My other passion: Making Bread

Posted on February 13, 2016 at 12:40 AM Comments comments (1)

Two summers ago, I ressurected my interest in baking bread.  The last time I baked bread was when I was in highschool. There was a picture of me holding my sourdough bread but unfortunately, it vanished. I hope it resurfaces again.  I recall the bread came out as hard as a rock. Still, I was proud that I baked bread. I don't remember how it tasted, it was more about how tough it was. My jar hurt. I am nott sure what I did wrong but the dough went through a lot of kneading and resting so it would rise. It was a lot more complicated than the bread I make today, which is a no-knead bread, thanks to Chad Robertson for inspiring me to bake this way. I took one lesson from Clemence Gosset at Gourmandise School of Sweets and Savory and I got right into baking again. Last year, Itook a break from baking, because I had to finish my Ricecraft book. I didn't want my baking temptation to distract me from writing the book. But now that my book is finished and I am free to do anything I want, I chose to bake again on a regular basis.
I will be posting my breads from time to time.  Here is yesterday's Spelt bread.

Basic Country Bread a la Tartine - Lesson 1

Posted on March 10, 2014 at 7:55 PM Comments comments (0)

After taking Dana Morgan's Tartine bread baking class in Weschester yesterday, I let the dough rest in the fridge overnight and took it out this afternoon to bake it.  One of the things that Chad Robertson, author of Tartine Bread Book repeatedly  advises in his book, is to wear long mitts so as not to burn yourself while handling the bread in the oven.  Boy, was he right! The temperature of the lodge pan gets up to 500F so it is really hot. You hair will sizzle if you are not careful.  I didn't have a lodge pan with a lid so I improvised and used a pan with no cover and a pizza stone.  IMy first attempt at baking a sour dough bread was not too bad.  The crust came out pretty good. Kind of chewy. We added the salt before letting the dough rest yesterday, so our teacher Dana Morgan said we might not get a good rise and that's what probably happened.  No matter how imperct, I loved my first bread.

I remember making a sour dough bread in highschool.  It was so hard, we almost used a hammer to crack it open. But I was proud.  There is a picture of me in one of the family albums holding that sour dough bread. I have to look for it.  This country bread was actually quite normal except the top. It's flat because it got squashed by the shallow pan.  More practice makes perfect.

Warm Buttermilk biscuits with honey and butter

Posted on July 15, 2012 at 10:55 AM Comments comments (2)


My friend Sherry is a wonderful baker.  When she and her husband Fred invite us over to their house, she will often leave mid-way during dinner to whip something up and stick her doughy creation in the oven.  Last time I was at her house, she made biscuits and served them warm with some strawberries and whipped cream.  They tasted heavenly.  What's amazing is that she does it with ease and she never fails.  I went home and dreamt about eating those biscuits again but couldn't wait,  so I decided baking some myself.

There are several cookbooks I use when I bake besides the Joy of Cooking. They are  Dorie Greenspan's Baking, Tom Keller's  Ad Hoc and  Elizabeth Alston's Biscuits and Scones. My cookbook editor, Pam gave me Alston's book nearly twenty years ago while I was working on my Japanese cookbook. Alston's book sat on my shelf collecting dust until I rediscovered it rather recently.  Sometimes it's good to go through the library and revisit old cookbooks.  
Alston's book is small but packed with over sixty recipes on biscuits and scones.  The one I made this morning is your basic buttermilk biscuits.  My technique is slowly improving with practice. Since I have to buy a whole quart of buttermilk (for some reason, you can't buy in smaller sizes),  I make a large batch.  Per Greenspan's advise, I keep some unbaked biscuits in the freezer and pop them in the oven to bake when I want some.  Per Keller's advise, I add some cake flour to the dry mixture for extra lightness.  It works.

I served the warm buttermilk biscuits with butter and honey.  As always, I used my grandmother's butterknife to spread the butter.    If I had some fried chicken to go with the biscuits, it would be a perfect Norht Carolina dinner. 

Elizabeth Alston's modified
Good with Anything Buttermilk Biscuits recipe:

The recipe is modified to include a little cake flour.
You can also make it without the cake flour. Just increase the
all purpose flour by 1/4 cup.

1 3/4 cups all purppose flour
1/4 cup cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter cut up
2/3 cup buttermilk

Heat oven to 450F.  PUt lfour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl; stir to mix well.

