Friday, March 24, 2017

apricot couronne

The two younger children and I have been zipping through season two of The Great British Baking Show (but on Netflix). Evenings that the older children are off doing their big-kid things, like youth group or biology lessons, the younger two kids blitz the house and get showers, and then we snuggle up together on the couch to salivate our way through another episode.

Last week I got inspired by one of the technical challenges. I’m not normally compelled to copy the show's recipes—many times they are way too involved and frumpy, and I am not inclined toward fussy decoration of any kind—but as soon as I saw the apricot couronne, a glorious twisted crown stuffed with dried apricots, raisins, walnuts, and orange zest, I simply had to make it.

This wreath is traditionally made for Christmas, but it’s simple enough to be made just for anyhow. I made it on a subdued Saturday afternoon, while a freak snow fell. I hoarded the leftovers, eating them for breakfast over the course of several days.

I have plans to make another one, but this time with figs instead of apricots. Or maybe some of both? I’m not sure yet.

Apricot Couronne
Adapted from Paul Hollywood’s recipe, showcased on Season Two of The Great British Baking Show.

Paul uses metric system measurements, so I did, too. Feel free to convert to the US Customary Standard Stupid System, if you wish. Or better yet, buy a scale. I love my scale.

Update on March 25, 2017: Just made a couronne using dried figs in place of the apricots. It is exceedingly delicious.

Do ahead: An hour before starting (or the night before, if you’re better than me at planning ahead), put the chopped apricots in a bowl and cover with the orange juice to soak.

for the bread:
250 grams bread flour
5 grams salt
8 grams yeast
50 grams butter, at room temperature
135 ml milk, warmed
1 egg, lightly beaten

Measure all the ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer, and mix on medium speed for about six minutes. (Or stir with a spoon and knead by hand, whatever.) Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic, and set in a warm place to rise until double.

for the filling:
120 grams dried apricots, chopped
¼ – 1/3 cup orange juice
90 grams butter, at room temperature
70 grams brown sugar
35 grams flour
60 grams raisins
65 grams walnuts, chopped
zest from an orange

Drain the apricots, reserving the juice for the glaze.

With a wooden spoon, stir together the butter and sugar. Add the flour, zest, raisins, walnuts, and apricots and stir to combine.

Roll the dough into a rectangle. Spread with the filling and roll up as you would sweet rolls. Cut the roll in half, lengthwise, leaving a couple inches of one end intact. When you’re done, the dough roll should resemble a pair of pants for a really skinny, long-legged person. Twist the dough legs together, keeping the cut sides facing up as much as possible.

Shape the twist into a wreath, weaving and pinching the ends together. Transfer the wreath to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover with plastic and let rest for 30-45 minutes.

Bake at 375 degrees for 25-35 minutes. If the dough darkens too quickly, tent with foil partway through.

to finish:
apricot jam (I used peach), slightly warmed
confectioners’ sugar thinned with the reserved orange juice to make a drizzle-able glaze
slivered almonds

As soon as the wreath finishes baking, brush the top and sides with the apricot jam. Remove any blistered raisins. Allow the wreath to cool to room temperature before drizzling with glaze and then sprinkling with slivered almonds.

This same time, years previous: lambs, the quotidian (3.23.15), the pigpen, the quotidian (3.24.14), of a moody Sunday, the nieces, sour crumb cherry pie, caramelized onions.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

pop quiz: what did you eat for lunch?

Monday of last week, this was my lunch:

I had leftover kale and sauteed mushrooms in the fridge, so all I had to do was heat up the veggies and fry an egg.


On Friday, I had black forest ham, grainy mustard, mayo, and sharp cheddar on homemade rye. And chips. (Sometimes the younger kids fuss about getting stuck with all the leftovers while the older kids get to pack the "special" food—the yogurt cups, crunchy apples, granola bars, and chips. Lunch that day was all about me trying to be diplomatic.)

The rye came from one of the guys that works with my husband. They were at work and the radio was playing and the guy said, “If any of you can name this band, I'll give you a loaf of bread.”

