Friday, August 31, 2012

View of Shabbat | More to Come...

I'm running late before Shabbat services tonight, but here's this week's challot! We're working on some exciting Rosh Hashanah recipes, so stay-tuned. This week, we went basic and ooey-gooey cinnamon sugar. Yum! (A tutorial on the cinnamon challah's braid, pictured below, will also come this weekend!)
Shababt Shalom from our bayit to yours!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Rosh Hashanah Challah Shape | Pomegranate-Shaped Challah

Pssst! The Challah Blog's first giveaway, a dough whisk and bread flour from King Arthur Flour, is going on now! Have you entered! It's easy! Just leave a comment on the giveaway post!
It's no secret in our house that I love pomegranates.  I have a pomegranate-shaped necklace, and our ketubah has a pomegranate on the scroll.  Pomegranates are associated with Rosh Hashanah because many people eat them on the second night of the holiday as their traditional "new fruit."  Additionally, pomegranates supposedly contain 613 seeds, the same number as the mitzvot in the Torah. You can read more here.

I'm working on a Pomegranate flavored challah.  In the meantime, here's a how-to for a pomegranate-shaped challah, sure to bring some festivity to your Rosh Hashanah table.  Don't worry, it doesn't have 613 steps ;)

For this challah, you can use any dough you like.  I used about half of my Small Batch Challah, or the equivalent of about 1 1/2 cups flour dough.  This artists's gorgeous ring on Etsy inspired this challah shape.

Start with half of your dough. For nice smooth strands, roll with a rolling pin and coil. (You can actually do this with all of your challah strands, however I don't find it makes a big difference with most braids.)
pomegranate01 pomegranate02
With your palms, extend your strand out really long. Like, REALLY long. Several feet. This will form the "frame" of your pomegranate.
Place the long strand in an S-shape on parchment paper covered baking sheet.
Divide the rest of your dough into small pieces, about the size of a golf-ball. Using a flat palm, roll each into a nice smooth ball and assemble your pomegranate "seeds."
pomegranate06 pomegranate07
Form the top of the pomegranate, making sure to pinch the tips of the top so they are nice and crisp.
Now, here's an important step: don't let this challah rise as long as you normally would. I usually let my challah rise for 30 minutes once braided. So this challah doesn't completely lose it's shape, limit the second rise to just 15 minutes. Pinch the tops of pomegranate again before egg-washing and baking (as normal, I do 25-30 minutes at 30).
I'm very pleased with this shape, and I definitely plan on using it at our Rosh Hashanah table. I have dreams of adding pomegranate seeds in between the dough "pomegranate seeds."
Now, about that giveaway. Shabbat Shalom from our bayit to yours!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Rosh Hashanah 5773 | King Arthur Flour Giveaway! {closed}

This giveaway is now closed.  Congratulations to the winner Comment #18 SARA from Saving for Someday!  Sara, please email me by Friday, August 31st at themrs {at} thechallahblog {dot} com to claim your prize!

Sara's daughter wants to make cinnamon chip challah for the High Holy Days. She's also experimenting with their Buttery Dough flavor (which I've also tried a few times!).

Hodesh Tov, blog friends!  It's Elul already.  Can you believe we're just a month away from the Yamim Noraim?  Rosh Hashanah is one of my favorite times of the year.  In our house, we're already preparing.  My dear husband, The Hazz, is vocalizing away on the special melodies and prayers for the high holidays.  This year, I'll be starting a doctoral program the day after Yom Kippur, so there's lots of planning there.  And of course, there's the food...

Last year, we experimented with Apple Challah and Pumpkin Challah.  Stay tuned this year... I'm refining both of those recipes a bit this year and am also working on some new recipes for Rosh Hashanah.  I can't wait to share them with you!

In honor of starting the new year of 5773 off right, I asked the good people over at King Arthur Flour if they would be interested in sponsoring a giveaway here on The Challah Blog.  My mother-in-law, who lives in Rhode Island, has visited their store and school in Norwich, Vermont several times.  Ever since she sent me a gift card for my first batch of King Arthur Flour, I've been hooked!  I love that the company was formed in 1790, has a strong committment to sustainability and social responsibility, and is employee-owned.

