Blueberry Cream Cheese Pull Apart Bread

Sometimes, I’ll mess something up in the kitchen. Happens to the best of us. But inevitably each time that I do, after I’ve tossed out the evidence and cleaned up the kitchen and sat down and given myself time to stew/pout/feel sorry for myself, I get this irrepressible urge to get back into the kitchen and make something else–y’know, just to ‘prove’ that the bad dish was just a fluke and that I do in fact have cooking/baking chops.

I know there are at least a few of y’all who can relate to that. It’s okay to admit it. This is a safe space.

Although there are days where things go left, I also have days in the kitchen that turn out the complete opposite, where I make something that is SO GOOD I want to cook and bake again just to replicate all of the deliciousness all over again. That’s kinda why this post is happening today. Something not only went well, it went so fantastic that I just had to have another go at it. That ‘something’ was last week’s recipe of this Chocolate-Cinnamon Pull Apart Bread. That stuff was legit, one of the best loaves of bread I’ve ever made in my life.

Clearly by the post stats, y’all thought it was pretty good too, so thanks for the love.

So, what are we doing here again you might ask? Well, first of all, I just really enjoyed the method of putting it together. Second, maybe chocolate and cinnamon aren’t to your liking (poor unfortunate soul that you are) and you need something a little bit different–here it is. Third, the method is easy and flexible enough to where any number of flavor combinations and ingredients could go into a pull apart loaf. This is just my second attempt at the method to see if this combination was a good one.

Spoiler alert: it is.

Just as I did before, I’m using my go-to Challah recipe for this, as it’s easy to put together with minimal ingredients, and also sturdy enough to stand up to the layering of the dough in the pan later. If you have another recipe for Challah or an enriched bread to use, that’s fine–you COULD also use frozen pre-made bread dough that you thaw for a real shortcut. Just make sure it’s a brand you trust and that you’ve got enough to fill two loaf pans.

Whereas the loaves from last week were spread with softened butter, chocolate and cinnamon, these loaves are spread with a combination of cream cheese, lemon zest, blueberries and white sugar. Just like before, the dough is cut into squares that are stacked together, than layered into a loaf pan. They don’t have to be perfectly arranged. The more imperfect that they are, the more they’ll make pieces good for ‘pulling’ the bread apart into portions.

Like the butter from last week, the cream cheese isn’t here to give the bread a ‘gooey-ness’ on the inside–it’s main function is to keep it nice and soft and fluffy. I love when blueberries bleed through baking–it gives the food a beautiful color as well as the flavor that works so well with the freshness of the lemon zest. I also sprinkled some white sugar on top of the loaf just to give it a layer of crunchy texture.

I knew this was a winner before I even sliced into it. It proofed up HUGE, and browned beautifully in the oven. The smells were divine. And the taste? No words. I wish I could bottle them up and send them through the screen to all of you.

Also, you notice how it seems like photo overkill this week? That’s because during the photoshoot I was so impressed with how gorgeous this thing looked that I couldn’t put my camera down. It was love at first sight. I’m trying to help all of y’all capture that same magical feeling I had. I’m trying to make you drop everything to go and bake this bread. Is it working? Good. Now get to it.

Sharing at this week’s Fiesta Friday #224, co-hosted this week by Diann @ Of Goats and Greens.

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Blueberry Cream Cheese Pull Apart Bread

Recipe Adapted from Food Network Magazine

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Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 8 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

For Filling

  • 6 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries
  • White sugar, for sprinkling

Directions

In a large bowl of a standing mixer, sprinkle yeast over warm water. Sprinkle white sugar on top of that. Allow to sit for 10 minutes until proofed and frothy.

