How to Have Fresh Basil all Year Long

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When I visited Tuscany a few months ago, I learned how to keep fresh basil around all year long even when freshly-picked herbs are not available from the garden.

Fresh basil and olive oil

During the Plated Stories Workshop, we participated in a cooking session with Enrico Cassini.  Enrico was the owner and the renowned chef of Le Cassace, the Villa where the workshop was held. 

As I mentioned in a previous post, Enrico was very proud of his lands and his olive oil.  He made his fresh basil with olive oil from his olive groves and he used it to enhance his food creations.

I made my version with fresh basil from my garden and Il Palazzone Extra Virgin Olive Oil which I brought back from Tuscany.  This olive oil is special because it comes from a vineyard in Montalcino, Italy, in the Brunello wine region of Tuscany.

We visited the winery and toured the vineyards where they grow Sangievese grapes for the Brunello wine. 

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In addition to the vineyards and the winery, they also have a small olive grove of 1000 trees. They have three kinds of olive trees: Toscano, Monenello, and Songenese.

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According to Laura, the Estate Manager and our host for the guided tour, 3,000 is the optimal amount of olive trees that you should maintain in order to have a good yield. However, they want to remain true to the craft so they nurture these trees to produce the liquid gold.

To ensure high quality oil, the olives are picked by hand before they fall off the tree (to keep them from getting bruised) and before they are fully mature.  The oil is packaged in dark green bottles to protect it from light and to help preserve its fragrance and beautiful color.  This arduous process brings in a smaller yield and as a result,  production is limited. 

In order to make the best possible Extra Virgin Olive Oil in the most traditional way, they established a program, called Club 100. The idea behind this program is to let other people share in the cost of maintaining the olive trees and producing the olive oil.  This adopt-an-olive-tree program reminds me of a CSA.  They’ll even put a plaque on the tree with your name on it. How cool is that! 

Olive tree with name plaque

As you can imagine, adopting a tree is very popular so there is a waiting list. I’m on the list and I’m looking forward to adopting an olive tree soon.  Then I’ll be able to say that I used olive oil made from my adopted tree.

 

Making Fresh Basil with Olive Oil

I’ve been waiting for my basil plants to grow all summer so I could try this trick.  My three plants finally produced enough leaves for me to make it and have some left over for drying. This is a photo of one of the plants after I harvested most of it’s leaves. 

fresh-basil-1-3

 

To make it, just take freshly-picked basil leaves, add them to the blender with a little bit of olive oil and process until the mixture is the consistency you desire. Then place the fresh basil in a jar and top it off with more olive oil. 

How much basil should you use?

My basil plants weren’t very big this year so to make this fresh basil mix, I harvested all the leaves from two plants. Then I discarded the bruised and discolored leaves. I didn’t weigh the basil, but the photo below shows what the mound of fresh basil leaves looked like on the cutting board before I placed it in the blender.  I didn’t chop the leaves; I added the leaves whole to the blender and drizzled in olive oil a little at a time until it was completed blended.

basil-1

 

Enrico used the immersion blender and blended his mixture about 3 times. My immersion blender wasn’t strong enough so I used the regular blender and blended the leaves until they were fairly smooth.

What type of jar should you use?

Once the mixture was ready, I spooned it into an appropriately-sized jar. I tried an eight ounce canning jar (jelly jar), but it was too small. The pint size jar was too large.  I finally found a jar that would hold it. I just happened to have a jar that originally had basil pesto in it, but you can use any jar that has a tight-fitting lid. After you place the mixture in the jar, you’ll want to top it off with olive oil to within about a half-inch of the top of the jar.

Voila!  There you have it!  Simple, and convenient.

How do you store it?

Store the jar at room temperature.  When you are ready to use the fresh basil, just stir it and scoop out what you need.

You can use it in homemade pasta sauces, soups, or any dish where you would use basil and olive oil.  You could also make basil pesto with this if you choose to do so. 

Fresh Basil and Olive Oil

 

Happy Canning & Baking!

Cathy

A Batard and a Pear Tree

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A beautiful Bradford Pear tree stood next to the cherry tree in my front yard.  Over time, it grew and expanded until it’s branches spread so wide, it could hardly contain itself.

