Chocolate Cherry Tart

Oh, heavens! This cherry tart has a rich chocolate crust that lies somewhere between a cookie and a pie crust, and filling that’s spiked with cherry brandy. (Totally optional.) Oh, and did I mention that I used canned cherry pie filling? I know that’s not my usual modus operandi, but I’m afraid my cherry tree is buried under a few feet of snow, and besides…I’m making you create the crust from scratch, which is probably enough of a challenge, right?

I had to do some experimenting to come up with a crust that didn’t turn soggy on the bottom, but I’m happy to say that if you follow my baking instructions, your tart will be tender (but definitely not gummy) on the bottom, and crunchy on the sides. Yum yum yum!


  • If you don’t want booze in yours (eyeroll), you can skip the whole “cook the filling, lime juice, and cornstarch” step and just dump the cans of filling into the chilled tart crust. I wouldn’t even bother with the lime, (though it does add a nice flavor) because that would mean you’d have to dump the filling into a bowl, and…well…one more bowl to wash!
  • If you do use the brandy, be sure the cooked mixture is cool before putting it in the crust.
  • It’s critical to keep your dough chilled, and that egg white wash is a must! This will help keep the cherry mixture from seeping into your bottom crust.
  • Use whatever method works best for you when you move the crust to your tart pan. It’s thicker than a pie crust, but you can still roll it gently onto a rolling pin to transfer it. I like to roll mine out on parchment, center the tart pan upside down on the dough, slide one cookie sheet under the parchment and lay one gently on top of the dough, then flip. Whatever works best for you!
  • After you’ve eased your dough into the pan, turn the excess inward and press firmly against the inside edge. Trim off any dough that sticks over the edge of the pan.
  • Put a baking sheet in the oven while it preheats, then slide the chilled tart onto the hot sheet. This blast of heat from below will also help your crust to cook through. Be careful when you do this; you don’t want it to slide right into the back of the oven!

Here’s what you’ll need:

Filling ingredients.

Crust ingredients. (Whoops. And an egg white!)

Chocolate Cherry Tart
Makes one 11-inch tart.
  • FILLING: (If not using alcohol, just use canned filling and skip the other ingredients)
  • 2 cans cherry pie filling
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime (or lemon)
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • ¼ cup cherry brandy
  • CRUST:
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips
  • ½ cup cold butter
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 egg white, whisked
  • ***
  • Serve with whipped cream or ice cream if desired.
  2. In a large pot on medium heat, combine two cans of cherry pie filling, lime, and cornstarch. Cook and stir until mixture bubbles and turns clear (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and stir in the cherry brandy. Set aside to cool.
  3. CRUST:
  4. In a medium pot over medium heat, bring water, sugar, and salt to a boil.
  5. Remove from heat and add the chocolate chips, whisking until smooth. Allow mixture to cool completely before moving to the next step!
  6. In a medium bowl, grate the butter using a grater with large holes. Add flour and stir until all of the butter is coated.
  7. Add the cool chocolate mixture and stir until mostly combined, then dump out onto lightly floured surface and knead gently just until it comes together into a ball. Flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes. (No longer - the chocolate will harden and make it difficult to roll out.)
  8. Lightly spray an 11-inch tart pan with cooking spray. I like to use a flour and oil mixture, like Baker's Joy.
  9. Roll out dough to make a circle about an inch bigger than your tart pan, all the way around. (Your pan should be 11 inches, so the circle would measure approximately 13 inches in all directions.)
  10. Gently ease the dough into the pan. Roll any excess at the top towards the inside of the pan, pressing firmly against the sides. If any dough sticks up past the edge, trim it off.
  11. With a pastry brush, cover the bottom of the crust with egg white. Freeze for 15 minutes (or refrigerate for 30).
  12. Preheat oven to 400 F. Place a baking sheet on the bottom rack while preheating.
  13. Place tart pan onto a flat baking sheet or cutting board. Spoon filling into crust and slide it from the flat sheet onto the hot baking sheet in the oven.
  14. Bake for 10 minutes. Without opening the oven, turn the heat to 350 F and bake an additional 40 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a rack. When tart is barely warm, slide onto your hand, letting the ring fall down your arm. You may either leave the tart on the metal bottom or use a thin spatula to slide it from the base to a serving platter.
  15. Decorate with whipped cream if desired, or serve with ice cream.

Add lime (or lemon) juice and cornstarch. It will look cloudy – that’s okay.

Cook it until it’s bubbly and fairly clear.

Add flour to grated butter and stir to coat.

Stir chocolate mixture into butter and flour. Make sure the chocolate isn’t warm!

Knead gently until it forms a ball, flatten into disk, wrap and chill. (You should see little bits of butter throughout.)

My favorite method to transfer dough to pan. Center pan upside down on dough, slide baking sheet under parchment, one on toop of dough, and flip.

Brush bottom of crust with egg white and chill. Add filling and bake!

I used stabilized whipped cream on this tart. To stabilize cream, I beat 1 cup of heavy cream until soft peaks form, add 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar and beat until combined. Then I heat about 1/2 teaspoon Knox gelatin in 1/2 teaspoon water until it’s melted and drizzle a little in the cream while mixing on high. I don’t use it all…maybe half, but it’s too hard to melt a smaller amount!

For the tart at the beginning of the post, I beat 4 ounces of room temperature cream cheese, added 1 cup of powdered sugar and 1 cup of heavy cream and beat until it was thick and fluffy. I think I like the piped hearts better because the cherries still show.

Or…you could just eat it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Disclaimer: My husband preferred the tart without alcohol; he didn’t like the smell of cherry brandy. It MAY be because I had already spent a fortune at the liquor store picking up other booze for Valentine’s Day baking and went cheap on the brandy, but I liked it. A lot. I’ve never tried Kirsch, but that might be a good alternative if you have some.

Ready, set, GO!

So…onward. There are lots of ideas swirling around in my head; as soon as I corral them into something resembling recipes, you’ll be seeing lots of chocolate, cherries, raspberries, and sprinkles.

Feelin’ the love…


Peppermint Patty Cookies

peppermint-patty-cookies-the-rowdy-bakerIf you love peppermint patties, you will swoon over these holiday confections! With a crunchy cookie bottom, a thick layer of soft, creamy peppermint candy, and a firm, snappy coating of chocolate, the combination of textures is every bit as appealing as the flavors. Family and friends will take one bite and beg you to make more; I’ll bet they’ll be the first treats to disappear from your cookie platter.

There’s really nothing hard about making them, but they are a bit of a project. If you have young ones around, I know they’d love to help cut out the shapes and put the cookies and filling layers together. And you don’t have to do it all at once; bake the cookies one day and leave the filling and dipping for another time. The cookies freeze well, so you could get that part out of the way weeks before, if you’re the efficient type.

Frankly, though I love anything and everything dipped in chocolate, I hate doing the dipping. If there were anyone else here I could stick with that job, I’d do it. I don’t usually fuss about getting messy. Up to my elbows in dough? Great! Splattered wtih icing? Sweeeeet! Food coloring under my nails? No problem. But chocolate on my hands? Eeeeuw. Wash wash wash wash.