Add buttter an d cut in with your fingers, until the mixture looks like ifne granules.

Add buttermilk and stir with a fork until a soft dough forms. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured board and give 10-15 kneads.  

Roll dough to an 8-8.5 inch circle (1/2 to 3/4 inch thick).  Cut out with a 2 or 2.5 inch plain biscuit cutter.  
Plase biscuits on a ungreased sheet and bake for 12-14 minutes, untle medium golden brown.  LIne a wire cooling rack with a line or cotton dish towel.  Put the hot biscuits on the cloth and fold the cloth loosely over them. Cool at leaset 30 minutes for best flavor.

Serve with honey and butter.

Green Apples - A Souvenir from Tehachapi

Posted on August 20, 2011 at 4:05 PM Comments comments (1)

Tehachapi is the land of four seasons. It is a good place to grow apples, lilacs, peonies, berries, grapes, etc.   Ha's Apple Farm is near us.  Some of you may be familiar with their apples from visiting the farmers markets in Los Angeles.  I met Mr. and Mrs. Ha for the first time at the Pasadena Farmers Market. I went up to introduce myself as their new neighbor in Tehachapi.  Some of the locals in Tehachapi think we are Mr. and Mrs. Ha. Not too many Asians live there. I don't mind being mistaken as one of the Has. They produce beautiful apples and pears.

The former owners of our ranch didn't get around to pruning our apple trees last year.  We have about six.  There is a lot of fruit on the trees but I don't expect them to get very big.  The deer have been coming into our property to check on the apples nearly everyday.  So they must think they are good. One branch of the tree broke off this morning. Sakai brought it back to Pasadena.  It had more than fifty small apples on it.  No wonder. They are still too tart, but maybe I can make applesauce or tart tatin with it.  It's going to be a lot of work to peel them but I can't wait to taste our first apples.

Buckwheat Shortbread Cookies - Sables

Posted on December 26, 2010 at 11:05 AM Comments comments (2)

This is the first holiday in years that I got myself into baking.  Usually I do one dessert during the holidays, which is Tart Tatin and I rarely get around to baking others.  But I have a sudden desire to bake.

I used to bake butter cookies regularly for my Dad in Japan. I would air mail it to him from LA  but in recent years, he has cut back on eating rich cookies and noone in my household eats sweets except me.  That slowed me down.  Still, if you bake cookies, I find you can always find someone to share them with.

I got motivated to bake cookies this season because I am looking for ways to use buckwheat flour.  With so much fresh buckwheat flour around the house for making soba noodles  (I have one refreigerator full), I though I could make other things with it.

Plus during the holiday season, Anson Mills sent me some fresh Tartary buckwheat to try. I was thrilled. Unlike the standard buckwheat flour, Tartary buckwheat flour has a slight bitterness in flavor. In Asia, this particular brand of buckwheat is prized for its high "rutin" content.

Back to baking cookies. I found a buckwheat sable recipe in Ansen Mills website which really appealed to me.  

The original recipe calls for buckwheat flour, butter, sugar, salt and orange water. I didn't have orange water so I used milk instead. Milled buckwheat is almost tremulous in its delicacy,  as Ansen Mills explains. A few ounces of all-purpose flour is added to provide structure and shape to the gluten free dough.  

These cookies came out  strikingly nutty and fragrant, with bran flecks against a mustardy yellow hue. I used small cookie cutters.  I think the dough holds together better when they are cut small.   I took the cookies to my buckwheat farmers and friends in East Washington and served them at Lark at the buckwheat dinner event. Everyone loved it.  


Recipe (Inspired by Ansen Mills Buckwheat Sables)

1 cup  Anson Mills Rustic Aromatic Buckwheat Flour or Tartany Buckwheat Flour

3/4 cup  unbleached all-purpose flour

1/4 cup hand milled buckwheat flour or regular buckwheat flour

1 tsp baking powder (optional)

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

8 ounces  unsalted butter, room temperature

9 tablespoons (1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon) Demerara granulated sugar for the recipe, plus additional for rolling the raw cookies

2 teaspoons milk



1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Sift the flours, salt, and baking powder into a bowl to combine.


3. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter in the bowl of  until light and fluffy.  Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is light. Add the milk. With the mixer running on low speed, add the dry ingredients to the batter.  


