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Maple White Bread


I was a dud, an absolute dud, at math and science in school. I can remember just a few things, the way my 6th grade math teacher's nicotine-stained teeth looked, the way my chemistry teacher in 9th grade tried to teach us about electrical currents by sticking two razor blades connected to a generator into a raw hot dog, the shiny red sports car that my 12th grade physics teacher drove to school every day, so incongruously matched to his balding head and waddling gait. I was much better in English class, in French, in theater practice and in the library, with words and books and song. So the amount of pleasure I get from the simple forms of chemistry I practice today, armed with packets of yeast, sprinklings of sugar, and lashings of warm water is always and again a bit of a mystery.

But, truly, there is little as satisfying in the kitchen as a well-risen yeast dough. It can be topped only by the glory of a burnished loaf emerging from the oven, I think. And perhaps topping that is the first slice after the loaf has cooled. Yes, all in all, I'd say, bread baking is one of the most rewarding kitchen acts.

And as nice as no-knead bread may be, there is nothing like spending time at the kitchen counter kneading bread, slapping it down, feeling it swell and grow smooth. You can be in a trance, thinking about everything else going on in your life, or focused simply on the act of kneading and it will, just like a boxing class or a very good yoga session, release some of that nasty tension that always ends up building right between your shoulder blades.


I found this recipe from an article Florence Fabricant wrote all the way back in 1987 about maple syrup. I'd recently received a package of maple syrup products (including, oh my goodness, creamed maple syrup which looks like honey and is divine and a bag of maple sugar that is a pale, creamy brown and smells just exactly what I imagine a sylvan field in heaven to smell like, which is to say, sweet and toasty and totally bewitching) and was wondering how to use them up. I would have nearly skipped over the recipe for maple bread, if my eye hadn't been caught by Florence's description of what to do with it, once baked.

Let's see if you're able to resist this: cut thick slices of freshly baked maple white bread, sprinkle each slice heavily with that miraculous maple sugar, then cover the slices with a heady mixture of whipped cream and sour cream. Oh, and then call that baby tartine au sucre.


I mean, seriously? Are any of you still standing? I just fell down all over again. All I remember from my trip to Quebec 15 years ago, foodwise, was the gravy-soaked poutine. No offense to any poutine fans, but I think I'd prefer tartine au sucre over poutine Any. Day. Of. The. Week. (Note to self: Book travel to Montréal, stat.)

The nice thing is that this bread is wonderful even without all that glorious whipped cream-maple sugar business (although, seriously, I might need to start a Maple Sugar Appreciation Society. Any takers? Also, any suggestions for other things to make with my precious sack of the stuff?). It is a joy to bake, the yeast proofing happily in its sweet water bath, the dough puffing up agreeably, both in the proofing process and in the oven, its browned and fragrant top literally towering over the top of the bread tin. It makes your house smell like the most archetypically cozy home ever and if you bake it just before bedtime, you'll have fresh bread to wake up to, the only problem being that the anticipation for breakfast is then so great it might mess with your sleep quality.

The bread toasts up beautifully and is delicious buttered and honeyed, which is good, because tartine au sucre does seem like a rather indulgent way to eat the whole loaf, though goodness knows I wouldn't judge you if that's how you decided to work through it. In fact, I'd rather expect you to call me up and invite me over so you could at least have a companion in your gluttony. One really shouldn't to suffer this kind of thing alone. I'd be doing you a favor, really. That's it, a favor. Okay? Pretty please?

Maple White Bread
Makes 1 large loaf

1 cup milk
1/4 cup maple syrup
4 tablespoons sweet butter
1 teaspoon salt
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
1 teaspoon sugar or maple sugar
1 egg beaten
4 cups (approximately) unbleached all-purpose flour

1. Place milk, maple syrup, butter and salt in a saucepan and scald. Allow to cool to lukewarm.

2. Dissolve yeast in warm water along with the sugar. Set aside for five minutes until the mixture becomes frothy. Transfer the milk mixture to a large bowl, stir in the yeast mixture and then stir in the egg.