But really, I love King Arthur Flours because their flours are so AWESOME.  I've made sourdough, bagels, spelt and kamut challah, and every week, I use King Arthur Bread Flour in my challah.
King Arthur Flour Dough Whisk and Bread Flour Giveaway!

King Arthur Flour is offering YOU the chance to win this awesome Dough Whisk in honor of Rosh Hashanah.  I use this dough whisk every time I bake to mix my dough by hand before using the stand mixer.  If you don't own a stand mixer, this whisk will do the dirty work for you, getting that dough nice and blended.  Additionally, they'll send you a coupon for a FREE 5 LB. BAG of Bread Flour, good at your local grocery store.  (If the winner lives in an area that doesn't carry King Arthur Flour, the company will be happy to send you a bag.)

PRIZE: KAF Dough Whisk and Coupon for 5 lb. Bag of Bread Flour
TO ENTER: Leave comment with "SHANAH TOVAH" and visit King Arthur Flour's website and share with me which flour or other add-in you'd use to enhance your Rosh Hashanah challah! (If you're don't celebrate Rosh Hashanah, leave a comment with how you'd like to enhance your fall baking this year.)
BONUS ENTRIES: Leave an additional comment each time you do one of the following (you should have at most 4 comments if you do all ways to enter):
• Follow The Challah Blog on RSS or Google Friend Connect (on the left sidebar!)
•• Follow The Challah Blog on Facebook.
• Follow King Arthur Flour on Facebook.
GIVEAWAY CLOSES: Sunday, August 26th at 10PM CST.
PRIZE SHIPS: The United States
OTHER DETAILS:  The winner will be selected using and announced on Monday, August 27th as an update to this post and on The Challah Blog's Twitter and Facebook.
• The winner will have until Friday, August 31st to claim their prize by emailing me, otherwise a new winner will be chosen.
• King Arthur Flour has asked me to collect the mailing address for the winner of this giveaway.  Don't worry, I won't share your mailing address with anyone.

More cool things to check out...
Join King Arthur Flour's online community, The Baking Circle.
Follow King Arthur Flour on Facebook,  Twitter,  Google+, and Pinterest.
Sign for King Arthur Flour's special offers through their e-newsletter.

Note: I was not compensated, and I did not receive any products from King Arthur Flour for hosting this giveaway on my blog. I purchased my own dough whisk and flour; all opinions are honest and my own.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Making your Challah "Organic"

Do you eat organic in your home?  As we've talked about before, The Hazz and I are NOT organic, but we have certain food regulations that we try to follow in our home (beyond kashrut):

Less is more.  We try to buy processed foods with the fewest number of ingredients.  While that Strawberry Cheesecake Low-Cal Ice cream might taste awesome, plain old (full fat) Strawberry feels better to us since the ingredients are REAL.

NO Corn Syrup.  Corn syrup is terrible, and we really try to avoid it.

Garden and Garden Stand Produce.  We buy what's in season if our own backyard garden doesn't provide it.

Cage-Free and Vegetarian Fed Eggs.  The Hazz is a vegetarian, and we feel better about this... even though cage-free isn't free-range.  We're getting there.

Organic Milk and some Organic Poultry/Meat.  There is so research that it's better for women in reproductive years (and really all the time) that organic is better.  I don't really have a good reason for doing this and haven't really done the research myself.  It was just a "try it if you want" suggestion from my doctor.

Whole Food.  No, not Whole Foods, though we like them a lot.  Whole food.  At Passover, our cart doesn't look all that different from the rest of the year.  We buy vegetables and fruit.  We enjoy cooking and baking together, and try to eat real food in the process.

Right now, we're a balance between organic for ethnical/environmental reasons and organic for health reasons.  A great resource for produce is the Dirty Dozen List, which lists which foods are lowest in pesticides (or lowest in consumable pesticides due to a thick skin or rind that we don't eat).

