Warmest Wishes

Winter weather advisories are in effect, sounding the alarm about snow, sleet, freezing rain, black ice, and pretty much any other blizzard conditions that might strike terror in the heart of any warm blooded mammal. Accumulation could range from bad to worse with no end in sight.

Scrolling through these dire reports, squinting at the sun-drenched screen, I squirm uncomfortably in my t-shirt and shorts. It’s February, historically known as the coldest, harshest month of the year, and yet I’m still too hot. Sub-zero winds may be howling through the Midwest and East Coast, but here in California, it feels like we’ve skipped right into late spring. The golden state, the place that winter forgot, is erupting with early flowers, perfuming the air with delicate scents of jasmine and lavender. Kids frolic home with a carefree easy typically reserved for vacations, peeling out of over-protective jackets the minute the school bell rings.

But no, it is winter. Firmly, definitely, still winter. Sorry for the remaining 49 states, to say nothing of the rest of the world.

My heart goes out to all of you out there in the brutal frozen tundra. You’re made of stronger stuff than me, so averse to the barest chill that 60 degrees sounds like sweater weather. While I can’t say I know how you feel, toughing it out in the elements like that, I can offer a bit of solace- Or perhaps more accurately, a bite of solace.

Nothing warms the heart and the house quite like lighting up the oven. Stay inside, get cozy in thick thermal underwear and floppy slipper socks; you’ve got everything you need right here.

Classic cinnamon rolls are hard to beat, slowly rising as the yeast comes alive, becoming lighter, more tender and softer by the minute. Buttery pockets of gentle spice and brown sugar spiral hypnotically in the pan, all shades of golden brown and delicious. Well, let’s take that same concept and simply apply a touch of chocolate instead, shall we?

Digging into the pantry for inspiration, an open bag of Rodelle Organic Hot Cocoa Mix seemed to be purposefully poised, ready to infuse this classic comfort food with an extra dose of warmth. With pure vanilla, dark Dutch-processed cocoa, and sugar all in one, the only thing you need to add are the marshmallows. Easy to drink, bake, and simply fall in love with.

As if it wasn’t enough to wrap springy cylinders of mini mallows right inside that swirling dough, sticky melted marshmallow glaze seals the deal with a sweet, juicy kiss.

For those of you facing single digit temperatures or worse, just stay inside. Keep warm from the inside out. You aren’t missing anything when a fresh batch of hot cocoa rolls rises to the occasion.

Continue reading “Warmest Wishes”

Advertisements

Easy Like Christmas Morning

Light filters in through frosted windows, gently painting the tinsel-clad branches of pine, dancing across silken wrappings, glinting off glossy greeting cards. All is still, silent, and calm. The air is just a breath too cold for comfort, but nothing the sun won’t fix in another minute, glowing and growing stronger right before sleepy eyes, still clouded with dream of feasts from the night before. Christmas morning, in the best situation, is a magical time, the split second right before children squeal with glee to mark the start of joyous mayhem. Controlled chaos will soon describe the scene as paper is torn and tags go flying. The last thing you want to fuss with is a fancy breakfast that would tear you away from these fleeting moments, but a bowl of cold cereal just won’t cut it today.

Before calamity descends, take the wheel and prepare yourself well in advance. Sticky buns or cinnamon rolls are the classic daybreak decadence for this annual celebration, but who wants to wake up at 5am to start mixing dough? Not me, even if I don’t have children to beat down the stairs or a tree to furnish before Santa slacks off.

Save yourself some time and labor by turning out one giant, majestic, family-style spiral, rather than individual little buns. Dazzling with warm rivulets of cinnamon sugar goo dripping into every tender spiral of dough, wrapping around crisp pecans like a pillowy blanket, you’ll think you’re still dreaming when you take the first bite.

Perhaps it will be the scent of buttery dough or cinnamon spices that awaken Christmas spirits, rather than the sunrise this time around. All the hard work is done the night before, so in the morning, all you need to do is preheat the oven and pop in the pan. It’s not exactly holiday magic… But it may just taste like that.

Continue reading “Easy Like Christmas Morning”

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”

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

How Do You Like Them Apples?

Few fruits are more loaded with symbolism than the common, everyday apple. Johnny Appleseed planted the trees straight into early American culture, likely with little more than basic sustenance in mind, but their importance goes far deeper than those shallow roots. Well before that, the Greeks associated the apple with Aphrodite,
the goddess of Love. The Christian mythology of Adam and Eve is well known, ascribing both great and terrible wisdom to the humble apple, the catalyst for the creation of civilization as we know it.

