Monthly Archives: August 2009

#13. Foccacia Baked on the BBQ.




This week in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge I baked Foccacia Bread, on my gas BBQ!  I could try to impress you and say that the reason I baked it on the BBQ is because I wanted to challenge myself, culinarily speaking.  And you just might believe me.  However, I can not tell a lie, (well, actually I can lie, and quite coinvincingly too, but I guess that’s not something one should brag about!) I made the Foccacia on the BBQ because my oven died.  Well to be more accurate, I wore my oven out.  Before I get to the baking of the foccacia, here is the story of how I wore my oven out.

I am  up at my cottage on the lake.  Last weekend we hosted a family reunion for my side of the family.  This is the fourth one we have held here.  We try to do it every three years.  The first was in 2000, followed by 2003, 2006 and then again this summer.   With parents, siblings, spouses, children, cousins and aunts and uncles we numbered 41 this year.  It was a 4 day extravaganza, complete with our own version of the Amazing Race, a spaghetti eating contest, two swim marathons, bonfire with s’mores, and lots of games and activities organized by various family members.  I had arranged to have the meals catered as I did not want to spend the entire time in the kitchen cooking and cleaning.  However, we have many talented bakers in the family, so we did the desserts ourselves.

We have a “Family Cookie”, originally made by my paternal grandmother (Bubbe).  She never wrote the recipe down and so her daughter (my Auntie BeBe) watched her make the cookies one day in the 80’s.  She wrote down everything her mom did and measured all the ingredients to get as accurate a recipe as possible.  Since that time, my sister Bo and I have been making the cookies at least twice a year.  Although we have the same recipe, our Bubbe Cookies turn out completely differently.  The Bubbe Cookie is a poppy seed cookie.  These are not  thin delicate poppy seed cookies.  They are thick and hard, much like a mini hockey puck.  They are not too sweet and are perfect with a cup of tea.  They are also fantastic for long driving trips as each cookie takes a long time to eat and they’ll keep you alert while driving.  Our family and everyone who I have introduced them to over the past 30 years, loves them.


Of course I had to bake Bubbe Cookies for the family reunion.  I baked 1000 Bubbe Cookies.  I made little gift bags with a dozen Bubbe Cooies in each to give to every family member when they arrived.  That accounts for about 500 of the cookies.  The other 500 were piled high in a jar and left on the coffee table for snacking.  I also baked 60 lemon coconut cookies, 75 oatmeal toffee sour cherry cookies and 60 skor bars.  I made all these the week before the reunion and froze them.

Bubbe Cookies

Bubbe Cookies

Lemon Coconut Cookies

Lemon Coconut Cookies

Oatmeal Toffee Sour Cherry Cookies

Oatmeal Toffee Sour Cherry Cookies

Skor Bar Cookies

Skor Bar Cookies

Most of my family knows about my participation in the BBA challenge. Some casual requests from various family members about cinnamon buns and bagels had me wondering how I could produce them, fresh and hot from the oven without having to spend the day before covered in flour and elbow deep in dough.  I decided to make the cinnamon buns and bagels the week before and freeze them, unbaked. The cinnamon buns were on the menu for Saturday breakfast, so I removed them from the freezer on Friday night, placed them in baking pans and left them to proof on the counter overnight. I fell fast asleep and in the morning, all I had to do was bake and glaze them.  Needless to say they were devoured within minutes of coming out of the oven despite my screaming that the Bread Freaks Bible (The Bread Baker’s Apprentice Cookbook) says that the cinnamon buns must cool for at least 30 minutes before eating.

The bagels were planned for Sunday brunch so on Saturday night I removed them from the freezer, transferred them  to parchment lined baking sheets, covered them with plastic wrap and let them proof all night in the fridge.  Come Sunday morning they were ready for boiling and baking.  I made 24 poppy, sesame and salt and 24 cheddar jalapeno.  They were a huge hit. 