Okay, I lied; I don’t love EVERYTHING dipped in chocolate. This was a bad idea. Bad!

Still, totally worth it!

Of course I can’t just make something the way I imagined it; I have to play with variations. So…after the recipe and instructions, I’ll show you a few different ideas I tried.

If the chocolate cookie recipe looks familiar, that’s because it’s my go-to recipe when I want crunch. The cookie itself isn’t too sweet, which is perfect, because the patty filling certainly is! It’s basically what everyone’s aunt uses to make wedding mints, right? Put them together and dip the two layers in chocolate, and it just works perfectly together.

I originally considered topping the mint layer with a firm ganache before dipping, but my daughter talked me down from that craziness. She was right—these don’t need more chocolate. (Did I just say that?)

Peppermint Patty Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen 2½-inch stars.
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (plus a little more, if necessary)
  • ⅔ cups unsweetened cocoa
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ***
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • ½ teaspoon clear vanilla (optional)
  • 8½ -9 cups powdered sugar
  • ***
  • 18 ounces dark chocolate
  • 1 tablespoon shortening
  • Milk or white chocolate, or colored icing for decorating. Or just use sprinkles!
  2. Heat oven to 350 F.
  3. Cream together the butter and sugar.
  4. Add the vanilla, milk, and egg, and beat well.
  5. Add the dry ingredients (slow down there, Tiger...the cocoa will fly everywhere! Beat it on low until it's incorporated) and mix together well. It should be very soft, but if it's too sticky to handle, add up to 3 tablespoons extra flour.
  6. For best results, roll out between two pieces of lightly floured parchment until it's about ¼" thick.
  7. Cut with a star shaped cookie cutter (mine was 2¾" wide) and place ½"-1" apart on ungreased bafking sheet. Bake for 12-13 minutes. The cookies should be fairly firm. If they're still soft, give them another minute or two. They'll harden a bit as they cool.
  8. Allow the cookies to sit on the baking sheet for a couple of minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  10. Beat together the cream cheese and butter. Add peppermint extract and vanilla, if using, and mix well.
  11. Slowly add the powdered sugar, using a sturdy stand mixer and dough hook, if possible. If mixing by hand, stir in as much powdered sugar as possible, then place any remaining sugar on work surface and put the dough on top of it. Knead by hand until smooth. Add additional powdered sugar if dough is too sticky to roll.
  12. Work with half of the dough at a time, keeping the reamaining half tightly wrapped in plastic. Roll out ¼-inch thick between sheets of parchment that have been dusted with powdered sugar.
  13. Cut with the same star cookie cutter you used for the cookies. Place one piece of peppermint dough on each cookie. Using a mini-roller or your hands, make sure the dough goes all the way to the edge of the cookie. Press gently around the edge to make it rounded and smooth all the way around.
  14. Chill for at least one hour.
  15. Melt chocolate and shortening in the microwave at 15 second intervals, stirring each time, or in a small pan on lowest heat, stirring frequently.
  16. Turn each cookie over and dip the peppermint side into the melted chocolate, making sure the chocolate completely covers the peppermint. You don't need to coat the bottom of the cookie.. Allow excess to drip off, and place (cookie side down) on waxed paper or parchment. Chill until chocolate is firm. (If you are using sprinkles, add them before the chocolate hardens)
  17. Or, once chocolate is firm, drizzle with a contrasting color, using milk or white chocolate or a colored icing.
  18. Store tightly sealed in the refrigerator.


Cut into star shapes. (My cookie cutter was 2 3/4-inches across.


Peppermint dough should be firm and easy to handle. If it isn't, knead in a little more powdered sugar.

Peppermint dough should be firm and easy to handle. If it isn’t, knead in a little more powdered sugar.

Press the dough onto cooled cookie, rounding the edges down to meet the cookie. You can use your hand...

Press the dough onto cooled cookie, rounding the edges down to meet the cookie. You can use your hand…


...but a mini roller really makes the job go quickly. You'll still have to press around the edges, but the top is so smooth!

…but a mini roller really makes the job go quickly. You’ll still have to press around the edges, but the top is so smooth!



I brought the peppermint down over the cookie. It will be covered with chocolate, so keeping the shape smooth is more important than how it looks.

You can use chocolate chips, but good dark chocolate is better!

You can use chocolate chips, but good dark chocolate is better!

Dip the chilled cookies in dark chocolate. (Eeeeuw.)

Dip the chilled cookies in dark chocolate. (Eeeeuw.)

Chill the cookies and then drizzle them with a contrasting color. White chocolate would be nice, too.

Chill the cookies and then drizzle them with a contrasting color. White chocolate would be nice, too.

The stars turned out so well, you’d think I would just leave well enough alone, huh? Pffft.

Here are some fun options:

  • I made little mini stars…one bite (okay, or two, if you’re dainty) poppers, but I added crushed peppermint puffs to the peppermint dough.
  • Wreaths look lovely too. Round cookie cutters – one large, one small, create a very nice wreath shape. I like to use the mint mixture with the crushed candy to give them a little texture.
  • After adding the peppermint layer to the larger stars, Add a few drops of water to a small amount of peppermint dough and use it to pipe designs on the cookies. Chill and dip.
  • I love using gold highlights on dark chocolate. You can order a small container online. Just mix the powder with a tiny bit of vodka and paint away!


Making wreaths.

Making wreaths.

Adding crushed candy cane or peppermint puffs give a little crunch.

Adding crushed candy cane or peppermint puffs give a little crunch.

Some fun decorating ideas.

Some fun decorating ideas.

The small stars highlighted with gold would make an elegant addition to each place setting at your holiday table, and would provide a refreshing finish to the meal.

Or hide them in an empty broccoli bag in your freezer and help yourself whenever you need a boost. ‘Tis the season to be sneaky!


Harvest Home Sweet Potato Casserole

harvest-home-sweet-potato-casserole-the-rowdy-bakerOh, you’re going to love this! This hearty casserole made with sweet potatoes, apples, cranberries, bacon, and pecans is the ultimate side dish for Thanksgiving, guaranteed to win everyone’s heart around the holiday table. It’s also stellar as a rib-sticking breakfast.  Since it freezes well, I recommend that you make a double batch and tuck some away for Christmas, when things are wild and crazy and time is of the essence.

This will be the dish you are requested to bring to every function you attend, September through February. And not in that polite way: “Oh, Aunt Susie…we’re so glad (cough cough) you’re bringing your famous corn and oysters to Thanksgiving again this year”.

See how short this recipe is? It’s not one of my typical three-page-marathon recipes. You’ve just got to give it a whirl! This dish can be changed to suit your preferences, of course. Double the cranberries, omit the bacon (or try ham), substitute maple sugar for brown sugar, or walnuts for pecans. harvest-home-sweet-potato-casserole-from-the-rowdy-baker

If you plan on making this ahead and freezing it, it’s best to do so right after it’s put in the casserole dish, not after it’s baked. Be sure to bake it for at least an hour if your casserole is going straight from the freezer to the oven, and test to make sure the veggies are hot and fork tender.

