#25 Fennel Fig & Almond Bread

The last week has been full of God’s grace.  We watched what seemed like the impossible become possible, prayers answered, fears calmed, and hard work paid off.  In the midst of some difficult times, it’s made me more thankful, more peaceful, more joyful, and more hopeful.  So grateful that the process of healing involves lovely surprises like these.

One of my favorite displays of God’s grace in our life was when we made a move to Iowa.  It was the first week in January when we watched a moving truck drive off with all of our belongings.  It was an early morning with the sun not quite up yet when we said goodbye to Aaron’s parents trying to fight off tears.  It was a long several days as we made it half way across the country to a place we knew nothing about.  And it was a crazy cold, -7 degree night when we rolled into the Quad Cities, looked at each other, and wondered what the hell we were doing.  It was a lonely moment, and we were so thankful to at least have each other.

That scary, lonely, and empty feeling passed quickly as we met some of the most wonderful people we have met in our lives so far.  Some of our closest friendships were made there.  Those feelings of uncertainty and doubt turned into feelings of comfort and peace.  We built relationships with Krista, Andrew, Bekah, Nathan, Paige, Jamie, Jenna, and Whitney.  We saw them take strong stands in their high school years.  We watched them start to grow into exactly who Jesus made them to be.  We watched them stand by each other in really tough times.  We walked with them as they struggled through some soul searching.  And we laughed with them more times than I can count.

We met Rich & Kathy, Dwayne & Kathy, Kyle & Susie, Jim & Marisa, Tim, Jenn, Kate, and Jeff.  We stood by each other through times of ministry frustration.  Some of them became mentors to us.  Some of them became our closest friends.  We laughed, shared meals, told stories, and loved each other through good and bad.

And we grew even deeper in friendship with our dear friends Patrick & Chelsea.  They are some of our oldest friends, and also some of our dearest.  We’ve sifted through more turmoil and hurt with them then anyone else, and continue to come out as survivors.  We’ve spent hours laughing, joking, and making light of some pretty poor situations.  We love them so!

God’s grace was shown during those two years we lived in Iowa as we learned to live so far away from everything that we knew as comfort.  He has proven faithful many times before, which continues to give hope that He will again and again.  ♥  Thankful for grace!

This last week is the closing week of this little challenge I’ve been on!  I’m getting quite excited to cross the finish line!  My checkbook, social life, and the joints in my hands will be forever thankful.

The 25th spot in my baking challenge is held by this gorgeous loaf of bread that is both simple, sophisticated, and altogether lovely!

Fennel Fig & Almond Bread (recipe courtesy of The Modern Baker)

Makes one 9x5x3-inch loaf (12-16 slices)

2 cups flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp fennel seeds, crushed

6 Tbsp (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, softened

2/3 cup sugar

2 large eggs

3/4 cup milk

1 1/2 cups (8-9 oz.) stemmed and diced white or black dried figs

1 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted

  • Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.
  • Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and fennel seeds in a medium bowl and stir well to mix.

  • In a large bowl, beat the butter until smooth, then beat in the sugar.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
  • Beat 1/2 the flour mixture into the butter and egg mixture, then gently beat in the milk, about 1/3 at a time.  Beat in the remaining flour mixture.  Use a large rubber spatula to fold in the figs and almonds.

  • Prepare the pan by buttering it and then lining it with a rectangle piece of parchment paper cut to fit (make sure it overhangs on the long sides).
  • Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Bake the bread until it is well risen and a toothpick or a narrow-bladed knife inserted into the center of the bread emerges clean, about 1 hour.
  • Cool the bread in the pan on a rack for 5 minutes, then unmold it and cool it completely on a rack.  Transfer the bread to a platter or cutting board before serving.
  • Cut the bread into thin slices and serve with cutter or cream cheese.
  • For storage, keep the bread under a cake dome or loosely wrapped in plastic wrap and aluminum foil and keep at room temperature for up to 3 or 4 days.  Freeze for longer storage.

What I love about this sophisticated bread: It smells like Christmas and is loaded with good stuff!

What I hate about this sophisticated bread:  Don’t be silly…how can you hate anything that smells like Christmas?!

