Category Archives: Pastry

Lemon Tea Bread Recipe

This is always a nice one to have in your repertoire. I do these en masse because they make great giveaways and are always appreciated — a nice light and citrus-y alternative to heavier holiday fruitcakes or intense chocolate treats. This recipe makes two large 9″ x 5″ loaves, but you can scale it up as you like. I usually double this, because then I can make 5 smaller 1-pound (or so) loaves with it.

14 (2 cups) ounces sugar
8 ounces (2 sticks) butter
3 eggs
15 ounces (3 cups) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
zest of 1 lemon
8 ounces (1 cup) buttermilk
3 tablespoons lemon juice

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. With the mixer on medium-low add eggs one at a time until all are incorporated. Combine the dry ingredients including the zest in a separate bowl and whisk to blend them. Add a third of the dry ingredients to the mixer and stir on low until until there are only a few streaks of flour visible, then add half the buttermilk. Scrape, then add another third of the dry ingredients and so on until everything is incorporated. Finally fold in the lemon juice. Divide the dough between your pans (for 1 pound loaf pans use 1 pound 2 ounces of batter per pan). Bake the breads about 50 minutes until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.

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Next Up: Umm…

From here on I’ve got no big project plans, just some by-the-numbers holiday baking to do. I may put up a new tea bread flavor or pie recipe here and there, but there’ll be no rhyme or reason to my posting up to Christmas. I’m around to answer questions if you have any of course, but posts will be sporadic though next Wednesday at which point I’ll go dark through the first of the year. Here’s to the holiday baking rush!

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On the Road Again

I’m up in Chicago on business for a couple of days. It’s always nice to see Michigan Avenue at Christmas time I must say. Also I got a chance to drop in at the much-hyped food boutique Eataly. The short review: very slick, very big with an impressive selection top-quality Continental foods and groceries. It’s very “on-trend” in the sense that it’s a good example of “experiential retail”, but I wonder how many people can afford to shop at a place like this. It’s like Whole Foods only…more. Only time will tell if a concept like this can succeed with so much competition in high-end retail. Personally I’d rather be up at the Vienna Beef factory story getting a hot dog. In fact…

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Making Rugelach

I like to make rugelach in the shape of croissants because it’s very likely that rugelach were modeled on croissants. Or the other way around, it’s hard to say. What’s true is that croissants, rugelach and kipfel are all members of the same pastry family, and none of them have anything to do with the Battle of Vienna.

These are cream cheese short pastry rugelach, just one of several possible styles. They’re a bit fussy to make but worth the results. And anyway after the first dozen or so the shaping process will become so automatic you’ll scarcely know you even doing it. This recipe makes either 24 or 32, but can easily be scaled up if you like. Start by combining the butter and cream cheese in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle.

Beat that about 30 seconds on medium-high until it’s light and fluffy, then add the sugar, salt and vanilla. A little lemon zest might work well here too if you feel like gettin’ jiggy widdit, as Will Smith might have said if here we making rugelach back in the 90′s.

Beat another 15 seconds or so, scrape the bowl and then with the machine on low start adding the flour.

Stir only until it’s barely incorporated and the dough is clumpy.

Remove the dough to a lightly floured board, gather the dough together, then divide the mass into two pieces. Shape each one into a ball. Wrap those in plastic and let them sit in the refrigerator for a minimum of an hour, or keep it there for up to 3 days.

When you’re ready to shape preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove the dough from the fridge and let it sit about 15 minutes to warm up and soften. Remove one of the dough pieces to a well-floured board. Pat it into a disk and apply the pin to it.

If when you start rolling you get a big crack like this, let the dough sit another five minutes. Press the crack together and try rolling again. The dough should warm enough to the point that it rolls out easily.

Roll it out to a circle about 11″ across. Check it frequently as you roll to make sure it’s not sticking to the board. If it is, throw more flour under it. You want your finished dough roughly circular. If it isn’t just trim it up a little. Don’t go nuts with precision, this isn’t an exact science.

Now using a pizza cutter cut the dough sheet into quarters.

For 16 small rugelach, cut the dough into eighths, then into sixteenths. For slightly larger rugelach, cut each quarter into thirds. I like to cut before I put toppings on so I don’t get confused about where my lines are. Except when I’m applying jam, then I spread it on first.

