Jerusalem Kugel

I am convinced that there are two camps of kugel followers – those who favor potato and those who favor noodles. Jerusalem Kugel is for lovers of a savory sweet noodle pudding and I am firmly in this camp.

In actuality there are many different types of kugel even within these two camps. A kugel can be sweet or savory, or, as in this case – both. So what is a kugel anyway? It is a baked “pudding” originating with Jews from Eastern Europe and Germany that is traditionally served on Friday nights (Shabbat) and holidays. It can be eaten hot, cold or at room temperature and is especially wonderful as an accompaniment to brisket and roast chicken. I have been known to even eat it for breakfast on Shabbat morning….

Jerusalem or  Yerushalmi Kugel is a specialty of Haredi Jews from the Mea She’arim neighborhood. Think Shtisel, that international phenomenon depicting a close knit community of ultra-Orthodox Jews. The kugel is sweet with a peppery bite that is irresistible. Most recipes don’t vary much, but there are small subtleties. The trick to a perfect Jerusalem Kugel is in caramelizing the sugar in the oil. You want to go just far enough to get a really good caramelization but no so far that you burn the sugar. It happens, though. If so, there is no saving it, so throw it out and start again. Once you have done it right once, the rest is a snap.

Some variations add caramelized onions, but I like mine without, which is the most common version. I put pudding in quotes because it isn’t a pudding in the sense that most people (Americans especially) think of. The finished result is solid and there is no dairy or dairy substitute – just eggs. And because it is meant to be eaten following the laws of kashrut, oil is used in place of butter.

Make sure that you use a big pot to caramelize your sugar and oil. When the noodles are added it can spatter and sugar burns are just the worst. I know. There is no special pan needed for the baking and you can use a square, rectangular or round pan. I have made it in a bundt (tube) pan which produces a very pretty finished product. This time I used an 8-inch spring-form pan. The smaller the pan, the higher the kugel. If you don’t have an 8-inch round pan, use a 9-inch. Your finished product will be a little thinner but just as delicious.

I used 1 teaspoon of freshly cracked black pepper, but I have seen recipes with as little as 1/2 teaspoon and as much as 2 teaspoons. It all depends on your tolerance. Same goes for the amount of sugar. The proportions below make what I believe is the perfect balance between sweet and savory.

For another wonderful noodle kugel try my Apple Cinnamon Noodle Kugel.

Recipe

Yield: 8 Servings

Ingredients

1 pound (16 ounces) thin egg noodles (The thinner the better for the ultimate crust on the outside.)

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup neutral oil such as Canola

4 large eggs

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper or more, to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C)

Bring a large pot of water to the boil and salt it well as you would for cooking any pasta. Cook the noodles to al dente according to the package directions. Drain well and set aside. My noodles said to cook for 4 minutes, so I did 3 minutes. Remember, they will bake in the oven.

Add the sugar and oil to a large pot on medium heat. Just stir the sugar through the oil and then don’t touch it. As the sugar melts, it will start to turn a lovely dark amber color. You need to watch this because nothing happens, nothing happens and then – boom, it’s too late. Once the sugar burns, it becomes bitter and is unusable.

As soon as the sugar gets to the right color, remove the pot from the heat and add the noodles. Don’t worry if they got a bit sticky. They will separate as you stir them through the sugar/oil mixture. I like to use either a wooden spoon or tongs for this. If the sugar hardened in a few spots, don’t worry. It will melt again in the oven.

Now mix through the salt and pepper. Allow the noodles to cool for about 5 minutes. In the meantime, lightly beat the eggs to break them up. Now add them to the noodles and stir through. If you added the eggs too soon to the hot mixture, the eggs might scramble which is not what you want.

Pour the mixture into a greased pan of your choosing and smooth out the top. Bake for one hour. The finished product should be a really rich brown and the noodles should look somewhat crisped. Allow to cool slightly and then it can be removed from the pan if using hot. The kugel will cut most easily if allowed to cool to room temperature, which is how I like my kugel.

Rosh HaShanah 5781

Rosh hashanah -traditional symbols: honey jar and fresh apples with  pomegranate and shofar- horn on white wooden. | Premium Photo

Rosh HaShanah 5781 begins at sundown on Friday, September 18th this year. Wherever Jews live, we will be celebrating the New Year. The Jewish People – my People – have survived intact for 5,781 years. Despite wars, the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust and the denial of Israel’s right to exist, we have survived. Its pretty remarkable by any measure. But this year with the Covid Pandemic, we will face another challenge.

While it is true that much of our rituals are home-based, we also require a community. We do not live in isolation from one another no matter how that community is counted by different streams of our religion or where our family originated. My husband and I had looked forward to sharing these High Holidays with our son, daughter-in-law and first grandchild. But alas that is not to be. They are in San Francisco and we are in Chicago.

The Days of Awe are a time for deep personal reflection and repentance. It is a time to review how we conducted ourselves during the past year and our goals for the coming year. This year, instead of taking part in our community services, we will be at home – just the two of us. I will miss the beloved liturgy and melodies that provide so much comfort each year. And I will miss the sense of community and the affirmation of our People.

Cooking has always been a way for me to connect with others and to express my love. I enjoy searching for recipes that reflect our People’s different traditions since we come from all across the globe. And I love to read the stories that go along with them.

So even though nothing is quite as it should be this year, I am still planning a special meal for Rosh HaShanah. Below are some recipe ideas for the holiday. And remember, it won’t just be a meal that you are sharing, but our heritage.

I wish all of you a Shana Tova U’Metuka – a sweet New Year! A year of good health and peace.

Rosh HaShanah Menu Ideas

Yemenite Chicken Soup

Aromatic Chicken and Vegetable Soup (Koli)

Lisa’s Challah Revisited

Lisa’s Vegan Challah

Gefilte Fish Loaf

Garlicky Beet Spread

Moroccan Beet and Orange Salad with Pistachios

Moroccan Beet Salad (Barba)

Moroccan Carrot Salad

Fruit and Vegetable Tzimmes – a perfect introduction to autumn

Another Brisket

Apple Cinnamon Noodle Kugel

Apple Cake – Take 2

Lisa’s Vegan “Honey” Cake

Whole Wheat Apple Cake

Apple Pecan Bourbon Bundt Cake

Vegan Apple Raisin Cake with Applejack Sauce

Plum Kuchen (Butter cake)

Italian Prune Plums Take Two

Savory Meat Pie

This Moroccan style savory meat pie will wake up your tastebuds. It was Thursday evening and I had nothing planned for Shabbat dinner. I could, of course, always make a chicken dish, but my husband was beginning to cluck. So I searched my freezer for some hidden gem and found a package of ground beef. But then what? In the back of my freezer was a long-forgotten package of phyllo dough and from that I created this dish.

