Posted in Uncategorized

A Post on Challah

I’ve recently become fixated on Challah and this post will contain some pointers and tricks but no actual recipe. I’m still working on finding my favorite challah recipe, I’ve tried two within the past week but I haven’t yet found one with the “egg-y” quality that I adore in challah. My ideal loaf of challah is lightly sweetened but with so many eggs inside that the dough itself is yellow and the crust is hard and beautifully browned. So far, I’ve been able to achieve beautiful puffiness with my challah dough but not that egg-y quality that I want. In my quest for the perfect challah, I’ve tried a recipe from a Le Pain Quotidian cooking class that I took several years ago and one from King Arthur Flour. Next on my list is the “Perfect Challah” recipe from the New York Times and I will let you all know how that one goes! As a baker, I often become fixated on one specific recipe for several days until I believe I have perfected it! One of the most memorable recent occasions of this was my obsession with quiche where I got up at four in the morning to re-do my quiche recipe multiple times. I just have a tendency to want to find ~the recipe~ for something, a recipe that I can count on always. During the semester, I got hung up on baguettes which I’ve made both in Baltimore and home in California to varying degrees of success. I’m still working on that but I took a break to focus on enriched breads which I find are easier to make in a pinch.

Challah is my favorite enriched dough and the only one that I make on a semi-regular basis. Its “enriched” qualities come from the use of oil and eggs as the fat that the yeast feeds on. The dough itself is very light and fluffy and the crust is browned but still soft and often covered with sesame seeds. Challah doesn’t require any special baking equipment, I usually bake mine on two cookie sheets in my oven. Its crust doesn’t need any additional steam and you can use whatever toppings you have on hand. When making challah, I try to have all the ingredients at room temperature. Any dough needs to reach a certain internal temperature before it will start the process of rising and fermenting. However, the internal temperature is especially important for enriched dough because the fats weigh down the dough making a big rise harder to achieve. I also use lukewarm water, around 90F, when making the dough to help with the internal temperature. Looking from the outside, the braiding of challah bread looks incredibly complicated but I’ve found the braiding process soothing and easier than expected. A three or four strand braid is pretty common for challah bread and I usually go with a three or a nine strand braid. For braiding, I handle the dough just like my hair. Actually, for dads trying to learn how to braid, challah dough might provide a good place to practice the more complicated plaits before trying it on your daughter’s head. King Arthur Flour has some great youtube videos on the most basic braids and like any part of baking, your braids will improve with practice. Let me know if you enjoyed this more technical type of post in the comments below. I can’t wait to share my final challah recipe with everyone and until then, Happy Baking!

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee

This book was a wild ride!!! It was another one of my Christmas books and I was very happy to see it! I saw this in the same bookstore as “Hidden Valley Road”, which was Old Town Books in Alexandria, Virginia. This being said, I implore you all to try and patronize your local or independent bookstores as much as you can during this never-ending pandemic. Often books from local or independent sellers can be pricier than Amazon or other larger sellers, but when I have the extra money to do so, I try to think of the higher price as part of an investment in my community. Local bookstores provide so much more for their communities than Amazon can ever do so try to support them if you can! Back to the book! As I mentioned, reading this book is a journey and it was one that I thoroughly enjoyed with some minor misgivings about the author’s style. As a novel about opera singers, it is written as a love story to the art of opera and I would highly recommend listening to the operas or just specific songs as they are mentioned in the book. I didn’t do this and I think my reading would have been richer for doing so because I am not super familiar with opera.

The book follows Lilliet Berne, a fictional soprano from the Fin de Siecle in France. The book follows her recollections of her curious ascent to the heights of operatic fame and the cost of such a journey to herself and others. I loved the story which was inspired by Jenny Lind who ended her career touring America with PT Barnum and his circus. Lilliet’s life is full of twists and turns that were delightful to explore! My only issues with the book were stylistic. Mr. Chee chooses to not differentiate his lines of dialogue from the rest of his prose which can be confusing. I did get used to it eventually but not without irritation on my part. Furthermore, Mr. Chee writes the novel in a mix of past and present which can be jarring but I didn’t take as much umbrage at this as I did with the dialogue. I really loved the story, it absolutely drew me in but I was so frustrated with Mr. Chee’s style at certain points that I almost stopped reading. I’m glad I didn’t because the novel was delicious to devour but future reader, be warned! Happy reading and please support your local bookstore if you can! (My copy of The Queen of the Night was from Vroman’s in Pasadena, a fabulous bookstore that ships nationwide!)