Now then for the toppings. For fine toppings like cinnamon or chocolate sugar, you can just spread them all over. Try to avoid the very center, which I forgot to do here.

Chunky fillings should be applied in a ring in the middle. Here I have some finely chopped walnuts.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I like to shape mine just like croissants, so I use the same rolling process. I stretch the triangle out, which makes a more graceful-looking roll.

I moisten the very tip with a little water or egg wash.

Then I cut a little slit in the center of the fat end to give me a little extension.

I pull the slit apart…

…and start rolling the triangle up.

Until she eez done. See?

I lay those out on a sheet pan…

…then paint them with a little egg wash. Since I’m more comfortable brushing with my right hand, I paint outward from the center on each, then I rotate the sheet pan180 degrees and do the other sides, if that makes sense.

Lastly I apply a little white large-crystal dusting sugar for added crunch.

I bake those suckers for 20-30 minutes (25-35 for larger rugelach) until they’re golden.

Serve them warm if you like as they are darn tasty that way.

Filed under:  Pastry, Rugelach | 27 Comments

Rugelach Recipe

Rugelach come in a couple of different styles. There’s the classic croissant shape and what you might call the “strudel: shape. Either one will work with this formula. Any time I take on a classic I try to be aware that there are dozens of possible alternatives, most with an equal claim to the “definitive version” title. That rule certainly applies to rugelach. Some versions are made with sour cream and are a little more cake-like, some with cream cheese and are a little more pie crust-like. This formula is the latter, because that’s the version I first tasted and learned how to make. Calle me sentimental. The proportions for this style of rugelach are fairly standard:

For the Pastry

4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
4 ounces (1 stick) butter or margarine, room temperature
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
5 ounces (1 cup) all-purpose flour
egg wash
large crystal sugar to finish


There are several ways you can go here. The classic is cinnamon sugar (roughly 6-1 granulated sugar to cinnamon) plus either walnuts or golden raisins that have been plumped in boiling water for about 10 minutes. Other possibilities include sugar and cocoa powder (mixed 3-1), maybe with a few chocolate chips added for fun. A thin layer of jam and the cocoa powder mixture is not uncommon. Jam and cinnamon is another way to go. You can really go nuts crazy here, and many people do. Use your imagination!


Place the butter and cream cheese in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle. Beat the cream cheese and butter on medium-high until smooth. Beat in the sugar, vanilla and salt. Then with the machine on low, slowly add the flour and stir until just combined. Remove the dough to a lightly floured board and form it into a ball. Divide the ball into 2 pieces, wrap them in plastic wrap and refrigerate them 1-2 hours or overnight.

When you’re ready to shape, preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Take the dough out of the refrigerator and let it sit and warm up until it’s pliable but still chilly, 10-20 minutes. For croissant-shaped rugelach, roll one piece out into a circle about 10″ across. Apply your filling to the circle in a broad ring about mid-way between the outer edge and the center. Press the filling into the dough with the palm of your hand. Next using a pizza cutter, cut the dough into either 12 or 16 pizza slice-like wedges, depending on how big you like them (for 12, cut the dough into quarters, then cut each quarter into thirds). To finish, roll the wedges of dough up starting at the outer edge, then inward toward the center.

For strudel-like rugelach, roll the pastry piece out into a rectangle. Apply filling over the entire sheet, then roll the sheet up and cut the roll into pieces about 1 inch long.

Lay the shaped rugelach out on a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake about 35 minutes, until the edges of the pastry start to brown. Remove them to a rack to cool.

Filed under:  Pastry, Rugelach | 19 Comments

Back to the Battle of Vienna

Very early on in the evolution of I noticed something odd about baking and pastry history. Specifically that much of it led back to the same event in European history: the Battle of Vienna in 1683. The development of this bread can be traced back to the Battle of Vienna in 1683. I seemed to find lines like that everywhere. This pastry originated at the Battle of Vienna in 1683. Food historians trace the croissant, brioche, bagels, kipfel, rugelach (and undoubtedly many others) back to it. It’s the reason I came to call the Battle of Vienna the most baking-intensive conflict in the history of man.

