Category Archives: Baked items

Apricot coconut granola

Ever since Sean and I left for the Epic Chicago-to-Boca-and-back Road Trip last week, I’ve been waking up ungodly early for no apparent reason. Below are some of the sunrises I’ve seen, in order by city, over the past week.

Crown Point, IN

Crown Point, IN

Forsyth, GA

Forsyth, GA

Louisville, KY

Louisville, KY

Chicago, IL

Chicago, IL

I actually like getting up really early. Pre-dawn hours are great for strong coffee and solitary writing (some of my best ideas strike first thing in the morning).

They’re also good for making granola, if you’re feeling particularly ambitious at 5 a.m. and are able to pull out a baking sheet, measuring cups and a prep bowl with minimal clamor.


Still, I have found that there are two major setbacks to early rising:

(1.) If you live with someone else, the second you hear that person stirring, chances are you will overwhelm them with rapid, coffee-fueled conversation before they’ve even made it to the bathroom. (“But don’t you think that’s a genius idea for a book? Sean? SEAN, are you even listening to me?”)

(2.) 7 pm will feel more like 10 pm, especially once you come to the terrifying realization that you’ve been awake for 14 hours.

But about that granola. This was my first time making granola from scratch, which is kind of surprising because I tend to find store-bought granola overpriced and disappointing. I think I’m going to make my own from now on.

This simple version combines rolled oats, sliced almonds, pine nuts, dried apricots, coconut, honey and a little maple syrup. But if you don’t like any of the above additions, feel free to swap them out with an equal amount of something you do like. Note: This granola can also be made during normal human hours of operation.


Apricot coconut granola

    3 cups rolled oats
    1 cup sliced almonds
    1 cup unsweetened flaked or shredded coconut
    1/4 cup pine nuts
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/3 cup honey
    2 tablespoons good-quality maple syrup
    2 tablespoons grapeseed or coconut oil
    1/4 cup chopped dried apricots

Method: Preheat the oven to 275F (or 300 if you like darker granola). In a large bowl, mix together the oats, almonds, coconut and salt until combined. Add the honey, syrup and oil and fold together with a spatula until everything is evenly coated.


Spread the oat mixture in a single layer onto a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicon mat. Bake for 40 minutes until golden, stirring two or three times during baking to ensure even browning.

Remove; set the baking sheet on a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally as it hardens to prevent big clumps from forming. Sprinkle the dried apricot pieces over the top, and toss with your fingers to combine. Store the granola in airtight containers for up to 2 weeks.



Filed under Baked items, Breakfast/Brunch, Vegetarian



Have you ever made popovers? Man, are they easy! I made a batch on Christmas Eve in between watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” and mixing cocktail sauce for shrimp.

Sean and I had maybe my favorite Christmas Eve night ever this year. We sat in sweatpants by the fire with the dog, drank a little champagne and ate a spread of really simple appetizers: soft brie with crackers, shrimp cocktail, roasted broccoli with soy-Dijon sauce and these popovers.


Then we each opened one gift, and I went to bed at 10 or so. (The Mister isn’t capable of falling asleep at such a granny hour and stayed up to watch The–oh-so-Christmasy–Shining.) I know life can’t always be this simple, which is partly what made this Christmas Eve so great.

Popover batter is a little like crepe batter–it’s thin and eggy with a stream of melted butter poured in–except you don’t mix it that much. You start baking the popovers in a blazing hot oven for 15 minutes, and then reduce it to 350 for the remaining 20 minutes.

I imagine these would be great gussied up with some rosemary and black pepper, or little cubes of ham with grated Parmesan or Manchego cheese. Or you could just make this plain version and then eat it at the kitchen counter in sweats while drinking champagne from a fancy glass. Because why change clothes for a popover?


makes 8


    1 cup flour
    1/2 tsp. salt
    2 eggs
    1 1/4 cups whole milk
    1 tbsp. melted butter, cooled

Method: Preheat the oven to 425F with a buttered muffin pan (or popover pan, if you have one) inside.

Whisk the flour and salt together in a bowl.

Whisk together the eggs, whole milk, and butter in a bowl.