Using my knowledge of Moroccan/Middle Eastern cooking and knowing what we like to eat, I started to put together what turned into a delicious Shabbat – or anytime – dinner. All I needed to add were some beautiful roasted tomatoes with fresh herbs from my terrace garden and a mix of Middle Eastern salads for a delicious and satisfying summer dinner.

The beauty of this kind of dish is that you can make it in virtually any pan and depending on how you cut it and your sides, it can easily feed between 8 to 10 people. The only slightly tricky part is dealing with the phyllo dough. If you have never worked with phyllo before there are a few things you need to know in order to have a successful outcome.

You need two damp towels to keep the phyllo leaves from drying out. Once they do, you might as well throw it in the garbage. You also need some kind of fat to brush on the dough as you layer it. Since this was for Shabbat, I used a vegan buttery spread. Butter and even EVOO would also work. When I make baklava I generally prefer to use butter, although will also use good buttery vegan spread.

You also cannot skimp on the melted fat or try to speed up the process by plopping on too many layers of dough at once. Not if you hope to have a finished product with those lovely flaky layers that epitomize puffed pastry. I never add more than two thin layers at a time. Once you have mastered the phyllo, making baklava or spinach pie are a breeze.

And while I made this recipe with lean ground beef, you could easily use ground lamb, which frankly I prefer, but didn’t happen to have on hand. I used the spinach because I had it, but you could leave it out or use parsley or kale instead. The point is, don’t get bogged down. If you don’t have pine nuts, but you have blanched slivered almonds, use those.

Ras el Hanout was used because I have it on hand, but you could just as easily have used hawayij to change the flavor profile. If you have never used Ras el Hanout, I definitely recommend that you try it. You can buy it at any good spice shop or online or you can make it yourself. It’s a wonderful warm spice that is perfect with pumpkin or other squashes and gets you in the mood for fall. So have fun and get cooking!

This dish can be eaten hot or at room temperature and is wonderful for a buffet. You can reheat any leftovers in a 350 degree F. oven for about 10 to 12 minutes. It will nicely crisp up the pastry and warm it through.

I hate waste. The phyllo dough came in a one pound package and I didn’t want to refreeze what was left over. So I took some apples that were beginning to wrinkle, sliced them very thinly without peeling them and layered it with a good cheese that would melt easily. It was all nestled between layers of phyllo in a shallow rectangular tart pan. I treated the phyllo with butter and baked it at 375 degrees F. for about 40 minutes. It made quite a treat for a light dinner or lunch with a bowl of lentil soup or a salad. If you wanted to add a very thin slice of a jamon, prosciutto or other smoked ham, that would work well too. And if you don’t have apples, but do have fig jam (I always keep a jar around) that would be just yummy.

Recipe

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Ingredients

1.5 pounds very lean ground beef or lamb

About 2 Tablespoons EVOO

1 pound blanched spinach, squeezed dry and roughly chopped

2 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 large onion (I used yellow but red or white onion would work), finely chopped

1/3 cup raisins

1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly pan toasted

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Rounded 1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (freshly cracked black pepper is fine)

1.5 teaspoons Ras el Hanout

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

8 ounces tomato sauce

1/2 pound of phyllo dough (although you could use more if you want a LOT of pastry), defrosted in the fridge if previously frozen

6 to 8 ounces of butter or vegan buttery spread, melted

Directions

Butter (or use other fat) a 9 X 12-inch pan that is about 3-inches deep. Set aside. Almost any deepish pan or oven-proof skillet will work. This happened to fit my phyllo dough exactly.

In a large saute pan, soften the onion and garlic. Then add the ground meat, breaking it up in the pan. Cook until the meat loses its redness. Now add the tomato paste, tomato sauce, spices, raisins and spinach. Stir everything through to mix well. Add the pine nuts and mix through. Taste to adjust your seasonings.

My Ras el Hanout could have been a little fresher so I oomphed things up a bit with a little additional allspice and ground clove. There should be very little liquid. A bit of liquid is fine and will absorb into the meat as the mixture cools slightly. Too much liquid will make for a gummy end product. Set the mixture aside while you heat the oven to 375 degrees F. and prepare the phyllo dough.

Lay the phyllo dough out onto one of the damp tea towels. Then cover with the other towel. Working quickly, peel off two thin sheets of phyllo. If the sheets break, don’t worry. You can always patch. Lay the sheets in the pan that you have oiled. I chose 9 X 12 because it fit the dough perfectly but make your dough fit the pan. You can even fold it over. As soon as it is in the pan, brush the dough with the melted butter. Keep repeating this until you have laid down 8 sheets.

Now spoon in your meat mixture and spread it evenly. You can do this in one layer or you can divvy it up, which was what I did. So I placed half of the meat mixture down, then added more layers of phyllo (brushed with butter), then more meat. Frankly, it doesn’t really matter.

Once all of your meat mixture is in the pan, add the remaining phyllo dough two sheets at a time and spread with butter between layers. I used about 8 sheets but you can use more if you want more pastry. Take a very sharp knife and pre-cut your dough. I then sprinkled some additional Ras el Hanout on top, which is why my finished product looks so dark. It’s up to you. Bake for about 40 to 45 minutes. Ovens vary so check it. As long as your pastry is puffed and the desired brown, the dish is done. The filling is really cooked before it goes in the oven. Now – enjoy!

Iraqi/Indian Shabbat Chicken (Spayty)

Iraqi/Indian Shabbat Chicken blends cultural food influences deliciously. Now more than ever, I have become an armchair traveler. My world has narrowed down to our apartment and so I take every opportunity to bring the world safely to us. This fragrant dish conjures up spice markets in India and the Middle East. Perhaps a little history is called for in order to understand the origins of this curried coconut chicken dish.

While we Jews are small in number, we can be found in pockets all over the world. In part this is because we have been driven out of so many places over the millennia. But it is also because of the trades that we were limited to practice as merchants of goods ranging from spices and cloth to diamonds. And as we have traveled and changed our homes, we have adopted local cuisines.

