Chocolate Krantz Cake

Sitting at home, in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon, I am in the midst of what is my third bout of illness within a two-month period. This most recent is believed to have been picked-up in the gym somewhere – so much for trying to get back into healthy habits.

With that being said, my winter days of late have been filled with more soups that I really care to recount at this point since they are all starting to taste the same.  Instead I want to tell you about a wonderful chocolate bread/cake I made a month ago for Christmas, a newer holiday tradition in the family. I would kill for a piece of it right now but the effort required to make it is probably about 25 times more than what I have available at the moment so I’ll make do with dreaming about it over the next few episodes of Serial. Sigh.

But anyway, let’s talk about chocolate krantz cake. The recipe comes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. It’s the only recipe I have made from the book (which I’ve had for about 2 years) but this recipe alone makes having the hard copy worth it. It starts out like a recipe for brioche but then the dough is filled with a thick chocolate paste, shaped into a braid, and, once baked, is doused in a sweet syrup. The result straddles the fine line between bread and cake. The syrup fuses with the chocolate filling, turning it into something kind of resembling chocolate frosting. It’s definitely sweet, but not cloyingly so. But the bread dough gives it a little more heft than a cake, therefore making it much more justifiable as breakfast food or an afternoon snack. But it works just as well as dessert too.

Better yet, the bread keeps wonderfully, which is nice considering that it takes a decent amount of time (2 days!) and effort to make. Can’t lie to you about that but, trust me, it’s worth it. I was still eating slices about 5 or 6 days after making it and they were just as good, if not better, with age. Cooled fresh loaves can also be wrapped tightly in foil and tucked into a plastic bag and frozen for a few months.

Perhaps this may not be quite the right recipe for all of the January gym-goers – because you are either being healthy or are also suffering the gym plague like me – but just you wait. Some day this winter the weather man is going to tell you all about an impending storm and if you plan it just right and start the night before, you’ll be pulling hot krantz cake out of the oven on your snow day. And I can’t imagine too many things nicer than that.

Chocolate Krantz Cake
From Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem
Make 2 loaves

Please note that you must start preparing the cakes the night before you wish to bake them. Though the cakes themselves don’t take too much time for the physical construction, there is a lot of idle time. But, as mentioned above, it’s well worth the wait.


For the dough
4¼ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
2 tsp fast-rising active dry yeast
zest of a small lemon
3 eggs
½ cup water
¼ tsp. salt
2/3 cup room-temperature unsalted butter, cut into cubes
unflavored oil, for greasing

For the chocolate filling
½ cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup dutch-process cocoa powder
4½ oz melted dark chocolate
½ cup melted unsalted butter
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
2 Tbs. sugar

For the syrup
2/3 cup water
1¼ cups sugar

Begin by making the dough. Place the flour, sugar, yeast, and lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attached. Mix for about a minute to combine. Add the eggs and the water. Slowly increase the speed to medium and let mix for about 3 minutes, stopping the mixer as needed and pushing some of the flour into the center of the bowl until the minute comes together. With the mixer still on medium, add the salt and then the butter, a few cubes at a time, until all are added. Keep the mixer going for about another 10 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl periodically and adding a bit more flour if it doesn’t seem to want to form into a ball.

When the dough it ready, it will have formed into a ball and be smooth and shiny and elastic. Place it in a bowl brushed with a little bit of oil to keep it from sticking. Cover the bowl with plastic, and place in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, you can assemble and bake the cakes. Begin by greasing two 9x4 inch loaf pans and line them with parchment paper. Set aside. Then make the chocolate filling by combining the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, melted chocolate, and melted butter in a bowl until you have a smooth, spreadable paste. Also set aside.

Remove the dough from the fridge and divide in half. Place one on your counter and the other back in the fridge for the time being. Lightly dust the counter with flour and roll the dough into a 15x11 inch rectangle. Position it so that the shorter edge is closest to you. Spread half of the chocolate filling onto the dough, leaving a ¾ inch border on all sides. Sprinkle with half of the pecans and half of the granulated sugar. Brush a little bit of water on the side that is furthest from you. Then, starting at the end closest to you, tightly roll up the dough, pinching to seal it shut once you reach the end. Place the log of dough on the counter so that seam side is down and one end is facing you.

