Gluten-Free Blueberry Almond Muffins

Week Twenty-One: Gluten-Free Breads


One of the bonuses of trying to adapt a quick bread recipe to gluten-freedom is that gluten is undesirable in wheat-flour items of this nature.  So theoretically, if you replace the wheat flour in, say, blueberry muffins with a gluten-free flour, it should work out pretty well.  Theoretically, anyway.

Fortunately, this was the case with this recipe.  Now, I’m not suggesting you can go substituting willy-nilly, using tapioca starch in place of wheat flour, or something like that.  You do have to put some thought into it.  Think about the flavors you want to work with (blueberry, banana, apple spice, etc.), and pick some starch that will complement those flavors.  Don’t try to mimic wheat flour, think about switching it for something more flavorful (and gluten-free), things like nut flours, or cornmeal.

For example, in the case of blueberry muffins, I know that an almond flavor will go quite nicely with a blueberry flavor.  So when I found a recipe on the Whole Foods website for an almond-flour-based muffin, I knew I had a great starting place.  Since almond flour is expensive (and I didn’t really have a whole lot left after making macarons), I cut it with corn flour (a more finely-milled type of corn meal), knowing that the corn flavor would also complement the blueberry flavor.

I left the butter content low, since almond flour has a significant fat content, but I think it’s needed for flavor.  (If you’re concerned about calories, I figured out that each muffin has 176 calories.  Make of that what you will.)  Milk, honey, and spices round things out, while the variable milk content makes up for the natural size variation in bananas, and gives the recipe a consistent liquid content.

Speaking of which, yes, there is a smashed banana in this batter, but it doesn’t bring too much of its own flavor to the party; it’s mostly there to add moisture and a little background depth and sweetness.  You could certainly substitute any other smashed or puréed fruit, such as the standard applesauce, or whatever you like.  I think a really over-ripe pear would be delightful.

You could skip the flaxseed, but it’s so ridiculously good for you, I don’t see why you would.  I tend to throw a little into most of my quick breads, not only for added nutrition, but because I love the slightly nutty character it brings.  In gluten-free breads, it also adds structure; so if you make a habit of gluten-free baking, you likely have some on hand.  If you do choose to omit it, though, you should replace it with corn flour, or additional almond flour.

The bottom line here is that gluten-free foods need not be made up of a complex set of ingredients, something that’s trying to imitate wheat flour.  It ain’t gonna happen.  Xanthan gum and sorghum flour may be all well and good, but they’re never going to taste or act exactly like wheat flour.  Don’t fight it; embrace it!  Almond flour is delicious!  It’s no hardship to be relegated to muffins like these.  They came out really, really well!  I was so proud.

I did overmix these slightly, in part from an unabashed joy at not having to worry about over-producing gluten and ending up with tough muffins.  The texture was absolutely not affected, but the blueberries did break up a bit, and stain the batter an interesting purple hue.  (I don’t know, maybe that’s a selling point for you, if you’ve got kids around.  Kids seem to like strangely-colored food, for some odd reason.)

But color aside, these baked up moist and flavorful, the almond flavor not at all overwhelming, just a wonderful match with the blueberries.  Just barely sweet enough, they could handle a drizzle of honey if you were so inclined, but I thought they were perfect as is.  Okay, so they’re a little different from the standard blueberry muffin, but in the best possible way.  These are blueberry muffins made a little more soignée, a little more posh.  Wheat-flour-freaks, eat your heart out!  With muffins like these, who needs gluten?


Gluten-Free Blueberry Almond Muffins
Makes 10 muffins

1 1/2 cups almond flour
1/4 cup corn flour
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 tablespoons sugar
1 medium banana, very ripe
2 to 4 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 tablespoons honey
1 egg
1 cup frozen blueberries, not thawed

1.  Preheat oven to 325º F.  Line 10 cups of a muffin tin with paper liners.  In a medium bowl, whisk all dry ingredients together (almond flour through sugar).

2.  In a measuring cup, mash the banana with a fork until smooth.  Add enough milk to measure 3/4 cup.  Add the butter, honey, and egg, and mix with a fork until fully blended together.

3.  Add the banana mixture to the dry mixture, and stir until incorporated.  Add the blueberries and fold in quickly, until just evenly mixed in.  Divide the mixture between the lined muffin cups.

4.  Bake the muffins at 325º F for about 30 minutes, or until slightly firm to the touch, and just beginning to brown on top.  Remove muffins in paper to a wire rack to cool completely.  Serve warm.


1.  If you can’t find corn flour (very finely ground cornmeal), regular cornmeal will do; it will just be a little more rustic in texture.

2.  Be sure to fold the blueberries in quickly, before they thaw, and using as few strokes as possible, lest they turn your batter a purple color (like mine).

Posted in Quick Breads, Sweet | 8 Comments

Gluten-Free Pizza Crust

Week Twenty-One: Gluten-Free Breads


If I ever were to be diagnosed with celiac disease, I think one of the hardest things to give up would be pizza.  That wonderful meal in itself, that glory of delivery foods, pizza is a crowd-pleasing mainstay of the American diet.  It’s even a bit comforting to have one in the freezer, just so you know you’ll always have dinner in an emergency, should all else fail.  And while it’s certainly convenient to have it delivered, there’s simply no match for fresh, from-scratch pizza.  You can even buy the dough ready made from any number of sources, but it’s so easy to throw together (and so much better and cheaper!), I’m not sure why you’d bother.

For those unfortunate celiacs, there is little choice but to purchase pre-made frozen pizzas of dubious quality, or to craft your own using a list of arcane ingredients that sound better suited to a laboratory than a kitchen.  True, there are restaurants that offer gluten-free foods, but they are few and far between, and even fewer of them offer pizza.

It’s not exactly a matter of simply throwing some flour and water together in the proper proportions, adding yeast, waiting a while, and voila, pizza!  The consistency needs to be spot on – too liquid, and you’ll be eating wafers instead of pizza; too dry, and you’ll be rinsing sawdust out of your mouth.  Besides, who has time to wade through the myriad recipes out there, especially when one celiac’s “best recipe, honest” is another’s “how can you eat that without gagging”?  And it’s not like gluten-free ingredients are cheap to experiment with, either.  Have you seen the price of xanthan gum?  Crazy!

So I can’t exactly offer you an alternative to the bizarro ingredient list, but I can offer you a recipe that doesn’t do a half bad job of mimicking a wheat-flour crust.  The dough is kind of insane; the consistency is somewhere between cake batter and cookie dough.  The recipe directed me to press the dough into shape with oiled fingers, but my dough ended up too sticky for even that.  I ended up having to use a spatula (a cake frosting spatula would be perfect, but I couldn’t be bothered to find mine at the time).  Now that I think about it, that’s what the dough consistency is like: cake frosting.

Another unusual thing about this recipe is the baking process.  Unlike wheat-flour crusts, which are generally topped while uncooked, then baked, these crusts are baked, then topped, and heated again quickly to finish.  This means that if you like, you can freeze a couple of pre-baked crusts for a fast dinner at a later date.

The dough, though a bit tricky to deal with in shaping, baked into a convincing facsimilie of a wheat-flour crust.  I detected no strange or off flavors, and the crust turned out nicely crisp, with a slightly chewy center.  I’m not going to say it was the best pizza crust I’ve ever made, but it certainly passed muster with the three discerning (non-celiac) foodies who enjoyed it for dinner.  It mostly reminded me of one of the better frozen pizzas I’ve ever tried.

As for toppings, I say don’t be shy.  This recipe doesn’t make quite as much crust as a comparable wheat flour recipe might, so one batch won’t be as filling, and toppings will help stretch it (as it were).  Besides, one cure for a less-than-perfect crust is to pile on as much flavor as possible, and this crust could use a little boost in the flavor department.

