Yearly Archives: 2010

RECIPE Craisin Pumpkin Walnut Muffins by Bakery Boy

How did I not know about Craisins until recently? Now I can’t get enough of them in breads, on salads, with cereal or yogurt, and especially in muffins.

story/recipe/photos by Bakery Boy

Craisin Pumpkin Walnut Muffins. Photos by Bakery Boy

Somehow I was unaware of Craisins until recently. They just weren’t on my radar. Are you familiar with them? Ocean Spray owns the name Craisins (the generic term is dried cranberries). By either name they’re closely akin to raisins—like big, moist, sweet raisins with a pleasantly chewy texture and a gets-noticed deep red hue.

When my local supermarket put them on an end-aisle sale at a reduced price, I picked some up to see what they were all about. After snacking on a few straight from the bag, my first inclination was to bake them into a loaf of bread in lieu of raisins, which turned out just fine. I tossed them in a green salad along with some mandarin orange slices and slivered almonds for a nice effect. I sprinkled them, plus crumbled pecans, on some whole grain breakfast cereal. I stirred them into yogurt.

Craisin Pumpkin Walnut Muffin

By far though, my favorite use for Craisins is in muffins. I experimented with several combinations of ingredients before pairing them with walnuts and pumpkin, and I like the results. Give this recipe a try and let me know what you think. If you have other suggested uses for my new favorite dried fruit, please share—I can’t seem to get enough of them.

CRAISIN PUMPKIN WALNUT MUFFINS

NOTE: This recipe uses a whole 15-ounce can of pumpkin to make 24 muffins. If that’s too many, you could cut all the amounts in half (see the halved recipe at the end of this post) to make a single dozen, and then refrigerate half of the pumpkin to use in a second batch later. I prefer to make the bigger batch and give some to my next-door neighbor, who by the way wholeheartedly endorses the idea!

2½ cups all-purpose flour

1½ cups sugar

2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ginger

½ teaspoon allspice

½ teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 15-ounce can of pumpkin

¼ cup vegetable oil

1 cup Craisins

1 cup walnut pieces

In a large bowl combine first 9 ingredients (flour through salt). In a smaller bowl combine eggs, pumpkin, oil. Stir wet ingredients into dry until thoroughly moistened. Fold in Craisins and walnut pieces. Spoon into 24 paper-lined muffin cups, filling them ¾ths full. Bake at 350° F for 20 minutes. Cool in pans 10 minutes. Move to cooling rack.

Walnut Pieces

TIP: Save back a few of the most nicely formed Craisins and walnuts to place on top of the muffins just before they go into the oven. Lightly press them partially into the batter. They’ll show up much better than those that are stirred into the batter, making for a nicer presentation.

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CRAISIN PUMPKIN WALNUT MUFFINS (half recipe)

Here’s the same recipe cut in half, in case 24 muffins seems like too many at once.

1¼ cups all-purpose flour

¾ cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ginger

¼ teaspoon allspice

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

1 egg, lightly beaten

½ of a 15-ounce can of pumpkin (about 1 cup)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

½ cup Craisins

½ cup walnut pieces

In a large bowl combine first 9 ingredients (flour through salt). In a smaller bowl combine eggs, pumpkin, oil. Stir wet ingredients into dry until thoroughly moistened. Fold in Craisins and walnut pieces. Spoon into 24 paper-lined muffin cups, filling them ¾ths full. Bake at 350° F for 20 minutes. Cool in pans 10 minutes. Move to cooling rack.

Dried Cranberries

TIP: Save back a few of the most nicely formed Craisins and walnuts to place on top of the muffins just before they go into the oven. Lightly press them partially into the batter. They’ll show up much better than those that are stirred into the batter, making for a nicer presentation.

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Christmas Ornaments Made of Bread

The bread ornaments I made 25 years ago are holding up pretty well, so this month I made more to give as gifts.

story and photos by Bakery Boy

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These bread ornaments I made 25 years ago remain family favorites. Photos by Bakery Boy

Hanging little loaves of bread on the Christmas tree seems quite natural to us bakers, I suppose. As conversation pieces, they’re hard to beat. As housewarming presents at holiday parties, or simple gifts for neighbors and co-workers, or stocking-stuffers for family members, they’re fun to make and pretty much guaranteed to bring a positive reaction.

I decorate our tree with some miniature bread ornaments I made 25 years ago while working in a French bakery in Seattle. Some are four-inch-long versions of French loaves, scissor-snipped into alternating pointy “grains” to resemble ripe wheat tassels. Others are shaped into 1½-inch-diameter wreaths just the right size to hold small candles in the middle and sit upright on tree branches. I wrap the straight loaves in red ribbon that doubles as a hanging loop at the top end, and I use paper-and-wire twist ties from bread bags (how appropriate) to strap the round wreaths onto Christmas tree branches.

Wreath-shaped bread ornaments hold candles.

Over the years I’ve gradually lost some of my original bread ornaments to breakage while getting them into and out of storage or on and off the tree. So this year I decided to restock my collection and make extras to give as gifts.

Reactions to receiving the little favors usually go something like this: First a look of genuine surprise, followed by some variation of the phrase, “Are they really made of bread?” Next comes an appreciative smile of thanks. And finally the urge to hang them right away in a place where they’ll be seen.