So, to recap, in one short week  my oven produced 1000 Bubbe Cookies, 60 Lemon Coconut Cookies, 75 Oatmeal Toffee Cookies, 75 Skor Bar Cookies, 24 Cinnamon Buns, 24 Sticky Buns, 24 Poppy-Sesame-Salt bagels, 24 Cheddar Jalapeno Bagels and 3 large challahs.  A lesser oven would have died right in the middle of the family reunion weekend.  My considerate oven waited to die until the day after everyone left.  I had planned to use this week to catch up on my BBA baking as I’m a little behind (I wonder why?).  When I preheated the oven to make dinner it would only heat to 125 degrees F.  I think I heard it say, ” I’m on strike.” 

Somewhere, deep in the recess of my brain I recall a fellow BBA challenger talking about baking bread on their BBQ.  I remembered that they used empty tuna cans, turned upside down, to raise the baking stone off the BBQ.  I went back over old posts and found the reference.  Heather of Bodacious Girl  saved the day.  (  

The Foccacia recipe in the book is a two day procedure, making and shaping the dough on day one, followed by a night of fermentation in the fridge to allow the wonderful flavours to develop.  It is quite a wet and sticky dough but I resisted the temptation to add more flour. Memories of screwing up my ciabatta loaf by adding too much flour were still fresh in my mind.  After forming the dough it is placed on the counter for a 5 minute rest.

Dough resting for 5 minutes before stretching

Then the dough is gently stretched from each end, to twice it’s original length.

dough stretched to twice it's size

Then the dough is folded into thirds, letter style and allowed to rest for 30 minutes.

foccacia folded letter style

This stretching and folding procedure is repeated twice more, followed by an hour rest on the counter.  While the dough rested, I prepared an herb oil to top the Foccacia with.  I heated about a cup of olive oil in the microwave for about 45 seconds, just until it was warm.  I aded 2 cloves grated garlic, and about 1/2 cup fresh chopped mixed herbs (basil, italian parsley, thyme, oregano and rosemary).  After an hour of resting, the dough is transferred to a parchment lined baking sheet, coated with oil. 

foccacia on pan

Then the fun part begins.  About half of the herb oil is poured on top and then, using your fingertips, dimple the dough and spread it to almost fill the pan.  Then the dough is covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight (or up to 3 days).  Mine was left in the fridge for 2 days.


To prepare the BBQ for baking, I turned 4 empty tuna cans upside down and placed my baking stone on top of the cans.  The tuna cans act as protection for the baking stone, raising it up off the direct flame.  I turned on both burners of the BBQ and let it pre-heat on high for 30 minutes. 


I do not have a thermometer on the BBQ so I was really guessing about temperatures.  I turned down both burners to medium heat and placed the foccacia (still on the baking sheet) onto the stone.  I closed the lid and waited.  After 5 minutes, I could not stand it anymore, so I lifted the lid for a peek. 

After 5 minutes of baking.

After 5 minutes of baking.

Not much was happening, so I closed the lid and waited another 5 minutes.  Then I checked again and the bottom was beginning to brown while not much had changed on top.  I was concerned that the crust would burn before it was cooked through so I turned down the heat to low on  both burners, rotated the pan 180 degrees and closed the lid for another 10 minutes.  After a total baking time of 20 minutes, the Foccacia was done.  Internal temperature registered 200 degrees.




A peek at the bottom crust revealed crispy goodness.  While the foccacia cooled, I decided to go for a run as I realized I would be doing more than tasting this bread.  We sliced into it and had our first piece with a glass of Proseco and peach nectar.  The crumb was not as open as I was expecting but the crunch from the bottom crust was addictive.  The aroma and flavour from the herb oil were unbelievable.  I love this bread.


The remainder of the bread was sliced horizontally and we made fresh mozzarella, tomato and basil panini sandwiches for dinner.



Memories of Bubbe Cookies


Bubbe-Cookies-in-jarEvery spring, when I was little, my parents would fold down the last two rows of our station wagon and line it with blankets and pillows.  Then they would wake my sisters and me at midnight and pack us into the back of the wagon, like sardines (this was before the days of seatbelt laws). Through the night we drove, to Philadelphia, to visit my dad’s family. 