I topped one of my pizzas with a ricotta-olive oil mixture, yellow tomatoes, and basil, to let the flavor of the crust come through, and to be able to judge it properly.  That one ended up tasting a bit flat, though, and I used a heavy hand with the crushed red pepper at the table.  The other was topped with the same ricotta mixture, fig jam, caramelized fennel, and green onions.  That one was a much better combination, as the fig jam perfectly accentuated the slight sweetness of the crust.  If I may be so bold, I highly recommend using a sweeter set of toppings, accentuated with big flavors: caramelized anything, pears with walnuts and blue cheese, cured olives with garlic jam, etc.  Think big, and let the crust take a back seat.

I think with some experimentation, this recipe could be a real winner.  You could add more salt to the dough to give it more punch, but keep in mind that salt retards yeast activity, so add a little more yeast, or let it rise for a longer time.  Additional honey would not be out of place either, but take care to adjust for the extra liquid, and decrease the amount of water or milk.  As is, this recipe won’t replace my go-to wheat-flour recipe; but if that’s not an option for you, this is certainly a good starting place.  Honestly, if I didn’t know it was gluten-free, I would’ve been fooled myself!


Gluten-Free Pizza Crust
Adapted from
Makes two 10 inch pizzas

3/4 cup tapioca flour (or starch)
1/2 cup white rice flour
1/3 cup chickpea (or gram) flour
1/3 cup sorghum flour
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1/2 cup warm milk (115° to 130° F)
1/4 cup warm water (115° to 130° F)
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 large egg whites, at room temperature

1.  Preheat oven and baking stone, if using, to 400° F.  If you don’t have a baking stone, heat a large baking sheet turned upside-down with the oven.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the flours, xanthan gum, and salt.  Whisk in the yeast.

2.  Combine the honey and olive oil with the warm milk and water, and stir until the honey is dissolved.  Add to the flour mixture in the bowl.  Add only one of the egg whites, and mix with the paddle attachment until incorporated, scraping the bowl if necessary.  If the mixture is dry and crumbly, add the remaining egg white by teaspoons until the consistency resembles cake frosting.  Continue to beat at medium speed until dough is smooth, about 5 minutes, scraping bowl down as needed.

3.  Lay out two 12 inch pieces of parchment paper.  Scrape half of the dough onto each piece.  Using a nonstick or oiled spatula, spread each half into a 10 inch round, as thinly and evenly as possible.  Loosely cover dough with oiled plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm spot until puffy and risen slightly, about 30 to 40 minutes.

4.  Using a peel or a rimless baking sheet, transfer each crust on the parchment to the preheated baking stone, and bake until the top is firm and underside is crisp, about 5 to 10 minutes.  Remove baked crusts to a wire rack to cool slightly, while preparing toppings.  (Crusts may be cooked in batches.)

5.  Top baked crusts as desired.  Brush edges of crust with olive oil, if desired.  Transfer topped crusts to a large baking sheet, and bake pizzas until toppings are heated through and crust is golden brown, 4 to 8 minutes.


1.  Be careful to use white rice flour, since brown rice flour will produce a gritty texture.

2.  White rice flour, tapioca flour (or starch), sorghum flour, and xanthan gum can be found in specialty food or natural food stores.  I found them all at Whole Foods.  Chickpea (or gram) flour can be found at the same, or in an Indian/Asian food store.

3.  I found that the crust “aged” on the plate and held its crunch better the thinner it was, so spread the dough as thinly as possible.  If you like a thicker crust, you can leave it thicker; but I advise you to let it rise for longer, so you get a fluffier and less dense texture.

4.  Take care with toppings, as many ingredients (such as pepperoni, many pre-grated cheeses, and sauces) can contain gluten.  Ricotta is generally considered safe; however, it’s always a good idea to double check the ingredient lists.

5.  Baked crusts can be made ahead and frozen, wrapped tightly, up to 1 month.  Bake unthawed in a 350° F oven until hot, 4 to 5 minutes, before topping and finishing.

Posted in Savory, Yeast Breads | 2 Comments

Herbed Gluten-Free Breadsticks

Week Twenty-One: Gluten-Free Breads


The first time I ever heard of celiac disease, my hairdresser was telling me about a young relative of hers who had just been diagnosed.  “What do you mean, he’s allergic to wheat?” I asked, incredulous.  “What in the world does he eat?”  My younger mind, less exposed to the myriad wonders of the culinary world, could hardly imagine a world without sandwiches or cereal.  I pictured the life ahead for this pitiable boy – a world without biscuits, hamburger buns, or chocolate chip cookies – and I saw only darkness and gloom.

These days, as I’ve expanded my culinary reperatoire and palate, I can imagine living a life without wheat – I’m just glad I don’t have to!  I think I would cry if I actually had to bid adieu to bread forevermore.  But I know that many, many others have had to do just that in their lives, so I’m devoting this week to gluten-free breads, for all you celiacs out there!

Just so we’re all clear, celiac disease is not a wheat allergy, which has its own distinct set of symptoms.  Celiac disease is actually an autoimmune disease, which is triggered by a reaction to gliadin, one of the proteins in wheat that forms gluten.  It prevents the body from absorbing important nutrients, leading to aenemia, weakness, weight loss, and other unpleasant symptoms.  The only treatment available now is a life-long avoidance of gluten in the diet.  And you’d be surprised where you can find gluten: not only in bread or other wheat-based baked goods, but in innocuous-seeming items like soy sauce, instant coffee, sausages, and white pepper, among many others.  Even some toothpastes and lipsticks are off limits!

Because humans have a natural affinity for the familiar, there’s hundreds of products and thousands of gluten-free “bread” recipes out there, for those celiacs that just can’t give up bread.  (I understand; I’d be baking like crazy to try to find something close to wheat bread.)  And sadly, most of those recipes and products are dry, tasteless, glue-y, and just plain gross.

I know, because I just tried my hand at gluten-free breadsticks.  This recipe was hailed as “the best gluten-free bread evar, omg” in the article accompanying it.  And it sucked.  Real bad.   At this point in my cooking life, I think I know from baking; but this threw me for a loop.  I thought the batter looked a bit thin while I was mixing it, a point at which I would normally just toss in another handful of flour.  But, oh no!, this cannot contain any flour!  Should I throw in a tablespoon of rice flour?  What about more tapoica?  What could I add that wouldn’t disrupt the balance of flavor?  In the end, I added nothing; and in the end, I wasn’t able to pipe the “breadsticks” so much as give them a controlled pour.

I poured out as many “breadsticks” as I could, and put the rest in a little ramekin, which I let rise a bit (around 45 minutes), mainly to see what would happen.  Turns out the flat little langues de chat breadsticks baked into crispy-outside, chewy-inside cracker type things, reminiscent of Japanese rice crackers.  Not bad, but certainly not breadsticks.  Meanwhile, the ramekin-baked (let’s say) muffin turned into a gummy, airy thing.  It was like bread and marshmallows joined forces.  Not inedible, but I wouldn’t call it good, and I definitely wouldn’t call it “bread”.  I’m giving you the recipe as I made it, but I say proceed at your own risk.

What I’m getting at is that gluten-free bread is really hard, you guys!  If you have a celiac in your family or circle of friends, I think the most amazing thing you could do would be to bake a good bread for them.  I imagine the effort would not go unnoticed, and would likely be hugely appreciated!  I have a goal this week, and it’s to provide you with some gluten-free recipes that won’t seem like a consolation prize, or a “Great Job!” trophy, but that you’ll want to make even if you’re a wheat addict (like me).