3. To shape the cookies: Roll bits of dough—about 2 teaspoons, or, if you have a kitchen scale, 0.3 ounces— lightly between your palms to form baseball size balls. Roll each ball flat and use a cookie cutter to make shapes.  Sprinkle Demerara sugar on top.  Bake the cookies, until golden brown on the edges and bottoms, about 10-12 minutes.


Makes about sixty 2 1/2-inch cookies







Tart Tatin - Which Apples Work Best

Posted on November 30, 2010 at 5:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Tart tatin made with Golden Delicious apples

During Thanksgiving weekend, I made three tart tatins with three types of apples. I wanted to see which apple worked best for this dessert.  Perhaps Thanksgiving is not a good time to test recipes on family and friends but past experience says, better to have more guinea pigs than one.

 I used Pipin for the first tart tatin, which I blogged about. (Here is the recipe)  Granny Smith for another, which didn't come out so well, thus no picture, and this one, which I made with Golden Delicious. They say the third time is a charm. It seems to apply to tart tatins, too.

The Tart tatin I made with Golden Delicious came out just right: the brown caramelized apple wedges were tightly packed together, some of the apples were on the verge of falling apart, which is okay; for the most part, though, they were holding their shape. When I inverted the tartin, it came out perfect, which is the rewarding moment. The pastry crust was crumbling on the side, which is where you start nibling. I admit, the crust is my favorite part.   


Each apple is different in flavor and texture, especially when they are cooked. Even the same apples don't always behave the same. My Granny Smith failed me this year.  My dog Ana, who loves apples even turned me down.  The apples were too tart and I didn't use enough sugar to make up for their lack of sweetness.  It was a disappointement but I decided to make another one, since I had my stand by apples - Golden Delicious.

I am not a big fan of eating Golden Delicious apples raw but chefs like Thomas Keller recommend using it for making Tart Tatins. These apples are slightly sweeter than Pipin or Granny Smith. They can be a bit mushy so I picked Golden Delicious that were on the greener side, some even resembled a Granny Smith. Green Delicious made a good tart tatin.  I will stick with these apples this season.  

One thing I can say about tart tatin is be careful when you turn it over.  Some of the apples may stick on the pan.  If it does, don't panic. Peel off the apple carefully with a knife and put it back where it belonged.  Noone will notice.  A nice way to serve Tart tatin is with half whipped cream and half creme fraise mixed together.  Here is my friend Russ salivating over the tart tatin. He ate two pieces.



Tarte Tatin

Posted on November 25, 2010 at 4:40 PM Comments comments (0)

I come from a family of apple pie makers.  I wrote about my mother's legendary apple pie for the LA Times some years ago (here is the link).  For some reason, I didn't inherit the pie genes.  My pies are okay but I have yet to taste one that blew my mind. I need more practice.  On the other hand, I have taught myself to make a pretty good tart tatin.  I got introduced to this dessert in France.  You can always find it in a bistro and it is a popular dessert for home cooks. I have made it so many times. It helps to have one dessert recipe that you can brag about.
Everyone loves the caramalized flavor of the apples in this dish. The apples are borderline burnt.  I have seen severely burnt tart tatins in French bistros.  I like them on the verge of burnt but not black because it tastes like charcoal and looks like a mistake. It probably is.  In fact, legend goes that this tart was invented from a mistake but the restaurant (they are a few that claim they were the first to invent this dish) served it anyway, people loved it and it became history.  I find caramelized apples have better flavor than apples in pies. I dislike apples that are coated with excessive amounts of cornstarch and spice, which is often the case with apple pies. Tart Tatin, on the other hand, is made with apples cooked in butter and sugar. That's all.


The crust of a tart tatin can vary.  I make a cookie dough. There is always more than enough cookie dough so I make cookies with the leftovers. That's my favorite part.  This year, I made  a small tart tatin, using my 6 1/2 iinch cast iron pan.  I was still able to pack seven apples.  This will feed about four people. When making dough, I do every thing by hand.  Two knives and a rolling pin are my only tools. I  cut the butter into the flour. The dough rests in the fridge for at least an hour to overnight.  It also freezes well, so I can make it in advance.  