We loved those annual trips to Philadelphia.  My older sister and I got to stay at my Auntie BeBe and Uncle Sammy’s house.  We slept in my cousin Bonnie’s room.  She was 3 years older than me and the most glamorous pre-teen I knew.  I loved her American accent, her clothes and her friends. I was very jealous of her pierced ears and adorable earring tree which housed all her beautiful earrings.  The rest of my family stayed at a hotel.    When my little sisters got older, they were allowed to stay at the house too, in my younger cousin David’s room. 

Our days had a definite structure to them.  We’d get up in the morning and have “Tastykakes” for breakfast, followed by a chaser of Diet Pepsi.  Tastykake has been baking in Philadelphia since 1914 and their signature product is a cream filled cupcake, much like a Hostess Ho Ho.  Then we’d set the dining room table for lunch.  At about 10:30 a.m. my parents and siblings would arrive and all the kids would go upstairs and start rehearsal for the play we’d put on that night.  Our performance each night followed a fairly similar formula, some variation of dressing my little cousin David up in girl’s clothes.

Morning rehearsal was followed by lunch, always cold cuts, coleslaw and potato salad, Wise’s potato chips and of course the ubiquitous Pepsi and Diet Pepsi.  My Uncle Sammy is a definite member of the Pepsi generation.  No Coke in that house!!  I never made a sandwich with bread for lunch.  I just rolled slices of roast beef around Wise’s potato chips.  Depending upon your perspective, you may either be amazed or horrified that this is what I remember most vividly about that time in my childhood.

Lunch was followed by cleanup and setting the table for dinner.  The afternoon usually involved some shopping for the girls.  Back in the day my mom was a marathon shopper.  What she could accomplish in 2 short hours was astonishing.  Fortunately that gene has been passed down to several of her daughters and at least one granddaughter!  Then back to the house for dinner, clean up, setting the table for lunch the next day and the evening performance.  For dessert there were always Bubbe cookies. 

My grandmother made poppy seed cookies. They are not thin delicate poppy seed cookies. They are thick and hard, like little hockey pucks.  During the rest of the year she would mail them to us in a shoebox. When that little box would arrive in the mail there was much joy in our house. (Perhaps that explains my shoe addiction!)  Saying goodbye at the end of the visit always took at least 2 hours.  There were lots of tears and promises to visit again very soon.

As we grew older, the visits were less frequent and once my cousins and siblings and I got married and had families of our own, our lives got increasingly busier.  In 1992, two years after my Bubbe passed, a family reunion was planned.  We all drove to the Neville Hotel in the Catskills.  It was a wonderful weekend.  There was lots of talk that this should be an annual event but all the busyness of life got in the way.  In early 2000, my husband and I decided to host a family reunion at our cottage that summer.  Although it was a Feingold-Gordon (my dad and his sister) family reunion, several other branches of the family were included, namely my mom’s sister, Susie, and her family and my Cousin Bonnie’s mother-in-law, Yetta.  Over the years whenever an additional guest was added, the joke became, “Yetta nother guest!!” 

That first reunion was a resounding success. (Despite E-Coli in our well, but that’s a story for another time!)  Of course I had to bake Bubbe cookies for the reunion.  Although it had been 10 years since my grandmother died, luckily my aunt had watched her mom make the cookies and copied down what she observed.  When I read the directions I thought there must have been a misprint.  It said to bake the cookies for 70 minutes!  But that’s correct.  The cookies are rolled out to about 1/2 an inch thick so they bake at a low temperature for a long time. 

While we have not been holding annual reunions since 2000, we have managed to do them every 3 years.  We held one in 2003, 2006 and again this year, last month in August. This summer there were 41 of us.  Everyone is better than the last.  I feel proud that I am carrying on my parent’s tradition of making memories for their children.  Now it’s our generation’s turn to do the same for our kids.

Bubbe Cookies

Makes 125 cookies

6 large eggs
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons Crisco vegetable shortening
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
8 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

 ½ cup granulated sugar (for sprinkling on top of cookies before baking)

  1.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.  In an electric mixer, mix together the eggs and sugar for about 5 minutes, until light and fluffy.

 2.  Add oil, water, Crisco and poppy seeds and continue to mix for another 3 minutes.

 3.  Add baking powder, salt and flour and mix just until the dry ingredients are incorporated.

4.  Divide dough into 4 sections.  Roll out one section at a time, to a ½ inch thickness and cut out cookies using a 1 ½ inch round cookie cutter.  A small juice glass works very well for this. (That’s what my Bubbe used, although in her later years, she just used a knife and cut the cookies into squares.)   Save the scraps and reroll and cut out more cookies.

