Category Archives: etymology

Mini Zucchini Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

and tri-color candied citrus zest

The Fine Line Between Bread and Cake

Quiz!

1) What would you call a baked good comprised primarily of grated carrot, flour, sugar, eggs, butter or oil, spices, and baking soda/powder?

A) Bread
B) Cake
C) It depends on the proportion of fat: flour: sugar
D) It depends on how you combine the ingredients (i.e. whether the egg whites are beaten into foam)
E) It depends on the presence of cream cheese frosting, as does my eagerness/willingness to consume it

2) What would you call a baked good comprised primarily of grated zucchini, flour, sugar, eggs, butter or oil, spices, and baking soda/powder?

A) Bread
B Cake
C) It depends on the proportion of fat: flour: sugar
D) It depends on how you combine the ingredients (i.e. whether the egg whites are beaten into foam)
E) It depends on the presence of cream cheese frosting, as does my eagerness/willingness to consume it

If you answered C or D, I admire your attempt to make sense of a senseless world, but you get no points from me. If you chose E, I like where your priorities are, but I think you’re still wrong. For most Americans most of the time, #1 is carrot cake and #2 is zucchini bread, regardless of the ingredient proportions or method. It’s true that cake has generally come to refer to sweeter baked goods and bread to less-sweet ones, but that doesn’t seem to matter in the case of these grated-vegetable cake/breads. If it did, the inclusion of chocolate chips would make probably push you in the “cake” direction, but there are dozens of chocolate chip zucchini “bread” recipes and others that make the whole loaf chocolate, but are still named “bread.” Both probably fall into the categories of “quick bread” or “snack cake” but there’s no fixed culinary meaning for either of those categories either.

Anyhow, I blame whatever historical contingency landed chemically-leavened grated-carrot-containing baked objects in the “cake” bin and chemically-leavened grated-zucchini-containing baked objects in the “bread” bin for my failure to realize until now that the latter could also achieve its apotheosis under a mantle of sweetened cream cheese. And maybe I was too quick to dismiss answer E, because as soon as I realized I could frost what I would normally call zucchini bread, I was suddenly inclined to call it “cake.” In further naming hijinks, without the frosting, I’m pretty sure these become “muffins.” Right?

many tasty little muffins

Not The Answer to Zucchini Excess

My garden was the victim of serious neglect this year, so I’m not facing the Great Zucchini Glut of a typical July-August. If I were, I’d probably be knee-deep in fritters and garlicky almond sautés and wouldn’t waste my time with recipes like this, which use a pretty pathetic amount of zucchini. 2 cups? Please. A moderately-neglected garden can produce that much in the average Olympics break between NBC commercial broadcasts. This is also why recipes for zucchini bread so often describe the squash flavor as “delicate.” That means you really can’t taste the squash at all, but that’s a probably a good thing unless you’re into baked goods that taste like bitter, watery mush.

The grated squash adds some moisture, a hint of green (or yellow, depending on the color of your squash), and maybe a vague nutritional halo to the cake part. The brown sugar and vanilla in the frosting give it a kind of caramelly flavor, much like taffy apple dip. The citrus zest on top is mostly for color, but also adds a little sweet and sour crunch. If any or all of those things sound appealing and you have a solitary medium-sized summer squash you don’t know what to do with (or one or two little ones), this could be the recipe for you.

the citrus zest defintely makes it prettier, but it's really all about the cream cheese frosting

Recipe: Zucchini Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting (adapted from Taste of Home, Ian Young via Martha Stewart, and ThatsSoYummy)

Ingredients

Cupcakes:

  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour I used these two which was probably a little more than 2 cups, beer bottle for scale
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 medium or 2 small zucchini, shredded (1 1/2 – 2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup oil or melted butter
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup currants or raisins (optional) candying zest--this was a triple batch with 2 oranges, 3 lemons, and 2 limes

Frosting:

  • 4 oz (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened  
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup light-brown sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

Candied Citrus Zest

  • zest of 2-3 lemons, limes, and/or oranges
  • 1/3 cup water (plus much more for blanching zest)
  • 1/3 cup sugar, plus a few tablespoons more for sparkle

Method

Cupcakes:

1. Optional: if using currants or raisins, soak them in the orange juice (with a splash of booze, if you like) for a few hours or overnight.

currants submerged in the orange juice with a splash of cognac after 4-5 hours of soaking, all plumped up

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line muffin tins or coat with cooking spray or butter.

3. Whisk together the flour, sugars, spices, salt, and baking powder.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, eggs, vanilla, shredded zucchini, and currants or raisins with the soaking liquid (if using). Add this mixture to the flour and stir just until combined.

4. Fill prepared muffin tins approximately 2/3 full.

5. Bake for 12-15 minutes (18-22 minutes for standard muffin tins, 45-60 min in a standard loaf pan), until a tester comes out clean or the centers are at least 190F.

6. Let cool in pans 5-10 min, turn out of pans and continue cooling on racks for at least an hour before frosting.

Frosting:

1. Using an electric mixer with a paddle attachment or a spatula and lots of energy, beat the softened cream cheese until it’s soft and airy (3-5 minutes).

2. Add the softened butter and beat until evenly combined.

3. Add the brown sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth. It may be a little gritty at first, just keep beating and the sugar will dissolve.

