I can’t go another day without sharing my go-to challah recipe with you. It’s actually my mom’s recipe, which just goes to show that you don’t have to be born Jewish to inherit a perfect recipe for a most emblematically Jewish food. On occasion, I turn to the recipe in Joan Nathan’s splendid Jewish Cooking In America, her amazing oeuvre that reads the way I think a Jewish cookbook should – rich headnotes and historical asides paired with flawlessly-voiced procedures. Though I love Joan’s recipe, I confess that I find it a bit rich for regular use. I wax rhapsodically through phases of regular Shabbat observance in the form of Friday night dinners with candles and challah. For those weekly episodes, my mom’s recipe triumphs. Light and simple, the dough can be thrown together on Thursday evening and baked on Friday, either in the morning or just before dinner. To wit, I started a batch at 11pm a few weeks ago so that I could bake the loaves before work the following day in order to send them to friends in other cities (long story). A bit of mixing, a bit of kneading, a brief rest (while I cleaned the kitchen and brushed my teeth), and they were ready to shape before bed. Overnight, the refrigerator’s cool embrace slowly coaxed the yeast to plod along its flavor-making path gently and smoothly, just the way yeast prefers. Laboring while I slept, the bread readied itself for a morning bake. Perfect.


In the morning, the smell emanating from the kitchen was warm and sweet. It crept down the hall and into our bedroom, rousing my sleepy husband who wandered into the kitchen asking “are there pancakes?” as he rubbed his bleary eyes. Thankfully, he wasn’t disappointed to find that I was making challah instead, and that one of the three loaves was for him.


One request: please learn to say it correctly. HAH-lah. The first sound is a soft, guttural ‘h’ and not a hard ‘ch’ as in chalk.


I should note that this dough is infinitely adaptable to whatever shape you like. In elementary school, my mom would shape the loaves to look like teddy bears, which we would adorn with chocolate chip eyes and noses before presenting them to my teachers as Christmas gifts. I will give you a few minutes to join me in giggling at the irony of using challah dough to make Christmas bears for my teachers in Utah, the only place where Jews are considered gentiles. It’s the little things that make me smile. Shabbat shalom, my friends.
(Keep reading Challah…)


Without fail, the purchase of a bunch of bananas implies that one of the bunch will end up entombed in my freezer. It’s always the same story. We buy bananas, intend to eat at least one a day and by the third or fourth day, we burn out. The banana that was lemony yellow and unblemished on Sunday becomes a brown-flecked tube of sickly sweetness on Thursday. That lonely, time-tattooed, orphan banana in the bowl always rides to the freezer on a sea of good intentions – I’m not wasting it, I’m preparing for banana bread! The fact that I found a brown, frozen banana in each of four layers of my freezer’s sedimentary melee of forgotten foodstuffs is evidence that it has been a while since my good intentions did anything other than pave paths. I’ve been so energized by yeast breads for the past several months that I’ve treated quick breads with shameful neglect. It’s probably good that we don’t buy bananas very often.


As the name implies (and as discussed in the recent contest entries), they are quite quick. More of a batter than a dough, they are typically mixed, poured, and baked. The baking can last for upwards of an hour, since the batter tends to be quite wet, but that’s the most time-consuming part of the process. Getting yourself to the oven stage of a quick bread is, generally, a dump-mix-pour program. In that sense, it’s a lot like a cake.


This recipe doesn’t produce the tallest loaf in the world. As you can see from the pictures, it’s rather compact. It is not, however, dense. The chocolate and chocolate chips add a sweetness and richness that make the shorter slices seem appropriate.


I’ve jazzed up the bananas here by simmering them with a bit of rum. This is optional. If you find yourself with a pile of ready bananas and no rum, don’t worry. The recipe will still work. If you are worried about the alcohol content of the finished bread, fear not. The alcohol will completely cook off between the simmering and the baking. Whether or not you simmer the bananas, be sure they are very well mashed. If you leave big globs of banana in the batter, you’ll end up with boggy wet spots in the bread.

(Keep reading Chocolate Banana Bread…)


My first attempt at scones was, essentially, a disaster.  It ranks in my the top three episodes of Things I Can’t Believe I Asked Other People To Eat.

I was a newly-minted college grad trying to settle into my first apartment, a spartan one-bedroom with awful carpet.   In fact, the carpet was so horrible I couldn’t bring myself to purchase a vacuum in order to take care of it.  Rather than spend all that money on something so boring to use on something so ugly, I adopted the weekly ritual of wrapping my arms in masking tape and rolling around on the floor until I had sufficiently attracted all the errant cat litter.  Looking back, it’s really not hard to see why I was single.