Maybe you can’t eat that artisan loaf, but I’m going to try my darndest to give you celiacs something better than these god-awful breadsticks.


gross little marshmallow muffin


Herbed Gluten-Free Breadsticks
Adapted from Joseph Pace, via The NY Times
Makes 12

3/4 cup white rice flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour (starch)
1 tablespoon nonfat dry milk powder
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 cup warm sparkling water or club soda (115º to 130º F)
Nonstick spray or olive oil, for greasing baking sheet and breadsticks
Flaky salt, such as kosher, or fleur de sel

1.  Preheat oven to 425º F.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the rice flour, tapioca starch, dry milk powder, xanthan gum, gelatin, salt, sugar, and thyme.  Whisk in the yeast.  Add the warm sparkling water, olive oil, and vinegar.  Using the paddle attachment, mix at medium-low speed until incorporated.  Increase speed to high, and beat for 6 minutes.  Dough should be very soft and not pull off sides of bowl; if necessary, add water 1 tablespoon at a time until dough does not resist beaters.

2.  Liberally spray or oil a baking sheet, or line with parchment.  Transfer dough to a large pastry bag fitted with a plain round 1/2 -inch tip.  Pipe 12 breadsticks about 8 inches long, leaving about 2 inches in between. Spray or brush tops with oil, and salt generously.

3.  Bake at 425º F for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.  Remove to a wire rack to cool.  Serve warm.


1.  I think you could safely remove 2 tablespoons of sparkling water from the measurement, but use your judgement.  Apparently, different brands of rice flour will absorb liquid at different rates.  I used Bob’s Red Mill, and ended up with pancake batter.

2.  Tapioca flour (aka: tapioca starch) and xanthan gum can be found at health food or specialty food stores.  I found both at Whole Foods.

3.  I used sparkling water, in hopes that it would lend an airier texture.  It didn’t, so feel free to use still water.

Posted in Savory, Yeast Breads | 2 Comments


Week Twenty: Southern Breads


Hushpuppies!  Who doesn’t love them?  No one, that’s who.  Maybe you’ve never thought about making them in your own home, but they really couldn’t be simpler.  Can you heat oil?  Can you stir ingredients together?  Then you can make hushpuppies.  Oh yes, it’s the glory of fish camps from Virginia down to Miami, from Pensacola to Corpus Christi, it can be yours, and with very little trouble.

But there’s one secret to making the best hushpuppies.  It’s the same reason you pretty much only see hushpuppies alongside fried seafood: hushpuppies taste best when fried in the same oil that previously fried fish.  Not so much chicken, and certainly not potatoes, just fish.  I don’t know why.  This is one of the great mysteries of the world.  Since I can’t really imagine eating hushpuppies with anything but fried seafood, this works out perfectly.

Some night, when you and your friends are feeling up to it, get some good whitefish and throw a party; any type will do as long as it’s mild-flavored and firm-fleshed.  I used tilapia to great success, but whatever’s fresh (or on sale) is great, such as grouper, catfish, trout, cod, or haddock.  Make sure it looks firm, not cloudy, and smells like the sea.  If it smells fishy, throw it back.  Frozen fish is a perfect choice if there’s no reputable fishmonger around, as the filets are frozen almost immediately, and can often surprisingly be “fresher” than the sad, grayish things at a sub-par fish counter.

I’m giving you a recipe below for my favorite beer batter, but use whatever breading or batter you like.  This one fries into a light, almost tempura-like coating, which I just love.  It’s airiness makes a nice contrast to the hushpuppies, which are a bit denser.

Speaking of those hushpuppies, they fry up into amazing little balls of crunchy crust on the outside, and tender, densely moist interior, spiked with the pungent sweetness of green onion.  If you prefer to use another onion, feel free.  I like seeing little flecks of green in amongst the yellow center, but if you don’t, there’s no harm in using a white onion.

I’ve eliminated much of the crumbly (and sometimes dry) nature of the hushpuppy by using corn flour, which is simply a finer grind of cornmeal.  You can find it in some grocery stores, or in many natural-food stores (ahem, Whole Foods).  If you can’t find it, substitute regular cornmeal instead.  They’ll be a bit crumblier, but they should still be moist inside.

If you’re worried about your house smelling like a fry shack, open up some windows, turn on your exhaust fan, and burn some nice scented candles afterwards.  (But I honestly didn’t even notice a shadow of a smell a day later, and this is in 500 square feet total living space.)  Trust me, any lingering smell is worth it – a tantalizing reminder of the feast you enjoyed before.  This beer batter can stand up to any you might find in a restaurant.  Heck, it might even be better than many restaurants.  And when you crunch into those delectable little hushpuppies, savory and full of corn and onion flavor, you won’t even care about the fact that they’re deep-fried.  Wipe that grease off your fingers, and reach for another.  I’ll be joining you.


Adapted from The Joy of Cooking
Makes about 20 

1 cup finely ground corn flour (such as Bob’s Red Mill)
2/3 cup corn meal, preferably stone-ground
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup green onions (2 or 3), finely chopped
Vegetable oil for frying 

1.  Preheat oven to 200º F.  Place a baking sheet in the oven.  Whisk the dry ingredients (corn flour through cayenne pepper) together in a large bowl.  Whisk the eggs and buttermilk together.  Add the egg mixture and the green onions to the dry ingredients.

2.  In a cast iron pan, or any deep, heavy pan, heat at least 1 inch of oil to 360º F.  Prepare a draining plate, by lining a plate with several layers of paper towels.  Drop the batter into the hot oil by tablespoons.  Cook on each side for about 60 seconds, or until golden brown (color will deepen after removed from oil).  Remove to the paper towel-lined plate, let drain for a bit, and then transfer to the baking sheet in the oven to keep warm until serving.  Fry all remaining batter in batches, without crowding the pan.  Serve as soon as possible.


1.  Hushpuppies will keep, wrapped in foil, at room temperature for a day.  If not eating in that time, refrigerate them wrapped well in foil.  Reheat in a 350º F oven for 5 to 10 minutes.

2.  Maybe it goes without saying, but if you’re frying fish with the hushpuppies, fry the fish first, then the hushpuppies.  It should all stay warm in the same oven.

3.  You’ll get the best results if you have a candy or deep-fat thermometer to monitor the temperature of the oil, but my gas stove stayed at a reasonable temperature at just between medium and medium-high.  Keep in mind that the temperature of the fat will drop every time you put something in it.


Bonus Recipe!
Beer Battered Fish
Makes 4 to 6 servings

 1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus extra for seasoning fish after removing from oil
1 pinch white pepper, or to taste
1 cup light beer
1 1/2 to 2 pounds firm, mild-flavored fish filets, such as trout, grouper, tilapia, or catfish
Vegetable oil for frying 

1.  Heat oven to 200º F, and place a baking sheet on one rack.  Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and white pepper together in a medium bowl.  Add beer, and whisk until combined.

2.  In a cast iron pan, or any deep, heavy pan, heat at least 2 inches of oil to 360º to 375º F.  Prepare a draining plate, by lining a plate with several layers of paper towels.   Fully coat each filet in the batter.  Let excess drip off before frying.  Cooking 2 filets at a time, fry fish for 2 to 3 minutes, or until golden brown.  Remove fish from oil with a slotted spoon or strainer, and place on paper towel-lined plate.  Immediately season with salt.  Let drain for a bit, then transfer to baking sheet in oven to keep warm.  Serve as soon as possible.

Posted in Quick Breads, Savory | Leave a comment

Monkey Bread

Week Twenty: Southern Breads


Is monkey bread Southern?  If I’m honest, it’s not actually Southern in origin, nor is its popularity confined purely to below the Mason-Dixon line.  In fact, it’s quite popular all across the country, mainly as a special treat for Christmas.  So why am I including it with a week of Southern breads, in the middle of May?

