Monday, January 31, 2011

Boozy challah bread pudding

weekly menu notes
There are two issues with challah that despite all of my attempts I could not resolve for a while. The recipe yields 2 large bread loafs and despite the fact that I always give some of it away, I still end up with at least ½ extra loaf. Challah also does not age or freeze well. The bread dries out just in couple days and becomes too chewy when frozen.

Today morning, when flipping through an old issue of Food&Wine, I spotted a recipe for a rhubarb bread pudding… then I lifted my gaze and say half a loaf of stale challah. My mind and stomach started working. First, there are very few fruits still available at the market. Apples would be great, but I am a bit tired from apple desserts after the holiday season, so I went with the second option- pears. Then, my craving for chocolate and a hint of sweet tanginess, in this case golden raisins, kicked in. Brandy came last to adding depth and woodiness to this rich dessert that solve this issue of stale challah.

Boozy bread pudding 12 cups 1 inch cubes of stale challah, crust removed
¼ cup brandy
¼ cup golden raisins
½ cup agave
3 large eggs
2.5 cups half&half
pinch of salt
½ cup shaved unsweetened dark chocolate
2 thinly sliced bosc pears
¼ cup sugar

Pre-heat the oven to 375F. Set aside a cake pan that fits into a larger skillet for the water bath.
Arrange challah cubes in one layer and bake for 10-12 minutes until the bread is slightly toasted. Move the bread into a large bowl. Keep the oven on.
Run raisins under hot water until soft. Place raisins a small bowl with brandy.
Whisk agave, eggs, half&half, salt, chocolate, and raisins. Gently fold in the mixture making sure all pieces of bread are covered . Soak for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the skillet over moderate heat. Sprinkle sugar on the skillet and add pears. Caramelize pears for 2-3 minutes on each side. Pour brandy from soaked raisins over the pears and cook until brandy is completely evaporated. Turn off the heat.
Move pears to the cake pan arranging them in a single payer.
Instead of trying to scrape of the caramel from the bottom of the skillet, fill up the pan half-way with water.
Spoon the bread mixture and any remaining liquid over the pears. Place the cake pan into the skilled filled with water. Bake for 1 hour.
Remove the cake pan from the water
 bath and place on a wire rack to cool.

*if you want to get the tart-like design as shown below, line the pears evenly on the bottom of the cake pan. When the pudding is cool, run a spatula around the edge of the pan and invert the pudding carefully.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Challah – challah - challah

In the early 90s back in Kazakhstan, we lived across the hallway from a Jewish grandmother, who I adored for her kindness and … her amazing challah. Every time I smelled sweet, fluffy, buttery odor of freshly baked challah, I found an excuse to stop by the neighbor’s apartment. Many years passed since then, we changed half a dozen apartments, and I moved overseas, but the weakness for challah remained.

About a year ago, I spotted a loaf of challah at the Firehook bakery, DC native bread producer. The $8 loaf looked like a yellow painted brick of dough (result of yellow food coloring often added by commercial bakers for a rich look). While the Firehook challah did not make my mouth water, it pushed me to pursue a recipe that resembled the challah of my childhood. 

It took 20+ loafs and about a year of research to find a perfect challah in the recipe book of my friend’s mother. Elliot and his brothers assembled the recipe book in memory of their mother. The book contains over eighty Jewish, Asian, Moroccan, and American recipes dated  back to 1966.  I am honored to own a copy of the book and share this recipe with you.
1 Tbsp dry yeast
¼ cup lukewarm warm
1 cup boiling water
2 tsp honey
1 tsp kosher salt
2 Tbsp mild oil (nut oil or sunflower oil)
4 ¼ cups white flour (1/4 more for kneading)
3 eggs (instead of yellow food coloring (yaks), I use fresh farm eggs that have deep golden yolks as result of the grass-based diet of chickens)
Dissolve dry yeast in the lukewarm water.
Dissolve honey, salt, and oil in the boiling water. Cool the mixture until it is lukewarm.
Sift flour in a large bowl. Make an indention in the center, with a wooden spoon mix-in 2 whole eggs and 1 egg yolk, water and yeast mixture. If the dough does not come together into a ball after 3 minutes of mixing, add a bit more flour. Move the dough to a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough until it is smooth and soft adding flour to prevent sticking.
Transfer the dough into a large bowl lightly oiled with a vegetable or nut oil. Turn the dough around to cover it evenly with oil. Close the bowl with a plastic wrap or a lid and let the dough rise in a draft free place (72-75F) for 1 hour or until the dough doubles.
Remove the dough into a lightly floured surface. Depending on the design of challah, divide the dough into 1, 4, or 6 pieces. Different braiding techniques are demonstrated in these videos:
Braid challah directly on the baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Let the loaf rise in a draft free place (72-75F) for 45 minutes until the dough puffs and doubles.
15 minutes before the end of the second rise, pre-heat the oven to 375F. Mix reserved egg white with 1Tbsp of cool water. Brush challah with the egg wash and bake on a middle rack for 45 minutes or until a firm golden crust forms.
Cool on a wire rack until the bread is completely cool (otherwise challah will “sink” and lose it’s airiness)