What more could a devoted baker-turned-ornament-maker want?

Start with a basic French bread dough.

HERE’S HOW Start with a basic French dough of just flour, water, salt, and yeast—nothing like butter, oil, sugar, or eggs that will attract critters while in storage. I make a large enough batch to bake a regular loaf or two to eat right away and still have plenty left for making a few dozen ornaments.

Snip the mini-baguette into points alternating left and right to resemble wheat tassels.

When it has risen (that’s more of an Easter reference, I know, but bear with me), divide the dough into pieces about the size of ping-pong balls and roll them into four-inch “fingers” or mini-baguettes. Let them rest a few minutes, either on a cutting board to be moved gently later, or on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper and ready for the oven.

Cut at a 45-degree angle about 3/4ths of the way through the dough.

Holding scissors at a 45-degree angle, snip each piece half a dozen or so times at equally spaced points, cutting about ¾ths of the way through to leave a solid line on bottom for a sturdy “backbone” effect. Set each little point off slightly to the side, alternating left-right-left-right. The results will resemble the rows of grain in harvest-ripe wheat tassels.

For wreath-style ornaments, form some of the bread “fingers” into circles about 1½-inches in diameter, leaving a center hole about the size of a small candle. Snip the dough at an angle 45-degrees to the center of the circle with the points aiming out.

Cool and dry thoroughly. For longer-lasting ornaments, coat with varnish.

Let the shaped dough relax and rise another 20 minutes on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets, then  bake at 350o for about 10-15 minutes or until they start to turn golden brown. TIP: Under-baked, they’ll tend to sag and bend; over-baked, they’ll be brittle and more likely to break.

Let the ornaments cool and dry for a day or two. Eat any that don’t look so well, but be careful not to eat the entire project or you’ll have to start all over. This is why I bake a regular loaf at the same time, so I can eat it while I’m making ornaments.

If you really want your bread ornaments to last a long time, spray them with a thin coat of clear lacquer or varnish. Allow them to dry thoroughly before applying decorative ribbon. This also provides the kind of shine you would get with an egg-washed surface. Even without this extra treatment though, they’ll be good for a few years before they start to shrivel and crack.

Form a crisscrossing pattern with bright-colored ribbon.

Wrap each straight ornament with a thin, brightly colored ribbon to form a crisscrossing pattern like calf straps on gladiator-style sandals. I use red ribbon, but any color that doesn’t too closely match the bread itself will do. Run the ribbon into the channels made by the scissor cuts, which will keep it from slipping.

Tie the ribbon once snugly at the top of the ornament to hold the crisscrosses in place, and then again a couple of inches away to form a loop for hanging the piece. Square knots will suffice at both junctures. Or you could get fancy by tying bows for the second knot. Trim away any excess ribbon.

A bread bag twist-tie holds each candle wreath onto the tree.

For each wreath ornament, gently push the bottom end of a small candle snugly into the center hole and tie ribbon into a simple bow on the candle itself. Use paper-and-wire twist ties, recycled from store-bought bread bags and laced through the center hole, to strap the ornaments to Christmas tree branches with the candles aimed up. NOTE: These candles are not intended for lighting, just for looking good.

A child's shoebox holds my bread ornaments between Christmases.

When you take down your decorations, wrap each bread ornament in tissue paper and store them in a small shoebox. For many years I’ve had mine in the same box my firstborn’s first pair of sneakers came in!

GOT MORE IDEAS? Feel free to share your bread ornament ideas with fellow bakers by leaving a comment below or by sending an email to the Bakery Boy Blog at bakery.boy@att.net.

Finished bread ornaments, ready to hang or to wrap as gifts.

Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters by Sister Schubert

The down-home baker known simply as “Sister,” whose irresistible yeast rolls are legendary in the South, shares recipes and her inspiring story in her cookbook, Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters.

by Bakery Boy

I’ve been eating Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls for many years and for several reasons:

• Because they consistently taste terrific, from buttery to sweet to savory ends of the brown-and-serve spectrum.

• Because they’re as easy as picking up pans from the grocer’s freezer case and popping them in the oven for 20 minutes.

• Because Sister Schubert, a fine southern lady from the heart of Alabama, supports worthy charities through a foundation she created when her bread business grew from a home kitchen project into a nationwide juggernaut.

• And because I met her recently at a book signing and learned first-hand that she’s genuine “good people,” as we say down south without fretting the grammar.

THERE’S A BOOK? That there even was a book signing to attend, and thus a book, set off bells in my bakery-obsessed mind. I thought, if Sister Schubert has a cookbook out, I can make my own Parker House rolls, cinnamon rolls, buttermilk biscuits, orange rolls, and sausage wrap rolls, just like hers.

I got a copy of Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters—Recipes for Success, Cooking & Living, and sure enough recipes for some if not all my favorite Sister rolls are included, plus many more unrelated to her frozen-rolls empire. I baked several items before going to meet her, glad to add new recipes and techniques to my personal arsenal.

