Breads and Quick Breads

Popovers – They’re Easy (Really)

This post was inspired by Cindy Martin, who found the vintage baking pan story and wrote to ask what popovers were and whether I had a recipe.

How could there be anyone who doesn’t know what a popover is? thought I.

Then I realized – but of course! Popover innocence would be almost a given if no one in your family baked. These addictive quick breads are easy to make but  impossible to manufacture commercially. They don’t just have to be oven-fresh to be any good, they pretty much have to be oven fresh to exist whatsoever.  freshly baked popover, split and filled

A popover, split, buttered, drizzled with syrup from candied pineapple. Honey and jam are more common sweet additions, but it’s hard to go wrong. Alternatively, you can channel ladies’ lunch circa 1950 and fill them with creamed chicken or tuna salad.


Having grown up making and eating popovers without realizing there was mythology attached, I got ready to answer Cindy’s question by simply writing down the formula I learned when I was about thirteen. But then, just to be sure I hadn’t missed anything, I undertook some research.

To my surprise – I’m often the last to realize these things – popovers have a reputation for being difficult. Everywhere I looked, in print and online, recipes were full of warnings, injunctions, caveats and ironclad rules, many of them contradictory: Use a hot oven; use a cold oven; beat the batter thoroughly; don’t over mix the batter; let the batter rest; use the batter right away; be sure you develop the gluten; be sure you don’t develop the gluten. Oy.

Here’s what: advice about popovers probably offers the highest ratio of balderdash to useful information I’ve ever seen for a formula that has only 5 ingredients.

popover ingredients

Ingredients for popovers – I use bread flour but it’s not essential. I forgot to show the salt – please don’t forget to use some.

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Baking King Cake, Reflecting on Recipes

savory king cake

My take on King Cake, seasoned with thyme and marjoram, liberally studded with Gruyere, sprinkled with Parmesan instead of sugar but maybe next year I'll dye the cheese in the classic icing colors: green, yellow and purple

The classic King Cake of carnival season has many variations: coffee cake-ish, briochelike, or based on puff pastry. It may or may not include embellishments like candied fruit, frangipane, and colored icing. It may even be chocolate with coconut. But one thing will be for sure: it’ll be sweet.

Not around here. At this time of year I’m still recovering from the holiday cookie binge, and the idea of more of the same doesn’t hold much of a thrill. Yet I’ve always loved the idea of the thing, so our traditional King Cake is basically cheese studded brioche. Traditional tradition is honored in the ring shape and in the hidden token whose finder is the King.

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Coconut Pumpkin Brioche – and Triple Coconut Sticky Buns

brioche ring with coconut crust

Winter Squash Brioche with Coconut Crust, where all this started out.

Backstory: Two years ago at around this time, I used the picture above as the coda to a long list of good things to make out of leftover mashed winter squash (an item that many of us will soon have in copious amounts).

What I did not do was post the relevant recipe – even after I was very politely asked. Why? Because the recipe didn’t exist.

That’s the great thing about bread. Unlike cake, you can just make it up as you go along, starting with pureed squash, for instance, faking your way toward brioche and then playing around with the dough.

The result was certainly good enough to revisit, but what with this and what with that I never did, so I never took the notes that add up to a recipe. Until now.

 coconut pumpkin brioches

Here they are

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Black Trumpets (Craterellus fallax) – Pizza, Mushroom Brie and more

craterellus fallax wild mushrooms

Bill, being an honest and trusting soul, set up this photo without remembering that people have been known to stuff baskets with filler and put a layer of mushrooms on top. So just for the record that IS four pounds and nine and three-eighths ounces of black trumpets and the only reason it isn’t more is that we left the littler ones to grow larger for later.

Now what?

brie with black trumpet mushrooms

Trumpet brie is one of the easiest, tastiest things to do with black trumpets and you don’t need many, either

pizza with black trumpet mushrooms

Trumpet and caramelized onion pizza is also quick and delicious.

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Sweet Bread for Easter and Long After

This all started because for those of us who love baking, Easter is an ideal holiday; it’s just so doable. Instead of the glorious but daunting Christmas panoply: cookies, tortes, cakes and breads all clamoring for time and oven space, there’s only one thing you absolutely have to make: sweet yeast bread with eggs in it.

