Breakfast for dinner

 

Saturday morning drizzleEverything is better when lemon icing is involved, even a Saturday morning school make up day.

Nina’s love for the written word is at that stage where she’ll read anything within reach. Comic books, chapter books, the back of a cereal box, whatever I’ve downloaded on my Kindle.

It wasn’t long before she started reaching for my cookbooks, especially anything with ‘vegan’ in the title . A few weeks ago she shouted “Tonight, blueberry waffles!” from the living room, and just like that, she also took over menu planning.

The Readerpage three

Ni reads recipes with intent, quizzing me about ingredients (always fun when she mispronounces them), memorizing the steps, and preemptively chastising me if anything I’ve ever done in the history of our time in the kitchen together these past seven years contradicts a recipe’s Notes. This intensity means she has the energy to read through exactly one recipe most nights, usually from the first chapter of a book.

We had a lot of breakfast for dinner before I rearranged the cookbooks.

blueberry teff waffles

 

Blueberry teff sourdough waffles with lemon icing

§ § §

Any sourdough starter will work in this recipe, but teff is especially suited, flavor-wise, to blueberries. (Rye would be my second choice.) Also! My teff sourdough starter smells like apples, and this makes me want to put it in everything. I started it several months ago while testing recipes for Kittee’s Ethiopian cookbook, and it’s now the only sourdough starter in my refrigerator. Oh yeah, and it’s gluten free to boot. In case you don’t recognize the book Nina’s holding, she plucked this gem from Lauren Ulm’s Vegan Yum Yum.  As with most recipes in my cookbooks, I made it once as written, modified the heck out of it (which usually means making it from memory alone and letting instinct take over), and then scribbled all over the recipe page when I got it just so. The lemon icing is very sweet, the waffles not so much. Definitely use muscovado sugar if you have it;  turbinado is also quite good. To make these gluten free, substitute an all purpose gluten free flour blend for the white spelt and add 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum.

§ § §

For the waffles:
1 1/2 cups white spelt flour
2 tablespoons muscovado sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
6 ounces unsweetened plain coconut or soy yogurt
1 cup almond milk
1/4 cup teff sourdough starter
3 tablespoons coconut or sunflower oil
1 heaping cup fresh or frozen blueberries

For the icing:
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons almond milk, more if needed to thin

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center and add the yogurt, almond milk, starter and oil. Whisk together until just incorporated, and then fold in the blueberries. Let the batter rest while you prepare the icing.

Preheat a waffle iron and brush or spray it with oil. Cook according to the manufacturer’s instructions – a heaping 1/2 cup batter in my iron makes a 7-inch waffle. Serve immediately, or keep warm in a 200 F / 93 C oven.

Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 5-7 minutes per waffle | Yield: 5 7-inch waffles

Of late

lemon cake

I finally started watching the West Wing, and every time Bradley Whitford comes on screen I immediately remember his license plates from that long ago 80s movie and have to suppress the urge to whisper “so cool” at the television.

I’m also watching Newsroom. Our house is bursting at the seams with Sorkin-speak and idealism!

she's all disco hat and long legs

before

after

The Southeast got a kiss from father winter, and we took advantage of our snow the few days it lasted.

tracking tracks

snow

My girl is getting tall. At this rate she’ll tower over me by the time she’s 12.

I’ve taken the occasional break from Sorkin to chip away at a very long movie queue: Take Shelter, What Maisie Knew, The Place Beyond the Pines, Before Midnight, Robot & Frank, the Master, Mud, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Solaris were worth the wait.

(I am loathe to admit I finally watched the Hangover. NOT WORTH THE WAIT.)

I started planning – and planting! – my gardens. Dahlias, greens, alliums, brassicas, dahlias, radishes, carrots, and more dahlias are going into various pots/my cold frame/the ground this weekend.

winter gnome

I joined the cult of Instagram.