Even with her book in hand, I will continue picking up store-bought Sister Schubert pans. Partly because making any kind of bread at home is very time consuming. Partly because it’s just too easy, at the supermarket, to grab those green-striped packages with Sister’s smiling face on them and know that at least that part of tonight’s dinner is taken care of.

Everlasting Rolls based on her grandmother's launched Sister Schubert's empire.

SHE’S GOOD PEOPLE Patricia Schubert Barnes of Andalusia, Alabama—dubbed “Sister” as a child by a sibling—ranks as a food celebrity in her home state. Locally the story is well known about how she started baking Parker House-style rolls the way her grandmother, known as “Gommey,” taught her, first for family, then for church fundraisers where they were an instant sensation, and soon for the world.

“I went from baking in my kitchen with a little Sunbeam mixer, to expanding onto my sun porch, to taking over 1,000 square feet in a furniture warehouse my father owned, to renting a 25,000-square-foot building, to moving into a 100,000-square-foot building in just a few short years,” Sister says of the business she launched in 1986.

“At first I took a few pans with stick-on labels to a little curb market in Troy and small grocery stores in south Alabama, asking them to sell my rolls. Now they’re sold all across the country and we’re making them by the millions every day at three locations. Two are close to home, in Luverne and Saraland, Alabama. The other is in Horse Cave, Kentucky, where we’re putting in what will be the fourth largest oven in America. That’ll make a lot more Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls!”

Most importantly, she adds: “Even though we’ve grown, we’ve stayed true to our roots. Our rolls have the same home-baked quality and taste as my grandmother’s. We use simple, wholesome ingredients like fresh milk, butter and whole eggs—never any preservatives. And every single roll is still placed in the pan by hand.”

Sister Schubert's Focaccia (see recipe elsewhere on the Bakery Boy Blog)

“BRAND AMBASSADOR” Sister sold her company to a larger entity, Lancaster Colony Corporation of Columbus, Ohio, but she and her husband, George, remain involved in running the Sister Schubert division.

“My title now is Founder and Brand Ambassador,” she told me during her book signing at Birmingham Bake & Cook Company. “I do speaking engagements, appear on TV food shows, autograph books at kitchen supply shops and bookstores, and talk about Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls at every opportunity.

“When I’m home I develop new products. We’re getting into sea salt now, taking the gluten out for people allergic to it, switching to unsalted butter from the lightly salted butter we’ve been using, and things like that. It’s exciting, and it’s all going to be delicious.”

THE BOOK Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters, a good holiday gift idea for bakers and cooks, shares some of Sister Schubert’s best recipes. Her grandmother’s basic Everlasting Rolls (the Parker House rolls that started it all) come first, followed by variations with cheddar cheese, sausage, orange, or cinnamon.

She veers into non-baked items such as with smoked salmon crepes, cheesy shrimp and grits, artichoke crab dip, and chicken and sausage gumbo. But she quickly returns to her popular takes on cornbread, muffins, biscuits, scones, focaccia, challah, hot cross buns, something called tipsy eggnog bread, three kinds of pound cake, and more.

Find two excellent recipes—for corn muffins and focaccia—at two related posts here on the Bakery Boy Blog.

Sister Schubert's Country Corn Muffins (see recipe elsewhere on the Bakery Boy Blog)

Besides recipes and beautiful pictures, the book also shares Sister’s outlook on life, faith, family, and community. Bible quotes appear, from a favorite psalm (“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer”) to a verse from Corinthians (“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”).

Even the book’s title has biblical roots in Ecclesiastes: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.”

THE FOUNDATION A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters goes to the Barnes Family Foundation, a charitable organization founded in 2001 by Sister and George. Its missions include:

• Feeding the hungry by funding food banks and shelters

• Sending college students to learn about other cultures through the Sister Schubert’s Annual Scholarship for Study Abroad operated by Auburn University School of Human Sciences

• Funding an orphanage called Sasha’s Home in the Ukraine (where the Barnes’s adopted their son Alexsey, or “Sasha” for short)

The foundation’s mission, Sister says, is “To show by what we do—that we are thankful for food in a hungry world, that we are thankful for friendship in a lonely world, but mostly, that we are thankful for the opportunity to help save and love all of God’s children in the world.”

Amen to that! And please pass the dinner rolls!

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Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls: 100 Crenshaw Parkway, P.O. Drawer 112, Luverne, AL 36049; www.sisterschuberts.com; 334-335-2232

To order a copy of Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters by Sister Schubert (© 2009 CECA Enterprises LLC; $40), visit castyourbreaduponthewaters.com. Sister Schubert provided a copy for this review.

For more about the Barnes Family Foundation, to which a portion of the proceeds from the sale of Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters goes, visit www.barnesfamilyfoundation.org.

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Two recipes from Sister Schubert’s book appear on the Bakery Boy Blog.

Country Corn Muffins

Click here for the Country Corn Muffins recipe

Focaccia

Click here for the Focaccia recipe

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RECIPE Focaccia from Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters by Sister Schubert

Click here to see a separate post about Sister Schubert and her cookbook.

Sister Schubert, aka Patricia Schubert Barnes, wrote Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters—Recipes for Success, Cooking & Living to share her popular recipes and to tell her family’s story. Here is her recipe for making focaccia, a type of bread that dates back to ancient Roman times.