This Iraqi/Indian Shabbat Chicken (Spayty) originates with a small community of Baghdadi Jews living in India. “The community, according to professor Shalva Weil of Hebrew University who has written on the Baghdadi community, traces its origins to 1730 when a man named Joseph Semah moved from Baghdad to Surat, a city north of modern day Mumbai. By the mid-19th century thousands of Jews from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria migrated to India, escaping persecution under the rule of Daud Pasha and seeking business opportunities.” Most of this community left when India gained independence from the British.

I came across this recipe for Iraqi/Indian Shabbat Chicken on a Jewish heritage food website called Naama. It documents our varied and deep food traditions from Jewish communities all over the world. And there are always fascinating family stories to go along with the recipes.

Influences from whatever country Jews lived in were absorbed and adopted while making changes that allowed them to continue to observe the laws of kashrut. For example, this delicious curry is made with coconut milk rather than yogurt in order to honor the prohibition to not mix milk and meat. But you definitely don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy this traditional Iraqi/Indian Shabbat meal.

Don’t be frightened off by the relatively long list of ingredients. If you do much South Asian and Middle Eastern cooking, you should have most of the spices on hand. Iraqi/Indian Shabbat Chicken isn’t difficult to make, but I do urge you to use fresh spices and whole spices that you grind yourself when cooking these cuisines. It is the spices that make the dish.

Since I was making this only for me and my husband, initially I did not also cook up a rice pilau to which I would have added English peas and carrots for additional color. I did serve this with a simple Moroccan beet salad and a Jerusalem salad along with a fresh mint chutney that I made. [See recipe below] Mint grows like weeds and I happen to have it in my terrace garden. You can also buy mint or coriander chutney. While normally I enjoy Indian food with naan or roti, Shabbat challah actually went beautifully with this dish and along with the potatoes served to sop up the delicious sauce. Served with some ripe cantaloupe and cherries – a perfect Friday night meal.

Since I had plenty of left-overs, the second time I served this with dal and a rice pilau. For some ideas of Indian side dishes to make, check out these suggestions.

While very well-seasoned, this dish is not at all spicy so is a perfect introduction for those who are heat averse. And the bonus in making this dish is that your house will smell absolutely amazing!

For another Iraqi chicken dish:

Iraqi Chicken over Red Rice

Recipe

Yield: 6 to 8 servings, depending on sides

Ingredients

2 pounds chicken breasts, cut in half if large
2 pounds of chicken saddles (thighs with legs attached)
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground turmeric, divided
4 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used Canola)
5 whole cloves
5 green cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
5 generous teaspoons ground coriander
3 generous teaspoons ground cumin
About 2 pounds of small-medium potatoes, peeled [I used Yukon Gold and cut the potatoes in half so they would fit into my pan.]
1 large onion
1 piece of fresh ginger (2 tablespoons)
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon paprika
14 oz. can of unsweetened coconut cream
2 teaspoons white distilled vinegar
1/4 to 1/2 cup water
1 8-ounce can of bamboo shoots, drained and cut into thin slices lengthwise (Optional)
1 teaspoon garam masala 

Directions

1. Place the chicken pieces into a large bowl or plastic freezer bag and sprinkle and rub all sides with 1½ teaspoons of kosher salt, ½ teaspoon of fresh cracked black pepper and ½ teaspoon of turmeric. Set aside for about 30 minutes. [This can be done hours ahead and refrigerated.]

2. Place the vegetable oil into a large pot over medium heat. Add the cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, and cumin. Fry for about 30 seconds or until fragrant.

3. Place all the chicken pieces into the pot with the skin side down. Sear the chicken until golden brown, about 5 minutes on each side. Transfer the chicken onto a plate. 

4. Place the potatoes into the pot with the oil and spices and fry the potatoes until golden brown on all sides, flipping them occasionally.

5. Meanwhile, place the onion, ginger, and garlic into a blender or food processor. Process the mixture until a paste is formed, about 2 minutes. [This can also be done ahead and refrigerated.] Add the paste to the pot with the fried potatoes. Add the paprika and remaining ½ teaspoon of ground turmeric. Cook until golden, about 4 to 6 minutes. Place the chicken pieces back into the pot with the skin side up. Add the coconut cream, vinegar, water and bamboo shoots (if using) into the pot. Cover the pot and cook on medium-low heat for about 40 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. The dish can be made several hours ahead and gently reheated. I didn’t add the garam masala until just before serving.

6. Sprinkle garam masala over the curry and serve hot. 

Mint Chutney (Phodino) Recipe

1 generous cup of packed fresh mint leaVES

1/2 cup of roughly chopped scallions, including green stems

1 Tablespoon finely chopped or grated fresh ginger

2 fresh hot green chili peppers, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Juice of one lemon or up to 2 limes (I used limes)

Directions

Blend everything together. Unlike commercial chutney which almost certainly has food coloring added, the green of the mint will darken some if made ahead. The taste will be fine, however. If you wish to have that vibrant green, add a couple of drops of a vegetable food coloring. I store this in a glass container in my fridge and it will perk up any meat, chicken, fish or vegetarian meal.

I actually was unable to get any hot peppers in my most recent grocery order so I substituted some Gojuchang. You could use other hot sauces like Sriracha or harissa and while possibly not quite authentic, the taste will be great.

Crostata di Ricotta

Crostata di Ricotta is a prized cheesecake from the Garfagna region of Tuscany. This post was supposed to have been ready ahead of the Festival of Shavuot, which commemorates the spring harvest and the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. It is customary to eat dairy meals during the holiday so I thought this wold be perfect. However, I’m afraid that I was only able to actually get it made in time for us to enjoy it for the holiday. So keep this in your pocket for next year.

But who am I kidding? This delicious cheesecake, permeated with raisins soaked in Marsala and redolent of the grated zest of an orange is perfect any time. The recipe comes from Carol Field’s book The Italian Baker. She got the recipe from Joyce Goldstein who was a chef at Cafe Chez Panisse. I know – two Jewish women and not an Italian name in sight!

But when you smell this tart with its buttery melt-in-your-mouth sweet crust and bite into the airy, custardy Marsala-scented filling, you will think you are in Tuscany. I was brought up on and love a really good New York cheesecake – so dense and rich that a fork could stand up in it. This Crostata di Ricotta isn’t that. So rid yourself of any preconceptions and enjoy this ricotta tart for what it is – amazing.

