The Rising: A Sourdough Recipe

I like laundry. Things spin around; there is a sense of renewal at the end. I feel gratified breathing in the scent of clean clothes and having restored softness in my socks. It’s a simple short term reward.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is making sourdough, a process I never endeavored until late last year. A single loaf can take a day to make, even longer depending on the recipe. The starter alone requires several weeks to become active. It can really test one’s patience, a virtue I do not have in abundance. Still, I became and remain a faithful follower to this lactic acid way of life.

My husband jokes that I pay more attention to my starter than I do to him. Of course that’s not true but I do love how quickly my starter responds to the attention I give it. It’s immediate and reliable. I know that if I feed it with rye flour and fresh water and stir it every morning, it will bubble and grow and be ready to bake by a certain time. Sourdough is a constant in my life that I control. A delicious beautiful constant. I take comfort in the fact that if I tend to it regularly, it will live in perpetuity. I can’t say the same about my body or even my house plants.

There is a poster in The Library of Congress inspired by one of Judy Grahn‘s Common Woman poems. The quote comes from “Vera, From My Childhood” and it reads:

I swear to you

on my common woman’s head

The common woman is as common as the best of bread

and will rise

For years I have been baking. When I was younger, I’d help my grandmother who is American but of Danish and Norwegian heritage. She comes from folks who love a sweet roll. Lots of people who cook, bakers even, are terrified of working with yeast. Not Grandma. She wills it to her command.Though as far as I know, she’s never worked with sourdough. If commercial yeast scares you, then wild yeast is probably the stuff of nightmares. So let me tell you what I’ve learned about sourdough. It is forgiving and surprisingly resilient. Even after a vicious bashing and having the wind knocked out of it, it will still rise.

Across Christmas I forgot my sourdough at home and for a week, it starved. I was convinced I’d never be able to revive my beloved starter I’d affectionately nicknamed The Queen Mother. Lo, after several feedings she lived! I changed her name to Lazarus. Not only did she endure, she thrives just like the common woman in Grahn’s poem. I wonder how many loads of laundry she washed.

Someone recently told me sourdough is a hipster hobby. Perhaps but not for me. Sourdough is life-affirming. Making it fills me with hope. The way it grows and gives and feels between my fingers as I knead and shape it. That wonderfully, warm, bready, slightly sour smell that permeates the flat when I bake it, I love it and am grateful for it as simple and common as it may be.


The first ingredient is patience. Something with which I struggle.

Equal parts organic flour and filtered water. (I use rye flour)

I started by stirring 50 g of each into a smooth paste. Within 24 hours, small bubbles were visible.


On day 2, I disposed half of my mixture before adding 50 g of flour and 50 g of fresh water.

I repeated this step daily. Not until day 9 did I see bubbles all throughout my starter as opposed to just on the top. This is when I knew my starter was close to ready.

TESTING YOUR STARTER: Put a teaspoonful of starter in a cup of water. If it floats, it’s ready. If it sinks, it’s not. Continue feeding it for a few more days then test it again. Once it is ready for use, you can keep it alive with daily feedings. Or if you’re not going to use it that much, place it in the refrigerator and top it up with occasional feedings. This can go on forever. You can read more about this on The Perfect Loaf.


Ingredients for a sourdough sponge:

250 g strong white bread flour

275 g warm water

150 g sourdough starter


Method: Mix all ingredients in a bowl the night before you want to bake. Cover with plastic wrap. In the morning, the mixture should be good and bubbly. You want it to look this frothy.

Ingredients for a Sourdough Boule:

the sponge you just made

280 g strong bread flour (White is easiest and yields lighter loaves but feel free to mix in a bit of whole wheat. Play with the ratios to discover the taste and texture you like best.)

10 g sea salt

olive oil

Method: Combine the sponge, flour, and salt in a large bowl. Use your hands to bring everything together. Knead the dough for at least 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Personally, I am fond of The French Method as demonstrated in the video below, but there are lots of ways to knead your dough. Do whatever pleases you.

A good test to tell whether or not you’ve built up the gluten enough with your kneading is the window pane test. Stretch a bit of dough between your fingers. If you can do this and it stretches thin enough that you can see the light through it without tearing, the dough is ready. If not, continue kneading. This isn’t to insinuate the dough won’t rip at all, but if it does, it should do so in small circles as opposed to long tears. If the dough sticks whilst kneading, use a bit of olive oil on your hands and counter top. This will help and won’t make the dough heavier like using flour.