Harvest Home Sweet Potato Casserole
Serves 6
  • 1½ pounds sweet potatoes
  • 2 medium apples, any kind
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • ½ cup chopped pecans
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped raw cranberries (frozen berries are fine, too)
  • 4 pieces of bacon, cooked and broken into small pieces (optional)
  • ⅓ cup brown sugar, packed firmly
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup miniature marshmallows (optional)
  1. Heat oven to 350 F.
  2. Peel sweet potatoes and cut into bite-size pieces. Place in medium saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a full boil and cook for 1 minute. Drain well.
  3. Peel and core apples. Cut into bite-size pieces.
  4. Place sweet potatoes and apples in a large bowl. Add melted butter and toss to coat.
  5. Add all remaining ingredients except for the marshmallows and toss.
  6. Place in a lightly greased 2½-quart casserole dish, leaving at least ½-inch of space at the top. If you don't have that size, the mixture can be pressed firmly into a 2-quart dish, (any extra can be put in a "bonus" ramekin) or a 3-quart casserole can be used, but it may not need as long in the oven.
  7. Bake uncovered for 40 minutes. (30 if you are using a 3-quart casserole)
  8. Remove from oven, fluff lightly with a fork, and cover with marshmallows. Return to oven and cook for 10–12 minutes, or until marshmallows are golden brown.

Here are some of the ingredients. I always use what the grocery stores call “yams” (they’re not, really), with the orange flesh. They really are sweet potatoes, but I believe they are more flavorful than the pale sweet potatoes. Your choice!

The pig wouldn’t cooperate and stay on the table, but bacon (or ham) really jazz up this dish.


Peel and chunk the sweet potatoes. (I know, I them "yams" if you must!)

Peel and chunk the sweet potatoes. (I know, I know…call them “yams” if you must!)

Cover with water, bring to a boil, and cook for 1 minute.

Cover with water, bring to a boil, and cook for 1 minute.


Cut apples (whatever kind you like) into bite size pieces.

Cut apples (whatever kind you like) into bite size pieces.

If you’re doubling the recipe, use a HUGE bowl for the following step:

Toss apples and cooked potatoes in melted butter. Add cranberries and nuts...and everything else except the marshmallows.

Toss apples and cooked potatoes in melted butter. Add cranberries and nuts…and everything else except the marshmallows.

In the recipe I mentioned the different options for casserole dishes. A 2 1/2-quart dish is your best bet. I squeezed mine into a very deep pie pan (because it was so pretty) which was fine, but with less headspace, I couldn’t get too carried away with the marshmallows. Boo!

I used a deep pie pan.

I used a deep pie pan.

Using a 3-quart casserole means you’ll need to cut the baking time down to 30 minutes, since the ingredients are more spread out. The upside is, you can go crazy with the marshmallows!

In a 3-quart casserole.

In a 3-quart casserole.

If you really want to get fancy, and no—I haven’t tried this yet—spoon the mixture into lightly greased ramekins and let each person have their own mini-casserole.

If there ARE any leftovers, they won’t get pushed to the back of the refrigerator with the dressing and green bean casserole (and those nasty corn and oysters), I promise!

This recipe (tweaked slightly) made its debut in a column I wrote for Yummy Northwest a couple of years ago, showcasing “Bounceberry” recipes, (aka: cranberry recipes).
You may want to take a peek at the archived column for more fun holiday ideas.






Maple Leaf Wafer Cookies

maple-leaf-wafer-cookies-the-rowdy-bakerDelicate maple leaf wafers are perfect for decorating your favorite fall desserts, or, of course, for eating—one after another after another. They’re light and crispy, like the thinnest of potato chips, but the sweet maple flavor of these dainty cookies is even more addictive. (Bet you can’t eat just one!) Jazz them up with fall colors if you’d like, or leave them golden brown. Either way, these treats are quick, easy, and fun to make!

Crunchy brown leaves bursting with maple flavor.

Crunchy brown leaves bursting with maple flavor.

You will need either silicone baking sheets or parchment to bake the cookies on. Trust me on this! I was resistant to both for years, but have now fully embraced their usefulness. There are several ways you can make these leaves, and I’ll show you all of them, but my favorite method involves a stencil (I made my own by sacrificing a silicone sheet and cutting leaf shapes into it), parchment, and a broad pastry brush.

The photo below shows my stencil option on the top, and a simple printed template with parchment over it on the bottom. Both methods work, but the stencil definitely makes things go faster!

Two options: A stencil over the parchment or a template under the parchment. (For the template you would paint directly onto the parchment.)

Two options: A stencil over the parchment or a template under the parchment. (For the template you would paint inside the lines, directly onto the parchment.)

If you are making brown leaves, the maple flavoring will be added to the bowl along with the melted butter. If you are making colored leaves, separate the batter into small bowls (how many will depend on what colors you want to use). In one of the bowls, stir enough maple flavoring into the batter to achieve a rich brown color. Stir food coloring into the others.

This is pretty obvious, I guess, but it doesn’t hurt to mention: the colored leaves won’t taste like maple! If you add maple flavoring to the bright colors, they will turn muddy. And nobody wants THAT, so…if you want your leaves to taste like maple, you’ll need to use more brown batter in each leaf.

The leaves can be baked either on a silicone baking sheet or on parchment. I prefer parchment because the silicone sheet leaves a shiny, slightly bumpy texture on one side of each leaf. If you don’t mind that, the silicone sheets work really well. The parchment does tend to wrinkle slightly, giving some of the leaves a rippled effect, but I kind of like the look—like a soggy autumn leaf. And, having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, I remember a lot more soggy leaves than dry ones!

I brush the batter over the leaf shapes. Thin is best; they come out crispier, and can be beautifully lacy. But…they are also more fragile. Plan on losing a few. I think you’ll know what to do with the broken ones, right? Here’s a lovely brown leaf ready to go in the oven.


Thinly brushed batter will result in a delicate, lacy wafer.

I’ll give you the recipe (oh, so easy) and then show you some fun options.

Maple Leaf Wafer Cookies
Makes between 4 and 5 dozen wafer cookies, depending on thickness. You will need either a maple leaf stencil to go over the parchment (easily made by tracing a maple leaf cookie cutter onto a silicone sheet or cardboard and cutting shapes out with a craft blade) or a maple leaf template to slide under the parchment.
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 3 egg whites
  • ½ cup superfine sugar (or for more maple kick, use fine maple sugar!)
  • ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream OR thick (Bulgarian style) buttermilk
  • ½ - 1 teaspoon maple flavoring (like Mapleine) if making brown leaves. If making colored leaves, maple flavoring will be added to a small portion of batter. See instructions below.
  1. Heat oven to 375 F. Cover two baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking sheets.
  2. In the microwave or in a small pan on low heat, melt butter. Set aside to cool slightly.
  3. In a medium bowl, beat egg whites and sugar together until foamy.
  4. Add flour and cream. Beat until smooth.
  5. Add butter and (if you are making brown leaves) maple flavoring. Beat on low until well mixed.
  6. If you wish to make colored leaves, separate batter into small bowls and add maple flavoring to one of the bowls until you get a rich brown color. Add food coloring of your choice to the others.
  7. If you are using a stencil, lay stencil on parchment covered baking sheet and brush batter over each leaf cutout. (Keep coating as thin as possible without leaving bare spots.) Carefully lift stencil onto the second baking sheet and repeat. If you are using a template, place it under the parchment and paint inside the lines, using a pastry brush or paintbrush.
  8. For colored leaves, dip the pastry brush into two or three colors at a time and brush onto stencils, keeping brush strokes to a minimum to avoid muddy colors.
  9. Bake one sheet at a time for approximately 6 minutes. Watch carefully and pull the leaves as they are beginning to turn a mottled brown. Even the colored leaves will pick up brown streaks.
  10. Remove from oven and quickly but carefully slide a thin metal spatula under each leaf, moving them to a cooling rack or a piece of crumpled up foil, to create a curled shape.
  11. If the leaves begin to harden before you've finished shaping them, they can be returned to the oven for 15 seconds to soften a little.
  12. Enjoy!