The apples take about 25 minutes to caramelize. Stay near the pan while you are cooking the apples. You may have to adjust the temperature.  I flip each apple once to cook the other side. This is the trickest part because if you have mushy apples, they won't flip. They fall apart.  That's why you want to use firm apples like pipin.  Granny smith is good but not always reliable when it comes to the mushy test.  Golden delicious is the other firm  apple but I like the flavor of pipin better.

I leave small chunks of butter in the dough and try not to mix toomuch. This way gets me closer to my mother's flaky pie crust . You don't see the finished crust in the picture below because I turned the pan upside down while it was still warm. Sorry. But that's what you have to do. This way, the tart doesn't stick to the pan.  Don't forget to run a knife around the pan so the apples don't stick to the side.  The tart tatin came out very nice.


Serves 3-4

6-7 apples, pipin or golden delicious
6 tbls butter
1/2 cup sugar

Cookie crust:
3/4 cup flour
2-3 tbls powder sugar 
1/4 tsp salt
4 Tbls butter
1 egg yolk

Heavy cream (optional)" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">1 6 1/2" cast iron skillet  

To make the cookie dough.  Sift together flour, powder sugar, and salt into a bowl.  Use a knife or pastry cutter to work butter into the flour until it resembles a coarse meal.  Stir in egg yolk.  Assemble the flour mixture into a round ball. Then flatten it into a disc.  Wrap disk in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes to overnight.

To make the apples, peel, core and quarter apples.  Melt butter in a 61/2- inch cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the butter and the sugar and mix evenly and let the butter melt completely.  Remove from heat.

Tightly pack apple wedges around inside edges of skillet.  Make concentric circles, the larger circle surrounding the smaller circle.  The inner circle will be made up of three or four wedges.  Set aside 3-4 apple wedges for later use.

Return the skillet to the heat and cook the apples over medium heat until butter and suagr carmelize to a rich brown, about 15 minutes.  The apples will shrink as they cook. Use the leftover apple wedges and fill in the gaps. 
Carefully turn the apples once to cook the other side.  Use a fork to turn the apples.  Try to keep the concentric shape. Cook for 5 minutes longer. Remove from heat.  You can do up to this step earlier in the day.

When you are ready to bake that tart tatin, pre-heat the oven to  375 F.  Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into 6 1/2" inch circle, about a 1/4 inch thick.  Cut out the circle so that it fits the top of the 6 inch skillet. 



Bake in oven until the pastry is golden, 25-30 minutes.  Allow tart to cool for 10 minutes, then loosen edges with a knife.  Place a plate on top of skillet and invert quickly.  Serve warm with whipped cream or plain.

Homemade Apple Pie - Holiday Baking

Posted on November 28, 2009 at 11:31 PM Comments comments (0)

A calm moment

One thing I can say about baking pies is that I have taken it for granted all my life.  My mother was an excellent baker.  Her pie crusts were consistently flakey and her apples perfectly sweet.  She didn't follow a recipe but measured with her eyes. When she made plans to bake pies, she did most of the work in the middle of the night. A half a dozen pies would be cooling on the pie racks at dawn, filling the house with their sweet aroma.  Then there is my sister Fuyuko Kondo who is a French trained pastry chef. Quite an accomplished one if you don't mind my bragging. She was one of the first female chefs to be invited on the Iron Chef show in Japan to challenge the French Master Chef Sakai (no relation to me). Even though I spend an awful lot of time in Tokyo, I have never taken a pie baking lesson from her. I just eat her pies, tarts, cakes, cookies... everything she bakes.  Her pastries are all so good. I always put on a couple pounds when I go back to Tokyo. I do have some specialities of my own though- tart tatin, butter cookies and creme caramel.  I usually bake a tart tartin for Thanksgiving but this year we were invited to our friends for the festive dinner so I didn't think tart tatin would work as a Thanksgiving dessert.  

