Archive for the ‘bread’ Category


How was your Thanksgiving? Your Hanukkah?

This Thanksgiving, with nine of us around the table, we kept things low-key and didn’t go crazy with the food. I mean, we didn’t even have potatoes, sweet or otherwise.

Now, even with a more streamlined menu, there was still that last-minute scramble as we pulled the turkey out of the oven and realized that we hadn’t cooked the broccoli and brussels sprouts. Actually, we hadn’t even decided how to cook those vegetables. While we let the turkey rest, my mom and I rapidly sliced off florets and halved sprouts, spread them on a few baking sheets, doused with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and popped them into the hot oven. You can’t go wrong with roasting.

We started dinner with soup served in mugs. The mugs don’t match the plates. They don’t even match each other. And not in that hip casual-chic kind of way. I love that we start dinner in mugs. It’s cozy – you can’t help but wrap your hands around the warm ceramic, raise it to your face, and blow on the steaming  soup until it’s cool enough to sip, spoons reserved for scraping out the last few drops.

After the salad was passed around, my cousin Ben slipped out to carve the turkey (he’s a turkey-carving whiz) and I grabbed the vegetables and stuffing out of the oven.

We took a dishwashing break before dessert.

The next day, we had turkey for lunch and dinner.

Cornbread stuffing, apple, celery, herbs

Before we get to the stuffing (you know, just in time to start planning next Thanksgiving), here are a few links and thoughts for the week.

Ever put maple syrup in your coffee? Try it. Thanks for the tip, Adeena.

Paula Wolfert – queen of Mediterranean, Moroccan, and clay pot cooking – talks about Alzheimer’s and staving off its progression with cooking. On starting off every morning  with a hulk-green smoothie, filled with anti-oxidants and ingredients purported to improve cognition, she says, “It is tough going because it’s not delicious, it’s nutritious.  My grandmother told me, during the second world war, we were sitting in the vegetable garden: If you want to win a war, you’ve got to be willing to fight.”

A new-to-me blog, Apt. 2B Baking Co. More photos than words, Yossy Arefi, makes cakes and cookies that make me want to go out and buy pounds and pounds of butter. How about a meyer lemon and grapefruit bundt? Yes, please.

And now, the stuffing.

Cornbread apple stuffing

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Apple and Herb Stuffing for All Seasons. I substituted corn bread (this recipe, which is based on Elisha’s recipe) for the hearty white bread that Deb recommended. I doubled this recipe for Thanksgiving, and our family of nine had enough leftovers for days.  When I reheat the stuffing, I sometimes pour a little liquid over top – water works just fine – to keep it from drying out in the oven (or microwave). 

Make or buy cornbread a day or two in advance if possible so you can pull it apart and dry it out; otherwise, toast it in the oven for 10-15 minutes. If you do want to make your own cornbread, I’ve modified my go-to recipe to reflect the quantities for this stuffing. 

Serves 8-10

- 1 recipe cornbread (below) or 6 cups of cornbread cut or torn into cubes and crumbs (approximately an 8X8 pan)
- 1 large yellow onion
- 2 large stalks celery
– 1 large or 2 small firm, tart tart apples, such as Granny Smith
– 5 T olive oil, divided
- 1 t chopped fresh thyme leaves
- ½ t kosher salt, plus more to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ C roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 3 sage leaves, minced
- 1-2 C turkey, chicken or vegetable stock or broth
- 1 large egg

Dry. Cut or tear the cornbread into small cubes or crumble into large crumbs. Let the bread dry out for a day or two before proceeding, or spread it out in a single layer on a large baking sheet and bake at 350°F for 10-15 minutes until pale golden. Keep your oven on.

Sauté. Finely chop the onion, celery, and apple. Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, thyme, salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add celery and cook for 2 more minutes. Then add apple and sauté until a bit tender, another 5 minutes.

Mix. Place dried-out cornbread in a large mixing bowl and scrape contents of the skillet on top. Whisk together egg and 1 cup broth and pour over. Stir in parsley and sage. Dig your hands in and mix everything together. The bread should hold its shape but be wet enough to squish when you squeeze it. If the bread seems a bit dry, pour another half cup of broth over it. If it’s still dry, pour in the last half cup. Let the bread soak for half an hour in the refrigerator.

Bake. Use the last tablespoon of oil to grease a 9-inch square baking dish (or another equivalent pan) . Spoon the bread mix into the dish. If  you toasted the bread earlier, your oven should already be at 350°F; otherwise, turn it on. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until brown on top and no liquid appears if you insert a knife vertically into the center of the stuffing pan and turn it slightly. Serve immediately, or reheat as needed. If you do reheat, you might need to add some extra liquid before popping into the oven for 10-15 minutes. 

(Non-dairy) skillet cornbread

Slightly modified from this recipe, which is based on this recipe

Serves 6-8

- 1 ½ C flour
- 1 ½ C fine cornmeal
- 2 T sugar
- 1 ½ t salt
- 1 ½ t baking powder
¾ C corn kernels (I use frozen and thaw them before use)
- 1 ¼ C water
– 4 T oil (canola or olive), divided
– 2 eggs

Preheat oven to 450ºF. Place a large oven-proof cast-iron skillet on the middle rack.

Mix. In a large bowl, mix together flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.

Purée. Place the corn, water and 2 tablespoons of oil into a blender (or food processor) and puree for about 2 minutes until it’s smooth and no corn pieces remain. Add the eggs and continue to blend everything together. You’ll end up with a light yellow liquid that’s a bit thicker than whole milk.