4. Optional: add powdered sugar if desired to increase sweetness or to make it stiffer for piping.

5. Pipe or spread onto cooled cupcakes. Refrigerate if not serving immediately.

I just dipped the cupcakes in the frosting and swirled them around a little--much faster than piping. The extra makes a great dip for strawberries or apple slices.frosted but not yet zested

Candied Zest:

1. Peel fruits, minimizing white pith. Cut into shapes or strips as desired

this keeps well for a long time, so I made a big batch with 2 oranges, 3 small lemons, 2 limes; some people try to get all the white pith off, but I think blanching takes care of the bitterness cut into little strips, which is a little painstaking. could also use a zester that takes strips automatically to make it faster

2. Put peel in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 7-10 minutes and drain. Taste and repeat if desired. More blanching = less bitterness, but also less flavor.

3. Return the blanched peel to the pot and add sugar and water in saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook until the peel is translucent, 10-15 minutes. Remove peel pieces and separate onto waxed paper to let cool.

4. Optional: after 20-30 minutes, sprinkle with additional sugar and toss to coat. Continue to let dry 8-12 hours.

you can leave the zest unsugared, and then it'll look sort of glossy I prefer it with a little sparkle

Buckeyes, Schmuckeyes, or if you prefer, Peanut Butter Bon-bons

When I first set out to make these chocolate-covered peanut-butter balls, I intended not to refer to them by their traditional Midwestern moniker. Surely, I thought, neither the State of Ohio nor its flagship public university can claim any special relationship to sweetened peanut butter in a chocolate shell. There’s no reason I have to invoke tOSU’s mascot in the middle of football season in Michigan. But then I found some pictures of actual buckeyes nuts, and I’ll be damned if they don’t look uncannily like their namesake.

shown here popping out of the big spiny, smelly balls that grow on the treesand here, looking almost unmistakable from the chocolate variety

 

really, the only difference is that the candy version has a flat edge

and yes, I posed these specifically to mimic the above picture

I'll eat YOUR eyes! Whitetail buck from flickr user key lime pie yumyum

Real buckeyes are the seeds of trees in the genus Aesculus, which includes between 13 and 19 species (depending on how you count) that grow all across the Northern Hemisphere. The name “buckeye” is generally attributed to an American Indian word for the seeds and the nutritious mash they made from them after roasting—“hetuck,” which means “eye of a buck.” One species in particular, Aesculus glabra, became commonly known as the “Ohio buckeye,” even though it grows throughout the American Midwest and Great Plains regions, ranging from southern Ontario to northern Texas, apparently because the botanist who gave the tree its English name first encountered it on the banks of the Ohio River.

However, there’s also a California buckeye and a Texas buckeye and even a Japanese buckeye. And the seeds of all the trees in the genus—including Aesculus glabra—are also commonly known as horse chestnuts, after the larger family they belong to (Hippocastanaceae). So there doesn’t seem to be any simple botanical or taxonomical reason why the “buckeye” became so firmly associated with the state of Ohio.

How the Buckeye Became Ohioan and Ohioans Became Buckeyes

According to one story, it all goes back the spectacularly-named Ebenezer Sproat (or Sprout), who was a Colonel of the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War. After an unsuccessful post-war stint as a merchant, he became a surveyor for the state of Rhode Island and bought stock in the Ohio Company of Associates, which sent him west with the group led by Rufus Putnam that founded Marietta, Ohio, the first permanent American settlement in the Northwest Territory. There, Sproat became the first sheriff in the NW Territory. And aside from being a relatively prominent citizen, he also happened to be quite tall and, “of perfect proportions,” according to Wikipedia, whatever that’s supposed to mean. The Indians in Ohio were impressed with his height and/or his importance, and thus came to refer to him as “Hetuck” or “Big Buckeye.” A similar account suggests that it was mostly his height—claiming he was 6’4” (which would have been tall indeed in the 18th C.) and that he earned the sobriquet on September 2, 1788 when he was leading a procession of judges to the Marietta courthouse. Indians watching the giant of a man walk by began calling out “Hetuck, hetuck.” 

E. G. Booz's Log Cabin whiskey bottle, c. 1860-1890 from Cornell University LibraryBut it’s not entirely clear why that nickname would have ever been generalized to the shorter residents of the region. The more commonly-accepted theory is that the association between buckeyes and Ohio(ans) has something to do with William Henry Harrison.

Harrison was a resident of Ohio in 1840 when he made his first, successful presidential run. According to the Wikipedia article about him, he had already acquired the nickname “Buckeye,” as a “term of affection” when he served in the U.S. Congress, first as a representative of the Northwest Territory and then as one of Ohio’s Senators—presumably because of the prevalence of the tree in the regions he represented. However, the general consensus elsewhere is that Harrison and his presidential campaign advisors carefully cultivated the buckeye mascot and nickname to bolster Harrison’s image as a “man of the people.” Particularly in Ohio, log cabins were frequently made from the wood of buckeye trees and people in rural areas used to string up the nuts that would accumulate wherever the trees grew, so the buckeye was a useful symbol of the kind of rustic frontier populism that Harrison was trying to project.