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker

Hello again! It’s been a while; I’ve been goofing off on break and generally trying to enjoy myself before school starts again. This book was from my parents for Christmas and it was a lovely surprise. I’ve wanted to read this book ever since I saw it at Old Town Books in Alexandria, VA during the fall but held myself back from buying it at the time. I’m glad that I did because it was absolutely worth the wait! This book is the result of Kolker’s years of interviewing the Galvin family from Colorado. It’s a fantastic follow up after his last book, Lost Girls, which was a deep dive into the Long Island serial killer. This book was a great and terrible read. Kolker’s writing is delightful but the history of the Galvin family is a tragic one and it was tough just to read about it.

Hidden Valley Road tells the story of the Galvin family. The Galvins had twelve children, ten boys and two girls and six of those boys went to develop severe mental illness, mostly schizophrenia. The book follows all of the Galvin family, from telling the stories of Mimi and Don (the parents) to the heartbreaking stories of their children. Kolker also weaves in the story of the study of schizophrenia and mental illness which I found to be enormously helpful in understanding the cultural attitudes around the treatment of the six boys and the family and how that changed over their lifetimes. The Galvins’ stories were heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful and showed how one family could persevere in the face of so much. There is some description of sexual assault and domestic violence in the book that may be difficult to read for some. I did really like reading the book but some moments I had to put it down because it really heavy stuff. I came out of it with a lot of respect and admiration for those affected by mental illness. So I would recommend this one but maybe with some breaks! Happy Reading folks!

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh

It’s been a while since I’ve posted and I’m glad that I have come back to my blog. I’ve been pretty vocal about sort of struggling during the holidays and this stage in the pandemic on my other social media platforms but not so much on here. I really like to reserve my blog to be a lovely and happy place where I just get to share things that went well or things that I really like. I forget sometimes that this blog is also supposed to be a chronicle of my life and that my life has its up and downs and sometimes the downs can be really tough to deal with. I had a crazy stressful period with finals and which continued in the lead up to the holidays. I have been feeling a lot better and on steadier ground since Christmas which is a good thing for me. But that’s just a brief little blurb into why posts haven’t been quite as frequent and how that’s okay sometimes! Anyway, on to the book review! This was one of the books on my Christmas list and I did read Brosh’s first book, Hyperbole and a Half. This is something of a sequel because it discusses Brosh’s life during and after the publication of her last book but it also explores a lot of her childhood memories.

The book explores a ton of subject matter and I actually think it’s the perfect book for a pandemic, especially the weird reality that we now inhabit. Brosh’s book is essentially a meditation on herself and her life through drawing. This book is definitely not as funny as Hyperbole and a Half but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Brosh went through a huge amount of major life events compressed into just a few years of her life and that’s a tough thing to talk or write about. I found that the last few chapters of the book were the most meaningful to me, where Brosh discusses her relationship with her self and what that now means to her. I think both of Brosh’s books are worth reading, Hyperbole for the hilarity and Solutions for the more mature and thought provoking content. There’s really not that much more to say, you’ll have to read the book if you want more! The book itself is pretty hefty, weighing much more than any other book of its size but its definitely worth the read. I read it in about a day and I loved it even if I wasn’t laughing but closer to crying while reading it. I hope that you seek this book out and let me know what you think. Happy reading!

Posted in Cookies, Recipes

Bulla Cookies

I love the holidays, covid or not, because of all the baking! I absolutely adore having a seasonal reason to bake and there’s nothing that cheers me up more than some lovely Christmas cookies. I always make a ton of cookies from different recipes around the holidays and these are the results of my latest experiment! I’m so lucky that this recipe worked out, it’s from the Wall Street Journal and I have NOT had good luck with some of their recipes. This past year, I’ve had a hard time with snicker-doodles and these were a perfect recipe for someone who regularly messes up the more delicate snickerdoodle. I love the spices mixed into the dough for snicker-doodles and this recipe provides the same spices with a bit more of a punch. The article that I got the recipe from described them as Jamaican snicker-doodles but I would describe them more like gingerbread snicker-doodles. They’re hardier cookies and the article recommended shipping these out to relatives as they would hold up better in the shipping process. I would have shipped some out had any made it out of my kitchen! They were so delicious that my family and I ate them all up within the week. I’m excited to make this recipe for many years to come, it’s amazing!