Well, if there’s one thing I know about Southerners, it’s that they love rich, sweet food.  They don’t want to spend too much time making it, but sure do like a reason to linger with family and friends around a table.  And they want to be able to make it specifically to their liking – however that is, it’s probably just like momma used to make.  Monkey bread fits all of these categories, with the added bonus of being infinitely variable.  No matter who’s making it, it’s always welcomingly familiar, and most always delicious.  You can make it sweet or savory, syrupy or crusty, with or without nuts, in one giant cake or in individual servings.

Monkey bread finds its origins in the same place as cinnamon rolls, in the long trek of sweet, butter-rich breads that originates in the Middle East, travels with the spice trade into Central Europe, and across the Atlantic to America, notably the Eastern coast.  Unlike cinnamon rolls, though, which have their own notable lineage, monkey bread took a cue from the cloverleaf roll, a savory and more refined cousin.  Multiple balls of dough are left to rise in the same small pan (or muffin tin), which hold together while baking, but pull apart easily when done.

Monkey bread is usually baked in a bundt pan, then served inverted, and becomes a fond Christmas memory for many as the balls are pulled off individually and eaten.  The name “monkey bread” likely arises from this en masse grazing, since monkeys are known to happily pick and worry at anything and everything around.  Around a breakfast table crowned with one of these beauties, sleepy and hungry humans must look a bit like a troop of monkeys, plucking at their food.

This recipe makes a quick and simple monkey bread, one that has a lovely crust of cinnamon sugar, and a dough rich with butter and milk.  It’s fairly easy to make, and can sit in the refrigerator overnight after it’s been divided, rolled, and put in the pan, making it perfect for special and lazy mornings.  Of course, if you have any children mucking about your house, this is a perfect recipe for them to help with, and the dough can take a bit of rough handling, and the balls of dough will turn out well now matter how well-shaped or not they are.

Whether you make this bread in the traditional bundt pan, or in individual muffins, it’s always a joy to pull apart and share with family.  Anyone can help make it, and everyone enjoys eating it.  It almost requires you to have friends or family around – can you even imagine making one of these for just yourself?  So sad!  And if there’s something more Southern than a sweet, over-the-top, might-be-breakfast, might-be-dessert food that necessitates a gathering of kith and kin; well, I just don’t know what that is, y’all.  Enjoy!



Monkey Bread
Adapted from Emeril Lagasse
Makes 1 pan, or 16 muffins

16 to 18 ounces (3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour, divided
1/4 cup granulated sugar, plus 2/3 cup, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 cup milk
1/4 cup unsalted butter, plus 1/4 cup, divided
1 egg
1 heaping tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 cup chopped toasted pecans (optional)

1.  In the large bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together 16 ounces (3 3/4 cups) of the flour with 1/4 cup of sugar and the salt.  Whisk in the yeast.  In a glass measuring cup, microwave the milk and 1/4 cup of the butter cut into pieces, in 30 second increments, until the mixture reaches 120° to 130° F on an instant-read thermometer and the butter is melted.

2.  Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture in the mixer bowl.  Using the dough hook, mix on low speed until a rough dough forms.  Add the egg, and continue mixing, scraping the bowl if necessary.  When the dough comes together, and all flour is moistened, increase the speed to medium.  Add the remaining flour by tablespoons as needed to form a cohesive ball of dough that will clear the sides of the bowl.  Knead for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the dough is smooth.

3.  Turn the dough out onto a work surface dusted lightly with flour.  Knead by hand a few times, until the dough forms a ball.  Transfer the dough to a large, lightly-oiled bowl, cover with lightly-oiled plastic wrap, and let rest at room temperature until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

4.  Combine the remaining 2/3 cup sugar with the cinnamon in a small bowl, and mix to blend.  Set aside.  Melt the remaining 1/4 cup butter in another small bowl, and set aside.

5.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface, deflating it.  Knead a few times to expel all the air in the dough.  Divide the dough into fourths, then divide each fourth into 12 pieces, for a total of 48.  Roll each piece into a ball.  Dip each ball into the melted butter, and then coat in the cinnamon-sugar.  If using nuts, sprinkle a layer evenly on the bottom of the bundt pan, or divide all nuts evenly between each muffin tin.  Place the dough balls in a nonstick bundt pan, sprinkling more nuts around dough, or place in muffin tins (3 balls per cup).  Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap, and allow to rise for 30 minutes, or cover tightly and refrigerate overnight (let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking).

6.  After 30 minutes, preheat the oven to 350° F.  When heated, uncover the dough, and bake for 30 minutes, or for 20 to 25 minutes if making muffins.  Remove from the oven, and invert on a platter. Allow to cool a bit before serving and pulling apart the balls.


1.  This bread is best served warm, fresh from the oven, but may be kept for a day or so at room temperature, in an airtight container.  If not eating within that time, freeze the bread, wrapped well.  Bake, unthawed, at 350° F until done (baking time will depend on how big the remaining portion is).

Posted in Sweet, Yeast Breads | 2 Comments

Peanut Butter Bread

Week Twenty: Southern Breads


This bread is extremely Southern.  Not that I have fond memories of growing up eating it, or anything; but it’s a quick bread, and Southerners do love a good quick bread.  Everybody’s momma, or grandmomma, or aunt, or neighbor has their favorite recipe, and will ususally pass it along with their name attached to the title.  I know you’ve got a recipe somewhere called “Sister’s [something] bread”, or “Aunt Whoever’s [something else] muffins”.  It’s also extremely Southern because its major flavoring is peanut butter.

Oh yes, the peanut is Southern.  The USA is the world’s biggest exporter and consumer of peanut butter, and most of the peanuts grown in the US today come from Georgia, Alabama, and Florida.  And I believe there may have been a gentleman in Alabama, at Tuskegee, by the name of George Washington Carver, who did somethin’ er’other with peanuts around the turn of the century.  So what if the first US patent for peanut butter was held by a Canadian?  Mr. Carver and his research saved the Southern post-Civil-War economy from the ravages of the boll weevil!

I had high hopes for this bread; I really did.  I mean, it’s from Paula Deen, the Empress of Butter herself.  If I can’t trust Paula Deen to give me a good recipe for peanut butter bread, then who can I trust?  Nobody, apparently.  The reviews I read of this recipe were lukewarm, at best; but since I trust Paula Deen, and don’t trust teh internets so much, I figured it was worth a shot, with some modifications.

Many complained of the dry texture, so I threw an egg into the mix.  Others complained of its lackluster flavor, so I added vanilla and cinnamon, and substituted brown sugar for white.  In hopes of achieving a more complex flavor and fluffier texture, I switched most of the milk for buttermilk, and added baking soda to compensate for the added acidity.  All these changes, plus it’s from Paula friggin’ Deen!  How could it go wrong?

I don’t know, but it sure did.  I’m sure one of my problems was the use of organic peanut butter (you know, the kind with the massive oil slick on top when you open it), because that was all we had in the house, and I couldn’t be bothered to go buy another jar just for one recipe.  Yes, it does make a difference.  I’ve always heeded those warnings before, but they’re true: organic peanut butter makes a great sandwich, but makes lousy baked goods.  They just come out all grainy, and not very good.

It’s not that this made a bad bread exactly, it was just highly un-exciting.  Certainly not what I’d call unpalatable, but I’m not hanging on to this recipe.  Maybe some extra sugar would help, and maybe a quarter-cup of oil and a quarter-cup of applesauce, I don’t know.  Smash a banana or two into it, and add honey.  It can’t hurt, and might be just what the doctor ordered.

