Baking with Julia: Finnish Pulla Bread

Finnish Pulla 007
Well, this was certainly an easier yeast bread to make than the Cranberry Pumpkin bread from October and I’m happy to say more of a success.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved the taste of October’s bread, it just didn’t look as pretty as the Finnish Pulla. I have a feeling in addition to a braided bread being automatically beautiful, the fact that I really kneaded the heck out of this bread helped increase the beauty factor.
Finnish Pulla 005
Now, I wish I had only good things to report.  I fear I bought and used the wrong kind of cardamom pods.  At our local specialty food store (which is where I had to go because the “regular” grocery store does not carry such a spice), there was the choice of green or black pods.  I went with the black thinking they looked easier to crack open.  Indeed, they were pretty easy to pry open but the seeds emitted an odor that I wasn’t thrilled by.  Imagine dank, smokey earth.  Not necessarily a smell you would associate with a yummy sweet bread.  Despite this mix up, the rest of the bread’s ingredients seemed to over power the black cardamom and I got rave reviews from my one taste tester, my husband.
I consulted a YouTube video for tips on how to braid the bread.  While mine didn’t look exactly like the one on the video, it still came out better than I would have guessed.  I sure was wishing for a deeper and longer counter top when rolling out the 36 inch ropes of dough!
Finnish Pulla 006
You can see and read more about this recipe over at The Daily Morsel.
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Baking with Julia: Best Ever Brownies


These brownies were oh so gooey, chocolaty and delicious!  The name “Best Ever” is pretty accurate if you love brownies that are almost raw in consistency and I know there are a lot of people out there who do.  My roommate of 5 years when I lived in Brooklyn, NY was one of them.  She liked every baked good to be almost raw; cookies, pancakes, banana bread, you name it.  I definitely do not like super cakey brownies, but these were a touch too gooey for me to agree with the “best ever” moniker.  This might be because I took them out of the oven right at the 23 minute mark (when the recipe instructs you to first check them), thinking they were done because they certainly looked done on the surface and the recipe states they will be best if just barely set.  I fear they were less than barely set.  In any case, they were still really good, even though we needed to eat them with a spoon, and oh, some vanilla ice cream.  My husband and I ate these almost every night until they were gone.  Oink, oink. 

For what it’s worth, my favorite brownie recipe comes from Bon Appétit.  The recipe comes together much faster than Julia Child’s, and they are still very rich and dense, but with a gooey factor that’s a little more my speed. 

To read the recipe in full, check out the great post on A Beautiful Mess.


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Baking With Julia: Pumpkin Cranberry Walnut Bread

YUM!  I love this bread.  It’s so nice when you put a lot of work in to a recipe and are actually thrilled with the results.

The instructions were long, and it was definitely 24 hours from start to finish, but I think all those little steps (with long breaks in between), are soothing in a way.  The whole process of letting the dough rise three different times (!) reminded me of all the bread baking sessions I took part in with my grandma when I was a little girl.  She did it all by hand – no fancy stand mixer with a dough hook – and her bread is still the best I’ve ever tasted.

I did the three loaves thing.  My pan size was a bit off; 2 inches too long, so they aren’t the prettiest things in the world, but the taste and consistency are perfect in my opinion and that’s all the really matters with bread, right?

Oh, and my dog enjoyed chasing after a stray cranberry that jumped out of the mixing bowl.  Good times for all.  To see the full recipe, check out Rebecca’s post on This Bountiful Backyard.

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Baking with Julia: Nectarine Upside-Down Chiffon Cake

After a 4 month, wedding induced hiatus (God, that’s a long time), I’m back to Baking with Julia with this very labor intensive Nectarine Upside-Down Chiffon cake.  For the complete recipe check out this post from Little French Bakery

I’ll say it right now, not going to be making this one again.  The process wasn’t so terribly hard or even that long (only took me 1 1/2 hrs), but the results are just kinda meh.

Now there are a few things I probably could have done differently to make this more of a delight.  For starters, I used peaches instead of nectarines.  It’s September and they were out of nectarines for the season at my local farm stand.  The peaches they had were sort of bottom of the barrel and they weren’t completely ripe when I made this recipe.  Fail #1.

Secondly, I did not have a 10 inch spring-form pan so used my 9 inch instead.  Following tips from other bakers, I didn’t pour in all the batter, but there was sooo much batter left over that something just didn’t seem right.  Hmmm.  Fail #2.

Last but not least, this was the first time I made a meringue and while I think I whipped the eggs white to stiff peaked perfection, I don’t think I properly mixed the whites into the yolk batter for fear of over mixing and deflating all that beautiful egg white fluffiness.  Perhaps this failure to properly mix is what caused the horrible burning smell to emanate from my oven at only minute 33 of the 45-55 minute bake time.

Horrible burned cake top. Thought it was a goner at this point.

