Get Lit This Hanukkah With A Babka Menorah

Thanksgiving may be in sharp focus with less than one week to go, but make no mistake: Hanukkah isn’t far behind.

Darkness descends earlier with every passing day and the nights grow longer, setting the stage for Hanukkah candles to light the way forward. It’s a time to bask in the warm glow of the menorah, flames flickering in the breeze, and indulge in the sweetest of traditions. For a fresh take on the traditional hanukkiah, I’ve got just the thing that’s full of the holiday spirit… And more importantly, chocolate. Enter the Babka Menorah, paying homage to the festival of lights in the most delicious way possible.

Embrace Tradition Through A Modern Lens

To truly appreciate the Babka Menorah, it’s essential to explore the rich tapestry of Jewish baking. The dough itself is a subtle adaptation of my essential challah recipe, slightly enriched with non-dairy milk to make an even more tender, buttery treat. While challah dough is then braided and lacquered with an egg wash, babka is a coiled, twisted masterpiece that weaves a different narrative. Its layers, intertwined with velvety chocolate chips and cocoa-spiked sugar, unfold with every delicate bite, placing it firmly on the dessert menu, rather than the dinner table.

Fashioned after the menorah, an essential centerpiece of Hanukkah, this is more than just a candelabrum. It symbolizes the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days when there was only enough for one. In this spirit, the Menorah Babka merges tradition with a touch of contemporary whimsy. It stands as a celebration of resilience, innovation, and the sweet joy that comes from embracing change.

Look No Further For The Best Vegan Babka Recipe

Babka is a cult hit that’s transcended Jewish delis to become a viral hit at large. The appeal of bread and chocolate is universal, so this mainstream success should come as no surprise. Decadent chocolatey filling is interlaced throughout the whole loaf, melding and fusing with the bread for an end result greater than the sum of its parts. The decadence of chocolate is balanced by the soft, pillowy dough; altogether rich and sweet, yet still not too heavy, even after indulging in untold plates of latkes.

Making it look like a menorah is more than just a fun visual trick. Those long branches transform the dough into an ideal pull-apart bread, perfect for sharing with loved ones, no knives required. Food you can eat with your hands is just more fun, right?

Tips For Success

For those inspired to try their hand at crafting this edible menorah, a few tips can make the process more enjoyable.

  1. Patience is key when coaxing the dough to rise, allowing the flavors to develop and the layers to intertwine.
  2. Embrace the messiness of the process; after all, the best stories are often written in the margins.
  3. Allow space for the full glory of your design, even if that means baking on an upside-down sheet pan to prevent raised edges from boxing you in.

Ideas For Adaptation

As with any good recipe, there’s ample room for personalization. The Menorah Babka, like the original concept, lends itself to a myriad of flavor variations, each as unique as the individuals celebrating Hanukkah. You can always add a pinch of spice or other crunchy mix-ins to the current filling, or go on a new flavor adventure with the following variations:

  • Add 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon for a classic cinnamon-sugar blend, or incorporate ginger, cloves, all-spice, and cardamom for a more nuanced approach
  • Add 1/2 cup finely chopped nuts, such as almonds, pistachios, or pecans
  • Smear 1/2 – 3/4 cup peanut butter, jam, or hazelnut spread over the dough instead of melted vegan butter
  • Use vegan white chocolate chips, a dash of vanilla extract, and rainbow sprinkles to make something reminiscent of cake batter
  • Add crushed graham crackers, mini marshmallows, and chocolate chips for a s’mores-inspired delight

In a world that is constantly changing, the Babka Menorah invites us to enjoy the sweetness of cherished traditions with a twist. It’s not too early to plan for a truly happy Hanukkah, with warm wishes for season’s eatings.

Continue reading “Get Lit This Hanukkah With A Babka Menorah”

Galette It Be

Halloween decorations may still be gently swaying in the breeze, playfully teasing the onset of fall, but every serious cook and baker knows the truth: It’s game time.

