Friday, March 30, 2012

Thoughts on a Year (Plus!) of Blogging about Bread

Haverim, I have to admit it.  I'm a little at a loss for what to write about today.  We're in T-minus 7 days until Passover, and our oven is on the fritz.  Happily, a new one is being delivered this coming Tuesday... a new one with five burners and an oven that doesn't randomly function error and turn off in the middle of baking.  Needless to say, I'm thrilled.

Our January blog-i-versary came and went without much pomp and circumstance, but The Hazz and I talked about it at home.  We can't believe how far we've come.

In January of 2011, we were still newlyweds.  We had a point-and-shoot, and I really didn't know what I was doing with photos.  {For the record, I still don't... and I'm still a little intimidated by my Nikon DSLR.  But I'm learning.}

Spring of 2011 brought us some of our favorite recipes that we still go back to on a regular, regular basis... Nutella Challah and Pizza Challah (later tweaked and refined).

We experimented in summer of 2011 with fresh yeast. I still use it with great regularity, and I do think it makes a difference.  It can get quite pricey compared to instant and active dry, plus it can be a bit temperamental and spoils easily.  I do recommend that challah bakers at least try it once or twice.
Left: Fresh Yeast.  Right: Active Dry.

Our Rosh Hashanah Test Kitchen produced a few gems...

We've had a lot of fun experimenting with super sweet, desserty challot including M&M Challah, Banana Chocolate Chip, and Double Chocolate Challah.  The sky's the limit, I think...

We've started exploring exotic grains, but there are still so many more to use... We loved Kamut Challah, but Spelt Challah was a little dry.
Sprouted Wheat Challah with Milk and Honey

And we've had a few failures this year... Lemon Saffron Challah was too sour, Peanut Butter Challah was pretty awful, and it took several attempts at Peeta's Bread (one of our Hunger Games Challot) to perfect the recipe.
There have also been catastrophes like this.

I love baking.  I really, really do.  It's been a constant pleasure through life drama, life struggles, and uncertain times.  Taking a bunch of crazy ingredients and making something nourishing and something special is a powerful metaphor.  I hope this post hasn't morphed into something too self-indulgent.  I cherish all of you out there who are reading, kneading, and eating.

random_challah__1 Shabbat Shalom from our bayit to yours!  Stay tuned, we've got more baking to do :)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Wisconsin Maple Syrup Challah

Did you know that we live in Wisconsin?  I don't know if I ever mentioned that.  Well, we do, and we love it here.  When I was seven, our entire second grade (also including my mom's second grade class -- she's helping me remember this story) went to a nature center to learn about maple sugaring.  The two highlights of the trip were putting your tongue right under a tapped tree to taste the raw sap and eating pancakes with real maple syrup.  If you didn't make sure your plate was completely clean, the lumberjack who served you up your pancakes (perhaps I'm exaggerating on the lumberjack part) would make you lick your plate clean.  Yum!

Anyway, my mom recently pointed me to an article in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on how terrible the maple sugaring season has been this year.  We've been enjoying unseasonably warm weather reaching as high as the 80s a few days this week.  Buds are opening on trees, and we're all excited for this early spring.  Unfortunately, is that maple syrup season has suffered tremendously.
When the buds open, the sap turns bitter, ending the maple syrup season. That's happened already in some parts of Wisconsin, though hard maple trees bud later than soft maples. Some sugar bushes - forests filled with maple trees - still may have a chance, but only if nighttime temperatures fall below freezing again, and the buds don't open first. {source:}
The fragility of nature is amazing. It takes a whopping 40 gallons of sap to make only one gallon of maple syrup.  Wow.

maple_syrup01Now that you know why maple syrup (the pure stuff, the good stuff, the only stuff you should ever purchase) is so expensive and so precious, I present to you Wisconsin Maple Syrup Challah!