Use the paddle attachment to beat in honey, oil, eggs, and salt. Mix until just combined. Switch to the dough hook and add the flour one cup at a time, beating after each addition, graduating switching to kneading with hands as dough thickens. (You may not need to use all 8 cups, this varies according to location and time of year)

Sprinkle a work surface with flour. Turn the dough out onto it and use your hands to knead until smooth and elastic and no longer sticky, adding flour as needed.  Grease the standing mixer bowl, place dough back inside and cover with plastic wrap and a damp clean cloth. Let rise for 1 1/2 hours or until dough has doubled in bulk.

Meanwhile, grease two 9 x 5 loaf pans and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the cream cheese with the lemon zest and nutmeg in a small bowl.

When the dough has finished rising, turn out onto your floured work surface and punch down the risen dough. Divide in half and keep one half covered in the bowl while you work with the other.

Roll the half out into a 12 inch square. Use a spatula to spread HALF of the cream cheese mixture over the dough. Sprinkle HALF of the white sugar on top of that, then HALF of the blueberries on the sugar, using your fingers to press the blueberries down into the dough. Use a pizza wheel, bench scraper or sharp knife to cut the square into 16 small squares. Make 4 stacks of 4 squares each. Place each stack on its side into one of the greased loaf pans. Gently separate the dough layers so the dough fills the pan (it doesn’t have to be neat). Repeat this step with the other half of dough and the other half of the cream cheese mixture, blueberries and sugar.

Cover both loaves with plastic wrap and damp kitchen towels and allow to rise in warm places until dough rises by half its size, about 1 hour. Just before baking, sprinkle the tops with the white sugar. Bake until loaves are browned & cooked through (195-200 degrees F inner temp), tenting with foil if browning too quickly. Allow to cool in pans for about 15 minutes, then loosen with a knife around the sides. Turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool for about 30 more minutes before serving.

Six Braid Cinnamon Streusel Crunch Challah

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Oh man, you guys.

Oh maaaaaaan.

Where do I even START?

Well, off the bat I guess I can begin with sending a huge apology to all my followers who celebrate Passover. This post is probably the LAST thing you want to see as we approach a holiday that’s supposed to make the leavened stuff off limits.

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But to the rest of us who don’t, just pop a squat and let me chew your ear off about this bread.

THIS.BREAD.

It’s definitely one of the more ambitious undertakings I’ve encountered in the kitchen, but ever since the idea for it popped into my head a few weeks ago, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Still, I was slightly intimidated and paranoid that this would be one thing I couldn’t successfully pull off. After all, the most I’ve ever attempted in challah is three braids that I usually wind into a round and bake in cake pans. This would involve much more labor not just in braiding, but also nailing the outer topping that I wasn’t even sure would work with the texture of the bread.

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So when Easter came around, I decided to put it off and make Pane di Pasqua instead. It turned out beautifully.

But I STILL wanted to try and see if I could pull this off; a six braid challah that I dipped in cinnamon sugar, then sprinkled with a cinnamon streusel on top.

So this past week, I sat down and started planning. I remembered a similar brioche recipe I’d seen done at another food blog and decided that if she could successfully pull it off with brioche (a more temperamental dough by far), then I could almost definitely be able to make this work with challah, particularly the laid back/fail-proof/go-to recipe I’ve been using for the past four years or so.

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I did decide to make one key revision to that recipe though, and I have to say it was a random decision that REALLY made all the difference. I swapped out one cup of all  purpose flour in the dough for one cup of whole wheat flour. This was a wonderful idea, as it gave a distinct but subtle earthy nuttiness to the dough that complemented perfectly with  all the sweetness you’re gonna get from the ‘rest’ of it.

And ohhh, the rest of it.

If challah can be improved at all, then it’s got to be when you dip it in cinnamon sugar and sprinkle it with a buttery cinnamon streusel topping. The chewiness of the bread combined with the crunch of the pecan streusel is a mouthgasm of epic proportions.

And when you just HAVE to eat it warm/hot because you just can’t wait any longer for it to cool down after taking it out the oven? Guys.

You.will.DIE.

