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.

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Fruit and Nut Bread, and Bread Matters Giveaway

fruit & nut bread

If you’re wondering why bread matters and what’s the matter with modern commercially-made bread, Andrew Whitley spells it out in Bread Matters: The State of Modern Bread and a Definitive Guide to Baking Your Own, and he doesn’t mince words. He spends the first 50 pages or so explaining why the commercial bread baking process (specifically in Britain, although I think it largely applies to most industrialized societies) is “a nutritional, culinary, social, and environmental mess.”

bread mattersBut maybe you knew that already, if you’re into baking your own bread. In that case, you might be drawn to this book’s unassumingly beautiful and wholesome breads, its chapter on gluten-free baking, or the recipe for kvas, a slightly alcoholic Russian drink made from rye bread, sourdough starter, and molasses.

Aside from looking like it would be just plain delicious (which it was), the recipe for Fruit and Nut Leaven Bread intrigued me because it includes the nuts (along with the dried fruit) in the soaker. This is unusual — most recipes call for nuts to be toasted or untreated — and Whitley promised the soaking would lend them “an almost buttery eating quality.” Also, the fruits and nuts constitute a wonderfully high proportion of the overall dough. I must say this was a really satisfying loaf to bake and to eat.

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Plum-Ginger Upside-Down Cake

plum-ginger upside-down cake

How do you know when someone is a true friend? I suppose there are lots of ways, but here’s one that worked for me last week: I showed up at my friends Erika and Roger’s house for lunch with this plum-ginger upside-down cake in one hand and my camera in the other. They didn’t bat an eye when I said I wanted to get a photo of a slice of the cake once we cut into it. They didn’t say, “Susan, you are a pathetic dork.” They didn’t say, “Put the damn camera down and let us eat our dessert.” They didn’t say, “What do we look like, Olan Mills?” Just, “Which would you prefer, a white plate or a patterned one?” And on top of that, Erika let me win at Upwords. You guys are the best.

I bought the plums with the idea of making some sort of upside-down cake, but I was prepared to have to search for a recipe. As luck would have it, Mimi (Delectable Tidbits) posted a lovely fig upside-down cake that very day, and it proved to be the perfect starting point for my cake. I replaced the figs with plums, added some crystallized ginger to the dough (yes, it’s really more dough than batter, which of course suits me just fine), and scaled it to a 7-1/4-inch size. Now this is my kind of cake: rustic, fruity, swarthy (as Mimi put it), dense and moist. Mimi, you’re the best too.

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Bagels Revisited


I am not a bagel expert. I do not claim to know how to identify or bake an authentic bagel. However, I do know what I like, and I like dense, chewy bagels. Bready bagels are just bread in the shape of a doughnut. What’s the point of that, please? And to get a chewy bagel, you need one thing: gluten, and lots of it.

I make bagels often, and normally use high-gluten flour (King Arthur Flour’s Sir Lancelot) to achieve the stiff, smooth, incredibly strong dough that yields optimal chewiness. This time, however, when I went to reach for that flour, I came up empty-handed. And because it was the hottest day of the year, I just had to have bagels. (You’re the same way, right?) Vital wheat gluten to the rescue.

Vital wheat gluten looks like flour but is essentially pure gluten. It is readily available, packaged or in bulk, in many grocery and natural foods stores, or can be ordered online. I found that replacing the high-gluten flour in my usual sourdough bagel recipe with a mixture of 97% flour (the regular flour I use for bread) and 3% vital wheat gluten gave me a bagel that was virtually indistinguishable from the original.

There are two schools of thought regarding bagel shaping. As with boxers vs. briefs, Mac vs. Windows, or over-the-roll vs. under-the-roll, people seem to fall uncompromisingly into one camp or another. Yes, I have tried the punch-a-hole-in-a-ball-of-dough-and-stretch-it-out method, but the roll-the-ends-of-the-snake-together method is far superior. It just is.

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Spelt – Hemp Seed Bread

gazpacho in spelt-hempseed bread bowl

This is the first time I have baked with hemp seeds, but it won’t be the last. Toasted, these are hands-down the crunchiest seeds I have ever eaten. Crunchy seeds that stay crunchy in the bread. A bowl of Rice Krispies has nothing on a slice of this bread.

And did I say delicious? So much so that since running out of the bread I’ve been eating the seeds plain, by the handful (don’t try this in the library, though). The seeds pack a nutritional punch, too, with all eight essential amino acids and high amounts of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Industrial hemp is grown for its fibers, which are used in textiles, and for its seeds (and derivative oil), which are used for human and animal food, cosmetics, cleaning products, and industrial lubricants. The plant is a subspecies of Cannabis sativa, of which marjuana is a different subspecies. However, industrial hemp contains only a miniscule fraction of the psychoactive compound THC that marijuana has. It is legal to sell these hemp products in the US; however, DEA regulations do not permit it to be grown here. Most of the hemp seeds sold in the US are grown in Canada and Europe, which accounts for their unfortunately high price.

When I shared this bread with some of my co-workers, the hypothetical question came up: could eating hemp seeds could cause one to fail a drug test? According to my reading of consumer-oriented websites as well as available medical literature, probably not; the THC concentration in the seeds is too low. However, please do your own research and come to your own conclusion if you are likely to be in this situation any time soon. In any event, it’s probably best not to buy your hemp seeds off the back of a truck.

I made some of the dough into 250-gram boules, and used their hollowed-out shells as bowls for the Andalucían-style gazpacho I made with Lynne Rosetto Kasper’s recipe from The Splendid Table. This type of gazpacho calls for bread as an ingredient, so the scooped-out bread didn’t go to waste.

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Pumpkin Seed Bread

On the day of my very first marathon team training back in June, I sprained my ankle. Not at the training, but later that afternoon, in my driveway. This is what I get for not wearing entirely sensible shoes.

Luckily, it was not a severe sprain, and I was able to resume training in a couple of days. That evening, however, walking was difficult. We had a plan to meet friends for dinner in Oakland, and when we got there my husband needed to go in search of an ATM. Not wanting to do all that walking, I parked myself in Diesel Bookstore on College Avenue. More specifically, I parked myself in the cookbook section and limited my browsing to the single shelf I could reach without moving around.

But don’t think I’m saying I wouldn’t have chosen Éric Kayser’s New French Recipes as my book (it is not possible for me to exit a bookstore without a book) if my mobility had been greater and my options less restricted. This is a lushly-photographed volume of beautiful, fresh, mostly accessible dishes.  Kayser is a renowned French baker and, while not all of the recipes are for baked things, they largely feature whole grains, seeds, dried fruits, nuts, and breads in prominent roles.

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