Once it’s ready, place your dough in a large bowl that has been lightly greased with olive oil. Cover it with plastic wrap and set it aside.

When the dough has doubled in bulk, knock it back and shape it into a boule. Below is a very good video from Hobbs House Bakery that gives you several options on how to do this. Use whichever method you like best.

Once you have your dough in the banneton, cover the top and leave it for a second rise. Again, allow it to double in bulk.

Preheat the oven to Gas 10/500°F/260°CPlace the lid of a Dutch oven in the center rack to heat and a bowl of water on the very bottom rack for added moisture.

When your oven is hot enough, turn your dough out of the banneton onto a piece of baking paper. Score the bread with a design of your choice.

Remove the Dutch oven lid.

Carefully move the baking paper with the dough on it onto the Dutch oven lid. Sprinkle the boule or spray it with a a bit of water. Put the bottom part of the Dutch oven over the bread. Doing this will trap moisture which will make a good crust.

Place the upside down Dutch oven into the oven and bake for roughly 35 minutes.

After this time, remove the top of Dutch oven and continue baking the loaf for another 10 to 15 minutes depending on how dark you like your crust.

When it is finished baking, remove it from the oven. Remove it from the baking paper and allow it to cool on a wire rack. This will prevent the bottom crust from going soggy. Don’t cut into it before it’s cooled or the texture might be a bit gummy inside.


Sausage Rolls

There are two things that almost always make me feel better–Neil Young and sausage rolls. Before I moved to the U.K., I rarely ate pork. I grew up in Los Angeles where turkey bacon and chicken sausage were the norm. It’s not that I never ate pork, I just rarely did. For me, it was something to be enjoyed but once a year, usually covered in a spicy vinegary Carolina barbecue sauce on the fourth of July.

My first year in London, I went pork crazy. A fact I attribute to our flat’s proximity to The Ginger Pig. I wanted bacon every weekend and pork chops most nights. Fish? Sure. Just cook it with some chorizo. Then I discovered sausage rolls. Which can be horrible, but when done right are divine.

For a long time I stayed away as my only reference was the pre-packaged kind I saw in the refrigerator aisles of supermarkets. The pastry looked sad. The meat inside seemed a better fit for house pet consumption than human.

Eventually, it was a sausage roll from a local cafe that changed my mind.

Sausage rolls are amazing because they are made with humble ingredients but yield a taste that is all luxury. They are the ultimate bar snack or perfect picnic food. Or in our house, my daughter’s favourite for weekend tea.

Below is my recipe. It doesn’t call for homemade puff pastry because at 35, I cannot be bothered. Father Time is robbing me blind and I have got to get on with other things. But if you have it on hand or like to make it, please do.


1 sheet of puff pastry

700 grams of sausage (I use my favourite sausages instead of plain minced pork because I like the way they’re seasoned)

6 rashers of pancetta or bacon

1 small tart apple (I use a cox)

1 small bulb of fennel and its fronds, chopped

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon Tio Pepe sherry or dry white wine

1 tablespoon fresh thyme

1/2 teaspoon toasted fennel seeds, ground

1 piece of toast put through a food processor and turned into breadcrumbs

2 eggs


fennel pollen (optional)

nigella/sesame seeds



Pre-heat the oven to Gas 4/350°F/177°C.

Fry the pancetta in a skillet. When it’s done, remove the rashers but keep the grease. Roughly chop the pancetta and place it in a large bowl.

Cook the onion and fennel in the bacon dripping. Add the sherry and cook a minute more with the thyme.

Put the onions, fennel, thyme, and fennel fronds in the bowl with the pancetta. Add the bread crumbs. Squeeze the meat out of the sausage casings and add this as well, along with 1 egg, the apple, some seasoning, and a pinch of fennel pollen if you have it. Mix well with your hands.


Unroll the puff pastry. Fill the center of it with the sausage mixture. Roll it up.

Lightly beat the 2nd egg and brush it on top of the pastry. Don’t use all of it. Just enough to lightly coat it. Sprinkle with seeds and cut into pieces. Usually 8 -10.

Bake for approximately 40 minutes or until golden brown.

