Baking for Bookworms: Making Sourdough from Sourdough by Robin Sloan

“I needed a more interesting life.

I could start by learning something.

I could start with the starter.”

― Robin Sloan, Sourdough

Sourdough bread has become something of a fad these days, so much so that there have been flour shortages as everyone else has discovered the benefits of baking on the soul, if not the waistline. I’m not going to lie to you, what I’m about to share with you is a process. But it’s also rewarding, and the end result is worth the effort. When you buy sourdough bread from the store, it’s often a little dry, but when you make it yourself it’s chewy and stays fresh so much longer.

I jumped on the sourdough bandwagon a little late. In fact, I decided to create my own starter after reading Sourdough by Robin Sloan.

Sourdough is central to understanding this book. I mean, it’s the title. But it’s also very much alive in the book, and not just with microorganisms. It acts and has agency, which is a product of the book’s magical realism, and this agency lets an inexperienced baker create some of the best bread she’s ever had. The bread is so alive that when it’s baked where normally you would see the bread’s marks, she sees faces in the bread instead.

The book’s protagonist is an electrical engineer in San Francisco who is getting burnt out. Her stress translates to her stomach and everything she eats is upsetting her system until she finds a little takeout place that makes a spicy soup and sourdough bread combo. The relationship she develops with the brothers that run this underground restaurant leads to a gift of the starter, which she uses to transform her life.

“Baking, by contrast, was solving the same problem over and over again, because every time, the solution was consumed. I mean, really: chewed and digested. Thus, the problem was ongoing. Thus, the problem was perhaps the point.”

― Robin Sloan, Sourdough

Making bread becomes a therapeutic process for her and allows her to find more fulfillment by repeating and refining processes. This book definitely emphasizes craftsmanship, but it doesn’t totally reject technology either, which I found really refreshing. There is a call for reason and moderation, and there are consequences when this idea is violated. And this moderation must be constantly managed because the starter wants to eat; it’s hungry and wants more. Entire civilizations are living and dying within the flour and water mixture. The book explores this way of viewing cultures as a drama taking place on an extremely different scale.

Sourdough also provides a connection to San Francisco, a city that is known for its bread. Thus the newly arrived protagonist is able to connect with the new city she lives in and with herself through the medium of baking bread.

“I have come to believe that food is history of the deepest kind. Everything we eat tells a tale of ingenuity and creation, domination and injustice-and does so more vividly than any other artifact, any other medium.”

― Robin Sloan, Sourdough

So how do you achieve a magical, life-sustaining, delicious loaf of sourdough bread? It’s as simple as mixing flour and water. And waiting. And feeding. And waiting. And feeding. And waiting…

This is the guide I used to make my starter, but there are many more on YouTube.

I’m not going to walk through the entire process of making a starter when Joshua Weissman can do it for me, but it’s super simple. You just need flour (I’ve used all purpose, bread flour, and rye flour. You can use whatever you prefer, but unbleached bread flour will work just fine) along with tepid water (85 degrees F), a glass jar, a scale, and some sort of mixing implement. You can also buy a starter online and have it shipped to you, then you only need to maintain it.

Sourdough is comprised of:

“yeast, which is a fungus, and lactobacillus, a bacteria. They eat flour—its sugars—and poop out acid—thus, sour—”
― Robin Sloan, Sourdough

The yeasts that are in your starter come mostly from the flour you use, which is why so many people use rye flour to make starters because they have a lot of natural yeasts in the flour. This is not essential though. I didn’t use rye flour in my starter until it was already quite active. It does like high quality flours more though… but don’t worry. You’ll get good results with unbleached bread flour of any brand or variety.

Once you have your starter going, you might wonder, what can you do with the starter you have to discard every day while feeding it?

These are my three favorite recipes:

Honestly, there are so many things you can do with sourdough besides make sourdough bread… it is astounding.

But say you actually want to make bread with your starter. That’s perfect. That’s what we’re here for. Here’s how to do it. You know that scale that you purchased for your starter? That’s going to be really helpful here. You may also want to learn about other things like DDT (desired dough temperature), but that’s optional. Also, I won’t lie to you, you’ll get decent results if you bake on a baking steel/stone, but the best sourdough bread at home is going to come from a Dutch oven which helps trap steam and delivers that delicious crust…

This recipe is from Thomas Charles Mathiassen’s Skillshare course on Sourdough bread.

Note: This is not exactly the same recipe as I’m using, but the process is super similar, and I think the visual really helps.