This recipe makes about twenty four cookies and the original recipe recommended doing 3 ounce dough balls for the cookies. I halved that amount to about 1.5 ounces per cookie and found that the smaller size works better for me. 3 ounce cookies would have been too big for my family and I but it may be just the right size for some! The true star of the recipe is the spices but we cannot neglect the hidden hero, cream of tartar. Cream of tartar is a byproduct from wine-making and it’s a chalky powder that winemakers will scrape from their barrels after they’ve removed the wine. Cream of tartar acts as an acid, balancing out the spreading tendency of the sugar and butter, and keeps the cookie together in the baking process. If a recipe calls for cream of tartar, if you don’t have any, go get some. It’s not worth it to try and substitute another acid like lemon juice, it just doesn’t work right. I am speaking from personal experience because I attempted to substitute lemon juice in several batches of snicker-doodles and they spread horrifically. I had to scrape the cookies off the baking tray and was very distraught. But we all fail during baking and I’m taking advantage of this never ending year to try and branch out in my baking despite the potential for failure. So I hope that you have some cream of tartar at home and can make these cookies for yourself and your family this holiday season! Happy baking!

Bulla Cookie Recipe

For the Dough

  • 330 grams (2 3/4 cup) all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 297 grams (1 1/2 cup) granulated sugar
  • 54 grams (1/4 cup) light brown sugar (if using cups, pack the sugar down)
  • 2 large eggs

For the Sugar Topping

  • 99 grams (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground clove

To make the dough, first combine the dry ingredients (from flour down to ground pepper). Mix well with a fork.

  1. Beat together butter and sugars until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes in a mixer and longer by hand. Scrape the bowl and mix again for less than a minute. Beat in eggs one at a time until mixed completely. 
  2. Add in dry ingredients in one or two additions to the butter/sugar mix. Mix on low until just incorporated, try not to over mix. 
  3. Scoop out dough, about 1.5 oz each, and roll into a ball. Grease several containers and place the dough inside. Cover and refrigerate at least 3-4 hours, ideally chilling overnight. The dough can also be frozen at this stage as well and it keeps for 3 months in the freezer.
  4. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 and make the sugar topping by combining all the ingredients. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. 
  5. Roll cookies in sugar topping and make sure they are completely coated. Place on sheets with at least 2 or 3 inches in between cookies and bake 10-14 minutes. (If your oven runs cold, bake 14 minutes) If baking from frozen, bake an additional 2-3 minutes but be sure to watch the cookies to prevent them burning.
  6. Let cool to room temperature on a wire rack and enjoy! They stay good for 5 days in a airtight container. 
Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Crescent City by Sarah J. Maas

I have a long history with Sarah J. Maas. I think I picked up her first book , Throne of Glass, when I was 12 or 13? I’ve had it on my shelf forever and absolutely adore that book. I haven’t finished catching up on that series which has seven books along with a novella but it was absolutely worth every minute spent reading those books so far. I also dipped my toe into Maas’ next series, A Court of Thorns and Roses, which is fantastic. Maas is an unparalleled writer in the YA world, both for her prolific output and the sheer delight of her novels. I am in the process of finally finishing the Throne of Glass series after a serious hiatus while waiting for the final book and for my college life to slow down and I am super excited for those books. Maas’ most recent novel is a wonder of world-building and action packed romance and I wish I could read again for the first time because I enjoyed it so much!

The novel, Crescent City, mainly follows Bryce Quinlan, a young Half-fae girl haunted by tragedy. Bryce joins forces with the breathtakingly handsome and brooding fallen angel, Hunt Athalar for the opportunity to find the murderer of Bryce’s best friend. Romance and action ensue in a read that took me two days to devour. Bryce and Hunt race through the streets of Crescent City, doing battle with the forces of evil and discovering just what is possible through love. This book is filled with twists and turns to the point of absurdity but I enjoyed every second of it. Maas is a master of fantasy fiction and this book is just proof of her skills. I would recommend this book to fiction and fantasy fans of all ages, although there are some graphic scenes so this one would not have been for twelve-year old me. Happy Reading!

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe

I cannot remember where I first saw this book but I’ve had it on my book wish list ever since it came out in 2019. I read all 412 pages in less than two days but I also had time to spare and work to procrastinate on. I was fascinated by the premise of the book that followed the murder of a young single mother during the Troubles, but this book ended up being so much more than that. The book not only follows the aftermath of the disappearance of Jean McConville, but also paints a rich history of the birth of the Provisional IRA and their role in the most violent years of the Troubles. I was aware of the Troubles as a problematic period in the history of the UK Commonwealth and Ireland but really didn’t understand the depth of the issues that were fought over and how high or low intensity that conflict was. Before reading this book, my only experience with the Troubles was from watching Derry Girls, a Netflix comedy about teenagers coming of age as a peace plan is finally agreed upon. Coming from a place where I knew next to nothing about the Troubles, this book was an excellent primer into this tumultuous period in Irish history.