Sister Schubert's Focaccia

Sister says: “This venerable bread deserves an introduction: In ancient Rome, panis focacius was a flat bread baked in the ashes of the fireplace in the center of the home. It was then, and is now, a savory bread with many uses. Focaccia is a great snack, a versatile appetizer and a good companion to many meals. Say “foe-cah-cha” and stand by for the compliments!”

Focaccia

¾ cup war water (110°F)

1 tablespoon sugar

1½ teaspoon dry active yeast

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided

2½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon sea salt

Olive oil

Ideas for toppings: Coarse sea salt, fresh rosemary, freshly cracked black pepper, sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced red or yellow onion, sliced rip olives, grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.

Combine water, sugar and yeast in a small bowl; set aside for 10 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons olive oil.

Combine 2 cups flour and 1 teaspoon sea salt in large bowl of mixer fitted with dough hook. Add yeast mixture and mix on medium-low speed for 5 minutes. Add remaining flour and continue mixing to form a very soft dough. Dough should hold together; if dough is too sticky, add a few tablespoons of flour and mix until consistency is correct.

Place dough in a well-oiled bowl; turn to coat top. Cover with a damp tea towel and allow to rise in a warm place (85°F), free from drafts, for 1½ hours or until doubled in bulk. Pour 2 tablespoons olive oil into a 10 x 15-inch rimmed baking pan. Transfer dough to the pan and gently stretch to cover the bottom of the pan. Dough may need to rest for a moment or two during this process. Try not to tear the dough.

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Cover dough loosely with a damp tea towel and allow to rise in a warm place for 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove towel and drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over surface of dough. Using your fingertips, indent the surface of the focaccia and add your choice of toppings, gently pressing them into the indentations.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until focaccia is golden brown. Cool on wire rack. Brush with additional olive oil if desired.

Yield: One 10 x 15-inch focaccia

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From Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters by Sister Schubert (© 2009 by CECA Enterprises LLC, $40). Excerpted with permission. Sister Schubert provided a copy for review.

For more about Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls or to order a copy of the book, contact Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls, 100 Crenshaw Parkway, P.O. Drawer 112, Luverne, AL 36049; www.sisterschuberts.com; 334-335-2232

Click here to see a separate post about Sister Schubert and her cookbook.

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RECIPE Country Corn Muffins from Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters by Sister Schubert

Click here to see a separate post about Sister Schubert and her cookbook.

Sister Schubert, aka Patricia Schubert Barnes, wrote Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters—Recipes for Success, Cooking & Living to share her popular recipes and to tell her family’s story. Here is her traditional Country Corn Muffin recipe, which will put your cast-iron muffin pan (or a regular pan if you don’t have cast-iron) to good use. Sister even includes helpful tidbits from her grandmother, known affectionately as Gommey.

Sister Schubert's Country Corn Muffins

Sister says: “Gommey called this type of cornbread ‘egg bread’ since the original corn cake was simply made of cornmeal and water, fried in a skillet. It would have been scandalous in many Southern kitchens to add flour to cornbread! Remember to fill any empty muffin cups half full of water before baking to distribute the heat evenly and prevent over-browning.”

Country Corn Muffins

1¼ cups plain cornmeal

¾ cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder

¾ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup milk

¼ cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Grease a cast-iron muffin pan.*

Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Combine eggs, milk, and oil; add to cornmeal mixture, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened.

If using a cast-iron muffin pan, place well-greased pan into the oven for 5 minutes or until grease sizzles. Spoon batter into hot pans, filling muffin cups two-thirds full.

* For regular muffin pans, spoon batter into greased pans, filling two-thirds full.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until muffins are golden brown. Remove from pans immediately.

Yield: 1 dozen

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From Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters by Sister Schubert (© 2009 by CECA Enterprises LLC, $40). Excerpted with permission. Sister Schubert provided a copy for review.

For more about Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls or to order a copy of the book, contact Sister Schubert’s Homemade Rolls, 100 Crenshaw Parkway, P.O. Drawer 112, Luverne, AL 36049; www.sisterschuberts.com; 334-335-2232.

Click here to see a separate post about Sister Schubert and her cookbook.

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Balthazar Bakery, New York, NY

One of the best and classiest bakeries I’ve ever encountered leaves me speechless—all the better to savor each delicious bite.

story and photos by Bakery Boy

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Huge round loaves of French rye sourdough grace the window at Balthazar Bakery.

Big, round, flour-dusted loaves crowding the storefront window transfix me before I even step into Balthazar Bakery. Displayed upright between sturdy wooden pegs, these rustic, dark-crusted disks as thick as cheese wheels resemble the kind of dense, hearty bread that has been the staff of life since the Middle Ages, perhaps since biblical times.

A narrow storefront belies the wide variety found inside.

This astounding first impression, one in a series of positive impressions, leaves me literally speechless. That the salespeople are far too busy serving a steady stream of customers in a compact showroom to talk with me much, and that the bakers bustling in back have little space to accommodate a curious visitor like me, and that I am rarely long between bites of something fantastic, all contribute to my mute encounter with one of New York’s finest bakeshops.

