happenings, part 4

  • Excited about all of these campsites. There are just not enough weekends in my year anymore!
  • If Chris ever gives in to a hot air balloon ride, this is where I’d want it to be.
  • My newest album excitement. Can’t wait to see them in the flesh next weekend!
  • Fun with corks. I kinda like the backsplash idea, but trivets seem much easier.
  • We are heading to Hilton Head Island, SC this weekend for fun with family. There will hopefully be some beach lounging in between the kiddo time, and I’m looking forward to dinner here one night. YUM.
  • Speaking of restaurants, I’m hitting this up next week for San Francisco’s Dine About Town. Finally, I get to take advantage of SF’s version of Restaurant Week.
  • Need some berry-pickin’ suggestions in the Bay Area? Try this link.
  • Love the idea of a walnut-date smoothie. Now I just need a morning to make them!
  • Turntable Kitchen likes the new Fiona Apple album so far. I am ultra curious about it myself.
  • Tara reminded me how much I adore romesco sauce. And since it’s zucchini time, I can get this recipe for zucchini fries + romesco sauce outta the vault.
  • If I ever get my hands on a bunch o’ strawberries, you best believe these biscuits will be made in a flash.
  • I did this thing to my hair the other day, to get “beach waves” and it was kinda cool. Oh, and have you followed me on Pinterest yet?

That’s all for today, folks. Have a safe and freakishly awesome weekend. And wish me safe travels to the other side!

ps: the top picture are flowers my favorite husband got me last weekend for our 6 year anniversary. isn’t he a doll? they are still alive and kickin’ today, which never happens around here! and the bottom picture is from our bike ride to the beach. we went through Golden Gate Park and back. Both were taken with and uploaded to Instagram. If you use it, you can find me there at @chiknpastry. And if you use it, share your ‘handle’ below – I’d love to follow you, too!

Easy Does It

It seems that the month of February has begun to fly by much more quickly than I’d anticipated. Six weeks ago, we were finally talking openly about our big move, and at the time it was a bit surreal; there was certainly more talk than action those days. Shoot, the only action, per se, was putting our condo on the market, and when we did that we thought it may be the last of the pieces to fall into place, if ever – despite it being the first physical sign that we were, in fact, moving.

But miraculously, that so-called mountain of a task has turned out to be more of an ant hill, as the condo has (fingers crossed) been sold, pending some final paperwork and such. With that, an earlier-than-expected close date has ensued, and a couple more temporary moves have been added to the moving equation.

Chris starts his job tomorrow, and as I type he’s packing his suitcases to begin the journey we thought would never get here, but in contrast it snuck up on us and smacked us silly. This first week without him will be easy, because he’ll be back late Thursday night, at which time our condo, our home for a couple more weeks, will be filled with friends and we’ll party throughout the weekend, celebrating all the Chicago days we’ve loved and all the San Francisco days we’ve yet to encounter but will almost certainly love, in time, as well.

Needless to say, the past few weeknights have been spent in bars, in restaurants, at ‘one more’ wine class – a valiant effort to clear our Chicago bucket list, and the attempt was largely successful. But in doing so, the kitchen here has been barren, so much so that yesterday the dishwasher was full of coffee mugs rather than plates, spoons rather than forks and knives, and no tupperware symbolizing a hefty week of leftovers.

I usually relish the idea of a potluck party, an event I take advantage of fully by digging through my recipe clippings/ideas and whipping up something I’ve been eyeing for a while, like the arancini, but couldn’t find a reason to make at home. But on Thursday, I had no clue what I’d bring for the Friday event, and I quickly searched the recipe pages of a few blogs I read, easily tossing out any recipe that would take more than 30 minutes and involve any worrisome ingredients that might require special grocery store trips. I was even starting to wish I’d RSVP’d as maybe, so I’d have the opportunity to back out gracefully.

But I was reminded of our sort-of mottos for the past few weeks of craziness – take things one step at a time, don’t let the large details get to you; easy does it. It seems to work for lots of life’s issues – moving, house-selling, looking for new jobs, and even potlucks.