3. Stir in two cups of the flour. Then add more flour about one-half cup at a time until a ball of dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead for about eight minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic, adding more flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking. Place dough in an oiled bowl, turn the dough to oil on all sides, cover lightly and set aside to rise until doubled, about an hour.

4. Punch down dough, turn onto a lightly floured board and knead for another minute or so. Roll dough into a rectangle about nine by 12 inches, then roll tightly, jellyroll fashion, starting from the narrow side. Pinch the seam and ends closed. Fit the dough seam side down into a greased 9-by-5-by-3-inch baking pan.

5. Cover and set in a warm place to rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.

6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place bread in the oven and bake about 45 minutes, until well browned. Remove from pan and allow to cool freely on a rack before slicing.

Florence Fabricant's Cider-Pecan Tart


I think it's time to admit a simple truth to myself. I'm just not that into pecan pie. Either that, or I keep picking the wrong recipes. Sigh.

Okay, I went the lazy route. I chose a recipe in which you don't even need to dirty a bowl. Come on! Wouldn't you have done the same? Plus it had apple cider and brandy in it, two things that always make my ears perk up.

It looked quite pretty and the people eating it were polite enough - no leftovers, you know - but I couldn't help but find it too squishy, too sweet and altogether rather insipid. You know something isn't right when you'd rather just eat a plate of whipped cream. Mmmm.

Cider Pecan Tart
Serves 8

2 1/2 cups fresh apple cider
4 tablespoons soft butter
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons Calvados, bourbon or brandy
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 eggs, lightly beaten
Pastry for 8- or 9-inch tart or pie
1 1/2 cups pecan halves, lightly toasted
1 cup heavy cream, whipped (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the cider in a saucepan and cook over high heat until reduced to 1 cup. Remove from heat and stir in butter and brown sugar until dissolved. Then stir in spirits, vanilla, nutmeg and eggs.

2. Roll out pastry and line straight-sided tart pan with it. Pie pan can be used, too. Spread pecans over pastry.

3. Pour in cider mixture. Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until surface is fairly firm and pastry is golden. Allow to cool to room temperature. Serve with whipped cream, if desired.

How To Make Requesón


Last weekend:

I ate my first guanabana (finally I know what a soursop is) and it was glorious;

Saw Orion's scabbard for the first time and the Southern Cross;

Heard my first screech owl (more of a cooer than a screecher, it turns out);

Picked a grapefruit off a tree for the first time, and had it for breakfast;

And finally tried requesón, something Joanie had promised to teach me to make for ages.

Those of you who think etymologically probably have already guessed that requesón is a kissing cousin of ricotta. And I suppose you could say that both are fresh cheeses made of milk. But requesón has a tropical character, curdled with Seville orange juice (also known as bitter or sour orange) and speckled with orange peel, its curds loose and creamy. Puerto Ricans eat requesón on crackers with guava paste, which is delicious, but I liked it even better spread on hearty whole-grain bread, topped with orange marmalade, the chunks of orange peel glistening in the faintly bitter jelly.


It's easy as can be - the hardest part is sourcing Seville oranges for juicing. (Alejandra says to look in Latin markets and grocers for them, under naranja agria, and if you're not able to find them, to use a mixture of lemon and orange juice - grapefruit is too floral.) You simply scald whole milk in a pot, then turn off the heat and add a cup of Seville orange juice and the grated peel of a regular orange (this can be to taste, you could just do the peel of half an orange). Then you pour the curdling, hot milk through a cheesecloth draped over an empty pot. The whey drains off while the requesón slowly appears, firming up as more and more liquid drips off.


Some people like their requesón moist and loose, and some like it dryer and firm - simply remove the cheese from the cheesecloth when you think it's the consistency that appeals to you. The cheese will continue to firm up in the fridge and over time, but you can always keep a bit of the whey on hand to mix into the cheese to moisten it. (Also, turns out leftover requesón whey is wonderful when baked into bread.)

When your requesón is ready, turn it into a serving bowl and salt it - just a bit - to taste. You need the salt to balance the flavors. Then refrigerate it until you're ready to eat it, most likely the next morning for breakfast.