So try this bread at your own risk.  Maybe you know something I don’t, or maybe you’ve just got a severe jones for some peanut butter.  In that case, however, I’d suggest that you’d be better off saving your time and effort, and just eating it straight from the jar.  That’s what I wish I’d done.


Peanut Butter Bread
Adapted from Paula Deen
Makes 2 small loaves

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup milk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1.  Preheat oven to 375° F.  Butter or otherwise oil two 7 x 4 inch pans.  Sift dry ingredients (flour through cinnamon) together.  In a large bowl, whisk egg until blended.  Add sugar, and whisk until foamy and lighter in color, about 1 minute.  Add peanut butter, and whisk until smooth.  Slowly add buttermilk, whisking to incorporate before adding more.  Add the milk and vanilla.  Stir in the dry ingredients until just moistened (some lumps and flour streaks are okay).

2.  Pour the mixture into the prepared pans.  Smooth tops, and bake for about 40 minutes, or until browned and fully baked.  Let cool briefly in pans before turning out onto a wire rack to cool fully.  Serve warm.


1.  Be sure to use regular store-bought peanut butter, not organic, “natural”, or freshly-ground.  Skippy is a preferred brand for baking.

Posted in Quick Breads, Sweet | Leave a comment

Muffaletta Bread

Week Twenty: Southern Bread


I know that most of you have never heard of a muffaletta, let alone had one.  And it’s a crying shame that it’s been all but overlooked by outsiders in favor of that other beloved New Orleanian sandwich, the po-boy.  Nothing against a po-boy, mind you; I absolutely love a good po-boy.  (And I’m still on the quest for the secret to baking my own po-boy bread!)  But the muffaletta is a unique delicacy, often regarded as one of the great sandwiches of the world.

Legend has it the muffaletta (muff-uh-LET-tuh, or moof-uh-LOT-tuh) was invented by one Salvatore Lupo, a Sicilian immigrant who, in 1906, opened the Central Grocery in the heart of New Orleans’ French Quarter.  Around the same time, he started crafting a sandwich of sliced Italian meats and cheeses, topped with olive salad, on muffaletta (“little muffin”, possibly maybe?) bread, a large, flat loaf topped with sesame seeds.  The sandwich became extremely popular, but remained a firmly local treat until about 1960 or so.  You’re still hard pressed to find a half-decent version outside of New Orleans, but at least some people have heard of it, these days.

The Central Grocery still makes the definitive version, but there are some notable contenders to the title: the nearby Napoleon House (still the best Pimm’s Cup in town), R&O, Frankie & Johnny’s, and Nor-Joe, to name only a few.  Now, some will tell you that the Napoleon House’s version is blasphemy, since they toast the sandwiches before serving.  Me, I can’t see the point in getting your panties in a bunch over sandwich temperature.  Some like it hot, some like it cold, to-may-to, to-mah-to.

What is important, though, is the olive salad.  Some people insist that you have to have specific meats, but typical inclusions are ham, capicola, salami, mortadella, and everything in between.  Some also insist that emmental is the cheese to go with, as they do at the Central Grocery, but most places use provolone, mozzarella, or both.  I say, use whatever quality meats and cheeses best suit you; but you’d better not skimp on that olive salad.  God help you if you cheap out on the olive salad.  In New Orleans, you can buy jars of it ready-made, and depending on where you get it from, it can be quite good.  Yes, Central Grocery sells theirs.

But if you live out of town, you’re going to have to make your own.  This is not a hardship, as it’s quite easy, and homemade is usually the best way to go with such things.  Oh, and make a large batch, because you’ll use more than you realize on the sandwich, and you’ll definitely want some left over to toss into pasta, serve with fish, or top another sandwich with.

This recipe makes a giant round of bread, one that’s pretty good on its own, but becomes outstanding when used as the base for a muff.  You need a fairly dense-crumbed bread, one that can stand up to the oil-rich olive salad without falling apart.  The sesame seeds on top can be left off, but don’t serve that sandwich to any New Orleanians.  You will be sussed out.

As you can see in the picture above, my bread developed a quite large air bubble right in the center of the loaf, just under the crust.  For that reason alone, I should’ve put the olive salad under the meat and cheese, not on top.  That is also where it traditionally goes (so the oil can soak into the thicker bottom crust); but I was rushing a little, and rather forgot.  Also, I’ve always had a thing about putting meat on top of loose things in a sandwich.  It just doesn’t seem right.

Besides, I wanted to take a picture of my olive salad in situ, to show scale (below).  In case you missed it, this is a massive friggin’ sandwich.  Just massive.  They say a whole muffaletta serves 4 (or 2 hangovers), so a quarter-sandwich per person.  But my boyfriend and I split a quarter for dinner (with side salad), and were fully satisfied.  But then, maybe my bread came out a skosh bigger than the typical muffaletta bread; it’s hard to say.  However you choose to split it is up to you; just make sure you’ve got some friends around to share with!



Muffaletta Bread
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Makes 1 large round

For starter:
4 1/2 ounces (1 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon instant yeast
1/2 cup water, at room temperature

For dough:
1 pound (about 3 1/2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 cup water, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Sesame seeds

For finished sandwich:
1 loaf muffaletta bread, split horizontally
1/3 pound mortadella, sliced thinly
1/3 pound salami, sliced thinly
1/4 pound mozzarella, sliced thinly
1/4 pound provolone, sliced thinly
Olive salad, recipe below

1.  Make the starter by whisking the flour and yeast together in a medium bowl.  Add the water and mix together until smooth, kneading if necessary to moisten all the flour.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature overnight, or for 8 to 12 hours.

2.  To make the dough, reserve a handful (about 1 ounce) of the flour.  Set aside.  Whisk together the remaining flour and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Add the water and all of the starter.  Using the dough hook, mix together until all flour is moistened and a rough dough forms.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, still on the mixer, and let stand 20 minutes.

3.  Uncover the bowl.  Add the salt and knead until the dough is soft and comes together in a cohesive ball, adding the reserved flour as needed to achieve the proper consistency.  The surface will look a bit rough.  If the dough stick to the dough hook, you may need to knead the dough by hand on a work surface to evenly distribute the salt.  Transfer the dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise for 1 hour.

4.  Using a nonstick spatula, gently deflating and fold the dough over itself in a tri-fold (like you’re folding a letter).  Cover and let rise again for 2 hours.

5.  Repeat the folding procedure, then turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Shape the dough into a 14 inch round, taking care to make it as smooth and evenly round as possible.  You can use a rolling pin, or just press and stretch it with your hands.  Transfer the dough to a parchment paper-lined or lightly-greased baking sheet.  Cover loosely with lightly oiled plastic wrap, and let rise until nearly doubled in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

6.  Preheat the oven to 425° F.  Spritz or lightly brush the top of the loaf with water, and sprinkle it liberally with sesame seeds.  Put the loaf in the oven, and bake at 425° F for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool thoroughly before slicing horizontally, filling, quartering, and serving.  Can be made a few hours ahead and stored wrapped in plastic at room temperature.  Muffalettas should always be served at room temperature.


Olive Salad

1/2 cup pimiento-stuffed green olives, good quality
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted
1 cup mild Giardiniera (drained if not homemade)
1/3 cup non-pareil capers, rinsed
1/2 cup habanero-stuffed green olives, chopped finely
5 to 10 cloves garlic, chopped finely
3 or 4 green onions, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 teaspoon Creole seasoning (such as Tony Chachere’s)
1 teaspoon dried oregano (2 teaspoons fresh)
1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
Olive oil
Black pepper

1.  Combine all ingredients together in a large, non-reactive bowl, adding olive oil and black pepper to taste.  Mix with your hands, squeezing and crushing the whole olives.  Correct seasoning if needed, and let stand at least 1 hour at room temperature.  Mixture will keep several weeks in refrigerator, sealed tightly.


