Quick buttermilk cake w/ honey roasted strawberries.

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I stopped in my tracks at the market and grabbed my husband’s arm. Strawberries! Fresh, local, red, ripe strawberries, pint after pint, in mid-May. I was as astonished as I was excited. We continued down the row of booths, getting vegetables for the week, but all I could think of were those strawberries… so we returned with a fistful of dollars to happily buy the first flat of the year. The gentleman we bought from agreed it was the earliest season that he could ever remember in western Washington. Despite a lack of competition, the price was reasonable, though the temptation of that fruit probably would have been enough for me to pay just about anything. I floated home, berries proudly cradled in my arms.

The strawberries we got are flavorful, but not the sweetest I have ever had. I decided to roast a few pints, which enhances the sweetness they do have, with a drizzle of honey, a generous pinch of salt, and a touch of balsamic vinegar. Salt, and acidity from the vinegar, will help to draw out and play up the flavor of the strawberries; roasting creates a thick, syrupy sauce but doesn’t break down the fruit entirely. I was thinking the roasted berries would be nice with yogurt for breakfast, but as they cooled on the counter top, actually glistening in the light, I knew I wouldn’t want to wait for morning. A simple cake was in order, with tangy buttermilk and a dusting of turbinado sugar to add some crunch to the top. This cake is an ideal vehicle for saucy roasted strawberries; in fact, it was inspired by a buttermilk cake, with strawberries baked right in, in the Cake Issue of a magazine called Bake From Scratch (currently on newsstands!). Later this summer, my buttermilk cake will be a great match for ripe raspberries and peaches, with cream or without, then figs with honey, or lightly sauteed apples as we move toward fall… but I’m getting too far ahead. Let’s leave it at this: buttermilk cake is a great option to show off the seasonal fruit of your choice.

Reminiscent of shortcake but a little lighter and much less sweet, a wedge of quick buttermilk cake with a generous spoonful of honey roasted strawberries is the type of dessert that makes me smile: because summer is almost here, because fresh local fruit is finally here, and because a dessert doesn’t have to be over the top to be the perfect treat. When you find the first berries of the year in your neck of the woods, consider giving this recipe a try.

quick buttermilk cake with honey roasted strawberries

Quick Buttermilk Cake with Honey Roasted Strawberries

For the strawberries:

  • 2 pints of ripe strawberries, hulled, rinsed only if muddy
  • 2 T. honey, maybe more
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar

For the cake:

  • 6 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 c. buttermilk
  • 1 T. turbinado sugar (optional)

For the honey roasted strawberries: preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a sheet pan or baking dish with tin foil. Place the berries in one layer and drizzle 1 T. honey over the top. Sprinkle with salt and roll or “stir” lightly to evenly distribute the honey and salt.

Roast for 10 mins. and check the berries; they should be juicy and a little foamy looking but not burnt. They should be holding their shape for the most part. Move them around a little on the pan, then roast for an additional 5 mins. at a time until the berries soften noticeably, up to 20 mins. total in the oven. Time variance depends on the size and ripeness of the berries; watch very closely so they don’t burn.

Remove the pan from the oven and drizzle immediately with the remaining 1 T. honey and 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar. Allow the strawberries to cool for 10 mins. or so, then taste and add more honey if desired. This depends on both the sweetness of your berries, and your taste buds. Roasted berries made with only 2 T. of honey are expected to be lightly sweet… but no one minds a little extra honey!

shiny, syrupy, honey roasted strawberries

For the buttermilk cake: preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour a 9″ round cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 mins. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions. Add the vanilla.

In a separate small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk and ending with flour, mixing only until the dry ingredients disappear.

Turn the batter into your prepared pan and smooth it out to the sides. Sprinkle with turbinado sugar, if using. Bake for 40-45 mins., until the top is lightly brown, the top springs back when you touch it lightly with your fingertip, and the edges are beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool for at least 30 mins. before serving; cool completely if you want to remove the cake from the baking pan to a plate or platter before serving.

Serve a wedge of cake with a generous ladle of honey roasted berries, which are ideally at room temperature. Top with whipped cream or ice cream if desired. Leftover cake will hold at room temperature in a tightly-covered container for 2-3 days. Store leftover berries in the refrigerator.

Mocha fudgsicles.

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Fudgsicles. Why don’t I make them more often? We have had unseasonably warm weather since April, hitting record temperatures left and right and already experiencing the kind of warm days we sometimes don’t see before August. So… my brain kicked right into summer mode, and since peaches and corn aren’t ready, I made fudgsicles. Specifically these mocha fudgsicles, which are a grown-up version of the beloved frozen treat, with real coffee (caffeine!) and dark chocolate. Rich, cold and creamy, I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed having some in the freezer in the past few weeks. (It doesn’t even have to be warm for me to eat one.)

I want to say ahead of time: don’t be put off by the steps needed to make these. Though they look like trouble, I promise you they’re not– fudgsicles are all about the Easy Treat Factor. Plus, you know how I hate fussy recipes! A few notes: testing has proven that it is worth the time to boil down and concentrate the coffee, but strong espresso will work if you want to shorten a step, and regular-strength coffee will, too. The differences will be in texture– with regular, unconcentrated coffee, the pops will be a little icier, and less creamy– and depth of coffee flavor. Coffee extract is nice to shore up that java note, but absolutely not necessary. I am lucky to have some my mother-in-law gave me, but I had never heard of it before then. As for milk and cream, the amounts as written made our favorite version of the test batches (oh, it was hard work…), but we also had okay results with all whole milk, no cream. If you have cream, use it, for the indulgence factor alone.

In the heat of summer, or just because, my mocha fudgsicles are a delight. There’s nothing quite like a childlike frozen confection on a popsicle stick… that tastes like a decadent coffee drink or chocolate bar. I’m looking forward to my fair share of these in the months to come.

