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I decided to try out my mother-in-law’s bread machine today. I’ver never used a bread machine before, and the loaf (challah, if you’d like to know) isn’t even a third of the way done, and I have no idea how it’s going to turn out. But it’s already a success to me, because I’ve just discovered something very interesting to me as a Canadian baker (sorry to my American buddies, this probably isn’t at all useful to you, unless you feel like importing Canadian flour). In the past year or so I’ve been experimenting with flour types, buying bread flour instead of all-purpose because it’s what my bread books advise.

In preparation for baking a bread machine loaf, I pulled up the Black & Decker bread machine manual and discovered that they provide different recipes for Americans and Canadians. Why? As it turns out, I didn’t need to be using bread flour all this time! All-purpose flour is a blend of hard wheat, which has more protein (gluten), and soft wheat, which has less. Canadian wheat is harder in general, and the blend leans more toward hard flour, so Canadians can generally use all-purpose flour for any bread recipe, as the protein content is about equal to American bread flour.

I’m not exactly sure what bearing this has on my cake/cookie/pastry baking, but I’ve never had too much trouble all-purposing those either. Maybe we ought to start experimenting with cake flour? Does anyone outside of North America have any ideas about flours elsewhere? How about Americans? Do you use bread flour or all-purpose flour for your baking? Have you noticed any differences?

Here’s an interesting explanation of the Canadian/American flour thing.

ps. Hi everyone! We’re back! (and obviously can’t resist a bit of metablogging in nearly every post)


It seems that I’m spending most of my time lately apologizing– I’m late, I’m absent… Well. So I’m late posting this and I’ve been absent. And we’ll be absent some more for the next month, I think, as we are packing up our life and moving ourselves across the country. Carlo’s been getting shooting pains in his head, and I’ve suddenly developed a neck problem. Ha. So this is my final apology and from here on out, if we post we’ll be acting as if everything’s normal and there’s nothing to apologize about.

So here we are late with our Daring Bakers report. This Last month, Morven at Food Art and Random Thoughts chose Dorie Greenspan’s perfect party cake. Now, I’m not much of a cake baker. Too much precision, too much waiting and anxiety, too many fallen cakes. A lot of bakers had problems getting their cakes to rise, and I was no exception. My layer cake had only two layers instead of four, since I didn’t want to try slicing into my pitiful little layers. But! The cake was super-tasty. I made a strawberry-lemon curd filling to layer inside, and the buttercream was thick and delicious. For a basic cake recipe, this one is a good one. Check out some of the other bakers’ cakes by going to the Daring Bakers’ blogroll. There are some good ideas for how to get the cake to rise.

You can check out the cake recipe here.


1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups fresh strawberries
zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 large eggs
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup butter, cubed

Put the sugar, strawberries, lemon zest and juice, eggs and egg yolks in the bowl of a food processor and spin them until the strawberries are smooth.

Put the puree in a small saucepan, add the butter and cook over low heat, stirring often, until butter has melted and mixture thickens, about 30 minutes. Don’t allow the curd to boil.

Take the curd off the heat and cool it before placing it in clean jars and refrigerating it. This recipe makes about 2 1/2 cups of curd. It’s great for a cake layer, for spreading on eggy bread, or just to eat out straight out of the jar (I’m not ashamed…).

Happy April!

It’s easy to be in love with an idea; it’s a lot harder to follow through on its execution.

I’ve been thinking about baking French bread for a long time now. The idea of pulling a crispy, golden baguette out of my oven appealed to my romantic bread-baker side, but it seemed so complicated. I was scared. I’m not very fond of failing, and I’d often rather not do something at all than to do it and get it wrong. I know, I know. That’s not very daring of me.

I’ve been putting off French bread for all sorts of reasons: I don’t have a spray bottle for misting the bread and making steam, I don’t have a fancy bread lame, I don’t have a canvas baking couche for proofing the bread. Oh, and I wasn’t really sure what proofing meant. And then there’s this:

We were lucky that our stove was included in our apartment, but not so lucky with the stove itself. It’s a million years old, with only one rack inside. The burners go out once a month, the broiler seldom works, and it runs at least 20 degrees cooler than it’s supposed to. It’s so poorly insulated that it just can’t hold its heat. This stove should be a recipe for failure.

So I was unreasonably thrilled when I found out that Julia Child’s French bread was my very first Daring Bakers challenge. If I failed, well, so be it. It wasn’t going to be my fault–I didn’t have the right supplies! As it turns out, Julia Child’s detailed instructions, combined with some anxiety and improvisation with equipment, gave us an amazing result. This was SO not a failure. What we had in the end was a bread with a moist, almost creamy crumb, with large holes; and a crisp, golden, crackling crust that sprang open beautifully where I slashed it before slipping it into the oven. The recipe made three baguettes slightly longer than 12 inches each.

