“LET’S MAKE VEDBREAD!” I told my 13-year-old with great enthusiasm. I got a blank look back.
“Vedbread! Popularized in Khorvaire’s frigid northeastern nation of Karrnath!”
The confusion cleared as he saw me paging through “Heroes’ Feast: The Official D&D Cookbook” (Ten Speed Press, $35).
“Hardbuckler stew, from a town near Baldur’s Gate? No; totally not vegetarian. Maybe Dortberry pie?”
He tried to explain once more: “That’s not the Dungeons & Dragons that I play.”
You wouldn’t think it would be hard for me to figure out a cooking and bonding D&D project with my pandemic-isolated middle child. I worked at a comic book store all through high school, and many of our regulars played role-playing games.
Thanks to the Marvel movies juggernaut (juggernaut in the conventional sense, not the Juggernaut villain introduced in 1965 in the original X-Men), I’m aware that comics considered nerdy in my childhood now possess an astounding level of mainstream popularity. Thanks to the 13-year-old, I learned D&D had acquired the same.
He first learned to play from neighbors but got into it seriously through school. Before March 2020, his lively social life came via middle school: a blur of band practice, Kendama Club, winter ski bus, Ultimate Frisbee, after-school D&D and some fun new activity constantly added to the mix.
Of all the activities he’d loved, D&D survived the pandemic most unscathed. A “virtual tabletop” website, Roll20.net, allowed friends to play efficiently online. Before we knew it, he’d gone beyond the school club into three weekly D&D games: one where he was teaching a friend from ski club the ropes, one derived from the original club and one where he took over as the Dungeon Master leading the group.
Game time was the happiest I saw him all week. When the cookbook was released, I was delighted, too: Tie-in cookbooks are often junk, but this one had rich, gorgeous photos, a sense of (imaginary) place and fun recipes that looked like some real effort had gone into making them work for home cooks.
Eventually, I was able to comprehend that the cookbook referenced many prewritten adventures in the D&D world, while he prefers to invent his own campaigns. He didn’t feel like cooking even generic Elven cuisine or Dwarven treats with me.
But there was something he did want.
When his birthday approached and we asked how he wanted to celebrate, he said, “Could the whole family play D&D?”
We five gathered a few nights just to create characters, with the teen Dungeon Master walking us through every step. I had to keep asking, “What are my choices here? What do I do now?” (My character is a Druid Sage, if that means anything to you. I’m still a little shaky on details, but I know I can breathe golden fire.)
When we started the official game, our characters met in a tavern. By the time birthday cake was served in real life, we barely had proceeded beyond breakfast.
As we’ve continued our sessions, the teen’s been a little nonplussed to see how family members interact in the game. (Surprisingly bloodthirsty, he says. “You do realize aggression is not always the answer?”) As we look to him for leadership, I’ve been a little uncomfortable to realize what a rare feeling that is.
I like paging through the cookbook for ideas, especially looking at the photos, with their glowing hearth fires, steaming tureens and fierce weapons. And at some point, I realized many of the recipes really could apply to our adventures. We had plenty of feasting and companionship situations where the foods would be relevant even in different scenarios.
With that in mind, I did bake a batch of Vedbread: biscuity, cheesy pinwheels of dough with a shallot-mushroom filling. I baked alone, but it still felt special to dish it up to the group for our journey. The teen thanked me.
Along with inquiring when to roll the 20-sided die and whether I can cast a healing spell, I’ve been asking the Dungeon Master questions more about what he gets out of D&D than what we should bake.
With COVID, he answered, it can be nice to have a place to go, even in our imaginations, where anything is possible.
Makes about 14 buns
12 ounces cremini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
2¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
6 ounces Gruyere cheese, coarsely grated
¾ cup buttermilk, cold (note: I needed a good splash more to make the dough come together)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Truffle oil for brushing (optional)
1. Make the filling: In a food processor, pulse the mushrooms to finely chop, using about eight 1-second pulses.
2. In a skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, until they begin to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and ¼ teaspoon salt; adjust the heat to medium-high; and cook, stirring, until the mushrooms release their liquid and it evaporates fully, 9 to 12 minutes. Add the thyme and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat, add the Parmesan and stir to mix. Taste and adjust the seasoning with additional salt and pepper if necessary. Spread the mixture on a plate, and cool to room temperature.
3. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F with a rack in the middle of the oven. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick (silicone) liner.
4. Make the dough: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Add the grated Gruyere, and whisk to combine.
5. In a small bowl, whisk the buttermilk and melted butter to combine (the butter will clump, which is fine). Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture. With a sturdy spoon, stir to form a sticky, chunky dough. Turn the dough onto a floured work surface, and knead until it holds together and is mostly smooth; do not overknead. Lift the dough, and sprinkle more flour underneath it, if necessary, as well as over the surface. Roll or pat the dough into a roughly 12-by-18-inch rectangle; brush any excess flour off the surface.
6. Spread the cooled mushroom filling evenly over the entire surface of the dough; it will be a very thin, patchy layer. With the long side facing you, roll the dough into a very tight, even, compact cylinder. Pinch the seam along the entire length of the cylinder to fasten. Using a serrated knife in a sawing motion, trim off the very ends of the cylinder, and discard. Cut the cylinder into 1½-inch pieces (you should have about 14), and arrange them cut-side-up on the baking sheet, about 2 inches apart.
7. In a small bowl, beat the egg with 1 tablespoon water, and brush the top and sides of each bun with the mixture. Bake until the buns are golden brown, about 18 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through.
8. Cool the buns on the pan for about 5 minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to cool. Brush with a light coating of truffle oil, if using. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Note: Store leftover buns in an airtight container at room temperature, and reheat them in a preheated 300-degree oven for about 8 minutes before serving.
— Reprinted from “Heroes’ Feast: The Official D&D Cookbook.” Copyright ©2020 by Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson and Michael Witwer. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Link to purchase: penguinrandomhouse.com/books/645417/heroes-feast-by-kyle-newman-jon-peterson-and-michael-witwer/.