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Unafraid: zero-waste challah, the eco-happy way

Don’t know about you, but I was afraid of dough for a long time.  Afraid to let it touch anything, because it’s so darn sticky.  Afraid to let it rise uncovered, careful to set it on parchment or silicone when baking.  Careful that the challahs were spaced just so when I put them in the oven to bake, so they wouldn’t end up touching.  Careful, and afraid.

But just look at my challahs now!

IMG_00001217

  • They’re naked, completely uncovered as they rise.
  • They’re bare-bottomed, sitting right on the table.
  • I’m not using a baking pan at all.

Experience and a couple of good tools have changed all that… mainly the little bench scraper in the back, which I’ve raved about here before.  Also, a baking stone – preheated properly, it’s hot enough when you put the challahs in that nothing will stick to it.  Even if it does stick, a nudge with the scraper is enough to dislodge it. 

Also, I oil the challah generously as I portion it, so that by the time I’m finished rolling out the “snakes,” the wooden tabletop is pretty much non-stick.  Not so much that the challahs slide around, or else it would be impossible to form them properly, but just enough that there’s no danger.  (I tell myself this is also good for the table.)

Because the challah strands are oiled, they’re less subject to evaporation and won’t dry out too quickly while they rise.  I also brush them generously with egg before baking, so hopefully, they’re still supple enough on the outside to allow for expansion.  (If they dry out enough that a skin forms, the outside of the bread will crack [DSC03447%255B2%255D.jpg]when the bread puffs up in the oven, leading to an unsightly “blowout” in an uncontrolled location, usually right above the bottom crust.  Ask me how I know this.)

I still use a lot of parchment paper and plastic and tinfoil and whatnot in my baking… but I am happy that another aspect of my challah-baking process has become both more masterful (cuz I’m unafraid!) and more eco-friendly.

Since I’ve ditched the plastic bags I used to rise the dough in for buckets, and reuse the buckets for challah storage, this means challah-baking has finally become a ZERO-WASTE process around here!

By the way, you don’t even have to waste water to clean dough buckets:  if you let them sit uncovered for a few hours between challah-making during the day and late at night after Shabbos dinner when the challah needs storage, then the small amount of dough in the bucket will dry onto the sides.  Just wipe it out firmly with a (cloth!) napkin and the bucket is ready to reuse.  (If flies are drawn to the challah bucket while it’s drying, drape a (cloth!) towel over the top.)

Hmmm… can you think of any other ways to bake eco-friendly?

Look what ELSE you can do with yeast!

In all the years I have been playing with yeast and homeschooling, I have never, ever thought to mix the two!  Luckily, Ms Frizzle did, and last month’s Magic School Bus science kit was all about bacteria and fungi. 

Oooey gooey fun!

For all the exciting details, please see the full post over at my regular blog!

IMG_00001032IMG_00001033  IMG_00001038 IMG_00001039

How many any other cool ways are there to use baking to teach science???

Pot pie with Sweet Potato Dumplings / Biscuits

File:SweetPotato.jpgWhen you want a chicken pot pie but are a) you only have one frozen pie crust (or don’t want to fuss with a top crust), and can’t even think of a b), why not make this EASY sweet-potato-dumpling topped version instead? 

(if you are enthused by this idea, see also this post about putting cornbread on top of chili)

You don’t even have to use meat! 

Putting a quick bread on TOP of a moist, savoury dish (whether it’s meat or dairy or even vegan, as I have been known to do with roasted root vegetables and tofu) compensates for all the downsides of quick breads – namely that they tend to dry out quickly and be less full-bodied in flavour, while lacking the exquisite texture of true breads.  Baked on top of a yummy filling – whether you have a bottom crust or not – the quick bread (dumplings, cornbread, beer bread or any quick bread you like) stay moist, absorb flavour, and add texture and substance to round out a meal.

(Technicality:  FYI, “quick bread” is the term used to describe any non-yeasted bread, including soda-risen breads, fruit/veggie breads like banana or zucchini loaf, coffee cakes and the ilk)

The only catch with this recipe is advance planning:  you’ll need to bake the sweet potato ahead of time.  To get two cups of mush, you could use one very large sweepo or two mediumish ones.  Scrub them up, poke them repeatedly with a skewer (save the skewer!), stick them in the oven at any temperature (350-400) and poke them after an hour, then every half an hour until they’re soft all the way through.  Allow to cool, then peel and mash.  If you haven’t planned ahead, you can microwave the sweepo – scrub, poke, place on a plate with a paper towel and nuke it for 10 minutes, then check every 4 minutes until it’s done.