While you can eat these hot, I think they taste better at room temperature and dipped in brown sauce or your favourite relish.

sausage-rolls-2 20170204_152846 img_20170204_150526_225


Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

I don’t eat rhubarb though I’m sure one day I will.  Kind of like “when I am an old woman, I shall wear purple.”  Or as Holly Golightly said about diamonds,”It’s tacky to wear diamonds before you’re 40; and even that’s risky … they only look good on the really old girls … wrinkles and bones, white hair and diamonds.  I can’t wait.”  My sentiments exactly.   With diamond tiaras and crowns of rhubarb in my stars, I look forward to being a woman of a certain age.

My Great-Grandma Sorensen grew rhubarb outside the back door just off the kitchen of her home in Harlan, Iowa.  She loved it, especially with strawberry.  Each summer, she would stock her pantry with strawberry rhubarb jam and cover her windowsill with strawberry rhubarb pies.  My Great-Grandpa had no objections.  For her, strawberry rhubarb was the most winning combination.  For him, he was the biggest winner.  This year, in memory of her, I’m going to pick up where she left off.

Though the distance between what used to be Great-Grandma Inez’s house in Harlan and my in-laws’ in Buckinghamshire is 4,219 miles, there is one thing about these places that’s exactly the same.  The summer rhubarb.  At the far end of my in-laws’ English garden, past the flowerbeds and my daughter, the Weekend Primrose Fairy, who conjures magic with camellias for wounded ladybugs. . . beyond the bramley apple tree laden with blossom that will (fingers crossed) bring us a bumper crop this September. . . after the greenhouse sheltering sweet peas and cherry tomatoes . . . next to the squash, sorrel, and kale. . . is a row of regal scarlet rhubarb.  This weekend I made several crumbles.  Below is the recipe.  I hope you enjoy it.  Actually, I hope my Great-Grandma would have enjoyed it.




garden bramley apple tree

best blossom rhubarb in the garden rhubarb growing


fruit filling:

2 stalks of rhubarb, chopped into 1 1/2 – 2 inch pieces

1 1/2 cups strawberries, washed, hulled, and halved

1 teaspoon crystallized ginger, chopped

3 tablespoons brown sugar

crumble topping:

1/3 cup Demerara sugar

1 cup oatmeal

1/4 cup flour

4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes

a pinch of salt


Preheat oven to Gas 5/375ºF/190ºC.

Place the rhubarb and strawberry pieces in a small ceramic baking dish.  Add the brown sugar and crystallized ginger.  Gently stir to mix.

In a medium sized bowl, combine the butter, flour, oatmeal, sugar, and salt.  Rub with your fingertips until it forms a coarse meal.

Sprinkle the topping over the fruit and bake for an hour or until the crumble is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling.

Serve with creme fraiche, Greek yogurt, ice cream or whatever you like.  And to eat it like my Great-Grandma did, be sure to have it with a game of Scrabble.

windowsill crumble

Violet Cakes and California Stars

In 2009, I fell in love with an Englishman whilst on a vintage car rally in Sicily.  We got married and in 2010 I moved from Los Angeles to London. Enter Claire Ptak into my life.  Perhaps not immediately, but almost.

The change of location was a total shock.  The gray skies, the constant damp, the absence of an ocean or the year round availability of ripe exotic fruit.  I had trouble coping.  Within a few months, I’d lost a stone(14 lbs.) and was told for the first time in my life I had high blood pressure.  Then there was the incident at the grocery store.

Desperate for the flavors of home, I decided to make buttermilk fried chicken one day.  But I couldn’t find buttermilk.  Nor could I find peanut oil (because it’s called groundnut oil in the UK).  I also couldn’t find my favorite hot sauce.  My meal had failed before anyone had even taken a bite.

So I went home and did what any homesick California girl with Southern roots and empty shopping bags would do.  I listened to Wilco, wiped the tears from my eyes, and Googled “American bakery East London.”  And that is exactly when Claire Ptak entered my life.

Equipped with my husband’s James Smith umbrella, I braved the inclement weather and walked up Broadway Market, across London Fields, past the lido, down Greenwood Road, and finally found myself on Wilton Way.  Outside the door of Violet, I stood a soggy pilgrim (English rain blows in all directions.  Don’t be a fool and think a brolly will keep you dry).  Inside, I found my Promised Land.