Making the Crostata di Ricotta isn’t difficult and it is one of those things where you can make the pastry the day before. I really urge you not to use bought pastry dough for this recipe. Yes, it’s a little more work but the result is so worth it. And if you have a food processor, it actually comes together in no time.

There are many different pastry doughs that would work here as long as they are a rich, sweet dough. I normally like to use a Pâte Sucrée with eggs, but since I was running low on eggs, I made a Pasta Frolla from The Italian Baker that didn’t require any. That is the recipe below. It was not a recipe like any I had made before, but it did come together easily. And while rolling it out proved to be a bit problematic, I was able to pat it into place with my hands and knuckles. The finished product is beautiful and delicious.

My husband and I LOVED this. The crust is fragrant and incredibly delicate – just melting in your mouth with every bite. It is so delicate that it seems to disappear before you even have time to swallow. Oh and let’s not forget the filling. Ahhhhhhhh, the filling. It’s like eating the most flavorful, custardy cloud you can imagine. I’m really not doing justice to how delicious this is. Many things I think are too fussy and not worth the effort. This is absolutely worth the effort.

Carol Field suggests eating the Crostata when still warm or at least the day it is baked. However, if you make it ahead and refrigerate it, she says that it can be warmed in a 350 degree F oven for 20 to 30 minutes. Truthfully, I’m not sure that I would like it warm, but it was amazing eaten a few hours after it had come out of the oven. And even eating it right from the fridge was still pretty great. But your first bites should be from the fresh tart.

Recipes

Yield: One 9.5-inch cheesecake; 8 to 10 servings

For the Pasta Frolla

Ingredients

1.5 cups (200 grams) all-purpose, unbleached flour

3/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon (100 grams) potato starch

1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

Pinch of kosher or fine sea salt

1.75 sticks (200 grams) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature and just malleable

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Grated zest of 1 lemon

Grated zest of 1/2 navel orange (the other half will be used for the filling)

Directions

Place the flour, potato starch, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse once to mix.

Cut the butter into small chunks and scatter over the flour. Process with about 6 long pulses until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the vanilla and grated zest. Process until the dough just starts to come together but before it forms a ball. Knead the dough by hand very briefly until it comes together in a ball that is no longer sticky. I did not have to add any flour to my surface to do this, but if you must just add a small amount. Form a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour or up to overnight.

When you are ready to roll out the dough, remove it from the fridge for about 10 minutes so you can work with it.

For the Crostata di Ricotta

You will need a deep-sided tart pan with a removable bottom that measures 9.5 inches across the top. Absent that, you could use a spring-form pan but it won’t be quite as pretty as if you have the fluted sides.

Ingredients

1/2 cup (80 grams) golden or other raisins

4 Tablespoons Marsala (I only had a very fine dry Marsala instead of a sweet Marsala. It worked out fine.)

1 pound (450 grams) whole milk ricotta

1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

1 Tablespoon unbleached, all-purpose flour

4 large eggs, separated, at room temperature

1/4 cup heavy or whipping cream (I only had half & half so used that)

1/4 cup sour cream (I actually only had creme fraiche which has a higher fat content than sour cream. I figured it made up for not having heavy cream.)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Zest of 1/2 navel orange

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt or kosher salt

Directions

Soak the raisins in the Marsala for at least 15 minutes (I did overnight). Drain and reserve the Marsala.

Roll out your dough (Mine kept breaking but it actually was quite malleable and I was able to work it with my hands into the pan with the end result being beautiful!) Refrigerate the pan with the dough until you are ready to fill it. This keeps the dough from shrinking.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the ricotta, heavy cream and sour cream (or creme fraiche) in the processor and pulse until smooth. Add the flour and sugar and pulse until mixed. Now add the egg yolks, reserved Marsala and vanilla. Pulse until well combined. Add the raisins and pulse once to mix through. Pour the mixture into a large bowl.

In a clean bowl, whip the egg whites with the salt until stiff peaks form. Stir 1/3 of the whites into the ricotta mixture and then gently fold through the remaining whites. Don’t overdo this. You don’t want to deflate the whites.

Remove the tart pan with the pastry from the fridge. Place the pan on a baking sheet or aluminum foil to catch any butter drips. Fill the pastry with the ricotta mixture and even out the top. Place in the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the filling just barely wobbles. Turn off the oven and open the door part way. Leave the cake in the oven for 30 minutes to cool down slowly. This prevents too much cracking and allows the cake to fully set. After 30 minutes remove the cake to a wire rack.

Once it is cool enough to easily handle, you can remove the tart from the baking ring. The easiest way is to place the tart pan over a large can. The outer tart ring falls off and the tart remains on the bottom. Be standing by to hold onto the Crostata. Then mangia!

Chocolate Walnut Bourbon Pie

You don’t have to be from Kentucky to go nutty over this Chocolate Walnut Bourbon Pie. The Kentucky Derby is the most legendary of all American thoroughbred horse races. It takes place every year at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, on the first Saturday in May – except for this year. Because of Covid-19, this year’s race has been rescheduled for September.

Dubbed The Run for the Roses, because of the blanket of roses draped over the winning horse, it is also known as the “The most exciting two minutes in sports.” The Kentucky Derby is the first of three races that make up the American Triple Crown Races. Traditions that have become indelibly linked to it: knockout hats for the women, much like the Ascot Races; mint juleps; betting; the singing of ‘My Old Kentucky Home’; and bourbon chocolate walnut pie.

Now you might be forgiven for thinking that I am a) a gambler; b) interested in horses and horse racing or c) from Kentucky. Actually, none of the above. But I do so love a good pie. And while Thanksgiving in my family just wouldn’t count without my wonderful Bourbon Pecan Pie, I was curious to see how this pie would stack up.

It’s REALLY good. I mean seriously good. Now like another Southern favorite, pecan pie, it is sweet, but the Bourbon and my use of a 70% cacao chocolate chip cut through that sweetness so it wasn’t cloying – just delicious. Tradition calls for the pie to be eaten straight, but I won’t tell if you want to add a little whipped cream or vanilla ice cream when serving.

I make my own crust but if you use store-bought crust, this pie comes together in no time at all. So don’t wait until September or next May for the Kentucky Derby. Make this scrumptious Chocolate Walnut Bourbon Pie this week.

The recipe for the original “Derby Pie” is a secret and the name is trademarked. However, I found the recipe for this delicious Kentucky Derby Chocolate Walnut Pie here.

