In The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book, the authors reminisce about what they consider to be the perfect English muffin, at Foster’s coffee shops in San Francisco. “It would be chewy, with big holes everywhere, toasted and dripping with butter,” they write. “The flavor was a little sour, but not too sour, and very rich. It was everything you could want if you were really into English muffins.”
Featuring flour, salt, sugar, yeast, butter, water, and milk, and prepared on a griddle, the muffins below are a cinch to prepare and keep nicely in the freezer.
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2-1/4 teaspoons (1 package) yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
1 cup lukewarm milk
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon kosher salt
6 cups all-purpose flour
Mix the sugar, yeast, and water in a large mixing bowl. Let it stand for 10 minutes. Add the milk, butter, and salt and 3 cups of the flour and beat until smooth. Add the remaining flour and stir until a sticky ball of dough forms.
Place the dough on a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Place the dough in a lightly oiled mixing bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise for up to 2 hours until doubled in size.
Lay a sheet of parchment paper on your counter and sprinkle it with cornmeal. On a floured surface, punch down the dough, then divide it into 16 equal pieces (two, then four, then eight, then 16).
Shape each piece into a ball, set it on the parchment, and press down lightly with the palm of your hand to flatten. Sprinkle again with cornmeal. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise for about an hour.
Preheat a lightly oiled griddle or skillet over medium heat. Cook the muffins for about 10 minutes on each side until brown. Set on a cooling rack to cool.
Makes 16 English muffins.
“For me, yogurt was the beginning,” says Alana Chernila about learning to cook more from scratch. “I had never thought about the power of making basic, everyday foods at home.”
Alana began preparing yogurt in earnest when she received an electric yogurt machine for Christmas. “As the cultures worked on the milk in the yogurt maker, I watched the counter suspiciously, praying that I wouldn’t poison my children with my selfish cooking experiments,” she says. “But at the end of the day, I had creamy, perfect yogurt, and I never looked back.”
Inspired by Alana’s cookbook The Homemade Pantry, the recipe below eschews a yogurt maker in favor of a simple 32-ounce Mason jar.
4 cups whole milk
3 Tablespoons plain yogurt with live and active cultures
Attach a candy thermometer to the inside of a medium saucepan. Heat the milk in the saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it reaches 185 degrees F. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 20 to 25 minutes.
Remove the saucepan from the heat, place it in an ice bath, and stir the milk frequently until it cools to 110 degrees F (no lower).
Place the yogurt in a liquid measuring cup. Using a ladle, add a cup or so of milk to the yogurt, and whisk until smooth. Add the yogurt mixture back to the pot of milk and stir.
Using your ladle again, fill a 32-ounce Mason jar with the milk mixture and screw on the lid. Wrap the jar in a towel to keep it warm and place it in an insulated camping cooler. Let it sit for approximately 5 hours, then check the yogurt to make sure it is firm. If it isn’t, let it sit another 1 to 2 hours.
Remove the yogurt from the cooler and refrigerate until completely chilled. Reserve 1/4 cup or so of the yogurt to use as the starter for your next batch.
Makes 4 cups.
“It’s so easy to have freshly baked bread when you want it, with only five minutes a day of active effort,” write Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François. “Your house will smell like a bakery and your family and friends will love you for it.”
Indeed, according to Peter Reinhart, there’s nothing quite like freshly baked bread. “Flavors slowly come into focus … eliciting an ‘ahhh, this is nice,’ reaction,” he says. “Then the salty zone kicks in, an ‘oohhh,’ followed by another level of either sweetness or sourness … calling forth a ‘hmnnn, whoa.’”
The recipe below uses a no-knead method and takes virtually no time or effort to prepare. Mix the ingredients in a bowl, set aside for half a day or more, shape into a loaf, and bake. That’s basically it. I’ve achieved good results using all-purpose flour or whole wheat flour or a combination of the two.
When using whole wheat, though, freshness is critical, I think. Thankfully, through our CSA service, Terra Organics, I’m able to procure locally produced whole wheat flour from an outfit called Bluebird Grain Farms, based in Winthrop, Washington. (The flour comes in tiny two-pound bags, which makes me think of it as a rare, precious commodity.) The result is whole wheat bread with a nutty, delicious flavor, rather than a bitter one.
