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Quarantine Bake Along: No Knead Crusty Bread

This quarantine has made it the perfect time for me to start a sourdough starter, but the cooler temps in my house and me running out of rye flour and unable to go buy any have made it slow to mature. I was hoping to make a sourdough loaf by now, but unfortunately, have had no such luck. We almost never buy bread from the store but I’m sure all the aisles are empty anyway.

Cue this recipe. This is the crusty bread recipe to end all bread recipes. It’s my go-to and it turns out beautiful every time. It’s a famous recipe by Jim Lahey and highlighted by Mark Bittman on NYT Cooking. To my initial disbelief, it’s also the easiest bread recipe I’ve ever encountered as it requires no kneading, no specific shaping, and no scoring. The only thing that it requires is time. It’s very little effort on your part but you do have to prep about 24 hours in advance and let it sit. You’ll impress everyone (even yourself) with this bread, and you won’t ever have to spend $7-11 for a similar loaf at the local bakery ever again.

This bread is perfect for sandwiches, dipping into balsamic vinegar and olive oil, a side for soup, or just by itself. It’s very crusty, which I love, but this isn’t the bread for you if you don’t like a supremely crunchy crust.

A Brief History of Bread

Bread (flour mixed with water) in its various forms has been a staple in many cultures for centuries once people were able to mill wheat (although more so in naturally fermented forms). The invention and popularization of commercialized yeast has made it easier and faster to leaven bread, hence the many kinds of yeast breads (cinnamon rolls, croissants, doughnuts, buns, etc.) and the loaves you see in the bread aisle. While naturally leavened sourdough loaves will always be the more nutritious option, there’s no dispute that yeast makes bread-making much more accessible and simple for those who don’t have the desire or time to keep up a starter.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups of all purpose or bread flour (I like bread flour and substituting up to 2 cups of whole wheat flour)
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups lukewarm water

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 2 cups warm water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or lid. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees. If your house is warmer, a couple hours less; cooler, a couple hours more.
  2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover with a towel and let rest for 15 minutes.
  3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to a work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a piece of parchment paper with flour and place the dough ball seam side down. Sprinkle the top with flour and cover with a towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.
  4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450F degrees. Put a heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in the oven as it heats. You can also use the bowl of a slow cooker covered with a flat baking sheet. When the dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Grab onto the parchment and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is okay. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 20 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Recipe from Mark Bittman and NYT Cooking.

Quarantine Bake Along: Chocolate Lava Cake

Chocolate lava cake (and the worst photo to ever grace my blog)! Another super simple, pantry staple recipe that comes together in about 10 minutes. You can be digging into warm, melty chocolatey goodness in less than half an hour. Be aware, this dessert is rich. I can usually only finish half (I share with my husband) and I’m good. This recipe is tailored to make 2-4 single serving lava cakes so you don’t end up with so much you have no idea what to do with them, especially now that we can’t really leave the house to share with anyone.

Brief Chocolate Lava Cake History
Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten claims to have invented molten chocolate cake in 1987, but the French chef and chocolatier Jacques Torres disputes this, arguing this dessert already existed in France. According to Vongerichten, he pulled a chocolate sponge cake from the oven before it was done and found that the center was still runny, but was warm and had both a good taste and texture. Regardless of who invented the dish, Vongerichten has been credited with popularizing it in the US.

Chocolate Lava Cake Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup (half stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 1/2 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoon all purpose flour (for GF variation: use teff flour, almond flour, or your favorite GF flour blend)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground coffee or espresso powder (optional)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Get two ramekins ready or butter a few holes in a muffin tin.
  2. In a bowl, mix together melted butter, cocoa powder, sugar, flour, coffee, and salt. Stir in eggs until smooth. Stir in vanilla. Pour batter into the prepared ramekins or muffin tin.
  3. If using ramekins, set them in a large baking dish and pour hot water into the baking dish to a level about halfway up the side of the ramekins.
  4. Bake for 12-15 minutes until the batter puffs but the center is not set. The edges will be firm but the center will be runny. For a muffin tin, check at 8 minutes.
  5. Serve the cakes in the ramekins or tins or run a knife around the edge of each cake and unmold onto plates. Serve the cakes warm or chilled.

Quarantine Bake Along: Pie/Galette Crust

The next recipe in our Quarantine Bake Along lineup is another one with very minimal ingredients: pie/galette crust! All you need is flour, butter, water, salt, and sugar. It’s pretty amazing that just these ingredients can produce the beautifully flaky and buttery crust that we all associate with a good pie. Pie crust need not be limited to traditional pies, however. You can use pie crust to make sweet or savory galettes (rustic, free-form pies), as a base for fruit tarts, or as crackers.

