I’ve been on a sourdough bread kick lately, and I’m finally confident enough about some of my creations to share them on here – namely this multigrain sunflower seed bread. This bread contains a rye levain, rye flour, cracked wheat (i.e. whole wheat berries I blitzed in a blender for a little bit), malted wheat flakes, and whole wheat flour. It is a recipe from Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s How to Make Bread.
This bread has a really complex flavor and texture profile that I adore. All of the different grains and the sourdough starter come together to create something slightly tangy, but also a little earthy, a little nutty. The sunflower seeds add crunch, and the bread has a crisp crust with a more yielding interior. I love to eat the slices plain, but also lightly toasted.
Having made several recipes from Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s How to Make Bread, I can finally feel comfortable with this book, and all of its quirks and nuances. The ingredients for each recipe create perfectly harmonious flavors, but the instructions are way off. I never pay attention to the rising times and bake times anymore. I rely on look and feel (and several failed loaves) to figure out rising times, and as for bake times, I have my trusty Thermopop to let me know when a loaf is done. (This King Arthur Flour blog post has been most instructive for appropriate temperatures based on bread type; the kind of crusty/dense sourdough breads I prefer tend to skew hotter, around 210F.)
Multigrain Sunflower Seed Bread
Makes 1 medium (500g) loaf
6×4 inch loaf pan, greased
10g blackstrap or dark molasses
155g warm water
100g chopped/cracked rye berries (I used wheat berries)
140g dark rye flour
30g whole wheat flour
10g malted wheat flakes (substitute with whole wheat flour if you don’t have this)
100g sunflower seeds (I used roasted and unsalted)
3g active dry yeast
80g warm water
60g rye sourdough starter (100% hydration)
In one bowl, mix molasses, 155g water, and chopped/cracked rye berries until molasses dissolve. Let soak until soft – overnight if necessary.
In another bowl, mix flours, salt, seeds. This is your dry mixture.
In a larger mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in 80g water, and stir in sourdough starter. This is your wet mixture.
Add soaked berries to your wet mixture, and mix. Now add dry mixture and stir well.
Cover the bowl with cling wrap or a towel. Complete first rise, or your bulk fermentation, roughly 5-8 hours. The dough should have bubbles under the surface and would have expanded by about 30%.
Spoon mixture into the prepared loaf pan, and use a plastic scraper or tablespoon dipped in water to smooth the surface of the dough.
Cover the loaf pan loosely with greased cling wrap, and let rise until dough reaches slightly over the top of loaf pan.
Preheat oven to 475F with a roasting pan in the bottom. When ready to bake, pour a cup of water into the roasting pan. Put loaf pan in and immediately reduce temperature to 450F.
Bread will take about 45 minutes, or when inner temperature reads close to 205F-210F.
Cooler temps always inspires me to turn on the oven and bake something. I was debating between something with pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon in it, and this cinnamon swirl bread won. Because pumpkin pie spice – ya’ basic.
This loaf is a real stunner. I really enjoy making braided breads because of the technical finesse involved. Dumping brownie batter in a pan, or shaping cookie dough balls doesn’t interest me. But rolling out dough and shaping it and re-introducing it to the loaf pan while maintaining its shape… now that’s the stuff.
Looking at the loaf sliced through is making me realize I probably should invest in a bread knife. Look at all of that unfortunate compression! But that aside, it really is a stellar recipe. I cannot recommend Bread Illustrated enough for its step-by-step photos and precise instructions. As Brene Brown might say, clear is kind. The bread was fluffy, enriched, and just a tad sweet.
The swirls were such a visual treat. I can totally imagine French-toasting this bread, or serving it with cinnamon raisin cream cheese for a cinnamon raisin double whammy.