Citrus Salad w/ Feta and Mint
inspired by Smitten Kitchen; serves a party

time commitment: 30 minutes

this is a perfect winter salad, and it’s gorgeous for a dinner party, which is where mine was utilized. you can use any combo of citrus you want, really whatever looks pretty and isn’t full of seeds. adjust amounts based on number of guests – this will serve a large group or make for great leftovers.

printable version

1/2 red onion, chopped into very thin slices
1 pink grapefruit
1 yellow grapefruit
2 blood oranges
2 cara cara oranges
2 T fresh mint, chopped into strips
4 oz goat’s milk feta cheese, cut into small cubes/chunks
1 T red wine vinegar
extra virgin olive oil (amount varies – see recipe)
1/8 t dijon mustard
fresh ground pepper
kosher salt

put onion strips in the bottom of a mesh strainer and position strainer over a medium-sized bowl. peel outer rind away from each citrus fruit, using a smallish knife, removing all the white pith from the fruit. cut each piece of fruit into 1/4″ thick wheels and layer citrus over onions in the mesh strainer (juice will slowly collect in the bowl and ‘pickle’ the onions slightly). let sit for a few minutes to drain a bit.

arrange citrus wheels neatly on a large platter, and top with onion slices. top with mint and feta. to the bowl of citrus juice, add red wine vinegar and enough olive oil to double the amount of liquid (probably ~2-3 T). add mustard, salt and pepper and whisk to create a citrus vinaigrette. pour over fruit prior to serving.


Speechless is an appropriate term for how I felt this weekend.

Morose is an appropriate term for how I felt yesterday.

Emotional embodies both. I’ll explain.

As we all know now, I turned 30 last Friday. It ranks in the top 2 of all birthdays, and was filled with loads of fun, friends, food, and wine – my very favorite things. Hubs had quite a few tricks up his sleeve, as expected, and surprises were aplenty. The first was an out-of-town guest, our good friend Todd who we met in Italy almost 10 years ago. Todd lives in Pennsylvania and made the trip, and seeing him was birthday present enough, but it didn’t stop there.

I found what at first glance looked to be a puppy leash (I know – I won’t stop with the puppy nonsense!) in my bag once we were back from lunch, or perhaps an old man’s suspenders. After seeing a grin emerge from both Hubs’ and Todd’s faces, I quickly realized that the strap attached to a brand new camera! I tore into the box akin to the way a 4-year-old might rip open a coveted Christmas gift, eyes wide and with excitement written all over my face and exhibiting reckless abandon, not caring who or what my flailing arms might encounter. So soon, you’ll see some digital SLR quality pics, thanks to a Pentax K-x that has barely left my grip.

Within seconds, another cat was prematurely let out of the bag, so to speak, as Hubs instantaneously raved about Luke’s help in finding a perfect beginner camera and his eagerness to help me learn about it. Which meant only one thing – he and Cheryl were en route from Minnesota! The day just kept getting better and better.

Once I realized we had a little party going on in a matter of hours, I knew it was time for “Hot Dog Night”, and we proceeded to procure groceries as such (more on those lovelies later this week). Jennifer & Jon came over, Todd was there, and Cheryl & Luke as well as Hope showed up later on that night; the weekend apparently was just getting started, and day 1 of my 31st year didn’t seem so lame after all. Not to mention cake – red velvet cake – from Bake.

Saturday went as most perfect Saturdays go, with a visit to Handlebar for brunch and a few re-runs of Modern Family, interspersed with a camera tutorial courtesy of photographer extraordinaire, Luke, and some mighty fine biscuits (recipe below) that served as photography practice.

And that night, the final surprise was unveiled. Following a stop outside our storage locker for what looked like a bag full of wine bottles, we proceeded to dinner, and I became nervous again, not knowing where we were going or who would be waiting. Turns out, Hubs had been planning with the lovely folks at Mado an exceptional dinner that not only was a treat to me, but to the rest of the group as well. In addition to the 8 of us who’d already been around for Friday’s festivities, there were 5 more: Hope’s boyfriend, James, my buddy Caroline (culinary school) and her husband, and Rachel and Andy – who recently moved away from Chicago to Milwaukee (sniff, sniff). I couldn’t have picked a better group of 13 myself :).

Luke took plenty of pics, and we consumed plenty of wine. 14 bottles to be exact. That night, Mado catered to a plethora of special diets all at once – a table of 13 of us had gluten intolerance, dairy/lactose intolerance, pescatarianism-but-usually-vegetarianism, and a preggers chick to deal with. It went off without a hitch, and we were all stuffed by the end of it. Stuffed and drunk. The rest of the night’s shenanigans included more wine and Rock Band till 4, and a puppy visit that my cat scoffed at.

