Challah at Me

Everything has meaning. Everything has a purpose.

Woven into the smooth, elastic strands of dough that compose a loaf of lovingly braided challah bread is a taste of history. Surviving centuries of strife, passed down by word of mouth like folklore, it’s more than mere sustenance, yet hardly given a second thought beyond the customary blessing, if that. Even I was surprised to learn that the term “challah” isn’t necessarily defined by the rich, eggy, soft, and sweet crumb that immediately comes to mind. Any bread that’s sanctified for Jewish observances, from high holidays to regular old week days, can be challah.

That’s only the beginning of my true challah education. Visiting the Chabad Jewish Student Center at UC Berkeley prior to Shabbat one day, I was greeted by the sight of overflowing bowls of dough, the smell of yeast and flour wafting through the windows, perfuming the whole neighborhood.

Traditionally, seven essential ingredients compose the tender crumb we all know and love: water, yeast, sugar, oil, flour, and salt. Eggs, though frequently included to represent renewal, are not actually a necessary staple. That’s right; I wandered into this enclave of busy bakers to find about a hundred pounds of “accidentally” vegan challah dough at my disposal.

As explained by den mamma Bracha Sara Leeds, all while deftly kneading and twisting strands of the soft dough into elaborate braids, each ingredient can be linked back to the tenants of Judaism itself.

Water, the single most important, omnipresent component, represents the Torah. Just as we cannot live without water, we also cannot live without this guiding scripture. Bringing life and nourishment to all, it represents generosity and kindness. Like water, we want kindness to be infinitely abundant, flowing freely through our lives.

Flour is sustenance, the foundation to build a life on, physically and emotionally through our relationships with family, friends, and the community at large. We must feed these relationships as we must feed ourselves to maintain a healthy, happy, stable existence.

Oil is included to represent anointing, or sanctifying, to signify this loaf as being special, holier than your average daily bread. Oil enriches our lives, making particular moments, or meals, a bit more special.

Sugar stands in for all the sweetness in our lives, of course, but in this case also represents faith. With faith (in the future, in ourselves) comes sweet rewards. Fear not the sugar! Though challah is certainly classified as a sweet bread, it’s always well-balanced, to be served with equal enjoyment with toppings as diverse as jam or hummus, at breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Yeast provides leavening, of course, allowing the dough to rise, grow, and expand. Whether that means growing in terms of our character, rising up above challenges, or expanding to reach our full potential, it only takes a small push to get started. Yeast is only a tiny piece of the recipe, yet completely transforms the finished loaves.

Salt, used sparingly but in fair measure, represents discipline or criticism. As difficult as it can be to accept, it’s necessary for contrast and proper perspective. Salt can also signify purification, removing toxins from the body, and anything that is toxic in our lives or minds.

Arguably the most ingredient is one absent from any written recipe. Patience, while kneading, waiting for the dough to rise once, rise twice, and again while baking, is indispensable. Have patience for yourself; don’t rush the process to reap the greatest rewards.

It’s my pleasure to share this simple, yet deeply nuanced, meaningful approach to challah for World Bread Day. As my 13th contribution to the effort, I wouldn’t miss this event for anything. Though I wish I could break bread in person with everyone in the blogosphere, I hope that sharing this little morsel of history might provide a bit of virtual nourishment, at least.

Continue reading “Challah at Me”

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Looking Sharp

Why should bunnies have all the fun when Easter rolls around? They’re not the only lovable little herbivores to spring out of a sleepy winter funk. Right alongside Flopsy and Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter, porcupines emerge to share all the fresh green shoots, fruits, and leaves now ripe for the foraging. Sure, they’re not as outwardly cuddly with those intimidating quills raised, but trust me, it’s all just a facade. Unless provoked or threatened, porcupines are about as vicious as newborn kittens.

Consider setting a place at the table for a more diverse cast of characters at your Easter feast. Engaged in the right conversation, their wits are likely sharper than their quills.

