Monthly Archives: October 2012

Homemade Pretzels (with rosemary and sea salt)

A few nights ago, we decided to continue our trend of hosting little fetes with a theme.  This time, we decided to head to Germany and embrace Oktoberfest (deemed “Oktobeerfest” by my oh so clever roommate) by dedicating an evening to drinking songs, pretzels, and various types of beer. (…joyeux enfants de la Bourgogne…)

The premise was simple : come prepared with EITHER food, beer, or a drinking song and you are welcome to our home.  My contribution, as I don’t know much about beer, was to make soft pretzels…

I will admit, I’d never made these before.  I didn’t really know how to fold a pretzel or the process by which pretzels are created.  Bread – I can do.  Pretzels ?  The seemed so…beyond my reach.  But that has never stopped me in the past, so I said I’d make pretzels and pretzels I made (à la “so it is written, so it shall be.”  I’m currently writing a theology paper.  Can you tell ?)

In any case, I decided to try two different types : one with rosemary and the other plain with sea salt – just like at the fair.  Both were remarkably simple to concoct and the only slightly intimidating portion was the baking soda bath – I’ve never boiled bread dough before, but it was surprisingly simple and stress-free.   Needless to say, my trepidation about making a new food was unfounded, as everyone devoured these pretzels like it was their job – literally, there were NONE left at the end of the night.  I served mine with mustard (and beer…), but for those who don’t enjoy mustard as much as this little dijonnaise (ben, fausse dijonnaise mais c’est pas important), cheese sauce is also welcome.

Guten Appetit !

For the plain dough :

1 tsp yeast
1 tbsp brown sugar
3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup warm milk (about 50 seconds in the microwave)

For the rosemary dough :

1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 1/4 tsp yeast
1 tbsp olive oil
4 1/2 cups flour (potentially more)
2 tbsp rosemary

The procedure is the same for both of the dough varieties – I’ll probably intermix the photos but I promise, the process is the same.  Start by mixing the dry ingredients together.  Depending on the kind of yeast (ex active dry or rapid rise) you use, you can just mix it right in with the flour.  If you are unsure, you can mix the sugar, warm liquid, salt and yeast together in another container and let it proof for about 10 minutes or until nice and foamy.  I did NOT do this because I’m lazy and everything worked out just fine.

Make a nice little crater in the flour mixture and pour the milk in and oil in to the moat.

Stir together – I jumped right in and used my hands but if you have an electric mixer, that’s fine too.  If using an electric mixer, add flour until the dough naturally forms into a ball.  If using your hands and good ole fashioned elbow grease, add flour until you feel you can knead it on a countertop.

Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes or until the dough is nice and smooth and feel like (I kid you not) a baby’s bottom.


Place in a large, well-oiled bowl and let rise (covered) for 1 hour.

When doubled in size, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead a little bit to deflate. Shape into a log and divide into 7 (sea salt) or 8 (rosemary) even pieces.  I just used a sharp knife and eyeballed the sizes.  Cut with conviction !

Rolling the smaller pieces into dough can be a little challenging.  I made a video (!) but it’s sideways…and I don’t know how to turn it.  Basically, take the piece of dough and roll it between your hands until it starts to form a cylindrical shape.  Then, grasping both ends, spin it like a jumprope, pulling to lengthen.  Before you know it, you’ll have a nicely shaped cylinder.

You can even out the shape on the countertop, as you want them to be about the same thickness and to measure just overa foot – these will make a nicely sized pretzel.


Let the dough rest for about 10 minutes in this shape before reworking into pretzel form.

Roll slightly on the counter before turning up the two ends to make a U-shape.  Cross these two ends over one another, twisting once.

Secure at the bottom of the U-bend, pressing gently but not too hard – we want to keep as much air in the dough as possible.  Let sit on the counter and prepare a large cookie sheet (lined with parchment paper OR well-oiled) for baking.

Then comes the chemistry lesson.  Pretzels gain their unique flavor due to a special ritual completed before baking : a lye bath.  Lye is a VERY strong base than can cause burning of the skin, so I balked a little when I discovered this fact.  However, lucky for us, a common ingredient on bakers’ shelves is ALSO a fairly strong base…BAKING SODA !  Instead of using lye, I made a solution of baking soda and water.  I used a ratio of 4 tablespoons soda to 2 cups of water and the flavor of the pretzel crust wasn’t sharp, yet still retained enough bite to be called a pretzel.

