Monday, October 19, 2009

Jessamyn's Sephardic Challah

Saturday, October 17, 2009

This bread is three-for-three. It's easy to make, despite the braided shape which looks harder than it is, it's stunning to look at, and it's absolutely delicious. The recipe makes two loaves. I took one of them to work, and my co-worker Teddie told me that it was so good she could happily eat the whole loaf. (Although she didn't).
The recipe is from an article in the November edition of Food & Wine called "Inside Hot Bread Kitchen," about - what else? - the bakers at New York's Hot Bread Kitchen, a bakery in Queens. A woman named Jessamyn Waldman founded the bakery as a way to help women immigrants acclimate to the United States, learn English, and provide job opportunities. The article includes recipes for tortillas, gorditas, and Palestinian Spinach pies, but it was the challah that caught my eye. This is Sephardic, not the better-known Ashkenazic challah. I never knew that regular challah was Ashkenazic, but it's worth knowing if only because it gives you a reason for saying Ashkenazic, which is so much fun to say.
This bread uses the direct method, which means more yeast, less time, and, usually, less flavor, but I figured that the caraway and sesame seeds would give it enough flavor to make up for it, and indeed they did. It was supposed to have anise seeds too. I usually like to make a recipe the first time with no additions, subtractions, or substitutions. But there are only a few things I like anise seeds in, and bread isn't one of them. I remember the first time I made Swedish limpa bread, and I had a big argument with myself about whether to use aniseed. My follow-the-directions self won the argument, but my real self wished that she hadn't, so I decided to dump the anise seeds and the devil take the hindmost. If you use "Ashkenazic" and "the devil take the hindmost" in one sentence today, you might (or might not) win a fabulous prize.
Back to bread--you will want to have a heavy-duty mixer for this recipe, since you must knead it by mixer about ten minutes. If you mixed it by hand, I hate to think how long it might take. But after ten minutes, it's an elastic but not sticky mass.

It rises nicely and after just an hour or so, it's ready to stretch into a 30-inch rope.

The rope gets shaped into a coil, with one end of the rope forming the center of the coil. This is much easier than braiding.

Brush the coils with a beaten egg, let sit uncovered for 30 minutes, brush again, and sprinkle more seeds on top.

The double egg glaze gives the bread such shine that it's hard to get a bad picture of it.

But you can make anything look pretty. (Actually, this is so not true!) The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. The bread tasted great fresh from the oven, but most any bread does.

But it also tasted delicious several hours later, as an accompaniment to a pureed root vegetable soup, as toast on Monday morning, and as day-old bread brought into the office, where people were so enthusiastic about the bread that it was finished before the chocolate cake that Jessica brought in from her mother's birthday party. It's just a fine bread to have in your repertoire.


--Adapted from Food & Wine Magazine

3 1/2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
2 1/4 tsp. instant yeast
2 cups lukewarm water
5 cups (780 grams) bread flour
2 1/2 Tblsp. (50 grams) olive oil
2 Tblsp. (40 grams) honey
1 Tblsp. (16 grams) kosher salt
(One egg, for glaze)

1. In a skillet, toast the sesame and caraway seeds for a few minutes over moderate heat. (You may reduce the amount of sesame and caraway seeds and add anise seeds if you like).

2. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour and yeast with the olive oil, honey, and water, and mix on low speed until a very soft dough forms. Add the salt and all but 1 Tblsp. of the seeds and mix on medium-low speed, until dough is soft and supple, about 10 minutes.

3. Transfer dough to large oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand until dough has doubled, about one hour.

4. Put parchment paper on one large or two small baking sheets. Dust parchment with cornmeal, if desired. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and press to deflate. Cut the dough in half and let rest for five minutes. Roll each piece into an 18-inch-long rope, and let rest for another five minutes; then roll each rope into a 30-inch rope. Beginning with one end of the coil, which will be the center of the coil, work outwards, forming each rope into a coil. Tuck the end under the coil.

5. Transfer coils to the baking sheet or sheets and cover with plastic wrap for about an hour, until nearly doubled.

6. Preheat oven to 400 F. Whisk the egg with one Tblsp. water. Brush over the loaves and let stand uncovered for 30 minutes. Brush again with egg wash and sprinkle with the reserved seeds. Bake the loaves in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, until they're golden brown. Transfer to racks and let cool completely before slicing.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Rose's Butter-Dipped Dinner Rolls

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Last week Jim asked me why I didn't blog about one of Rose's breads again. I told him I couldn't just repeat recipes all the time, or it wouldn't be much of a blog, would it? He agreed, but pointed out that nobody was likely to call me out for making a bread I'd made three years ago. Since it was his birthday week, I decided I could sneak in my favorite dinner roll recipe. If you eat these rolls with butter, they're really triple-butter rolls: butter in the dough, melted butter brushed all over the shaped dough, and more butter when they're served. Whether you think that's over the top or just right depends on your attitude toward butter. My attitude is favorable.

Last week, I said that you should never let bread be the master of you. I took my own advice and made this bread through the first two risings on Friday night, so I'd have enough time to shape them and let them rise again before taking them to a Saturday lunch. Lunch at 12:00 sharp people! (This is Jim's family, all German and heavily into order and routine--as he would be the first to tell you). It worked beautifully.
Friday night I made the sponge and the flour mixture, letting it sit long enough so that the sponge started to bubble up through the flour. Here's the point where the butter gets added and everything is mixed together.

