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Jan 21, 2018
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Posts Tagged ‘challah’

One Helluva Challah

Friday, May 10th, 2013

The sudden closing of the venerable Pratzel’s Bakery last fall left many St. Louisans in disbelief. No more chocolate-covered upside-down cupcakes (aka “UFOs”), no more tzitzel rye bread and no more challah.

That last one is a real point of tsuris (pain) for area Jews, many of whom customarily slice into the braided loaves on Friday nights to welcome the Sabbath.

So we’re here to let you in on a little secret. We’ve found one of the best (non-kosher) challahs in town. And – surprise! – it’s at a bakery you’ve never heard of.

Every week, congregants of Central Reform Congregation reap the benefits of what appears to be a simple weekly challah sale in the synagogue’s front office. While it’s not out of the norm for a synagogue to bake its own challah, it is unusual for their ovens to turn out a loaf with such out-of-this-world flavor. The challah’s toasty brown, egg-brushed exterior yields to a yellow center that is simultaneously soft, dense, sweet and chewy. Each week, the four-dozen or so challahs get shaped into beautiful braided forms and either left plain or showered with poppy or sesame seeds.

These exemplary loaves are baked by a crew of volunteers that includes Michael DiPlacido, an amateur baker who really kicks it up a notch for holidays and special events. Want your challah in the shape of a dreidel for Hanukkah? No problem. Care to have a challah that looks like a honey pot filled with apples to toast to a “sweet new year” this Rosh Hashanah? Go for it. DiPlacido will even adorn your loaf with the Hebrew name of the young lads crossing over into adulthood (aka Bar/Bat Mitzvahs) that week. These are seriously elaborate works of art that would be the envy of any boutique bakery.

The great news is that you don’t have to be a member of CRC to taste this challah perfection; anyone can pick up the braided loaves. But because the volunteers’ baking schedule is erratic – they bake on Tuesdays, Thursdays and sometimes Sundays – it’s best to call ahead to make sure the challahs are available.

Central Reform Congregation, 5020 Waterman Blvd., St. Louis, 314.361.3919, centralreform.org

By the Book: Deb Perelman’s Fig, Olive Oil and Sea Salt Challah

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013

Don’t let my last name fool you; I’m a shiksa through and through. And if Yiddish had a term for a gentile who can’t bake, I’d be that too.

Then why did I choose this recipe for challah? I like the challenge. And challah is delicious. And if you celebrate Passover, I figured this would be a good week to gorge on bread. But mostly, I chose to make it because if anyone can teach me how to bake a fancy-looking bread like challah (in a gentle, non-intimidating way), it’s going to be Deb Perelman.

In Perelman’s much-anticipated cookbook The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, she includes over 100 recipes organized by course: breakfast; salads; sandwiches, tarts and pizzas; the main dish: vegetarian; the main dish: seafood, poultry and meat; sweets; and party snacks and drinks. For those of you who follow her blog, she assured me in a phone interview that less than 15 percent of her book came from her blog. When creating the book, she wanted to make sure that the end product would still be of value for those who had been reading her blog for a long time.

On my first attempt at this challah, I used sorghum in the place of honey because I was too lazy to go to the store. I figured it would work the same, but then the dough didn’t rise. This could have been the result of a number of variables, and I probably should have just waited longer than Perelman recommended (one hour), but I was too impatient and threw it away, opting to start over again the next day and use honey like the recipe called for. On my second attempt, while the dough was rising, I made the fig filling. I got a little overzealous with my zest, accidentally tripling the amount, but in Perelman’s ingredient list, she said that I could use “more as needed,” so I took this to mean that this accident was OK.

On my second attempt, the dough did rise, but I was too tired to finish the rest of the process, so I wrapped it tightly in Saran wrap, put it in the fridge and returned to it two days later. When I then rolled out the dough, it was a bit tough and didn’t seem to roll into as large of a rectangle as I needed, which I’m fairly certain was because I had left it in the fridge for two days, but I decided to work with it anyway.

Once I spread the fig filling across the dough, I rolled it into a snake. The dough still didn’t seem “right,” but the fig filling woven into the dough looked so impressive, I assumed that no matter what happened, this bread would still turn out decent.