Ingredients for two small loaves

  • 200 g starter (also, you should name your starter! Mine is named Bernadette)
  • 400 ml water
  • 600 g bread flour (unbleached!)
  • 12 g salt

Step 1: Autolyse. Mix the starter with the room temperature water. Add flour and mix with your hand until combined. Let rest covered with a clean tea towel for 45 min.

Step 2: Bulk Fermentation. Add salt and mix thoroughly. Clean the sides of the bowl with a spatula and cover with a towel for 30-45 min.

Step 3: Lift and fold. Since we’re not kneading the bread, this is what helps develop the gluten structures in the bread. Lift and fold, firmly but without ripping the bread, lifting the dough towards the center. Turn and do about 8 folds. Cover and rest 30 min. Do this whole process 3 more times.

Step 4: Preshape. Using a dough scraper or your hand turn the dough onto a lightly floured counter. This recipe makes two small loaves, so divide into two. Now pull and turn the dough so that it folds under itself and creates a bubble shape (see video). You’re trying to create tension in the bread. Cover loaves with a towel and let rest 30 min.

Step 5: Shape. Turn the dough balls over. Lift the corners towards each other top to bottom, side to side, and then diagonal to diagonal. Lift into prepared banneton if you have one or use glass bowls lined with tea towels (this is what I use). Sprinkle flour into your chosen mold. Then plop the dough in (so that the folded side is face up). Now cover with a towel and put in the fridge for 6-12 hours.

Step 6: Bake! Preheat the oven to 475 F with the baking vessel in the oven. I use a deep cast iron skillet with a lid, but a Dutch oven is perfect or you can use a loaf pan. Carefully! Transfer your bread to the preheated vessel and score with a lame (basically a razor blade) or a very sharp paring knife. I pretty much tried every knife we own to find one that cut deep enough (the deeper into the dough you can cut the better!). Bake with the lid on 25 min and then take the lid of and bake an additional 10-15 min. And voila! Sourdough. Now take it out. Let it cool all the way and then cut it up and slather it with butter or jam because after nearly 18 hours of work, you’ve earned it.

The finished product.

Do you have your own starter? Have favorite recipes, techniques, or tools? Let me know in the comments!

Baking for Bookworms: Chocolate cake from Veronica Roth’s Divergent


I’ll be doing a separate post soon about my thoughts on Veronica Roth’s Divergent series, but for now, let’s get cooking! Or baking. Whichever you prefer.

The first mention of chocolate cake happens during visiting day, which doesn’t occur in the movie, but basically it’s a time for the family members to officially say goodbye to each other and wish each other well in their new lives. For Tris, this is a startling moment because her mother reveals that she came from Dauntless and chose Abnegation as her faction:

“She walks away, and I am too stunned to follow her. At the end of the hallway she turns and says, ‘Have a piece of cake for me, all right? The chocolate. It’s delicious.’ She smiles a strange, twisted smile, and adds, ‘I love you, you know.’                        -from Chapter 15

The cake, in some odd way, becomes a symbol of the Dauntless, in the same way plain food stands in for Abnegation. I’m not sure exactly what the chocolate cake is supposed to express, but nevertheless as the series progresses it becomes more and more clear that this is Dauntless’s ‘thing,’ just like eating things out of cans is the what the Factionless do. (I actually think something spicy would be more symbolic. Dauntless are risk takers, but they’re not really all that indulgent. If anyone has thoughts on why their food is chocolate cake, I’d love to read them in the comments!)

But on to the cake!

This is my favorite chocolate cake recipe—it’s cakey and suitably chocolate-y, but you can have a piece of it and not feel totally sweeted out or that it’s just too rich. It’s somewhere in between light and dense and has a mid-size crumb. It’s awesome, in other words.

Recipe from Julie Richardson’s book Vintage Cakes



  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder
  • ¾ cup boiling water
  • ¾ cup full-fat sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, at room temp
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup canola or other light flavored oil
  • 3 egg yolks at room temp (eggs are easier to separate cold—I like to separate and then leave them on the counter with the butter. You can save the whites for a Swiss meringue butter cream)
  • 3 eggs at room temperature
  • your choice of frosting—I like raspberry or fruit flavored butter cream with chocolate, but this cake would go well from everything from a chocolate ganache or nutella to any sort of frosting you can come up with

This recipe makes 3 cake rounds or one sheet cake. If you’re using rounds, grease and line the bottoms with parchment. If using a sheet cake, grease.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Put the unsweetened chocolate in a bowl with the cocoa powder. Pour the boiling water on top and let sit for one minute. Stir together until combined and smooth. Add sour cream and vanilla extract and set aside.