My non-musical husband thought for a second and then said, “The Band.”

After the guy scraped his chin off the floor, he said, “Okay, so what do you want? Sourdough? Rye?” 

My husband said, “I already know your sourdough is good, so I’ll take the rye. And when you deliver, it better be warm.”


Yesterday I had a bowl of leftover punjabi-style black lentils. They're supposed to have cilantro sprinkled on top, but I used parsley instead.

I ordered the black lentils since I couldn't find any in the grocery store. It felt a little ridiculous, spending 15 dollars for several cups of legumes that my family probably wouldn't like all that much, but I did it anyway, chalking it up to self-education and sophistication and a palate-stretching exercise. Anything to justify, right?

Full menu disclosure: Late morning, I found a pint box of leftover chips in the back hall and ate half of them while staring out the little window at my older daughter, watching as she patiently trailed her horse around the field trying to catch her. And after lunch I had some leftover apricot wreath with coffee, and a couple chocolates.


What did you eat for lunch today? Are you a planner, or more of a wing-it luncher? Do you eat the same thing every day, or are you all about the variety? Apparently, I'm a leftover wing-it-er, and the more variety the better. I'm a grazer, too, though it's often to my detriment. 

Inspiration for this post comes from Cup of Jo.

This same time, years previous: last and first, the quotidian (3.21.16), piggies!, a morning's start, over the moon, the walk home, our house lately, getaway.

Monday, March 20, 2017

the quotidian (3.20.17)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

Color crunch.

An experiment: white chocolate, apricot, and almond. 

Getting his chocolate on. 

Pig, a still life. 

The candid cook.

Cold snap.

Bunged up and full of stories: the snowboarders.

Snowflake shake.

Oh, hay!

Long past their prime, but I can't bring myself to throw them out.


This same time, years previous: all things Irish, a good reminder, the last weekend, the creative norm, warmth, no buffer, family time, roasted vegetables, bedtime ghost stories, it's about enough.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

good writing

Twice today, I teared up.

The first time was after lunch when the three younger kids and I gathered around the woodstove (it's bitter today!) so I could finish up reading this book to them. I got to the end and wham, suddenly I was blubbering.

I can read out loud just fine, and I can tear up and keep it secret (usually), but put the two together and things disintegrate mighty fast.


The second time was while reading this essay. The ending left me feeling suckerpunched. So, so good.

Smart writing and leaky eyes—gotta love it!

Photos brought to you by the Everyone-Needs-A-Cute-Puppy Board.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (3.14.16), smiling for dimples, bolt popcorn, from my diary, golden chicken curry, butterscotch pudding.

Monday, March 13, 2017

the quotidian (3.13.17)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

My recurring hunk-o-meat conundrum: how to prepare it?

The daily bake.

The tell-tale photographic trails my children leave when I am gone! 
This, it would appear, is a blueberry smoothie with a kiss.

I'm glad I wasn't home.

Math nuggets.

A British Baking show reenactment.


Drowned rat.

Spring in a vase, thanks to a sweet friend.

This same time, years previous: no more Luna, opening, raspberry ricotta cake, what will I wish I had done differently?, chocolate babka, a love affair, the quotidian (3.12.12), sugar loaf, all by himself, for all we know.

Friday, March 10, 2017

kitchen concert

One thing you must know about my older son: he listens to music constantly.

Whenever I assign him an extended household chore such as washing dishes, folding laundry, or scrubbing the kitchen floor, he first has to run to his room to grab his equipment. If I’m feeling benevolent or—and this is more likely—am not around, one of his speakers (either this small one or this bigger one) gets hauled out and the music blares. When I’m cranky, he wears headphones. (I used to think headphones were so individualistic and anti-social, but now? Sanity savors all the way, baby.)

He sings while he works. (Dances, too—there’s a frightful amount of gyrating and head jerking.) Earlier this week when he was emptying the dish drainer, he discovered his sound quality could be enhanced by warbling into a large bowl. So then he subjected me to The Phantom of the Opera's "Music of the Night" à la A Bowl.