Mocha Fudgsicles

Mocha Fudgsicles (makes 8-10 double bars)

  • 1 1/2 c. strong brewed coffee
  • 1 tsp. coffee extract (optional)
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 2 T. baking cocoa (I like Her
  • 2 T. cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 c. cream
  • about 3/4 c. whole milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

You can use leftover coffee (what’s that, right?) or brew some just for this recipe. Add 1 1/2 c. coffee to a small saucepan and boil vigorously over medium-high to high heat until it reduces down to 3/4 c. to 1 c., about 5 mins. Pause and measure along the way if you’re not sure what that looks like, but the variance is really okay– you will make up for it with milk. Boiling the coffee down gets rid of extra water, which forms ice crystals in your fudgsicles, and concentrates the flavor of coffee. Make a note of your final amount of reduced coffee, which should be between 3/4 c. and 1 c.

If you want to skip that step, measure 1 c. cold espresso or dark brewed coffee.

In a small bowl, mix together the sugar, cocoa, cornstarch and salt.

Measure enough milk so your amount of concentrated coffee, plus whole milk, will equal 1 1/2 c. — but DON’T MIX MILK AND COFFEE YET. For instance, if you have 3/4 c. coffee, you will need 3/4 c. whole milk. If you have 1 c. coffee, you will need 1/2 c. whole milk.

Add a small amount of milk (maybe a few tablespoons) to the sugar-cocoa mixture and mix. Continue adding milk a small amount at a time until you have a thick, smooth paste. This was the best method I found for preventing lumps in the final product. Slowly whisk in the rest of the milk, a little at a time, then the coffee, coffee extract, if using, cream and vanilla.

If you want perfectly smooth fudgsicles, pass the mixture through a fine sieve and discard any undissolved lumps. Add the vanilla, then divide equally among a 10-pop mold like this one, pouring to the top with just a small space left to account for expansion. Really, you can use any freezer safe mold you might like. Remember using Dixie cups as a kid, or yogurt containers? Do what works. If you do use a 10-pop mold, you will be able to fill 8-10 spots, depending on how much volume you might have sieved out, if you chose to follow that step.

Place in the coldest part of your freezer for an hour, then add in the sticks and cover lightly with the designated plastic cover, or a tea towel, to prevent the sticks from bobbing up. Freeze for at least four hours, or overnight. To unmold, leave the fudgsicles at room temperature for 10-15 mins. and gently wiggle them out, or place in a shallow dish of cool water to assist.

Comforting savory broth, for dumplings and more.

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This post is intended to be more of a guide than a recipe. The ingredients, and quantities of each, change with my mood. Sometimes I want a fiery hot broth and add sriracha until my nose runs and eyes tear up. Other times I want a pronounced garlicky bite, the umami punch of reconstituted dried shiitakes, or the hint of star anise that makes me think of good pho. I use this broth plain, or add noodles, or dumplings (often my spicy pork dumplings), or a great deal of shredded or diced vegetables and herbs. It is a mood-suiting recipe. My hesitation in sharing it until now, a dish I make so often I keep the basic pantry ingredients grouped in a cupboard together, is that I have struggled with how to present the recipe as I think of it, ever-changing and infinitely adaptable, more a method than a measure. However, and especially because I referred to it in my recent post about spicy pork dumplings, this broth is too important to me as a cook not to have in my archives here.

I typically use beef broth or chicken/turkey broth, but have had good luck with mushroom and vegetable broth as well. Beef broth stands up to bolder spices like star anise and cinnamon, lots of black pepper and bay leaf; chicken broth tends to be more soothing and delicate, good with extra ginger and scallions. It really is a matter of preference. Pictured below is a recent version made with store brand Whole Foods beef broth, no extra sriracha, lots of garlic, scallions and ginger. I added a dozen frozen spicy pork dumplings and let them heat for about 7 mins. to make sure they were cooked through. It was delicious… and I have enough dumplings left to make more this week, or soon.

As I said before: I hope you will treat the ingredient quantities listed below as more of a guide than a strict recipe. Go with what you have on hand, what you’re craving; if you’re delicate with the salty ingredients it’s nearly impossible to make a wrong turn. And once you find the combination(s) you like, I bet this wonderful broth will be as much of a staple for you as it is in our house.

Comforting savory broth, with spicy pork dumplings

Savory Broth for Dumplings (makes 2-4 servings)

  • 4 c. broth, homemade or store-bought
  • 2″ fresh ginger, sliced, sometimes peeled
  • 2 – 5 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 – 2 scallions, diced
  • 1 T. soy sauce
  • 1 T. seasoned rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. (or more) sriracha
  • abundant freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of kosher salt, only if needed
  • 3 – 4 dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted in 1/2 c. hot water, chopped
  • 1 – 2 star anise (optional)
  • cinnamon stick (optional)
  • bay leaf (optional)

Put all ingredients into a large saucepan (except for shiitakes; read directions below) and simmer gently for at least 30 mins. to infuse broth with the flavors you have chosen. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed, especially sriracha and soy sauce. Remember that the saltiness of soy sauce and salt will concentrate as the broth reduces, so be light-handed until you determine the levels you enjoy. Star anise and cinnamon can both be potent, so consider adding them 15 mins. into cooking for a lighter level of spice. Use a cover on the pan to retain more volume; otherwise, the broth will reduce as it simmers.

If you’re using dried shiitakes, reconstitute them in hot water in a small bowl or coffee mug for about 15 mins. Slice  or chop them and add *with the soaking water* to your broth.

Add noodles (pre-cooked if you don’t want them to absorb most of the liquid) or dumplings and heat through before serving. You can also add shrimp, cooked chicken or beef, vegetables that do well raw or lightly cooked (radishes and snap peas, for instance), and fresh herbs like cilantro or Thai basil. Put your chosen extras in a bowl and pour hot broth over the top to keep shrimp from getting rubbery, vegetables from losing their crunch.

