Honey cake.

Rosh Hashanah round challah

Round challah braid.

It’s a bit late in the day for this post but better that you have it ready for next year than not. I love this cake – the recipe was given to me at a Seder about eight years ago and I make it every year. It’s easy, keeps well and I’m with Nigella in thinking honey cake is all the better with no honey in it! I usually try at least one (and sometimes more – one year I made six) recipes alongside it. This year I made this honey cake from Building Feasts which is wonderful – make them both!!

I have made two types of challah today for Rosh Hashanah. One filled with tahini, apples and honey and the other with dates, honey and toasted and ground fennel. The date one is especially wonderful, I recommend trying it!!

A sweet new year to you all.

honey cake rosh hashanah recipe.

Honey cake crumb.

 

Honey cake.

Makes 3 loaves.

 

700g Golden syrup

445g sunflower oil

450g caster sugar

480g water

600g plain flour

32g baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

4tsp cinnamon

6 large eggs

 

Grease and line loaf tins. Preheat oven to 160 C/Gas mark 3.

Combine all ingredients, except for the eggs in a large bowl. Whisk until smooth. Add eggs and mix until fully combined.

Pour mixture into the loaf tins and bake undisturbed for at least 40 minutes. Rotate pans if necessary. I find they take about an hour to cook.

Allow to cool in tins then wrap well until needed. It keeps well for a couple of weeks or more and is in fact better after a few days.

 

Golden syrup honey cake recipe.

Long honey cake!

 

Date and tahini cake.

tahini cake.

Date and tahini cake with sesame seeds.

 

I have made this cake many times in the last few months and its a good cake to have about the kitchen. It keeps well and the classic date and tahini combination works as well here as ever. I’m working on a tahini caramel recipe which will take it to another level for a decadent pudding but this is good as it is too, simple and quick to put together and with much of the sweetness coming from the dates; it is low in fat and processed sugar!

 

Date & Tahini cake

Ingredients:

 

125g Medjool dates, stoned (110g after stoning)

100g water

30g unsalted butter, softened

60g light brown sugar

1 medium egg

50g tahini

75g plain flour, sifted with: 5g/1tsp bicarbonate of soda & a pinch of sea salt

 

Optional: 2 tsp sesame seeds 2tsp demerara sugar

Method:

 

Grease and line a 6” round cake tin with parchment. Double the recipe and use an 8 or 9” cake tin instead and increase baking time accordingly.
Preheat oven to Gas 3.5/160ºC
Place dates and water in a small saucepan, bring to the boil then remove from heat and allow to cool in the water.
Remove half the dates and chop roughly – not too small.
Blend the remaining dates and the water with a handheld blender until you have a smooth paste.
Beat the butter, sugar and egg with an electric mixer until thick and pale. Fold in the tahini, date paste and then the sifted dry ingredients until well combined and then add the reserved chopped dates.
Scrape into the cake tin and sprinkle with the sesame seeds and demerara sugar. Bake for 35 – 45 minutes until the cake springs back when lightly pressed and a knife comes out clean. It is a dark cake when baked – as long as it isnʼt actually burning, donʼt worry!
Serve on its own with a cup of coffee or it would make a fabulous pudding with caramel sauce and ice cream.
Enjoy!!

sesame date cake recipe

Cake!

Savoury Brioche: potato, cheese and onion bread.

savoury tear apart bread

Potato, cheese and onion bread

I’m so excited to be writing recipes for the Jewish Chronicle. The recipe below was printed in the paper in January, the online version is here. I’m new enough to seeing my name in print that it is quite a thrill and the process of imagining, testing and writing recipes is one I am finding enjoyable and challenging. It’s proving good for me to work within a word limit too, it doesn’t come naturally to be brief but it is beneficial to be more disciplined and to trim instructions down so they are functional and not daunting. A bit of expert editing helps🙂 And when I’m without it I’ll no doubt continue to ramble on here.

I made this bread for Chanukah – I have been on something of a babka and brioche journey these last few months and am working on a definitive sourdough babka/brioche recipe (I keep testing and changing it…) which I will put up here when I’m satisfied. I’ve tried various versions of brioche/babka (the apple, almond, marzipan and cider filling was particularly memorable) and it is just as wonderful with a savoury filling as with sweet; it needs a little less sugar and a little more salt. Brioche dough is forgiving of being made to wait for baking when chilled – the large quantities of butter in the dough set firm in the fridge and seem to suspend the dough because it can’t expand as it would without – or that’s my observation anyway. The sugar and other enriching ingredients also contribute to slower yeast activity which makes it flexible. It is better eaten freshly baked but the refrigeration of the unbaked loaf means that you can bake it at the last minute and serve warm so it’s a good recipe for preparing ahead for when you have people coming round. The shaping technique for the loaf makes it possible to tear pieces off and it looks good but it would work just as well with the potato and cheese mix rolled up inside the dough, Swiss roll style.

savoury brioche

Crumb!

 

Savoury Brioche with potato, Goat’s cheese and rosemary

Ingredients

Potatoes

1kg roasting potatoes, peeled and sliced into rounds approx. 1/2 cm thick

2 tblsp olive oil

1/2 tsp salt

Brioche

500g strong white flour

50g caster sugar

2 medium eggs

150ml water

15g fresh yeast or 5g dried yeast

10g sea salt

120g butter, taken out of the fridge an hour or so previously – firm but not very cold or very soft – cut into pieces.