I’ve been up to my elbows in Meyer lemons, making this cake every chance I get.

cake be gone

Lemon olive oil cake

§ § §

I wanted to call this Sunken Meyer Lemon Olive Oil Cake with Almond and Yogurt, but it seemed a bit wordy. All of these components come together to make a cake that’s dense and airy at the same time, with a tender crumb and a crunchy rind where the sugar in the batter caramelizes against the edge of the pan. This cake will slowly rise, rise, rise for the first half hour or so, until – poof! – it collapses onto itself. Fear not! It’s supposed to collapse. If you have a springform pan, it will make plating the cake a little bit easier. If you use a regular cake pan, no biggie; just use two plates. Place plate #1 on top of the cake pan, give it a quick flip, and then carefully invert it onto plate #2. If you don’t have lemons on hand, Meyer or otherwise, other citrus will do. I’ve made this cake with grapefruit, blood orange, and even clementines with success. Lastly, and most important – I’ll have a gluten free version of this to share in the coming weeks, and cupcakes, too.

§ § §

3/4 cup white spelt flour
1/2 cup whole spelt flour
1/2 cup almond meal
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 cup plain coconut yogurt
1/4 cup olive oil
zest and juice of 1 Meyer lemon

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 F / 180 C. Oil and flour an 8-inch round cake pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, almond meal, sugar, baking soda and powder, and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, olive oil, lemon zest and juice. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, being careful not to overmix. Pour the cake batter into the floured pan and smooth out the top. Place in the center of the oven and bake for about 50 minutes, until the cake forms a golden crust on top, feels springy to the touch, and the edges have pulled away from the pan. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack while still in its pan for ten minutes before transferring to a plate. Allow the cake to cool completely before slicing. It tastes even better on the second day, if you manage to save a slice that long.

Prep time: 10 minutes | Oven time: 50 minutes

Not a zombie apocalypse

Snow days are a rare occurrence in the Southeast. Sleet, ice, black ice, freezing rain, or about thirty seconds’ worth of snow that turns immediately into sleet, ice, or freezing rain (aka ‘wintry mix’) – pretty standard fare ’round here.

12504056255_ca75c1e4aa_bContrary to popular belief, writing in one’s book is not always a sign of boredom of hoodlumdom // no one is safe from the veganizer/deglutenizer, including Ms. Swanson

A bona fide snowfall that comes down so fast and heavy that my footprints from walking out to the pond are completely filled in by the time I make one loop and head back to the house? Until yesterday, I would have put my money on a zombie apocalypse happening first.

12504534764_86dec42a45_bNot zombie food

The possibility of losing power last night loomed large (and may very well happen tonight), so we took the usual precautions: charged all of our phones and various devices; filled up the cars with petrol; cooked giants pots of rice and beans and squash sauce; stocked up on bottled water, bread, chips and wine; and made a few favorite family treats, including these muffins.

For the record, I think all of these things would also come in handy for a zombie apocalypse.

12504056415_6959ac0800_bNary a blue streak // take the time to coat your berries in flour and you will not be disappointed

Blueberry millet muffins

§ § §

If you’ve never tasted millet before, it has a mild, sweet flavor not unlike cornmeal. I often grind it into flour for baking, but I really like the way the teensy seeds pop between my teeth when left whole. I used frozen wild blueberries in these muffins, but I imagine just about any berry would do. These are both gluten and gum free; I use whole flax seeds to bind and leaven. Maple syrup is my sweetener of choice, lending these a rich honeyed flavor.

§ § §

4 teaspoons whole flax seeds + 1/2 cup water
1 cup superfine brown rice flour (single-milled brown rice flour will also work)
3/4 cup sorghum flour
1/2 cup tapioca starch
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons potato starch
1/3 cup raw millet
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 cup plain coconut or soy yogurt
1/2 cup olive or sunflower oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
grated zest and juice from one lemon
1/2 cup blueberries (if using frozen, do not thaw)
1 tablespoon sorghum or brown rice flour to coat berries

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400 F / 205 C. Line or lightly oil a 12-cup muffin tin.

