Back to Basics – Whole Wheat Bread

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Whole wheat bread is our favorite around here. Rarely do I make white bread and I usually throw at least a little whole wheat flour in just about every baked good I make. To the uninitiated, baking with whole wheat flour can be fraught with issues: dry, dense bread and crumbly loaves. There are a few tricks in the trade that can make the difference between stereotypical dense, dry whole wheat bread and light, soft bread that tastes mildly of nutty whole grain goodness.

If you have never baked bread before, check out my post on white bread first. Baking with whole wheat can be just a tiny bit tricky and it helps if you are already familiar with yeast and the steps of making bread.

White whole wheat flour
When I first started baking with whole wheat, way back in the early 90s, I only had access to standard whole wheat flour. It was dark and strongly flavored and if I wasn’t careful it made heavy, overly wheaty bread.

Then I discovered a new product: white whole wheat flour. It is a different strain of wheat from regular whole wheat and it was a revelation. White whole wheat is basically albino wheat. And its flour has all of the nutrition of regular whole wheat flour with none of the bitterness. It is usually ground as finely as all-purpose flour, which helps make baked goods come out with a texture similar to white flour products.

That said, if you have traditional whole wheat flour, as long as it isn’t stoneground, your bread will turn out very similar to mine. It will, however, be a little darker and have a stronger flavor.

A word on stoneground flour
Don’t get me wrong, stoneground flour is a wonderful product. And if you are used to baking with it, it can produce lovely baked goods. But if you are a novice baker, you probably want to wait to use stoneground flour until you have at least a few loaves of bread under your belt. Stoneground flour requires a little more liquid, a longer rest time and a light hand with flour during kneading.

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Bran and its challenges
The problems most people have with whole grain baking (not just whole wheat) stem from the bran in the flour. Whole grain flour is the whole grain, ground into flour. That sounds a little obvious, but stick with me. Because you have the whole grain, you have the bran and the germ, along with the rest of the kernel (called the endosperm). White flour contains only the endosperm. The germ has lots of nutrition and a little fat (the good kind) and doesn’t really affect the texture of the bread. The bran contains most of the fiber in the grain (which we all want to eat more of) and is what can cause problems when baking with whole wheat flour.

Bran absorbs liquid slowly. This can cause an issue if you mix your whole wheat bread dough exactly as you would mix white bread dough. If you don’t build in extra time for the bran to absorb the liquid you can end up with heavy, dense bread.

One simple trick solves all, though: a rest period. Mix up the dough, including all of the whole wheat flour, and then stop. Cover the bowl and do something else for fifteen minutes. It doesn’t matter what. Wash the dishes. Start a load of laundry. Or take a rest yourself. While the dough is resting, the bran will have plenty of time to soak up all the liquid it wants. When you come back, your batter-like dough should have firmed up just a bit. Now you can proceed with the rest of the recipe without worry about adding too much flour.

That’s pretty much it. Start with white whole wheat flour, which you can find in any grocery store. Take a pass on stoneground flour until you have a little baking experience. And give the dough a rest. Now all that’s left to do is get your ingredients and your bowl ready. Just think, in about two hours you can have your very own loaves of warm, soft whole wheat bread. The butter is waiting.

Download or print the recipe.

Basic Whole Wheat Bread
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens
Homemade Bread Cookbook
Makes 2 loaves

If you don’t have 9 by 5 inch loaf pans, you can use a large baking sheet. Follow recipe directions for shaping and simply place the loaves on a lightly greased baking sheet, far enough apart so they have room to rise. Bake as directed, but for only 20-25 minutes.

2¼ cups milk
3 cups whole wheat flour (white whole wheat or regular)
2¾-3½ cups all-purpose flour, approximately
1 package instant or active dry yeast (2¼ teaspoons)*
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon butter, room temperature

*Be sure you don’t buy rapid rise yeast. That particular yeast only works in recipes written specifically for it. Look for instant or active dry yeast packets in the baking aisle of the grocery store.

Heat milk until very warm (120-130 degrees). It will feel very warm if you test it with your finger. If it is hot, let it cool a little before you use it. Combine the 3 cups whole wheat flour, yeast, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add butter and warm milk. Stir vigorously until well-mixed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest for 10-15 minutes. This will allow the whole wheat flour to absorb more of the liquid and help guard against adding too much flour during kneading.

