Category Archives: Bread

Irish Soda Bread

with-teaIf you happened to have been visiting Ireland during the first week of September this year, and noticed a shortage of butter, I apologize. My bad. That was me, eating my way through Galway, Killarney and Dublin, one loaf of bread at a time, slathered with Irish butter and salt.bread-and-butterMost folks go to Ireland to drink Guinness or Irish Whiskey. When the customs officer asked us the purpose of our visit I think I shocked him when I divulged I was going for the butter.

What makes Irish butter so good? Turns out that the key to their delicious butter is grass. Over two thirds of Irish land is dedicated to farming and agriculture.  80% of this land is used to grow grass, hence the country’s nickname, “The Emerald Isle”. Irish cows graze freely on grass for 10 months a year. emerald-isleIrish butter has a deep golden colour, owing to the beta carotene in grass. Contrast that to North America, where most dairy cows are fed a diet comprised of primarily corn and soybeans. This produces a paler coloured butter, less rich and creamy than Irish butter. Creamy and sweet with a pure clean butter flavour and silky texture, Irish butter is the gold standard. The most well-known brand of Irish butter is Kerrygold. Luckily for us, it’s widely available here at home.kerrygold-vs-north-american-butterI discovered the joys of Irish soda bread and butter on our very first morning.  We landed in Dublin after flying all night and rented a car to drive to Galway, on the west coast. We stopped halfway through our 3 hour drive for our first full Irish breakfast. My plate arrived piled high with eggs, sausages, bacon, potatoes and tomatoes. All very delicious, but I quickly lost interest and abandoned it once I took my first bite of the soda bread, thickly spread with salted butter and jam.

Turns out that almost every restaurant bakes their own soda bread and the variations seemed endless. My rule for bread eating is, that unless it’s stellar, I try not to waste the calories. I was powerless to resist all that amazing bread, and it goes without saying that the butter put me in my happy place.

Irish soda bread boasts a craggy intensely crunchy crust and a dense chewy interior. There are many different versions and variations, but the traditional recipe consists of flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk. The power of baking soda is activated by the acid in the buttermilk. 

My version is adapted from Clodagh McKenna‘s book Clodagh’s Irish Kitchen. She uses equal parts of white all-purpose and whole wheat flours. I loaded up my loaf with golden flax seeds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds and raisins.

Irish butter, flaky sea salt and tart cherry jam make excellent accompaniments to the bread. Any leftover is delicious toasted all week long!butter-salt-and-jam

Click here to print recipe for Irish-soda-bread.

one-slice

 

 

“Everything” Holiday Challah

3-challahs-on-wooden-boardI have been making the same holiday challah for at least 15 years now. Everyone in the family loves it and looks forward to it. It’s possible I risk a mutiny if I dare to bake a different recipe. Yet, when I saw this challah in Uri Scheft’s book “Breaking Breads” I was enchanted. It looked like an everything bagel! I had to make it. Since Rosh Hashanah doesn’t start until Sunday night, I decided to do a test run for Friday night dinner at my son’s house.

Uri’s dough is much leaner than mine. Mine contains more eggs and oil. One recipe uses a kilogram (7 cups) of all-purpose flour. It’s enough to make 3 small challahs. A scale will be your best friend for dividing the dough. divide-into-3Each piece of dough gets further divided into 3 pieces and rolled out into 14 inch ropes.14-inch-ropesI like to start my braid in the center and work out toward both ends. Braid loosely. if the braids begin to stick to each other, give them a light dusting of flour. Wrap the braid into a circle, with a hole in the center. I found attaching the ends a bit challenging. I just sort of squeezed them together. Cover the challahs and let them double in size.

Now comes the fun part. Get all your toppings ready. I used sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sunflower seeds, golden flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and nigella (black onion) seeds. I finished it off with a scatter of maldon sea salt flakes. toppings Brush the braid with egg.brushing-with-eggHave fun with the toppings.looks-like-an-everything-bagelInsert a small ovenproof bowl in the center so that the hole does not get filled in when dough bakes.ready-for-ovenBake at 400°F for about 25 minutes. Let cool before serving.