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I know it may seem like an overload to make this a six braid challah, but in retrospect I can’t see making it any other way. The thing is, the more braids there are, the more of the cinnamon sugar coating that gets wound into the center of the loaf itself. Check out the layering on the inside; you can’t get that with just three braids. You gotta put in the extra work to get all that goodness.

And yes,I know six braids is daunting. It was for me too at first. But as I instruct in the recipe, a simple google search can be your best friend in getting those six braids wound together all nice and pretty.

Just make sure you find the how-to pic/video and have it handy BEFORE you get your hands smeared  messy with melted butter and cinnamon sugar. (Don’t ask why I’m telling you that. It’s not relevant.)

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There is one thing I have to put out there: this recipe yields two HUGE loaves of challah. You will have two HUGE six braid cinnamon streusel crunch challahs on your hands by the time you finish. Just let that sink in. ‘Cause that’s a lot of bread. 

I also refuse to be held responsible for what should happen if you don’t feel the imperative to share the wealth with some friends/family. I know I did. Because I’m not stingy. And because I still want to fit in my jeans.

I’ll leave you with one last thought just in case you weren’t completely sold on making this bread for yourself: Cinnamon Streusel Crunch Challah French Toast

*DEAD*

Aaaaand how about one more time with a full-body shot?

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It came to me. My own. My love.

Myyyyyyy preciousssssssssss.

Follow the heavenly smells and bread crumbs I’m leaving behind me to the Fiesta Friday #115 party where we’re being hosted by  Julie @ Hostess At Heart and Ashley @ Too Zesty.

Six Braid Cinnamon Streusel Crunch Challah

Recipe Adapted from Allrecipes.com and Half Baked Harvest

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Ingredients

For Challah

  •  2 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 7 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour

For Cinnamon Sugar Coating

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 4 tsp cinnamon

For Streusel

  • 1 1/2 cups white all purpose flour
  • About 1/4 cup of crushed pecans
  • 1/4 tsp table salt

Directions

Mix the all purpose and whole wheat flour together in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, sprinkle yeast over barely warm water. Add 1 tsp of white sugar and let it stand for about 10 minutes until yeast is proofed and puffy.

Beat honey, oil, the 2 eggs, and salt into the yeast mixture. Add the flour one cup at a time, beating after each addition, graduating to kneading with hands as dough thickens.

Knead until smooth and elastic and no longer sticky, adding flour as needed. Cover with a damp clean cloth and let rise for 1 1/2 hours or until dough has doubled in bulk. Towards the end of the rising period, make the cinnamon sugar coating: pour the melted butter and vanilla extract in a shallow dish. Mix the brown sugar and cinnamon together in a shallow dish as well.

Punch down the risen dough and turn out onto floured board. Divide in half and knead each half for five minutes or so, adding flour as needed to keep from getting sticky.

Divide each half into six pieces and roll into long snake about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Using a pastry brush, brush the melted vanilla-butter over both sides of the ropes. (You can also just dip it in the butter if you don’t have a pastry brush, just try and shake off the excess.) Then using your fingers, sprinkle the brown sugar mixture thoroughly over the ropes until they have a good coating. Don’t be shy with it, this is gonna get a little messy. Save the leftover melted butter and brown sugar as well- you’ll use it later.

Pinch the ends of the six snakes together firmly and braid from middle. You can google ‘Six Strand Challah Braid’ as I did and find MANY resources that will help you through this process.

Grease two baking trays and place finished braid on each. Cover with plastic wrap, then a damp kitchen towel and let rise about one hour.

To Prepare the streusel: pour the melted butter into the brown sugar and add the all purpose flour, salt and pecans. Stir with a fork until it forms small clumps. Let it sit for about 30 minutes until firm; you may also want to refrigerate it for about 15 minutes depending on how long you let your braids rise.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Take your braids and lightly spray them with a coating of PAM baking spray. Gently sprinkle and press the streusel into the top of the challah braids until there is a generous coating over each.