Bread Illustrated’s Cinnamon Raisin Bread
Adapted from Bread Illustrated
Makes one 8.5 inch x 4.5 inch loaf
equipment: stand mixer, rolling pin, pastry brush, instant-read thermometer, 8.5 x 4.5 inch loaf pan
4 tbsps (2 oz) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
1.75 cups + 2 tbsps of flour (10.5 oz) bread flour
6 tbsps (1.125 oz) nonfat dry milk powder
1/2 tbsp active or instant yeast
0.75 cups (6 oz) of water, room temperature
1/6 cup (1.16 oz) granulated sugar
1/2 egg (or 2 tbsps, or 25g)
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup (3.75 oz) golden raisins
1/2 cup (2 oz) confectioners’ sugar
1.5 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 egg, lightly beaten with 1/2 tbsp water and pinch of salt
1. for the doughToss butter with 1/2 tbsp flour in a bowl and set aside to soften. Whisk remaining flour, milk powder, and yeast in bowl of stand mixer. In a separate 4-cup liquid measuring cup, whisk water, sugar and egg until sugar dissolves. Using a dough hook on low speed, slowly add water mixture to flour mixture and mix until cohesive dough starts to form and no dry flour remains, about 2 minutes, scraping bowl as needed. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let dough rest 20 minutes.
2. Add salt to dough and knead on medium-low speed until dough is smooth, elastic, and clears sides of bowl, about 8 minutes. With mixer running, add butter, a few pieces at a time, and knead until butter is fully incorporated, about 4 minutes. Continue to knead until dough is smooth and elastic and clears sides of bowl, 3-5 minutes. Reduce speed to low, and slowly add raisins and mix until incorporated, about 1 minute.
3. Transfer dough to lightly greased large bowl or container. Using a greased bowl scraper (or your fingertips), fold dough over itself by gently lifting and folding edge of dough towards the middle. Turn the bowl 45 degrees and repeat. Do this for a total of 8 folds. Cover bowl tightly with plastic and let dough rise for 45 minutes. Repeat folding 8 times, cover tightly with plastic again and let dough rise until nearly doubled in size, 30 minutes to 1 hour.
4. Press down on dough to deflate. Transfer dough to lightly floured counter. Press and roll into 11×6 inch rectangle, with short side parallel to counter edge. Fold dough lengthwise so it’s 11 by 3 inches. From the short 3-inch edge, roll dough away from you so it’s a firm ball, keeping it taut.
5. For the filling Whisk all together in bowl until combined. Coat rolled dough ball lightly in flour and place on lightly floured counter. With seam side down, flatten ball with rolling pin into 18 x 7 inch rectangle, short side parallel to counter edge. Mist surface of dough with water (I wet my hands and speckled it over the dough, you can use a spray bottle.) Spread filling mixture over dough, leaving 1/4 inch border on sides, and 3/4 inch border on top and bottom. Mist filling with water once more.
6. Roll dough away from you into firm cylinder. Pinch seam and ends closed. Dust cylinder lightly on all sides with flour, covering loosely with greased plastic, and let rest for 10 minutes.
7. Grease one 8.5 by 4.5 inch loaf pan. Cut cylinder in half lengthwise. Turn halves cut side up and gently strength into 14-inch lengths. Arrange strips side by side, perpendicular to counter edge, and pinch the far end together. Take left strip of dough and lay over right strip. Repeat, keeping cut sides up, until dough is twisted all the way through. Pinch remaining end closed. Transfer loaf cut side up into pan. Press dough into corners of pan and pushed any exposed raisins into seams of the braid. Cover loosely with greased plastic and let rise until loaves reach 1 inch above lip of pan, and dough springs back minimally when poked gently with your knuckle, 1.5 to 2 hours.
8. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 F. Brush loaves with egg mixture and bake until crust is well-browned, about 25 minutes. Rotate pan halfway through. Reduce oven to 325 F, tent loaf with aluminium foil, and continue baking until internal temperature of loaf reaches 200-205 F, about 15 to 25 minutes. Let loaf cool in pan for 5 minutes. Remove loaf from pan, let cool completely on wire rack, about 3 hours, before serving.
These days, I bake desserts rather infrequently, and when I do decide to make something, I want it to be worth my while – and I trust Stella Parks from Serious Eats. Her recent April Fools’ article for the site was an embodiment of the surgical attention to detail that she stands for. And her carrot cake recipe is just that. I always read recipes before I begin them, and even then, I made a few mistakes which thankfully didn’t hurt the cake at all.
