I have a cardigan that's unmistakably ugly; the colour is drab and makes me look like I'm either coming down with a cold or getting over one. It was made for a tall man, which I am not, so the shoulders droop. On the left side, at my hip, above the pocket, there's a small hole, round and neat like you pushed a sharpened pencil through the wool. I've rolled the cuffs so many times that they're stretched out, and are beginning to ruffle at the edge. Still, the sweater is in my closet, because it is warm and comfy, and I like it. No matter its looks.

I feel very much the same way about panade. I'm a sucker for substance.

panade

A panade is like a savoury bread pudding, or the best parts of French onion soup and a gratin packed together in a casserole. There's bread and cheese and vegetables stacked up on top of each other, baked until the bottom goes lush and the top is crusted golden. A collection of humble ingredients — a fine use of those past their prime, actually — and one that lands up at an end far more auspicious then its start. It's made with stock rather than a custard to bind the layers, so even though rich and filling, the flavour of is clearer. There's acidity from the wine and tomatoes, the sharpness of sturdy greens, the pronounced, aromatic nuttiness of Gruyère; all together, yet each on their own. 

You may be familiar with the recipe for chard and onion panade from the Zuni Café cookbook; if not, you'll find it has a deservedly faithful following. This version adds tomatoes, and their inclusion made it perfect for our start to October, as the trees are starting their turn to technicolour but the days are warm enough that there are (crazy) folks wearing shorts and no coats. This panade is what we had one night when, if not for dinner, I was ready for the blanket we keep tucked by the couch. Hot and bubbling from the oven, we spooned our meal sloppily onto plates — though the crust shattered with an impressive shower of crumbs, underneath there were puddles of broth, and the oozing slip of melted cheese. The vegetables were supple but retained a messy integrity, if not their colour. We had fried eggs on top.

season's ending.
Untitled

It seems a counterintuitive to take vibrant tomatoes, minutes away from the end of their season, pile them with bouncily green bunches of rainbow chard and lacinato kale, and cook the lot of it to a muted sog, and yet, it makes absolute sense. The result is pretty much exactly what's going on outside right now, a season that blazes but feels cozy; one that's equal parts shining sky and colours turned up to eleven, as it is grey clouds and dim evenings, with the lights turned on early. 

Floppy sweaters and panades, both fit me fine.

TOMATO, GREENS AND GRUYÈRE PANADE

Adapted from Food and Wine. With two children at the table, I didn't let the panade bake too long uncovered, since when the crust goes terminally crunchy it can be difficult for small mouths to manage. If that's not a concern, feel free to fully blitz the top until crispy all over. 

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided, plus more for the pan
  • 5 pounds mixed sturdy greens, such as chards and kales, stemmed
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • One 1-pound, day-old peasant loaf, sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 3 pounds beefsteak tomatoes, sliced 1/2-inch thick, see note
  • 8 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated, plus extra for garnish

Butter a 10x15-inch baking dish and set aside. Preheat an oven to 400°F (200°C), with a rack in the upper third.

In a large, wide pot of boiling water, cook the greens for 2 minutes, then drain into a colander and run under cold water. Once cool enough to handle, squeeze out the excess water. Chop coarsely and set aside.

In the same pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter with the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions and thyme and cook, stirring occasionally until the onions have softened, around 12 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Raise the head to medium-high and pour in the wine; simmer until the wine has reduced to 1/4 cup, around 5 minutes. Stir in the greens and season with salt and pepper. 

In a small saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer. Line the bottom of the prepared baking dish with one-third of the bread slices, overlapping and trimming the bread to fit. Layer half the tomatoes on top, and season with salt and pepper. Spread half the greens mixture on next, then half of the cheese. Repeat layers with the remaining ingredients, gently pressing down as you build, ending with the bread. Carefully pour the stock over the casserole and press down again, this time using a spatula. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and brush over all. 

Cover the dish with foil and bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour. Remove the foil and bake for 10-15 minutes more, until the top is browned and crisp. Remove from the oven and allow the casserole to rest for 10 minutes before serving. At the table, sprinkle some reserved cheese on top, if desired.