Desserts were displayed in glass cases like gems at a jeweller’s.  The scent of fresh coffee (Coffee!  The drink of cowboys.), homemade vanilla extract and flower cordials filled the air.  I bought a box of cupcakes-red velvet, candied violet and Valrhona chocolate.  When I got back to the flat, I cut into my cakes.  Each one tasted like home.  Unlike the other American-style baked goods I’d had in London, these were perfect.  They weren’t too sweet.  They weren’t topped with too much frosting.  And most of all, they were moist.  I could tell there was buttermilk in them just like there was in the old country.  That afternoon, I fell in love.

A few weeks later, my husband surprised me with a chocolate birthday cake from Violet.  It came with a little banner that read “Happy Birthday Skwirl!” (Squirrel being my nickname, Skwirl being how I pronounce it as an American).  Then on Saturdays when strolling the market, I started treating myself to a macaroon.  Not a fussy French macaron in some lurid shade, but a good old fashioned coconut macaroon.  When I was pregnant in 2011, Mrs. Ptak’s chewy ginger snaps got me through.  In 2012 when my daughter turned one, we celebrated with a ginger molasses cake.  And whenever I’d meet friends for coffee at Violet, it was the banana buttermilk bread that I’d order.  Then in 2013, my family moved from East London.  I still make my pilgrimage to Violet, but only for very special occasions.  Which is why I am so thankful for The Violet Bakery Cookbook which is available as of today.

It’s a beautiful book full of gorgeous sweets and mouth-watering savories that provides practical instructions like “TASTE.”  Mrs. Ptak reminds us to taste everything we make, especially when using fresh fruit and vegetables.  As the piquancy of what grows in the garden changes from harvest to harvest, we as cooks, must make adjustments to our recipes accordingly.  The book is also full of helpful how-tos like how to make one’s own vanilla extract, candied angelica, citrus peel or jams.  She also tells us how to use smashed apricot kernels to intensify a bitter almond taste.

Mrs. Ptak’s final note is on foraging.  I was completely charmed by this. Not only because I too have been brambling at Hackney Marshes, but because like the many ingredients Mrs. Ptak uses in her recipes, this section felt organic.  Mindful consumerism is more de rigeur than ever, but many writers express their views in a way that feels like a political tirade or middle-class one-upmanship.  Mrs. Ptak writes about foraging in a way that feels so intrinsic to her recipes.  There is nothing contrived about her ingredients or the way she uses them to conjure cake magic.  It just feels like a way of life that has always been hers, a way of life she imported to England from California when she came over(like I did, for love) in 2005.

The Violet Bakery Cookbook is going to be a classic. While the photos in it, much like Mrs. Ptak’s shop, are full of vintage china plates and ditsy rose tablecloths, it avoids that Twee for Two feeling I have come to associate with bakeries and tea rooms across Britain.  The book is beautiful, the recipes seasonal and delicious, and more than anything representative of the flavors that got me through my first few really homesick years.  I look forward to raising my daughter on all of Mrs. Ptak’s recipes (particularly the strawberry, ginger, and poppy seed scones and the cinnamon buns).  I urge you to do the same.

happy birthday skwirlseptember 2010december 2012 ginger molasses cake helena's 1st january 2013 cinnamon buns scones cooling scones strawberry and ginger scones 2015-03-11 16.19.28


Marshmallowy Macaroons

I am so over French macarons.  They’re everywhere and they have become what I refer to as fake fancy.  Marks and Spencer’s sells them.  Tesco’s sells them.  As does the bakery in the little village where my in-laws live. I still love Ladurée, but let’s face it. Macarons have become the paninis of the pastry world–everyone makes them; yet few know how to make them well.  Besides, they’re a little too refined for me these days.  I want something less fussy, something rougher.  That’s why I’m bringing back the coconut macaroon.

My coconut macaroons are really marshmallowy because that’s how I like them.  I tend to make plain ones that I then drizzle with melted dark chocolate or I like to add the zest of 1-2 limes, depending on how much citrus sunshine I want to taste.

Below is my recipe.  I hope you enjoy it.



3/4 c coconut chips

3/4 c desiccated coconut

2 large egg whites

1/4 c caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 tsp salt

the zest of 1-2 limes (optional)

melted dark chocolate (optional)



Preheat your oven to 350°F/180°C/Gas 4.