I found a Rum Raisan Apple Pie recipe on line from Gourmet, so I made it as part of a refreshment course in baking apple pies. The recipe uses three varieties of baking apples of your choice and rum soaked raisans.  I was multi-tasking on the day I was making the pie crust, which is a no-no. I forgot to put salt in the dough.  Fuyuko tried to help me fix it but it was too late.  I had to start all over again. Of the two pies I finally baked, the one I sprinkled granulated sugar on the crust surface, as the recipe instructed, turned out like the surface of the moon. That pie didn't make it to Russ and Kathy's house.  The other pie was based with egg yolk and milk.  It was baking beautifully but after I stuck it in the oven, I realized that I had forgotten to top the apples with butter.  So half way into the baking, I put the butter through the ventilation slits, which made the slits grow larger. The pie in the picture below is the very pie but seen from a good angle.  From the other angle, it looks like a howling face.  But I didn't let it bother me. I took the little flower cookies from the reject pie and covered the big slits.  People said my pie was yummy, and even enjoyed it for breakfast the next day. I have friends with high tolerance levels. The reject by the way, is being consumed by me.  I am halfway through it.  As for the apple pie recipe, I would cut back a little on the sugar and flour in the apples, and perhaps pre- cook the apples before putting them into the pie crust, as my mother did. The pie crust, I need a lot more practice. I will try again at Christmas time. 

Recipe:   Gourmet - Rum Raisan Apple Pie (here is the link for the recipe).

Fresh out of the oven.

Basque Gateau with Apricot jam

Posted on July 26, 2009 at 11:27 AM Comments comments (0)

Just out of the of the oven



Something smells good. My sister Fuyuko is always testing recipes. I am the happy guinea pig. In general, I find French pastries too sweet for my palate but this Basque Gaeteau is not. You can have it for breakfast with coffee. Basque Gateau is made with an almond meal cookie base so it has a nice crumbly texture. It is filled with a custard creme but today Fuyuko filled it with Apricot jam and I thought it worked very well. Slowly but surely the cake disappears.



Serves 4

For the pastry

2.5 egg yolks (50 grams)

65 g powdered sugar

65 g granulated sugar

125 g softened butter

125 g unbleached all purpose flour

65 g almond meal

5 cm vanilla bean, split and scrape seeds

1 teaspoon rum

Apricot Jam - enough to fill the cavity, about 2/3 cup (see Apricot Jam with Vanilla)


Making the pastry

Combine all the ingredients for the pastry without overworking it.

Cover and let rest in a cool place for 4 hours.



Butter a 16 cm round cake pan.

Roll out half the pastry to a thickness of approximately 3 mm.

Line the bottom and sides of the cake pan with the pastry.

Spread the apricot jam evenly in the pastry case.

Cover with the remaining pastry. Brush with egg yolk.

Bake in a 180° C oven for about 20 minutes. Then lower heat to 150 ° C for 10 minutes. Serve warm or cold.


Scones with Orange zest

Posted on June 5, 2009 at 4:17 AM Comments comments (0)

Once in a while, it's nice to make scones or waffles at home.  My sister who is a pastry chef in Tokyo often makes waffles or scones for her son, Hayato, in the morning.  You think she would have enough things to do on a school day.  But she likes to put a smile onher son's face, so she does, plus she irons his clothes (I never did that for my son when he was little), makes him a bento box for lunch and gets ready to open her shop.  

This morning, I was in the mood for making scones for my  friend Marisa who spent the night at our house.  Putting the scone recipe together was not that much work.  I even started the washing machine. With the scones baking in the oven,  my kitchen began to smell like a bakery. While waiting for the scones to bake, Marisa showed me how to work  my new digital camera. My new camera came with three booklets worth of stuff to learn.  I am willing to tackle almost any complex recipe but when it comes to reading any kind of hardware instruction manual, I fail.  In contrast, Marissa is very patient. She put her reading glasses on, read the instructions and showed me how to make the camera work better.  I learned some new tricks. Her advise was " Don't use the Auto setting. Digital cameras have a mind of their own."  So true.  Ineed to play with the camera.  Learn the manual way.  It will take time but I will have better control of the camera.  By the way, the scones turned out great.  Marissa took some home.  There is still more for later.


  • 2 Cups flour
  • 2 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt 
  • 2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup half and half 
  • 2 tsp grated orange rind 


  1. Sift together flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.  Use a fork or knife to cut the butter into the flour until it becomes like a corse meal.
  2. Beat eggs with half and half.  Add orange rind and flour mixture.  Stir until just blended.  
  3. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough and make 3/4 inch thick circle.  Cut into 3 -inch circles. 
  4. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes or until the scones are brown.   
  5. Split the scones and serve while piping hot with butter, jam and clotted cream (if you can find it). 
  6. Makes about ten scones.