First, prepare your flax eggs. Stovetop: Combine the flax seeds and water in a small saucepan and bring to a low simmer for five minutes. The water may or may not begin to thicken; this is okay. Remove the saucepan from heat and proceed with the rest of the recipe. Microwave: In a large heatproof bowl, combine 1/2 cup boiling water with the flax seeds; microwave on high for 40 seconds; set aside and proceed with the rest of the recipe.

In a small bowl, toss the berries in 1 tablespoon of flour; set aside.

Whisk together the flours, starches, millet, baking soda and powder, and salt. In another  bowl, whisk together the yogurt, oil, syrup, lemon zest and juice, and flax-water mixture. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until just incorporated. Carefully fold in the berries and any excess flour. Divide the mixture evenly between the 12 muffin cups; they should be filled 2/3-3/4 from the top.

Bake for 20 minutes, turning halfway to ensure even browning. The muffins are ready when they smell nutty and the tops are just starting to crack. Take the tins out of the oven and twist each muffin out of its cup, turning it on its side in the cup to cool.

These taste best if eaten the same day they are made, but will hold up well for up to two days stored in an airtight container.

Prep time: 15 minutes | Oven time: 20 minutes

I would be remiss

I feel compelled to apologize for the recipe I’m about to share, so I’ll just cut to the chase. It’s messy, and time consuming, and dirties far too many pots and utensils than any one-dish meal should call for.

If an enthusiastic, Dodin Bouffant-wearing seven-year old helps you out? It turns into a scene right out of Shel Silverstein poem.

spaghetti2

Spaghetti, spaghetti, all over the place . . .

But here’s the thing – it’s really good. Also! it’s especially suited to the extreme wintry weather we’ve all been experiencing. Nothing says ‘comfort food’ like a pan full of smooshed spaghetti, right?

What I’m trying to say is that I’d remiss if I didn’t share this with you.

oodles of noodles oodles of noodles

Spaghetti pie

§ § §

This recipe has lots of steps and ingredients because that’s how I unwind when the weather forces me indoors. If you’re in a rush, though, the basic equation for this dish is: 1 box spaghetti + (1/2 C red sauce blended with 1/2 C cashew cream cheese) = spaghetti pie. If you’re using gluten free pasta, you’ll want to cook and drain it just before mixing with the sauce. If you use semolina pasta, you can use leftover or fresh noodles. This calls for cashew cream cheese – plain ol’ cashew cream (super thick) works just as well; store-bought vegan cream cheese would probably work, but I don’t know how it would taste.

§ § §

1/4 cup caramelized onions or, 1 medium onion + a splash of oil
2 handfuls mushrooms, minced
1 large pinch each of dried basil and oregano
3-4 lacinato kale leaves, cleaned, de-stemmed and finely chopped
1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
splash of red wine
1/2 cup cashew cream cheese or thick cashew cream
1 box (12-16 ounces) spaghetti
a few pinches turbinado sugar

Lightly oil a baking dish, 8 x 8 inches-square or something approximate to that size.

If you need to caramelize your onions: slice your onion into half-moons, and then slice those into 1/2-inch pieces. Heat a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat and add a teaspoon or two of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onion and toss to coat; add a pinch of salt and toss again. Stir frequently until the onion has first softened, then browned, then turned a deep caramel hue. Scrape your pot as necessary when the onion sticks, and use a couple tablespoons of water or white wine if needed to deglaze your pan while your onions finish caramelizing.

If using pre-caramelized onions (I actually keep jars of 24-hour slow-cooked caramelized onions on hand because I am a food nerd), add them to a cold, heavy-bottomed pot and place over medium heat. Once the onions have warmed through, add the herbs and mushrooms. Stir for a couple of minutes to sweat out most of the moisture, then add the kale. Add a generous pinch of salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper. If you don’t live with a couple of spice-phobic wimps, add a large pinch of red chili flakes, too. Stir frequently until the kale has softened and everything is starting to stick. Use a big splash (or three) of your favorite red wine to deglaze the pan, scraping as you go. Add the crushed tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Cover partially, leaving the lid ajar to let steam evaporate as the sauce thickens.