Serve with honey in the middle for dipping.baked-with-honey-in-cernterOr serve the honey on the side for drizzling. a-drizzle-of-honeyThis challah dough is much denser than mine.A very different, but delicious challah experience. It really did remind me of an everything bagel. They are just so freaking adorable. We took a vote and decided to make both kinds of challah for our Rosh Hashanah lunch on Monday. I’ll let you know what everyone says!

Click here to print recipe for Everything-Holiday-Challah.

Battle Babka

Almond Joy Babka with a latte 2Who among us hasn’t wished for more hours in the day? Well consider me your little “time fairy.” I’m going to give you 24 extra hours! In case you’ve forgotten, 2016 is a leap year. February 29, is leap day. With all that extra time on your hands, let me suggest that you make babka.

For the uninitiated, babka is a brioche dough (yeast dough enriched with butter), spread with a sweet filling, rolled up and then baked in a loaf pan. Many consider chocolate to be the ultimate babka. In fact, if you were even to suggest a cinnamon babka to these chocolate lovers, they’d likely gasp and and utter, “another babka“? They theorize that a cinnamon babka is a “lesser babka”.

My daughter was visiting this weekend and she wanted to help me with my next post. As we considered what to blog about, my suggestion of blood orange curd filled donuts, eclairs or tart were met with a less than enthusiastic ” oh, that’s interesting.” When  I showed her the photo of Chocolate Krantz cake (aka Babka) in Yotam Ottolenghi’s book Jerusalem, she got quite excited. She is enthusiastically in the chocolate camp, while my husband has both feet firmly planted in the cinnamon camp. Luckily, this recipe makes two babkas. And so Battle Babka was on.battle babkaThe dough for babka can not be rushed. It requires an overnight rest in the fridge. Then, divide it in half and roll out the first half into an 11 x 15 inch rectangle.rolling doughFor the chocolate babka, we were inspired by an Almond Joy chocolate bar. After spreading on the chocolate paste, we added chopped toasted almonds and unsweetened coconut. spreading chocolate fillingsprinkling almondssprinkling coconutHere’s where babka baking becomes fun. Roll up the dough into a tight roulade.rolling 2rolling 4Place roll on a parchment lined baking sheet and freeze for about 15 minutes, to firm up the dough. rolled and ready for chillingOnce the dough has firmed up, it’s time to cut it in half, length-wise. A serrated knife makes easy work of this.slicing in halfLook at those gorgeous striations. gorgeous striationsTo assemble, the two halves need to be twisted back together again .twisting 1twisting 2twisting 3We repeated the process all over again, to make the cinnamon babka. Brush dough with butter this time, instead of chocolate.brushing butter on cinnamon babkaA thick layer of brown sugar and cinnamon go down next.sprinkling sugar cinnamonToasted pecans and dried cherries complete this version.pecans ans cherriesThe babkas are placed in loaf pans and allowed to rise for about 90 minutes. Because of all the butter in the dough, they only grow by about 15%.ready to riseOnce baked, they get doused with a brushing of simple syrup. This keeps the babkas super moist.brushing with simple syrupAfter a tortuous cooling period, (with my husband calling from upstairs, every 10 minutes, “Is it time yet?“, we sliced into them and tasted. One vote for chocolate from my daughter, one vote for cinnamon, from my husband. The deciding vote was up to me. I declare that Cinnamon babka is most decidedly not a lesser babka. The tart dried cherries, combined with the crunchy pecans won me over. But don’t let me influence you. Decide for yourself. battle babka 2We discovered that babka tastes even better the second day. Sort of like stew, it needs time for all the flavours to develop. We loved it with a latte for breakfast.Cinnamon Babka with latte 2 625 sqIt was still stellar late that afternoon with a glass of milk.Cinnamon Babka with milkNot surprisingly, it disappeared quite quickly.take a slice 1take a slice 2hey, where did all the babka go

Click here to print recipe for Almond Joy Babka.

Click here to print recipe for Cinnamon Pecan Dried Cherry Babka.

 

Popovers

a bunch of popovers 2Just saying the word “Popover” makes me happy. These are so much fun to make. I turned on my oven light and watched them rise up and pop right over the rim of the pan. It’s like magic! (Do not ever open the oven door while they are baking!)gorgeous popoversI somehow managed to keep my popover virginity for the first 50 years of my life. I had my first  one a few years ago at my cottage.  My sister Bonnie came to visit and brought her popover pans with her. (Doesn’t everyone travel with popover pans?) I promptly ate two, right out of the oven, slathered with butter. Why had I waited so long?