1.  If you don’t have time to wait for the starter, it can be omitted.  In this case, double the yeast in the dough to 1 teaspoon.  Proceed as directed, adjusting flour levels as needed.

2.  After shaping the loaf in step 5, it can be covered loosely and refrigerated overnight.  Let the loaf sit at room temperature while you heat the oven, for at least 30 minutes before baking.

3.  You can add or substitute ham in the finished sandwich if you like, but I’m a fan of salami and mortadella on their own.

4.  In the olive salad, proportions are variable according to taste.  No one’s going to come find you in the night if you add pickled pearl onions, or omit capers.  I love the heat of the habanero-stuffed olives, but if you can’t find them (I get mine at Whole Foods), feel free to substitute with pimiento-stuffed ones.

5.  And speaking of pimiento-stuffed olives, I recommend getting them from a reputable bulk olive bin, not in jars.  They tend to be mushy and gross in jars.  If you have no bulk olive bins around, replace them with plain green olives of good quality, and roasted red peppers (homemade or jarred).

6.  I will come find you in the night if you use canned black olives.

7.  You can use 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning instead of the oregano and Herbes de Provence, if you like.

8.  Muffalettas keep extremely well wrapped very tightly in plastic, and refrigerated.  Some people even weight theirs down, to let the olive salad soak into the bread.  Some also say they’re even better the second day.  Bring them to room temperature before eating.

Posted in Savory, Yeast Breads | Leave a comment

Fluffy Buttermilk Biscuits

Week Twenty: Southern Breads


Oh, yes, we Southerners love our biscuits.  If you know what you’re doing, you can whip them up in no time flat, and they’ll go with every meal, from breakfast to dessert.  There’s nothing like being woken up to the smell of sausages cooking in a skillet, while piping hot biscuits are being pulled from the oven.  So what if they come from a tube?  Biscuits are always delicious, and always apropos.

I have to say, canned biscuits are a secret weakness of mine.  I’ve finally tried my hand at from-scratch biscuits enough that I can manage some pretty good ones, but if I’m feeling rushed, I’ll still fall back on that convenient standby.  (Please don’t tell anyone.  I do have a reputation to uphold.)  Yes, I know the ingredient list is a mile long, and that they’re full of preservatives from here to next Thursday.  But even my Old Kentucky Grandmother uses canned biscuits, and you just know Nanny is unimpeachable in the kitchen.

But honestly, there’s no replacing a fresh, homemade, buttermilk biscuit, all warm and soft, with the most delightfully crunchy crust.  And even better, there’s not even a hint of shortening in this recipe, unlike my last take on biscuits.  There was a reason for that, however, which I explained rather thoroughly in that post.  Flaky biscuits, like those, need rolling out to achieve those flakes, and therefore need the extra plasticity of shortening.  All-butter flaky biscuits would end up rather tough for all but the most experienced biscuiter.

Fluffy biscuits, however, need nothing of the sort.  All they need is a quick hand and a light touch, and you’re halfway there.  It’s all butter, all the time, here.  You need to move quickly, since the goal is to keep the butter cold while blending it into the flour.  If it melts into the flour, gluten starts forming, which makes your biscuits tough.  So move fast, use a pastry blender, or a food processor.

But I don’t have a food processor big enough to make a batch of biscuits.  And I don’t have a pastry blender.  I do have cold hands, though, and that’s good enough.  I also have a little trick: rather than get my hot little fingers all over large pieces of butter, melting it; I cut the butter into little bits first, then freeze them while preparing the other ingredients.  Mixing small bits of very cold butter into flour with your hands is much, much easier, and requires hardly any handling at all.  The trick is to cut the butter into as small pieces as you can manage.  (I had a chef instructor at culinary school who swore by grating a stick of well-frozen butter into the flour, then simply tossing it to coat, no real handling needed.  Theoretically I agreed; however, I could never get the hang of grating frozen butter without melting it in my hand.  To each his own.)

Additionally, once you’ve added the buttermilk to the flour mixture, you need only to mix until just moistened.  Once any liquid hits that flour, gluten starts forming.  The more gluten that forms, the tougher your biscuits become.  You can either stir in the moisture gradually (which supposedly produces a better result), but I actually prefer to add it all at once, and fold it together in as few strokes as possible.  If it still looks dry, you can always drizzle a little more buttermilk over the dry bits, and fold once or twice.

These are baked in a cake pan or pie tin, with the sides touching.  This helps the biscuits rise higher in the oven, since they essentially grab onto each other as they rise.  You can also bake all these biscuits together in a 9 x 18 inch baking dish, or even clustered together on a baking sheet.  They stay softer and more moist this way; but if you prefer crusty-edged biscuits, you can certainly spread them apart and bake them separately.

No matter how you bake them, though, you’ll end up with a fluffy, crumbly biscuit, barely sweet, and full of buttery flavor.  I could eat a plateful of these just plain, but they’re the perfect biscuit for any application.  Split them with a fork, and make sausage biscuit sandwiches for breakfast.  Poach an egg, blend up some hollandaise, and you can serve eggs Benedict to some very lucky brunch guests.  Serve these biscuits alongside fried chicken (even store-bought), or with a hot bowl of white beans and ham hocks.  These would also be the perfect biscuit topping for any casserole dish that uses one (chicken pot pie, for example).  And for dessert, do as they do at Commander’s Palace (where this recipe originates) – split them in half, top them with quartered strawberries and vanilla whipped cream, and enjoy the best strawberry shortcake you’ve ever had.


Fluffy Buttermilk Biscuits
Adapted from Commander’s Kitchen, by Ti Adelaide Martin and Jamie Shannon
Makes 16 biscuits

2 sticks cold unsalted butter
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 3/4 to 2 cups cold buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda

1.  Preheat oven to 400° F.  Cut each stick of butter lengthwise into 4 pieces, then cut crosswise into as small pieces as possible.  Pile loosely on a small plate, or in a bowl, and freeze while preparing remaining ingredients.

2.  In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Add butter and very quickly pinch and rub in with fingertips, tossing the mixture around to be sure to reach all pieces of butter, until the mixture resembles coarse meal.  Pea-sized lumps are just fine.  Mix together 1 3/4 cups of the buttermilk and all the baking soda.  Add buttermilk mixture, and fold quickly but gently with a fork or nonstick spatula just until large moist clumps form.  If dough looks dry in places, drizzle additional buttermilk over in small amounts, and fold once or twice.

3.  Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface.  Press dough gently into a flat round, at least 3/4 inch thick.  Using a round cutter, cut as many biscuits as possible.  Do not twist cutter; press straight down into the dough.  Transfer biscuits to an ungreased, nonstick cake or pie pan, so that they touch each other.  This helps them rise taller, and keeps them moister.  If you prefer a crusty-sided biscuit, space them evenly on an ungreased baking sheet.

4.  Bake biscuits at 400° F for about 20 minutes, or until lightly golden brown on top.  Let cool in pan a minute, then remove biscuits to a wire rack to cool completely.  Serve warm. 


1.  Biscuits can be stored at room temperature, wrapped tightly in aluminum foil, for 6 to 8 hours.  Before serving, rewarm in a 350° F oven for 5 minutes.  If not eating within that time, freeze, wrapped in foil.  To serve, bake unthawed and unwrapped, for 10 minutes at 350° F.

Posted in Quick Breads, Savory | 2 Comments

Southern-Style Cornbread

Week Twenty: Southern Breads


When I decided to focus on Southern Breads this week, there was one bread I knew I had to feature: Southern-style cornbread.  Unlike its sweeter, more cake-like Northern counterpart (and my preferred style of cornbread, hometown notwithstanding), Southern cornbread is decidedly savory, and usually rather flat.  And for the most part, it rather tastes that way to me, too.

