Happy hump day! And welcome to the Virtual Pumpkin Party of your dreamiest dreams.
The lovely and talented Sara has assembled a mass of bloggers who are celebrating the best of what this season has to offer: And that is pumpkin. PUMPKIN EVERYTHING. We are bringing a virtual pumpkinpalooza to you, so you best get your carb-loving face ready because my contribution is this carbo-loaded pumpkin wonder known as pumpkin challah. #YAS.
One of my earliest loves on this here blog was challah. I’d never made it before a few years ago, and truth be told, I’m not sure I’d ever eaten it before then, either. But there I was, me and my first-ever homemade challah (please ignore the horrendous photos and the fact that I baked them on WAX PAPER… ah, adventures), and it was love at first sight. And bite.
Fast-forward to today and not much has changed except that whenever I decide to bake challah, I know I’m in for something yummy.
Challah is one of my favorite breads to bake because not only is it delicious, it’s simple and fuss-free to make (which we all know by now is how I like to roll). It’s also fairly forgiving in that if the dough doesn’t rise quite well enough or if it doesn’t look all that pretty going into the oven, the end result is almost always something beautiful. Of course, none of that really matters anyway when all you can think about is eating it, to which I can attest firsthand.
Let’s make some lists. I love lists. You probably do, too. So let’s list it up.
Things I’m good at doing:
1. Making brownies while watching “Mad Men” and not missing a minute of it.
2. Eating said brownies while making dreamy-eyed faces at Mr. Draper.
3. Feeding my cat.
4. Sleeping through train horns and thunderstorms.
6. Twitter-ing when I should be doing anything else.
8. Drawing bubble letters.
9. Wearing sweatpants.
I’m looking at a palm tree outside the window right now. Palm tree in Illinois, you ask? No, no. I am in Florida visiting my in-laws with Elliott, basking in the Southern sun (perhaps a little too much — my face is rather lobster-ish in color) and taking a respite from the hustle and bustle of regular life.
And what a week of hustle and bustle it was. Working, packing for vacation and spending 48 hours in the role of “bridesmaid” for my dear friend Kathy’s wedding left me with little time to write about, let alone bake, any bread in the past eleven days. But somehow I managed to squeeze in some one-on-one time with a recipe so delicious, it’ll leave you with sweet-smelling memories that will tantalize your nostrils for hours even after you’ve devoured the bread.
This time, I crossed over the threshold of egg breads and plunged into the depths of a challah crowns recipe reminiscent of the Jewish tradition generally reserved for high holidays, including Rosh Hashana. Though I am no Jew, there was something sacred about the wafted smell of the loaf as it baked in the oven, somewhat similar to incense or the sweet smoke diffused by a censer at a Catholic mass (ironic comparison, I know).
The loaves (this recipe makes two crowns) were fairly simple to assemble, though it can get a little confusing when encountering the constant additions of multiple ingredients (i.e., add a whole egg… add two egg yolks… a dash of sugar here, a pinch of salt there, etc. etc.). All seemed to go according to plan until the dough refused to double in size. Though it rose a little bit each time, overall the dough never grew past half of its original bulk, thus leaving the final product perhaps a tad smaller than intended.
The taste of this bread was so delectable, it was almost dessert-like. Fluffy but dense, sweet and yet slightly comparable to potato bread, these crowning achievements brought me to another world where I half-expected my father to return from the fields after a hard day’s work and plop down into a seat at the head of the table, ready to give a prayer into the swirls of Challah-sweetened air before the commencement of the family’s Sabbath meal.
Though I don’t celebrate the Sabbath, this past week was filled with enough celebration to give me the excuse to bake the sacred bread. My husband and I were blessed with the chance to take a vacation from life’s usual hecticness, and one of my best friends whom I’ve known for 17 years just got married to a wonderful person. A high holiday, indeed.
Debrief: Next time I bake these crowns, I will steer clear of the wax paper I used in place of parchment paper. There is a difference. I know, because when using wax paper the kitchen became so smoky that we had to open all the windows and doors to avoid setting off the smoke alarm. Also, though the crowns themselves baked perfectly, the bottoms were completely black and I had to shave off the inedible bases.
4 cups all-purpose flour (1 pound, 1 3/8 ounces), plus up to 3/4 cup (3 1/2 ounces) more for kneading
2 tablespoons sugar (7/8 ounce)
2 1/4 teaspoons rapid rise yeast (1/4 ounce package) (I used active dry yeast; could have been why my dough didn’t rise so well?)
1 cup warm water, about 110 degrees F
1/3 cup honey
2 whole large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon poppy seeds (optional) (I didn’t use these due to personal preference)
Whisk the flour, sugar, and yeast together in a large bowl and make a well in the center.
Whisk the water and honey with 1 whole egg, all the yolks, olive oil, and salt in a small bowl and pour into the well. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon to make a soft, shaggy, moist dough. Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface and knead by hand, adding up to 3/4 cup more flour as needed, until the dough is soft and supple, about 8 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball.
Brush a large bowl with oil and turn dough around in bowl to coat lightly. Cover bowl with a clean kitchen towel and set aside until dough doubles in size, about 1 hour. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface; knead briefly to release excess air, re-shape into a ball and return to the bowl. Cover and set aside until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
Line 2 baking sheet pans with parchment paper (parchment! PARCHMENT!). Divide the dough in half. Lightly dust hands with flour and roll each portion of dough into a 30-inch-long log. (If dough resists, then cover and let rest for 5 or 10 minutes before shaping). Spiral each length of dough around itself to form a coiled round loaf on the prepared pans. Lightly stretch the end of the coil and moisten it with water; gently press the end into the side of the round to seal the coil into a loaf. Press down on the loaves gently, cover with a kitchen towel and set aside until doubled, about 1 hour.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees F. Beat the remaining egg with a tablespoon of water and brush loaves evenly with it; sprinkle with poppy seeds if desired. Put the loaves in the oven and immediately turn the oven down to 400 degrees, and bake until golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the crown registers 190 degrees F, about 30 to 35 minutes.
