Thursday, October 28, 2010



It took me quite a long time until I was fluent in French. The common belief among expats, the old adage one hears over and over again as you are struggling with your verb agreement, the gender of nouns and the inexplicable plus-que-parfait, is that it takes five years no matter what you do. Others merely claim that when you begin dreaming in a foreign language then it is no longer foreign. Learning catch as catch can, picking up words and phrases from television, books (don’t keep relying on that dictionary!), spouse and, heaven forbid, the children, slowly but surely I came to actually speak – and dream in – French. All of my years of high school and college French got in the way, hampering, hindering instead of helping as I kept hesitating, tripping over my words for fear of getting it wrong, of being admonished by some invisible professor, but I finally arrived.

Now, husband and I, being avid and passionate readers, drink up books like there is no tomorrow, swimming in and out of decades and centuries, Montaigne and Balzac, Austen and Dickens, Swift and de Toqueville all sit happily on our shelves alongside more contemporary fiction, history books and murder mysteries. We’ve spent years wandering in and out of centuries as we weave in and out of conversations, cultures, countries, and all of this together has caused us to simply pare our language down to the necessary, the clear, the correct and proper. Our first concern has always been being understood by others wherever we are, to whomever we are speaking, in whichever language and culture we are in. When one travels, moves about, there is no time to catch up on the slang, the common expressions, the latest word fad. And yes, I must also admit, that we are rather language snobs, in love with words; my husband reads dictionaries and encyclopedias while I curl up at night with my beloved Roget’s Thesaurus. We simply love words, their sounds, their meaning, their origin. And language. Foreign language. A favorite dinnertime game of ours with our boys was comparing words and phrases between the many languages we have studied as a way to make our multi-lingual lifestyle more a game than a burden. So twenty-some years together, we all speak correctly, use big words and, as those of you who have met me know, I do indeed speak like I write.

But of course it doesn’t stop there. We aren’t really snooty language snobs. As much as we strive to speak correctly, we love us some good old slang and curse words and silly expressions and weird-sounding names for things, and they all play a part in our day to day. Oh, maybe not outside of the house, but certainly inside. We love rolling the other’s curse words and dirty language, les gros mots, around on our tongues like a sharp-biting mouthful of whiskey, let a slang word or two slip out here and there in the middle of a family discussion, using the odd, unusual and fun to describe the things and people around us, a way to learn and practice, have fun and be silly. But between the proper way to speak to others and the silly word games we play together, never the twain shall meet.

But accidents happen. When one lives in a foreign language, skips from one language to another, mistakes happen, the occasional faux pas slips out and trips you up, earning smirks and stares, the occasional dirty look or shocked expression or even a snort of laughter from the spouse. Like the time early in our marriage when JP used a less than savory sexual expression in the place of “Beat it, Injun!” when describing a scene from an old black & white Lone Ranger episode to my family. Or when, after years of my using the French word bordel to indicate a complete mess, my husband (from whom I picked up the word) kindly pulled me aside and said “Don’t use that word in front of my parents! It’s vulgar!” Thank you very much for telling me after how many years? Normally cautious and self-conscious with how we speak, it isn’t always easy to differentiate between the normal, the usual and the vulgar when trying to pick up the other’s language. Oh, some words or expressions are clearly off limits once we step outside the house, but others, well, there is a fine line to step over as words are magically transformed from the rude to the common. Language, after all, does evolve. And sometimes, well, we are just a little bit fascinated by an expression and end up using it anyway, just for the fun of it.

