Girl Versus Dough

Round Forty Three — Soft Pretzels

Soft Pretzels

I know I’ve been kind of slow on the upkeep of this blog. But it’s not my fault.

It’s his.

Go ahead and try to blame him. I know I have.

It has not gone well.

Percy, as we’ve named him, moved in this weekend and I think he’s planning to stay. I think we’re OK with it. So long as he lets me bake, which so far, hasn’t been a problem.

These soft pretzels are a perfect complement to my husband Elliott’s Sunday Vikings Game-Watching Ritual. I’m kind of the best wife ever, not only letting him take over the TV for a few hours when I could be watching Project Runway marathons, but also making him game-day food. Yes, I’m gloating. As a (albeit lukewarm) Bears fan having lived with an obsessive Vikings fan for over a year, I think I’ve earned my right to do so.

But back to the pretzels. It took me multiple tries to get the twisting right (a few look like strangled pretzels, while others are just ugly blobs), but I eventually figured it out. The dough rose incredibly well and the boiling/baking process was really easy. The hardest part was keeping myself from eating them right away (a burnt tongue never killed anyone).

And Percy? Well…

I guess he’s more patient than I am.

Debrief: The pretzels will look ugly after being submerged in the baking soda bath. Don’t worry — this is normal. They’ll look less wrinkly once they’ve been baked (but there’s no saving the ones that are shaped nothing like pretzels). Soft Pretzels Courtesy of Michael Knock, the Iowa City Press-Citizen Yields: 8 pretzels

Ingredients: 1 1/2 cups warm water 1 tbsp sugar 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast 4 1/2 cups flour 4 tbsp butter, melted 2 tsp salt 10 cups water 2/3 cup baking soda 1 large egg yolk mixed with 1 tbsp water Kosher or pretzel salt (or sesame seeds or Parmesan cheese) for dusting the pretzels (or sea salt, as I used) Directions: In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine water, sugar and yeast. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until slightly foamy. Add in melted butter, flour and salt and, using the dough hook, knead for about 4-5 minutes or until the dough is cohesive and has pulled away completely from the edges of the bowl. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

When the dough is nearly doubled, bring to a boil the 10 cups water and baking soda. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F and line two baking sheets with lightly oiled parchment paper. In a small bowl, beat together egg yolk and water for the egg wash. When dough is risen, remove from the bowl and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece into a 2-foot long rope and twist into a pretzel shape, pinching the edges to keep them from coming apart.

Using a turner, place one pretzel at a time into the baking soda bath and boil for 30 seconds. Remove from the bath and place on parchment paper. Brush each pretzel with the egg wash and sprinkle with salt or topping of your choice. Once all pretzels have been boiled, bake for about 12-14 minutes or until a deep brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes before eating.

Round Forty Two — Savory Wheat Biscuits

Savory Wheat Biscuits

I know — I’ve been in serious biscuit mode lately. I kind of adore them.

Who wouldn’t, though? They’re fluffy, buttery and very adept at becoming something else, like a sandwich or a jam/jelly holder. Sometimes they make great pie doughs or cobblers.

Sometimes they just make my belly full. And that’s fine with me.

After coming home from a week-long vacation in Florida with the family, I was ready for a little R&R (you know, a vacation from vacation), some fall weather and some warm, fluffy biscuits. I found this recipe for baking powder biscuits on the back of my Rumford Baking Powder, tweaked it a bit, and the rest is history.

I don’t own a fancy contraption like a biscuit cutter, so I used the rim of a glass and that worked just as well to shape the biscuits. They are a little smaller in diameter than I would’ve liked, however, so I think next time I’ll use a wider-rimmed object. But there was nothing wrong with smallish biscuits. Just more biscuits to go around, then.

Mostly for me.

Debrief: Nothing much. Just as mentioned above, if you want bigger biscuits, use a wider biscuit cutter. Otherwise, this dough is a dream to work with, and very easy to adapt to whatever your biscuit craving. Herbs? Great. Cheese? Sure. Anchovies? Eh, weird, but whatever. These babies can probably handle it.

