Pumpkin Sourdough Loaf

My cousin Barb inspired me to take the plunge into the word of sourdough. I’ve not baked much bread, let alone sourdough bread, but last week I stirred together some flour and water and began my sourdough starter. I’m using the King Arthur Flour sourdough starter recipe, and as Barb said, it’s sort of like having a pet. I’ve decided to call him Horatio, which means timekeeper, and I feed him more flour and water twice a day.

Part of sourdough starter maintenance involves discarding a portion of your starter and adding more flour and water to keep the friendly bacteria and wild yeast in your mixture working together to help the starter rise. At a certain point in development, you can start to bake with your “discard,” so I decided to give it a try with this loaf, adapted from King Arthur Flour’s Pumpkin Spice Bread simply by the omission of raisins. The end result, while not as high-rising as the one in the KAF blog post photo, has a lovely spiced pumpkin flavor and nice texture.


  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup pumpkin purée
  • 3/4 cup sourdough starter discard
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 5 loaf tin.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together vegetable oil, sugar, molasses, eggs, pumpkin, sourdough starter discard, and vanilla. Pour into flour mixture and stir until combined, then stir in walnuts.

Pour batter into prepared tin and bake for 50-60 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Store at room temperature, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, for several days. Makes 16 slices.

Samoa Bars

Back when I still ate chocolate, I loved Girl Scout Samoas. Today I wanted to recreate them in bar form, and I found this recipe from Just a Taste. Truth be told, I found it more difficult to work with than I’d hoped, so I think I’ll try a different recipe next time.

I do have some suggestions, based both on the comments on the original post and my own experience. I think you could decrease the amount of coconut by at least 1 cup, and you could likely increase the amount of caramel as well. Another baker suggested mixing the coconut into the caramel, rather than pouring the caramel into the coconut, then keeping the mixture warm in the double boiler and adding it to the base a little bit at a time. Also, the base is very crumbly, so I chose not to dip the bottoms of the bars in melted chocolate; I used far less than the original recipe required. Despite being a bit difficult to work with, the bars turned out to be delicious. Mike decided he’s keeping them instead of taking them to work, and I even left a few without chocolate for myself.


For the base

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar

For the topping

  • 4 cups shredded coconut
  • 20 ounces caramel bits
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 ounces semisweet chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper, extending the paper over the sides.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy, then slowly add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until the dough comes together. Press into the bottom of the baking pan and bake for 15-18 minutes, until just slightly golden. Cool completely.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place coconut on a rimmed baking sheet and toast until browned, stirring frequently; this takes about 10-12 minutes. Keep a close eye on your coconut, as it can burn easily. Pour into a bowl and set aside.

Place caramel bits, milk, and salt in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water or in the top of a double boiler and stir until caramel bits have completely melted; this takes several minutes. Stir together melted caramel and coconut and quickly pour over the base, spreading it as evenly as you can; I used a sheet of parchment to press the caramel/coconut mixture onto the base to help it stick. Allow to cool for 30 minutes, then lift out of the pan by the parchment and cut into 2 x 1 bars.

Melt chocolate chips and place in a piping bag fitted with a plain tip (or in a zip-top bag, then snip the corner) and pipe chocolate over the bars. Allow to set before serving; store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Makes 30 bars.

Lime Tart

Mike loves Key lime pie, but Key limes – smaller and more tart than Persian limes – are hard to come by in Pittsburgh. A few months back, I perused some recipes online, hoping to find that you can easily substitute Persian for Key limes in pies. You can, of course. But there are a host of people on the internet who are here to tell you with near fanatical devotion that it simply won’t be the same.

Maybe they’re proud Floridians, I don’t know. But nearly every lime pie post I read had an incredibly enthusiastic Key lime loyalist assuring readers that Key limes are more tart! Key limes are so much better! And don’t think of using bottled Key lime juice because it’s absolutely not the same! I was surprised to find this level of devotion to a citrus fruit…and that’s saying a lot given my undying love of lemons. In any case, my Persian limes worked very well in this tart, which Mike proclaimed as delicious. Next time, I’ll pre-bake the tart shell for longer to put more color on the pastry and ensure it’s done on the bottom.