Then add the wet ingredients to the flour, stirring with a wooden spoon until combined (it’s OK if it’s lumpy). Pour the batter into the hot muffin pan, filling each tin two-thirds to three-quarters full.


Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350F and continue baking until the popovers are puffed and browned, about 20 minutes more. Note: No matter how tempting it may be to peek, don’t open the oven till they’re done or they’ll deflate!


Remove, unmold and serve.


Filed under Appetizers, Baked items, Breakfast/Brunch, Eggs

What French people bake


I know I’m about the millionth blogger to do a post on Dorie Greenspan since she went on tour promoting her new cookbook, Baking Chez Moi, which is about what French people bake at home. But I can’t help it. She is so likable, and her cookbooks are so likable–and I’m not even a baker.

I saw her during her Chicago stop at Kendall College, which was co-hosted by the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance (GMFA) and Culinary Historians of Chicago (CHC). One of the things I love most about the events put on by these groups is that during the introduction for whoever is speaking, they always do a long plug for the next event–as in the one coming up after the one that we’re all currently attending.

Last month, when I went to a writers workshop with Kathleen Flinn, they introduced Kathleen by talking about an upcoming event about Duncan Hines–the MAN, not the cake mix. “I know it doesn’t sound interesting, but I think it really will be,” GMFA vice president Cathy Lambrecht said. In case you were wondering, Duncan Hines was one of the original restaurant reviewers; he self-published this popular little restaurant guide that he meticulously updated, removing any that fell out of his favor from the next edition.

So obviously I was excited to learn what was coming up after Dorie when I went to see her. Turns out it was a trip to Dekalb, IL that would involve a visit to a couple of wineries (yes, they apparently make wine in Dekalb). Then CHC president Bruce Kraig told a long joke about the Pillsbury Dough Boy’s untimely death, complete with “bun in the oven” and “rising” (yeast) puns.

But then there was Dorie.


Chic in all black and a colorful scarf with her signature close-cropped brown hair and roundish specs, Dorie said great little things like “I miss my oven,” and “I’ve never heard a French woman turn down dessert.” She told us that cream cheese had only just come to France during the last few years, where it’s affectionately known as “philadelphia.” (Until that point, she was the sole provider of philadelphia to her Parisian friends, schlepping it over from Connecticut 10 pounds at a time in her suitcase.)

She invited us into the process of learning what French people buy (macarons and layered cakes) versus what they bake at home (loaf pan cakes, simple tarts). And she admitted that despite swearing that she’d never do a macaron recipe in any of her cookbooks, she caved for Baking Chez Moi at the request of her editor.

It was a delightful morning that left me with an urge to bake–a feeling that doesn’t strike me very often–so I decided to make one of the first recipes in the book: vanilla bean and brown butter loaf pan cake. I chose this cake because I always like bakery recipes that involve cooking prowess of some kind (browning butter!), and because I love the name: gateaux de voyage, which translates to weekend cake. This is the kind of cake you bake and then take with you–on a little trip or to a picnic or a friend’s house. And all the while, it sits there getting tastier and fuller in flavor.


Brown butter and vanilla bean weekend cake


    1 stick unsalted butter
    1 3/4 cups AP flour
    1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1 1/4 cups sugar
    1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped of its pulp (could substitute 4 teaspoons good-quality vanilla extract)
    4 large eggs, room temperature
    1/3 cup heavy cream
    2 tablespoons dark rum or amaretto

Method: Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 350F. Butter a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan and dust it with flour, shaking out the excess.

Put the stick of butter in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring it to a boil, swirling occasionally (not stirring). Let it bubble until it turns a deep honey brown and smells quite nutty, 5 to 10 minutes. Don’t walk away from the pan–even if you become tempted to go searching for that lone bottle of dark rum in the liquor cabinet–the difference between brown and black butter is just a few seconds. And don’t be afraid of those little brown flecks coating the bottom of the pan; they provide beautiful flavor and color. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool.


Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl.

Put the sugar and vanilla bean pulp in a large bowl and rub them together with your fingers until the pulp is well incorporated into the sugar.


