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Six Word Saturday: 1 Cheshvan, 5772

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Hate to brag – but delicious challah!

Only my second time succeeding with Maggie Glezer’s “My Sourdough Challah”… but BOY did it turn out well!  Hate to brag, but this was delicious challah – and beautiful.

doughs 001 doughs 002

I still have no idea why my sourdough challahs were losing their braids last year.  But now, they are totally fine.

I even got to pass along some starter to a friend – along with the lower middle challah (a 1-lb’er; I had to keep the two big ones and the “baby” for our own Shabbos)!

Why, oh, why???

Is it October and the fruit flies are still #$^! everywhere???

plants 001

Luckily, I have a tent!

Here, it’s sheltering two sourdough breads I made yesterday – one for our family, one for a friend who had a baby.  (I sent the bread with a lasagna… one cannot live on bread alone!)

I used Peter Reinhart’s basic Pain au Levain from p. 61 of Artisan Breads Every Day.  Indeed, it turned out so well, crusty outside, tender and moist with HUGE openings inside, that we could DEFINITELY eat bread like this every day.

I had almost forgotten. 

I don’t own this book, despite drooling over it countless times from the library, so I used my becoming-standard trick of perusing the book using Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature.  I took a quick screenshot of the recipe so I wouldn’t have to print it out.


And, of course, I used my amazing Sourdough Spreadsheet again. 


It was helpful, because the recipe called for 458g of 60% starter, and I only had 352g, so it told me exactly how much extra flour and water I needed to add to the recipe to compensate.  I wish the spreadsheet were easier to work with, and then I would definitely make it available…

But it really isn’t, and because I’m usually in a hurry when I’m tossing new recipes into it, I probably won’t develop it into a real Thing.  So there it is, rough edges and all.

And the bread was delicious!  I only have one dutch oven, so I baked my friend’s in there (I use the instructions from Artisan Bread in Five, which work out perfectly every time) and ours on my regular double-thick cookie sheet… now that I have no baking stone.

Waah.  No baking stone!?  One got broken, one got fleishiked (meatball fat dripped down onto it)… well, there it is.  And still – the bread was delicious. 

Whole lotta Sourdough Pumpkin Challah / Pan de Calabaza

Nothing goes together at Sukkos time like fresh-picked PUMPKIN and challah dough!

We didn’t actually pick the pumpkins ourselves, but did pick them UP (and pick them OUT) at the place we went for apple picking.  So it’s sort of the same thing…

I have vowed never to peel another raw squash again, because it’s so blissfully EASY to just cut them in half, pop them in an oiled pan face-down, and roast them at 300° until it’s soft enough to poke.  You can actually roast them at almost any temperature.  400° works just as well but quicker… but just look what this Australian baking blog says about LOWER temperatures:

We roast the pumpkin in our wood-fired oven at a low heat (50C to 100C) for 24 - 36 hours. At the low temperatures the pumpkin malts, which firms and helps keep the pumpkin from falling apart in the dough.

Yummy!  (one of the kids said they thought the pumpkin would MUMMIFY in the heat, which it sort of sounds like it does… “malting” being another word for the mummification process)

Anyway, with my sourdough being up and about for the first time since January (gasp!), I decided to risk everything and toss that amazing fresh-roasted pumpkin into a sourdough challah.  I used Maggie Glezer’s Pan de Calabazas recipe from A Blessing of Bread, but I substituted 180g of my firm starter for all the yeast and some of the flour and water – using my sourdough spreadsheet to do all those tricky calculations, of course!


Here we go, step by step…

The night before, mixing it all together.  Forgot to slurry it like she does in the recipe, but it all seemed to come together okay anyway, once I had compensated for a criminally evil version of the recipe that I found online (the book went  missing) which listed the wrong quantity of flour… and I was so tired that I didn’t realize and thought 7 oz might just equal 3.5 cups.  (nope!) 

Anyway, it worked out fine once we found the recipe (thanks Amazon Look Inside - p. 178 in case you’re peeking!) and got the right quantity of flour from there… at which point, Ted came upstairs with the actual book, which he’d found stuffed backwards onto a basement bookshelf.

So here’s the dough:


(whoops – forgot the egg… but it only calls for one, and I don’t like eggy challah, so I wasn’t all that worried)

Fast-forward to mid-day the next day (erev Yom Tov), when I rolled it out.  I wanted to make the sourdough Calabaza loaves look special both so I could tell them apart and because – hey, they really ARE special.


Braid the super-long snakes into a super-long braid.


And coil up the braids to make a round challah!


I also made three “plain” pumpkin challahs.  I used the rest of the fresh-roasted pumpkin, but stuck it into my regular Reliable Challah recipe.  Sadly, I also cut back on the sugar in that recipe, thinking the pumpkin would make it sweet – it kind of didn’t.