Bread making is a bit of an art, however, and may require some trial and error before you get the hang of it. “Traditional, intuitive bread making does not lend itself naturally to a written recipe,” says bread Zen master Chad Robertson. “As you gain an understanding of how bread ‘works,’ you will be able to make adjustments in timing and technique to achieve a broad range of results.”
As with other endeavors, patience is rewarded.
3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon yeast
1-3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1-1/2 cups lukewarm water
The water should be just warm to your fingertips, about 100 degrees F—no warmer. As Hertzberg and François remind us, “Hot water kills yeast.”
Mix the flour, yeast, and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the water and mix until a shaggy dough is formed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit on your kitchen counter for, say, 12 to 18 hours.
(I like to use a glass mixing bowl for this, so that the plastic wrap clings securely to the bowl without slipping loose. Since I’m an early bird, I typically prepare the dough during the day, then let it sit overnight and bake the following morning.)
Uncover the bowl and pour the dough onto a heavily floured counter. Knead the dough a couple of times to incorporate some flour, shape it into a loaf, and place it in a greased loaf pan measuring 8-1/2 x 4-1/2 x 2-1/2 inches. (Use a bench scraper if the dough sticks to the counter.)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Let the loaf rise for 20 minutes or so, uncovered, while the oven is preheating.
Place the loaf in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until it’s lightly browned and the internal temperature has reached 190 degrees F. Remove the bread from the oven and place it on a cooling rack to cool.
Makes one loaf.
Sharon Tyler Herbst says that “the uses for sugar are countless,” while Bo Friberg calls sugar “a truly amazing commodity and [one] that is indispensable to the baker.” I agree—and I love the rich flavor and moistness of brown sugar in particular.
I first made my own brown sugar in a panic. I was halfway through preparing chocolate chip cookies when I discovered that my store-bought stash—which I’d put in what I thought was an airtight container—had become rock-hard.
I could have tried to salvage the sugar by adding drops of water and grinding it in a food processor. Instead, I just produced my own by mashing together granulated sugar and molasses with a fork in a small bowl. The result was much more flavorful than anything I’ve found in a grocery aisle, and I haven’t gone back to store-bought varieties since.
Of course, we’re all supposed to reduce our sugar intake—but I figure a spoonful or two of this in my oatmeal is worth the risk. As the authors of The New Laurel’s Kitchen explain, “Since most of the sugar in the American diet is added in processing, the simplest way to cut back on sugar is to stop buying processed foods.”
1 cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons molasses
Using a fork, mix sugar and molasses in a small mixing bowl until incorporated. Store in an airtight container.
Makes 1 cup.
I can’t make this stuff fast enough. Often it seems I’ve scarcely told my family it’s there before it’s gone.
Unlike supermarket-style breakfast cereal—which in many ways is the prototypical processed food—this recipe doesn’t soak grains or torture them into a variety of novelty shapes. Instead it combines a simple edible cereal (rolled oats) with a sweetener (honey) and a cooking fat (olive oil). It’s a simplified version of a granola recipe I found years ago in The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.
Good comfort food—and not bad for you.
8 cups rolled oats
1 cup olive oil
3/4 cup honey
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Put the rolled oats in a large mixing bowl. In a second bowl, whisk together the olive oil and honey until blended. Add the oil/honey mixture to the oats and toss until coated.
Pour the oats into a large greased baking pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the oats are lightly browned. Allow the oats to cool before storing in an airtight container.
Makes 8 cups.
- The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten
- The Big Book of Breakfast: Serious Comfort Food for Any Time of the Day by Maryana Vollstedt
- Homegrown Whole Grains: Grow, Harvest, and Cook Wheat, Barley, Oats, Rice, Corn and More by Sara Pitzer
- The Honey Connoisseur: Selecting, Tasting, and Pairing Honey, with a Guide to More Than 30 Varietals by C. Marina Marchese and Kim Flottum
- Whole Grains for a New Generation: Light Dishes, Hearty Meals, Sweet Treats, and Sundry Snacks for the Everyday Cook by Liana Krissoff