Sift together your dry ingredients and whisk to combine.

Cream your butter and sugars together until light and fluffy (about 3-5 minutes on medium speed). Scrape down the sides of the bowl before drizzling in the oil on low speed. Turn speed up to medium high and beat until fluffy, three minutes.

Blend in the egg/egg yolks one at a time, adding the next one as soon as the first is fully incorporated.

On a low speed, add 1/3 of the flour mixture, and then alternate with the chocolate mixture, beginning and ending with the flour. Stop mixing before the last of the flour is incorporated and finish by hand to ensure you don’t lose all the air.

Spread batter into your prepared pan(s). Smooth the tops and tap the pans on the counter to settle the batter. Bake in the middle of the oven until the cake bounces back when the center is touched (about 22-25 minutes for the rounds, about 30-45 minutes for the sheet cake—I haven’t prepared this cake in a sheet pan, but that’s my estimate).

Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes before flipping the rounds out or keep the sheet cake on the wire rack until cooled (I hate turning sheet cakes out. I like serving them out of the pan).

Spread with your desired topping (even just a sprinkle of cocoa or powdered sugar) and serve.


What food makes you feel Dauntless? Let me know in the comments.



Baking for Bookworms: Crab Cakes from Meg Cabot’s Royal Wedding

IMG_3389.jpgI apologize for not having a picture of the crab cakes. I turned my back and they were gone. But I promise I will update this post with a picture because I plan on making these again very soon…

There are few proposals more tried and true than proposing over dinner. Princess Mia has gone through her fair share of craziness, but luckily she has her future prince-consort Michael who plans a special proposal complete with a ring in a glass of champagne (which always seemed like a problematic method to me, but I’m glad she didn’t swallow it or break a tooth on it as I always imagine people would do.):


“I did tell him that we are absolutely one hundred percent going to have to elope because there is no way I’m going through what William and Kate did on their wedding day. That was completely ludicrous. Sweet to watch on television if you weren’t there yourself, but the behind-the-scenes drama was insane.

He agreed.

Except a little while later, after we’d finished dinner—I have to admit, I was so excited and happy I could barely finish my shrimp pasta, though I did manage to polish off all my crab cakes and lemon sorbet in limoncello—and we were both in the hammock, looking for shooting stars (I do not think that last one was a satellite no matter what he says), he said, ‘My parents are going to be really disappointed if we don’t have a wedding.”               119


Meals take on special import when they’re centered around special occasions (where would cake be if not for birthdays and weddings?) and I love the simple, yummy meal Michael puts together for himself and his new fiancée. I also love that even the most serious moments for Mia area always injected with a kind of fun and appreciation for life.


Crab cakes are a very easy dish to pull off—usually the biggest problem is getting them to stay together in a cohesive patty. This recipe holds together and tastes great—even with imitation crab, which means this meal is budget friendly too. You can make this recipe dairy-free by omitting the cheese and yogurt in favor of 3 tablespoons of mayonnaise.


Crab cake recipe adapted from Jo Cooks.



  • 8 oz crab meat (imitation okay)
  • 1 egg
  • 3 thinly sliced green onions
  • 1/3 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 heaping tablespoons ricotta cheese
  • 1 heaping tablespoon Greek yogurt
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan
  • 1 tsp (more or less to taste) sriracha
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste (about ½ tsp each)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, for pan frying


Combine all ingredients in a bowl except for the olive oil. Mix thoroughly. If mixture is too wet, add a little more panko, if mixture is too dry, add a little more mayo or yogurt.

Form into patties (I made about 10). In a pan over medium heat, heat the oil. Cook patties until golden brown about 3-5 minutes per side.

Serve with some sort of green vegetable or other dish of your choice (I made roasted veggies—I put whole mushrooms, a head of cauliflower—broken into florets, and a pint of grape tomatoes on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. I drizzled them with olive oil, added a little salt and fresh ground pepper and some minced garlic. They roast for 20 minutes at 400F and are a lovely, simple accompaniment).


Is there a dish or treat that reminds you of a special occasion?

Baking for Bookworms: Irish Soda Bread from Alice McDermott’s Someone


Alice McDermott’s book follows the life of an Irish immigrant in all its stirring little moments and complexities. It’s a quiet book that is definitely worth a read. There is plenty of food mentioned in the novel, but I really liked this moment between Marie, the narrator, and her mother where her mother tries to impart a little bit of cultural wisdom onto her daughter who has hitherto been resisting with all her might:


“ ‘It is time,’ my mother said, ‘that you learn a few things.’