#15 Gluten Free Hamburger Buns

There are some things in life that since being diagnosed with celiac disease are a bit of an inconvenience.  Like the fact that anytime I want to eat something I have to take the time to read the food label.  Or the frustration of eating at a new friend’s home and struggling over whether to say something beforehand, or wait until we are there, both having the potential of making the host feel uncomfortable.  Or feeling like I’m dominated all of the food choices in our home.  Or being so sick of limited options in my diet.

But most importantly, the fact that I can’t ever have a bun with my hamburger.

It’s really quite sad.  I try to dress up my patties and make them super flavorful by putting mustard, cheese and veg on it, but there’s just no forgetting what it’s like to bite into a full hamburger, bun included.  There’s an easy solution to this, and tonight I put that solution to work and made gluten free hamburger buns.

My goodness they were good!  I didn’t have a hamburger bun pan, but I did have a whoopie pie pan, so I ended up using that as an alternative.  The result was pretty close to perfect!  The only imperfection was that the bun was slightly smaller than the turkey burger.  Ask me if I care.  I haven’t had a burger with a bun for over three years, so I can assure you that I didn’t.  If you’re like me and have to steer clear of anything with gluten in it, I urge you to try these out.  It will be completely worth it!

Gluten Free Hamburger Buns (recipe courtesy of Gluten-Free Baking Classics by Annalise Roberts)

Makes 6 buns

2 large eggs (room temperature is best)

3 Tbsp canola oil

2 cups Bread Flour Mix*

1 1/2 tsp xanthan gum

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp unflavored gelatin

2 Tbsp sugar

1 packet (1/4 oz.) of active dry yeast granules

3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp milk, heated to 100 degrees

  • Lightly grease a six-bun hamburger bun pan (each bun form is about 4 1/2 inches in diameter).  Dust with rice flour.
  • Mix eggs and canola oil together in a small bowl and set aside.
  • Mix all dry ingredients in large bowl of electric mixer.  Quickly add warm milk, egg, and oil to the bowl; mix until just blended.  Scrape bowl and beaters and then beat at high speed for 3 minutes.
  • Spoon dough into each of the six prepared bun forms.  Carefully smooth and flatten tops of buns with a table knife.  cover with a light cloth and let rise in a warm place for about 30-40 minutes ( or until doubled in size).
  • Place rack in center of oven.  Preheat oven to 375 while buns are rising.
  • Place buns in center of preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes, until buns have a hollow sound when taped on top.  After 15 minutes, cover with foil if browning too quickly.  Remove buns from oven and turn onto a rack to cool.

*Gluten Free Bread Flour Mix

2/3 cup millet flour

1/3 cup sorghum flour

1/3 cup cornstarch

1/3 cup potato starch

1/3 cup tapioca flour

This makes 2 cups of bread flour mix

What I love about these crazy cool hamburger buns:  I can eat them!

What I hate about these crazy cool hamburger buns:  Not many people have a hamburger bun pan, so it makes the recipe not all that appealing to give a whirl.

Rise, dough…RISE!

I’ve run into a problem the past several months.  My house is too cold and I can’t get any of my bread or pastry dough to rise.  I have tried everything.  I bought new yeast, I turned my heat up (a little), I slightly preheated my oven and tried to get it to rise in there, but all to no avail.  The truth of the matter is that I live in a home built in the 1920s that is poorly insulated and quite drafty in areas.  We are used to keeping it quite chilly in an attempt to save some money, but I’ve been sad that I haven’t been able to try many new bread and pastry recipes for some time now.

I did, however, decide to give it a whirl the other day when I came across this cool thing.

I’ve been wanting to try brioche for the past three years, ever since we consumed way too much of it during our visit to France.  So when I found this pretty pan at a thrift store the other day, I decided it was fate, meaning my house temperature was sure to cooperate.

This slightly sweet, buttery breakfast pastry was not nearly as difficult as recipes like to make it look.  It made my house smell like a bakery, and it didn’t take too much time.

While it didn’t rise nearly as much as I would have liked it to, it wasn’t a complete bust.

I think Marie-Antoinette would have been proud. ♥

Try it out before winter is completely over and you won’t want to turn your oven on again!  Enjoy!