This carrot cake is really delicious and well worth the hours of attention it demanded. It’s moist, is generously studded with pecans, and the cream cheese frosting is not overly sweet. However, I did make a few tweaks to the original recipe:
I had halved the recipe because a) I didn’t want to have to shred two pounds of carrots and b) I’m going to get pretty sick of eating all that carrot cake after some time. It still produced a substantial two-layer 8-inch cake, and there weren’t any volume issues when it came to mixing the cake in the stand mixer, so I would highly recommend
I also accidentally used 25% less butter in the cake than prescribed – I had set aside 1.5 sticks of butter for the frosting, but instead used it for the cake (which required 2 sticks). I thought the cake did not suffer from this reduction at all.
I used 19% more carrots than instructed because I didn’t read the recipe carefully enough – the ingredient list called for 405g whole, unpeeled carrots, while you only need 340g of shredded carrots in the cake. I didn’t think the extra carrots hurt the recipe either.
I did not have a vanilla bean and just used 1 tbsp of regular vanilla extract in the cream cheese frosting. It ended up tasting way too artificial, so I would recommend procuring a vanilla bean, or using maybe just 1 tsp instead of 1 tbsp of extract as a substitute.
This might be a controversial opinion, but as moist the cake was and as wonderful the crunch from the pecans were, I was really missing the burst from plump, juicy raisins. If I were to remake this, I’d probably add in some golden raisins (they tend to be juicier) or at the very least, raisins re-hydrated in hot water, that’s 50% the volume of the pecans.
BraveTart’s Brown Butter Carrot Cake
Makes a two-layer 8-inch cake Adapted from Serious Eats Note: I’ve modified the recipe and instructions to better suit the half-recipe I made with the inadvertent “healthier” substitutes (i.e. less butter, more carrots).
For the Cake:
7 ounces pecan pieces (1 3/4 cups; 198g) (I got the toasted version from Trader Joe’s which eliminated the toasting step)
14 oz finely shredded carrots (approx 3.5 firmly packed cups, 405g) can be refrigerated up to a week in advance)
6 ounces unsalted butter (1.5 sticks; 170g)
7 ounces white sugar (1 cup; 198g)
4 ounces light brown sugar (1/2 cup, gently packed; 113g) (I used 100g of white sugar and 13g of Grandma’s Original Molasses)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 + 3/8 teaspoons (3.5g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 tbsp vanilla extract (7g)
3 large eggs, straight from the fridge
5.5 ounces all-purpose flour, such as Gold Medal (1 1/4 cups, spooned; 155g)
2.5 ounces whole wheat flour, not stone-ground (1/2 cup; 70g)
For the Frosting: (The amount below makes 50% of the original recipe, but the surface area to be frosted only dropped by 33%. This will mean a slightly thinner frosting than if you weren’t making a half-recipe, but I was fine with the amount of frosting the cake had.)
6 ounces milk, any percentage will do (about 3/4 cups; 170g)
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
4 ounces sugar (about 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon; 113g)
3/4 ounces cornstarch (about 1/6 cup, spooned; 23g)
1.5 large eggs, straight from the fridge (for the half egg, use 2 tbsps of a beaten egg)
1/2 tbsp vanilla extract (7g)
8 ounces full-fat Philadelphia cream cheese, softened to about 65°F/18°C (1 eight-ounce packages; 227g)
6 ounces unsalted butter, softened to about 65°F/18°C (1.5 sticks; 170g)
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1 tablespoon; 15g)
Instructions To better synchronize the downtime between recipes, make the cream cheese frosting first, which is made of a custard and a buttercream.
FROSTING, PART 1 of 2: The Custard
1. In a 3-quart stainless steel saucier, combine the milk and vanilla bean and bring to a simmer over medium heat. When it begins to bubble, shut off the heat, cover, and steep 30 minutes. Alternately, cover and refrigerate until needed, up to 24 hours to extract the deepest vanilla flavor. Meanwhile, whisk the sugar and cornstarch together in a medium bowl, followed by the eggs.
2. Return milk to a simmer and discard vanilla bean after scraping out the flavorful pulp inside. Ladle 1/4 cup hot milk into the eggs and whisk to combine. Repeat with a second and third ladleful, then pour the warmed eggs into the pot. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the custard turns thick and lumpy, about 3 minutes. After it begins to bubble sluggishly, continue cooking and whisking 2 full minutes to neutralize a starch-dissolving protein found in the yolks, and until the custard is smooth.