Filling

100g soft butter

2 sprigs fresh rosemary, finely chopped + 2 additional whole sprigs

150g mild Goat’s cheese or other mild hard cheese, grated

1 medium onion, roughly grated

salt and pepper

 

Instructions

 

Preheat oven to Gas Mark 7/220oC

Roast potatoes with oil and salt for 20 minutes until golden brown.
Combine flour, eggs, sugar and water in the bowl of a free standing mixer and mix briefly until thoroughly combined. Cover and leave for 20 minutes. Add yeast and mix on low – medium speed with the dough hook for 3 minutes. Add salt and mix for 7 minutes. Begin adding the butter a piece at a time and mix for an additional 7 – 8 minutes. Scrape down bowl and ensure all butter is absorbed; the dough should be soft and smooth.
Place the dough in a bowl, cover and leave for an hour then place in fridge for another hour to chill (it is possible to roll and shape the dough easily when it’s cold) or up to 3 or 4. It should be doubled in size or thereabouts.

Combine filling ingredients in a bowl.

Line two loaf tins with baking parchment. On a lightly floured surface roll out the chilled dough to a large rectangle. Cut lengthways into four long strips. Assemble the strips so you end up with a very long ʻsandwichʼ with 4 layers of dough and the filling and potato slices evenly distributed in between the layers. Cut the long strip into even pieces so you have 8 square ʻsandwichesʼ. Place half of these vertically in each loaf tin and place the sprigs of rosemary in the tins.

Cover and leave to proof for 45 minutes at room temperature before placing in the fridge overnight. Or proof for an additional half hour to bake and serve immediately.
Bake at Gas 5/190oC for 35-45 minutes – a sharp knife inserted in the centre should come out clean. It is at its best served warm or just cooled.

 

Recipe for savoury brioche.

Baked savoury brioche.

Sourdough challah (100%).

sourdough challah recipe.

I think I can make a good sponge cake. It’s satisfying to do so and the challenge with cake is consistency – to be able to reproduce the same quality every time is the goal. Not much changes from one to the next though – the ingredients are the same, except on the very warmest or coldest days of the year the temperature doesn’t have too much impact on the results, and once you have mastered it it is fairly easy to replicate the results again and again.

Bread is a different matter. If I bake bread every day for the rest of my life I don’t think there will be a a moment when I think I’ve got it – the variables and the challenges seem more unknowable. So I continue with my quest for the perfect challah; lately I’ve been trying some different braids and have filled strands with tahini and sugar before braiding. I tried a rye and spelt version (needs work) and I keep tweaking the recipe(s) and learning new things. Recently I got a batch of yeast that was so exceptionally active that I could have risen the dough six times over – but I didn’t know that before I started baking. It comes out slightly different every time even when I think I’m doing exactly what I did the time before.

So this blog seems to have become something of a record of my challah experiments. A few weeks ago I thought I’d try again with sourdough challah having been unable to get it to work previously. But my sourdough skills are progressing and I hoped that instead of blindly following other peoples recipes I could utilise some of the techniques that were working for me with basic sourdough and apply them to making 100% sourdough challah. I’m pleased to report success and I hope that someone will be able to take something from the recipe below and find their way to sourdough challah with as much pleasure as I have had in getting there! My next goal is to make it a little sweeter – the caveat to this recipe is that its good; delicious and soft (it keeps very well), it looks like challah and smells like challah but its not as sweet – the sugar inhibits the activity of the yeast so you can’t add as much – and the natural yeasts can’t override its effect in the same way that commercial yeast can. It is a different type of challah; not better or worse but distinct.

The main things that seemed to make the difference are:

Using the levain while young & mild but active. Maggie Glezer’s sourdough challah recipe which I had tried before (there’s a version given here) uses a very mature starter 12 hours after refreshing in the final dough along with quite a lot of sugar. Some bakers have good results with her recipe but I never did – the dough was heavy and the end result quite dense and sour and it didn’t keep the shape after baking. Quite a few recipes I tried suggested similarly mature starters for rising the dough but I found this didn’t give the best result – I think it had run out of steam by the time the long proofing process had been completed.

Using a firm starter is necessary. Between 50% and 65% hydration – I find 50% easier to handle. I think the yeast is concentrated in a starter that has a higher proportion of flour but I’m still hazy on the science of this.

Less sugar, oil and egg in the dough than you would use for yeasted challah but more water. I have so far not gone above 5% of the flour weight for the oil or sugar though want to see how much higher it is possible to go before the end result is negatively affected.

A fairly high proportion of the flour in the dough should be in the starter. Too little starter and the natural yeast can’t work because of the additional ingredients.

One long bulk ferment at room temperature with folds – none of the challah sourdough recipes I had seen used stretch & folds. But I found they made the dough  lighter and activated it better than just time alone.

Final long proof in the fridge after braiding. I tried both ways on the same batch of dough the first time I made it. After the initial bulk rise I did a second bulk rise for half the dough in the fridge (like I do with yeasted challah) and then shaped in the morning and let it proof at room temperature. For the other half of the dough I braided it, placed it in the fridge overnight and then gave it additional time at room temperature before baking. The second method worked better (everything seems to be the opposite of what works with normal challah and with normal sourdough). There wasn’t a huge amount in it – both worked but the challah that had been proofed overnight while shaped was bigger and lighter – the other one couldn’t catch up, the yeasts couldn’t cope with the additional handling.