Baking Powder Biscuits Adapted from the recipe found on the back of my Rumford Baking Powder container

Yields 8 to 12 biscuits

Ingredients: 1 cup all-purpose flour 1 cup whole wheat flour 3 tsp baking powder 1 tsp salt Italian seasoning herbs or dried parsley, to taste (I used about 2 tsp) 6 tbsp chilled butter or shortening, cut into 1/4-inch cubes 2/3 cup milk

Directions: Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine flours, baking powder, salt and herbs. Cut in butter and mix until mixture resembles coarse crumbles. Add milk and mix until dough is soft and starts to pull away from the sides. Pour out dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 30 seconds. Roll out dough, using a lightly floured rolling pin, to a 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch thickness. Cut into rounds using a biscuit cutter and place on baking stone or parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake 12-15 minutes until lightly brown; serve warm.

Round Forty One — Apple Cobbler and Fluffy Biscuits

Apple Cobbler

I have to apologize for these photos. I know, they’re terrible. Let me reassure you though; I have plenty of excuses.

One: I was watching Glee while making this cobbler. It was the Britney Spears episode. My eyes were glued. It’s understandable, right? Right.

Two: It was nighttime. Duh. And I had a random, overpowering hankering for apple cobbler (mostly because I just worked out and had a raging appetite/sweet tooth attack, and we had about five pounds’ worth of fresh apples from the orchard that were begging to be covered in buttery goodness).

Three: I was so impatient to eat the cobbler/biscuit combination that the last thing I wanted to do was pause to take photos. But I didn’t want to be selfish and not share this with you, so… all that to say, this cobbler tastes loads better than it looks.

My week has been a lot like this. Hectic, erratic, speckled with cobbler and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (Peanut Butter Cup, oh my) and buttery monkey bread and a cruel apple pie that I can look at forever but can’t eat until Thanksgiving. Hmph.

So, I apologize for you having to see the results of my craziness. But hey, at least I shared, right? Right.

Debrief: If using apples for this recipe (you can use 3 cups of any cobbler-appropriate fruit), make sure to use tart apples, like Granny Smith or McIntosh. I accidentally added in a Gala, and it was mushy and overly sweet.

Apple Cobbler (with a Fluffy Biscuits foundation) Courtesy of The Joy of Cooking

Yields one 8×8-inch pan of cobbler

Ingredients: 3 cups peeled, cored and thinly sliced apples 2/3 cup sugar 1 tbsp all-purpose flour 1/2 the recipe for Fluffy Biscuits (below) 2 tbsp butter 3/4 tsp cinnamon

Directions: Turn on the TV; it’s Glee time. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Sit for five minutes watching Glee and wishing that Mr. Schuster would just let the kids sing Britney Spears! In a medium saucepan, heat apples, sugar and flour until boiling. Do not walk away from the kitchen at this point just because you hear “I’m a Slave 4 U.” Have ready half the recipe for Fluffy Biscuit Dough (below). Spread the dough on the bottom of a greased 8×8-inch square pan and cover closely with the hot fruit. Take a second to watch Glee cover another Britney song. Dot the fruit with the butter and sprinkle the cinnamon over the cobbler. Bake about a half hour. At this point, get a good chunk of Glee-watching in (though the Britney cameos could have been omitted, in my opinion. Just saying). Then, watch the sex riot ensue while enjoying a hefty plateful of this amazing cobbler. Repeat next week.

Fluffy Biscuit Dough recipe

Yields 24 1 1/2-inch biscuits (if just making biscuits) or 12 1 1/2-inch biscuits (if using the other half for the cobbler)

**Note: I didn’t make these biscuits this time. See above, Glee watching. Thus the lack of biscuit photos. Sorry, ya’ll. Next time.