Here’s the recipe for the dumplings.  It’s really just a quick biscuit dough, but I like the fact that it contains so much sweet potato – yummy and better for you that way:

Sweet Potato Dumplings / Biscuits on a Pot Pie

(recipe makes enough to put half on a pot pie and bake half as 6-7 freeform biscuits on the side)

What you’ll need:

  • 2 cups sweepoes, mashed (see above)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp table salt (don’t use kosher salt for small quantities like this, but if you must, cut it in half)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup vegetable oil (you could use half or all butter for a yummy dairy version if you wanted)

What to do:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Fill a homemade or frozen pie crust in any way you like – veggies, chicken, whatever you want inside, with any sauce or seasoning you enjoy. (*see below)
  3. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl.
  4. Add oil to mashed sweet potatoes, then add dry ingredients and stir until mixed (don’t beat or overmix, but there shouldn’t be any white clumps left).
  5. Drop dough in generous tablespoons onto your pot pie, using another tablespoon to help.  Cover most of the surface, leaving some openings.
  6. Drop remaining dough by tablespoons onto a cookie sheet or baking pan lined with parchment.
  7. Bake biscuits for 15 - 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
  8. Bake pot pie an additional 15-20 minutes until golden brown and sizzling.

I wasn’t going to include the pot pie filling recipe, because it’s not really a recipe, but I thought it might be helpful to somebody.  Please accept this in the spirit of “take it and run with it and play with it” rather than as strict, literal instructions.  :-)

* Pot pie filling – Meat or Vegetarian:

Here’s what I used last night:

  • Onion
  • Frozen veggies (any:  I had tail ends of beans, peas, corn, broccoli, spinach, and a bag of mixed veggies)
  • Cooked chicken or turkey (I had a frozen baggie of chicken saved from making soup over Pesach.  It was NOT a big baggie – you don’t need much.)
  • If you prefer a vegetarian/vegan version, roast a bunch of root vegetables along with some cut-up (extra-firm) tofu and substitute those (you can add beans, too) where I mention chicken below; use pareve soup mix or storebought veggie broth instead of chicken soup.
  • A few tbsp of flour
  • Wine (white is probably best, but I had zinfandel) – splash or more, to your own preference.
  • Chicken broth, leftover chicken soup, or water / soup mix.
  • Salt, pepper to taste.

What I did:

Fried onion until translucent, then added frozen veggies.  Stirred until veggies had just thawed, then added chicken.  Stirred just until chicken started to thaw, sprinkled with flour and stirred for a while.  Added wine, stirred it a bit, added soup, and simmered gently until thickened.  Seasoned with salt & pepper to taste – and it was done!  This was maybe 10-15 minutes minutes, start to finish.

(sweet potato image © Petr Kratochvil, c/o Wikimedia)

Wish I’d taken pictures, but you’ll have to take my word for it that this looked and smelled amazing coming out of the oven…

Schlissel challah: Witchcraft, divination or… good clean bread-based fun?

image

In answer to the question in the title… well, my vote is with the latter (cast yours below in the Comments section!). 

When I posted a reminder on facebook last night to think about including a key in the first post-Pesach challahs (see this old post to find out why), somebody posted a link to this article (“Shlissel Challah – The Loaf of Idolatry?”) and someone else recommended this one (“Serious Segulah or Pagan Piffle?”). 

One person wrote, “the origins of shlissel challah is completely avodah zarah [idol worship].”  Ouch.  One commenter in a thread of one of the posts above wrote that a prominent rav “called this shlissel challah minhag "ridiculous", a violation of nichush [divination], and told his wife not to "dare" do it.”

I read the articles – really, I did.  I love fascinating new information.  I love controversy.

The first article (“Loaf of Idolatry?”) made me sad, partly because his article claims to be all scholarly but he doesn't really prove his point at all.  It’s full of footnotes and nicely formatted, but it mainly lacks substance.  Just because Christians did it did something in Europe doesn't mean they started it (he says that they did it, but not that we didn't).  As one commenter pointed out, we do have (and I had seen but then forgotten) bread stamps from the time of the 2nd bais hamikdash.

imageAs for the charge of nichush [divination], this is totally NOT the intention of that prohibition, which (in my limited understanding) is more against auguring by natural signs.  Like whether, if a rodent sees its shadow, winter will end sooner, or later, or whatever.  We’re not allowed to say the ending of winter has anything whatsoever to do with the cloud conditions over Punxsutawny Phil.

The author of the first paper (“Loaf of Idolatry!”) also claims those who use a key view "a die-cut piece of brass as an intermediary between them and the Almighty." Just so you know where he’s coming from.

There’s a reflex these days, in the religious community, against doing anything that smacks of “what the goyim do.”  I was even told at one point that it might not be such a good idea to decorate our houses with greenery at Shavuos (a well-documented and longstanding tradition) because it’s too similar to the Christian practice of bringing a tree and garlands into the house in December.

In the case of this article, I remain unconvinced.

That said…

I am most definitely against placing too much faith in segulos [auspicious deeds or objects], which has been way abused, if frum magazine ads are any indication.  There are always people willing to prey on the gullible or desperate by selling “charms” in various forms. 

But if you think of the key as an object to help us focus our kavannah [intentions] at a particular time of year... I say yea… and yay (cuz it involves bread, which I love)!

IMG_00001014There’s a BIG difference in mindset between thinking, "this holy key will 'unlock' my income!" and thinking, "I hope this key symbolizes good things to come" (presumably with effort and prayer).  To me, this is a lot like what we do with various symbolic foods at Rosh Hashanah.

Israeli blogger Ester from Kosher & Frugal DID post a sensible warning we should all keep in mind: 

“Keys are often made of metals than can IMG_00001013leach out into food if baked.” 

More from Ester: 

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