Softly, deftly, 
Music shall caress you, 
Hear it, feel it, 
Secretly posses you....

It was quite the show.

This same time, years previous: homemade pepperoni, family weekending, the quotidian (3.10.14), adventuring, now, let's talk.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Shannon's creamy broccoli soup

My younger daughter requested broccoli soup for her birthday supper. “But not your soup, Mama. You have to make Shannon’s recipe.” And then she added, oh-so-hopefully, “Do you think Shannon could just make the soup for us?”

My kids have been requesting Shannon’s broccoli soup for years. I’ve quizzed Shannon off and on, and then followed her instructions (more or less), but the kids always fussed. “It’s not the same. Hers is better.” (Probably because of my “more or less” habit.) 

So this time I interrogated Shannon on every little-iddy-biddy-wittle Broccoli Soup Aspect: method! ingredient quantity and quality! final consistency and texture! And then I asked her all over again but with different words.

My obsessiveness totally paid off because, in the process, I unearthed a somehow-overlooked crucial element: Shannon steamed her broccoli and then chopped it fine in the food processor before adding it to the cheesy sauce. Well, well, well.

My younger daughter declared my new soup attempt to be the real deal (whew). Everyone else loved it, too, including my husband.

“I agree with the kids,” he said. “It’s better this way. Must be a texture thing.”

Shannon’s Creamy Broccoli Soup

I doubled Shannon’s recipe; the changes are reflected below. If you aren’t feeding the multitudes, or would rather not eat broccoli soup every day for a week, halve the recipe.

3 pounds fresh broccoli (a big Costco bag)
½ cup butter
½ cup flour
2-4 cups milk
1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2-3 teaspoons salt
freshly ground black pepper

Steam the broccoli until very tender. Reserve the green cooking liquid. Working in batches, pulse the broccoli in the food processor until chopped fine. Set aside.

In a large kettle, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour until the mixture is hot and bubbly. Gradually add the milk, whisking steadily. (I used two cups of milk to begin with and later, when the soup was finished, I thinned it with another cup or two of milk). Whisk in the cheese and salt. Add the broccoli and whisk to combine. At this point the soup will be quite thick. I added a couple cups of the reserved cooking liquid, and some more milk, but half-and-half and/or chicken broth would work, too.

This same time, years previous: the singing bowl, the quotidian (3.9.15), wintry days, work, mini merry maids, perfect pretzels, with a side of poison, blondies, meatballs.

Monday, March 6, 2017

the quotidian (3.6.17)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

Breakfast for the man who goes running with me.

It never pays to overfill the pies.

Clean dishes, dirty windows.

Let me in!

Pie and ice cream: contrary to all appearances, we do have silverware.

All for a hot lunch. 
(Illicit photo, courtesy of my older son) 

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (3.7.16), tradition, by the skin of my gritted teeth, girl party, to market, to market, the quotidian (3.5.12), oatcakes, bacon and date scones.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

classic german gingerbread

Remember that cookie dough I mixed up back at the beginning of December, the one that had to sit at room temperature for two months—TWO MONTHS—before baking?

Welp, the two months finally passed and I done did bake them up!

I scraped the dough out of the ceramic bowl, kneaded it briefly, and then rolled it out for gingerbread men. The dough was a dream to work with: slightly tacky and pliable, like a good playdough. It smelled faintly like hamsters, too, but I chalked that up to the potassium carbonate.

Once cut, the cookies have to sit at room temp for a couple hours pre-bake (I’m not sure why). (Also, speaking of pre-bake: Netflix now has the second season of The British Baking Show—time to get your bake on, people!) Right before slipping them into the oven, bits of dried fruit or nuts get pressed into the dough. I gave some of the men orange citron—or candied ginger—buttons. Both were good, but I liked the ones with candied ginger best.