(Note: you ARE probably going to have leftover streusel. Don’t throw it away! After your bread is done baking, simply spread the leftover streusel out on a parchment lined sheet pan and bake it on its own in the oven for about 10-15 minutes until golden brown. Use the excess to sprinkle on top of ice cream or yogurt; or you could just eat it all on it’s own.)

Bake the challah loaves at 375 degrees F for about 40 minutes. Inner temp should be 195 F-200 F and the bread should have a nice hollow sound when thumped on the bottom. Cool on a rack for at least one hour before slicing.

Harvest Apple Challah

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Sometimes life is just made up of everyday annoyances, irritations, unfortunate circumstances and overall ‘sucky-‘ things.

It snowed earlier this week in Michigan.

End of April. We got snow.

I’m sorry to say that round here,  that’s nothing new. My senior year of high school, we got a full blown snow storm on Easter Sunday. I still remember going out to shovel the sidewalk in blowing snow when we got home from church.

It sucked.

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Oftentimes I can shrug off suck-y things as exactly that: suck-y things. For example:

Snow in April.

Random, unexpected and extremely inconvenient cooking fails (when I specifically planned on doing a photo shoot for the blog that day).

My paycheck doesn’t have a few extra zeros at the end.

Sucks.

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I’ve never been to Europe.

Stephanie Meyer is a gazillionaire and a bestselling ‘author’, and I’m…not either of those things.

Chris Evans hasn’t figured out that we’re meant to be together and proposed to me.

I don’t have the thighs of a Victoria Secret Model.

Sucks.

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But for every one of the daily, inconvenient ‘suck-y’ circumstances of every day life, I bet we all can think of just as many (if not more) convenient, not suck-y circumstances that make up for all that. I certainly can.

For one: challah. Challah is one of my all-time favorite things ever, period. It’s beautiful. It’s delicious. It’s the best.

Challah can make up for a lot of those daily suck-y things.

(Except maybe the one about Chris Evans. That still smarts pretty bad no matter what.)

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Somehow, I always end up baking challah around this time of year. Last year, I went all out and made regular Challah and a Vanilla Bean Challah. This year, I still wanted to try and make a twist on the original so I decided to go with this recipe for Challah stuffed with apples.

Challah itself can be a labor of love if you’re keen on twisting the dough into elaborate shapes. Or if you’re like me, and still has to Google EVERY SINGLE TIME how to correctly braid the dough no matter how many times I’ve made this bread before. This apple challah is, I will admit, somewhat more  labor intensive.

However, it’s worth it. More than worth it.

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As you guys can see, this dough is as soft, fluffy and moist as a bread dough can get. The fat challah rolls pull apart at the slightest tug, letting the tender apple chunks fall out into your hands. Best of all, the filling leaks out ever so little so that the bottom of the dough has a thin layer of syrupy brown sugar goo. And of course, there’s the trademark challah golden brown crust on top that is ever so ‘thunk-able’ with your fingers so that you know for sure that you’ve done it right.

So.much.yum.

Definitely does not suck.

If I had to critique one thing about this recipe, it’s that I had way too much dough to try and stuff into a 9 inch cake pan. Mine wasn’t wide or tall enough by far, so I opted for one of deep, oval casserole pans instead. I think it gave me a much bigger rise for my dough anyway, so that was totally cool with me.

Cheers, guys!

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Harvest Apple Challah

Recipe Courtesy of King Arthur Flour

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Ingredients

For Dough

  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast

For Apple Filling

  • 2 medium-to-large apples, NOT peeled; cored and diced in ¾” chunks
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  •  ¼ cup granulated sugar

Glaze

  • 1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • coarse white sugar, optional

 Directions

1) Pour water in a small bowl; add yeast and 1 tsp. white sugar. Allow to sit for 10 minutes, until proofed and foamy at the surface.

