Monday, January 19, 2015

Sesame Crisps

This recipe is adapted from Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts (1965) - "Sesame Pennies"

If you are a peanut brittle fan, I think I can assure you that you will love this cookie. It's thin and crunchy and feels nutty as you chew. An improvement on peanut brittle, it won't stick to your teeth quite as much. These cookies are part of a cookie platter that I made for a friend (among the other cookies were pumpkin drop cookies

The cookie couldn't be easier to make: you mix it in one bowl and drop onto a parchment lined cookie sheet. The uncooked batter (more a very thick batter than a dough) will need to be shaped a bit with very wet hands. They spread in the oven, so it's imperative to space them at least 3/4 inches apart. The recipe will make about 3 dozen cookies.

a flat bottom heavy frying pan (for toasting the seeds)
large mixing bowl
measuring cup, spoons, silicone spatula
parchment paper
cookie sheet (s)
spatula for removing (if you have a large cookie spatula, all the better)

1 c (5 oz) sesame seeds, dry toasted in a heavy flat bottom pan
1/2 stick margarine or butter
2 cups brown sugar
4 ex large egg yolks
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 scant tsp kosher salt
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder

1. Preheat oven 350 degrees. Set the baking rack in the top 1/3 of the oven.  Assemble your ingredients. Line 3 cookie sheets with parchment. If you have only one, use it, allow it to cool after baking first batch and re-use. These cookies run and spread, so avoid using a hot pan.
2. Combine the flour and baking powder in a small bowl.
3. Toast the sesame seeds in a hot dry pan. Shake/stir to avoid burning. This will take 3-4 minutes, the majority of the seeds should just start to turn golden.
4. Melt the margarine or butter. Pour into a mixing bowl. Add the sugar and mix well. Add the vanilla, salt and egg yolks. Mix well.
5. Pour in the seeds and mix.
6. Add the flour mixture and stir - turning over several times to make sure that the ingredients are well blended.
7. Wet your hands, Scoop out a teaspoon of the batter, roll into a round shape with your wet hands and place on the lined cookie sheet. Leaving about 3/4-1 inch between cookies, repeat (don't overload the sheet, bake 9 or 12 cookies at once).
8. Bake for 12-15 minutes. The cookies should be golden. Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes before attempting to move them. They will have begun to harden, but will slip off of the parchment when you slide a metal spatula under them. Becareful, they can crack or bend if not cool enough. Cool completely on a cooling rack.
9. While one baking sheet is in the oven, you can prepare another sheet. Don't allow the prepared sheet to stand too long before baking, as the batter will start to spread.
10. The cookies will spread and bake into a 2" disk about 1/4" thick.

Other Bread and Babka recipes you may like include : Cranberry Nut Muffins and Marble Nut Cookies

Pumpkin Drop Cookies: a soft drop cookie filled with fruit, chocolate and nuts.

This cookie is adapted from The Moosewood Restaurant New Classics Cookbook, 2001

I love to cook with winter squash, but when it comes to sweets using pumpkin, I use canned puree and skip the arduous prep. There is no discernible difference in the final product. 

This is a drop cookie - which means, mix, drop onto the parchment lined cookie sheet and bake. No chilling, no waiting. From start to finish this is a 90 minute project (based on using 3-4 cookie sheets, baking one at a time).  The instructions in the original recipe were perfect - if you use a 1 tablespoon cookie scoop, you'll have 42 cookies.

I'm making a cookie platter for a friend today and wasn't planning to upload this cookie (or the subsequent sesame cookie) on the blog and therefore, my apologies about the lack of process photos. I mixed the entire dough by hand, taking care to combine the fat and sugar and then whipping a bit.  I used margarine to keep the cookie pareve and it's wonderful. It may be super-wonderful to use sweet butter. The cookie is soft, with almost a muffin-like texture 

large mixing bowl
medium mixing bowl
pastry blender, hand whisk
large mixing spoon
1 Tbsp scoop (optional, you can use a tablespoon and put off the dough with a silicone spatula)
measuring spoons, cups 
baking sheets 
cooling rack 

