Sugared shortbread




One of the best factoids I’ve learned so far in baking is why shortening is called shortening.

In short <groan>…. Gluten proteins need water to develop into long, strong gluten strands, which is what we want in yeasted bread. Fat acts as a kind of raincoat and prevents those gluten proteins from absorbing the water they need to develop into those long, strong strands. Shortening, or any other fat, keeps gluten strands short, which in turn means the resulting baked good is tender and crumbly.

Thus, shortbread, which is full (full!) of butter and no water, results in a tender and crumbly texture.

This shortbread recipe originated with a New Jersey personal chef and professional food writer, Amy Casey, who submitted it to the NYTimes in 2012 when the Times invited readers to submit their favorite cookie recipes. You can get Casey’s recipe here on her website.

I just spent a chunk of the weekend testing multiple batches of it. It’s a keeper recipe.

What makes it so different from other shortbread recipes is that Casey’s recipe uses white rice flour. In my shortbread weekend marathon, I found that brown rice flour or even a mixture work just as well.

And, if you want to get wild and crazy, brown the butter.

In my photo, the cookie on the left was made per the recipe: white rice flour, melted butter, white granulated sugar topping. The cookie on the right was made with brown rice flour, browned butter and raw sugar.

I also made one other change to the recipe process. A minute or two before a pan was technically done, I pulled it out of the oven and sprinkled on the sugar, then returned it to the oven. I found that doing so set the sugar topping better.


Gruyère-olive bread

IMG_4432Yeah, it’s 110-ish in Arizona, but turn on your oven anyway and make this easy-peasy savory quickbread. We’re eating though our third and fourth loaves just this week.

The only hassle: shredding the Gruyère.

Also, if you’re an olive hater, don’t automatically shun this recipe.

The original recipe is from the New York Times cooking database, which now is behind a pay wall unless you’re a Times subscriber. Here’s my version.


  • 210 grams (1 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour (OK to use half whole-wheat flour)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup plain milk or buttermilk
  • 4 ounces Gruyère cheese
  • 3 tablespoons pitted, chopped kalamata olives



  1. Grate the cheese. While you prepare the other ingredients, put the grated cheese in the freezer.
  2. Preheat oven to 350F.
  3. In one bowl, whisk all the dry ingredients together.
  4. Add the grated cheese and chopped olives to the dry ingredients and toss until incorporated.
  5. In another bowl, mix the mayo, egg and milk until smooth.
  6. Fold the mayo-egg-milk mixture into the dry-ingredients-cheese-olive mixture just until incorporated.
  7. Scrape into a greased loaf pan. Smooth the top (unless you like a rugged, craggy cowboy look).
  8. Bake for 40 minutes. Cool in pan for about 20 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the loaf to make sure it releases from the pan. Cool loaf completely on a rack.

An embarrassment of zucchini riches?

Here are three of my favorite savory recipes to use all that zucchini your garden might be producing. (Or that you buy at Costco. No judgment.) Yes, Arizona friends: the first two recipes require that you turn on your oven, but they’re worth it.

  1. Summer vegetable galette from the New York Times. It’s kind of like ratatouille in a rich crust. I’ve made the crust using whole-wheat flour and rye flour. I prefer the latter.

IMG_40702. Monument Cafe’s whole-wheat zucchini bread, from Because sweet, heavy zucchini quick bread gets tiring. I’ve even added cheese to the Monument Cafe’s savory yeasted version.


3. Zucchini butter, from So versatile. Use it in an omelette. Smear it on a bagel or toast. Dollop on a baked potato. Spread a layer over the goat cheese in the summer vegetable galette.

Baking out of “Breaking Breads”

I’m a bit obsessed with Uri Scheft’s Breaking Breads. (See all those scraps of paper I’m using as bookmarks?)


In the past two weeks, I have made several batches of his berry and ricotta brioche buns. As I write this, a slab of advanced babka dough is having its final 24-hour beauty sleep in the fridge, and may be turned into a chocolate delight.

But I want to rave about something savory: his challah falafel rolls.

He writes about how his wife came up with the idea of marrying challah dough with “all of the spices and magic of falafel.” And it does.

Although his recipe calls falafel a “filling,” it’s not. The chickpeas, caramelized onions and spices are mixed right into the dough. It makes for a substantial roll, to eat plain or with a soup or stew, or to use as a sandwich bread.

I shaped my first batch as the recipe (check here for it) directed into torpedo shapes but I took creative license with the second and third batches. I shaped batch two into balls filled with feta. I shaped batch three more like buns, so they would be easier to use for sandwich bread.



After mixing, the dough is slightly sticky and a bit hard to manipulate. But after bulk fermentation, it’s delightful.