Creamy and citrusy, but in the faintest, most agreeable way, it makes a gorgeous breakfast, as I said, spread on nice bread and topped with orange marmalade, if you're really digging the citrus, or with guava paste, if you'd prefer a smoother, sweeter counterbalance. It makes a very nice afternoon snack, too, and people lacking sweet teeth would probably enjoy this even without the jammy accompaniment. I know I did.



I was all blue after leaving Puerto Rico, its balmy 89 degrees, and my lovely friends to return to a freezing cold New York, but nothing could have cheered me up quicker than being listed in the Times of London's round-up of the world's best food blogs and featured in this companion article. I'm in some pretty inspiring company. Have a read!


1/2 gallon whole milk
1 cup sour orange juice, freshly squeezed
Grated peel from 1 regular orange
Salt to taste

1. Scald the milk in a heavy pot over medium heat. While the milk is heating, lay a cheesecloth over an empty pot for draining.

2. When the milk is about to boil, turn off the heat and add the orange juice and peel. Mix briefly. The milk will immediately start to curdle. Slowly pour the milk into the cheesecloth. Drain the requeson for about half an hour, or longer, depending on the desired consistency of the cheese.

3. Scoop the requeson into a container, season with salt to taste, let cool if not yet at room temperature, and refrigerate.

Soup, Mushrooms, and Puerto Rico

I am running running running out the door right now, because oh me oh my I have a flight to catch, a little flight, comparatively speaking, but still a flight, down to Ponce, Puerto Rico where my family friends from Berlin are picking me up while the moon is still out and driving me up to their house in the jungle and I can't wait wait wait, it's been 29 years since the last time I was there and I have to see if things are as I remember them, the watering hole and the chair made of rope and the sunlight filtering down through the leaves, glinting like the flanks of a dappled foal.

If it's cold where you are, then make this, this deeply satisfying, rust-colored soup that was meant to last us all week and that we scooped up in two days flat instead.


If it's warm where you are, then check out my post on Jeremiah Tower's fresh, herbal mushroom salad over at The Mushroom Channel.

Have a lovely couple of days, everyone. I'll see you next week.

Jim Lahey's No-Knead Pizza


I had a cavity filled today and, let me tell you, sporting a Novocaine-numbed mouth is no way to go about writing a blog post. Contemplating food when you can't feel your lower lip or cheek or gums for that matter, is rather frightening. The lack of control over your own muscles, so blithely taken for granted before, is just...well, I don't like it. Who does?

So let me keep this brief. A few weeks ago, the most charming newsletter that I get (I get many and they are mostly a bother) zipped a lovely little missive into my inbox: Jim Lahey's (the bread wizard and proprietor of Co, which I plan to visit later this month) famous no-knead bread recipe rejiggered as pizza dough!

And, lo, an obsession was born. I spent the next 10 days trying to find the right night to start the dough. Because even though the active work time for no-knead dough - as you all probably know - is but a few minutes, you kind of need to plan when you're actually going to bake and eat the bread, right? Finally - finally! - this weekend presented itself. I had time on Saturday afternoon to start the dough and with pizza on Sunday night to look forward to, we would even have something to ward off those inevitable Sunday night blues. Perfect.


The simple mixture of instant yeast, flour, salt and water proofed for 24 hours, until it rose and bubbled and smelled yeasty and sour and wonderful. I dumped it out onto a floured surface, folded it over onto itself a few times and let it rest a few hours longer.


Then that mound of dough was divided into four equal pieces and that's sort of where everything fell apart. I suppose I shouldn't be so dramatic. I mean, we ended up with pizza after all, but that's where the ease of the recipe stopped short. Because, just as Jim warned in the newsletter, making the dough may be a cinch, but working with it, forming it is Difficult with a Capital D.


In fact, I think I failed miserably. 12-inch pizza rounds? More like 9-inch slipper-shaped oblongs. Pizza naan, if you will. The dough was sticky and floppy and entirely unmanageable. I tried rolling it with a pin, I tried stretching it with my hands, I tried letting it rest and going back to it 15 minutes later, and still, all I ended up with were these rather thickish, oddly shaped pizzas.

