive oil-coated skillet. You cook it on high on the stove top for 3 minutes (make sure the sauce doesn’t dribble out, or it could get a little burny), then pop it in a hot, 500 degree oven for 7 to 10 minutes.

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My timing was a little off for the first pizza, and the oven wasn’t entirely done preheating when I popped the pizza in, so I finished it off with a couple of minutes under the broiler before serving it.

Tip: Don’t forget that the handle of the skillet will be BURNING HOT. I very nearly forgot – that would have been disastrous.

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We drizzled our pizzas with some Nona Pia’s balsamic reduction (straight outta Whistler) and dug in for an unexpectedly delicious – and very easy – pizza dinner. The pizzas were sort of personal-pan sized. I ate about three quarters of one, while Cedric ate one and the rest of mine.

Bread Illustrated keeps on surprising me – just when I think I’ve baked all the best looking recipes, an unexpected hit emerges. Three cheers for skillet pizza!


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Bread Illustrated’s Japanese Milk Bread

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The Japanese Milk Bread recipe is neatly placed in the “Sandwich Breads” chapter of Bread Illustrated, my beloved bread baking cookbook – but quite frankly, it’s more of a dessert than a sandwich bread.

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Soft and fluffy (even when toasted!), this brioche-like bread contains 0% nutrients and 100% sweet deliciousness. It’s a pretty easy bake with uncomplicated ingredients that are already in your average bread baker’s pantry/fridge – what’s not to like?

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This single-day dough starts with an unusual first step: creating a paste with a bit of bread flour mixed with water. You’re meant to microwave the mix, pausing to mix every so often, but we don’t have a microwave, so I did it in a saucepan on the stove instead. Success! It achieved the pudding-like consistency described in the book pretty easily.

The next step is to mix the paste in the stand mixer along with whole milk and a single egg. I took two creative liberties here:

  • I didn’t have whole milk; I only had 1%. I have played around with various milk substitutes in this book with success, so I felt comfortable making the swap here – even though this particular recipe has “milk” in the title. However, I bet you this bread would be even better with whole milk.
  • Though the directions didn’t specifically say to let the paste cool before mixing everything, I decided to give it a minute in order to avoid scrambled eggs. It seemed like the prudent thing to do.
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Sooo sticky… :/

After adding some more bread flour and some yeast, you let the dough sit for 15 minutes, then add a bit (1 tbsp) of sugar, some salt, and some butter. You’re supposed to mix for about 7 minutes (“until dough is smooth and elastic and clears sides of bowl but sticks to bottom”). This step made me nervous – I had flashbacks to the failed Portuguese Sweet Bread recipe – and I frequently stopped to scrape the dough from the bowl to ensure it would “catch” in the dough hook.

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Salvaged?!

The dough then gets a quick, 30-second hand knead on a “lightly floured counter”. I may have kneaded it on a “heavily floured counter” because it just looked so darned sticky. Though I was perhaps a little heavy handed on the flour, the dough ended up being easy to handle and still looked nice and smooth.

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japanese-milk-bread-6After a 1.5 hour rest, the dough is pressed out into a large rectangle, then sliced into two equally sized narrow strips. Each strip is coiled into a ball-ish ship, then the two strips are nestled side by side into a greased bread tin, where they are left to rise for about an hour.

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After rising, it’s 30 – 35 minutes in the oven (mine was in for 33 minutes), then a short rest following by a thorough brushing with melted butter, for good measure. japanese-milk-bread-2As always, I ignored the “let cool completely, at least 3 hours, before serving” and I dug in right away.

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Mmmm. This bread is light, soft, fluffy, sweet, and would make for an incredible French toast. I ate it plain and warm out of the oven, and I also tried it toasted with plum jam for breakfast. Even when you toast it, it stays very soft in the middle.

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I imagine letting the bread cool completely helps make your slices look a little prettier…

Although I’d never heard of Japanese milk bread until I decided to bake this recipe, I have to say – I’m quite a fan!


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Bread Illustrated’s Kouign-Amann: A Colossal Disaster

This one really stung.

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Do not be deceived by this seemingly delicious-looking photo.