I made the “plain” loaves into regular snail challahs:


All the challahs were smaller than I like to make them, which is a nice even 675g (1.5lb).  I knew I needed six loaves for all the meals that were coming, and couldn’t whip up another batch of challah at the last minutes. 

I seem to recall that the braided round sourdough loaves were around 610g, and the regular ones were even smaller – maybe 575g?  TOO small –almost everybody passing through over yom tov commented that they would have liked more challah.  Blah… I hate when that happens.

I baked the regular, yeast-risen challahs first and then, perhaps an hour later, baked the sourdough.  They really rose very quickly and had just exactly the right amount of puffiness. 

The flavour was nice:   not noticeably sourdough, but I was NOT disappointed.  We stuck the ones for Shabbos into the freezer, so I couldn’t check the keeping power of the sourdough vs the regular over their 3-day lifetime.  Every scrap of challah was gone by the time we made havdalah.

Oh - for once in my life, I actually managed to take a picture of the finished challahs before yom tov started!  You can see that I painted the sourdough challahs with extra egg – they were super-glossy.  Elisheva and Naomi begged me not to streusel the challahs – Naomi because she doesn’t like streusel and Elisheva, apparently, because it obscures the beauty of the challah… or maybe she just doesn’t like it.  I was in a hurry, so for once, I listened to them.


On the right in the picture, you can see two more of the yom tov desserts – S’mores Cookie Bars and Almond Biscotti (aka Mandelbroit).

Mmm again… this was GOOD eatin’!

Apple Galette for the Last Days of Sukkos

I love the IDEA of galette, though I still couldn’t overcome my distrust of fruit desserts enough to actually TASTE this one.  But still, I made it and it turned out great – if I say so myself – with delicious Spy apples that Ted picked himself and set aside specifically for this purpose.

I like galette because it’s freeform and forgiving; I have never attempted the fancy two-crust pies my mother makes, or even Ted’s, which apparently taste fantastic but are slightly more homemade-looking.  It’s not that I couldn’t do it – I believe I could.  I just lack the patience.

No recipe for this one – a basic Crisco (gasp!) single pie crust, with some leftover graham crackers sprinkled on it.  I peeled and sliced WAY too many apples, and tossed them with a bit of sugar (a compromise; Ted likes almost none and most of us here like a ton) and lots of cinnamon and left them to sit in a bowl while the crust dough chilled.  Rolled it out, added the apples, sprinkled with more graham crackers, then folded the crust dough over and….

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NO, it did NOT burn!!!  The camera did that, I swear.  Okay, some of the sugar on top sprinkled all around and got – um – overly brown.  But I promise, it was not burnt looking in person!


Interviewing Ted, who was looking over my shoulder as I typed this:  “how was the galette?”

Ted:  “It was very yum, for sure, very yummy… crust was slightly dry.  It wasn’t very moist.  I would have made it thicker so it wouldn’t cook so much and dry out.”

So there you have it!  “Not cook so much” should not be taken to imply that it was BURNT.  Really!  I’m just sitting here puzzling over how to reconcile the idea of a pie crust with the idea of MOISTness… maybe that’s why I don’t eat pie.  Too many contradictions!

A Large-ish Quantity of Dough


Besides a bunch of Auntie Sally’s challah which I whipped up before Rosh Hashanah and still had in the freezer, this is the main “overnight sponge challah” I’ve been playing around with this yom tov season.

Because the base recipe doesn’t make very much, I thought I’d quadruple it for the first days of Sukkos, when we were expecting lots of guests.  With the help of my trusty sourdough spreadsheet (which works even with NO sourdough, just by filling in “0g” of starter), here’s what I came up with for the sponge:

1620 g flour (mix of ap and bread)
1960 g water
200 g sugar
220 g oil
4 tbsp salt
4 tsp yeast

Here’s the wet stuff going into the bucket first.  With its happy new batteries, my scale held it all,  even though officially it only holds up to 2kg.  I was so happy I’d finally gotten around to marking the bucket weight on the side, just in case.  That way, if the scale goes out (or goes to sleep) while I’m measuring, I can weigh the thing, then subtract the bucket weight with a calculator. 

(on previous occasions, prior to labelling the bucket, the process had involved screaming, then estimating based on the last number I’d glimpsed on the screen)


Now, in goes all the dry stuff.  I mix the flours together carefully, so I don’t have patches of one or the other – even if they’re similar, like all-purpose and bread.


Not too many kneads later, the sponge:


And now it sits and rises overnight:


In the morning – easy!  No math!  Just mix in flour until you have a workable, soft dough.  Ted took this picture of me doing it a couple of weeks ago.  YES, I do it by hand.  It’s gloppy at first, but you know you’re nearly done when your hand comes out cleaner and cleaner and cleaner…

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Finally, the whole blob comes out onto the table for some real kneading, about 10 minutes’ worth, depending on the size.

And then it rests in the bucket again – or buckets, as the case may be… this one used the bucket and a big bowl, and both opened themselves up after a couple of hours.