Mix together the water and the soda in a pot on the stovetop and bring to a boil.  Using a spatula, scoop up the soft pretzel and immerse in the soda bath for about 10 seconds. Remove promptly, shake a little, and place on the baking sheet.  Sprinkle with salt/rosemary.  Repeat for all the pretzels.


Place in a 425F oven for about 15 minutes or until the pretzels are a bronze color – these will be soft pretzels, so you won’t be able to tap them and know that they are done.  I found the best way to be sure was to sample them… 😉

Serve with some Dijon mustard (nice and grainy) or cheese sauce and a stein of cold beer – I recommend Grimbergen amber ale.  Delicious.

Happy fall !

Categories: English | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sour Cream Coffee Cake


I have a lovely friend, Zachary, whom I rarely see for more than 30 seconds at a time.  He has the most fantastic speaking voice I have ever heard, and for some reason, whenever we cross paths, I have a tendency to let out my New York accent (I hail from Boston, so this manner of speaking is entirely foreign and just a voice I imitate), singing “ZACHARYYYY !” from across the room/street/hallway/take your pick.  In order to spend a little more “quality time” together, he suggested brunch.  What to make, what to make….Ooh !  I know !

Cawfeee cake !

My mom used to make this when I was little and bring it over to the relatives’ place for Easter morning nibbles. I thought it would be an appropriate addition to the Sunday brunch spread, as it isn’t a light cake – made with sour cream, it’s very moist and delicious with (what else?) coffee ! (Or tea, if you prefer a little Earl Grey in your life).  The mixture of cinnamon, oatmeal, and sugar on top is divine – I often add more than the recipe calls for.  Also – I did not have pecans in my pantry BUT chopped nuts are a must (if you like them) as they bring a little texture to the cake.

For the topping:

1/2 cup granulated or brown sugar, or 1/4 cup each
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
1/2 cup rolled oats

Put the flour, cinnamon, salt, sugar, cloves, and nutmeg in a small bowl and mix with a fork until crumble.  Add the nuts and oats and stir to combine.  Set aside.

For the batter:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream or plain yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
A sprinkling of cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease one 9-inch square pan,9-inch Bundt or tube pan, or 9-inch springform pan.  When I say grease, I am not joking,  Don’t skimp on the butter or the oil or the Pam when greasing this pan – my Bundt pan is old and dented and definitely not non-stick and I got my cake out just fine; however, know that it isn’t always easy given the nature of the topping.  You have been warned !

In a large bowl, beat the butter until smooth, about 1 minute. Gradually add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. It’s not easy to do in a whisk – your arm will be sleepy – but it’s worth it as this smooth incorporation will affect the texture in a positive way later (light and fluffy!).

Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Blend in the sour cream and vanilla. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir in the flour mixture, mixing until just combined.

Assembly :

Spread half of the batter in the prepared pan and smooth with a spatula to make it even and flat.

Sprinkle with half of the streusel mixture – again, smoothing with the back of a spoon to keep the layer relatively level.

Carefully cover with the remaining batter and…

…sprinkle with the remaining streusel.

Bake until the cake is golden and pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 50 minutes. It takes a long time to cook, but you’ll smell it when it is done – the top may also crack a little bit.  Set on a rack and let cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes. To remove from the Bundt pan, “run” a knife around the edges (really, just poke knife down the sides and lift a small bit all the way around the cake pan).  Turn the cake out onto a plate and tap the bottom.  If it doesn’t come out, run the knife around the edges again.  Tap tap tap. It should pop out with a little patience.

I prefer to serve this warm with a hot beverage but it’s just as good cold.  Gather your Sunday morning buddies, give them a cawl for cawfee cake and have a bawl !

Bon appétit !