I have wanted to make the Kouign-Amann recipe in my Bread Illustrated cookbook for eons. I remember seeing the bakers on the Great British Bake-Off scratching their heads when faced with a challenge that required them to bake this old-school pastry-type thing from Brittany. I was thinking, “I need make this” – and then I was delighted to discover that Bread Illustrated include a recipe for this obscure bread on its very last page.

I’ve read that Kouign-Amann (pronounced kind of like “queen ah-mahn”… I think…) are incredibly delicious. I believe it, too – it’s a laminated dough with lots of butter and a thin shell of caramelized goodness. I just, unfortunately, haven’t had the opportunity to experience the deliciousness for myself.

Because my own attempt at baking Kouign-Amann’s was a total, utter disaster and such a tragic waste of expensive butter.

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Let me rewind.

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I decided to try to bake the Kouign-Amann’s for a book club meeting. Things started out well: the first step involved mixing some dry (flour, yeast, salt) ingredients with some wet (milk, sugar, melted butter) ingredients in the stand mixer, letting it rest, and whacking together a perfect parchment square of butter.

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I love the butter whacking and Bread Illustrated provides a fairly easy way of making the parchment square. It involves carefully measuring and folding a big piece of parchment and then smacking some butter with a rolling pin until it fills the origami-like square.

It is VERY satisfying when it’s finished.

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Then, you laminate everything by rolling and folding and rolling and folding the butter into the dough. This is the same process that I used when I made croissants earlier this year, and let me tell you – it is WAY easier to do in the winter in a cold house! I didn’t have any issues of tearing down or melting butter.

Things were going very well.

(Hahahahaha. Little did I know.)

The sugar step came next (well, one of the sugar steps – there is quite a bit of sugar going on here. It’s a dessert, people). You sprinkle sugar onto the dough and fold it a few times, creating delicious layers of sugar and butter and dough. It’s a beautiful thing.

After allowing the dough to chill in the fridge, literally and figuratively, it’s time to shape these pretty little clover-like pastries. You have to roll and trim the dough into two perfect rectangles. I used a pizza wheel to cut the dough into strips, then squares. My corners were sharp and my dough looked pro – things looked so promising!

(Hahahahaha)

To give the Kouign-Amanns their signature caramelly bottom, you brush each cup in a muffin tin with melted butter and sprinkle in a little sugar (because of course there’s more sugar), tapping out the excess. Then, you dip each square of pastry into – what else – a shallow bowl of sugar, then fold the squares into the muffin tin. The pastry looks a bit like those cootie-catcher fortune teller thingies we all made when we were younger.

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The recipe indicates that at this point, “unrisen Kouign-Amann can be refrigerated for up to 18 hours; let rise at room temperature for 3 to 3.5 hours before baking”. It was getting late, so I popped everything in the fridge – and then I got a text saying that I had to work as an extra on a made-for-TV film set the following day. Which meant that I woke up at 3 AM to take the Kouign-Amanns out of the fridge so that I could bake them before I left the house. Yes, it was totally insane – but I just knew it would be worth it.

(Hahahahahah)

Before you bake them, the Kouign-Amanns get juuuuust a little more sugar and butter: brush the tops with melted butter, dust the tops with a bit of sugar, and bake the whole thing for 25 to 30 minutes.

HERE IS MY TIP: PUT THE MUFFIN TIN ON A COOKIE SHEET.

This is what happened to me: I put the Kouign-Amanns in the oven and set the timer for 12 minutes, which was when I planned on rotating the pan in the oven to ensure an even bake. Then I got out of the way so that Cedric could make his breakfast and coffee. Remember – it is presently 6 AM.

I’m in another room tapping away at my computer when, from the kitchen, Cedric tells me that whatever I’m baking appears to be smoking. I tell him to turn on the oven fan, but he tells me I might want to come take a look.

The pastries have only been in the oven about 5 minutes, but I head over and it smells a little burny. I open the oven and smoke BILLOWS out – I can’t see and it immediately stings my nose and throat. While Cedric is dismantling the smoke detector, I pull the muffin tin out and close the oven door, then proceed to open all the windows to let the smoke escape.

I’m in a bit of a predicament, here. My not-even-half-baked pastries sit pale on the stove, and my oven is still smoking like mad. After a bit of investigation, it appears that something overflowed and spilled onto the bottom of the oven. I’m able to pull out the liner at the bottom of the oven and let some air circulate until the smoke is gone.

