On Publishing One's Failures

I had a bad feeling about it. Granted, the recipe for Sally Lunn bread came from what is currently my very favorite cookbook, The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook. I have executed quite a few of their recipes now, to great success. Indeed, many of their recipes, particularly the Creamed Corn, have garnered major accolades. But the one recipe that went terribly wrong for me was their Sweet Pie Crust. It was dry, difficult to handle, and stuck to the pie dish in a way I've rarely seen a dough do. The recipe for Sally Lunn was my second foray into the "Bread Basket" section of the book, and I wasn't without misgivings. Besides my unsuccess with the pie dough, the bread recipe seemed too miraculously simple. Sally Lunn is a rich white bread, referred to by the Lee Bros. as the challah of the South. One loaf contains 7 TBSP. of butter and three eggs, as well as 1/3 c. of syrup, be it sorghum, cane or molasses (or golden syrup, as I used). Now, in no way do I purport to be anything close to an authority on bread-baking, but I've done it enough times that a few things seemed odd to me. First off, the dough is not kneaded at all before the first rise, which is supposed to only take 35 minutes. This seemed an awfully short time to me, which I found it truly was when the dough had scarcely risen after resting for the allotted time. It remained the sticky, unkempt mass it was when I covered it with the dishtowel. After it had rested about an hour, not yet having risen to double, I turned it out onto the worktable and had a hell of a time punching it 30 times, when with each slap of my fist I would come away with more dough stuck to me. I scooped it all up into the pan (which certainly doesn't require an entire tablespoon of butter to grease it), let that rise double the allotted 12 minutes, then baked it.

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Well, it wasn't a total disaster. I mean, it's edible, though it would be an exaggeration to call it sliceable. I used it to make the Grilled Pimento Cheese Sandwiches from the Lee Bros. book, and I had to discard about 3 slices that just fell apart. It struck me as rather an odd choice for grilled cheese, being so sweet and dense, but perhaps that's just a matter of taste. And perhaps really Sally Lunn isn't quite like this. I wonder what went wrong between the Lee Bros. and me...

The pimento cheese, I must mention, was really delicious and made a superlative grilled cheese filling, despite whatever unsavory memories the word conjures up for me of the foul pimento-studded baloney I was served as a child at school. This was something entirely different and delicious. And I couldn't resist sprinkling a little smoked hot paprika on each sandwich. I don't know if Southerners would approve, but it was certainly good. I would recommend something pickled on the side, as well.

You may ask why on earth I chose to follow as recipe I was fairly certain wouldn't work. Fact is, I like to always give the recipe the benefit of the doubt the first time around, lest it disclose to me some secret shortcut or alternate route I never would have discovered otherwise. Alas, this is not often the case. Next time, lacking an adventurous side and undesirous of danger, I think I will stick to Greg Patent's Buttermilk Loaf, which I made last year (revealing, perhaps, with what shameful infrequence I address the task of making bread).

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More on Greg Patent, one of my favorite American bakers, later on...


Backroom Bakeshoppe

It's not entirely easy to give directions to my "bakery," which is essentially a bakesale in a backporch in Montreal's Mile-End neighbourhood. There is a minor maze of alleys to navigate, but hopefully people notice the sign.

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We opened last summer and stayed stubbornly open almost until December, shivering by the space heater in the uninsulated shed. After a many-month stint in Asia, my partner, the record vendor, has returned, and we reopened last week.

The menu:
Popcorn Balls
Peach Pie Bars
Caramel-Filled Brownies
Lemon Tartlets

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Today is our second day opened this week. Yesterday I made Lemon-Cranberry Bars. Today I awoke at the rather offensive hour of 8:30am to concoct a recipe I'd been meaning to try clipped long ago from the back page of Food & Wine.

Double Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Filling



3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1/2 cup boiling water
1 cup buttermilk
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 sticks plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup creamy peanut butter
2/3 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350° and position 2 racks in the lower and middle third of the oven. Line 24 muffin cups with paper or foil liners.
Put the cocoa powder in a medium heatproof bowl. Add the boiling water and whisk until a smooth paste forms. Whisk in the buttermilk until combined. In a medium bowl, sift the flour with the baking soda, baking powder and salt. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat 1 1/2 sticks of the butter with the granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs and vanilla, then beat in the dry ingredients in 2 batches, alternating with the cocoa mixture. Carefully spoon the cupcake batter into the lined muffin cups, filling them about two-thirds full. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, or until the cupcakes are springy. Let the cupcakes cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then transfer them to wire racks to cool completely.
In a medium bowl, beat the peanut butter with the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter until creamy. Sift the confectioners' sugar into the bowl and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Spoon all but 3 tablespoons of the peanut butter filling into a pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch star tip. Holding a cupcake in your hand, plunge the tip into the top of the cake, pushing it about 3/4 inch deep. Gently squeeze the pastry bag to fill the cupcake, withdrawing it slowly as you squeeze; you will feel the cupcake expand slightly as you fill it. Scrape any filling from the top of the cupcake and repeat until all of the cupcakes are filled.
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In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a simmer. Off the heat, add the semisweet chocolate to the cream and let stand for 5 minutes, then whisk the melted chocolate into the cream until smooth. Let the chocolate icing stand until slightly cooled and thickened, about 15 minutes. Dip the tops of the cupcakes into the icing, letting the excess drip back into the pan. Transfer the cupcakes to racks and let stand for 5 minutes. Dip the tops of the cupcakes again and transfer them to racks. Spoon the remaining 3 tablespoons of peanut butter filling into the pastry bag and pipe tiny rosettes on the tops of the cupcakes.

MAKE AHEAD The cupcakes are best served the same day they are made, but they can be refrigerated overnight in an airtight container.

Recipe by Peggy Cullen
This recipe originally appeared in April, 2004.

Today @ Backroom Bakeshoppe

These turned out really well, though I do wish I'd used a chocolate with a lower percentage of cocoa. The 72% I had was too bitter. 60% or 65% would be better. I also sprinkled on some fleur de sel to finish them because the peanut butter-chocolate combination is really held together by saltiness. And, last of all, as warning: when transporting 18 ganache-iced cupcakes, refrain from doing so on your bicycle, especially when the trajectory includes a set of railroad tracks to cross. Highly stressful.

Backroom Records and Pastries
5912 St-Urbain
*Back alley entrance only*
Thursday-Sunday noon-6pm