Tag Archives: Jewish

What’s Been Cooking? Maternity leave, weeks 3-4

Swedish cardamom buns

In Germany, expecting and new mothers have the advantage of a legally protected, essentially “no work allowed” time for 6 weeks before and 8 weeks after their due dates. So now I am on Mutterschutz (maternity leave) and working my way through some cooking and baking projects to keep me from getting too stir-crazy at home and to try and stock the freezer with easy winter meals to reheat when our tiny human arrives.

You can catch up on what I made in my first two weeks off here. Below, see what I’ve gotten up to in my second fortnight off:

Week 3 – bread week, with a bit of soup

By chance, I seemed to settle on a few bread-making projects this week, so in the spirit of The Great British Bake Off, I dubbed Week 3 my personal “bread week.”

On Monday, I made traditional challah from the Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook. It didn’t go quite to plan but was a fun process anyway. Read all about it here.

After the challah failure, F requested that I try my hand at a classic sandwich bread. After some sleuthing, I settled on smitten kitchen’s oat and wheat sandwich bread – it looked tasty, straightforward, and we happened to have all the ingredients at home. So on Wednesday, I put my bread-head back on and got to work. We only have one loaf pan (make that had – I just bought another one!), so I halved Deb’s recipe. The dough came together quickly with some whisking, dumping, and stand mixing (or hand-kneading, but to be honest I’m glad not to have to do that anymore thanks to investing in a stand mixer). I added two extra tablespoons of flour, as the dough was quite wet, then turned it out, plumped it into a ball, and popped it in a bowl for its first rise.

The first rise went a bit longer than Deb’s recommended 60-70 minutes, but I trusted her when she said this was a forgiving recipe. It proved nicely and shaping it into a log roll for the loaf pan was not difficult, although I should have made it a bit shorter, as I think the second rise might have been impeded by the crinkle in the middle (see picture above). Despite the crinkle, the bread baked up wonderfully and, if a bit low-to-the-ground, tasted great. If you don’t believe me, ask F, who said: “It could be a bit bigger but I actually like how dense it is and it tastes really good.”

On Thursday, I took a break from bread and made F’s delicious Hokkaido (aka “red kuri/kari”) squash soup with ginger and coconut. We’ve made it three or four times this fall, which I thought definitely merited its own blog post, so head over here for the newly posted recipe!

On Friday, I went back to bread – this time sweet, in the form of Swedish cardamom buns from NYT Cooking. The whole process took 4-5 hours, but most of that was hands-off time. I think I managed to roll and knot the buns kind of correctly, but some of them split apart in the oven. They also turned out a bit dark (and dry on the second day); I wonder if mine were actually smaller than the recipe intended them to be, although I made 16 as recommended. The cardamom buns did taste good, though! Quite sweet, but countered nicely by the cardamom. Friends professed their enjoyment after dinner on Friday, and a (flexible-ish) vegan friend even ate an entire bun! I’d make these again, perhaps with a shorter baking time and/or slightly lower temperature.

Week 4

I wasn’t feeling super inspired this week, but I ended up doing a bit of baking and cooking anyway.

oat & wheat bread, take 2

On Tuesday, I made smitten kitchen’s oat and wheat sandwich bread again, this time the full recipe. I used the rest of my bag of whole wheat/wholemeal flour, which was 540g, then topped up to the required 635g with spelt flour. I also used olive oil rather than sunflower oil in the dough (Deb says you can use either). The first rise was good again, and instead of dividing the dough I shaped and plopped it all into our new, very large, loaf pan. The bread turned out well – taller than last time – and tasted just as good as the previous loaf, with a nice crust. I froze it in two halves and we thawed it later in the week. The only unfortunate outcome of the freeze-thaw is that the bread dried out a bit and the slices were very crumbly. I wonder if adding a little more water to the dough would also help?

tofu noodles

For Tuesday lunch, I cracked open Anita Bean’s The Vegetarian Athlete’s Cookbook, one of our favorites for easy, vegetable-forward, pantry-based meals. I made her tofu noodles: a tofu, noodle, and vegetable stir fry, simply seasoned with ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and lime. It was quick to put together and tasted great, with enough leftovers to cover us for dinner on the same day.

For Friday lunch, I made baked potatoes (aka jacket potatoes for UK readers) using this method (brine then bake at a high temperature), as recommended by The Kitchn. I can’t say the potatoes turned out differently from usual (I usually smear them with oil and salt, then bake for about an hour at 400F/200C), but they were certainly delicious with nice crispy skin. I topped mine with butter, sour cream, baked beans, and cheddar. F made a tuna-sweetcorn mixture for his. We devoured them too quickly to get a picture!

The autumn apple crop continues to put in a strong showing at our favorite fruit and veg stand at the Wochenmarkt around the corner from us. So for a Friday treat, I made these oatmeal brown sugar baked apples from The Kitchn. The apples split a bit towards the end of baking, but that didn’t put us off. Oats and walnuts added nice additional textures, and F proclaimed, “I love this!”