I’m so happy (and pleasantly surprised!) with how this bread turned out, especially given the equipment I was working with. That’s the magic of Julia Child and 10-page-long instructions. The only thing I would do differently is to use better flour. With the intention of conquering my perfectionism, I decided to use the regular, not-special all purpose flour I had in the house. With three(!) rises, and so few ingredients (water, flour, yeast, salt), the flavour of the flour really develops, so it only makes sense to use the best you can get your hands on. I’ll do this next time. And yes, there will be a next time.

The Daring Bakers is a huge group, and there’s a lot of bread online today, so I won’t reprint the recipe. You can check it out here. What I’d like to offer you are some of the resources, materials, and techniques I used.

KNEADING: I’m always a pretty anxious cook, and I was especially so with this recipe. On the day of my baking, my nerves were eased when I discovered this video of Richard Bertinet demonstrating his kneading technique. This was perfect for the French bread dough. Ignore the ingredients he’s using and just focus on the super-cool kneading. My damp, sticky dough was transformed, but I didn’t need to use any extra flour, so the final product wasn’t even the slightest bit tough!

RISING: Here’s a trick my mother has used for years. I use my oven for the first rise, and in the case of this bread, the second rise too. I set my oven to the lowest temperature it runs at. I leave it there for two minutes, and then turn it off, turning on the oven light at the same time. This makes a nice cozy environment for the bread to grow in. Another trick is to put the covered bowl of dough on top of the fridge. It’s usually nice and warm up there too.
Another essential is patience. This dough required hours to rise to its full height. It had finally gone through its final rise and fully cooked 12 HOURS after I first pulled the flour off the shelf. Monitor the dough closely, but don’t skimp on time.

MAKING STEAM AND HEAT: Julia Child’s recipe recommends unglazed quarry tiles and a spray bottle to reproduce the heat and steam of a professional bread baking oven. Well, I didn’t have those, but I do have a pizza stone. I heated the oven hotter than the recommended temperature with the pizza stone inside. This heated the stone up nice and hot, so it would hold the heat that our crappy oven couldn’t. When I slid the baguettes onto the stone, we made steam by tossing a bit of water directly onto the bottom of the oven. The recipe recommends ice cubes, but I didn’t want to sacrifice any heat at all (precious, precious, heat), so we used hot water. We did it three times, about a minute between each steam bath. Carlo whipped open the oven door, I tossed the water from a cookie sheet directly onto the floor of the oven, and Carlo whipped the door closed again. Total time per steam bath: maybe 5 seconds. After all that, I finally reduced the oven heat to the recommended temperature.

NOT BEING AFRAID: Don’t be afraid!

Thanks to the hostesses of this month’s Daring Baker challenge — Mary from The Sour Dough and Sara from I Like to Cook — I’ve conquered my fear of French bread. I can’t wait to see what comes next!

You can see other Daring Bakers’ French bread by going to the Daring Bakers Blogroll.

Here is Hanne’s Mom’s oft-requested recipe for overnight buns. I just scanned the original recipe to send back to friends out East. We’re home for Christmas now, which is why we’ve been absentee bloggers. We’ll do our best to mine and publish our parent’s secret recipes to a) share with you and b) keep this blog semi-active over the holidays.

These fist sized rolls are great for sandwiches and burgers or for filling out your Christmas feast. Enjoy! We’ll be back soon.

Overnight Buns

When I looked out the window this morning, the street looked like this:

It snowed all night, it’s snowing now, and they’re saying it will continue to snow for the next few days. Later, I will put on my suit, rolling up the cuffs of the pants and secure them with binder clips (one hazard of Canadian winter–your pants can’t be tailored for your heels and your boots at the same time. And you do not want to have damp pants cuffs). Then I will venture out to wade through the snow to go teach a class. For now, though, I’m wrapped in layers of blankets and sweaters, keeping snug indoors.

They’re saying that this winter might be a cold one, full of snow and low temperatures. Something about La Nina. I say, bring her on! I’ve got chicken stock on my balcony (hey, what’s the frozen outdoors for if not to augment my freezer space?), tea in my cupboards, many, many pairs of wool socks in my dresser drawers. And on my table right now I’ve got a loaf of tender, toasty bread. It’s not beautiful (witness the lumpy, flattened top–I think my loaf tin was a little too big), but it’s cozy.