On the narrow, corrugated tin of the drain board beside the sink, there was the flour bin and a bottle of buttermilk, and a tin of caraway seeds. On the small table beneath the window, a bowl and a spoon and the measuring cup. There was as well a narrow card on which she had written in her careful hand the recipe for soda bread.

It was time, my mother said, that I learned a few things about cooking.”   53


Cooking and learning to cook has a staggering amount of cultural and social meanings and connotations in this short passage. On one hand we have the ‘simple’ process of transformation—raw ingredients into something else. There’s also the transmission of culture to generations, the tension between youth and growing up, and the relations between a mother and her child. This all adds up to some pretty complex bread.


Luckily, this recipe is anything but complicated. It’s probably the easiest bread I’ve ever made. There’s no finicky yeast to deal with, there’s no waiting interminably for the bread to rise… you can make this bread in under an hour if you have all your ingredients ready.


Soda Bread recipe slightly adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction.



  • 1 ¾ cups buttermilk (or 5 tsp of white/ apple cider vinegar or lemon juice with the milk filled up the rest of the way to the 1 ¾ cup mark, stir, and let sit five minutes—I like apple cider vinegar’s flavor in baked goods. You can also use this trick on non-dairy milks)
  • 1 egg
  • 4 ¼ cup flour (plus more for kneading and dusting)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter, cold and cut in cubes
  • 1 cup raisins or other dried fruit (optional but very yummy)


Preheat oven to 425F. You can use a cast iron skillet, cake pan, or regular baking sheet for this bread—just grease it.

Mix the buttermilk (or sour milk) with the egg. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.

Using a pastry blender or your hands, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the raisins and mix.

Make a well in the center of the dry mixture, and pour in the liquid, stirring with a wooden spoon or a spatula. When the mixture becomes too stiff, turn it out on a floured surface and knead just until it comes together (about 30 seconds). You can add more flour if needed. Form into a rough ball and place in baking pan.

With a sharp knife, score a large X in the dough, which will help it cook evenly. Bake for 45 minutes or until dark and cooked through (if you think your bread is getting too dark, you can turn down the heat to 415F and continue cooking).

Let the bread cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning onto a cooling rack. This bread can be served warm or at room temperature and is great with all manner of things. It’ll dry out quickly so wrap any leftovers well or freeze them!


Is there a food you learned to cook with a family member? Let me know in the comments!

I remember making lots of cookies with my mom. Chocolate chip especially. I learned different baking recipes and techniques from virtually everyone in my family from my father’s waffles to my Nana’s challah.

Baking for Bookworms: Sidecars from Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries


If there is anything I associate with The Princess Diaries series, it is the dowager princess, Clarrise’s penchant for sidecars. And who can blame her? This drink happens to be one of my favorites, too. And I definitely tried it because of these books. Mia is even quizzed on its correct recipe.

Of course, the drink would probably fit better in a tumbler, but Clarisse is always very adamant that sidecars are to be served in stemmed cocktail glasses. Though she would most likely disapprove of my glassware…

This sidecar recipe is very simple and is easy to adapt to your tastes.

  • 2 ounces brandy or cognac (cognac being the more expensive choice, but a good brandy will do)
  • 1 ounce Cointreau or triple sec
  • 1 ounce fresh lemon juice

Combine all ingredients with ice in a cocktail shaker and serve straight up in the stemmed glass of your choice.

Brandy has more of a bite than cognac, so my suggestion is to use a bit less or up the orange liqueur. You can also adjust the lemon juice to taste or add a little honey or powdered sugar.

Has there ever been a dish or drink you’ve been inspired to try because of a fictional character enjoying it so much? Let me know in the comments.

Baking for Bookworms: Lavash Bread from Renee Ahdieh’s The Wrath and the Dawn


Whenever I can, I like to pick dishes from the books that are filled with special significance, whether that means they’re mentioned at an important plot point, are helpful in understanding a character, or strengthen aspects of the setting. I try to find a dish that meets one of these criteria, but I think the lavash bread and quince chutney mentioned in the scene fulfill all three. The Middle Eastern bread and chutney reinforce the setting. We’re told that the dish has become one of Shahrzad’s favorites since entering the palace, giving us both a deeper understanding of her likes and dislikes as well as showing that she is gradually growing accustomed to her new home. And finally, the scene takes place at an important banquet, one where the former love of her life and her husband are in the same room and tensions are high:

“The air filled with the aroma of spices and the clamor of conversation. Shahrzad began with some lavash bread and quince chutney, which had quickly become of favorite of hers since she arrived at the palace. As she ate, she chanced another perusal of the room. Tariq was speaking with an older gentleman seated to his left. When he felt her eyes on him, Tariq turned his head, and Shahrzad was forced, yet again, to look away.”     252

So now that we’ve set the love triangle stage, let’s get baking!