Bake at a lower temperature. I do this with yeasted challah too but it needs a gentle bake to keep the shape.

Challah braids.

Round sourdough challah.

 

For Rosh Hashanah I made a sourdough challah that had honey, tahini and apple rolled into the strands as well one with tahini and demerara sugar incorporated in the same way. This added sweetness and they were my favourite ones, so the way round the lack of expected sweetness may be to add ingredients that don’t affect the dough but that work alongside it. I’d like to make one with raisins and definitely need to try chocolate and nuts rolled up in the dough too!

challah crumb.

Crumb shot of the apple, tahini and honey sourdough challah.

 

If you try it do let me know how you get on! It’s still a work in progress and I’d love to know your thoughts.

 

A note on the starter: I keep mine in the fridge and don’t use the firm starter that often so it needs 2-3 days of feeding at room temperature to be active enough for this recipe. Use whatever methods/schedule get you to the correct stage but I find a couple of days of refreshing the starter 24 hours apart and then a final two stage feed before making the dough works for me. So the night before making the challah I feed the mature starter that has previously been fed 24 hours or so before. It should  increase in volume and start to collapse after leaving it overnight and then I feed it the following morning about 5 hours before mixing up the dough. When its quite active I find it triples before collapsing again so I’m aiming to use it when it has doubled and is still rising – at about 2/3 of its final volume. It should smell mild and be full of bubbles. I feed a portion of starter (discarding the rest) its weight in water and twice its weight in flour.

sourdough challah starter.

Sourdough starter ready to be mixed into the dough.

 

Sourdough challah

Ingredients:

300g firm, mild and active starter @ 50% hydration
420g water
940g strong white flour
60g demerara sugar
100g egg (one whole egg, 2 yolks)
60g oil
20g salt

Whole egg beaten with a little water, to glaze

Poppy or sesame seeds, to finish.

Method:

Combine water, starter and flour in the bowl of a freestanding mixer and mix briefly until a dough is formed. Cover and leave for 30-40minutes. Mix together additional ingredients in a bowl and add to the dough – mix on low speed (I needed to break up the dough a little to help it come together) until the dough and the additional ingredients are well combined – it will be quite sticky. Mix on low – medium speed for 4 minutes.

Bulk ferment for 4 – 5 hours (exact time depends on room temp.) but at least double the usual initial ferment time for yeasted challah. Do at least 3 or 4 stretch and folds in this time at regular intervals; basically you wait until it is light and well developed – a much slower process than with normal sourdough. The difference from the initial dough when its ready should be quite pronounced, instead of a heavy, sticky blob it becomes a malleable, pale dough that has more volume and is holding its shape fairly well (see pictures below for some of the stages).

When it has finished the bulk ferment, divide into balls – 12 if making 2 x 6 strand challah. Allow to rest covered in cling film for 20 minutes or so then roll and braid the challot. Dust the rolled out strands in rye flour to help them stay distinct through the long final proof.

Place on baking parchment, on trays and cover lightly with cling film. Put in fridge overnight – I think mine were in for 8-9 hours and I think this could be stretched longer. They should have risen somewhat, maybe 20 – 30% but not enormously. Then take them out and proof for another couple of hours during which they will increase in size a little more. There are no huge jumps in volume though so the signs they are rising and ready are more subtle than with normal challah. I’m not sure yet what the optimum point for baking is.

Glaze, sprinkle with seeds & bake for 30-40 minutes with steam for first 15 minutes. I baked at quite a low temperature: Gas 3/ 160ºC and then turned it up to Gas 5 for the last 5 minutes to brown them as they were too pale.

 

Sourdough challah.

Braided challah.

challah dough recipe.

Dough after mixing.

challah recipe.

Beginning of bulk ferment, before the first stretch and fold.

sourdough challah dough.

After a stretch and fold.

challah sourdough recipe.

After the final stretch and fold.

Challah braid.

6 strand round challah braid.

sourdough challah.

Challah braid.

sourdough challah recipe.

challah braid for Rosh Hashanah.

100% sourdough challah.

Round challot for Rosh Hashanah!

 

 

 

Bergamot shortbread.

Bergamot biscuits with leves and flowers.

Bergamot shortbread ready to bake.

 

I bought a small bergamot plant a couple of years ago; I think I read that bees liked it and so popped it in the online shopping basket. I had never quite got round to working out what to do with it though – all I knew was that it was edible and I enjoyed having the fluffy and pretty flowers in the garden, as did the bees! I asked the internet and some kind replies via Twitter and Instagram gave me several ideas, one of which was bergamot shortbread. I adapted my lavender shortbread recipe for these – the biscuit itself is not too sweet and so the coating of sugar on the outside gives texture and just the right level of sweetness. The idea for using the leaves blended with the sugar came from this recipe which also looks good. I loved the flavour – it is unusual but not confrontationally so. Try lavender flowers instead if bergmot is not to hand – and I think lemon zest and thyme would be lovely as well. I worked the purple flower petals into the dough but in hindsight should have left them aside to be pressed into the surface when rolling out the dough.

