Rosemary and Almond Sourdough Gems

I was eager to use my sourdough starter and too impatient to make a traditional loaf, so I made Rosemary and Almond Sourdough Gems. They are based on the Sourdough Gem recipe from Lon Walters’ The Old West Baking Book.

I gleefully noticed this book in a lodge gift shop this summer while on a hiking trip in Glacier National Park with my family. This well researched collection of authentic old west pioneer recipes is also dabbled with trivia and stories. As a baker and a lover of baked things, it is fascinating to learn bits about the American baking tradition and how things have changed.

As small packages of conveniently dried yeast did not yet exist, the sourdough starter was a prized possession and a popular leavening agent. This book has many unique recipes which call for sourdough starter.

Gems were popular in this country long before the muffin and are now rarely heard of. These were heavier and denser than the typical muffin, baked at a higher temperature, and used unique baking pans to create a larger and squater product.

The original recipe writer included the note, “To a natural, healthy appetite no item of the gourmand’s feast can be more tempting nor eaten with keener rellish.”

I would agree, here is the the recipe with my modifications:

Rosemary and Almond Sourdough Gems

1 C sourdough starter
3/4 C buttermilk
2 C whole wheat flour
1 C all-purpose unbleached flour
1 tsp fine sea salt
1 tbl sugar
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp fresh rosemary
2 tbl slivered almonds

Combine wet ingredients
Combine dry ingredients (everything else) in a separate bowl.
Add dry mixture one cup at a time to the wet ingredients until combined.
Knead briefly to form a nice dough.
Fill greased muffin cups nearly to the top with dough.
Leave to rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
Bake in a preheated 400F oven for 15 to 20 min.
While cooling on a wire rack, brush tops with melted butter.

Serve warm with butter, mustard, or honey.

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Sourdough Starter

My sourdough starter: Freshly fed and happily active.

This is a natural starter. I mixed 1 part unbleached bread flour to 1 part warm water and left it in a warm spot for about a week (after the first 2 days I covered it with clear film). Wild yeasts from the air will start to activate the dough over time. This can take anywhere from 1 to 10 days. Every 12 hours the starter should be ‘fed.’ Remove one cup of starter from the bowl to throw away (while doing this, skim any gunk from the top as well). Then add 1/2 a cup of flour and 1/2 a cup of warm water and mix. By feeding the starter two things are accomplished. First, it keeps the starter active because the yeast has something to eat. Secondly, feeding the starter encourages the yeast to be active and discourages bad bacterias from taking over and eating the yeast. (More scientific accounts can be found if you google sourdough). Once the starter looks healthy (doesn’t smell off, is a good creamy color) and active transfer to a jar and store in the refridgerator. Feed at least every two days in the same manner.

I will be making sourdough bread soon, check back.

A fantastic resource for learning how to make your own sourdough starter and bread can be found here on the eGullet forums. (You can also order starter here if you are not prepared to make your own.)

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Melissa - Yes, looks good…and very happy too. Nothing compares to a happy sourdough starter :) Love it!

gemma - Thanks Melissa. It is a pleasure to have a happy starter. All cooking is a creative process, but watching something actually grow is amazing and quite rewarding.
You have have very neat site, I like it!

Vito - Well?
How did it work. I’m trying to find somone that has the different stages of starter online.
So far I am winging it .. I just need someone that can confirm what my starter should look like… ;)

gemma - Vito, if you follow the link in my post to the eGullet forums you will find the closest thing to a step-by-step guide to sourdough as I have found. Good luck! If it smells off or it becomes discolored (orange-ish, usually), try to spoon off and discard the bad stuff and refresh the starter. Hopefully the good bacterias will take over again. If this doesn’t work after the first try, it is generally best to throw out the starter and begin again.


I bought this champagne citrus vinegar thursday on my lunch break from work. Upon arrival home, I opened it up and it smells wonderful. I look forward to using it in salad dressings and mustards. Other ideas would be appreciated if something comes to mind. Some sort of marinade perhaps. . .

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gemma - I added a few splashes of this vinegar to water and steamed asparagus last night. Typically, I add lemon to the water, this was a nice subtle change.

Pizza (dough)

Wednesday John invited his former high school history teacher over for dinner with some of his other high school friends. John, James, and I made dinner. I was put in charge of pizza dough and James was put in charge of sauce and toppings.

I made my dough using the following recipe. It creates two very thin (10-14 in.) pizza crusts.

Pizza Dough

Mix one packet of dry yeast with 3/4 C warm water and allow to sit in a warm place until active (frothy).

In a large bowl combine 1 tsp. fine sea salt and 2 C all-purpose unbleached flour.

Make a well in the center and add 1 1/2 to 2 Tbl. olive oil to it. (I used olive oil that John had infused with garlic).

Add the yeast/water mixture to the well. Stir to combine beginning at the edges of the well and slowly bring in more of the flour/salt mixture.

If it becomes too stiff to stir, use your lightly floured hands to combine.

Knead 5 min. until smooth and glossy. It should be fairly stiff. (If it is too wet, add more flour.)

Place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and turn the dough to coat in the oil. Cover with clear film and leave to rise in a warm place for 60 min and doubled.

Roll out on a lightly floured surface and place on baking sheets dusted with cornmeal. Brush the top of the rolled out dough with olive oil.

Prepare with sauce, toppings, and cheese and bake in a preheated oven at 500F for about 8 min.

James will be sharing his expertise on the rest of our pizza preparation soon.


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Contest! -apricot sheets

These Cortas Kamar-Deen Apricot Sheets (1 lb 2 oz. Apricots, glucose, sugar, olive oil.) were part of our Devon loot. 

I have been debating what to do with them for a bit now and I thought I would open up the issue for suggestions.  Please email your suggestions to me at and the winner will get to see their suggestion put into action on the this site and I will send you some small, inexpensive, and hopefully unique culinary good from Chicago.

All submissions should be in by March 10th. Two weeks from today.

Thanks for the advice!

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gemma - Alright, so no one submitted anything except for my friend Mindy (I greatly appreciate her participation). We plan to make both of our ideas this week and see if they work. They will be a secret until then.
Feel free to submit something up until we post our results. It will be more fun that way.
If no one submits, it looks like Mindy is the dead-ringer for the winning spot and THE PRIZE (which has yet to be chosen).

gemma - Some unfortunate news. I was all set to unveil my apricot sheet creation a few nights ago and when I opened the package I quickly saw that by ‘sheets’ they meant ‘sheet’–singular. So it’s just one big piece of dried apricot. I was highly disappointed.
The new plan is to use it in some sort of roll cookie, unless you folks can think of something better.
If you are curious, these were the two main ideas:
Me: make the custard for a creme brulee and use a thin sheet of apricot in place of the sugar to carmelize.
Mindy: fruit and cream cheese/mascarpone inside fried apricot wontons.
Oh well. . .

Sonja - You could use the apricot fruit leather in the following ways:
Chop in a food processor and use the chips atop cereal, ice cream, pudding and yogurt.
Roll in a cone shape and top with ice cream.
Spread with sweetened, flavored cream cheese and nuts. Roll and cut into slices.
Dissolve a portion in a cup of boiling water for a fruit tea. Essentially reconstituted apricot juice served warm or cold over ice.
Use as a craft material for all the fun food kid’s projects you can dream up for Halloween and Thanksgiving. Turkey feathers, cut into fringe, mosaics of multi-colored fruit leathers, gingerbread house decorations, etc.
Last, and best: Apricot Ravioli