Season after season, the tree adorned my yard with splendor and provided a beautiful backdrop to an otherwise boring yard. The colors of the leaves were breathtaking in Autumn and the blossoms in Spring were refreshing.  It even looked good in snow although that didn’t happen very often. The tree commanded a lot of space, but it was so pretty, I didn’t mind.

 

pear-tree-in-snow

Sadly, one night a couple of weeks ago, there was a terrible storm and the wind blew so hard, it separated part of the tree from it’s trunk, and it came crashing down on the street. The once glorious tree was rendered helpless in one fell swoop.

Since the tree was in the middle of the road, the cars weren’t able to pass by. My house is at the beginning of the street so this presented a problem. Pretty soon, a crowd of my neighbors (and the police) gathered around to figure out how to get it out of the way.  I stood there in the street looking at the fallen tree; my hand still bandaged from my recent surgery.  I watched as my neighbors worked to get the tree out of the road.  I felt pretty helpless, but it was awesome at the same time.

You could hear the sound of chop, chop, chopping and chain saws roaring as branch by branch, the limbs of the tree were removed from the road.  They opened up one lane so that cars could get by. 

poor pear tree

I called a tree service the next day (Friday), but they weren't able to come until Saturday morning.  This meant the tree would have to lay on the other half of the road all day. 

There was another storm Friday night, and I held my breath the whole time.  Another tree fell, but in the backyard this time, and it wasn’t big enough to do any damage. 

Saturday morning rolled around and the tree service called to tell me they would have to reschedule because they had an emergency.  A tree had fallen on someone’s house.

I decided not to get upset because I remembered the community effort from the night my tree fell down. I was very fortunate. The tree didn’t hit my house or the power lines. I decided I should be patient.

I went about my business that Saturday all the while looking out the window at the tree that still lay halfway across the road and wondering if my neighbors were fussing at me every time they drove by.

Then late in the afternoon, another neighbor came by and asked if I wanted him to clear the rest of the tree from the road.  He had a sheepish grin on his face and said, “I would really like the wood, and I need to test my chain saw. I just got it out of the shop.”  I just laughed and said, “Go for it! Thank you!”  Turns out he does woodworking as a hobby and this is what he wanted to do with the wood. 

He and his wife cleared up the mess in the road and as a thank you, I gave them the wood (of course) and offered to bake them some bread.  When I asked what type of bread they would like, my neighbor said, “a Batard!”  He had tasted them in France and hadn’t been able to find one here that he liked.

I decided to try and make a batard that he would enjoy. The batard shape is one of my favorite shapes.  I just wasn’t sure how well I would be able shape or score it with the stitches still in my finger.  So I waited until I got the stitches out.

I finally made the bread last weekend.  I’m still getting the mobility back in my finger so they were not the best loaves I’ve made in terms of shaping and scoring, but I’m fairly pleased with how they turned out taste wise. 

Batards using poolish baguette dough

These batards are made from a poolish baguette dough of white bread flour and about 12% whole wheat flour in the final dough. They had a wonderful flavor. My neighbor and his wife enjoyed the loaf I gave them. I also shared a loaf with a friend who enjoyed it as well. 

I’ve been using the other loaf to make Tuscan Garlic Bread with garlic from my garden and olive oil from Tuscany.  It’s so good!

 

Batards with Overnight Poolish

Makes: Four 1 -1.5 pound-loaves

Adapted from: Baguettes with Poolish from Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes by Jeffrey Hammelman

Note: Depending on what time of year you bake this bread and if you include some whole wheat, you will probably need to add more water.  I baked these loaves in the summer and had to add a good bit more water than the original formula suggested for the final dough.

 

Poolish:

  • 10.6 ounces bread flour or all-purpose flour
  • 10.6 ounces water
  • pinch or 1/8 tsp. instant yeast

In mixing bowl, add the water and sprinkle the yeast over the top.  Mix in the flour until smooth. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it stand for 12 to 16 hours at about 70 degrees F.  It was 78 degrees F. in my house so I only let it rest for about 10 hours before using.

batards-1-3

 

Final Dough: 

  • 18.8 ounces bread flour or all-purpose flour
  • 2.6 ounces white whole wheat flour (I used home milled)
  • 10.6 ounces water, plus additional if necessary (I used ~ 1/2 cup more)
  • 1 1/4 tsp. instant yeast
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt

For the final dough, add all of the ingredients, including the poolish, in a large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Mix using a stand mixer or by hand.  I mixed the dough by hand using the fold-and-turn method in the bowl. 

