Irish Soda Bread Revisited + How to Make a Cake Flour Substitute

While we were lazing around on Sunday, my half-Irish husband talked me into making Irish Soda Bread a couple of days early. Unfortunately, I didn't have cake flour and wasn't interested in going to the store since the LA Marathon finish line was in our neighborhood. I asked The Google for a solution and discovered that you can replicate cake flour with a mixture of corn starch and all-purpose flour. As luck would have it...I didn't have corn starch either. What's up with these pantry deficiencies?? I finally managed to locate some potato starch that I had recently used in a stir fry. Several people on the Internets actually suggest that potato starch has a cleaner flavor than its corn cousin. Good to know.

I incorporated the cake flour substitute into an old recipe adapted from Cook's Illustrated and also changed my kneading method to ensure that the dough wasn't overworked (notes below). Since starting my sourdough journey, I'm more in tune with gluten development and how it can help or hurt a recipe. With Irish Soda Bread and flaky pastry, you want to work the dough as little as possible so the gluten doesn't develop and toughen up the final product. On the other hand, sourdough bread benefits from stretching, folding, slapping and the like. Food science at its best - be one with the gluten.

Thai Chicken Soup

We had a few days of rain recently and the temperature was in the 50s. I quickly partook in all winter activities - wore boots and a jacket, two scarves (at once), lit a fire, and made 5 different kinds of soup and chili. Winter-adjacent weather lasts for approximately 72 hours in Southern California so you need to make the most of it. East Coast folks who happen to visit during a "cold spell" have likely looked around and thought, "Are these people nuts? Who needs a beanie when it's 60?" Yes, we're definitely crazy (sweaty) hipsters.

This Thai Chicken Soup is adapted from Cook's Illustrated's The Best International Recipe. As with most soups, the key to tying all the flavors together is homemade stock. I highly recommend making a batch of chicken or vegetable stock for the freezer since you can throw just about any ingredients into a rich broth and it will taste fantastic.

One-pot Smoky Turkey Chili

There are a number of reasons why I like this turkey chili recipe. It freezes beautifully, can be made ahead (even tastes better the next day), is relatively healthy, and easily serves a crowd. Since it's one of the first dishes I cooked regularly, the ratios and ingredients have gone through several adjustments over the years. Rob mentioned that the most recent iteration is especially delicious so I figured it was time to put turkey chili up on the blog.

In terms of ingredients, I highly recommend ordering some smoked tomatoes, chipotles, and garlic from Windrose Farms. The smokiness isn't overwhelming which makes them truly versatile ingredients. Not only is the flavor dynamite, but you'll be supporting some super sweet farmers here in California.

Sourdough Blueberry Pancakes

For many years, I used the buttermilk pancake recipe from Cook's Illustrated's The New Best Recipe (a must-have cookbook). If you don't have a sourdough starter, I highly recommend the CI version with the addition of a scant 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract. That being said, my recent bread baking obsession inspired me to develop a pancake recipe that incorporated sourdough starter (aka levain).

Turns out sourdough pancakes are really excellent. They have an airy and tender center, slightly crisped exterior, and the flavor is much more cohesive than their ordinary cousins. I explain how to make and manage a levain in this post. In terms of preparing the pancakes ahead of time, freezing works beautifully and I've included those notes below. Now you can have delicious pancakes everyday, the way nature intended.