That Hubs, he really is something, isn’t he? You don’t need to answer here; it’s a rhetorical question, you see. I can’t say what my life would be like without him; where I’d be had we never met. He is what they call a diamond in the rough, the butter to my bread, the shrimp to my grits; he is everything and so much more.

But when I think about how it all happened, how “we” came to be, it brings me back to yesterday’s feelings.

You see, I didn’t go to Italy (where Hubs and I  met) on a whim those 9 years ago. I didn’t go because I’d been dreaming of it all my life, or because I had a special interest in the Italian Renaissance. I went to get away from life; to be on my own, in a way.

I’d lost two of my favorite people the year before. Three days following my 20th birthday (the other one in the top 2), I received the worst call of my life. From my dad, in the middle of the night. My 17-year-old brother had been killed in a car accident. There was nothing that could have been done to save him; he had died on impact and just like that – he was taken out of my life forever. I remember screaming into the empty air, tears soaking my pillows, and I remember waking my roommates without knowing what I’d say or how I’d say it. My then-boyfriend’s family drove to pick me up from college in the middle of the night; we drove home in silence – other than sobs and sniffles I was quiet, blank. I remember that day and those that followed as if it were yesterday. I spent those following months at home with my family, being with my mom, dad, and sister and helping to take care of my gramma, who’d been diagnosed with end-stage cancer the day of my brother’s accident. I spent weeks upon weeks at home with her, at which time we watched hours of The Price is Right, paid her bills, and of course, ate peanut butter s’mores. It was not a typical college girl’s summer, that’s for sure.

Yesterday marked 10 years since that dreaded phone call. It’s gotten better, but it’s never easy and while 10 years seems like so long ago, I see it so clearly. Every year on that day I think of him, just like every other 364 days of every year, but this year seems a little bit different, a little bit harder. I miss him so, no matter how annoying he was, or how baggy his jeans were. I’d let him smoke packs of cigarettes if he were here with me today, and I wouldn’t even complain…

…And so, it was that year, months later, that I decided I needed change, and I decided to study abroad in Italy. It was there that Hubs and I met and while I think in sadness about what brought me there, realizing the irony of it all, I smile knowing that, no matter how tragic, how terrible the circumstances were, I know that, because of meeting him, I have become a better person, and that I went on that trip to find him.

So with that, I am humbly thankful – because in being surrounded by death, I learned to live. I learned that life can be so short, our time here with the ones we love so horribly finite. I learned that each and every day is a gift, and that if all else fails us in life, we still have the ones we love. Most of them, at least.

This past weekend was so perfect for so many reasons – but mostly, because I was surrounded by some of my favorite people – my friends, who mean the world to me and so much more.

Thank you for being there.

Now, let’s eat some tasty biscuits.

Blue Cheese Scallion Drop Biscuits
From Smitten Kitchen, who adapted from Gourmet; makes a dozen

if you like blue cheese, you will like these biscuits. if you don’t, you should probably find another cheese to blend in, or perhaps use the original Gourmet recipe linked above. really, any biscuit will do, but I enjoyed these thoroughly. blue cheese flavor permeates every bite, and the scallions add a distinct zing. plus, they come together in no time, so there really is no excuse for not giving them a whirl. did i mention they freeze well? freeze a few (unbaked) and pull ’em out for a last minute slab of carbohydrate by adding a few minutes to the baking time.

printable version

2 1/4 c all-purpose flour
2 1/2 t baking powder
2 t sugar
3/4 t baking soda
1 t salt
6 T cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/2 c crumbled blue cheese
4 scallions, finely chopped
1 c buttermilk (or let 1 c milk + 1 T vinegar sit for  5 minutes to curdle)

Preheat oven to 450 F. Whisk together flour, baking powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a bowl, then blend in butter with your fingertips, or with a pastry blender, until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in blue cheese and scallions. Add buttermilk and stir until just combined.

Drop dough in 12 equal mounds about 2 inches apart onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake in middle of oven until golden, 16 to 20 minutes and rotating the pan once halfway through baking.

I Miss My Ex…

… boyfriend’s gramma’s red velvet cake. I truly do.

