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Why, oh why?

When I try to make challah with honey, it always, ALWAYS fails???
I had a theory that the honey was killing the yeast, but no, that's dumb.
Everybody uses honey.
Why can't I?!?

Delicious Vesuvius Roasted-Garlic Potato Bread

tatobread 005Why Vesuvius???  Well, look at this thing!  Clearly hauled out of the rubble of some destroyed ancient walled city.

NOT MY FAULT!  My oven is broken!  I am using an oven that is older than I am… possibly as old as this house!

But check out the inside!  It is indeed delicious, soft, moist, roasted-garlic potato bread: tatobread 006 tatobread 008 tatobread 009






I am becoming a huge fan of the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day concept.  The basic idea is:  once a week, create a basic dough that you keep in the fridge, and tear off pieces as you want to bake.  Let the pieces come to room temperature and bake – wah-la! – five minute “artisan” bread!

I made their Sticky Pecan Caramel Rolls last week for Rosh Hashanah, but had a whole lot of dough left over in the downstairs fridge.  And I was also feeling tantalized by their Roasted Garlic Potato Bread (We love garlic!  And we love roasted garlic even more!!) but I couldn’t just throw away the dough that I had left over and start fresh with a new dough – right???

So what’s a girl to do?

Well, toss a head of garlic into the ninety-year-old oven (I exaggerate; I think it’s only fifty or sixty), whip up a batch of (brain crash!) instant (gasp!) mashed potatoes on the not-broken stove, and whoop the whole thing together in a big huge, wet, sticky mess.

Let it rise once, then quickly and with well-floured hands, toss it into a ball-ish kind of shape, hunt for an appropriately high-sided pan, and, failing that, find a low-sided square tinfoil pan (hence what Ted referred to delicately as the bread’s tragic “muffin-head” shape), and chuck the whole thing in.

Let it rise until even more loose and floppy and toss into an {I dunno how many degrees because the thermostat broke around 1963} extremely hot oven.

Sometimes, baking is an exact science.

Sometimes, baking is a big, huge, wet, sticky and DELICIOUS mess.

Ah, the sweet (slightly charred) smell of Bread Success.

Jennifer’s Reliable Challah

erev Rosh Hashanah 2009-09-16 004Forgot to take pictures before cutting into this challah. This was the one I made for the kids’ challah-making last Wednesday, but it was also a test run of the recipe I used for the entire Yom Tov.

The main difference from what I usually do is that instead of 5 cups of wheat flour, I used one cup of stone-ground spelt (courtesy of my baker sister, who gave me a free sample!), plus two cups of bread flour and two cups of all-purpose.

erev Rosh Hashanah 2009-09-16 001It was delicious, and I’m constantly amazed at how the spelt makes the bread so soft and lovely. Not at all like whole wheat, which I don’t usually enjoy in a Shabbos or Yom Tov bread. The spelt does give a bit of an unfortunate grey cast to the bread (not as much as barley, though!).

I like to think that when people see it coming, they kind of brace themselves for “healthy”-tasting bread, and are then pleasantly surprised when it is so soft and cakey!

In this picture it looks a bit too damp and soggy in the middle, but that’s probably because I cut it when it was still extremely hot. If I’d left it, it probably would have been fine (as were the rest over Yom Tov).

Jennifer’s Reliable Challah Recipe

The DRY stuff:

5 cups flour – all-purpose or mix of whole wheat (not more than 50%) and/or bread flour

¼ cup sugar (up to 1/3 to make it sweet and special)

1 ½ tbsp salt 

(CAUTION:  a friend says hers was too salty; I will weigh this out again, but meanwhile, try 1 tbsp!)

1 tbsp yeast (Instant – avoid “Traditional”)

¼ cup “spare” flour – just in case!

3 tbsp “dusting” flour

The WET stuff:

1/3 cup oil

1 2/3 cups water – you will probably not need all of the water!

1. Add oil and water to 2-cup measure. Set aside so oil will rise to the top.

2. Sprinkle dusting flour into a large non-zip freezer bag. Close bag top, with air inside (it’ll look like a balloon), and shake flour around to coat inside of bag.

3. Add dry ingredients to food processor and process with steel blade to combine.

4. With food processor running, slowly pour oil/water mixture through tube into dry ingredients (oil will pour first, ensuring that it all gets mixed in – you probably won’t need all the water).

5. Continue pouring slowly until mixture pulls away from sides of bowl and forms a “ball” that moves around the machine in one clump.

6. Continue processing for 30-45 seconds. One of two things may happen:

a. Mixture gets gloppy & starts sticking to sides again – add a sprinkling of flour!

b. Mixture gets crumbly and doesn’t stick together anymore – slowly add a bit more water.