This is wild rice onion bread. It’s moist and full of onion flavour. The recipe comes from Peter Reinhart’s “Brother Juniper’s Bread Book,” which is once of my favourite bread books. It’s a great read, and it’s got some great recipes. Wild Rice and Onion bread uses a mix of brown and wild rice as a base to add fluffiness and moisture to the dough. If you can’t get your hands on wild rice, I think brown rice would work fine on its own. The recipe calls for one cup of raw, diced onion, but when I make it next time, I think I’ll use 1 1/2 cups of raw onion and cook it down to caramelize and concentrate the flavours. Other than those modifications, this bread is a keeper! It’s firm enough to use as a sandwich bread, but it’s also moist and light enough to be toasted and eaten on its own or made into rolls. The rolls make me think of onion bagels, just begging for some whipped cream cheese. It also makes fantastic warm and crunchy and light toast.

adapted from Brother Juniper’s Bread Book– Makes two loaves, or 30 rolls

8 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup diced fresh onions
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp instant yeast
1 1/2 Tbsp salt
1 cup cooked wild rice blend (I used a mix of wild rice and brown rice. I added 3 parts water to one part rice and cooked it for about 45 minutes, until the water was absorbed and the wild rice had split open– make sure the wild rice is tender enough. This should be added at room temperature, so it’s a good idea to make it a day ahead)
1/3 cup buttermilk
about 1 1/2 cups of water

In a steel bowl, mix all the dry ingredients together, including the yeast, the onions and the wild rice blend. Next, add the liquid ingredients. Don’t add all the water. Set some aside in case you need to add more to adjust the consistency of the dough while you’re kneading it. Mix everything together as best you can. I usually eschew the spoon and just use my hands to bring the mix together.

Turn out the shaggy mess of dough onto a floured counter. Knead the dough for about 10-15 minutes, until it comes together in a smooth, stretchy, silky mass. It should pass the windowpane test. Enjoy this part of the process. Remember (or pretend) that it’s snowing outside anyway, and you’re inside your warm kitchen with this beautiful mass of dough in your hands, making magic.

When you are finished kneading, put your dough into a clean bowl and cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel or saran wrap. If your kitchen is a little cool or drafty, feel free to coddle your dough by protecting it in the oven. I turn my oven on to 200 F for about 30 seconds, then turn off the heat and turn on the light in the oven before putting my dough in. The dough loves the insulated warmth. Leave your dough to rise until it has approximately doubled in size, between 45 minutes and 1 1/2 hours, depending on the heat.

Punch down your dough and form it into rolls or loaves. Place the formed dough in greased baking tins, re-cover it and allow it to rise for another 45 minutes to 1 hour, until it doubles in size. You can brush the tops of the dough with an egg wash before you bake them.

Bake your bread at 350 F for approximately 45 minutes. If you are making rolls, they will be done in about 12-15 minutes.

When your bread is done, take it out and allow it to cool before slicing into a loaf or ripping into a roll and toasting it.

Do you like this photo? I’m not sure I do, but it’s all I’ve got. Count those cookies. There are four in this picture. There were more this morning. Now there are none. So we’re going to have to live with this photo because, well, I’m sure a picture of four cookies is better than a picture of none. I meant to check these photos out and then go take some more if need be, but the “just one nibble” turned into a mini cookie feast. Now my belly hurts, but that’s a small price to pay. These cookies are just that good.

They have a perfect mix of chewy centre and crispy outside, with the in-your-face bite of blackstrap molasses (go ahead and substitute fancy molasses if you want to) backed up by cinnamon and ginger. I can never eat just one. That’s why I make them in small batches. If you’re like me, you might want to halve this recipe. Or if you’re really worried, just don’t make them at all. They’ll hook you, I swear.


3/4 cup butter (softened) or margarine
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups sifted flour
1 tsp. ginger
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350.

Cream together the butter and the sugar. Add the egg and molasses and stir well.

In a separate bowl, sift together the dry ingredients before adding them to the wet ingredients. Again, stir well. The dough will be relatively soft and sticky.

Form small balls of dough and roll them in sugar before placing them (far apart, as these cookies spread) on an ungreased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes.

We’re going all pumpkin around here lately. I guess all that puree stored in the freezer is weighing on my mind. Here’s one of the ways I’ve been using it up. These pumpkin-pecan madeleines are flavoured with brown sugar and browned butter, which adds a richness that perfectly complements the pumpkin. It took me three tries to get this recipe down. The first time they didn’t rise high enough, the second time I added vanilla (I discovered that it just got in the way) and I forgot to butter the tins. Finally, on the third round, everything aligned. These little cakes are hardly madeleines anymore, what with the pumpkin and the brown sugar and the crunchy, candied nuts, but they’re so pretty, and I love how their edges get nice and crispy when they’re baked in a madeleine tin. I also highly recommend the browned butter method for combination with pumpkin. It’s a deep flavour that goes perfectly with brown sugar.


