Girl Versus Dough

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.

Round Thirty Eight — Tomato Pie; or, Tomato Pie Crust; or, Buttermilk Parsley Biscuits

Tomato Pie

Nothing like making a confusing title, huh? Sorry about that. I just didn’t want to leave anyone out.

This here post is a little different. You see, I was making a tomato pie from this Web site the other day, and thought, “Hey! I like the sound of this pie crust recipe!” As it turns out, the pie crust isn’t naturally a pie crust at all, but Buttermilk Parsley Biscuits masquerading as pie crust.

So really, it’s a bread that served as a pie crust that served as the bottom of our delicious dinner. If that makes sense.

I have to say, the crust was probably the best part of this whole party of food. (Of course, mayo and cheddar cheese baked to a browned, gooey finish isn’t so bad either. And neither are the homegrown heirloom tomatoes hiding underneath. But even then, the crust steals the show.) It’s thick and fluffy, unlike normal pie crusts that are often thin and crunchy and rather boring. The savoriness of the parsley/oregano/basil mixture combined with flakes of sweet butter made the dough taste even more wonderful. And with juicy, ripe tomatoes from my mother’s now-rampant garden, it was a meal to die for.

So long as there’s tomato pie in heaven.

Debrief: As far as the pie crust/parsley biscuit dough goes, I don’t have much to say. It did its job well. As far as the tomato pie itself, I wasn’t a huge fan of the mayo (and in fact only used 1/2 cup of the 1 1/2 cups it originally calls for). I might use something less overpowering and fattening, like yogurt or low-fat sour cream, in place of the mayo next time I make this bad boy. We also only needed four large tomatoes for the whole pie, not five or even six as the recipe indicates. Tomato Pie Crust/Buttermilk Parsley Biscuits Courtesy of Ruth Reichl

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 2 1/2 tsp baking powder 1/2 tsp salt 1/2 tsp baking soda 1/3 cup cold butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes A “flurry” of chopped parsley (or Italian seasoning, as I used) 3/4 cups buttermilk

Combine flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda in the bottom of a stand mixer bowl fixed with the paddle attachment. Add in cold butter and mix until the butter is the size of peas. Add the parsley and buttermilk and mix until dough pulls completely from the sides. Pour dough onto counter and knead for a couple minutes, then press into the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie pan. James Beard’s Tomato Pie Courtesy of Ruth Reichl

4 to 6 thickly-sliced ripe tomatoes Sprinkling of salt Sprinkling of pepper Sprinkling of shredded basil 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese 1/2 cup mayonnaise (or 1 1/2 cups, as original recipe suggests)

Cover the biscuit dough with tomatoes, and sprinkle with salt, pepper and basil. Mix cheddar and mayo together and spread the mixture on top of the tomatoes. Bake at 375 degrees F for about 20-30 minutes, or until golden brown. Stuff into face.

Round Thirty Seven — Peanut Butter Bread

Peanut Butter Bread

I’m going to tell you another story. Are you ready? Get ready. It’s going to be rad.

This is where we were last week, on vacation. Lutsen, Minnesota. It was lovely.

We had time to relax, sleep, eat and take awkward pictures of ourselves. Like this one. (So, so far away.)

When we got home, I had a hankerin’. For peanut butter. And bread. Thus, Peanut Butter Bread. And it’s from Paula Deen, no less! A win-win… win.

First, I had to make the list of ingredients and directions. I love lists.

Then, baking powder.

Which turned into scary smiley faced baking powder! (I tried making him look happier, I swear. It did not go well.)

Add some peanut butter, of course…

Which, when mixed with some of its friends, turns into peanut butter batter…

And then, hoorah! Tasty Peanut Butter Bread.

And with this lovely creation spread along the top…

It’s peanut butter jelly time!

Which is almost as fun as vacation.

