Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Basic Sourdough Sandwich Loaf

I was laying in bed, drifting off to sleep, when my wife rolled over and said to me "Did you remember to bake the bread?" I hadn't. My bread was happily rising in the (cold) oven, and if left overnight would probably overflow and make a mess. So I'm downstairs, out of my nice warm bed, writing down this recipe and waiting for the bread to bake.

A few months back, I tried making my own sourdough starter by catching wild yeast in pineapple juice. It worked amazingly well. I've made bread several times, but honestly it's seemed somewhat hit-or-miss. Several loaves were beautiful, but several others were bricks. I've mostly used the sourdough starter to make quickbreads: pizza crusts, tortillas, pretzels, and the like. It's awesome for that, and ridiculously easy.

Homemade bread may sound scary, but the finished product is worth it.
After much experimentation, though, I think I've finally got a bulletproof sourdough sandwich loaf I like. Judi makes an incredible honey oat bread that we use for sandwiches, and it is really excellent. The kids love it because it's ridiculously soft; practically a WonderBread. Sometimes I want something different, though. Something a little more firm, something with a little more tang, or something a little cheaper. Between the oats, honey, and yeast, the honey oat bread isn't necessarily less expensive than cheap grocery-store bread. It tastes better, but it costs about the same. This loaf, though, is crazy cheap. Basically flour and water, and you can get 25 pounds of flour for under $8.

25 pounds of flour fits perfectly in these trash cans. That's bread
flour on the left and all-purpose flour on the right.
Sourdough starter has different "strengths" based on how recently it's been "fed." If you read hard-core sourdough bakers, it can get pretty technical. This recipe avoids that by using two phases to reach the appropriate level of leavening. It really is dead simple. If you have sourdough starter, you can make this bread. And if you don't have sourdough starter, I'd be happy to give you a cup or two of mine, or just make your own by following the link above.


Phase 1 (Sponge)

  • 2 cups starter (fed last night)
  • 2 cups bread flour (can substitute 1 cup whole wheat flour)
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 1 T white sugar

Phase 2 (Dough)

  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 1 T kosher salt
  • 1/8 C canola oil
  1. Combine starter, flour, water, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Place somewhere warm. In winter, our house is cold enough that I can't get the yeast to do its thing without placing it in a barely-warm oven. Preheat the oven for 45-60 seconds, then turn off the oven and put in the mixing bowl. This will need to sit for several hours, depending on the strength of your starter, the warmth of your oven, and so on. Once you can see bubbles on every square centimeter or so, you're ready for phase 2.
  2. Add flour, kosher salt, and oil to mixing bowl. Mix well. Turn out bowl onto flat surface and knead until dough comes together. Depending on the moisture level in the air, you may need to add a few teaspoons of water or a small handful of flour. Once dough is smooth, return to mixing bowl and let rise for 3-4 hours.
  3. Divide dough in half and add each half to a lightly-greased sandwich loaf pan. You may want to shape the dough before panning; something like this will work well (although my method is much less fussy).
  4. Let the dough rise until it's about the size you expect to see in a loaf of bread. I might expect to see the top of the loaf about an inch over the lip of the bread pan, but that's up to you. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, then remove and let cool (slightly) before cutting in and enjoying with butter and honey.

Once it's cooled a little and you've eaten your fill, move whatever is left to an airtight container. We went through several solutions before landing on a 2-gallon ziplock bag. The bread will continue to release steam, but if it's in an airtight container the steam will be reabsorbed into the crust, making it softer. Other than that, there's not really a secret; or at least not one that I know. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Ultimate Chocolate Cake

Everybody (except my sister-in-law) likes chocolate cake. I don't know that I've ever had a bad one. But this is the best chocolate cake I've ever had (including from bakeries and restaurants), and it's hardly any more difficult than what comes in a box. Actually, a boxed cake is the main ingredient. From humble beginnings come something truly amazing. I should confess that I modified (stole) this recipe from CakeCentral.

This will more than double the volume of the boxed cake. I use it in a bundt pan, but you can also use it in cupcakes or to make a great layer cake. Do as you think best.