Meanwhile, they portrayed the Democratic incumbent, Martin Van Buren, as an elitist, or even as a royalist intent on the restoration of the British crown, largely by publicizing the fact that he had hired a French chef for the White House and purportedly enjoyed French wine.Van Buren was actually the son of small upstate New York farmers and educated in rural schoolhouses, whereas Harrison was the son of wealthy Virginia slaveholders and educated in elite New England academies—he even studied medicine with the renowned Dr. Benjamin Rush before deciding he didn’t want to be a doctor. But Harrison successfully managed to convince people he was one of them with the help of bottles of whiskey shaped like log cabins and campaign propaganda like this pull card:

From The Granger Collection Marvin Van Buren smiles when drinking “A Beautiful Goblet of White House Champagne”
pull the string, and he frowns with “An Ugly Mug of Log-Cabin Hard Cider”

Shortly after that, popular songs and texts start to show up that refer to “Buckeye it's not even really "anthropomorphic" because that would be a nut with arms and legs...this one has a separate torsoboys” and “Buckeye girls” and to Ohio as “the Buckeye State.” In the 1850s, Samuel Sullivan Cox wrote a series of letters based on his travels to Europe and the Ottoman Empire, which he published under the title “A Buckeye Abroad.” It obviously continued to the point that now, there are probably almost as many drycleaners, diners, and car repair shops named Buckeye Blank in Ohio as there are Empire Blanks in New York City.

Brutus the Buckeye, the bizarre nut-headed mascot that dances on the sidelines at football and basketball games wasn’t invented until 1965. But students, alumnus, and athletes from the Ohio State University [awkward definite article sic] were always called “Buckeyes.” The name is older than the University itself, which was founded in 1870, and was seemingly applied to sports teams from the very beginning. The short-lived AA professional baseball team that existed in Columbus from 1883-4 was also named the Buckeyes. And Jessie Owens, who won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics, while he was a student at OSU, was  sometimes called “the Buckeye Bullet.”

But What a Stupid Reason That Would Be Not to Make Them

So even though it probably originated with a dishonest political campaign (is there any other kind?), I still feel like I have to cede the name “buckeye” to Ohio—after all, it’s older than the UM v. tOSU rivalry itself. And it just seems foolish to deny the resemblance. But it would be a real shame to let the apparent legitimacy of a name that happens to be associated with any state or school bias you against the salt-studded awesomeness of homemade chocolate-covered, sweetened balls of nut butter. Sure, they’re basically just Reese’s peanut butter cups, but you shouldn’t underestimate the difference that good chocolate, flaky salt, and having personal control over the level of sweetness can make.

the toothpicks make for easier dipping, and it's easy enough to smooth away the holesI probably wouldn’t normally bother with something so…I don’t know, cliché? Pedestrian? It’s not that I don’t like simple foods or classic flavor combinations, but somehow anything consisting primarily of peanut butter and chocolate just seems like cheating. Just like it seems like cheating whenever the contestants on Chopped use bacon if it’s not one of the secret ingredients, and like a petty perversion of justice that the bacon-cheater almost always wins. 

However, this recipe popped up on Serious Eats just as I was musing about how maybe I should throw together some sort of sweet nibble in case we happened to have people over this weekend—something I could make in advance and that would keep relatively well in case we didn’t have people over. These seemed to fit the bill because like most cookies, you can make them well in advance of serving, but like most candies, they won’t get stale. But what really sold me was the description of the crunchy flakes of salt in the peanut butter mixture—“like little mouth-fireworks,” the author said.

If they seem too boring as is, you could mix up the nut butter/chocolate coating combination or add a third or fourth flavor element. You could make Thai coconut version with a little chili pepper, powdered ginger, and dried coconut. Or mix in bits of toffee, puffed rice, or crumbled cookies for a different flavor or texture. You could use cashew butter or almond butter instead of peanut butter, powdered honey for some of the powdered sugar, and white or milk chocolate if any of those is more to your liking. You could even freeze little drops of fruit preserves or caramel and roll the nut butter around them so at room temperature, they’d melt into a sweet, gooey center. Now I’m dreaming of white chocolate-covered sunflower butter balls with vanilla caramel centers. You could even make a whole buffet of different buckeyes…and if you really can’t get past the name, just call them bon-bons or shmuckeyes instead. If you cede them to tOSU, I think that’s just another victory for “tWorst State Ever.”

Recipe: Peanut Butter Bon-Bons (from Serious Eats)
halved from the original, to make approximately 3 dozen

Ingredients:

  • 12 T. salted butter (or coconut oil)
  • 1 1/2 c. unsalted, unsweetened peanut butter (or any other nut or seed butter)
  • 3 c. confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 1/2 t. kosher salt (or more to taste)
  • 1 bag chocolate chips (or ~2 cups chopped bar chocolate, I used a 70% cacao)

1. Leave the butters at room temperature to soften.

2. Beat them together with a spatula or the paddle attachment of a stand mixer until completely smooth and well-combined.

the butters alone will be pretty liquidy first addition of powdered sugar but by the last addition it will be fairly stiff and should be able to be handled

3. Add the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing until it forms a thick, malleable dough.

4. Stir in the kosher salt just until evenly distributed—you want to add the salt at the end so it doesn’t dissolve into the butter. Put the bowl in the freezer for about 10 minutes.

5. Roll heaping tablespoons of the peanut butter mixture into balls about the size of walnuts (or buckeyes) and place on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper or parchment paper. Place a toothpick in each ball and return to the freezer for 30 minutes.

september 066

6. Meanwhile, reserve a few pieces of chocolate and melt the rest in 15-second bursts in a microwave or a double-boiler just until it’s about 75% molten. You don’t want the chocolate to get too warm or it will burn.