Brushing brown leaves on the stencils

Brushing brown leaves on the stencils

lift the stencil carefully and move to clean parchment for the next batch!

lift the stencil carefully and move to clean parchment for the next batch!

OR you can go with some bright fall colors. The best way I’ve found to make the colored leaves is to dip the pastry brush into two (or three) different colors, then brush onto the stencil, using the least number of brush strokes possible.


Go a little wild with the colors!

Ready to bake

Ready to bake

Remember that I told you there were other methods? If you are a free spirit, you can simply brush leaves free-style on your parchment, using a large artist’s paintbrush, or put a template under the parchment and use it as a guide.

Painting leaves.

Painting leaves. (These were filled in with streaks of color.)

Or…brush brown leaves onto the stencil and then highlight them with colors, using a paintbrush.


You can also use that paintbrush to paint different streaks of color onto the stencil.

Kids might have fun just painting random shapes. If you go this route, I’d advise using a silicon sheet, because the parchment will slide around on the baking pan.

They bake quickly – exactly 6 minutes in my oven. Yours might vary, so watch them closely. They go from anemic to charred very quickly!maple-leaf-wafer-cookies-from-the-rowdy-baker


  • Slightly crumple a big piece of foil and have it sitting on the counter. As you lift each leaf, immediately lay it on the foil. It will shape itself over the hills and valleys of the foil into appealing fallen leaf shapes.
  • If your leaves start to get too firm to shape before you can remove them all from the baking sheet, put them back in the oven for 15 seconds. OR lay them on a baking sheet with crumpled foil and return to the oven briefly. As long as they weren’t over baked to begin with, they should soften and bend into interesting shapes. Or just embrace flat leaves!
  • I learned that if I always had a parchment covered baking sheet on the counter I could lift the messy stencil from the pan I was finished with and move it to the empty sheet to wait to be painted. Otherwise, I obsessively washed the stencil between batches, wasting waaaay too much batter. OCD much?
  • You can make the batter several hours ahead and keep it chillin’ in the refrigerator, covered tightly.

Besides just eating these sweethearts hand over fist, I love to use them for decorating pies, cakes, or cheesecakes. Here’s a maple cheesecake with leaf decorations.maple-cheesecake-cut

(No…I’m not posting this cheesecake recipe. I’ve got to keep SOME of my good stuff for the cookbook I’m working on, and this is definitely one for the book!) I know, what a tease, huh?

Fun, easy, creative! This would be a wonderful project to do with kids. Perhaps to be arranged on little plates at each Thanksgiving place setting?

Or hey, just eat ’em!



Pumpkin Sourdough Bread

pumpkin-sourdough-bread-the-rowdy-bakerTangy sourdough combines with rich pumpkin puree to flavor this bread to perfection. The fragrant loaves are a reminder that there’s a chill in the air and comfort food is beckoning…a harbinger of the coming holidays.

A turkey and cranberry sauce sandwich on sourdough pumpkin bread? French toast with pure maple syrup? Crackly, chewy rolls with soft interiors? Yes, PLEASE!

Sourdough starter is always hanging out in my refrigerator…unless I’ve killed it. Sourdough and houseplants are at risk in my household. I either smother them with attention or forget about them until it’s too late to rectify the situation.

Which is why I keep dried sourdough in my freezer; it’s a backup plan that has come in very handy.

If you don’t have sourdough starter, there are several options:

    • Start your own. I had a tough time with this in the past, but the method I used this time was easier than I expected. Maybe I just got lucky and caught the right yeast, but it was pretty painless.
    • Beg some off of a friend. I’ve done this too, but if I kill the starter I feel really guilty (sorry, Laurie!) so I tend to muddle through by myself.
    • Send away for some that is a strain from the 1800s…absolutely free. You just need to send a self-addressed stamped envelope (and I encourage a small donation). I love the idea of having starter with a pedigree! Go here for more information: Carl’s Friends.

For more information about creating your own sourdough starter, drying and freezing it, and instructions for feeding it—plus a few fun recipes—click on this link to a Yummy Northwest column I wrote: From Starter to Finish.

At least once a week I remove some of my starter (replacing it with flour and water, of course) and mix up a “sponge” – a batter that sits all night and is ready for action the next morning. I use 1/4 teaspoon of instant yeast in the sponge, but if you’re a purist you can skip the yeast entirely. Just be aware that you will be at the whim of your dough; it will rise when it damn well pleases! I get a little insurance by using that tiny bit of added yeast.

Since you won’t know exactly how long your bread will take to rise, I strongly recommend starting your sponge the night before and mixing your dough the next day.

Sourdough sponge - it's ALIVE!

Sourdough sponge – it’s ALIVE!

It’s usually just a matter of adding some water, salt, and flour to get a lovely, crusty loaf of dough – but for this recipe I also added 15-ounces of canned pumpkin puree. (Be careful, don’t use the kind that’s premixed for pies. Grab the solid-pack pumpkin.) I also added a little less water and a little more flour to offset the moisture in the pumpkin.

Note: For a milder flavor, decrease the pumpkin to 1 cup and increase the warm water to 1 cup in the bread recipe.

Pumpkin Sourdough Bread
Makes two loaves
  • 1 cup sourdough starter
  • 2½ cups unbleached flour
  • 1½ cups water, room temperature
  • ¼ teaspoon instant yeast (optional)
  • ****
  • The bubbly sponge
  • 15 ounces canned pumpkin
  • ¾ cup warm water
  • 1½ tablespoons salt
  • 6 - 6½ cups bread flour
  1. Night before: Create the sponge by combining all of the sponge ingredients and beating well with a wooden spoon. Cover and allow the sponge to sit at room temperature overnight.
  2. Bread: in a large bowl (a stand mixer and dough hook is recommended) combine the bubbly sponge, pumpkin, water, salt, and 6 cups of bread flour. Knead by machine for 5 minutes, or by hand on floured surface for 7-8 minutes. Dough should come cleanly away from the sides of the bowl and be just slightly tacky. If dough is too soft, add additional flour a little at a time.
  3. Cover bowl and allow dough to rise until doubled. If you used a little yeast in the sponge, this will take between 1 - 2 hours. If you skipped the yeast, it could take much longer. Be patient and let the bread do its thing. The longer it takes to rise, the more flavorful the bread will be.
  4. When dough has doubled, punch it down on a lightly floured surface and shape it into loaves. Place in lightly greased loaf pans or form into balls and place on baking sheets with a little cornmeal sprinkled on them. Cover with a towel and allow dough to rise until doubled. With a sharp knife or razor, cut several shallow diagonal slashes in the loaves (or an "X" on round loaves).
  5. Heat oven to 425 F. For the crispiest crust, place a pan of water on the bottom of the rack while the oven is heating. Be very careful when you open the door - there will be lots of steam. Alternatively, you can use a spray bottle to spray the loaves and the inside of the oven when you put the pans in to bake.
  6. Bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until loaves are rich golden brown. For a shiny crust, brush hot loaves with butter. Cool on racks.