5.  Place the cookies on parchment lined cookie sheets.  The cookies can be placed fairly close together as they do not spread during baking.  Sprinkle the cookies with sugar and bake.  You can put 2 trays in the oven at once; just switch positions of the trays halfway through the baking time.  The cookies will take about 60-70 minutes to bake.  They should be golden brown and firm to the touch.

These cookies keep very well for several weeks in an airtight container and travel very well in a shoebox.

#12. How are making english muffins like a visit to the optometrist?


 In week 12 of the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge we visit English Muffins.  I have long been a fan of Thomas’ english muffins, famous for their nooks and crannies, which are excellent at storing lots of melted salted butter.  I figured that homemade english muffins would beat the Thomas’ version hands down.  Peter Reinhart promised big holes, like the professionals get, if we can work with the soft dough and grill them at just the right time, catching them on the rise. I was up for the challenge.

This dough came together very easily, but I have to admit I was surprised that the recipe only makes 6 english muffins.  All the other recipes from the book have  yielded gargantuan breads.  The dry ingredients, (bread flour, sugar, salt and yeast) are mixed with a bit of butter and some milk and kneaded in the mixer for about 8-10 minutes.  Then the dough is set aside to ferment, until it doubles in size, about 60-90 minutes.



It was a very warm day and as usual, I was multi-tasking and didn’t quite catch the dough at the ” just doubled” stage.  It looks like it tripled!  Oh well, no harm done, or so I innocently thought.  I weighed the dough and divided it into 6 equal pieces, and formed the little boules.

The balls of dough are then lightly oiled and sprinkled with cornmeal, covered with plastic wrap and left to rest until nearly doubled in size.  I have to admit, this was an instruction I struggled with.  I had a really hard time knowing when they were nearly doubled.

It reminded me of going to the optometrist and getting your eyes examined.  My very first optometrist was my dad.  He’d put those lenses in front of my eyes and say, “Is this better, or is this better?”, while he changed the magnification only infinitesimally.  I could never tell which one was better but I was always too embarrassed to say so.   Truthfully, I just thought he didn’t know what he was doing but I never wanted to make him feel bad, so I just lied and picked one.  It was only after he died, and I had to go to another optometrist that I realized that my dad wasn’t a bad optometrist after all.  I experienced this inability to tell the difference at my new optometrist too.  Sorry dad, it was me not you!!

Now you look at these two pictures and see if you can tell if they are nearly doubled in size.  The one on top  is just after I formed the boules and the one below is after 90 minutes of proofing, when I figured that, they looked almost doubled.



Then it was time to cook the muffins.  English muffins are baked in a frying pan or cooked on a griddle and then finished in the oven.  I gently transferred them to the pan and cooked the first side over medium heat for about 5 minutes until they were golden brown.  They are supposed to spread out on their own but mine still looked like little balls so I helped matters along and squished them gently with a spatula.  Then I flipped them over and cooked the second side.


Once the second side was done they went into a preheated oven for an additional 5 minutes, to finish cooking the inside.  After letting them cool for 30 minutes, we split them open with a fork.  Fork splitting, apparently gives english muffins their characteristic nooks and crannies.  The moment of truth…




Even with the fork splitting, the nooks and crannies were absent.  I’m not quite sure where I went wrong.  I suspect that I over fermented (first rising) as well as over proofed (second rising) them.  Peter Reinhart says that if you catch them “on the rise” you will be rewarded with the nooks and crannies.  I think my muffins went past the rise and I missed my opportunity.  I also suspect that since my little balls did not spread out on their own, that my dough was not wet enough and if there were any air holes inside, I may have squished them when I pressed down with my spatula.  However, I toasted them and slathered them with salted butter and American Spoon sour cherry preserves and they were very tasty, but not as good as Thomas’.