Serves 8, nicely with a salad and/or a fried egg alongside.

Note:

  • I used a mix of tomatoes we had hanging about; if you don't have beefsteaks, semi-roasted Romas would be particularly fine, as done here
  • Fontina is a good switch for the Gruyère. 

*******

UPPERCASE 15!

From UPPERCASE magazine, issue #15: cooking science and a recipe for roasted carrots with rough dukkah, and one for harissa mayonnaise.

I am especially proud to be a contributor to UPPERCASE magazine, and I'm heartily thankful for support shown for my stories over there. To show that appreciation, I'd like to give away two copies of the latest, jaw-droppingly gorgeous issue! It even has a super-nifty embossed cover — you'll want to see this one in person. Simply leave a comment here if you'd like to be considered. (Please provide a way to contact you, either through your own website or email address. If concerned about privacy on the latter, the information is only visible to me when entered in the contact email field of the comment form. It will not be made public.)

Entries will be accepted until at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, October 12, 2012.

My continued thanks and best of luck! xo. 

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I'm over being sick, hooray for that — and hurrah for your company and all of your magical home remedies. The combination made for fantastic one-two-punch to knock out that pesky cold. While I'm no longer under the weather, I am under the spell of a bout of nostalgia, just so you know. 

And, so you know, sometime tomorrow you'll be wanting to preheat your oven to 400°F. There's brioche to be baked.

My husband Sean and I are coming up on an anniversary — not an "official" one exactly, and maybe not the most major in the grand scheme of things, as we've been together long enough that our calendar is peppered with small remembrances to mark our journey of getting here.

It's not an event that warrants a fuss, really. We've both got milestone birthdays next month, so there'll be fuss to spare. He is seven days my senior, a fact that hasn't lost its charm to me in all this time of knowing him. There's a smile in the thought that on the day that his parents were celebrating his one-week-old-ness, my parents were celebrating my arrival.

These small things, these scraps of our shared history wrapped up together, is what led to today's baking.

You see, also tucked in that package of sentiment is the day in May, ages ago, when Sean asked me to live with him. With that question he was also asking me to move to another city. After years studying, then teaching, then working abroad, and across this country, he had returned to the city where he was born. A city he knew well, and was full to its borders with his stories, but one I'd only visited.  

I moved. And I fell for that city as I'd fallen for him. 

I got to know his friends and made them even more mine. Those guys have good, strong arms for lifting furniture up three flights of stairs, arms that are even better for opening wide in welcome of a newcomer into their Club of Locals. 

Together Sean and I discovered the places that had changed in his absence, and he introduced me to his old haunts that had stayed the same. One of those places was a particular deli.

That deli, which is still there though we're not, has aisles of mustards and oils, along with a bakery and a meats counter, and one side where you can sit down to eat things like cabbage rolls and soup. Sean and his folks had gone there when he was a child, and I don't know if it was a habitual stop, but I do know it made quite an impression on his young senses. It was the place where he tried his first chocolate spiked with liqueur. He didn't like it much.

What he did like was their egg bread. 

IMG_9288

Their bread is actually made into buns, though not the ones we've got here. Theirs is most likely close to challah, though I've never asked. (I really should.) It's scattered with poppy seeds and is deeply yellow and sweet. When he and I would go, we would buy a bag of buns on every visit. They were our usual, back in a time when having a "usual" with someone else felt new and kind of exciting in a silly way. 

Today there's brioche on our counter and not challah — the Francophile version (read: stuffed with butter), if you will. It's probably excessive to be considered a usual. That said, it's exceptionally appropriate for a sort-of celebration. 

Brioche lives in between bread and pastry, which is a nice place to hang out. It has a proper crust like a bread, with a soft, almost cakey crumb that peels apart in lacy layers like the interior of a croissant. It is deceptively light, dangerously so, as it takes a pat of butter like nobody's business. Top it with jam and, well then, you do things right.