Now time for the slightly tricky part. Use a serrated knife to cut off the ends on each side of the log of dough. Now, running the knife from end to end, cut the log in half, lengthwise. It helps to make long shallow cuts, repeatedly running the knife from top to bottom and gently separating the two sides. Once cut through, lay the two sides so they are both cut side up. Take the end that is furthest from you on the left half and place it on top of the end of the right half, gently pressing them together. Now “braid” the loaf by taking the right half (the one underneath) and placing in overtop the left half, and then doing this once more until the two bottom ends meet up and can be sealed together. It doesn’t have to be perfect so long as the filling of the cake is exposed at the top and both ends are somewhat secure. Lift the cake into the pan and loosely cover with a clean dishtowel. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and while that heats let the loaves rise for 1-1.5 hours, until increased in size by about 20%. Place the two loaf pans in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes until golden. While the cakes bake, make the syrup. Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Once the sugar dissolves remove from the heat and let cool slightly. When the cakes are finished, place them on a cooling rack and immediately use a pastry brush to disperse the syrup over the cakes until all of the syrup is used up. It will seem like a lot, but will all eventually get soaked into the cake. After an hour remove the cakes from the pans and let cool completely before serving.

Carrot Bread with Cranberries and Hazelnuts

This past Saturday I finally achieved a goal that I’ve been carrying around with me for quite some time; I ran my very first half-marathon! I was a runner in high school but I sort of fell out of the habit during the stress and busyness of college. I would try to pick it back up at times but always lost the motivation. But, this past March I suddenly had a stroke of determination and signed up for a half marathon on a whim with a couple of friends.

So, Saturday morning, 3000 runners lined up at Doukénie Winery at 7:00 in the morning for the Virginia Wine Country Half-Marathon and after 2 hours and 12 minutes of experiencing the highs of running endorphins and the extreme pains of 10 simultaneous toe blisters and grinding knee joints, and then of course the final 0.1 mile sprint to the finish line, it was all over. The finish line doubled as the entrance to the winery where a huge wine tasting festival took place and later, my mom made an enormous brunch and I simultaneously shoveled pancakes, bananas, eggs, and sausage gravy into my mouth like a ravenous beast, followed by second breakfast and two full dinners; Clearly this is one of the perks that totally makes up for the pain of the run itself.

The week prior to the big race was the chance to load up of as many carbs as possible for energy stores and I still felt that need for carbs afterwards for refueling. That next day I remembered I had about a third of a bottle of carrot juice in the fridge and decided to use it to make a really unique, but one of my favorite loaves of bread.

The entire loaf is made of nothing but flour, yeast, salt, and carrot juice instead of water. It gives the crust this really nice rust color, a decent about of moisture, and a slightly sweeter flavor. I added dried cranberries and toasted hazelnuts for some texture and crunch and buckwheat flour to balance out the sweetness. It uses Jim Lahey’s no-knead method too so it’s a cinch to prepare and it makes for excellent toast with peanut butter, a great side to some soup (pictured is chicken orzo avgolemono), and, my favorite, a divine turkey and cheddar sandwich. Though I didn’t have the bread during my pre-race carb loading stage, I’ll have to keep it in mind for the next one…whenever that may be.

Carrot Bread
Adapted from Jim Lahey’s My Bread
Makes 1 round loaf

350 grams bread flour
50 grams buckwheat flour
¼ tsp instant yeast
1½ cups plain carrot juice
¾ cup dried cranberries
¾ cup hazelnut, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped
1 Tbs. sesame seeds

In a medium bowl, combine the flours, salt, and yeast. Pour in the carrot juice and use a wooden spoon or your hands to combine. Add the cranberries and hazelnuts and mix until evenly combined. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for 12-18 hours.

Once ready, dust your counter with flour and scrape the dough onto the counter. Knead lightly and shape it into a round. Line a clean bowl with a clean dishtowel and dust heavily with flour. Sprinkle the sesame seeds into the cloth. Place the dough, seam side down, into the bowl and cover with the overhanging towel. Let rise for 1-2 hours, or until about doubled in size.

