Another Post About Bread

I wrote a post about baking bread a while back. Well, I’ve found another recipe that I think is even better than the one I’d been using. It comes from FiveHeartHome although I’ve seen similar recipes elsewhere on the Internet. What I like about FiveHeartHome’s recipe, which you can find here, is that blogger Samantha explains how the recipe works and provides plenty of helpful pictures of the dough mixing process-always helpful when you’re learning a new bread making technique.

So, what’s so special about this recipe? You mix your sponge, let it rest 10 minutes, add the rest of your ingredients, mix, knead, and it’s ready for the pans. Just like that.

Dough after kneading

You let your dough rise to the size you want your final loaves to be. And then you bake it. No fussing about “oven spring.” What you see is what you get.

Dough after rising before baking

I’ve doubled the FiveHeartHome recipe to make four loaves and it works great. I don’t have a stand mixer. I use a sturdy Hamilton Beach hand mixer like this one to incorporate all the ingredients before I start kneading. The kneading doesn’t take long; the dough comes together beautifully. I don’t use a thermometer to determine if my bread is done. The old “thump the loaf” test works fine for me. And I run the hot water from the tap.

The unusual ingredient in this bread is the lemon juice. (I substitute cider vinegar). It helps the yeast work and makes the bread rise nicely. Don’t be tempted to dump all the ingredients into the bowl at once even if you have a professional stand mixer. Follow the instructions in the order given. You won’t be sorry.

Out of the oven
Out of the pans
A nice crumb

I do improvise a little with this bread, throwing in some sunflower seeds and rolled oats when I mix the sponge into the rest of the ingredients. What I really think would be interesting would be a Challah type bread using this recipe as the base. Maybe I’ll try that next.

Less Than Perfect Petit Fours

I have always loved the idea of Petit Fours: little multi-layer cakes that look like miniature  iced gift boxes just waiting to reveal the secret of their delicious insides to whoever is lucky enough to bite into them.


Sensible people buy their Petit Fours but how many times have I told you that I am not a sensible person?  I have been on a periodic Petit Four odyssey since high school when I would experiment in my mother’s kitchen.  I had a willing and perennially hungry friend who would eat the rejects.  I even tried my hand at making fondant, unsuccessfully I might add because I did not have a candy thermometer which my mother regarded as a mysterious scientific instrument not meant for everyday cooks.   Still I had fun and my results were tasty even if they looked like the cat walked over them.  I mean, butter, sugar and eggs?  How can you go wrong?  It’s like shooting Petit Fours in a barrel.


This time around, I got the bright idea that I was going to turn a recipe for Sicilian Cassata  into Petit Fours.  I should have known that there was a good reason I could not find a recipe for them on the Internet.  I decided to develop my own.  I started with one of the best recipes in the world: Sponge Cake courtesy of The Cake Boss.    Believe me, the secret to making this case is beating the eggs as instructed in the recipe.  See the top picture of the thick and lovely batter?  That’s after beating the eggs!  IMG_9964

I made the cake in a big cookie tray (16 X 24) lines with parchment.  It baked up nicely.   Now most Petit Four recipes  tell you to slice the cake into layers,  ice and fill the layers, and then to slice the whole thing into little squares.  Not me.  I cannot slice anything straight.  You can hide wopperjawed  layers,  but not uneven cake sides.


So  after I layered the cake (tip:  cut the cake into small sections and cut into layers a section at a time.  Easier than trying to slice a big cake into layers.  And use a serrated knife.) I cut out little squares and stacked them with ricotta filling in between.  Only it is impossible to make a ricotta filling for cakes this small because it does not hold its shape.  So the filling was ricotta with LOTS of powered sugar.  It was good, but not the same as Cassata filling.

IMG_9966I bought almond paste which I have never worked with and I had planned to use it between layers but I decided to top the  cakes with squares of it instead.



Here are the naked cakes before glazing.  The balls are made of the scraps mixed with the filling.  I thought I could make some kind of truffle from these.


Glazing.  Thank you 350 Degree Oven Blog for the broken fork trick!


I got the idea for the glaze from the Southern Fatty Blog


And this is the best I have ever done making Petit Fours, which means there is still time to screw it up!!