Ingredients: 1 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour 1 tsp salt 3 tsp double-acting baking powder 1 tbsp sugar 4 to 6 tbsp chilled butter or shortening, or a combo of both 3/4 cup milk

Directions: Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. In the bowl of a stand mixer, sift together flour, salt, sugar and baking powder. Add butter and make a well in the center. Add milk and stir until the dough starts to come away from the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead quickly, in about 8 to 10 folds. Roll out with a floured rolling pin to a desired thickness, and cut with a biscuit cutter dipped in flour. Brush the tops with milk or melted butter and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake about 12 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Round Forty — Pumpkin Pecan Muffins

Pumpkin Pecan Muffins

Back in the day, I worked at a bakery/coffeeshop (OK, it was only less than a year ago, but it feels like forever). I worked the 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift, prepping the front of the store in the wee hours of the morning, getting all the coffees ready (regular, dark roast, flavor, vanilla on Mondays for Bill and decaf, all lined in a row), the sugar shakers full of sugar and the tables straight and tidy. I also got to put fresh bakery items in the case each day, still warm from the oven. At the bakery, we had everything from big, frosted cookies and puff twists to apple and cherry turnovers and my favorite — muffins.

These were no ordinary muffins. These muffins were gigantic. These muffins could eat regular-sized muffins for breakfast. And they were delicious. In fact, I’d grown up eating these very muffins — my favorite was the discontinued raspberry ice muffin — and they are still quite famous in my hometown. There were more than two dozen varieties in the case each day, with flavors like blueberry, cranberry nut, Oreo, M&M, Sunshine, amaretto, Dutch apple and lemon ice. But sometimes, customers would come into the store, take one look at the freshly baked muffins and say something silly like, “Those muffins are too big.”

The nerve. There is no such thing as too big a muffin.

Though I don’t work at said bakery anymore, and I don’t have one of those oversize muffin tins, when I do bake muffins like these pumpkin pecan muffins, I like to fill the cups all the way so the muffin bakes over the top and takes on that lovely mushroom shape. To me, those are the best kind (after all, everyone knows the best part of the muffin is the top. 30 Rock, anyone?). Combined with a warm cup of tea on a cool autumn day, these pumpkin pecan muffins are phenomenally delicious. Though those bakery muffins could still eat these muffins for breakfast.

Debrief: I adapted this recipe from a quick pumpkin bread recipe in “The Joy of Cooking.” The transfer worked out just fine, though I was left with about one or two muffins’ worth of batter. I couldn’t tell you how to lower the measurements for the batter in order to eradicate the extras, so if you’re OK with throwing it away, no changes are necessary. If not, best of luck to you and your fancy math skills that I don’t have.

Pumpkin Pecan Muffins Adapted from The Joy of Cooking

Yields 12 overflowing muffins


1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour 1/4 tsp double-acting baking powder 1 tsp baking soda 1 tsp salt 1/2 tsp cinnamon 1/4 tsp ground cloves 1 1/3 cups sugar 1/3 cup soft shortening 2 eggs 1 cup cooked or canned pumpkin 1/3 cup water or milk 1/2 cup chopped pecans


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine sugar, shortening and eggs until light and fluffy. Add and beat in pumpkin. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and ground cloves. Add sifted mixture to the stand mixer in 3 additions alternately with the milk. Fold in pecans using a wooden spoon or spatula. Pour batter into muffin tins until it just reaches the tops of the cups. Bake about 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the muffins comes out clean. Allow to cool 10 minutes before removing muffins from the tin, transferring them to a wire rack to cool for 10 or so more minutes. Serve warm.

Extra punches: As mentioned above, this is adapted from a quick pumpkin bread recipe. If you want to make this into a bread rather than muffins, just pour the batter into a greased 9 x 5-inch loaf pan and bake for an hour.

Round Thirty Nine — Bread Bowls

Bread Bowls

I am noticing that I talk about the weather a lot — most people do, I guess. It’s the quintessential ice breaker. I admit I’m one of those people who, when uninspired with anything to say, fills the dead air with talk of the weather. I can’t help it, though. It’s not just that it’s a wonderful conversation filler with a stranger during one of those awkward moments — though that’s nice. It’s that I feel my life revolves around the weather, so it’s often at the forefront of my mind.

