Category Archives: Breads

Raisin & Pecan Wheat Bread & Crostini

As I mentioned in a previous post, a novel re-inspired me to get into bread and make a real go of figuring out starters and the ins and outs of yeast doughs. I happened to be reading the book around the same time I moderated a breakfast event catered by The Corner Bakery. Now, I had never heard of this place, had no idea where they were, or whether they were any good. Turns out they’re pretty okay (I still much prefer Paris Baguette), but one of the items they provided in particular sparked my curiosity.

After searching their catering menus and looking online, I still have no idea what this is called – though it might be under their vague naming of “sweet or savory crisps.” I’m gonna call it crostini, though it’s not strictly crostini. It was a dark rye bread with raisins and pecans, sliced thin and toasted with sugar sprinkled on it. I was intrigued when I saw it, but a bit iffy on trying it; it wasn’t until my associate mentioned wanting to try it as well that we decided to split one. ZOMG. It had a wonderfully dark flavor (and I’m not a fan of rye – just ask Mikal), with the pecans and raisins adding just a bit of sweetness. The sugar coating helped push it over to the breakfast-sweet side, but otherwise it tasted like it could almost be healthy. The flavor was decently complex, and something about it reminded me of a passage in the novel I was reading about a breakfast bread being made with raisins soaked in orange juice. *zapbangbam!* I had to try my hand at it.

This is quite the project – spans anywhere from 18-24 hours, and requires the setup of a sourdough starter, which takes about a week to prepare. That’s part of the reason it’s taken me so long to get it up here; the other is that this recipe marks my first recipe that I have really developed kind of on my own, and have futzed with. The second iteration of the dough worked much better than the first, so I’ll talk about that one below.

The recipe this is based on called for cranberries and walnuts. While I had walnuts, I never have cranberries. That might eventually change, but I also really wanted to try my hand at making an approximation of the crostini, so I translated the recipe to accommodate the raisins and pecans. The base dough was pretty standard and versatile, and didn’t give me too much trouble. You do want to squeeze the juice out of the raisins before you add them to the dough – otherwise it will come together too sticky/moist and you’ll have to add a good amount of flour to balance it out.

As I mentioned, this is a work in progress – do not be surprised if I revisit it in a bit.

Raisin & Pecan Wheat Bread

adapted from How to Bake a Perfect Life

1 cup raisins, soaked in warm orange juice
1 cup sourdough starter at room temperature
1/2 cup bread flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup ground pecans
1 cup water
2 tbsp molasses
1 scant tsp yeast

1 tbsp oil
1 1/2 cup pecans, chopped
1/2-1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup soaked raisins

For the Sponge

Mix together all ingredients and knead for a few minutes, then wrap tightly in plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature for 2-4 hours. It should be foamy – very foamy.

For the Dough

Using a mixer with a dough hook attachment, knead together the sponge, oil, pecans and salt; knead on low for a couple of minutes. Let rest for 30 minutes, then knead again for 10 minutes or until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. If the dough is still sticky after a couple of minutes, add up to 1/4 cup flour a tbsp at a time. After the 10 minutes, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead in raisins. (Be sure to squeeze the juice out of the raisins, otherwise this gets messy pretty quickly.) Let rest again for 30 minutes.

Dust with a little white flour if needed and form the dough into a rectangle. Put this in an oiled 2-quart container and mark where the dough will be when it doubles. Cover and let rise until doubled.

Deflate dough, cover and place in fridge overnight.

In the morning, turn the dough onto a floured surface and roll into a rectangle. Roll into a loaf and tuck in the ends, and place seam-down onto a lined baking sheet. Cover with an oiled piece of plastic wrap and let rise until doubled.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Fill a cast iron pan with pater and place in oven during preheat.

Uncover loaf and let stand for 5 minutes. Place loaf in oven, and turn oven down to 375°F. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until golden and sounds hollow when hit from bottom.

To make the Crostini

Thinly slice the loaf (or any portion thereof) into 1/4″ slices, and place on a baking sheet face up. Bake on 325°F for 15 minutes on one side. Remove from oven and flip over. Use either an egg wash or a bit of oil on the second surface of the slice, then sprinkle with raw sugar. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the desired crispness is reached.