½ cup of raisins (optional) if you wish to add raisins, soak raisins in a hot water for 5 minutes and roll in a little bit of flour. Mix-in raisins before the first rise.
2 Tbsp poppy or sesame seeds(optional) sprinkle challah with seeds after applying the egg wash.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Roast chicken makes good Friday night company

Living New York city and Washington, DC, my sister and I have a many entertaining options on any given Friday night.  Some weeks, though, a simple supper of roast chicken with perfectly crisp skin, a glass of Austrian Pinot Noir (Johanneshof Reinisch's Vom Steinfeld, 2008) and a movie is all that a girl in a big city wants.  Easy to put together, leisurely to enjoy, roast chicken with vegetables for one also results in plenty of delicious lunches that draw sighs of envy from one's colleagues.
I follow Zuni Cafe's approach to roast chicken by picking a smaller bird and cooking it at high temperatures in my favorite 10-inch cast iron skillet.  Not being a planner, I often forget to salt the chicken in advance, but seasoning it a half an hour before roasting works pretty well too.  The quality of the chicken is particularly important in this simple preparation, so get yours from your favorite local chicken farmer.  I like adding vegetables to roast with the chicken. This time, I used baby potatoes and red onions, but winter squash, whole cloves of garlic, carrots, even brussels sprouts would all be good additions.  So, if you find yourself lazying around on a Friday evening, perhaps nursing a winter cold, with waning motivation to go outside, make roast chicken and ease into a restful weekend.

Roast chicken with vegetables
1 whole small - medium chicken, about 3 to 3-1/2 pounds
8 tender prigs of thyme, rosemary, marjoram, or sage (mixing the herbs is good, but not necessary)
1/2 lemon
1-1/2 pounds of vegetables for roasting, such as halved baby potatoes, sliced red onions, cubed winter squash, thick coins of carrots, and halved brussels sprouts
2 cloves of garlic
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
Plenty of salt and pepper

Salt the chicken generously inside and outside at least 1 hour before roasting and up to 2 days.  If salting several days in advance, keep refrigerated until about 1 hour before roasting.  Pre-heat the oven to 475 degrees and place a cast iron skilled or another roasting pan inside until well-heated.  Meanwhile, carefully loosen the skin over the breast and thighs and slide several sprigs of herbs underneath.  Put a few sprigs of herbs and the lemon inside the chicken cavity. There is no need to truss.

Dry the chicken well and place, breast side up, in the skillet/roasting pan.  Put the chicken in the oven and keep an eye on it; it should sizzle and start browning within 20 minutes. If it doesn't, gradually increase the temperature by 5 degrees; if it starts blistering, decrease the heat by 25 degrees.  Let roast for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables of your choice by mixing them with chopped garlic, 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Carefully turn the chicken over, so that it is now breast side down, and tuck the vegetables around the chicken.  Roast for another 10 - 20 minutes, depending on the size.  Flip it over again to let re-crisp the skin on the breast for another 10 -20 minutes.

Take the chicken of the skillet and let it rest of a platter for 10 minutes or so.  Meanwhile, keep your vegetables in the oven so that the chicken juices reduce and the vegetables cook fully.  Carve the chicken and serve with the vegetables, squeezing the juice of the roasted lemon all over, grinding fresh pepper and scattering a bit of fresh thyme or parsley over.  Serve with an light Pinor Noir, a green salad, while wearing your favorite house slippers.  Friday night at home can be so so good.