Brioche is yeasted, enriched with eggs, and is hardly a fuss either, though it requires an overnight rest. I prefer to look at that lull in activity as a boon, with the work spread out over two days. One evening, you bring together this smooth, rich dough that does in fact feel much like a baby's cheek — so much so that if you told me that brioche dough was the inspiration for the phrase "soft as a baby's bottom," I wouldn't be surprised.

Then, tucked in the fridge, everyone's off to bed.

the last of the raspberry

I lost something recently; small enough that I didn't notice its absence until yesterday — and then I spent the following hours upturning every drawer I could find, turning out every pocket I came across. It distracted me. I kept looking for it in corners and running to another end of the house, with a sudden inspiration of where it might be. I woke up this morning with what was lost tugging at the edge of my thoughts, like a loose thread caught on a splinter.

But there was bread to be made, dough that had waited hours for my attention. With two small lads in my aid, we learned that silken dough is no match for hands skilled with Play-Doh, and made quick work rolling that dough into teeny rounds, which were then tucked snugly into a well-buttered pan. The buns rested, and brushed with beaten egg as a glaze."Dab, dab, dab, paint, paint, paint" we said. Instructions work best in threes. 

Into the oven went our handiwork, and in 20 minutes the brioche rose and bloomed, like clovers. 

So on this Monday, as much as I'm annoyed with myself for what I've misplaced, the loss is that much easier to swallow with bread, butter, jam, made and shared with good company, in reminder of all that's been found.

Bubble-Top Brioches

From Dorie Greenspan, as printed in Bon Appetit magazine, October 2009.

Recipe

This recipe was part of a brilliant article; it is full of charm, helpful anecdotes, and a goldmine of information when it comes to producing dependable results when baking this sublime bread. I highly recommend you give it a read.

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twirled

At 10:54 or so on Wednesday night, I started thinking about crackers. The thought was so engrossing, the interest so strong, that it took no more than three seconds after the notion entered my mind for me to say to the friend with whom I was chatting "I would really like some crackers."

I am a riveting conversationalist.

There were no crackers in the pantry, so to satisfy my desire would mean productivity on my part. Good sense and laziness thankfully won the day, and I managed to leave the kitchen neat and tidy that night.

In a stunning display of restraint, I held off until the morning. And thus, at 7:15 a.m. on Thursday a bowl of dough, dusted in flour and proofing quietly, rising and puffing proudly, resided on our counter. By noon, there would be Garlic Herb Bread Twists.

Please don't look at me like a crazy person, I know full well that a stick of bread may not be a cracker, per se, but they met our requirements with ease. I wasn't aiming for a crackers-and-cheese cracker, not a shingle demoted to the role of vehicle for something else. I wanted salt, crunch, a snack on its own that required no further accessory.

These fit the bill.

All they take is pizza dough, bought or homemade, laminated with parmesan, rosemary and thyme, salt and pepper. Cut and twirled into curling lengths, they receive a brush of garlic oil before they're into the oven. A second anointing as they come out of the heat, in my version the oil is cut with honey, and then a toss through a mix of Parmesan and parsley. Thoroughly coated, utterly habit-forming, they're good to go.

I like the ones with some relative heft - their crust has a pleasing substance, and through the middle the crumb is spongy and dense for a satisfying chew. However, Sean prefers those stretched thin and allowed to crisp, so their crunch is not only at the edge but remains right on though. The one for him are the ones down below, gnarled and uneven, thoroughly golden and pleasurably snappy.

Eight hours is what it took from impulse to the making of these cracker-ish sticks, three hours from start to munching, and less than an afternoon for them to be gone. A pretty neat little timeline I'd say. In the name of efficiency, however, I think next time I won't bother waiting and set about making them right the very minute the craving strikes.

And strike it will, to be sure. Patience may be a virtue, but snacks are a necessity.

tips

GARLIC AND HERB BREAD STICKS

From Gourmet Magazine, July 2009. Since I have made changes to the ingredients and method, I've rewritten the recipe for ease. To bring further depth to the garlic oil, the garlic is steeped in warm oil to rid it of any harsh bite. I've also added a pour of honey, to round out and soften the piquancy of the cheese and garlic.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (2 ounces), divided
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 lb pizza dough, (or use store-bought)
  • A generous teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

METHOD

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C), with racks in the upper and lower thirds. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, and set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together rosemary, thyme, 1/4 cup cheese, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

In a small saucepan, stir together the olive oil and garlic. Place the pan over medium heat, and warm gently until the garlic starts to become fragrant. Do not cook the garlic or let it sizzle. Remove from the heat, stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and set aside to cool.