  • 1 box chocolate cake (I've used all brands with success. Get the chocolatey-est cake you can find on sale)
  • 1 C AP flour
  • 1 C white sugar
  • 1 T cocoa
  • 1 t salt

  • 1 1/3 C water
  • 1/4 C canola
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 C sour cream (or 8 oz)
  • 1 t vanilla
  1. In a mixing bowl, blend all dry ingredients.
  2. Add wet ingredients to mixing bowl and mix until mixture turns creamy.
  3. Bake in a manner appropriate to your baking pan. For a bundt pan, lightly oil all surfaces and then lightly flour before adding cake batter.
  4. Bake at 325 for a time appropriate for your baking pan. In a bundt pan, this will take about an hour. A sheet pan will be quicker.
  5. Let cool, then remove from pan and add delicious chocolate icing. Serve with homemade ice cream.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

I've had a lot of good chocolate chip cookies, but I've never made one I loved. This week, thanks to multiple attempts and some input from Kenji, I finally got it right. This recipe also appeals to my obsessive-compulsive side because the only two volume measures you need are the half cup and the teaspoon.

I know it's a little complicated to use both white sugar, brown sugar, and corn syrup. I know it's weird to use both Crisco and butter. I know it's weird to brown the butter. But these cookies have a sweet, nutty caramel flavor and have crispy edges and a chewy center. This is it: my ultimate chocolate chip cookie.

Dry Ingredients
  • 2 C all-purpose flour
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 t salt
Wet Ingredients
  • 1/2 C (1 stick) browned butter (see step 1)
  • 1 ice cube
  • 1/2 C white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 C Crisco shortening
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1 T corn syrup (Note that 1 T is 3 t)
  • 1/2 C packed light brown sugar

  • 1 C chocolate chips (semi-sweet)
  • 1/2 C peanut butter chips

  1. Brown the stick of butter. It's easier than you'd think. For instructions on browning butter, click here. Note that adding hot butter to eggs will curdle them, so it must cool before joining the other ingredients. Once the butter has cooled slightly (no longer boiling), add ice cube and move around until it melts. This should drop the temperature enough, but there's no harm in letting it cool a few more minutes before adding it in Step 5. If you don't mind doing extra dishes, you might pour it out of the skillet and into a small bowl to accelerate cooling.
  2. Preheat oven to 325.
  3. In a small bowl, mix dry ingredients and set aside.
  4. Add white sugar and eggs to large mixing bowl. Mix until smooth. Add Crisco, vanilla, and corn syrup and mix again. Crisco will not fully incorporate, but should break into small pieces. Add brown sugar and continue to mix.
  5. Once brown butter has cooled (does not need to be room temperature, but should not be hot to the touch), add to mixing bowl.
  6. While continuing to mix, add dry ingredients, in small batches, until combined. Add chocolate and peanut butter chips.
  7. Drop heaping spoonfuls on cookie sheet, preferably with parchment paper or silicone baking mat.
  8. Cook at 325 for 18 minutes or until cookies are golden brown.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pumpkin Muffins

We made our own pumpkin puree this year, and it was interesting learning to cook with amounts that weren't measured by the can. It also meant we needed recipes that used varying amounts of pumpkin puree, since we didn't think to measure the puree before we froze it. These muffins became our go-to method for finishing off the rest of the pumpkin.

Note that the recipe is pretty forgiving with the pumpkin. If you have an extra quarter cup, just throw it in. We also made these once using mashed sweet potatoes, and they tasted pretty much the same. Substitutions for the win. In a pinch, you can also add half a cup of chocolate chips. Everything is better with chocolate.


Dry Team
  • 1.5C flour
  • 1 t pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 t baking powder
  • .5 t baking soda
  • .5 t salt

Wet Team
  • 1 C pumpkin
  • 1 C sugar
  • 1/3 C canola
  • 2 eggs

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Add dry team to a small bowl and combine
  3. Add wet team to a mixing bowl and mix.
  4. Add dry to wet and mix.
  5. Spoon into muffin tins. If you hate life, feel free to grease the tins or use paper cups. As for me and my house, we use silicone baking cups.
  6. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Homemade Pumpkin Pie Spice

This is an easy one. Never buy pumpkin pie spice when it's so easy to make your own. If you have a larger container, double this recipe.

  • 2 t ground cinnamon
  • 1 t ground ginger
  • 1/2 t ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 t ground allspice or ground cloves
  1. Mix and store in an airtight container.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Peanut Butter Fudge Sandwich Cookies

I know, they need a better name. I thought about calling these "Peanut Butter Oreos," but didn't want to deal with the trademark violations. And the chocolate cookies aren't really Oreo-like... they're a little more like a cookie and less like a sweet cracker.