I know, half of my problem was growing up on those lovely little blue boxes of Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix, which lists sugar as its third ingredient (and it’s delicious).  But considering that I don’t otherwise have much of a sweet tooth, could that really be all there was to it?  I wasn’t really convinced.  Knowing what wonderful cooks Southerners can be, how come so much of their cornbread just tastes dry, crumbly, and overwhelmingly of bacon fat?

A revelation came recently, in the form of boiling water.  When I recently made the vaguely-titled Swedish Peasant Bread, it used a scalding technique, wherein you pour boiling water over some of the flour and let it sit for a little while.  That method produced some of the best bread I’ve ever made, and is a much-reminisced-about part of this project.  (Seriously, if you haven’t made it, you really should.  It’s shockingly good.)  And then again, when I made Anadama Bread, with its fairly high percentage of cornmeal in a yeast-risen dough, I was surprised by the lack of graininess, usually a problem when including cornmeal in bread dough.  Again, the difference was the use of a boiling water-cornmeal mush, rather than raw cornmeal.

So when I found this recipe from John Folse, that master of the Southern and Creole/Cajun kitchen, that used a scalding technique, I knew I had to try it.  Not only that, but it listed bacon fat, that answer to all your Southern cooking problems, as its first ingredient – but there’s barely more than a tablespoon.  Could this be the recipe to change my mind?  Might I finally cross over to the cornbread of my birthland?

I have to say, this is probably the best Southern cornbread I’ve ever had.  The scalding method eliminates much of the dry, sawdust-y texture of many a hoe-cake I’ve tried; and there wasn’t a bit of greasiness to it, just a welcome back note of full-flavored bacon fat to accentuate the cornmeal.  Lightened by the use of all-purpose flour, this bread was far thicker than the typical flat cornbread below the Mason-Dixon, but it was still not quite as airy as my favorite Northern-style cornbread.  Denser, yes, but not unpleasantly so, and quite moist.  The flavor of corn was in full force, and yet was tender, not too crumbly.

I’m not sure how authentic some sticklers might find this, but it’s from John Folse, and that’s a good enough authority for me.  Will I make this again?  Absolutely; and a large plate of creamy red beans and rice would be the ideal match.  Am I totally converted?  Well, let’s just say I’ll put this in rotation with my favorite Northern-style recipe.  What can I say?  I grew up on Jiffy!

[By the way, John Folse makes a damn good triple cream cow’s-milk cheese, his award-winning Fleur-de-Lis.  If your local cheesemonger can get you some, you have to try it.  I can get it at Whole Foods in Chicago, even.]


Southern-Style Cornbread
Adapted from John Folse
Makes one 8 inch round

4 teaspoons bacon drippings (or 2 teaspoons butter and 2 teaspoons vegetable oil)
1 cup yellow corn meal, preferably stone ground
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon baking soda
3/4 cup rapidly boiling water
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup milk
1 large egg, beaten lightly

1.  Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat oven to 450º F.  Set 8-inch cast iron skillet with bacon fat (or butter and vegetable oil, see note 1 below) in heating oven.

2.  Measure 1/2 cup cornmeal into a medium heatproof bowl. Mix together the remaining cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a small bowl, and set aside. Pour the boiling water all at once into the 1/2 cup cornmeal; stir to make a stiff mush.  Whisk in the buttermilk and milk gradually, breaking up any lumps until smooth, then whisk in the egg.  Set aside until the oven is fully preheated.

4.  When oven is preheated and skillet very hot, stir the dry ingredients into the mush mixture until just moistened.  Carefully remove the skillet from oven.  Pour the hot bacon fat into the batter and stir to incorporate, then quickly pour the batter into the heated skillet.

5.  Bake at 450º F until golden brown, about 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and instantly turn corn bread out onto a wire rack.  Cool for 5 minutes, then serve immediately.


1.   If using butter and vegetable oil instead of bacon fat, you may want to add it to the hot pan after it has preheated, rather than heating it in the pan with the oven.  Butter has a lower smoke-point than bacon fat, and may scorch.  If it starts to smoke, and you’re concerned, better to cook the bread in a less-than-fully-hot skillet, rather than with burnt butter.

2.  If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, a 9 inch round cake pan or a 9 inch square baking pan, greased lightly with butter and not preheated, will also produce acceptable results.  In this case, though, you may want to double the recipe, and baking the bread for 25 minutes.

Posted in Quick Breads, Savory | 2 Comments


Week Nineteen: French Breads


You’ve had a croissant; I know you have.  Why on earth would you ever want to make your own croissants?  You can buy them at any old grocery store.  They even come in a tube, for heaven’s sake.

Puff pastry fat, is why.  And to understand why that’s important, you have to understand what a croissant is.  Croissants fall into a family of dough called “laminated doughs”, which also includes danish dough and puff pastry.  These are all made up of thin layers of dough laminated or layered with fat.  In the oven, the fat melts and produces steam, which raises the layers of dough, creating a tall and flaky end product.

You have to use fat (instead of water or another liquid) for this so you can keep the liquid in it, and not mixed into the flour (creating gluten, and therefore toughness, and less rising of layers).  This means also that you need to keep your fat solid while making the dough.  Butter turns soft at room temperature, so in order to keep the butter from leaching into the flour (creating gluten as you roll it out, and making it tough), you have to keep the dough cold.  In most hot kitchens, this means only taking it out long enough to give it one or two rolls and folds (which creates the layers of dough and fat).

But then technology reared its fearsome head, and hydrogenated fats were born.  (For those of you who enjoy a commercially-produced croissant, you may want to look away for a couple of paragraphs.)  Hydrogenated fats have much higher melting points than butter, which means that they will stay solid at room or even warm temperatures.  And the more hydrogenated, the higher the melting point.  Hydrogenated fats also have much less moisture content than butter, and are even engineered to be resistant to gluten formation, meaning the the fat is far more workable before it starts to negatively affect the dough.

Puff pastry fat is the most hydrogenated of all.  It is basically plastic.  You can roll out dough from here to next week with the stuff, and still produce a decent dough.  Something like that, I don’t consider to be “food”.  I consider it a “food-like product”.  It won’t kill you if you eat it, but neither will a penny.  Neither are food, though.  Additionally, because of its high melting temperature (above body temperature), that’s why you get a strange film in your mouth when you eat a commercially-produced croissant.  The fat sticks to your mouth, and isn’t melted away, like butter.  The starch from the flour sticks to that in turn, and voila, you’re tasting plastic cotton for hours.

But if you’ve ever been to France, and tasted even one ethereal croissant, I know that flavor is haunting you.  You can almost taste it, right?  That’s butter.  Any self-respecting pâtissière would sooner close shop than use puff pastry fat rather than butter in his croissants.  Yes, it’s a bit harder to work with, but there’s absolutely no comparison when it comes to flavor.

If you can find a good butter croissant at some wonderful local bakery, then by all means, go ahead and buy them.  But if you’re handy with a rolling pin, and don’t mind getting a little floury, then I highly recommend trying to make your own.  The recipe is long, but it’s mostly descriptive; the actual turning and rolling isn’t horribly difficult.  I would, however, say this is a moderately advanced recipe.  On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say it’s a 7 or 8, considering time involvement and all.  But is it worth it?

Um, yes.  Yes, yes, yes.  I tend to be a bit critical of my own cooking, but these croissants literally rendered me speechless.  Perfectly (and I do mean perfectly) flaky on the outside, chewy and slightly doughy on the inside, they melted on the tongue, leaving only an exquisite flavor of butter and the ideal balance between sweet and savory.  They were so feather-light, I was almost afraid of crushing each one as I lifted it from the baking sheet to the cooling rack.  Here was no rustic, hard-crusted loaf to be rapped on the bottom to see if it was done; no, these required as soft a touch as if you were cradling a captured butterfly in a cage of fingers.