3. Off heat, stir in vanilla extract, then pour custard into a large baking dish to speed the cooling process. Press a sheet of plastic against the surface and refrigerate until thick and cool, about 1 hour, or to roughly 68°F (20°C). Alternatively, refrigerate up to 1 week and stand at room temperature until warmed to roughly 68°F.
Now that the custard is cooling, move on to making the cake. I would finish the frosting recipe while the cake is cooling.
4. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 350°F (180°C). Toast the pecans on a baking sheet until golden brown, about 10 minutes, and cool completely.
This would be a good time to shred your carrots, if you haven’t already done them.
5. To make browned butter for the cake: in a small saucepan, completely melt the butter over medium-low heat. Increase to medium and simmer, stirring with a heat-resistant spatula while the butter hisses and pops. Continue cooking and stirring, scraping up any brown bits that form along the pan, until the butter is golden-yellow and perfectly silent. Pour into a heat-safe measuring cup, along with all the toasty brown bits, and proceed as directed, or cover and refrigerate up to 1 week; melt before using.
6. Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). Lightly grease two 8-inch anodized aluminum cake pans and line with parchment (instructions here). If you don’t have two pans, it’s okay to bake the cakes in stages; the batter will keep at room temperature until needed.
7. Combine white sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, baking powder, salt, baking soda, nutmeg, cloves, vanilla, and eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Mix on low to moisten, then increase to medium and whip until thick and fluffy, about 8 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together all-purpose and whole wheat flours. Drizzle in the brown butter in a steady stream, then reduce speed to low and add the flours. Once smooth, fold in shredded carrots and pecans with a flexible spatula.
8. Divide batter between the prepared cake pans, about 28 ounces each. If you don’t have two pans, the remaining batter can be held at room temperature up to 3 hours. (Note that if you only have one cake pan, this will mean you’ll have to be in the kitchen at 30 minute to 60 minute intervals. So don’t commit to anything else. Really.) Bake until cakes are golden, about 30 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center will have a few crumbs still attached, and your fingertip will leave a slight indentation in the puffy crust.
9. Cool cakes directly in their pans for 1 hour, then run a butter knife around the edges to loosen. Invert onto a wire rack, peel off the parchment, and return cakes right side up (covered in plastic, the cakes can be left at room temperature for a few hours).
Now that the cake is cooling, it’s a good time to prepare the buttercream to finish up the rest of the frosting.
FROSTING, PART 2 of 2: The Buttercream
10. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the softened cream cheese and butter on medium speed until fluffy and light, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, stir the thick pudding in its dish to create a thick, dough-like mass. Scrape the bowl and beater with a flexible spatula, then switch to whisk attachment and whip on medium speed. Add pudding a few tablespoons at a time, then drizzle in the lemon juice; if you like, season to taste with a pinch of salt (see note). Scrape the bowl once more and whip a few seconds to ensure no lumps remain. The finished frosting should be light and creamy, but thick enough to hang upside down from a spoon.
Once the cake layers are cooled, it’s time to stack it up!
11. I didn’t think the cake needed leveling since they didn’t dome that much, but please use a serrated knife to do so if you wish. I also did not have a cake turntable or an offset spatula, so I placed the cake on an inverted plate and used the back of a chef’s knife to apply the frosting.
12. To crumb coat the cake:Use 1 cup of the frosting to spread it on one of the cake layers. Place the second layer on top, and top with another cup of frosting. Cover the sides of the cake with about 3/4 cup of frosting, as thinly as you can. Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes so the frosting sets.
13. Decorate the cake with the rest of the frosting. Under a cake dome or an inverted pot, the frosted cake will keep 24 hours at cool room temperature. For longer storage, freeze the sliced cake for a couple of hours until the frosting is hard and no longer tacky. Wrap each slice well with cling wrap to avoid moisture loss or air exposure. Freeze cake for up to a month.
Chocolate chip cookies will never go out of style, and there’s always a new recipe claiming to be the best or the Last Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe You’ll Ever Need. And honestly, I prefer a more egalitarian approach – it’s all going to boil down to what you’re in the mood for. And this time, I was in the mood for a big honking ooey-gooey Levain-style chocolate chip cookie.
