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”

Pink of Perfection

Apples get all the attention on Rosh Hashanah, drizzled and dipped in honey to ensure a sweet new year ahead, but they’re not the only fruits of note for the occasion. Pomegranates also hold special significance, representing abundance and fertility; blessings that go a bit deeper than simple sweetness, if you ask me.

This year, multiply your mitzvot with Pink Pomegranate Challah, a brilliant round loaf with crisp arils woven into every slice.

There are HOW many seeds in a pomegranate?

Jewish lore has it that each pomegranate contains 613 seeds, which is exactly the number of Mitzvot, or commandments, given in the Torah. Scientific accuracy notwithstanding, it’s a compelling reminder of the multifaceted principals that go into leading a full life, through the good and bad.

Why is it the best challah recipe around?

For Rosh Hashanah, the traditionally straight plaited strands of bread curl into a rounded loaf instead. The round challah is often interpreted as a representation of the cyclical nature of life, the cycle of the year, and the continuity of creation. Especially important for this particular holiday, it’s a reminder of the passage of time and the opportunity for renewal that comes with each new year. The circular shape is also seen as a symbol of unity and completeness, as there is no beginning or end to a circle.

What does pink challah taste like?

Okay, enough mythology- Let’s get back to reality. Here we find a pillow-soft, buttery bread, tinted Barbie-pink with pitaya puree. The fruit puree doesn’t add any discernible flavor, but a subtle sweetness that plays off the vegan honey or agave beautifully. Tart bites of toothsome pomegranate arils balance it all out with an irresistible crunch.

It’s the kind of bread that needs no toppings or accompaniments, but of course, there’s nothing like a generous schmear of vegan butter or cream cheese to make it really shine. It’s a party anyway, so you might as well go all-out with a sprinkle of extra pomegranate arils and an extra touch of your favorite sticky sweetener.

Is there extra meaning behind a pink challah?

What I love about Judiasm is how that it’s open to modern interpretation, as a fluid, evolving concept. Thus, I’d like to add to the legend and lore to say that a pink challah is also meaningful, symbolizing hope, positivity, and optimism for the new year ahead. Furthermore, the color pink is also commonly linked to emotions like compassion and love; by incorporating a pink challah into the Rosh Hashanah meal, you can silently express a desire for the coming days to be filled with love, kindness, and strong connections among family and friends.

Shanah Tovah (שָׁנָה טוֹבָה), one and all.

Continue reading “Pink of Perfection”

A Star is Born

Get Your Glow On

Shining brightly as a beacon of hope and guiding light, stars hold a heavy symbolic weight with their ethereal luminescence. When it comes to Christmas specifically, it’s the crowning jewel on top of a majestic evergreen tree, the pinnacle of the holiday spirit itself. Why not add a little bit more star power to the whole season, starting with your plate.

Gold Star Bread

What Is Star Bread?

Gold Star Bread is a glorious, glowing ode to brioche, cinnamon rolls, monkey bread, and coffee cake all wrapped up in tender outstretched rays. The dough itself is soft and buttery, rich and warmly spiced, infused with the flaxen hue of ground turmeric. That alone could be turned into a luscious loaf. For a special occasion, though, we might as well go all out. Mocha infuses each twist and turn as a sweet wake up call. Ease into a festive day ahead with your very own golden star leading the way.

Sharing pull-apart bread with loved ones is a whole different experience from whacking off a simple slice. You eat with your hands, drop all pretenses, and can surrender yourself to the tactile sensation of the warm, freshly baked dough. While it makes for a showstopping breakfast or dessert, the assembly is no more complicated than any other yeasted treat.

Gold Star Bread

Filling Ideas for Star Bread

If you’re not a coffee person, you’ve got plenty of flavorful options.

  • Easiest of all, simply omit the coffee powder and keep it cocoa.
  • Swap the coffee and cocoa for ground cinnamon.
  • Use brown sugar and chai spices.
  • Add roughly chopped pecans, walnuts, and/or crystallized ginger.

The sun may hide away on some winter days, but the stars will still come out to guide your way. Hold on to that golden glow through the holidays and beyond.

Continue reading “A Star is Born”

The Hole Truth About Crumpets

Back in my youth, before I hit my terminal oatmeal phase, crumpets were my daily breakfast staple. Run through the toaster just long enough to warm through, but not crisp, nothing could beat that speed and versatility. These were the dark ages before good vegan butter existed, so I would usually opt for a light smear of creamy peanut butter instead. If I was feeling particularly decadent, it would get a sprinkle of cinnamon and sliced banana on top, too. In the spare few minutes I had before running off to catch the train to school, that was the height of luxury.

I don’t know why I stopped eating crumpets. There were no supply chain issues to blame, no big falling out I can recall. I just seemed to suddenly forget about them for two decades.

And then, just as suddenly, that familiar craving came rushing back in a tsunami wave of nostalgia.

The texture is reminiscent of many similar bread products, yet stands alone as its own unique entity. Soft, spongy, and chewy, most people compare them to English muffins or pancakes, but I’d say they’re more like really thick injera made from wheat flour.

They’re very simple, yet surprisingly difficult to perfect. This was not my first attempt at making crumpets; shamefully, I’ve churned out more smooth flapjacks than I’d like to admit. It turns out that the secret is… Cheating.

It’s not anything as terrible as copying your classmate during the final exam. It just feels a bit like trickery when the key to creating that signature network of lacy holes is- Now don’t judge me here- To poke them open with a toothpick.