7. Remove from the heat and stir occasionally until it’s entirely melted and slightly cooled, and then stir in the reserved pieces.  Wrap the pot in a kitchen towel—you want to keep the chocolate around 88F—I didn’t bother pulling out a candy thermometer, because that’s right around body temperature, so it should feel just barely warm to the touch. Otherwise, it won’t temper correctly, and will set slightly soft and greasy to the touch and may develop a white “bloom” on the surface. The reserved chips  “seed” the melted chocolate with the right crystalline structure to make it harden.

8. Dip each ball in the chocolate to coat and place on waxed paper or parchment paper until firm. Remove the toothpicks and gently smooth over the hole. Store in an air-tight container in a cool place or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Sourdough starter-risen American pumpernickel and starter maintenance options

"red-headed stepchild" on the right split while rising and that seemed to obviate the need for slashing; "favorite child" on the left obviously got a little better shape and rise 

Devil’s Fart Bread

“Pumpernickel” has the best etymology in baking (sorry, bagel). “Pumpern” was New High German slang for flatulence, and “Nickel” or just “Nick” was a common name for Satan (e.g. “Old Nick”) as well as other off-brand goblins, demons, rascals, and bastards. So the name of the bread literally means “farting devil” or “farting bastard.” Seriously, this etymology is accepted by German philologist Johann Christoph Adelung, Merriam-Webster, the Snopes Language Database, the publisher Random House, and the Kluge, which from what I can tell is basically the German OED.

It apparently got its name because, especially in its original form, it is extraordinarily dense and full of indigestible fiber. Traditional German pumpernickel is made from un-bolted rye flour and whole rye berries, which move through the digestive system like Metamucil (which I will forever associate with Black History Month). The other reason traditional pumpernickel is so dense is that rye contains very little gluten. No matter how much yeast is in the dough, it won’t rise very much because much of the gas just escapes.

from Wikimedia commonsRye flour also absorbs a lot more moisture than wheat flour and has to be very wet in order to rise at all. A 100% rye flour that’s dry enough to be kneaded or shaped by hand will be a dense, unpleasant brick. Instead, traditional pumpernickel is made with a dough that’s almost like a batter and very sticky. It’s stirred instead of kneaded and poured into loaf pans to rise and bake. The gluten network isn’t strong or extensive enough to create the rounded top you get from wheat breads or American rye risen in loaf pans. That’s is why the German-style pumpernickel (100% rye) that you can buy at the store is perfectly square—it can only rise as high as the sides of the loaf pan.

American Deli-style Pumpernickel

The almost-black color of traditional pumpernickel is due to an incredibly long baking time (16-24 hours at 250F), which apparently causes Maillard reaction browning throughout the entire loaf. Maillard reaction is the same thing that makes toast brown, so traditional pumpernickel is sort of like bread that’s been entirely toasted from the inside-out, which gives it a deep roasted flavor reminiscent of chocolate and roasted coffee.

American bakers who didn’t want to spend the time and resources on that kind of baking process found they could mimic the color and flavor produced by a long stay in a low-heat oven using cocoa, molasses, and/or instant coffee granules. As packaged dry yeast became more widely available, that was substituted for the sourdough starter to shorten the rising time, and vinegar was often added to mimic the traditional tang. Additionally, American bakers used a high proportion of wheat flour to rye flour, which gave their version enough gluten to be shaped by hand and rise like other wheat breads. That’s the version that became popular as part of American deli cuisine. It’s still dense, richly-flavored, and dark brown or almost black, depending on how many darkening agents are used. However, the texture is much lighter and springier than traditional pumpernickel, which makes it far better-suited to sandwiches.

The Ruben: corned beef, gruyere, sauerkraut, and a dressing made of mayonnaise, ketchup, and sweet pickle relishEgg Salad: hard-boiled egg, mayonnaise, mustard, minced celery, grated onion, and a little celery salt, with a few pieces of crisp lettuceTurkey Ruben: smoked turkey, gruyere, homemade coleslaw with celery salt

Rye Sourdough Starter Conversion

I made a rye sourdough starter about six months ago, when I was under the mistaken impression that it was possible to make a 100% rye dough that would rise like wheat bread if you just added enough gluten. You can make any kind of starter with any kind of flour by following the process outlined here, but if you have a starter going already, you can also convert it to a different kind of flour by simply feeding it with the new flour. I didn’t actually want to convert Ezekiel, I wanted a separate rye starter, so I just used a tablespoon of Ezekiel and fed it with rye flour about every 24 hours as follows:

Day 1: 1 T. rye flour, 1 T. water

Day 2: 2 T. rye flour, 2 T. water

Day 3: 1/3 cup rye flour, 1/3 cup water

Day 4: 2/3 cup rye flour, 1 cup water

The reason I started giving it more water than flour is because rye flour absorbs a lot more moisture, and I realized that feeding it at a 1:1 ratio would produce something that would eventually be more like a ball of dough than a batter. That would will still work— “old dough” style starters are basically the consistency of dough and must be kneaded into new batches of bread gradually. I think wetter starters are a little easier to incorporate, and that’s what I’m used to using, so I decided to keep my rye starter at 150% hydration (2 parts flour: 3 parts water).

Day 3: a few tiny bubbles, just after feeding. Hard to tell in this shot, but the bowl was just under half-full After 8 hrs, the starter had bubbled up high enough to touch the plastic wrap covering the bowl. Done: active rye starter.