Rather than rolling out predictable bunny buns, take just a few extra swift snips to bring these steamed porcupettes to life.

Don’t be daunted by homemade bao, which are simply stuffed balls of bread dough. Fillings can be sweet or savory, from red adzuki beans to meaty seitan, depending on whether you’re in the mood for dessert or dinner. Start with a basic formula for bao dough and watch these charming creatures come to life in your hands.

After sealing the goodies within rounded parcels of dough, gently pinch one end of the ball to make it more oblong for the nose. Make many little triangular snips with very sharp kitchen shears just on top of the dough, without cutting all the way through to the filling, to form the quills. Mix together a tiny bit of aquafaba and cocoa powder and apply tiny drops with toothpicks to make the eyes.

That’s all there is to it! Just steam until fluffy, or bake if you prefer more golden brown goodness. Either way, your new Easter mascot will happily rise to the occasion.

All Hail Wassail

Cheers, to the drink that’s worthy of a toast in and of itself! “Wassail” was actually an Old Norse salutation meaning “be well,” spreading merriment and good spirits, long before it ever became a drink spiked with them. Typically red wine but occasionally beer and cider join the festivities as well. Regardless of the base, the warm, spicy blend of seasonings have come to define wassail today, inextricably linking it with the flavors of Christmastime. Just like chai or pumpkin pie, every mix is a little bit different, balancing a unique bouquet of floral, hot, sweet, and earthy tastes; a delicate harmony as distinctive as the deft hand holding the whisk.

There’s a lot to be said for the complex nuances of every different batch, but just as many reasons to recommend the consistency and reliability of a set approach. When you nail down the perfect combination, it quickly becomes one tradition you can’t mess with. For ease and nostalgic comfort, there’s no beating the wassail mix from Rodelle Kitchen. Like clockwork, I’ve been emptying those jars every winter since I first discovered this secret shortcut. Robust, sweet but not sugary, it’s a staple for serving up some instant holiday cheer.

While I would never mess with an essential, tried-and-true ingredient like this, I certainly would mess with the format.

Sandwiched between disks of buttery, flaky biscuit dough, the spicy seasoning turns into the delicious, edible spackling paste holding together a loosely glued loaf, just waiting to be ravaged. Rip apart the pieces at the seams, still warm and covered in a light, lemony glaze for greatest effect. The aroma is transportative but the taste is like nothing else.

Lightly caramelized from the heat of the oven, this singular spice mix needs no additional ingredients to sing. Alcohol need not apply to turn any gathering into a party when this fun, festive loaf hits the table. Even if it’s just plain apple cider, I’d definitely raise a glass to that!

Wassail Pull-Apart Bread

Biscuit Dough:

3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Cup Vegan Butter
1 1/2 Cups Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 1/2 Teaspoons Apple Cider Vinegar

Wassail Filling:

1/2 Cup Wassail Mix
1/2 Cup Unsweetened Applesauce

Lemon Glaze:

2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
1 – 2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan.

The dough is prepared exactly like any batch of biscuits at first, so start by combining the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter into small pieces, drop them in, and use a fork, pastry cutter, or your fingers to slowly incorporate the cubes. The resulting mixture should be the consistency of coarse crumbs, with no chunks of butter remaining that are any bigger than the size of peas. Pour both the non-dairy milk and vinegar in together, stirring gently just until everything comes together into a cohesive, slightly shaggy ball.

Press the dough out onto a lightly floured surface to about 1/2 an inch in thickness. Use round cookie cutters, approximately 4-inches in diameter, to stamp out circles, re-rolling scraps and cutting them to fit until the dough is entirely used up.

To assemble to loaf, start by stirring together the applesauce and wassail mix until smooth. Take one round of dough and smear around a 1 – 2 teaspoons of the filling, to cover. With the naked side facing out, line this up flush with the heel of the loaf pan; it’s easiest to stack the pieces if you tip the pan on the short end, allowing gravity to help keep the rounds together until the pan is full. Repeat with the remaining dough, flipping the final piece so that the uncovered side is also facing out.