1 cup margarine (or butter)
1 cup sugar
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 extra large egg (slightly beaten)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups (9 oz) all purpose flour 
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2-3/4 c dried cranberries
1/2 c chocolate chips 
1/2 c chopped walnuts (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare and measure all of the ingredients. Line several cookie sheets with parchment paper. 
2. Cream the margarine and sugar. Add the pumpkin and mix well.  Add the beaten egg and vanilla. Mix well (whip a bit with a whisk if you have one). 
3. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices, salt. 
4. Mix the flour mixture into the sugar/fat mixture. Combine well.
5. Add the fruit, chocolate and nuts (if you are using). Mix. 
6. Drop by the scoop-ful or Tablespoon full onto the sheet. Leave space between cookies (drop 9-12 cookies at a time). They will not spread very much, but will puff a bit like a mini muffin. 
7. Bake 12-15 minutes (it will somewhat depend on the cookie sheet itself).  They will be a bit browned at the bottom, but will be springy to the touch on top. 
8. Remove from the cookie sheet immediately. Cool on a cooling rack. Wrap and store at room temperature for no more than a day or two. 

Other Bread and Babka recipes you may like include: Traditional Hamantachen  and Haroset Cookie Bars

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Pumpkin- Orange Whole Grain Tea Bread

This pumpkin quick bread that has evolved over the last 20 years or so. I started working on it when I purchased a copy of "Chef's EscORT," a fund raising cookbook printed by Women's American ORT Southeast District in 1990. I've recently seen copies being sold on ebay.

The original recipe was for a pumpkin pecan bread that contained pecans (it's from ORT's Southern District, after all) and no whole grains. The current recipe has little in common with the original other than canned pumpkin which is used in both recipes.  I bake this tea bread in a narrow and high 9x4x4 baking pan - it hastens the baking time a bit, but also allows for narrower slices, increasing the number of servings per loaf. The pan can be purchased on-line at King Arthur (see my page with mail order web sources) .  If you bake the quick bread in a traditionally shaped loaf pan, increase the baking time 8-10 minutes.

9x4x4 pan, greased and dusted with flour

The great thing about tea breads made with oil are the speed at which you can mix and bake. A variety of fruits and vegetables are added to the loaf (think zucchini bread, for example), which make them moist and filling. If made with whole grains and/or nuts they are a great breakfast-on-the-go.

By setting up the ingredients before you start mixing and baking, the tea bread will be assembled and in the oven within 20 minutes. The recipe, which uses 1/2 of a 15 oz can of pumpkin can easily be doubled. Tea cakes freeze beautifully. Unwrap the loaf before defrosting. 

Scale, measuring cups, measuring spoons, silicone spatula
A large mixing bowl and wooden spoon 
A small whisk or fork for blending ingredients 
One loaf pan 

10.5 oz (2 1/4 c) white whole wheat flour (optional: use traditional whole wheat flour)
1 oz (1/4c) old fashioned oats
3/4 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
2.5 oz (1/2 c) sugar
3 oz (1/2 c) vegetable oil
2 extra large eggs
2 oz (1/4 c) orange juice
7.5 oz (1/2 of a 15 oz can) pumpkin (* NOT pumpkin pie filling)
1 tsp orange zest (or orange oil)
1.5 oz (1/4 c) dried cranberries 

1. Take a few minutes, pre-measure the ingredients, it will help with a smooth assembly:

Preheat your oven to 360 degrees. Grease the baking pan. Dust with flour. 

2. Combine the flour with the spices and baking soda. Mix. Add the oatmeal and mix 

3. Combine the eggs, oil, sugar and whisk until well blended 

4. Combine the pumpkin and dried cranberries 

5. Pour the egg mixture into the dry ingredients, mix well. 
    Add the fruit mixture, mix well. You will have a very thick batter. 

6. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Place in the oven on the top rack. Lower the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for approximately 45 minutes. Check the tea bread by inserting a toothpick or cake tester into the center of the cake. No batter should stick to the tester. 