While the sauce cooks down, preheat your oven to 375 F / 190 C and make your spaghetti. If making gluten free spaghetti, this is what I do to keep it from sticking after it drains. I bring a kettle (or small saucepan) of water to a boil, and then immediately after draining my pasta in a colander, I pour the hot water over it for a second rinse. Works like a charm!

Return your cooked and drained pasta to it’s pot, and toss with a tiny bit of oil if you’re worried about it sticking. Turn the heat off from under your sauce. In a medium bowl combine 1/2 cup red sauce with 1/2 cup cashew cream cheese and stir to combine. Toss this with the pasta until the spaghetti is uniformly coated. If your spaghetti is too dry, add up to 1/2 cup additional red sauce. You only want enough sauce to coat the pasta, though, not to saturate it.

Turn the spaghetti into the oiled baking pan, tucking in any stray noodles so that the top is relatively flat. Add a thin layer of sauce over the top, taking care that every noodle is covered. Unless you like a few wispy crispy edges, which I do – then by all means, leave a few tendrils unsauced! Sprinkle the surface lightly with sugar – just enough to bring out the sweetness of the onions and tomatoes.

Bake for 30 minutes, covering lightly with foil if your sauce starts to brown. Let the pan rest for about five minutes after you remove it from the oven.

Prep time: 10 minutes | Stovetop time: 30 minutes | Oven time: 30 minutes

on holiday

I started cooking a few weeks ago, and I guess I never stopped. I know, I know – I’m always cooking; but this was different. It was Monika Day, and the menu was extensive.

 lemon cakeolive oil lemon cake // recipe testing for Allyson Kramer

 

In case you’re wondering, Monika Day is my birthday. Not as in “oh, it’s my birthday, la di da, we’re going to eat cake for a week and make special meals and have all kinds of fun!!!” We’re much more selfish than that in my house. Your birthday is a bona fide holiday – no school! No work!  Nina was born on New Year’s Day, which sort of set the precedent. Why on earth would I let her have all the fun?

chili mac+picklechili mac with a giant lacto-fermented garlicky, gingery pickle spear
summer's last gaspthe last of our summer garden, harvested the night before our first big frost
end-of-summer hashend-of-summer hash lettuce wraps // the rest of the baby ‘looms were roasted
candied herb pepitascandied herb pepitas // fresh oregano and rosemary from the garden
umami bowlumami bowls // sticky rice (warm, not hot) with white miso, toasted sesame oil, tamari, Thai chili flakes and scallions
shallots+sweet peppersvinegar-pickled shallots and sweet peppers to go with homemade pretzel dogs
olive oil lemon cakemore lemon cake . . . I made it three times in one week
pickles pickles picklesLacto-fermented probiotic pickle spears to accompany all manner of sandwiches, soups & chilis; sweet zucchini relish for Chicago-style dogs; spicy anise & Szechuan pepper pickle slices; the aforementioned shallots & sweet peppers. I stopped only because I ran out of things to pickle.

Probiotic pickles

§ § §

Every batch of probiotic pickles I make starts out loosely following this Sandor Katz recipe, and then I vary the add-ins based on what I’m craving and have on hand. I usually make two half-gallon jars at a time – I just eyeball how many cucumbers will fill each jar, I never bother weighing them. I make the brine really salty to start (about 5%), then once the pickles have soured to my liking I pour off some of the brine and replace it with fresh filtered water before refrigerating them. I like to use small, knobbly pickling cucumbers. The variety I use depends on which of my saved seeds successfully sprouted, followed by whatever seeds looks good at my co-op or local hippie/hipster nursery in the spring. And then if squash bugs destroy my vines, I hit up the farmers’ market.

§ § §

To make the brine:
Dissolve 1/4 cup pickling or kosher salt in 5 cups filtered water.
Repeat as necessary depending on how many jars of pickles you’re making.

