Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Bread Bowls

Bread bowls are very popular in the United States (we Americans love our carbs).  They are normally used to serve thick cream based soups and stews like New England clam chowder or chili.    This recipe makes a tasty, springy dough and because of the relatively large amount of yeast used it takes slightly less time to rise than the average bread dough.   The egg wash gives a lovely shiny exterior, making a beautiful vessel for your favorite soup or stew.  

Just cut the top off and ladle your favorite soup in

I started living with my boyfriend a little more than a year ago and its been a wonderful experience to see him learn how to cook and plan meals.   When we met pretty much everything he consumed came out of a fast food bag and his best dish was buttered toast.   Now he plans the weeks meals, does the grocery shopping and cooks healthful dinners for us almost every night (I know, I'm the luckiest girl ever).   One of his favorite tricks is to cook a whole chicken one night, make chicken stock with the carcass and then  make soup with the chicken stock the next day.   He also saves our vegetable scraps and regularly makes veggie stock as well.   Believe me, homemade stock is the bee's knees.    There could probably be a whole other blog dedicated to his culinary adventures.  Last night he made cream of broccoli soup and I made these sweet bread bowls to go with it.   

Bread bowls are best with thick cream based soups and hearty stews

Bread Bowls
Recipe adapted from
Makes 6 bowls (or 8 if you want small ones)


  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 2 1/2 cups warm water
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6-7 cups all purpose flour
  • cornmeal
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • In a large bowl proof the yeast by dissolving it in the warm water for about 10 minutes or until it becomes bubbly and frothy.  
  • Add 4 cups of flour, the vegetable oil and salt and mix well. 
  • Add the remaining flour a 1/2 cup at a time until a firm dough is formed.  You may not need the entire 7 cups of flour.  You will want a stiff dough so it will hold the round shape of the bread bowl.  
  • Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for about 6 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.  Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil.  Cover with a damp cloth and allow the dough to rise until doubled (approx. 40 minutes).  
  • Punch down the dough and divide it into 6 equal parts.  The best way to divide dough is to weigh it, but if you don't have a scale you can always eyeball it.  I find the easiest way is to divide the dough in half, and then divide each half into 3 or 4 parts (depending on if you want 6 large bowls or 8 small ones).  Place the balls of dough onto a greased cookie sheet that has been sprinkled with cornmeal and allow them to double in size once more (approx 35 minutes).  
  • Preheat your oven to 400F.   In a small bowl beat together the egg and water to make an egg wash.  Brush half of the wash over the bread bowls and slash the tops.  
  • Bake in the pre-heated oven for 15 minutes, then give them another coating of egg wash.  Cook for another 10-15 minutes until the bread is golden brown and cooked through.  Larger bread bowls will require slightly longer cooking times. 
  • To make bowls, cut off the top and scoop out the centers, leaving at least 3/4 of an inch on all sides.  Fill with hot soup and serve immediately.  
The egg wash turns the bread a beautiful golden brown color.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Irish Potato Bread

St. Patrick's day is approaching so I'm working on my Irish recipes.   Irish beer bread is my favorite, but I already did a post on it so I decided to try another popular Irish bread - potato bread!  I found this recipe at one of my favorite sites, The Fresh Loaf.  It was originally a "baked potato bread" because it included traditional baked potato ingredients - chives, bacon, sour cream.   I was lacking all three of those ingredients (classic) so I left out the chives and bacon, and used yogurt with a little bit of baking soda as a substitute for the sour cream.   I used non-fat yogurt and it came out just fine (and even made it a bit healthier..)

Instead of using potato flakes or starch, this recipe calls for mashed potatoes.  It is a great use for leftovers, even if they have milk and butter in them.   Next time I make this recipe I am going to save the water I boiled the potatoes in for use in the bread batter.  Oh yeah, and I'm going to put bacon in.  

Ingredients (makes 2 1lb loaves, or 1 large loaf):
  • 1/2 cup mashed potatoes
  • 3 to 4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour 
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • optional: 1/4 cup cooked bacon, 1/2 cup chopped chives, or any other add-ins you can think of
  • Mix the potatoes, yeast, salt, and two cups of flour in a large mixing bowl.  If you are using active dry yeast instead of instant yeast you will need to proof it before adding.  Use the 3/4 cups water from the recipe to proof your yeast.  Check out my old post on yeast for details on how to properly proof your active dry yeast. 
  • Add the water, sour cream and any add-ins you want to include.  If you add bacon feel free to include the grease for added flavor.   Mix this all together well.
  • At this point your dough will be soupy, add flour by the handful until it starts to come together, turn out onto a well floured surface and continue to knead in handfuls of flour until your dough is solid enough to form into a ball, but still very damp.  A wetter dough is harder to work with but will ultimately have a better end result.  
  • Let your dough rise until doubled (about 90 minutes) in a oiled bowl covered with plastic wrap.  
  • Once risen, shape your loaves (or loaf if you are going for one big one) and let rise until doubled again (about 45 minutes).  I chose to make mine a bit oblong, but the shape of your loaf is up to you.  
  • Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F.  Once my loaves were fully risen, I dusted them with flour and slashed the top.   Bake for 5 minutes at 425, then turn your oven down to 350 and bake for approximately 35 minutes or until they are brown on the outside and sound hollow when tapped. 