Add 2½ cups of all-purpose flour gradually, about a cup at a time. The dough will become stiff and hard to stir. Continue to work in flour until the dough is firm enough to knead. You might need up to an additional cup of flour, but try not to make the dough dry.

Lightly sprinkle a kneading surface with flour. Turn dough out of the bowl onto the flour. Flour your hands and start to knead, adding sprinkles of flour as needed. If you are used to baking with white flour only, the dough might feel a bit rougher to you and not quite as bouncy. It is supposed to feel like that.

Knead gently at first: pull the far side of the dough toward you and fold over, pressing it away from you with the heels of your hands. Turn dough a quarter turn and repeat. When dough is less sticky, you can be less gentle. At first you might need to scrape your kneading surface with a rubber spatula if dough sticks. Add flour as necessary to the dough and your hands to prevent sticking. Try to add flour gradually, only until the dough doesn’t stick to your hands. Knead the dough 5-8 minutes or until it is no longer sticky. It will become smooth and elastic.

Lightly grease a large bowl (at least 3 quarts). Place the ball of dough in the bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. You don’t want the dough to dry out while it is rising. Let dough rise in a warm place until doubled, about 60 minutes. I like to use the turned-off oven with the light on. It gets surprisingly warm.

While the dough is rising, lightly grease two 9 by 5 inch loaf pans.

If you aren’t sure if your dough is doubled, poke your finger into it at the edge. If the hole doesn’t fill in immediately, your dough is ready. Turn the dough out onto your kneading surface and knead briefly to press out any large air bubbles. You shouldn’t need any flour.

Divide the dough in half. Working with one half at a time, flatten the dough into a rough rectangle about 9 inches wide (as wide as your pan is long). Starting from one 9-inch side, tightly roll the dough into a cylinder. Pinch the seam and the ends closed. Roll the top side against the surface to smooth. Turn seam side down and fold the ends under slightly. Place in pan, seam side down. Repeat with the second half of the dough.

Lightly cover the loaves with a sheet of parchment or waxed paper. Let rise at room temperature for about 30 minutes, or until the middles of the loaves are about 1 inch above the tops of their pans.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees while the loaves are rising.

Bake the risen loaves for about 30 minutes, or until they are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped with your finger. Check the loaves after 20 minutes, and tent loosely with foil if the tops are browning too fast.

Remove loaves from the pans and cool on wire racks. Try to wait at least a few minutes before cutting into the loaves. Ideally wait until they are fully cool before slicing. You are going to want to sample your bread before it cools. I know you are. That is fine, but be very gentle when you slice the warm loaves or you will crush them.

Store at room temperature in an airtight container or ziplock bag. Homemade bread dries out much faster than commercial bread. Slice loaves and freeze if keeping for longer than a couple of days.

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Back to Basics – Homemade White Bread

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When I asked for requests for topics in the Back to Basics series I got one for basic white bread. I must admit that I don’t bake much white bread these days. We prefer to eat whole wheat, oat or rye bread. But I decided I could make a batch of white just this once. It’s all for the blog, right? I’ll endure the hardship of making (and eating) white bread for the cause.

All jokes aside, homemade bread leaves store and bakery bread in the dust. At least once in your culinary life you need to bake your own bread. It isn’t hard, you don’t need any special equipment and you will feel so accomplished. And then you get to eat the bread you made.

You can do this.
Let’s start with what you don’t need to make bread. You don’t need a bread machine. You don’t need a fancy stand mixer. You don’t need a kitchen full of gadgets. You don’t even need bread pans.

I started baking bread in college and really honed my skills after Rich and I got married. We had a tiny, barebones apartment kitchen and an oven that only had one rack. We did have loaf pans, but not much else. I baked my way through three bread books during those early days – baking was cheap entertainment. I did eventually save up for a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, but only after I had baked many, many loaves of bread.

The only things you need to make yeast bread are a big bowl, a sturdy wooden spoon or spatula and a baking sheet. That’s it.

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Will your first loaves of bread be perfect? No. Will they be pretty? Probably. Will they taste fabulous? Definitely. What are you waiting for? Let’s get started.

You only need to remember a few things when baking bread: Kneading isn’t scary. Yeast is your friend. You can do this.