So what exactly was the Battle of Vienna of 1683? Though most people today aren’t familiar with it, it was quite possibly the critical battle in early modern European history. It was the point at which the Ottoman Turks — who at the time seemed poised overrun northern Europe and in the process extinguish centuries of European tradition, Christian rule, the Westphalian nation state system and emerging concepts of individual rights and democracy — were routed by a combined army of Habsburgs and Poles. As I said we don’t think much about the battle now, but at the time it was considered, you know, important.

So where do the breads come into it? Folks who’ve followed the site for a while already know the story: It was a gloomy night in Vienna. For two long months the Ottoman Turks under Pasha Kara Mustafa had been laying siege to the city. Supplies were dwindling, morale was low, the aura of doom was palpable. Down to the last of their precious flour stores, a group of bakers worked doggedly onward in a shop that abutted the city wall. It was the wee small hours of the morning when suddenly: tap, tap, tap…tap, tap, tap. The bakers looked up at one another. What on Earth could that be? And then suddenly they realized: the Ottomans! They’re tunneling into the city! Quick! Raise the alarm! No — wait! Let’s bake something! Some sort of edible harbinger of impending doom!

Well OK, so they don’t always bake first (except in the croissant version). Some iterations have them running out and sounding the alarm. In others they pick up whatever implements are at hand and take on the Turks themselves, impaling the bad guys on balloon whisks and icing spatulas. Often the item being baked is in the shape of the Turkish crescent — a warning sign that the bad guys are coming — in others the baked thing is in the shape of a cavalryman’s stirrup or some piece of battle regalia. Regardless, the story always ends the same way: with the Turks vanquished, the populace grateful, and the bakers given monopoly rights to bake and sell the whatever-they-are’s by royal decree.

I have to admit it’s a fun story. Personally I like the image of swarthy, bare-chested Austrian bakers toiling away in their shop, just waiting for an excuse to go kick some Ottoman can. It offers me the happy illusion that instead of being fussy foodie primadonnas, we pastry types are actually widowmakers in waiting. That inside every Jacques Torres there’s a Chuck Norris waiting to get out. Yeah, well, a guy can dream can’t he?

Like just about every other piece of made-up food history, these tall tales have interchangeable parts. They can take place either in 1683 during the Battle of Vienna, or in 1529 during the Siege of Vienna. Both pitted Europeans against Turks, though in the Siege of 1529 there was a lot more tunneling (the battle is also called the “Siege of the Moles” for that reason). Alternately, it can happen during the Battle of Buda(pest) in 1686, though in that battle it was the Europeans who were besieging the Turks.

All of it’s pretty much hooey as far as I can tell.

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What are rugelach?

They are little tube-shaped pastries usually made with a cream cheese dough. They resemble small croissants when they’re rolled, small cinnamon buns when they’re cut. Nuts or raisins with spices are the most common fillings, at least in my experience, though they’re wicked good when they’re filled with chocolate or marzipan. Just about any sweet pastry filling can work in rugelach so long as it won’t entirely melt and run out during baking. Rugelach are best known as a Jewish delicacy, though where I learned to make them — Chicago’s North Shore — non-Jews have been wise to them for decades and snap them up whenever they get the chance. The name “rugelach” is Yiddish and means something along the lines of “little twists” or possibly “little horns”, which would also make sense.

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Next Up: Rugelach

There’s been a surge of interest in knishes lately and that’s reminded me about rugelach, which I used to roll in a bakery every day but haven’t made in ages. I think it’s well past time to do some, no?

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Making Esterházy Torte

The combination of thin meringue layers and buttercream has been so cherished in Europe for so long that there’s even a special word for it: dacquoise. Which in French means ah, sweet mystery of life at last I found you. Top eleven layers of dacquoise with a smear of apricot glaze, then ice the whole works with chocolate-striped vanilla fondant and you have one of the all-time classics of Viennese pastry: Esterházy torte.

This one is a little complicated to make, I’ll be honest. However if you do like I always do with complex pastries — make a component or two each day for several days leading up to the build — it’s by no means insurmountable. Let me show you how it’s done.