Baking with bergamot

Bergamot flower

 

Bergamot shortbread

Ingredients:

65g caster sugar

2 large handfuls of washed and dried, tender bergamot leaves

140g unsalted butter, soft

3 egg yolks

240g sifted plain flour

2-3 bergamot flowers, petals removed

additional caster sugar for coating

Method:

Whizz up the bergamot leaves and caster sugar in a food processor until you have crumbly green sugar. Place in a bowl with the butter and mix with a handheld electric mixer or by hand until well combined, just for a minute or so. Use a spatula to thoroughly mix in the flour and then add the egg yolks until it all comes together as a soft dough. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate until firm – I did this overnight.

Prepare two baking trays lined with baking parchment or silicone paper. Place some caster sugar in a small bowl. Roll the dough to about 5mm thick out on a surface dusted with icing sugar – use guide sticks if you have them. Press the flowers into the dough as it is almost rolled out so they show on the outside of the cut biscuits. Cut out shapes and gently toss in the bowl of sugar until coated all over. They are quite rich so smaller shapes are better, I did a combination of larger and smaller circles and got around 20 biscuits. Place in rows on the baking trays. Re roll the dough until it has all been used up. It is best to work with it while it is quite cold so work quickly.

When all the dough has been used, chill the trays of biscuits again for 20 minutes or so. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/ Gas mark 4 and bake for 12-14 minutes depending on the size of the biscuits you have cut. When they are just starting to take on some colour around the top edges and are golden underneath they are done. Remove to cooling racks to cool down completely. They keep well in an air tight container.

 

Bergamot baking

Ingredients for bergamot shortbread.

 

Bergamot shortbread biscuits.

Bergamot shortbread dough.

 

Biscuits with herbs.

Stacked bergamot biscuits.

Honey and lavender biscuits.

Lavender bread.

Lavender, spelt & honey sourdough.

 

I can’t stop adding sourdough starter to baked goods. I have a feeling this tendency has some way to run yet – it adds flavour and gives texture and I am yet to be disappointed by its contribution to the end result. Although I don’t have anything approaching scientific proof, I’m also fairly sure it contributes to the nutritional value of the food. The flour is fermented, more easily digested and if nothing else by using rye starter some whole grains get added where there would otherwise have been plain white flour.

I made lavender, honey and spelt sourdough a couple of weeks back. I have added lavender to various recipes over the years; lavender cheesecake, shortbread, cake and ice cream amongst others but always sweetened. It was interesting to taste it in bread; even with the honey, the savoury flavour was different – not quite as easy to enjoy. On its own it was interesting and quite pronounced. We had it with mild goats cheese for dinner and it came into its own – the cheese muted the lavender and made it more gentle. It was delicious, and interesting. I will make it again.

I came across two good sources of information on cooking with lavender recently; have a look here and here to read further.

And to this recipe. No eggs in the house but I had fresh lavender flowers and wanted to bake with them so I turned again to the lavender and honey combination. These have the texture of gingerbread and I think they will be even better after a day or two as is the case with gingerbread which matures and intensifies with time. They smelled wonderful while in dough form as much as when they were baking; do try these with fresh lavender if you can though when it isn’t available dried can be substituted. If you don’t have sourdough starter add an extra 25g of a wholegrain flour to the plain flour and stir in 25g of milk at the end.

These aren’t particularly sweet biscuits. I was contemplating on Instagram whether to glaze them but didn’t want to overpower the delicate flavour of the honey by using icing sugar. The talented Anna Luntley of Bakery47 suggested a honey glaze which works perfectly to make them just a little sweeter as well as all pretty and shiny too.

 

sourdough lavender biscuits.

Biscuits ready for baking.

 

Lavender and honey biscuits with sourdough.

2 tsp fresh, edible lavender flowers (reserve 1tsp for putting on top of the cut out biscuits before baking)

60g soft unsalted butter

70g good quality honey

175g plain flour; sifted with

1tsp bicarbonate of soda

A scant pinch of salt

 

50g unfed, mature rye starter (100% hydration) Mine was fed about 5 days earlier and had been in the fridge since the last feed – I used it cold.

 

For the glaze:

3 tblsp honey

1 tblsp water

 

Cream the butter, honey and 1tsp of the lavender flowers with an electric mixer or by hand until well combined, a minute or so should do it. Stir in the flour, bicarb. and salt with a spatula and work it gently but thoroughly into the butter and honey mixture – it should look crumbly but fully combined. Stir in the starter and knead the dough briefly but until the dough is uniform. Put in the fridge wrapped in cling film for half an hour or so. Preheat oven to Gas mark 5/ 190ºC.

Roll out the dough between two pieces of silicone/parchment paper or on a lightly floured surface until 5mm thick (use guide sticks if you have them, or something to keep the dough all the same thickness – chopsticks possibly?). Cut shapes with a cookie cutter, I used a circle and got about 12 biscuits from the dough. Place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper.

Press the remaining lavender flowers gently into the center of each biscuit and bake for around 10 minutes until golden brown. I turned the oven down to Gas mark 4 for the latter half of the baking time as they were browning quickly.

While they are baking warm the honey and water for the glaze together in a small saucepan. When it is hot but not boiling, remove from the heat and when the biscuits come out of the oven and have cooled a little, brush them with the honey glaze.

Keep in an airtight container; they will last awhile.

 

Biscuits with lavender and sourdough.

Golden brown biscuits before glazing.