The dough should be supple and moderately loose.  The desired dough temperature should be 76 degrees F.

Let the dough bulk ferment for 2 hours if mixed in the stand mixer, with one fold after the first hour.

I let it ferment for 3 hours with folds every 30 minutes for the first 2 hours, then I let it rest for the final hour.

batards-1-4 batards-2

 

Divide the dough into four equal pieces.  Preshape lightly into rounds, cover, and let them rest on a lightly floured surface for 20 to 30 minutes.  Once the dough has relaxed sufficiently, shape the rounds into batards and place the loaves between folds of a couche.  Be sure to leave enough space between each batard so they have enough space to expand. 

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Cover the loaves with plastic and baker’s linen to prevent a crust from forming on the surface of the loaves.

Let the loaves ferment for 1 to 1 1/2 hours at 76 degrees F.

Score the loaves in the pattern of your choice.  I scored three of the loaves down the middle and added some decorative slashes along the sides.  I scored the other loaf with 3 slashes.

batards-7

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. with a baking stone on the bottom rack and an iron skillet on the top shelf.

Slide the loaves directly onto the baking stone or transfer the loaves to parchment paper dusted with cornmeal and then transfer the parchment paper (with the loaves) onto the preheated baking stone.

Quickly add several ice cubes to the iron skillet to create steam.  Be careful not to burn yourself.

Bake the loaves for 25 to 30 minutes.  They should be golden brown and sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.

batards using poolish baguette dough

 

Alas, this is all that is left of the pear tree.  The tree service finally took down the rest of it along with some other trees in my yard.   

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Although the tree is gone, the stump makes a great prop for a photo, and I have a bunch of firewood to enjoy in my fireplace. 

Batards and the Pear Tree

 

The Cherry tree is on it’s own now, but it will have the sunlight it needs and the strength to carry on.  Just like me…

 

Happy Baking!

Cathy

Chewy Sourdough Blueberry Granola Bars with Dates & Almonds

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I’ve had granola bars on my mind for a long time. So when I learned the challenge of the month for the Sourdough Surprises Baking Group was Sourdough Granola Bars, I was delighted to finally get the chance to make some.

Chewy Sourdough Blueberry & Date Granola Bars

 

I had never made granola bars before, much less ones made with sourdough so I wasn’t exactly sure how to go about it.  I referred to the references for the sourdough version on the Sourdough Surprises Monthly Inspiration Pinterest board, but I also found a number of helpful recipes for the non-sourdough version. I’ve included links to the recipes that were the most helpful in my quest.

If I had known how easy it was to make these bars, I would have made them hundreds of times already.  There are endless possibilities for the types of fruits and nuts you can include. My problem was deciding which combination I wanted to try first. I ended up using a little bit of this and a little bit of that from what I had on hand to come up with my own yummy bars.

Chewy Sourdough Blueberry & Date Granola Bars

I had just picked up some fresh blueberries from one of my favorite farmer’s markets so they became the star of these bars along with the sourdough.

I dried the blueberries in the oven which was a fun project except I got distracted and almost burnt them. Fortunately for me, I caught them before they were burnt and crispy instead of chewy.

I also added some dates and almonds and a mashed ripe banana. I used less sweetener in these bars because I thought the dates and banana would provide enough sweetener (along with the honey).

Some recipes also include brown sugar, but I omitted it. Feel free to add additional sweetener if you prefer, but my taste tester and I didn’t think these bars needed any additional sweetness.

