archives: cooking

sourdough loaves 2 and 3

Puffed with confidence after my first loaf, I decided to alter the recipe. I did some research about baker’s percentages and was able to scale the recipe down just a bit, so as to make an ever-so-slightly smaller loaf that might fit better in my Dutch oven. My new version of the Hobb’s House Bakery No-Knead Bread has the following ingredients:

240 g starter, at its peak
272 g water*
80 g King Arthur Flour Whole Wheat Flour
320 g King Arthur Flour Bread Flour
8 g salt

* I’ve since read Flour Water Salt Yeast, and that book details at length that final dough temperature is the most important thing; he alters the temperature of the water to achieve the right final temp. I used room-temp water and had great results. Then I tried using slightly hotter tap water to see what would happen, and the final dough temp was much higher than he detailed and the final loaves were, to my mind, not as great—perhaps because I used water straight from the tap?

I set out to make my second and third loaves because, so pumped up with my achievements as I was, I determined to make a loaf as a host gift for my friend’s parents, who were hosting us the coming weekend. While I know that the Tartine recipe calls for mixing up the dough and then splitting it into two loaves, and thus I knew that doubling it would have been straightforward, I was feeling tentative and decided to mix each loaf up separately. This meant I could do more stretch-and-folds, though, so I was not complaining; I love that part of the process!


I started the process around 9 am that day, feeding Constance a huge meal so that I would have at least 480 g of starter to use at the end. Around 2 she was more than doubled (I’d had an unexpected work call that meant I couldn’t check on her at 1), so I started the autolyse. I let bulk fermentation go for about 3 hours, and had no issues forming the loaves to put into the vessels for proofing.

Back when our starters were just wee babes, I bought Caro and me matching cane bannetons. I liked the longer shape and figured it would fit more nicely in my oval Dutch oven. After my shall-not-be-named disaster with a loaf sticking to the banneton, I did some research and settled on using a tea towel dusted with a 50/50 mix of bread flour and rice flour to prevent sticking. That has definitely done the trick; I’ve had no issues peeling the tea towel off after inverting. With two loaves in the mix and only one banneton, I employed just a normal ceramic bowl from Ikea for the second loaf. I’d give a round one in the DO a try.

I spent the evening once the loaves were in the fridge (they went in around 7) debating on my cutting patterns. I scanned Instagram and decided leafy shapes, rather than the stalks of wheat, would be what I’d try. The next morning I got one loaf out of the fridge around 8 and let it sit for 2 hours; for the last half hour I preheated the oven with my DO inside. Using a technique that was detailed in a cookbook I recently edited, I balled up my parchment paper 5 times or so in order to soften it a bit. This helped a lot for the parchment not interfering with the bread’s shape. Once I put the loaf in the oven I took out the second to come to room temp. For both, I remembered to sprinkle with flour before cutting. Cutting was not very easy; the lame dragged. But I persisted.

And I was decently pleased.

sourdough bread | pepperknit

sourdough bread | pepperknit

The long one was baked first, and the moment it came out I realized I needed to score more deeply, so I attempted that on the second. I love the rich dark color they got. The crumb was generally nice but maybe slightly “wet” feeling? And whoa talk about a big bubble. It was in the DO for 25, uncovered for 20 or 25.

sourdough bread | pepperknit

Cutting the loaf straight out of the oven is like cutting down a tree with a switchblade—my serrated knife is clearly not up to the task. The next day the crust has softened enough that it’s not such an aerobic effort. We gave the round loaf away and it was much appreciated!

post-script: Jason helped me document the whole process, and Google later made me a video of it! It’s too big to upload, sadly, but you can see it here.


sourdough adventures

A while back, I was browsing the “Explore” tab of Instagram and happened upon a bunch of gorgeous loaves of bread. I followed the account and started swooning over the beautiful slashing and enticing crumb shots I saw. Turns out that IG account is by a woman who wrote a James Beard-award winning book on sourdough. She lives in Brooklyn and in April mentioned workshops, so I took a look to see if I should try it out. Well, the 3-day intensive was $950 without lodging, and I thought, hmm, I could try it myself first, invest in a few $5 bags of flour instead, and see what happens.