Divide the dough in half, covering one portion with a tea towel (not terry cloth). On a lightly-floured work surface and with a floured pin, roll out second portion to a rough rectangle measuring 15- by 10-inches.

Sprinkle half the herb mixture over the lower (crosswise) half of the dough. Fold the dough towards you, bringing the two top corners to the bottom, sealing in the herbs. Roll gently to bring the envelope of dough to a 10- by 8-inch rectangle. Using a knife or pizza wheel, cut the dough lengthways into 9 strips, each less than 1-inch in width. Twist each strip, turning from both ends, and place on one of the prepared baking sheets, each strip about 1 inch apart. Brush the strips with garlic oil, using 1 tablespoon divided amongst the 9. Set aside.

Repeat process, rolling out the reserved dough, sprinkling with the remaining herbs and cheese mixture, rolling again, cutting and shaping. Arrange these strips on the other baking sheet, and brush them with 1 tablespoon of oil divided between them. Set aside for 5 minutes.

Bake the twists in the preheated oven, rotating pans and switching positions halfway through, until golden brown and crisp. This should take between 20-25 minutes.

While the breadsticks bake, stir the honey into the remaining garlic oil. Sprinkle the remaining 3/4 cup cheese on a shallow baking pan along with the parsley.

When the breadsticks are done and still hot, brush lightly with the oil and honey. Immediately roll them in the cheese and parsley, until well coated. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 18.

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The days of these weeks have washed over us like waves; we've been carried on their highs and lows, along their ebb and flow.

We've followed the constant movement of the current, and kept our heads above water. Buoyed by a raft of bread, no doubt.

That last bit was probably only funny to members of my family, as in the midst of all of this, my island refuge has been the kitchen and my conveyance out of the deep has been bread.

Lots of bread. Oh, the bread there's been. Breads both sweet and savoury. Bread to eat, to share, to pack up and send out into the world.

To pick the candidate for our bread-boating excursion, I'd would most certainly choose the Pane Integrale from Jim Lahey. It is a bread flour and whole wheat incarnation of his famed No-Knead Method, a recipe I'm sure familiar to many of you, but I'll offer a refresher just in case.

Most often, baking bread sets the pace for our hours; it is in the time between the kneading and the shaping and the baking, that the rest the day takes place. There is a schedule to be kept and yeasted breads often benefit from your rapt attention. They are enlivened by your efforts, requiring your labour to turn boggy dough into a sprightly loaf.

But this bread, however, is another sort of bread. It is a bread that asks for very little of its maker, only a warm spot to reside for a day. There's a quiet companionship of that bowl upon the counter, its presence made ever the more gratifying when that bowl is a glass one and you can observe the metamorphosis of flour, water and yeast inside. For in that day, a slump of dough transforms itself into a billowing sponge that's double the size of what it was to begin.

After that, a quick shaping and another rest. A few more hours now, while a cast-iron pot (with lid) preheats in a blistering oven. Dough goes in, lid goes on. And then, while unobserved, is when magic to this trick becomes evident; the dough goes swelled and bronzed, gently arched on its top and deliciously-scorched underneath. When the lid is lifted, you're met with steam touched with smoke and the heady scent of baking bread. Like I said, magic.

Out of the pot and on the counter the bread snaps, crackles and pops as it cools. Lahey calls this auditory phenomena of exterior and interior settling as singing, and I'm pretty fond of that thought.

When the tune finally ends, you are left with a bread with a chewy crust and a crumb full of pockets to hold lots of butter. Or to dunk into soup. Or to smear with chèvre and honey.

As a meal upon the water or the raft upon which you float, and through calm or choppy seas, some good bread is often just what you need. Smooth sailing to you, friends.