Lavash is a flat, Middle Eastern bread made all over the region. It’s got very simple ingredients, and, for a bread, is pretty quick and easy. You can serve this bread with anything that suits your fancy including meat and vegetable dishes or just sauces for a snack. Similarly, you can also top it with anything that sounds tasty. Traditional garnishes include poppy and sesame seeds, but you can also use red onions, any herb you can think of, a little sea salt, minced garlic, or even cinnamon sugar for a sweet finish.

Lavash recipe adapted from Yellow Saffron’s video.


  • 1 1/2 cups bread flour (I used whole wheat), 200g
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Sift your flour over a medium-large bowl. Add salt, water, and olive oil. Knead briefly to combine all the ingredients into a soft, smooth dough (about 2 minutes).

Lightly oil the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature for 30 minutes.

After thirty minutes, it’s time to fold the dough to develop the gluten. Pull a corner of the dough out from the main ball and fold it into the center. Repeat this eight times, working all the way around the dough. Then flip it over and tuck the edges in so it forms a nice smooth ball shape. There’s no need to be exact about this last step, as the dough shouldn’t be worked too much.

Cover the dough again and leave to rise for another 30 minutes.Repeat the process as before, pulling and tucking corners of the dough eight times. Cover again and leave to rise for the last 30 minutes.

When the 30 minutes are up, preheat the oven to 430F and preheat your baking tray as well.

Split the dough into three pieces. Take out one piece, and leave the rest covered so that they stay moist. With the first piece either stretch or roll it into a very thin rectangle, the thinner the better. Place on a piece of parchment paper and add any toppings you like (parchment paper is oven safe, but it isn’t mean to go much higher than a 420F oven. Make sure you watch the paper to be sure it doesn’t burn…). Slide onto the preheated tray.

Bake for 3-6 minutes, depending on the thickness of the dough. The edges will get browned and bubbles will develop.

Remove to a cooling rack (the bread will get crispier as it cools), and repeat the process with the two remaining pieces of bread.

Serve with a fun sauce or with a meal and enjoy!



Baking for Bookworms: Apple Cake from Sylvia Plath’s The Collected Poems


I was a little surprised to find anything I could cook from in Plath’s poems. She’s not exactly a poet you associate with down home cooking. But luckily there was one food that immediately jumped out, and that was apple cake.

The mention of apple cake is from her 1959 poem “Point Shirley”, which is actually one of my many favorites in the collection. It’s about a woman who lives a very hard life, and there’s a lot of sea and water imagery along with descriptions of thriftiness and stubbornness.

It’s in one of the middle stanzas that the  apple cake appears:

“Nobody wintering now behind/ The planked-up windows where she set/ Her wheat loaves/ And apple cakes to cool. What is it/ Survives, grieves/ So, over this battered, obstinate spit/ Of gravel? The waves’/ Spewed relics clicker masses in the wind,”

Point Shirley is the place where Plath’s grandparents lived and the poem appears to be about her own childhood memories of her grandmother. There’s also some thought that it might be more generally about her feelings on motherhood. The apple cake is just one detail plucked from many possible ones I’m sure, but it’s an interesting choice because apple desserts have particular connotations in America of home and comfort and nostalgia. It probably reminded her of her grandmother, just like challah and kugel remind me of mine.

Besides any symbolic significance of apples, they also just make fantastic desserts–they have great flavor and lend themselves well to most pairings.

This apple cake recipe is adapted from Karen DeMasco’s book The Craft of Baking.

caramelized-apple cake

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 stick butter, very soft
  • 2 tart apples (like granny smith)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 350F.

For this recipe you can use either a cast-iron skillet, or you can use an 8 or 9 inch cake pan, or a pie pan. I used a cake pan, so the instructions will reflect that, but it’s very easy to make in an oven safe skillet. Simply make your caramel in the skillet and lay everything on top before baking–couldn’t be simpler.

In a pot, combine 1/4 cup of the sugar with three tablespoons of water. Mix together so that all the sugar is wet and then cook over high heat until the sugar is a deep golden caramel color. This takes about 2 minutes. It’s very important to stand and watch the pot the whole time. Sugar will burn very quickly.