The first day, there wasn’t a whole lot of action. On Day 2, there were a few bubbles. By Day 3, the starter got bubbly within a few minutes of being fed and doubled in size within 8 hours. I used it to make a loaf with 100% rye flour, which didn’t rise much, but did get sour. Previous loaves I’d made with mostly rye flour using my wheat starter rose about the same amount, but didn’t get sour. So the rye starter clearly contains more of some strain of yeast that prefers rye flour.

this was dinner one night in February--quartered slices of a brick of traditional-ish pumpernickel with 1) hummus, cheddar, cucumber, and grape tomato, 2) apricot jam, camembert, and apple slices, 3) egg saladI thought about killing it after a few more tries convinced me that it just wasn’t possible to make a soft, sandwich-style or free-form loaf with 100% rye flour. Even after adding 1/2 cup wheat gluten, I couldn’t get enough of a gluten network going for it to rise like a wheat bread. So I can only make 100% rye as tall as my loaf pans go, basically like a traditional pumpernickel. I don’t dislike traditional pumpernickel, but it only really seems suited to being cut into canapé-sized squares and topped with canapé-style toppings, and there’s only so many of those I can eat. There’s nothing wrong with breads that contain less than 100% rye flour, but I don’t need a separate starter for that—Ezekiel will happily rise anything that contains at least 1/2 cup wheat flour.

Keeping a Once-a-Month Starter

The only reason my rye starter is still alive—although haven’t named it yet, so clearly I’m not that attached to it either—is because I’m maintaining it in a way that only requires me to bake with it about once a month instead of once a week. I only save 1-2 t. starter every time I bake, and then feed it weekly until it’s threatening to overflow its jar, which usually takes at least four weeks. I use almost all of it when I bake and save just another 1-2 t. 

You can keep any kind of starter on that kind of feeding schedule if you want to make sourdough-risen bread, but don’t want to do it every week. Once your starter is active, only save about 1 tsp. fed with 1 tsp. flour and 1 tsp. water (or 1.5 tsp. water if using rye flour). Then, about once a week, add just enough flour and water to double whatever is in the jar. A sample feeding schedule for a 100% hydration wheat starter might be:

Week 1: 1 T. flour + 1 T. water

Week 2: 2 T. flour + 2 T. water

Week 3: 1/4 cup flour + 1/4 cup water

Week 4: 1/2 cup flour + 1/2 cup water

Week 5: 1 cup flour + 1 cup water OR bake and start from the beginning again

Sometimes I forget about it for a week, and nothing bad seems to happen. Once I’ve built it up to 1-2 cups again, I make a mental note that I should bake with it sometime in the next week or two. The night before I want to bake, I “refresh” it by pulling it out of the fridge, dumping it into a bowl, adding 1 cup flour and 1 cup water and letting it sit at room temperature for at least 8 hrs before mixing the dough. The next day, I measure out as much as I need for the recipe I’m using, and if there’s a lot left over, I either add it to the recipe and reduce the amount of flour/water I use (baking really isn’t a science), double the recipe, or make another loaf. I suppose I could also just throw the extra away, but I hate to do that. I reserve just about a teaspoonful of the refreshed starter to put back in the jar with a teaspoon each of fresh flour and water, which makes a total of about 1 T. starter. Refrigerate. Repeat. 

I could also save a little more starter, say 2 T. or 1/4 cup, and feed it for just two or three weeks between baking. Not to get all self-help lit, but how empowering is that? You don’t have to be controlled by your yeast culture. You can have sourdough-risen bread as often, or infrequently as you want it. You are the master of your own sourdough starter!

Of course, you can also just use active dry yeast, too, and I’ve included modifications for that and a version that uses a wheat-sourdough below the ingredient list.

Recipe: Rye-starter-risen American Pumpernickel (makes 2 large loaves, adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups refreshed rye starter at 150% hydration (roughly 1.5 cups rye flour and 2.25 cups water)
  • 1 1/2 cups dark rye flour
  • 3 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup vital wheat gluten (optional but highly recommended)
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 4-8 T. butter
  • 3 t. salt
  • 2 T. malt extract, maple syrup, or sugar (optional)
  • 1/2 t.-2 t. caraway seeds (optional)
  • 1/2 t. fennel seeds (optional)
  • 1/2 t. coriander seeds (optional)
  • 1 T. shallot, fresh or dried, or onion powder (optional)
  • 2 T. cocoa (optional)
  • 1 T. instant espresso or coffee powder (optional)

Wheat Sourdough Starter Substitution: Use 2 cups of 100%-hydration sourdough starter made with all-purpose or high-gluten wheat flour, like Ezekiel (~1.5 cups flour and 1.5 cups water), increase the dark rye to 3 cups, reduce the bread flour to 2 cups, and increase the water to 1 cup. The rest of the ingredients and steps stay the same. If the dough is too sticky to knead, add more wheat flour. If it’s too dry to form a smooth ball and cracks as you knead it, add more water.

Active Dried Yeast Substitution: Combine 2 packages or 1.5 T. active dry yeast with 1/2 cup warm water (110-120F) and 1/2 cup all-purpose or bread flour. Let sit for 10 min, and then add 3 cups rye flour, 2 1/2 cups bread flour, 2 cups warm water, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar and the rest of the ingredients from the gluten on down in the same amounts as above. If the dough is too sticky to knead, add more flour. If it’s too dry and cracks as you knead it, add more water.