And this brings me to donuts. I bake with the Daring Bakers, a wonderful baking experience led by the ever-wonderful Ivonne and Lis! The October 2010 Daring Bakers challenge was hosted by Lori of Butter Me Up and Lori asked us all to make doughnuts or donuts. Now, she did offer us recipes for regular yeast donuts, baked or fried, and I have always wanted to make yeast-risen donuts. But because of both the lack of time and interested eaters (I mean, who doesn’t like donuts? How do I end up living with people like this?) I decided to make something easier and much lighter. Pets-de-Nonne. Nun’s Farts. Yes, you read that correctly, Nun’s Farts! I must admit that I have long wanted to make these delicate little treats if for nothing but the name. Pets-de-Nonne rolls off the tongue in a joyous tumble of giggles, hands clasped to the mouth, eyes dancing with delight like some schoolgirl who let loose a silly word in the middle of history class. Grown woman that I am, discovering foods with daring, vulgar, even slightly obscene names still has the power to amuse me. Like couilles du pape, pope’s well…. all I need to say is that they are a common name for a type of oval purple plum, or Gratte Cul, hmmm check your French-English dictionary please, a common name for Briar or Wild Rose (think of how and where it scratches) and a little cheese called Trou du Cru, a small cow’s milk cheese which when said much too quickly will come out trou du c**. Just plain silly, if you ask me, right? But after all of these many years I am smart enough to ask husband if it is okay to use this name outside of the house. Pets-de-Nonne, after all, is written there in bold black and white in his favorite food bible, Les Meilleures Recettes de Françoise Bernard … but is nowhere to be found in my Larousse Gastronomique. “Well,” explained husband, “of course it isn’t, it is a vulgar nickname for those beignets.” “But your Françoise Bernard has it in her cookbook!” “Oh, really?” Yes, and so it goes, the evolution of language. And the fun of it all.

Pets-de-Nonne are simply dainty little dollops of froth, light as air (or light and airy as a nun’s fart, I am assuming), dusted with a shower of icing sugar like snow on a bright winter’s day. Made from choux pastry dough, fried instead of baked, pushed off of a teaspoon into hot oil, Pets-de-Nonne float lazily up to the surface and puff up before your very eyes, turning a glowing, gentle golden color, like sunlight. Allow them to deepen in color a bit to make sure the dough is cooked all the way through, scoop them up and douse them quickly with sugar and pop them into your mouth one glorious beignet at a time. So light, they melt in your mouth, a delicate bit of dough, a sweet afterthought of sugar, and you will be left utterly…speechless.

And they smell divine!

We’ve had an overwhelming response to the Plate to Page workshop we announced earlier this week. I thank everyone of you who emailed, tweeted and spread the word.

If you really want to join the four of us for this intensive, hands-on food blogging experience then register now! – we’ve had a big rush and there are only a few spots left. Registrations have come in from South Africa, Canada, USA, Italy, UK and Holland and you wouldn't want to miss this exciting new concept in Food Blogging Workshops: this is more than a conference, this is a working weekend, a complete learning experience specifically designed for the food blogger who yearns to hone his or her writing, food styling and food photography skills. And have a great time while doing it!

Beignets Soufflés, Soufflé Donuts made from a classic choux pastry dough, fried instead of baked

5 ½ Tbs (2.8 oz/ 80 g) unsalted butter
1 cup (1/4 litre) water
¼ tsp salt
1 cup (125 g) flour
4 large eggs
vegetable or neutral oil for frying
Powdered/confectioner’s/icing sugar for dusting

Place the butter, water and salt in a saucepan and warm over medium-low heat until the butter is completely melted. Take the saucepan off of the heat and add the flour all at once and stir with a wooden spoon until well blended with the liquid. Return the pan to the heat and, stirring vigorously, cook until the dough holds together in a ball and pulls away from the sides of the pan and no longer sticks to the wooden spoon.

Remove from the heat. Using the wooden spoon, add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each addition until blended. Then continue with the rest of the eggs one by one. The choux dough will be thick, smooth and very creamy.

Heat the oil in a deep-fryer or large pot to a depth of about ¾ inch. When a pinch of the dough dropped into the oil sizzles and then cooks golden brown, the oil is hot enough. Drop the dough in by teaspoonfuls, only about 6 at a time. They cook very quickly and you want to have only a manageable amount to take care of. As they cook, carefully flip them around so they cook evenly on both sides.