30 minutes before the dough is ready, preheat the oven to 450 degrees, place the oven rack in the lower third, and set a Dutch oven on the rack to preheat. Once well heated, remove the Dutch oven, take off the lid, and invert the dough into the center. Place the lid back on, and place the entire pot back into the oven for 25 minutes. Remove the lid and cook for another 12-15 minutes. Be careful that the bottom does not burn. Remove from the oven and transfer the loaf to a cooling rack to cool completely before slicing.

Slow Food, Fast People

I’ve lived just outside the D.C. Metro area for my entire life but I can probably count on my two hands the number of times I’ve actually been to the city. Mostly they were for school field trips and a couple of concerts but the sad part is, I can’t even recall a time I visited for the mere sake of visiting. Yet, no matter how many times I intended to take a day trip to the big city during the past, oh… year, the thought of driving an hour (not including traffic) to get to a metro station, only to sit on the metro for another 30 minutes, is quite the deterrence. Yet, when temperatures spiked to 90 degrees and cherry blossoms were in full bloom almost two weeks ago, I could wait no longer.

I turned out to be a fulfilling and all-around fun day, a mini-field trip by myself. I got lunch at my beloved Pret (and refueled with yoga bunny detox after a 2-year lapse), visited my cousin at her work, sat in a park under a cherry tree, walked around like a dazed, camera-to-face tourist, and saw the American Food history exhibition/Julia Child’s kitchen at the American History Museum. Like I said, a pretty decent day. It did leave me exhausted though and I realized that D.C is a pretty exhausting place, much more so than other cities I’ve visited. People seemed to move about 10 times faster than normal and live their lives by means of a well-planned itinerary on their iPads and a cell phone that has taken up permanent residence at their ears. It was all a bit much. So naturally, in the spirit of a more relaxed, slow lifestyle, I bought a Dutch oven…naturally.

The renowned Le Creuset has been on my wishlist for quite some time but always frightened me away with a severe case of sticker shock. It suddenly hit me though that I should check them out at a factory outlet store and ended up walking away with a nearly half-price 5.5 quart with just a few paint imperfections. Fittingly, I broke it in with some classically slow sort of food. First I made a Dutch oven paella from Cook’s Illustrated, one of those stovetop, to oven, to table sort of dishes that Dutch ovens are perfect for. But, most importantly I made Jim Lahey’s no knead bread, the singular recipe that has been sitting in my queue, waiting for this one essential kitchen tool to come along. Kneadless to say (get it), it produced the most wonderful, rustic, and effortless loaf of bread to possibly exist.

I know that I am, per usual, the last to hop aboard fads, in this case the no-knead bread bandwagon. But I always say better late than never, eh? It’s simply amazing how you can mix together a few ingredients into the saddest, shaggiest mixture and 24 hours later it’s a bubbling brew of elastic, soft dough. Again, slow food for the win. Mostly I’m excited that I no longer have to solely rely on my standard bread baking method involving that dreaded moment of tossing the 5 lb loaf precisely onto the center of the preheated baking stone with a pizza peel. Now I just preheat the Dutch oven, plop the dough inside, put the lid on, put it back in the oven, and presto, out pops bread.

And not just any bread. Bread that sings a crackly little song when pull it out. Bread that stays so soft and tender on the inside but with a perfect toothsome crust that hurts your jaw a little but in a good way. Bread that makes breakfast such a dilemma because you cant decide weather to dress it up with peanut butter or jam or leave it in its full naked glory with just a hefty swipe of salty butter overtop. And maybe you should use it for the best darn turkey bacon and avocado sandwich for lunch too...just a thought. The only problem I seem to have with it is that it disappears maybe a little too fast. But no worries, just give me another day and there’ll be another ready, no rush.