Why is it that almost every gramma is notorious for producing only the absolute best cake that you ever put into your mouth? My own gramma (not the s’mores one, the other one) used to make those pound cakes that put all the other pound cakes to shame. She barely measured the ingredients, as she’d made that same cake practically every Sunday for at least the first 20 years of my life. And even though she now can’t remember what she ate for breakfast, if she ate breakfast, or even who I am on most occasions, I swear to you – if she were strong enough to stand and mix it – she could probably whip up one of them right now, at 94.5 years of age, and the taste of it would have you all begging for mercy. She can even play piano by ear, never having taken a single class, and any tune you played to her she’d gracefully glide her thin, frail fingers across those dusty ivory keys as if she were Beethoven himself.

My ex-boyfriend’s gramma? She was one helluva woman too; still is, probably. She loved me to pieces, and I loved her right back. She loved me so much that she made me a red velvet cake for every birthday, practically 5 years straight. I’d never even tasted a red velvet cake before hers, and was a bit confused when she first made it because it was deep burgundy-red and frosted (with cheese. cheese!) rather than yellow with a golden crunchy crust and the faint scent of lemon. But either way, I was truly in love; I looked forward to that cake each and every year. If truth be told, the hardest part about moving on was leaving that damned cake behind. Hell, the only hard part, really :).

My dear mommy, she’s tried. If, by try, you mean picking up store-bought blood-red red velvet cake from Harris Teeter. I know, right?! But she’s not a baker, or any type of cook, and I did give an ‘A’ for effort because if nothing else, she remembered.

The problem is, is that I’ve remembered as well. There are no cakes like ‘ex-bf’s gramma’s’ cake’ and when she made them, I never thought about the fact that one day she wouldn’t. Although I should’ve, looking back. I should’ve stood in that hot, tiny kitchen and watched her every move, scribbling down the recipe while flour flew around like snow, clinging to every surface, each one slathered in red dye as if the CSI’s should be there instead of my eager hands.

But I didn’t. And so, instead, I’ve gone 10 years without that moist, barely chocolatey, buttery, tangy cake coated with sugary, cream cheese frosting and I’ve finally decided that enough is enough. In an effort to find the next best thing, I finally made my own.

And let me just add here, that I didn’t simply hop outta bed one morning (although, let’s be honest, I never “hop” out of bed, rather I roll slowly until I am forced to put my feet on the ground…) and decide to whip this thing up. I stumbled upon it over on the Pithy and Cleaver blog, became inspired, and traced the steps back to the original recipe – because I am weird like that and wanted to investigate it just as I have investigated every other red velvet recipe that’s crossed my path. The difference is that this recipe showed promise; this recipe was not, like all of those before, tossed aside like yesterday’s Red Eye crossword, crosswords with one or two empty clues that leave me pondering for hours on how to make things fit, crosswords I eventually give up on.

And so I took this promising recipe, I read it, I took a deep breath, I ‘mise-en-placed’, and I held out hope that all this thought and anticipation would result in something halfway resembling that taste I’ve longed for each and every birthday for the past 10 years.

Let’s just say – 3/4 of the way, at this point, is good enough for me!

Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from The Confetti Cakes Cookbook via The New York Times, Smitten Kitchen, & Pithy and Cleaver.

if you are anywhere near as in love as i am with red velvet, you must try it. well, even if you aren’t or even if you’ve never even had it, you should try it. enough said.

printable version

2 t unsalted butter
3½ c cake flour, King Arthur brand
½ c unsweetened cocoa (not Dutch process)
1½ t kosher salt
2 c canola oil
2¼ c granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 container red gel coloring (1/2 oz) dissolved in 6 T water (or use ~3 oz liquid)
1½ t vanilla
1¼ c buttermilk
2 t baking soda
2½ t white vinegar
cream cheese frosting (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place teaspoon of butter in each of 2 round 9-inch layer cake pans and place pans in oven for a few minutes until butter melts. Remove pans from oven, brush interior bottom and sides of each with butter and line bottoms with parchment.

Whisk cake flour, cocoa and salt in a bowl.

Place oil and sugar in bowl of an electric mixer and beat at medium speed until well-blended. Beat in eggs one at a time. With machine on low, very slowly add red food coloring. Add vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk in two batches. Scrape down bowl and beat just long enough to combine.

Place baking soda in a small dish, stir in vinegar and add to batter with machine running. Beat for 10 seconds.

Divide batter among pans (if you have a kitchen scale the easiest way to do this is to weigh them and make them close to the same), place in oven and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, ~45 minutes. Let cool in pans 20 minutes. Then remove from pans, flip layers over and peel off parchment. Cool completely before frosting.