Ready to punch down and shape into loaves

Ready to punch down and shape into loaves

Make those loaves whatever shape you want!

Make those loaves whatever shape you want! Let ’em rise, and bake. For crispy, crackly crusts, use steam!


I’m a sourdough fiend. Can’t resist a piece (or two) of toasted sourdough with a little peanut butter.toast-with-pb

Once you have an active starter, making sourdough bread is a cinch! My goal is to make as little mess as possible, so I mix my sponge right in the mixer bowl, then just dump the remaining ingredients in the next day. I don’t turn it out into a greased bowl to rise – just cover the mixing bowl. It seriously takes 15 minutes of effort to make a couple of loaves. You just have to time it for when you’ll be hanging around the house.

My guess is, with the scent of sourdough wafting through the air, everyone will be hanging around the house. Get the butter ready!






Spicy Spider Bites

spicy-spider-bites-from-the-rowdy-bakerThese spicy molasses cookies are slightly crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, just like a spider! Bwa ha ha.  I try to put aside my hatred of spiders when I decorate and eat these delightful, flavorful cookies, because at Halloween it’s kind of fun to enjoy the food, yet be grossed out at the presentation—sort of a “love to hate it” situation.

The dough is very soft and must be chilled before rolling and baking, so planning ahead is a good idea. If you wrap it well, you can actually make this dough several days ahead…if you’re the efficient, organized type. (I salute you!)

I made several batches of these a few years ago for a holiday bazaar, and they sold like crazy. It’s a horrible picture, but you can see how huge they were.spider-cookiesBut…not everyone wants a whole handful of cookie, so I improvised and made these cute little two-inch bites for this post.spicy-spider-bites-from-the-rowdy-baker

The dough is very quick to make; just leave yourself plenty of time to chill it properly. It also helps to roll it out between two sheets of lightly floured parchment. And even though I really don’t like using shortening, it’s important in this recipe. All butter will make the cookies spread more, and you don’t want that!

Spicy Spider Bites
Makes about 8 dozen small (2-inch) cookies. You can make them larger or just lightly frost the rest when you get tired of making spiders!
  • ½ cup butter, slightly softened
  • ½ cup shortening
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 5½ cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1½ teaspoons ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup molasses
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • *****
  • Royal Icing - use your favorite recipe OR try mine:
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons meringue powder (I use Wiltons brand, available in the cake decorating section)
  • ¼ cup water
  • ******
  • Dark icing, melted chocolate, dark brown coated candy...whatever you want to use for the spider.
  1. In a large bowl (a stand mixer is helpful) beat together the butter, shortening, brown sugar, and white sugar until well combined.
  2. Add eggs and beat until incorporated.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, salt, and baking powder.
  4. In a small bowl combine the molasses and sour cream. Whisk in the baking soda. It will foam up and lighten in color.
  5. At low speed, add ⅓ of the flour mixture to the butter mixture. When most of the flour is mixed in, add ⅓ of the molasses mixture. Repeat twice, scraping the sides of the bowl often. Do not overbeat!
  6. Chill dough for at least 2 hours. Overnight is better.
  7. Heat oven to 375.
  8. Roll out ¼ of the dough at a time, leaving the rest in the refrigerator. Dough should be about ¼-inch thick. Cut into circles and place on parchment covered baking sheet, 1 inch apart.
  9. Bake small circles for 8-9 minutes, larger circles for 9-10 minutes. Touch the top of one cookie gently. If your finger leaves a mark, give them another minute. For crispy cookies, add an extra minute or two.
  10. Cool on a rack.
  11. To make royal icing: Combine powdered sugar, meringue powder, and water. Beat with an electric mixer for 2-3 minutes, until thick and fluffy.
  12. Using a pastry bag and small tip (or a heavy zipper bag with the tip cut off) pipe spider webbing onto cool cookies: make a straight line from top to bottom, then side to side. Then two more lines diagonally, like cutting a pie into 8 pieces. Pipe near the outer edge of the cookie, swooping from one line to the next. Do it again closer to the center. That's it!
  13. Hint: You can also coat the entire cookie in a thin layer of icing, let it dry, and then draw the web on with a food color pen like Wilton's FoodWriter.
  14. You can make the spider out of dark chocolate frosting (this is one of those times I'd encourage buying a can of frosting for simplicity), ganache, or by piping melted chocolate for the legs and head, and using a dark brown M&M for the body.

Beat butter and sugar, then add eggs. Mixture should be light and fluffy.

Beat butter and sugar, then add eggs. Mixture should be light and fluffy.

In separate bowl, combine dry ingredients

In separate bowl, combine dry ingredients

In a small bowl, whisk baking soda into molasses and sour cream.

In a small bowl, whisk baking soda into molasses and sour cream. It foams!

Alternate molasses and dry ingredients. Dry first, then wet. Repeat twice.

Alternate molasses and dry ingredients. Dry first, then wet. Repeat twice.

Cover dough and chill thoroughly.

Cover dough and chill thoroughly.

Cut circles and bake on parchment. Size is up to you!

Cut circles and bake on parchment. Size is up to you!

There are two decorating options I like:


Wait for the icing to dry (see the center? I didn’t wait long enough) and draw the web onto cookie with a food marker. OR pipe it with black icing or melted chocolate.

or pipe royal icing webs on plain cookies.

or pipe royal icing webs on plain cookies. I think the spiders show up a little better this way.

To make the spiders, simply pipe on legs and a small head, using black icing or melted chocolate (I stir a tiny bit of corn syrup into the warm chocolate, just until it thickens a little) and top it with a dark brown M&M. You can find lots of different spider shapes on Google.

I had intended to go all out with these—make brown recluse and black widow spiders—but it creeped me out so badly I just couldn’t do it. If you are tougher than I am, go for it. Making these cookies was bad enough for this arachnophobe!spicy-spider-bite

This recipe makes a whopping 8 dozen small (2-inch) cookies. If you get tired of drawing webs and making spiders, you can always make them larger OR just lightly ice some of them with the crispy royal icing.

Happy Halloween!


Crispy Cornucopia Cookies

crispy-cornucopia-cookiesThese crisp vanilla cornucopias are filled with dark chocolate and sweet little fruits and vegetables—as delightful to look at as they are to eat!

If you don’t have cream horn molds, you’ll want to pick some up at your local kitchen store, or buy a dozen online for less than $10.00. You won’t be sorry!