Okay, so what does this have to do with Challah?  To some extent, I strongly believe that using better ingredients makes a better challah.  Sometimes, a nearly unaffordable challah, though, so it definitely has to be a balance between what one can afford and buying some better ingredients.

Buying Unbleached Flour is, in my opinion, your first step toward better challah.  All of my challah can be made with All-Purpose Flour, but buying unbleached makes a difference.  Bleached flour may get that beautiful white crumb, but it's bleached by chemicals.  And, really, I think it makes a taste difference.  (Most Bread Flours ARE unbleached, so if you choose Bread Flour, you're in the clear).  Other steps toward better challah are better yeast, local honey (we got some at the State Fair last week!), and purer oils.
These past two weeks, I tried some King Arthur Flour Organic Bread Flour, which I purchased with a birthday gift card from my mother-in-law.  Honestly, I was skeptical about whether I would taste a real difference.  I certainly think that I smelled a difference when I smelled the dough.  Taste-wise, the (round, as a recipe experiment for Rosh Hashanah) challot didn't seem all that different.  Perhaps a bit more rustic, which I do love.  The rise and visual baking result were also the same as with regular bread flour.

Will I buy it again?  I'm not sure.  It certainly makes me feel proud to have made an organic challah this week, however, I don't know if my pocketbook can afford it.  I will probably continue to buy one bag of organic with the other four bags, the next time I place an order.
I think it's important to remember that being "organic" is a long, long process for your kitchen and your lifestyle.  Use the best you can, for the best taste, and the best for you.
Shabbat Shalom from our bayit to yours!!!

PSST: Something really exciting is coming up on Sunday!  It's rhymes with Shmive-Away, and I can't wait to share it with you!!!!  Stay tuned :)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Lemon Poppyseed Challah

This past weekend, I attended a wedding of a friend's younger sister.  One of her bridesmaid, it turned out, is a reader of The Challah Blog (hi, Lizzie!).  She has been making the challah recipe of my friend Hannah (mom of these cute challah helpers) and started talking about a challah blog she enjoys -- mine!  My first non-hometown fan that I got to meet in real life!

Anyway, Lizzie suggested I make a Lemon Poppyseed Challah.  So, I complied.  Here it is!  Just for you, Lizzie.  Tell me what you think!

I've used lemon twice before in my challah, and one thing I've struggled with is the balance of enough lemon flavor and enough sweetness. I think this is my best balance yet of sweet and tangy.

1/2 c water
1 1/2 tsp active dry or instant yeast
1/2 tsp plus 1 tbsp sugar
1 egg plus 1 more for egg wash (you can also reserve a bit and just use one)
2 tbsp neutral oil such as canola or vegetable
2 c bread flour
1/2 tsp salt
zest of about 3/4 of a lemon, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp poppyseeds

For the frosting...

1/2 c powdered sugar
2-3 tbsp milk, unflavored soy milk, or non-dairy substitute
1/4 - 1/2 tsp vanilla, to your taste

This is a low yield recipe, because it's really different. I figure, you'll probably want to pair it with something more traditional or bake it as special morning treat. Yield is 2 quite small loaves or 1 smallish loaf with a few rolls.

Proof your the yeast in warm but not hot water with 1/2 tsp sugar.  While the yeast is proofing, zest your lemon and squeeze out the lemon juice.  When the yeast is foamy (about 10 minutes), mix in the egg, oil, zest, and juice.  Mix with a wooden spoon.  Add the flour, salt, and poppy seeds.
lemon_poppy_01 lemon_poppy_02
Mix by hand or on a stand mixer until a the ball holds together. Knead as normal. This dough is a bit wetter than most of your doughs and may feel heavier, but it should not feel sticky. Place in an oiled bowl and let rest until doubled in size, about an hour and a half.
When the dough has doubled, punch down and braid as normal.  I chose to make one six-stranded braid and four rolls (so we could do some sampling).
lemon_poppy_04 lemon_poppy_05
Let rest an additional thirty minutes. Egg wash and bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, turning halfway. While your challah bakes, you can make the drizzle frosting if you like. Since these were just for noshing, I made the frosting dairy, however non-dairy milk will work just fine. (This will probably make you too much frosting, but you can always use on cookies! Yum!)
Drizzle the frosting over your challah with a teaspoon and admire your handy work!
Thanks so much to Lizzie for not only reading my blog, but making a request and inspiring me to make this delicious treat! It's definitely a keeper. Shabbat Shalom from our bayit to yours!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Rustic Sourdough Challah