-If you don’t have a madeleine tin, I think these would work as mini-muffins instead.
-Grease your tin really, really well. If you don’t, your madeleines won’t brown nicely AND they won’t come out of your tin. -Candying (and in fact, even toasting) the pecans is optional, but I like it because the madeleine batter is not very sweet.
-If you use canned solid-pack pumpkin instead of homemade puree, I recommend mixing it with your melted butter before adding it to the batter. This should soften it enough to make it easy to incorporate.
-I added some baking powder to the recipe because my madeleines didn’t rise as much as I would have liked (as I had to cut back on butter in order to add pumpkin). If you have a way to cut the baking powder, let me know.


1/4 cup butter, plus more for toasting pecans and greasing madeleine tin
2 large eggs
pinch of salt
1/4 cup loosely packed brown sugar, plus 2 tsp. for candying pecans
1/3 cup + 1Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
4 Tbsp. pumpkin puree
1/4 cup chopped pecans

First, do your preparation: preheat your oven to 350. Chop the pecans and sift the flour and baking powder together in a small bowl.

Next, melt your butter in a small pan over medium heat. It will froth up, then reduce again as it begins to brown and turn a rich nutty colour. When it is brown, pour it through a fine-mesh strainer (this gets rid of any solids that might have formed) into a small bowl. Set the browned butter aside to cool as you prepare your pecans and batter.

In the same frying pan you used to brown the butter, toast the pecans with a teaspoon or so more butter. When they are getting golden, toss approximately 2 tsp. of brown sugar in and stir the pecans to coat them well. Remove them from the pan and set them aside to cool.

To prepare the batter, first beat the two eggs together with a pinch of salt. You can use a standing mixer if you’ve got one (lucky you!), a handheld electric mixer (this is what I did), or if you’re tough, do it by hand. Beat the eggs until they’re pale yellow, thick, and syrupy. They will also have gained some volume. Next, beat in your brown sugar, adding it in large pinches to the eggs while you continue beating. When all the sugar has been incorporated, continue beating until your mixture has gained even more volume and holds the marks of the beater for a few seconds (like softly-whipped cream).

After you’ve beaten the eggs, sprinkle the flour overtop and gently fold it in with a spatula. Don’t be rough and overstir, but don’t be afraid to be firm with it either. Next, fold in the butter and pumpkin, ensuring they are well-incorporated.  Finally, fold in the pecans.

Put the batter into your (well-greased!!) madeleine tin, a big tablespoon for each little mold. Most of the madeleines recipes I consulted said that the batter would spread in the heat of the oven, but I didn’t find this to be true. Instead, I used the back of a spoon to spread the batter evenly in the molds. I filled the molds approximately 3/4 full, maybe a little bit more. I had exactly enough batter for 12 madeleines.

Bake your madeleines for 12-15 minutes, turning the pan once halfway through cooking to ensure they brown evenly. They will be golden and springy when they’re ready.

Once you remove them from the oven, cool your madeleines in the tin before popping them out and eating them. Try them with tea or coffee.

So it’s Saturday again, and like always, I made some breakfasty baked goods. Pumpkins are on sale post-Halloween, so I picked up a nice big one and roasted it last night. When I think of what to do with pumpkin, I always think of pumpkin muffins. When I was growing up, my mom would often make pumpkin muffins with her freezer store of roasted and pureed pumpkin. When I decided to do the same, I realized I don’t have her recipe! I resorted to another one I’d copied out of my friend’s copy of the November 2006 issue of Gourmet. We’re getting a little Gourmet-heavy, but what can I say? I love that magazine.

I love these muffins too. The pumpkin makes them light and tender. The only changes we made to the recipe were that we used pumpkin we roasted ourselves (instructions on doing that later– I’ve got to spread these things out a bit if we want to have a post a day for the whole month!), and that I added a bit of whole wheat flour instead of using 100% white flour. I think these muffins are good candidates for some whole wheat flour, especially if you’re using home-cooked pumpkin instead of canned, which is a bit thicker. The pumpkin makes the muffins light enough to take a bit of whole-wheat heaviness. The original recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice, but I’ve never understood the point of pumpkin pie spice. I want to have control over my proportions! So for the spices, feel free to adjust the ratios to your own liking. I’ll have to get my mom’s recipe so I can do a taste test.

Without further ado:

Pumpkin Muffins adapted from Gourmet Magazine

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup all -purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 cup pumpkin
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/8 tsp. cloves
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat your oven to 350.

In a small bowl, mix together the flours, baking soda, and baking powder.

In a medium bowl, combine the pumpkin, eggs, spices, sugar and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ones, and stir them just until you don’t see any more flour powderiness. The mixture should be lumpy, so make sure you don’t overstir these.

Plop generous lumps of dough into a well-greased 12 cup muffin tin. If you have muffin liners, use those instead. You’ll save yourself time and oil. Sprinkle sugar onto the tops of each muffin.

Bake the muffins for about 30 minutes. They’re done when the tops are golden and a toothpick inserted into their centres comes out clean.