I have been meaning to make them myself and blog about them, to share the popover love, but life got in the way, and I got sidetracked. A family holiday to Aruba, over the winter break, brought me right back on track again. We had dinner one night at the Aruba outpost of BLT Steak.

Our entire dinner was delicious, but it was the popovers that will keep me coming back again and again. I was thrilled to see that they arrived at the table with soft butter and a copy of the recipe!2 popoversPopover batter consists of nothing more than milk, eggs, flour and salt. I also added some cheese, because cheese makes everything better.what you'll need Making perfect popovers is not really all that magical or mysterious if you understand about the science behind them. The website, bite-sizedbiology does a brilliant job explaining this.   Popovers are like little balloons. An elastic network of egg, milk, and flour proteins (particularly gluten) forms as the popover batter is mixed. This rubbery network then “inflates” as air trapped inside the batter expands during baking. 

Beat your eggs well.whisking eggsWhisk in some warm (120°F) whole milk.adding warm milk Gradually add the flour and salt, stirring well after each addition. It is not critical to get it totally smooth. A few little lumps are ok.

Place your muffin or popover tins in the oven, on the lowest rack, while it is preheating to 400°F. A hot pan will assist in giving your popovers a head start in rising. While popovers can certainly be made in a muffin tin, they will not be nearly as tall and dramatic as ones made in a popover pan. The main difference between muffin and popover pans is the shape of the cups. Popover pans have tall narrow-straight sided cups, while muffin tins are squatter and narrower at the base. The taller straighter sides of the popover pan gives the batter more vertical room to expand and build a bigger steam pocket.filling hot pansEach popover got a generous topping of Gruyere cheese before heading into the oven. adding gruyereServe as soon as they come out of the oven, with butter, if that makes you happy. The top and sides are a deep mahogany colour. Pop off the crunchy cheesy top to reveal a hollow custardy cavity inside.2 popovers cropped close

Click here to print recipe for Popovers.

popover with butter 625 sqI’m thinking I need a mini popover pan now. Tiny ones would be so perfect to serve with cocktails!

Apple, Honey and Almond Tartine for Rosh Hashanah

half with almonds 2Apples and honey go together on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), like cookies and milk, every other day of the year! We dip apples in honey to symbolizes our wishes for a sweet year for family, friends and all the Jewish people. While this explanation makes sense, I have often wondered why specifically apples and honey?  Why not figs dipped into date syrup?

In researching this question, the interpretation I discovered on the website torah.org, resonated quite strongly with me. Their insight regarding the apple part of the equation, is explained this way:
“On most fruit trees the leaves appear before the fruit, thus providing a protective cover for the young fruit. The apple, however, makes a preemptive move by appearing before the leaves. The Jewish people are compared to an apple because we are willing to live out our Jewish lives even if this seems to leave us unprotected. “

The choice of honey was brilliantly explained with this insight:
“A bee can inflict pain by its sting, yet it also produces delicious honey.  Life has this same duality of potential. We pray that our choices will result in a sweet year.”

And so apples and honey it is again, this year on my holiday table. I usually place a big platter of apples on the table with a little knife and cutting board and a bowl of honey for dipping to start the meal. What results is a table littered with hacked up apples, band-aid wrappers (someone inevitablly cuts themself) apple cores and lots of gooey drippings everywhere.

Leave it to Martha to come up with a tidy, delicious and very beautiful solution to this sticky mess. It truly is a good thing. slice close up 625 sqMy take on Martha’s idea starts with my ultimate braided challah, sliced lengthwise into 1 inch thick planks. The slices of bread are lightly spread with honey and then covered with thinly sliced apples. A scattering of toasted sliced  almonds and a final drizzle of honey makes a very special start to your holiday meal. braidingbrushing with eggwith toppingThese open faced sandwiches really should be assembled just before serving. This is not usually a problem since there are always those guests who hang out in the kitchen, asking if they can help. Set up an assembly line and assign apple slicing, honey spreading and almond scattering. Your tartines will be ready in no time at all.

Wishing you all a sweet and healthy New Year.

Click here to print recipe for Rosh Hashanah Apple and Honey Tartine sliced 2