You can fill these babies however you please. Marzipan fruits, little chocolate leaves…go where your imagination takes you! For those of you who are sissies reluctant to create your own little decorations, I’ll give you options ranging from “easy-peasy” to “seriously???” so you can pick your method. You know which one I prefer, of course…but then, I can’t resist playing with my food.

This is a basic sugar cookie recipe with just a little brown sugar to add color, and an extra egg white to add to the crisp factor. Think of the cornucopia as “sugar cone meets fortune cookie” and you will know what to expect. The chocolate coating just puts this cookie over the top!

Honestly? I loved the crunchy cookie and chocolate without any decorations at all. You’ll have a few that don’t come out pretty, so I’m sure you’ll be able to munch on one or two. Or three.

I’ll give you the cookie recipe and instructions first, then tell you how I made the decorations.

Crispy Cornucopia Cookies
Makes 3½ - 4 dozen cookies. Dough must be chilled for at least 2 hours before rolling.
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • ½ cup butter (softened)
  • 1 egg plus 1 egg white
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2⅔ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
  • Decorations, if desired: fruit shaped candy or fruit snacks, chocolate leaves, M&Ms, marzipan fruit, fruit and leaves made from candy clay, leaves made from fruit roll-ups or rolled candy corn.
  1. In a large bowl (a stand mixer is very helpful - this is a stiff dough!) combine brown sugar, white sugar, and butter. Beat well until creamy.
  2. Add egg and egg white, vanilla, and milk. Beat well.
  3. Gradually add flour, baking powder, and salt. Mixture will look dry and crumbly, but will eventually come together into a stiff dough. If it doesnt, add a little milk or water, 1 teaspoon at a time.
  4. Cover dough and chill for at least 2 hours - overnight is fine.
  5. Create a template by cutting a piece of cardstock (or the middle of a paper plate) to fit exactly around a cream corn mold, leaving at least 1 inch of the large end of the mold uncovered. This helps to remove the mold after baking, and keeps the cookies from being too large. My template was approximately 3-1/2" by 3-1/2".
  6. VERY lightly coat the molds with butter. You shouldn't be able to see the butter!
  7. Heat oven to 350F. Cover baking sheets with parchment.
  8. Remove about ¼ of the dough from the refrigerator at a time. Roll out on generously floured surface to approximately ⅛-inch thickness.
  9. Using template, cut out shapes. With fork tines, press vertical and then horizontal lines to resemble basket weave.
  10. Lift each piece of dough with a flat spatula and lay over the mold with the mold seam to the back. There should be a small gap at the seam. Gently ease the dough together over the seam. Don't overlap, and make sure the dough is snug on the mold to avoid sagging as the cornucopias bake.
  11. Bake for 11-12 minutes, until golden brown. Remove pan from oven and move to cooling rack until cookies are cool enough to handle. Holding a cookie in one hand, gently squeeze the metal mold to loosen, and firmly pull cookie off of mold. Allow cookie to cool before filling with chocolate.
  12. Repeat with remaining dough. When finished, melt the chocolate: in the microwave, at 15 second increments, stirring each time, or in a small pan on the stove using the lowest heat, stirring often. With either method, heat JUST until most of the chunks are melted. Remove from heat and stir until completely smooth.
  13. Lightly coat the inside of each cone with chocolate. I found it easiest to do by dipping a (clean!) finger in the warm chocolate, but you can use a paintbrush or pastry bag. Keep the coating fairly light so it doesn't seep through the cookie shell. Dip the opening in chocolate and place on waxed paper.
  14. Chocolate will remain soft for quite a while, so this is a good time to add any decorations you are using.

Make a template. Use card stock or the center of a paper plate. Leave an inch uncovered at the big end, and a small gap at the seam.

Make a template. Use card stock or the center of a paper plate. Leave an inch uncovered at the big end, and a small gap at the seam.


Roll out small portion of chilled dough on generously floured surface.

Cut out shape by cutting around template with sharp knife. Press fork tines in one direction...

Cut out shape by cutting around template with sharp knife. Press fork tines in one direction…

and then the other direction, creating a basket weave design.

and then the other direction, creating a basket weave design.

Lay dough over mold, leaving gap on the underside by the metal seam.

Lay dough over mold, leaving gap on the underside by the metal seam.

Then, gently ease it together. Dough should fit snugly on the mold. If it's loose, it will sag as it bakes.

Then, gently ease it together. Dough should fit snugly on the mold. If it’s loose, it will sag as it bakes.

Ready for the oven!

Ready for the oven! I like to stretch and curl the tips a bit.

Lightly coat the inside of the cones with melted chocolate, then dip the outer opening.

Lightly coat the inside of the cones with melted chocolate, then dip the outer opening. If your decorations are ready, place them while the chocolate is still soft, so they’ll stick well.

Note here: I’ll admit, after using a teaspoon to pour chocolate in each cone and trying to swirl it around, I found that the easiest way was to just use my finger. Dip it in the chocolate and then swirl it in the cone. Hey…that finger was CLEAN! You can use a glove if you’d like, or maybe try a paintbrush or even a pastry bag.



This was before I decided to dip the opening in the chocolate too. Either way works!

I really like the flavor of candy clay (or molding chocolate) for the little fruits and vegetables. It doesn’t clash with the flavor of the cookie the way taffy, fruit leather, or hard candy does.But if time is of the essence, take the easy route and use store bought goodies; they’ll look cute either way.

Here is a link with instructions for making it out of candy melts: Wiltons Candy Clay.  I made a batch of clay using white candy melts, immediately split it up into small bowls and added food coloring before putting the pieces in sandwich bags to set until firm.

The corn in the picture above was made with yellow candy clay, wrapped with very thin green clay. The pumpkin was made with orange clay. The stem was a little piece of brown candy corn. Cocoa nibs look great too, if you have them. Bananas, grapes, oranges, apples…all from clay, molded individually. The grapes were kind of fun. Park yourself in front of the TV with purple candy clay, and start rolling tiny balls. Lots and lots of tiny purple (or green!) balls. Clump a group of them together, pressing just until they hold together.grapes

Some other options come already shaped, like hard candy fruits (Runts), fruit shaped fruit-snacks, marzipan, or fondant. You can also shape your own without the fuss of making the candy clay by using sturdy taffy (like Starburst) which molds very well. Red sixlets with little leaves on top would be perfect for apples.

Here are visuals of the various options.l-to-r-is-hardest-to-easiest


A comparison of different mediums - fruit rolls, candy corn (Harvest mix) and candy clay.

A comparison of different mediums – fruit rolls, candy corn (Harvest mix) and candy clay.

When making leaves, use:

  • fruit rolls for vibrant color and simplicity
  • thinly rolled candy corn for rich fall color. Relatively easy.
  • Candy clay. You create the colors – these are more subdued, but thin and realistic. And definitely more effort because you have to mix the clay ahead of time.

You could also use marzipan or fondant, or you could pipe leaves using melted chocolate or candy melts. I don’t recommend gum paste – you want these to be tasty!

