When I was younger, “star wipe” – Friday nights epitomized my childhood, pre-divorce. Not only was it the one time a week the whole family came together for a meal, but it also meant a good meal, by a very special guest. The bus would stop at the corner of the street and as I took that first step out, my yid senses went off – Bubbie was at home. I swear I could smell that Chicken Matzoh Ball Soup from down the street. Like Pepe Le Pew, on a mission for love, my body would float blissfully towards imaginary scent lines. Swinging the door with such force, almost knocking it off its hinges, I’d enter the source of the taunting sweet smell. Looking up from my untied shoelaces, there would be Bubbie. Sitting across the hall at the kitchen table, cigarette in hand. The smell of smoke melding with that of the smell of chicken soup – this smell etched in my memory for life. She’d be chatting up a storm with the babysitter, her blond bob oscillating as she waved to me from down the hall.
Her passion for food and family is truly at the core of my inspiration to cook. I have such warm feelings when I think of the occasions where Bubbie catered our meals. Whatever this woman touched, turned to Jewish ‘soul food’ gold. I remember watching her in her kitchen: limited appliances, recipes written on the back of whatever scrap paper she could find, and her swaying to and throw from cabinet to cabinet, making magic on the stove top.
This past weekend was Rosh Hashanah and I decided to bake the Challah for our dinner. I’ve made a few challah’s before, but something felt different about this one. I thought of my Bubbie the whole time, trying to imitate the same kind of passion she put into her meals. On Rosh Hashanah instead of your typical braided loaf, you make a crown, to represent the crown of The New Year. I found a great demonstration for braiding a crown loaf, that was very easy and turned out beautiful, with it’s rounded layered texture.
Check out the link to learn how to make a 6 Braid Crown Challah
I fused a traditional challah recipe, with ingredients that don’t jeopardize my whole, clean health approach to eating. But, who am I kidding. A challah without butter - ain’t your traditional bubbie’s challah. The three proofs are very important in this recipe as is a warm place to allow it to rise. I didn’t allow enough time for my final bench proof, so it came out a bit small. But, it’s not about the size, it’s about the flavor. Ushering the challah to the table, after some prayers and apples dipped in honey, the challah had a life span of 8 minutes.
9 People - 1 Challah - 8 Minutes. That’s got to be some kind of record.
This recipe births a full bodied challah, with deep sweet undertones and a salty finish. The extra egg yolk helps give the challah the traditional yellow look. With some patience, attention to detail and lots of love from the soul, you won’t be able to quit this Challah.
Quantity: Yields one loaf.
This past weekend I found myself at The Vegetarian Food Festival, tasting my way through a plentitude of healthy options: probiotics, quinoa bars, milk substitutes, candida busters, soy butters, vitamins A-Z and natural energy boosters, strong enough to send me on three more laps of the joint. Is there such a thing as ingesting too much healthy? After the ancient mushroom tea that sent me running to the bathroom, I thought possibly so.
Over the past few months I have been navigating my way through a cleaner and healthier lifestyle, experimenting with recipes and buying only products with ingredients I recognize on the label. It evolved into me cooking mainly vegan meals in the house. My visit to The Vegetarian Festival inspired me to experiment with the sweet loaf family, adding a daily dose of vegetables and to make things even more interesting put the challenge of vegan on the table.
Banana bread is a binge inducing food for me so I try not to make too many, as the average life span is 12 hours post bake. Lots and lots of tiny slivers. I know you know what I mean. I put my Banana, Chocolate Chip Bread recipe aside and started drafting a new one: Vegan Zucchini Carrot Banana Bread.
Pre heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or line loaf tin with parchment paper
In a bowl combine ground flax seeds with warm water. Let stand until it becomes like a gel.
In another bowl, combine your dry ingredients (you can sift), flours, baking powde, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
Once flax seed has gelled, add other liquid ingredients and mashed banana and stir until well combined. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and begin to stir until mixture starts to combine. Stir in grated carrots and zucchini and mix until all flour is absorbed and mixture is thick and viscous.