If you still have not reached a crispy enough level, preheat oven to 200°F (or lowest setting your oven will go) and bake for approximately 1-2 hours. Check periodically to achieve desired crispness.


Banana Nut Bread Scones

I believe I mentioned a while ago having had banana bread french toast, and went on about how amazing it was. (Really, seriously amazing, if I haven’t managed to talk about it before – it is my firm belief that you should stop what you are doing and make banana bread so that you can have banana bread french toast. Now. Really. It’s that good.) At the time I had thought about trying to put it into scone form, but I am limited in my experience of putting fresh fruit into scones and the idea of just experimenting out of the blue still makes me a little antsy…. so I put it on the back burner.

Fast forward a few months to be browsing pinterest the other day: lo and behold, I come across a recipe for banana bread scones. They did the weird thing of adding chocolate chips to it, which I find to be an odd thought, though once I think of monkey tails (frozen chocolate-covered bananas) it doesn’t seem that odd but it’s really very odd all the same.  But that’s fine – there are undoubtedly people who think that adding nuts to banana bread is just bonkers.

At any rate, these turned out just magnificently, down to the browned butter glaze. I was initially thinking of attempting a glaze out of waffle syrup, but decided against it at the last minute. I suddenly found myself following the recipe for the glaze in this recipe, and it turned out just magnificently. It has a wonderful caramel flavor, and it kind of creeps up on you. Seriously have to keep that on-hand. Perhaps for apple scones (!)

Banana Nut Bread Scones

from How Sweet It Is

3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cups cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2/3 cup buttermilk
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped (optional)
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (optional)

1/4 cup brown butter
1/2-3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tbsp milk or half & half

Preheat oven to 425°F.

In a large bowl, whisk or sift together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, soda, salt and cinnamon until combined. Add butter and using your fingers, a fork or a pastry blender mix it together and combine until it forms coarse crumbs.

Make a well in the center and add buttermilk, vanilla extract and bananas. Mix with a large spoon until dough forms and comes together – it will be sticky. Add in nuts and chocolate chips. Divide dough in half and pat it into 6-inch circles on a floured surface. Cut into 6-8 wedges (or use cookie cutters), then place on a baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes. Top with glaze and serve.

For the glaze

To brown butter: heat 4 tbsp butter in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat once brown flecks start appearing, and continue stirring in the pan for another minute or so.

In a medium bowl combine brown butter, vanilla extract and powdered sugar. (I added the extract first, whisked it together, then whisked the powdered sugar in 1/8th cup at a time until I had added 1/2 cup total. That made a funny thick pasty-liquid that looked kind of gross. Luckily, it came together just fine as I added the half & half.) Whisk until the mixture comes together then add in 1 tbsp milk, continuing to mix. If it still doesn’t appear glaze-like, add in milk 1/2 tbsp at a time and mix again until you achieve the desired consistency.


Cinnamon Rolls

Remember the Cooking Light cookbook I wrote about before? The following is is a mostly-followed version of that. I am somewhat surprised, with how this week has gone, that I settled on a somewhat involved recipe, but it turned out well and I was proud of them. As my boss described, this is one of those weeks where if you owned a hospital, no one would get sick; pretty much nothing has gone as planned, and we’ve been going from one hectic situation to another. It’s been a while since I had one of those weeks, and boy do I not miss it.

Add to that the cloudy-rainy that has been going on, and and you get a sad kitty. Don’t get me wrong – California most definitely needs all the rain it can get and I most definitely do not begrudge it, but it seems to be harder for me to handle when the shit hitteth the fan and I need my vitamin D on my days off. But it looks for the most part like the weather is returning to NorCal norms, for good or ill, and for that I am rather grateful.

Back to the food.

Quite a while ago I shared a recipe for no-knead cinnamon rolls, but I saw this recipe in the Cooking Light book and thought it might be nice to try something a little healthier. Unfortunately, I had to make a couple of ingredient substitutions that knocked the healthiness down a bit. I’ll share the original recipe below with only a couple of small alterations and notes on what I did.

