• Thin Mint Challah
  • caramel-challah
  • birthday-challah
  • orange-challah
  • Glazed Thin Mint Challah
  • Caramel-Cheesecake Challah
  • Sprinkled Chocolate Chip Birthday Challah
  • Orange-Raisin Challah

Week 22: Chocolate Strawberry Challah

chocolate and strawberries challah -- not as good as it sort of looks

Eww… This one was an epic failure.  I don’t even want to talk about it.  bleh. Valentines day is all about chocolate dipped strawberries, right?  So, shouldn’t a challah of chocolate and strawberries be the perfect pre-Valentines Day challah?  You’d think so… right?  Am I really the only one?  I guess there’s  a reason for that. Anyway, it did not turn out well.  I used frozen strawberries rather than fresh, because I didn’t have any fresh ones, and when they defrosted they turned to liquidy mush.  I think, more than anything else, that’s why the challah was a failure.  The strawberries sort of broke down and made the rest of the challah soggy. I made the chocolate challah (cocoa powder added to the normal challah recipe), with some chocolate chips and the strawberries.  That’s how I did it.  And I tell you this purely because if we don’t learn from our mistakes we’re bound to repeat them.  If only the Oscars host-selection committee took as diligent notes as I do…

Week 21b: Cornbread Challah

football-shaped cornbread challahs

It’s Superbowl Sunday, and what goes better with the Superbowl than Chili!  And what goes better with chili than cornbread!  And what relevance does cornbread have with this site? When it’s challah! So, there you go.  Cornbread challah. I switched out 2 of the 8 cups of flour with cornmeal and added a little honey — maybe a tablespoon or so, and bam! Cornbread challah.  Yep, it was that easy!  And that good!  A little gritty, as cornbread sometimes is, but otherwise it was just like my son  — awesome :) Since it was baked for a Superbowl party, of course, I baked the mini challahs in a football shape.  It was well received.

Week 21: Banana Chocolate Chip Challah

Trader Joes Pareve Chocolate Chips -- They plump when you cook 'em!

When was the last time you made banana bread?  Your answer, like mine, probably begins with “This one week when we had a bunch of brown bananas that no one wanted to eat, but I felt bad throwing away…” The problem is, now that my son, Evan, eats a banana for breakfast everyday, we no longer have several rotting bananas 5-7 days after going to Costco.  When I decided to make banana challah this week, I had to go around scavenging for ripe bananas, and the usual haunts (Costco, several grocery stores) only had green bananas!  So, a special shout out to Pearl and Alex (and Eric) for selflessly providing me with primo bananas! Now onto the reason we’re here… I added a little less than a cup and a half of ripe bananas (3-4 smallish bananas) to the usual challah recipe.  The riper (browner) the bananas, the more flavorful and sweeter the challah (or banana bread in general) will be.  I also threw in a little vanilla and cinnamon, just for kicks.  And, of course, the chocolate chips.  I suppose some brown sugar instead of white sugar (or sprinkled on top?) would have been good too, but I wasn’t feeling particularly crazy this week. Because of the moisture from the ‘nanas, the challah dough needed at least an extra cup of flour (that’s sort of a very clever pun!).  I didn’t count, but it might even have been 2-3 extra cups.  It was pretty crazy.  My mixer can handle the 8-cup recipe, and my mixer definitely could not handle this dough. Yadda, yadda, yadda… It looks like challah, it feels like challah, but it tastes and smells like banana bread!  The chocolate chips were a great add on (are they ever not?), and I tried a few with walnuts, which were also pretty interesting. I present Banana Chocolate Chip Challah with the “Most suitable challah flavor to be served with Sunday morning brunch” award. Congrats!

Week 20: Blueberry Challah

Test batch - notice the specks

Costco… There’s no better place for challah variation inspiration. Am I right?  Well, no better place for inexpensive inspiration in large quantities, that seems like a good idea to buy, but really will go bad before you can use it all.  And such is my introduction to blueberry challah — the product of new giant bags of fresh-frozen berries in the freezer section at Costco.  They say don’t shop while you’re hungry… The same might be said about shopping on the morning of the test-challah bake. The goal with this one was a blueberry muffin, challah style!  The thing to keep in mind is that a blueberry muffin isn’t blueberry dough with blueberries… it’s normal white/yellow/vanilla dough with blueberries mixed in.  So, don’t expect blueberry challah to be much different. I took a heaping cup of frozen blueberries (actually, three heaping third-cups, since the half- and full-cups were already in use), and added them to the dough with the first cup or two of flour.  As the dough was kneading, the blueberries started to break down, giving the challah that traditional flecked blueberry muffin appearance.  I found that the dough needed at least an extra cup of flour (maybe more than that) and was still a little sticky, thanks to all the juice the frozen blueberries began to leach as they defrosted while kneading.