The scones came about in the process of hosting my first dinner party.  It was the best kind – the guests were bringing everything but dessert.  At the time, my bakeware arsenal was limited to a single cookie sheet and a pyrex brownie pan, so my dessert options were relatively narrow and did not include the layer cake I would have preferred.  A pile of blueberries were lurking about in the fridge, waving their arms and shouting ME! ME! ME! ME! ME! as they threatened to grow fur and walk out if I didn’t use them soon.  So scones made sense.


If my bakeware stash was limited, my pantry bordered on barren.  Rather than pony up and stock it appropriately, I decided to grow my kitchen more slowly by adding a few staples to my grocery cart each week.  Baking powder hadn’t yet made the cut, a detail I unfortunately overlooked as I scanned the shelves to confirm that I had the necessary ingredients for my scones.  Let this be a lesson to you – make damned sure you have everything before you start cooking, lest you find yourself up a leavening agent creek without a baking powder paddle.

With less than an hour before the guests were set to arrive, I found myself staring at a bowl of dry ingredients in want of baking powder.  All I had was baking soda.  They are, sadly, not the same thing – baking powder has an acidifying agent that baking soda lacks, and without it the leavening action won’t be the same.  Panicked, I frantically searched online for something, anything, that would tell me how to augment my recipe to accommodate baking soda.  Acid! I had a lemon! Problem solved!

Sort of.

Remember those super ripe blueberries?  They sure were blue.  Purple, really.  Had everything gone according to plan, the scones would have been quite purple from the berries’ abundant, inky juice.  So it shouldn’t have been a great surprise to find that the introduction of the (faintly yellow) lemon juice turned the dough a striking teal.  Really teal.  Tourist-fanny-pack teal.  Trashy-nail-polish teal.  Pontiac-minivan-from-the-mid-90s teal.  TEAL.

The scones tasted fine, and the supplemental acid actually yielded appropriate leavening from the ill-suited baking soda, but I’m telling you they didn’t look like food.  After our lovely meal of roast beef, mashed potatoes, and roasted summer vegetables, I withered a bit and presented my monstrosities with the promise that they tasted better than they looked.  It is to my guests’ credit that they so ably concealed their horror as they choked down the first bite.  I promptly relegated scones to the realm of Things I Don’t Make (where they joined baklava and beef jerky), and forgot about them for almost a decade.

Scones and I have since reconciled.  They have made their way into my regular weekend breakfast rotation, and I hope you will give them a try.  If you aren’t moved by the maple cinnamon action, substitute nuts, finely chopped dried fruit, mini chocolate chips, or any combination thereof.  The underlying recipe comes from the lovely Clotilde Dusoulier.  If you aren’t familiar with Chocolate & Zucchini, please give it a browse.  Her sensibilities are nothing short of delightful.

(Keep reading Maple Cinnamon Scones…)

Welcome to the very first Salty Spoon contest! Tell me your favorite kind of bread and earn a chance to win an instant-read thermometer, the kind I (incessantly) recommend.  The contest will remain open for one week, until midnight Pacific time on Wednesday, July 8.  There are two ways to send me your entry, and you may use either or both once a day until the contest is over:
1.    Comment on this post
2.    Send me (@SaltySpoon) a tweet on Twitter
Good luck – I look forward to hearing about your favorites.


I’ve heard that real estate agents recommend baking a cake or a batch of cookies just before an open house.  The hope is that the sweet smell emanating from the oven will beckon to prospective buyers. When we shopped for our place, we saw something like 40 houses in four days, so I can’t tell you with any certainty whether any of them smelled like cookies.  There was one place in Marina del Rey that smelled like old soup, and several new condos that offered the seductive chemical high of new carpet fumes, but there are none that sing out in my mind as That Place That Smelled Like A Big Fat Cake.


I would have remembered roasting garlic.  My allegiance to baked goods notwithstanding, if I were to select one aroma to illustrate the olfactory concept of Home, it would be the smell of garlic roasting in a hot oven.  As it roasts, garlic softens, both in texture and intensity.  It abandons the militant aggression it so favors when raw and matures into something warmer, friendlier, with a softer smile.  If raw garlic is an outspoken 19-year-old, defiantly braless and passionately committed to a new cause biweekly, then roasted garlic is the 45-year-old that kid grows up to be, who reads edgy historical fiction, drinks more green tea than coffee, and always listens patiently.