First make your layer templates. Most recipes for this torte call for 9″ or 10″ layers. In this case I’ve reduced the layer size to 8″ which not only produces slightly thicker layers and a taller overall torte, it allows you to bake them two-up on a single piece of parchment paper, which means you can bake them up in half the time, before the batter has a chance to deflate. So using an 8″ cardboard cake round or small pan lid, trace two circles side-by-side on a sheet of parchment.

And if you’re concerned the lines will introduce graphite into your layers, rest assured you can just turn the sheet over. See? The lines are still visible.

Once that’s done tend to your batter. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Put your almonds or hazelnuts into the bowl of a food processor…

…and chop them finely. After about 30 seconds they’ll be about as small as they’ll get. When they start creeping up the sides you’re just about done. Don’t go much further because you don’t want nut butter, get me?

Once that’s done whip up your meringue. Place the whites in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a whip and whip them on medium-high until they’re frothy. At that point add the vanilla.

With the machine running on low, add the sugar in a steady stream.

Crank the speed back up to medium-high and whip to the “bird’s beak” stage.

Add the finely chopped nuts and fold those in.


At this point there are a couple of ways you can go. You can simply spread the batter around on the parchment circles or pipe it in. I prefer piping — or at least partial piping — because it makes it easier to do a near-perfect circle. I use a large collar (no tip) and bag…

…and I just follow the line.

When my circle is done I just sorta plop a bunch in the middle. Why not make a perfect spiral? Because that would give me an overly-thick layer. So I leave some space in there…

…and spread it around until I have a layer that’s a little more than a quarter inch thick.

About like so.

You want a total of six layers. I recommend baking two sheets pans (4 layers) the first time and the last two layers in a separate bake. Why only two pans and not three? Because you want to bake in the middle of the oven, not the bottom (which is too cool) or the top (too hot). Using the two middle racks gives the most even bake. And since the layers only take 8-12 minutes to finish the remaining batter won’t have much time to lose volume. Bake them, switching them top-to-bottom after the first 8 minutes, until they’re lightly golden. Allow them to cool completely, then freeze them if you’re doing them ahead (which I recommend). They’ll puff up in the oven but as they cool they’ll flatten out considerably. Be not afraid.

My suggestion is to make everything except for the buttercream in advance. Why save the buttercream for assembly day? Because it’ll be at its lightest and fluffiest right after it’s made which will make it easier to spread.

When you’re ready to build remove the layers from the freezer. Turn them over on another parchment sheet and gently peel the paper off the backs. Do it slowly so as to lose as little of the meringue as possible. Place your first layer on an 8″ cake circle with the wax side up.

If you have a cake wheel, now’s a good time to put it to use. If not, no worries. You’ll be rotating the circle a fair amount but that’s no big deal.

You’ll want to apply very thin layers of buttercream, practically scrapings. The thing you want to pay attention to is the outer edges. Any time you’re putting frosting on a cake the tendency is to heap it up in the middle, the result being a domed top. With an Esterházy torte you want to take extra cake to make sure it’s flat when you finish, for reasons that will be more apparent later.

It helps to apply the buttercream in a large dollop out near the edge…

…then spread it along the edge. Cover the center last. Get a little exacting as you add on each layer, eyeballing it along the edge, making sure each one is as flat and even as you can reasonably make it without stressing about it. Building pastry is fun when you’re paying attention to details. It’s not when you’re getting all sweaty and freaky, knowadimean?

When you get all the way to the top, smooth the sides. Oh, I should add that it’s not unusual for a layer to tear or even break during the build. If one does fall apart in your hands just stick the pieces on and carefully apply the buttercream to them. No one will ever, ever know.

If the top is uneven on the edges just pick up the top layer and stuff a little more buttercream under there like you’re sweeping dust under a rug. What? Like you’ve never done that. Sure. Tell me another one.

So OK, once the top is as flat as you can get it, apply the apricot glaze in a thin layer. Not too much now. We just want a taste of it, and you’ve got one more layer to go!

Put the whole thing in the freezer to firm while you contemplate the final step. It’s a little stressful, I won’t mince words here. The trick is getting the fondant to the right consistency so that it spreads but doesn’t run off the edges. Remember the whole “flat” thing? Now you know why.

So then, for the fondant. You’re going to melt it in a double boiler but you’re not going to apply it warm. That would melt the apricot glaze, right? Then everything would run off the torte in a sloppy mess. So you’re going to melt it but then let it cool to room temperature.