I feel a little like sourdough is a baking enigma.  Or at least some sort of dreamy mystery for most amateur bakers.  I loooove sourdough, but was completely fearful of it.  The idea that you have this yeastless base in your fridge at all times, just waiting to be feed like sort of living being.  A little scary, right?  No?  Maybe it's just me.

But, I really wanted to make Sourdough Challah happen.  The idea that villagers could just pass on the sourdough starter from friend to friend.  It all seems very shtetl life to me, a romantically beautiful notion.  When I made my most recent bread flour order from King Arthur Flour, I decided to bite the bullet and try out sourdough.  So I ordered their Classic Fresh Sourdough Starter.  (A few weeks ago, I tried making my own sourdough starter using the method from A Blessing of Bread, one of my favorite go-to challah recipe books when looking for inspiration or to have a question answered.  Needless to say, I forgot about my starter and killed it before it was ever ready... so the KAF established starter seemed like a safer bet.)

When the starter arrived, KAF gave some pretty specific instructions on feeding the starter to reactivate it.  Then, last night I set to work on making it a 100% hydration starter for my challah this morning.  To do this, I halved my refrigerated starter and added the recommended water and flour to what was left.  Then I let it sit overnight.  12 hours later it looked like this...
Ready, bubbly and time for Sourdough Challah!

I relied heavily on Sour Salty Bitter Sweet's Sourdough Challah, though this recipe is quite similar in proportions to my Basic Small Batch Challah.

1 c hydrated sourdough starter
1/2 to 3/4 c tepid water (I was closer to 3/4)
scant 3 tbsp honey
1/4 c neutral oil like canola or vegetable
1 egg plus 2 egg yolks plus 1 more for egg wash
1 1/4 tsp salt
3 1/2 c bread flour

What you really need for this challah is TIME.  The sourdough starter needs about 12 hours to hydrate, and the dough rises really slowly.  If you're making this  for Shabbat, you'll need to start pretty early in the morning.  Yield is 2 medium sized loaves or 1 large loaf.

Mix together the wet ingredients: the starter, water, honey, oil, and 1 egg + the yolks.  (This challah is much more fool proof... it's basically a dump challah.)  Mix everything together with a wooden spoon or large whisk.
sourdough_02 sourdough_03
Add the flourand salt, starting with just one cup of flour.  The dough is going to be more stiff than normal, so I recommend mixing it by hand initially, and then using the dough hook for the majority of the kneading (you can of course knead by hand).  The dough will feel slightly stiffer than normal challah dough.
Here's where the TIME comes in.  You need it.  Loads of it.  Some recipes say let the dough triple.  Some double.  Some simply say 8 hours.  4 hours.  12 hours.  I don't have a really good recommendation for you.  I let mine rise for 6 hours, until it just started to touch the top of the plastic wrap in the oiled bowl.  (Usually, my rises look like this.)
At this point, take a moment and smell your dough. It should smell awesome. I just love that sourdough aroma. Yum. Braid as normal. And now for more TIME. Let rest at least two hours, preferably more.  I had a casserole baking in my oven at 450, so I put the pan on top of the oven, which rushed the braided rise a bit.  Eggwash and add poppy or sesame seeds as desired.  Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway.
When I'm trying a new recipe, I always like to make a few rolls so I can sample before Shabbat!  Wow.  These smell like deli sourdough; I'm so pleased.  The five-stranded braid isn't as pretty as I'd like, but the challah's didn't rip in the oven, so I think they're proofed enough.  On the whole, the loaf isn't as sweet as my challahs usually are.  However, this would make a delightful sandwich bread or dipping in soup... just what I was going for.
Have YOU ever experimented with sourdough?  Did I make any egregious errors? Shabbat Shalom from our bayit to yours!