Baking for the Soul: Challah

There’s no easy way to say this, my grandmother (Nona) is almost 90 and not doing very well. She’s in the hospital refusing to eat and drink and take her medications. Some people eat when they’re sad, today I’m baking. Challah. There is nothing more comforting to me than a house that smells from freshly baked bread.
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Challah is an egg-enriched bread that is served on Shabbat and Holidays. Its slightly sweet and very delicious. It makes great french toast. The recipe that I use is from the Ratner’s Meatless Cookbook. Ratner’s was a famous dairy resturant in New York. I was lucky enough to eat there once in high school. I’m fairly certain that I made sure to taste their challah, and I’m also fairly certain that I remarked that the one we make is better—even though its from their recipe.

My mother made this recipe when I was a kid, not quite every week, but very frequently. And while we don’t ‘do’ shabbat every weekend, I make this quite frequently. Its actually the only recipe in the book that I’ve ever used. The book opens quite naturally to the challah page. Over the years I’ve found challah recipes that I like and use every now and then….a whole wheat challah that makes enough for several weeks of challot, a lovely pumpkin challah for the fall, and a wonderful recipe in the Baking with Julia book, but I always come back to the original recipe. This one from Ratner’s.
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I mentioned that this is an egg-enriched bread. Most challah recipes that you see call for one or two eggs. Not this one. This recipe calls for 2 whole eggs and then 1/3 cup of egg yolks. Today it took 5 yolks to fill 1/3 cup (but I was using eggs from my friend Tisha’s hens–it usually only takes 3 or maybe 4 to fill 1/3 cup with ‘large’ eggs) This is a very rich bread
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Challah
Delicious. This challah gets rave reviews whenever I serve it to guests or bring it to someone else’s house. Makes one large or 2 smaller loaves.

2 packages active dry yeast (or 4 1/2 tsp)
2/3 cup lukewarm water
1/2 cup whole eggs (usually 2)
1/3 cup egg yolks (usually 4)
7 Tbs vegetable oil
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp salt
4 1/2-5 cups all purpose flour
1 egg, well beaten, for wash
sesame or poppy seeds (optional, for topping)

  1. In a large bowl, soften yeast in the warm water, add a little bit of the sugar to get things moving. Once the yeast is active, stir in eggs, yolks, oil, remaining sugar and salt. Add enough flour to form a stiff, sticky dough.
  2. Knead dough on a floured surface until smooth and elastic. About 5 minutes
  3. Place in a greased bowl and turn to coat. Let rise, covered, in a warm place until doubled in bulk. About 2 hours
  4. Punch down, knead again and divide dough into strips. Braid into one or two loaves.
  5. Cover and let rise again until doubled…about 45 minutes. Brush with egg wash and top with seeds, if desired.
  6. bake at 375 until richly browned. bake for 35-40 minutes for one loaf, less for two. Cool thoroughly before slicing
  7. This bread freezes really well. Wrap in saran wrap and then aluminum foil. I’ve kept loaves in the freezer for months and had them emerge just as delicious as the day they went in.

borekas–putting it all together

Once your filling is made, clear off your work surface and your schedule. Its time to fill the borekas. I like to do this in the evening, or when the kids are at school so I have uninterrupted time….you know what I mean.
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Here’s a video that shows how I seal them. The method I use is the first one she shows:

it takes practice, and the first ones you make probably won’t be beautiful. I seal mine with my right hand, and the boreka is in the left hand. find a way that works for you. you can do it. I promise!
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Dough

3/4 cup oil
1 1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
5 cups flour

put the oil, water and salt into a pot and bring to a boil. Allow to cool slightly

When tepid, add to flour and blend throughly. This will not be a beautiful bread dough.

Break off portions about the size of a walnut (golf ball) and roll on lightly floured board into rounds 3-4 inches in diameter and approximately 1/8 inch thick. The dough is easiest to work with when still warm. So, work quickly.

fill with 1 tablespoon of filling and follow directions from the video to close. Make sure it is completely sealed  so the filling will not run out while baking

place on a parchment lined (or greased) cookie sheet, and bake at 375 for about 45 minutes or until a light golden brown. Once cool, they can be frozen.

makes approximately 45 borekas. I sometimes have leftover filling, and I make 1/2 of the dough recipe to finish it off.

better late than never: Kosher for Passover Brownies

It never ceases to amaze me that my friends love this recipe enough that they want me to make it even when its not Passover. I always think of Passover foods as reasonable facsimiles of the foods they are copying. But everyone, and I mean EVERYONE who tastes these brownies loves them. This year I made a batch and brought them to my cousin’s house in NJ for the 1st seder, and then made another for the 2nd seder. They always get gobbled up. They’re rich, fudgy and chocolatey–exactly what you want out of a (passover) brownie, I guess!
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So, even though Passover ended a few weeks ago, I made them for this weekend. A friend opened up her house for a craft night, and we crafted, ate and talked….all night long.

Kosher For Passover Brownies
Good for Passover…..and all year round.

1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup ( 2 sticks) unsalted butter or unsalted Passover margarine, melted and cooled
3 eggs
1 tablespoon brewed coffee
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt (Omit if using salted butter)
1 scant cup matzoh cake meal
1/2 cup finely chopped toasted walnuts (optional)
approx 3/4 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Line an 8 inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, you could butter the foil….but I always forget.

I’ve gotten this down to a one bowl recipe: melt the butter in the microwave in the bowl you indend to use, let it cool slightly

Add the sugars, coffee, cocoa, eggs and cake meal. Stir until combined, then add the chocolate chips and/or the walnuts.

Pour into the baking pan, smooth out the top and bake for about 25-30 minutes. Don’t overbake!

Hamantashen

I dread making hamantashen ever year. They’re fussy little sugar cookies shaped into tri-cornered hats and filled with something yummy. This year I filled them with homemade prune and apricot lekvar from my TWD/BWJ rugelach. Perfect for Hamantashen. In years past, I’ve used chocolate chips, raspberry jam, apricot preserves, and once I made a cooked apple filling which was delicious, but perhaps too much work for a cookie that is already a lot of work. Know what I mean?

But this year? it wasn’t so bad. I made the dough this morning, and then the cookies this afternoon and after dinner. And now they’re done. All that’s left is to distribute to friends!

Hamantashen

adapted from Gourmet Magazine, March 1997, makes approximately 48 cookies
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, cut into bits
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

Put the dry ingredients into the bowl of your food processor, and give them a whirl so they’re mixed. Add the butter and cream cheese and pulse until it is the consistency of coarse crumbs.

Add the eggs and vanilla. pulse some more.

the dough will not come together into a ball.

gather it into a ball on the counter and mash into a square or rectangle. wrap in saran wrap and cool in the fridge for at least an hour.

roll it out and cut circles and form them into three cornered hats

Continue rolling cookies from the scraps. It’ll be a little harder to seal the corners, but even if they fall apart…they’ll still be tasty.

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they should end up looking something like this:
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