Bring on the Baking Improvisation: Coconut Macaroon Pumpkin Pie


Sometimes the best discoveries come when you just don’t have all the things on hand that you would normally need. Recently I wanted to make a pumpkin pie but didn’t have cream, milk or condensed milk in stock. I thought about how I might make a non-dairy version and decided a coconut milk (which I always have!) variety might work well. Not completely sure what measurements I should use, I turned to the trusty internet and discovered the most lovely website: The Shiksa in the Kitchen.

Her recipe for coconut macaroon pumpkin pie sounds perfect on every level – so it’s up next on my baking plan. (Sadly, I did not get around to making it the other day because I had only one egg.)

The site, though, is filled with fabulous stuff like pretzel challah, rum and coffee beef brisket, gouda macaroni and cheese with pine nuts and golden raisins (I’d skip the raisins – but it otherwise sounds amazing), a gorgeous Mediterranean seven-layer dip and about a million other to-die-for recipes complete with mouthwatering pictures, and step-by-step instructions on how to do just about everything.

The Shiksa site does it for me in particular because I’m a baker through and through but not that creative or adventurous when it comes to cooking – so the recipes here for cooking actual food pique my interest and actually make me want to go in the kitchen and try stuff out. I’m in love.

Mysteries of Foreign Kitchens – Onion focaccia bread, take two


When I travel and stay in the homes of friends, I do enjoy continuing my baking obsession in their kitchens, but navigating foreign kitchens (and by foreign I mean both foreign in the sense that they are in other countries and in the sense that they are unknown to me) is a challenge. Very few people are as well-equipped as I am for baking activities, so baking in strange kitchens is always an adventure in improvisation.

An alleged attempt at onion focaccia bread

An alleged attempt at onion focaccia bread

Once in Berlin I tried to make Anzac biscuits without access to brown sugar or golden syrup (and was making them with someone who was not eating sugar anyway). We went with honey and imitation sugar. He also had a wonky oven and nothing resembling baking sheets.

Most people (especially men) don’t even have mixers, so it’s all about stirring by hand.

Today’s retread of a baking adventure – onion focaccia bread. I made this last week (where the pic comes from) and am trying it again in unfamiliar environs. We’ll see how it goes.

Onion focaccia bread recipe
Bread dough

3 cups bread flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon sugar
½ tablespoon dry yeast
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup warm water

Sift all dry ingredients together (try this in a kitchen without a sifter or something similar!). Add the oil and warm water, stir to make a dough. If the dough is a bit too dry, as mine was, add a very small amount of water.

Knead the dough for ten minutes on a lightly floured surface until you have a smooth, stretchy dough. Place the dough in a clean, well-oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm spot and let rise until the dough is doubled. (This was a challenge because I’m in a house that has basically one bowl total.)

When dough has doubled (this took about 45 minutes for me), roll it out to a 25cm/10 inch round size and place in an appropriate pan. At home I used a 10-inch cast iron pan. Here there is no such pan so I am just baking it on a flat pan.

Cover with a damp cloth and let rise again for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the cover, make deep holes in the dough, about 2.5cm/1 inch apart. Cover again and let rise for 20 minutes.

When it has risen, scatter with the onions, drizzle olive oil over the top and sprinkle with the sea salt (ingredients as listed in the “topping” items below. Not to be confused with “toppins” cast aside at a Pizza Hut and eaten by homeless Vietnam veterans living in cardboard boxes). Sprinkle a small amount of cold water on top to keep a crust from forming. Bake about 25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

1 red onion, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ tablespoon coarse sea salt