I mentioned this to Caro, who has baked a lot of Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread. I said, “I think I’m going to try starting my own sourdough starter this week.” I included a link to the King Arthur Flour guide. She replied, “If you start one, I will too”; turned out she’d been reading up on this on her own. And so the #breadalong was born. Once we posted our initial shots, a friend revealed she, too, had started a sourdough starter that day!

And then we waited.

sourdough starter | pepperknit

And waited.

sourdough starter | pepperknit

And waited.

sourdough starter | pepperknit

I went through at least 2 whole bags of KAF All-Purpose Flour. I named my starter Constance Stein, after a woman who continues to get mail here even though I’ve lived in this apartment for 9 years. After 3+ weeks I broke down and called the King Arthur Flour hotline. I felt sheepish, and it was certainly one of the sillier things I’ve ever done, but I figured, they’re there for this, they’re the experts. (Cut to Jed Bartlet calling the Butterball Hotline.) Constance wasn’t doubling at all, and they’d indicated it would happen after 1 week. My apartment is generally warm, but it was April and the temp outside was fluctuating quite a bit. The mildly amused woman on the KAF hotline suggested I put the starter in the fridge and feed every 3 days, and promised doubling would happen in due time. I followed her advice.

I continued to feed Constance, and I continued to experiment with sourdough english muffins, sourdough waffles, sourdough sandwich bread (that also uses commercial yeast), sourdough pretzels, sourdough pizzas, and sourdough crackers. I put the discard to many delicious uses.

sourdough discard | pepperknit

And then one day in early June I left Constance on the counter all day as a test, and she doubled, or nearly did. I had my suspicions that she was not ready but I forged ahead. I made a mess. The loaf stuck in the banneton and was just so, so ugly. It will not be shown; I do not count this loaf as an actual loaf in my bread-making journey. I continued to babble to Caro about the starter’s progress. On June 14 I declared, “Constance doubled in 7 hours today!” and then there is silence until on June 18 I follow up with, “Constance doubled in 6 hours today!!!”

I spent all my time not making bread watching bread videos on YouTube, reading blogs, and scrolling hashtags on Instagram. And on June 19, one month and 5 days after I mixed up the first portion of flour and water, I started the process, having picked for no discernable reason to follow the Hobbs House Bakery No-Knead Recipe. The recipe uses a large amount of starter, which seemed odd, but I figured, let’s give it all the help it can get for rising. It turned out a beaut, though perhaps a bit lumpy.

sourdough bread | pepperknit

I followed the recipe with the exception of leaving out the sesame seeds and placing the proofed loaf on a piece of parchment to make slashing as well as putting into the Dutch oven easier. I was using my Le Creuset oval 6-quart. I don’t recall now the timing, but I used the video as my guide. The parchment paper bunched up in the DO and that’s why there’s those large indentations along the bottom edge.

Next up, more loaves.

adventures in juicing

A few years ago at Vogue Knitting LIVE Chicago, I started trying green juices from a breakfast and lunch spot off the entrance, Freshii. I loved the taste, yes, but I also loved how it gave me a little zing—and while you’re working an event as intense as VK LIVE, well, you need a little zing. This year for the show in NYC, we found a breakfast and lunch spot to deliver that also had juices, and I went overboard: sometimes 3 juices in a day! How was I to go back to my juiceless lifestyle once I was back home? I debated for a few days but bit the bullet and bought a juicer.