Yeast Bread 101
You need happy yeast to make bread rise. All yeast really needs to be happy is food, in the form of flour, and water. This recipe uses milk in place of water to make the bread softer and to help it to stay fresh longer. It also has a little sugar and salt for flavor, along with a little butter. The butter will add flavor and also help with the keeping qualities.

When yeast is happy and fed, it grows and reproduces. And when it grows it makes the bread rise. Or rather, the yeast itself doesn’t help the bread rise, but the by-product of its digestion, carbon dioxide, does. The little bubbles of carbon dioxide, along with gluten, make yeast bread light and fluffy.

Gluten is not evil, unless you are allergic to it. That is all I’ll say on that. I’m not going to get in a debate about gluten’s nutritional role. For yeast bread, we need gluten. It forms the structures inside the bread that hold the carbon dioxide bubbles we just talked about. Without gluten, the bread wouldn’t rise.

Kneading develops the gluten in the dough. Yes, you can make bread without kneading. But to make close-grained, dense but fluffy sandwich bread, you need to knead. It isn’t hard. It can be a little messy, but it isn’t hard.

Finally, bread does not take all day to make. And you don’t have to sit around watching it rise. From start to finish, the process will take a little more than two hours. But for most of that time you can be doing something else while the bread rises. Set a timer and do other things around the house. Heck, for the first hour-long rise, you can even run errands. When I made the bread for the photos, I made the dough and then washed the dishes, ran to the store and folded a load of laundry while it rose the first time. During the second rise I washed the rising bowl, did a little housecleaning and put away the laundry I folded earlier. Make the baking fit into your schedule and you will get other things done and end up with freshly baked bread.

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The recipe below is detailed so don’t let the length discourage you. I included some pictures to help you along. I didn’t get pictures of the actual kneading process. That is hard to do and photograph yourself. I think Rich would be a little perturbed if I covered our shared camera with crusted-on dried dough. But follow the directions and you will be fine.

This recipe was the first bread I ever made. I found it in one of my mom’s Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks. I was home from college on Christmas break and looking for something to do. First try the bread turned out perfectly. And a baking habit (addiction?) was born.

Repeat after me: I can make bread. Then get some flour and some yeast, pull out a bowl and just do it.

Print just the recipe.

Basic White Bread
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens
Homemade Bread Cookbook
Makes 2 loaves

If you don’t have 9 by 5 inch loaf pans, you can use a large baking sheet. Follow recipe directions for shaping and simply place the loaves on a lightly greased baking sheet, far enough apart so they have room to rise. Bake as directed, but for only 20-25 minutes.

2¼ cups milk
5¾-6½ cups all-purpose flour, approximately
1 package instant or active dry yeast (2¼ teaspoons)*
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon butter, room temperature

*Be sure you don’t buy rapid rise yeast. That particular yeast only works in recipes written specifically for it. Look for instant or active dry yeast packets in the baking aisle of the grocery store.

Heat milk until very warm (120-130 degrees). It will feel very warm if you test it with your finger. If it is hot, let it cool a little before you use it. Combine 3 cups flour, yeast, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Stir to combine. Add butter and warm milk. Stir vigorously until combined.

Add 2½ more cups of flour gradually, about a cup at a time. Dough will become stiff and hard to stir. Continue to work and stir the flour in until the dough is firm enough to knead. You might need an additional cup of flour, but try not to make the dough dry.

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Lightly sprinkle a kneading surface with flour. Turn dough out of the bowl onto the flour. Flour your hands and start to knead, adding sprinkles of flour as needed.

Knead gently at first: pull the far side of dough toward you and fold over, pressing it away from you with the heels of your hands. Turn dough a quarter turn and repeat. When dough is less sticky, you can be less gentle. At first you might need to scrape your kneading surface with a rubber spatula if dough sticks. Add flour as necessary to the dough and your hands to prevent sticking. Knead the dough 5-8 minutes or until it is no longer sticky. It will become smooth and elastic.

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Lightly grease a large bowl (at least 3 quarts). Place the ball of dough in the bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. You don’t want the dough to dry out while it is rising. Let dough rise in a warm place until doubled, about 60 minutes. I like to use the turned-off oven with the light on. It gets surprisingly warm.