Bake for 24 – 28 minutes, until deeply amber brown all over. Let cool for at least 5 minutes before applying the glaze. If you glaze it while warm, it will soak in, but if you want it to be more visible and sit on top, wait for it to cool completely.

Make the glaze by simply whisking together the confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice, adding more or less liquid until it reaches your desired consistency. Pour generously over the finished bread and raise a toast, to your health and happiness!

Makes 1 Loaf; 8 – 10 Servings

Printable Recipe

Cutting the Mustard

Cornbread in any form is an easy sell. Buttery, golden crumbs that cling to the fork and sop up the richest stews like a savory sponge, it’s the side dish that can easily steal the show. I’ve never met a cornbread that wasn’t at least passable when smothered with a generous smear of vegan butter, but the very best versions are always paired with a touch of maple sweetness. Inextricably linked to the sticky syrup in my mind, this is how I first remember eating cornbread, back in my elementary school years. It was on a field trip to a maple tree grove where we indulged in samples of freshly tapped and concentrated, still warm maple syrup, stirred into milk and drizzled over squares of tender cornbread. Ever since that fateful day, there’s been no match to that simple serving suggestion.

That’s not to say that there’s no room for improvement.

Start by adding a bold punch of heat in the form of Colman’s Mustard. A riff on classic honey mustard, this sweet and spicy sensation isn’t just blended in, but swirled in thick, undulating ribbons, marbled throughout the classic golden loaf. Straddling the line between cake and bread, it has just the right pepper bite to accentuate, not overpower, that delicate balance.

Follow Colman’s Mustard on Instagram for their 12 days of giveaways, and don’t forget to scoop up some spicy rebates on Colman’s Mustard through iBotta next time you stock up.

Mustard-Maple Swirled Cornbread

Mustard-Maple Swirl:

1/4 Cup Grade B Maple Syrup
1/4 Cup Coconut Oil, Melted
2 Tablespoons Colman’s Prepared Mustard
1/4 Cup All-Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Ground Flaxseeds

Cornbread:

1 Cup All-Purpose Flour
2/3 Cup Coarse Ground Cornmeal
1/3 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
1 1/4 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/8 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 (14-Ounce) Can Corn Kernels, Thoroughly Drained
1 (14-Ounce) Can Full-Fat Coconut Milk
2 Tablespoons Grade B Maple Syrup
2 Teaspoons Apple Cider Vinegar

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan.

Prepare the mustard-maple swirl first by whisking the maple syrup, melted coconut oil, mustard, flour, and ground flax together in a small bowl. Stir until smooth and set aside.

To make the cornbread base, grab a medium bowl and combine both flours, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pepper. Add in the corn, tossing to coat all the kernels with the dry ingredients to prevent them from simply sinking to the bottom of the loaf while baking. Separately, briefly mix together the coconut milk, maple syrup, and vinegar before adding the wet mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients. Use a wide spatula to bring the two together with as few strokes as possible. It’s perfectly fine to leave a few errant lumps in the batter!

Transfer the cornbread batter to your prepared loaf pan. Spoon dollops of the mustard-maple swirl at random on top and use a thin knife or wooden skewer to marble it throughout.

Bake for 32 – 38 minutes, until golden brown around the edges and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool completely before serving.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

Printable Recipe

This post was made possible thanks to the support of Colman’s Mustard. All content and opinions are unbiased and entirely my own.

Everything or Nothing

Allegedly, according to surveys of questionable origin, the most popular type of bagel worldwide is plain. Yes, plain. In a world rife with fake news, this shocking proclamation is one that I find most difficult to believe. Has anyone ever raved about a plain bagel in any restaurant review? Are there bakeries out there at risk of selling out of this most austere option? Honestly, when was the last time you willingly ate a plain bagel, excluding the sad occasions when it was sole occupant languishing in the bread basket?