Although I was a little disappointed with the results, it was still a worthwhile exercise as  I was reminded the other day of one of the reasons I began this challenge.  I was reading a book review of Marion Cunningham’s “The Breakfast Book” on  In the book Marion says, “Cooking is one of the legacies we can leave to the future, and I would like to be remembered for my baking. We all know we’re not immortal, but after I’m gone, I would like my son and daughter to be able to say, ‘Our mother made real yeast bread for breakfast.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself!

P.S.  My sons and daughter loved the english muffins.

#11. Not feeling much like celebrating but I made Cranberry Walnut Celebration Bread anyways


The day I made bread # 11 in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge, in late July, I was expecting 12 guests for the weekend at my cottage.  It’s not quite as daunting as it sounds, as I learned a long time ago, that when weekend guests ask what they can bring, assign them a meal.  So I was going to make Friday night dinner and Sunday brunch and had assigned Saturday lunch to one friend, Saturday cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and dinner to two other friends.  So all in all, I was in good shape.  Or so I thought, until I woke up Friday morning with a headache, fever and canker sores in my mouth.  Luckily I had my niece here visiting from New York and she rolled up her sleeves and helped me bake.

First we tackled the challah dough that I had made the day before and fermented in the fridge overnight.  We needed to braid 2 loaves for Friday night’s dinner.  My niece was keen to tackle the 6 strand challah I had seen on a youtube video.  So we brought the laptop into the kitchen and after several attempts, braiding and then unbraiding, she mastered it. 

I must say, you learn a lot about a person when you braid bread with them.  What my niece lacks in the way of fine motor and visual perception skills (sorry Sam), she more than makes up for in determination.  She was not about to let this bread get the best of her and after about 30 minutes, she had successfully braided it.  I have to admit, that I have tried to do the 6 strand braid myself, about 3 times now and each time I failed, gave up and did a basic 3 strand braid.






After the challah was in the oven, we made the cranberry walnut celebration bread.  To be perfectly honest, I was not that keen on making this bread.  We have been doing so many enriched breads and I was kind of tired of them.  From reading fellow BBA challenger’s blogs, I gathered I was not alone in feeling this way.  Oggi at “I Can Do That” talked about “celebration fatigue” and I know just what she means.  However, I signed on to this challenge and I’m committed to bake each bread, in order.

I decided to incorporate some whole wheat flour into this bread.  I used about 4 ounces whole wheat bread flour and the balance (9.5 ounces) was white bread flour.  Although the recipe called for orange extract, I used orange zest instead.  I also toasted my walnuts first.


The dough comes together fairly easily.  Dry ingredients are put in the mixer bowl and wet ingredients are added and kneaded for about 5 minutes on medium speed with the dough hook.  It is a soft and pliable dough.  I decided to knead in the cranberries and walnuts by hand.  it seems as though you will never incorporate them all, but finally, they are all crammed into the dough.


Then the dough is set aside to ferment and double in size, about 2 hours.  While it was fermenting I prepped the rest of my dinner.  (For anyone interested, I made London broil on the BBQ, dilled green bean salad, roasted potatoes and a tomato, basil and purple onion salad with a balsamic vinaigrette.)  The directions in the book call for doing one large braid and then topping it off with a smaller braid, sort of a double decker braid.  My head was pounding and I did not have the brain capacity to do the math necessary for getting the proportions correct, so I just did a 3 strand braid and coiled it into a circle.


The loaf proofed for about 90 minutes and grew quite large.  I egg washed it and baked it for about 50 minutes.  I set it out to cool and after about an hour my guests started arriving.  I had planned to serve the bread toasted for breakfast on Saturday morning but everyone who came in smelled and then saw the bread and wanted to taste it.  Slice by slice, it disappeared.  My mouth was so sore, I did not even taste it, but everyone said it was delicious!


I can’t leave you wondering about  how the rest of the weekend turned out.  I spent the entire day in bed on Saturday, knowing that lunch and dinner were taken care of.  By Sunday morning I hade a sore throat and no voice but had 24 bagels, proofing in the fridge, waiting patiently to be boiled and baked.  I wisely decided that I should not handle any food as I was so filled with germs.  I wrote out the instructions and had my friends do the work.  They were thrilled to be making the bagels and marveled at how simple it was and how delicious they were.  I think I may have sold a few more copies of the book!