Take one layer and place on plating dish. If you have a serrated knife, shave off some of the top to level it out as much as possible. Coat with frosting (to avoid smearing the red crumb from the shaving, do one thin layer of frosting and let it sit in the fridge for a few minutes to harden then add the rest) and add the second layer to finish frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting

printable version (frosting only)

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 8 oz package Neufchatel cheese (or cream cheese), room temperature
2 c powdered sugar
1/2 t vanilla extract

Cream butter and cheese together in mixer. Add powdered sugar and vanilla; turn mixer on low and begin combining ingredients (to avoid getting powdered sugar all over your pretty face) and once slightly incorporated, turn to medium to combine fully. If you want sweeter frosting, add sugar by the 1/2 c.

note: if your aspirations are even loftier than mine, this cake, if done in two pans, is perfect thickness to cut into four layers. If you do more layers though, I’d 1.5 the recipe (or even double) so you don’t run out of frosting.

Move Over, Nabisco


It seems as if eons have passed since I last shared a dessert recipe with you. Truth be told though, it’s really only been 4 posts. Why, you may even think from all these savory postings that I don’t have much of a sweet tooth. That would be untrue. Very untrue.

On the other hand, we did make a butt-load of sweets in the baking class I just finished, and besides the bread and biscuits, I only talked about a couple of pies. But you may remember, I made many a person happy with those treats, having taken them to my own office as well as Chris’. In fact, if a Wednesday were to roll by with no treats, I could swear I was treated somewhat differently that day. If nothing else, I got the, “no dessert today? hhmmmpphh” comment.

mise en place

Some people, having enjoyed the tasty treats immensely, recruited me to make a few more goodies for somebody’s work party (bridal or baby shower, I can’t remember which). The upside? Cool! I love making morsels of goodness and sharing them (well, usually I like to share). The downside? They were needed for a Thursday party, and I had class Monday through Wednesday. Er… did anybody think about my schedule when they planned this little shindig? Uh.. no.

But this problem, this is really no problem at all. You just have to make a dessert on Sunday that will keep, with no question, until Thursday. Simply put – you have to use lots of fat, thus increasing shelf life, but also making for something soft, chewy, and heavenly. What’s wrong with that?!

dry ingredients

I immediately perused my recipe stack (which now has a special paperclip to hold the desserts, which take up almost half the stack) looking for a couple of good recipes. I had none. Sure, many a good cake, or pie, or frozen treat that I’m sure would have made the blushing bride, or pot-bellied mom to be, jump through the roof in excitement. But because I for one didn’t want to be the cause of any trips to the nearby emergency room for said through-the-roof-jumping (possibly labor-inducing if the latter were the honoree), and for two, didn’t want to risk icing smooshing or semifreddo-melting, I really needed to do a little web surfing for a good recipe.

Blog nods: If I wanted to make something crazy elegant and time-consuming, I’d go to Tartelette. Not only did I not want anything elegant, I also didn’t have all day. For a quick, simple treat, I go to Smitten Kitchen or Joy the Baker, and I can usually find something ultra easy but equally satisfying – without running to the store to buy rose water or pectin. [I’m hoping to find some “less-famous” blogs soon. Although I also enjoy those “Times Top 50“, I’d prefer to locate some less knowns and give them props. So I’ll keep you updated.]

The solution? Well, c’mom people, this isn’t rocket science here. I made oreos!

oreo filling

You really shouldn’t question much here. To be honest, I was pretty excited to make these because that meant I’d get to eat a couple too. Another upside to making individual treats. Boy oh Boy, am I glad I did. Super rich, super creamy; and with milk I swear they could just melt in your mouth. Think back to the last time you had oreo cookies. With milk. Do you remember how much you loved them? Well these, you’d love even more. Not only do they taste just like Nabisco oreos, but they were made from scratch and have what the others lack – the personal touch.

For me, these were my favorite treat growing up. Not Chips Ahoy cookies, but Oreos. I remember seeing the commercials for the Christmas ones with the red filling, the mint ones, and now the “uh-oh” ones that are inside out, sorta. Every trip to the grocery store with mom, I’d search the counters, (impatiently) anticipating the release of the new Oreo onto the shelves of Piggly Wiggly. Well now, I suppose I don’t need Nabisco anymore.