Thanksgiving Menu Planning Starts Now

November marks the official start of The Holiday Season, replete with Thanksgiving feasts, Christmas cookies, and all the festive snacks in between. Now is your chance to map out a plan to maximize your meals with minimal effort. As such, the grand meatless entree is always a key consideration, prone to sending experienced hosts into fits of anxiety. There’s nothing wrong with grabbing a frozen roast at the grocery store, but given the opportunity to prep this far in advance, I’d implore you to consider a more thoughtful, homemade main dish.

Meet Your New Holiday Centerpiece

Rich with the heady umami flavor of Sugimoto shiitake mushrooms, this free-form pie folds silky caramelized onions into roasted garlic and sliced mushroom caps, celebrating the interplay between sweet and savory. Time, not skill, is the most essential ingredient in making this Caramelized Onion & Shiitake Galette, which is why I wanted to put it on your radar, post-haste. As an edible ode to the season, each slice embodies an ideal tapestry of autumn’s earthy, naturally comforting tastes and textures.

Why Pie?

Close your eyes and imagine the sound of flaxen leaves crunching beneath your feet. That’s the essence of this pastry foundation; crispy, golden, and somehow instantly nostalgic. As your fork glides through its layers, there’s a satisfying resistance, followed by a buttery surrender that melts into a crescendo of intense flavor from the filling.

Enhancing Inherent Sweetness

Garlic and onions are both remarkably sweet ingredients when treated with care. Cooked low and slow, the natural sugars come to the fore, caramelizing and intensifying like straight-up vegetable candy. What really sets this filling apart are the shiitake mushrooms, already known flavor enhancers, that are soaked in woodsy apple cider rather than plain water. Sugimoto koshin shiitake have broad, flat caps, perfect for slicing into meaty ribbons that mimic the shape of the onion strings. Their edges crisp gently in the oven, amplifying the whole experience. Subtly tart, with a splash of balsamic vinegar thrown in for good measure, crafting the perfect bite is all about balance.

But What About The Protein?

If you’re worried about fending off pointed questions from “concerned” family members about your protein intake, fear not. You can easily pack in the plant-based protein in a number of ways:

Make-Ahead and Storage Tips

No one wants to spend the holiday in the kitchen while the rest of the family gets to relax around a crackling fire. Lay out your agenda days or weeks ahead of time to simplify the whole process, and make sure you get to enjoy the occasion too.

  1. Make the pie crust first since it needs to chill. You can prep it up to 6 months in advance and store it in the freezer. Simply thaw at room temperature before rolling.
  2. Prep the filling up to 5 days in advance. Simply transfer to an airtight container and store in the fridge.
  3. Once assembled, the unbaked galette can be loosely covered with plastic wrap and frozen on the sheet pan for up to 1 month. You can bake it directly from frozen; just increase the bake time by about 10 minutes.
  4. Leftovers, if you have any, can be stored in a covered container for up to 3 days. To reheat, pop individual slices into the toaster oven at 350 degrees for 8 – 12 minutes, until hot and crispy.

Fall For This Autumnal Comfort Food

As you stand on the threshold of the holiday season, looking ahead at all the festive meals to make and share, remember that the best meals unfold slowly, with care and creativity. As such, a holiday entree like this caramelized onion and shiitake galette isn’t just sustenance; it’s a celebration of textures and flavors that captures the essence of autumn. May its rustic beauty, with a golden, flaky crust and rich, earthy filling, be the beginning of a joyous Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukah, or any festive occasion.

Continue reading “Galette It Be”

Pletzel, If You Please

Pletzel is not just a drunken misspelling of pretzel, but a Jewish flatbread that falls somewhere between an oversized bialy and chewy focaccia. Some call it an “onion board” for the thick layer of silky sautéed onions baked right into the top, but that doesn’t do proper justice to the combination. Nutty poppy seeds are scattered like sprinkles on a cake, firmly adhered with a generous amount of olive oil, grassy and buttery all at once.