Hybrid Spring Celebration bread, yeast raised eggs and butter, basically, with lots of vanilla and citrus zest and a crunchy macaroon crust.

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the recipe for Wild Mushroom and Caramelized Onion “Focaccia”

Cut in quarters and slice to serve

Cut in quarters and slice to serve

Here as promised in Bill’s how to find wild porcini post, is the recipe for Wild Mushroom and Caramelized Onion “Focaccia. ” The quotes are because I’m pretty sure real-deal focaccia is always plain bread with topping and this has many chunks of wild mushroom mixed into the dough. It can also have sundried tomatoes and olives, if you don’t like – or don’t have – mushrooms. Instructions for both after the jump.

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Old Fashioned Strawberry Shortcake, theory and practice

strawberries for shortcake

If you must store strawberries for more than a couple of hours, spread them out on a paper-towel lined plate so mold and bruises can’t travel.

The Theory Part

“ Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did.” (Samuel Butler, at some point in the late 16th century.*)

“Doubtless the cooks who have gone before could have devised a better strawberry dessert, but doubtless they never did.” ( me, at this point in 2008, after trying many vintage recipes before settling on the shortcake that follows). Read More…

Soda Bread (not just for the Irish)

Is it just wishful thinking or are there really somewhat fewer green glitter shamrocks (and similar) this year? Not that I have anything against the good Saint, and I know Irish immigrants have made huge contributions. But it’s always seemed like a bit of a stretch to make the thing into a National Holiday. The only reason I can see is that, Easter being a movable feast, you have to be sure there’s something you can celebrate in March.
On the other hand, it’s useful to be reminded of soda bread and potatoes, two splendid foodstuffs that get a lot less respect than they should.

Soda bread fresh out of the oven. The funny looking butter pat is because the very good cultured butter is packaged in a fat plastic tube (the better to preserve its freshness, I assume), by Vermont Butter and Cheese.


Properly made, with a good proportion of fresh whole wheat flour, without any fat or sugar, this is probably the loveliest, most intensely bread-tasting bread you can make without yeast: crisp crusted, tender crumbed, the partner for which butter was invented – or so it seems when you have that first chunk. It takes less than 5 minutes to prepare and about 40 minutes to bake, so adding in oven heating time you arrive at a one hour wonder. Admittedly, it doesn’t stay wonderful too much longer than that; but omigod, what terrific toast.

A word about oven-enhancement: Putting this on a flat pan and baking it will produce delicious bread. Putting it in a heated iron kettle and covering same with a hot iron lid will produce bread that is delicious plus. (The cast iron evens out oven heat and the lid traps steam, enabling you to get a crust that’s crisp without being hard. ) This technique got a recent boost from Mark Bittman, who uses it to good effect for a no-knead “European-style boule”, but of course it’s nothing new. They don’t call those kettles Dutch ovens for nothin.’

Actually, this is a chicken fryer – terrific pan, btw, just like a Dutch oven but shorter – given the necessary height with a make-do lid.

For one 8 to 9 inch round

1 ¼ cups unbleached flour

1 ½ tsp. salt

1 tsp baking soda

2 ¼ cups whole wheat flour*

@1 ½ cups buttermilk

cornmeal to sprinkle on the pan

1. Heat the oven to 425. If using an iron pot, put it and the lid in to heat up about 5 minutes before you start the dough.

2. Put the unbleached flour, soda and salt in a large bowl and stir with a wire whisk until well combined. Stir in the whole wheat flour.

3. Using a wooden spoon, make a well in the flour and pour in most of the buttermilk. Mix thoroughly, quickly, adding additional buttermilk as needed until you have a soft, slightly sticky dough. Lightly flour your hands, reach in and knead just enough to bring everything together, then form the dough into a round.

4. Sprinkle cornmeal on the baking sheet or the bottom of the hot heavy pot. Place the dough on it, seam side down. Use a sharp thin-bladed knife to cut a cross about ½ inch deep into the top of the bread. Put on the hot heavy lid, if using, and put the pan in the oven.

Ready to bake. You can’t really see it but the cornmeal is smoking slightly. Not to worry.