When I cook with garlic, I breathe a contented sigh every time I reenter the kitchen. The scent surrounds me, offering a time-worn flannel shirt for the nose.  It reaches in and puts me at ease; even the overhead Ikea tracklights seem fuller and more golden.  A simple batch of aigo bouido – a garlic soup from Mastering the Art of French Cooking – simmering on the stove sets guests’ faces aglow as they enter for dinner.  Graceful billows of garlicky steam tempt them to the table.  And a loaf of bread made with a rosemary garlic paste beams as it bakes, filling the whole house with herbed wizardry.  Almost enough to sell the place.


(Keep reading Roasted Garlic Rosemary Bread…)


I have a confession: I cheated on my favorite sandwich bread recipe.  For several months, I regularly made the Multi-grain Extraordinaire recipe from Peter Reinhart’s wonderful book, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.  Whether toasted or incorporated into a sandwich, it sings.  The finished product and I were so happy together.  But I had my differences with the recipe.

It’s not complicated or faulty, quite the contrary.  Once the ingredients are ready, it falls squarely in the mix-it/shape-it/bake-it gang of sandwich breads (as does the following recipe).  The problem, for me, lies in getting the multiple grains ready for their extraordinaire status.  At least 8 hours prior to mixing the dough, the grains (cornmeal, oatmeal, wheat bran) must be soaked in a bit of water to form the aptly-named soaker.  Unfortunately, this sometimes exceeds the limits of my advance planning skills.  I usually make sandwich bread for the week on the weekend, which requires putting together a soaker on Friday or Saturday night.   After several weeks of making it to Sunday afternoon without a proper soaker, I went in search of a new sandwich bread recipe.


The fine folks at King Arthur Flour provided me with a new prospect.  I know we met on the rebound, I know.  So I’m taking it one loaf at a time.  It’s been over a month since the Multi-grain Extraordinaire has heard from me.  We were pretty close, but there’s no need for a formal pronouncement about the change in our relationship.  I hope we can just become casual friends who catch up once in a while.

If we do end up having to Have a Talk, I’ll tell it the truth: it’s not you, it’s me.
(Keep reading Wheat and Oat Sandwich Bread…)


We saw it as a sin to waste excess frosting. Never bound to follow a strict recipe, my mom and I would mix and taste, mix and taste until we had a bowl of smooth, hearty buttercream frosting for whatever cake or brownie begged to be dressed. There’s nothing wrong with following a recipe – and I regularly do with tinted frosting to be sure I avoid having to make more that would risk being a different color – but the ad hoc way is much more fun. It almost always means leftovers, the best kind.

I remember one afternoon during my senior year of high school. I came across a bowl of leftover frosting on the kitchen counter as I made my daily post-school forage through the kitchen. It was chocolate buttercream. Whatever baked good had been its original target was gone – all that remained was this bowl of excess joy. I hastily grabbed a teaspoon and dove in for one, good bite. Then another. And another. My indulgent solitude splintered when my mom came upstairs to find her piggy daughter shoveling frosting into her mouth. “Bria!” she hissed, and there was a pregnant pause while she marched into the kitchen, during which time I was sure she was about to scold me for wolfing down frosting straight from the bowl. “Use a big spoon.” She pulled two dinner spoons out of the silverware drawer and joined me as we savored the excesses of our prior handiwork.

So it would be accurate to say I have a sweet tooth. And that I come by it honestly.

I do not understand people who say they “don’t like sweets.” When I hear that, I feel as bewildered as I would if someone were telling me “I don’t really like having arms.” Still, as my advancing years teeter on the brink of 30, I find myself acquiring new-found patience for accommodating such bizarre tendencies (though I will draw the line at cutting anyone else’s meat so they don’t have to be bothered with the imposition of their northern appendages). My arsenal of demi-sweet desserts is growing, and I can begrudgingly admit I enjoy them, too.

This olive oil cake mediates handsomely between the sweet-loving and the sweet-tolerating factions. Mildly sweet, it allows the nutty pizzazz of the olive oil to lilt upon the palette in a sly, flirty dance. The original recipe calls for Grand Marnier, which I have replaced with drambuie and almond extract. Despite many attempts to otherwise align my palate, I do not care much for citrus liqueurs. If you feel differently, substitute 3 tablespoons of Grand Marnier for the other liqueurs. Use the best, brightest-tasting olive oil you can justify. I serve this with a simple dusting of powdered sugar, but it would also be lovely with a berry coulis or a sugary glaze. If you go that route and end up with extra glaze for snacking, be sure to use a big spoon.