Recipe

Yield: About 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs (lightly beaten)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (melted). Allow the butter to cool slightly.
  • 2 tablespoons Kentucky bourbon
  • 1 cup walnuts (chopped)
  • 1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch kosher or sea salt
  • 1 un-baked pie crust (for 9-inch pie)

Directions

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place your dough in a 9-inch pie plate and ideally refrigerate it until you are ready to fill it.

Combine the flour and sugar in a bowl and then add the eggs and melted butter and mix to combine.

Stir in the remaining ingredients.

Pour into the unbaked pie shell and bake for 65 to 75 minutes or until the filling is set and the pastry is a lovely brown.

Allow to cool before serving. If you eat it as soon as it cools, the filling will still be ooey gooey. By the next day, the filling is totally set and will make very clean cuts. You can’t go wrong either way. This is primarily a chocolate pie with walnuts. It doesn’t beat my Bourbon Pecan Pie, in my humble opinion, but it is another great Southern pie.

What I’m Buying Now

Root Vegetables | Co+op, welcome to the table

Like most of the world, my husband and I are confined to our apartment. And because we are in the vulnerable age category and I have asthma, we are being especially cautious. Therefore, we have not gone to a grocery store for a month and are relying on the brave individuals who will shop and deliver goods to us. And in order to cut down on the number of deliveries, I have to think very carefully about what I’m buying now.

Being an American of moderate means, I have been spoiled. We live in the land of plenty and I have never lacked for anything of importance. And I had become careless. Yes, I recycled before it became fashionable. But I also wasted food and used toilet paper without a thought. Covid19 has changed all of that. And hopefully, some of the rationing that I have been practicing will continue once we get past this epidemic. And I believe that we will, just as previous generations got past polio and the Great Flu Epidemic. Not unscathed. And not without tremendous and gut-wrenching loss. But this too will pass.

I’m fortunate in that I get to share my isolation with my husband and best friend. I simply can’t imagine what it would be like to go through this alone. But we are missing our first grandchild who was born in November and lives across the country. At this age, she changes daily. And while our son and daughter-in-law have been great at sharing photos and videos, it just isn’t the same as being there to hug and kiss her, read and sing to her. She’ll probably be walking by the time we get to see her in person again.

And like many of you, my husband and I have gotten a little scruffy around the edges. No trips to get haircuts. And I have given myself permission to dress in my favorite overalls and to wear my curly, fuzzy hair down with my dangly earrings. It will be difficult to return to taming my unruly locks and dressing like a respectable adult again.

So what do I do each day? Like many of you, I turn to hobbies and even prayer. I grocery shop and plan meals in my head and make adjustments according to my pantry and what’s actually available at the store when I place an order. Fresh produce has always filled my shopping cart, but I need to think of what foods will hold up well since I am trying to shop only once every 10 days. So what I’m buying now are loads of root vegetables: carrots, radishes, potatoes, turnips, parsnips and beets. Onions, shallots and garlic. And cabbages like kale (curly and lacinato), red cabbage, broccoli and kohlrabi. These are all great for soups, salads, pickles etc.

And while I always bought lots of fresh herbs (which I grow on my terrace in the summer) I was admittedly wasteful. Now, as soon as my parsley and cilantro or dill arrive, I wash the herbs in cold water and dry them well in my salad spinner before putting them away. The same goes for my kale, which I remove from the stems, chop up, wash and dry well. I am amazed at how long these all last now in my fridge and I have almost zero waste from rotting greens. With these in my fridge, and the spices in my pantry, I can make almost anything from plain rice to potatoes to pasta to pulses (lentils) taste delicious as well as being nutritious.

And don’t forget the lemons! Without the zest and bright, fresh juice life would definitely be a much duller place. Other citrus fruit is also good if you have it available.

The further challenge for this week is that it is Passover. And while certain of the rules around eating have relaxed over the years for many adherents, it still is not anything goes. I grew especially anxious when buying eggs became challenging. So many Passover desserts and special treats like matza balls and matza brei rely on eggs as the permissible leavening. And while I have developed a number of delicious vegan options over the years, it’s still a challenge.

Some Passover Options for Vegan and Non-

I am not a rabbinical authority and depending on where your family is from and the traditions you follow, some of the vegan desserts may not be permissible. Options are presented that are now allowed by many who follow the Reform and Conservative Movements and/or Sephardic traditions. It is up to you to decide whether they fit into your permissible Passover foods. And depending on the ingredient that you may be missing, don’t stress. Get creative and use what you do have on hand.

Death by Chocolate Vegan Passover Cake

Passover Sephardic Wine Cookies

Chocolate Chip Vegan Meringue Buttons for Passover

Passover Almond Coconut Macaroons

Passover Florentine Cookies

Passover Orange Ginger Spice Cookies

Moroccan Beet Salad – Barba

Orange and Radish Salad

Roasted Asparagus and Bell Peppers

Parsley Soup

Yemenite Chicken Soup

Aromatic Chicken and Vegetable Soup (Koli)

Garlicky Beet Spread

Moroccan Beet and Orange Salad with Pistachios

Beet Caviar

Vegan Stuffed Vegetables Mediterranean Style

Chicken Thighs with Garlic and Olives and Kale Salad with Lemon Anchovy Dressing

Chicken Thighs with Mushrooms, Eggplant and Tomatoes

Roasted Chicken Thighs with Fennel & Lemon

Nigella Lawson’s Sheet Pan Chicken, Leeks and Peas

Roasted Chicken with Clementines and Arak

Harissa Chicken with Leeks, Potatoes and Yogurt

Chicken Legs with Wine and Yams

Crock Pot Short Ribs

No matter what traditions or religion you observe (or even don’t), we are in this together. So please make smart choices, think of others, especially those less fortunate, and stay healthy. Be generous to those who are helping to make our lives safer and to those families and individuals who have lost their jobs, their loved ones and their sense of security. Remember to call those who are older or alone. Keeping in touch by phone, email or video chatting has never been more important – or easier. It is especially difficult for those who are celebrating holidays this year without their friends and family. Stay connected. And find a way to laugh every day.

Hamantaschen and Purim

It’s almost Purim! Bring on the noisemakers, costumes and treats! And Purim wouldn’t be a celebration without Hamantaschen. Imagine a flavorful dough, shaped like a triangle and stuffed with all kinds of delicious fillings. Traditionally, these sweet treats were filled with poppy seeds or lekvar (prune paste). But now, anything goes. Growing up, my son’s favorite filling was (and remains) Nutella. I also love apricot, almond paste, or even blueberry with lemon zest. Whatever you choose to fill your hamantaschen with, just enjoy them.