Strain out the star anise, cinnamon stick, bay leaf and unpeeled ginger before serving. Garlic and scallion can be removed if you want just broth, but I tend to leave them in.

comforting broth, unstrained, before adding dumplings

Olive oil cake with candied ginger.

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This is a cake for the springtime. Make it when you’ve had your fill of spice cakes and before the strawberries are ready for shortcake. It comes together quickly, doesn’t require a mixer, and perfumes your kitchen in that way only homemade baked goods can do. The flavor is subtly of lemon and not as subtly of peppery ginger. Serve it for dessert or with coffee and delight as it stays moist and delicious for days.

If you can get a blood orange or a few honey tangerines, use them in place of lemon for a fun change. Even a pink grapefruit will do nicely; use only half the juice if you have one of the softball size Ruby Reds. You can punch up the ginger flavor by adding 1 tsp. dried ginger with your dry ingredients, but I like this amount just fine.

This simple olive oil cake is your solution when you need a lightly sweet bite but don’t care to fuss around with fancy ingredients, dozens of bowls, piles of dishes. There’s no need to chop or separate eggs or wait for butter to soften. You can serve it with whipped cream or berries… but plain works, too. Make an olive oil cake, then entertain your guests or get out into the garden or take a walk in the evening sun. Now, doesn’t that sound nice?

Olive oil cake with candied ginger.

Olive Oil Cake with Candied Ginger

  • 1 c. plain Greek yogurt (I use Fage 2% or 0)
  • 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil*
  • 3 large eggs
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1 1/4 c. flour
  • 3/4 c. almond meal
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 oz. (about 1/4 c.) candied (crystallized) ginger, diced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use a bit of extra olive oil to grease a 9.5″ fluted tart pan with a removable bottom, sometimes called a quiche pan.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the yogurt and olive oil together; whisk in the eggs one at a time. Mix in the lemon juice and zest, then the sugar.

Sift together the flour, almond meal, baking powder and salt. Stir dry ingredients into the olive oil mixture. The batter will be similar to a waffle batter, thick but easy to stir. Turn the batter into your greased tart pan and use a spatula to spread it evenly to all sides.

Sprinkle the ginger pieces over the top and use your spatula to gently press them into the batter. (You can mix them in… but I like the effect of seeing the ginger pieces on top.) Bake for 15-20 mins., until a knife point comes out clean when inserted into the center of the cake. This cake does not brown much, and if you wait for it to brown, you’re likely to dry it out. Serve warm or at room temperature. Few say no to a little vanilla ice cream on the plate with their slice.

*Save your fancy finishing oils and reach for whichever olive oil you use in the pan when you cook dinner. I use a basic Greek olive oil that is mild in flavor, not too bitter, but fairly substantial.

Spicy pork dumplings.

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This is not the most traditional dumpling recipe you will find… but man, are they good. I make spicy pork dumplings every few months, and should more often than that. For some brain-blocked reason, I imagine the process of filling the wrappers as tedious, and put off making them… only to later shake my head at my own silly stubbornness as I bust out two dozen in less than 30 mins. Perhaps recording my process will help me remember how approachable this recipe really is. I think it takes me longer to chose a bag of premade gyoza in the freezer aisle of my grocery store, and I am never as happy with those.

Similar to those frozen gyoza, these dumplings have a tender, savory filling in a delicate wrapper, and I usually steam or boil them and serve in a simple broth. I am terrible at the pan-frying method of making gyoza and have never deep-fried them at home, though either method would work to cook these dumplings. The filling is a little spicy from the sriracha, and I do use a liberal amount; you can tone it down a little by halving the amount of sriracha. I don’t recommend leaving it out, as the acidity and taste of the sriracha is more important than the heat here. As it is tempered by other ingredients, and especially if served in broth, I have been known to *double* the amount of sriracha to achieve the spice level I prefer. The dumplings also have a hint of garlic, a good amount of fresh, green scallions and just a bit of nutty toasted sesame oil to complement the mild pork and fiery sriracha. Sometimes I add some finely shredded cabbage to the filling when I want to add even more texture than the scallions provide; if you’d like to try that, I recommend starting with about 3 T. and using Napa cabbage. You’ll need a few extra wrappers to account for the increased volume of filling. Spicy pork dumplings can be frozen, and I highly recommend that you do– I like the way they cook when I add dumplings right from the freezer into simmering broth. Alternately, make them fresh and cook them right away, but remember how very delicate they are when you’re working with soft, fresh dumplings.

Whether you double the recipe and make a bunch to have on hand, or reach for this recipe to use up leftover pork from another meal, do try making these spicy pork dumplings. I’m always glad when I realize I have some in the freezer, ready for dinner in minutes. I’ll share my favorite broth recipe soon!

spicy pork dumplings

Spicy Pork Dumplings (makes 20-24)

  • 1/2 lb. lean ground pork
  • 1 large scallion, finely chopped
  • 1 – 2 cloves of garlic, minced or crushed
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 T. soy sauce
  • 1 T. sriracha
  • 1/4 tsp. toasted sesame oil
  • 20 – 24 gyoza or wonton wrappers*

Mix all ingredients except for the wrappers in a medium bowl. Do it by hand; it’s not difficult and the results are far superior to using a mixer. I like to keep a little texture by leaving the scallions chopped instead of minced. The filling can be refrigerated for a day or two if you need.

Set up a work station: a clean board, a small dish of room temperature water and a plate for your completed dumplings. In the picture above you see that I use a dumpling folder, which is fun and helpful but not required to make these! The main benefit is that I get the pretty crimped edges, but honestly, I usually skip it and pinch them closed by hand.