Chandeliers and ceiling art accent this classy SoHo bakery.

CHANDELIERS & CEILING ART There’s something special about a bakery where the showroom sports a pair of brass chandeliers and classical ceiling art like something from the Sistine Chapel. But the real works of art at Balthazar are the breads, tarts, pastries, and cakes.

The classy setting complements its sibling operation next door, Balthazar Restaurant, a French-style bistro in a former leather warehouse at the corner of Spring and Crosby Streets in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood. The restaurant’s high ceilings, dark wooden furniture, and shiny zinc bar lend it a look that seems to go back farther than 1997, when it opened. A dinner menu ranging from lobster risotto hors d’oeuvres to sautéed skate or grilled lamb t-bone entrees and an extensive wine list attract a discerning audience.

The small showroom overflows with baked goods.

Desserts and other baked goods, however, stand out as star attractions. The main reason this bakery exists is to supply the adjacent restaurant. Luckily, Balthazar Bakery produces far more than needed to satisfy those seated in the dining room. Which means anyone who stops in before the shelves are emptied each day by the Balthazar faithful can take home incredible baked goods.

So much great bread, so little time.

FIRST, THE BREADS Those huge boules that originally catch my eye and draw me in, known as pain de seigle or French rye sourdough, cost a hefty $24 each, although just-as-tasty medium and small versions go for $11.50 and $5.75. Other artisan loaves include pain au levain or white country sourdough ($4.25); multigrain with honey, flax, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds ($6); walnut bread ($6.50); brioche loaf ($8); potato onion ($4.75); and during harvest season some delightful cranberry-raisin-pecan bread ($8).

Artisan breads in many shapes promise Old World flavor.

I start in with a batard of still-warm and aromatic kalamata olive bread ($6.50), a mere end of which makes it out of the store uneaten, only to be finished off during a subsequent subway ride. Then I add a square-ish loaf of ciabatta laced with rosemary ($4.75) to share with relatives where I’m staying in Brooklyn. I have yet to pass up walnut bread in any form, a personal favorite since my years working as a baker in a Seattle bakery known for it, and today is no different. Finally, anticipating a long drive the next day and the need to nibble, I stash away a humble yet terrific baguette ($2.50), vowing to let few if any crumbs fall to the car’s floor.

Tempting tarts, cheesecakes, and more.

NEXT, THE SWEETS Sufficiently stocked with the staff of life, I next consider Balthazar’s selection of sweets. An apricot frangipane tart four inches across ($5.50) sets a comforting autumn tone and, at first bite, squelches any plans I have to chat up the bakery staff as I usually do. They’re awfully busy, I tell myself, so just stand out of the way and enjoy.

I save most of the apricot tart in a box and next sample an individual-serving cheesecake ($5.50) also four inches across, nearly as tall, and with a velvety creaminess consistent from outside to middle and from start to finish. Perfection…but unfortunately within minutes nothing’s leftover for later. A couple of bites of a fresh berry noisette ($5.50) with blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries on a fluffy hazelnut soufflé briefly carry me back to summer before I tuck the rest into my box. Then I dive straight into winter with a dense, chewy, walnut brownie ($3.50) that calls for a stiff shot of hot espresso as accompaniment.

Other enticing choices include coconut cake and flourless chocolate cake, whole ($25) or by the slice ($6.25); sizable cookies such as oatmeal raisin, chocolate walnut, and shortbread ($1-$2); cute little shell-shaped madeleines in lemon, chocolate, or pistachio ($2); and crunchy-sticky palmier ($1). There are also croissants (expected in the French setting) and donuts (unexpected).

By closing time if not before, all this bread will be gone, snapped up by the Balthazar Bakery faithful.

According to Balthazar Restaurant’s menu, bakery-fresh options prepared for the table range from warm chocolate cake with white-chocolate ice cream to a caramelized banana ricotta tart; pavlova consisting of baked meringue with warm seasonal berries, chocolate pot de crème with toasted coconut cookies, an apple tart tatin with crème anglaise and vanilla ice cream, plus others (each $9, served).

ENOUGH, ALREADY! As a born-to-the-role bakery fanatic with a history of checking out every bakery I find, I’m not one to say “stop I’ve had enough” very often. At Balthazar I had to apply the brakes. Every item I saw, smelled, or tasted made me want to try others. I quickly and contentedly consumed a week’s worth of my normal bakery-research calories in a mere half-hour. And yes, I can hardly wait to go back and try some more!

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Balthazar Bakery: 80 Spring Street, New York, NY 10012 (corner of Spring and Crosby Streets in SoHo); www.balthazarbakery.com; 212-965-1758; Monday-Friday 7:30 a.m.-8 p.m., Saturday-Sunday 8 a.m.-8 p.m.  Balthazar Restaurant: www.balthazarny.com; reservations 212-965-1414.

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Been there yourself? Care to add your thoughts? Want to suggest another bakery? Leave a comment below.

Panaderia España, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Bakeries in Puerto Rico are more than just shops where you dash in and out. They’re where neighbors and friends gather to linger, talk, read, and eat.

story & photos by Bakery Boy

My taxi driver René Lopez, a former baker, shows off torillas (omelette pies full of eggs, onions, and potatoes) at Panaderia España, where he once worked. Photos by Bakery Boy.