And this was definitely a honkingly huge cookie from Stella Parks of Serious Eats. Each cookie weighed 6 ounces. I don’t even want to think about how many calories it contains. But by God was it delicious. The original Levain cookie contains walnuts, as does this recipe. And there have been competitors like Chip NYC and Gooey on the Inside that also do the barely-baked-hunk-of-dough thing, but their chocolate chip cookies do NOT have walnuts and I think it makes a significant difference to the textural and flavor complexity of the cookie.
Stella Parks’ recipes are always detailed, and they’re not only prescriptive but also informative. She explains that a pinch of nutmeg makes butter taste more buttery, and also recommends using different sizes and darkness of chocolate chips to add interest. I don’t usually keep chocolate chips at home because I prefer to chop up a high quality bar of semisweet, but Stella explains that this massive cookie needs the structural stability that commercial chocolate chips would provide.
The original recipe indicated a 22 minute bake time at 350 F, and I thought that was a little too gooey for me, as pictured below. The cookie was falling apart in my hand, but it was still super delicious. I’d probably bake it to 25 minutes next time though. I love the crisp edges and the gooey and toasty interior. I made a half recipe (which yielded 4 cookies), and didn’t have any issues with simply halving everything. These cookies do require an overnight rest period, but I promise it’s worth it.
Super Thick Levain-Style Chocolate Chip Cookie from Stella Parks
Makes 8 large shareable cookies
From Serious Eats
4 ounces unsalted American butter (about 1/2 cup; 113g), softened to about 65°F (18°C)
2 teaspoons (8g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight (plus more for sprinkling, if desired)
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of grated nutmeg
2 large eggs (about 3 1/2 ounces; 100g), straight from the fridge
10 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2 1/4 cups, spooned; 283g), such as Gold Medal
15 ounces assorted chocolate chips (about 2 1/2 cups; 425g), not chopped chocolate; see note
8 1/2 ounces raw walnut pieces or lightly toasted pecan pieces (shy 1 3/4 cups; 240g)
To Prepare the Dough: Combine butter, light brown sugar, white sugar, vanilla extract, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and nutmeg in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.
Mix on low to moisten, then increase speed to medium and beat until soft, fluffy, and pale, about 8 minutes; halfway through, pause to scrape bowl and beater with a flexible spatula. With mixer running, add eggs one at a time, letting each incorporate fully before adding the next. Reduce speed to low, then add the flour all at once. When flour is incorporated, add chocolate chips and nuts and keep mixing until dough is homogeneous.
Divide dough into 8 equal portions (about 6 ounces/170g each) and round each into a smooth ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 12 hours before baking; if well protected from air, the dough can be kept in the fridge up to 1 week.
To Bake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 350°F (180°C). Line an aluminum half-sheet pan with parchment paper. When the oven comes to temperature, arrange up to 4 portions of cold dough on prepared pan, leaving ample space between them to account for spread. If you like, sprinkle with additional salt to taste.
Bake until cookies are puffed and lightly brown, about 22 minutes or to an internal temperature of between 175 and 185°F (79 and 85°C). The ideal temperature will vary from person to person; future rounds can be baked more or less to achieve desired consistency.
Cool cookies directly on baking sheet until no warmer than 100°F (38°C) before serving. Enjoy warm, or within 12 hours; these cookies taste best when freshly baked.
Now that it’s officially fall, it means that turning on the oven to cook is no longer an unwelcome prospect. I came across this chocolate chip cookie recipe on the New York Times and was intrigued by its unconventional additions. It contained rye flour (of which I still had some remaining from my Nordic bread-making experiments), but also dried cranberries and poppy seeds.
The cranberries are a bit sour, and they offset the cookie’s sweetness; the chocolate is bitter, another guard against the cookie’s being too sweet; and the rye flour, well, it makes the cookie a little more tender, but it found a place in the mix because Hirayama was attracted to its beautiful gray color. [The poppyseeds] speckle the cookie, look tweedy and autumnal and taste just this side of knowable — there’s a mystery about them. Hirayama says she added them to make the cookie crunchy, and they do.
I’ve not seen these ingredients in combination before, but it makes so much sense now that I’ve tasted these cookies. Poppy seeds also have a special place in my heart. I had mohnkuchen – or poppy seed cake – in Austria for the first time last Christmas, and it’s not like the sparsely populated application that you see in lemon poppy seed cake – the poppy seeds in mohnkuchen was packed to density and made the cake look nearly black.