Pour batter into a prepared load tin and bake for 45 minutes to one hour or until a cake tester (toothpick) comes out clean. I found that even after an hour the toothpick was still a bit sticky, but if you let it cool for 30 minutes it becomes less sticky. The reason for the sticky inside is because its a very moist bread.
MESSAGE TO MY READERS: Do not be alarmed, I have not strayed from butter for life, but during this short break, try out this recipe and find that there are so many incredible sweets and meals you can eat without sugar and butter!
I woke up early last Saturday morning. As I lay in bed, stumbling between blogs on food, I suddenly had this insatiable need for bread. Not only to eat it but to make it. Looking out my bedroom door I could see my fire engine red stand mixer beckoning to me; begging to be used. It had been months since I used it and ever since my bread classes ended two months ago, my hands had been increasingly fidgety, lacking a substantial task. What had I been waiting for…? To be honest, I’m a bit of a perfectionist and I didn’t want to start making bread until I had my oven size stone, but that’s a ridiculous excuse. I love making bread. All I need are my hands, patience, focus, an oven and a bit of creativity to substitue for the stone.
I jumped out of bed, ran into the kitchen with recipe in mind; checking the cabinets to make sure I had it all. Only four ingredients..and I had them all.
4 cups of Strong Bakers Flour (Or Bread Flour)
1 package (2 tsp) of dry active yeast ( I prefer the live yeast but it’s so hard to find)
1 1/2 cups Warm Water.
2 tsp Salt.
I typically make my breads by hand, but I knew I had to leave to meet friends for brunch in an hour. So I mixed old school with new school. Put 1/4 cup of the flour on a clean counter top and reserve. Place remaining 3 3/4 cups of the flour in your mixer bowl. Make a slurry with your water and yeast. Once it starts to activate make a well in the flour and salt and pour slurry in. Combine on a medium speed. Once the ingredients come together and it’s not sticking to the bowl place it on the floured counter.
This is a dryer dough so for kneading you just want to use the palm of your hand at a medium intensity and roll it away and then fold it back onto itself. Every few folds give it a corner turn until it gets a smooth texture like below.
Now comes the hard part. PATIENCE. In order to make a successful bread you need to let it proof (rise). There are three different proofing stages. Once your dough is rounded place it in a lightly oiled bowl, moving it around until the whole surface is covered. Cover with plastic and let it sit in a warm area for 1 1/2 hours.
I left for brunch and after 2 hours of trying not to rush my friends, I rushed home to find my dough beautifully proofed and swollen. I lightly punched out some of the air. Divide your dough to make two boule’s. Round each of them, by folding the seams underneath until you have two beautiful boule’s. Cover them with a wet towel and let it sit for 30 minutes.
Now the fun part. Designing you bread by scoring your desired shape. I decided to opt for the classic diagonal slash. Use a edge of a very sharp knife. Make sure to be quick and firm so you make a seamless, deep cut into the dough. The scoring will allow the bread to expand from inside itself out. It’s beautiful to watch. I like to sprinkle some flour on top after for color affect. It makes for a very ancient, rustic bread.
Let it sit again for another 20 minutes. During this time pre heat your oven to 450F. If you don’t have a stone, take a cookie sheet and turn it upside down. Let is pre heat in the oven as well so the material absorbs the heat. Once its ready take the pan outside of the oven, quickly and gently with a dough scraper lift the dough and place it onto the pan. This is where I get creative. The key to a beautiful crust is steam but most conventional ovens don’t have this. I know some people put a pan in the bottom and pour water into it but I’ve found the most effective is an iron. YES an iron. I fill it up with water, open the oven and give at least five generous steams.
The bread should take around 20-25 minutes but every oven is different so I reccomend using a thermomoter to check the internal tempature. You’re looking for 190-210F. Once you hit that area and you’re happy with your breads color. Take it out of the oven.