I’m not usually boastful, but these are simply THE BEST Hamantaschen that you will ever eat.

Why Hamantaschen?

The name, Hamantaschen, which is Yiddish, translates as Haman’s Pockets. It’s not really known why these treats came to be associated with Purim. But one story is that Hamantaschen resemble the tri-cornered hat Haman wore. Or maybe his pockets filled with bribes to spies. In Hebrew these delectable sweets are referred to as Haman’s “Ears.” But who was Haman and why do we remember him? The evil Haman was the royal vizier in the court of the Persian King Ahasuerus. He was out to exterminate the Jewish People.

When Do We Celebrate Purim?

Purim is celebrated according to the Hebrew calendar on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar (this year on March 9-10). This is the day following our deliverance from the evil decree. It is a time of merriment and satire much like April Fool’s Day. There is often a carnival and both adults and children dress up in costumes and swing noisemakers to scare off our enemies. In addition, the Book of Esther (Megillah) is recited publicly and we all boo every time Haman’s name is mentioned.

The Purim Story in Brief

Why does the Purim story resonate today? The Megillah is perhaps, the first written story about classic anti-Semitism. In the 4th century B.C.E., Ahasuerus, chooses the beautiful and brave Esther, a Jew, for his wife and queen. Haman, arrogant and egotistical, starts whispering in the king’s ear that because the Jews are different, they must be suspect and should be killed. Thankfully, Haman’s plans are foiled by Mordecai, an advisor to the king and Esther‘s cousin and adopted father. The day of deliverance was celebrated with a day of feasting and rejoicing for Jews.

So in addition to eating many special treats and reading the Megillah, Jews are commanded (Esther 9:18) to send out gifts of food or drink, and to make gifts to charity. 

While my son never wanted to dress up for Halloween, he always donned costumes for Purim as did I. And like so many Jewish girls, I always wanted to be Queen Esther, the brave and smart savior of our people.

Relevance today

Unfortunately, anti-Semitism was not wiped out along with Haman. Even after 6 million Jews were butchered during the Shoah, our enemies are still whispering lies and committing acts of violence and hatred against our people. So while Jews everywhere will celebrate Purim this year, we will also remain vigilant against the Hamans of this world.

Recipe

I always look first to Gloria Kaufer Greene for my Jewish Holiday recipes. I have tweaked the original recipe and those changes are reflected below.

Yield: About 2 dozen (Can be doubled)

Ingredients

1/2 cup butter or non-dairy buttery sticks, softened

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Zest and juice of one medium navel orange (Up to 3 Tablespoons of juice, as needed)

1.5 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

Do-Ahead

Cream the butter (non-dairy sticks) with the sugar using a food processor or electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, zest and vanilla until well combined.

Add the flour, salt, baking powder and baking sugar and mix until mixed through. Add orange juice, as needed. (If the dough seems really dry and won’t form, I add the juice to get a smooth dough.)

Form the dough into a thick disk, wrap in waxed paper or plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours. (You can make the dough up to 3 days ahead.)

Baking

When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Then roll out the chilled dough on a lightly floured surface until it is about 1/8-inch thick. (I like to roll out 1/2 of the dough at a time to make it easier to handle.)

Cut out circles that are 3-inches in diameter. You can use a clean, empty tuna can or a glass if you don’t have a cookie cutter. Re-use scraps until almost all of the dough is used up. I wouldn’t re-roll more than once.

Scoop a generous teaspoon of whatever filling you are using into the center of each circle. (I like to set things up like an assembly line, with my fillings all lined up and ready to go to make this go more quickly.)

Fold up the edges of each circle in thirds to form an open triangle with some of the filling showing. Using my finger and some cold water, I then “paint” the pinched edges both to seal them and to smooth them. You don’t want your hamantaschen opening up in the oven. They may taste fine, but the look will be disappointing.

Place the hamantaschen on baking sheet lined with a silicon baking sheet or parchment paper. Bake for about 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Fillings

I am happy to use bought fillings which I then add special touches to. You want a filling that is thick enough to hold up to baking without running all over. I like to use either Solo brand or Love N’ Bake. Some of my favorite fillings are Nutella, apricot pastry filling, almond pastry filling and Lekvar or prune filling.

I always add a bit of orange zest to my apricot and prune filling and place a few sliced almonds on top of the almond filling. Nutella needs nothing added, but on occasion I have been known to add a few mini-chocolate chips.

Below is a wonderful poppy seed filling, which I will make from scratch. Obviously, if you are using multiple fillings, you will either have left-over filling or gee, I dunno, you may need to make additional batches to hand out to lucky friends and family! (Left-over filling can be used in yeast-based pastries or in little tarts.)

Best Poppy Seed Filling – Ever

1 cup (About 5 ounces poppy seeds

1/2 cup dairy or non-dairy milk

1/2 cup honey or agave

1/4 cup dark raisins

1 Tablespoon butter or non-dairy buttery sticks

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Directions

  1. Grind the poppy seeds using a coffee or spice grinder. You can do this with a mortar and pestle, but it will be more work.
  2. Place the ground poppy seeds into a small saucepan with the remaining ingredients.
  3. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently for about 10 minutes or until the mixture is very thick and almost all of the liquid has been absorbed.
  4. Remove the filling from the heat and allow it to cool slightly. Chill the filling before using for best results. This can be made up to 3 days ahead as well.

Valentine’s Day Cake

Celebrate your love with this deceptively simple yet extravagant Valentine’s Day Cake. Once you have tasted this luscious cake made with dessert wine and olive oil, you will forget all about chocolate.

I’ve been married for over 35 years. And during that time, my husband a and I send each other love notes and texts daily. So I tend not to get too worked up about Valentine’s Day, if I’m being honest. We usually buy or make cards for each other and maybe I’ll make a special dinner or dessert. If I’m in the mood.

However, when I came cross this recipe in the Wall Street Journal by Aleksandra Crapanzano a few weeks ago, I knew that it was going to be my Valentine’s Day Cake this year. It’s everything that I love in a cake. It uses top ingredients but there is nothing fancy or precious about it. There are no sprinkles or cloyingly sweet, artery-clogging frostings. This is a cake for adults. And best of all, it comes together quickly!