Remove the pan from the heat and immediately add 2 tablespoons of the butter, whisking to incorporate (the butter being very soft helps a lot with getting it all mixed in before the caramel cools too much). Spread the caramel on the bottom of your desired pan.

Peel the two apples and then cut into very thin slices. Arrange on top of the caramel, starting from the outside and working your way in and being sure to overlap the fruit.

In a large bowl, beat the remaining 3/4 cups sugar, 6 tablespoons of butter, and the vanilla together until fluffy. This takes about 3-4 minutes with an electric mixer on medium speed. Add egg yolks, one at a time, on low speed until combined.

Combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt, and cornmeal) and whisk together. Add the dry ingredients in alternating stages with the milk (flour, milk, flour, milk, flour), until everything is mixed.

In a very clean bowl (if you suspect there might be any greasiness whatsoever, you can take a little white vinegar on a paper towel and wipe your bowl and beaters) beat your egg whites until soft peaks form (about 4 minutes on medium speed). Gently fold the whites into the rest of the batter in three stages.

Spread the batter over the apples and bake for about 40-50 minutes until the cake is golden brown and springs back when touched. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes before running a knife around the edge and flipping onto a plate.

It’s best the day it’s served, but you can wrap it with plastic and it keeps at room temperature for about three days.

Are there any desserts that remind you of your grandparents? Let me know in the comments. And if there’s ever a book you’d like me to cook from, leave that in the comments as well!





Baking for Bookworms: Mini Brioche from Built of Books: How Reading Defined the Life of Oscar Wilde by Thomas Wright


Brioche is one of my absolute favorite breads–it’s light and buttery and makes the best French toast in the world. But I’ve never made it before, so I was happy to look down my list and see that I could use it for a baking post.

There’s usually not much mention of food in nonfiction. And in a book about Oscar Wilde’s books, there was definitely not going to be much food mentioned at all. This particular book had only two references, and they were references based on what Oscar Wilde had scribbled (or dribbled–some jam) in the margins of his notes:

“In the middle of his reading notes he has drawn a doodle of a large and delicious looking brioche.”            155

This just goes to show that delicious food enters into even the most didactic reader and writer’s mind.

With that in mind, I tried to recreate the classic brioche shape on a smaller scale using a muffin tin (and without the use of the specialty baking pan). I thought that the tin would help make this recipe more friendly for those that don’t have an immense stock of bakeware. I also just love miniature foods.

This is a time consuming recipe since the dough has to rest over night, but it’s well worth the effort and they look charming, even when they’re a little lopsided like mine.

This recipe is slight adapted from Martha Stewart’s video. This recipe makes 8 mini brioche, but you can feel free to double the recipe. The recipe is written for a stand mixer, but if you don’t have one, you can always knead by hand, which I quite enjoy anyway.

Mini Brioche

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons lukewarm milk (plus one tablespoon for the wash)
  • 1 packet yeast (1/4 oz)–Martha uses fresh, but I used instant–anything will work
  • 3 eggs (plus one egg yolk for the wash, if you double the recipe, you still only need one told, just add more milk)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 10 oz flour (about 2 cups unsifted)
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Put the yeast on top of the milk and let it proof for about five minutes (if your yeast is not frothy after 5-7 minutes, it’s probably too old and you should get new yeast before you go to all the trouble and find your bread won’t rise).

In a bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl) briefly whisk together eggs, salt, and flour. Using the dough hook attachment, begin kneading these together for about 1-2 minutes (or mix by hand).

Add the yeast and knead on low speed for 5 minutes. Bring the speed up to medium and continue kneading for 5-10 more minutes or until the dough stops being so sticky and begins to pull away from the side of the bowl. The dough is pretty soft, so if at the end of the 10 minutes it’s still a little sticky, go ahead with the next step, and the final kneading should take care of it.

Mix together the softened butter and the sugar and incorporate into the dough a little at a time. Then continue kneading for another 5-10 minutes. It should be smooth and shiny.

Place in a greased bowl and let rise, covered with plastic wrap, for two hours or until it doubles in size.

Take your dough and lifting it out of the bowl, let it drop back into the bowl several times to deflate it (this is probably my favorite part). Cover it with plastic wrap again and put in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or overnight.

In the morning, or whenever you come back to it, butter 8 sections of a muffin tin. Remove your dough from the bowl and divide it into 8 equal pieces. From each piece, remove a quarter . Roll the remaining dough into a ball. Pinch the ball so that it makes a large size crater or well in the middle (if you use a large crater, your middles won’t be as lopsided as mine). Roll the small chunk into a ball and place in the middle of the well. Repeat with all the dough and place in the buttered muffin tin.