C is for Cookie. Good enough for me.

I should also say that while I tend to avoid fussy recipes like the plague, this is a moderately fussy recipe. Using a biscuit cutter takes a little more time, but it ensures that every cookie is exactly the same size (and thus easier to match with a twin for perfect sandwich action). I know it looks overwhelming, but it's actually not too bad and the finished product is excellent.

Dry Team
  • 1 1/2 C all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Hot Team
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into chunks

Wet Team
  • 1 1/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs

Filling Team
  • 1 C confectioner's sugar (easily made at home by clicking here)
  • 1 C peanut butter
  • 3 T milk

  1. Add all dry ingredients to a mixing bowl and combine. Set aside.
  2. Put chocolate chips and butter in a large microwaveable bowl. Microwave on full power for 20 seconds. Remove and stir. Repeat 2 more times; this should give you a bowl of fully-melted chocolate butter. Let cool slightly (if it's too hot it will curdle the eggs in the next step).
  3. Add sugar and eggs to mixing bowl and beat until combined. Beat in vanilla, then the melted chocolate solution from step 2. Once fully incorporated, add the dry ingredients from step 1 and mix until fully combined. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  4. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
  5. Remove dough from fridge and divide into 3 sections. Cut 2 sheets of parchment paper to the size of your baking sheet. Lay out each sheet on your counter, add a third of the dough, and cover with wax paper. Keeping the wax paper between the dough and the roller, roll out the dough to a thin (1/4") layer. Remove top layer of wax paper, and use a 2" biscuit cutter to cut as many cookies as possible. Remove waste and use as the start of a fourth "third" of dough. If dough is too soft, add to fridge or freezer for 5 minutes.
  6. Once two trays are complete, bake for ~8 minutes at 350 degrees. Pull trays out, let cool, and repeat step 5 with remaining two sections of dough.
  7. While cookies bake and cool, make the peanut butter filling. Add sugar and peanut butter to food processor and process until incorporated. The mixture will ball up in the food processor. Redistribute, then add 1 T of milk. Repeat until all three tablespoons of milk have been incorporated.
  8. By this time the cookies should be cool. Grab one, add peanut butter filling to bottom, and add another cookie to make a sandwich. Repeat until you run out of cookies or filling. Eat leftovers.
  9. Enjoy with a cold glass of milk.

Confectioner's Sugar

I needed confectioner's sugar for a recipe, but had none. Who knew it was so easy?

If the goal is just to have sugar that dissolves easily, you can create superfine sugar by running 1 cup (or more) of sugar in a food processor for 30 seconds. If you're creating something that needs to gel (icing, for example), simply add 2 T of corn starch to the sugar before processing. You can create exactly the amount you need: If the recipe calls for 1.5 C of confectioner's sugar, add 1.5C of table sugar and 3T of corn starch to your food processor, then run for 30 seconds.

You may have already known this, but it was news to me. Brilliant.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Hawaiian Rice

It's not really Hawaiian. I know that. And it's not high cuisine. But it comes together fast, the kids will clean their plates, it makes great leftovers, and I can make the entire meal with unrefrigerated ingredients from the pantry. It's also very forgiving, so you can increase or decrease amounts as you please.


  • 1 onion, chopped
  • canola oil
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 batch of Simple White Rice.
  • 1/8 C soy sauce
  • 1 20oz can crushed pineapple
  • 1 10oz can chicken, drained (reserve water)


  1. Add chopped onion and canola oil to a large skillet. Let cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent. Add red pepper flakes and heat slightly.
  2. Add white rice. Plain rice will work fine (my kids prefer it), although I find rice with onion and ginger is especially good. Stir immediately to keep rice from sticking to skillet.
  3. Add drained chicken to rice. Stir to distribute. If rice is cold or dry, some water from the canned chicken can be added.
  4. Add 1/8 cup of soy sauce. Stir to distribute.
  5. Add crushed pineapple, directly from can. Stir to distribute.
That's it. Like I said, it's dead simple. Serve with a green vegetable and call it a day.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Simple White Rice

"The best teacher in America," a friend said to me, "is Alton Brown."

