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    Happy 2019! It's a new year--time for a restorative. Me? Bok choy broth with tofu for lunch. The purple tinge is not your hangover talking to you--I added purple and gold "black" carrots to the bowl and it got a little Rose Parade on me.

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    Copyright 2008-2019Slow Food Fast. All writing and images on this blog unless otherwise attributed or set in quotes are the sole property of Slow Food Fast. Please contact DebbieN via the comments form for permissions before reprinting or reproducing any of the material on this blog.


    I may post affiliate links to books and movies that I personally review and recommend. Currently I favor Alibris and Vroman's, our terrific and venerable (now past the century mark!) independent bookstore in Pasadena. Or go to your local library--and make sure to support them with actual donations, not just overdue fines (ahem!), because your state probably has cut their budget and hours. Again.

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    SlowFoodFast sometimes addresses general public health topics related to nutrition, heart disease, blood pressure, and diabetes. Because this is a blog with a personal point of view, my health and food politics entries often include my opinions on the trends I see, and I try to be as blatant as possible about that. None of these articles should be construed as specific medical advice for an individual case. I do try to keep to findings from well-vetted research sources and large, well-controlled studies, and I try not to sensationalize the science (though if they actually come up with a real cure for Type I diabetes in the next couple of years, I'm gonna be dancing in the streets with a hat that would put Carmen Miranda to shame. Consider yourself warned).

Raw Dough Carbs: Playing for Pizza, Calculating for Calzone


Calzone–one of my favorite Italian dishes–is extremely easy to make once you’ve got some basic pizza or bread dough risen and ready to shape. Flatten out individual rounds of dough, mix up a ricotta-based or roasted vegetable filling, fill and fold the dough over into half-moons, crimp the edges, brush with olive oil, and bake on a sheet in a hot oven until they’re puffed and golden. A satisfying but fairly light supper dish, especially if you have a good thick spicy tomato sauce to go with it and a salad on the side.

But even if you don’t, they’re a good consolation on a Sunday night for a kid with frustratingly advanced math homework the teacher didn’t quite prepare himself or the class for (11th-grade precalculus techniques popping up in a sheet of homework for 11-year-olds? The dangers of pulling your homework handouts from a math site on the internet. I keep reminding myself that he’s young yet). All I can say is, you know you’re in trouble when the heartburn is coming from the homework and not the food.

Grrrr. I’m almost over it. Anyway, here’s a much easier calculation trick that doesn’t require factorials…

The trick about making dinner from homemade dough is that the kid in question is diabetic and needs to know how many grams of carb she’s going to get in her calzone. Pizza, calzone, any kind of handmade entrée with dough plus noncarb ingredients, is tricky to calculate carbs for because you can’t easily tell by eye how much bread you’re getting in a serving. Check out any of the commercial pizza companies’ nutrition stats per slice–they’ll often state carbs as a range rather than a set value. How thick the dough is, how large the slice, etc, can really throw things off. Most people don’t need to know more precisely than “35-50 grams per slice”, but diabetics really do. Fifteen grams is a pretty big variation.

So how do you deal with it at home? If you’re making lasagne or stuffed shells or spanakopita, you can calculate the carb by counting the noodles or sheets of fillo dough you use and looking on the package nutrition label, then figuring a total carb count for the tray and dividing by the number of portions. A little tedious, but manageable.

Bread that’s already baked is also easy enough to calculate for–just weigh it out on a food scale in grams and figure 50 percent carb by weight. Most nonsweetened bread is pretty consistent, whatever density its texture. Weigh out a 70-gram piece of bread, and you’re usually looking at 35 grams of carb.

But for calzone or pizza you’re dealing with a bowl of wet dough to start, and once the dish is baked, it’s got lots of other stuff on or in it so you won’t be able to weigh it cooked and really know what carbs you’ve got. You need to test a portion of your raw dough, only raw dough is heavier than it will be once baked. Depending how wet the dough is, the proportion of carb could vary from a little less than half to a lot less.

Weighing a sample of raw dough to figure carbs after baking

Weighing a sample of raw dough to figure carbs after baking

The only thing to do is test a bit of dough by weighing it out raw, then reweighing it once it’s baked. Doing this in a conventional oven just for a single test ball of dough can be time-consuming unless you’re already heating it for the main event. Still, you want to get ahead with making the actual calzone so dinner will be sometime before midnight.

