When I was a student at SFBI, if you had asked any of us for a short list of our favorite sweet breads, Gibassier would have been on it every time. To get an idea of our collective response to the mere mention of this regional brioche, delicately flavored with orange and and anise and enriched with olive oil, think Les Simpsons en Provence: “Mmmm…. Gibassier!”

There seems to be some disagreement about whether Gibassier and Pompe à ‘Huile — one of the thirteen Provençal Christmas desserts — are the same thing. I don’t know the answer, but why quibble? I’m pretty sure no one will complain if this bread winds upon your dessert table — at Christmas time or any other time, with or without twelve other sweets — or on your breakfast table or your coffee table.

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Banana Crumb Bread

For this banana bread, inspired by my all-time favorite from The Moosewood Cookbook, I replaced a portion of the flour with fine dry bread crumbs. The crumbs I used were from a slightly sweet oatmeal molasses bread, but any crumbs should work if your banana is good and ripe.

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Apricot-Pistachio Sticky Buns


In these sticky buns, the traditional raisins and pecans are replaced with dried apricots and pistachios. Shelled pistachios can be a bit hard to find, but I came away from my last flour run to Costco with a big bag, roasted and salted. Of course, just about any nuts and dried fruit will work. Just remember to get a big package of napkins at Costco, too; they’re not called sticky buns for nothing!


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Sourdough Banana Bread

I came up with this sourdough quick bread by heavily tweaking one of my favorite “regular” banana bread recipes. Why the adaptation? It could be that I believe that my changes — incorporating a hefty amount of sourdough starter, significantly reducing the amount of sweetener and fat, and replacing the butter with olive oil — transform what is essentially cake into something falling somewhere between turnip greens and quinoa on the healthy food scale. Or it could be that sourdough just makes everything better, and that’s reason enough.

The idea in adaptations like this is to substitute all or a portion of the flour in the original recipe with the flour in the sourdough starter. But one challenge in adapting pastry recipes is that the starter must be fairly liquid (around 100% or more hydration) in order to incorporate easily with the other ingredients without having to work it very much, which would produce gluten development that is generally undesirable in pastries. How can you bring all that water along without making the batter too wet?

If the original recipe calls for water as an ingredient, the amount can be reduced to account for the water in the starter. Otherwise, it’s a little tricker. If there are other liquids, such as milk or egg whites, you might substitute a powdered form of that ingredient, such as milk powder, and let the starter water stand in for the liquid component of the ingredient. Reducing the amount of sweetener can also help make a batter less “wet” (as well as, of course, less sweet, which I generally find to be a good thing).

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Sourdough Brownies

[Tuesday, August 2, 2011] LUCAS VALLEY: At 7 p.m. a man received a package containing a used pump from his mother-in-law, which was supposed to contain a picture frame. The man did not want to keep the pump.

I don’t know about you, but for me, this item from the Sheriff’s Calls column in the August 4, 2011 issue of The Point Reyes [California] Light leaves just too many questions unanswered. What kind of pump was it? Why did the son-in-law not want to keep it? Was the poor man able to get hold of another picture frame, and what was the fate of the one he was counting on receiving from his mother-in-law? Was this her first offense, or did she have a list as long as your arm of bait-and-switch priors? Did deputies arrest the woman, take care of disposing of the pump, or simply give advice?

And why did the mother-in-law not just send brownies? No one ever calls the sheriff about brownies.

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I adapted the recipe for this lovely Greek Easter bread, Tsoureki, from Anissa Helou’s wonderful book, Savory Baking from the Mediterranean. Helou suggests that if you cannot find mahlep, the spice that traditionally scents these soft, rich loaves, you can leave it out. This would, however, be a most unhappy omission, and if you take my word and try it, you’ll know why.

Mahlep (variously know as mahlepi, mahleb, mahlab) is common in Greek and Middle Eastern baking. Made from the kernels of wild cherry pits, it tastes bitter on its own, but lends the bread a delightful, delicately sweet, nutty, cherry-almond fragrance. I found the spice in my neighborhood Middle Eastern market, but it’s readily available online.

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