Toast your coconut in a large skill over low-medium heat.


In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form.

Gradually add the sugar and continue whisking until stiff peaks form.

Add the vanilla and salt then whisk some more until the mixture goes all shiny and marshmallowy.

Finally, fold the toasted coconut into the marshmallowy mixture.  If you want lime in your macaroons, now is the time to add the zest.


plain marshmallowy macaroon mix


with lime zest

with lime zest

Spoon the mixture into 12 small rounds on a lightly greased baking tray (I use coconut oil).

Bake for 10-15 minutes.  Once cool, drizzle with melted dark chocolate if you like.

068 071

Every Feeling Has a Flavor (a winter pie recipe)

I’ve always said if you want to know what’s going on in my life, observe what’s going on in my kitchen.  My girlfriends used to say they knew how my love life was going just by tasting the pies I baked.  Dark chocolate and berries meant heartache while ginger apple or peach meant happiness.  For me, every feeling and life event has a flavor.  Some are happy like My Best Friend Got into Harvard Pie.  Some aren’t like He Stood Me up on the 4th of July Pie.  Some are more mundane like the recipe I’m about to share with you.

So of course I loved Adrienne Shelly’s 2007 film, Waitress. The story centers around a woman named Jenna Hunterson who bakes whatever she’s feeling into a pie. Though the details of our lives are very different, I found it easy to identify with this character because of the way she expresses herself through baked goods.

Some of her creations include “Pregnant Miserable Self-Pitying Loser Pie, lumpy oatmeal with fruitcake mashed in.  Flambéed of course.”  “I Hate My Husband Pie, you make it with bittersweet chocolate and don’t sweeten it.”   “Earl Murders Me Because I’m Havin’ an Affair Pie, you smash blackberries and raspberries into a chocolate crust.”  “I Can’t Have No Affair Because It’s Wrong and I Don’t Want Earl to Kill Me Pie, vanilla custard with banana.  Hold the banana. . . ” “Baby Screamin’ Its Head off in the Middle of the Night and Ruinin’ My Life Pie, New York-style cheesecake brandy brushed and topped with pecans and nutmeg.”

In the film, a friend of Jenna’s offers her words of encouragement about her career.  “You don’t even know what you are deep inside.  You’re not just some little waitress.  Make the right choice.  Start fresh.”  Replace the word waitress with actress or housewife and there I am.  Another woman baking her feelings into pie and working on recreating herself so she can emerge a different butterfly.  Or maybe a bat.

Recently it’s been so damn cold I’ve felt like Imma die if I don’t have some pie.  So that’s what this recipe is: It’s so Cold Imma Die if I Don’t Have Some Pie Pie.

3 bramleys, 2 cox apples, 4 bosc pears, and 6 Jerusalem figs.  It’s not a combination I’d usually put together but it’s what I had in my fruit bowl.  So it’s what I used as I really didn’t want to leave the flat.  Luckily, I also had some pâté brisée in the fridge because that’s just the sort woman I am.  I peeled and sliced the apples and pears, cut the figs into thin rounds, added 3/4 cup of sugar, some butter, and a squeeze of lemon juice before adding a palimpsest of pastry hearts for a top crust.  I brushed the pie with heavy cream and sprinkled it with demerara sugar before baking.  Halfway through, I poured the liquid out of my pie.  I put it in a pot and reduced it down to a syrup that I then poured over the pie.  I finished baking it until it was golden and the top slightly glazed with my caramel fruit syrup.  I ate it while it was still hot and washed it down with a strong cup of tea.  And guess what?  I lived.  But only because of this pie.

whole pie sliced pie pie fruit pie fruit cu

*I feel the need to add this link to the Adrienne Shelly Foundation. She was the writer/director of Waitress and this NPO honors her memory by supporting women filmmakers.


Apple Custard Pie

My darling husband, Henry, eats like a Dickensian fat man.  Don’t get me wrong.  He likes and eats plenty of fruit and vegetables, but what he really loves is meat, game, offal, wine, port, sherry, and cheese.  My point is he’s just not that into sweets.  He eats them to indulge me, but for the most part, my baking endeavors are lost on him.  He’d rather have another helping of roast beast.  That said, there is one thing he never shies from–apple pie.  Below is my recipe for apple custard pie.  Is it good?  Well Henry asked for seconds so yeah.  It’s really good.