Small leaf cutters are wonderful. I used one that came in a kit for gum paste. I used a small x-acto blade to cut out maple and oak leaves. You’ll notice there are a lot less of those! I didn’t think about this option until after I was finished and ready to post the recipe, but if you have small chocolate molds, you could MOLD the leaves instead of cutting them. They won’t be as thin, but the shape would be right and it would be very easy.


Since this was fussy work, and pretty time-consuming, I’d recommend spreading your efforts over a couple of days so you don’t burn out. Make the little fruits, vegetables, and leaves one day (store them covered, at room temperature) and the cookies the next day. Maybe you can find some little helpers to help fashion some of the decorations.crispy-cornucopia-cookies-the-rowdy-baker

I’d love to see what you come up with. If you make these, post a picture on my Facebook page so I can enjoy your creativity!

Happy fall,





Raised Gingerbread Loaf

raised-gingerbread-loaf-from-the-rowdy-bakerThis is definitely not your Grandma’s gingerbread! It’s a tender, rich yeast bread with the fragrance and flavor of spicy gingerbread…just not as sweet. (Don’t expect cake.)

And oh, my, does it toast well! When I took my first bite of a toasted slice, I immediately thought of cinnamon raisin bread, with a delectable hint of Boston brown bread. I love them both, so I was very pleased with the outcome.raised-gingerbread-loaf-toasted-the-rowdy-baker

I sure hope you like raisins, because they really make this bread special. Since the dough isn’t overly sweet, those little sugary bits of raisins add interest to the finished loaf. You could successfully substitute any chopped, dried fruit though, for a similar effect.

Can you imagine the French toast it made? C’est délicieux!gingerbread-french-toast

The recipe makes two loaves of bread, or you can make one loaf and turn the other half of the dough into Gingerbread Sticks! Half of the dough will make 20 long sticks or 40 short ones. You may want to go for the short variety for two reasons: They are fairly soft (especially the next day), so the short ones are sturdier. And, if you offer my Orange Cream Cheese Dip with the long sticks, you’re going to get the dreaded double-dipping!


So. Warm slices slathered in butter, toast (my personal favorite), French toast, or Gingerbreadsticks. Pretty versatile! I don’t think it would be your go-to bread for a ham and cheese sandwich, but still…lots of good reasons to make a batch.

Raised Gingerbread Loaf
Makes two loaves or one loaf and 20 long (or 40 short) Gingerbreadsticks.
  • 1 cup milk (I use whole milk)
  • ⅔ cup molasses
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (more to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ cup dark brown sugar
  • ⅓ cup buttermilk
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • ⅓ cup warm water
  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 2 eggs
  • 6+ cups all purpose flour
  • ½ cup raisins
  1. In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, scald the milk. (Heat just until it gets bubbly all around the edge.) Remove from heat and whisk in the molasses, butter, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and brown sugar.
  2. Once butter is completely melted, stir in the buttermilk. Allow mixture to cool until lukewarm.
  3. In a small bowl combine ½ teaspoon sugar and warm water. Sprinkle yeast over the top and allow the mixture to sit until bubbly - about 5 minutes.
  4. In a large bowl (a stand mixer is best) combine the lukewarm molasses mixture and yeast mixture. Add eggs and combine.
  5. Using a dough hook (or sturdy wooden spoon if beating by hand) stir in 6 cups of the flour and beat for 3 minutes. Dough will be very sticky. Add raisins. Slowly add flour as necessary, a couple of tablespoons at a time, just until dough comes cleanly from the sides of the bowl. Knead by machine or by hand for 2 additional minutes.
  6. Dough will be sticky; it will be more manageable after it has risen. Dump dough into well greased bowl, tossing to cover surface. Cover with a towel and allow dough to rise until double. THIS WILL TAKE LONGER THAN USUAL, because the dough is so sweet and rich. It can take up to 2 hours, depending on the warmth of your kitchen.
  7. Punch dough down. Divide into two pieces. Shape into loaves and place in well greased (or spray the pans with Baker's Joy) loaf pans. Cover with towel and let rise again until almost doubled.
  8. Heat oven to 375 F. When preheated, cut a shallow slice along the top of each loaf and bake for approximately 40 minutes. Remove from oven, brush the top of each loaf with butter for a pretty shine, and turn out onto a cooling rack.
  9. To make Gingerbreadsticks, roll ½ of the dough out to approximately 12-inches by 18-inches. Cut into 20 long strips. If you'd like shorter sticks (they're easier to handle) cut down the middle for 40 short strips. Place on parchment or slightly greased baking sheet. Allow to rise for at least 1 hour. They won't double in size, but should be light and puffy. Brush with an egg white beaten with 1 teaspoon water, and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake for about 12-14 minutes.

Combine yeast and molasses mixtures, then add eggs.

Combine yeast and molasses mixtures, then add eggs.

Add flour. Not too much - this should be a sticky dough!

Add flour. Not too much – this should be a sticky dough!

It's a little sticky. Grease your bowl and your hands and toss the dough to coat it completely. Let it rise.

It’s a little sticky. Grease your bowl and your hands and toss the dough to coat it completely. Let it rise.

Form loaves.

Form loaves, let them rise (it can take up to 2 hours for a sweet dough like this) and bake.

Swipe a little butter on the hot bread for a pretty shine.

Swipe a little butter on the hot bread for a pretty shine.

Or make Gingerbreadsticks.

Or make Gingerbreadsticks.

Brush with a little egg wash and sprinkle with coarse sugar before baking.

Brush with a little egg wash and sprinkle with coarse sugar before baking.

I like to dip the Gingerbreadsticks in whipped cream, but for a little more flavor, make this easy Orange Cream Cheese Dip:  Beat together 8 ounces of cream cheese, 1/4 cup heavy cream, and 2 tablespoons concentrated orange juice. When smooth and creamy, gradually add 1 cup powdered sugar. Dip away!

Wait until you smell this dough baking! Mmmmmm.



Easy Cheesy Olive Bread

Easy Cheesy Olive BreadMy love for olives has evolved over the years. When I was young, black olives were served for holidays or with company meals. Mom knew enough to have several cans chilling in the fridge, because each of us girls needed ten…one for each finger, of course.

Green olives, and their little red pimientos, were gross. Something my folks had on a toothpick (along with a slimy little onion) in their martinis. Eeeeuw.

Many, many years passed before I discovered Kalamata olives and fell madly in love. Then, at a book club meeting (I believe wine was involved, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have tried them) I ate an embarrassing number of giant green olives, stuffed with garlic and jalapeños. Oh.My.

Today I put all of these olives, along with some sharp cheddar cheese, into a rustic, round, crispy loaf of bread. The dough is simple and basic; there are just a few extra steps to take to add the cheese and olives. It was super easy, and better than I had dared to hope. This will be a serious staple around here from now on!olives!