I know that a lot of people are sometimes intimidated by pie crust, but it’s really not hard to make and most people have the ingredients on-hand. Once you have this crust down, you can use it as a base for any pie/galette recipe you’d like to make. If any of you have some canned pie filling sitting around or a bag of frozen berries, those would be perfect here. If not, make a galette with the fresh fruit you have or a savory one for dinner!

A Brief History of Pie Crust

Historians trace pie’s initial origins to the Greeks, who are thought to be the originators of the pastry shell, which they made by combining water and flour. Pies were originally meat-based in Europe, but once the Pilgrims settled in the colonies, the pie’s role as a means to showcase local ingredients took hold and with it came a proliferation of new, sweet pies.

Pie Crust Recipe

The recipe I use is from Stella Parks at Serious Eats. She does an amazing job explaining the whole process and I’d rather not reinvent the wheel. I do halve the recipe if I know I’m only going to make one pie or galette.

Savory Galette Recipe

  • 1 prepared pie crust (above), after its fridge rest
  • 6 ounces cream cheese, softened (about 3/4 bar),
  • 1/4 teaspoon of all your favorite dried herbs and spices you can find in your pantry
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Odds and ends of hearty vegetables and meats, cut into 1/4in thickness if applicable (asparagus, potatoes, onions, sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots, tomatoes, and chopped up bacon and ham work well)
  • Goat cheese, optional
  • Balsamic vinegar, optional
  • Honey, for drizzling
  • Maldon salt, for finishing
  1. Preheat the oven to 425F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Mix your spices, salt, and pepper into the cream cheese until well combined.
  3. Place your cold pie crust on the baking sheet. Spread the cream cheese mixture all over the crust, leaving a 1 inch border.
  4. Layer your veggies and meats on top of the cream cheese mixture, no need to be precise about how much, as long as the crust can fold over the center it will be fine.
  5. Fold the edges of the crust towards the center, going all around and gently pressing in place. It will look “rustic!”
  6. Bake for 25-30 minutes in preheated oven until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling.
  7. Let cool slightly and serve.

Quarantine Bake Along: Chocolate Cake

Oil-based cakes are the next thing I think of when it comes to easy at-home baking. All you need is one bowl, a whisk, and a measuring cup to get your wet ingredients together. Comes together in about 5 minutes and then you can eat warm cake within an hour. What could be better?

This cake is light, not super sweet, and is perfect by itself with some powdered sugar and fresh fruit. You’re welcome to frost it if you’d like, but we’re in quarantine times and I’d prefer to save my butter and heavy cream for other baking projects. Feel free to use your favorite frosting if you so desire!

A Brief History of Chocolate Cake

Once cacao processing made chocolate much more readily available and less expensive, American cooks began adding chocolate to cake batter to make the first chocolate cakes around 1886. The first chocolate cake was called Mahogany Cake, and it was very pale compared to the chocolate cakes of today. The Duff Company of Pittsburgh, a molasses manufacturer, introduced Devil’s food chocolate cake mixes in the mid-1930s, which are still popular to this date.

Easy Quarantine Chocolate Cake Recipe

Adapted from Serious Eats

  • 4 ounces brown sugar or regular sugar (1/2 cup, firmly packed)
  • 1 1/2 ounces cocoa powder (1/2 cup), Dutch process if you have it
  • 1 teaspoon ground coffee or espresso powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 1/2 ounces oil (2/3 cup)
  • 4 ounces (1/2 cup) water
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) all purpose flour

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 350°F. Line an 8″ cake pan with parchment and grease, or line a cupcake tin with 12 liners.

2. In a bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa powder, salt, coffee, and baking soda. Whisk until homogeneous, with no visible clumps of cocoa or baking soda (although a few lumps of brown sugar may remain), about 1 minute. Under-mixing will give the cake an uneven texture and rise, so don’t rush this step.

3. Whisk together olive oil, water, eggs, and vanilla then pour into the dry ingredients. Mix only until combined. Scrape into prepared pan. Bake until cake is firm but your finger can still leave an impression in the puffy crust, about 20-25 minutes. (A toothpick inserted into the center should come away with a few crumbs still attached.) Check cupcakes at 15 minutes.