Almost. Peanut Butter Bread Courtesy of The Food Network


2 cups all-purpose flour 1/3 cup sugar 1 tsp salt 4 tsp baking powder 1 1/2 cups milk 1/2 cup peanut butter


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together dry ingredients. Add milk and peanut butter to the dry ingredients and mix. Pour mix into a lightly-greased 8 x 4-inch loaf pan and bake 40-50 minutes until golden brown on top. Remove from oven and loaf pan and allow to cool on wire rack.

Round Thirty Six — French Boule

French Boule

When I look at this loaf, I think of the word “peasant.” Like, a peasant bread. Like something you’d see coming out of the hearth in the background of “A Christmas Carol,” while poor Tiny Tim tries to cut the single pea on his plate in half. (Probably one of the more devastating scenes I’ve ever watched in a Disney flick — that, and when Nemo’s mom dies within the first five minutes of the movie. C’mon, Walt!).

So it’s no surprise that this peasant loaf was coming out of our oven just a few days ago.

No, I’m not saying we’re poor — gosh, no. There are so many people in the world with a fraction of our wealth. Still, we are in the early stages in our marriage, and as many young couples can empathize (and single, 20-something professionals — I’m leaving no one out of this), these are financially trying days. While we’re trying to move up from the college staples of Ramen noodles and frozen pizza and to more sophisticated daily menus, sometimes, it’s just too dang expensive, and you find that jar of peanut butter is the only source of sustenance for days (OK, it’s really not that bad, but you get the idea).

All this to say that, when I decided to make this loaf, simple as it may be, I knew it had to be put to good use. I mean, we can’t just go wasting bread around here! Not that we do, of course… goodness, what kind of bread baker throws out uneaten bread? Not this one, I’ll tell you that… yeah.

Luckily, we happened to need a country loaf (peasant, country, artisan; tomato, to-mah-to) for one of our favorite dinners we were making that night — Espinacas con Garbanzos (OMG if you haven’t made this yet, do it right now. You know if I react with “OMG,” it’s got to be delicious). With a crusty crust and a soft, dense center, the French boule is the perfect conduit for any tapenade, chutney or other chunky topping. Like bruschetta, for instance. Or said recipe, above. This bread worked perfectly as a slab for our dinner of tomato-y garbanzo beans, sauteed spinach and garlic.

And so, thanks to the fresh food cooking on the stove and a fresh “peasant” bread in the oven, we had ourselves a meal and good conversation — and that’s all we really need. (I so want to say here, “God bless us, every one!” But I won’t, to curb the risk of cheesiness, of course.)

Debrief: Pretty straightforward here. Just be careful with the measurements if you plan to make only one, two or three loaves. That is all.

Boule (Artisan Free-Form Loaf) Courtesy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

Makes four 1-pound loaves. The recipe can easily be doubled or halved (or quartered, as I did) Ingredients:

3 cups lukewarm water 1 1/2 tbsp active dry yeast 1 1/2 tbsp coarse salt 6 1/2 cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour


In the bowl of a stand mixer, pour lukewarm water (should be about 100 degrees F) and add yeast and salt to the water. Add all of the flour at once and mix with the dough hook (kneading is unnecessary — just mix until ingredients are incorporated). Once the dough is moist and consistent, pour dough into a clean, greased large bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours. After dough has risen, sprinkle the surface of the dough with a dusting of flour and divide dough into four, 1-pound pieces. With lightly-floured hands, gently stretch the surface of each dough piece around the bottom of all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. Shape until a smooth and cohesive ball and place on a lined baking sheet or baking stone. Allow each dough ball to rest about 40 minutes. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place an empty broiler tray for holding water on any other shelf that doesn’t interfere with the bread. Dust the tops of each loaf with flour and slash several 1/4-inch deep cuts for a “scallop” look (as I did). You can also make a tic-tac-toe pattern or a giant plus sign across the top of the bread. After a twenty-minute preheat, you can put the loaves in the oven, even if it isn’t up to full temperature. Quickly and carefully pour 1 cup of hot water in the broiler tray and close the door immediately. Bake for about 30 minutes until a lightly-brown crust develops. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack before slicing and serving.