No Knead (semi-whole wheat) Bread
Recipe by Jim Lahey

3¼ cups (300 grams) unbleached bread flour
¾ cup (100 grams) whole wheat flour
1¼ tsp (8 grams) salt
½ tsp (2 grams) instant yeast
1 1/3 cups (300 grams) room temperature water
additional flour or cornmeal, for dusting
flax and sesame seeds for the top, optional

Combine the flours, salt, and yeast in a bowl and stir until combined. Add the water and mix using your hands or a wooden spoon until everything comes together. You don’t need to knead it, just mix until there is no more loose flour and you have a shaggy, sticky mess. This is good. Cover the bowl and set aside for 18-24 hours.

After waiting, scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and fold the dough under until you have a roundish shape. Take a clean cotton towel and place it inside a clean bowl. Dust the towel liberally with flour or cornmeal and shake and seeds you may want coating your bread into the towel. Place the bread seam side down in the bowl and cover with the loose ends of the towel. Let rise for 1-2 hours.

Meanwhile, when the dough has about 30 minutes to go, place your Dutch oven with the lid on in the lower-middle rack of the oven and preheat to 475 degrees. After 30 minutes, remove the Dutch oven and take off the lid. Lift up your towel with the dough inside, place your hand underneath, and quickly invert the dough into the center of the Dutch oven – it will now be seam side up. Cover the pot and place back in the oven for 30 minutes. Then remove the lid and bake for an additional 15 to 30 minutes until the bread is deep brown. Remove from the pot with the help of a wooden spoon. If the crust is crackling and the bottom sounds hollow when you thump it, it should be done. Place on a cooling rack and wait about 2 hours before cutting open…if you can.

The Art of Simplicity

I find that I like to make things complex with my cooking. Maybe it’s for the sake of a little challenge, making me feel like I’m furthering my knowledge or something. Sure, why not make the elaborate curry that requires me to spend ridiculous amounts of money on spices from a specialty food market? Sound like fun! Or, macaroons? Sure. Who doesn’t love tediously piping little circles of egg whites onto parchment? Even the other day my mom told me, “Oh Katie, you’re such a Martha.” I took it as a compliment.

But whatever the reason for this extravagance, I always tend to stray from the straight path, opting for rocky, muddy, and treacherous road instead. The flair, unfortunately, doesn’t always work in my best interest. Like the time I tried to make my family a vegetarian molé chili; “you’ll love it, the secret ingredient is chocolate!” And when we sat down to bowls of a substance totally indistinguishable from garbage sludge, I had to admit defeat. Or the time I attempted making treacle tart to bring to a British themed dinner, only to end up sealing the teeth together of all who ate the cement-like toffee. Their pained but polite words of approval settled uncomfortably in my stomach.

As much I do enjoy culinary adventuresome, I still can’t deny comfort in simplicity. The food that I post here are my weekend experiments. What I eat on a normal basis is more along the line of cheese and crackers or yogurt and granola or, my new strange but favorite fixation, egg salad sandwiches. To me, taking very few ingredients and combining them in ways that result in powerfully flavored dishes is almost as much of a challenge as making those extravagant meals. I like this challenge too and through trial and error, I’ve discovered that there are keys to great simplicity in food.

First, successful simplicity requires good ingredients. Simple food does not have extra fluff to mask anything under par. There are only few components and those need to be top notch to provide heightened and optimal flavor.

Also, there needs to be contrast. This is what turns ordinary and bland into something that gets people excited. Simple does not have to be boring at all. When two or three ingredients that are different yet complementary, not only in flavor but texture, come together, it causes all senses to stimulate at once making for a memorable eating experience. And finally, it needs to be cooked with love and care, the ingredient that makes a difference in all cooking.

So one rainy and cold evening a few weeks ago I made grilled cheese, the ultimate comfort food, but with a twist. I cut up thick slices of ricotta bread from the farmers market. I crammed the inside with slabs of creamy Fontina cheese, crispy organic bacon, and slices of just-underripe local pears. I gave the bread a lovely swipe of butter and let it spend some time getting hot and melty in the pan.

Though unconventional it worked. The sweet pears were a perfect match to the salty bacon and the Fontina, though mild, enveloped all in a buttery blanket of richness. It was the bread that really made this sandwich. It crisped up beautifully because of the high butterfat content and its milky and slightly tangy notes rounded out the whole package. I enjoyed it alone, a sublime retreat, that lasted mere minutes but felt like hours in food divinity. Each bite was like music as my teeth moved through layers of resounding crunch. In secluded gluttony, I licked my buttery fingers unashamedly for I had finally truly felt like I discovered the art of simplicity. Four ingredients (five if you count butter) and one amazing sandwich.