These are a classic German Christmas cookie, but I doubt I’ll make these at Christmas. What with all the fruit-filled, nutty, caramel-y, chocolatey treats, these simple cookies wouldn’t stand a chance. These are more a mid-winter snack, a cookie to stuff into pockets (not that we ever stuff pockets with cookies in this house) or to pass out to cranky toddlers. In fact, this is the exact kind of cookie that I picture Danny and Annette, from Treasures of the Snow, getting every year for Christmas. It’s the sort of cookie you could eat while sledding down the Alps under a starry sky, and I suspect they did.

The long wait time is supposed to give these cookies a more complex, nuanced flavor, and there is definitely something different about these. With their chewy—tacky, almost—bite, and lingering spicy kick, I can eat three or four, easy. And yet... I'm not completely sold. They taste kind of—for lack of a better word—old, but (I think?) in the mature sense of the word. I mentioned this observation to my older son, and he was like, “Well, yeah, Mom. They are old. Two MONTHS old.”

Reviews are mixed. My older daughter says I should make at least a triple batch next year. My husband isn’t sure what he thinks about them, but every day he eats at least two. My mother offered to buy some. My girlfriend ate one and kept silent—never a good sign. My brother ate so many he told me to put the jar away.

Classic German Gingerbread (Lebkuchen
Adapted from Classic German Baking by Luisa Weiss.

Next time, I think I’d like a lot more candied ginger—perhaps I’ll knead a cup of minced bits into the dough before rolling it out? Also, next time I want to try giving them a crackly sugar top by brushing a hot sugar glaze (the same one I used for the basler leckerli) over the cookies immediately after pulling them from the oven.

¾ cup honey
1 1/3 cup brown sugar
7 tablespoons butter
4 cups flour
¼ cup Lebkuchengewürz spice mix (see below)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
zest from 1 lemon
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 scant tablespoon potassium carbonate
1 tablespoon water
2 eggs
optional toppings: hot sugar glaze (see below), minced candied ginger or citron, nuts

Put the honey and brown sugar in a small kettle over medium-high heat. Once the sugar has dissolved and it’s nice and warm—do not boil—remove from the heat and add the butter. When the butter has melted, set aside.

In the bowl of a stand kitchen mixer, combine the flour, Lebkuchengewürz spice mix, cinnamon, zest, and cocoa.

In a small dish, dissolve the potassium carbonate in the tablespoon of water.

Add the eggs to the flour mixture and, using the whisk attachment, mix on low speed. Continue mixing while adding the honey mixture and then the dissolved potassium carbonate. Mix for 5 minutes until the dough is shiny.

Scrape the dough—it will be tacky and runny—into a ceramic bowl. Cover with a plate (it should not be airtight) and let sit for two months at room temperature.

to bake:
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead briefly. Roll the cookies out to ¼-inch thick and cut into gingerbread men or other shapes. Place the cookies on parchment-lined baking sheets and let sit at room temperature for a couple hours. Press bits of candied ginger, citron, and/or nuts into the tops of the cookies and then bake at 325 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until the cookies are puffed and lightly browned. If using hot sugar glaze (see below), apply it immediately.

Cool to room temperature before storing in an airtight jar at room temperature. As is, they will be a bit crunchy-crispy. If you want a softer, chewier cookie, tuck a piece of bread into the jar to keep the cookies tender. They should last, at room temperature, for at least a couple months.

Hot Sugar Glaze
1 cup confectioners' sugar
¼ cup water

While the cookies are baking, heat the sugar and water until boiling. Continue boiling until much of the water has evaporated and there are large bubbles, Upon pulling the cookies from the oven, immediately brush with the hot sugar glaze before proceeding with the cooling and storing.

Lebkuchengewürz Spice Mix
5 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 ½ tablespoons ground cloves
1 teaspoon each ground allspice, cardamom, ginger, and mace
¾ teaspoon ground anise

Combine and store in a cool, dark place. The mix will stay fresh for 1 year.

This same time, years previous: creamy, Costco-esque cake filling, kids and money, the quotidian (3.3.14), grocery shopping, air, print, internet, doctors galore, soda crackers, sky-high biscuits.