I can make my own. Thanks Wayne Brachman!

oreo cookie

As the Nabisco brand, this recipe could surely be adapted to fit the other Oreo versions – mint extract, fudge covering, whatever. You can’t go wrong.

Homemade Oreos
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen who adapted from Retro Desserts, Wayne Brachman
Makes 25-30 tasty treats

Chocolate wafers
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour (Yeah, I know, this isn’t gluten-free. Keep reading for conversion)
1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa
1 t baking soda
1/4 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 T room temp, unsalted butter
1 egg

1/4 c room temp, unsalted butter
1/4 vegetable shortening (yes, shortening)
2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
2 t vanilla extract

  1. Set two racks in the middle of the oven. Preheat to 375 F
  2. With mixer (or food processor), thoroughly mix flour, cocoa, baking soda and powder, salt, and sugar. On low speed, add the butter, then the eggs. Continue mixing until dough comes together in a mass.
  3. Take rounded teaspoons of batter and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet approximately two inches apart. With moistened hands, slightly flatten the dough. Bake for 9 minutes, rotating once for even baking. Set baking sheets on a rack to cool.
  4. To make the cream, place butter and shortening in mixing bowl and at low speed, gradually beat in sugar and vanilla. Turn mixer on high and beat for 2-3 minutes until filling is light and fluffy.
  5. To make the cookie, put filling in a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch round tip. Pipe small goops of filling (1 t) onto center of each. Find a similar-sized partner and smush lightly on top until filling comes to edge of cookie. Continue with remaining. Eat the lone cookie if uneven number 🙂

PS: Wayne Brachman is Bobby Flay’s Pastry Chef at Bolo & Mesa Grill in NYC. Be still my heart!!

UPDATE: I forgot to post the gluten-free version! Another blogger already did the work for you people needing the GF alternative! yay! So, to make these tasty treats GF, do this:

Instead of AP flour, use 1 1/4 c of gluten-free flour mix, 1/2 t xantham gum, and an extra egg. Easy-peasy!

Totally Smitten w/ Pumpernickel

pumpernickel ingredients
If you haven’t heard, I’ve been making a lot of bread products lately. In class, we’ve learned how to make all sorts of baked delicacies – muffins, biscuits, 4-grain, foccacia and challah breads. We even learned how to make eclairs – those were a hit and a half with the folks at the office. Despite my excitement regarding the outcome of that gorgeous, perfectly braided (well, perfect enough) challah loaf, not to mention my tender hand muscles from kneading for two nights straight, the pages of my baking book kept somehow turning themselves to the recipe for pumpernickel. And then, as if the Oklahoma blogger were reading my mind, she invited another blogger to her ranch where they made the prettiest darn bread I’ve ever seen. You might imagine, this sealed my fate, and prolonged the hankerin’ for a warm, dark, intensely flavored slice of pumpernickel.

more ingredients

I imagined it a number of different ways – warm (smoking, even) with butter melting into it, or perhaps toasted with cream cheese and smoked salmon inside, and the best – just plain, as my afternoon snack at work. Oh, and in the freezer – so I could pull it out whenever I wanted it!

My teachings in school had led me to believe that baking bread would be a day-long (or two day-long) process. This is not necessarily true. It is time consuming, and tedious. And this bread, this bread has a lot of ingredients (17 by my count without the optionals) – each just as important as the other. I was surprised to find that I already had 15 of those ingredients, just waiting to be brought together for the first time. I only needed the rye flour and bran and I was set. If you don’t have all of the ingredients, they are all fairly easy to locate minus the rye flour. Whole Foods carries it, but most regular grocery stores probably don’t. If you aren’t near a WF or other specialty store, like Trader Joes or Fresh Market, you can buy it online.

the yeast works!

Pumpernickel is definitely my favorite samich bread. It’s not the same as rye bread, which I don’t love so much. I’m not certain that I’ve actually eaten true German pumpkernickel bread, and this version is definitely not true German pumpernickel, but rather the Americanized version. Traditional pumpernickel has a looooong baking time (meaning a whole day in a steamed oven – by no means a “green” practice) and use of a Sourdough starter, which is also used in rye breads. The long baking time brings out that coffee/dark chocolate flavor, while the starter contributes to rising.