While the dough is rising, lightly grease two 9 by 5 inch loaf pans.

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If you aren’t sure if your dough is doubled, poke your finger into it at the edge. If the hole doesn’t fill in immediately, your dough is ready. Turn the dough out onto your kneading surface and knead briefly to press out any large air bubbles. You shouldn’t need any flour.

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Divide the dough in half. Working with one half at a time, flatten the dough into a rough rectangle about 9 inches wide (as wide as your pan is long). See the pan I was using as my guide in the picture below.

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Starting from one 9-inch side, tightly roll the dough into a cylinder.

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Pinch the seam and the ends closed. Roll the top side against the surface to smooth. Here I didn’t get the rolls as smooth as I should have. I like the design at the ends, but if you want smoother finished loaves, keep pinching and rolling until your log of dough is smooth. Rising will only magnify any ridges, it won’t smooth them out.

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Turn seam side down and fold the ends under slightly. Place in pan, seam side down. Repeat with the second half of the dough.

Lightly cover the loaves with a sheet of parchment or waxed paper. Let rise at room temperature for about 30 minutes, or until the middles of the loaves are about 1 inch above the tops of their pans.

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Preheat the oven to 375 degrees while the loaves are rising.

Bake the risen loaves for about 30 minutes, or until they are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped with your finger. Check the loaves after 20 minutes, and tent loosely with foil if the tops are browning too fast.

Remove loaves from the pans and cool on wire racks. Try to wait at least a few minutes before cutting into the loaves. Ideally wait until they are fully cool before slicing. You are going to want to sample your bread before it cools. I know you are. That is fine, but be very gentle when you slice the warm loaves or you will crush them.

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Store at room temperature in an airtight container or ziplock bag. Homemade bread dries out much faster than commercial bread. Slice loaves and freeze if keeping for longer than a couple of days.

Sun-Dried Tomato Flatbread

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I first made sun-dried tomato pesto a couple of months ago, to stuff inside chicken, along with goat cheese. I made a sun-dried tomato flatbread a week or so later, to use up a little leftover pizza dough. We really liked it, but I never made it again – so many recipes and ideas, so little time.

I decided the flatbread was too good to be a one-time thing. This time I used a whole recipe of my favorite whole wheat pizza dough, pressing it into one pan instead of two to make a fairly thick layer of bread in the finished product. You could also use half the dough, if you want a thinner flatbread. If you don’t want to make your own dough, you could pick up your favorite prepared pizza dough, or use a pre-made crust, like Boboli.

I topped my dough with a quick smear of sun-dried tomato pesto. I used a fairly thick layer of pesto, but didn’t spread it evenly – leaving it thicker in spots for a punch of flavor. After a heavy sprinkling of Parmesan cheese it was ready for the oven.

The flatbread turned out exactly how I imagined– soft bread topped with sweet yet savory, full-bodied tomato pesto, finished off with nutty, salty cheese.

I let the flatbread cool and then sliced it – I was saving it to serve the next day. If you are eating yours right away, feel free to tear off warm chunks, without waiting for it to cool.

The flatbread, like all bread, keeps really well in the freezer, and I am looking forward to grabbing a few pieces whenever I want a little something different to accompany dinner. And the next time we have people over, I’ll have a ready-made appetizer, waiting for me in the freezer. A little cheese and some wine and we are set. Heck, I might not wait until we have company.

Download or print the recipe here.

Sun-Dried Tomato Flatbread
From The Cook’s Life
Makes one large flatbread

Adjust the tomato pesto and cheese amounts to suit your tastes.

1 recipe pizza dough, or your favorite dough*
All-purpose flour, for sprinkling
½-1 cup sun-dried tomato pesto, purchased or homemade
1-1½ cups shredded Parmesan cheese, preferably not the powdered stuff

*If you don’t want to make dough, you could use a pre-made crust like Boboli. Follow the package instructions for baking.

Prepare pizza dough and let it rise once.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a 12 by 17 inch half sheet pan,  two 9 by 13 inch pans or two round pizza pans.

Press the dough into the pan(s), sprinkling the top with flour if dough sticks to your hands. Try to get the dough all the way to the edges of the pan, and try to keep it an even thickness all the way across.

Spread the dough with a layer of sun-dried tomato pesto. Sprinkle the top with Parmesan cheese.