(Keep reading Olive Oil Cake…)


Happiness. adj. The occasional combination of (i) a pot of coffee, (ii) a plate of simple muffins, and (iii) a Saturday morning.

Lovelies, I have just revealed to you my inner sloth. Left to my own devices and otherwise unencumbered by other obligations, I can stretch a batch of muffins and a pot of coffee well into early afternoon as I faff about watching Bravo. But I’m persnickety. Not just any muffin will do. It has to be fresh, and it has to be simple. No overdressed Starbucks monstrosities or cupcakes slumming it without their frosting; a triple-chocolate, wrapper-wearing something or other is not my Saturday style.

You’ll find a ziptillion muffin mixes in the baking aisle of your grocery store. Please walk on by. Two bowls, a muffin tin, and a few ingredients are all that separate you from one of breakfast’s basic beauties. They are tremendously simple and very much worth the modicum of extra effort.


If chocolate chips aren’t your thing, add a handful of chopped pecans or dried cherries. If you really want to get snazzy, spoon a large dollop into each well of your muffin tin, add a small spoonful of jam to the center of each dollop, and top with the rest of the batter. The jam will stay put and make for tasty centers.

The underlying recipe comes from Michael Ruhlman’s excellent book, Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking (see link in the sidebar).  You’ll notice that the quantities for the flour, sugar, milk, and butter are listed first by weight.  If you have a food scale, use it.  Volume measurements are listed in the parentheses and will also work.


(Keep reading Simple Chocolate Chip Muffins…)

We’re going to talk about cookies for a moment, one variety by way of another. I think cookies might be the first thing I ever made from scratch by myself. It was a recipe called Cowboy Cookies that my mom kept in a black recipe binder – the kind I keep telling myself I should start. Sure, I keep copies of recipes on my computer, both good things I’ve tried and things I tinkered with myself. And were you to crawl between the sofa and its accompanying sofa table to see behind the shelf where I keep my cookbooks, you’d find a neon rainbow of sticky flags marking all the things I mean to cook one of these days.


But more often than not, I end up transferring a recipe or an adaptation of a recipe to a scrap of paper that can get down and dirty on my kitchen counter as its progeny springs forth. My go-to pizza crust recipe lives on an index card on the side of our fridge, and many a sauce-spotted post-it have found their way to the top of the flour canister at the hands of Nora, the wonderful woman who cleans for us once a week. There, they await my discovery, and are eventually discarded. I should really get a binder.

My mom’s binder holds about a hundred pages of recipes – clippings from newspapers and old issues of Good Housekeeping, index cards from friends, and a dozen pages of careful, adolescent script – the remnants of her 8th grade cooking class. The pages are covered in plastic and lie flat, both qualities are invaluable in the kitchen. No matter how pronounced the nimbus cloud of cocoa becomes during the too-hurried assembly of a chocolate cake, the pages are easily wiped clean; a new slate for the next cake.


The Cowboy Cookies were not complicated or profound. Just a good, buttery chocolate chip cookie with a hearty helping of oatmeal stirred in at the end. It was making those Cowboy Cookies where I first learned that brown sugar makes flatter, crisper cookies when it takes on a solo act in place of its usual duet with granulated white as the recipe intended. And it was a batch of Cowboy Cookies that fell victim to my experiment with mint extract. Through it all, the Cowboy Cookies endured as simple, reliable, and intoxicatingly delicious.


I remember loving the recipe card itself, too. It wasn’t just an index card. It was illustrated with a joyful drawing of a woman in the throes of cooking. My first memory of the illustration came at that pre-school developmental stage where the only things worth noticing in the world around you are cookies and cartoons, and this was the promise of both. At the time, any brightly-colored illustration gave way to the possibility, no matter how remote, of cartoons; I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Better still, whenever the card came out, cookies were sure to follow.