2) Pour yeast mixture into a stand mixer and add vegetable oil, honey, eggs and salt, stirring well to combine. Using dough hook add the flour, 1 cup at  a time until dough is smooth and elastic.

3) Allow the dough to rise, covered, for 2 hours, or until it’s puffy and nearly doubled in bulk.

4) Lightly grease a 9″ round cake pan that’s at least 2″ deep, or grease a 9″ or 10″ springform pan.  Toss the apple chunks with the sugar and cinnamon. Gently deflate the dough, transfer it to a lightly greased work surface, and flatten it into a rough rectangle, about 8″ x 10″.

5) Spread half the apple chunks in the center of the dough. Fold a short edge of the dough over the apple to cover it, patting firmly to seal the apples and spread the dough a bit.  Spread the remaining apple atop the folded-over dough. Cover the apples with the other side of the dough, again patting firmly. Basically, you’ve folded the dough like a letter, enclosing the apples inside. Take a bench knife or a knife, or even a pair of scissors, and cut the apple-filled dough into 16 pieces. Cut in half, then each half in halves, etc.  Lay the dough chunks into the pan; crowd them so that they all fit in a single layer (barely). Lots of apple chunks will fall out during this process; just tuck them in among the dough pieces, or simply spread them on top. Cover the challah gently with lightly greased plastic wrap or a proof cover, and allow it to rise for about 1 hour, until it’s a generous 2″ high. It should just crest the rim of a 9″ round cake pan. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 325°F.

6) Whisk together the egg and 1 tablespoon water. Brush the dough with the egg mixture, and sprinkle heavily with the coarse sugar, if desired. If you’re going to drizzle with honey before serving, omit the sugar. Place the bread in the lower third of the oven. Bake it for 55 minutes, or until the top is at least light brown all over, with no white spots. Remove the challah from the oven, and after 5 minutes loosen the edges and carefully transfer it to a rack.

Coconut-Almond French Toast Casserole

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Happy Easter everyone! I’m a Christian, so today I’m celebrating Resurrection Sunday (Jesus Christ’s resurrection), but if you’re not a Christian and just celebrate ‘Easter Bunny Easter’, or if you’re a Jewish and celebrating Passover, then I wish you a happy holiday with your friends and family. True to Cooking is My Sport fashion, I’m sharing some trivia with you guys:

  1.  The name, “Easter” comes from a goddess: Her name is Eostre and She was the Mother Goddess of the Saxons of Northern Europe. She was, according to Grimm (yes, one of those Grimms), “goddess of the growing light of spring.” 
  2. Hot cross buns come from the wheat cakes that were baked in honor of Eostre. As part of the adoption of traditions, Christians added the cross on the top and had the cakes blessed by the Church. In England, it was believed that hanging a hot cross bun in the house would protect it from fire and bring good luck for the coming year.
  3.  Easter eggs once acted as birth certificates. During the 19th century, when many families were unable to get to the closest town hall to file a birth certificate, an egg would be accepted as a method of identification. The egg would be dyed and inscribed with the person’s name and birth date. It was completely legal and accepted by courts and other authorities

Source

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Besides the Easter holiday, today also  marks the final day of the Challah bread series we’ve been doing this week. You guys finally get to find out what I did with the three loaves of braided Traditional Challah and the Vanilla Bean Challah that I made (y’know, besides just eat it warm and slathered with butter). This time, instead of finding another way of doing Challah, I wanted to use it as a main ingredient in another dish. I went with a recipe that my twin sister has been asking me to make for a while now that she saw on the Food Network.