 

 

 

 

Garden rice.

I probably make a rice based dinner at least once a week. It’s quick and both children like it very much. They love risotto and will eat it cold for lunch the next day too; they favour tomato risotto which is handy as I often make it when we are down to our last onion. But if there is risotto rice and passata in the cupboard and white wine and parmesan in the fridge (there usually is) then I make risotto. Fennel and lemon is another favourite; children are so strange. My almost four year old professes to dislike butternut squash and feta in particular but will eat fennel. The little one does like feta and will generally eat whatever he sees his brother eating – most recently this includes rocket and chives straight from the garden. They like rice with vegetarian chilli and plain with some butter and a little salt.

I made this for dinner last night. We spent the late afternoon and early evening in the garden; mowing the lawn, trimming the hedge, weeding, watering and planting. Time gets away from me in the garden – I think I have the time for just one more task but I don’t really. These Summer nights especially the warm ones come so rarely though that it is difficult not to stay out just a little longer, especially as the school holidays have begun. The children were making ‘stew’ with stones, leaves and copious quantities water and were very dirty. At about 8.30pm my husband took them up for a bath and I made dinner. I had picked a bowlful of rocket and some mint, chives and oregano and this is the result. I made marinated feta to serve alongside for the three of us who do like feta.

I’m sure there are many techniques for cooking rice out there; I remember it being a revelation when I learned how to cook it from somewhere or other without boiling it in water and making it all wet and limp so I’ll share it with you here. It is the basis for the recipe below and is very useful but you need scales. My instructions are for a gas cooker so you may need to adjust for an electric hob.

Weigh the quantity of basmati rice that you need into a smallish saucepan. 200g for example. Also using the scales, weigh twice the weight of your rice as water. So a ratio of 1:2 – in this case, 400g of water as there is 200g of rice. Put in some salt to taste and put the lid on the saucepan. Bring quickly to the boil then as soon as it boils turn the heat down as low it goes and move to the smallest burner you have. Set a timer for 10 minutes. When it goes off, turn off the heat and leave the saucepan with the lid on for a few minutes. You should have perfectly cooked, not soggy rice and there shouldn’t be any water in the bottom of the pan.

 

 

Rice with courgettes and peas.

Fast food!

Garden Rice.

Serves a hungry family of four who have spent all afternoon in the garden with some leftovers for the next day.

30g butter

2 tblsp olive oil

2 small onions, roughly chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

350g basmati rice

700g water or vegetable stock

100g frozen peas

3 medium courgettes, roughly grated

salt and pepper to taste

To serve; handful of chopped mint, chives or any herbs you like. Coriander would be good.

 

Melt the butter and the oil in a medium saucepan over a medium heat and add the onions and garlic. Cook until softened and starting to colour, about 10 minutes. Add the rice and turn the heat up a little, stirring for a couple of minutes to coat the rice in the oil and butter. Throw in the peas (you could add these half way through the cooking time, but I was trying to be quick) and the water or stock with some salt to taste. Put the lid on and bring briskly to the boil, then turn the heat down to very low and set a timer for 10 minutes. While the rice cooks grate the courgettes and prepare the herbs. Once the 10 minutes is up remove the pan from the heat, stir through the grated courgette and replace the lid on the pan. Stand for 5 minutes, adjust the seasoning and tip into a large bowl to serve, sprinkling herbs on the top.

 

Serve marinated feta and a bowl of fresh rocket alongside.

 

Marinated feta.

1 packet of feta (250g) cut into 1.5cm cubes.

extra virgin olive oil

garlic, 1 – 2 cloves

a handful of fresh oregano – or a teaspoon of dried oregano works too if you don’t have fresh

 

Crush and roughly chop the garlic and place in a bowl with enough olive oil to coat the feta. Add the oregano and feta and stir gently. Leave it to sit for awhile if you can – it is good the next day too if you have leftovers. A finely chopped small red chilli is a good addition if you like some heat.

 

Challah recipe: sourdough, fresh yeast and time.

homemade challah

Challah with sesame seeds.

Last year, after Passover, around the time I made my first functional sourdough starter (there was a short lived and failed attempt based on a newspaper article c. 2006) I also began making challah every week. I had made it occasionally before with mixed results. I tried different recipes from various sources and although they were good after a fashion i.e. when they had just been baked and were very fresh, I never liked them more than the ones I bought from the local bakeries; usually Daniel’s in Temple Fortune. I wondered what the difference was between the bakery recipes and the recipes I was using. I have still to find a satisfactory answer to this question so if you can shed any light do comment! It had to be either one of two things; the bakeries were using an incredible recipe combined with expert techniques that was vastly different to the contents of my recipes. Or they were using some type of preservative or dough improver/conditioner to get the soft texture and keeping qualities evident in their loaves. I hope it’s the former and fear it is the latter.

Challah plaited on tray.

Challah made with wholemeal flour.

I decided that it must be possible to make amazing challah at home. Not just good or passable but beautiful challah with depth of flavour; soft in the middle with good keeping qualities. Challah that I would prefer to eat and to feed my family over and above any that can be bought in North West London or anywhere else. I wanted to know exactly what was in it and to be proud of it. I think I’m getting there. I can’t stop tweaking the recipe though. It seems there are endless combinations of ingredient proportions or changes to be made to kneading time and proving time. There have been some disasters along the way and I won’t claim this as the definitive or best possible recipe for homemade challah but I will tell you that it is beautiful. Wholesome, complex and impressive. And not difficult but absorbing and flexible. I have made many good versions that were variations on the recipe below and there are innumerable changes still to be made. Reading my previous recipe I can see how much it has evolved since I wrote it.