My friend is a pastor, and we were talking about teaching hard parts of the Bible. Alton Brown is a cook. What possible connection could there be? I borrowed some DVDs to find out.

My friend was right. Brown is a great teacher who takes difficult subjects (chemistry, physics, nutrition, history, etc) and makes them easily accessible to those interested in learning.  I mostly just watched to learn to teach, but along the way I learned how to cook, as well. Today, I love to cook. I attribute the change, in large part, to Alton's influence.

This is Brown's "Rice in a Rush" recipe. I make it at least once a week.

Simple White Rice


  • 3 cups boiling water
  • 2 T butter
  • 2 cups long-grained rice

  1. Boil the water. It won't work if the water's not boiling.
  2. Melt butter in an appropriately-sized pot over high heat.
  3. Add rice and stir until lightly brown.
  4. Add 3 cups boiling water, cover with a lid, and turn the heat to simmer. Set timer for 15 minutes and do not disturb until time is up.


If you want to spice up your rice, add spices between steps 2 and 3. Alton adds a teaspoon of salt, which I avoid. I usually add a chopped onion, which he avoids. Depending on the dish, I may add other spices to the butter before adding the rice and water: chipotle, red pepper flakes, or ginger are the most common. Still, the basic instructions are almost impossible to mess up.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Quick Beer Bread

I don’t drink beer. I don’t like it. But I love beer bread. Go figure. I pretty much never have beer in the house, but when I do this gets made with remarkable regularity. It takes 5 minutes to make and 35 to cook, so if you have any beer at home you could be eating this in 40 minutes.

  • 3 C all-purpose flour
  • 3 T packed light brown sugar
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1 t salt

  • 1 (12 oz) bottle beer, at room temperature and unopened

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted


  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease your loaf pan. Make sure your 4T of butter is melted.
  2. In a big mixing bowl, mix your dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt).
  3. Open beer and add immediately. It’ll fizz like crazy... that’s how you know it’s working. Mix until it’s combined, but don’t overmix.  Lumpy is fine.
  4. Move batter to pan. Level it out as well as you can. Pour melted butter on top.
  5. Bake for 35ish minutes at 375. If it’s done, a sharp knife stuck in the middle should come out clean.
  6. Give it a minute or so to cool down a bit, but this bread is best hot. It’s good cold, too, but nothing beats hot bread. Serve with butter and honey, or just plain. If there’s any left the next day (hey, it could happen), microwave and serve with butter and honey.

Bulletproof Condiments: Classic Mayo and Fresh Aioli

I actually wrote these out once before, but I put four recipes in the same post and it was difficult linking to each. This post will just cover two recipes: Classic Mayo and a near-identical recipe for Classic Aioli.

Classic Mayo:

Mayo is way more intimidating than it should be. Word to the wise, though: Only attempt this with a blender or food processor, and be careful what size eggs you use. The first two times I made this recipe it was perfect, the next time (same recipe, but with smaller eggs) it made soup. Not enough egg to oil. If you have large eggs, you can use up to 2 cups of vegetable oil. Add the 1 1/2 cups first, then add more a bit at a time until you're happy with the consistency. I generally find that 1.75 cups of oil is exactly the right amount for the eggs that we buy.


  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil  (or slightly more)


  1. Put first four ingredients in a food processor or blender, and turn on.
  2. With the motor still running, SLOWLY and STEADILY add the oil. You want to continually add a small stream of oil. Drop it in batches and you'll get oily eggs.
  3. After your 1 1/2 cups are added, check consistency.  Add more oil if mayo is too thin.
  4. Refrigerate.

Fresh Aioli

Aioli is essentially a mayo made with Italian flavors (garlic and olive oil). It's far less versatile than the classic mayo, but it tastes great on a sandwich.  I usually make a smaller batch since there are fewer uses for it. We'll use the above recipe, but substitute garlic for dry mustard and olive oil for vegetable oil.


  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 1/8 cup white vinegar
  • 3/4 cups olive oil  (or slightly more)


  1. Add garlic clover to food processor, and turn on.
  2. Add egg, salt, and vinegar.
  3. With the motor still running, SLOWLY and STEADILY add the oil. You want to continually add a small stream of oil. Drop it in batches and you'll get oily eggs.
  4. After your 3/4 cups are added, check consistency.  Add more oil if mayo is too thin.
  5. Refrigerate.