I'd forgotten until now, that they boys have a book where in the pivotal scene, the characters set out for a new world on sailboats made from sandwiches. Thanks for the inspiration, Ms. Barrett.

PANE INTEGRALE

A no knead crusty boule using whole wheat flour, from Jim Lahey's book My Bread.

Recipe

* * * * * * *

It happens that I'm also talking about bread, soft and squishy sandwich bread in particular, in the latest issue of UPPERCASE magazine. You can find it here, if you'd like.

I love a good backyard.

Don't get me wrong, a front yard is a wonderful thing. A front yard, and specifically a good front porch, is the place to watch the world go by. It is see and be seen territory, the perfect vantage point to watch the life of your neighbourhood play out in front of you.

In childhood, a front yard is where you meet your friends. Its the soccer field and the skate park. And, in my personal experience, the backdrop for Barbie-related-dramas.

In University the front yard was home to the living room couch, yanked from its indoor confines and released to the great outdoors. It was the spot to lounge away the first sunny days of the season, preferably with beverage in hand.

After that, my front yard was first a fire escape and then a modest balcony, where we sat drinking "classy" wines and pretended to be worldly.

Now, I survey the front yards on our quiet street, with chalk drawings that tattoo the pavement, the toys and bikes and soccer balls left out on the lawns. Gardening tools are nestled by the front door. A watering can sits, stainless steel and gleaming, jewel-bright. Artifacts of the day's adventures and plans for the days ahead.

From our front step I nod to the neighbours, and Benjamin's own technicolour hieroglyphs decorate the pavement.

But a backyard is a whole other world. Even though it is outside, it feels more intimate, more like an extension of your home. The front yard is about show and the backyard is about substance. It is where we really live out of doors, and where others must be invited to gain entry.

This is only our second summer with our backyard, and were becoming fast friends. Last summer we were occupied with the business of having a baby, so this feels like our first opportunity to truly understand its rhythms; the way the light falls throughout the day, the cycle of plants we've inherited, and the time to revisit the haphazardly-laid plans we made a year ago.

It's got good bones, our backyard does, but is in need of a bit of a facelift. If our yard were in a movie, it would be cast as the "plain" girl who has a messy ponytail and always keeps her head down, the one that is suddenly altogether gorgeous once someone takes the time to look.

Its there. I am sure of it. The possibility of specialness, the promise of nooks and crannies for little boys to find magic, a home for a little vegetable patch, and most surely a hammock. We're almost there, our heads full of plans and with days circled on the calendar devoted to the endeavour.

All of that will come in time, and right now I am more than happy with this space outside we have all to ourselves. The lilac is in bloom, and the leaves that form our summertime roof are slowly beginning to unfurl. There is space to run and crawl and cook and dig and plant. And there is my spot, just a beeline out the back door, four strides at most, at the top of the two stairs that lead down from the deck. Sit down with a snack, and suddenly its a picnic. Stretch out, and your toes can reach the grass.

JULIA CHILD'S HOMEMADE WHITE BREAD (OUR WAY)

Another thing that is almost there is my attempts at making the perfect sandwich bread at home. I have been experimenting away, fiddling with yeast and rising times, with quantities of butter and sugar. Sorry about the wait, but one family can only eat so much bread at a time, and we're not a one bread sort of household.

I have realized that we like our bread plain enough not to overshadow what's put on it, but with enough personality that it is not merely a mode of transport for other ingredients. Right now, this variation on Julia Child's recipe is our usual as far as sandwich-style goes. The longer rise gives more substantial texture, and the reduced amount of yeast is preferable to our tastes. Previous columns regarding sandwich bread are here and here.

Recipe (via Slashfood)

Current changes:

  • Use only 1 teaspoon of active dry yeast, allowing the dough to rise for about 2-2 1/2 hours for first rise, or until doubled in size. The second rise time will also be longer, about 90 minutes to 2 hours.
  • Use 2 teaspoons of sugar instead of 1 tablespoon.
  • Use 6 tablespoons of butter instead of 4 tablespoons.
  • I usually dust the tops of the loaves with a bit of flour before baking, and sometimes melt 1 tablespoon of butter to brush on the loaves after the flour.