Fall Grilled Cheese
serves 1

All I can say about this is go all out. No skimping on this recipe please and savor it for every fatty and cheesy bite its worth. You can always work out later.

Ricotta bread (brioche, challah, or white country bread works too)
Fontina cheese, as much as you feel meets your standards of cheesiness
3 slices of bacon
1 slightly underripe pear

Heat a frying pan to medium and lay down the slices of bacon. Cook until crisp and drain on paper towels. Wipe out the pan and set aside for later.

As the bacon cooks, prepare the other ingredients. Slice two thick pieces of the bread and then slice as much cheese as you like. Slice the pear into quarters and then cut thin pieces from each of these. You will only need about half so you can eat the remaining slices as a snack.

To assemble lay about ¾ of the cheese on one piece of bread. Place the pears on top and them the bacon. Dot the remaining cheese on top of the bacon so it melts to the other piece of bread and holds the sandwich together. Lay the remaining piece of bread on top. Generously butter the outside of the sandwich.

Get a pan on medium heat and also turn the oven to about 400 degrees. Cook the sandwich in the pan for about 2 minutes a side, pressing down occasionally and constantly checking to make sure you don’t burn anything. Once both sides are golden brown and crispy, transfer the pan to the oven for about 2 minutes to let the cheese melt. Remove, cut any way you like, and enjoy.

Whole Wheat Hearth Bread

Everything has been leading up to this for a while now.

Ever since I discovered St. John Bread in London and their phenomenal loaves of brown bread, so chewy and crusty that you would never guess it came from whole grains, I’ve been meaning to introduce myself to the world of healthy bread baking.

Since then I took a class in school about cooking and ingredient science and found myself fascinated by the amazing lives of microscopic yeast. I also bought whole wheat bread at the farmer’s market hoping for a hint of the St. John breads I left behind. But the loaves I received from the market hippies were, although good tasting and chock-full of millet, flax, and sprouted things, were very dense and crumbly, lending no chew or dexterity and leaving me fishing out broken-off pieces burning at the bottom of the toaster. And I wouldn’t even attempt spreading peanut butter on them unless it was a mass of sticky crumbs I craved rather that a piece of sturdy peanut butter toast. So finally, out of sheer desperation for a decent slice of bread I stood in line at the bookstore with Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads in my hand and determination in my heart. And at last, I discovered the secret to the best whole grain hearth bread.

Unfortunately, this is bread baking with a lot of science behind it which of course means that it’s not a bread that’s is going to easily come together in an afternoon. This is bread that makes you wait, but boy is it worth it. This was my first delve into the long, slow fermentation process and also my first attempt at making bread with a biga and a soaker. I was nervous, really hoping not to screw things up after waiting for so long but was highly pleased with how simple the process ended up being and of course with my final result.

The bread I made, a transitional hearth bread boule, was only half whole wheat, which is the recipe Reinhart suggests for beginners, but had all the aspects of whole wheat that I really love. There was no hint of the mealiness that disappointed me previously because the long fermentation really let the gluten relax and become super elastic. Therefore, the final bread was absolutely moist and chewy, full of complex nutty flavors and a pleasing slightly sour tang. The crust was perfection and even though I was only using a standard oven, baking on a preheated pizza stone and making a steam bath in the oven let the dough spring up fast and develop that awesome crispy exterior. I took the blistered round from the oven and listened to the crust popping and cracking like the applause from an admiring crowd or fireworks blasting off in my achievement. I photographed it as if it was my first-born child, carting it around and showing off my “baby”. Taking that loaf out of the oven may be my proudest of my culinary life and we ate big slabs of solely bread for dinner. It was a perfect meal.