Bake the flatbread for 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the dough. The pesto will darken somewhat. If the pesto looks like it is burning, lay a large piece of aluminum foil over the top of the flatbread. Bake until the cheese is just starting to brown and the edges of the dough are golden brown.

Cool flatbread on a rack before cutting into strips or wedges. Or tear pieces off and eat them warm from the oven.

Leftovers keep for a day or two in an airtight container. Reheat briefly in the oven or a skillet before serving. Microwaving can make the bread chewy. Freeze for longer storage. Thaw at room temperature and reheat briefly before serving.

Homemade Hamburger Buns

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Spring is coming! At least I think it is. It is still mighty chilly here in St. Louis. We have had a few teases of warm weather, but not as many as usual. The leaves on the trees are still no-shows, though the daffodils and crocuses are blooming. Grilling season is coming, which means I will start making hamburgers buns again. I didn’t actually stop over the winter, but we filled them with deli meat or tuna, which I guess makes them sandwich buns instead of hamburger buns.

Homemade buns leave mass-produced buns in the dust – this recipe makes slightly sweet, soft, yeasty buns with none of the too squishy texture store buns sometimes have. Never baked with yeast you say? You can do it. Repeat after me, “Yeast is not scary.” Say it again. Then pick up a strip of yeast packets at the store (and flour if you never bake) and start mixing. You can do it. And you won’t be sorry.

I have to admit, I baked bread for years before I ever thought to make my own hamburger buns. I made bread, cinnamon rolls, bagels, dinner rolls and pizza crust, but never hamburger buns. Now I almost always make our buns. They are that good. And not just for hamburgers, either. Homemade buns raise a humble turkey and cheese or tuna sandwich from ordinary to knock your socks off delicious.

The original recipe is from a fellow member of King Arthur Flour’s online baking forum, The Baking Circle. If you have time, check out the forum. It is a great place to get baking tips, ask questions and share recipes.The original poster’s screen name was Moomie and she came up with the recipe for her bread machine. I further adapted it for hand mixing or a stand mixer. And then I kept changing it. Thanks, Moomie, for the recipe and for free rein to tinker with it.

I have figured out a few tricks after mixing up many, many buns. First of all, make the buns really, really flat when you are shaping them. Otherwise you will end up with small, tall buns, which make sandwiches that require you to unhinge your jaw to bite. They rise after shaping, and they will rise a bit in the oven too, so make them flat. Did I mention flattening the buns?

It also doesn’t matter if the buns touch after rising. You want the sides soft. And commercial buns are usually connected at the sides anyway.

You can make the buns with white flour or whole wheat flour (or any other whole grain flour, for that matter). I make just about everything whole wheat, and the buns are no exception. The original recipe called for only all-purpose flour, but I have tinkered with the technique to make them whole wheat without sacrificing taste or texture.

The first whole grain secret is to use white whole wheat flour. Check my post on whole grain flour to get the full scoop. The second secret is to use milk instead of water. Milk makes a softer bun, no matter if you are making them whole grain or not. Finally, give the whole wheat flour time to absorb the moisture in the dough. This is as simple as mixing up the dough using part of the flour, and letting it sit, covered, for fifteen minutes. After the rest period the whole wheat flour will have absorbed some of the liquid, making it less likely that you will add too much flour during mixing or kneading. Especially with whole grain baking you need to be careful with the flour or you will end up with heavy, dry baked goods.

Because the dough is so soft, it will probably stick to your hands a bit as you start to knead. If you have a bench knife, dough scraper or even a regular rubber spatula, you can use it in one hand to help work the dough until it is slightly less sticky. If you have a stand mixer, use it to mix and knead the dough – it doesn’t care if dough sticks to it.

Now, repeat it again, “Yeast isn’t scary.” You can make your own buns, and they will be fabulous. Do your hamburgers and deli turkey a favor and try out some buns sometime soon. You won’t be sorry.

Download or print just the recipe.

Hamburger Buns
Adapted from Moomie’s Buns by The Cook’s Life
Makes 10 large buns

I usually use 2 cups of white whole wheat flour, though I sometimes use up to 3 cups. Be sure to give them the rest if you are using the whole wheat. This allows the flour time to absorb some of the moisture in the dough. It also helps you to avoid adding too much flour during kneading, which will make the buns heavy and dry.