I’ve discovered Junior Bake Off (it’s quite sweet! And some impressive young bakers) and watched an episode this week where they had to make Viennese Whirls. I was inspired (and by “inspired” I mainly mean “developed a strong craving”…blame it on late pregnancy?), and on Saturday tried my hand at Mary Berry’s recipe via The Candid Appetite. Let’s just say that piping was attempted and quickly abandoned, so these became “buttery sandwich cookies” instead. Delicious, although almost too sweet, even for my taste.

Stay tuned for my next edition of “What’s Been Cooking” in a couple of weeks…


Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen: Traditional Challah

Welcome back to my (very) casual series, “Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen.” Maternity leave (pre-baby, of course) is allowing me more time to explore breads of the world in the Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook. Last time, I made paratha, a rich, buttery flatbread from South Asia. This week, I delved into Jewish cuisine to try my hand at an enriched, yeasted bread: challah. Read on for the experience…

Baking with Hot Bread Kitchen #10: Traditional Challah

This recipe comes from The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook‘s section titled “Challah and Beyond: Enriched Breads, Rolls and Buns”; my first attempt at a bread from this chapter. The section’s introduction explains challah‘s significance in Jewish history, cuisine and culture, as well as enumerating the different types of challah made around the world. The book also mentions the importance of challah’s braided shape: “A braid, with all of its arms intertwined, is said to represent love” (p171). I can get on board with that!

Hallo, challah!

I decided to start my enriched bread adventures (“breadventures,” if you will) with the chapter’s first recipe, for traditional (Ashkenazi) challah. This required a bit of planning ahead, as I had to make pâte fermentée the day before. That done, on Monday morning I fired up the stand mixer to combine/knead the pâte fermentée with the rest of the dough ingredients: flour (I didn’t have bread flour so used all purpose/plain), sugar, salt, yeast, egg yolks, honey, and water.

After an hour’s rise, I wasn’t sure if the dough had actually risen enough – I feared our kitchen’s “room temperature” may have been lower than Hot Bread Kitchen’s – but went ahead with the rolling and braiding anyway.

The dough was relatively easy to work with, although it took me a while to create ropes that were long enough to make into two-strand braided loaves. Even so, the loaves looked pretty small. But I continued with the steps and let the braided and egg-washed loaves proof/prove for another hour. I gave them a second egg wash then popped them into the oven, where after 45 minutes they had developed a beautiful, shiny, mahogany crust.

Upon handling and tasting the cooled challah, it became clear that they weren’t quite right: too dense (under-proved, I think, and/or maybe because of using plain rather than bread flour) and too salty, even though I reduced the amount of salt because kosher salt is hard to find here. Despite the less-than-stellar outcome, the challah-making process was fun and straightforward, and I’ve learned a few lessons for next time.

Would I make this again? Yes, but with proper bread flour, less salt, and longer proving times.

Have you ever made challah? What are your tips and tricks for getting a light, fluffy loaf?

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“Meyer, where are you?” — Jazz Brings Jewish Mobster to Life

Last week as part of the Crouch End Festival Chorus (CEFC), I had the privilege of singing in the world premiere of an ambitious and challenging new jazz work by composer Roland Perrin at London’s Southbank Centre. The piece, titled Lansky, the Mob’s Money Man, is billed as a “choral jazz drama” and depicts the life of Meyer Lansky, a Jew whose family emigrated to New York in the first decade of the 20th century to escape pogroms in their native eastern Europe. Lansky ended up rising high in the Jewish mafia’s ranks to become known as the “Mob’s Accountant.”

Photo courtesy of Paul Robinson

Performing in Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. Photo courtesy of Paul Robinson.

Perrin’s jazz drama tells Lansky’s story, from his life as a boy in a village to his arrival on New York’s Lower East Side to his travels in Cuba and his retirement in Florida. The chorus plays different roles throughout the 19-scene piece, while soloist Rachel Sutton sings as a number of the women in Lansky’s life and narrator Allan Corduner punctuates the music with brief accounts of Lansky’s doings (all in a great 1950s New York / film noir accent). The fantastic Blue Planet Orchestra, Perrin’s own jazz band in which he plays piano and accordion, helps hold it all together.

Let me tell you: this piece was hard. Perhaps one of the hardest things I’ve sung, in large part because I’d never really sung jazz. It took me at least a month of rehearsals to realize that the seemingly random notes we had to learn actually did fit together with the accompaniment and other voice parts into a comprehensive whole. Once I figured this out, Lansky turned out to be a lot of fun to sing.

I loved all the different styles that Perrin incorporated into his piece: ragtime, swing, blues, Klezmer (that was the most fun to sing), Afro-Cuban, crazy-sounding free jazz-like stuff — you name it and it was probably in there.

The performance itself went well, and I felt the most relaxed that I ever have in a chorus concert. Many audience members gave rave reviews, and luckily no one seemed to notice those few missteps in scenes 15 and 16… I really hope that Lansky gets performed again and perhaps even recorded one day — it is certainly a testament to Perrin’s versatility and it tells a fascinating story in a vibrant way.

My view from the first row of the soprano section

My view from the first row of the soprano section

Click here to see more photos from the concert, and watch the trailer below to get a sense of what the piece is like:

Up next for CEFC? Rachmaninov’s Vespers (glorious!) at Southwark Cathedral and St. John’s College Chapel, Cambridge in July.