Dessert Wines

I became a fan of dessert wines when I was introduced to them on a cruise throughout the Mediterranean years ago. They still haven’t taken hold in the United States the way they have in Europe and that’s a shame. While some can be very pricey, there are lovely and affordable ice wines, Tokaji and Muscat wines. The worst are overly sweet and syrupy, but the best are as light as a kiss on a summer’s breeze.

For this cake, don’t choose a dessert wine that is too light in flavor. You want something that is lovely and fruity. So if you are unfamiliar with dessert wines, ask your local wine store for suggestions. While delicious immediately, the flavors of the wine and the citrus will develop even further if you make this a day ahead of serving.

Moments of Perfection

So go ahead and take a bite. Then just close your eyes for a moment and inhale the amazing flavors and wonderful moist texture. Remember, if your dessert is wonderful, it’s okay if the rest of the meal isn’t perfection.

If you simply cannot imagine Valentine’s Day without chocolate, however, try this Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Glaze or this Chocolate Amaretti Torte.

Cupid Cutout Image #1

Recipe

Yield: About 6 Servings

Ingredients

For the cake:

2 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

1¼ cups sugar

3 large eggs

¾ cup mild extra-virgin olive oil (I actually used an orange EVOO to bump up the orange flavor)

½ cup Sauternes, ice wine, Tokaji or Muscat de Beaumes de Venise (I used Beaumes de Venise)

¾ cup whole milk

Zest of 1 lemon, preferably organic

Zest of 1 orange, preferably organic

For the syrup: SEE NOTE

½ cup sugar

½ cup Sauternes or alternative

For topping:

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup crème fraîche OR 1 additional cup of heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Splash of Sauternes

1 to 2 Tablespoons of Confectioner’s sugar (to taste)

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 for convection). Grease a 9-inch springform pan and line with parchment. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.

2. Use an electric mixer to beat together sugar and eggs until pale yellow, about 5 minutes. Add oil, wine, milk and zests, and beat to combine, 1-2 minutes. Then add sifted ingredients and beat until just combined, about 1 minute. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until a knife emerges clean, 35-45 minutes. After 12 minutes open the springform and remove the outer ring. Allow the cake to cool completely on a wire rack before inverting onto a cake plate.

3. Make the syrup: In a small pot over low heat, dissolve sugar completely with a few spoonfuls water. Bring syrup to a simmer and cook until almost golden. Resist the urge to stir the syrup! You are trying to lightly caramelize the sugar and that simply won’t happen if you stir. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and stir in the wine.

NOTE: Okay, full disclosure. I had a terrible time with this syrup and I have caramelized LOTS of sugar. As soon as I added the wine, the sugar formed into the ball stage and I had to rewarm the mixture to dissolve the sugar crystals. It also spattered everywhere, burning me slightly in the process. SO BE CAREFUL! Honestly, I thought the cake was delicious on its own with just the whipped cream, but after eating it with the syrup, it puts things over the top.

4. Before serving, whip cream(s) until billowy with a heaping tablespoon or two of confectioner’s sugar, vanilla and a splash of Sauternes. Sprinkle cake with confectioner’s sugar, if using. Serve slices with a generous drizzle of syrup and a dollop of whipped cream.

FURTHER NOTE: While this cake is wonderful as set forth, it would also be great with some sort of stewed or roasted fruit or with some fresh berries.

Lisa’s Challah Revisited

When the Good Angel Visits

I’ve decided to take another look at some of my recipes and this week it is Lisa’s Challah Revisited. It isn’t always about blogging something new, but instead, it’s reminding people just how good a recipe is. Shabbat may come every week, but it still is the most important holiday in the Jewish calendar after Yom Kippur. It is an island in time where we don’t answer the phones or watch TV. No matter how busy and hectic the week was, we always sit down as a family, to a table set with our best glasses and dishes and a lovely meal. We light the Sabbath candles, sing songs and b’rachot (blessings) and take the time to really be present for one another.

When my son was little he would help me clean up and prepare the table. Like all children, he would sometimes balk. So I told him the story about how two angels would come to our house each week – a good angel and a bad angel. If the bad angel saw us fighting and the house not ready to welcome Shabbat, he would tell the good angel that he had won control and that our family would have a bad Shabbat and following week. But if our house was in order, the table set and we were into the spirit of Shabbat, including giving tzedekah for those less fortunate then she would turn to the bad angel and say that she had won control. Our house and family would be blessed with a peaceful Shabbat and a good week. Not surprisingly, the good angel won more times than not. These are precious memories and traditions that we built and ones that our son now continues with his family.

So why am I revisiting my challah recipe if I had made it for decades? Well for a long time now I was only making my Vegan Challah. We would celebrate Shabbat with my niece’s family and since her son is deathly allergic to eggs I developed a challah recipe that everyone could enjoy. I never wanted my great-nephew and godson to miss out on anything because of his allergies. If you are vegan or have a food allergy, this is a great recipe. However, as good as that recipe is, it simply is not the same as traditional egg challah. Now that my niece has moved away and we have our first grandchild, I wanted to ensure that she would grow up with the absolute best traditional challah. Lisa’s Challah Revisited delivers. It is everything an eggy, tender, sweet challah should be.

So Why the Need for a New Recipe?

I returned to my original challah recipe that I had developed over two decades. The only problem was that it no longer worked for me. I couldn’t put my finger on the problem, but after several less than stellar attempts, I decided to go back to the drawing board and start from scratch. Thus Lisa’s Challah Revisited. My husband and I now make this every week. We recently returned from visiting our beautiful granddaughter in San Francisco and we passed on this improved version to our son, who is the challah maker in his family.

Making Challah When You Work

Clearly it is easier to bake bread when you are at home all day. But there still are ways to enjoy homemade challah even if you work outside the home. You can start it the night before and then refrigerate the dough to slow down the rising process, completing the last rising and baking after you return home. I used to prepare my dough before I left for work and then brought a sealed plastic bucket of dough with me to the office where I could punch it down as needed until I was able to leave for the day. Bread can be pretty forgiving and an extra rising will just make for a finer crumb. Of course the first time I did this my supervisor came into my office and asked if I had been drinking beer! The yeasty smell had permeated the office. After that, though, my co-workers used to like to come into my office to check out the dough and even to punch it down on occasion. So if you don’t work from home, you can still bake your own challah. Nothing gets me in the mood for Shabbat quite like the smell and taste of fresh baked challah. If you can’t do it every week (and the bread can be frozen as well so you can make a big batch) at least make it for a special Shabbat or holiday.