Once they puffed up and are a deep golden brown all over, then lift them out of the hot oil and let drain on paper towels. While they are still hot, and as the next batch starts to cook, sprinkle the Pets-de-Nonne with powdered/confectioner’s sugar and gently toss to coat. Serve and eat immediately while they are still warm.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Once upon a time, there were four food bloggers brought together by a love of good food, great writing, the passion for beautiful food styling and photography and the desire to work, improve and move ahead in their respective careers. Time and space separated them, but they soon found that close contact and mutual help, encouragement, advice and support (and the more than occasional good hearty gossip and laugh) was a much needed and necessary part in their lives as food bloggers. Slowly, each one of us, Jeanne, Ilva, Meeta and Jamie, with the help of the others, began fulfilling our individual aspirations, moving beyond what we had begun and we now each have one steady foot in our blogs and the other stepping into the world of freelance careers. Some imagine that what we do, the writing and storytelling, the stunning food photography, is a simple task, some hidden, secret talent we are born with, but we know that it is hard work, a continual learning experience, something we constantly strive for and reach beyond. And learning from each other, guiding, sharing, critiquing are vital for becoming what we desire to become and going where we want to go.

We now want to share that with others. Here, dear readers, is what we are thrilled to share with you:

We have created From Plate to Page, an intensive hands-on food photography and writing workshop aimed at food bloggers, writers and photographers looking to enhance and hone their photography and writing skills while finding their own unique style and voice, both for their blog and for professional work. This exciting, one-of-a-kind workshop will help pull you out of your creative rut and start you on your way to a more professional style.

Rather than follow the traditional food blogging conference style, From Plate to Page is a workshop set up to allow active participation by each attendee in the ultimate learning experience. Working alongside Jeanne, Meeta, Ilva and myself, each one of whom has turned her own blog into a springboard for a successful freelance writing or photography/styling career, participants will spend an extensive part of the weekend working on assignments designed specifically for the food blogger. All dedicated activities throughout the weekend will be the source of a writing or photography experience followed by analysis, critique and discussion.

By keeping the group small, no more than 10 participants, it will be possible to present topics in a practical and collective way, with group participation at every step. Over the course of the weekend we will work individually or in teams to complete assignments in both writing and photography. This will include plenty of one-on-one contact with the workshop leaders in a relaxed and social atmosphere where it will be possible to ask questions, share ideas and practical experience far more freely than in a large auditorium. Evenings will be dedicated to critique, discussion and analysis, helping you to understand, reflect upon and improve your work. Oh, and don't forget the fun!

If you do not know the work of my three talented partners, do check out their blogs:

* Ilva Beretta of Lucullian Delights
* Jeanne Horak-Druiff of CookSister!
* Meeta Khurana Wolff of What’s for Lunch, Honey?

Go to the From Plate to Page blog for details, program and more information! The first Plate to Page Workshop is limited to 10 participants so first registered, first served! Don’t miss this great weekend!

Thursday, October 21, 2010



Old faded Kodachrome snapshots scattered across the table bring back a flurry of half-faded memories. Family vacations down in Miami Beach, that long drive down the coast, catching glimpses of the frothy white surf framed against the backdrop of Florida blue. Excited visions of palm trees reaching skyward and swaying gently in the ocean breeze offering us her heavy fruit snatched up from where they lay fallen, hidden in the bushes around Uncle Eli’s house. The magic of Wolfie’s delicatessen, huge bustling Wolfie’s, waiters scurrying between the tables heaving trays groaning under plates piled high with hot pastrami sandwiches, thick slices of salty lox hugged in between halves of chewy bagels and bowls of steaming golden chicken soup and snappy green dill pickles, the delights we enjoyed much too rarely. And cousins. We had little contact with my dad’s side of the family except on these much-too-rare, hurried weekends down in Miami. Vacations were always spent with my maternal cousins, aunts and uncles; and as dad never even talked about his family, there was always something mysterious and intriguing about them, about this odd, once-in-a-blue-moon contact with my paternal cousins.

One trip down, I was maybe 12 years old, we met my dad’s sister, her husband and their three children, all around our ages. They were the height of New York sophistication to our small town naiveté. Our maybe just my own. My cousin A., two years older than I, was gorgeous and chic, funny and outgoing, everything that I wasn’t. Everything that I longed to be. I simply wanted to be like her, but feared that I never would be, never could be. Our visit with them that weekend in that luxurious hotel made me wonder just what we had been missing not being in touch with this side of the family, and created in my mind a curiosity that would hang over me for many years to come, only strengthened by the occasional brief meeting, few and far between.