I only discovered Panaderia España through coincidence and a friendly taxi driver.

This terrific bakery (panaderia) wasn’t anywhere near my beachfront hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the capital of this U.S. territory in the Caribbean. I shot past it on a busy highway coming from the airport without even noticing and certainly wouldn’t have found it on my own.

By chance though, a taxi driver named René Lopez showed up at the San Juan Marriott Resort to take me across the city for a tour of the Bacardi Rum Distillery. Cabbies can be the best guides, because in their line of work they go everywhere, see everything, and get an earful of reactions from all the people they usher around town.

Cheesecakes, éclairs, cakes, custards, fruit gels, and pies brighten Panaderia España showcases.

On our way to Bacardi we talked about rum, naturally. René told me what to expect at Bacardi and about two other distilleries on the island, Don Q and Ron del Barrilito. Afterwards, while heading back, I mentioned that I write about bakeries. It turns out René worked as a baker for nine years before switching to taxis. If I didn’t mind a short detour, he said, we could swing by his former workplace and he would show me around.

I rushed right past without noticing it from the highway, but found it later through luck and the right cabbie.

EUREKA! This lucky find is a bakery blogger’s version of a gold miner hitting pay dirt and shouting Eureka! An off-the-beaten-path bakeshop and an inside connection don’t come along every day. So we changed course toward the Isla Verde section of the city and soon entered the bustling Panaderia España, a neighborhood anchor since 1972.

José Rodriguez Lopez, one of several Panaderia España co-owners, with a fruit-topped Hummingbird Cake.

The entire staff and many of the customers were genuinely happy to see their old friend René again. One co-owner, José Rodriguez Lopez—upon hearing that their baker-turned-cabbie had brought a journalist along who could tell more travelers about the place—seemed very happy at the prospect.

With bilingual René serving as interpreter, José wanted me to know that newly appointed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is of Puerto Rican descent, dropped in one day. Her visit involved tag-along journalists, and the positive attention it brought apparently made José glad to have me there, even though I was tailing a taxi-driving baker instead of a renowned judge.

Variety is vital at popular Puerto Rican bakeries.

José showed me around. Hundreds of hot Spanish-style loaves—long, thick, soft, pale bread to be loaded with garlic-butter or put to work sopping up soups and sauces at any meal—crackled as they cooled on racks. Thinner, denser baguettes destined to become Cuban sandwiches were just going into the oven.  A team of bakers filled fruit pies as well as breakfast pies (with eggs, ham, and cheese), squirted custard into éclairs, shook powered sugar or drizzled melted chocolate onto doughnuts, sliced cheesecakes into neat wedges, arranged fresh strawberries on chocolate tortes, stacked and frosted layer cakes, rolled cinnamon-sugared puff pastry into what I call elephant ears (I forgot to ask what they call them, but oregas de elefante seems unlikely), and much more.

FULL DELI René insisted we order hot-pressed Cuban sandwiches. “They’re the best in San Juan,” he assured me—dense, chewy submarine-shaped buns smeared with butter (yes, it must be butter, he said) and stacked with slices of cured ham, roast beef, and Swiss cheese. Before those were ready I was biting into a jelly roll-style guava-and-cream-cheese pastry (there’s a mango version too) and contemplating the head-still-on whole roasted pig sprawled on a bed of vegetables and rice, paella style, behind steamy showcase glass.

Whole roasted pig, seen paella style on a bed of vegetables and rice, is typical of beyond-just-bakeries Puerto Rican panaderias.

Yes, bakeries in Puerto Rico go way beyond the usual sweets we know on the mainland. They’re open from early in the morning until late and night and serve a full roster of breakfast, lunch, and dinner foods like you’d find at a great deli.

If you can make out the chalkboard menu in one of my photos, that is indeed pulpo a la gallega (octopus Galician-style, as found in northwestern Spain), lechon asado (roast pork), fabada (bean stew), and camarones enchilados (shrimp in a spicy chili sauce) in the mix. Sweets have their place, but Puerto Rican bakeries are more like full-scale restaurants known for variety.

There’s even a well-stocked and climate-controlled wine room, something many Puerto Rican bakeries have. They figure people who appreciate good food will also appreciate good vino.

All day long, Puerto Rican bakeries fill with patrons who linger at long communal tables to talk, eat, and watch the world go by.

LINGER Conversations are part of the true panaderia experience too. Like Panaderia España, many have dozens of long tables that are filled at all hours with people talking, eating, reading newspapers or books, and watching the world go by. They’re like community centers, neighborhood watering holes, diners, and bakeshops all rolled into one.

Thanks to a taxi driver with a baking past, Panaderia España became my first Puerto Rican bakery experience. It wasn’t my last. Others offered a similar wide variety and likewise teemed with customers any time I happened upon them. Look for more about them in future posts.

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WHAT’S THAT SLOGAN? My high-school Spanish is pretty rusty. I do my best, rifling through a Spanish-English dictionary for key words and tossing proper grammar to the wind. But I was stumped by one slogan printed in red on a white box of goodies I left Panaderia España with. The large print was easy enough: Panaderia (bakery), Reposteria (pastries), Licores (spirits or liquors). The name España, scrawled across an outline of Spain, was obviously “Spain.” A subhead came to me quickly too: Especialidad en Productos Españoles (Specializing in Spanish Products).