In each half-gallon jar I layer at the bottom:
4-5 large rinsed strawberry leaves
6 large cloves garlic, peeled
1/2-inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons dill seeds (fresh or dried)
Large pinch Thai chili flakes
Pickling cucumbers, enough to tightly pack into the jar

Pickling steps:
Rinse the cucumbers and slice off the blossom ends.
Layer items in bottom of each glass jar.
Pack cucumbers tightly into jar; large cucumbers may be halved.
Pour in enough brine to cover; you want to keep the cucumbers completely submerged. I use a heavy rock (pre-boiled to disinfect) to keep the cucumbers down.
Cover top of jar with a double layer of coffee filters or cotton cloth; secure with rubber bands.
Place jar in a dark, cool spot for fermentation to occur. Check the jar daily – if too much brine evaporates, add more brine or filtered water. If any sort of growth appears on the water’s surface, skim it off.
Taste the pickles after 4-5 days, and daily after that until they are soured to your liking. Move them to the refrigerator to slow down fermentation.

Yield: 2 half gallon jars

Prep time: 30 minutes | Fermentation time: 4-5 days, longer for a more sour pickle

pumpkin drop biscuits // book+film notes

My days have been bookended by two things lately: pumpkin drop biscuits before dawn, and tales of tragedy or woe at night’s end.

pumpkin db w.fg rawit was black as pitch when these came out of the oven the other morning, but lack of lighting (or a real camera) be damned, these are delicious // dusted liberally with fine grain raw sugar

I’ve a penchant for dark and lonely tales in general, but my favorite season/month/holidays all rolled up into a few short weeks amplify it a thousandfold. I’ve spend nearly every night huddled under blankets into the witching hour reading or viewing, followed by bleary-eyed mornings of biscuit making. Here’s a sliver of why it’s been worth it.

On the nightstand

Dr. Sleep: Have I mentioned King before? I’m sure I have. He’s hands down my favorite author, for reasons I won’t get into now (or this post will never end). What’s probably germain to my subjective adoration for Dr. Sleep, though, is a teensy bit of backstory. When I was a bored to tears, Dickens-reading fifth grader, I stumbled across The Shining – and it was love at first sight. Love for the genre, for the author, and most importantly, for the characters. I can actually say I have waited three-fourths of my life to find out what happened to them. And I was not disappointed.

The Snow Child: Beautiful, haunting, sad, magical, and well written. Oh, so well written. I can feel the frost creeping into my fingers and kissing the nape of my neck as I type this. More than once I put this  book down and curled up with my own little girl while pondering the one in this story.

On film

Jane Eyre (2011): There have been a few decent film versions of this novel, and in those instances it was (for me) a combination of direction, casting, locale, score, costume and set design, chemistry between main and/or supporting cast, or screenplay; never all of those things in any one film. This version? It has it all. As most adaptations, this film does not capture every single moment from Brontë’s story – but it is more true to the spirit of her novel and the times in which it was written than any other adaptation I’ve seen to date. The flashbacks to Jane’s childhood were heart wrenching in a way I’d forgotten since experiencing those same scenes on the page. Wasikowska and Fassbender were outstanding, as was the entire supporting cast. And the moors, oh, the moors! A lesser film could still be carried on the wings of location, set design and costuming. In this one, they were a beautiful canvas that melted into the background and allowed the story to seamlessly unfold.

Wuthering Heights (2011): Another outstanding adaptation – and the only film version of Wuthering Heights I’ve seen that remains true to the heart of another Brontë sister’s story. When I read the novel many many years ago, the descriptor that most came to mind was a well-intentioned but naively two dimensional cruel. I had not yet lived enough to really comprehend where Brontë was coming from; all of the critical analysis skills in the world didn’t provide the insight that I have now. When I watched this 2011 film version with a few more years of life behind me, the first descriptor that came to mind was feral. The film only covers the first half of the novel, but it gets to the beating heart of this story, rips it out and stomps on it. The first hour has almost no dialogue, instead subjecting viewers to the elements right along with Heathcliff and Catherine as they each endure their separate but equally harsh realities while also growing to care for one another. More time in this version is given to their childhood years than any other I’ve seen, and it makes the repercussions of their cleaving that much more resounding. Unfortunately, choices the director made in her treatment of animals prevent me from wanting to view any of her other works; I’ve heard great things about Fish Tank and Red Road, but have serious doubts I’ll watch them.