Method:

1. If using fresh shallot, mince. If using dried shallot and/or any of the spices, grind them in a coffee grinder, mortar and pestle, or by putting them in a zip-top bag and crushing them with a rolling pin.

I discovered the motor in my coffee grinder was dead, so opted for the ziploc bag route Some people like the seeds whole--if you do, skip this step and just add them to the dough

2. Whisk together the flours and the gluten, if using. The gluten will start to form long sticky strands as soon as it is moistened, so you want it to be distributed throughout the flour and the dough well.

3. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and stir just until it starts to come together. black bread 009black bread 010

3. Turn onto a lightly floured surface or rolling mat and knead for at least 15 minutes. It should be slightly sticky, but stick to itself more than it sticks to you and you should be able to form it into a smooth ball.

4. Lightly coat the bowl with oil, put the dough in the bowl and turn to coat the whole surface lightly with oil. Cover and let rise 6-8 hours (or more) until doubled in size.

~midnight~7am

5. Punch the dough down and divide into 2 equal pieces. Shape each into a smooth round ball or oblong, or place in a loaf pan. Cover and let rise again until doubled in size (probably at least 2 hrs, perhaps as much as 6 depending on how active your starter is).

punched down as they rose, they ended up being too close to each other and too big for the same pan, so I cut the parchment in half and separated them

6. Preheat the oven to 350F about 30 minutes before you want to put them in the oven.

7. Slash with a sharp knife—diagonal cuts for oblong loaves, a cross or square for round loaves, a slice down the middle for loaf pans. You can also let the loaf split naturally—one of mine did as it was rising. There must have been a small tear in the gluten network on the outside, which grew into a massive split as it rose. They just look a little more “rustic” that way.

8. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

The combination of caraway, fennel, chocolate, coffee, molasses, and onion or shallot probably isn't for everyone. I'm not a huge fan of caraway so I tend to use very little or leave it out. But there is something about the combination of caraway-infused American Pumpernickel, corned beef, and sauerkraut that just seems "right."

Sourdough English Muffins: Of nooks and crannies and double-entendres

hot, buttered muffins

“Oh, no, my muffin hasn’t had a cherry since 1939.”
Betty White on SNL

Not to belabor the SNL references too much, but the “English muffin” presents us with a quintessential Coffee Talk paradox: the “English muffin” is neither English nor a muffin. (Discuss! By gum, I think I will…)

Do you know the muffin man?

The words “English muffin” appeared in print for the first time in 1842 in Great Western Magazine, a publication of a British railway company:

"In the deep well of a blue-edged plate..is disclosed that dream of farinaceous enjoyment, the *English muffin.” (from the OED, which does not explain the asterisk)

The fact that it shows up for the first time in a railway magazine may suggest that no one thought to specify its national origin until they were taking it outside of its supposed “home” country. But the only place outside of England that the Great Western Railway went was Wales, which is, coincidentally, where the type of bread represented by the “English muffin” probably originated sometime in the 10th C. Perhaps the increasing continental interconnectedness represented by the railway prompted a bit of mistaken culinary nationalism?

when you place them on the hot griddle, you can actually watch them rise up as the yeast frantically pump out gasthen you flip them, they deflate a little, like you've crushed their little yeasty ambitions. I must have some kind of bread schadenfreude--I really love watching them poof and then fall.

From Punch, or the London Charivari, Volume 103, December 24, 1892 ed. Sir Francis Cowley Burnand via WikipediaAside from that one instance, yeast-risen rolls griddled on both sides to create two flat, browned sides and a pale band about the waist were generally just referred to as “muffins” on both sides of the Atlantic until the end of the 19th C. The word derived either from the Middle Low German word “muffe” (pl. “muffen”) meaning “little cake” or the Old French “moufflet” meaning a soft or tender bread. It was probably the kind of bread peddled by the “muffin man” of nursery rhyme fame and along with its close relatives, the crumpet and cross-bun, was  customarily served with butter and jam at mid-day tea, a tradition that began in the 17th C. and reached its height in the Victorian Era.

Hannah Glasse included a recipe for small, griddled yeast breads in The Art of Cookery (1747) titled “Muffings [sic] and Oat-Cakes” which instructed that they be split with a fork rather than a knife so “they will be like a Honey-Comb” instead of “heavy as Lead.” Thomas Jefferson’s granddaughter recorded a similar recipe for “Monticello Muffins” in her unpublished cookbook manuscript. It calls for a dough of flour, water, and yeast to be shaped in “little cakes like biscuit” and baked on a griddle “before the fire” rather than inside the stove. Those were probably the same muffins Jefferson was referring to when he wrote to his daughter Martha from the White House:

"Pray enable yourself to direct us here how to make muffins in Peter’s method [referring to Peter Hemings, the head cook at Monticello]. My cook here cannot succeed at all in them, and they are a great luxury to me.”

One of Jefferson’s great-granddaughters recorded an anecdote regarding their proper consumption echoing Glasse’s warning not to cut them with a knife. The Benjamin Franklin in the story is one of Jefferson’s grandsons, not the bespectacled founding father, and Mrs. M is Dolley Madison, the fourth First Lady:

"On one occasion little Benjamin Franklin  . . . seated next to Mrs. M. found himself unequal to the management of his muffin. Mrs. Madison’s aid being invoked, she took the knife to cut it, but a little hand was laid on hers, and an earnest voice exclaimed, ‘No! No! That is not the way!’ ‘Well, how then Master Ben?’ ‘Why, you must tear him open, and put butter inside and stick holes in his back! And then pat him and squeeze him and the juice will run out!’ Mrs. Madison, much amused, followed his directions. Any lover of the English muffin will appreciate their wisdom!"