But back to these cookies. I really enjoy how sweetness isn’t its primary feature: the nuttiness from the rye flour, the textural complexity from the poppy seeds, plus the generous sprinkle of flaky sea salt definitely makes these a gourmet chocolate chip cookie that you should try making this fall.
Rye-Cranberry Chocolate-Chunk Poppy Seed Cookies
Makes 15 large cookies
1cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons (130 grams) medium rye flour
½cup plus 2 tablespoons (85 grams) all-purpose flour
1teaspoon baking powder
¾teaspoon fine sea salt
½teaspoon baking soda
10tablespoons (140 grams) unsalted butter at cool room temperature
½cup (100 grams) sugar
½cup (100 grams) light brown sugar
⅓cup (50 grams) poppy seeds
⅔cup (80 grams) moist, plump dried cranberries (I did this by steeping my dried cranberries in hot water for about 15 minutes)
4ounces (113 grams) bittersweet chocolate, chopped into chunks
Flake salt, such as Maldon, for sprinkling
Whisk together the rye flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, sea salt and baking soda; set aside.
Working with a mixer (fitted with the paddle attachment, if you have one), beat the butter and both sugars together on medium speed for 3 minutes, until blended; scrape the bowl as needed. Add the egg, and beat 2 minutes more. Turn off the mixer, add the dry ingredients all at once, then pulse the mixer a few times to begin blending the ingredients. Beat on low speed until the flour almost disappears, and then add the poppy seeds, cranberries and chocolate. Mix only until incorporated. Scrape the bowl to bring the dough together.
Have a baking sheet lined with parchment, foil or plastic wrap nearby. Divide the dough into 15 pieces, roll each piece into a ball between your palms and place on the baking sheet. Cover, and refrigerate the dough overnight or for up to 3 days. (If you’d like, you can wrap the balls airtight and freeze them for up to 1 month. Defrost them overnight in the fridge before baking.)
When you’re ready to bake, center a rack in the oven, and heat it to 425. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Arrange the cookies on the sheet, leaving 2 inches between each cookie (work with half a batch at a time and keep the remaining balls of dough in the refrigerator until needed). Sprinkle each cookie with a little flake salt, crushing it between your fingers as you do.
Bake the cookies for 10 minutes, pull the baking sheet from the oven and, using a metal spatula, a pancake turner or the bottom of a glass, tap each cookie lightly. Let the cookies rest on the sheet for 3 minutes, then carefully transfer them to a rack. Repeat with the remaining dough, always using cold dough and a cool baking sheet.
Serve after the cookies have cooled for about 10 minutes, or wait until they reach room temperature.
In the past year, I’ve completely overhauled my diet. I eat a lot more fruits and vegetables, keep my foods minimally processed… and that also means cutting out sweets. I don’t crave dessert with the same intensity as I used to, but every now and then, I just want something a little sweet and chocolatey, y’know?
Enter chocolate popcorn. You can eat more than a couple of bites and still minimize the caloric impact AND indulge your sweet tooth. I came across this crispy chocolate popcorn recipe from Stella Parks on Serious Eats a few months ago and I finally got around to making it. You essentially make a caramel, flavor it with chocolate, and toss freshly popped popcorn in it. The end result is a chocolate-flavored caramel popcorn that agglomerates in chunks.
I wanted to stretch my chocolate calories even further, and I boldly decided to double the amount of popcorn recommended in the recipe. It was still excellent! The original recipe called for about 7 cups of popped corn (or 50g), but as you can see in the half sheet above, I used 100g of corn and I felt like there was still plenty of coating per kernel. I even recently remade this recipe with 125g of popcorn and still felt like the coating-to-popcorn ratio was fine, and I didn’t mind a more naked kernel every few bites, and a less agglomerated effect. That’s probably as far as I would go with regards to stretching the chocolate caramel coating, though.
I feel like this recipe is ripe for a riff – maybe adding more salt for more of a sweet/salty effect? Maybe add a pinch of cayenne pepper for a touch of the exotic?