The Awakening: After experiencing two Brontë stories in a 48 hour period, I wanted to watch something that was still in the gothic vein, but nowhere as intense. Rebecca Hall in a creepyish-but-more-sad-than-scary ghost story filled that niche. Post WWI England, a drafty mansion that had been converted into a boys’ school, a female ghost debunker, hints of tragic love lost. The only thing that kept me from fully immersing myself in the story is that Rebecca Hall reminds me of Molly Wizenberg, and I kept wanting her to cook something. Needless to say, when this movie was over I made a tray of cookies and a pot of tea.

pumpkin db w.turbinadoa turbinado-topped biscuit is a great companion for culling my creepy postcard collection

Pumpkin drop biscuits

§ § §

This is a modification of my coconut cream drop biscuits, one I’ve made often enough now that it’s no longer a modification – it just is. I use half whole spelt and half white to add a little nuttiness to the biscuits without compromising the crumb, but all white spelt flour would be fine, too.  I don’t go overboard with the pumpkin or spices, because I hate when recipes do that – this isn’t a pie, you know? I’ve used both pumpkin and butternut squash in this, usually roasted the night before and then blitzed in my mini food processor just before mixing in; mashing it well with a fork works too. I don’t go overboard with the maple syrup in the batter, because 1. these would brown faster than I’d like, and 2. I want an excuse to add the sugar on top. It’s the most essential ingredient, according to Nina.

§ § §

1 cups whole spelt flour
1 cup white spelt flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/4 cup solid coconut cream
2 tablespoons maple syrup (grade A or B, baker’s choice)
1/4 cup pureed pumpkin or butternut squash
1/2 cup unsweetened plant milk (I always use almond)
Large pinches of natural cane or turbinado sugar

Preheat the oven to 400F/200C and position a rack in the center.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place in the refrigerator or freezer to chill while you mix up the dough.

Sift the dry ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl. Quickly rub the cream into the flour with your fingers until the pieces are the size of small pebbles; don’t worry if they aren’t uniform in size. Add the syrup, pumpkin puree and milk and stir until just incorporated; the dough will be sticky. Place the dough in the refrigerator to chill for at least 10 minutes, or longer if your oven is not yet preheated. Once the oven is ready, divide the dough into six portions, dropping them at least one inch apart on the baking sheet. Sprinkle the top of each biscuit liberally with sugar. Bake for 20 minutes, or until just beginning to brown around the edges and golden on top.

Yield: 6 biscuits

Prep time: 5 minutes | Cook time: 20 minutes

You say potato, I say focaccia

Baking is how I decompress at the beginning of most days. Does that sound weird? I tend to wake up with a jumble of ideas spilling out of my head and an annoying level of Morning Person energy, but instead of waking my husband up to discuss whatever revelation I’ve had about whichever film we watched the night before that resulted in an hour-long post-film conversation until we collapsed into bed, me still jabbering away until I fell asleep mid-sentence (which is finished, of course, as I awake) – well, instead I just let him continue sleeping, and I channel this energy into my favorite wooden mixing spoon. It must be exhausting to live with someone like me! They deserve a muffin.

Under the Dome-potato focacciamuffins and whatnot always reside under the dome of this cake stand // hilariously enough (to me), Under the Dome is the only novel by King I have not read // if you’re a King fan, hurry up and get a copy of Doctor Sleep and read it and then let me know because I’m going crazy not having anyone to talk to about it!