4. Cool cake directly in pan until cool enough to handle, then run a butter knife around the edges to loosen. Invert onto a wire rack and place cake right side up on a serving platter. Serve plain, with a sprinkling of powdered sugar, or with fresh fruit. Or frost once totally cooled to room temperature.

GF Variation: Substitute flour with teff flour or your favorite GF flour blend.

Vegan Variation: Same process, but some different ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground coffee/espresso powder
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 2 Tablespoons vinegar
  • 1/2 Tablespoon vanilla extract

Quarantine Bake Along: Shortbread

Being stuck at home during this COVID-19 crisis has got us all looking for creative ways to spend our time indoors. Even though I’m still working at the bakery, I’ve found myself with a lot more free time on my hands. I’ve been trying to experiment with things I’ve put off: making a sourdough starter, practicing laminated dough, and recipe testing new treats.

Before Milk + Honey started, this site was a food blog. I loved documenting my food adventures, particularly writing about food. I learned, however, that it’s fricken hard to keep up a food blog when it’s not your full time gig. Life took over and food blogging went out the window. All this quarantining has gotten me excited about getting back into writing, and more importantly, using writing to share the joy of baking with others. In this Quarantine Baking Series, I’ll be posting some easy recipes for those who are looking to pass time (and reap the reward of baked goods) or get into baking in general. I recognize that ingredients are hard to find at the stores right now so I’ll try my best to feature recipes that have the most basic of baking ingredients and don’t require specialty kitchen equipment.

When it comes to the most simple of recipes, the first thing that comes to mind is shortbread. All you need is 3 ingredients to make the most rudimentary (and traditional) version: flour, butter, and sugar. Chances are you’ve had this delicious, buttery cookie before. It melts in your mouth with a crumbly texture and slight sweetness. They keep for weeks, which is a huge plus when you’re hunkering down. They’re also endlessly customizable, a perfect starting point for experimentation.

A Brief History of Shortbread

Shortbread is a traditional Scottish biscuit. Sources say it may have been around as early as the 12th century, but it’s often attributed to Mary, Queen of Scots in the 16th century. Shortbread evolved from a medieval biscuit bread where any leftover bread dough was dried out in a low oven until hardened. Over time, the yeast in the bread was replaced by butter, and shortbread was born. It was a luxury back then and often eaten only during the holidays.

Brief Shortbread Baking Science

The crumbly, meltaway texture is due to the high fat content provided by the butter that inhibits the gluten formation from the flour. Since there’s no commercial leavening (baking powder/soda) in this cookie, the butter is what moistens the dough and keeps it together. There’s a slight “puffing” of the dough when baked due to the steam released from the butter, but it does not rise or spread much.

Shortbread Recipe

Makes approximately 30 2-inch cookies. Feel free to customize with the mix + match variations following the recipe.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (250g) all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, cool room temp (around 65F)
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar or 1/4 cup granulated sugar (see note)

1. Place the butter, powdered sugar, salt, and any additional flavorings (see below) into the bowl of a stand mixer and cream until smooth, light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes. Alternatively, you can do this with a hand mixer.

2. Use a spatula to scrape down the bowl and add the flour and any nuts, dried fruit, or chocolate chips (if desired) and mix until just combined. Remove the dough, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 2 days. The dough can be frozen up to 3 months (let thaw in refrigerator overnight).

3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350F. Roll out dough to ¼ inch thick and cut into desired shapes. Bake for 16-18 minutes until edges are just turning golden brown. Store in airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

4. If desired, these cookies can be glazed with a simple icing made from any liquid (fruit juices, milk, or even water) mixed with powdered sugar until the desired thickness is achieved. Use a spoon to drizzle icing onto cookies or dunk cookies into glaze. You can also drizzle/dip the shortbread in melted chocolate.

GF Variation: substitute flour with your favorite GF flour blend

Vegan Variation: substitute butter with your favorite vegan butter (I like Miyoko’s)

Mix + Match Additions:

  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary, sage, or herb of choice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract or maple extract or extract of choice
  • 1 Tbsp fresh citrus zest
  • 1 Tbsp matcha powder, lavender, or tea leaves
  • 4 Tbsp ground black sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup chopped nuts, seeds, dried fruit, or chocolate chips

Note:

My recipe calls for powdered sugar because the fineness of it enhances the meltaway texture. Totally fine if you use regular granulated sugar though. I’ve successfully used 1/4 cup powdered sugar for less sweet cookies or for more savory mix ins.