And so my love of fresh cookies began. Even back then, I knew many children whose mothers didn’t bake, whose class birthday treats came from a bakery or the grocery store. In making Cowboy Cookies, I learned that there was more to baked goods than the end product itself. There was the anticipation, building itself into a craving-laden crescendo throughout the assembly process and fueled by the many opportunities to taste along the way. And oh, the tasting. A finished cookie is all well and good, certainly, but it would be criminal to spend one’s entire life overlooking the various stages of a batter’s life cycle. Cookie dough ice cream-lovers have an inkling of what I’m talking about here (though to base your fondness for cookie dough on that miserable, pellet-form is like listening to a Ride of the Valkeries ringtone and saying you like Wagner). Fresh cookie dough does not have an equal. Neither does the prospect of licking the spoon after all the cookies are made and it’s time to do the dishes.

As you can probably gather, my thoughts on the necessity of making your own cookies are closely aligned with my thoughts on making your own bread. You must. It’s another process that is far less complicated than it seems to the uninitiated, and yields results that will delight you more than you can know.

This is a very fun recipe for cookies that look fantastic and taste even better. They are just the ticket for the chocolate craving that refuses to be satisfied with a single layer of chocolate. These are the big guns, the really intense chocolate assault that will definitely cure what ails you. And surprisingly enough, they do not call for any flour. I made them a few weeks ago in honor of the impending departure of one of my friends at the office who was bound for his upcoming wedding and journey to a year of adventure in Chile. They were well-received; I hope you will agree.

(Keep reading Deep Dark Chocolate Cookies…)

As you may have noticed in the Artisan Bread recipe, I occasionally specify using Kosher salt.  I will be the first to admit that I regularly ignore some of the specifics when it comes to particular ingredients listed in a recipe.  Unless there’s a really compelling reason, I generally don’t pay attention when a recipe wants me to use, say, a specific brand (this is somewhat likely to be the result of sponsorship, rather than an indicator of particular suitability).  It’s not that I don’t like to be told what to do (apologies if you are in a room with anyone who has ever met me and their shrieks of laughter are making it hard to concentrate on reading), but I usually try to make reasonable substitutions to avoid buying near-duplicates of things I already have in the pantry.

However, there are times when the specified ingredient is so specified for a reason.  When you are asked to use Kosher salt, do.  As you can see below, left, table salt is made up of very fine grains.  Kosher salt, on the right, is made up of much larger flakes.  As a result, a teaspoon of table salt is a lot more salt than a teaspoon of Kosher salt.  If you are out of Kosher salt and a recipe is calling for it, you can use table salt so long as you reduce the quantity by about a third.


Sodium chloride is sodium chloride.  Many, though not all, of the differences people perceive between various sorts of salt (sea, table, Kosher, etc.) are more about texture than taste.  And some salt textures are more suited to performing different tasks – the weighty nubbins of fleur de sel are a better garnish when  you want the salt to hold its shape, for example.  The good news is that salt is generally pretty inexpensive, so you can try several different kinds and go nuts.

For the curious, the salt in the salt cellar pictured in the masthead is sea salt.  The salt cellar itself is part of the Match pewter collection.  Its tiny spoon is pretty much the cutest thing you’ve ever seen, hence the site name.


At the risk of sounding hopelessly smug, I’m going to tell you that we haven’t bought a loaf of bread in nearly a year. People sometimes ask me if we have a bread maker, and it takes all the control I can muster not to shout YES AND HER NAME IS BRIA. You do not need a machine to make what you can easily accomplish with a big bowl and your own two hands. Besides, bread machines take up precious counter space, cost a lot more than a bowl, and (depending on the model) can make absurdly-shaped loaves.

I am going to cut to the chase here and demand that you make this bread before a week has passed. This is fantastic stuff, and it is a perfect gateway bread that will build your confidence and earn you the admiration of friends and enemies alike. It will also airbrush your skin and help you make friends while losing lots of weight. Oprah eats this bread daily. I myself lost 30 pounds of belly fat by making this bread.

Or maybe it’s just delicious. These are beautiful, artisan loaves – no two will look alike, and they will grow and change in the oven to surprise you upon their completion. I lovingly call it Lazy Bread, as you don’t knead it or do much more than arrange it a few times and send it on its merry, baking way. The total duration of time involved is around 4 hours, but the hands-on time is really minimal. Get a batch of dough going and go about your day while it naps. The yeast will do its thing without you; just help it find a nice shape and get it into the oven. The bread will do the rest.

Enjoy as toast, with soup, or alongside a hearty pasta. Better yet, dip it in a fragrant olive oil as you sip wine and try to remember what life was like before you started making bread for yourself. If the picture is hazy, let it fade into your subconscious as a quaint remembrance of Life Before Good Bread.

(Keep reading Artisan Bread for Beginners…)

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