Wait. Wait until the oven is hot before adding the wet ingredients to the dry.

Stir. Add the wet ingredients to the dry. Stir until all the ingredients are incorporated (don’t over-mix), scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl to make sure you don’t miss any flour.

Swirl. Take the skillet out of the oven (it will be very hot) and pour in the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, swirling so that it coats the bottom and sides of the skillet. Pour the batter into the skillet – is should sizzle as it hits the hot pan.

Bake. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Serve warm right out of the pan. If you’re making stuffing, let the cornbread completely cool, then cut or crumble into pieces and allow to dry out overnight or in the oven, as detailed above.

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that upstairs

You might notice that things look a little bit different here today. That there? That’s a little glimpse of my office.

CroutonsEvery morning, after the frenzy of coats and hats and scarves come off,  I drop my purse on the floor and my lunch, when I remember to pack it, on my desk. Eventually lunch makes its way into the fridge on my first trip upstairs to the kitchen for tea.

And let’s talk about that upstairs.  It’s where the printer is. It’s where the engineers sit. It’s where the real work gets done. It’s where the couches are. It’s where we gather for lunch.

Today I brought in a jar of soup. It was leftover roasted carrot from Sunday’s brunch (thanks Jenn!). And I topped it with croutons, and that’s what I want to quickly chat about today.

Yup, we’re going to talk about stale bread. There’s so much you can do with stale bread that I sometimes buy a loaf hoping I won’t be able to eat the whole thing before it dries out.

Looking back, I’ve used stale bread quite a bit around here. It’s the star of a salad. Ground into crumbs over another salad. Pureed to thicken cold soups. Rubbed with garlic and floated on a hot soup.

Today’s stale bread works equally well in soups or salads. The trick is to cut it into small cubes, no more than a half-inch on each side. I like to use baguette or a nice boule; you don’t want anything too airy. Toss the cubes with a nice drizzle of olive oil and a few pinches of salt and a few grinds of pepper, maybe even some spices. Throw them on a cookie sheet and into the oven at 300° – 350°F for about ten minutes until they start to color. Or toast them up in a pan on the stove for about five minutes.

Once they cool, they go into a bag and into my office and onto my desk and up the stairs and into a jar and onto a couch and into my belly.


And in case you want a closer look at the soup, here’s a quick picture that I snapped as I packed my lunch in the morning.

roasted carrot soup

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I’m still savoring the New Yorker December 3, 2012 food issue, nursing it like a café au lait in a bowl so large you get to warm up both hands as you lift it to your lips. The issue itself is comforting, inviting, lingering-inducing. You may have caught a glimpse of it sprawling across my table next to my salad earlier this week.

Jim Lahey's  no-knead bread

The article that’s on my mind now is one about young French female CEO Apollonia Poilâne, her business, her traditions, and her bread. Of course, it’s not really her bread, but her family’s bread, a legacy started eighty years ago in Paris by her grandfather Pierre Poilâne and their first eponymous bakery. And, one might argue that it’s not really her family’s bread, but France’s bread. Poilâne‘s signature miche, a 4-pound round loaf with a mild sourdough flavor, is often sold by the half, sliced in long tranches for tartines (open-faced sandwiches). In fact, the term pain Poilâne has become synonymous with sandwich bread (like the British term Hoover for vacuum).

Jim Lahey's no-knead bread, the process: first rise, 15-minute rest, second rise, out of the oven

Apollonia Poilâne has several ideas about the eating of bread, including:

  1. Bread should not steal the quality of the meal.
  2. I don’t believe in making bread at home.
  3. It’s terribly wrong to eat bread while it’s still cooling.

Jim Lahey's no-knead bread, getting ready to slice

And yet, I broke every single one of those rules last week when I made Jim Lahey’s game-changing bread recipe.  After two prior failed attempts, I was inspired to try baking this bread one more time after reading Tamar Adler‘s “How to Have Balance” chapter in which she says “Bread can be the thing you’re eating, not a prelude to the meal, or an afterthought.” 

Jim Lahey's no-knead bread, the first slice

And so I planned a meal in which the bread was the centerpiece, placed squarely in the middle of the plate with just a few adornments. Butter, honey, Chevrot, olive oil, salt.

Jim Lahey's no-knead bread, a few tranches

When we took the bread out of the oven, flipping it from the pot to the cutting board, we leaned in to hear the murmuring of the crust – microscopic cracks forming as the bread cooled and contracted. In Appolonia’s words, ça chante, it sings. We couldn’t wait for the bread to cool, and as we made the first cuts, the steam filled our noses, the rich scent of … bread, but really the feeling of home. We tore the first naked slice in half, chewing it, thoughtfully, entranced.

Jim Lahey's no-knead bread, the aftermath

Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread

There are two very similar versions of the recipe – the one on the Sullivan Street Bakery site and the one that Mark Bittman published in the New York Times. I added a little extra yeast and salt – next time I’d add more salt. While there is very little work that goes into making the bread, it does require a lot of time, so you do need to plan in advance. The whole process from start to finish – mixing, two rises, baking – takes 15 – 21 hours. I like to start the dough the afternoon before, give it an 18-hour first rise, and then bake the bread around 11 am in time for lunch. If you want to cut down on time, check out this video that recommends adding red wine vinegar (!) to the mix.