 

Chewy Sourdough Blueberry Granola Bars with Almond & Dates

Adapted & inspired by these delicious-looking recipes

Also inspired by these 23 delicious granola bar recipes

Yield: About 21 bars, depending on how you cut them

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (discarded) sourdough starter
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 ripe banana, mashed
  • 2 cups spelt flakes (or rolled oats)
  • 1 cup oat flour (or grind rolled oats in the food processor)
  • 1 cup raw, sliced almonds
  • 1/2 cup pepitas
  • 1 cup blueberries, dried *
  • 1/2 cup dried dates
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt

* You can buy dried blueberries or dry them yourself in the oven at 325 degrees F.   Just be sure not to burn them.

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Line a 9 x 13 baking pan with parchment paper, extending it up the sides. Spray the parchment paper and any exposed pan sides with cooking spray. Set aside.
  3. Stir together all the dry ingredients, including the fruit and nuts.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the vanilla, sourdough starter, and honey.
  5. Mash the banana and add to the wet mixture.
  6. Toss the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients until the mixture is thoroughly combined. 
  7. Spread the thick batter out evenly in the prepared pan and pat it down gently.
  8. Bake the bars for 25 to 30 minutes, until they are light golden brown around the edges.
  9. Cool in pan on a wire rack for about ½ hour before cutting into bars or squares.
  10. Wrap bars individually to store; or place in a single layer on a plate, and cover with plastic; or store in layers with parchment in between. In humid weather, it's best to store bars in the refrigerator. They also freeze well.

 

Chewy Sourdough Blueberry & Date Granola Bars

 

I love to hike so these bars will make a tasty companion along the way.  They don’t weigh very much which is very useful for a snack to take along on a journey.

Happy Baking!

Cathy

 



 
 
 

Sourdough Polenta Bread {BBBs}

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I grew up eating grits and cornbread, but I haven’t had much exposure to polenta. 

So when Elizabeth of blog from OUR kitchen chose Polenta Bread as the bread of the month for the Bread Baking Babes (BBBs), I set out to learn more about polenta and what differentiates it from grits and cornmeal. 

Sourdough Polenta Bread

I ran across an interesting article and discussion about Polenta versus Grits here.

Some folks contend that grits (the Southern version) are made from white corn, and polenta (the Italian version) is made from yellow corn. 

Others, such as Glen Roberts of Anson Mills, say the type of corn is what makes the distinction – i.e. grits are made from dent corn and polenta is made from flint cornDan Barber substantiates this claim further in his book, The Third Plate, when he talks about tasting the best polenta he had in his life. It was made from New England Eight Row Flint.

The third explanation is that it’s the grind of the corn that makes the difference.  One commenter, whose family ran a mill for a long time, put it this way,One pass of the millstone = Grits; Two passes of the millstone = Corn Meal; Three passes of the millstone =Polenta (Corn Flour).”  There you go. Take your pick. 

As for me, I used coarsely ground cornmeal and cooked it with hot water to make the polenta. When I tasted it, I was smitten. I forgot all about the confusion with the grinds and colors and types of corn. The cooked polenta tasted really good, even without salt.

Sourdough Polenta Bread ready to eat

 

I made my Polenta Bread with sourdough. Some of the other Babes scoffed at using sourdough so Elizabeth provided an alternative. If you prefer to use dried yeast instead of a sourdough starter, please refer to the instructions in Elizabeth’s post.

I also used a slightly different method for the bulk ferment and final proof because I still had stitches in my finger from my surgery, but don’t worry, I used a food-grade glove to protect my finger and the dough.

 

Sourdough Polenta Bread

inspiration: Della Fattoria's Polenta Bread from Artisan Baking Across America: the Breads, the Bakers, the Best Recipes by Maggie Glezer

The evening before (1st day):

Starter

  • 60g (60ml) water at 95F
  • 20 g (4 tsp.) (active) fed sourdough starter
  • 100g (2/3 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour

The morning of (2nd day):

Polenta

  • 35g (3 Tbsp.) cornmeal, coarsely ground
  • 175g (175 ml) cold water

The morning of (2nd day):

Dough

  • 390g (390 ml) water at 80F
  • 535g (3.85 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour or a mixture of all-purpose and bread flour *
  • 60g (0.5 cups) whole wheat flour
  • 5g (1.5 tsp.) ground flax seed meal
  • all of the starter
  • 18g (1 Tbsp. + 0.75 tsp.) salt
  • all of the cooled polenta
  • cornmeal, for garnish and sprinkling

* I used all-purpose flour to make this bread. It worked pretty well, but the dough will be stronger if you use a mixture of all-purpose and bread flour as suggested in the original recipe. Or, you can add some vital wheat gluten to the all-purpose flour to give it more structure. 