As with any recipe calling for garbanzo beans, you can use canned beans. I made batch one with canned chickpeas, but I made batches two and three with home-cooked chickpeas.

Flower Child cauliflower knock-off

IMG_3760         A local restaurant has on its menu the absolute best cauliflower dish. (For those of you in Fox Restaurant Concepts‘ ambit, I’m talking about Flower Child.) I can make a lunch out of two side orders.

     You’ll need turmeric, which is not as ubiquitous in home-kitchen spice cabinets as it should be. Not familiar with turmeric? It’s having a moment, what with claims that turmeric tea will fix darn near all that ails you. But it’s been around for a long time. Here’s a description:

Turmeric is a plant that has a very long history of medicinal use, dating back nearly 4000 years. In Southeast Asia, turmeric is used not only as a principal spice but also as a component in religious ceremonies. Because of its brilliant yellow color, turmeric is also known as “Indian saffron.”
    Get yourself some turmeric and try this knock-off version of Flower Child’s cauliflower.  If you’re a foodie/cook/chef, you’ll recognize this as just a pretty basic Indian-spiced cauliflower recipe, but it tastes like Flower Child’s version. (But hey, #FlowerChild, if you’re inclined to share your actual recipe, let me know!)
    The key with this recipe is that you want lots o’ spice on the cauliflower. Forget “delicately spiced.” Ain’t no delicate here.
      I used a bag of cauliflower florets from Costco. It’s about 3 pounds, which, after you eat this for dinner with one or two other people, might — might — leave you leftovers for lunch.
1. Preheat oven to 450F.
 2. Mix together in a bowl big enough to fit all that cauliflower:

6 tablespoons olive oil

1 TB turmeric powder

1 TB coriander seeds

1 TB cumin seeds

1 TB curry powder

1 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

3. Add the cauliflower and mix/toss — with utensils — until the lovely turmeric yellow covers it all. (Turmeric stains, so watch out for your fingernails.)

4. Eat a floret as an appetizer (there, you’ve participated in the raw-food movement) and taste test to see if you need to add more salt.

5. Scrape it all out onto a half-sheet pan. If you don’t have a half-sheet pan, at least put it onto a pan big enough so the cauliflower is more or less in one layer. You want a bit of air space between the florets. You’re not making a casserole.

6. Roast for at least 20 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the cauliflower has crispy edges and is a deep golden color.

Sourdough backlog

A three-day weekend meant I had time to work through my backlog….of sourdough.

Here’s the thing with sourdough. You feed your little pet but you don’t feed all of it because if you do, you end up with more than you know what to do with. You feed only a portion of your starter and either throw the rest away or use it. (King Arthur Flour has blog posts devoted to how to use up your excess starter.)

Several weeks ago I fed the whole thing. And then did the same the following week. Think of it like a nest full of baby birds, all chirping “feed me!”

Fast forward to this weekend, when I had about 32 ounces of beautiful sourdough starter, filling multiple containers. Yeah, I know it’s just flour and water, but the idea of feeding only 4 ounces and throwing away the other 28 ounces of beautiful bubbling starter was just wrong.

In addition, in the back of my head I could hear the chef who teaches my current baking class, lecturing us about how we should never throw anything away, because it can always be repurposed. For example, accidentally use way too much salt in a dough? Make some kind of dough decoration. Mess up the cookies so they don’t look attractive? Grind them into crumbs and use them to decorate a cake. (I had some in the freezer and did just that this weekend.)

So with all of that lovely starter, I made several loaves and lots of rolls, using one of my favorite King Arthur Flour sourdough bread recipes, which includes whole-wheat flour as well as seeds and flaked whole grains. (For each roll, I used about 55 grams/2 ounces of dough.) In many sourdough recipes, you can use fed or unfed starter.


We now have lots of great-tasting bread in the house, and I am back down to reasonable sourdough proportions. I know you were worried about me.



Frangipane-Prune Tart

Dried-fruit producers clearly are trying to rehab the poor prune’s image, from being associated with — as a recent New York Times article wrote — “constipated octogenarians praying on spoonfuls of paste.” The Times‘ article explained that in the early 2000s, the California Prune Board

officially changed its name to the California Dried Plum Board, hoping to avoid the association entirely. “We thought maybe the stigma was too much of a challenge for us to overcome,” Donn Zea, the board’s director, [said]. And “dried plum” was an accurate description: “It’s a plum. It grows on a tree. We dry them.”

Read the article here. And then bake the Frangipane-Prune Tart.


Here’s my tart. I used the crust from another Times’ frangipane tart recipe.

Forget any stigma. It’s a plum. It grows on a tree. It’s dried. And gee is it great, steeped in earl grey tea, in this terrific tart. I might have leftovers for breakfast tomorrow.