It takes a few hours to double, then it gets pressed into a rectangle and folded.

Back into the bowl. Here, you can either continue with the recipe, or put it in the refrigerator to rise slowly overnight, which is what I did. By the next morning, it has doubled in size again.

If your husband gets up earlier than you do, you can tell him to take the bowl out of the refrigerator when he gets up. Then you can have a cup of coffee, read about Obama getting the Nobel peace prize, and get to work. Otherwise, you can have two cups of coffee and also read about everyone's reaction to Obama's getting the Nobel prize, and then get to work.
There are instructions for shaping into little round rolls, Parker House rolls, and Cloverlead rolls, but I just made the pan o' buns. You roll them into balls, dip them in butter all over, and place them in a square or round pan, keeping a little distance between them.

Within an hour and a half or so, they've risen enough so that they're crowding each other, and they will form themselves into little loaves.

After they cool for a few minutes, you can break them apart. They are little visions of loveliness and lightness.

I don't generally include Rose's recipes because I did every recipe in the book. If I'd printed all the recipes, and some lawyer called me and accused me of violating a copyright, I wouldn't have a great defense. However, if you want the recipe and don't have the book, you can go to and get it. But the short version of the recipe doesn't have weights, so maybe you should just break down and buy the book. If you make these, just be prepared to perfect your fake-modest disclaimer that, really, it was nothing.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Best and Easiest Home-Baked Bread

Sunday, October 4, 2009

That is actually the name of the recipe: "Best and Easiest Home-Baked Bread," from Nick Malgieri's How to Bake. It's neither the best nor the easiest bread I've ever made, but it's pretty good and pretty easy, and it does come out of the oven with a fabulously crunchy crust.
The last bread I tried from this cookbook was an Italian ring bread, which was better in concept than in reality, but I was more impressed with this recipe--even though I do think it's gutsy to call one of your recipes "the best."
And it does involve some planning ahead, which kind of takes it out of the "easy" category, I think, although once you've committed yourself to making it, and set aside the requisite number of hours (24, more or less), it requires only short bursts of time and energy.

About 24 hours before you think you might want to eat the bread, you make a simple starter--water, a tiny amount of yeast, and flour. That bubbles away for a few hours (you can slow the activity down by putting it in the refrigerator if that fits your schedule better).

The starter is added to a sponge, made with more water, yeast, and flour--plus the starter--and that also bubbles away for a while. (It's easiest if you mix up the sponge just before you go to bed. In the morning, you can either make the dough immediately or refrigerate it until you're ready for it).
Never let bread be your master! It can almost always be refrigerated if you're not feeling breadish at that very moment.
The final dough stage just consists of the sponge, more flour, and salt.

It's a soft dough, so you may want to knead in a little more flour by hand. Well, of course, you can do it all by hand if you want to, but I'm loyal to my KitchenAid bread hook.

Although it has less than a teaspoon of yeast in it, the dough rises quickly: about an hour in a bowl and less than an hour after it's shaped. You can shape it however you want to, but I used a colander with a towel to help it keep its shape.

Even so, it flattened considerably as soon as I removed it from its colander-mold, so if I'd just done a free-form boule, I think it would have looked like a flatbread.

Jim got all excited when he saw how I'd slashed it because he thought it looked like a sand dollar. I told him I thought a sand dollar only had five lines.

I was afraid he was going to turn on the bread because he wasn't going to be able to find a picture of a sand dollar to compare it to, but he decided he liked it anyway.

The bread was exceptionally good with sour cherry preserves, which I had left over from my cake adventure of the week: Hungarian Jancsi Torta.

(It does look a little bit like a sand dollar).

--from How to Bake, by Nick Malgieri

1 cup warm tap water
1/4 tsp. instant yeast
1 cup unbleached all-purpose or whole wheat flour


3/4 cup warm tap water
1/2 tsp. instant yeast
Risen starter, above
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour


The sponge, above
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp. salt

1. To make the starter, mix water, yeast, and flour in a small bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Set aside to rise at room temperature and doubled and bubbly--from 2 to 8 hours.
2. For the sponge, mix water, yeast, and starter in a larger bowl until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until about triple in volume, 4 to 8 hours, or overnight.
3. For the dough, stir the sponge to deflate it. Stir in the smaller amount of flour and the salt in a mixing bowl. Using the dough hook, knead on low spead for about five minutes. Add the additional flour if the dough is too soft.
4. Turn the dough into an oiled bowl. Cover and let rise about an hour, until doubled. (You can also mix by hand or in a food processor).
5. Shape into a boule, and place, bottom side up, in a colander lined with a floured cotton towel. Sprinkle with cornmeal. Cover with plastic and let rise until doubled, 45 minutes to an hour.
6. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Put baking stone on middle rack. When the oven and dough are ready, carefully invert onto a baking pan lined with parchment. Quickly slash top of bread. Just before placing bread in oven, put about 1/2 cups of ice cubes into heated pan on bottom rack of oven. Put bread in oven and immediately reduce heat to 450 degrees.
7. Bake for about 20 minutes. Then put bread directly on baking stone and reduce heat to 350 degrees. Bake 20 to 30 minutes longer.
8. Remove bread from oven and cool on rack.