Starter: The evening of the day before you plan to bake the bread, add 20g of starter to a small bowl.  Pour in the water and add the flour.  Using a wooden spoon, Danish dough whisk or your hands, mix until you have a smooth lump of dough. This will only take a few minutes.

polenta-bread3-3

 

Polenta: In the morning of the day you are baking the bread, pour cold water into a small pot on the stove at medium high heat. Add the polenta and using a wooden spoon, cook, stirring constantly until the mixture is thick - about 5 minutes. Remove it from the pot to a plate or shallow container and put it into the fridge to cool.

polenta-bread3-2

 

Mixing the dough: In a large mixing bowl, add the starter (which should have doubled and be quite bubbly).

Using a wooden spoon or Danish dough whisk, stir in the flours, ground flaxseed and salt. Elizabeth said it might be pretty sloppy.  Mine was gloppy.

Kneading: Lay the cooled polenta on top of the dough. Plunge in with your hands to turn and fold the dough in the bowl, kneading until it's smooth (5 to 10 minutes).

polenta-bread3-4

The dough was really wet so I did the fold-and-turn method in the bowl.  I couldn’t really knead it. The dough stayed pretty wet so I covered it with a towel and let it bulk ferment (in the bowl) at room temperature for a couple of hours.

I did the fold and turn method after about 15 minutes and then every 30 minutes for the first hour and a half.  The dough got stronger but it was still pretty gloppy.

Shaping: When you are ready to shape the bread, turn it out onto a lightly floured board and divide it into 2 pieces. Trying not to disturb the bubbles too much, shape into two rounds. Liberally spray the tops of the shaped loaves with water. Cover them with cornmeal. (Glezer suggests rolling the sprayed shaped loaves in the cornmeal placed on a plate.) Put each loaves seam-side up in a brotform, tightly woven basket or colander. Cover each one with a mixing bowl and allow them to rise on the counter (or in the oven with only the light turned on) until almost double.

I shaped the dough into rounds and placed them into lined proofing baskets dusted with corn flour.  Then I put them in the refrigerator to retard overnight.

Sourdough Polenta Bread proofing in banneton

 

The next (3rd) day:

You can bake this bread on a baking stone, in a Dutch oven or cloche or even in a loaf pan.

Preheat: If you are using a baking stone, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. If you are using a Dutch oven or bread cloche, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.  You can preheat the Dutch oven or cloche when you preheat the oven but I opted to use a room temperature cloche because I was pretty much doing things one handed, and I didn’t want to burn myself.

While the oven was preheating, I took one of the baskets out of the refrigerator.  

I dusted the bottom of the cloche liberally with corn meal and gently flipped the loaf seam side up onto the bottom of the cloche.

 

Slashing:  Using a lame or very sharp knife, starting at the center of the loaf and holding the blade almost horizontally, carve a spiral into each loaf.  I used a straight lame for this and it worked really well. I think a sharp knife would also work. It also helped to work with cold dough.

Sourdough Polenta Bread Scored

 

Baking: Carefully place the bottom of the cloche in the preheated oven and cover it with the domed lid. Bake for about 25 minutes, then remove the lid and continue baking until the crust is dark and the internal temperature is somewhere between 200F and 210F.

Allow the baked bread to cool completely before cutting into it. It's still baking inside!

Sourdough Polenta Bread ready to eat

 

I really enjoyed this loaf.  It’s definitely not cornbread.  It’s a tasty, full-bodied artisan loaf with a rustic and chewy texture.

Because I retarded the dough in the refrigerator overnight, I didn’t get a huge rise in the oven.  However, I got pretty rings by scoring the cold dough and great flavor from the overnight fermentation. 

I had a friend over for dinner and he took a bite and said, “oh, I like bread like this!”  He’s a sourdough lover and he likes breads made with different types of grains.  Bingo!