On weekdays, it’s muffins or cookies and sometimes even a cake. If I can mix it up before the oven finishes preheating and shower in the time it takes to bake, it’s fair game. On weekends I get a little more creative. I have the time to experiment with pastry dough, with anything that begs to be stuffed or layered, and lately – yeasted breads. In fact, most weekends begin with two rounds of focacce.

potato focaccia+new hatautumn hiking essentials for my munchkin vegan (also a Morning Person, yay!): bamboo wrist warmers, linen/cotton hat, wedge of tomato-kissed focaccia

I’ve baked a lot of bread by ratio, dutifully taring my kitchen scale before the addition of each new ingredient, confident that the outcome will be essentially fail proof. But you know what? Failure can be fun. Most of the time I prefer to bake by intuition, with minimal measuring of ingredients and all caution thrown to the wind. I’m a fly by the seat of my pants baker at heart, and it serves me well.

potato focaccia extreme closeupyeast + potatoes = magic

Potato focaccia

§ § §

This is a really wet, sticky dough, and I only make it with a stand mixer. If you decide to make it by hand, just remember that you want the dough to be somewhat sticky. Also, the potatoes used in this recipe should be waxy and creamy (yukons), not dry and fluffy (russets). Do not use baking potatoes, they have an entirely different water and starch content that does not work well in this bread. Also! You will need to reserve your cooking water, and it will need to be lukewarm – not hot – when you combine it with the yeast. To speed things up I often put my reserved cooking water into the freezer to cool it down while I’m whipping the potatoes. If you get busy and leave your cooked potatoes to hang out for an hour or so, that’s okay too! This is a very forgiving recipe. As long as you don’t kill your yeast by using too-hot water (105 degrees), you’re good to go.

§ § §

3-4 medium yellow-fleshed or red-skinned potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 Cup reserved cooking water, divided
2 1/2 teaspoons (or 1 packet) dry active yeast
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
4-5 Cups white spelt flour
Olive oil
1-2 tablespoons tomato paste
(optional) fresh minced herbs or chopped olives

Combine the chopped potatoes with a generous amount of cold water in a large pot and simmer until fork tender. Do not drain.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked potatoes to the bowl of your stand mixer along with 1/3 cup reserved cooking water. With the paddle attachment, whip the potatoes until creamy. A few lumps are fine. Set aside until both the whipped potatoes and the remaining reserved cooking water have cooled.

Switch out the paddle for the dough hook attachment. Add the remaining 2/3 cup cooled potato water to the mixing bowl, allowing it to pool on top of the potatoes. Sprinkle the yeast and salt into the water; the yeast should start to look creamy after a couple of minutes. Add one cup of flour to the mixing bowl and mix on low until fully incorporated. Continue adding flour one cup at a time until you’ve added four cups total. Continue adding flour in quarter cup increments until your dough starts forming a sticky ball around the hook; it will look a lot like taffy, or a glob of melted marshmallow. Increase mixing speed to medium and let the dough hook knead the dough for five minutes. You may need to stop the mixer once or twice to scrape the dough off the hook.

Drizzle a thin stream of olive oil around the inside perimeter of the bowl. Using a silicone spatula, work the dough into a large ball by sliding the spatula around the edge of the mixing bowl where it meets the dough, using the spatula to coat the dough ball with oil as you turn it. Cover with a tea towel and leave to sit in a warm spot for 60-90 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size.

Lightly oil two 9-inch round cake pans. Using your best estimate, put half of the dough into each pan. If you need to pinch some from one pan and transfer it to the other, no problem! The dough is very forgiving. Using a silicone spatula or lightly oiled fingers, stretch the dough along the bottom of each pan until it reaches the edge and forms an even layer. Allow to rest for fifteen minutes.

Use your fingers to make dimples in the surface of the dough. Cover and allow to rest for another 45 minutes.

Twenty minutes before your dough is finished with this last rise, set a rack in the bottom position and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

When the oven is heated and your dough has finished rising, it’s time to add your topping. Mix the tomato paste with a few drops of oil until it is slightly thinned. Gently brush the tomato mixture over the surface of the dough. Sprinkle with fresh herbs or olives, if using.

Place both pans on the bottom rack of the oven and immediately decrease the temperature to 375. Bake for 30 minutes or until the loaves are golden on top and pulling away from the edges of each pan. Carefully remove each focaccia from its pan and transfer to a cooling rack. This bread may be sliced immediately as long as you use a sharp serrated knife.

Total time (mostly inactive): 3 ½ – 4 hours | Bake time: 30 minutes