The Difference Between Panettone and…

About three years ago, it came to my attention that my pressurized toilets were, literally, ticking time bombs.  Nothing bad happened, but it was only a matter of time. I knew this because the company was offering to replace those toilets with new (plain old, non-pressurized) toilets. Free shipping and everything. You’d have to pay for the plumber to install the new ones, but still, replacing them seemed like a no-brainer when you read things like “worst case, they explode and flood the house.”

A simple phone call and everything was arranged, no questions asked. My new toilets would be sent out by UPS within a week. All I had to do was sit back, relax, and hope my back end didn’t meet that worst-case scenario before those babies arrived.

Sure enough, a few days later I came home from work to find one of those UPS post-its on my front door. The gist was, “We tried to deliver your toilets but you weren’t home. We’ll be back tomorrow. Please be home.” Well, I wouldn’t be home tomorrow either, but surely this could be fixed with a phone call to the UPS Lady.

Me: Can you please leave my toilets in my driveway tomorrow?

UPS Lady: I’m sorry, ma’am, those items require a signature. We can’t leave them unless someone is home to sign for them. You have five business days to take delivery before we have to send them back.

Me: Can I waive that signature thing?

[Read more...]

Stollen (With Just a Few Sour Grapes)


Today’s post was supposed to be about this year’s panettone, but we’re not going to talk about that right now. If you must have panettone, fine, go, get out! And don’t bother coming back!

Stollen is much easier than panettone. None of this fussy sweet Italian levain business, none of this persnickety adding of the sugar in stages so you don’t overhwhelm your poor fragile gluten, none of this namby-pamby hanging upside down after baking so the sissy little bread doesn’t collapse under its own weight.

No, with stollen you just throw everything into the mixer and mix the hell out of it. The hardest part is shaping the loaf so it looks like the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in the manger. (I think I did a pretty good job with that. I mean, I really see the resemblance there, don’t you?) And you won’t catch our little Lord collapsing under his own weight any time soon, now, will you?

sliced stollen

[Read more...]



Let’s begin with the name: is it “pandoro” or “pan d’oro?” In The Italian Baker, Carol Field writes, “Although the name suggests pan d’oro (golden bread), pandoro is actually a dialect word for a Veronese dessert made more than two centuries ago.”

My own choice of appellation owes more to laziness than a commitment to historical accuracy. “Pandoro” is easier to type, and doesn’t require me to constantly edit after I’ve hit the semicolon key instead of the apostrophe. Let;s face it, I;m a slacker.

Whatever you call it, though, “golden bread” is definitely an apt description for this sweet, egg-and-butter-rich Italian holiday bread.

[Read more...]

Holiday Pocky

Pocky - chocolate dipped breadsticks

Quick, for 10 points: Pocky is/are:

  1. a quintessentially Japanese snack
  2. a thin sweet bread stick coated with chocolate and optionally topped with something else delicious
  3. a fun alternative to traditional holiday cookies
  4. easy to make at home
  5. all of the above

(Hint: it’s E.)

I got the idea from Not Quite Nigella’s enchanting Pocky Christmas Forest, and used her recipe. Finely diced candied orange peel, shredded coconut, chopped pistachios, and crushed peppermint candy make fine toppings, but the possibilities are limitless.


[Read more...]

Pumpkin Brioche Apple Tart

pumpkin brioche apple tart

Bon Appétit has invited food bloggers (including me, wow!) to participate in their Blog Envy Bake-Off, which features a lineup of holiday treats, mostly gorgeous and mostly from people who know how to bake dessert. Now, we know I don’t do a lot in the way of desserts, but an invitation from Bon Appétit cannot be taken lightly. There are, however, certain requirements to consider.

Bon Appétit’s requirement:

  • Must be a holiday dessert.

My requirements:

  • Must have yeast (either that or change my name to Wild Chemical Leavening).
  • Must have fruit (hello, is it dessert without fruit?).
  • Must be a dough I love (so when I screw up the first pass on the tart — did I mention I don’t do desserts? — I don’t mind mixing the dough again).
  • Must be rustic (the culinary equivalent of “it’s not a bug, it’s a feature”).

This tart, made with a soft spiced pumpkin brioche crust, pumpkin seed (pepita) cream, and sweet-tart fall apples, fits the requirements, but is it worthy? I’ll leave that up to you. If you think so, I’d love it if you would vote for it here.

Note that the pumpkin brioche dough and pepita cream recipes make more than what you need for the tart. I used the extra of both to make cinnamon rolls — coming soon!

[Read more...]

Colomba di Pasqua, Semi-Successful

Be honest, do you see a dove here?

Me neither. How about now?

Okay, I admit it’s a stretch. But unable to find the paper dove-shaped molds that I should have used to bake Colomba di Pasqua, the traditional Italian Easter bread, I resorted to trying to make my own. Two 3-inch deep, 10-inch diameter paper pans with a few strategically placed staples were going to have to do.

Next time I will cut about an inch off the top of the pan so the dove can rise and soar above it instead of being trapped in a paper cage. Actually, there won’t be a next time for these makeshift molds, as I’m going now to order my genuine Italian Colomba pans for next year.

I adapted the recipe from the English translation of Cresci: The Art of Leavened Dough by Iginio Massari and Achille Zoia. I have had this opulent (and unfortunately out-of-print) book for a while, and regularly open it when I’m in the mood for a good drool, but had never baked from it before.

The formula is remarkably similar to the one I use for Panettone, but a little sweeter and richer. I built the sweet starter according to the same method I use for that other classic Italian holiday bread. Instead of using my tried-and-true mixing method for sweet enriched breads, where the sugar is added gradually and the dough is mixed to full gluten development before adding the butter, I followed the method given in Cresci, adding sugar initially in the first dough, and butter and sugar at once in the final dough.

[Read more...]