In honor of the 16th annual World Bread Day, I wanted to shine a light on this most humble loaf. It’s an event I would never willingly miss, because bread is not just sustenance; it’s a symbol of culture, tradition, and memories.

Banner World Bread Day, October 16, 2023

Pletzel, also spelled platzel or pletzl and pronounced “pleht-suhl,” might not be as renowned as challah or bagels, but it’s a true gem in Jewish baking history. As a testament to the resourcefulness of Jewish bakers, the dough is made from just the basics: flour, salt, yeast, water, and oil.

The Legacy of Pletzels

The pletzel can be traced back many centuries to Eastern Europe, where Jewish communities adapted their bread recipes out of necessity. It was an everyday staple, as it required fewer ingredients and less time to prepare than more luxurious loaves, like egg-heavy challah. Pletzel quickly became a staple in Jewish households, serving as a versatile companion to any meal.

Pletzels emigrated to the US along with the Polish, Lithuanian, and Ukrainian Jews in the mid-20th century, although they largely faded away as a relic of the past. It’s a rare sight to find them in any bakery or delicatessen outside of their motherland.

A Twist On Tradition

I don’t often have poppy seeds on hand, but I do have an abundance of za’atar. This savory seasoning blend combines oregano, marjoram or thyme, and earthy spices like cumin and coriander with toasted sesame seeds. Intense and pungent, especially with a pinch of tangy sumac, it’s one of those all-purpose mixes that works on just about any dish.

While not complicated by any means, we can still make it simpler and quicker thanks to the modern marvel of prepared pizza dough. Go all out and make your own from scratch, or shave at least an hour off of the process and jump right in; you can still call it homemade if you accept the assist.

Serving Suggestions

Like any other fluffy flatbread, a good pletzel has limitless potential for pairings. It’s a delight enjoyed all by itself, freshly baked and still warm from the oven, or dressed up with a greater meal.

The Daily Bread

In today’s fast-paced world, the pletzel may not be as common on our tables as it once was. However, it’s a bread worth preserving and celebrating. Especially on World Bread Day, there’s never been a better time to remember the importance of preserving our culinary heritage, one slice at a time.

Continue reading “Pletzel, If You Please”

Flat-Out Fantastic Lahmacun

Must we describe every topped flatbread in the world as some form of a pizza? It’s a helpful cultural touchstone that’s easily understood, but does a grave injustice to every minimally related dish. Lahmacun shares this overly simplified description, but make no mistake about it: We’re not in Italy anymore, Toto.

What Is Lahmacun?

Whether it’s technically Turkish or Armenian is still hotly debated. Regardless, Lahmacun comes from the Arabic words “lahm,” meaning meat, and “macun,” meaning paste. Alternative spellings are “lamejun,” “lahmajin” and “lahmajun,” just to be clear. Typically beef or lamb is ground or finely chopped with vegetables and herbs to create this iconic “meat paste” that gets spread onto very thinly rolled circles of dough. In this case, tempeh is our protein of choice, enhanced by the naturally umami flavors of Sugimoto shiitake powder.

Not All Shiitake Powder Is Created Equal

That’s why Sugimoto is the only brand I’d trust for the job. Theirs is made of pure, dried shiitake mushrooms and absolutely nothing else. Their unique drying process concentrates all the natural umami compounds to make the overall taste sensation even more concentrated, making it a potent flavor booster for all kinds of dishes. Adding shiitake powder ultimately creates a more satisfying and complex dish, plant-based or otherwise.

Furthermore, the presence of amino acids like glutamic acid in shiitake mushrooms can also contribute to their meaty flavor. These same amino acids are found in meat, which is why shiitake powder can be a great option for adding depth and richness to vegan recipes. Tempeh, which is made of fermented soy beans, may not sound like a natural substitute for ground meat, but some sort of kitchen alchemy occurs when this secret ingredient hits the pan.