Brioche Dough

(from Bake! by Nick Malgieri)


1/3 cup milk

2 1/2 tsp. (1 envelope) active dry yeast

1/4 cup warm tap water, about 100 degrees

3/4 cup bread flour (spoon into a dry measure cup and level off)


2 large eggs, at room temperature

2 large egg yolks, at room temperature

3 Tbsp. sugar

All the sponge, above

2 cups bread flour

1 tsp. salt

8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

  • For the sponge, warm the milk in a small pan over low heat; pour it into a small bowl and allow it to cool to 100 degrees.
  • Whisk the yeast into the warm water in a medium bowl.  Wait 2 minutes, then whisk again to make sure all the yeast has dissolved.  Whisk in the cooled milk.  Use a rubber spatula to stir the flour into the liquid.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the sponge ferment until more than doubled, about 30 minutes.
  • Once the sponge has risen, use a rubber spatula to break up the eggs and yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook.  Stir in the sugar.  Scrape the risen sponge into the bowl and mix it into the eggs.  Add the flour and salt to the bowl and stir in.  Mix on medium speed until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl, 3-4 minutes.
  • Add a third of the butter and continue mixing until the butter is completely absorbed.  Repeat with the remaining two thirds of the butter, mixing to incorporate after each addition.
  • Continue to mix until the dough is very smooth, elastic, an shiny, 4 to 5 additional minutes.
  • Scrape the dough into a buttered bowl and turn it over so that the top is buttered.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
  • Scrape the risen dough from the bowl to a floured work surface.  Flour your hands and gently round the dough without deflating it too much by pushing inward at the bottom with your flat upturned palms all around the piece of dough; the outside skin of the dough will tighten and become more spherical.
  • Place into the buttered brioche pan and let rise until it comes about 1 1/2 inches above the rim of the pan, about 30 minutes.  Set oven rack to the lower third of the oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Immediately before placing the risen loaf in the oven, brush the top with the egg wash (1 large eggs well beaten with a pinch of salt), being careful not to drip any egg wash down the side of the pan.  Slash the top skin of the dough lengthwise, down the middle of the loaf.  Bake the loaf until it is well risen, is deep golden, and has an internal temperature of 200-210 degrees.
  • Unmold the loaf to a rack and cool it on its side to prevent deflating.

Rotten Banana Love

I opened my freezer up this weekend only to be greeted by this…

Three full door compartments filled with ugly, brown, spotted, old, frozen bananas.  About a dozen lonely guys that didn’t get consumed before they got too soft, and therefore found a new home in the freezer door.  A bunch of hard-as-rock nanners just waiting to be thawed, mashed, and turned into banana bread.

So that is exactly what happened at Casa de Schrader over the weekend!

The best part of this banana bread is the sugar crust on top, creating a crunch to every bite.  It’s seriously delicious!  I made one regular loaf, and one gluten-free loaf so I wasn’t left out of the enjoyment. ♥

A few years ago Aaron and I stayed with our good friends here in town that own our all-time favorite coffee shop, Backporch Coffee.  They serve some killer banana bread at their shop, and Dave was kind enough to show us his secret to making amazing banana bread taste even better…toasting the slices and then covering in butter.  Wow.  Simply amazing!


*Back in my cheerleading days we used to have a cheer that chanted, “Go! Bananas! B-A-N-A-N-A-S!”  It sort of got stuck in my head while I was baking this weekend and I’m sad to say it hasn’t left yet.  Sigh.

My Mama’s Banana Bread

Yields 2 loaves

  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 3 cups sifted flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 cups mashed bananas
  • turbinado sugar
  1. Beat together the eggs, oil, buttermilk, sugar and vanilla.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.
  3. Add the flour mixture to the beaten mixture.  Add the mashed bananas and stir until combined.
  4. Put in two greased loaf pans.  Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes.
  5. About 10 minutes into baking, pull out and sprinkle turbinado sugar over the tops of the loaves for the sugar crust.

Annie’s Gluten-Free Banana Bread

(adapted from “Gluten-Free Baking Classics” by Annalise Roberts)

Yields 2 loaves

  • 2 cups gluten-free flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp. xanthan gum
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 3 cups very ripe chopped/mashed banana
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • turbinado sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Position rack in center of the oven.  Grease loaf pans.
  2. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, salt and cinnamon in large mixing bowl.  Add bananas; stir to coat evenly.
  3. Combine buttermilk and oil in small bowl; remove 1 Tbsp. of combined liquid and discard it.  Beat in eggs.  Add liquids to banana mixture and stir until just blended.
  4. Fill loaf pans and bake for 35-45 minutes.
  5. About 10 minutes into baking remove from oven and sprinkle turbinado sugar on top for your sugar crust.