Today, and yesterday (aka all freaking weekend long) it’s been crappy outside. When it’s not pouring rain, it’s misting. When it’s not cloudy, it’s extra cloudy (or nighttime). I feel like we’re living next to Niagara Falls (minus the beautiful view and the roaring sound of the water). And because of this not-so-gorgeous weather, I haven’t been able to ride my bike, like I wanted to. I haven’t been able to stroll through farmers markets and art/craft festivals, or go to the park like I wanted to. I haven’t been able to go to the apple orchard, like I wanted to. It’s made for a pretty cranky me.

But I guess there’s always an upside to rainy days (I’m trying to be optimistic here, so bear with me). Rainy days make it easier for me to stay inside doing laundry or cleaning all day, because I don’t feel that longing to be outside. Rainy days are also perfect for sipping warm tea and catching up on episodes of “Mad Men” (my new obsession) and “Modern Family” (our new obsession). I’ve also had time to paint my nails. It’s also the perfect kind of day for soup, which is why we made this delightful carrot and cilantro soup. And what’s better for a thick, warm soup than a bread bowl, which I also had time to make? Nothing, I tell you. Nothing is better.

Don’t expect much with these bread bowls, at least in the size department. They’re not your gigantic Panera bread bowls. They’re the perfect size for a cup of soup (and I can attest they hold up nicely for refills). But what they lack in size they make up for in taste. The addition of semolina makes the dough soft and flavorful, and if you’re patient enough with the process of hardening the crust, these bowls will reward you with their deliciously crunchy exteriors. You can use the insides for bread crumbs or croutons, or just use them as extra dipping devices (as the husband did… I don’t think he ever used a spoon).

Either way, they make rainy days like yesterday and today a little brighter. Debrief: The only difficulty I had in making these bowls was kneading the extremely tough dough (I added a little water to it to make it workable) and shaping each piece into a round ball. In shaping the bowls, I used my hands to pull the sides of the dough down and tuck them under, pinching the ends at the bottom together so the top was tight and round. The underside will eventually flatten and come together through the baking process. Bread Bowls Courtesy of King Arthur Flour

Yields 5 bowls


3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 1 cup semolina 2 1/4 tsp instant yeast (or 2 3/4 tsp active dry yeast, as I used) 1 tbsp non-diastatic malt or 2 tsp sugar (as I used) 1 1/2 tsp salt 1 1/2 cups warm water Directions:

Combine all of the dough ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix them together with a dough hook. Once the dough has just come together, pour the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead for about 8-10 minutes, or until soft and smooth (the dough will be kind of a pain to mix, and if it’s just too dry, add 1 tsp water to the dough at a time until it’s more manageable). Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.

Divide the risen dough into five pieces and form each piece into a round (not flattened) ball. Place each ball on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and cover lightly with greased plastic wrap or a tea towel (something that’s not heavy). Let rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.

Uncover the balls and let them sit for 10-15 minutes to develop a tough skin. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Before placing the balls in the oven, mist them heavily with water. Bake the bread bowls for 18-22 minutes or until they’re a deep, golden brown. Turn off the oven and prop open the door a bit, leaving the bread bowls inside for 15 minutes to develop a thick, tough crust. Remove the bread bowls from the oven and let cool completely on a cooling rack before cutting. Cut off the tops and remove the insides, leaving about a 1/4-inch thickness all around the inside. Fill the bowls with your favorite hearty soup or chili. Enjoy the rain.

Sifted Words — A Tablespoon Recap

Brioche Hamburger Buns

I’m taking a (short!) break this week from baking — but don’t worry, I’ll be back in the kitchen as soon as you can say… see, I’m already back.

I’m currently obsessing over non-bread related baking items, like homemade apple chips. Yum. SO good with my new-found love, almond butter. Yes please.

But when I get the chance to make another bread, you’ll be the first to know about it (besides myself, of course. And my husband. But after that, you’re the first, promise!).

For now, here’s what I’ve been working on for the Tablespoon blog over the past few weeks. Take a look and let me know what you think about my original recipes! I have a new post there every Friday.

Granola bread.

Sundried tomato basil bread.

Brioche hamburger buns.

Cheesy onion pita bread.

Chipotle corn bread.

There you have it. A nice smattering of recipes to whet your whistle. Happy Friday, you. And have a very blessed weekend.