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I love this recipe for so many reasons- not least of which is how awesome it tastes, which I’ll get to in a minute. What I really liked about it was that it let find a use for the ‘end’ pieces of the challah loaves. Don’t look at me like that. I know I’m not the only one that usually ends up throwing them out. Let’s face it: no one really wants them-until now that is. At first I was concerned that only 9 slices of bread wouldn’t be enough to make a substantial casserole. I was also worried that they would be overly soaked and ultimately soggy from the egg custard.  Fortunately, I was surprised. The bread puffed up really well when baked. Challah’s a pretty sturdy bread, so it was more than able to stand up to the egg mixture. I will say this though: if you’re using plain old Texas Toast bread, then I would think about bumping it up maybe two or three slices, as it’s much softer than Challah. It also doesn’t taste near as good, but you guys knew that already, right?

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Okay, now to the good part: what does it taste like? Well first of all, what really (and I mean REALLY) sets this dish apart from any normal overnight French Toast Bake is the Coconut Almond Crust that’s baked on top of it. It’s like a crunchy, sugary almost candied carmelized effect that is doubly awesome when contrasted with the soft texture of the baked challah. If you’re not entirely convinced, then let me say up front that I’m not even a fan of coconut at all. I don’t care for the texture or overall flavor…and I STILL couldn’t imagine eating this dish without the coconut almond crust. It’s that good.

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As you can see, I sprinkled powdered sugar on top of mine and added some berries and syrup, but my mom and sister said that they thought it was good enough to eat all on its own. If you’re looking for an easy dish to make for breakfast or brunch guests that will still knock their socks off, this is the one to try. Or maybe you’re like me and baked a crap load of Challah or other sturdy bread that you have to do something with to avoid letting it spoil. Make this. You won’t regret it.

And I guess that does it for the Challah Series. Until I find another one to try. Then it’ll probably get a reboot. Don’t put it past me.

Challah- 3 Ways

Traditional Challah

Sweet Vanilla Bean Challah

Coconut-Almond French Toast Casserole {Challah}

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Coconut-Almond French Toast Casserole

Recipe Courtesy of FoodNetwork.com

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • Unsalted butter, for greasing dish
  • 9 slices Texas Toast or other thick-sliced bread
  • 6 large eggs
  • 3 1/2 cups half-and-half
  • 5 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt

         Coconut-Almond Crust:

  • 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons sweetened coconut flakes
  • 1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 5 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Pinch salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 300°. Lightly butter a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish.

2. For the French toast: Lay the bread slices in one layer (it’s OK if they overlap a little) on a baking sheet. Bake the slices (to dry them out a little) for 6 minutes, then flip and bake for 6 minutes more. Set aside to cool.

3. Whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, granulated sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Dunk each bread slice in the egg mixture to coat thoroughly and shingle the slices in the buttered casserole dish. Pour any remaining egg mixture over the bread. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.

4. For the coconut-almond crust: Put 1/2 cup of the coconut, 1/3 cup of the almonds, granulated sugar, flour and salt in a food processor and process until very fine. Add the butter, egg and egg yolk and process well to form a smooth paste.

5. To assemble the casserole: Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread the coconut-almond mixture evenly over the soaked bread slices. Top with the remaining 1/4 cup sliced almonds and 3 tablespoons coconut and bake until puffed and lightly golden and the custard is set (the center of the casserole will no longer jiggle when shaken), 45 to 50 minutes.

6. Allow to cool for 1 hour before serving, or serve at room temperature. Serve with a sprinkling of powdered sugar and berries if using.

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Vanilla Bean Challah

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There are some things that simply cannot be improved upon- so far as I’m concerned anyway.

Buttermilk pancakes drowning in syrup for breakfast (and lunch….and dinner if desired). There’s no improving on that.

Ella Fitzgerald playing  in my kitchen on an early, sunny morning like this one. Top that if you can (you won’t, trust me).

The Jenifer Ehle & Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice movie. Perfection itself.

Days off work, Coldstone ice cream, the entire Christmas season, classic musicals, the book Forever Amber, my baby niece’s smile- these are all things that I’m convinced cannot be improved because they’ve simply reached that level of perfection that can’t be topped or duplicated.

And now I think I’m starting to sound like Maria von Trapp listing off my favorite things, so yeah… moving on.