Of course it doesn't really matter what they looked like, as long as they tasted good. But I quite like a thin crust pizza and try as I might, our pizzas ended up with thickish crusts. The crust was delicious, but it was too bready for my taste. Plus, I'll be honest, wrangling with my dinner to the point that it makes me break out in a sweat is a surefire way to help me lose my appetite.


What a primadonna, right? I totally admit it. You might love this pizza dough! Especially if you like a challenge. Me, I'm going to revel in the fact that I live in New York and can visit Jim's pizza place any time I like and have him make me a pizza. Mmm, doesn't that sound nice?

No-Knead Pizza
Makes 4 individual pizzas

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast (such as SAF brand)
1½ teaspoons salt
1½ cups water

1. In a large bowl, mix the flour with the yeast and salt. Add the water and stir until blended (the dough will be very sticky). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for 12 to 24 hours in a warm spot, about 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface and lightly sprinkle the top with flour. Fold the dough over on itself once or twice, cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes.

3. Divide the dough into 4 pieces and shape each piece into a ball. Generously sprinkle a clean cotton towel with flour and cover the dough balls with it. Let the dough rise for 2 hours.

4. Stretch or toss the dough into the desired shape, cover with toppings and bake on top of a very hot pizza stone.

Sweet Potato, Corn and Jalapeño Bisque


I don't know about your pantry, but mine is stuffed to the gills with root vegetables these days. Turnips and rutabagas and celery root and, most of all, sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes upon sweet potatoes upon sweet potatoes. My farm is churning them out at an alarming rate. And while I'm grateful for my winter CSA, I find myself quite daunted at sheer number of knobbly roots knocking around my crisper drawer, my butcher block, my waking hours. Coming up with ways to get rid of them has become my winter sport.

But I don't have the stomach for complicated recipes these days, for exotic ingredients, or a lot of new bottles to crowd my cupboards. I'm in the mood to use what I've got, to be resourceful and sparing, to purchase little that I don't truly need (pomegranate molasses, I'm looking at you). So when the NY Times published a recipe for a sweet potato soup a few weeks back for which I needed to purchase only one extra ingredient, a jalapeño, I felt like it was divine providence.

And wouldn't you know, I made this recipe not once but twice in one week. It may be hard to believe, but that's the first time in the history of this website that I've ever done such a thing. This soup is good. Not only good, but cheap. Not only cheap, but fast. Not only fast, but healthy. Okay, I'll stop now. But I like it; I really, really like it.

Imagine, sauteed onions and a pile of cubed sweet potatoes, cooked until soft in some stock. Then a quick blitz with an immersion blender and the pot fills with a swirling, creamy, orange puree. In goes a shake of cinnamon, a glug of inky molasses, a spoonful of rusty cayenne, a shower of minced jalapeño and the rat-tat-tat of frozen corn hitting hot liquid. The flame heats the soup pot for a few minutes longer while you salt and pepper to taste. Pull out the soup bowls, the silver spoons, a few slices of bread. Slice a quick handful of green onions or parsley, as I did, for a grassy bite, and drop them into the soup. Dinner is ready.

And what a revelation it is. The first spoonful of soup is sweet and mellow and then comes the heat, just the right amount, from the jalapeño and the cayenne. Warming and bright, it provides a little spot of sunshine in a run of cold months. It takes less than half an hour to make from start to finish and makes me feel endlessly resourceful as I eye my dwindling stash of sweet potatoes. I wish satisfaction always came this easily.

Sweet Potato, Corn and Jalapeño Bisque
Serves 2 if that's all there is for dinner, or 4 as a first course

1 tablespoon peanut oil
1/2 cup chopped onions
2 teaspoons minced garlic
3 medium sweet potatoes (about 2 1/2 pounds total), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 medium jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
2 tablespoons molasses
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Scant pinch ground cinnamon
Finely chopped scallions, green parts only, or minced parsley

1. In a large saucepan or soup pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté until just soft, 2 to 3 minutes. Add sweet potatoes and stock and bring to a boil.

2. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are soft, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Using an immersion blender or a food processor, purée contents of pot, in batches if necessary, until smooth.

3. Reheat soup, stirring in jalapeño, corn, molasses, salt, cayenne, black pepper and cinnamon. Taste, adjust seasonings and serve, topped with scallions or parsley.