The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts


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Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

It just wouldn't be Christmas at my house, without Ribbon Cookies. I grew up with these, as did my mother and grandmother. When I asked my grandmother if she knew where the recipe originated, she didn't, but we know she is mainly of Dutch descent, and she remembered both her mother and grandmother making them before her. That makes five generations that we can account for, including my sisters and me---six, if my niece carries on the tradition. My grandmother had two sisters, and so my cousins all make them.... and friends and neighbors.... and now coworkers too. It isn't a closely guarded family secret, by any means; it has always been given freely. And it has always been much requested.

See how pretty they are on a Christmas cookie tray. And they taste both as good, and as unique as they look. It's fun to bring them to holiday get-togethers, because people are generally stumped by the stripes. They always want to know, how did I do that? But it's not a feat of magic. It's so easy, a child can do it. I know, because I did growing up.

My grandmother passed away a few years ago, at the ripe old age of 95. While cleaning out her apartment, I found her hand-written recipe card, yellowed by time, that had become one with the plastic sleave she put it in long ago for protection. That was just like her.

In case you can't read my grandmother's handwriting, here's my version:

Ribbon Cookies

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup chopped candied cherries
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 ounce milk chocolate, melted
  • 2 tablespoons poppy seeds

Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. Cream butter and sugar. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture.

Divide dough into 3 equal parts. Mix the chocolate and nuts into one part and press evenly into the bottom of a waxed paper lined 9x5" loaf pan. Set pan in freezer for a few minutes or until firm. Stir the cherries into the second dough portion and press evenly into pan over the chocolate layer. Put back in freezer until second layer is firm. Add poppy seeds to the remaining dough and press evenly over the cherry layer. Cover pan and chill in the refrigerator until firm.


Remove dough from loaf pan and cut into thin slices (about 1/8 inch). Bake on greased or parchment-lined baking sheets about 10 minutes at 375ºF. Watch closely because they can burn fast, but they should be starting to color a little around the edges.


These cookies should be crispy when completely cool. If they're not, they may be sliced too thick, not baked long enough or oven is too hot (or not hot enough). Leave some space between them on the cookie sheets, because they grow quite a bit. I make my slices across the short side of the loaf (side to side) and then cut that in half for two medium-size cookies. One year I used unbleached flour and the cookies were not as light or crispy, so it's bleached for my Christmas cookie baking. I add a drop or two of red food coloring to the cherry dough now, because candied cherries aren't as deeply colored as they used to be. They just don't impart as much color to the dough. If you use unsalted butter, you might want to double the salt.

AnnieT's picture

Here is my authentic Scottish Shortbread recipe which came from Margaret McLaren, a Scottish friend from when I lived near Atlanta back in 1967.

3 sticks butter (I use Challenge unsalted)room temp.

1 heaping cup powdered (icing) sugar

1 egg yolk

4 cups ap flour

Preheat oven to 300*, cut wax paper circles to fit 8"-9" cake pans. I wonder whether parchment would work?

Sift the sugar into a large bowl and knead in the butter. Add the egg yolk and mix in well. Add the flour one cup at a time. Roll into a lump the size of a jelly roll, cut into 3. Pat onto the wax paper to fit the pans. Prick all over with a fork and crimp the edges, and cut almost through in wedges. Bake 45 minutes to 1 hour - mine didn't take that long. The shortbread should be pale in color. Cool on rack, careful, I managed to crack all of mine!

I also forgot that I wanted to add some rice flour because I had read that it gave a nice crunch. Oh well, next year. Merry Christmas from Whidbey Island, A.





occidental's picture

Over the past weekend I thought I'd get into one of my books that I haven't baked from yet, "Bread" by Jeffrey Hammelman.  Being a sourdough fanatic I decided to start with a sourdough and selected the Vermont sourdough, which appears to be one of Hammelman's standbys.  I had great results with the formula and this bread may become one of my favorites if I can repeat the results.  I followed the formula fairly close, however following the mix the dough felt a bit on the dry side and I added about a tablespoon of water.  Once the dough had a chance to autolyse and I did two folds I decided I probably didn't need to add the water as the dough was really on the sticky side.  I let the formed loaves rise in a cool place to try and develop the flavor a bit and baked until I had a pretty dark crust.  I scored the loaves but they were pretty wet so it was almost a rustic looking loaf.  The oven spring was impressive and the crumb is very open.  It tastes great too!  I'll be making ths loaf again soon!