2/3 c water
2 1/4 tsp active dry or instant yeast
1/4 c pure maple syrup plus about 1 tbsp more for egg wash
1 egg plus 1 more for egg wash
3 tbsp vegetable oil
3 c bread flour
1 tsp salt

I recently switched to a new brand of yeast that is store in the freezer and instant.  I realized this morning that I've been treating it like active dry yeast and proofing it, but now I'm second guessing whether I should be doing that.  Do I still have to proof it?  Am I wrecking it by proofing it?
maple_syrup02 maple_syrup03

Proof the yeast with the hot water and maple syrup.  Let rest 10 minutes or until foamy.  Add the egg and oil, mixing gently.  Add the flour and salt.  For some reason, my dough was extremely, extremely tough, so I added a little more oil and water, but then needed a bit more flour.  Use your judgment.  Knead by hand or with a dough hook until a ball forms.
maple_syrup04 maple_syrup05

Let rest in a covered, oiled bowl for about 1 1/2 hours.

(In the interest of full disclosure, we did a refrigerator overnight rise this week... and I hated it.  It was a logistical thing, because today I'm writing this post away from home and will likely not be home until this evening right when Shabbat starts.  So I wanted to bake the bread this morning.  But it took FOREVER for the dough to reach a workable temperature when I took it out of the oven.  Any tips on refrigerator rise?)

Braid as normal.  Mix the beaten egg with a healthy dollop of maple syrup (about 1 tbsp) and brush over the dough.  I added sesame seeds to one loaf, but I think cinnamon might be great!  I also think I might try maple chips in this dough to really sweeten it up.
maple_syrup07 maple_syrup08

Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until internal temperature reaches at least 180 degrees.


How do you show YOUR home state/town pride in your baking?  Shabbat Shalom!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Honey Wheat Challah Revisited (1/2 batch version)

I've never been happy with my wheat challah.  I keep trying to create something successful, and I never reach that success.  It's always tough and dry.  I've read a few suggestions around LeInterwebs... beating the eggs to soft peaks, adding milk, and adding extra egg yolks.  So, this time I figured I'd try the last option.  Extra eggs.  Here's what you'll need...

3/4 c water
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1 tbsp honey
3 egg yolks plus 1 egg for wash (you can actually save the whites for a day in the fridge)
1/4 c canola oil
1 1/2 c white flour
1 1/2 c white whole wheat flour
1 tsp salt

Proceed as normal, as you would with my traditional 1/2 batch.
honey_wheat_02 honey_wheat_03
For this challah, I decided--more out of practicality than design--to give a second rise.  So, after the dough has doubled in bulk (about 1 1/2 hours), punch down and allow to rise again.
honey_wheat_04 honey_wheat_05

When I took this dough out of the bowl, I had high aspirations.  That it would be light and fluffy like my white flour challah.  It. Was. Not.  It was just as stiff and heavy as all my other wheat challot.  When I poked my finger in it, the hole would stay there.
honey_wheat_07 honey_wheat_08

Not to be completely dissuaded, I attempted to braid this challah, said a quick prayer and baked at 350 for 25 minutes (click here to read about how I really start at 375 and then turn the oven down...)

You can see hear how the strands even when rolling wanted to break apart. Didn't seem very elastic.

Success! Well, they looked pretty.

However, in the interest of journalistic integrity, one of the strands managed to completely escape from beneath the challah.  Thus, my challah had a bit of an extra arm.

But, here's the truth: This IS the best whole wheat challah I've ever made.  I know it's not completely whole wheat.  But, as I write this post 24 hours after baking, the bread is still chewy, flavorful, and actually surprisingly light and fluffy.  I think {science people, feel free to jump in} it has something to do with the fats in the egg yolks {you know, the really tasty, really unhealthy part} and how they interact with the whole wheat.
I'm getting closer to the perfect wheat challah, haverim.  Closer.  Closer.  Have YOU had success with whole wheat flour?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Hunger Games Challah: Capitol Rolls


Stop!  Before you do anything, go check out Leigh Ann's version of Peeta's Bread, my recipe which inspired Hunger Games Challah to exist in the first place.  Leigh Ann added millet and dried cherries in with the apples and ended up leaving out the cinnamon in a later batch -- she says she prefers without cinnamon.  She's even has a gluten-free version in the works.  Maybe we can get her to do another guest post.  You can see her other two guest posts - Blueberry Challah and Sufganiyah Challah.  Be sure to leave Leigh Ann a comment on how awesome her bread looks (and how much you like her WIP!).