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Pumpkin and Rosemary Braided Bread

Autumn has finally descended upon my neck of the woods (so to speak) and with it, the arrival of “all things pumpkin” as the Internet (and Starbucks…and Trader Joe’s) tends to tout.  I will freely admit that I have a sweet spot for pumpkin – its flavors hint at nostalgia without the tears.  My roommate, after a Trader Joe’s run, returned home with pumpkin soup, pumpkin chai tea, pumpkin rooibus tea…and then there was me with my gigantic can of pumpkin purée.

The question is, however, what can you do with pumpkin puree that is new and exciting ?  I’ve made the muffins, I’m made the quickbread, and the pie has a place on a Thanksgiving table.

So began the hunt for a new way to use pumpkin.  I knew I wanted something more on the savory side…like…a dinner roll !  A yeast bread !  Hm !

I found a great recipe from the King Arthur Flour webpage- a simple google search will bring you there (I may have misplaced the link…).  I modified it slightly – the recipe here is halved but makes LOTS of bread (I snuck two medium loaves from these quantities) and I added honey, rosemary, and salt to the mix.  An experiment, the work paid off (nibble nibble nibble) because it tastes just sweet enough to be paired with honey butter or even a marmalade OR a savory dish with chicken or a sauce.  Oo.  Asiago cheese would probably pair well with this concoction as well.  The possibilities are endless !

A wonderfully soft texture and a rich color to boot, this recipe is worth the time and will certainly have a spot on my Thanksgiving table…or my kitchen table.  🙂

For the dough :

1/4 cup warm water
1 package (1 tablespoon) active dry yeast
1/3 cup warm milk
1 large eggs, beaten
1 cups puréed pumpkin, either fresh or canned
1 tablespoons olive oil
3 1/2 cups (approximately) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
A few shakes of ground ginger
3 pinches rosemary

For the glaze :

1 egg yolk,
Some water
Some honey
Some rosemary
Some salt

In a large bowl, combine the 2 1/2 cups flour, brown sugar, yeast, ginger and rosemary.

Stir to combine well.  Add the warm water and begin to stir.  In another bowl, combine the pumpkin, oil, eggs, and milk.

Be sure to allow the pumpkin and eggs to reach room temperature before combining with the other wet ingredients.  Also, the milk should be warmed – yeast likes a warm environment because it stimulates their life cycle/reactions.  And we want those little yeasties to have a party in our bread dough !

Add the pumpkin mixture to the flour mixture and stir to combine. Add about 1/2 cups more of flour (or more) until the dough is tough enough to knead.  Mine looked like this and it worked out well.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Knead, adding flour as necessary, until you have a smooth, elastic dough.  This took me about 10 minutes for me, but knead until you can mold it into a ball without difficulty OR extremely messy fingers.

When you are kneading bread, you are creating gluten networks between the starch molecules.  This changes the texture and facilitates the trapping of the gas released by the little yeasties.  Food.  It’s snazzy.

Place dough into an oiled bowl and cover with a towel (or a plastic bag), letting it rise until doubled, about 1 hour.  If it rises for longer, it won’t be an issue.  But an hour is certainly enough time to get a fantastic reaction out of the dough.

When ready, turn dough out onto a well-floured work surface. Divide dough in half – I did not because I didn’t think I would have such a huge loaf of bread so I have two uneven loaves SO do yourself a favor and split it up). This bread can easily be shaped into loaves or dinner roles…but I thought a braid would be more elegant given the rich color of the dough.

Braiding is actually simple (though it looks tough).  Start by spreading the dough out into a large rectangular shape (photos to follow).  Using a sharp knife, make 4 long cuts in the dough – you are essentially creating a giant jellyfish, with the bit you are cutting turning into tentacles.  (Please excuse the metaphor.  I’m an English minor).  When you make the cuts, LEAVE THE TOP CONNECTED.  You’ll see what I mean in the photos.  Reshape the tentacles so that they are even and then braid them !  Braiding with five is easy – just pull the outside layer from the left to the inside, then the outermost RIGHT side layer to the inside, then left to the inside and right to the inside blablabla until BAM !  You have a giant braid on your hands.  For the last part, just twist them and tuck them under the end of the braid. (The photos are with four strands because I didn’t have an assistant when I did five…)  Pow.  Like magic, you have a snazzy looking loaf of bread.