Enter the microwave. Yes, really. A nectarine-sized ball of dough, say 100 grams raw weight, will cook through lightly in 40-50 seconds in the microwave if you put it on a saucer and punch the “nuke” button. It’ll still be white and pale, but it’ll have risen fairly well to the size of a large dinner roll and won’t have gooey raw spots (you can check by breaking it open, just watch out for steam). Then just pop it in the toaster oven for about 5 minutes and it’s browned and baked through. When you reweigh it, you’ll know how much a 100-gram ball of your dough weighs cooked, and then figure 50 percent of that weight for carbs.

Aside: This nuke-and-toast scheme works pretty well for making a fast sandwich roll from a bowl of dough in the fridge. When I first came up with the idea, it was with great reluctance, because my only previous experience with microwaving bread had been the horrible, horrible mistake of Continue reading

Rising Expectations for Rosh Hashanah

Just a quick word to say L’Shanah Tova U’metuka! May you have a good and sweet New Year!

Here’s what my daughter and I baked the afternoon before the start of Rosh Hashanah. You can find the basic recipe here.

Crown challah for Rosh Hashanah

Crown challah for Rosh Hashanah

It’s the first time I’ve baked bread since my daughter became diabetic in February, but by now, six months along, we both feel like we have the approximate carb counts down well enough. I tend not to make my challah very sweet anyway, but this year I also left out the raisins, which are about a gram of carb each, to make things a little easier until we were sure we knew how to figure portions. It still came out pretty and tasted good.

Without raisins, we figure, a baked piece of challah is like most other bread, about 50% carb by weight in grams, and it seems to work. Using a simple ratio like this is a lot easier (when we’re home and have a scale handy, anyway) than worrying about exactly how many cups or grams of flour I put in the dough and calculating exact portion carbs–something I still tend to do for desserts and treat foods like berry scones since they’re so variable. Or as our endocrinologist said, “Everyone guesses wrong for birthday cake.” Next time, we’ll try it with raisins and see how it goes.

Challah birds

One thing we like to do with the extra dough–I make sure there is some–is to let my daughter make challah birds. Usually we shape these by making a small 6-inch rope of spare challah dough and tying it into an overhand knot. You can press a raisin into one of the ends for an eye, and the other end becomes the tail, which you can leave alone, stretch out a bit, or score with a knife tip for “feathers”. This year, my daughter went free-form so the rolls came out looking more like bollilos, but she liked them, which is the important thing.

Mine: A lot of people make spiral challahs for Rosh Hashanah with a single thick rope curled around in a turban shape. Tunisians and some other North African and Mizrahi Jews shape the top end into a hand shape. I like to braid my round challahs into a crown, though I admit they’re not always the most even at the joined end. They still seem to even out as they rise to the occasion.

Braided crown challah rising in the oven for Rosh Hashanah

Braided crown challah rising in the oven for Rosh Hashanah

Challah dough is so easy to put together (2 minutes by food processor, plus cleaning, or 5-7 minutes by hand and letting it rise right in the mixing bowl) that if you get the dough ready in the morning and have a couple of hours in the afternoon free for braiding (10-15 minutes unless you’re having too much fun), the second rise (40ish) and baking (another 40ish), it’s a lot of fun and less expensive than store-bought, and more individual too.

B’te’avon! (bon appétit!)


Two nights ago I brought a couple of homemade loaves of challah to some friends’ house for Shabbat dinner, which was also the last night of Chanukah. Their mother, a fairly well-known kosher caterer, was there and my jaw dropped when she said she’d never learned how to make this classic bread. Challah looks beautiful once it’s baked even if you’re not a champion braider (I’m definitely not), but it’s not such a big deal.

Challah was the first bread I ever made. I was nearly eleven years old the summer Nixon resigned and a camp counselor asked me to help braid loaves from a huge bowl of dough in the kitchen one Friday afternoon. Later, I made all the challot for my bat mitzvah, baking and freezing them week after week. During my last two years at university, I made challah most Friday afternoons  and whenever I was baking I suddenly got proposals from other students along the lines of “Would you please be my mom?” (gee, thanks) Then I graduated, and I just stopped. I had no oven in Israel (a “WonderPot” doesn’t count), and when I came back I had a lab job with long hours. But every once in a while, for the High Holidays and at odd Fridays throughout the year, I still put my hand to the dough and lately it’s been coming out really well.

