Last year, on March 12th, I received a call from my husband: I was told that everyone would be sent home from their place of residence to work indefinitely. At that point I knew things were bad – and they were going to get worse. Over the weekend, New Yorkers began to hoard bare minimums and to engage in the brutally competitive art of panic buying in a city full of fear-ridden Type A super mothers. Lockdown and stay-at-home orders were imminent.
And while everyone was dealing with toilet paper, Lysol spray, Clorox wipes, and masks, I was good on all of these fronts. (I’m Asian through and through, so I buy in bulk.)
But we didn’t have the kind of little joys that gave me joy. Things that are mostly epicurean in nature. So I focused on getting the groceries I knew I was going to miss and drove straight to Mah-Ze-Dahr (my beloved local bakery) to stock up on baked goods to freeze before the store opened 18. Has been temporarily closed.
Let me tell you, it was the best pandemic decision I have ever made. You see i don’t bake. And yes, I know it’s a small mistake – but there wasn’t really anything I could do about it back then. We had much bigger problems to deal with.
But now that it’s been more than a year, I swore to myself this would never happen again: it was time to learn how to make my favorite Mah-Ze-Dahr goodies. And Umber Ahmad, the founder of the bakery, was generous enough to spoil me. Here she shared three super easy recipes that are almost impossible to go wrong with. Plus, for those who haven’t heard from her, she was an investment banker with a degree in genetics from MIT, an MA in public health from the University of Michigan, and an MBA from Wharton. How can you not trust the fate of your Snickerdoodles when guided by such a brain?
3 easy baking projects for beginners
“Snickerdoodles are the unsung heroes of the biscuit family. Easy to make, chewy to bite, they’re the perfect addition to an afternoon coffee – the best ice cream sandwich biscuit and just what you want after a day at school. The dough balls are made with simple kitchen staples and can be stored in the freezer so you can bake them whenever the mood hits. “Umber Ahmad, Founder at Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery (New York City)
ingredients (Makes 24 cookies):
1 ½ cups of flour
1 teaspoon. Cream of tartar
½ tsp. Baking soda
⅛ teaspoon of kosher salt
¾ + ⅛ cups of sugar
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature 2 ½ tsp. cinnamon
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, tartar, baking powder, and salt; put aside. Using a hand mixer on medium speed, beat 3/4 cup sugar and butter in a medium bowl for 2 minutes until pale and fluffy. Add 1 tsp. Cinnamon and vanilla; Beat 1 minute more. Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition. Add reserved dry ingredients; mix on low speed until just combined. Chill the dough for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 375 °. Mix the remaining sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Take the batter out of the refrigerator and use 1 tbsp. Measure, spoon out 48 portions, rolling each portion into a 1 “ball. Roll each ball in a cinnamon-sugar mixture to coat. Arrange the dough balls 5” apart on 2 parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a rack and allow to cool.
“I love Bircher muesli for many reasons. Aside from how ridiculously nutritious and delicious breakfast it is, this is an incredibly versatile and easy-to-make recipe. You can adapt it to whatever ingredients you have in your pantry. It also stays in the fridge for days, goes well to school and work in the mason jar and can even be enjoyed drizzled with some warm cream, yogurt, coconut chips and brown sugar. Whatever your heart desires and your kitchen has! “-Umber Ahmad, Founder at Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery (New York City)
4 cups of whole milk
2 cups half and half
12 ounces instant Quaker oats
4 ounces of yogurt (plain, vanilla, honey), regular or Greek
½ cup of honey
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
½ cup of walnuts, pecans, almonds, or other nuts
4 ounces raisins, sultanas, dried cherries, chopped dates other dried fruits of your choice
1 cup chopped apple pieces
- In a large bowl, mix half and half milk, oats, yogurt, honey and cinnamon together. Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning, add nuts, dried fruits and apple pieces. Mix well and serve sprinkled with other fruits as desired.
FOCACCIA WITH SEASONAL VEGETABLES
“I love focaccia. It is the ideal ship for the whole season. This perfectly tasty dough can be refined with any number of vegetables, cheeses and spices to make a simple and hearty meal. Unadorned it is a great sandwich bread, as a side dish to a soup or (my personal favorite) dipped in a little olive oil and sprinkled with coarse salt. “-Umber Ahmad, Founder at Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery (New York City)
ingredients (Make one 9 “x12” baking pan):
1 envelope of active dry yeast
2 tablespoons of sugar
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon of kosher salt
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 tbsp unsalted butter, soft,
1 cup of mozzarella, fontina or Gruyère cheese
2 cups of grape tomatoes, chopped kale, asparagus spears, or other vegetables
- In a large bowl, mix the yeast, sugar and 2 ½ cups of warm water (warm bath water temperature) together. Let the mixture sit for about 4-6 minutes until it foams.
- Add the flour and kosher salt to the bowl. Mix until all of the flour is mixed in. Drizzle the olive oil around the inside of the bowl. Turn the dough over to coat it with olive oil. Cover the bowl with cling film and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until it has doubled. This usually takes 3 to 4 hours.
- Generously brush the inside of the pan you are using with the soft butter. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan. Fold the dough over itself a few times. Pour the remaining oil from the bowl onto the batter, adding a little more if needed. Turn the dough to cover the whole with the oil. At this stage, don’t stretch it to fit the pan. Put the pan back in a warm, draft-free place to rise again, this time between 2 and 4 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Using your fingers, gently stretch the batter with a little olive oil so that it fits into the pan, if necessary. Then, using a gentle up and down motion, create dimples with your fingers, making sure to press all the way down.
- Drizzle more olive oil on the dough and sprinkle evenly with cheese of your choice. Scatter some sea salt and broken black pepper over the top if you like. At this point, layer up your veggies and add olives, chopped garlic, sesame seeds, and anything else you’d like. Lightly press the toppings into the cheese so they stick.
- Bake the focaccia for 20-30 minutes, until the focaccia is puffed and lightly golden brown.