I believe that welcoming and observing Shabbat is the most beautiful tradition we Jews have. And in this crazy world we live in it is actually a necessity for keeping our sanity and bringing families and loved ones together. But the truth is, you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy this bread.

Tradition

A word about tradition. When it comes to food, I am all about tradition. I understand that with the plethora of food blogs and bloggers out there, everyone is looking for the new “it” recipe to fill space and gain new followers. Over time, I have even tried many of these recipes and rarely do I find that they are an improvement. New is not necessarily better, especially when it comes to food. So you can take your stuffed challah and challah using all kinds of different grains and strange ingredients. For my money and my family, Lisa’s Challah is the one that will stand the test of time. The only tweaks that I will allow are whether to use raisins or not (my husband loves them; my son – not so much) and to add sesame or poppy seeds to the glaze or to leave it plain. Okay, I did once make my vegan challah using chocolate chips instead of raisins as a special treat for the children.

The Pupil Surpasses the Teacher

And while this recipe and method is mine, I will happily admit that the student has surpassed the teacher. My husband retired a few years ago and has taken an interest in doing some cooking. And after 35 years of preparing three meals a day, I’m very happy for him to occasionally cook a meal for us. He started helping me to bake bread when the arthritis in my hands got bad and now he has become the challah maker every week. Our son also is making his family’s challah and I couldn’t be prouder. And while I am always on hand to give advice and check the dough, I have to give credit where it is due. My husband is way better at braiding than I ever was and he creates a beautiful and consistent challah week after week.

Lisa’s Challah Revisited

I am including this recipe exactly as my husband has written it down. Since he was a complete novice at bread baking, he needed to have the recipe make sense for him. If he could learn to make THE best challah, you can too. We enjoy this bread every shabbat and all week long. Left-overs make great toast with butter and cinnamon or honey or french toast. You can also make next week’s dessert using left-over challah for the best bread pudding. This recipe makes one large loaf. It can be doubled or divided into two small loaves. If you do the latter, you will have to reduce your baking time by about 12 to 15 minutes,

Recipe

Yield: 1 large loaf

Ingredients

2.25 teaspoons active dried yeast

1/3 cup warm water (It should feel warm to your finger, but not burning)

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

½ cup warm water

2 X-tra large eggs, at room temperature

1.5 teaspoons kosher salt

¼ cup canola oil

1/8 cup honey

3+ cups flour – either all-purpose, unbleached flour or bread flour (I prefer to use bread flour, but all-purpose will work too)

1/3 cup raisins, tossed with ¼ tsp. all-purpose unbleached flour (Optional)

1/3 cup of granulated sugar

1 egg, beaten for the glaze

Directions

  1. Place yeast, 2 teaspoons of sugar and 1/3 cup warm (to the touch) water in a large bowl and mix well. Allow the yeast to proof for 8 to 10 minutes.
  2. Once the yeast is bubbly, add the remaining 1/2 cup warm water, eggs, salt, oil, honey and 1 cup of flour. Using a wooden spoon, stir the mixture for 100 strokes.
  3. Add 1 more cup of flour and the raisins and stir through.
  4. Add 1/3 cup of granulated sugar and one more cup of flour and mix using a wooden spoon or a dough scraper until there are no more visible shreds of dough. If the dough still looks wet, add another 1/4 to 1/3 cup of flour and stir or knead to incorporate. Cover the bowl with a tea towel or plastic wrap and allow it to rest for 12 minutes. (This allows the gluten to begin to form and prevents you from adding more flour than is needed, which would make for a heavier bread.)
  5. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it for about 10 minutes, adding flour by the tablespoonful only as needed to keep the dough from sticking (usually about 1/4 cup). You want to use as little as possible to produce a supple, unsticky dough. You know you have kneaded enough when you poke two holes in the dough with your fingers and it springs back quickly.
  6. Form the dough into a tight ball and place back in the bowl which has been coated with about 1 to 2 teaspoons of canola oil. Roll the dough in the oil to coat and then cover the bowl. I use a towel, but plastic wrap also works.
  7. Place the dough in a draft-free spot like the microwave and allow it to rise for about 1.5 to 2 hours. The dough will have doubled and you know it is ready when you poke two fingers into the dough and the holes remain.
  8. Punch down the dough, removing any air bubbles. Turn out onto a clean surface and pat the dough into a rectangle. Using your dough scraper or a knife, cut the dough in half lengthwise and then cut each half lengthwise in half again until you have 4 mostly equal strands. Try not to stretch the strands too much.
  9. Lay the strands lengthwise next to, but not touching one another. Place the top ends of the strands together.

Braiding the Challah

There are many videos and instructions out there on how to braid challah using 3, 4, 5 and 6 strands. Find one that works for you and go with it. My husband followed this video and so far it has consistently produced a beautiful 4-strand braid.

We now have four strands of dough. The left-most is in position 1, the next one is in position 2, the next is in position 3, and the right-most is in position 4. When we say “pick up strand 1 and move it to position 3” we mean that you should pick up the left-most strand (at position 1), move it to the right –  jumping over two strands – and then put it down.  The strands you jumped over are now in positions 1 and 2, your strand is now in position 3, and the right-most strand is in position 4.

  1. Without pulling (just lift) pick up strand 1 and move it to position 3. Then pick up strand 4 and move it to position 2. Finally, pick up strand 3 and move it to position 2. Keep repeating this pattern until you come to the bottom.
  2. If it starts to narrow too much, simply fold the dough underneath.
  3. Press the bottom strands together. Press the top strands together. Carefully move the braid (using the dough scraper to help) onto a baking sheet covered with parchment or a silicon mat. Spray lightly with cooking spray, cover with a tented piece of waxed paper and allow to rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  4. While the bread is rising, heat your oven to 350 degrees F. Beat the remaining egg.
  5. When the dough has risen, paint it several times with the egg mixture. If you are adding sesame or poppy seeds, sprinkle them across the painted dough. Then carefully paint them one more time to be sure they adhere as much as possible. Discard any remaining egg. Place the dough in the oven and bake for about 45 minutes, turning halfway if your oven is uneven like mine. Bake until the bread is a beautiful brown and sounds hollow when tapped with your knuckles or a wooden spoon. Remove the bread to a cooling rack.