Final Product. Notice the whole blueberries

When it came time to braid the challahs, I added a few more whole blueberries into the middle — an important step to make it clear that these were real blueberries, and that this is blueberry challah… not purple speckled challah. How did it turn out?  Excellent!  Got rave reviews from many folks!  It wasn’t too berry-y, but every few bites you’d get a whole berry and hear an “Mmmm” from the crowd. Blueberries — winner of the “best mix-in so far” award!

Week 19: Pesto Challah

forgot to take an "after" shot, but here's the pesto dough, post-first rise, after deflation

Pesto… Mmmm… Conjures up images of the good kind of Italian restaurants — the kinds that give a pesto concoction to dip bread into rather than marinara.  The goal this week was to create a challah that would take you back to those magical days before calorie and carb counting were on your radar, and you could actually enjoy a trip to an Italian restaurant (Fettuccine Alfredo Challah would be the appropriate accompaniment on that fantasy). The first challenge I faced was finding pareve (non-dairy) pesto, since we want to keep these challahs as “shabbat dinner-friendly” as possible.  Pesto is expensive enough as it so… Trying to find a Kosher, pareve version would be the financial ruin of this hobby.  So, I did as any resourceful wannabe chef would do —  I looked up a pesto recipe and cut out the cheese.  I made the pesto out of fresh basil, olive oil, garlic and walnuts (pine nuts were also crazy expensive).  Put them all in a cup and took the hand blender to them. Pesto Challah, simply put, is the normal challah recipe with around eight heaping tablespoons of non-dairy, homemade pesto!  That’s it! Such a simple recipe… such simple elegance.  As I ate it, I could picture the Chianti bottle with the candle sticking out the top.  It was like dipping challah in a smooth and rich pesto sauce.  Not overpowering, but also not as understated as some of the other flavors I’ve made.  Non c’è male!

Week 18: Garlic-Rosemary Challah

rosemary sprigs embedded in mini rosemary-garlic challahs

This is the first time that I’ve tested one version of the recipe on Wednesday night, and completely adjusted it for the “Gameday” bake.  Here’s my story: We’ve all had a variation of a garlic-rosemary bread, where you practically dig through the loaf to find the whole cloves of roasted garlic.  That’s what I was aiming for when I started out on Wednesday afternoon.  I put a full head of garlic in the oven to roast (google it and you’ll find instructions).  The house smelled amazing!  When the garlic was done roasting, I squeezed it out of the head and had lots of mushy but delicious garlic to work with.  I made the normal challah recipe, adding a tablespoon of fresh chopped rosemary to the mix, as well as the full head of garlic.  When it was time to braid the challahs, I tried a few different things, ranging from no extra rosemary, to a sprig of it, to an entire rosemary stem baked right into the middle of a loaf.  I wanted to see whether it would add flavor without getting in the way… Yadda yadda yadda, they came out of the oven and not only did the sprigs and stems of rosemary get in the way, but the garlic cloves were gone!  No cloves!  None!  WTF? Round two: I had two issues to deal with.  First, how do I get the garlic cloves to remain intact in the final challah, and second, what do I do about the rosemary sprigs that looked really pretty, but where a real pain in the neck to eat around? To address the garlic issue, rather than roasting the full heads of garlic, sqeezing them out and adding them to the dough as it was being mixed, I peeled the garlic, roasted it (I think I burned it a little… sorry to those who got bitter garlic!) and placed 5-6 cloves of roasted garlic into the center of the loaf as I was braiding it.

whole garlic cloves were delicious treasures at the shabbat dinner table!

Regarding the sprigs — I added a little extra finely chopped rosemary to the dough and then cut back on the rosemary sprigs and stems, using them as a very basic and simple garnish sticking out of the center of the challahs, where they could easily be pulled out and discarded, rather than having to eat around them. The results?  Brilliant!  The cloves were there, just as I was hoping (though, a little burnt, as I mentioned).  The rosemary taste was great, and the sprigs were elegant without being irritating.  Another successful adventure in Challah!

