Holla! I mean…challah!

Hello, my name is Shellie and I’m a bread junkie.  I’ve been a bread junkie for 40mumblemumble years now and I do not see an end in sight!  When I think of a perfect meal, it always involves bread, butter and cheese.  Maybe some grapes.  You know-the kind that comes in a glass and makes everyone look better.  And when I think of that perfect meal, one of my favorite breads always comes to mind: challah.

image courtesy of jewishrecipes.org

 

Thinking back to my younger days, one of my favorite treats as a little Shellie was the joy of freshly baked Challah bread from Publix.  It may have been grocery store bread, but it was so good all the same.  If you have ever had challah, you know how amazing it can be.  Eggy and rich with a golden crust that shines.  I like to imagine I hear angels singing “ahhhhhhhhhhh” when I bite into it.

Now, full disclosure.  While I have made bread many times, I have never attempted challah.  Not quite sure why, but instead of riffing, I decided to follow a recipe on Allrecipes (one of my favorite sites to be sure!) for challah.  I thought this was a good recipe and since I’m a newbie to making challah, I don’t think I can improve on this recipe…yet.

However, I do have some thoughts about the recipe.  Make sure that you have tons of flour.  I mean tons.  While the recipe calls for lots of flour (8 cups), it isn’t explicit in terms of how much you need to add during the kneading process.  This is normal as humidity levels, etc differ from kitchen to kitchen.  However, I found that on a day where temps in the evening were in the low 80’s with humidity below 45%, I had to add far more flour than I do in just about every other bread recipe.  Probably another 2-3 cups.  To be fair, maybe I was distracted by the Blueberry when I was adding in flour and I missed a cup or two, or maybe my kitchen is just ridiculously humid, but in the end I think it’s just what the recipe needed, which sometimes happens.  Also, since this bread calls for eggs, have high quality eggs.  Many of us know exactly where our eggs come from, but for those of you who rely on grocery store eggs, think about spending the extra money for organic.  Since egg is such a star in this bread, you don’t want to skimp with lackluster eggs.

Is it wrong that I heard Barry White singing "...your love babe.  Can't get enough of your love babe" while I was taking this pic?  Yeah.  Probably.

Is it wrong that I heard Barry White singing “…your love babe. Can’t get enough of your love babe” while I was taking this pic? Yeah. Probably.

Also, the recipe calls for braiding the bread.  Hmm…I’m too lazy for that.  I tried it and it kept breaking but I think it’s just lack of practice.  In the end, I created 3 boules and 1 loaf.  The picture doesn’t do it justice, but the crust is still shiny and golden, worthy of all it’s praise.  Generally speaking, challah doesn’t rise too much in the oven.  I didn’t try it in bread pans, but I wouldn’t expect a huge fluffy loaf.  But, that’s ok because the flavor is sublime.  Try it with your favorite sandwich.  Use it instead of white bread in french toast.  Let it go a bit stale and then use it for croutons or bread pudding.  Ah, the possibilities are endless!

Happy baking!

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Vous dorloter vos oeufs? Or Alternate title: Eggs should not be hockey pucks

For many years, I labored under the assumption that all cooked eggs were rubbery, gross and sometimes a little slimey. I think it was a good solid decade in which I did not order eggs in restaurants at all because of a few bad experiences (normally had at a Village Inn/Dennys-like place at 2:00 am to be fair.)

But then I started watching the geeky goodness of America’s Test Kitchen and realized that eggs don’t have to have the hockey puck mouth feel to be done!

Classic American and French cooking techniques can differ wildly.  Many French cookbooks and blogs will lead you down the path to coddled eggs but yet the methods seem to vary from cooking them over a double boiler to cooking in boiled water (seems like poaching to me) to cooking in an oven.  I personally am itching to try the recipe that I found on I am a food blog.  It’s a Thomas Keller recipe and we totally crush on him in this house.  Sometimes we just read this for fun y’all….

nom nom nom, oh and pic courtesy of B&N

nom nom nom, oh and pic courtesy of B&N

But enough fun stuff.  How do I cook my eggs?  Well, Sheldon prefers a high heat pan where he ultimately begins to brown the proteins.  By doing this, he often removes most of the moisture and produces firm but still very pleasing eggs.  Often these little beauties are cooked in bacon fat with mushrooms and onions, so it’s all good.

For me, I prefer a riff on the coddling method where I cook them low and slow in a fat pat of butter….oh yeah…and bacon:

Presentation is not my gift, but these tasted soooo good anyway!

Presentation is not my gift, but these tasted soooo good anyway!

It takes me longer to get there, but that end result is so pleasing to my picky palate.  I have also made breakfast pizza and found it to be an awesome use of eggs that doesn’t require quite so much fat to cook.

But…I’m curious on how you all prepare your eggs?  As our chicken population is currently on the upswing, I’m sure we’re going to have more eggs than we know what to do with!   If you get a chance, respond with your favorite egg recipe!

