Category Archives: Baking

What it sounds like to work from a DC coffeeshop

Ebenezer’s near Union Station, a Wednesday morning at 9 a.m.*
Population: Between 15 and 30

I have a vanilla, soy, no-foam cappuccino…
I have a mocha latte….
Iced coffee!
Bacon, egg and cheese sandwich?
Iced, mocha lavender latte?
Thank you!
Iced coconut latte?
I had a chamomile tea?
I have a large, iced, mocha caramel custard latte…
Large iced caramel custard on the bar!
Single shot?
I have a sesame bagel toasted with cream cheese!
Have a great day!
It was just a moment to break your life
We’re heading out to New England this afternoon
I have a medium half-caf…
Medium caramel whip…
What’s the wifi password?
Um, banana.
I have a second dirty chai…
Small americano?
Small black eye?
Small red eye?



*Full disclosure: I had a medium americano and banana bread from home. The coffee is very good, but I can’t speak for the mocha caramel custard latte whips.

Speculoos City

Most cafés in Northeast France serve a Belgian Speculoos biscuit with every tea or coffee you order. While you can find Speculoos throughout the country, it’s more at home in Lorraine, which shares a border with Belgium as well as the holiday of Saint Nicolas, when bakeries produce giant Speculoos cookies in the shape of the good saint. Whenever I was served a coffee in another region of France and received a chocolate chip cookie, it was a bitter disappointment.

The cookie is a basic spice cookie, which sounds plain but is completely addictive. I’ll prove it!! The flavor is so popular at the moment that you can buy gazillions of speculoos-flavored treats: cereal, pudding, toasts, spreads, and pastries. The spread is at least as deadly as Nutella. I don’t drink espresso all that often in the States, but some clever friends knew that when I did I would feel sad without that Speculoos on the side, and bought me a cookbook to make them at home, along with a ton of other dishes (speculoos pie crust, speculoos tiramisu with chevre and figs, apple/almond speculoos soufflés!) made with the flavor . Continue reading

Why Crate and Barrel sells pie weights

It’s Bastille Day! The 1789 day French civilians and others stormed the Bastille and it freaked everyone out, even though there were only seven prisoners and more rioters were killed than anyone else. Vive la revolution!

I celebrated this historic day by making a very non-French quiche and eating it with a bunch of French speakers outside of Fort McHenry. I didn’t have enough time to make the pastry dough from scratch (though apparently I am one of very few women who even attempt one), and I turned up my nose at the idea of adding beans to my pie crust while toasting it, because I’d never done it before.

On the right, first not-so-great attempt.

Pride always comes before a fall.

The pie crust turned into a mountain. I convinced myself I could still just pour the filling in, and created an oven disaster that validates Crate and Barrel’s $7 pie weight, though from now on I’ll just be sticking with reused dried peas or clean pebbles, à la français. Attempt two came out cute and clean, though to be perfectly honest both tasted delicious.

I was aiming for a decidedly non-French quiche; a ricotta, arugula and lemon recipe. A quiche typique of ham, cheese, eggs and layered pastry dough always leaves me feeling like a human log, and this was a fantasic and EASY variation.

Even if you do it properly and make the pie crust, it can’t possibly take you more than 20-30 minutes of active work to make, and then all that’s left is to receive compliments from the resident French quiche experts at the picnic.

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Bedouin Mint Tea in the White Desert

Cairo last Tuesday was so smoggy that buildings on the other side of the Nile were blurry by 9 a.m. On Wednesday night the White Desert, nearly 250 miles southwest of the capital, was nothing but cool sand, flowing black sky dotted with stars, and silence.

A popular trip out of Cairo is overnight tours of the white and black deserts, and we definitely needed more nature in our vacation. It was only one night tent-less under the open sky with two guides from nearby Bahariya, but it turned out to be one of the more thrilling parts of 10 days in Egypt. The very best part was not hiking or sandboarding, but wandering around the white desert rocks and chatting and laughing in the night around the palm-fed fire.

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Egypt, Kushari and Diabetes

I left for Cairo via Amman, Jordan on Friday at noon. Today is Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. and I have had falafel for at least one meal every day since Friday. I am going to die.

Falafel crammed into pockets of poofy, pita-like “aish” bread. Falafel flattened and dotted with sesame seeds, then served with aish. Fried zucchini flowers and vegetables stuffed in aish. Foul, a fava bean spread make with plenty of spices and tucked into, you guessed it, aish. I’ve seen countless men weaving bikes down crowded streets; carrying a 4×5 plastic tray piled with aish on their head.

Baklava, kunafa and basbousa desserts: all phyllo, honey and nuts. Then the real 1-2 punch to my glycemic index: kushari.

With a side of aish, of course.

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Christmas Morning Cinnamon Rolls

Before this year, Christmas involved getting to the presents right off the bat, a hurried breakfast while my sisters showered, and running off to grandma and grandpa’s for more of the same. This year, I rolled out of bed at my usual 9:30, padded along the wooden floors in my aunt’s Parisian apartment and started making cinnamon rolls from scratch. What followed was one of the most relaxing and delicious Christmases I’ve ever had. And not a cookie in sight!