Here are a few lessons that I learned along the way.

Make sure you have a heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid. I use a Le Creuset cocotte (French oven). The standard black knob that comes with the pot can’t sustain the high heat required; either replace it with a stainless one or remove the knob and fill the hole with some aluminum foil. The first time I made the bread, I used a covered tagine whose loose-fitting top not only let the steam out, but cracked when I removed it from the oven.

Don’t fuss with the dough. Refrain from peeking at it, lifting the plastic, kneading, or poking too much to check its rise. I put the bowl on top of the refrigerator to help me resist temptation.

The most difficult part of the whole recipe is transferring the dough into the hot pot. You want to do this quickly so you can cover the pot and get it back into the oven as fast as possible. I found that this was easiest when I placed the tea towel holding the dough on a cookie sheet so that I could let the dough tumble into the pot.

Makes one 1½-pound loaf.

- 3 cups all-purpose (or bread) flour, more for dusting

-1/2 teaspoon instant yeast

- 2 t salt

- 1 5/8 C warm water

- Cornmeal (or wheat bran)

Stir. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add water, and use your hands to stir everything around until blended. The dough will be very wet and sticky and will look shaggy – messy and scruffy and unkempt.

Rise. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees. The dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles.

Rest. Lightly flour your counter and roll the dough out on it in a jiggly mass. Sprinkle the dough with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap (right on the counter) and let it rest for 15 minutes.

Rise again. Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape the dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with cornmeal (or flour or wheat bran). Put the dough seam side down on the towel and dust with more cornmeal (or flour or wheat bran). Cover the dough with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, the  dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger. I placed the dough and towels on a cookie sheet and placed the whole thing on top of my refrigerator.

Heat. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat the oven to 450ºF. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex, or ceramic) in oven as it heats. If you’re not sure which of your pots to use, go with the larger one – the bread is beautiful when it’s shaped free form.

Transfer. When the dough is ready, grab your oven mitts and carefully remove the pot from oven. Slide your hand under the towel and turn the dough over into the pot, seam side up. There will be some cornmeal on what is now the top. It will look like a mess, but that’s OK. Shake the pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes.

Bake. Cover with lid and bake for 30 minutes, and then remove the lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is browned.

Cool. Cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes. The cooler the bread, the easier it will be to cut. If you can wait that long.

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the rest

I’m catching up on my NPR over here, this time a Splendid Table broadcast from a few weeks ago. (Listen to the first 9 minutes or read the transcript here.) It’s a conversation with Penny De Los Santos, photographer extraordinaire. I almost wrote food photographer, but, when you hear her talking, you realize that she doesn’t just photograph food, she captures moments and feelings.

So I flipped through the pages of this blog. I’d say I mostly shot food. Nice food, but food nonetheless. I take pictures I think are pretty, that demonstrate a method, that show you what your breakfast-lunch-dinner-snack-dessert might look like if you try out a recipe. The blog is largely recipes with a little life thrown in. Often I struggle with talking about that life. Or photographing it.

I do sometimes photograph moments. A shared lunch, a week on another coast, a long day. But the majority of my photos feel like this, inside:

I’m standing on a chair, alone in my apartment, taking pictures of something I’ve made.

Most of the time, you’ll see a single piece of something that I’m eating. Alone.

Usually, I’m bringing the rest to friends.

So, today I tried to focus on the rest. The best part.

Not that cooking – the tap-tap as you chop potatoes, the tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap as you chop herbs, the rising of a cake, the wiping your hands on a towel (or, if you’re me, on your jeans), the digging your hands in — isn’t the best. But it’s not enough. And I’d like my pictures to express that more.

So, as I try to write in a different way, I’ll also experiment with photographing in a different way.

(Non-dairy) skillet cornbread with cayenne

I was searching for a non-dairy cornbread to bring’s to a friend’s dinner, and Elisha came to the rescue with a recipe that doesn’t require milk substitutes or margarine.

(A few other people suggested using coconut oil. Barella, a high school classmate, even offered to send me a recipe for a “vegan butter spread made with coconut oil, flax oil, and agave nectar among other things”. Clearly she remembers me from my overly ambitions teen years.)

There’s a little bit of magic in this recipe. You purée the corn with oil and water and eggs, which creates a creamy replacement for the milk or buttermilk that most recipes use. You don’t miss the buttery taste because the corn taste is nice as strong. I don’t like whole corn kernels in my cornbread, but if you do, feel free to throw an extra cup or so into the batter. I also added a bit of cayenne for a little heat at the end of each bite. I increased the recipe by half because I only had a large (11-inch skillet); the original calls for a 9-inch skillet, so check out Elisha’s blog for the right measurements if you have that size.

Finally, I have a few words on technique. It will probably take your oven a while to heat. You might be tempted to mix all of the ingredients together and then wait. Do the opposite – wait until the oven reaches the right temperature, and then blend everything together. Cornbread is a quick bread and it rises due the chemical reaction of baking powder and liquid (and eggs). Once you mix the wet and dry ingredients, you’ll notice bubbles. You don’t want all the bubbles to form and break before they hit the oven of you’ll get a flat dense bread. (Ever tried to make pancakes from yesterday’s batter? They’re thin and tough. Same reason). So, mix up the dry ingredients, puree the corn with the wet ingredients and just barely stir everything together right before you pour it into the skillet.