A few things I noted about this recipe:
I love that Stella is a pastry chef. That means recipes have weight measures, and even better, they’re in grams, so I can get my precision down to a TEE.
The recipe calls for a candy thermometer which I did NOT have, so I kinda eyeballed the caramelization around the 7-8 minute mark and when it looked like the color of caramel, I turned off the heat. (Sorry I can’t give more specific guidance other than that; therein lies the wisdom of trial and error)
Here’s how to pop corn without any special equipment OR added oil. I heated a large soup pot on medium high. When you spritz a bit of water with your fingers in the pot and it immediately sizzles and evaporates, that’s when the pot is hot enough. Put your corn in there – it should all be in contact with the pot bottom. Cover the pot with a lid. For the next few minutes, you should be continually jiggling the pot lightly so the kernels don’t get too hot in one spot. After 20-30 seconds, the popping will start, and it should pick up at a pretty quick clip eventually. When it takes more than 3 seconds for the next kernel to pop (either by sight if you have a clear lid, or by ear if you don’t), that’s when you’re done and you should turn off the heat – you don’t want to burn your popcorn for the sake of popping those stragglers.
2 ounces unsalted butter (about 4 tablespoons; 55g) or 1 1/2 ounces raw cocoa butter (shy 1/4 cup; 40g), plus more for greasing
3.5 ounces freshly popped popcorn (about 14 cups once popped; 100g, you can go up to 4.5 oz or 125g for a lighter coating)
3 ounces water (about 1/3 cup; 85g)
4 ounces golden syrup or light corn syrup (about 1/3 cup; 110g)
9 ounces sugar (about 1 1/4 cups; 255g)
3 ounces 72% dark chocolate, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup; 85g)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon (1g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use about half as much by volume or the same weight
Lightly grease a large bowl, and add freshly popped popcorn. You should have about 7 cups; if significantly less, this may be a sign the the popcorn is dense and stale and that a newer batch of kernels is in order.
In a 3-quart stainless steel saucier, combine water, golden or corn syrup, butter or cocoa butter, and sugar over medium heat. Stir with a fork until bubbling hot, about 4 minutes. Increase to medium-high, clip on a digital thermometer and cook without stirring until the syrup is 340°F, about 10 minutes. If the process is taking too long, simply increase the heat.
Meanwhile, lightly grease a rimmed half sheet pan, and prepare the remaining ingredients so they’re ready to add at a moment’s notice. When the syrup comes to temperature, remove from heat, stir in chocolate with a heat-resistant spatula, followed by the baking soda and salt. When the mixture is foamy, pour over the popcorn and fold until the pieces are thoroughly coated.
Scrape onto the prepared baking sheet, pulling the chunks of popcorn into bite-sized clusters with a pair of metal forks. Cool until the soft candy shell is hard and crisp, about 45 minutes, then transfer to an airtight container. It’s best to store the popcorn as soon as it’s cooled, as excessive exposure to air may cause it to soften from humidity. Store up to 2 weeks at room temperature, or 1 month in the fridge.
I’ve been obsessed with Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s “How to Make Bread” ever since I first browsed it while I was dining solo at Michelin-starred Aniar in Galway, Ireland. I’ve made a few recipes from it now, and I will say that as an experienced cook/baker, breadmaking is a very humbling experience.
In general, the fewer the ingredients, the less forgiving a recipe is – and how much more spartan could a recipe get when you’re making a sourdough bread composed entirely of yeast harvested from the air and milled flour? Not that this chocolate currant bread is nearly anywhere as minimal as a medieval loaf might be, but I still find the idea of a sourdough bread, steeped in history and reminiscent of a simpler time past, incredibly romantic.
But also incredibly frustrating to make. I’ve spared you the dense, gummy, overly-sour failures of sourdough breads I’ve made, and this chocolate currant bread is actually a slight adaptation of the sourdough recipe that Emmanuel has in his book. At the moment, I’ve given up on harvesting and maintaining my own sourdough culture, and have been using poolish in place of a sourdough starter.
What is a poolish, you might ask? A poolish is a pre-ferment made ahead of time before you bake your loaf. Some amount of yeast, (usually) equal amounts of flour and water are mixed to form a doughy paste that’s left to rest for anywhere between 8 and 16 hours in advance of your loaf. This poolish imparts a complexity in flavor absent in bread made from “straight dough” (which is made by mixing everything up in a single episode) by allowing the yeast more time to create delicious byproducts of fermentation like organic acids and esters.