The book centers on the disappearance of Jean McConville but also intertwines the stories of most of the important figures in the Provisional IRA or the Provos. At first I was mildly confused about why Keefe was sharing the history and stories of the Provo leadership and main actors in this book, but it all made sense once Keefe got into the meat of Jean McConville’s disappearance. I really enjoyed reading this book, even though the period of history that it discusses is dark and still a recent wound for many living in Northern Ireland. Most of Keefe’s work draws upon a prodigious and mismanaged project from Boston College to create an oral history of the IRA and the Troubles. This history was not meant to have been accessed until all the participants had died, but it became a centerpiece in the legal battle to bring Jean McConville’s murderers to justice and thus became an integral part of the story. I would absolutely recommend this book to almost anyone. It may be a bit dark for some readers, but I think that just has to do with the facts of what happened in Northern Ireland during this period. I hope you get the chance to read this book and enjoy it just as much as I did! Happy reading!

Posted in Recipes

Mini-Pecan Pies

These are so good that one did not even make it to the plate for a photo. The day after I baked these, they were GONE! They are so good and I cannot wait to share the recipe! I found these after searching around for fall desserts on the New York Times Cooking App and came across these darlings! On their app, they’re called Pecan Tassies and are meant to be similar to a bite-size cookie. I ended up modifying the recipe slightly and making them much larger for a more satisfying bite and now I’m calling them mini-pecan pies! I love pecan pie and it’s one of my favorite foods that we have around the holidays. It’s also the favorite pie of my father whose birthday falls around Thanksgiving time. This year, I wanted to make these for our scaled down gathering and they have already been a big hit with my boyfriend. I can’t wait to make these for my whole family over the holidays!

I made a couple of modifications to the original recipe that really make all the difference. My recipe makes about ten cupcake sized pecan pies which I baked in a single muffin tin using reusable muffin liners. You can also make these in a mini-muffin pan that produces quite a few more so it’s your choice. The baking time doesn’t vary so you can’t go wrong either way. The dough that holds the pecan pie goo is quite soft and should be handled as quickly as possible so it doesn’t get tough or melt all over your hands. I added a tablespoon of maple sugar to my recipe which more than the two teaspoons of sugar from the original recipe but the addition makes the mini pies truly delectable. If you don’t have maple sugar, you can use regular granulated sugar or look for some maple sugar in stores. In my post “Maple Shortbread Cookies” I also include instructions for how to make maple sugar from maple syrup which you can always do as long as you have Grade A maple syrup around. The pecan pie goo is delicious but make sure your butter is truly melted before you mix it. When I was making my mini pies, I didn’t melt it as well as I should have and ended up with butter chunks that I slowly had to melt while trying not to cook the egg that I had already beaten in! As long as your butter and cream cheese are close to room temperature, it’s a super easy and quick recipe to whip together. Happy baking!

Mini-Pecan Pie Recipe

For the Crust

  • 85 grams (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 123 grams (4 oz) cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon maple sugar (or granulated sugar if that’s all you have)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 128 grams (1 full cup) All Purpose flour

For the Filling

  • 1 large egg
  • 78 grams (1/4 cup) maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 28 grams (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 66 grams (2/3 cup) pecan halves, finely chopped
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 and spray a dozen non stick muffin cups.
  2. Make the dough. Beat together the butter, cream cheese, sugar, and salt until creamy. Beat in the flour until the dough just comes together. Portion out the dough and press into a cup shape in the muffin tin.
  3. Make the filling by whisking together all the ingredients except the pecans.
  4. Sprinkle the pecans inside the crust in each of the cups before you add in the filling to evenly distribute the pecans. You’ll use 2 or more tablespoons per crust.
  5. Bake until the filling is set and the crust is brown 20-27 minutes (the original recipe went to 25 but I needed two extra minutes so go to 27 if your oven takes its time when baking stuff)
  6. Remove the tin from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for at least ten minutes. After ten minutes, remove the pies from the muffin tin and let cool on the wire rack. Once cooled, eat with a little whipped cream on top for a truly decadent mouthful!
Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin

I believe that this book has been on my shelf since last Christmas and here I am, eleven months later, finally getting around to reading it. I’m glad that I did because it was a wonderful way to take my mind off the stresses of the end of the semester and the wild world that we live it! Daisy Goodwin creates a lush world set in the Gilded Age and does a fantastic job of doing so. Her novel follows the young Cora Cash, the wealthiest heiress in America, and her journey to England to fulfill her mother’s ambition of marrying into the English gentry. This is a phenomenon that I’ve read a ton about because I find it super fascinating but this is the first fictional novel that I’ve read within the topic. Miss Cash not only finds love but has to navigate a complex world, completely foreign to her and I can say that this is a relatable journey! Sometimes as a West Coast girl on the East Coast, I feel like I can never get it quite right but I keep trying just as Cora does. This book was a quick read for me, I started it the night before I finished it.