Now, about that pan. You want the pan to be really hot before you add the batter so you’ll get a nice sizzle. Keep in in the oven while it’s heating up. Then take it out (oven mitts, don’t forget oven mitts), grease with a little oil and add the batter. I let my pan cool down a bit too long, so I stuck the filled pan on a burner for a few minutes to make sure the bottom would get nice and crisp.

Ok, finally, on to the recipe. It’s much easier than the length of my notes would have you believe.

Serves 8-10

- 2 1/2 C flour

- 1 3/4 C fine cornmeal

- 1/2 C coarse cornmeal

- 1/4 C sugar

- 2 t salt

- 2 t baking powder

- 1/2 t cayenne pepper

- 1 C corn kernels (I used frozen and thawed them before use)

- 2 C less 2 T water

- 5 T oil (I used canola), divided

- 3 eggs

Preheat oven to 450ºF. Place a large oven-proof cast-iron skillet on the middle rack. 

Mix. In a large bowl, mix together flour, both cornmeals, sugar, salt, baking powder, and cayenne. Set aside.

Purée. Place the corn, water and 3 tablespoons of oil into a blender (or food processor) and puree for about 2 minutes until it’s smooth and no corn pieces remain. Add the eggs and continue to blend everything together.

Wait. Wait until the oven is hot before adding the wet ingredients to the dry.

Stir. Add the wet ingredients to the dry. Stir until all the ingredients are incorporated (don’t over-mix), scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl to make sure you don’t miss any flour.

Swirl. Take the skillet out of the oven (don’t forget the oven mitts!) and pour in the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, swirling so that it coats the bottom and sides of the skillet. Pour the batter into the skillet – is should sizzle as it hits the hot pan.

Bake. Bake for 20-25 minutes. I broiled it for the last few minutes to get a golden brown top. Serve warm right out of the pan. Again, oven mitts. Don’t forget the oven mitts.

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Some things get easier as we get older. But making new friends is not one of them. Sure, we make acquaintances. We have people to go out to dinner with. And brunch. We befriend the parents of our kids’ friends based on play dates and carpools and school projects. But friends who know you like your high school and college friends do? Those are few and far between, and they get fewer and farther between as time goes by.

When my parents moved out to Palo Alto over a decade ago, they were in a bind. New coast, new city, new life. They knew no one. They were, to some extent, starting over. They quickly joined a synagogue, but lived several miles away, too far to walk to shabbat services as the congregation was wont to do. So they stayed in a nearby hotel on many Friday nights and relied on the community’s hospitality for shabbat dinners and lunches. It’s a hard position to be in, not being able to reciprocate.

One of my mother’s first friends in California was Stephanie. In a recent email, my mother described Stephanie as “the quintessential Palo Alto hostess … If there was an extra person or two in synagogue who needed hospitality, she could always stretch a meal to accommodate them and no one knew it was a stretch.  That was definitely a talent.” It may sound strange to think of people “needing” to be fed, but on shabbat, one of the main tenets, at least my favorite one, is eating with family and community. While she started by welcoming my parents to the community, Stephanie quickly became family. She and my mom spoke nearly every night. They even shared a birthday – February 12 – and my parents threw Stephanie a celebratory brunch when she hit a big something-oh.

Stephanie and her mother both died of ovarian cancer a few years back. In their matriarchs’ honor, the family started the Stephanie Sussman and Ann Nadrich Memorial Fund through Sharsheret, an organization that supports Jewish women facing breast and ovarian cancer. Soon Stephanie’s  daughters, Adeena and Sharon, started the Pies for Prevention Thanksgiving bake sale to raise ovarian cancer awareness and to support Sharsheret’s Ovarian Cancer Program. The bake sale has grown, gained press coverage and, now in its fourth year, you can buy pies (and breads) in eight cities across the nation, including up here in the Boston area (more on that later).

(Stephanie was clearly beautiful on the inside, and her daughters are testament to how stunning she was on the outside.)

When my family crowded around our Thanksgiving table last year, drowsy from too much turkey, we greeted our pies with greedy eyes and large plates that were soon crumb-covered. Our bellies were full, and so were our hearts.

If you’re in the Boston area and would like to order some goodies but can’t make it out to Sharon to pick them up, I’m going to be making a pie and bread run so you can grab their orders from my place the two evenings  before the holiday.

Pumpkin-Cranberry Bread

Adeena Sussman shared this recipe with me. She’s a great chef and food writer, and this quick bread is a good example of her talent for recipe development.  When we ate it last year, we couldn’t figure out whether to serve it with the meal or for dessert. If you can, hide a few leftover slices, then toast them up and slather them with butter for breakfast the next morning. You can always go to the gym next week.

Makes two 9-inch loaves or three 8-inch loaves  

- One 15 oz can solid-pack pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)

- 4 eggs

- 1 cup vegetable oil

- 2/3 cup water

- 2 cups white sugar

- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

- 2 teaspoons baking soda

- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

- 1 1/2 cup fresh cranberries

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch or three 8-inch loaf pans and reserve.

In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger.

Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Gently stir in cranberries. Pour into the prepared pans.

Bake for 60-65 minutes in the preheated oven. Loaves are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

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over the edge

You know how I like my kitchen appliances? How sad and lost I am when they break? Unfortunately I have another one to add to the graveyard collection.

Yes, another one.

And this one will require a bit more research to replace and upgrade. Luckily I have my culinary school instructors to offer advice (and maybe a discount!).