7. Turn off food processor after 30-45 seconds, or 15 seconds after the most recent addition.

8. Dump dough into prepared non-zip freezer bag, knot top and set aside to rise (2-8 hours). OR rest in fridge overnight or longer, then bring to room temperature for 1-2 hours before continuing.

Now it’s risen!

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. The longer it’s hot before bread goes in, the better.

2. On floured table, gently divide dough into portions – ie, how many loaves do you want? – do not knead it!

3. Shape each portion into a “loaf”. Here’s where you get to be creative! Braid it or whatever!

4. Set finished loaves on parchment paper in tinfoil or regular pan.

5. Spray each finished loaf with oil, cover with plastic, and let rise (1-2 hours).

6. Brush loaves with beaten egg if desired.

7. Sprinkle with: poppy, sesame, streusel*, whatever!

8. Bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees. Thick loaves may require a few minutes longer; using oven mitts, pick up the loaf after 30 minutes and check that the bottom is firm, dry and brown. It should make a hollow “echo” sound when tapped with knuckles.

9. Remove from pan as soon as it’s cool enough to handle and cool on a rack (or upside-down if you don’t want to find a rack) so the bottom doesn’t get soggy.

* Streusel topping: ½ cup flour, ½ cup sugar, add oil and mix until crumbly. Add cinnamon if desired. I know this isn’t REAL streusel, but in my opinion, if it looks like streusel and tastes like streusel, it IS streusel. All my guests seem to agree.

Best and Easiest Outta This World Beer Bread

(warning:  this is a quick bread – sorry if you were hoping for yeast!)

beerbread 006Ted had a can of beer sitting in the fridge for TOO long.  And the rule (my unwritten rule) is that after TOO long, beer is no longer a beverage; it becomes an ingredient.

(Secretly, I don’t think beer is much of a beverage at any time; can’t really stand drinking the stuff.)

The words Beer and Bread were floating through my brain this afternoon.  And a quick and lazy Google search revealed a Recipezaar recipe that had absolutely the most rave reviews I have ever seen:  456 reviews, and an overall rating over 4.7 out of 5!

Of course, I had to make it:  humbly entitled Beer Bread, and posted by a guy named Gerald Norman.

I have to say, this was amazingly FAST and easy to mix!  The recipe coaxes readers to sift and sift and sift, and for once, I actually did.  Then you pour in the beer, stir, pour it into a pan and bake.

This is easily the most yeasty quickbread I’ve ever had; if people don’t know your secret, they’ll think it fermented for weeks.  It is an eye-opening bread – one of those quick n’ easy treats that can easily fill in the “starch gap” in a family weekday meal.

Here’s how it slices:

beerbread 009

And a close up:

 beerbread 008 

This bread had an astonishingly rich taste which was quite beery - almost too beery for me to like it.  Almost. 

I think if I’d used a more mainstream brew, the taste might have been more nondescript, but I used a very flavourful local beer that Ted was undoubtedly saving for a special occasion.

Very crisp crust all around, thanks to the butter poured over top.

And the inside was surpringly chewy, but not unpleasant.  Sort of like a bagel:  you want a bit of crunch on the outside and then nice teeth-exercising chewy on the inside.

No idea how this will be as leftovers, but I can’t imagine it being terrible.  I generally toast all leftover bread anyway:  I’m a bit of a snob, and if it’s not searingly fresh, I just don’t bother.

Probably moot anyway.  It’s nearly gone now and will probably be entirely finished once I’ve sat down and had it with my nice bowl of veggie chili!

Let them eat…

beerbread 001 Not exactly bread, but more appropriate for this blog than my other one, being baking-related.

Yes, it’s HONEYCAKE season!

The one week of the year when we don’t have to ask, “what’s for dessert?”

Because I love honeycake!  We all do.  It bakes up in huge batches, freezes amazingly well (especially if you reheat it in the oven) and contains a lot of all the good things in life:  sugar, oil, flour, honey, coffee.

We eat honeycake from the minute Rosh Hashanah starts ‘till the minute Simchas Torah is over… I usually find one last frozen one for the very last day!

I use Norene Gilletz’s recipe from Second Helpings, Please!, which is fairly accurately reproduced online here.  (however, forget the stuff she adds about cinnamon, raisins or nuts… this is a great cake; don’t mess with perfection!)

I used to have an actual copy of the cookbook, but it fell apart from too much love.  And anyway, there were only a few recipes I used regularly… so now I just get them online when I need them. 

Lazy, but what’s the Internet for, if not looking up recipes you lost long ago?