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The Chosen One: Picking Your Own Boulangerie

Une baguette, but not "une tradiiton."

The stereotype of a French person walking around half the day with a baguette tucked under his or her arm is completely true. There are six boulangeries fewer than 250 meters from my apartment, which means I, like the average French person, had the luxury of choosing one. The French pride themselves on their cooking and their palates, so I consider the process a rite of passage. Continue reading

Foodies in Lorraine

Lesson learned: if you are going to a food event, especially a food event in France, don’t skip lunch so you have room to taste. There will be champagne tasting, and wine tasting and beer tasting, and it will be a hazardous walk home!

Last Sunday was the Salon de la Gourmandise (just what it sounds like) up on the mountaintop in Epinal. For 3€, I’d be a damn fool to not go and see if I could find some local specialties and try some new foods. Lorraine is best known for a few different products, and none of them are quiche Lorraine:

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Challah: Baking in a Cooking Kitchen

Dinner: warm Sunday leftovers on greens with hunks of challah.

Apparently I am spoiled after living and cooking by myself. I had everything a baker could ever need: tons of giant mixing bowls, small ingredient bowls, plenty of pans, three sets of measuring cups and all the oils, eggs, sugars, salts and spices required to bake on a whim.

Guess whose kitchen has none of that? The one I’m in right now. The man has a $300 chef’s knife, but no  Saran wrap.

Serious effort required.

So this afternoon I found myself mixing challah dough with what was basically a wooden spork and a stock pot, like a  human stand mixer. Two-handed. I also had to use a liquid measuring cup for every ingredient, so I’m not sure I can ever replicate this exact bread.

Of all the breads I’ve tried, challah has been the most fun to work with. The dough is light, soft and squelchy, and there’s something really satisfying about making shaped bread instead of just a loaf. The finished product was airy and delicious, and will be great for sandwiches (grilled cheese?) and maybe French toast if I have time. The recipe, however, made a loaf about the size of Maryland.

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Challah, via King Arthur Flour
(I warned you, this will make a loaf so large that you laugh until you cry.)

(three 1/4-ounce packets) active dry yeast
2 cups warm water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
3 large eggs, room temperature
6 1/2 cups (approx.) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 egg, for glaze
1 tablespoon cold water, for glaze
poppy seeds or sesame seeds (optional)

See full directions here, abbreviated below.

–Stir yeast into water in small bowl, then cream sugar and shortening in very large bowl. Add eggs, beat til fluffy. Add yeast and 4 c flour, beat 2 minutes. Cover tightly for 30 minutes.

–Stir to deflate, while adding salt and 2 c. flour. Turn onto floured surface and knead (adding flour as needed) until a smooth, elastic dough. Put dough in large oiled bowl, turning to coat. Cover, let rise 40 minutes.

–Turn dough onto lightly oiled surface, divide into thirds and roll swiftly with both hands to make three 20-inch ropes. Lay ropes on greased cookie sheet and braid, starting in the middle and braiding each end out. Pinch ends and tuck under. Cover and let rise 30 minutes. NOTE: make sure you leave some space at the end of the loaf. Otherwise, it will eat your pan.

–Beat egg w/cold water to make glaze and spread over rope. Sprinkle with seeds if desired.  Bake in preheated 375 degree oven for 45 minutes. Cool on rack.


Benefits of self-induced poverty

For the last two weeks, I’ve cut down seriously on the groceries I buy and focused on getting rid of my remaining stock: mostly beans and pasta. On weeknights I usually come home and make something familiar, but being forced to find a new way to use kidney beans helped me find a ton of great new recipes, and ways that make basic, cheap ingredients like beans and rice uber delicious. Good practice for having minimal income in France.

On top of the black bean burgers I made earlier, I also made a Turkish lentil salad, mascarpone risotto and a kidney bean curry with nothing more than veggies, beans and spices (photo above). It was zesty sweet, and tasty!

Today I cleaned out my freezer and some of my baking supplies by making cornbread muffins and whole wheat honey banana muffins. I may or may not have eaten five total between lunch and dinner. Fats Mcgee.

Clean Out Your Freezer Muffins (adapted slighlty from here)

3 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 c unsweetened applesauce
1/4 c canola oil
1/2 c honey
1/2 c brown sugar
4 eggs
2 c of bananas you’ve had frozen for months. Don’t drain. Mush.
1/4 to 1/2 c chopped walnuts
1/2 c hot water

–Stir together dry ingredients in a smaller bowl.
–Whisk applesauce, oil and honey together in a large bowl. Add eggs; blend well.
–Add bananas, whisk til blended.
–Add dry ingredients to wet alternating with hot water. Whisk after each addition. Add walnuts and stir.
–Scoop batter into 24 muffin cups, bake at 325 degrees for 15 minutes.

These are soft and tasty plain, but leftover mascarpone tastes pretty damn good on them too.