Sourdough challah recipe.

Baked wholemeal challah.

In my world, Friday is the hardest day; cakes are in demand for the weekend, my son’s nursery finishes early and there is dinner to make and of course challah to squeeze into the baking schedule around the cakes and biscuits. The flexibility of the recipe is also the reason it has kept my attention for all this time and why it will continue to do so. Make it your own and keep searching for your favourite version. I am pleased at the thought of a lifetime of Fridays spent preparing for Shabbat and thankful that it gives me the opportunity to bake this beautiful bread.

challah dough.

Dough after kneading.

The significance of making my sourdough starter and baking challah weekly in the same period was that it occurred to me that the two probably could, and most likely had, been merged into one. I had been using fresh yeast which was giving better results than dried. I was making sourdough and enjoying the results; the extraordinary flavour that comes from giving the bread time and gentle attention. It seems logical that there is a link between the necessity of preparing challah in good time for the Sabbath  and utilising an overnight rise so the greater part of the process has been completed the day before and the loaves are baked and ready for the table sooner rather than later on a Friday. Google demonstrates that this is not a novel idea. This wonderful article indicates a historical link between sourdough and challah. I wonder also if the yeast created as a by product of brewing was used too. Authenticity isn’t exactly the point though and as a home based cooking tradition, extensive and good quality published information on challah seems to be hard to find. I imagine that the best challah being baked around the world is being baked by people who are the least likely to offer the details online. So I decided incorporating sourdough into the recipe was a good way to direct my focus.

challah recipe.

The gluten development in progress.

I tried, and oh how I wanted them to work; recipes that were leavened only with wild yeast. There are a few popular versions of these recipes around the web and I tried them all. Some made good bread but it was not what I wanted from challah. They were sour where I wanted sweetness and dense when I wanted a a soft, easily torn crumb. They lost definition during proving and baking and were too flat and not pretty enough. I have seen photos of other peoples efforts and they look magnificent. I wanted to be a purist and rise my challah without ingredients that are recent additions to the bakers tool box – challah must pre date commercial yeast production! But I couldn’t make it work.

Sourdough challah.

After the stretch and fold.

And so I offer you my best, to date, recipe for wonderful challah. Fresh yeast and sourdough starter have provided my best results yet. A couple of weeks ago I did a simultaneous test of a recipe risen purely with fresh yeast  alongside an otherwise identical recipe that contained sourdough starter. They looked similar and had a fairly similar texture. If you don’t have starter then it is still a good recipe without it. But the flavour of the loaves made with sourdough too was so much more interesting. It kept better and it was better. I recommend it. If you are local you can gladly have some of my starter. Or make your own. Or borrow some from a friend or acquaintance. At some point do try it as written, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Sourdough challah technique.

The end of the second rise.

 

 Challah with sourdough.

Inspired by various sources but particularly by Rose Levy Beranbaum, this sourdough challah recipe and this recipe which uses a preferment. All of which are worth baking in their own right!

Challah inside soft.

Soft and beautiful!

 For the dough:

100g refreshed white sourdough starter; it should be mild and lively. If you don’t (yet!) have some starter, omit it and reduce the flour by 30g.

20g fresh yeast (Organic if possible)

450g strong white flour (or 370g white and 80g wholemeal is very nice too)

120g filtered water

120g egg, lightly beaten; consisting of 3 yolks and 1 whole egg

60g demerara sugar

60g mild olive oil or sunflower oil

10g salt

 To finish:

A whole egg beaten with a little water for glazing (Or use the retained egg whites if you like a pale delicate looking colour for the finished loaves)

30g approx. sesame seeds, toasted if you have the time – they have a much more vivid flavour this way. Or poppy seeds for sprinkling.

 Method:

Gently combine the starter, fresh yeast, water and 100g of the flour in the bowl of your free standing mixer and leave to start activating while you weigh out the remaining ingredients. I sometimes leave it for awhile but it can be used straight away too.

Using kitchen scales; weigh the egg and yolks, sugar, oil and salt into a jug. Weigh out the remaining flour in a bowl. Mix all dough ingredients into the yeast mixture and once fully combined, mix on a low to medium speed for 4 minutes. The dough should have medium gluten development – so when stretched it will form a window but one that tears quite easily. It will still be fairly sticky but not wet. If you knead by hand then do so without adding any extra flour (use a scraper to keep moving the dough off the counter) until you reach the same stage.

Note: The challah gets 3 rises and a lot of handling during the process. I discovered that avoiding overly developing the gluten at the very beginning contributes significantly to the softness of the crumb at the end. If you over knead it (many recipes suggest 10 minutes) then the finished result is quite dry. Conversely it does need some kneading or it won’t hold its shape for plaiting and baking!

Place in a large, gently oiled bowl or plastic container, cover with plastic wrap and leave for around 2 hours or until doubled in size. Be patient – this first rise takes the longest. The dough gets livelier as you go on.

Do a full stretch and fold on a lightly floured counter. After this you can see how it has already developed since immediately after the kneading; it starts to feel smooth. This is a good video to see the stretch and fold process in action.