I finally got to know A. After spending 5 years researching our genealogy, I tracked down all of these mysterious aunts and uncles and cousins, an astonishing extended family most of whom I knew absolutely nothing about, some of whom I had known not even of their existence. And I organized a family reunion, the first of two. I spent much time talking with Andrea who was still beautiful, chic, sophisticated, funny and outgoing. We were adults, wives and mothers now but not much else had changed. She was still easy to talk to and just as fascinating, just as much fun. We stayed in touch for a while but, as usually happens, time and distance put a space between us and we didn’t talk again until I called her this past summer. I called her to talk about my brother, his illness and death. Michael and A. had stayed in touch and, as they lived fairly close to one another, saw each other more often than the rest of us did. Pained words passed between us as we mourned his loss, pained words that slowly transformed into happy thoughts as we discussed the husbands and the kids, all grown now – or mostly so – and how well they have each turned out. And then we talked about her.

You see, A. has been battling breast cancer for several years. Really battling against very heavy odds. And listening to her talk about it, I am amazed at her strength and courage in front of such a tragedy. She carries on, head held high, reveling in the joy of her family life and her kids, having a great time at her job, and she speaks of it all in terms of acceptance, a “this is life” attitude. She reminds me of the wonderful friend I spoke of in a different post who also faced the seemingly impossible with strength, courage, dignity while focusing on the here and now, the necessary. Life is what it is and we must deal with it and carry on against all odds. Embrace life and be thankful for what we have. And I have tried to learn from these women who have each accepted their fate, who fight the battle while looking to get the most out of life.

This is Pink October, a month dedicated to Breast Cancer Awareness, and Deeba and I have chosen Pink as our Macaron theme, asking all of our fellow MacPassionate bakers to Think Pink! I have created Berry Pink Macarons filled with Milk Chocolate Ganache and share the wish that we all take a moment to think about this devastating disease and how many women around us have been touched by it. I know several. I also understand the importance of research, of cures, of solutions. By Thinking Pink we can all help spread the awareness and share the hope that one day this will be a disease of the past.

With Milk Chocolate Ganache

7.2 oz (200 g) confectioner’s/powdered sugar
4 oz (115 g ) ground blanched almonds
3 large egg whites (about 3.8 – 4 oz/ 110 – 112 g)
1 oz (30 g) granulated sugar
2 Tbs all-natural Berry Tea (I used a mixture of Hibiscus, Apple, Rosehip, Strawberry & Grape, Elderberry, Blackcurrent)
1 tsp cranberry powder
¼ tsp pink gel food coloring

Prepare 2 large baking sheets. On 2 large pieces of white paper the size of your baking sheets, trace 1 – inch diameter circles (I used the wide end of my pastry tip) evenly spaced, leaving about ¾ - 1 inch between each circle. This will be your template to help you pipe even circles of batter onto the parchment paper. You will be able to reuse these endlessly. Place one paper on each baking sheet then cover with parchment paper. Set aside. Prepare a pastry bag with a plain tip (Ateco #807 or #809).

Place the three egg whites in a medium-sized bowl (I prefer plastic) and add a dash of salt to help stabilize the whites. Set aside.

Place the fruit tea in a grinder with about half of the ground almonds and whiz until as fine as possible. Sift into a large bowl, discard the leftover solids and then add more ground almonds to the sifted fruity almonds until desired quantity/weight. Sift the powdered sugar over the ground almonds in the bowl, add the cranberry powder and whisk to blend.

In a standing mixer or with a hand mixer, whip the egg whites for 30 seconds on low speed then increase speed to high and whip until the whites are foamy. Gradually add the granulated sugar as you continue to whip the whites until you obtain a glossy meringue and all of the sugar has been beaten in. The meringue will be very stiff (turn the bowl upside down over your head and they shouldn’t move) and be dense like marshmallow.