1/2 the dough from Only the Best Brisée Ever

1/4 cup apricot jam

1 tablespoon dark rum

1/4 cup flour

1/3 cup sugar

the zest of 1 lemon and a wedge for squeezing some juice

4 large eggs (1 for brushing the edges of your pie crust and 3 for the custard)

3/4 cup heavy cream

4 large tart apples

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons demerara sugar



a tablespoon of cinnamon sugar (1 tbsp sugar + 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon)

powdered sugar



First, preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C/Gas 6.  Now we’re going to prepare the pie shell.  Roll the cold brisée dough as thin as you can.  I roll mine on baking paper so I can easily flip it over into my tin.  It’s a really easy way of doing things.  Cut the edges and roll or crimp them however you like.  Prick the bottom of the pastry shell with a fork and brush the edges with egg.  Line the shell with foil or baking paper then pour in some pie weights.  Bake for 20-25 minutes.  Remove the weights and cool completely.

pie shell

While waiting for the pie shell to dry, heat the 1/4 cup of apricot jam and the tablespoon of dark rum in a saucepan over low heat.  Stir often and when it starts to look like a glaze, remove it from the heat.  Strain the mixture into a little bowl.  When the pie shell has cooled completely, brush this glaze along the bottom and sides of your shell.  Allow it to dry. Now onto the custard.

In a large bowl, combine 1/4 cup flour, 1/3 cup sugar, and the zest of a lemon.  Using a wooden spoon, stir in three large eggs.  Set this aside.

Heat the 3/4 cup heavy cream in a saucepan on medium heat.  Just as it begins to boil, turn it off, and allow it to cool for a minute.  Then quickly whisk it into the egg mixture.  Add 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste.


Peel and slice the apples.  Sauté them in butter with a teaspoon or so of cinnamon and some freshly grated nutmeg.  Allow the apples to soften but do not let them get mushy.  Squeeze them with lemon juice and stir just before removing them from the heat.

spiced apples

Arrange the apple slices in concentric circles in the pie shell.  I use two forks to do this.


Now pour the custard over the apples and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

shell with applesBake at 350°F/180°C/Gas 4 for 25-30 minutes or until the custard has set.  Once it has, allow the pie to cool then dust with powdered sugar.  Put the pie under the broiler for a few minutes to let the sugar caramelize.  Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn.


Cut into slices and serve.




Buttermilk (Biscuits and Fried Chicken)

I don’t know if it’s that my British spousal visa is almost up and I have to apply for settlement or if it’s just that I’m missing home, but recently I’ve had nothing but Southern food, especially the dishes made with buttermilk, on my mind.

Buttermilk.  Cleopatra bathed in it.  Scarlett O’Hara used it to lighten freckles.  Rich in lactic acid, buttermilk gently exfoliates without drying.  It also softens.  This is why buttermilk is a magic ingredient.  Even though the cultured buttermilk you find at the grocery store isn’t the same as the 19th century liquid that remained in the bucket after butter was churned, it’s still one of the finest ingredients around.  My favorite cakes, pies, biscuits and fried chicken are all made with it.  Don’t worry if you can’t find any at the store.  You can easily substitute plain yogurt.  The tangier the better as part of buttermilk’s appeal is its sourness.  Do not substitute with any flavored yogurt, not even vanilla.  This will ruin your recipe.  Speaking of recipes, below are two of my old standbys.  They never fail me.  My hope is that they don’t you either.

Buttermilk Biscuits


1 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

3/4 cup buttermilk

1 tablespoon thick cream for brushing the biscuits

Method:  Place a rack in the middle of your oven then preheat it to 425°F/220°C/Gas 7.  Now sift all dry ingredients into a large bowl.  Add the butter and using only your fingertips, rub the mixture together until it resembles coarse meal.  Then pour in the buttermilk and mix with a fork until just blended.  The mixture will be sticky.  Turn the dough out onto a well floured surface.  Cut out your biscuits and arrange them on a baking tray.  Depending on the size of your biscuit cutter, this recipe will yield somewhere between 6 and 9 biscuits.  Brush the tops of your biscuits with cream.  Bake them for 12-15 minutes.