Place back in the bowl, cover and transfer to the fridge.

Note: I often make the dough around 9pm on a Thursday and get it in the fridge by midnight. I then take it out at about 9am – 10am on the Friday morning for shaping. I think around 8-10 hours is optimum. But if you need to take it out after 6 hours or need to stretch the timing out a bit longer then it doesn’t seem to affect the final result. You can also do this 2nd rise at room temperature if you are baking beginning to end in one day. Just wait for it to double in size – it will be quicker this time though, around an hour.

In the morning the dough should be doubled or a little more than doubled. I handle it cold but you can let it warm up a little first. Turn gently onto a lightly floured counter and divide with a scraper into as many pieces as you need strands. So for two 6 strand plaits you need 12 pieces.

If I’m feeling pedantic I weigh them so they are all the same weight but more often that not, pressed for time I do it by eye. I roll them into tight balls using the palm of one hand. If you do this on a surface with no flour on it but the top of the piece of dough floured then  the circular motion and traction with the counter tightens up the ball and it sort of comes together in your hand. Try not to get much extra flour into the dough at this stage. Pop the dozen balls on a lightly floured surface, cover and leave to rest for 20 minutes. This relaxes the dough so it is easier to roll out the strands without them resisting and springing back into short sausage shapes.

To roll the strands, shape the dough first. Take a ball of dough and flatten it into a rough circle. Fold one edge to the middle and then the other edge to meet it in the middle. Then fold the whole piece in half and pinch the edges closed. Roll on a barely floured surface – you need some traction to get the length but it shouldn’t stick either. As it is such a soft dough this is easier when the dough is cold rather than at room temperature.

Roll from the center of the strands outwards with even pressure from both hands. You don’t want them really long and thin or the challah doesn’t get enough height. Taper the ends as you finish rolling as this helps with the final shape of the braided loaf.

Keep all the pieces as uniform as possible. Lay on a lightly floured surface until you have 6 strands and then plait them. If you look back at my first challah recipe there is a great braiding video that I found very useful (also, do practice with wool or string to get better without using uncooperative dough!). Place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper and repeat for the remaining challah.

Cover lightly with plastic wrap  – a light dusting of flour may help to stop it sticking but I don’t find it a problem when the loaves are properly shaped and the dough sufficiently developed. Keep an eye on it though – the last thing you want it your beautiful challot being fully proved and having to ruin the shape by pulling firmly stuck plastic wrap off them.

As you are doing the final proof with dough that is still a little cold it will take 1 1/2 to 2 hours for the final proof. You are looking for the dough to hold an indent when pressed lightly. It will be wobbly like jelly but not deflating. Choosing the perfect moment takes practice. Fully proving it before baking – unlike with other types of bread where you want some of that final rise to happen in the oven – helps keep the shape of the plaits so they don’t burst apart when placed in the oven.

After about an hour, preheat your oven to Gas 3.5/160ºC. A gentle heat also helps with retaining the shape and avoids it burning on the outside while you wait for the middle to cook.

When fully risen, brush gently with the egg glaze. Sprinkle with your chosen seeds and bake for 30 – 35 minutes. Give it a bit longer if you like a really dark crust. Cool completely before tearing and eating.

Challah is good with everything.  I love it with just butter and also with avocado and tomato for breakfast the next day. Or with hummus!

I find it keeps very well when made with the sourdough – it is still soft for 2-3 days and makes great toast for another day or two after that.

 

Challah dough recipe.

Dividing the dough.

Braided challah.

Balls of challah dough and rolled strands ready for plaiting.

Challah braid.

Fully proofed and ready to bake.

sourdough challah braid.

Proofed and glazed challah with poppy seeds.

Challah recipe with sourdough starter.

Challah in the oven.

challah braid.

Homemade challah.

Sourdough challah recipe.

Poppy seed challah.

 

Bircher muesli.

Muesli breakfast.

Bircher muesli with fruit and yoghurt.

 

I wish I could claim to have eaten this in the garden in the sun this Bank holiday Monday but alas, no. Yesterday was warm though and this breakfast was reminiscent of summer because the berries actually tasted of berry. Though there is no reason not to, this isn’t a breakfast I eat often in the cooler months when if I’m having oats I lean towards granola or porridge. For the summer it’s perfect though, even when the weather is not.

Serve with thick Greek yoghurt, I like Total. A drizzle of honey or maple syrup if you like it really sweet. And fruit, whatever you most love. I think next time I make it flat peaches will be the accompaniment (is that what they are called? That is how they look but I imagine they have a proper name).

 

Bircher muesli

This served our family of four; two adults and two children under 4 with yoghurt and fruit on top. Adjust quantities up or down according to numbers and appetite. It’s perfectly possible to make this for one!

I use scales for everything, a consequence of being a baker but this is forgiving so use volume if you don’t have scales, the basic ratio should work either way.

No need to make your own muesli – I find it handy to use up open packets of nuts and seeds left over from other recipes. If I make muesli or granola every couple of weeks it means I don’t get over run. The apple juice in the Bircher muesli, especially when combined with fruit makes it sweet enough so look for a brand with no sugar or low sugar.

 

For the muesli

Adapted from a Bill Granger recipe found here.