Tips For Success

Don’t be daunted if this is your first try making lahmacun. It’s an incredibly simple recipe that can be mastered with little effort.

  • The meat paste topping and dough can both be made in advance. The topping can keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week, or frozen for up to 6 months. The dough can be kept in a lightly greased ziptop bag or covered bowl in the fridge for up to 5 days. That way, you can simply assemble and eat when hunger strikes.
  • To make this recipe easier, you can start with 1 pound of prepared pizza dough rather than making your own from scratch.
    • In a pinch, you can even use flour tortillas to skip the rolling step entirely, but reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees so they don’t burn.
  • When rolling out the dough, think “crackers” rather than “pizza.” The crusts need to be super thin, as thin as you can possibly make them, to get a perfectly crisp, crunchy bite all the way through. The exact size and shape isn’t as important as the thickness, which should be around 1/8th of an inch. You can use your fingers to pull and stretch it too.
  • I like to roll my dough out directly on an ungreased piece of parchment paper, flouring only the top of the dough. That way, it sticks to the sheet and not the rolling pin, helping it to keep its shape instead of immediately springing back.
  • Leftover, fully baked lahmacun can be frozen once cooled. To reheat, toss them back into a 400-degree oven for 5 – 8 minutes, until hot and crisp.

Leftover Topping Ideas

A little bit goes a long way for these super thin and crispy flatbreads! You may end up with more topping than you can spread over your dough, which is a great “problem” to have. There’s no end to the possible uses for such a versatile component.

  • Dumplings: Wrap up a spoonful in wonton wrappers and steam, saute, or fry your way to dumpling delight.
  • Pasta Sauce: Consider this the meat component of your favorite ragu. Add diced tomatoes and simmer until thick.
  • Tacos: Grab your tortillas and load them up with this meatless filling, pico de gallo, guacamole, shredded cabbage, and anything else you’d like at this instant fiesta.
  • Meatballs: Mix in seasoned breadcrumbs until the mixture holds together, then shape it into walnut-sized balls. Sear before adding to your favorite al dente pasta and sauce.
  • Stuffed Peppers: Slice off the tops of your bell peppers, fill with the seasoned meatless mixture, cover with foil, and bake at 400 degrees for 25 – 30 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with shredded vegan cheese, and bake for another 5 – 10 minutes, until melted and browned.

What makes lahmacun so special is its balance of flavors and textures. The thin, crispy bread provides a perfect contrast to the rich, savory meat topping, while the fresh parsley and tangy tomatoes add brightness and acidity to the dish. Fragrant spices give lahmacun a warm, aromatic quality that makes it both comforting and complex.

Lahmacun is often served as street food in Turkey, where it’s eaten folded up like a taco. Popular as an appetizer, snack, or entree, you can easy enjoy it straight out of the oven or with a variety of condiments, such as lemon wedges, pickled vegetables, or garlic sauce. Whatever you do, just don’t call it pizza. Lahmacun is a true culinary treasure as a wholly unique, distinctive dish that’s well worth the effort of making it right.

Continue reading “Flat-Out Fantastic Lahmacun”

Short and Stout

As the single most widely consumed alcoholic beverage in the world, I know I’m part of the minority when I say I’m not a big fan of beer. The oldest known recipe for beer is over 4,000 years old, discovered in ancient Mesopotamia, so clearly there’s more to it that I must be missing. Forever curious, sometimes to my own detriment, I’ll always eagerly try a new brew. For such an immense, diverse category of drinks, it would be criminal to write them all off for a single polarizing flavor, after all.

Anyone else in the same boat would be advised not to attempt a heavy, highly-hopped stout. When offered a novel, local brew, the promise of coffee and oatmeal drew me in, but make no mistake: This is no breakfast treat. Acrid, cloying, and bitter, I could barely get down two sips before calling it quits.