Gently but firmly fold the whipped whites into the powdered sugar/ground almonds, using a silicone spatula or the equivalent, turning the bowl as you lift and fold, making sure you fold in all the dry ingredients completely. When the batter is ready to pipe, it should flow from the spatula like lava or a thick ribbon. To test to see if you have folded it enough, drop a small amount onto a clean plate and jiggle it slightly. The top should flatten, not remain in a point. If it doesn’t flatten, give the batter a few more folds and test again.

You can also fold the powdered mixture into the meringue if it is easier for you.

Fill your pastry bag with the batter. Pipe circles onto the parchment paper, using the traced circles on the template sheets to guide you, holding your pastry bag above each circle and piping into the center. DO NOT FORGET TO CAREFULLY REMOVE THE WHITE PAPER TEMPLATE FROM UNDERNEATH THE PARCHMENT PAPER. YOU DO NOT WANT THIS TEMPLATE TO GO IN THE OVEN!

You can dust some of the shells with pink colored sugar to decorate.

Preheat your oven to 280°F (140°C).

Allow the macarons to sit out for 30 minutes to an hour. The top of each shell should form a “skin” (it will feel like it hardened a bit when gently touched). Bake the shells for 15 – 20 minutes, depending on their size (when I touched macs that were not quite done, the top jiggled a bit as if there was still a bit of liquid batter between the top and the “feet” so I let it continue to bake another minute or two.) I turn the trays back to front halfway through the baking.

Remove the tray from the oven and immediately slide the parchment paper with the shells off of the hot baking sheet and onto a surface, table or countertop. Allow to cool before sliding the shells very gently off of the parchment by slipping a metal cake spatula under the shell as you lift it up. Be careful or the center of the shell risks sticking to the parchment.
Milk Chocolate Ganache

5 ¼ oz (150 g) milk baking chocolate
3/5 cup (150 ml) heavy cream *

* basically, when making ganache with milk chocolate, use equal quantity chocolate and cream

Chop the chocolate and place in a bowl. Scald the cream and pour over the chopped chocolate. Stir until all of the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Allow to stand, chilling in the refrigerator if necessary, until thick enough to pipe while holding its shape (not sliding off of the shell).

Monday, October 18, 2010

FLOGNARDE (Clafoutis) aux POMMES

My husband gave up all hope of his usual distinguished and discreet passage through the market on Saturday morning as we approached our favorite fruit and vegetable stand. An uncontrollable (or uncontrolled?) squeal of delight escaped my lips as I caught sight of the bounty of newly arrived autumn treats: plump burnt orange pumpkins and squash, rolly poly sweet potatoes, deep chocolate-colored figs nestled snugly together inside their tiny wooden crate. Mushrooms, the common to the uncommon, lay placidly, as mushrooms are wont to do, in piles near the front in elegant, gentle shades of brown and cream and gold while the first clementines made their tentative appearance from sunny Spain. Tumbles of grapes and sacks of chestnuts are the season’s harbingers as the sun chases the gray rainy days away and skittles back to town.

I slip my hand into his, my excitement palpable, as visions of autumn’s best savory dishes and sweet treats flutter through my head; soups and risotti, pies and cakes. I’m taken back to bright, chilly weekends spent with his parents in their small country village, bundling up in sweaters and coats, dog let off the leash to enjoy a day of complete freedom, skirting around the old stone houses and along the edges of the fields (with a nod towards the occasional cow) and ending up at the apple orchards stretching gracefully into the distance. Finding our way back home, chilled to the bone, our cheeks and noses flushed from the fresh air, to find a pot of hot coffee and a warm apple tart on the table. Or brisk walks through the vineyards outside of Nantes, new city, new dog but the same chill air and bright sun welcome us to yet another autumn as we laugh and chatter among the lush, green vines heavy with fruit, giggling as Marty pushes his snout into les grappes and elegantly picks grape after grape; even he is hungry for autumn fruit. Home again finds us digging into yet another lovely apple pie.