Falling entirely on the opposite side of the spectrum, the case for the everything bagel is a strong one. Brazen and fearless in its combination of savory seasonings, no person in their right mind would decline such savory complexity. Such heresy would be akin to ordering mapo tofu, but asking for it mild. A bagel without everything is nothing.

It’s a suitably audacious statement for such a bold blend, but I’m not alone in this judgement. Spreading a trail of seeded crumbs across the culinary landscape, the “everything bagel” has become a flavor in and of itself, spawning truly creative interpretations of the concept far beyond the original yeasted ring. The Everything Bagel Salad in Real Food, Really Fast remains a stand-out dish among fans, but today, I’m bringing it back down to the bakers bench, with just a little twist.

Make that a literal twist. Boiled rings aren’t the only sort of bread that can have it all. Buttery, tender babka dough forgoes the typical sweet adornments to get in touch with its salty side. Swirled and rippled with thick lashings of cream cheese, awash in a speckled sea of everything seasoning, each rich slice presents the complete package. Toast if you must, but as is the case with the original, fresh is simply best.

That said, cutting those slabs down a bit thinner to make a sandwich with extra cream cheese, carrot lox, dill, and capers isn’t such a terrible deviation from the plan…

I’m proud to submit this bread to the 12th annual World Bread Day celebration. I haven’t missed a single crumb-covered observance in the history of BitterSweet, and don’t plan to turn in my dough hook anytime soon. Scores of yeasted inspiration will be posted soon, so keep an eye out for the official roundup… But maybe, just maybe, don’t browse while hungry.

World Bread Day, October 16, 2018

Everything Bagel Babka

Savory Babka Dough:

1 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1 Tablespoon Granulated Sugar
1 (1/4 Ounce) Packet (2 1/4 Teaspoons) Active Dry Yeast
1/2 Cup Aquafaba
1/4 Cup Olive Oil or Melted Vegan Butter
3 1/2 – 4 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon Salt

Cream Cheese Filling:

1 (8-Ounce Package) Vegan Cream Cheese
1/4 Cup Everything Bagel Seasoning, Store-Bought or Homemade

“Egg” Wash:

2 Tablespoons Aquafaba

Gently warm the coconut milk to just above room temperature (no hotter than 100 degrees at most) along with the sugar. Sprinkle in the yeast and let sit for about 5 minutes, until the yeast re-activates in a happy, foamy froth.

Mix in the aquafaba and olive oil or melted vegan butter, stirring well to combine, before adding the first 3 1/2 cups of flour and salt. Incorporate all of the dry mixture, using a stand mixer to knead on low speed for about 5 minutes with the dough hook attachment. To knead by hand, plan on spending closer to 10 minutes. Add more flour as needed to achieve a smooth, tacky but not sticky dough.

Round the dough into a ball and place it in a lightly greased bowl. Cover with a clean kitchen towel, rest in a warm spot, and let rise until doubled in volume; about 1 – 1 1/2 hours.

Press down the dough and divide it into two equal pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one piece into a rectangle of about 14 x 10 inches and smear half of the cream cheese all over the surface. Sprinkle evenly with half of the everything bagel seasoning, and then roll it tightly, lengthwise, like you would for cinnamon buns. Repeat with the remaining dough and fillings.

Once you have two filled logs, use a very sharp knife to slice both cleanly down the middle, leaving the bottom intact. Twist the two split rolls together and tuck the messy ends underneath. Place the full loaf in a lightly grease 8 x 4-inch loaf pan and lightly cover with a clean dish towel. Let rise for another hour.

As you near the end of this second rise, begin preheating your oven to 350 degrees. Gently brush the loaf with aquafaba, and bake for 60 – 75 minutes, until golden brown all over. Let cool completely before slicing.

Makes 1 Loaf

Printable Recipe

Raise a Toast

No one bats an eye at $4 toast anymore. Once the greatest offense to pragmatic diners, such an expense seems downright affordable, especially in a city where you’d easily pay twice as much just for street parking three blocks away. Fancy toast has become the new normal, not an affront to sensibility, but a dish to celebrate for its simplicity. Proper toast celebrates each ingredient, starting with the best and brings out its full character. Thick sliced bread, crisped to a burnished golden brown all over, piled high with impeccably fresh fruits or vegetables, flavors are layered and carefully built, often with even more care than the standard American breakfast plate.