As you may have noticed, I’ve moved past the bread machine for my challah and onto the KitchenAid mixer.  Just one attempt at the really old-fashioned way was enough (un œuf!) to remind me how much I rely on my tools.

Until they become unreliable.

My fourth challah recipe, this time an Israeli one from Janna Gur, pushed my mixer over the edge. Literally.

The sweet egg-y dough had been kneading in my mixer for about 7 minutes continuously when I heard a strange clunking. A loud whir. A grumble. I jumped from my perch on the couch to investigate the commotion. I made it to the kitchen in time to see the arm of the mixer flapping over the bowl as the kneading hook turned.

And then.

And then the mixer – bowl, dough, flapping arm and turning hook – took a few hops on the counter before diving to the floor.

I am not joking.

The bowl stayed miraculously locked to the base. The dough securely cradled inside.

The arm was nice and warm. Really warm. Too warm.

I kneaded the rest by hand.

I am not quite ready to share the challah recipe that led to my mixer’s demise because I haven’t worked out all the kinks. However, I did want to pass along a “braiding” technique that makes really unique challot.

Halot à la “danoise”

I discovered this braiding technique from Anne Sfez, who writes the bilingual French-English blog a foodie froggy in Paris.

Rather than braiding the loaves like you might braid your hair, she shapes challah like a danish. Anne has a great pictorial that is very easy to follow – you should check it out. But if you like unnecessarily wordy, here are my directions.

Roll. After it has risen, roll the dough into a rectangle. The size of the rectangle is up to you, but I usually make one dimension twice the length of the other.

Cut. You’re going to make evenly spaced diagonal cuts on both sides of the dough – the dough will then look like a feather. The trick to this is getting all of your cuts at the same angle and symmetrical. Mentally divide the rectangle lengthwise into thirds. Place a ruler one-third of the way from the right side (or the left side if you cut left-handed). Make a series of parallel diagonal cuts down the right side, using the ruler as a guide, and cutting towards you. I use a big chefs knife or dough scraper so I can make each cut in a single swipe and keep my wrist at the same angle. I usually leave 1-inch or so between cuts.

Flip.When you’re done with the first side, flip the dough over so the cuts are now on the left and facing you. Use a little extra flour if you need to. This is a full flip, not a 180-degree turn (which would leave the cuts also on the left, but facing away from you).

Cut again. Line up your ruler again, one-third from the right side of the dough. Using the ruler as a guide, make diagonal cuts with your right hand. Make sure that each cut starts directly across from its pair. When you finish, you should have a symmetrical feather.

Fold. Starting at the top (the point of the arrow), fold the first flap towards the center, then fold the opposite flap towards the center and over the first. Repeat this right-left-right-left (or left-right-left-right)  until you reach the bottom of the feather. You’ll be left with a little trapezoid/triangle. Pull it off and make a challah roll with it. This makes it easier to tuck the last few edges underneath the end of the loaf.

Rise and bake.

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knead to breathe

Hi there. I know this is a really long post. Really long. Stay with me, though. And if you just want to learn how to weave a really cool round challah, just skip down about halfway to the diagrams. The instructions are still really long. But it’s a lot easier than the number of words would lead you to believe. Trust me.

I was asked by PresenTense a few weeks ago to contribute to the food column of their upcoming magazine, themed “Leadership and the Jewish World.”  They wanted me to take a photograph of a freshly baked challah to accompany a challah recipe and “a Rosh Hashanah meditation.”

They lost me at meditation. Especially when I initially though they wanted me to write the meditation.

I’m not spiritual. I giggle at a mere whiff of hooky kooky. Plus, I think I have challah pretty down pat, whether it’s my bread machine version or the recipe I carried back with me from Panama.

As karma would have it, though, on the day of our initial email introduction, Michal (the “meditator”) was in my city and my evening plans had been cancelled. So I invited her over for a little baking.

When Michal knocked on my door, I was on the phone, my 5 pm teleconference having run late. I invited her in, offered her a drink and anything else she could find in my refrigerator, and then promptly disappeared into my home office for another 20 minutes.

Phone in hand but computer off, I finally rejoined her in the kitchen, sink filled with dishes and pots that I hadn’t finished washing, and we settled down to work. She explained that her challah recipe was less about the ingredients and more about the process and experience.

“Right, so what do we need to get started?” I asked, turning to the pantry, grabbing two different flours and sugar.

My phone rang. “I’m sorry, I have to take this.” Phone cradled between ear and shoulder, I pulled out eggs and yeast from the refrigerator and continued my call, opening one of the silverware drawers and pointing towards the measuring cups, then running back to my office to draft a quick email. I then changed out of my work dress and into a tanktop and pair of gauchos.

Upon my return, Michal was measuring out ingredients, rifling through my cabinets to find what she needed. “Good, you made yourself at home.” I put my phone down at the far edge of the counter.

Michal stood in the middle of my kitchen, her feet comfortably turned out somewhere between first and second positions. She directed me to mix warm water, sugar, and dry yeast in a bowl until it bubbled. I reached for my KitchenAid mixing bowl – and she said we could use the bowl, but we wouldn’t be using the mixer. We’d be kneading it ourselves.

“Right. I forgot about that part.” I switched to a regular bowl, added the yeast, lukewarm water, and sugar, and we waited for the bubbles to show that the yeast has proofed.