If you have a stand mixer  (like a KitchenAid) use it to make these. You can use less flour if you knead the dough in the mixer since stickiness doesn’t matter as much. If you do use the mixer, let the dough rise right in the bowl, covered. If the dough is still sticky after rising, you can knead it briefly by hand before shaping the buns.

3 to 3½  cups all-purpose  flour (use 1-2 cups white whole wheat flour, if desired)
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 package yeast (2¼ teaspoons)
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1 egg
1 cup warm milk

Mix 2 cups flour (add all the white whole wheat flour now, if using), sugar, salt, yeast, oil and egg in a large bowl. Add warm milk and mix vigorously. If using whole wheat flour, let dough rest about 15 minutes, covered.

Add remaining flour until a very soft dough forms. Knead about 5 minutes, adding flour as needed (see headnote). Try to be sparing with the flour, but not so much that the dough sticks to everything. Add flour only until the dough doesn’t stick to your hands or kneading surface.

Let rise in a greased bowl, covered with plastic wrap, in a warm place for 1 hour. Lightly grease a large baking sheet, or line with parchment paper. Set aside.

If the dough is very sticky, knead it for a minute or two, adding about a tablespoon of flour. Divide dough into 10 pieces. Form each piece into a smooth ball. Place each ball on the baking sheet and FLATTEN with your floured hand. You really want them flat so that they are shaped like buns after they rise.

Cover loosely with waxed or parchment paper and let rise 30 minutes.

After 15 minutes of rising, preheat oven to 375 degrees. After 30 minutes of rising, bake 12-15 minutes, or until nicely browned on top and bottom.

Cool buns on a rack until room temperature before slicing and serving. Freeze if not using within a couple of days. They dry out rapidly, which is especially noticeable with hamburgers. Slice before freezing.

Kouing Amann – The Story of my Fascination with Breton Butter Pastry

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First things first – it is pronounced kween uhmon or kween yahmon. I first heard of this decadent pastry several years ago when I was reading a blog post written by Dorie Greenspan, a cookbook author and chef. She was describing pastries she had eaten on a recent trip to France. Kouing amann are Breton butter pastries in the same family as croissants or puff pastry, but with fewer, thicker layers. The signature of kouing amann is the caramelized sugar that covers the outside of the pastry, thicker on the bottom and sides. I was intrigued by the pastry, but not enough to do more than salivate over the beautiful picture in the post.

A few months ago we visited a new bakery in south St. Louis city, Pint Size Bakery. We went late on a Saturday morning, without doing any research into their specialties or even looking at their menu. We overheard several people ordering salted caramel croissants as we waited in line. We couldn’t see what they looked like through the crowd of people in front of us, but we knew we wanted some, sight unseen. I mean, come on – salted caramel croissants. Who could resist ordering those?

They lived up to our expectations, and then some, as we scarfed them down in the car in the parking lot. They didn’t look like traditional croissants, but were the shape of a hockey puck, only bigger. The entire outside was caramelized with sugar and the insides were flakey and buttery. I had an inkling as we were eating them that they were like something I had read about, but I couldn’t place it. Later we saw a reference online to the salted caramel croissants as Pint Size Bakery’s version of kouing amann. Now a fascination was turning into an obsession. Especially when we went back to the bakery a second time, only to find we were too early and there weren’t any salted croissants to be had for at least another hour. I had to make kouing amann for myself.

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I found a recipe for a large kouing amann that looked doable on David Lebovitz’s blog. The directions and photographs spelled it all out in wonderful detail. I mixed it up Friday night, just before dinner. I wanted to get it almost ready for the oven and let it rise all night in the fridge to bake for Saturday breakfast.

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I followed the directions – folding the dough over bits of butter, rolling and folding, chilling and sprinkling with sugar. I realized after it was too late that I should have cut the butter into ½-inch pieces (as the recipe said, when I reread it) instead of ½-inch pats. My butter pieces were too big, which made for difficult rolling.

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The butter was poking through the dough and falling out all over the place. But it all worked out in the end.