Make and egg wash by mixing one egg yolk with one tablespoon of milk. Brush the egg wash over the mini brioches and store the leftover wash in the fridge to use again later.

Let the dough rise again, covered with plastic wrap, for 60-90 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425F. Bake brioche for 5 minutes, then turn down the heat to 375F for an additional 5-10 minutes or until the tops are a deep golden brown and the internal temp is 205F (if you don’t have a thermometer, bake them closer to the 10 minute mark. You can touch the brioche right where the top ball meets the rest of the bread, and if it’s doughy there it needs a little longer. You can also stick a skewer in, and if it’s at all doughy, give them a few more minutes).

Let them cool in the pan for five minutes before removing them to a cooling rack. If they need some encouragement to come out, just run a butter knife around the edge.

Brioche is delicious on its own, but it’s even better with jam!

What’s your favorite bread and have you ever attempted to make it before? Let me know in the comments!


Baking for Bookworms: Aloo Gobi Saag from Zadie Smith’s White Teeth


There were really two types of recipes in White Teeth (which incidentally is a book I adore and is a book everyone really needs to read. Like drop what you’re doing and read it. It’s brilliant…). One type of recipe is something and chips like an omelet or beans. The other type is Indian foods that the customers can’t pronounce. So in honor of learning a little more about other cultures, and because I really love to cook Indian food and try to convince others to do so too, I went for the Indian curry.

“A years worth of Samad softly inclining his head at exactly the correct deferential angle, pencil in his left hand, listening to the appalling pronunciation of the British, Spanish, American, French, Australian:

Go Bye Ello Sag, please.

Chicken Jail Fret See wiv Chips, fanks.”                            46

What I love about this passage is how well it highlights cultural differences and that strange line between ignorance and disrespect. I think it’s a very simple thing–most of us are guilty at mispronouncing foods from other cultures–but it shows a deeper problem which is an unwillingness to listen and learn about other either because of embarrassment and a desire to not be wrong or because we simply don’t care.

For those of you that don’t know, Gobi Aloo Saag or Aloo Gobi Saag is a potato and cauliflower dish in a gravy or curry. I’ve made Aloo Gobi before, but I’ve never made the saag, which is awesome and delicious and fragrant.

Some people are really intimidated by cooking Indian food because of the sheer number of ingredients and exotic spices. But I promise you, you probably have most of the spices in your kitchen, and it’s well worth a trip to your nearest Indian (best prices on spices) or Asian food market to get the harder to find ones. It’s basically just garam masala you have to go out of your way for. And you can make your own blend if you really want to (but I think that’s a total pain). A lot of other things you can substitute for more readily available ingredients if you can’t procure them easily.

There’s several stages of this recipe, but they’re relatively simple and it can still be completed in an hour if you’re organized. You can serve this dish with naan or roti, but I didn’t think that far ahead, and I just served it with rice. Makes 2-4 servings as a main dish.

Recipe adapted from this one by VahChef. You might find his video helpful if you’re worried or wondering about how something should look.

Aloo Gobi Saag

  • 1 small head of cauliflower washed and chopped into florets
  • 3 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped into bite size pieces
  • 3 tbs oil, divided (you want vegetable or sunflower or something with a higher smoking temperature than olive oil)
  • 1 bunch or 1/2 bag spinach (about 5oz)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4-5 cloves garlic very roughly chopped
  • 3-5 Indian chilis (if you can’t get these, you can sub another pepper of your choice. I used an Anaheim pepper, which I seeded and chopped roughly, but you could even use half a green bell pepper if you want flavor without spice–just make sure the pepper is green)
  • mint leaves, about a small handful worth, washed
  • coriander leaves, small handful, washed (if you can’t get these, you can sub another green herb of your choice. I used parsley because that’s what was in the fridge)
  • 1 pinch nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp coriander* if you’re not using the leaves
  • 1 tbs ginger, grated (I like to freeze mine–it makes grating easier)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes or 1 cup fresh diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp (more or less to taste) chili powder
  • salt to taste

Preheat oven to 415F. Line a baking pan with tin foil for easy clean up.

Chop the potatoes and the cauliflower and place in one layer on the baking tray. Coat with the oil of your choice and season with salt and pepper. Roast the veggies for 25-30 minutes or until tender.

While the veggies are in the oven, start on the saag. In a pot of cold water add the spinach (no need to chop it) and bring water to a boil. Once the water boils, remove the spinach and set aside.

