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”

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.

Simply Bananas

Does the internet need another recipe for banana bread? It’s a reasonable question, given the millions, if not billions, of hits that Google will pull up from the most cursory of searches, and one that I grappled with when deciding to share today’s post. By the strength of sheer facts and numbers, I would have to reason that one more dissertation on the blue and black / white and gold dress would probably be more innovative than yet another darned loaf of baked banana puree, and yet here I am, quick bread in hand.

Statistics don’t tell the full story of the banana bread, as far as I’m concerned. There are easily hundreds of solid, superlative formulas out there that have stood the test of time, but the rest of those recipes? Redundant, untested, or simply repugnant. So I suppose I must clarify and say that the internet definitely doesn’t need any more crappy banana bread recipes.

Packed with soft chunks of whole banana and crunchy pecans, this particular rendition relies more on the inherent sweetness of the fruit itself than additional sugar. Some may look at that crumb and cry out that it’s under-baked, criminally banded with a sad streak almost as thick as the slices themselves, but that’s exactly what I look for in a good banana bread. If it’s not dense and moist to a fault, it’s not a recipe worth keeping. So for all the fellow banana bread lovers looking for a genuinely reliable formula that offers a bit more banana goodness than the norm, this one’s for you.

Yield: Makes 1 Loaf; 8 - 10 Servings

Simply Banana Bread

Simply Banana Bread

Packed with soft chunks of whole banana and crunchy pecans, this particular rendition relies more on the inherent sweetness of the fruit itself than additional sugar. Some may look at that crumb and cry out that it’s under-baked, criminally banded with a sad streak almost as thick as the slices themselves, but that’s exactly what I crave in a good banana bread.

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 55 minutes

Ingredients

  • 5 Large, Very Ripe Bananas, Divided
  • 1/4 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
  • 1/4 Cup Light Agave Nectar or Maple Syrup
  • 1 Tablespoon Molasses
  • 1 1/2 Cups White Whole Wheat or All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 Tablespoon Whole Chia Seeds
  • 1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1/3 Cup Olive Oil
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 Cup Pecans, Toasted and Coarsely Chopped

Instructions

    1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8- x 4-inch loaf pan; set aside.
    2. Toss four of the bananas into your blender along with the non-dairy milk, agave or maple syrup, and molasses. Thoroughly puree until completely smooth, and then transfer the liquid into a medium saucepan. Set over moderate heat and simmer, stirring frequently, for about 30 minutes. You may want to pull out your splatter shield if you have it, or keep the pot partially covered to help prevent splatter. Cook until the mixture has thickened and darkened to a toffee-like, amber brown hue. Remove from the heat and let cool.
    3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, chia seeds, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, and salt. Make sure that all of the dry goods are equally distributed throughout the mixture before chopping the final banana into small chunks and tossing in the pieces. Coat the banana chunks evenly with flour to ensure that they won't just sink to the bottom of the loaf during baking.
    4. Mix the vinegar, oil, and vanilla into the banana puree before introducing all of the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry. Stir with a wide spatula just until the batter comes together. Add the pecans last, being careful not to over-mix.
    5. Transfer the batter to your prepared loaf and bake for 40 - 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out cleanly.
    6. Let cool completely before turning out of the pan, slicing, and enjoying.

Recommended Products

Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase after clicking through the link. I have experience with all of these companies and I recommend them because they are helpful and useful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to buy something through my links.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

10

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 339Total Fat: 12gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 223mgCarbohydrates: 54gFiber: 7gSugar: 16gProtein: 7g

All nutritional information presented within this site are intended for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and any nutritional information on BitterSweetBlog.com should only be used as a general guideline. This information is provided as a courtesy and there is no guarantee that the information will be completely accurate. Even though I try to provide accurate nutritional information to the best of my ability, these figures should still be considered estimates.