The fine print at the bottom, however, threw me. I turned to René, my trusty taxi driver, who broke into a grin at the sight of Tu hijo cuenta con la major defensa contra las drogas… cuenta contigo ¡¡no le falles!! It’s an anti-drugs public service message, he explained, along the lines of a missing child’s face on a milk carton. Roughly, it reads, “Your son has the best defense against drugs, counting on you, don’t fail!”

Oh. Not exactly a message I expected to find on a bakery box. But okay, here’s to drug-free Puerto Rican kids who prefer to get their kicks from baked goods!

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José Rodriguez Lopez and his crew make these pillow-y cloud-like loaves by the hundreds.

Panaderia España: Centro Comercial Villamar, Avenue Baldorioty de Castro, Calle Marginal, Isle Verde, Puerto Rico 00979-6196

Call 787-727-3860 or 787-727-0528

(no website)

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Lara’s Bakery, Harlingen, TX (guest blog)

My pal Lisa Battle, blogging for Livability.com, discovers the joy of Lara’s and other panaderia (bakeries) way down south in Texas.

Lisa Battles (guest blogger)

It’s probably going to be quite a long while before I get to Harlingen, Texas—located in the Rio Grande Valley near the southern tip of the Lone Star State—to taste my way through its Mexican-style neighborhood  bakeries for the Bakery Boy Blog. So when I learned that my Nashville friend Lisa Battles recently visited there and blogged about a couple of neighborhood panaderia (Spanish for bakeries) for Livability.com’s Best Places to Live Blog, I decided to let her story fill in for now.

Marrinitos (little pigs)

Lisa found Lara’s Bakery and quickly became enamored with the pan dulce (sweat breads), marrinitos (cake-like treats formed with piglet-shaped cookie cutters and rich with molasses), and pan de muerto (“bread of the dead”). The latter are  loaves either molded or decorated to resemble skulls, bones, and other spooky shapes in celebration of the Mexican holiday known as the Day of the Dead.

Pan de Muerto ("bread of the dead")

Livability.com is a website that ferrets out “the best places in America to live, work, play, explore and belong,” and then celebrates whatever makes them special. Here is a link to Lisa’s bakery-related blog post: http://livability.com/best-places-to-live-blog/longing-warm-harlingen-mexican-sweet-bread-cold-day

Meanwhile, I’ve been brushing up on my Spanish as I prepare to write blog posts about several panaderies I sampled during a recent trip to Puerto Rico. Stay tuned and feel free to suggest bakeries anywhere that you think I should check out.

– Bakery Boy


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LARA’S BAKERY 403 West Polk Street, Harlingen, TX 78550; 956-423-1219 (no website)

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Bakery Boy Blog featured on Livability.com

Livability.com, the website that pinpoints “the best places in America to live, work, play, explore and belong,” has tipped its hat to the Bakery Boy Blog on its Best Places to Live Blog.

Here is the link to Livability’s post about the “sweet” life of bakery blogging: http://livability.com/best-places-to-live-blog/bakeries-7-livability-cities-bakery-boys-favorites.

Apparently glad to discover my all-about-bakeries blog, Livability noticed that seven of the bakeries I’ve featured so far are located in communities it considers among the nation’s Most Livable Cities.

On the site you’ll find useful information about terrific cities you might want to live in, including stories about residents, businesses, shops (bakeries too of course!), parks, attractions, amenities, housing markets, and more. The site explores each community’s unique personality and highlights what makes the place special.

Thanks for the mention, Livability.com. If someday we find ourselves exploring the same town at the same time, the first round of petit fours will be on me!

Bakery Boy

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Here are links to my earlier posts about bakeries in places designated Most Livable Cities by Livability.com.

Sweet Life Patisserie, Eugene, OR

Simple Kneads in Greensboro, NC

The Sweetery in Anderson, SC

D Square Donuts in Auburn, AL

WildFlour Bakery in Abingdon, VA

Muffin Man Bakery in Abingdon, VA

Niedlov’s Breadworks in Chattanooga, TN

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The Boozy Baker, A Spirited Cookbook by Lucy Baker

All 75 recipes in this tipsy cookbook include strong spirits, the results not of a barfly lifestyle but of one food writer’s devotion to never wasting a drop.

by Bakery Boy

Why bake with booze? It’s a question Lucy Baker gets asked a lot now that she’s written her first cookbook, The Boozy Baker: 75 Recipes for Spirited Sweets (2010, Running Press, $18.95).

“I really like to bake,” says the Boston-area native and Brooklyn resident, who insists it’s pure coincidence that her last name matches her profession. “I often find myself with a little leftover wine or a couple shots of liquor at the bottom of a bottle, so I find ways to use it in recipes. I figure there’s no sense letting it go to waste.”