 

Check out how the other creative Babes handled this bread:

The Bread Baking Babes (current dozen) are:

 

Would you like to be a Bread Baking Buddy? Here’s how:

Just make the Polenta Bread, then email your link to Elizabeth, the kitchen of the month (or email your photo and a bit about your experience if you don't have a blog).  Refer to Elizabeth’s post for the details. Submissions are due by August 29th.  Once you've posted, you'll receive a Buddy badge for baking along, then watch for a roundup of all of the BBBuddies posts a few days after the close of submissions.

I hope you'll join us this month!

 

Happy Baking!

Cathy

Panmarino -- Bread Baking Babes & Buddies Roundup

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I was delighted to be the host kitchen for the Bread Baking Babes and Buddies in July.  It’s always a pleasure to bake with the BBBs.

I chose Panmarino Italian Rosemary Bread because I had recently returned from Tuscany and was still in a Tuscan state-of-mind.  The bread turned out to be a big hit. Any bread with rosemary is a good one in my book so I’m glad the Bread Baking Babes enjoyed it as well.

 

Here are the breads the Babe’s baked:

Ilva-panmarino Elizabeth-panmarino
Cathy-panmarino Tanna-panmarino
Elle-panmarino Karen-panmarino
Jamie-panmarino Panmarino - Heather
Lien-panmarino Panmarino -Aparna

 

The smell of rosemary appealed to the Bread Baking Buddies as well.

Please take a look at their creations.  You won’t be disappointed.

BBBuddy badge July 14

It’s always interesting to see the different variations on a theme you get when several bakers bake the same bread.  Each person brings his/her own uniqueness to the experience. Some bakers like to substitute ingredients while others prefer to utilize a different shaping or scoring technique.  Still other bakers are creative in the way they style their breads in photos.  This month, we get to enjoy creativity on all fronts.

 

Here are the breads the Buddies baked:

Louise baked along with us this month and said the bread was a real winner in her house.  Her only regret was that she only made two loaves. I know what she means. I shared the same regret.  I love this photo.  It looks like a star in the sky.

louise-panmarino

 

When Sunita of MyFoodLab learned what the bread of the month was, she said, “Count me in”. It was the rosemary that caught her attention.  I agree.  It had me at hello as well.

panmarino-myfoodlab

 

Swathi of Zesty South Indian Kitchen used whole wheat flour and gave her loaves  a lengthy first rise. What a beautiful presentation!

Italian rosemary bread 5

 

Sandie of Crumbs of Love baked these loaves without a baking stone, couche, or lame. If she can do it and still get beautiful results like this, so can you.

Sandie-panmarino

 

Judy of Judy’s Gross Eats must really like rosemary because she baked the Panmarino rosemary bread and a sourdough rosemary and raisin loaf.  She said, “all in all, it was a successful baking month.” Glad to hear it.

Judy-panmarino

 

Gary decided to play with us this month and I’m so glad he did.  He made the full recipe and split it between a large loaf and a batch of rolls. He said they have great flavor and he loved the texture and chew of the rolls.  He was so inspired that he also made a sourdough version of this bread.  Great idea!

Gary-panmarino-rolls-crumb

 

When Karen of Karen’s Kitchen Stories was making this bread, she said her dough seemed to be sloshing around in a pool of oil in the mixing bowl so she resorted to a method she learned when making a brioche to incorporate butter.  The method must’ve worked pretty well because just look at these gorgeous loaves!

karen-panmarino-loaves

 

Carola of Sweet and That’s It stayed up late to make these loaves. She used about 2/3 bread flour and 1/3 6-grain wholemeal flour, ground flaxseeds and fleur de sel on top!  What a great combination of ingredients. Healthy and delicious!  Not to mention some beautiful loaves.

Carola-panmarino

 

Soepkipje also joined us this month. She made her version with whole wheat.  Look at those lovely stars. Perfect scoring and a fabulous photo collage.

soepkipje-panmarino

 

A big thank you to the Babes and Buddies for baking the Panmarino  Italian Rosemary Bread.  I’m so glad you enjoyed it.  Now I want to make this bread all over again.

Until next time…

Happy Baking!

Cathy

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