From bread


From bread
occidental's picture

Prompted by ehanners post and great looking loafs I baked Shiao Ping's Chocolate Sourdough earlier this week.  I followed the formula pretty close and was pleased with the results.  I went with 2 small and one larger boule.  Shiao Ping advises to bake them right from the fridge.  I did get better oven spring with the boule that I let warm for about an hour so I wondered if I should have done this with the others, or if I just should have let them rise a bit longer before I put them in the fridge to retard.  Anyhow, if you are looking for a great sweet bread for a holiday breakfast or other celebration you may want to consider this as an option!  A couple pics of the oven spring from the loaf I let warm and the crumb follow:



From bread

From bread
liza2's picture

I remembered the salt this time!

The programme won't let me paste the link to the recipe, but search on "simple_sourdough_909"

I did everything the same as in my saltless version with two exceptions: I substituted 1 tablespoon of olive oil for 1 tbsp water and I steamed the oven instead of covering the loaf for the first 20 minutes of baking.

I also tried a different slashing design. I made a mess of the slashing - I used scissors and I think I got the angle wrong. As soon as I cut into it the dough deflated and spread outwards a bit. Or is that meant to happen?

I didn't get much oven spring and I wonder if that is due to the slashing or to having used Pam's flour, Pam's being a budget grocery products brand here in New Zealand. Or due to my oven only having a fan-bake function. Or not using a baking stone? Or over-proofing? (so many variables!) The recipe itself only calls for 300 g of flour, so would result in a small loaf, but I think there should have been more oven spring.

The flavour was excellent and I was pleased with the crumb. The texture was light, springy and spongy. The crust was just the right degree of crispness. The flavour was slightly tangy but not too sour. This is a delicious bread. Thank you, Susan.

If there are any other "lurkers" out there not too confident about contributing to this site I would say give this bread a go. This is a simple recipe which gives a delicious initial result and then makes a good basic starting point for making modifications to suit your own baking circumstances.

I would be grateful for any advice on how to get better oven spring. Thanks and season's greetings from Liz.


SylviaH's picture

This is my first time making and eating Panettone.  It was a lot of work but enjoyable.  This is my version of P.Reinhart's recipe in BBA.  While mixing this dough I couldn't help but to say to myself how it appeared like cake batter one minute and then dough the next!  I made adjustments in hydration and added some stretch and folds adding a longer time to the proofing.  I had ordered some paper bread molds two sizes.  I decided not to use the small ones.  They were so very small looking.  The large ones where a little to large so I didn't get the nice big ballooned top on my panettone and that was a bit of a disappointment, next time I'll know better.  I rigged up a cardboard box to hang my panettones..out of reach from my 3 always hungry dog's.  I used the lovely chocolate glaze from wild yeast's pannetone recipe and it is delicious.  It's basically just egg white, oil, coco powdered, corn flour, almond flour and sugar whipped.  My husband and I both loved the tender moist crumb and flavor and the crunchy coco topping sprinkled with swedish pearl sugar and almond slivers.  I will be making this bread again it is delicious and the aroma filled the house and my hands smelled lovely all day.

Happy Holiday!




Smita's picture

Three weeks of sourdough. Got my starter from a baking class and named him Clint. After Clint Eastwood - full of potential!

The basic recipe is as follows:


1/2 cup starter

2 cups whole wheat bread flour

1 cup AP unbleached flour

2 t salt

1.25-1.5 cups water


- Mix flours and water to form a shaggy dough. Autolyse - rest for 30 mins.

- Add starter and knead 8-10 minutes, till you get a windowpane.

- Add salt and rest.

- 3 stretch and folds at 20-30 minutes apart.

- Proof till double in size. Deflate and place seam side up a linen lined bowl or floured banneton.

- Then retard overnight in fridge.

- Next morning, set dough at room temp for 2-3 hours.

- Pre heat oven to 485. Plop bread into dutch oven, seam side down. Score and lower temperature to 450 or 440. Bake 35-35 minutes or till internal temperature is 210.

- Cool for an hour and slice.


Lessons so far.

1. Week 1: The loaf tastes terrific, but is a shining example of how not to fold and shape.

2. Week 2. Started paying attention to details: weighed EVERYTHING this week, checked temperature and in a rush of enthusiasm, made english muffins with excess starter.

3. Week 3. Best lookin' loaf yet! Big holey crumbs, perfect for dipping into some olive oil.

Lessons learnt:

1. Decided to be as empirical as possible but also not try to control EVERTHING. Must tell self to bake by feel as much as bake while following instructions.

2. This bread is great for sandwiches and for dipping. My next goal is to consistently reproduce them, and perhaps to try a celebration bread using the starter.

Feedback is welcome and appreciated.

Thanks in advance!