Working with one wrapper at a time, wet your finger (or a small pastry brush) and run it around the edge of the wrapper. Place a small amount of filling, about 1 generous tsp., right in the center of the wrapper. You will have to do a few to get the hang of how much filling to use, and I hesitate to specify an amount because of the variance in store-bought wrappers. If you use too much filling, the edges won’t seal properly and you run the risk of the dumplings bursting before or during cooking. If you don’t use enough filling, you might have air pockets in the dumplings that also lead to breakage. The best advice I can give: trial and error.

With the filling centered, fold the wrapper in half and press firmly to seal the edges. The dumpling folder will make a pretty edge, or you can crimp by hand, or use a fork, or just pinch together and leave the edges “plain”. As long as the edges are sealed, you did it! Once you get the hang of the process, start working to minimize air bubbles by pressing the wrapper around the filling gently before completely sealing the edges.

Continue until your filling is gone. This recipe as written above makes 20-24 dumplings. I consider a serving size to be 5-6 dumplings, so this makes about 4 servings.

As I mentioned, I think the dumplings cook best when frozen. Lay the finished dumplings in a single layer on a cookie sheet and freeze for 2-4 hours; you can then transfer them to a sealed bag or container for long-term storage. Dumplings keep up for several months in the freezer.

Steam, gently boil in a flavorful broth (my recipe coming soon!), or pan fry like gyoza to serve.

*I use wonton and gyoza wrappers interchangeably; as far as I can tell the primary difference is round versus square, and these dumplings can be triangular instead of a crescent with no forseeable consequences. A supermarket near us has an extensive selection of Asian specialty foods and I find the wrappers in the refrigerated case there. I usually buy two packs of 40-50 wrappers and toss one in the freezer to use later.

Baked oatmeal with blueberries & cranberries.

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Many of my recipes are inspired by another I see in a cookbook or online, and I try always to give credit to the source of my inspiration. For this baked oatmeal, the original recipe is so good, I really only made one change, which is to add cranberries. I don’t like very sweet for breakfast, so I find the tartness welcome. Otherwise the recipe as written by the Food Network Kitchen is one of my weekend standbys.

Baked oatmeal with berries is a genius, foolproof dish. It doesn’t take long to get on the table, if you want to put some together for a weekend brunch. Leftovers reheat beautifully for quick weekday breakfasts, and I find I like this recipe cold, too. And– you know this is my favorite part– you can customize the ingredients list to reflect what you have on hand. No almond milk? Regular milk, rice milk or hazelnut milk work nicely. No almond extract? All vanilla will do. No cranberries? Just substitute the same amount of another berry, or bananas work well. You can make this dish exactly what you want and it comes out great every time.

Baked oatmeal with blueberries and cranberries is delicious, healthful (I often leave out some of the brown sugar, when the blueberries are nice and sweet) and versatile, which makes it a five-star breakfast in my estimation. I love to make up a dish and bring it to a friend (with baking instructions) as a housewarming or welcome baby gift, or just as a nice gesture. It keeps in the fridge for a day or two before baking. Whether for you or a friend, a dish of this wonderful baked oatmeal should be on your shortlist of things to make soon.

baked oatmeal with blueberries and cranberries

Baked Oatmeal with Blueberries & Cranberries

(inspired by the Food Network Kitchen; makes about 6 servings)

For the oatmeal:

  • 1 2/3 c. unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. almond extract
  • 3 T. brown sugar (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 1/4 c. old-fashioned oatmeal

For the topping:

  • 1 c. frozen blueberries (or 1 1/2 c. fresh or thawed)
  • 1/2 c. frozen cranberries (or 1 c. fresh or thawed)
  • 2 T. melted butter or coconut oil
  • 1/3 c. old-fashioned oatmeal
  • 1/3 c. brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/3 c. slivered almonds (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray or butter a 2 qt. casserole dish or 8″ x 8″ baking pan, or similar.

In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the almond milk, egg, almond extract and vanilla extract. Add 3 T. brown sugar, if using, and salt and stir. Stir in 1 1/4 c. oatmeal until all is moistened. Pour this oatmeal mixture into your prepared pan.

Sprinkle the fruit evenly over the top of the wet ingredients and oatmeal mixture.

In a small bowl, melt the butter or coconut oil by microwaving for about 20-40 seconds. Stir in 1/3 c. brown sugar, 1/3 c. oatmeal, cinnamon and almonds, if using. Sprinkle this topping mixture evenly over the fruit.

Bake the oatmeal for 45 mins., until the mixture is lightly browned and all liquid has been absorbed by the oatmeal. Serve immediately, with a drizzle of milk (how I like mine) or honey (how my husband eats his), or a dollop of yogurt. Store leftovers tightly covered in the refrigerator; cut off a square and reheat, or try it cold.

Baked Oatmeal with Blueberries & Peaches: Replace the cranberries with 1 c. fresh sliced peaches and replace the cinnamon with nutmeg. Proceed as written.

Baked Oatmeal with Mixed Berries: Use 1 c. each fresh raspberries and blueberries and 1/2 c. sliced fresh strawberries for the fruit. Proceed as written.

Meyer lemon breakfast rolls.

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A few times a year my Mom would buy the orange breakfast rolls that popped out of a can and required glaze. Compared to our usual breakfast fare– Cheerios, Rice Krispies, raisin bran, oatmeal– those little buns inspired a frenzy in our household that rivaled the sugar high they created once we wolfed them down. Warm, sweet, sticky and with just a hint of citrus… I can still remember the smell of the orange glaze hitting the hot rolls.