Whole-Wheat Cinnamon Rolls

from Cooking Light

1 1/2 packages (3 1/4 tsp) dry yeast
3/4 cup warm fat free milk
1/4 cup warm water
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup honey
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 large egg
1 large egg white
11.25 oz all-purpose flour, divided (about 2 1/2 cups)
7 oz whole-wheat flour (about 1 1/2 cups)

1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/3 cup raisins

3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
5 tbsp fat-free milk

To prepare dough, dissolve yeast in warm milk and 1/4 cups arm water in a large bowl; let stand 5 minutes or until foamy. Add butter and next 5 ingredients (through egg white); stir well. Weigh or lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add 9 oz.  all-purpose flour (about 2 cups) and whole-wheat flour to yeast mixture, stirring until a soft dough forms.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 8 minutes); add enough of remaining 2.25 oz all-purpose flour (about 1/2 cup), 1 tbsp at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough will feel sticky). Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°F), free from drafts, 1 hour or until doubled in size. (Gently press two fingers into dough. If indentations remains, dough has risen enough.) Punch dough down; roll into a 16×12-inch rectangle on a floured surface. Coat surface of dough with cooking spray. (I don’t do cooking spray, so I used butter wherever it said to use spray.)

To prepare filling, combine brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg; sprinkle over dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle raisins over dough and press gently into the dough. Roll up rectangle tightly, starting with a long edge, pressing firmly to eliminate air pockets; pinch seam to seal. Cut dough into ~16 rolls. Place rolls, cut sides up, in a 13×9-inch pan or in individual muffin tin cavities. Cover and let rise for 45 minutes or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Uncover rolls. Bake at 375°F for 22 minutes if in pan, 15 minutes in muffin tin, or until lightly browned. Cool in pan on a wire rack.

To prepare glaze, place powdered sugar and vanilla in a small bowl. Add 5 tsp milk, 1 tsp at a time, stirring to form a thick glaze. Drizzle glaze evenly over rolls.

After a long gap…. Pumpkin Espresso Bread

Holy buttons, it has been a good long while since my last post – about a month and a half. In my defense, life has been crazy around here: lots of working, a Halloween party,more working, helping people move. Lots and lots going on. Add to that the presence of a new kitten in our lives, and you get a LOT going on.

By the way, meet Trixie:

Trixie Hobbitses

She hasn’t quite moved in yet – she was rescued with her sister when they were about 4-5 weeks old, and we are keeping them together until they’re at least 8 weeks old to try to bypass more trauma. Her fully name is Archaeopteryx Pearl Hobbitses Wobblebottom. Pearl is her given name, but we deemed her much more of a Trixie due to her speedy-zoom nature (think Speed  Racer). She  is also known as Trixter, Trixie Hobbitses (say it aloud if you don’t get it), and Little Miss Wobblebottom. She is becoming much more coordinated, but sometimes when she walks around – especially after eating – she staggers around a bit like a drunk. It’s adorable.

As you can imagine, I am trying to spend as much time with her, as well as bringing her into the house to meet Ginger and get them acclimatized to each other, as I can before she fully moves in with us. Ginger is a bit reticent around other cats, and is very confused as to why this little whippersnapper keeps invading the house – but he’ll get used to it.

At any rate,  back to the baking! I haven’t been baking as much as I would want lately, as we have until the last couple of weeks been short-staffed, but I’m trying to get that to change. I haven’t made anything horrendously interesting that I haven’t posted before – mostly pumpkin scones, pumpkin coffee cake, and orange-cardamom sugar cookies. (Apparently I haven’t posted the cookies yet – must do because they’re pretty awesome.) I am baking the following recipe this morning, and it’s definitely worth sharing.

Pumpkin Espresso Bread

from A Pastry Affair

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup milk
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp espresso powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt

3 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp espresso powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan or insert cupcake liners into pan.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together brown sugar, pumpkin, oil, milk, eggs and vanilla extract. Fold in the flour, baking soda, espresso powder, spices and salt. Spread batter evenly in loaf pan or spoon into muffin tin.

In a small bowl, mix together all topping ingredients. Sprinkle evenly over the batter.