Despite the burning of the top which actually becomes the bottom, the cake tastes pretty good.  And happily the burned part is kept out of site when you flip it over onto your plate or cake stand.  If the peaches had been riper this might have been a winner, but as it is, I’m pretty luke-warm on the results.  A lot of work for a so-so finish, BUT, I really enjoyed seeing plain old egg whites turn into a marshmellowy cloud.

I remember watching Christopher Kimball of “America’s Test Kitchen” demonstrate how to make the perfect chiffon cake.  I need to go back and revisit that show because I’d love to try my hand at making this type of cake again without the added steps of this Julia Child recipe.

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Baking with Julia: Lemon Loaf Cake

This cake was very easy and fun to make.  It turned out nice and moist with a delightful denseness.  I added a side of fruit salad instead of icing, since I knew this baby packed enough calories on its own.  My only slight disappointment was the lack of lemon taste.  Seriously, it was non-existent.  I’m curious to hear if others had the same experience with the lemon flavor.  Because this was so easy to make, if I ever have the need for pound cake again, I’d definitely turn to this recipe.

The complete recipe can be found on Truc’s and Michelle’s blogs.

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Baking with Julia: Irish Soda Bread

This recipe could not have been easier (hello, four ingredients!) or more satisfying.  The consistency was perfect on Day One.  Sort of like a scone.  I wrapped it in a damp cloth as the recipe instructs.  By Day Three it’s definitely hard, but still tasty.  I made this on St. Patrick’s Day and was so pleased with myself I felt inspired to write this St. Paddy’s Day haiku:

Soda bread baking
All is green on the hillside
A Guinness please, sir.

I cut the loaf in half and brought half over to my future in-laws’ along with the extra buttermilk which I know we would never drink.  I did buy raisins specifically to include in the recipe, but once I started kneading the bread, I wasn’t sure at what point, or exactly how to mix them in.  Next time I’ll think ahead and add a little something extra in the nut or dried fruit category.  Will definitely make this again.  It was so easy and Josh (fiance) said it was like a huge biscuit.  He’s a big fan of biscuits.  Full recipe can be found on Cathleen’s blog, My Culinary Mission.

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Baking with Julia: Chocolate Truffle Tartlets

My Aunt Kathy turned me on to a community baking endeavor spearheaded by Pittsburgh native, Laurie Woodward.  The story goes like this – over four years ago Woodward received a copy of Dorie Greenspan’s, James Beard award-winning book, “Baking From My Home to Yours” as a Christmas present and vowed to bake one recipe per week for a year.  The full details can be read in this Washington Post article, but long story short, Woodward’s mission became a four year long blogging community effort called “Tuesdays with Dorie.”   Greenspan herself has been much involved in the process.  Now Woodward and company are starting a new book by Greenspan and Julia Child, “Baking with Julia: Savor the Joys of Baking with America’s Best Bakers” (1996, William Morrow & Co.).  Anyone with a blog, a copy of the book, and the willingness to bake at least one out of two featured recipes per month is welcome to join the group.   Here goes!

I must admit, I don’t yet own a copy of “Baking with Julia.”  For this first recipe, I had to check the book out of the library. However, I just got a new job after 10 months of unemployment (yay!), so I think purchasing a copy of the book is definitely on my list of things to do now that I will have a little extra pocket money.

Chocolate Truffle Tartlets

The full recipe can be found on Jessica’s blog, Cookbook Habit.

I don’t have individual mini tart pans and because my fiance already gives me enough grief about how much “kitchen stuff” I have, I decided to refrain from going out and buying mini pans and just use the 9 inch tart pan I already own.

Making the chocolate crust was a complete failure.  I attempted to prepare the dough by hand because I only have a mini food processor and didn’t think it would be large enough.  After adding the yolk and 1 tbsp of water my dough was so barely moist I thought there was no way it would form in to anything remotely solid so I slowly, bit by bit, ended up adding 5 tbsp total which I thought must be excessive, but the dough was still very dry. It barely formed in to a square and then picking that “square” up to put it on the plastic wrap was no small feat. I should have prepared the plastic wrap in advance because my hands were a mess from working with the dough and I had to wash them before getting the saran wrap box a complete chocolaty mess. I left the dough in the fridge to chill over night, but the next day I could plainly see it would never roll out into anything workable.  That’s when I shamefully headed to the store the purchase a Pillsbury pie crust.  My head hangs in shame.

I am happy to say I had much better luck with the filling.  I couldn’t find white chocolate at my Trader Joe’s so made due with milk chocolate and dark chocolate and of course the biscotti which ended up being my favorite part.

The filling did spill a little over the sides of the crust, but I was very pleased with the consistency and over-all chocolate goodness.  I prepared this as a special treat for my Valentine and I loved hearing him say, “this is the best dessert you’ve ever made.”   I will be interested to hear other’s experience with this one.

The recipes for March have not been announced yet, but judging from this first recipe, I am both excited and a little scared to see what challenge will come next.  Stay tuned.