Notably, the story also seems to mark the transition from “muffin” to “English muffin.” What for the late 18th C. or early 19th C. Master Ben was just a “muffin,” was for Jefferson’s great-granddaughter, Ellen Wayles Harrison, who lived from 1823-1897, an “English muffin.”

American Muffin

The need for a distinction was probably prompted by the growing popularity of quick breads, which was facilitated by the increasing availability of chemical leaveners. The New World turned out to be a great source of potash, which could be refined into pearlash, an alkaline salt used in some bread and cake recipes in Andrea Simmons’s 1796 American Cookery. Chemically-leavened breads really took off after the first factory to produce baking soda was established by two New York bakers in 1846. A 1879 domestic handbook titled Housekeeping in Olde Virginia includes two recipes for “muffins,” the first of which would have produced something like an English muffin, and then:

“Another recipe for muffins…make the batter the consistency of pound cake, and bake in snow-ball cups as soon as made” (foodtimeline.org).

Although a butter and egg-rich cake called “pound cake” was also made in England, the one that’s traditional to the American South is lighter specifically because of the inclusion of baking soda. As quick breads became more common, especially in the American South, the older, yeast-risen style of “muffin” may have been associated with the Old World. It was apparently sold as a distinctively “English” bread at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. A recipe in Richard Baxter’s Receipt Book for Bakers (1896) claimed: “These are the genuine English Muffins that were introduced into Chicago during the World’s Fair.” Furthermore, the first person to mass-produce them was an honest-to-God Englishman. 1950s Thomas' ad--before "nooks and crannies" were their slogan--the small print describes the "wonderful texture of ridges and valleys that toast to a golden perfection...eagerly soak up butter, jam or marmalade"

Samuel Bath Thomas emigrated from Plymouth, England to New York in 1875 and began selling yeasted, griddled rolls at his Ninth Avenue bakery in 1880. An article on Wolferman’s website claims that Thomas invented the “English muffin” and the fork-splitting technique that preserved their “nook & crannies” better than knife-slicing, which seems to confuse Thomas’s advertising campaigns with history—the phrase “nooks and crannies” actually comes from 1970s Thomas English muffin ads. But Wolferman’s does have the essential Americanness of the term right—when Unilever bought the S.B. Thomas brand in the 1990s and began exporting “English muffins” to the UK, consumers there were totally bemused by the name.

So the “English muffin” is essentially American—or, traditionally, Welsh—and it’s completely different from the other kind of bread Americans typically call “muffins.”

Just bluffin’ with my muffin

Lamenting the substitution of “English muffin” for “crumpet” in the American versions of the Harry Potter books, Michael Quinion of World Wide Words argues that “crumpet” has unique cultural associations, even though young Americans might not know them. In particular, he mentions the crumpet’s slang connotations:

In the 1930s, the word became British English slang for a woman regarded as an object of sexual desire. No doubt men remembered their schooldays and associated female pulchritude with something tasty….

is "muffin" really not a slang term in the UK? is this cheeky smile really just for the American audience? or does Michael Quinion live under some kind of rock where women can be crumpets but not muffins?But of course, “muffin” has a similar connotation in America. It can refer to attractive people of both genders, usually preceded by “stud” for men, and is also used to refer to female genitalia—although as a primary rather than secondary sex organ, it’s a matter of some dispute whether that counts as “an object of sexual desire” (see Civilization and Its Discontents p. 63). In any case, it’s probably the perfect substitution for “crumpet” for American readers.

The usual explanation for the slang use of “muffin” has less to do with the tastiness of muffins or “female pulchitrude” than the phonetic similarity between muffin and “muff,” as in the winter accessory made of fur. “Muff” was adopted as a slang term for vagina in the late 17th or early 18th C. for anatomical reasons highlighted by this lyric from the 1707 Merry Songs & Ballads: “The Muff between her Haunches, Resembl’d..a Mag-Pye’s Nest” (OED).

By way of unfortunate synecdoche, it eventually became a slang term for a woman or girl, especially if considered promiscuous or a prostitute. According to Cassell’s, the extension to “muffin” as slang for either woman or vagina in the U.S. happened in the 1960s, at which point its primary culinary referent would have been the quick bread baked in a instead of the griddled, yeast-risen roll.

That just makes it all the more curious that “crumpet” would have acquired the same slang meaning overseas without the phonetic tie to “muff.” Is it just the fact that that both crumpets and muffins—both English and American—are round? I guess the words bun, pie, tart, cupcake, and dumpling all have similar slang meanings. Even biscuit is apparently a slang term for a young woman—who, if unappealing, is a “cold biscuit.” Not so for the toroidal bagel, twisted or rod-shaped pretzels, square petit fours, crackers, and brownies,* or flatbreads—there are no entries in Cassell’s for pita or naan, and pizza’s associations are primarily dermatological. I’m left, somewhat uneasily, with the conclusion that round breads and pastries are just inherently yonic. A question for you, dear readers: Are there any round baked goods that haven’t become slang terms for women and/or their genitalia?