While waiting, Michal explained the theory behind what she calls “deep breath baking.” She views the baking of challah as an allegory for the week: the reward for hard work is a period of much-needed (get it?) rest over shabbat. She recommends preparing the challah with intention and attention, savoring all the senses stimulated by the look, feel, smell, and taste.

We decided that our challah would be filled with the intentions of love and groundedness.

Once the yeast had proofed, we measured out flour, salt, oil, water, and eggs and began to mix. After a few swipes with a wooden spoon, I dug right in with my hands. I turned the shaggy dough out onto my counter and began to knead. Michal’s technique for kneading dough starts not with the arms and shoulders, but with the entire body, taking a bracing stance and rocking back and forth with the dough. She explained that kneading the dough strengthens the bonds between wheat proteins to form gluten and create elasticity. She instructed me to  breathe deeply, taking advantage of the elasticity of my own lungs and filling them to capacity.

I built up a rhythm: inhale – lean back – scoop and gather dough, exhale – lean forward – push dough, inhale- back – scoop and gather, exhale – forward – push.

For the next ten minutes, I focused on the rocking motion, watching my hands push and pull the dough. It reminded me of how I feel when I roll out pastry dough. Calming. My mind free and uncluttered. Thinking of little more than the back and forth and the responding dough.

Michal emphasized that rest is in the challah recipe. When she normally teaches her “deep breath baking” course, she spends the hour while the challah is rising to lead a yoga class. Participants often arrive to her class armed with a mat.

We knew the dough was ready to rise in the warmth of a recently turned off oven when the dimples made by sticking in two finger remained.  We spent the rising time preparing a dinner of udon and salad.

Despite my misgivings, I didn’t escape the meditation part. By the time the challah was in the oven, I was ready. We braided the loaves (more later on my newly-discovered round challah braiding technique), doused them with egg wash, and loaded them into the oven. While the air filled with the sweet scent of bread, Michal led me through two meditations, one to help ground me and another to open up my heart.

The timer buzzed. I felt invigorated.

We enjoyed the fruits of our labor.

How to weave a round challah

With Rosh Hashana just around the corner, I’ve been experimenting with different techniques to make round challah. In the past, I’ve always used the coil strategy, but I decided it wasn’t fancy enough. I searched around and found some great instructions for making a woven round challah. Trust the Chabad women – they know their challah! (Note: formatting on the website is difficult to read, so I’ve made a document that is easier to read. All of the content is exactly the same.)

On the night when Michal and I baked together, I made my first attempt. Not too bad, but with practice, I think I’ve gotten the technique down. It does take a bit of extra time and concentration. So, if you’re hurrying around the kitchen, trying to do a million things…it’s probably not the best time for a trial. But when you do have an extra few minutes, take a few breaths and try this technique. And let me know how it goes.

These instructions look much more complicated then they are – you can pretty much get by with looking at the  pictures, but I’ve tried to be as explicit as possible to make things easy on you.

Divide. After your dough has risen, divide it into four strands (or eight strands if you’re going to make 2 loaves).

Weave 1. Place two strands next to each other. The next two strands will be perpendicular to the first two. Take a third strand and from left to right, place it under the first strand and over the second strand. Take a fourth strand, put it beneath and parallel to the third strand, and from left to right, place it over the first strand and under the second strand. This should form a woven cross. Each of the parallel pairs has a strand that’s an “over” and a strand that’s an “under.” In the picture below, in the top pair, the left strand is an over (let’s call it #1) and the right strand is an under (let’s call it #2). Make sense?

Weave 2: Counterclockwise. In each parallel pair, cross the under over the over. So, in the top pair above, cross the right (#2) over the left (#1) and place #2 at a 90 degree angle counterclockwise from #1 (essentially at the 9 o’clock position). Repeat with all four pairs in a counterclockwise direction. The old overs are now unders and have not moved. The old unders are now overs and have moved counterclockwise 90 degrees. There are now 4 new sets of pairs –  line each pair up in parallel lines as best as you can.

Weave 3: Clockwise. Now we go clockwise. Are you still with me? Just a few more steps and we’re almost there. This is the same move as before – in each parallel pair, cross the unders over the overs — but clockwise this time. Looking at the top pair, you will want to cross the left over the right. In the picture below, I’m pulling the first under over its over (in the 3 o’clock position — sorry for not starting at the 12 o’clock position).

Repeat with all four pairs in a clockwise direction until it looks like this. Pretty cool, no? Not as hard as it sounded, right?

Keep going. If you still have some room on the strands, continue weaving, switching directions with each round. I was able to make one more counterclockwise weave.

Gather and flip. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment. When you can weave no more, gather the ends of all 8 strands in one hand and pull towards the center of the challah. With the other hand, pick up the bottom of the challah and then flip it over so that all the short strands are underneath, and place on the parchment.

Bake. Bake as you normally would. I typically brush the challah with an eggwash (egg beaten with a little cold water) and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

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Some friends and I are planning an island vacation. We spent hours and hours and hours choosing an island, the right flights, and the best hotel. In just over a week (1 week!!!), we’ll be lying on a beach, being served drinks. By hot men. Well, maybe the last part if we’re lucky.

I haven’t yet told my friends about my last beachy vacation when Elvera and I almost missed our flight home. (Ok, so I just spoiled the ending of the story).