For the pastry

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup shortening
  • About 3-4 tablespoons ice water

For the filling

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • zest from 1/2 lime
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice (from about 4 Persian limes)


Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a large bowl, combine flour and salt, then add butter and shortening. Cut butter and shortening into the flour until the mixture looks like coarse, pea-sized crumbs. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of water over mixture and toss with a fork; repeat with remaining water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the mixture comes together; you don’t want to use more than 1/4 to 1/3 cup of water total or your mixture will be too soggy. Gather dough into a ball and knead it gently to bring it together.

Roll pastry out between two pieces of parchment paper, then peel off the top sheet. Carefully flip the dough over into a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom and position the pastry into the tart pan, then peel off the parchment. Gently press the pastry into the sides; I use a small bit of extra pastry for this to prevent it from tearing as it’s pressed into the fluted nooks.

At this point, you can trim the excess pastry if you like, but I chose to let my shell bake with the excess pastry hanging over the sides and trim it after it had baked to prevent shrinkage like they do on the Great British Baking Show. Prick the bottom of the shell with a fork. Line the shell with a double thickness of aluminum foil and bake for 8 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for another 8 minutes, until golden (mine was a bit pale, so next time I’ll bake it for another 10 minutes or so to start with). Remove from an oven and place on a wire rack to cool completely; if you’ve left your excess pastry on, you can trim it as soon as you take it out of the oven.

Lower your oven temperature to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks, sweetened condensed milk, lime zest, and lime juice. Pour into cooled shell and bake for 15-20 minutes, until set. Cool at room temperature for 1 hour, then cover and chill for 2-3 hours before serving.

Makes 8 servings.


Whenever people tell me they’ve never seen Star Wars, I’m shocked. This iconic cultural phenomenon was a staple in my childhood, and I simply can’t imagine living a life without knowledge of its details. I assume nearly everyone is aware of it from pop culture, but if you haven’t actually seen it, you really are missing out.

Tomorrow is May 4th, also known as Star Wars Day, and to celebrate I’ve baked some wookie cookies. While I don’t think they look much like Chewbacca and I already have plenty of ideas about how to improve them for next time, the cookies themselves are delicious. The gingerbread recipe comes from Sally’s Baking Addiction, though I chose to go with dark brown sugar in my dough, and the decoration is a combination of chocolate chips, royal icing, and a very thick glaze icing. Stay tuned for more wookie recipes in the future, and may the force be with you.


For the cookies

  • 10 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup molasses
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 3 1/2 cups flour, spooned and leveled
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ginger
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • Miniature chocolate chips, for eyes

For the royal icing

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons meringue powder
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 4-5 tablespoons water
  • Black food coloring

For the white icing

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • Water


To make the dough, in a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves; set aside.

In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter, dark brown sugar, and molasses on medium speed until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and beat on high speed for 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl a few times. With the mixer running on low, slowly beat in the flour mixture. Dough will be very thick and sticky. Divide into two portions and flatten into discs; wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees; line several baking sheets with parchment paper. Unwrap one disc of dough and place it on a floured surface; this dough is very sticky, so you need plenty of flour for your work surface, rolling pin, and hands. Roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness and cut using a gingerbread man cutter. Place cookies on baking sheets and use a fork to make the impressions for the fur, then add miniature chocolate chips for eyes.

Bake for 10 minutes, until edges are set. Remove from oven and allow to cool on the baking sheets for about 5 minutes, then place on a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the royal icing, combine meringue powder, powdered sugar, and water in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whip at medium, then high speed, for 7-10 minutes until the mixture is glossy. Add black food coloring to your desired shade.

Fit a piping bag with a small plain tip and pipe on noses (I also did some black mouths, but didn’t like those as much), then swap out your tip for a flat or fluted tip and pipe on the sashes.

To make the white icing, combine powdered sugar with enough water to make a thick icing that you can still pipe. Place in a piping bag with a small plain tip and pipe on mouths, then add the white decorations to the sashes.

Allow icing to harden before storing between layers of waxed paper in an airtight container; store cookies for up to 2-3 days. Makes about 40 cookies.

Old-Fashioned Donuts

While I’ve rarely met a baked good I didn’t like, I have a particular fondness for donuts. Our local supermarket, Giant Eagle, actually makes very good donuts; my particular favorites are the maple iced ring and the jelly filled varieties. But at home, without the desire to work with yeast and hot oil, I choose to bake my donuts, rather than fry them.