I really like the term “baker’s dozen” when it comes before words like “bagels,” or “doughnuts,” or “slices of cake.” But it’s also pretty nifty when it refers to 13 baking tips and tricks that come in handy for, well, baking. In case that wasn’t obvious.
Having a list of baking tips and tricks isn’t something I conjured up overnight. You can refer to the times I’ve baked molten lava loaves or challah crowns on wax paper (!) as proof (side note: shield your eyes from the horrid photography) that this journey of learning the baking knowledge has been years in the making. And I still have much to learn. Still, what good is all this knowledge I have thus far acquired if I can’t share it with you? Mostly because I want you to avoid the pitfalls I’ve had along the way — though I think you all are smarter enough than me to know that wax paper does not go into the oven.
The question you should be asking yourself is not if you’ll be baking any holiday bread recipes, but rather which one. I KNOW — it’s a tough decision. But not to worry, as I’ve compiled a list of not one, not five, but 15 solidly awesome and delicious options for you to choose from. Hooray for the holidays! Also, hooray for bread.
(FYI, there are eleventy billion more options here, here and here, should you decide this list just isn’t enough. I completely understand).
So there’s this thing coming up next week. I think they call it Thanksgiving. Anyway, it’s a pretty big deal, when a lot of family and friends gather around the table for gratitude, good conversation and a great meal. And some of us might be hosting it, and some of us not, but we’re moving to a different state this week and all of our stuff is packed up in boxes and we’re kind of freaking out about how we’re going to help out this year because we really want to because HELLO, it’s Thanksgiving but we’re pretty sure we accidentally packed away the cranberry sauce somewhere that remains to be discovered, oh and we’re in charge of the turkey for the first time ever and we have no idea what we’re doing but that’s OK, right, because turkey’s like the easiest thing in the world to make and suddenly I’ve forgotten how to make mashed potatoes. (Good thing you can’t see me dripping sweat right now. I MEAN…)
I’ve had a thing for crackers ever since I made those Blue Cheese & Walnut Crackers, along with my love letter to Ina Garten. There were those, and then, these flat breadsticks. Then this (these?) knäckebröd, which I made because I love those Wasa rye crisps from the grocery store, but mostly because I love the word “knäckebröd.”
(Which means “break bread,” for those sans Swedes in their families.) Read more
Happy 2016, friends! This post is the first in a short series I’ll be doing this month on the blog called “A Baker’s Dozen.” Each week, I’ll share a post with 13 (get it?) tips, tricks and/or tools to help you become a better baker (though I think you’re pretty great already). Today’s post: My top 13 essential baking tools. Enjoy!
There have been — ahem — moments in my life as a baker when I have come to realize one of the following: a) I am using the absolute wrong tool (apologies to the challah that was burned alive by me baking it with wax paper), b) I don’t own the tool I need (apologies to the countless cookies and truffles that I’ve tried to shape and instead assaulted with unwieldy spoons and c) I have so many tools I never use (I’m looking at you, cupcake batter separator). It’s been a long and winding road of crimes committed to my baked goods by the wrong tools, the missing tools, the unnecessary tools, and I wish I could say I’ve left that life behind completely and am now in a state of complete kitchen optimization — but alas, I still have that batter separator stored away somewhere.
But I digress. Because maybe you’ve made the resolution that 2016 is your year to bake the perfect loaf of bread. Or maybe you made out like a gift card bandit at Christmas and you’re looking to invest in quality baking tools to step up your cake-baking game. Or maybe you’re just really tired of having your drawers and cabinets filled with things like batter separators and you’re finally ready to be a grownup and clean out all the clutter, all of it, the entire house, and you won’t rest until it’s all cleared and only stocked with the necessities! ← My husband is reading this and shaking his head at my crazy right now.
That’s why I’ve made this list for you. Because if in my years of baking there are any tools that I hath discovered and deemed necessary, it is these 13 tools. Whether you’re an aspiring hobby baker or a professional pastry chef, I’m sure you’ll find a few gadgets on this list you can’t live without.
Not only am I sharing a recipe with you that is, quite honestly, the best thing I’ve baked all season, it’s also the day I get to share with you the awesome partnership between Red Star Yeast and Stop Hunger Now and their joint campaign to bake the world a better place.
Oh, AND there is a giveaway at the end. AND it’s Friday. Let’s dance the Carlton for all o’ that.
Sometimes I think the food that I make doesn’t really matter or make a difference. I mean, yes, there is nothing I love more than to provide a meal to my family and to anyone who comes over — it’s what I love most about food, really, that it brings people together in a joyful and intentional way. But at the end of the day, I don’t feel like my enchiladas are going to save the world, just my hangry-ness.
That’s why Red Star Yeast and Stop Hunger Now are coming together to raise awareness of their mission: To end hunger in our lifetime by providing food and life-saving aid to the world’s most vulnerable and by creating a global commitment to mobilize the necessary resources. Did you know that 842 million people in the world do not have enough to eat, and that every day, more than 25,000 people die abroad of hunger and hunger-related causes? It is why Stop Hunger Now aims to provide nutritional, filling meals worldwide. In 2013, roughly 125,000 volunteers worldwide packaged more than 42 million meals for recipients in 30 countries. Also in 2013, Stop Hunger Now sent more than $9 million worth of donated goods — including antibiotics, birthing kits, water filters, school desks, projectors, fabric and solar lights — to countries in need.
In 2014, they — and we — want to make those numbers even bigger. And it can happen starting with the food we make in our homes.