Cookie day and a lesson on captivity

We have a friend of Sheldon’s staying with us right now as his family makes the move from DFW to this part of the country.  He’s a very nice guy and we’re enjoying his company although The Blueberry is under the impression that we invited him here to be her exclusive entertainment provider.  How do I know?  Well, this was the convo in her bedroom the other night:

“Blueberry-it’s time to get ready for bed.”

“Where are the boys mama?  I want to go hang out with them.”

“Well, Daddy is outside putting up the animals for the night and Mr. C is downstairs.”

“What is Mr. C doing?”

“I don’t know-maybe talking to Mrs. C?  Why?”

“Because I want him up here.”

“Blueberry..he is our guest, not our captive.  We can’t make him do everything we want.  It’s not polite.”

“Captive?  What’s a captive?”

“Well, it’s someone who is held against his will and forced to do what the people holding him want him to do.”

“Mama…I think I’m a captive.”

So, begins day 3 of her captivity because of the ice storm.  It’s not terribly bad here but if I don’t have to take her out on the roads, I just figure why bother.  Sheldon went into work this morning and because we park our cars outside it took no joke-30 minutes of scraping to get all of the ice off his truck.  I think it was between 1-2 inches thick.  That is good times!

To pass the time, we have done some sledding down one of the hills (who needs snow when you have faster ice?!), we’ve played Kinect games and now we’re currently enjoying Mary Poppins…

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Someone call Amnesty International…look at the deplorable conditions our captive is facing…

…but in a few minutes we are going to begin making reduced fat oatmeal raisin cookies.  These cookies are one of Sheldon’s very favorite and they always satisfy my need to bake when the weather gets cold like this:

1/4 cup butter, softened

1/4-1/2 cup applesauce (I give a broad range here because you just need to watch your mix.  Start with the smaller measurement and add more if you notice the mix is too dry)

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed

2 eggs

2 teaspoons cinnamon (we are cinnamon junkies in this house)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 cups uncooked oats

1 1/2 cups AP flour

1 cup raisins

Parts that I have riffed on:

I’ve made these many times omitting the butter completely.  In that case, just increase your applesauce to one cup.  The cookies will have more of a cakelike texture but they are still awesome.

I’ve also substituted 1 cup of dried cherries, dried cranberries, dried blueberries, etc for the raisins

I’ve successfully included chia and/or flax seeds without any complaints from The Blueberry…In fact, I think we’ll be adding 1/4 to 1/2 cup of flax seeds today.  Because I’m adding the flax seeds, I’ve decreased the oats by about 1/2 cup.   If you haven’t yet discovered either of these seeds, I STRONGLY recommend that you check them out.  The health benefits for these seeds are just phenomenal and they can be snuck into all kinds of baked goods.  The chia seeds have a bit of a slimey texture in some wet applications, so I probably wouldn’t add them to eggs, but hiding them in cookies, cakes and crackers-super genius!

Preheat your oven to 350.  Cream together butter and sugar until it looks fluffy.  Beat in eggs one at a time and then add vanilla-this becomes your wet mixture.

That's not dirt on my mixer, I forgot and added the cinnamon early while the mixer was on.  Not. Genius.

That’s not dirt on my mixer, I forgot and added the cinnamon early while the mixer was on. Not. Genius.

In a separate bowl, mix together your flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon.  Then incorporate this into the wet mixture one cup at a time.  You don’t want to overmix it because flour will begin to form gluten which can make cookies a bit too tough.

Once your flour mixture is in, mix in your oats and dried fruit by hand until incorporated.  I then use the 2 spoon method to drop them on to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or silpat.

I like big cookies and I cannot lie..

I like big cookies and I cannot lie..

They don’t spread out, so pretty much how you plop them onto your sheet is how they come out.  Bake for 8-12 minutes depending on oven.  If you omit the butter, they won’t get terribly brown, so try a small first batch to see how long you really need to cook.  Let cool on a rack and then stuff them in your face.

nom nom nom nom

nom nom nom nom

According to Calorie Count, it’s about 41 calories per cookie with sugars and fats both under 9 grams respectively (fat under 2 grams)  Adding in the flax seeds adds some fat but it also adds a very nice amount of protein and fiber, so while it is not quite like eating a celery stick,  it’s still healthier than eating a full fat cookie.  At any rate, I can’t blog any more because I need both hands free to shove em in.  Happy baking!

Giving up store bought bread

You never realize how incredibly convenient it is to purchase store bought bread until you make the decision to give it up cold turkey. Especially if you are like me: a full-fledged breadaholic who could eat bagettes, boules, loaves, buns, etc starting now until the day I died…and I would die happy.