dough rising

We Americans cheat a little in the making of pumpernickel by baking it less and instead, adding the flavors lost by such faux pas. Hence the addition of molasses (as if adding molasses to anything deems explanation), espresso, cocoa powder. Hell – none of those require explanation, but I had a feeling if I didn’t tell you, you’d unnecessarily burn kilocalories by furrowing your brow, frowning, and quite possibly, turning your nose up at the thought of adding such ingredients to bread. Save yourself the trouble – please – they are necessary! And in absence of the starter, as preferred by die Deutsch, we add wheat flour and yeast to facilitate gluten formation and the rise.

rounded and ready to bake

You’ll also notice the choice of using a loaf pan or rounding your dough. It doesn’t take a professional baker to realize the difference here, people. [Think: if you put your dough in a pan, how does that affect the baking? And conversely, how about letting it bake openly in the comfort of a parchment-lined baking pan?]. Er… the answer is… you get a loaf that is very dense or a round that is a bit ‘airier’. All about your preference – I like the less dense version, personally. But suit yourself.

I bet by now you are doing one of two things: cursing yourself for reading a blog entry about something you could care less about or performing a mental checklist of your pantry to see what you’re gonna have to buy to make the best bread on earth. I hope it’s the latter, but if not – your loss. I have another round in my freezer so I won’t be missing out any time soon.

cut wonkily

Russian Black Bread
from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted from Beth Hensperger’s The Bread Bible
Makes 2 large, in charge, rounds or loaves

printable recipe

2 packages of active dry yeast
Pinch of sugar
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups water
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
4 T unsalted butter
1 oz unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3 cups rye flour
3 cups bread flour
1 cup oat bran
2 T caraway seeds
1/2 t fennel seeds
1 T salt
1 T instant espresso powder
1 T minced shallots
1/4 cup cornmeal (optional)
1 T all purpose flour (optional)
1 t caraway seeds (optional)

Special stuff: stand mixer (can do all by hand if you’ve got muscles and energy!), spice grinder (optional), instant-read thermometer (optional)

1. In a small bowl, combine yeast & sugar with warm water. Stir to dissolve and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. This ensures your yeast is alive 🙂

2. Heat 2 cups water, molasses, vinegar, butter & chocolate until the butter and chocolate are melted. Set aside, and let cool to warm so it doesn’t kill the yeast.

3. Combine whole-wheat, rye, and bread flours in a large bowl. Set aside.

4. In a bowl of a heavy mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine 2 cups mixed flours, bran, seeds (can grind prior to adding if desired), salt, espresso, and shallots. At low speed, add yeast and chocolate mixtures. (I added salt after adding yeast because I am paranoid and my baking teacher always said to add salt last).

5. At low speed, add half cup of remaining mixed flours at a time, until dough clears sides of bowl and begins to work its way up paddle. It will be sticky but firm, and you’ll probably have leftover flour.

6. Scrape dough off paddle, flour counter well, and knead to make a springy yet dense dough (until it looks sexy, as my teacher says). You may still have flour left over, but maybe not.

7. Form into a ball and place in a bowl sprayed with Pam. Turn over to grease top. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm area until doubled, about 1 1/2-2hours (I preheat oven to 100 and then turn off, leaving door open to let temp drop some before putting dough in). Meanwhile, combine cornmeal, flour, and remaining seeds if you’re topping the bread before baking, and set aside.

8. Deflate dough. Turn out onto lightly floured surface. Divide into 2 equal portion and form into two rounds or loaves. If making loaves, place in a sprayed loaf pan. If rounds (like mine) place seam down on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet (one round per sheet). Sprinkle w/ mixture if using. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise again, until doubled, about 45 min to 1 hour. Slash an X into the top of a round before baking (none needed for loaves); you can see from my pictures that you don’t want to slash too deep or it affects the prettiness. Just a small slash.

9. Bake at 350 for 45-50 minutes or until internal temperature of 200-210. I baked mine for about 40-45 minutes. (1/2 way through baking, I switched the positions of each sheet too). Remove from sheet and cool completely on a rack.

10. Let it cool (if you can resist the urge), and then slop whatever your little heart desires on it.

p.s. – I’m aware that, if this is your first foray into the wonderul world of bread-baking that this recipe might be a bit intimidating. I’ve found that making bread definitely takes practice. You can probably tell I need some practice prettying up my bread – rounding and scoring are not my good points – not yet! So, if you’re scurred (Southern for scared), drop me a line in the comment box, and I’ll find you something more basic to start with. Promise 🙂