Those are some pretty weighty claims for such a simple, sweet little morsel. While a bite of one perfectly crisp, tart Fuji can feel like a moment of temporary enlightenment, sweetness, and all the comforting, optimistic, uplifting sentiments that go with it, are my ultimate takeaway. Enjoying apples on Rosh Hashanah in hopes of assuring a sweet New Year ahead feels almost redundant, almost too obvious, but still too good to question.

Thick slices of freshly harvested apples, lavished with an golden drizzle of thick honey, always stood at attention on the festive dinner table, waiting for takers. Even when darker, more robust maple syrup was offered alongside, those pale slivers sat as little more than those iconic symbols. A nice thought, a hospitable offering of well wishes, but not an actual appetizer, or palate cleanser- And certainly not dessert.

Given the abundance of apples all across the globe and their rich tradition in almost all cultures, it’s hard to come up with a truly original treat for Rosh Hashanah. I still can’t claim to have done so, but the last thing I want to serve is another standard-issue apple pie or apple cobbler. While I wouldn’t turn up my nose at either given the chance to serve myself, there are simply more decadent things I crave… Like apple fritters.

Doughnuts are hit-and-miss affairs, only good for the first hour or so out of the vat of hot oil. Their texture declines exponentially with every passing minute after that, and don’t get me started about the logistics of making enough for a crowd. To satisfying this particular, powerful longing, it was straight to the oven for me.

Sweet yeasted dough, rich enough to pass for challah, swaddles tender chunks of lightly simmered and spiced apples, prepared just as it might be for your typical deep fried function. After the usual chopping and division, however, these pieces are reunited in one large cake pan and baked together, emerging from the oven as one grand, show-stopping dessert fit for a crowd.

To keep more closely with tradition, the torte could be just as easily finished with a drizzle of vegan honey, agave, or maple syrup, but a simple vanilla bean glaze takes it over the top for me, more closely echoing its original doughnut inspiration.

Read whatever deeper meaning that you may, but there’s no questioning one thing about this latest twist in the apple saga: These are symbols that are meant to be eaten. Prepare to go home with an empty pan after this particularly sweet holiday.

Apple Fritter Torte

Torte Dough:

2 1/2 – 3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
3 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Active Dry yeast
1/2 Cup Aquafaba
1/2 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
6 Tablespoons Warm Water
6 Tablespoons Vegan Butter, Melted and Divided

Cinnamon-Apple Filling:

2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
2 Large Fuji Apples, Peeled, Cored, and Diced
1 Teaspoon Tapioca Starch

Vanilla Bean Glaze:

1 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Bean Paste or Extract
1 – 2 Tablespoons Water

In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine the 2 1/2 cups of the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, yeast, aquafaba, lemon zest, and water. Beat on a medium speed for 5 – 8 minutes, until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl and forms a soft, slightly sticky ball. Slowly add more flour, just a tablespoon at a time, to get it to a workable consistency. It should still be very tacky, and not as firm as bread dough. Allow the dough to rest for a minute.

Start the mixer again on low speed and slowly drizzle in 4 tablespoons of the melted butter, about a teaspoon at a time. Once fully incorporated incorporated, continue to knead with the hook attachment for about 5 minutes, until glossy, smooth, and elastic. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge overnight, or for at least 8 hours.

Meanwhile, prepare the apple filling by heating the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium skillet over moderate heat. Add the cinnamon and sugar, cooking until dissolved. Introduce the apples, reduce the heat to medium low, and gently simmer for about 10 – 15 minutes, stirring periodically, until fork-tender. Sprinkle the starch evenly over the mixture and quickly incorporate, whisking out any lumps. Cook just until slightly thickened and turn off the heat. Cool completely before using.

After the dough has properly rested, turn it out onto a floured surface and roll it into a large rectangle. Don’t sweat the actual size; just aim for about 1/4-inch thickness. Spoon the apple filling down half, lengthwise, and fold over the dough, pinching the edges together to seal. Use a very sharp knife to cut the skinny rectangle into 1-inch strips, and then cut those strips diagonally. If that sounds confusing, don’t worry! I made a fancy diagram in Paint to help you out:

And yes, it will be an absolutely terrific mess.

Fear not! Gather up all the pieces and press them into a lightly-greased 9-inch round springform pan. Let rest and rise for 1 hour, and in the meantime, begin preheating your oven to 350 degrees.

Bake for 1 hour – 1 hour 15 minutes, until amber brown all over; just a shade darker than simply “golden.”

Prepare the glaze by whisking together all the ingredients, adding just enough water to reach your desired consistency.

Cool the torte for at least 25 minutes before serving, but don’t let it sit too long! It’s best served warm, with the vanilla bean glaze lavished on top just prior to slicing.