Transitional Hearth Bread
Makes one boule, two batard, or 4 mini baguettes
Recipe by Peter Reinhart

This is not the sort of cooking I am doing every day but I do hope that at some point of my life, this bread baking will be a more daily occurrence. I hope to soon try more of these whole grain recipes like the sandwich loaves, focaccia and pizza dough, and bagels with just as great of results. This bread would be perfect with wine, good cheese, and some select best friends; it makes me feel like the people in Kinfolk Magazine, my new favorite read. It make me feel one step closer to the sustainable, artisan person I strive to be and brings me closer with my food. It makes me trust my intuition, letting my hands determine if the dough is right rather than the recipe. It makes my house smell like heave too…definitely not a bad thing. So bake bread, share bread, enjoy this art.

On Day One
The first day, prepare the biga and starter, which will be used in the final dough on the second day. This will not take too long.


1¾ cups whole wheat flour (227 grams)
½ tsp. salt
¾ cup water (170 grams)

Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl for a minute until the flour is completely hydrated and form the dough into a ball. Cover the bowl with the soaker with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 12-24 hours. If you go longer then 24 hours without using the soaker, place it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days and remove it from the refrigerator 2 hours before using.

1¾ cups unbleached bread flour (227 grams)
¼ tsp. instant yeast
½ cup plus 2 Tbs. room temperature water (I needed a little more because it was a very dry day)

Mix the ingredients in a bowl with a wooden spoon to form a ball. With wet hands, knead the dough for 2 minutes until all of the flour is hydrated and the dough feels very tacky. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes then continue kneading for one more minute with wet hands until the dough is smooth but still tacky. Place in a clean, lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for at least 8 hours before using and up to three days. Remove from the refrigerator 2 hours before using.

On Day Two
This is shaping and baking day. Two hours before beginning, remove the biga from the refrigerator to let it come to room temperature.

Final Dough
All of the soaker
All of the biga
3½ Tbs. whole wheat flour
5/8 tsp. salt
2¼ tsp. instant yeast

Chop up your soaker and biga into 12 equal pieces each, dust them lightly with flour so they don’t stick, and place them in a mixing bowl. Add the flour, salt, and yeast to the bowl as well. Using a wooden spoon, begin to combine the ingredients vigorously and when they start to come together, knead the dough with wet hands for 2 minutes or until the ingredients are evenly distributed. It is easy to tell when this is done with the transitional recipe because you will no longer see any marbling from the two different flours but only even, light brown dough with no granules of yeast showing. You may need to add more water or flour to end up with dough that is soft and slightly sticky. I needed more water because it was a dry day.

Continue kneading the dough on a flour-dusted surface for an additional 3-4 minutes, incorporating only as much flour as you need to make dough that is smooth and tacky, but not sticky. Form the dough into a ball and let it rest for 5 minutes. Prepare a clean, lightly oiled bowl. Knead the dough for one more minute, adding water or flour as needed until soft and supple. Form the dough into a ball, place in the bowl and roll around to cover with oil, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let rise as room temperature for 45-60 minutes.

After rising, shape the dough and prepare the oven. Preheat to 500 degrees. Place a baking stone in the lower third with a metal or cast iron sheet pan in the rack directly below it. Let the pans preheat for an hour before baking. Shape the risen dough into a boule. To do so, remove the dough from the bowl, gently pat it into a rectangle, and bring all four corners to the middle, squeezing them together to seal while pulling more dough in from the sides to tighten. Flip the dough over, seam side down, and continue pulling the dough downward into the bottom center with the sides of your hands while turning the dough into a very tight and round. Place on an overturned metal baking sheet with parchment or a well-floured pizza peel, cover with a towel, and let rise for 45-60 minutes.

When done rising, slash the top of the boule in a star pattern with a serrated knife and gently loosen it from its surface. Prepare a beaker filled with one cup of hot water. Then, working quickly, open the oven, slide the dough from the pan and parchment or peel onto the hot baking stone, pour the water into the baking pan underneath the stone, and close the oven door. Lower the temperature to 450 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes, without opening to door, then give the bread a 180 degree turn. Bake for an additional 15-30 minutes until the crust is dark and crackling, the bottom sounds hollow when tapped, and the interior registers 200 degrees. Cool on a rack for at least an hour before cutting.