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Jan 24, 2018
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Posts Tagged ‘Smitten Kitchen’

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. 

An Interview with Smitten Kitchen’s Deb Perelman

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

If you’re anything like us, Deb Perelman is no stranger to your kitchen. We’ve been following the home cook behind the celebrated food blog Smitten Kitchen for years. So when we found out that Perelman was going to be featured in our Sauce Celebrity Chef Series next month, where she’d be demonstrating recipes from her new The Smitten Cookbook and enjoying lunch, we couldn’t hold back our excitement. We quickly set up an interview to chat with Perelman about everything Smitten Kitchen. Read on to see what she had to say about finding inspiration, writing tips for aspiring bloggers and her own celebrity moment.

Apparently, you couldn’t hold back your Smitten Kitchen excitement either, as Perelman’s Sauce Celebrity Chef Series sold out in mere days! Wasn’t able to snag a ticket to the event? You can still catch Perelman as she signs her cookbook at the downtown location of Left Bank Books on March 1 at 7 p.m. And keep an eye out for the blog next month as we cook from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook and give a copy away to one lucky reader in our By the Book column.

I noticed there isn’t a lot of overlap between your blog and your book.
I was very concerned that the book would be a value for people who have read the blog for a long time. If it was all the same or sounded the same – well, people have been getting that for free. So I decided that no more than 15 percent of the blog could be in the book, I wanted to make it overwhelmingly new. And I stuck with that.

Did you choose the most popular items from the blog as part of the 15 percent?
[Laughs]. No, or else they would all be chocolate and peanut butter. I chose recipes that best fit the section that I was working on. Like my favorite way to prepare broccoli and my mom’s apple cake – recipes I just wanted people to have.

Going back to chocolate and peanut butter. The first thing I ever made from your blog was your recipe for chocolate peanut butter cake. I made it for a party, and I must say, the compliments I received on that thing truly made me feel like a capable cook for the very first time.
I think that cake was the first thing that broke my server. Sometimes it takes things like peanut butter cake to realize that you need a better server.

It’s so impressive to find great photography, writing and cooking all in one. Were you interested in one before the other? Or did they build off of each other?
Well, my photography comes third and writing second. I’m always been interested in artsy fartsy things; I love taking pictures; I take them of everything. I love Instagram, and I’ve always enjoyed writing – it was never hard for me – but the cooking is my love.

Where do you get your inspiration for the recipes you create?
Mostly cravings. It starts with being hungry. But it also starts with being out somewhere and having something I like or don’t like and figuring out how I might change it. Or if I find a combo I love, but the preparation is really fussy, I wonder if there is a way to pare it down. Or just from things I’ve always wanted to make – like how could you combine the tastes of hummus and carrots? And then figuring it out.       

Any books that you go to for inspiration?
I know it’s an obvious answer but Mastering the Art of French Cooking [by Julia Child]. Onions seem so boring, but browned onions are amazing. The book takes the simplest ingredients and then lovingly coaxes out the most intense deliciousness out of them.

Along with your great recipes, I think one reason people are so attracted to your blog and book is for your writing. Any tips?
I like a voice that is not too writerly but natural. At first, it’s hard not to sound like other people’s ideas of what you should be – you paint in a way you were taught to paint. Finding your voice is a process; it’s not like one day you achieve it. You gradually become more comfortable putting your mark on it. I don’t have a proper writing background, so I just try to write how I speak – for it to sound like a conversation. I like to picture my mom talking on the phone with a long yellow cord that stretched across the kitchen so that she could talk to a friend while cooking. Recipe writing has always been very succinct, write as little as possible, but rather than three sentences, sometimes mine can be three paragraphs. When you are a nervous cook, it helps to have description. I like to know that the dough is supposed to be sticky or that it will taste too salty but will turn out all right.

I love that you stress the everyday ingredients, so that a home cook doesn’t need to break the bank when buying ingredients, but do you have a favorite luxury ingredient?
I have a bunch. If I’m making a spinach quiche with four other ingredients, that’s a good time to use frozen spinach, but if it’s for a delicate salad and it’s the main ingredient, that would be a good time to splurge and get the best from the market. I think good recipes should transcend good ingredients, but it’s also about figuring out when it’s worth it to splurge. Like I have a workday olive oil for something like cooking an egg, but then I also have a really nice olive oil that I use for finishing. I mostly work with regular unfancy butter, but I love the European stuff with higher butterfat. But why make a layer cake with the most expensive butter? Save that for when you’re really going to taste it.

How much do you have to adjust your cooking now that you have a 3-year-old son?
It changes every week. In the last two weeks, my son has wanted to help me cook which has seemed to make him more excited about eating, but I say that and last night he helped and then he only ate one bite. I have two kinds of cooking now, and they don’t always overlap. Where most of my recipes come from is when I’m wondering what will happen when I make this with this and that – my experimental cooking. With a kid though, we have to put out proper meals. Before my son, it was, ‘Oh honey, I just made this carrot soup, let’s eat it for dinner with a hunk of bread.’ But if I do that now, my son will probably just skip the soup, eat the bread and then I haven’t really fed him properly. I started to have dinner panic around his first birthday. But you figure it out. The tricky thing for me is to stay inspired and to not have to cook the same-old, same-old.

I always think my future children will never be the kids who only eat mac n’ cheese, but I have a feeling I’m going to be completely humbled.
We all are. And nobody’s failing. If that’s what the kid wants to eat, they are going to be fine. I try to find something in the middle. For each meal I try to do a carb, a protein, a cold veg and a cooked veg, and I try to make only one a little scary.

Your blog has been successful for a while, but now with the book, have you had any celebrity moments?
[Laughs] Today, actually. I was at coffee with a friend; we go to this place all the time, and I was sitting by the window and this girl walked by, stopped, and whispered that she knew who I was. I was a little embarrassed. It’s okay though. The people who do come up to me have all been very normal, very nice people – I like it, I really do. Sometimes I forget this will happen, until it does again.

With the success of your cookbook, are you planning on keeping the blog going?
Yes. Forever if I can. As long as it’s fun and enjoyable, and there’s stuff to put up there. My plan is to keep making the site as good as I can. 

— photos courtesy of Deb Perelman

Sauce Celebrity Chef Series presents an afternoon with Deb Perelman

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

For you home cooks out there, when it comes to Deb Perelman, creator of the celebrated food blog Smitten Kitchen, we’re willing to wager that your crush on her is just about as big as ours. Well, we have good news. For Sauce’s next Celebrity Chef Series presented in partnership with Left Bank Books, Perelman is our star!

Join us on Friday, March 1 from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Modesto, located on The Hill, as Perelman demonstrates recipes from her long-awaited The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Tickets are $45 and include lunch and a copy of her new book. You can buy tickets here. Seating is limited.

UPDATE: This event has now sold out.

Perelman isn’t a chef or restaurant owner; she simply believes that cooking should be fun, and the results should be delicious. After her presentation, she will be available for questions and to sign copies of her book.

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