I was going to cover  them with chocolate confectioner’s coating, but for the life of me I could not get it into a pourable  state.


So I ended up topping each cake with a smidge of chocolate.  I attempted to coat the “truffles”  and they came out rather <ahem> rustic looking.


The Petit Fours were a hit at the party I took them to, but I have to confess that I skipped them in favor of the shrimp!

Welcome to My Holiday Cookie Bake Shop



I didn’t have an Easy Bake Oven when I was little. I didn’t need one. My mother let me use the big oven, with her supervision of course, but I was turning out cakes and cookies by the time I was six. I remember when I was in Kindergarten, my friend Debbie Levine asked me to come over to her house for lunch. I came and brought some peanut butter cookies for dessert-you know, the lunch box classic with the crossed fork marks on the top. “I baked them myself,” I announced proudly.

Debbie must not have been too impressed because she took a bite out of one and screwed up her face. “Eewww,” she said, “they taste like throw up.” Debbie’s mother rushed over and took the cookie from her hand and said, “Debbie we don’t treat our guests like that.” I wasn’t too upset because I knew Debbie was only kidding. She finished the first cookie and had a second one.

My mother made spritz every Christmas and had an ongoing battle with her constantly malfunctioning cookie gun. She wouldn’t get a new one though; she preferred thrill of the hunt for the perfect recipe for spritz dough that would work in her cookie gun. She never found it and when she died, I returned her cookie gun to the earth. I was never fond of spritz anyway.

I don’t bake much anymore, but I did bake this year. I thought I would share some of my tips to make the task easier (besides throwing away tools that you can never get to work.)

If you make cookies that have to be cut out and decorated, do yourself a favor and make them over the course of three days. Mix your dough on the first day and let it chill properly. Just put it in the fridge and forget it. Roll, cut out and bake on the second day. Decorate on the third day. This will make your life so much easier. If you think this is impractical, go out and buy some cookies.

cutting out

Properly chilled dough is easier to roll. Rather than dusting with flour during the rolling, I prefer to use cooking spray. I spray the rolling surface, my hands, even the rolling pin. If you roll between sheets of wax paper, spray the paper. If after you’ve cut the shapes out the dough is soft again, return the wax paper with the cookies to the fridge for a couple of minutes to let it firm up. You will be able to move the raw cookies to the pan without distorting them.

Rolling pin

It’s important that rolled cookies have a consistent thickness. I have a rolling pin that has different sized rings that fit on the ends to help maintain uniformity. You can get yourself a set of rings here.

Parchment brown

Baked on parchment paper

If you learn only one thing from this post, let it be these two words: parchment paper. Parchment paper for baking that is. I don’t know what took me so long to start using this stuff but once you use it, you won’t go back. It saves on pan cleanup and you don’t have to grease your cookie sheets. It’s easy transfer a whole batch of baked cookies off the hot pan for cooling and it’s easy to get them off the paper. Foil or a so-called non-stick pan will not give the same results. I do not advocate any particular brand. I bought mine at a grocery store. I have heard that you can’t use sheet more than once. Not true although it does become brittle after awhile and since you can’t really clean it, you don’t want to save it too long.

The more fat chocolate chip cookies have in them, the more they spread. If you want firmer cookies, use less butter and make up the liquid balance with water or eggs. The cookies in the foreground had more butter in the recipe and those in the background had less. Both taste fine. It’s your choice
I love the convenience of refrigerator cookies and who says you can’t slice and bake drop cookies like chocolate chip or oatmeal cookies? It’s easy. I make logs of cookie dough, wrap it in foil and put it in the freezer. It never freezes rock solid. A day or two later, I unwrap the dough, slice and bake. What could be easier? These cookies keep a shape too. But with any cookie, always make sure you start out with a cold cookie sheet. Otherwise your cookies will spread more and you won’t get the shape you want. I have two cookie sheets and bake with one sheet at a time. When a batch of cookies comes out of the oven, I wait a couple of minutes and lift the sheet of parchment with the baked cookies (carefully!) off the pan and put it on a rack or other surface to cool. Then I let the pan cool before putting the next batch on it. If there is a short time between batches, I will cool the pan in the sink with cold water. It really does make a difference.
Well, tomorrow night is decorating time! Here are some more pictures of today’s cookies.