5. Check after 30 minutes. The bread should be well risen and brown. If it’s still on the pale gold side, give it a few more minutes, still under cover if you’re using a lid.

Tarting it up in traditional fashion: stir in 1 teaspoon caraway seeds when you stir in the whole wheat flour and stir in 3/4 cup of plump raisins when the dough is approaching complete but has not yet come together.

Eat it while it’s still hot, if possible

* Whole wheat flour is pretty much it in the flavoring department, so quality really matters. If yours has been sitting around for a while, treat yourself to a new sack. The bread in the picture was made with a combination of King Arthur Organic Whole Wheat, available ( mirabile dictu! Who’d have thought it in the old days) at large supermarkets, and Wild Hive Farm Wholegrain Soft White Winter Wheat, which we buy – along with the butter – at Adams.


A garden miracle, easy to plant, easy to care for, tremendous yields, and a terrific thing to plant with kids. More about planting at planting time ( soon but not yet) . Right now, the thing to know is that time is running out for ordering from one of my favorite sources, Moose Tubers (Fedco) 45 varieties to choose from but only until March 14th. After that, there’s always Wood Prairie Farm, a far slicker but no less trustworthy establishment.

Genuine Biscuits-Of-Course Old Fashioned Strawberry Shortcake

We New Englanders always have a good time excoriating the so-called shortcake that has been made with sponge cake, but not all of us go as far as John Thorne, who is on record as saying “unpleasant stuff, spongecake. It tastes like its namesake without the redeeming scrubbing power.” I consider this unfair to Génoise, which when well made is delicious and very good with strawberries.

But sponge cake + strawberries doesn’t = shortcake, supposedly named for the way solid fat (shortening) keeps dough tender and flaky. Spongecake also fails to be shortcake because it’s too sweet. Strawberry shortcake does not come at the end of the meal; it IS the meal. Or at least it was in the days when the big dinner was at midday and all you wanted in the evening was something light and pleasant * . Being a full summer supper, shortcake should get its sweetness mostly from the fruit, with the “cake” part right next door to bread and crisp enough around the edges to provide textural contrast to the pudding-soft center.

It should also be served with a pitcher of unsweetened heavy cream, but so many do like to have the cream whipped I guess all I can say is please go easy on the sugar, and don’t add vanilla unless the strawberries really need a lot of help — in which case it would be better to add the vanilla directly to the sweetened strawberries along with a good slug of triple sec and a squeeze of lemon. Pour the result over vanilla ice cream and call it a day.

Strawberry Shortcake

If you haven’t already, please read Setting Up for Strawberry Shortcake. It discusses most of the fine points but fails to mention that shortcake has about the same shelf life as a soufflé and should be served as soon as the biscuits come out of the oven. It’ll still be delicious if you prep the components before dinner and assemble the shortcake after, but if you want to roll around on the floor in ecstasy you have to eat it before the biscuits cool.

Serves 6 for dessert, 3 for supper

2 quarts fully ripe, juicy strawberries

¼ cup sugar, or a bit more

2 c. all purpose flour unless you have some cake flour handy in which case use 1 1/2c. all-purpose and 1/2 cup plus 1 tbl. ( I know, I know) cake.

2 tbl. sugar

1 tbl. baking powder

1 tsp salt

6 tbl. ( 3 oz) frozen butter

¼ c yogurt in a 2 cup measuring cup, which then fill with milk to the 1 ¼ cup line. If you don’t have any yogurt, use 1 cup milk

additional butter for assemblage is traditional but optional

heavy cream to accompany

1. Put a rack in the middle of the oven and heat same to 425 degrees. Put a wide, shallow mixing bowl into the refrigerator to chill. Cut half of the strawberries into small chunks and mix them with the ¼ c. sugar in a non-reactive bowl. Mash to release juice. Slice remaining berries into the bowl, cutting them about ¼ inch thick. Stir well and set aside in a cool but not refrigerated place.

2. Put the flour in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade; add the other dry ingredients and pulse briefly to mix. Cut the butter into 10 pieces and add 4 of them. Pulse until the butter disappears. Add the rest of the butter and pulse only until pieces are the size of peas.

