Sourdough Carrot-Ginger Cake


Although carrot cake has been around for centuries, I think of it as the 1970s’ attempt to rationalize dessert.

Come on… it’s dessert! Putting carrots into your cake doesn’t make it any better for you than, say, putting sourdough into it. Together they make a pretty good cake, though. And a nice way to use leftover sourdough starter.

(And if you really want a healthful cake, you can substitute collard greens for carrots, spirulina powder for sugar, and fish oil for vegetable oil. There. Don’t say I never do anything for you.)

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Buddies Baking for Julia

When the Bread Baking Babes baked French Bread in honor of Julia Child this month, we invited the Buddies to bake along with us. I pronounce our collective efforts a resounding success! Katie has the roundup of the Babes’ breads, and I have the honor of presenting the Buddies’ bakes. Thanks to everyone for joining in the celebration of this legendary woman!

Click to see the breads…

Oh, Julia!


Julia Child would have been 100 years old today. “Hooray!” I am delighted to join the Bread Baking Babes and Buddies in celebrating the life and accomplishment of this remarkable woman — a true Babe — with Julia’s Pain Français (French bread).

Oh, Julia, thank you, thank you, thank you for this! Thank you for your dedication and your passion, your curiosity and your ingenuity, without which you would not have brought French bread into the purview of the home baker for the first time.

Published in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume Two in 1970, Pain Français was a landmark achievement. In her engaging memoir My Life in France, Julia wrote that it was “one of the most difficult, elaborate, frustrating, and satisfying challenges I have ever undertaken.” After she and her husband Paul baked loaf upon trial loaf with less-than-successful results (“they tasted all right, but they weren’t anything like real French bread”), Julia ultimately sought the guidance of renowned French boulangerie expert, Professor Raymond Calvel. He taught her about proper dough consistency (“soft and sticky”), about giving it a long cool fermentation to allow complex flavors to develop, and about good shaping and slashing technique. “By the end of the day, our loaves were turning out just right, and I was feeling euphoric. It was as though the sun in all his glory had suddenly broken through the shades of gloom!” 


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There’s always a lot of fermentation going on around here. Yeast is doing plenty of that work, but bacteria also get in on the action. Sourdough cultures contain — along with wild yeast — one or more strains of Lactobacillus, which produce the acids responsible for the “sour.” But lactobacilli like to ferment other things in addition to flour; they help turn cabbage into sauerkraut, cacao into chocolate, and apples into cider.

Then of course there’s milk, for which the bacteria were named in the first place. Lactobacilli love lactose (the sugar in milk), and the resulting yogurt loves us! Medical research suggests that regular consumption of yogurt, like other fermented foods, has beneficial effects on cholesterol, immune function, and digestive tract health (some references for these claims are listed below). Yogurt is also rich source of calcium and protein, and can often be enjoyed even by people who are lactose-intolerant.  Or you could forget all that and eat it just because it’s tangy and creamy and delicious.

In any case, the good news is that it’s simple to make your own. Heat the milk, add a little “starter” (store-bought yogurt or some of your own from the last batch), keep it warm for a few hours, and you’re done. No really, it’s that simple.

 I love my Brod and Taylor proofer for making yogurt. It maintains a constant and easily adjustable temperature, and you don’t need special containers like you do for a specialized  yogurt maker; any glass or ceramic jars will work, as long as they fit inside the roomy box. The yogurt-making method on Brod and Taylor’s website is easy, relatively fast, and yields a smooth, mild-flavored yogurt that has earned wonderful reviews from everyone I’ve fed it to. In fact, while I can’t tolerate the very sour flavor of plain store-bought yogurt, I can eat this without any accompaniment at all — although a sprinkling of muesli and a few raspberries certainly don’t hurt!

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I’m continuing on my quest to use up odd-lot ingredients in the freezer (by which I mean the freezer and refrigerator, various cupboards, the pantry, and a few kitchen shelves; yes, we are quite overrun, still).  I thought I’d make granola, since it’s one of those throw-in-whatever-you’ve got enterprises, but Jay wanted to know if I could make it without any sugar.

Well, let’s see… Definition of granola: oats mixed with dried fruits, nuts, and seeds, held together when baked with honey, sugar, maple syrup, or other sticky sweet stuff. Take away the sweet sticky stuff, and that’s… muesli!

This one is adapted from the lovely Vintage Mixer. I think most muesli recipes do not call for the grains to be toasted, but here they are. I like that because it enhances their flavor and makes them bear up a little better when consorting with milk, yogurt, juice, or whatever you’re eating it with. I also toasted the almonds and coconut, because that makes them taste better. But then I got tired of toasting things, so I left the sunflower seeds raw.

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The Babes Take It Easy

The bread Sara (I Like to Cook) chose for the Bread Baking Babes this month set off a collective cheer among us: Easy Little Bread. Mix, pan, rise, bake: an hour and a half, tops. What, it’s that easy, and quick too? Yay!

Sara adapted the recipe from 101 Cookbooks, and it’s just as it says: easy, fast, and, oh yes, it’s tasty too! With only a quick stir — more of a batter than a dough, really — and one 30-minute rise, it behaves and tastes much like a “quick bread,” except that it’s not sweet (well, just a hint of sweetness). A delicious foil for just about anything you’d like to spread, drizzle, dab, or slather.

I followed the recipe faithfully, except I used instant yeast (4.6 grams, or 1.5 teaspoons), and a 4-cup pan (4 x 8 inches) instead of the recommended 8-cup one. It just didn’t seem like enough batter/dough to fill a larger pan. It barely rose at all during the 30-minute rising period, but the oven spring was rather lively. I did turn on the broiler for a couple of minutes at the end of the bake — with a very watchful eye, of course — to brown it up a bit.

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