With a few Meyer lemons in the refrigerator, I decided to research some lemony brunch recipes to try. I have been reading about quick breads, pancakes, muffins, French toast… but when I remembered those orange rolls, I knew I had a worthy project. My Meyer lemon breakfast rolls are a nod to the orange buns in a tube: gooey and citrusy, the kind of treat you start eating when they’re still just a little too hot because you can’t wait another minute for a bite. Made with a basic enriched bread dough, lightly spiced cream cheese filling and a bright lemon glaze, they can be put together one day and baked the next. No need to rise at three to get these on the breakfast table. So why Meyer lemons? Using Meyers cuts down on some of the acidic bite you might get using regular lemons, but updates the orange buns by which I was inspired; Meyer lemons naturally have a slight orange note to their flavor, so it seemed like the natural choice to make a lemon version of an orange roll. I chose to use cream cheese instead of the butter filling common in breakfast rolls; it accentuates the tanginess of the lemons, and adds a flavor I love in other breakfast breads. The glaze seems like it will be very sweet, but it is really balanced by the lemon juice and pinch of salt, and the rolls go from a good idea to an inspired, brilliant idea when you drizzle it over the top. The hot bread sizzles and becomes shiny as your kitchen fills with the smell of bright citrus– really, don’t skimp on the glaze.

While Meyer lemons are still available, grab a few and make some of my breakfast rolls. They are spot-on for any Sunday brunch, and I’m already thinking another batch may make an appearance for Easter. Like the orange rolls I grew up with, they’re not for every weekend… but the Meyer lemon season is short, and they are a marvelous treat, and I am very excited to share with you. I can already envision making them for my family, recreating the anticipation and frenzy of those breakfasts of our youth.

Meyer lemon breakfast rolls

Meyer Lemon Breakfast Rolls (makes about 15)

For the dough:

  • 3 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • zest of two Meyer lemons
  • 1 T. Meyer lemon juice*
  • 1/2 c. less 1 T. whole milk (read directions)
  • 8 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature

For the filling:

  • 5 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • pinch of kosher salt

For the glaze:

  • 1/4 c. Meyer lemon juice*
  • zest of one Meyer lemon
  • 2 c. confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • pinch of kosher salt

Day 1: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine 3 c. flour, sugar, yeast, salt and lemon zest. Mix to combine. To a Pyrex-style measuring cup, add the lemon juice and fill to the 1/2 c. line with whole milk. The milk will thicken and maybe separate, and that’s okay– you have just created sour milk, a nice substitute for buttermilk in many recipes. Add the soured milk and cubes of soft butter to the dry ingredients and turn on the mixer, low speed. Lightly whisk the eggs and add to the mixer as it runs. Walk away if you need to, but let the mixer go on low-medium speed for at least 5 mins.

Assess whether the dough is too sticky to handle and add 1/4 c. more flour if necessary. Remove the dough (it should be in a ball around the hook) from the mixer bowl and knead with your hands for a minute, then create a ball again. Place a small amount of neutral oil in the bottom of a glass or ceramic bowl; make sure the dough is entirely coated (lightly) with oil. Cover with a tea towel and allow to rise in a warm spot for about 3 hours.

While the dough rises, make your filling. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix until smooth. Refrigerate until you are ready to roll the dough, though it is helpful to bring the filling to room temperature by removing it from the refrigerator about 40 mins. before you need to use it.

Lightly flour a bread board or large cutting board. Turn the dough out and roll into a large rectangle, about 10″ x 15″. This dough rolled like a dream for me; I probably could have just patted it into a rectangle with my fingers! Starting at one short end, spread the cream cheese filling over the surface of the dough, leaving 1-2″ of dough open at the other short end. The filling should completely and evenly cover the rest of the dough. Starting at the filling-covered short end, roll the dough into a tube. Pull the clear end up and over the roll and pinch to seal. Refrigerate or freeze the dough for about 20 mins. before cutting.

Cut the cold filled dough in half through the middle to make two tubes of uncut rolls, about 8″ long apiece. Then, cut each tube again in half, then each of your four tubes into 4 pieces. (I know this does not add up to 15– I had two stub ends that I combined to make one bun.) The key is consistent thickness, so work slowly. It does get messy. I used a bread knife cleaned between cuts, and have seen other methods using bench scrapers and plain dental floss to make the cuts. I was not that concerned with perfection… but if you are, there are some good instructions on the web. When you have about 15 similar-sized buns, place them in a 9″ x 13″ baking pan in five rows of three. (My dough was so buttery, I did not grease the pan, but you can spray or oil it lightly if you are concerned about sticking.) Push the rolls right up against each other so they fit snugly in the pan. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Day 2: Remove the pan from the refrigerator and loosen the plastic wrap so it covers the pan lightly. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Allow the buns to warm up and rise for about an hour at room temperature. Bake at 325 for 10 mins. Increase the temperature to 375 degrees and bake for another 15-20 mins., rotating the pan once midway through, until the Meyer lemon rolls are golden brown and the center ones are cooked through.

Mix up the glaze by combining all ingredients in a small bowl. Drizzle the glaze, yes all of it, over the rolls, as soon as they come out of the oven. Use a bread knife or spoon to pull the rolls away from the side of the pan so the glaze drips down around all sides. The glaze will harden slightly as the buns cool. Serve immediately.

gooey Meyer lemon goodness

*I had some really adorable, tiny Meyers to use for this recipe. Each gave about 1 T. juice, so I used one lemon for the bread and three for the glaze. If your Meyer lemons are larger, you may need only a couple total. If that’s the case, use the zest of one in the bread and the other in the glaze.

Biscuit-topped salmon pot pie.

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I choose to call dish this a pot pie, because that is the meal I intended to create when I started cooking. I was pleasantly surprised to realize it also brings to mind both chicken and dumplings and fish chowder, two comforting meals I didn’t mind emulating. Hence the temporary naming conundrum I ran into, trying to decide the best way to accurately and attractively describe my dish. Compared to “baked chowder” or “salmon and dumplings”, pot pie just seemed to fit. A friend also suggested “fisherman’s pie”, which I like; ultimately, I decided to stick with my first instinct. So here it is: introducing my new favorite winter weekend meal, biscuit-topped salmon pot pie. With a mix of green vegetables, abundant fresh dill, beautiful wild salmon and an almost decadent biscuit topping, this is a recipe you’ll find yourself adding to the meal plan often. That has been the case in our house.