The internet is full of good recipes for baked donuts, and this one comes from Baked By an Introvert, though I cut down the recipe to make just six. Using a combination of whole wheat and white flour, as well as nutmeg, these treats have a wonderful flavor and very soft crumb. Baked donuts are best eaten right after they’re made, but they can be kept at room temperature in an airtight container for a day or so and still taste delicious.


For the donuts

  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk

For the glaze

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla


Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly spray a 6-well donut pan with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, stir together white flour, wheat flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and nutmeg; set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together melted butter, vegetable oil, and sugar, then whisk in egg and vanilla bean paste (or extract). Stir in the flour mixture and buttermilk in alternate batches, starting and ending with the flour. Batter will be thick. Spoon into a piping bag and fill donut wells about 2/3 full.

Bake for 7 – 9 minutes, until the donuts spring back when pressed lightly. Remove from oven and cool in the pan for 5 minutes while you make the glaze.

Stir together powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla extract until smooth. Remove donuts from pan and dip in glaze, covering the top. Place on a wire rack over a sheet of parchment paper to catch the drips and allow the glaze to drip down the sides.

Serve immediately; store leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature for 1-2 days.

Makes 6.

S’more Bars

As a child, I was kind of afraid of the woods. Blame it on the fairy tales, maybe? But as an adult, I cannot get enough of nature. While Swallow Falls State Park is my favorite place on Earth, the coronavirus pandemic has prevented us from crossing state lines into Maryland. We’re lucky to live near North Park in Pittsburgh, and also to have our own backyard, complete with a fire pit.

I recently caught the scent of a backyard fire on the breeze, and this made me think of s’mores, which then made me wonder how I could bake something s’more-like for Mike and his coworkers. The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion includes a recipe called “Build-a-Bars” that can be adapted to whatever flavor profile you like, and it seemed a good option for a s’more bar. You could make a pastry crust for these, but I chose to go with a graham cracker crust for extra s’more-ness.


For the crust

  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (from about 13 1/2 sheets of crackers)
  • 8 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

For the filling

  • 2 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows
  • 4 full-sized Hershey bars, broken into pieces
  • 1 cup broken graham crackers

For the topping

  • 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 5 ounces evaporated milk


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking tin.

Combine graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, flour, and brown sugar and press into the bottom of the pan. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack.

In a medium bowl, stir together miniature marshmallows, Hershey bar pieces, and graham cracker pieces; set aside while you make the topping.

For the topping, beat cream cheese, sugar, and salt until blended. Add egg and beat well to combine completely, scraping your bowl as necessary, until no lumps remain. Add evaporated milk and beat to combine completely.

Pour the filling evenly over the crust, then pour topping evenly over filling.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until edges bubble a bit and the center is set. Cool on a wire rack completely before cutting; cut into 24 bars.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for about 2-3 days.

Coffee Cake Donuts

I’m on a mission to recreate Entenmann’s crumb-topped donuts. Someday, I’ll find a recipe that mimics them as well as any home baker can. But this morning, I tried out a coffee cake-style donut that I found over at Baker By Nature. I suspect that cutting the butter into my topping wasn’t the way to go; it wasn’t very crumb-like, so next time I’ll just rub the butter in with my fingers to distribute it a bit better and yield larger crumbs.

I adapted the original recipe by adding cinnamon and nutmeg to the batter, and also adding nutmeg to the crumb topping. I omitted the drizzle icing, but you could certainly add a drizzle if you like. The end result was less flavorful that I’d hoped for, so if I make these again I’ll add more spices to the batter. That’s the beauty of baking – you learn something every time and can always adapt.


For the topping

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 and 1/2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Dash of nutmeg
  • 1/4 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into tiny cubes

For the donuts

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Dash of nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 6-well donut pan.

Make the topping by combining the sugar, flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg; rub in the butter until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. Refrigerate while making the donut batter.

For the batter, whisk together flour, brown sugar, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together sour cream, melted butter, and egg; add to dry mixture and fold to combine. Batter will be very thick; be careful not to over-mix it.

Place batter in a piping bag and pipe into donut wells, distributing batter evenly. Top with crumb mixture.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pans for about 3 minutes, then remove and place on a wire rack and let cool another 2-3 minutes before serving. If you like, you can make a drizzle icing for the tops as well.

Homemade baked donuts are best eaten the day they’re made, but can be stored for about a day at a cool room temperature in an airtight container.

Makes 6.