I got the most basic Breville (which Bon Appetit recommended in the January issue), even though the next step up is only about $50 more. It arrived yesterday, and I gave it its inaugural spin last night. My favorite juice from Freshii and the place in NYC, Al Horno, is one that’s just kale, celery, cucumber, lemon, green apple, and spinach. I didn’t buy spinach so I did it without. Not really knowing anything about anything, I dropped a whole peeled lemon into the chute and went from there. And oh boy was it too much lemon! It was drinkable, but it was quite tart. This morning I set about fixing that.


This is exactly what I put into my juice this morning, and the quantity was pretty spot-on. Not quite a giant glassful, but a filling amount. That’s just half a lemon—perhaps still slightly high in lemon, but not puckering, and I’m probably too lazy to cut a lemon any further. In the future  I will up the kale, for sure, and perhaps up all the green veggies a bit.

my first homemade green juice

I obviously didn’t measure anything precisely, but taking the picture of the quantities will hopefully help me tomorrow morning when I make another juice. I won’t turn this into a juicing blog, I promise—but bear with me as I include a few successes so that I can recreate them for myself! And maybe this will help someone else. With that in mind, a few notes:

  • I found some sites that said “always peel citrus” and others that said “you could get away with about half a lemon’s worth of peel still on.” I asked a friend who loves juice and she immediately told me to peel it. Given how strong the lemon comes through, I’d hate to add a stronger lemon component—and I definitely don’t want the bitterness of the peel. What to do with all the lemon peels? Make candied peels!
  • The Breville product tag has a photograph of a woman holding an apple over the feed chute as if to drop it in whole. I used a whole apple for the photo because it was prettier, but in truth I had cut out the core before putting it in the chute. I don’t know if the core would be too tough for it—some sites I’ve read say to always core apples. Maybe Breville took that picture because it’s pretty.
  • Speaking of apple, this morning one of my apple pieces turned onto its flat side and couldn’t be pushed down into the blades any further—it was the last thing I juiced so I couldn’t push it with something else. In the future I’ll take care to keep it vertical if possible.
  • I bought organic celery, kale, etc., and hope that Fresh Direct continues to have them on sale in the future!
  • In general the juice seems more juice than particles, which I’m used to when I get juice from a shop. This is nice, in that it is a touch easier to drink, but is odd, because I’d really gotten used to that mouthfeel. Eh, it is what it is.
  • As to cleanup: honestly, not that bad. It has more parts than the Cuisinart but isn’t any more annoying to clean, and in fact seems to have fewer nooks and crannies. However, scrubbing the mesh strainer with the brush does take some time. Including emptying the full dishdrain before starting to wash, the process took ten minutes this morning. I’m kind of shocked it took so long, but that isn’t terrible. Because I live in petrifying fear that if the waste sits on the machine for any length of time I’ll never get it clean, I had the filter soaking within moments and had washed it all upon finishing my juice.

Next up, once I get to the store, will be a beet-carrot-apple-ginger recreation of another favorite juice from Al Horno. But for now, one of these in the morning is going to be quite fine.


olive oil polenta cake

Over Memorial Day weekend I had a huge bagful of cherries, the assignment to make dessert for a friend’s barbecue, and no clear idea of what to do. Mom was visiting and we’d already made her signature chocolate cupcakes, but we wanted to do something with the cherries. She found a cherry olive oil polenta cake recipe online that we chose over other cherry-oriented recipes because we had all the ingredients for it in the house and it seemed like a cinch to make—no waiting for butter to soften, no melting ingredients and dirtying a pot!



It was delicious! A bit more like a breakfast/coffee cake than a true dessert cake, but moist and tender and with a nice crumb. We brainstormed what other fruits would be good, given how fleeting the cherry season is. A week or so later, I tried it with a pint of blueberries (but didn’t take a picture). Tasty, very breakfasty, but needed more blueberries (and for my timer to work; that one got a bit overcooked). Jason said that what he liked about the cherries was that the sweetness isn’t so one-dimensional; there’s a bit of a tang. So when Fresh Direct had a sale on pluots (plum-apricot hybrids), I grabbed some and figured I’d give them a shot.