Preheat oven to 140ºC/Gas mark 2

In a medium mixing bowl combine the following: (a few adjustments here or there make no difference to this recipe. Don’t leave 10g sunflower seeds in a packet for accuracy!)

300g oats – the larger whole ones rather then porridge oats.

125ml apple juice

2tblsp coconut oil

125g sunflower seeds

50g pumpkin seeds

50g sesame seeds

40g dessicated coconut

Do add some nuts too if you like them and if there aren’t going to be small children eating your muesli! Hazelnuts would be good, 100g or so.

 

I lined a large tin with a piece of silicone paper and spread the mixture out over that. Bake for 15 minutes, give it a good stir and then for another 15 minutes. Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn at the edges. Due to a lack of sugar it doesn’t get really crispy like granola so you are looking for it to get lightly browned really. Cook a bit longer if you want it more toasted.

Cool then stir in 120g sultanas or dried fruit of your choice.

Keep in an airtight container.

 

For the Bircher part

The ratio is one part muesli to one part apple juice to one part whole milk by weight. For ours I weighed into a bowl 150g muesli, 150g apple juice and 150g milk.

Cover the bowl and place in the fridge overnight. The fruit and muesli absorbs most of the liquid so you are left with a juicy, slightly thickened bowl of delicious breakfast. You can stir in some grated apple, stir in yoghurt or serve on top. Do adjust the proportions to taste as well – if you like it with more liquid or are using finer oats then you might want to add a bit more apple juice or milk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homemade digestive biscuits.

ssourdough digestive biscuits.

Digestives cooling on a rack.

I have always liked digestives, the very plainness of them is just what you need some afternoons with a cup of tea. Not overly sweet and you can almost convince yourself that it barely counts as a treat at all. Trouble is of late, I don’t enjoy mass produced biscuits like I once did. For a start there is an abundance of excess cake and dough in my life; there is always chocolate about and leftovers to get through, so unless it is a special occasion I rarely bake to fill the cupboards with more goodies. Having eaten home baked and good quality biscuits, cakes and bread in my own and from other kitchens I find the old favourites are a bit too sweet, a bit too synthetic and the list of ingredients rarely looks like anything you would have in the cupboard – vegetable oil, cultured skimmed milk and partially inverted sugar syrup aren’t amongst my favoured foodstuffs. So I don’t often want to eat biscuits from a packet but I do like them in theory and still want them sometimes, so am left with making them myself.

I read this blog post recently and was inspired to create a sourdough version since the original digestives name apparently comes from their ability to aid digestion and I thought nothing would help to that end more than some fermented flour full of live yeast. Whilst reading a bit more, this Guardian article on the perfect digestive biscuit prompted the addition of oats – because I love oat cakes and think oats give a great texture to these biscuits.

If you don’t have sourdough starter then increase the milk to 60ml and increase either the flour or oat content by another 50g. Add 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda to the flour and oats.

If you are a dedicated fan of the chocolate coated version, by all means melt some chocolate and spread on the biscuits when cooled – I may well do this next time I make them.

In their plain incarnation they are very good with cheese.

 

ingredients for sourdough digestive biscuits.

Oats, flour and sugar.

 

sourdough starter biscuits.

Sourdough starter.

 

Homemade digestive recipe.

Biscuit dough.

Sourdough digestive biscuits.

 

Ingredients:

80g oats

100g wholemeal flour

50g dark brown sugar

Generous pinch of salt

110g unsalted butter at room temperature

100g recently refreshed starter at 100% hydration – whatever you have to hand; you want it to be lively but mild. I fed some starter straight from  the fridge that had last been refreshed a couple of days previously and fed 50g rye starter with 25g water and 25g white flour and left it for a couple of hours until it was starting to puff up a bit.

1 tblsp whole milk

 

Method:

Place oats in a food processor and process until they turn to fine powder. Add flour, sugar and salt, pulse a few times to combine and then put butter in the processor and turn on briefly until the mix looks damp and comes together in a rough dough. If you don’t have a processor use oats that are already fairly fine in texture and combine with the other dry ingredients in a bowl before rubbing in the butter with your fingertips.

Remove mix from food processor to a medium bowl and stir in the starter and a tablespoon of milk gently, until well combined. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate until firm – an hour or so, or until you are ready to make the biscuits.

Roll the dough out evenly on a lightly floured surface until it is approx. 3-4mm thick. Cut circles of  dough with a cutter and place on parchment/silicone paper lined trays. They don’t spread much but leave a little room between them. I made 25 from this recipe. Prick all over with a fork and put them back in the fridge for 15 – 20 minutes or so while the oven heats up. I baked them at gas mark 4/ 180ºC for 25 minutes turning the tray once during baking, though check them at the 15 and 20 minute mark – they don’t go very brown as there is not much sugar in them so you are looking for them to seem dry and firm and browned slightly at the edges and underneath. The longer you cook them (without burning them, obviously!) the crisper they will be.

They are slightly soft when they first come out of the oven and firm up when cooled. Transfer to racks to cool down and then keep in an airtight jar or container.

The ones I made are nearly gone a day later so I can’t say how long they last – possibly a week if you are very restrained!

 

sourdough digestive biscuits.

Cut and ready to bake.

 

Homemade digestives

Digestives baking in oven, rising a little.

 

Homemade biscuits.

Sourdough digestives, baked and awaiting a cup of tea.