I decided to try throwing the Kouign-Amanns back in the oven, despite the fact that they’ve been sitting out for a few minutes and the oven has cooled with all the opening and closing. I cross my fingers and hope for the best as I keep a very close eye on things.

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Unfortunately, luck was not on my side. Although they emerged from the oven looking pretty good – they even had a gooey caramel bottom when I flipped them out, which hardened just as it was supposed to – the taste was seriously compromised.

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Shiny little bottoms

They tasted of smoke – nasty, nasty smoke. You could almost get a sense of what they were supposed to taste like, but the taste of smoke was so overpowering that they were inedible.

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How can something so lovely taste so bad!

I left them for a day, but nothing had changed when I bit into one the next day (the day of my book club meeting). They tasted so badly of smoke that I had to throw the whole batch out. HEARTBREAKING!

I made an emergency batch of chocolate chip cookies for book club. They were good – but they weren’t Kouign-Amanns.

The worst part is that I know I probably won’t try this recipe again for a long, long time – if I ever do at all. They were so labour intensive, and all for naught. I’m thinking I’m better off flying to France and visiting every pastry shop in Brittany to find one baked by a pro.

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: (

I think it’s safe to say that if I had been on the Kouign-Amann episode of the Great British Bake-Off, I would have been sent home.


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Bobbette & Belle’s Banana Chocolate Fudge Cake (in Cupcake and Mini Loaf Form)

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Although I have baked numerous recipes from the Bobbette & Belle cookbook, there is a chapter I haven’t touched. (Until now.)

Layer cakes.

I’ll admit that I don’t like making cakes. Layer cakes? Even worse! They’re tricky to get even, they take forever to assemble, and they’re just so much cake. Cupcakes, muffins, brownies, mini tars – these are all so easy to split up, transport, and share with the masses. Cake? Not so much.

But one day while flipping through my Bobbette & Belle cookbook, I came across this eye-opening text book that is so obvious that I can’t believe I overlooked it:

This recipe also works wonderfully as muffins or a loaf. No toppings necessary.

Wait a minute – you mean I can bake the cake and skip the stacking, assembling, icing, and cake cutting? Brilliant!

The particular recipe that enlightened me was for a Banana Chocolate Fudge Cake. The photo looks decadent and delicious, but it involves a dark chocolate fudge frosting, a chocolate buttercream, a chocolate gaze, and banana chips and chocolate chips as garnishes. That’s a lot of sweetness – and a lot of dirty dishes.

However, the combination of banana bread and chocolate is perfection, so I decided to make these in cupcake form for a friend’s birthday. As a bonus, I’d even throw in one of the toppings: the chocolate glaze, which ended up giving it a gorgeous finish.

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In cake form, this recipe makes three cakes. It yielded me something like two dozen cupcakes and eight mini loaves. I ended up sharing – a lot. (And I can attest to the fact that these freeze and thaw well.)

The execution of this recipe is pretty simple and straightforward. First, you mix ripe bananas with brown sugar, then you add in eggs, vegetable oil, and a bit of salt. Then, you mix in dry (flour, baking powder, baking soda) and wet (milk) ingredients, alternating between dry and wet for a total of five additions. Finally, you stir in chocolate chips by hand. The recipe calls for one cup, but I always add the whole bag.

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The chocolate glaze is relatively easy, too. It calls for melting and mixing dark chocolate and butter in a bain marie, with a bit of corn syrup, vanilla, and fleur de sel.

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At first, I wasn’t quite sure how to glaze the cupcakes and loaves – pouring the glaze over, as I would with a cake, seemed wasteful. I decided to dip the mini cakes into the bowl of glaze. This was super easy, quick, and I think the final result looked pretty pro.

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The glossy topping solidified after a bit of time, but it didn’t lose its sheen. It was the perfect complement to the cake, but the cake really is the star element here (you might say it takes the cake). It’s impossibly moist and has a nice spring to it, if that makes any sense. It’s not overly sweet, although I imagine the three different types of frostings may kick up the sugar level a few notches.

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I’m probably not going to be baking a ton of layer cakes any time soon, but this definitely isn’t the last time I morph a B&B cake recipe into a cupcake recipe.

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