It’s not all forced, artificially manipulated texture, since they do bubble up naturally. A tiny touch of extra vital wheat gluten ensures that chewy texture, but it also makes the protein network just slightly too strong to burst open without a bit of help. You don’t need to go crazy and jab at the little skillet cakes relentlessly, but give them a little poke while you’re standing over the stove already, and they’ll be better than store-bought.

The holes are really what make crumpets so special. Providing a lacy network of pockets for clotted cream or melting butter to pool, it’s almost like a super soft waffle. They were made to be topped, lavishly or simply, to reach their full potential.

Crumpets are made of humble ingredients, with a downright silly preparation, but that’s all part of the fun. If you’ve ever wanted to relive your childish days of popping bubbles for fun, here’s a more productive way to indulge.

Continue reading “The Hole Truth About Crumpets”

King Me

Let’s get one thing straight: There’s nothing on this green earth that could compel me to hide coins, plastic babies, dried beans, or any other foreign objects in an otherwise edible food product. I have far too much dental trauma to inflict that kind of chaos on others.

Right off the bat, you can probably guess that my take on King Cake, the essential Mardi Gras staple, would be far from traditional.

Enchanted by the bold contrasting colors and over-the-top presentation, I’ve long admired this New Orleans staple. Though it’s not something I encountered before going vegan, it reminded me of many things I have more experience with. Cinnamon buns, brioche, and pound cake all twisted into one flamboyant tribute to the last day of Folly, there had to be some way to bridge this culinary gap. Suddenly it hit me: This was really like Creole challah.

Sweet, tender, buttery strands of pillow-soft bread wind themselves around one another in a brilliant explosion of color. Subtle notes of cinnamon infuse each bite with a gentle warmth, while each slice is just a little bit different. Some have a stronger floral flavor from ube extract, others bring more of turmeric’s sunny glow to the fore, while others balance the natural bitterness of matcha for a satisfying contrast. Together, they create a vibrant harmony in purple, gold, and green.

One fateful Mardi Gras parade in 1892 was dubbed “The Symbolism of Colors,” which forever set and attributed deep importance to this bold palate. Purple represents justice, gold stands for power, and green is for faith. For all the pageantry and costuming, it’s hard to imagine such a celebration decked out in any other hues.

Until I can enjoy the genuine article, let the good times roll with with this kaleidoscopic loaf that blurs the line between side dish and dessert. You could just as happily serve it alongside a festive dinner, slathered with soft vegan butter, or for a final course, toasted and topped with ice cream. If you can hold off until breakfast, it also makes for the most incredible French toast you’ve ever stuck a fork into.

Hey, they don’t call it “Fat Tuesday” for nothing. Might as well make it count!

Continue reading “King Me”

Buns in the Oven

As a long haul content creator, you never know exactly what’s going to hit, or when. In fact, it’s usually the pieces that seem the least likely to catch on that strike a chord, haunting you for years. Nothing dies on the internet, after all.

Such is the case for my big batch cinnamon buns, first whipped up in a frenzy of holiday baking back in 2007. Imagine, starry-eyed youth that I was at 18 years old, discovering the joys of yeasted doughs while the mere concept of vegan eggs, meat, and even dairy was still in its infancy. So much has changed since then, and yet that simple recipe not only survived, but continues to thrive.

It’s about time that original recipe gets more than a re-make, but a complete revamp. Now with better ingredients, better photos, better instructions, and more ideas for personalization, my Big Batch Cinnamon Buns can reach their full (and fully risen) potential.

What you’re getting here are the most buttery, pillow-soft, tender rolls twisted around a warm cinnamon sugar filling and then slathered in creamy maple icing, made for a crowd. They’re perfect for holiday gifts, make-ahead breakfasts and brunches, and late night desserts with all your loved ones. It would be hard to share if it was just one pan, but you’ll have enough to sweeten up everyone’s day, with seven full pans of these luscious treats in all. It takes very little work, which will be repaid ten fold in sugary satisfaction.

I’m sure you have questions about how such humble ingredients can be transformed into such lavish gifts. Luckily, I’ve made them quite a few times over the years now, and I have answers for you.

How can you modify these spiraled sweets to fit your tastes?

Easy, my dear! Consider spicing things up with a blend of pumpkin pie or chai spice to replace the simple cinnamon swirl, for starters. From there, amp up the icing with lemon or orange zest, replacing the maple extract with vanilla, almond, or even chocolate exact. Oh, did I mention chocolate? For real chocoholics, go ahead and use 2 cups (12 ounces) mini chocolate chips to sprinkle evenly over the filling for a gooey, gloriously melted center. If you’re feeling colorful, go crazy with rainbow sprinkles over the top.

How can these be prepared in advance?

For an overnight rest, fully assemble the buns in their pans, cover with plastic wrap, and let them chill in the fridge for up to 12 hours. Let come back up to room temperature before baking off, to have warm, fresh buns early in the morning. For long term storage, stash baked but un-iced buns in the freezer, again wrapped in plastic, for 4 – 6 months. Just prepare the icing fresh when you need it, because it will harden over time.

Is it possible to downsize for smaller appetites?

Of course! This recipe is easily halved, but you may end up with one half-filled pan. You can also use fewer pans and bake a half batch in one 11 × 7-inch rectangular baking dish + 1 8 x 8-inch square baking dish, or a full batch in three 11 × 7-inch rectangular baking dishes.

Do I really have to share?

Well, I don’t make the rules here and I won’t tell… But everyone will probably be happier if you do. Trust me.

Continue reading “Buns in the Oven”