There are only a couple of smallish tricks to working with the egg-based dough. As long as you have the time to rise and bake the bread within a day or so of making the dough, the actual work time for a pair of two-foot loaves–kneading, braiding and glazing them with egg–is about half an hour altogether. Everything else is letting it sit and rise, or sit and bake. BUT you should figure about 3 hours for the first rise at room temperature (or overnight in the fridge if that’s handier, but I haven’t tried it personally for challah), and after the braiding, which takes maybe 20 minutes for 2 loaves, about another hour to rise covered and then a little less than an hour for baking.

This dough is not overtly sweet, not salty, and not too heavy on either eggs or oil. I find that the bread is lighter, more feathery, and less like a dried-out dish sponge the next day if you don’t exaggerate the rich stuff and just use water rather than more eggs or oil to make up the difference. So this is a lighter, more home-style challah than the kind you get at the bakery or in your grocery store, and less day-glo yellow too–they use turmeric, the cheats. Also much less expensive–I think the total cost is something like $2 for a pair of loaves, and the most expensive ingredient gram-for-gram is the yeast. Continue reading

A Bowl of Dough in a Book

For anyone who’s read my previous post, A Bowl of Dough in the Fridge, a quick recommendation:

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François, is gaining a big following among people who’ve tried out the recipes. This bread book, developed by an avid home baker and a professional pastry chef, uses the same basic strategy I do, but they’ve worked out quite a number of variations on a couple of master recipes, and they’ve come out with a general formula that works pretty well.

They have a basic white boule with a crunchy crust–something to shape a variety of classic ways, French through Italian, with or without olives or olive oil. They have several whole wheat and pumpernickel and rye versions with a thinner shiny crackled crust. They have challah AND brioche, and they have classic bagels AND Montreal sweet bagels. And they have chocolate babka. And they have demonstration photos and tips at the right points in the recipes to be helpful.

Among the differences between their basic white boule recipe and my typical  dough are much more yeast for the amount of flour and water–they use a packet and a half for 6 cups of flour and 3 of water–and a lot more salt as well–a tablespoon and a half. The initial rise is faster–about 2 hours instead of 5 or so–but I’m not sure what the true effect of the salt is other than taste and reflexive habit–François is CIA-trained, and that school tends to emphasize salt, judging from the chefs who’ve graduated from there and gotten into print.

The other factor that’s different is they don’t call for kneading at all–once you’ve stirred the flour into the liquids and everything’s more or less uniform, that part’s done. Rise and chill.

That’s solid enough for the chewy hard-crusted no-knead bread style of bread, but will it work for challah, which usually calls for extensive kneading to develop the classic long feathery crumb? Inquiring minds want to know.

So I’m going to try their white boule and their challah (though here I’ll cut the salt back for my own taste) and let you know how it goes. I’m looking forward especially to see if the challah crumb can really be achieved without the 10-minute knead and multiple rises.

A Bowl of Dough in the Fridge

If you have the room for it, keeping a bowl of basic Italian-style bread dough in the fridge allows you to make a wide variety of flavorful and very easy “slow food”-style breads fresh over the course of a week as you want them, without requiring a lot of work or day-long kneading-and-rising procedures each time.

Ingredients are simple and fairly cheap, mixing and kneading take a total of 5 minutes, and the equipment is very simple. All it takes is a Pyrex mixing/salad bowl (2.5 qt or liter), plastic wrap to cover it, a microwaveable coffee mug for heating the water, and a plastic sandwich baggie to go over your hand while you’re mixing the dough (a lot cleaner and less sticky and wasteful than the traditional method, and somewhat faster as a result.)

It’s nearly as quick and painless as using a food processor or a mixer with a dough hook, and there’s a LOT less washing-up–always a plus in my book.

This dough is somewhat wetter than an old-fashioned Joy of Cooking-style standard white bread recipe–more like (definitely like) pizza dough. You can use it to make anything from pita and pizza to herb breads, crusty rolls, ciabatta, calzone, even puff pastry or croissants. You can also keep the bowl going as a semi-sourdough for another couple of rounds before starting a completely new batch–see the notes at the end of the recipe.

Continue reading

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