Though perhaps unintentionally, this particular coffee oatmeal stout did provide ample inspiration after the initial brutal tasting. Taking notes from the basic components, it became a hearty base for an equally intense, yet far less polarizing, quick bread.

Both intoxicating and energizing, you get a serious dose of caffeine from concentrated cold brew coffee, amplifying the flavor from the beer. Whole oats boost the cereal taste from the brewing process, while date syrup and coconut sugar harmonize with a caramelized sweetness, taking the edge off the harsher flavors that otherwise bubble up.

Key Ingredients and Substitutions

  • Flour: I used a combination of whole wheat and all-purpose flour to incorporate a more earthy, wholesome flavor that pairs well with the heft and intensity of the beer. If you want a lighter crumb and higher rise, you can omit the whole wheat and use twice as much all-purpose instead.
    • For a gluten-free option, use your favorite gluten-free flour blend and replace the stout with a comparable wheat-free dark beer.
  • Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate: This is a staple for me during the hotter months (AKA, 10 out of 12 in Texas) so I always have a bottle on hand. In a pinch, you could replace this with regular coffee brewed at 4x strength, or 4 teaspoons of instant coffee powder dissolved into 1/2 cup of water.
  • Pumpkin Pie Spice Blend: This was an inclusion of pure laziness. If you don’t have a ready-made mix in the pantry, you could omit the spices altogether, or use a combination of cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.
  • Date Syrup: Moderately sweet, tempered by a subtly bitter caramel-like bite, date syrup is one of my current favorite sweeteners. You could replace it with standard molasses if desired, but expect a darker end result.
  • Coconut Sugar: Same sentiment here; an equal amount of dark brown sugar can suffice.

Did you know that in ancient Egypt, beer was considered a sacred beverage and was often used as payment for laborers? I’d like to think that this Coffee Oatmeal Stout Bread would be worth its weight in gold. Even if you don’t like beer, this easy recipe will give you a good reason to keep a 6-pack on hand.

Continue reading “Short and Stout”

Tough Cookies

Christmas isn’t for everyone. The forced merriment and artificial optimism, sour memories that fall short of Hollywood-produced nostalgia, stressful family gatherings topped off by unnecessary expenses; it’s enough to make the most joyful person into a real Scrooge. Even the most committed holiday reveler would struggle to maintain the same level of enthusiasm in this harsh reality. You know what is for everyone, though?


Chocolate cut-out cookies, to be precise, will never disappoint. With a batch of homemade cookies, you can express how you really feel about the holiday season without coming off as a miserly curmudgeon. No one ever said they had to be decked out in colorful sprinkles or intricate icing, so why not keep it simple, classic, and versatile?

This particular recipe may just be a new staple in your repertoire. You’d never know that they’re gluten-free or vegan by their soft, toothsome texture or rich cocoa flavor. The dough comes together quickly, rolls out like a dream, and never judges you for your low spirits.

Like any good cookie dough, this one is as versatile as Christmas carols are grating.

Easily change up the flavor by switching out the extract.

A few tried-and-true additions include:

  • Peppermint extract
  • Almond extract
  • Orange zest or extract
  • Instant coffee powder
  • Coarse or flaky sea salt

No cookie cutters? No problem!

You may need to cut back on the snark without such clear messaging, but you don’t need to forgo a sweet treat altogether. Simply roll out the dough as instructed, then use a sharp knife, pizza cutter, or fluted pastry cutter to slice squares or rectangles of any size. Think of this approach as the dessert equivalent of making crackers, if that procedural reference helps you visualize the steps.

Don’t succumb to the Christmas crazies. Celebrate at your own speed, even if that means staying home and keeping holiday content completely off the program. Just don’t forget to treat yourself while you’re at it. Holidays come and go, but a good recipe for chocolate cut-out cookies is forever.

Continue reading “Tough Cookies”