Whisk the eggs into the sugar and beat until incorporated, about 1 minute. Still using the whisk, beat in the heavy cream (and vanilla if you’re using it in place of the bean), along with the rum.


Now switch to a large spatula, and gradually stir in the dry ingredients until you have a smooth batter.


Fold in the cooled melted butter in 2 or 3 additions, and then pour the batter into the loaf pan, smoothing out the top with the spatula.


Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Check the cake after about 30 minutes. If it seems like it’s browning too quickly, cover it loosely with foil for the remainder of the baking time.

When the cake is done, transfer it to a rack to cool for 5 minutes, then remove it from the loaf pan and let it cool right side up.

If you have time, Dorie says to wrap the cake in foil or plastic and let it age for a day before serving to ensure the fullest flavor. This cake is heavenly with a cup of coffee or a little shot o’ dark rum.


Filed under Baked items, Dessert

Mama’s baked beans


I’ve been eating my mama’s baked beans every summer since I can remember. Laced with ketchup, bacon, diced celery and onion, never was there a more perfect partner for Dad’s barbecue chicken thighs (or really anything grilled).

“So how did you come up with these?” I asked Mom a few weeks ago when I finally got around to learning how to make them.

“It’s your mom’s recipe,” Dad replied, smiling proudly.

“No, I think I got it mostly off the Great Northern beans can,” Mom deadpanned.


This prompted a somewhat lengthy discussion of recipes from a jar/can/box, which Mom and I agree have become far too underrated among the younger generation of foodies. The truth is, big brands have big test kitchen budgets, meaning any recipe you get from a can or jar has likely been tested extensively and should be reliable.

Not only that, but this is one of few recipes in the world I would truly consider fool-proof. There’s very little prep and no pre-cooking required. Everything goes into one dish and it bakes for about 45 minutes until the beans are bubbling and the bacon is crisp. If you want more bacon, add more. If you like it sweeter, bump up the brown sugar. If you prefer thicker baked beans, cut back on the ketchup. In other words, don’t overthink this one. It’s kind of a non-recipe.

Happy 4th, guys. <3

Mama’s (Great Northern’s) baked beans


    2 cans Great Northern white beans
    1/2 cup finely chopped white onion (about 1/2 a medium onion)
    1/4 cup finely chopped celery (about 1 large stalk)
    1/2 cup ketchup
    1/4 cup brown sugar
    Black pepper, to taste
    3 strips smoked bacon, cut into lardons

Method: Preheat the oven to 375F. Empty the contents of both cans into an 8″ by 8″ baking dish. Add the onion, celery, ketchup, brown sugar and a few grinds of black pepper. Stir to combine.

Top the beans with the bacon pieces, and slide the dish into the oven. Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes until the beans are bubbling and the bacon is crisp and golden brown.


Remove from the oven and let sit for about 15 minutes before serving.



Filed under Baked items, Side Dishes

A Recipe Hall of Mirrors


Sometimes recipe blogging is a little absurd. Take this recipe I’ve just poached, I mean posted.

Somewhere, many years ago, someone nicknamed Gran perfected a recipe for Easy Little Bread. Her granddaughter Natalie Oldfield published the recipe in a cookbook, which was then purchased by food blogger Heidi Swanson, who made it, photographed it, and rewrote the recipe for publication on her blog. Then I read the recipe on Heidi’s blog, and in turn, made, photographed and rewrote it yet again for publication on my blog.

Maybe the fact that I’m posting this recipe makes me unoriginal or even a thief, but the truth is, I love this bread. I’ve probably made it 20 times since I first saw the recipe in 2011. It tastes like something I probably ate growing up. It’s easy to make, and it is delicious plain or smeared with butter and raspberry jam.

I guess that’s where the absurdity of blogging and reblogging old recipes gets overshadowed by the beauty of sharing. For Gran, it was as simple as making this bread for her family. For Natalie, it was a desire to preserve that lovely family recipe (and many others) in a cookbook. For Heidi, it was a love of collecting interesting cookbooks like Natalie’s and sharing that find with her loyal followers–which no doubt helped sales of the book in turn.