Easy Cheesy Olive Bread
Makes one round loaf. You may want to double this recipe - seriously!
  • 1½ cups very warm water
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 3½ - 4 cups bread flour
  • 1 cup grated cheese (I used sharp Cheddar. Italian cheeses would be good, too.)
  • 1 cup chopped olives, pressed firmly in paper towels to remove excess moisture
  • Cornmeal
  1. Prepare baking sheet by sprinkling the center lightly with cornmeal.
  2. In a small bowl, combine ½ cup of the warm water with sugar. Sprinkle in the yeast and allow the mixture to sit until bubbly - about 5 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl (a stand mixer with a dough hook, if you have it) combine the remaining warm water, yeast mixture, olive oil, garlic salt, and 3 cups of the bread flour. Mix together for 1 minute.
  4. Slowly add as much of the remaining flour as needed for the dough to come cleanly away from the sides of the bowl. Knead by machine for 5 minutes, or by hand for 8 minutes.
  5. Coat a large bowl with olive oil. Form the dough into a rough ball, turn several times in the bowl to coat the surface, cover and let rise until doubled - about 1 hour.
  6. Move to a lightly floured surface. Flatten dough and roll out to a rectangle approximately 14-inches by 9-inches, with the long side facing you. It should only take a few swipes with the rolling pin.
  7. Place half of the grated cheese in the center third of the rectangle. Cover with half of the olive mixture. Fold the right side of the dough over the cheese and olives.
  8. Place the remaining cheese and olives over the top (the left third of the dough will still be bare). Fold the left side over to cover the cheese and olives. Pinch all around to seal.
  9. Gently roll again - not quite as large, about 12-inches by 7-inches with the long side facing you. Again fold the right side over the center third, and then the left side over the right side. Pinch edges and form into a ball by gently bringing dough up to meet in the middle, pinching to close. Turn the dough over so the pinched center is on the bottom.
  10. Place dough on prepared baking sheet and let rise until almost doubled - about 40 minutes.
  11. Meanwhile, place a baking pan in the bottom of the oven and add several cups of water. Preheat oven to 450, giving the oven plenty of time to develop some steam before the bread has risen.
  12. Cut an "X" in the top of the loaf with a razor or sharp knife, and carefully (that steam will be HOT!) open oven and quickly place bread on center rack. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until it's deep golden brown.
  13. Cool on a baking rack.


Bubbly yeast = happy dough!

Bubbly yeast = happy dough!

Mix everything together (well...except fot the cheese and olives!)

Mix everything together (well…except fot the cheese and olives!)

Dough in oiled bowl, ready to rise.

Dough in oiled bowl, ready to rise.



Put cheese and olives in the center third of the dough.

Put cheese and olives in the center third of the dough.

Fold the right side over the center.

Fold the right side over the center.

Add remaining cheese and olives and fold left side over the mixture. Pinch to seal.

Add remaining cheese and olives and fold left side over the mixture. Pinch to seal.

Roll, fold in thirds the other direction.

Roll, fold in thirds the other direction.

Pull sides up to the top and pinch to seal. Flip over onto baking sheet.

Pull sides up to the top and pinch to seal. Flip over onto baking sheet.

While the bread rises, place shallow pan in oven and add water. Steam helps create a lovely crust!

While the bread rises, place shallow pan in oven and add water. Steam helps create a lovely crust!

Cut an "X" in the top with a straight razor or very sharp knife, and bake!

Once risen, cut an “X” in the top with a straight razor or very sharp knife, and bake!

Easy Cheesy Olive Bread - The Rowdy Baker!


I’ll bet this dough would make wonderful soft breadsticks, dipped in a little marinara sauce. Or maybe even pizza dough! Guess I’d better go buy another big jar of those green olives.



Pitsate (Italian cookies)

Pitsate - the rowdy bakerAlthough I enjoy creating my own recipes, old family favorites are hard to beat. Unless you’re a member of a huge family corporation, “secret” recipes have a tendency to get leaked (or blogged), especially after a few glasses of wine. This may be one of those special recipes!

I plead the fifth, and so do any (ahem) co-conspirators.

I took a peek at Google, curious to see if a similar recipe had already made it onto the Internet, and was shocked to see there was only ONE recipe for Pitsate that I could find. That one included a powdered chocolate drink mix, so I’d have to say it’s not quite as old and traditional as this version.

Pitsate cookies are hard to describe. They’re similar to biscotti, but not quite as crunchy. Filled with toasted almonds and chocolate, delicately spiced, and rolled on powdered sugar (which gives them just a hint of crusty sweet glaze), these cookies are absolutely perfect for dunking in a cup of coffee.Pitsate from The Rowdy Baker

The traditional diamond shape can be a little challenging. I like to roll the dough out and use a giant pizza cutter (a long knife will do) to cut diagonal lines which make perfect diamonds.

Of course, this also creates triangles, but they can be overlapped slightly and smooshed together to make diamonds. Honestly? I have no problem eating triangles.

Diamonds are your best friend! Resulting triangles? Meh.

Diamonds are your best friend! Resulting trianges? Meh.

Alternatively, you can take balls of dough about as big as a large egg (these are big cookies!), flatten it, and trim it into shape. If you do this, keep all the scraps in one place and knead them back together for a few more cookies. Or you can roll the dough into a square log and slice the cookies, though the chunks of almonds and chocolate can make that option pretty interesting.

Did I mention these are big? They’re for dunking, not a tea party! Mine are about 5 inches from top to bottom, and 2 1/2 inches from side to side. If you’re a nibbler, not a dunker, feel free to BREAK ITALIAN TRADITION and make them smaller.

I use very, very strong coffee in these cookies. I combine 1 cup of water with 1/2 cup freshly ground coffee and bring it to a simmer in a small pan, then remove from the heat and let it sit until cool. After pouring it through a fine sieve, there should be about 1/2 cup of rich coffee.

This java will put hair on your chest!

This java will put hair on your chest!

Makes about 36 large cookies.
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 2¼ cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • zest from 1 medium lemon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • 10 ounces chopped, toasted almonds (make sure you toast them for best flavor!)
  • 8 ounces chopped dark chocolate (use chips if you prefer)
  • ½ cup very, very strong coffee - cooled
  1. Heat oven to 400 F.
  2. Cover two baking sheets with parchment, or use silpats.
  3. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, cloves, and baking soda.
  4. Add lemon zest, vanilla, and eggs.
  5. Slowly add coffee and stir until combined.
  6. Stir in the almonds and chocolate chips.
  7. Sprinkle work surface generously with powdered sugar. Drop dough onto sugar and press into a disk. Turn over to coat both sides lightly, and roll approximately ⅓-inch thick.
  8. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut diamond shapes.
  9. Place on prepared pans approximately 1 inch apart, and bake for 12-13 minutes.
  10. Cool thoroughly on baking rack.
Combine dry ingredients

Combine dry ingredients

Hey, someone has to test the chocolate and make sure it's fresh, right?

Hey, someone has to test the chocolate and make sure it’s fresh, right?

Add lemon, vanilla, eggs, and coffee…yada yada yada. (In other words, I neglected to take a picture of this.)

Mix together the dough, almonds, and chocolate.

Mix together the dough, almonds, and chocolate. Roll, cut, and bake!

Now that is one sweet pitsate!

Now that is one sweet pitsate!


So…I can trust you guys, right? You didn’t get this recipe from me! What happens on The Rowdy Baker stays on The Rowdy Baker, my friends.