Beautiful! Even though there was no bacon, and I had to make some substitutions (yogurt instead of sour cream, and active dry yeast instead of instant) this recipe still came out great!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Yeast - Active Dry vs. Instant

I'm working on testing out some new recipes for you folks and thought I'd include an important service announcement.   Yesterday I was working on making some english muffins, I was using a great recipe that is acclaimed across the web, written by a professional baker.  In my haste, I neglected to notice that the recipe called for instant yeast.  I went my merry way, measured out my active dry yeast and set about mixing my dough.  

Then I started kneading.  

Then I noticed all the little balls of active dry yeast where still present in my dough, like little bits of sand they weren't dissolving.  Then I had a giant "duh!" moment and went to check the recipe.  Sure enough, I had to start over because I hadn't activated my yeast and my first batch was never going to rise. 

Let this be a lesson to you all!  So, what is the difference between active dry yeast and instant yeast?  There is one important difference - instant yeast can be added directly to your recipe, and active dry yeast needs to be "activated" first by being dissolved in warm liquid.   It is possible to substitute active dry for instant like I did by activating it and using a little more than you would if you were using the instant yeast. 

Read my last post on yeast for more details on how to properly activate it, and also check out this Yeast FAQ over at The Fresh Loaf for more info on the differences between active dry and instant.  

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Fresh Strawberry Cupcakes with Whipped Cream

While in the grocery, the BFF and I noticed strawberries on sale.  Hooray! Winter is over!  Well, at least it's over in California where something like 80% of the USA's annual strawberry crop is grown.   Of course, we had to buy some, and then wonder what we were going to make with them.  After searching through many recipes we finally found one that used fresh strawberries instead of frozen or a flavored syrup.  

I left out the red food coloring from the original recipe because I didn't have any and honestly, I wanted to keep these as natural as possible and really focus on the fresh strawberry.   This recipe makes a dense, moist, sweet cake.  If you prefer a lighter cake, try replacing the 3 whole eggs with 2 egg yolks and 5 egg whites.  


  • 1 cup butter
  • 2  1/2 cups sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon red food coloring
  • 1 & 1/4 cups pureed strawberries
  • 3 cups cake flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch Salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
Notes: "flour, sifted" is different than "sifted flour"  Measure the flour first, then sift.   If you don't have buttermilk on hand you can make an easy substitute by adding 1 TBS white vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup of milk and letting it sit for about 5 minutes before adding.  I used lemon juice because I thought the lemon flavor would compliment the recipe. 


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with liners and set aside.
  •  In a large bowl, cream butter with sugar. (See my post on creaming) Add eggs one at a time, then the vanilla, food coloring and strawberries, beat for another 3 minutes.
  • Sift dry ingredients and add to butter/egg mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Mix until combined.
  • Fill cupcake tins 2/3 of the way up. Bake for 18 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into cake comes out clean. Let sit for 5 minutes before removing to a cooling rack to cool completely.
Once the cupcakes are cool you can frost them.  A basic buttercream frosting would be good.  We tried whipped cream and cream cheese frosting.  The BFF preferred the cream cheese frosting (it was really good).   I really liked the whipped cream, I find it reminiscent of strawberry shortcake.  Whipped cream is what's pictured here on the blog. 

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Bev's Banana Bread

My grandma was a better baker than yours.  There, I said it.
Actually, I didn't know my grandmother that well.  I hear that she was a semi-professional baker and quite talented in the kitchen, but she died when I was pretty young.  Thankfully, I was blessed with a piece of family heritage, a cookbook that used to belong to my mother that includes many of my grandma's recipes.   I feel close to my grandmother while I'm baking, even though I didn't know her for very long.  

Banana bread is the most searched for baking recipe on the web.  I have never had to search for  a good recipe though, because I've always had the old family recipe from my childhood.  This is hands down one of my favorite recipes ever.  Part of it is nostalgia - everyone has those special childhood flavors - but a lot of it is the fact that this recipe is GOOD!  The boyfriend and I actually love this recipe so much that I made two batches - one to eat immediately, and one for you lovely people. 

 here's the original recipe, in my Grandma's handwriting 

  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 or 3 ripe bananas (I normally use 2 big ones)
  • 2/3 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cups walnuts (optional but recommended)
  • 1/3 cup shortening
  • In one bowl combine your dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt)
  • In another bowl, cream together your shortening and sugar.  (See this post for info on creaming)
  • Add your eggs to the creamed shortening and sugar and beat until smooth, then add the dry ingredients and mix. 
  • Add chopped walnuts and mashed bananas and mix until smooth. 
  • Pour the mixture into a greased and floured loaf pan. I highly recommend Pam's non-stick spray for baking.  It has a slightly sweet flavor that is not good for savory baked goods, but it works really well for cakes, cupcakes, muffins, cookies and sweet breads. 
  • Bake at 350 degrees (F) until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (about 45-55 minutes, start with a shorter amount of time and monitor)