7. Cool completely before removing from the pan. Cover loosely and store at room temperature for a day or two. If you want to keep longer, double wrap and keep in the freezer for up to 4-6 weeks. 

Other easy to make fruit-filled batters from BreadandBabka include, Blueberry Crumb Spice Cake and Rhubarb Crumb Cake (there is an apple variation)

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Challah with Za'atar and Apricots

Challah pairs with almost any food and the umami flavor of za'atar blends beautifully with both challah and the sweet-tartness of apricots, so think of this recipe as a special goes-with-all bread. Certainly this is a beautiful Shabbat bread, but it also makes a wonderful grilled cheddar cheese sandwich.

The beautiful presentation of this bread may make you think that its even more complicated than a multi-strand braided challah. Actually it's easier than a braid, based on the way a babka is assembled.

Challah, like most yeast breads can be made in one four-five hour session or adjusted to be made in two separate baking sessions. The key to baking delicious bread is not to rush the dough - if you have no time to wait, place the dough in the fridge to "retard" the proofing and just hold off finishing the bread. Time gives the dough time to proof, improving the flavor and texture. Challah is more or less an egg and oil enriched white bread, among the simpler breads to bake. The dough is easy and forgiving to work with. This bread is "layered" - various strands of dough are filled and wrapped around each other. Giving the dough ample time to proof will help avoid uneven rising in the oven with areas that are left hollow with air spaces.

The bread is mixed, kneaded, proofed and shaped like any loaf bread. You can take a break and chill it while proofing which will, in essence, give you the opportunity to take an 8-12 hour break before resuming working with the dough. The unusual effect of this bread - where the filling rises to the top and almost looks to be inside-out is achieved by cutting the length of rolled dough ropes before twisting. The technique is shown in the short video below.

Measuring cups, spoons
Rolling pin
Kitchen scale
Stand mixer or hand mixer with large bowl
Adequate work surface
Flexible bench knife/scraper
3 baking pans: this dough will make 3 (5x9) loaves or round cake pans (the dough will make 2 huge challahs)

8 oz (2 scant cups) white whole wheat flour
8 oz (2 scant cups) bread flour
4.5 tsp (2 packages) instant yeast
12 oz (1 1/2c) warm water - see posting on measuring ingredients and yeast .
4 large eggs
2.5 tsp kosher salt
4 oz (1/2 c) olive oil
And 5 (1/2 c) honey
20 (5 scant cups) all purpose flour (plus another 1 oz if needed because the dough looks very wet)
small amount of all purpose flour for dusting your work surface

4 oz minced dried apricots
4 oz apricot jam or marmalade, slightly warmed (to make it spreadable)
1 oz (4 Tbsp) za'atar mixture *
2 oz (6 Tbsp) olive or other vegetable oil
1 oz (3 Tbsp) vegetable oil mixed with 1 oz (3 Tbsp) honey - for glazing the breads before baking
4 oz (1/2 c) olive oil (or other vegetable oil)
4 oz (1.2 c) honey

* Za'atar is a Middle Eastern spice mixture, readily available in larger kosher sections, Middle Eastern grocery stores. One on-line source is Pereg Spices.

1. Take a moment, pre-measure the ingredients into small bowls. Have them at the ready.
2. Add the white whole wheat flour, bread flour and yeast to a large standing mixer bowl or a large mixing bowl.  Add the warm water, pouring it directly over the yeast, the mixture will almost immediately begin to bubble a bit.  Mix at low speed until the flour is hydrated, between 2-3 minutes.

3. Combine the eggs with the salt. Add the eggs, honey, oil and eggs to the dough. Mix at a slow speed for two to three minutes until you have a fully wet shaggy mass.

4. Add the all purpose flour in 2 or 3 additions. Mixing at slow speed. When all of the flour has been incorporated the dough will still look sticky. Resist the temptation to add more flour. Mix at speed 4 (low medium) for 3-4 minutes. The dough should pull away from the side of the bowl. If the dough is still sticking, add no more than 1/4c all purpose flour and continue to mix.