Lay the bread on a well-oiled baking sheet.  Mix together the egg and water and brush over the top of the bread.  Drizzle honey over the top of the braid, followed by a sprinkling of rosemary and some sea salt crystals.

Let rise for about 45 minutes or until nice and puffy.  Place in the oven and let cook for about 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown.  The bread will NOT sound hollow when cooked, as it is very soft, but I just used my nose.  You can also use a thermometer to test the “doneness” of the bread (I believe it’s 190F….might want to check on that as I possess not such a thermometer.)

Serve nice and hot with melted butter…or place on your table (with a TARDIS !) and let your roommates devour it.  🙂

Bon appétit !

Categories: English | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ratatouille Tarte

So it’s my birthday today (exciting !) and since food seems to be my favorite item of conversation, I decided that a potluck event would be appropriate to fete the addition of another candle on the proverbial birthday cake (so to speak…).  Naturally, I wasn’t going to let the event go by without making a dish – what if no one brought anything ?  What if college kids just brought cookies or chips ???  WE HAVE TO EAT SOMETHING, RIGHT ?

Right.  Sort of. Not really ?

To my pleasant surprise, I was surrounded by such lovely people that I had no reason to fret – worms and dirt, croissants, pita chips and hummus, bean and chicken salad, sweet potato homefries, hungarian and indian style fajitas, multiple bottles of wine and my own tarte set the stage for a fantastic evening between friends.  I am quite lucky to know such people – I think it’s safe to say all tummies were satiated.

In any case – the ratatouille tarte turned out quite well (if I do say so myself).  A recipe hailing from the archives of Food and Wine magazine (My mom clipped it many years ago but dared not make it until many hands were present in the kitchen), this tarte combines the fantastic flavors of the traditional French dish of ratatouille (yes, like the film) with a nice crust of phyllo dough and parmesan cheese.  It’s great fresh out of the oven and perfect as lunch the next day.  It reminds me of late, indian summers that occur here on the east coast with its strong flavors of zucchini, roma tomato, and eggplant.

Allons-y !

For the filling :

1 3/4-pound eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp dried thyme
1 can tomato paste
A sprinkling of oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350F.  Peel and cut the eggplant into rounds, then cut those rounds into chunks.  Place these on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes or until just SLIGHTLY browned.  This will help get some of the moisture out of the eggplant.

Once toasted, place in a large pan with the onion and the bell pepper and a nice dollop olive oil.  Cook until the eggplant is soft – it takes about 10 minutes.  I put the eye on medium, but make sure to stir so that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan.  Add the thyme, salt, and pepper and stir.

When the onions are translucent, add the tomato paste (the whole can !) and stir to combine.  Cover and cook until the moisture has evaporated.  This can be prepared in advance (lovely perk).  Let sit on the stove until the crust is ready to go.

For the crust:

10 fresh phyllo pastry sheets, thawed
LOTS of parmesan cheese
LOTS of olive oil
Provolone cheese

SIDE NOTE : Trader Joe’s now sells phyllo dough !  Make my day !  It’s thin and delicious…I’m quite pleased.  In a tart pan (I used a brownie pan because that’s all I have here….), place a sheet of phyllo dough.

Drizzle olive oil and parmesan cheese on top of the phyllo dough sheet.

Cover with another sheet of dough.  Continue this for 10 layers.  Or more.  It’s delicious, so put the effort in.  It’s well worth it.  🙂

Place the filling on top of the final layer of dough and smoosh down until nice and flat.  Cover in slices of provolone cheese.

For the topping:

6 small plum tomatoes cut into 1/4 inch slices
2 medium zucchini cut into thin rounds
Sprinkling of oregano and parmesan cheese

In concentric circles, layer the zucchinis and tomatoes on top of the provolone cheese.  Feel free to arrange the zukes and tomatoes as you like – this is the moment of CREATIVITY !  Go wild !  Sprinkle the top with oregano and parmesan cheese.

Bake in the oven for about an hour or until the zucchinis are soft.  Let cool for a little while before cutting (or it will be a cheesy mess.)

Eat as a main dinner (or lunch the next day) and pretend you’re in the south of France…or at a birthday party surrounded by friends.

Bon appétit !

Categories: English | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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