I’ve said it before– I am so lucky to live in an area with affordable, fresh wild salmon and other fish. I’m always looking for new ways to cook what’s readily available in the local market, and right now, that means salmon and steelhead. I have been experimenting a lot this winter with fish recipes, hoping to learn new techniques, and also preserve innate flavor and moistness. I got the idea for a salmon pot pie one night last month and thought it would be a great idea to see what I could create. I know I am not the first to make a pot pie with salmon, but I had never had one before, so I modeled the flavors after some of my favorite Scandinavian dishes– hence, the peas, red potatoes and dill. For the fish, I use king or coho salmon, which are quite rich and very flavorful; I’ve also tried steelhead with excellent results. I ask my fishmonger to choose a fillet closer to the tail, as those tend to be less bony, and have him remove the skin, which is the most challenging part to do at home. Some will offer to cut the fish into pieces for you, as well. I was skeptical at first about the need for potatoes with biscuits, but the proportion is small, and they really do add to both the flavor and texture of the final dish. As a bonus, the potatoes help to thicken the filling. I love the flavor of the drop biscuit topping: buttery and with a hint of fennel and tangy buttermilk, it complements the salmon and vegetables so nicely. I made the same filling and topped with a single 9″ pie crust, which was also delicious. If you’d like to do that, put your prepared filling into a 9″ pie plate and allow it to cool slightly, then roll out a pie crust and lay it over the top. Cut the excess crust from the edges and make a few vents in the center, then bake at 400 degrees for 35 mins.

Using the freshest fish available to you and a few familiar vegetables, with biscuit topping or a pastry crust, this salmon pot pie is an ideal winter/spring dinner. It manages to be both decadent and homey at once. A one-pot meal at its best, it’s flavorful and comforting, my new preferred way to cook salmon or steelhead to showcase them as the wonderful ingredients they are. I can’t think of a meal I’ve enjoyed more in recent weeks.

biscuit-topped salmon pot pie

Biscuit-Topped Salmon Pot Pie (serves 4-6)

  • 1 T. butter
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 c. sliced leeks, cleaned well and sliced or chopped finely
  • 2 stalks of celery, diced small
  • 1 c. cubed red potatoes, diced small
  • 1 T. flour
  • kosher salt & pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. dried fennel
  • 1/4 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 – 1 1/2 c. chicken broth
  • 1 c. cream
  • 1 c. fresh or frozen peas
  • 1 lb. salmon, arctic char or steelhead, skinned, deboned and cut into 2″ pieces
  • 2-3 T. fresh dill

For the biscuit topping:

  • 1 c. flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • pinch of dried fennel
  • 4 T. cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 c. buttermilk
  • 1/4 c. cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven, melt the butter with the olive oil over medium heat. Add the celery and leeks and cook for about 3 mins. Add the potatoes, stir, and cook for an additional 3 mins. Add the flour, a pinch of kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper, fennel and thyme; mix until the flour is no longer visible and cook for just a minute. Add the broth to the pan– 1 c. if you like a thicker filling, the larger amount if you prefer it more soupy– and cook for 10 mins. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool for about 10 mins.

While the filling cools, make the biscuit dough. Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and fennel. Use a fork, your fingers or a pastry cutter to work the cold butter into your dry ingredients until you have no pieces of butter larger than a pea. Add the buttermilk and cream and stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened and you have a sticky, lumpy mixture; do not overwork the dough.

salmon pot pie, before topping

Back to the filling: add the peas (fresh or frozen) and cream to the filling and stir to combine. Pour the mixture into a 9″ pie plate or 2 – 3 quart casserole or souffle dish; I like the latter when I’m using biscuit topping and a pie plate when I use pastry crust. Place the pieces of salmon in a single layer, overlapping slightly if necessary. Gently press the salmon down until it is covered in broth, and sprinkle fresh dill liberally over the top. Drop the biscuits around the top; I find that five around the outside and one in the middle works well when using a round souffle dish. It’s okay for the drop biscuits to touch, but they do bake up better with a bit of space around each one. Bake for 40 mins., until the biscuits are golden brown and cooked through. Serve immediately.

biscuit-topped salmon pot pie

Leftover pot pie can be stored for 2-3 days in the refrigerator and is really good reheated for lunch or dinner.

Here’s the pastry crust version, fresh out of the oven:

variation: salmon pot pie with pastry crust

Cheddar & ale soft pretzels.

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You can make soft pretzels in your kitchen, right now. Isn’t that just the greatest news? They take a little time, but the wait is worth it for chewy, slightly salty, bready goodness. This is a fun recipe to make; I enjoyed working with this dough, and shaping the pretzels– the step I was most concerned about– turned out to be my favorite part. Even with ale in the recipe, this is most definitely a family-friendly project*. I think most kids I know would have a blast rolling out the dough out and twisting it into shape.

the inside of a cheddar & ale soft pretzel

Why ale and cheddar? First off, it seemed like a perfect flavor combination for this classic bar/game snack. I chose a red ale I think tastes good; it is not overly bitter and has a clean, clear, distinct beer flavor. I suggest using any ale you enjoy drinking, and think a smooth porter might work well, too. The cheddar flavor is mild in the finished product, but the cheese contributed to the texture of the pretzel in a way I noticed immediately. The center of these cheddar & ale pretzels is heavenly, lighter than I expected, immensely flavorful and tender. The outside has the classic hint of bitterness from its baking soda bath (I know lye is more traditional, but baking soda is infinitely safer and easier), a good saltiness and a nice chewy bite. The pretzels were great warm from the oven and just as good a few hours later. They didn’t last long enough for me to say how they were several days later. Perhaps my next batch will last long enough for me to post an addendum!