The apple and pear people are back, as well, taking up their usual market spot outdoors under the eaves. Two vibrant women, hair hurriedly pushed back into scraggly ponytails, old, worn cardigans tucked under heavy blue cotton aprons, dash back and forth from client to bin and back again, selecting from a seemingly never-ending array of apples and pears fresh off the branches, explaining which are for eating, which baking, which are sweet and which are tart. I glance over the crude wooden crates filled with golden green and red fruit and breath in deeply the wonderful fragrance of autumn as we await the "go ahead" nod from one of the vendeuses. JP leans in towards her and asks “ what do you suggest for a clafoutis?” and she begins scooping up bright Reines des Reinettes and placing them in her battered plastic tub that sits atop the scale. “Yes, definitely, les Reines des Reinettes,” she explains. “You can always use sweet Golden, but Reines des Reinettes add a touch of tartness which, when baked, heightens and brings out all of the apples’ full flavor!”

My husband had come to me Saturday morning with that sweet, childlike “I am going to ask you a favor” look in his eyes, the one that never fails to melt my heart and make me laugh, and told me that he was in the mood for an apple clafoutis. But not just any clafoutis, the one he saw in my latest issue of Saveurs magazine. Ever wary of summer stone fruits and the dulling of flavor we have experienced over the past several years, he prefers apples and pears grown abundant and closer to home and waits patiently for autumn to roll around. Crisp, sweet apples with a touch of tartness or sweet pears, the flesh soft and meltingly smooth, he will enjoy one at the end of every meal, often pairing his choice with crusty baguette and a salty, creamy roquefort or nutty comté, a tangy goat cheese or an astonishing maroilles, as the French so love to do. But this time, he saw a beautiful, mouthwatering photo in a glossy magazine and urged me to fulfill his desire.

When it comes to dessert, homemade pastries and baked goods, my man gets right to the point: apples or pears! Tarts and galettes, cakes and strudels, he always requests apples or pears. It may simply be the addition of fruit that makes him feel a tad more saintly or a dash less naughty, or it may be that he loves the sweet fruitiness of autumn’s best balancing out the cake or crust, but whatever it is this is what he wants. And what my man wants…my man gets.

But what, you are wondering, is a Flognarde? Nothing more, nothing less than a clafoutis in reality, but local is as local does and in certain regions in France the lovely clafoutis is referred to as a flognarde. And as we associate clafoutis with cherries, the flognarde is usually made with apples or pears. The perfect autumn treat.

I am sending this to lovely Ivonne for Magazine Mondays at Cream Puffs in Venice! Enjoy your trip, Ivonne!

Flognarde aux Pommes from Sept-Oct 2010 Saveurs magazine, slightly tweaked

This is traditionally made without a pastry crust but I was in the mood for a creamy, fruity tartlet so I made 6 tartlets lined with my own Sweet Pastry Crust and 2 clafoutis/flognarde in ceramic mini quiche dishes without a crust. They were both perfect.

Without a crust served in individual quiche dishes.

Individual tartlets with crusts.

Makes 8 – 4 ½-inch (11 cm) tartlet tins/mini quiche dishes*

1 Sweet Pastry Crust (optional)
2 or 3 apples – I used crispy, sweet, slightly tart Reine de Reinette
1 ½ cups (350 ml) milk (I used low fat)
3 large eggs
scant ½ cup (90 g) sugar
½ cup + 1 Tbs (70 g) flour
2 Tbs vegetable oil (or any neutral-tasting oil)
Dash vanilla extract

* You could also make one large tart or clafoutis, with or without a pastry crust.

Prepare your Sweet Pastry crust using my recipe and following my instructions. Wrap the finished dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes until easy to roll out without sticking too much to the rolling pin. When working with this buttery dough, it is best to work very quickly and handle it as little as possible. Keep your work surface floured as well as dusting the surface of the dough with more flour as needed to keep it from sticking to the rolling pin.

If you are not lining the tins or baking dishes with Pastry then generously butter the bottom and sides.

Pre-bake your crusts by very carefully rolling out and lining 6 of the tartlet tins. Place the tins on one large baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Place pieces of oven-safe parchment paper or aluminum foil into each pastry-lined tin, fill with uncooked beans or pastry weights and bake for 5 minutes, then remove the paper or foil with the beans and continue baking for another 5 - 8 minutes until set and golden. Remove from the oven to a cooling rack while you prepare the tartlet filling. Keep the tins on the baking sheet.