Pictures to be posted when the cakes are done.  There are six of them baking in loaf pans as I write this.


While you're waiting for more BREADLAND posts, there's always my regular blog.
Two tags over there that may interest you if you're just here for the tasty times (clicking these will eliminate the perhaps-less-than-fascinating gardening, childrearing, deep-philosophical and consumer-kvetch posts):
SUPPERS: (things we eat for supper; lots of unappetizing photos of meals that tasted truly great)
FOODIE: (all sorts of food stuff, thoughts, reviews, raves, etc; everything that isn't supper)

Sourdough Hybrid Challah... the taste test

To put it bluntly:  Despite a very promising rise, the Hybrid Sourdough Challah was a letdown, flavourwise.  Drat, drat, drat!
Nobody spit it out, but nobody said "mmm" either.
The loaves were truly gorgeous, but the bread tasted overly dry and the flavour was bland, to say the least.  Not enough salt, not enough sugar, not enough ANYTHING. 
Maybe that's because I had a cold and couldn't taste it...?
Anyway, it wasn't Happy Bread, which puts me back at the drawing board, sourdough-wise.  I will climb this mountain, but I think that for Rosh Hashanah and the other holidays coming up, I'd better back off and go back to my regular "challah" recipe.  (which is just plain bread with a bit of extra sugar added)
Technically, any bread can be called "challah" if it has a small portion taken from the dough which is set aside, a remnant of the ritual in the Jerusalem Temple?  We don't feed it to the priests anymore (which is good, because I'm sure they'd have been alternately disappointed and disgusted by my sourdough letdowns lately), but we're still not allowed to eat it.
So challah does not mean egg bread - sorry!
And challah does not mean the distinctive three-braid shape - sorry!  (I generally do a four-braid anyway, simply because it looks WAY cooler for no more effort!)
Challah simply means, as it says in Yiddish on the old boxes of Manischewitz matzah, "challah hoht genemt" - "challah has been taken."
Challah is defined not by what is IN the recipe or IN the pan, but by what is NOT there - the small portion taken away.
Speaking of which.  My mother says not to burn it in the oven.  I always thought you did, and generally just leave it on the pan.
Guess I've got some googling ahead before I do a Rosh Hashanah challah workshop for the kiddies this Wednesday!!!

The “I Give Up on Sourdough” Hybrid Sourdough Challah

doughs 2009-09-11 005 Yup!  I have officially given up on trying to produce a delicious sourdough challah.  All attempts so far have either been completely leaden and barely-risen or just plain WEIRD (the “sweet-and-sourdough” challah I made with honey; it was really WAY too tangy, and the sweetness just put it over the top).

So this week I’m making a “hybrid.”  Yup, it’s not just for cars anymore… this hybrid challah will hopefully offer the best of the sourdough and commercial-yeast worlds.

First, I made a sponge, from this recipe, and left it overnight.  It easily tripled or quadrupled its size (see above).

Then, I took about four cups of flour and mixed my regular challah things in:  salt, sugar.  I used less sugar than usual – I don’t want a repeat of the sweet-and-sour effect.  And 1 tbsp of Fleishman’s Instant Yeast.  Gasp. 

But I have just NOT gotten the leavening power yet out of wild yeast that would make me comfortable serving the breads to my family as a Shabbos treat.  If it’s too dense, it thuds on the challah board in a most unappealing way.

doughs 2009-09-11 006Here’s the finished dough after kneading.  I did add a bit of water, between 1/2 and 3/4 cup?  Just enough to make it kneadable; there wasn’t enough sponge to moisten this much flour.


So… here’s the dough, resting in a bag.  Shameful commercial yeast at its side.

  doughs 2009-09-11 007 

It rose beautifully to almost fill the bag!  Forgot to take a picture.

Shaped into loaves:

doughs 2009-09-11 024

They also rose beautifully – NICE, for a change!  And here they are, fully baked:

Friday challah 2009-09-11 001

I didn’t brush the tops or sprinkle them with anything or spray them with water – just baked them as-is.  That’s because taste is the most important thing.  There’s no point fancying them up if they’re going to taste awful.

These two came out of the oven SO light and delicious-smelling.  Well, I have a terrible cold, so I can’t really smell anything, but they look like they smell delicious, and I can kind of catch a whiff through my plugged-up nose.

As with all Shabbos challah, there’s an element of suspense:  I have to wait until after sunset to taste it, and until tomorrow night to report back on whether or not it was actually as yummy as it looked!

Meet the Starters!

sourcorn 002

Yes, that IS a layer of “hooch” – alcoholy-yeasty liquid – risen to the top in Batch “B”.  It keeps on happening; the books and websites say not to panic.  Some tell you to pour it off, others say just to mix it in.  I do a bit of both:  pour off what I can, mix in the rest!