And for me, it’s a love–nay, a compulsion–for sharing the stories behind the recipes I find, because food is a huge part of who I am.

Whether you create a recipe yourself, watch your grandmother make it a hundred times first, or find it online and fall in love with it–it evolves a little each time you make it as you inject more of your own preferences and little flourishes. Eventually, it becomes part of who you are, until you pass it on to someone else, and allow them the chance to make it until it becomes their own. And so on.

I’m not sure who the very first person to make Easy Little Bread was, but I’m sure glad it came into my life. And now I can’t help myself but to share it with you.


Easy little bread ³
originally adapted from Gran’s Kitchen

    1 1/4 cups warm water
    2 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 packet)
    1 tablespoon honey
    1 cup unbleached AP flour
    1 cup whole wheat flour
    1 cup rolled oats (not instant)
    1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
    2 tablespoons melted butter

Method: In a medium bowl, sprinkle the yeast onto the warm water and stir until the yeast dissolves. Whisk in the honey and set aside for a few minutes, until the yeast blooms and swells a bit, about 10 minutes.


In a large bowl, mix the flours, oats, and salt in a large bowl. Add the wet mixture to the dry and stir very well.

Brush an 8-cup loaf pan or 8-by-8-inch baking dish with the melted butter. Turn the dough into the dish (spreading into an even layer if necessary), and cover with a clean, slightly damp cloth. Set in a warm place to rise for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350F with a rack in the middle.

Bake the bread for 35-40 minutes, until golden and pulling away from the sides of the pan. Finish briefly under the broiler for a golden brown finish on top.


Remove from the oven, and turn the bread out of the pan quickly. Let it cool on a rack so it doesn’t steam in the pan. Serve warm, smeared with butter and your favorite jam.


Filed under Baked items, Vegetarian



Sean and I are having new backsplash installed in the kitchen in a couple weeks. When I told my good friend and borderline DIY addict Katie I was planning to hire someone to do it, she responded: “You’re not doing it yourself? We can do it together! It will be so easy!”

So I thought I’d humor her and half-heartedly read a few articles about installing tile. Predictably, at the first mention of “wet saw,” I called Sean into the room. “Do you have the number for that handyman your dad uses?” I asked.

Sorry, Katie.

This got me thinking about priorities. In much the same way that Katie derives inexplicable joy from the prospect of installing crown molding, stripping and painting old doors or making window screens, I rarely shy away from absurdly labor-intensive kitchen projects. I love to tackle a good 8-hour pot pie with scratch-made crust and scratch-made bechamel sauce filled with vegetables and chicken that were all precooked in separate pots. I’ve also been known to stay up all night on Thanksgiving Eve to make gougeres, bacon-wrapped breadsticks and spiced nuts, and to take personal days to make two-day Sunday gravy.

But do I think it’s worth it to turn my kitchen upside down for days on end while I attempt (then likely fail and end up hiring someone) to install a couple of tiles? Nope. I’m not that kind of DIYer.

That said, this Alsace onion tart likely qualifies as Absurdly Time-Consuming. Homemade pastry crust (that is baked twice even before it gets a filling) is filled to the brim with slow-caramelized onions; rendered bacon; and a heavenly blend of crème fraîche, eggs and nutmeg. Add in the final bake, plus all the chilling and cooling at various stages, and the thing will take you no less than six hours to make. But, oh, is it worth it.


Alsace onion tart
adapted from Gourmet magazine, serves 6


    2 cups AP flour
    1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
    1/4 cup vegetable shortening
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    4 to 5 tablespoons ice water


    4 bacon slices, cut into 1/8-inch-wide strips
    3 tablespoons unsalted butter
    2 pounds yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced crosswise
    Salt and black pepper, to taste
    1 cup crème fraîche
    4 large eggs
    1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Pastry: Pulse together flour, butter, shortening and salt in a bowl with your fingertips or a pastry blender in a food processor, just until most of mixture resembles coarse meal with some small (pea-size) butter lumps. Drizzle evenly with 4 tablespoons ice water and pulse in the processor until incorporated. Don’t overmix the dough, or it will become tough.