As the directions directed, I made four snakes total, arranged them like a tic-tac-toe board and then starting weaving them to resemble as Perelman said, “an eight-legged woven-headed octopus.” This is why I love Perelman. If she had used a technical baking term, I would have had no idea what she was talking about, but with the octopus reference (and the step-by-step photos), I felt confident that, yes, I can make a giant octopus out of dough.

I don’t think my snakes were quite long enough because the final woven look of the bread was certainly not as pretty as hers.

However, the challah turned out looking sort-of nice, and, more importantly, it tasted amazing. I feel like my second attempt (well, third) at this bread will be much more successful.

Fig, Olive Oil and Sea Salt Challah
Yield: 1 large loaf

2¼ tsp. (1 packet—oz. or 7 g.) active dry yeast
¼ cup (85 g.) plus 1 tsp. honey
2/3 cup (160 ml) warm water
1/3 cup (80 ml) olive oil, plus more for the bowl
2 large eggs
2 tsp. flaky or coarse seal salt, such as Maldon, or 1½ tsp. table salt
4 cups (500 g.) all-purpose flour

Fig filling:
1 cup (5½ oz. or 155 g.) stemmed and roughly chopped dried figs
1/8 tsp. freshly grated orange zest, or more as needed
½ cup (120 ml) water
¼ cup (60 ml) orange juice
1/8 tsp. sea salt
Few grinds of black pepper

Egg wash:
1 large egg
Coarse or flaky sea salt, for sprinkling

To make dough with a stand mixer:
• Whisk the yeast and honey into the warm water, and let it stand for a few minutes, until foamy. In a large mixer bowl, combine the yeast mixture with the remaining honey, the olive oil and eggs. Add the salt and flour, and mix until the dough begins to hold together. Switch to a dough hook, and run at low speed for 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer the dough to an olive-oil-coated bowl (Or rest the dough briefly on the counter and oil your mixer bowl to use for rising, so that you use fewer dishes.), cover with plastic wrap, and set aside for 1 hour, or until almost doubled in size.

To make dough by hand:
• Proof the yeast as directed above. Mix the wet ingredients with a whisk, then add the salt and flour. Mix everything together with a wooden spoon until the dough starts to come together. Turn the mixture out onto a floured counter, and knead for 5 to 10 minutes, until a smooth and elastic dough is formed. Let rise as directed above.

• Meanwhile, make the fig paste. In a small saucepan, combine the figs, zest, water, juice, salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the figs are soft and tender, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat, and let cool to lukewarm. Process the fig mixture in a food processor until it resembles a fine paste, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Set aside to cool.
• Insert figs. After your dough has risen, turn it out onto a floured counter and divide it in half. Roll the first half of the dough into a wide and totally imperfect rectangle (Really, the shape doesn’t matter.). Spread half the fig filling evenly over the dough, stopping short of the edge. Roll the dough into a long, tight log, trapping the filling within. Then, gently stretch the long as wide as feels comfortable (I take mine to my max counter width, about three feet.) and divide it in half. Repeat with remaining dough and fig filling, creating four ropes.
• Weave your challah. Arrange two ropes in each direction, perpendicular to each other, like a tic-tac-toe board. Weave them so that one side is over, and the other is under, where they meet. So now you’ve got an eight-legged woven-headed octopus. Take the four legs that come from underneath the center, and move them over the leg of their right (like jumping it). Take the legs that were on the right and, again, jump each over the leg before, this time to the left. If you have extra length in your ropes, you can repeat these left-right jumps until you run out of rope. Tuck the corners or odd bumps under the dough with the sides of your hands to form a round.
• Transfer the dough to a parchment-covered heavy baking sheet or, if you’ll be using a bread stone, a baker’s peel. Beat the egg until smooth, and brush over the challah. Let the challah rise for another hour, but 45 minutes into this rise, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
• Before baking, brush the loaf one more time with the egg wash and sprinkle it with flaky or coarse sea salt.
• Bake in the middle of the oven for 35 to 40 minutes. It should be beautifully bronzed; if yours starts getting too dark too quickly, cover it with foil for the remainder of the baking time. The very best way to check for doneness is with an instant-read thermometer—the center of the loaf should be 195 degrees.
• Cool the loaf on a rack before serving.

Reprinted with permission from Alfred A. Knopf

Have a story about botching a recipe and then redeeming yourself on your second attempt? Tell us about it in the comments section below for a chance to win a SIGNED copy of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. We’ll announce the winner in next week’s By the Book column.