*The Girl Scout level is taken from the mythical fairy-like creature known in Scotland and parts of England as a brùnaidh popularized by Canadian author Palmer Cox not the name of the baked good, which refers to the color of the chocolate bar cookie-cake. And even when deployed colloquially it refers primarily to someone being naive, not necessarily female.

What are you waiting for stupid? Eat it!

Even if all round breads are yonic, I guess I’m just more sensitive to the slang meanings of “muffin” than I am to biscuits or pie. It seems ridiculous, for example, to tell you how much I think you will delight in eating these muffins. Or, worse, how much I like eating these muffins. Or to exhort the delights of yeasty muffins.

But it’s the truth. These are some tasty muffins. (See? It’s terrible!)

A few notes on the recipe:

My starter alone doesn’t have enough rising power to create “nooks & crannies” in 10 minutes of baking time, which is why I use a recipe that calls for active dry yeast on top of the starter. If your starter will rise a loaf in less than 2 hrs, feel free to leave the packaged yeast out.

The sourdough flavor will depend on your starter and how long you let the dough rise. If you want a pronounced sourdough flavor, let the dough rise 8+ hrs. If you’re just trying to use up some starter, 2 hrs for the first rise should be plenty. If you don’t have a sourdough starter, double the amount of yeast and add 2/3 cup water and 2/3 cup flour.

When I make larger muffins, I sometimes bake them for 10-15 minutes after griddling them because otherwise they’ll remain doughy inside. To test them for doneness, you can try tapping the browned edges—if they sound hollow, they should be done all the way through; if they sound dense, they may be better if they’re baked. My preferred “testing” method is just to rip one open while it’s still warm off the griddle. If it’s doughy inside, I toast it. If not, I just butter it and go to town.

Recipe: Sourdough English Muffins
makes 12 smaller muffins (~68 g or 2.4 oz) or 8 larger ones (~100 g or 3.5 oz)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sourdough starter (100% hydration)* 
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose or bread flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (or more white flour)
  • 1 t. active dry yeast (or about 1/2 packet)
  • 2 t. salt
  • 2 T. softened butter or oil
  • 1 T. sugar or honey
  • 2/3 cup lukewarm milk
  • 2-3 T. cornmeal for dusting the pan

*If not using starter, double the amount of yeast and add 2/3 cup water and 2/3 cup flour.

Method: 

1. Make a “sponge” with the instant yeast by combining it with a pinch of sugar, 1/4 cup flour, and 1/4 cup milk warmed to 110-120 F (or 1/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup warm water). Let sit for 5-10 minutes—it should get bubbly and increase in volume.

a "sponge" tests to make sure the yeast is aliveit's not strictly necessary--if you know your yeast is active, you can just mix all the ingredients together after 5 minutes: bubbling up nicely

2. Add the rest of the ingredients, except for the cornmeal, and mix until it starts to pull away from the bowl and form a dough. After I’ve heated the milk for the sponge, I add the butter so it will melt while the sponge is blooming.

this makes it softer and richer than dough made with just flour and water, although based on the Jefferson stories, you could try that too  all the ingredients together--I doubled the recipe, which is why this looks like so much more than the recipe above would make.

2. Scrape the mixture onto a lightly floured surface and knead around until it’s a well-defined ball that’s tacky but not truly sticky, adding more flour if necessary. I love the way the Jefferson daughter’s cookbook manuscript describes this step, and the process of making bread by feel rather than measured amounts: “Mix . . . the flour up with water so thin that the dough will stick to the table. Our cook takes it up and throws it down until it will no longer stick.”

 in-process kneading pictures are complicated by the sticky, floury hands problem ready to rise

3. Lightly oil a bowl—I usually just use the same bowl I mixed the ingredients in with as much of the dough scraped out as possible. Place the dough in the bowl, turn to coat with oil and cover with plastic wrap or a towel.

4. Let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hrs (or more if you want a more pronounced sourdough flavor).

more than doubled is fine--even leaving it overnight isn't going to hurt anything deflated for the first time: foreshadowing

5. Punch the dough to deflate, remove to a clean table and knead gently until most of the air pockets have been released.

the first four--I weigh the dough to make sure they're even, which isn't necessary but does make for perfectly equal muffins16: again, a double batch

6. Divide into 8-12 pieces and form each one into an even ball by rolling between your hands or on the table. If they’re sticky, dust with a little flour. Cover them as you make them and set a timer for 30 minutes after you finish the first four (they’ll be ready first, so they’re the first ones you’ll two batches of 4 done and cooling, one on the stove, the last 4 on deckgriddle).

7. If making only 8-10 muffins, preheat the oven to 350 F because you’ll probably need to bake them. If making 12, I’d skip this—griddling will probably be sufficient.

8. With about 5 minutes left on the timer, preheat a skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Just before adding the first four muffins, sprinkle it with cornmeal.

9. Starting with the first balls you made, gently put them in the skillet. They should puff up visibly. After about 5 min, flip them and cook them for about 5 min more on the other side. Adjust the heat if necessary—if they’re not browning much after 5 minutes in the pan, turn the heat up. If they’re browning too quickly, turn the heat down. If the “on deck” balls start to rise too much, you can pat them down a little bit.

10. Option: if they’re not done after being griddled, transfer them to a baking sheet and put in a 350 F oven for 10-15 min.

11. To serve: perforate the edge with a fork and gently tear open. Toast (or don’t, your loss).

split with a genuine fork light as honeycomb instead of heavy as lead