For this chocolate currant sourdough bread, I simply replaced the recommended sourdough starter (at 100% hydration, which means equal parts flour and water) with a poolish following this formula to determine the amount of yeast needed relative to the flour in the poolish (source: Weekend Bakery):
Poolish up to 8 hours in advance – 0.23% – 0.33%
Poolish up to 12 hours in advance – 0.1% – 0.2%
Poolish up to 16 hours in advance – 0.03% – 0.08%
Use the lower percentage for a warmer kitchen, and the higher percentage for a cooler kitchen (e.g. if you were baking in the winter).
Example: if you wanted to make a poolish up to 8 hours in advance in the winter, this is what you should do to substitute for a 170g of sourdough starter at 100% hydration: Mix 85g of water, 85g of flour, and 0.2805g of yeast (0.33% x 85g) in a bowl, cover the bowl with cling wrap, and let it rest for 8 hours.
You might ask – how am I going to measure 0.2805g of yeast? Well, you can invest in a precision scale that goes up to 0.001g, which I have the good fortune of owning – or you can just grab a pinch of yeast and monitor how it goes. I highly recommend reading the Weekend Bakery’s post for more information on how a poolish should look like.
Anyway, enough of my geeking out (even though there’s way more where that came from!). This is my second attempt at making this chocolate currant sourdough recipe with a poolish preferment, and even though I can see the myriad of ways my technique could be improved, the flavors remain unparalleled. The loaf has an abundance of Zante currants that turn juicy when warm, and you are surprised by the gooey milk chocolate chip that punctuates the loaf every now and then, but not so often you feel like you’re having cake or dessert. The bread is definitely good enough to eat on its own, but who would decline a smear of Nutella?
Chocolate Currant Sourdough (made with poolish) Adapted from Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s How to Make Bread
Makes one large loaf (approx 950g)
For the poolish
85g bread flour
Yeast, per percentages outlined above
For the bread
200g/1 1/2 cups Zante currants
80g/2/3 cup milk/semi-sweet chocolate chips (I chopped a Trader Joe’s milk chocolate Pound Plus bar)
330g/ 2 2/3 bread flour
8g/1 1/2 tsp salt
20g/2 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder
250g/250ml/1 cup lukewarm water
long proofing basket (if not, a colander with a linen towel could substitute)
baking sheet lined with parchment paper
Mix all poolish ingredients into a large bowl 8-16 hours ahead of time, before you will make your loaf. This bowl should be large enough to include all the bread ingredients. Cover bowl with cling wrap and let rest at room temperature.
When ready to make the bread, mix currants and chocolate and set aside.
In a (smaller) mixing bowl, mix the flour, salt and cocoa powder together – this is the dry mixture.
Add the water to your poolish, and mix until combined. This is the wet mixture.
Add the dry mixture to your wet mixture and mix until it comes together.
Cover the dough with the bowl that had the dry mixture in it and let rest for 10 minutes.
Knead the dough by pulling a portion of the dough from the side and pressing it into the center. Repeat this motion all around the perimeter of the dough 8 times and the dough should start to resist.
Let rest for another ten minutes.
Repeat step 7 and 8 twice, then step 7 again. (i.e. Mix, knead, rest, knead, rest, knead, rest, knead.) Cover the dough with the bowl again and let rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
Punch down dough with your first to release the air.
Transfer ball of dough to a lightly floured work surface and divide the dough into two equal portions, rolling each into a ball.
Dust the proofing basket with flour, and lay the two balls side by side so they are touching snugly.
Let the dough rise until about double the size (for me it takes about 8 hours, but may be as few as 3 depending on the ambient temperature in your kitchen).
About 20 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 475F/240C. Place a roasting pan at the bottom of the pan to preheat. Set aside a cup of water.
When the dough is doubled, flip it out onto the parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle flour on it and slash crosses on each ball.
Place the bread into the oven, and pour the reserved cup of water into the roasting pan. Close the oven door, and lower the oven temperature to 425F/220C.
Bake for 30 minutes or until brown. Bread should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom when it is ready.