And now, we’d like to congratulate Patty, whose comment on last week’s By the Book has won her a copy of Small Plates and Sweet Treats: My Family’s Journey to Gluten-Free Cooking. Patty, keep an eye out for an email from the Sauce crew. 

By the Book: Celine Steen and Joni Marie Newman’s Dijon Portobello Steaks with Roasted Tomato Aioli

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

To round out our month of health-minded cookbooks, I cooked from The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions: Veganize It! Foolproof Methods for Transforming Any Dish into a Delicious New Vegan Favorite by Celine Steen and Joni Marie Newman.

I’ll just put this out there: I do not follow a vegan diet, and the idea of schlepping all over the city looking for vegan substitutes sounded like a drag. However, after exploring the book more, I realized how useful it is, acting as both an instruction manual and recipe book. And it’s never a bad thing to become more conscious of my ingredient choices. In addition to vegan substitutes, the book also focuses on how to substitute for gluten, soy, refined sugar, fat and honey. While some of the recipes required quite a few special ingredients, there were plenty that didn’t, so I picked my recipe from those.

If you are someone who does follow a vegan diet though, this book clearly marks the vegan substitute staples that would come up in many of its recipes. From Section Three: Keep the farm animals flourishing! Foolproof substitutions for meat, I chose the recipe for Dijon Portobello Steaks because they looked so meaty and enticing at the grocery store.

The book suggested adding the shrooms to a panini, so I also made the roasted tomato aioli to use as a schmear. The aioli recipe came from Section One: Let the cows come home! Foolproof substitutions for dairy. Making it proved to be fast and easy; it also had an excellent punch.

The ailoi recipe yielded much more than I needed to brush across two paninis, so I plan on using the extra in some sort of pasta dish later this week. 

I completely cheated and opted for egg-tastic Challah and melted Swiss to finish off my portobello, aioli panini. But regardless, I’m glad I was put on this assignment, for although I’m not becoming a vegan anytime soon, I did receive a good education on how to make my cooking more healthful (even if I chose to ignore it).

Dijon Portobello Steaks
Makes 2 servings

There is nothing quite as naturally meaty without being a meat as a thick juicy Portobello steak! Serve the mushrooms with Yucca Fries and punchy Aji Verde sauce, or use them to make an amazing panini with a schmear of Roasted Tomato Aioli. If you have leftover marinade, it works great as a salad dressing!

½ cup mild Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. agave nectar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 large portobello mushrooms, stems removed

• In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar, agave, salt and pepper.
• Place the mushrooms in a shallow dish and cover with marinade. Let soak for at least 15 minutes.
• Remove the mushrooms from the marinade and place them on the grill or in a grill pan; cook for about 7 minutes per side, basting with marinade, until mushrooms are tender.

Roasted Tomato Aioli
Makes 2¾ cups

Serve this creamy concoction as a hot or cold dressing for 1 pound of cooked pasta, with baked potatoes, or as a sandwich spread.

For roasted tomatoes:
1 lb. grape tomatoes
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp. fine salt
¼ cup onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and halved

For aioli:
½ cup vegan mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. blended chopped canned chipotle pepper and adobo sauce
1 tsp. paprika
½ tsp. fine sea salt
2 tsp. agave nectar
½ tsp. ground cumin
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

To make the roasted tomatoes:
• Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
• Combine all of the ingredients in an 8-inch square baking pan.
• Roast for 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through, until the tomatoes look like deflated tires. Remove from oven and set aside.

To make the aioli:
• Combine all ingredients and roasted tomatoes in a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth.
• Serve as is with pasta or baked potatoes, but chill to thicken before using as a sandwich spread.

Reprinted with permission from Fair Winds Press.

What’s your favorite vegan dish to make or your go-to vegan menu item that you order when you’re out? Tell us about it in the comments section below for a chance to win a copy of The Complete Guide to Vegan Food Substitutions. We’ll announce the winner in next week’s By the Book column.

And now, we’d like to congratulate Sue whose comment on last week’s By the Book has won her a copy of Dirt Candy. Sue, keep an eye out for an email from the Sauce crew.

Cook Wise: Homemade challah

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Mmm, homemade bread! Does anything beat it? We didn’t think so. Click here to learn how to make challah, an easy, egg-y, slightly sweet bread that makes any sandwich – especially French toast – extra special.

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