Bake loaf for 50-60 minutes, or muffins for 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool before cutting and serving.

pumpkin espresso

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

When one makes it known that they like to bake or cook, it’s easy to get gifts for them – just go for an interesting-looking cookbook. I have been gifted all sorts of cookbooks over the last several years, to the point where I have a whole bookshelf dedicated to them:


The above does not include the large number of Sunset and BonAppetit magazines I have elsewhere. At some point, one kind of has too many cookbooks. I know that sounds blasphemous, but it’s kind of true. At one point when we got the Curries, Jewish, and Greek Cooking books, Mikal and I went through them and flagged the recipes that looked most enticing to us, with the intent of eventually making all of these items. I don’t know if we even got through a handful – it’s a lot of food! Lots of recipes! It’s a bit daunting. Imagining making even half of the items contained in that bookshelf…. I could easily have a few years’ worth of recipes on my hands.

You know, at this point that sounds a bit like a fun adventure, especially with the food we get from the CSA (community-sustained agriculture). I’ve actually been doing that a bit this week – we purchased a full share from the CSA for this quarter, and it’s just a ton of food, mostly vegetables. So Tuesday night I made a ratatouille variant (didn’t have eggplant, but had zucchini and yellow squash), and last night I made citrus chicken with herby-cheesish baked zucchini and tomatoes. It was kind of fun to do some random.

Speaking of zucchini – that’s a lot of what we have been getting lately in our share: giant zucchini. I love making zucchini bread. It’s so delicious and I can pretend it’s vaguely healthy. Even before using one giant one for the last two nights’ dinner, I grated down a couple more and came out with 9 cups of zucchini. That’s a lot of zucchini bread. Just saying.

As with banana bread, I have a zucchini bread recipe that works pretty well, and is pretty damn good, but I’m pretty sure it’s not amazing. I have personally gotten a bit tired of eating zucchini bread muffins over the last couple of weeks. This prompted me to start looking through my cookbooks, checking to see if there are any interesting other items out there I could try. I came across Chocolate and Zucchini, a book my grandparents got me a couple of years ago. I’m pretty sure I have tried one or two recipes from it at some point, but I had not been brave enough to attempt the recipe the book and blog were named for – chocolate zucchini cake. The author has a blurb about it and how she started making it, and as had happened when my mother first made zucchini bread, I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Even knowing that zucchini bread is awesome, and that you can’t really taste the zucchini, I just couldn’t reconcile the flavors of zucchini and chocolate.

Getting sick of a particular something does help bypass a lot of that feeling, though. So I took the plunge and made cupcakes rather than cake, and they were absolutely amazing. The zucchini traps in moisture, as it does with bread, and gives the cupcakes a richness that belies its decently moderate use of cocoa powder and chocolate. The moisture bit is particularly useful because of what is going on with my baked goods. You see, my office recently got some new furniture, including a beverage station. That in itself was pretty awesome (no more having to run to the kitchen in the back when guests want some coffee), but what made it just that much more awesome was that a tiered pastry dish was included. I don’t know if the powers that be that assembled the set for the office had me in mind at all, or even know that I bake, but I have taken over that pastry dish with a passion. I now bake goodies twice a week to ensure that it is adequately stocked.


Those are the plain zucchini muffins. The moisture that the zucchini helps lock into the bread helps these puppies stay fresh over a few days so that I’m not making a batch every day. No, those biscotti aren’t mine – though eventually I’ll figure out better packaging and they will be.

I don’t have an image for the chocolate zucchini cupcakes, but I will undoubtedly make more. Nine cups of zucchini. Nine.

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

from Chocolate and Zucchini

1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature, or 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp instant coffee granules
3 large eggs
2 cups unpeeled grated zucchini
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (or cut-up Dove dark chocolates)

Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a muffin tin or line with paper baking cups.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt. With a mixer or food processor, cream the butter and sugars. Add vanilla, coffee granules, and eggs, mixing well between each addition.

Reserve a cup of the flour mixture and add the rest to the egg mixture. Mix until just combined.

Add the chocolate chips to the reserved flour mixture and toss to coat, then do the same with the zucchini. Fold into the batter and blend with a wooden spoon – don’t overmix. Pour into the prepared pan and level the surfaces with a spatula.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of one of the middle cupcakes comes out clean. Transfer to a rack to cool for 10 minutes, then fish the cupcakes out of the pan and let cool to room temperature before serving. At this point you can sprinkle the tops with confectioners’ sugar (very pretty), or glaze with melted chocolate.