Makes 14 – 16 Servings

Printable Recipe

Bae Goals

It must be something in the water. Perhaps it’s something in the air. Surely, there’s some secret ingredient that separates true bagels from merely ring-shaped buns. What else could explain the mystique behind “authentic” New York bagels, impossible to replicate beyond city borders? Defined more by texture than flavor, burnished crusts lacquered with any variety of seeds and salt give way to distinctive density and chew that enthusiasts laud. A quick dip in a boiling vat of malt-enriched alkaline water is the key factor that makes a bagel more than mere bread, much like soft pretzels.

Simple enough in concept, but intimidating in execution. Traditional recipes call for lye, in all its caustic glory, which is threatening enough to send me straight to the bakery, rather than the kitchen. Bagels were longtime residents on my list of baking goals, growing longer and less likely to be accomplished with every passing year. That was until I joined forces with chef Philip Gelb and lucked into one of his infamous bagel baking classes.

Demystifying the yeasted rings with a no-nonsense approach that anyone with even a passing culinary curiosity could happily jump right into, all fears of failure evaporated along with the rising steam.

Baking soda stands in for the deadly lye, reducing the risk of severe bodily harm right off the bat. Believe it or not, all the rest is fairly standard procedure; a vigorous mixing, resting and rising, shaping, and baking are all that separate you from savory satisfaction. No satanic incantations, obscure tinctures, nor acts of God need apply.

Bagels can take shape either by punching out the centers with a quick jab of the fingers, or rolled into snakes and connected at the ends. Personally, I prefer to poke out the middles as there’s less danger of them coming undone in the bubbling water bath.

Though technically optional, it’s hard to beat the classic “everything” topping, a melange that can include almost a full shelf out of the average pantry, which can make up for almost any other shortcomings. Instantly evoking that classic deli flavor, it’s actually the onion flakes that I find most essential to the combination. All else is flexible, but if you’re truly flummoxed by the proper ratios, you can even buy ready-made blends. Such shortcuts are completely acceptable when you go through the trouble of baking the bagels from scratch, if you ask me.

Purists will argue until they’re blue in the face about what makes for the best bagels, but this much I know is true: Nothing beats the ones coming out of your own oven, hot and fresh, just barely cool enough to slice. Such beauty needs no further toasting to perfect (perish the thought!) but a thick schmear of hummus or cream cheese never hurts.

World Bread Day, October 16, 2017

I’m delighted to finally share such a delicious victory today for the 11th annual World Bread Day. After so much agita, it’s a joy to finally take this project off my list of lofty goals, and move it onto the list of everyday staples. Don’t buy into the hype- Or the sad, stale carb bombs sold in most grocery stores. Even if you’re not a bagel-fanatic, baking is believing!

Bagels
By Chef Philip Gelb of Sound & Savor

1 Teaspoon Active Dry Yeast
4 Tablespoons Rice Malt, Barley Malt, or Agave, Divided
2 Cups Warm Water (105 Degrees Fahrenheit)
1 Teaspoon Salt
2 Cups Whole Wheat Flour
3 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 1/2 Teaspoons Baking Soda
Dried Garlic, Dried Onion, Sesame Seeds, Poppy Seeds, and/or Coarse Salt (Optional)

In a large bowl, combine the yeast, 1 tablespoon of malt, and the warm water. Let the yeast proof until the surface becomes foamy; about 5 minutes. Whisk in the salt. Add the whole wheat flour and 2 cups of the all-purpose flour, stirring with a wooden spoon until incorporated.

Place the dough on a sturdy, clean surface and slowly work in the rest of the all-purpose flour. Knead for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Coat the dough with olive oil, place in a bowl, and cover tightly with a clean dish towel.

Let rise until the dough has doubled in volume; about 1 hour, though time may vary greatly due to temperature and altitude.

After the dough has doubled, knead it lightly for 1 minute. Divide the dough into 12 equal parts. Roll each piece into log and then fold it into a circle, firmly pressing the seam together. Place each bagel on a lightly floured surface, cover with a clean towel, and let rise until doubled; about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 500 degrees and place a baking stone inside, if using. Otherwise, the bagels can be baked on a standard sheet pan. In a large pot, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil and add the baking soda along with the remaining 3 tablespoons of malt. The baking soda is necessary to properly texture and brown the bagels.

After the bagels finish their second rise, boil each bagel for 1 minute on each side, keeping the water at a consistent, rapid boil.

Now your bagels are ready to bake. If you want, you can top them with any or all of the seasonings your heart desires, patting them gently into the top to make sure they adhere. Transfer carefully to your baking stone or sheet pan, and bake for about 15 minutes.

The bagels are best served within 15 minutes of emerging from the oven!

Makes 12 Bagels

Printable Recipe