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An American Childhood

I picked up Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood (1987, Harper & Row) after reading about it in the “People & Culture” section of the previously mentioned Moon Handbook – Pittsburgh.  This autobiography shares the details of Dillard’s life from age 5 to 18 growing up in the Point Breeze neighborhood of Pittsburgh in “a house full of comedians, reading books” in the 1950s.  I am so glad I read this!

Dillard is a very special writer.  Right from the first few pages you know you’ll be in good hands.  The book possesses a dreamlike quality in Dillard’s description of the shear natural power and wonder of Western Pennsylvania’s mighty rivers and mountain ranges.  In between reminiscences of childhood happenings, she writes about the beginnings of Pittsburgh, when the land was populated by Native Americans like the pro-British Iroquois and the French who built and controlled Fort Duquesne which was located in what is now a downtown full of skyscrapers.  What makes these history lessons even more fascinating is the fact that they are being told through the eyes of a child.  Be that a very well read child, but never-the-less, the reader gets to remember the blood-chilling excitement that came with reading about whopping Indian warriors brutally attacking New World settlers and a young George Washington having his metal tested in a defeat at Fort Necessity.  As a grown-up who remembers American History being my favorite subject from about 4th grade on, these descriptions of early Pittsburgh were particularly enjoyable to read.

Each chapter takes on a significant set of events from Dillard’s growing up years always told from the perspective of a child’s naivety sprinkled with the wry observations of a now adult writer.  These include things like trips to the Homewood branch of the Carnegie Library where she checked out the scintillating book The Field Book of Ponds and Streams at least 4 times a year during a 3 year period.  I especially loved her descriptions of the library experience.  She speaks about the library in hallowed tones and praises the librarians for their willingness to humor a 7-year-old who wants to check out such atypical titles.

Scotch-Irish immigrants, including the most famous of all, Andrew Carnegie, are given their due for the formation of modern-day Pittsburgh.  Dillard includes a telling quote a steelworker told an interviewer on the subject of Carnegie’s famous philanthropy.  “We didn’t want him to build a library for us, we would have rather had higher wages.”  Apparently these steelworkers got one day off every two weeks and regularly worked 12 hour shifts.  One has to wonder when they would have had time to even go to the library let alone finish a book.  Perhaps loan periods were longer than 3 weeks back then.  Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine is discussed.  Dillard was given the test serum a whopping 3 different times due to changing schools so frequently.  A Pittsburgh of street cars, paper boys, snowball throwing youth and school dances rounds out this rich peek into one very exceptional little girl’s formative years.  I now have a much better idea of what this town was built on, both physically in terms of its natural surroundings, and symbolically in the form of people who pumped this place full of spirit from the 18th century to the baby boomers of Dillard’s youth.

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Newness all Around

Hello world (as WordPress likes to say)!

I’ll just say right off the bat; first blog posts are slightly intimidating to write, but here we go.  My goal is to use this space as a way to chronicle a new part of my life that is just beginning.  After living in New York City for 11 years where I worked in the publishing industry in a sales role, I’ve moved to Pittsburgh, PA.  Well, technically I live in a small township about 9 miles south of Pittsburgh called Library, thus the name of this blog.  The name Library is happily coincidental given that I just completed a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science from The City University of New York, Queens College.  While there are many things I love about NYC, I was ready to leave.  Further incentive came in the form of a soon-to-be husband who is from Pittsburgh.  An additional bonus is the fact that Pittsburgh has been getting some pretty excellent press of late.  In 2009 Forbes named The City of Champions the most livable city in the United States and National Geographic Traveler Magazine included the Burgh in their list of best places to take a trip in 2012, just to name a couple instances.

I am ready to get to know this new and exciting city and to help me on this mission I picked up Moon Handbook‘s 2011 edition on Pittsburgh by Dan Eldridge.

So far I am absolutely thrilled with this guidebook.  It feels more like a friend giving me advice on the coolest places to eat, visit and shop rather than your standard issue travel book.  The beginning of the book consists of 7 individual colorful and easy to read maps that highlight different parts of the city.  Each entry then references which of these numbered maps the site, restaurant etc. can be found on.  The book is lightweight and while of course all of the info it contains could be accessed on my iPhone, I love having it all in one easy, flip-througable place.  I have a feeling this book is going to live in my purse for well in to the foreseeable future.

First up on my list of things to do in order to feel at home in this new city was to get a library card.  While I checked out my local library I decided to make more of an event out of it and went to the Lawrenceville  Branch.  The Lawrenceville Branch of the Carnegie Public Library opened on May 11th 1898, as the first branch in the CLP library system. The 279 Fisk Street location was designed by architects Alden & Harlow, the same firm who designed the original Carnegie Institute in Oakland and other Carnegie branch libraries.


It’s a beautiful, light filled little library that is doing a great job of keeping the original details of the structure alive while at the same time incorporating new technology and services.  And the staff was incredibly friendly and helpful I am happy to say.  Now, armed with my guidebook and a library card, I am ready to begin this new adventure!

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