3. Turn the mixture into the cold bowl and add the liquid all at once. Stir only until combined, then flour your hand and knead 6 or 8 times, until the dough is almost but not completely smooth.

4. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and pat it out a bit more than ½ inch thick. Pat it gently into a shape that will allow you to cut 6 roughly 3” biscuits. Using a biscuit cutter, stamp them out and transfer to an ungreased baking sheet, keeping them at least 2 inches apart. There will be very little left over dough and re-rolled scraps are never as good, so just gather the odd bits and gently press them into biscuit sized collections. They’ll come together as they bake.

5. Bake until risen and richly browned on top, about 15 minutes depending on your oven. While biscuits are baking, taste the strawberries. They should be as sweet as you’d want them if you were eating a bowl of strawberries and cream; add more sugar if they need it.

6. When biscuits are done, put them on dessert plates or in shallow soup bowls. Split with a fork and butter the bottom halves lightly if feeling traditional. Using about 2/3 of the strawberries, ladle them over the biscuit bottoms and gently press on the tops. For maximum deliciousness, top with remaining strawberries. For prettier presentation, put the remaining fruit in a bowl and pass it at the table with the jug of heavy cream.

Other shortcakes: Well of course, as long as the fruit is soft, sweet and juicy it’s hard to miss. Raspberries and peaches are wonderful. Blueberries can be very good if they’re the semi-tart wild kind, but they don’t yield when crushed. Cook half of them with the sugar until they’re juicy, then let cool before combining with the rest. I’ve never made mango, but it would probably be delicious if you could get good mangoes. A mighty big if, but maybe somebody in India wants to try fusion food.

* More about the history of shortcake for supper next post. This one is long enough as it is.

Those Muffins

Sorry it took so long, but here are the muffins discussed at some length back on February 4th.


Honesty compels me to admit the low-fat version was an accident ( I was melting the butter on the woodstove in another room, and you know what they say about “out of sight…”). But it turns out these muffins are very tasty – maybe even tastier – when the only butter you use is used to grease the cups. Just be warned that that’s tasty, not tender; texture is definitely better when you put the butter in. And muffins made with no added fat get stale a lot faster.

For 12 muffins:

1 cup wheat bran
1 1/3 cups whole milk yogurt
¼ cup butter (optional, see above), plus butter for the pan(s)
1 ¾ cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 ½ tsp. fresh* baking powder
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp salt, or a bit more if it’s unsalted butter
2 extra-large eggs
¼ cup lightly piled* brown sugar
¼ cup molasses
3 tbl. wheat germ
¾ cup light or dark raisins or diced dried apricots or any combination thereof.

1. Set oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a small bowl, mix the bran with about half the yogurt. Set aside. In another small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

3. Melt the butter if using. Heavily butter a dozen* 1/3-cup muffin cups.

4. Use the whisk to lightly beat the eggs, then beat in the remaining yogurt, brown sugar, molasses, wheat germ and reserved bran mixture.

5. Switch to a large mixing spoon and quickly stir in the fruit lumps, then the flour mixture. Distribute among the prepared muffin cups, filling them 3/4 to 4/5 full (these don’t rise all that much). Bake until well browned and dry-toothpick producing, about 20 minutes. Cool briefly in the pan before turning out onto a rack or into the breadbasket.

* Fresh Baking Powder: Unless you’re really big for biscuits or belong to Cornbread Nation, it’s quite likely your can of baking powder has been around long enough to lose lifting power. If you have reason to suspect staleness, dissolve a teaspoon or so in a half cup of hot water and watch for vigorous fizzing. Medium fizzing is ok – just use 2 teaspoons. But languid bubbles or none at all mean it’s time for a new can.

*Measuring Brown Sugar: Because brown sugars vary so much in comparative loft, the famous instruction “tightly packed” helps ensure accuracy when you’re measuring by volume. But I can’t bring myself to call for “2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons tightly packed brown sugar,” which is about the amount you want. (In theory, tight packing also smooths lumps. In theory. )

* Muffin Cups: Hold quite different amounts, so it pays to measure. It also pays to use two 6-cup pans instead of one that holds a dozen. The 2 in the middle of a 12 cupper don’t get as much heat as those on the outside, so they tend to rise less and cook less quickly.