Increase the oven temperature to 400°F (200°C).

Peel and core the apples then cut into chunks. Divide them evenly between the tartlet tins or quiche dishes.

Gently heat the milk until warm. In a medium or large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs until blended and foamy. Add the sugar, flour, oil and vanilla and whisk until smooth. Gradually whisk in the warm milk.

Using a ladle, carefully pour the liquid batter over the apple chunks in the tins, filling up to the rim. Carefully lift the entire baking sheet and slip in the preheated oven. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes until the flognarde is puffed and golden. If your oven, like mine, bakes unevenly, do not hesitate to flip the baking sheet back to front halfway through the baking time.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


I baked my first from-scratch yeast bread twenty-five years or so ago in that old Brooklyn apartment upstairs from my brother. Fragrant, golden loaves, heavenly manna, elegantly twisted Challah pulled out of my oven with all the pride and joy of a mother gazing upon her newborn infant. But the loaves were dense and hard, dry like the desert under the heat of day, heavy like my heart. So downhearted I felt that day that it was another ten years before I attempted a second time. Only to find yet another baking tray full of cannonballs in the guise of dinner rolls. But the siren’s call of bread baking tempted me all too often. Photographs of fluffy, light-as-air rolls and gorgeous, crusty loaves with soft yet satisfyingly chewy crumb teased and seduced, and I refused to give up. Try and try again (and I honestly will not say undaunted) I plunged on, kneading and shaping, experimenting, tasting until finally, finally one day….

Determination finally won out and one day I simply had a revelation and understood the secret! My stick-to-itiveness paid off and I began creating the loaves of bread that months and years before I had only dreamed about. Watching the yeast bubble and foam, plunging my fingers into soft, powdery, ethereal flour and smiling to myself as it puffed up and floated around me, pressing my hands into the soft, smooth, sensuous dough, caressing, stroking, coaxing until it responded to my touch, bounced back to me when pressed, convinced me that it was all that I had been longing for. Patience along with some good old-fashioned trial and error stirred up with a lot of love and the perfect (or near-perfect, but that is okay as well) bread arrives on our table warm and fragrant, delightfully light and tender on the inside and crusty on the outside.

Bread Baking Day has been inspiring me for just about one year. This monthly blogging event was created by Zorra of 1x umrühren bitte and has carried me through many a month, kept me going and gave me one more reason to bake bread. Cookbooks strewn across my desktop and sofa, my coffee table and kitchen table, my fingers slide down the index page as I make my choice and the baking begins. If one has a desire to learn a new skill, master a new technique, then baking alongside friends is the best way. Encouragement and support, that gentle nudge forward, a kind word, advice when needed and a smile at the end of the day no matter the results all make for the best baking experience. I have come to absolutely love baking bread; the measuring, stirring, kneading, it is all so therapeutic, a fabulous way to work out the stress, and watching such simple, basic, earthy ingredients, flour and water, yeast and salt, blend together and transform into something so perfect, so necessary as one beautiful loaf of bread is more than satisfying; it is magic.

And today is World Bread Day. Zorra opens up her virtual kitchen and hosts this 5th Annual World Bread Day event today, inviting one and all to talk about bread, bake bread, eat bread. So roll up your sleeves, pull the flour off the shelf and let’s bake!

Yes, baking bread with a friend is the best experience, the most fun and the most inspiring. This month I baked with Rosa. If you do not yet know Rosa of Rosa’s Yummy Yums then…well, where have you been hiding? Rosa is a generous, warm and most humble person with an amazingly clever wit hiding behind her lovely exterior. Just peruse her blog and you will be amazed at her baking talent! One stunning creation after the next that still has the power to amaze me. Read any of her blog posts and her humor shines through carrying you along chuckling to each delectable recipe and gorgeous photograph. Now I am using mighty big words here, a string of superlatives, but I exaggerate not! But all of that aside – for just one visit to her blog and you can judge for yourself – Rosa has become a friend and for that I am satisfied. She truly is a kind person. And one thing that we two have in common other than our passion for baking is, well, we both participate regularly in blogging events and we both invariably wait to bake for any event until the very last minute. Which in turn makes us stress completely out. We worry and moan and look around every corner for that disaster that is surely waiting to sink our cake, curdle our cream or turn our bread into rocks. This month, knowing that I was pushing my luck and waiting until literally the last days to bake for World Bread Day, I happened to bump into Rosa and started chatting about it. And then I noticed her perfect healthy Bread Rolls and knew what I wanted to bake.