In case you forgot, let me remind you about that trip. For a week in July 2009, my friend Elvera and I stayed with Joe and Victoria and their growing family in Panama City, and were wined and dined  nearly every night. Having quickly found a favorite restaurant and eaten there twice in four days, I was determined to meet the chef. With such a tight-knit Jewish community in Panama, it wasn’t difficult to get the email address of Darna owner and chef, Ayelet. We agreed to meet on the morning of my departure at her newest venture – Darna Bread. Leaving the next day for a few days of island hopping in Bocas del Toro, we settled on Sunday morning a few hours before our flight home.

After arriving from Bocas at nearly midnight and frantically re-packing our over-stuffed bags, we awoke early Sunday morning determined to find Darna Bread. With directions in hand, we found a taxi and in our broken Spanish (read: Elvera speaks medical Spanish and I can pick my way through a menu) tried to get to the cute little coffeehouse we had heard so much about from the locals. An hour later, several pantomime conversations with strangers on the street, and a little bit of a hike, we finally finally finally found our way. In addition to eating a delicious shakshuka breakfast, snapping photos, and checking out the lending library on the walls, I had the chance to sit down with Ayelet. She told me of her plans to open a third restaurant (now open) and how she and her sister ended up in Panama from Israel. We shared recipes and her challah recipe below has become a favorite.

As we were chatting, Elvera kept giving me looks. Tapping her watch. Leaning her head towards the door. I, of course, saw her…and ignored her. She finally came over and said we really had to go. Just a few  more questions? She frowned. A few questions later, I joined her back at our table, ate the last, now cold, bites of shakshuka. We called a taxi, paid, threw our remaining bread in a bag. As we jumped into the taxi, our phone rang — it was Joe, wondering where we were and sounding a bit panicked. We assured him we were en route. We had the taxi wait while we ran up to grab our luggage and hug Joe, Vic, and little Jack goodbye.

We got to the airport 59 minutes before our flight was scheduled to take off. That’s one minute after the check-in cutoff. Some spectacular negotiating tactics finally got us onto the flight and on our way home.

Luckily, I haven’t had to use any of these negotiating tactics since then.

Darna Challah

This is Ayelet’s recipe with just a few little tweaks. I use my mixer to knead the dough. And I like Ayelet’s use of a bowl of water in the oven while the challot are baking to help the crust form. This recipe makes 2 very large challot. It’s a little more time intensive than my bread machine challah recipe, but I actually think it has a better texture.

- 3 T dry yeast

- 3 T sugar

- warm water (~2C)

- 1 kg bread flour (aka 8 cups)

- 1 T salt

- 3 eggs

- 3/4 C oil

- 1 egg for egg wash

- sesame seeds

Prepare the yeast. Dissolve yeast in ~1/2 C warm water and sugar. Allow to percolate until frothy. This can take up to 15 minutes.

Mix the dough. Throw flour, yeast mixture, salt, eggs, and oil into your mixer. Start to knead with the dough hook and slowly add water “until you get a nice dough.” OK – I realize these are not the most exact directions, but this is what Ayelet suggested and I’m sticking to it. I added about 1.5 cups of water. Then I had to add some flour. Then a little water. And a little more flour. But it just kind of worked. Eventually the dough came together, stopped sticking to the bowl and completely wrapped around the dough hook.

Knead. I let my mixer do some of the kneading (about 5+ minutes) and then knead it by hand on a floured surface for another 5+ minutes.

Let rise. Roll dough into a ball and let rise in the mixer bowl, covered with a kitchen towel, for about 1 hour over a warm oven until it doubles in bulk. Punch the dough down, knead it and let it rise again until doubled. Divide dough into six or eight equal-sized balls, depending on whether you plan to make 3- or 4-stranded challot (or 12 or 16 if you’re planning to make 4 challot).

Braid. Divide dough into equal-sized pieces – the number of pieces depends on how many challahs and what type of braid you plan to make. Roll each piece of dough into a long strand. If you want to make a four-stranded braid as pictured, start by pinching four strands together at one end. A four-stranded braid is actually weaving and always starts on the same side (rather than conventional braiding that involves alternately crossing strands from the right and left). Weave the leftmost strand over its neighboring strand, under the next one, and over the fourth, laying it down on the far right of the braid. Pick up the new leftmost strand and weave over-under-over as before. Continue until the end of the braid and tuck the ends under the loaf.

Bake. Whisk an egg with a few splashes of cold water. Brush this egg wash over the challah and sprinkle with seeds if you’d like. Place a bowl of water in the oven to create steam. Bake at 350°F for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.

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So, my recipe for you today is not very original. Rather, it’s a slight variation on a previous recipe that is one of my favorites. But, this variation is great. And I had it for dinner tonight.

No, I didn’t eat biscotti for dinner! But I was in a baking mood this weekend. First, I made some almond biscotti. Then chocolate hazelnut, with brown sugar instead of white, pretty similar to my old stand-by. And I learned a great trick for skinning hazelnuts — to wrap the hazelnuts in a towel for about 5 minutes, allowing the trapped steam to separate the skins from the nuts.

Finally, I baked bread. With a bit of a sweet tooth, I turned to another favorite recipe that I adapted ever so slightly to my palate. Whole wheat cinnamon bread. I made the dough in my bread machine, then rolled it out and filled it with a cinnamon and (brown) sugar mixture. As the loaves were cooling, some of the melted cinnamon sugar dripped down, pooling beneath the rack, a harbinger of the gooey flavors to come. I cut in to the still-warm bread, the sugar sticking to the knife, and ate a slices (ok, two slices). The next day I toasted a couple more and slathered them with butter for breakfast. And tonight, dinner.