Now let it cool. This is the real test of patience. I usually sit and watch it for ten minutes and then devilishly give in to the aromatic smell, which has a habit of lingering through your nose right into your heart. Also my friend who doesn’t understand the meaning of patience was about to ripe my head off to get into the bread. So I gave in.
I always like to cut my bread and check the insides before tasting it. The crumb on this is a bit tight but has a nice uneven spread of wholes, which a good sign. I would have prefered it to be less tight. The crust is golden and crispy. Signs of a perfect bake and the smell. Oh the smell - a bold prominent yeast.
I had a slab of butter at room tempature waiting and I cut the first piece, My friend got right in there, leaving a trail of ooo’s, aahh’s but no crumbs!
The bread didn’t last long…We ate all of it that afternoon and the next morning. Some may call it gluttonous. I prefer to look at it as loyalty. I never leave a good bread sitting for long.
Broa de Milho - A Portuguese Corn Bread. (Made on my first class of Artisan Rustic Breads). Dense centre, tight crumb and thin crust.
I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to write about bread. It’s truthfully one of the main reasons as to why I started blogging, that and the heat in my belly, daring me to holler from rooftops, divulging my love affair with food. Like Marlon Brando, in a “Streetcar named Desire”, I’ll scream at the top of my lungs, my stirring inner desires - “FOOD, FOOD FOOD…” But back to bread.
You’re probably wondering, what the hell was that all about. Well, I tend to get carried away when it comes to food. Bread is really where it all started. As a child, I was privileged to a couple meals out to a restaurant every week. It wasn’t getting dressed up that got me excited or trying a new menu. Rather, it was that basket of bread. Warm, chewy, with a side of butter. Like clockwork, I’d arrive at the restaurant, sit down and glance at my menu to look busy. I’d patiently wait for our waiter/waitress to stroll over, giving them a few minutes to give us their schpeel - welcome, name, specials, drink orders…Before they’d take their next breath I’d be right in there with the question I’ve been waiting to ask since the moment I left my house, “Scuse me…does bread come with the table?” They’d methodically nod, and usher over the highly anticipated basked of bread, which would usually be steaming underneath a napkin. You may be asking, why such an obsession over the one part of dinner you don’t have to pay for? In my opinion, the bread is the tell a tale sign of whether a restaurant is good, especially for places in Europe (more of that later in another post). If you’re lucky and you score a restaurant who bakes their own bread…well than, you’re in for a taste-bud overload. I’m actually salivating.
Bread is a worldly tradition. It is how families and societies have eaten for millions of years. A Miche could feed a family for a week and if there was an oven big enough, a town as well. It is a staple of our diet and a food that doesn’t discriminate on class. Artisan rustic breads are of the most special- the most basic of ingredients, your hands and a bit of patience will produce a crusty, flavorful but humble meal. Bread is a beautiful food a true artisanal master piece. Baguettes, Sourdough’s, Ciabetta’s, Foccacia’s, Rye’s, Miche’s, Country’s, Batard’s and Boule’s O MY!
I’ve been lucky enough to squeeze in a bread course at George Brown. My mission is to master the craft of bread over the next year to eventually become a certified baker. I’ve had a mix of reactions. There’s the people who aw and oo at how cute I am to take up baking. There’s a few who are gluten intolerant so they can’t share my passion. And there’s the few who just don’t get it but pat me on the back for giving it a try. I know to some it may seem silly, but there’s nothing like watching a dough you kneaded, proofed, shaped and scored come out of that hot steaming stone oven, a beautifully baked bread. I was overwhelmed to foggy, damp eyes the first time.
I’m in the Artisan Rustic breads course and the last class is on Thursday…I’m planning on taking Sourdough next year. I’ll be posting highlights from the class, with instructions and pictures. In the meantime. Hurry over to your closest bakery or track one down (Dempsters, or any of those store packaged breads don’t count). Hopefully they’ve just made a fresh batch. Buy it, take it from her hand and don’t waste any time. Bite or ripe a piece. Close your eyes, and get lost in the texture.