Turn out the mixture onto a lightly floured surface, and gently knead three or four times until it comes together. Gather the dough together with a pastry scraper and press it into a ball, then flatten the ball into a disk. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface with a floured rolling pin into a 14-inch round and fit it into the tart pan. Trim the excess dough, leaving a 1/2-inch overhang, then fold the overhang over the pastry and press against the side to reinforce the edge.

Lightly prick the bottom with a fork and chill until firm, about 30 minutes. Position an oven rack in the middle and preheat the oven to 400F.

Line the chilled shell with foil and fill with pie weights (dried beans work well). Bake until pastry is set and pale golden along rim, 15 to 20 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and weights and bake shell until golden all over, 10 to 15 minutes more. Transfer to a rack. (Leave the oven on.)


Filling: Cook the bacon in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer the bacon with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Pour off about half the bacon fat. Turn the heat down to medium low. Add the butter, onions, salt and pepper to the skillet, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are very soft and pale golden, about 30 minutes. Note: Whenever the onions start to look a little dry (i.e. like they might start to brown too fast), stir in a few tablespoons of water. Add the bacon back in, then remove the mixture from the heat and let it cool for 10 minutes.


Whisk together the crème fraîche, eggs, nutmeg, about 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a large bowl, then stir in the onions and bacon.


Pour the filling into the cooled tart shell, spreading the onions evenly, and bake until the filling is set (not jiggly in the middle) and the top is golden, 25 to 35 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Filed under Baked items

Serious Biscuits (and my fear of buttermilk)


Ever since I got my hands on the Dahlia Bakery Cookbook, I have been wanting to make these biscuits. The only problem is, I have a slight aversion to purchasing buttermilk because I am never resourceful/ambitious/Southern enough to use the whole container. I always have one, very specific recipe in mind when I buy it. I don’t know where little culinary hang-ups like this come from, but they usually result in questionably old buttermilk going down the drain.

Anyway, back to the cookbook and the biscuits. The book offers an enticing sampling of the beautiful, big products coming out of the Seattle bakery that could fit in your pocket. Many of them I would truthfully fly to Seattle to buy at the bakery rather than attempt at home (read: the English muffins–well done, Lottie + Doof). But I generally find biscuit recipes to be irresistible, particularly when they involve butter applied in two forms.


What I loved most about this recipe was that co-author Shelley Lance bothers to tell you things like why you should cut them into squares rather than circles (no scraps to reroll), and that the biscuits would make great vehicles for a delectable range of sandwiches, like sausage and egg or salmon with herb cream cheese. This allows your mind to wander through the possibilities beyond just stuffing your face with a few biscuits as you’re pulling them out of the oven. There’s a good chance I’ll just shovel in most of this batch plain (or with a smear of strawberry jam), but I like to hope I have a little more self-control than that.


Serious Biscuits
from the Dahlia Bakery Cookbook, makes 20 2 1/2-inch biscuits

    1 pound 14 ounces (5 1/2 cups) AP flour, plus a bit more for dusting
    2 tablespoons baking powder
    2 teaspoons baking soda
    2 tablespoons kosher salt
    12 ounces (3 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice (keep in fridge until ready to use)
    24 ounces (3 cups) cold buttermilk
    2-3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, for brushing

Method: Preheat the oven to 475F.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt until combined. Add the chilled butter cubes to the bowl, and with your fingers or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture starts to resemble wet sand and the butter chunks are the size of peas.


Pour in the cold buttermilk and mix with a rubber spatula until everything is just combined. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, and knead four or five times until the dough has a smooth surface area on top. Don’t overmix. Shape the dough into a rough rectangle shape, then pat it out to about 3/4-inch thickness. Use a knife or metal bench scraper to cut the rectangle into 2 1/2-inch squares. Note: Lightly dust the knife with flour to prevent sticking. You should end up with about 20 biscuits.


Place the biscuits about an inch apart on baking sheets, and brush the tops with the melted butter. Bake the biscuits for 14 to 16 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until the biscuits are golden brown on top. Remove them from the oven and cool on wire racks for a few minutes before serving.


Filed under Baked items, Kitchen basics