So, are you soooo excited for The Hunger Games to come out in theaters???  We have our tickets for tomorrow evening after Shabbat, and boy-oh-boy am I excited.  The Hazz is even coming, although he hasn't read any of the books.  He's being a good sport.  Anyway, here we go.  It's Hunger Games Challah #2 - Capitol Rolls.
The moment I slide into my chair I'm served an enormous platter of food.  Eggs, ham, piles of fried potatoes.  A tureen of fruit sits in ice to keep it chilled.  The basket of rolls they set before me would keep my family going for a week...   
A rich brown cup of something I've never seen. 
"They call it hot chocolate," says Peeta.  "It's good." 
...When my stomach feels like it's about to split open, I lean back and take in my breakfast companions.  Peeta is still eating, breaking off bits of roll and dipping them in his hot chocolate.
I thought it fitting the second in my series of Hunger Games Challah be the Capitol Rolls.  But rolls are just rolls, right?  Not so... later in The Hunger Games, we learn a bit more...
Chicken and chunks of organs cooke din a creamy sauce laid on a bed of pearly white grain, tiny green peas and onions, rolls shaped like flowers, and for dessert, a pudding the color of honey.
Aha!  Rolls shaped like flowers.  That shouldn't be so hard.  I've done rolls before.  Using my basic 1/2 batch, I started out.

Really, though, they didn't look like flowers.  They just looked like knotted challah rolls.  Hmm...hg_knots05   hg_knots06

I even tried a new roll shape...
hg_knots02   hg_knots03

I though perhaps I could make some sort of rose out of challah.  Another failed attempt.
hg_rose_01   hg_rose_04

Nope, it looked wrong.  But then I got to thinking about it.  Basic challah dough doesn't really cut it. The Capitol is all about excess.  All about over doing it.  All about, well, lots and lots of butter.

My trusty Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook was my inspiration.  I decided that brioche rolls were the way to go.  Brioche is a French pastry that is sort of a cross between a cake and bread, hallmarked by lots of butter and lots of eggs.  Of course, it was now noon on Friday afternoon and I had a 1/2 stick of butter in the house.  So, I improvised.  Here's what I came up with.  I think you'll approve!

Capitol Rolls

These butter, eggy babies are darling.  This recipe will yield about a dozen.   If possible, you'll want to use shaped silicone muffin cups with a floral shape.  But really, a muffin tin would be just fine if you can imagine the floral shape.  Here's what you'll need...

1 tsp instant or active dry yeast
2 tsp sugar
1/2 c hot (but not boiling) water
2/3 c cake flour
1 1/2 c (or so... see below) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs plus 1 for wash
1/2 stick (1/4 c) butter (not margarine)

Mix together the yeast, sugar, and water.  Let rest for ten minutes until foamy.  Add the eggs and butter in small pieces.  I was having a hard time getting the butter to blend in, even after softening it a bit.  I ended up using my stand mixer with the spatula-beater handle on the lowest setting possible.  That worked pretty well.
Add the cake flour and 1 cup of the all-purpose flour and the salt.  (This weird combination comes from the fact that really brioche should have pastry flour which has a protein content in between that of cake flour and all-purpose flour.  The internet told me I could mix them ;) so I did.  Hey, I'm resourceful?)  At this point, the dough is going to look, really, really, really sticky.  Put it on the stand mixer anyway (with the hook) and mix away.
My stand mixer, I soon realized, wasn't doing much.  Okay, I took out my new mixing soon (isn't it so pretty) and started adding more flour until the consistency seemed like really floppy bread dough.  Like, extra floppy.  Have faith.  It will work out.
hg_brioche_04   hg_brioche_05

Form into a ball and let rest for about 1 1/2 hour or until doubled in bulk.
hg_brioche_07   hg_brioche_08
Preheat your oven to 350.  Form the rolls by making a ring with a little ball plopped on top.  If you're using silicone baking cups, you don't have to oil them or anything.  Egg wash right before baking.  (You'll notice I didn't let these have a rise once formed... I don't think they really needed it).
hg_brioche_09   hg_brioche_10

hg_brioche_12    hg_brioche_13

Bake 20-25 minutes or until the tops are golden.


So, they're not really brioche, but they're certainly brioche inspired, and they're not quite as flower-shaped as I would have liked... they're still super tasty.  And who knew that dipping bread in hot chocolate was so delicious!?!  Well, I guess Peeta knew.  What a guy.  *swoon*


Happy Hunger Games and Shabbat Shalom!