However, if you take a moment to look at the ingredients on your bread, you begin to realize just how far from nature you really are with store bought bread. We have tried to buy organic bread as much as possible, but I have to admit that once we made the move out of the city, we found that the many of the organic products we had come to rely on were no longer readily available. So, after yet another report on the evils of corn syrup, I decided enough was enough.  Enter breadmaking for idiots-my version of baking bread:

I’ve gotten pretty close to perfect on artisan bread.  You know-that crunchy yummy loaf of bread that will not really make a normal sandwich but it’s perfect for slicing up with good butter, cheese, whatever…it’s just great on it’s own.  But….with a 4 year old in the house and a husband who is not as much of a bread-junkie as me, I need to come up with a “normal” bread recipe.  Here is one that I’m working on:

  • 1.5 Tablespoons of active dry yeast.
  • 2 Cups of warm water (Now a lot of recipes will give you a temp here that the water should be-often between 85-120 depending on what you are making. However, I am far too lazy for that nonsense. It should be warm enough that you would want to take a bath in it but not hot enough that you wouldn’t bathe your 4 year old in it. Capisce?).
  • 1/4 Cup of Oil-I prefer Olive Oil
  •  2-3 Tablespoons of raw honey (Local if you have it, and it’s ok to add more or less depending on your palate. Don’t go crazy though).
  • 5-6 Cups of Bread Flour.  (Yes-there is a difference between All Purpose and Bread Flour, but we’ll talk more about that at a later time.)
  • 2 Teaspoons of salt.

Mix the water, salt and honey together.  I like to give it a minute for the honey to dissolve a bit.  Then take your water mixture and put that and the yeast together in a large bowl.  Honey-it’s going to get bigger, so your cereal bowl ain’t going to get it done.  Trust me!  Let it sit and get foamy for 10-20 minutes.  How do you know when it’s enough?  Try to be out of the room while it’s doing it’s voodoo and you’ll find that when you come back in, it’s grown like one of your kids and well, also your kitchen is going to reek (in a good way) of yeasty goodness.  Mine looked like this:

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It’s alive!!!

Notice my slightly skanky bowl?  Well, I don’t mean that I took a dirty bowl and just threw some bread in it.  I mean that is my bread bowl.  I like to mix bread in the same bowl.  Often batch after batch because as any lover of sourdough knows, a little bit of extra flavor goes a long way and having a repeater bowl in breadmaking can be very helpful for imparting some complexity of flavor.  Just try not to use last night’s chili bowl…

Then pour in your olive oil.  I tried to make a smiley face with mine, but it didn’t exactly come out right.

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Jackson Pollock smiley face

Now it’s time for what I like to call makingcleaningthekitchenagainanecessity: adding the flour.  While I have a perfectly awesome stand mixture that I use for making doughs, I like to do this process manually so I can feel it with my hand.  I add a cup and then incorporate that cup before I add more.  Don’t feel like the dough needs to look perfect.  Think pancake batter-you’ll have some lumps and not all of your flour will be mixed in, but that’s ok.  Also, you will find that depending on the humidity levels on the day you are cooking, you might need to adjust your flour a bit.  You can always add more flour, but you can’t take it away, so once you get to cup 5, start paying attention to how your dough is acting.

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I could probably sift here, but I’m just too lazy…

Once your dough is all in, it’s time to give those biceps a work out.  Either prepare a flat, slightly floured surface to knead the dough or be like me and just knead it in the big bowl.  I can’t tell you exactly how long you should knead.  I try to get to the point where my dough is not ripping when I push it into little balls, but I’m sure others would tell you that there is a better process.  For me-that’s what making things homemade is all about…figuring out what works best for you.  I knead mine until I get bored (which doesn’t last long) and then I let it sit in the same bowl that has been oiled.  I cover the dough with oil as well.  How much oil?  Not deep fry oil, just enough to keep it from sticking.  Cover it with a damp cloth if your kitchen is not particularly humid and leave it alone for an hour or so.

No peeking!

No peeking!

Then it’s time to take out your frustrations and punch it down.  This is not a euphemism peeps.  Punch it down.  Then cut it into 2-3 portions and let it rise again in a greased bread pan.  I typically let it go 20-30 minutes.  About 15 minutes in, I start preheating to 375 degrees.

Cook for 28-35 minutes depending on your oven.  If you aren’t sure if your oven is consistent in temperature, spending a couple of dollars on an oven thermometer would not be a bad plan.  Once mine comes out, I take it out of the pan immediately and let it cool off on a baking rack.

Actually, that’s a lie.  Sometimes I let it cool off on a baking rack.  Sometimes I let it cool off in my mouth.  I am a junkie after all.

I wish this blog had smell-o-vision

I wish this blog had smell-o-vision

Now, is this bread perfect?  Nope.  I think it still needs a little more complexity of flavor.  I also think that I got lazy in my kneading because of that Trump-style combover the top of the bread has.  However, this is a great, easy recipe that even the most busy of folks can accomplish and ultimately build on.  Not including cook or rest time, this recipe probably didn’t take me more than 10-15 minutes tops.  So, get out there and try some homemade bread.  I promise that once you do, you’ll never go back to that sad stuff in the grocery store again.  Happy baking!