Marykaren's picture

I remember my mother baking Hutzelbrot but never learned how she did it. I've found several different recipes but I'd like to hear from someone who has actually made this bread and learn your recipe. I've been trying some  recipes, but can't get the soaked fruit to mixed with the dough. Also my tries have been dry.. which I don't think Hutzelbrot should be.

jlevinmd's picture

Been doing the no-knead thing for a while and got it down pretty much. Loaves come out beautiful with a crackling crust but after cooling for 20-30 minutes  on a wire rack the crust loses its crunch. Is there a way to keep the crunch?

Shiao-Ping's picture

We started our annual beach holiday this year without much preparation, unlike previous years.  It has been a very busy year, and so when we arrived at the North Folk Island Pine Tree-lined boulevard right next to the beach front, looking for our holiday unit, we were exhausted.  There was a feel of South of France here at this little north facing beach in the south of Queensland, bordering New South Wales. 

After a quick lunch, it was time to be off to the beach ....




On the 1st full day at the beach my son didn't surface until after 11 am.  I said to his Daddy that as soon as the young man woke up, he's going to want food.  Sure enough, the first thing that he said when he emerged was, "Pretty hungers; pretty hungers."   

The wind was howling after we had our brunch, no good for the surf, so the Daddy took the opportunity and went out with the daughter to get her surf board fixed.  He asked if the boy would want to come along.   Why would he? - There was chocolate milk and Tim Tam in the fridge; plus, there was cricket on the TV (Australia vs. West Indies)!  As they say, "You can lead a horse to a drink but the pencil must be lead."

I purposely brought only my starter and a selection of old, almost expiring, flours with me, but none of my usual implements for making sourdough bread.  When I found out that the unit wasn't even equipped with measuring cups, I thought to myself that I should have at least packed my scale.  No matter.  Early evening as I was refreshing my starter, my husband was making a celery/onion sauce to go with the meat pies being warmed up in the oven, and my children helped setting up the table.  Thirty-six hours later, these were my first holiday sourdough breads:








Evidently I mixed the dough a bit dry to achieve the nice openings on the surface but somewhat dense interior.   The flour I used was Laucke's multigrain bread pre-mixes with no commercial yeast.  I promised myself that the next sourdough I made would have a lot more hydration for more open crumb, as below:




I never envy commercial bakers' job but I often wondered why making sourdough bread was such a satisfying act and I think I got the answer during this holiday.  Whether or not we are happy with our sourdough and whether or not it is a piece of crafty work of art, no one can deny that there is a creative spirit in the making of it - the bread comes out differently every time!   It is like allowing a piece of us emerging and taking shape.  It is a means for expression.  

An Aussie participant in the SFBI courses that I took back in August told me that American all-purpose flour is equivalent to Australian plain flour that is available from all supermarkets and is used in pastry baking.  He is a very accomplished baker and works with Leon Bailey, the Australian master-baker.  The protein level of plain flour is roughly the same as in French style flour.  I experimented with 1/2 wholemeal plain flour and 1/2 plain flour and was quite happy with the result:




On many a night my husband cooked dinner and my children did salads and set the table while I sipped on my Chardonnay (they must have been secretly reading my blog where I said I don't know why housewives get excited about holidays).  One night my husband asked me to try Henschke's Pinot Noir that he was drinking.  I took a sip and said it's too young for me and that it would be good for many years to come.  He said, "A bit like me-self?" 






Half into the first week of our holiday I was already getting into a good routine of morning and afternoon exercises.  I thought of a book that I once read, Running High; how true, the wonders of endorphins.

As the week progressed, left-over sourdough was piling up in the freezer.  I've always loved the Italian Panforte and I also absolutely adore Stained Glass Fruit Cake, but I did not feel like any pastry making.   Perhaps I was a bit conflicted but, anyway, I used some of the left-over sourdough bread and made a Christmas Stained Glass Panforte, the only festival baking that I made (actually no baking at all, just cooking the fruits with the left-over sourdough and letting them set with the nuts):







                                           Very morish with a cup of homemade latte


When I was little I read stories that ended with "Happily living ever after;" and when I was a bit older I knew that they were fairy tales but I wondered what it was like.  Beach holidays can hardly be a Chinese thing and no exception to me.  But this time I had one of the better beach holidays that I could remember.  I think "Happily living ever after" is entirely possible if one just lives in the moment ... like a new born baby.

And thus we finished the two weeks' beach holiday - short enough for me to take, and long enough to make a difference.  Yesterday my kids helped me with the Christmas tree.  I have missed the many little figurines that happily adorned our Christmas tree for nearly a whole year and I am very pleased to say Hello to them again: 



      Father Christmas


                                Master Jester


                                                      One of the clowns


                                                                                       One of the fairies





Wishing all of you home bakers out there a Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year!




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