5. Gather with a silicone bread scraper, grease the sides of the bowl and top of the dough with 2-3 Tbsp of olive oil. Turn a few times until covered with a sheer glisten of oil. Cover with plastic wrap.

6. Thank you King Arthur baking center for this tip: do not spread the plastic wrap across the top of the bowl, let it loosely lay directly on the dough - there is no need to warm an air pocket around the bread. Place the bowl in a warm draft-free place (an oven warmed to 80 degrees and then shut off will work; however, I'm showing off the bread proofer my kids bought me last Hanukkah in the photo below).

7. Let proof (rise) for 45-60 minutes. If the dough has not doubled, let it rise for another 15 minutes. If you are an inexperienced baker and you want to check yourself, push your finger into the spongy warm dough. If the imprint stays and isn't immediately covered up by dough falling over the hole made by your finger, the dough is ready. I have found that during the first proofing if you allow the bread to proof a bit too long, no harm will come to the finished product.  Gently knead the dough and de-gas, it will perform well for the 2nd proofing. 

8. Prepare the za'atar filling by mixing the spice powder with oil.
9. Combine the diced fruit with warm jam or marmalade.

10.  Gently de-gas and turn the dough. Divide into three pieces, of approximately 21-23 oz each. Place the three divided pieces of dough on a work surface dusted with flour.

11. Prepare the baking pans by spraying generously with spray oil and dusting with corn meal or flour.

12. Divide each third in half. You'll be working with 2 pieces at a time. Cover the other pieces of dough with a damp cloth to keep from drying.

13. Dust a rolling pin and roll out one portion of dough into a rectangle, approximately 10 x 5.  If the dough becomes difficult to roll out, let it rest for 5-6 minutes and then continue. 

14. Spread 1/3 of the Za'atar mixture thinly covering the rolled out dough. Beginning at one of the long ends of the rectangle, roll the dough, creating a log of filled dough. Tuck in za'atar that may run out the ends. 

15. Set the za'atar roll aside and repeat the process, using 1/3 of the apricot-jam mixture. 

16. Line up the two rolls, Cut a deep slit down the center of each, exposing the layers of dough and filling. Be careful to not cut through the dough completely. 

17. Overlap the two rolls at one end, pinch together. Twist each log over the over to form a twisted loaf. Place the twisted loaf into the prepared pan. 


18. Repeat this process twice, making three loaves of dough.  Let proof in a draft free place until about doubled in size - approximately 45- 60 minutes. 

19. About 15 minutes before the 2nd proof period is over, preheat the oven to 380 degrees. Combine the oil and honey in a small bowl and lightly brush the proofed loaves with the mixture. 

20. I can bake the three breads in my oven at 370 degrees, however, I prefer to bake no more than 2 loaves at a time.  Slip two loaves in the oven (or three loaves if you oven is large enough and you have had success baking three at a time).  Set the third loaf aside if you are not immediately baking. Don't cover the dough in the pan, it will stick to any covering you place on it. 

21. Lower the heat to 360 - higher heat will cause the honey in the glaze to brown to quickly. Check after 20- 25 minutes, if they are in fact browning too quickly, cover loosely with a piece of aluminum foil. Bake for approximately 10- 15 minutes more.  

22. This is a dense bread with wet fillings, it will take a bit longer to bake than traditional challah. The crust will be golden deep brown and shiny.  If you like to measure internal temperature of your breads, the center should be approximately 190 degrees. Touch the top and press lightly, the bread should feel firm. 

22.  Remove from the oven and cool the breads completely in the pans. If the breads stick to the sides of the pan when  you are ready to remove them, slide a silicone spatula or knife along the sided of the bread and turn out. 

Store the challah loosely covered for a day or two at room temperature. Otherwise, double wrap them and store in the freezer for up to 4 - 6 weeks. Remove the frozen dough from the bags prior to defrosting. 

Enjoy other Bread and Babka challah recipes including  My Challah Apple Stuffed Challah   or Sourdough Honey Challah