I can already hear you saying: but Joe, if it cools back to room temperature won’t it just firm up again? Left to its own devices it will, yes. But we’re going to add a little water while it’s warm to keep it loose. We’re adding very, very little because as anyone who’s ever made simple icing can tell you, a little water can moisten a whole lot of sugar. I find that 3 1/2 teaspoons is about perfect for 1 batch (about 20 ounces) of poured fondant.

After the water has been added to the melted fondant, stir it while it cools down. When the fondant feels almost completely non-warm, you might consider doing a dry run of your topping on a plate or other flat surface. Pour on about a cup of your diluted fondant.

Spread it around with an icing spatula. At this point you might be thinking: dang! This fondant is too thick! I can see ridges after I spread it! But just wait ten seconds. The fondant will slowly settle to a smooth layer with rounded edges, at which point it’s ready for the melted chocolate or ganache.

I keep mine warm in a squeeze bottle that I have sitting in a pan of warm water. Before I use it I take the top off and give it a stir with a butter knife. It should squeeze out in liquid form. So then, I make some concentrical circles. If I flub the circles I don’t sweat it because that’s why God invented toothpicks.

I drag one through the mistake and no one’s the wiser. Outward…


…outward and so on…

…all the way around.

Once you’ve done that two or three times (I mean heck, you’ll have plenty of extra fondant and ganache) you’re ready for the Big Dance. It’ll be little different on the chilled torte since there’s apricot glaze on it, but go forward bravely. You’ll swear you’re messing the whole thing up until it becomes obvious that it’s really working just fine. A little glaze might show through here or there, don’t worry. You’re not serving this to Pierre Hermé, am I right? Or maybe you are, in which case you’ll need a much better pastry coach than me. Immediately start searching other websites for help.

You’ll want to push the fondant out toward the edge but not completely TO the edge, since the fondant will continue to slowly spread for the next minute or so. You don’t want it to overflow the sides because the drooping fondant will stretch your whole top design out. But again, don’t let the prospect ruin your life. If you get some topping drip, don’t sweat it.

It’s why God created almonds. And indeed you’re going to want to press them all around the outside of the torte as a last step. If the buttercream is still firm from the refrigeration, no problem, just let it warm up for half an hour or so until the buttercream around the outside gets sticky enough to hold the nuts.

At that point put the whole thing in the fridge to chill until serving. Kinda purty.

Slice it with a sharp knife and serve to amazed dinner guests.

Filed under:  Esterházy Torte, Pastry | 32 Comments

What is “salt rising bread”?

Reader Katie asks, since I live in Kentucky, if I’ve ever heard of salt rising bread and if so, could I tell her what it is. Katie, I certainly have heard of it. It’s a type of bread favored by Appalachian folk that’s leavened not with baking powder or yeast but with a bacterium that goes by the name of Clostridium perfringens.

If that name sounds familiar it’s probably because C. perfringens is a well known food pathogen, one that can and very often does make people sick, sometimes seriously so. That however doesn’t stop some people from raising their bread with it. Why? Because unlike just about every other microbe that can grow in a starter bowl (aside from yeast) C. perfringens creates copious amounts of CO2. The rise you get from it is every bit as good, maybe even better, than actual yeast.

People in Appalachia have made bread with it for hundreds of years. How do they not get food poisoning? Because as with yeast, the heat of the oven kills the bacteria, making the bread safe to eat. I’ve never made it because I’d never knowingly grow or work with a culture like that in my kitchen. I know of at least one bakery here in Louisville that makes it and for the life of me I can’t understand why the health department allows it. But people do strange things.

I bought some when I saw it for the first time because I was curious. It’s mild stuff for the most part, but with a vaguely cheesy flavor that comes from butyric acid, a by product of the C. perfringens metabolism. As longtime readers of know, butyric acid smells like vomit. Or parmesan cheese.

If you’re in the habit of making your own bread starter you may have encountered C. perfringens before, in the first day or two of your process. It often takes over the starter bowl at that point, but since it can’t survive in a high acid (or high-alcohol) environment for very long it usually dies off as yeasts begin to dominate the culture. That’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned, since as you can probably tell I’m no fan of salt rising bread. Hope that answers the question, Katie!

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