Take the thing out and fold it gently once or twice while it’s rising, if you’re so inclined.  (I was.)


Here’s the finished dough.  Waah!  Too much!  But actually, it would turn out to be not enough; I was grateful for those “extra” two challahs in the freezer, because we used both of them up with all our guests over yom tov.


Divided it up into my standard 675-gram portions.  I had enough to make 8 p0rtions and a very generous 9th which I left in the bucket.  Fried in a cast-iron pan, the leftovers became 12 nice-sized “naan” flatbreads for our second day’s lunch. 

Oh, also I made a bracha and separated a piece of challah.  I usually do it without a bracha, but for this quantity of flour, there was no doubt it needed one.

As usual, I rolled the blobs flat first, then rolled them up into these fat “grub” shapes.  (kind of like an open-ended b√Ętard, in classic French baking)  This is a Maggie Glezer technique that I think is supposed to make the dough “stronger.”  Dunno… but I like to do it before I roll them out, so I do.


Roll each grub out to the length of the table.  I’m sure this is the REAL reason we have the custom of eating round challahs at this time of year – can you imagine braiding challahs for so many days of yom tov???  Round is easy!

(and for some reason, people are JUST as impressed by a super- easy snail challah as they are with a fancy braid – go figure)


(like how everything on the table, mayonnaise, colouring supplies, spray oil, tinfoil pans, lapbook, etc., has been shoved to the other side to make room for the snake…?)

This year, I have learned that the secret to good round challahs is:  hold the loose end and wrap it around!!!  If you hold the centre and twist it around, though it may be easier, the challah will get too “high” and bunchy, like a turban, instead of a nice flat snail-shape.  Hard to describe, but if yours are coming out too high, try holding the other end as you wrap.


And here they are – if not perfect, very, very yummy indeed.  And true to form, not a single picture of a finished challah.  They were finished literally the minute before yom tov started.  And now they’re gone… so no pictures!

On Baking Challah

image Someone asked over Yom Tov how long I’ve been making challah.  I thought it was a weird question, but the consensus is that it’s a perfectly FINE question and I’m just overly sensitive. 

To me, I guess it sounds like “how long have you been breathing?”  Like – obvious.

But it’s true:  there WAS a time I didn’t make challah.  Before Elisheva was born, for sure I didn’t.  I hade made some truly bad breads, inspired by the “healthy-over-flavourful” aesthetic of Diet for a Small Planet:  breads with extra milk powder, extra whole wheat, extra dry, extra hard, extra… hmm.  Awful bread.

Around about when Elisheva came along, when I was living in Calgary, it wasn’t so easy to get fresh challah every single week (though, to be fair, there was a kosher bakery there in those days), so we would buy ready-made bread dough.  But I think, sometimes, I would make some from scratch, too.  (maybe in my food processor?  or maybe that came later, with the Cuisinart…)

Certainly, I noticed early on that people were very IMPRESSED with homemade bread.  Including me:  even if it didn’t taste perfect, it was a darn sight better than day-old or even some bakery-fresh challah.

When I moved back to Toronto, single with two babies, I started making challah sometimes.  Not always; it was very easy to buy it, and I was very, very busy.  But even in a very busy life – especially in a very busy life – I realized I liked bringing in Shabbos with challah I had made myself.

When I stopped working, before Naomi was born, almost 7 years ago, I must have decided to make challah every week if I could.  Because I feel like it’s been almost non-stop since then.  Perfecting my basic “reliable challah” recipe, and then – more recently – branching out and inventing variations, or, in a slump, trying out something completely different.

It’s been fun.  It’s been eye-opening.

imageHere’s what I realized, as we were talking about it in the sukkah last night: 

I am MORE LIKELY to make my own challah in weeks that have been difficult, even impossible:  like two days after Pesach, or after childbirth, hobbling around on a broken ankle, or stranded away from civilization up at the cottage.  (when I was still in a cast with a broken ankle!)

When life is crazy, making challah grounds me.  The strands surround me.  If religion truly means “re-ligare”, or binding back*, if breads of various cultures have long been used to represent swaddles and papooses, then challah is the swaddling-cloth that wraps me up, holds me in, keeps me safe.

I wrap it, soft and pliable, unpredictable, twist it, form it around myself and my life, whatever my life happens to be that wimage eek.  And then it bakes, golden-brown and solid; knowable – eternal, if I were to shellac it as artisans do with their most elaborate specimens.

These are not breads so much as they are memories; the days and weeks of my life, passing, immortalized, in my family’s belly.

I didn’t say all that at the yom tov table.  I think I just shrugged and said “I don’t know.”  But now, at least, I do know – and the answer, to me, was fascinating.

* (there is controversy over this translation, but this is how it’s rendered by Ari L. Goldman in The Search for God at Harvard, among other sources)

p.s.  None of the breads pictured here are challah.  From top, they are:  cougnou, vanocka and hefezopf.  But you know what they say:  “a challah by any other name…”

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