Ms. Goodwin’s novel enthralled me. I was spellbound until the last few pages. I loved reading the novel but I found the ending to be supremely unsatisfactory. The curtain closed on the characters and I was still left with so many questions! I hope that you have a chance to read this so you can join me in my speculation! I found the novel to flow well but the character development was somewhat lacking. Even though the novel purported follows a maturing Cora Cash, I wasn’t able to find much maturity in Cora before the last ten pages of the novel. I don’t know if I would have been happier with a longer novel but I was not left quite satisfied. I do hope that I get the chance to read another one of Ms. Goodwin’s novels in the future but hope that it doesn’t leave me as wanting as this one did! Happy reading!

Posted in Cookies, Recipes

Spiced Molasses Chocolate Buttons

These cookies are a little more laborious than my preferred cookie recipes but it is totally worth it! I’ve never made button or thumbprint cookies but I thought I’d give it a try! I was super pleased with the way that these came out! Normally, molasses and other liquid sweeteners like honey have a tendency to spread the dough as it bakes and it can create really moist but very flat cookies. These cookies are fantastic and moist but hold their shape very well. I think they’re really cute and they’d make a great cookie for a holiday cookie exchange once we don’t have to worry about covid-19.

The trick here is the two-hour chill in between making the dough and baking it. It may be tough to wait if you’re impatient like me but I found that taking a nice long walk made the two hours pass by in a breeze! The cookie also uses two different kinds of sugar, brown and turbinado or raw sugar. The difference is that the “raw” sugar comes in large, golden crystals that the dough is rolled in at the end to create a distinctive “sparkle” on the outside. Rolling them in the “raw” sugar is an easy way to give them a little pizzaz. This “raw” sugar is available in most grocery stores in the baking aisle, you just may have to hunt for it a little bit. I also filled these cookies with two different fillings. If you look closely at the pictures, there’s a slight color difference that gives it away. For about half, I used leftover chocolate ganache from my Chocolate Cake recipe from a couple weeks back. For the other half, I used the filling from the recipe. Below, I’ve doubled this amount because the original recipe amount only filled half of my cookies… They’re easy to overfill so go easy on the filling at first, you can always go back in and refill if needed. I hope that you find this recipe as delectable as I did and happy baking!

Spiced Molasses Chocolate Buttons Recipe

For the Dough

  • 195 grams (1 1/2 cup +2 tablespoons) All Purpose flour
  • 35 grams (6 tablespoons) unsweetened cocoa
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 142 grams (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 106 grams (1/2 cup packed) dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 85 grams (1/4 cup) molasses
  • 100 grams turbinado sugar to coat

For the filling

  • 57 grams (1/3 cup) bittersweet chocolate (I used semisweet chocolate chips and it seemed to not be too sweet)
  • 28 grams (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, chopped into smaller pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon molasses
  1. Sift together the flour, cocoa, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, ginger, and all spice in a medium bowl.
  2. Beat together butter, sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy in a separate, large bowl. Beat in the egg until well mixed then add and mix in the molasses.
  3. In two additions, mix together the dry and wet ingredients in the larger bowl until well-blended. Scrape the bowl then refrigerate the dough in the bowl for two hours. To retain the moisture, cover with cling wrap.
  4. When ready to bake, line two baking sheets with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 350F.
  5. Pour turbinado sugar onto a plate or bowl. Using a tablespoon scoop, scoop and portion the dough into balls. Roll in the sugar until covered completely. Place on the baking sheet about 1 1/2 inch apart. (They spread while baking but not by much)
  6. Bake until set around the edges but still soft in the middle, 10 or 11 minutes depending on the strength of your over. Remove from oven and using a spoon, create a deep indent in the middle of each cookie. Return the cookies to the oven and bake 5-6 minutes more. Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool on the pans on a wire rack.
  7. To make the filling, place the chocolate and butter together in a small microwave safe bowl and microwave in thirty second intervals until melted. Mix well between intervals (I have a terrible microwave and it only took me a minute to melt it) Once melted and mixed together, stir in the molasses.
  8. Transfer the filling to a ziplock bag or a pastry bag. Snip a corner off the ziplock bag and fill each cookie. Let sit at room temperature until the filling is firm. Enjoy!