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After its overnight chill, I pressed the dough into the pan and baked it as directed. I should have paid more attention the comments people posted about the recipe. My pan was too dark, so the sugar on the bottom caramelized too much. Ours was just shy of burnt, and parts of the sugar hardened to just the right texture to stick to every surface of our teeth. On the other hand, the top didn’t caramelize enough. I had shied away from drizzling the top with a tablespoon of butter, as directed in the recipe. There was already a whole stick in the dough and I didn’t really want to add any more. Now, at that point, what difference would another tablespoon have made?

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Despite all the missteps, our kouing amann really was quite tasty. How could it not be, with all that butter and sugar? The inside was both flaky and bready (in a good way) with a lovely yeasty flavor, surrounded by a caramelized sugar and butter crust. It certainly is too rich to make more than once in a blue moon, but I am willing to try it again sometime. But before I do, I am going to venture to the bakery to try another salted caramel croissant. I need to take notes before I make another attempt. You can never do too much research when trying to perfect a recipe, after all.

Whole Wheat Bagels from Your Own Kitchen


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I have been holding back on posting a lot of yeast baking recipes, since I know yeast intimidates a lot of people. Above all I want The Cook’s Life to be approachable, and for you to actually make some of the recipes. But I also don’t want to miss out on highlighting how much fun it can be to make your own bread, bagels, English muffins and rolls.

Bagels are a great project for a weekend, especially if you want to get the whole family in on the fun. Or you can hole up in the kitchen by yourself and have some time with the flour, as I like to do sometimes. If you can stir, and you don’t mind getting your hands in the dough, you can make bagels.

Above all, don’t let the fact these have yeast in them intimidate you. When I teach bread classes, I hear from so many people that they could never make anything with yeast. But if I ask how many people have made pizza dough or soft pretzels, some of those same people raise their hands. They weren’t afraid of the yeast then, because they were using a mix. Yeast is yeast, whether you are using a mix or baking from scratch, and you can do it.

There are just a few things to remember when baking with yeast:

  • Don’t get the water too hot. Hot water kills the yeast – too cool is better than too hot. Warm water wakes the yeast up the fastest, but cool water works too, you just might have to wait longer for the dough to rise. The water should feel warm to your finger, but not hot. And yes, you should stick your finger in to test it.
  • If the dough isn’t doubled after the time stated in the recipe, give it more time. The recipe writer can’t predict how warm your kitchen is, or exactly how warm your water was when you started.
  • Kneading is not difficult. You are basically turning and folding the dough, adding flour as you go. Kneading develops the gluten in the dough, helping it to support the dough as it rises. At first the dough will be sticky, but as you knead and add flour, it will become smooth and bouncy and no longer sticky.
  • Have fun with it. You will produce something tasty. I pretty much taught myself how to bake with yeast, and there was a learning curve – but I never made any bread, bagels or rolls that we couldn’t eat. Sure, some of my results were flatter than expected, or weren’t very pretty, but they tasted good.

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Homemade bagels definitely rival any bakery bagels you have ever had. And they leave grocery store bagels in the dust. Try them once and see what you think. And above all, have fun with them!

Download or print the recipe here.

Whole Wheat Bagels
Adapted by The Cook’s Life
From King Arthur Flour
Makes 12-16 bagels

Your first bagels might not be pretty. The shaping isn’t hard, but it does take a little practice. The bagels will be delicious, no matter what they look like.

The recipe includes malted milk powder, which is in the grocery store, next to the chocolate syrups. It isn’t absolutely necessary to the recipe, but it adds a nice hint of maltiness. You can leave it out if you like.

2 cups warm water
1 packet dry yeast (2¼ teaspoons)
¼ cup instant malted milk powder
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon salt
5 cups white whole wheat flour (see note)
¾-1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading

Water bath:
2 quarts water
2 tablespoons granulated sugar

Note: You can make these will less whole wheat flour, or use entirely all-purpose flour – you might need to add a little more all-purpose flour than stated in the recipe.

Pour water in a large bowl. Add yeast, malted milk powder, sugar, salt and 4 cups white whole wheat flour. Mix well. Add remaining whole wheat flour and mix until combined. Add about ½ cup all-purpose flour and mix again. You should now have a sticky ball of dough and you will be using a chopping motion instead of actually stirring.

When dough is slightly less sticky, sprinkle with flour. Cover your kneading surface with flour and turn dough onto it. Knead dough for about 10 minutes, or until it is smooth, elastic and no longer sticky. Add flour as necessary to keep dough from sticking to your hands and your kneading surface.