Whole Wheat Cinnamon Toast

makes 2 loaves

- 1 1/4 C warm water

-1/4 C vegetable oil

- 1 egg

- 1/4 C white sugar

- 2 C bread flour

- 2 C whole wheat flour

- 1 t salt

- 2 1/4 t yeast

- 2 T cinnamon

- 1/4 C brown sugar

Prepare the dough. Add the liquid ingredients to the bread machine followed by sugar, flours, salt, and yeast, making sure that the salt and yeast do not touch. Run the dough cycle – this takes 90 minutes.

Add the cinnamon. Divide the dough in half and roll each half into a rectangle. Sprinkle with cinnamon and brown sugar. Roll up each loaf and place on cookie sheet, seam side down. Cover with cloth and allow to rise while preheating oven to 350ºF.

Bake. Bake loaves for 20 minutes on a cookie sheet. Cool on rack for a few minutes before slicing.

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tea and pita

While I was in Israel earlier this month, I made a quick jaunt to Cairo and the only flight back to Tel Aviv was at midnight. At 2:30 in the morning, I finally arrived at Sarah’s doorstep with my over-sized luggage and met for the first time. I felt horrible arriving so late, and had repeatedly asked whether it was OK, and Sarah reassured me that she was accustomed to her husband arriving on flights at all hours of the night.

We didn’t say much to one another on this first meeting. Just a few tired smiles, a handshake, and Sarah opened up her home to me. I dragged my suitcase upstairs to and flopped onto the bed she has prepared for me.

The next morning, I awoke to the smell of pita toasting in the oven with za’atar and found a full Israeli breakfast on the table – including salad and labne. Mmm, savory breakfasts.

Over the next few days, Sarah played local tour guide, taking me to see the bell caves and ancient olive press in Beit Guvrin, the shuk in Ramle, and the Ayalon Institute on Kibbutzim Hill — the clandestine ammunition factory in operation from 1945-1948.

olive press at Beit Guvrin

olive press at Beit Guvrin

more Ramle produce

Ramle produce

The biggest pomegranates I've ever seen, Ramle Shuk

the biggest pomegranates I've ever seen, Ramle Shuk

In between our sightseeing trips, Sarah and I shared cup after cup of herb-infused tea. While I do make nana (mint) tea back at home, Sarah picks herbs from her front yard and I loved adding white sage and lemongrass to a steaming cup of tea. Between the two of us, we picked her yard dry, leaving only the hanging knotted rope from which her sons swing in front of the house door.

We cooked together, I taking the lead on pancakes for dinner one evening and herb and arugula salad. Taking Sarah’s lead, after washing the arugula, I threw the water onto the yard — not atypical for Israel where there is a currently a drought (of course, I was not complaining about the warm sunny weather!). Sarah made pizza (including dough from scratch), arugula pesto, chicken soup, some braised meat that I missed out on trying. Most meals were accompanied by her home cured olives.

On my last day, we stopped by a grocery store and I bought some fresh pita, still warm, for my long airplane ride home.

Back in my apartment, I froze the remaining pitot to savor some of the flavors of my trip for a little bit longer. But, recalling Sarah’s comment a few days earlier while preparing pizza that the dough was a simple recipe and could be used for pita, I was inspired to make my own pita. I have made it twice since I returned and it is infinitely better than anything you can buy here.


Adapted from Janna Gur’s The Book of New Israeli Food and Joan Nathan’s The Food of Israel Today.

These pitot are the closest I have found to the ones you get in Israel, fluffy and perfect with hummus, for mopping up leftover salad dressing, or filled with chocolate spread. The trick to forming the pockets is baking in a very hot oven on a baking stone (or, if my case, on hot cookie sheets) and refraining from opening the oven during baking.

Makes 8-10 pitot.

- 2 1/4 t yeast
– 1 1/2 C warm water
– 1 T sugar
– 4 C flour (I used all-purpose)
– 1-2 T olive oil
– 1 t salt

Make the dough. Dissolve yeast in 1 C of the warm water with sugar. Allow to bubble up (takes ~ 10 minutes). Add to flour, olive oil, and salt in bowl of mixer. Knead with dough hook for 10 minutes. Add additional water, tablespoon by tablespoon, until dough forms a slightly sticky ball.

First rising. Pour a little olive oil into a large bowl. Roll the ball of dough in the oil until coated. Cover the bowl with a damp kitchen towel and let dough rise until doubled (1.5 – 2 hours). I punch the dough down a few times during the rising.

Shape bread. Most recipes call for you to split the dough into 8-10 portions to roll out individually. But I prefer to easier method of rolling out all the dough and using a bowl to cut out 5-6 inch rounds. You can bake the scraps or re-roll them (this time I rolled the scraps into 3 individual pitot with not-so-round results).

Second rising and preheat oven. Allow the pitot to rise a second time for ~10 minutes. I do this on top of the oven as it preheats to 500º F. Heat cookie trays in the oven while preheating.

Bake. Pull a hot cookie tray out of the oven and quickly transfer half of the pitot onto it and return to the oven. Bake until all pitot have puffed to form pockets, 3-6 minutes. Repeat with remaining pitot.

Store. Pitot go stale pretty quickly, so the best way to store them is in in a bag in the freezer. You can reheat them for 20 seconds in the microwave after spritzing with a little water.

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