Toast toppings are as diverse as the people making them, which is both good and bad news for the avid eater. Order something as unassuming as toast, such a ubiquitous offering, and for all the sweet and savory surprises that could arrive at your table, you’d never get bored. So many choices could just as easily overwhelm, however, paralyzing the indecisive at their most vulnerable, food-deprived moment- At least that’s the case for me. Worse is when I’m making toast at home, given the full range of ingredients tucked away in the pantry and fridge, with no energy to figure out the best combinations.

For anyone else who feels that same struggle, let’s simplify the already uncomplicated concept. Focusing on a nut butter base to narrow the scope and make this more managable, I’ve come up with scores of effortless pairings based on what lurks in my pantry most of the time. Needless to say, this is just the beginning of an endless tale. One could, and many already have, written cookbooks on the subject, so I present to you here just the tried-and-true favorites, the best of the best, that keep my bread crisp and my stomach content.

  • The Elvis: Peanut butter with banana slices and coconut bacon.
  • Birthday Cake: Cashew butter mixed with a drop of vanilla extract, topped with turbinado sugar and sprinkles.
  • Cookie Dough: Cashew butter mixed with a tiny bit of oat flour, a drop of vanilla extract, topped with chocolate chips and a pinch of coarse sea salt.
  • Super Seed: Sunflower seed butter topped with toasted pepitas, hulled hemp seeds, chia seeds, and a very light drizzle of toasted sesame oil. Coarse sea salt optional.
  • Chocolate-Covered Cherries: Almond butter mixed with cocoa powder, topped with pitted fresh cherries or cherry preserves, drizzled with chocolate syrup.
  • Nutella: Hazelnut butter mixed with cocoa powder, topped with toasted hazelnuts, cacao nibs, and a drizzle of maple syrup.
  • Tropical Breeze: Macadamia nut butter topped with thinly sliced pineapple, a light sprinkle of ground ginger, and toasted coconut flakes.
  • Thai Almond: Almond butter topped with bean sprouts, cilantro, a drizzle of sriracha and a pinch of coarse sea salt.
  • Banana Pudding: Cashew butter with half a banana mashed into it, topped with the remaining banana, sliced, and crushed graham cracker crumbs.
  • Massaman Curry: Peanut butter with madras curry powder mixed in, topped with roasted sweet potato and toasted peanuts.
  • The Cereal Bowl: Almond butter topped with granola and a drizzle of vanilla yogurt.
  • Pecan Pie: Pecan butter topped with toasted pecans, a light sprinkle of cinnamon, and a drizzle of maple syrup.
  • Salted Caramel: Cashew butter mixed with dark brown sugar and a pinch of salt, topped with turbinado sugar and coarse sea salt.
  • Mocha Latte: Almond butter with instant coffee powder and cocoa mixed in, optionally topped with coconut whipped cream.
  • Ants Off a Log: Peanut butter topped with thinly sliced celery and raisins.
  • Sonoma Harvest: Hazelnut butter topped with sliced grapes, arugula, a drizzle of balsamic glaze, and toasted sliced almonds.
  • Apple Pie: Cashew butter topped with brown sugar, thinly sliced sweet apples, and a sprinkle of cinnamon and nutmeg.
  • Cheesecake: Cashew butter swirled with vegan cream cheese, topped with sliced strawberries and crushed graham cracker crumbs.
  • The Pregnant Lady: Peanut butter topped with sliced bread and butter pickles, optionally topped with coconut whipped cream.
  • S’mores: Cashew butter topped with chocolate chips, crushed graham cracker crumbs, and toasted vegan marshmallows.

Some are obvious, some are a bit more avant-garde, but all are thoroughly delicious. What are your favorite ways to raise a toast?