Place dough back in the mixing bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a wet towel and allow to rise for 1-1 ½ hours, or until doubled. Lightly grease two baking sheets, or line them with parchment paper, and set aside.

Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface. Cut into 12-16 pieces, depending on size desired. Twelve pieces will give you truly massive bagels, akin to some bakery bagels. Sixteen gives you a smallish bagel that is just enough for a weekday, not-too-indulgent, breakfast. I prefer to make 16.

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Pick your shaping technique:

  • Roll each piece of dough into a smooth ball. Flatten the balls slightly and poke a hole in the middle. Use your fingers to widen the hole and smooth the edges. Place the shaped bagel the prepared baking sheet.
  • Roll each portion of dough into a snake about a foot long (like you are playing with Play-doh). Wrap the snake completely around your hand and join the ends at your palm, overlapping the last 2 or 3 inches of the ends. Roll the overlapping ends between your palms, with the rest of the snake still around your hand, until you can’t see the seams anymore. Ease the bagel off your hand and onto the baking sheet.

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Cover the bagels loosely with parchment or waxed paper and let rise for about 15 minutes. Don’t let them rise much more than this or they will deflate and/or stick to everything when you try to boil them.

While the bagels are rising, add sugar to the water in a 3-quart saucepan and heat over medium heat to a simmer. Keep the lid on the pot to keep your water from evaporating while it comes to a boil. Set up a dinner plate lined with about three paper towels or a clean kitchen towel (not a fuzzy one, which will stick to the bagels. Flour sack towels work nicely). Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

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After the 15-minute rising period, remove the lid from the pan and set aside. Ease a bagel off the baking sheet and into your hand. If the bagels stick too much, dip a pancake spatula in the hot water and then use it to ease the bagel off the baking sheet. Slip the bagels into the simmering water and cook about 30 seconds on a side. You can boil two or three bagels at once, depending on the size of your pan. Remove boiled bagels to the towel-lined plate and start more cooking. After bagels have drained for a few seconds, you can put them back on the baking sheet.

Bake the boiled bagels for 13-15 minutes, or until lightly browned on top and a little darker on the bottom. If you are using two baking sheets, switch them top to bottom in the oven after about 7 minutes.

Cool bagels on a rack until room temperature before slicing them in half. Store in an airtight container for a day or two, or freeze for longer storage.

Date Night Flatbread Pizzas

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Rich and I had planned to go out to dinner last night and then maybe to a movie. Calvin has the day off from school today and had an overnight last night with my parents, so we were footloose and fancy free. Of course, when it came time to pick a restaurant, Rich and I were clueless. Even after running through a litany of old favorites and new possibilities, we ended up with a big, fat zero. The process of choosing was stressing us out, so we decided to stop trying to force it and make something at home instead.

Flatbread pizzas had caught my eye on several of the menus we perused. I do find that name kind of funny, and even redundant – what is a pizza, if not a flatbread, after all? But it is a recognizable thing on restaurant menus, so I’ll stick with the name, even if it offends my literal tendencies just a little bit.

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I mixed up our standby whole wheat pizza dough and let it rise while we concocted and gathered the rest of the ingredients. We had one shallot, which I decided to caramelize. It was as easy as pie to let it slowly transform to a lovely golden brown in the pan while we worked on the rest of dinner. I’m not sure why I have never caramelized shallots before, though if I had, we would have realized that a trip to the store for a few more would have been worth it. We both agreed we wanted at least twice as many shallots on our flatbreads.

In addition to the shallots, we used Jarlsberg, mozzarella, ricotta and Parmigiano-Reggiano, a little diced chicken breast from the freezer, fresh rosemary from my plant in the flowerbed, thinly sliced apple, garlic and olive oil.

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We made one flatbread with garlic, rosemary, chicken and mozzarella, one with rosemary, garlic and all the cheeses and two with apple, Jarlsberg and shallots. They were as good as some restaurant flatbread pizzas we have had. And we got to make them with exactly the toppings we wanted.

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Our evening was a little more low key than our original plans, but we weren’t complaining. We got a cozy evening together, cooking, eating and spending time doing exactly what we wanted – sounds like a perfect date night to me.