I served the soft pretzels with my scallion and za’atar cheese spread. They would also be delicious plain, with grainy mustard or any cheese dip. If you shape the dough into buns, the very same recipe becomes a delicious base for a sandwich or burger. My mouth waters imagining my favorite lamb burger on a cheddar & ale pretzel bun– I can’t wait to try that. This recipe makes 8 pretzels, and doubles easily. With baseball and barbeque season not too far away, I am going to enjoy practicing this recipe… almost as much as I will enjoy snacking on cheddar & ale soft pretzels.

cheddar & ale soft pretzels

Cheddar & Ale Soft Pretzels (adapted from the kitchn; makes 8)

  • 1 c. ale (I used Bridgeport Kingpin Double Red), at room temperature
  • 2 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 c. shredded medium cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. dry mustard (optional)
  • 2 1/2 c. flour (maybe extra 1/2 c)
  • oil for the bowl
  • 8 c. water
  • 1/4 c. baking soda
  • 1 T. brown rice syrup
  • sea salt to top

Day 1: Add the room temperature ale to the bowl of your stand mixer. You can heat it slightly in the microwave, just 10-15 seconds or so, but I didn’t find that was necessary to get a good dough. Add the yeast to the warm or room temperature beer (not hot!) and allow it to sit for 10-15 mins. to bloom.

Add sugar, 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, cheddar cheese, dry mustard (if using) and 2 1/2 c. flour to the beer and yeast mixture. Using a dough hook, turn the mixer on low speed and mix for 2-3 mins. Increase the speed to medium once most of the flour is incorporated and mix for another 2-3 mins. Evaluate whether your dough is too sticky: if it sticks to your fingers when you try to roll a small piece into a ball, add more flour 1/4 c. at a time. My dough was very nice with just 2 1/2 c. of flour; be cautious so you don’t make a heavy, dry dough.

To a glass or ceramic bowl at least three times larger than your mass of dough, add 1 tsp. neutral oil. Knead the dough lightly with your hands and form a ball. Roll all sides in the oil and then cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight, at least 8 hours.

dough coming to room temperature after a night in the fridge

Day 2: The dough should have at least doubled in size overnight, and will look similar the picture above. Remove from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature, about 1 hour. Cover a few baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Prepare a bread board by dusting a large cutting board, counter space or bread board lightly with flour. Remove the dough from the bowl and form a quick, neat circle of dough. Use a dough cutter or sharp knife to portion it into halves, then quarters, then eighths. Work carefully so your dough pieces are as uniform as possible.

all stages of the pretzel shaping process

Working one at a time, with your hands, roll each dough portion into a long tube, as pictured on the right side of the picture above. I found that holding one end mostly stationary and working the other end with the flat of my palm was most efficient. When the dough piece is even and about 12- 15″ long, shape your pretzel:

shaping pretzels

Take one end over the other and then wrap the bottom piece once more over the top to get a shape like the picture above. Then:

a shaped pretzel, ready to proof

Hold the ends and move them up to the center top of your loop of dough. Press firmly to attach. There! A pretzel. Move it to your prepared baking sheet and do the same for the other pieces of dough.

When all pretzels are shaped, allow them to rest, covered lightly with plastic wrap or a cotton towel, for 30-40 mins.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and prepare the boiling solution. Use a very large Dutch oven or soup pot for this; if you remember science project volcanoes, you know that baking soda causes causes a mixture to expand quickly, and that’s true for this solution. Add the water, baking soda and brown rice syrup to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to keep it simmering and lower your pretzels carefully into the pot, 2 or 3 at a time, not overlapping, with a slotted spoon. Cook for 30 seconds and then flip each to its other side and cook for another 30 seconds. Remove from the solution to a parchment lined sheet and continue until all pretzels have been boiled. Sprinkle liberally with flaky sea salt or pretzel salt.

Bake the pretzels for 12-15 mins. at 425 degrees. Mine were perfect after 13 mins.; they are done when golden brown, and the places where dough intersects no longer look gummy. Cool on a wire rack for 10-15 mins. before serving. Store leftover pretzels in a tightly-sealed container at room temperature.

baked soft pretzels!

 

*If you want, just replace beer with an equal amount of warm water. The beer seemed to assist with the rising process, but the batch I made with water was just as good.

Savory stuffed braid.

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I am guessing you have encountered a sweet braid in your time: they’re impressive to look at, decadently filled with cream cheese and fruit, or nutella, or jam– and even more fun to eat. But have you ever encountered a savory braid? I hadn’t, and in mid-December I began experimenting, hoping to find an accompaniment to the pork roast I was planning to make for Christmas dinner. My braid dough of choice is an enriched dough, with butter, eggs and extra dairy; it wasn’t a hard adaptation to leave out some sugar and switch the yogurt for sour cream to send it away from breakfast and toward dinner. (Not that you couldn’t eat savory bread for breakfast… but we’ll get there.) I absolutely love working with this dough: it is soft and pliant, fragrant, a lovely golden yellow color and it rolls out like a dream. My method for the savory braid includes an overnight proof in the refrigerator, which means you have to plan a little in advance, but don’t have to spend an entire day waiting for and tending to your dough. I really couldn’t be happier with how the recipe responded to my changes.

savory braid

This recipe will make two full-size loaves. That’s a good amount of bread! Luckily, the dough freezes very well, though I will note that thawed dough turned out a crisper finished product than fresh. I actually liked the crisp edges quite a bit. For the fillings, I am sharing two set to my liking but infinitely adaptable to suit yours. The first is made with soft goat cheese and herbs, a mix of fresh and dried. The chevre, when baked, becomes slightly grainy in texture; I didn’t mind, but my husband noticed right away. If you don’t care for the tang or texture of goat cheese, substitute an equal amount of cream cheese. For the herb blend, the mix I used represents the mix I found I liked best with goat cheese; any soft herbs like basil, oregano, parsley, thyme, dill, even mint, could be used in tandem. If you have only dried herbs, use any of those mentioned above, a total of about 2-3 tsp. to begin. My second filling was inspired by a sandwich filling I used to eat with my Grampa, which always makes me think of 1970’s canapes: cream cheese and olive! Don’t knock it ’til you try it– the blend of briny, salty olives, bright dill and lemon, and cream cheese is one of my favorite comfort foods. Each filling recipe below is enough for one braid. If one looks particularly good, just double the recipe to fill both braids. In addition to changing the herbs, you could add crumbled cooked bacon to the chevre filling, or roasted red peppers to the cream cheese & olive. Try adding a few slices of prosciutto under either filling, or some quickly-sauteed sliced mushrooms. As long as you don’t radically alter the proportion of filling to dough– have fun playing!