biscuits washed with cream


helena w biscuit 2 helena w biscuit

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Ingredients for the spiced buttermilk bath:

4 lbs chicken pieces (I use thighs and legs)

2 cups buttermilk

1 thinly sliced onion

fresh thyme, chopped

flat leaf parsley, chopped

the juice of half a lemon

1 tablespoon dijon mustard

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 tablespoon cracked black pepper

1 tablespoon sea salt

1 tablespoon celery salt

Method for marinating: Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl then add the chicken pieces.  Be sure to coat everything evenly.  In Tennessee Williams’ play, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” Brick asks Maggie what exactly is the victory for a cat on a hot tin roof.  “Just stayin’ on it, I guess.  Long as she can.”  It’s the same when it comes to soaking chicken pieces in buttermilk.  The longer the better.  It proves your dedication.  I’ve seen recipes that insist the chicken marinate for a full 24 hours.  I’ve seen some that say just overnight or 8 hours.  And my husband swears he’s seen one that says 30 minutes will do.  I don’t buy that.  Obviously the longer the chicken has to soak up the salt and flavor of the buttermilk bath, the better it will taste.  So marinate as long as you can.  When it’s ready, take the pieces and dredge them through a spiced flour mixture.

chicken in buttermilk mixture

Ingredients for the flour mixture for dredging:

2 cups flour

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

1 teaspoon celery salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 lite vegetable oil (I prefer peanut)

Method for frying: In a large cast iron pot, bring at least 2 inches of oil to about 340°F over medium-high heat.  If you don’t have a thermometer, don’t worry.  Test the oil by dropping a pinch of flour into it.  If it sizzles, the oil is ready.  Just be sure you don’t get it so hot it starts smoking.  Because that’s too hot.  Now, mix all the dry ingredients together in a shallow tray.  Pick up a piece of chicken and shake off the excess buttermilk mixture.  Dredge the piece through the flour and set it aside to dry.  When all the pieces have been dredged, carefully put a few into the oil.  Fry one side for a about 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.  Turn the pieces over and fry for another 10 minutes or so.  If you like, place the fried pieces on a rack in the oven and keep them warm on a low temperature.  When all the chicken’s done, arrange on a platter and serve with your favorite hot sauce.  Mine is Red Rooster.  If it’s good enough to be the house sauce at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, then it’s good enough for me.  Seriously, this fried chicken recipe is too good to be ruined with something like Tabasco.  Be sure you’ve got a good hot sauce on hand or don’t bother.

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Oh.  I’d also recommend making a side of greens.  It’ll make you feel better about this almost all buttermilk meal.  Also, they just taste nice.


A Mexican Piggy Cookie By Any Other Name

would taste just as sweet.  And indeed they do.  Cochinitos.  Marranitos.  Puerquitos. Cerditos.  It doesn’t matter.  Whatever you want to call them, they are always delicious.

These pig shaped pan dulces are a cross between cookies and cake.  They are lightly spiced with Ceylon cinnamon sticks and sweetened with molasses or dark brown sugar.  In Mexico, they are traditionally sweetened with cones of piloncillo which is a form of raw sugar cane, but as that was unavailable to me, I used soft dark Muscovado.  They are baked with an egg glaze and dusted with powdered sugar and emerge from the oven as fat and soft as can be.  Excellent with coffee, or even better, a mug of champurrado.  It will make you feel like a Mexican princess.

The recipe I used belongs to Patti Jinich.  You can view it here on NPR’s website as well as listen to an interview with her about Mexican piggy cookies.  I highly recommend you check out both.

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And if you need some baking music to get inspired, try this:

Coconut Cake and Paolo Conte

Today is a good day.  Not just because I purchased tickets to see my favorite Italian Grandpa perform in London later this fall, but because there is leftover coconut cake from this weekend.

Saturday was an old friend’s birthday.  He and his joined us and ours for aperol spritzes and a Mexican feast I spent two days preparing.  To top it all off, I made Mr.  Peacock‘s famous coconut layer cake.  The recipe is on Better Homes and Gardens if you want to check it out.  There is even a helpful video of him walking you through each step.  I recommend it.  The only modification I made was using the fresh coconut milk in lieu of water for the syrup that goes in the icing.  Also, yesterday, I served the cake with sliced mango.  ‘Twas a winning combination.

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