Batch “A” is beautiful here… all bubbly and nice.  That’s the one I’m using for tomorrow’s challah.  I think I will not be using much of it, and definitely adding a bit of commercial yeast… having trouble getting any good rising power with either of these starters.

Frown and double-frown.

Another use for sourdough…

sourcorn 001This is the Sourdough Corn Bread straight out of the Joy of Cooking.

Easy, easy!  Felt like cornbread, made cornbread!  Mix and pour.

Came out very flat; it’s meant to be baked in a skillet, but I used these lovely tinfoil cake pans instead.

I couldn’t taste the sourdough much, but Ted said he could.  The way my sourdough baking is going (badly), not tasting the sour in the dough may be a good thing. 


Sour d’oh!

From a few weeks ago:

I did it!  After four attempts, today’s bread was a SOURDOUGH SUCCESS.   I feel like I have successfully scaled Mount Sourdough.

breddy 2009-08-26 003Here is the outside of the loaf, which I made based on the recipe here (scroll down to find recipe and technique).  There seem to be two schools of sourdough thought:  the uptight “do it exactly right or you will screw up and your starter will DIE” school, and the more laid-back “it’s yeast… it wants to ferment; just step back and let it GO.”

So the recipe I used follows the second, mellow school and really made me feel at ease with the dough, including the tip (doh) that sourdough takes longer to rise than commercial-yeast-driven bread.  I never knew that!!!  Obvious, but true.

For once, we were eating fresh bread and it wasn’t Shabbos, so I took the liberty of snapping pictures of the Opening of the Bread.

      breddy 2009-08-26 005 breddy 2009-08-26 006 breddy 2009-08-26 008

Look at those thick, yummy slices!

Elisheva was really worried that the bread would be literally sour.  I pointed out that she’d already had sourdough bread last Shabbos, but the truth is, it wasn’t very yeasty/tangy.

I have never really had plain sourdough before (without herbs etc masking the flavour) and it was a learning experience for me.  She said it tastes like Swiss cheese, and I think she’s right.  It is a yeasty, fermenty taste without being a bad taste, perhaps along the lines of Marmite, the thought of which makes me shudder.

I think there is a learning curve before I love it, to be honest.  To “real” sourdough people (afficonados?), regular bread has no flavour; flavour is what a really active, living yeast culture adds to the flour and water – without it, what you’ve got is basically wallpaper paste.

My other thought about the flavour was:  creamy.  The active yeast culture makes the dough taste creamy – yes, in a bit of a cheesy way, but also in a rich buttery way.  Which makes a bit of sense, considering that some cultures like their butter a little more – ahem – cultured than we do.  They actually prefer it to have a cheesy tang that would send most of us rushing to our grocery store’s Customer Service line to exchange it for a fresh one.

Oh, and this time, water-spraying did the trick of getting the crust extra-hard and crispy!  It didn’t do anything last Shabbos, which my mother said was because it was so humid that it probably was crisp and went soft the second I took it out of the oven.  This time, I sprayed it a whole lot every few minutes for the first 15 out of 30 total.  I also tossed a bunch of ice cubes onto a cookie sheet directly underneath the bread, just for good measure…

This whole bread experience has made me happy because at the Farmers’ Market today we saw tons of yummy-looking artisan sourdough breads at the St John’s Bakery booth… and then had yummy-tasting artisan sourdough bread of our own waiting for us at home.

That has been my whole approach to eating kosher for a while, and I’m happy to be getting back to it:  if you can’t find it kosher, make it.  In the past, that has led to making dim sum, fresh pasta, sushi, Pad Thai and all sorts of curries and Indian sweets and flatbreads. 

Sourdough’s just the newest arrival to the list, but I have been away from “artisan” cooking for a while… feels good to be back.

On a high from a nice day.  I had fun.  A while back I said I wasn’t having fun, but today, I did.  Fun day.

Now that’s GOOD bread…

breads 2009-09-09 008Here’s another link to the Oatmeal Bulgur Bread recipe, because it is SO good and SO easy!

It does take a few hours’ planning, but doesn’t all good bread?

Believe it or not, this is made with 100% white flour (despite the recipe’s instructions to use whole wheat).

The amazing texture comes from bulgur, soaked in the first step and then mixed with oatmeal (you can’t tell it’s in there, but it gives the bread a creamy softness).

breads 2009-09-09 009This is made with milk, which I rarely use in breads, mostly for kashrus reasons.  All regular bread is supposed to be either pareve or clearly marked as dairy.  I forgot to do it with this one… oops!

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