Week 17: Seeded Whole Wheat Challah

seeded whole wheat challah, show beside chocolate chip challahs

Two weeks in a row!  We’re on a roll!  Last week the orange challah turned out better than I ever expected, and this week the whole wheat was simply amazing.  I know I say that a lot… Actually, it’s usually “the results were quite good.”  But, seriously folks, this week’s challah was awesome! A friend suggested I make something to help us stick to our new year’s resolution, and for most of us, the resolution is to eat healthier and lose a little of that baby/winter/holiday/cruise weight we’d been putting on in order to have something to take off in our “The diet starts monday” schemes.  Ironically, although this challah is made with some whole wheat flour and oat bran, Im pretty sure that ounce-to-ounce, it’s got more calories than the plain egg challah.  It’ll help you poop, though.  So that’s something.   But let’s not focus on that.  Let’s focus on the awesomeness of this challah! I replaced three of the eight cups of bread flour with whole wheat flour.  I also added a smidge of oat bran and a smadge of sunflower seeds, plus a smodge of sesame seeds (all of those, ironically, are a “half cup”.  Not sure why there are so many confusing terms for the same thing…). On top, after liberally egg-washing it risen dough, I sprinkled a little more of all three. The results, you ask?  One friend described the bread as “something I could see myself using for a sandwich.”  That’s what I like to hear! I guess… But then he also said he would use it for french toast.  So, not sure how credible he is. The official insider results, you ask?  The bread was the closest to professional that I’ve made yet!  As my friend alluded, it had a certain quality, between the flavor, texture and topping, that made it not only delicious, but better-than-homemade.  Somehow, it was also surprisingly sweet.  Not sure where that came from.  But the bottom line is that for a “healthy” bread, it didn’t taste healthy.  You’ve gotta be a fan of seeds to like the overall flavor, but it’s not the whole-grain/wheat bread that many are turned off by. A++ in my book! Probably going to make it again this week!

Week 16: Orange Challah

Orange challah with raisins

It’s new years eve!  Just as Christmas eve presented a great theme opportunity last week, this week I asked myself, “what makes for a good New Years Eve challah?”  The answer: Something that goes well with champagne! After pondering further, I decided that one of the all-time greatest champagne accompanists is good ‘ole OJ.  Who doesn’t like a mimosa with brunch? The idea was the hard part… The rest came naturally.  Beginning with the usual recipe, I replaced the water with orange juice, added some cinnamon and zested a few Cuties (mandarin oranges).  We didn’t have any normal oranges, and I didn’t have the nerve to scavenge through the neighborhood and “harvest” someone else’s trees. I then thought to myself, “what would make this different from all the other challahs of weeks 1-16 that were the same old recipe with a different juice and spice?” The answer: raisins! As you might recall, we had a brief discussion about dried fruit being the culprit in dried-out challahs.  I decided to try out one of the comments and soak the raisins on orange juice.  After a half hour, the raisins didn’t look very different, but I used them anyway.  One cup of sort-of orange-infused raisins went into the dough. The results were awesome!  One of my favorites so far!  Unlike the cranberry and apple juices, which didn’t add much flavor at all, the combination of orange juice and orange zest gave a solid orange flavor and tangy zip on the back end.  The raisins dried the challah a little (maybe they need a few hours to soak?), but not terribly.  Overall, a very positive outcome! Now, the trouble is, do we call this “orange challah,” “orange jew-lius challah” or “mimosa challah?”

Week 15: Gingerbread Challah

Gingerbread Challah Men

Tonight is Christmas eve.  What better flavor to make for all of us Jews on Christmas eve than something-that-goes-well-with-Chinese-food Challah!  That was actually my original intention for this week.  I posted the question to my Facebook friends, and the top two contenders were sweet and sour challah, and the bold and interesting suggestion of soy-ginger challah (other suggestions were fortune cookie challah, fried rice challah and kung-pao challah).  I took a shot at sweet and sour, and it actually turned out well.  But I’ll get back to that another week. This week’s challah of the week is officially gingerbread!  Yum! The first attempt was on Wednesday, when I made a half batch of gingerbread and a half batch of sweet and sour (but I’ll get back to that another week).  I looked up a gingerbread cookie recipe, and decided that cinnamon, ginger and molasses were the keys.  Oh crap… No molasses in the house and pouring raining outside.  So, no molasses in the first batch.  But brown sugar has molasses, so that’s at least something. Right? I took the usual challah recipe, added a good helping of  ginger (powdered) and cinnamon (also powdered) and replaced the white sugar with brown sugar (plus a little extra… you know… for the molasses).  The results were positive, but not incredible.  They tasted awesome, but were a little on the dense side, and by the next morning, my gingerbread  challah men were more like stones in shapes that vaguely resemble heavy-set humans.  Even my 15-month old son wouldn’t eat them, and normally he’ll eat “lallah” til the cows come home. So, today is Friday. It’s Christmas eve. And if I can’t get the gingerbread challahs right on Christmas eve, then, um, well, let’s just not even think that way… I followed the same recipe as above, but added some molasses (boy does that smell funky), and in a hail mary, last-ditch effort to resolve the denseness issue, I added some mashed potatoes!  Ya! Mashed potatoes!  I just blew your mind, didn’t I?  But I remembered how good the latke challahs were, and that they were still moist and delicious 3 days later… So, I’d be foolish not to add mashed potatoes to gingerbread challah… right…? The results — fluffy and exactly as I was hoping!  The gingerbread challah men are delish, and the cinnamon rolls that I made with the extra dough are a-ma-zing!  We might just have to make this again next week!