A morning person, 40-mile-a-week jogger, and marathon runner who answered my call bright and early, proving she’s no night-owl booze-hound, Lucy also points this out: “Alcohol—from spirits, such as bourbon and rum, to liqueurs like amaretto and crème de menthe, to wine and beer—imparts a subtle, sumptuous warmth that deepens the flavors of desserts and makes them taste even more decadent, luxurious, and sinful.”

That’s why her cakes, pies, tarts, cookies, brownies, mousses, and other tasty creations include stiff belts of bourbon, brandy, gin, rum, tequila, vodka, whiskey, or the high-impact flavors that come with cognac, crème de cacao, framboise, Jägermeister, sake, schnapps, stout beer, and other potent beverages.

“I think baking with booze if fun, plain and simple,” she adds. “Besides, people have always looked for consolation in the bottle and in the cookie jar, so why not combine the two?”

Lucy Baker

BORN TO BAKE Lucy grew up baking brownies with her mom and snacking on cookies with her dad, positive experiences she says made choosing her career path easy.

A freelance food writer and recipe tester, she contributes two columns to the online food website SeriousEats.com (Mixed Reviews, a hands-on and critical look at boxed mixes on the market, and Edible DIY, a guide to edible gifts you make yourself). For three years she helped edit cookbooks for publisher HarperCollins, and she has written articles for Edible Brooklyn, Publishers Weekly, Popular Mechanics, and Time Out New York.

The Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing she earned at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, helps explain the pleasant storytelling nature of her cookbook.

FAVORITES I was drawn first to Lucy’s recipes for Molten Chocolate Orange Cake, a gooey mess in the trendy “lava” category, loaded with bittersweet chocolate and Grand Marnier, and Bottoms Up Pineapple-Tequila Cake, partly because I had just bought the perfect pan for it and partly because I had a couple of inches of tequila left in a bottle and appreciated finding a hangover-free use for it.

Later I tried the Cherry Pie with Scotch and Walnut Crumbles (I’m a scotch fan and walnut trees grow on my parents’ farm); the Red Wine Caramel Tart (my wife likes red wine and I never pass up caramel anything); and the Blueberry-Port Slump with Almond Dumplings (because I raise blueberries and always look for new ways to bake them). Everything turned out well.

Eventually I’ll make the Dirty Girl Scout Cookies, Dark and Stormy Hermits with Raisins and Rum, Boozy Baked Apples, and Pink Elephant Milkshakes, if only for their fun names.

Lucy tells me two other favorites suit the current season. “With fall’s colder weather here, give the Bourbon Apple Crisp a try. Bourbon always seems like a fall-y type of liquor to me, all toasty and warming,” she says. “And wherever you are for Thanksgiving or whoever you’re sharing the holiday with, the Coconut-Sweet Potato Pie is a good choice, with coconut rum in the crust and in the filling too.”

My compliments—and cheers—to the chef!

Southern Comfort Red Velvet Cake from The Boozy Baker (see recipe in separate post)

SAMPLE RECIPES Lucy and her publisher, Running Press, graciously agreed to share two recipes from The Boozy Baker with the Bakery Boy Blog.

– Southern Comfort Red Velvet Cake (click here to see recipe in separate post)

– Beer Profiteroles with Chocolate-Beer Sauce (click here to see recipe in separate post)

DRINK WITH THAT? As a bonus suiting the theme, The Boozy Baker also includes 25 drink recipes for stirring up cocktails that pair nicely with some of the book’s baked goods. A few examples:

Beer Profiteroles with Chocolate-Beer Sauce (see recipe in separate post)

Ginger Highball—goes well with Gingery Peach Cobbler

Orange Sidecar (including cognac or brandy and orange liqueur)—goes well with the puffy and golden Sidecar Souffle

Clearly Cosmo (vodka and cranberry juice, shaken and stained)—goes with the fudge-cake-like Chocolate Whoopie Pies with Orange Liqueur Cream

Double Mint Fizz (gin, lime juice, crème de menthe)—goes well with the heavily minted and pie-like Grasshopper Tart with Chocolate Chips

Beer Margaritas (light beer, tequila, grand Marnier)—goes well with the summery-zesty Margarita Meringue Pie

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BONUS RECIPE: MAKE YOUR OWN VANILLA EXTRACT

Sneaking a swig of vanilla extract from her mother’s pantry as a child—it didn’t taste at all the way she expected, warm and sweet like its aroma—was part of Lucy’s journey to professional foodie. Here’s her Boozy Baker recipe for concocting your own.

Homemade Bourbon Vanilla Extract

3 vanilla beans

1 cup bourbon

Rinse a clean, empty jam jar or a mason jar with boiling water to sterilize it. Set aside. Split the vanilla beans in half lengthwise with a small, sharp knife. Add them to the jar. Pour the bourbon over the vanilla beans and screw the jar’s lido tightly. Give the jar a few good shakes. Place the jar in a cool, dark cabinet or closet and let it steep for 8 weeks, shaking occasionally. The extract will darken over time. Homemade Bourbon Vanilla Extract can be used in place of store-bought vanilla extract in any recipe. There is no need to remove the vanilla beans. Makes 1 cup.

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Running Press

A review copy of The Boozy Baker: 75 Recipes for Spirited Sweets by Lucy Baker was provided by Running Press, a division of Perseus Books Group; (215) 567-5080.