Well, it wasn’t all bright and rosy. I fairly followed her recipe and found that this first batch of rolls were too dense for my pleasure. Although not hard as rocks they were far from the light and fluffy dinner rolls that I had expected. And the flavor was too strong for me – most likely the quality of the whole wheat flour I used and the ground linseed and goji berries I added. I rolled half up in loganberry jam-filled spirals that I found tasty enough and husband enjoyed the plain rolls with his end-of-dinner cheese and wine. But back to the old drawing board. Second time the charm! I altered the ingredients and some of the quantities, I used only a combination of white and chestnut flours, added some gorgeous raw honey sent to me by my great friend Barbara, threw in a few tablespoons mixed seeds for some crunch and the rolls were wonderful! Dense yet light, chewy with the delightful crunch of the seeds, just perfect. And thanks to Rosa, with whom I was on twitter ceaselessly back and forth during this whole baking rigamarole, for her support, tips, suggestions and jokes.

The first rolls, good but not ideal. Yummy with loganberry jam center!

Perfect, tasty, light yet chewy dinner rolls

So here is to the 5th Annual World Bread Day –
I baked, I ate, I lived and did I ever talk about bread!

Also sending these wonderful Dinner Rolls to Susan, baker extraordinaire, of Wild Yeast for her weekly Yeastspotting round up!

Adapted from Rosa’s recipe on Rosa’s Yummy Yums

1 1/3 cups (300 ml) warm water
2 ½ tsps (8 g) active dry yeast
2 tsps granulated brown sugar
3 ¼ cups (400 g) flour – I used French all-purpose white
4/5 cup (100 g) chestnut flour
½ tsp ground cardamom
2 tsps salt
3 Tbs mixed seeds (pine nuts, pumpkin and sunflower seeds) and more if you want to sprinkle the top of the rolls
Olive oil for brushing the tops of the rolls

In a small bowl, blend the active dry yeast and the brown sugar then add the warm (body temperature) water, stirring to dissolve the yeast and break up any clumps. Stir 1 to 2 cups of the white flour into the yeast mixture, stirring gently, adding just enough flour to make a smooth, thick paste. Cover the bowl with a towel and all the yeast to activate, from 15 to 20 minutes. The mixture should have risen some and the surface should be bubbly.

In a large mixing bowl, blend the rest of the white flour, the chestnut flour, the cardamom, salt and the mixed seeds. Add the yeast liquid and stir until all of the dry ingredients are moistened and you have a scraggy dough. Scrape the dough together and push out onto a floured work surface. Knead for about 10 minutes, flouring the work surface as needed, until it is smooth, soft and springy. Place in a clean, lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat the dough with oil, cover the bowl with plastic wrap then a clean kitchen towel and leave in a warm, dry place until doubled in bulk, 1 ½ hours or so.

After the first rise, gently deflate the dough and turn it out onto the floured work surface. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces and shape as you like: I rolled each out into a long snake, tied in a knot and the tucked the loose ends underneath. Place the shaped rolls onto a large parchment-lined baking sheet, cover once again with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel and allow to rise and double in size a second time, about 40 minutes.

About 20 minutes before baking the rolls, preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).

When the rolls have doubled, remove the kitchen towel and the plastic wrap and brush the tops of the rolls with olive oil. If you like, you can sprinkle the tops with more seeds. When the oven is preheated, bake the rolls for 20 – 25 minutes or until risen and a deep golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Remove the rolls from the oven and brush the tops once again with olive oil. If you like, you can sprinkle the freshly brushed rolls with coarse sea salt. Serve hot, warm or room temperature.


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