Fall’s Treasures

For the love of all things pumpkin, I ADORE FALL!!!

I love when the leaves start to change color and drop, making the street that I live on look like this one…

And I really love these little treasures…

These are the sweetest pumpkins ever!  Each year I wait with anticipation to pick out my favorite “Fairytale Pumpkin” to grace my doorstep.

And the return of this 12 ounces of goodness in a stylish paper cup always puts a smile on my face.  Especially on days like today where I splurge and allow myself one…

This awesome little head wrap that is sitting on my dresser just waiting for a cold event to be worn to…

The anticipation of seeing these lovely faces in just a few short weeks…

And the smell of this filling my home on a brisk, sunny day…

Pumpkin Bread is one of my very favorite sweet things.  I love Fall spices of all kinds, and this has all of them packed into a yummy bread!  The best part about this one was that I could eat it too!  Gluten-free, and full of flavor!  Two things that don’t often go hand in hand.  I know I’ve found a gluten-free success when even Aaron likes it.

For those of you that enjoy Fall’s little treasures as much as I do, bake some pumpkin bread and enjoy the season!

Gluten Free Pumpkin Bread or Muffins

(adapted from Gluten-Free Baking Classics–by Annalise Roberts)

Makes 12 muffins, 1 large loaf, or 3 mini loaves of pumpkin bread

  • 1 3/4 cups Brown Rice Flour Mix**
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp xanthan gum
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 3/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 Tbsp oil
  • 2 Tbsp molasses
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree

**Brown Rice Flour Mix: 2 cups brown rice flour, 2/3 cup potato starch, 1/3 cup tapioca flour (this will make more than what you need for this recipe)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Position rack in center of oven.  Grease loaf pan(s) or muffin pan with cooking spray.
  2. Mix flour, sugar, baking soda, xanthan gum, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves together in large mixing bowl of electric mixer.
  3. Combine eggs, water, oil, molasses, and pumpkin in a separate bowl.  Whisk to blend.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients into dry and mix until well blended.  Do not over beat.
  5. Pour batter evenly into pans and bake 45-55 minutes for loaves and about 20-25 minutes for muffins or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  6. Cool loaves for 8 minutes and then remove from pans.  Remove muffins from pan immediately.  Cool completely on rack before serving or wrapping for storage.  Easiest to slice when chilled.

Popovers, please!

There are some things that I’ve made so many times I know exactly how they will look when I take them out of the oven.  Like when I make a peach pie, I know that the lattice top will be golden brown, the peach juice will have bubbled out and made a random baked on glaze across pieces of the top, and the raw course sugar will have a toasted look.  And when I bake a cheesecake, I know it will have pulled away from the sides of the springform pan, and the top will look slightly golden.  And even more importantly, when I bake chocolate cupcakes from my grandma’s chocolate cake recipe, the tops will be perfectly rounded.

But I also love trying new recipes.  I love finding a recipe that looks enticing and challenging and bringing it to life.  I love seeing it in every stage it takes on.  And I love watching it bake through my oven window in anticipation of what it’s finished form will be!

While I get an amount of enjoyment out of baking cakes and cupcakes, my real passion is pastry, French and English baking, and breads.  I’ve been wanting to try popovers for some time, and since my parents were in town last week I figured it was the perfect opportunity to try something new!

Popovers earned their clever little name by their tendency to swell over the sides of the cups they are being baked in.  Its history’s origin is American, but descends from 17th century batter puddings made in England such as Yorkshire pudding.  If you’re like me, I think of pudding as butterscotch, chocolate and vanilla.  But if you’re English you make a buttery muffin cooked in hot beef drippings and call it pudding.  Those English…they’re always throwing meat in with things they shouldn’t…pudding, pies, and trifles (shout out to the Friend’s episode where Rachel makes Thanksgiving dessert!).

After learning a little about where popovers came from I was even more excited to head down to my favorite little kitchen store downtown, Kitchen Complements.  I buy all of my kitchen essentials there!  I’ve become good friends with the owner, Diane, and each time I step in it means great conversation about the latest kitchen tool she got in, how the store is doing, and what my latest baking project is.  And if I’m lucky, she shares some of her years of expertise with me in regards to whatever I’m buying.  This particular day I was just that lucky.  After a couple of tips I firmly believe were the secret to why mine turned out so wonderfully, I grabbed my new popover pan and headed home to search for a recipe.