In a pan, cook half the onion, the pepper, and the garlic in a tablespoon or so of oil over medium heat. Once the onions are soft, add the herbs, nutmeg and coriander powder, if using, and turn off the heat. Add the spinach and stir to combine. In a blender or food processor, take all the green goodness and blend into a paste.

In the same pan you just used, add more oil and the rest of the onions, turning to medium heat. Season with a tiny bit of salt. Add the ginger and continue cooking until the onions are browned. Add the tomatoes (if using fresh tomatoes, also add 1/2 cup water). Stir in the chili powder, cumin, garam masala, and turmeric. Cover and simmer for about ten minutes, or until the tomatoes soften and begin to break up.

Once the tomatoes soften, add the green paste, stirring to incorporate. Stir in the veggies and cook for a minute or so before checking the flavors and serving.


Have you ever cooked Indian food before? What did you find to be the most difficult part? Or have you ever felt bad about mispronouncing something in a restaurant? What was that experience like? Let me know in the comments!

Baking for Bookworms: Bark Sail Bread from Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News

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It was a little difficult to choose something to make from this book, not because there wasn’t a lot of food mentioned (there was and a lot of it was intriguing), but because many of the ingredients are harder to come by in my land-locked state (as in, tons of seafood). Since Paul and I are trying to stay away from too much fish due to over-fishing issues and things (not to mention mercury issues…), I tried to find something that I could make without too much difficulty. Luckily, one of the characters in the book is quite the baker, and so I thought I’d try my hand at a traditional Newfoundland bread called bark sail bread. Despite the strange name, there is nothing tree-like about this bread. Instead, the name just signifies that the bread has molasses and raisins in it.

The passage from the book is forthcoming. I recently made a trip out to my parents and in a genius move guaranteed to win me several coveted prizes, I left my charger cord, which means I don’t have access to any of the book passages I’ve collected. But it should be up by tomorrow–the cord is coming!

The food in the book tells the story of assimilation into a new place. At first all the food seems strange and foreign, but soon the book’s characters eat the foods they once considered strange without comment and with enjoyment. Food becomes one of the many signs Proulx employs to relate how the protagonist, Quoyle, begins to fit into his new home.

Bark sail bread takes quite a bit of time to make because the molasses makes the rising process slower, but it’s worth the wait, and it’s perfect for a day you’re sticking around at home and don’t have too much to do (though there’s plenty of time to get things done while the dough rises).

This recipe is slightly adapted from Rock Recipes. It will make two loaves of bread in loaf pans or one giant thing of awesome breadness if you’re like me and you can’t for the life of you figure out where your loaf pans have run off to. You can bake this in an 8×8 pan, but see the adapted baking instructions.

Bark Sail Bread

  • 1/2 cup warm, but not hot water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 packet yeast
  • 4-5 cups flour (divided, might be more or less depending on the consistency of your bread)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup molasses plus one tablespoon
  • 1/2 cup warm milk
  • 6 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1/2 cup raisins (feel free to add more–up to 1 cup)


Mix the sugar with the warm water and pour yeast packet on top. Let sit for ten minutes until nice and frothy. If your yeast doesn’t froth, it might be too old, and you’ll want to get new yeast before adding the mixture to the rest of the ingredients.

In a large bowl, or the bowl of a standing mixer add: 2 cups flour, salt, molasses, warm milk, melted butter, and the beaten egg. When the yeast is ready, add it in, and slowly beat the ingredients (with a spoon, or if in the mixer, with the paddle attachment) together for 3-5 minutes, until its smooth and lump-free.

Slowly, 1/2 cup at a time, add in your flour and start kneading in the bowl (with the dough hook now) until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and is no longer sticky. This can take anywhere from 2-3 cups of flour. Add in your raisins and knead until fully incorporated. Continue to knead on a lightly floured surface for an additional 10 minutes (or 7-10 minutes in the stand mixer).

Place dough in a bowl, lightly cover, and let rise for one hour.

Punch down dough and knead for 3-5 more minutes. Divide into four balls. Grease your pan/s of choice. If using loaf pans, put two of the balls in each pan. If using an 8×8 pan, put all four balls in. Cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for 2-3 hours or until the dough is about 2 inches over the side of the pan.

When the loaves have risen, bake them at 350 (340 for 8×8) for 35-45 minutes (or 45-60 minutes) until cooked through and golden. You can brush the tops with melted butter if you like. Let cool completely before cutting and serving.


Do you have any family recipes with strange names? Let me know in the comments. Also, if you have any books you’d like to see on Baking for Bookworms, put those in the comments too. And if you decide to make this bread, let me know how you get on.