Honey-hued and tender, Soft American-style Sandwich Bread, from the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.

Here I go. Again.

It started with chocolate cake, then it was peanut butter cookies. Now, it's sandwich bread.

You see, I'm not one to leave well enough alone. I have fidgety digits, hands that almost twitch at the prospect of fiddling with an idea. An idea will capture my attention, and I find it nearly impossible to let go; even if I attempt to shove it aside to deal with the matter at hand, the idea it will remain, incessantly tugging at the edge of my attention.

Lest I begin a nervous tick, or start yelling at my own brain, I invariably give in to my impulses.

After asking for direction on soft sandwich bread recipes to try, I was offered a myriad of helpful suggestions. Wonderful help, and to be sure there was no way I was going to let the guidance go to waste. So I began baking, first Julia Child's Classic White Bread from Baking with Julia (William Morrow Cookbooks, 1996), then the Soft American-style Sandwich Bread (pictured above) from the fantastic Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (Thomas Dunne Books, 2007). Both were delicious, each in their own way (more on that in a moment).

What these breads solidified for me was my criticism of Ina Garten's Honey White Bread; too sweet and too eggy. I simply do not like eggs in my sandwich loaves. I like eggs in some breads, Egg Breads to be specific, but those breads I consider a whole other food entirely.

In my standby everyday sandwich breads, I want something milder, subtle but with flavour, appropriate for both savoury and sweet uses and without too much richness. Egged breads have their own place, but in my mind that place is not alongside tuna fish at lunchtime. Your mileage may vary.

Back to the recipes I did like. The Soft American-style Sandwich Bread from Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, authors of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. With a more modest amount of yeast than some other recipes I have seen, and a longer resting time, this bread had a remarkably deep flavour. The inclusion of melted butter resulted in a crumb that was substantial yet light, yielding but still hearty enough to be sliced cleanly and well-suited as the base for even Dagwood-esque creations. The recipe yields three loaves, I sent some dough home with an especially-cherished friend, and she found it exactly the sort of bread she likes.

My heart, however, was not wholly won over. The aforementioned butter was delicious, but almost too much of a good thing (perish the thought). While I have never been one to shy away from full fat in all its glory, the quantity of fat was again a distraction. It became about the butter, and not about the bread as a whole.

The other strike against this loaf was that I'd made Julia Child's Classic White Bread earlier in the week and I was already rather smitten. I should have known America's grand-dame of gastronomy would have the (almost) perfect recipe. The dough was gorgeous to work with, laminated with less softened butter than the Soft American-style, and sublimely silky. The loaves rose to impressive heights when baked, cresting well over the edge of the pan and sporting a burnished-gold tan. Their texture was spot-on; soft and tender, and slightly springy to the tongue. Most probably attributed to the thorough kneading the dough requires, it was this texture that made this loaf truly exceptional.

But even as I was deeply mired in a blissful state of carbohydrate-induced languor, I had a nagging impulse. An annoying little idea of how I could take this great recipe and (possibly, hopefully) make it better.

After years of eating breads with minimal leaveners and slow rises, I have come to prefer their flavour to that of quicker-risen loaves. Even in my flour-dusted stupor of bready goodness, I could not get past the fact that I could taste the yeast in Child's bread. As such, while I favoued the overall results from her recipe, I still found the longer-rested breads from Hertzberg and Francois, and Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duigud (HomeBaking, Random House Canada, 2003) appealing. Simply put, they had an understated complexity that is lacking in heavily-yeasted breads.

So what to do? Well, although I am no expert on the matter, I am going to attempt an experiment. I am going to combine the elements of all three recipes, to see if I can manage to capture the best traits of each. Possibly this will end in utter disaster, possibly in delicious bread. I'll be sure to share the results.

Oh, and did I mention that I have found the excuse to bake two chocolate cakes for Benjamin's upcoming birthday, just so I can try out another side-by-side comparison?

Neurotic behaviour? Yes. Delicious dividends? Oh yes, very. So how can I complain about that?

Happy baking.