So if you ever feel up to a challenge with a guaranteed reward, or if you want to treat a special (and extremely lucky) person in your life, try this recipe.  The effort is not insignificant, but rarely will I say that it is so completely worth it.  If that’s not enough evidence for you, though, take my boyfriend’s word for it.  This is a man who has certainly tasted his fair share of bread over the course of the year; but upon trying these croissants, he said, “I think that’s the best bread I’ve ever eaten.  Ever.”  All I could do was smile back over a plateful of crumbs.



Adapted from Nancy Silverton
Makes 24

1 1/2 cups warm milk (105º to 115º F)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast (see note 1 if using active dry)
17 to 20 ounces all-purpose flour (about 3 3/4 to 4 1/2 cups)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
3 sticks unsalted butter, cold

Necessary equipment: stand mixer, kitchen towel (not terry cloth), ruler, pastry brush, bench scraper, unscented garbage bags.

1.  In the bowl of a standing mixer, whisk together 17 ounces (3 3/4 cups) of the flour and the yeast.  Add the salt.  Stir together the warm milk, brown sugar, and honey, and add to the flour mixture in the mixer bowl.  Using the dough hook, mix at low speed until dough is smooth and very soft, about 7 minutes.

2.  Transfer the dough to a floured work surface.  Knead by hand for about 2 minutes, adding more flour as necessary, a little at a time, to make a soft, slightly sticky dough.  Form the dough into a roughly 1 1/2 inch thick rectangle, and wrap in plastic wrap.  Chill until cold, about 1 hour.

3.  After dough has chilled, arrange the sticks of butter horizontally, their sides touching, on a work surface.  Using a rolling pin, pound the butter to soften slightly (butter should be malleable but still cold).  Scrape the butter into a block, using a bench scraper, and place on a kitchen towel (not terry cloth), folding the towel over once to cover the butter.  Pound and roll out on both sides until the butter forms an 8 x 5 inch rectangle.  Try to make it as square as possible.  Chill, still wrapped in the towel, while rolling out the dough.

4.  Unwrap the dough and place on a lightly floured surface.  Roll the dough out to a 16 x 10 inch rectangle, dusting with flour as necessary, and lifting and stretching (especially in corners) until it’s the proper size.  Turn (spin) the dough occasionally to make sure it isn’t sticking.  If the dough resists, chill on a baking sheet, covered with plastic wrap, for 5 minutes, then try again. 


Put the butter rectangle in the center of dough, so that long sides of butter are parallel to short sides of dough. 


Fold the dough over the butter as you would fold a letter: one third of the dough over the butter,


then the other third over the dough.  Brush any excess flour off with a pastry brush.


5.  Turn the dough so that a short side is nearest you, then flatten dough slightly by pressing down horizontally with rolling pin across dough at regular intervals.  


Roll out the dough into a 15 x 10 inch rectangle, rolling just to but not over the ends, trying to keep it as square as possible.


6.  Brush off any excess flour with a pastry brush.  Fold the dough in thirds like a letter, as before,


lifting and stretching the corners to square off dough, forming a 10 x 5 inch rectangle. 


This is the first fold.  Chill the dough, wrapped in plastic wrap, for 1 hour.

7.  Make 3 more folds in same manner as in steps 5 and 6, chilling the dough (wrapped) for 1 hour after each fold, for a total of 4 folds (see note 2 below).  If any butter oozes out while rolling, sprinkle with flour to prevent sticking.  Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and chill for at least 8 hours but no more than 18 (after 18 hours, dough may not rise sufficiently when baked).

8.  Cut the dough in half and chill one piece, wrapped in plastic wrap.  Roll out the other half on a lightly floured surface, dusting with flour as necessary and stretching the corners to maintain its shape, into a 16 x 12 inch rectangle. Brush off any excess flour with a pastry brush and trim edges with a pizza wheel, or a sharp knife (taking care to cut straight down, not dragging the knife, which will prevent the dough from rising properly along the edges).

9.  Arrange the dough with a short side nearest you.  Cut in half horizontally and chill one half, covered with plastic wrap.  Cut the remaining half vertically into thirds, forming 3 rectangles.  Cut each rectangle diagonally in half to make 2 triangles, for a total of 6 triangles.


10.  Holding the short side (side opposite tip) of a triangle in one hand, stretch the dough, tugging and sliding with other hand toward tip to elongate by about 50 percent.


11.  Return the dough to the work surface with tip of triangle pointing away from you.  Beginning with the side closest to you, roll up the triangle towards the tip.  


The dough should overlap 3 times, with the tip sticking out from underneath; you may need to stretch the dough while rolling.


12.  Place the croissant, tip side down, onto a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Curve ends inward to make a crescent shape if desired.


13.  Make more croissants with remaining 5 triangles, then with remaining dough, arranging them 2 inches apart on the baking sheet.  Repeat rolling, cutting, and shaping procedures with the other chilled piece of dough.

14.  Slide each baking sheet into a garbage bag, propping up top of bag with inverted glasses to keep it from touching croissants, and tuck open end under baking sheet, or cover open end with plastic wrap.


Let croissants rise until slightly puffy and spongy to the touch, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

15.  Adjust the oven racks to upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat to 425° F.  Carefully remove the baking sheets from bags.  Using a spray bottle, or your fingers, spritz water generously inside the hot oven and close the door.  Place croissants in the oven, then spritz again before closing door.  Reduce the temperature to 400° F and bake for 10 minutes without opening door.

16.  Switch positions of the baking sheets in the oven and rotate sheets 180°.  Reduce the temperature to 375° F and bake until croissants are deep golden, about 10 minutes more.  Remove to a wire rack to cool slightly before serving.


1.  If using active-dry yeast, increase the amount to 1 tablespoon + 1/4 teaspoon.  Dissolve the yeast in the mixer bowl with the mixture of milk, sugar, and honey, and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.  Add the salt and 17 ounces flour, and proceed as directed.

2.  In step 7, I find that I easily lose track of the number of folds I’ve made.  To make it easy, write the number of folds you’ve made in permanent marker on the outside of the plastic wrap covering the dough.

3.  If the dough resists during any rolling-out step, chill the dough for 5 to 10 minutes, covered with plastic wrap.  Do not let it rest on the counter, as the butter will get too warm at room temperature.

4.  During any rolling-out step, try to roll the dough equally in both directions.  This will stretch the gluten more evenly, resulting in a dough that will be evenly malleable.

5.  Do not halve this recipe.  If you don’t want to make all the croissants at once, wrap well and freeze half of the dough instead of chilling, in step 8.  Let thaw in the refrigerator before proceeding.

6.  Baked and cooled, croissants will keep 1 month frozen.  Freeze uncovered on baking sheets until firm, then wrap snugly in foil before returning to freezer, taking care not to crush them. When ready to serve, remove foil and bake (not thawed) on a baking sheet in a 325° F oven for 5 to 10 minutes.

7.  If you like, you can roll up a bit of nice bittersweet chocolate into the croissant (step 11).  If you insist, chocolate chips will do the trick, but a good-quality chocolate will do the croissants the most justice.

8.  I’d like to give a quick shout-out to Nancy Silverton, the absolute genius behind this recipe.  She’s an amazing, wonderful, extremely talented baker, who has brought the most delicious bread into my life for years.  (No, I’ve never met her, but I have eaten more than my share of her La Brea bread.)

Posted in Savory, Sweet, Yeast Breads | 8 Comments