I ended up using this recipe, and they turned out so marvelous, popping right over the tops of those crazy cups!  Light and airy on the inside, golden and crusty on the outside, I topped them with butter and pear vanilla jam, and served them with scrambled eggs, sausage, and hot coffee.  Best thing about this breakfast…being able to share it with my parents. 🙂

Chocolate Babka!

Does anyone else remember that Seinfeld episode?  The one with the chocolate babka?  It’s the one where George, Kramer, Jerry and Elaine are preparing to go to a dinner party and Elaine feels that they need to bring something.  So they stop at a bakery to purchase a chocolate babka.  Jerry & Elaine forget to take a number when they get there, resulting in another couple, who ironically are headed to the same dinner party, purchasing the last chocolate babka.  This left Jerry & Elaine with the only other option which was a cinnamon babka.  And we all know that’s the “lesser babka”.  Such a classic show and a classic episode.

Have you ever watched something that evoked feelings that just never seemed to dissipate?  Like when you watch the movie “Chocolat”…this movie causes even the most adamant chocolate hater (is there such a thing?) to drool at the sight of Vianne taking melted chocolate and turning it into pure beauty.  That is what the chocolate babka episode of Seinfeld did to me.  That episode is spent almost entirely in the bakery, and by the end of the episode it’s like I can actually smell the intoxicating aroma of fresh bread, bittersweet chocolate, and pecans.

And so I had to try it…

and this is what followed…

Pure bliss!  Is there anything better in life?  Homemade bread? Absolutely!  Chocolate?  Always!  Pecans?  Yes please!  My house smelled the way I am certain heaven will smell like.

This Eastern European Jewish bread was pretty much a success from beginning to end.  Like most yeast breads, it took thoughtful planning for my day allowing ample time for rising and chilling, but it was well worth the time and wait!  One note of advice:  When rolling the babka, it’s important to roll it as tight as possible in an effort to keep any air pockets from forming.  These air pockets make for a difficult cutting experience when you’re ready to serve the bread.  Should you decide to try this one out, it’s perfect for breakfast, brunch, or anytime with tea or coffee.  Enjoy!

Chocolate Babka

Makes 2 loaves, about fourteen 1/2-inch slices each

Babka dough:

1 1/4 cups milk

5 tsp. (2 envelopes) active dry yeast

8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

6 large egg yolks

2 tsp. vanilla extract

3 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Chocolate Filling:

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup sugar

1 Tbsp. cocoa powder

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 cup walnut, or pecan pieces, coarsely chopped

  1. Warm the milk in a small saucepan until it is just lukewarm, about 110 F.  Pour the milk into the bowl of an electric mixer and whisk in the yeast.  Whisk in the butter, sugar, salt, egg yolks, and vanilla.  Use a large rubber spatula to stir in 1/2 the flour.
  2. Place the bowl on the mixer and use the paddle attachment to beat the dough on low speed.  Add the remaining flour about 1/2 cup at a time, beating to incorporate between additions.  When all the flour has been added, beat the dough for 2 minutes.  Stop the mixer and allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes.  Beat the dough on low to medium speed for 2 minutes more.
  3. Scrape the dough into a buttered bowl and turn it over so that the top is buttered.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 1/2 hours.
  4. While the dough is chilling, prepare the filling.  In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the chocolate with the sugar, cocoa, and cinnamon, and pulse to grind finely.  Pour the filling into a bowl and set aside.
  5. After the dough has chilled, scrape it onto a floured work surface and press it out to a rectangle about 10 x 15 inches.  Evenly scatter the chocolate filling on the dough.  Scatter the chopped walnuts or pecans over the filling.  Roll up the dough from one long side jelly-roll style and pinch the ends to seal.  Use a knife to cut the roll into 2 equal pieces.
  6. Invert one of the rolls, seam side down, into one of the prepared pans (buttered loaf pans with the bottoms lined with rectangles of parchment or buttered wax paper cut to fit).  Repeat with the second roll.  Cover the pans with towels or buttered plastic wrap and let them rise until doubled in bulk, 1 to 2 hours, depending on the temperature of the room.
  7. About 20 minutes before the babkas are completely risen, set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 F.
  8. Bake until the babkas are well risen and deep golden, about 45 minutes.  Cool in the pans on a rack for 10 minutes, then unmold and cool on their sides to prevent collapsing.