To serve, slice warm or room temperature savory braid cross-wise into thin slices. I also like the cream cheese & olive bread straight from the refrigerator; it reminds me of the sandwiches I mentioned above. A savory braid goes well with just about any entree with which you would serve bread. Getting back to the idea of savory braid for breakfast: one of my favorite ways to eat it, especially the chevre and herb-filled bread, is lightly warmed or toasted with soft scrambled eggs alongside, or on top. So good! I really can’t stress what a dream dough this is to make, and the braiding process is one of those “looks harder than it is” kitchen tasks that is sure to wow your friends and family. In the winter I love baking bread to warm up the house– if you need another excuse to give it a try! That said, I promise the flavor of your savory braid, regardless of which filling you choose, is reason enough.

savory braid

Savory Braid (adapted from King Arthur Flour; makes 2 loaves)

For the sponge:

  • 3/4 c. warm water
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 1 T. instant yeast
  • 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

For the bread:

  • all of the sponge
  • 3/4 c. sour cream, at room temperature
  • 8 T. unsalted butter, softened, cut into small pieces
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 4 – 5 c. flour

For the herbed goat cheese filling:

  • 4 oz. soft goat cheese (chevre), at room temperature
  • 2 T. sour cream
  • 2 T. fresh basil
  • 2 T. fresh parsley
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp. dried dill
  • kosher salt & black pepper to taste

For the cream cheese & olive filling:

  • 4 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1 T. unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 c. pitted green Spanish-style olives, with or without pimientos, roughly chopped
  • 1 T. fresh dill, minced
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • freshly ground pepper
  • kosher salt to taste (optional, depends on olives)

Day 1: Start by making the sponge. In a medium glass or ceramic bowl, mix all four ingredients; cover loosely and place in a warm spot to proof for about 15 mins.

To the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment, add the sponge (which should be bubbling gently and fragrant like warm bread), sour cream, butter, eggs, salt and 4 c. flour. Starting on low speed, let the mixer run until most of the flour is incorporated. You can move the speed up to about medium once the dough is starting to come together; mix for about 5 mins. total. Assess whether the dough is very sticky: it should be forming a rough ball around the dough hook, but should also be firm enough to handle without most of it sticking to your hands. I needed to add another 1/2 c. flour to make the dough smooth enough, and you might need as much as 1 c. extra; proceed slowly, as you don’t want to overcompensate and add too much. When you have a springy, soft ball that you can handle easily but looks smooth, and fills the imprint out when you press your thumb lightly into the dough and move it away, it is ready. Add a small amount of oil to a glass or ceramic bowl at least three times larger than your dough ball; run the dough around the bottom of the bowl to coat it in oil, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and move to the refrigerator. Allow the braid dough to rest overnight; it should at least double in size.

Day 2: Make the filling(s) you plan to use. Each is simply a put-everything-in-the-bowl, stir and taste kind of deal. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and cover two sheet pans with parchment paper.

filling in progress: savory braid

Divide the dough into two even pieces. Prepare a bread board by sprinkling a large cutting board, clean counter surface or wooden board lightly with flour. Roll your first dough piece into a rectangle, a little less than 1/2″ thick. The dimensions are less important than the shape; King Arthur recommends 10″ x 15″ if that is helpful. When you have one rectangle ready, dollop one filling recipe down the center, from one short end to the other, leaving about 1/2″ margin at each end. Using a sharp knife or pizza wheel, cut diagonally into the exposed dough on one side of the filling, from just outside the filling to and through the edge. Repeat, spacing your cuts out so your resulting strips of dough are 1″ thick and matching the angle of the previous cut, until you reach the bottom. Repeat on the other side, making sure you create the same number of cuts on each side. Refer to the picture above for an example of filling placement and diagonal cuts.

Working from the top down, start by folding the margin of dough you left at the top over the filling to seal the end. Now start to braid! Place the top cut piece, on either side, over the filling, pulling over and down very slightly to ensure a tight fit. Then, the corresponding piece on the opposite side comes up and over your first piece of dough, also at a slightly downward angle. Repeat this, alternating sides, until all pieces are “braided”. You will have some overflow dough at the bottom; just roll this up toward the filling and pinch to seal. Your braid will look like this:

savory braid, ready to bake

You can see that each strip slightly overlaps the one before and above it, and the sides are uniform. I found that a little filling showing through was okay, but too much caused a mess in the oven, so try to cover most of the filling neatly. This is a forgiving dough, and it doesn’t need to be perfect. Work deliberately and I bet it will turn out beautifully.

At this point, you can repeat the process to make a second braid, or wrap the remaining dough ball carefully and place it in a freezer-safe container or bag. The dough will keep in the freezer for at least 6 weeks. Thaw completely at room temperature, until the dough no longer feels cold, before beginning the braid process.

Place your shaped braids on parchment-lined baking sheets and cover each loosely with a cotton towel. Allow the braids to rest in a warm area for about 45 mins. Bake the rested braids for 25-30 mins., until golden brown and hollow-sounding when tapped. You can very gently pry apart a thick spot in your braid to ensure all layers are cooked. Cool for at least 30 mins. before slicing to serve.

cooled and sliced savory braid

All photographs in this post were taken of a braid made with the herbed goat cheese filling.

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