The pluots are moister, and definitely tarter, but I cooked the cake exactly the right amount of time and the result is sublime. I also added a generous sprinkling of raw sugar to the top, which was  the right choice.

I’ll try it with straight up apricots, maybe mango, and someday if I can spare pieces for baking instead of eating them immediately, pineapple. At first I wasn’t sure how versatile this recipe would be, and now I am eager to stick all the fruits in there! Try it with whatever you have on hand, and let me know how it comes out!


(Cherry) Olive Oil Polenta Cake
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup extra-virgin extra-virgin olive oil
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup polenta or cornmeal
2 1/2 cups fresh fruit (1 lb cherries, pitted / 1.5-2 pints blueberries / 4 pluots, peeled and diced into 1-inch pieces)
Sugar in the raw, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 10″ round cake pan with nonstick vegetable spray. I found that cutting a round of parchment and placing that in the pan, then lightly spraying it, was a big help in getting the cake out of the pan cleanly.

In the bowl of a mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugar on medium-high until light in color, about 4 minutes. Add vanilla, olive oil, lemon zest, and lemon juice and stir to combine.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and polenta. Add to egg mixture and mix until combined.

Spread two-thirds of batter into the prepared pan. If you put a round of parchment in, it’ll slide all over the place, but soldier on and you can get the batter spread and the parchment centered. Cover completely with the fruit, pressing in lightly. Spoon and spread the remaining batter over the fruit as best you can. Sprinkle generously with sugar in the raw to make a sweet crust. Bake until top and edges are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 1 hour. Remove from oven and cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan and cool completely on rack. Enjoy!

olive oil polenta cake


my current favorite sandwich

I first made this basic sandwich years and years ago, and in fact I took a photo of myself eating it one day I was feeling so smug about it (that photo is at the end of this post), but it just sort of fell out of my rotation when I wasn’t eating sandwiches as much. This week I brought it back, and I’m so happy with it every time I eat it that I just had to share.

1. spread avocado on a slice of oatnut bread

Smear a piece of Oatnut bread with half an avocado. I think Oatnut is the most perfect bread for this. Sometimes I wonder if it should be lightly toasted for texture, but I like its softness, to tell the truth. Oh, sprinkle it with a touch of salt if you don’t eat the sandwich with kettle cooked potato chips.

2. add a layer of sliced radishes

Top with sliced radishes.

3. a slice of havarti cheese

Add a slice of Havarti. I forget that delis slice all sorts of cheeses besides just American, Swiss, and Provolone. I feel like Havarti is what makes this sing, but perhaps you’d enjoy Provolone instead. I would not recommend American or Swiss.

4. now a layer of cucumber slices

Top with some cucumber slices.

5. a whole mess of alfalfa sprouts

Add a whole mess of alfalfa sprouts. I’m talking 1/3 of the package. Someday I’ll start growing my own from seed, because I know it’s easy, and given how perishable they are I’m often disappointed in what I get from the store. But I want a LOT.

avocado, radish, cucumber, sprout, and havarti sandwich

Top with the other slice of bread and cut in half. Enjoy every bite. Like I said above, I think it needs some saltiness, and just eating it along with a nice crunchy kettle cooked chip is a match made in heaven. If you don’t have that, you might want to add a touch of salt. This sandwich is dubiously healthy (that’s a shameless amount of avocado and cheese despite the number of vegetables!) but I don’t care, I love it. I feel a little self-conscious posting this—what if other people hate this or think it’s a bad balance. Still, I like the combo of the soft bread and avocado, the crunch of the cuke, the spice of the radish, the brightness of the sprouts, all melded together with the creamy cheese. Maybe try it if you’re looking for a new sandwich and you like all these ingredients.

Here I was back in 2009 (FIVE YEARS AGO) enjoying this sandwich. The kitchen doesn’t look anything like this anymore, and that table is long gone, but, um, I still have (and wear) that shirt!