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Challah’s one of those things that I didn’t think it was possible to improve upon. After the success I had with my first, traditional Challah recipe, I was at first content to add it to my recipe box as a staple recipe and just move on. But then, I started thinking: could it actually be bumped up to another level? What if it were just a tad bit sweeter than the original? And what if I found a way to add one of my all time favorite flavors to it? (Vanilla)

All of these questions ultimately led to me making another Challah recipe, this time more sweeter and with the addition of Vanilla. Why I decided to make another six braid loaf of Challah when I already had two others sitting in my kitchen is a mystery even to me. Don’t worry though: none of it went to waste. Tomorrow’s recipe will prove it.

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Traditional Challah on the left, Vanilla Bean Challah on the right; which one do you guys think is prettier?

So I know that I had mentioned before in one of my previous posts that I’m kinda sorta maybe a cheap skate when it comes to buying what Ina Garten calls “good ingredients”. No shame in my game, guys. I’m the kind of cook that is willing to make due with the generic non-name brand products in the grocery store. I hunt for deals 95% of the time and pass on the full prices…mostly. Depending on my mood and my desire to try a particular recipe, there are occasions where I’m willing to bite the bullet and buy the pricier ingredients. This was one of those cases. I just couldn’t see a way around it; I had to use the real thing. So I went ahead and bought a vial containing 2 vanilla beans. I even included it in the pictures in case you guys didn’t believe me. So let’s give a cheer for Jess…and for her wallet.

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Turns out, challah IS one of those things that can be improved upon. Because this stuff is friggin fantastic. I’m really proud of how it turned out, considering that I did the one baking method that I’m throwing super shade at right now: baking bread on a sheet pan. I just really wanted to make a long, braided loaf of challah like the ones I see in cookbooks and magazines and using the sheet pan was the only way it would work. This required me to let the dough rise for a much MUCH longer time than the recipe called for…like an extra hour longer. On both the first and second rise. Yeah, I was determined that this stuff was going to work out. The sheet pan would NOT beat me this time. And I really don’t think that it did- the look, taste and texture of this bread is proof of that.

Another plus to this was that I was left with an empty vanilla bean that I remembered  Ina Garten giving me a useful tip with which to use it for. I filled a medium sized jar with sugar and placed the vanilla bean inside of it. Two days later, I opened the jar and smelled with a smile: I know have about 2 cups of Vanilla Sugar to plan a recipe around. Win.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s last recipe in our Challah Series.

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Vanilla Bean Challah

Recipe Courtesy of Alwaysorderdessert.com

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

 (Makes one large braided loaf)

Ingredients

  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup sugar or agave syrup + 1 teaspoon sugar for the yeast proofing
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for greasing the rising bowl
  • 2 large eggs + 1 large egg for the egg wash
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 whole vanilla bean
  • 4 to 4.5 cups all purpose flour

 Directions

1. In a large bowl, proof your yeast by whisking with 1 teaspoon of sugar in 1 cup of lukewarm water. Set aside and let sit until the yeast starts to foam. Once it has foamed, pour into the base of an electric mixer and used the whisk attachment to mix in the olive oil, the two eggs (one at a time), sugar, and salt.

2. Split the vanilla bean and scrape all the seed into the mixer. Switch to the dough hook and slowly add the flour, one cup at a time until it comes together and pulls away from the sides. Allow to knead in the mixer until smooth. (About 5 minutes.) If the dough seems too wet, add a little more flour, ¼ cup at a time.

3. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and roll into a ball. Grease a large bowl well with olive oil and place the dough ball in. Turn once to cover the top and cover with plastic wrap.

4. Place in a warm place to rise for an hour or until doubled in size. (I use my turned-off oven as the heat from the pilot light is perfect temperature.) Use your fingers to gently poke the air out of the dough, roll back into a ball, grease, cover and let rise again for another 30-45 minutes.

5. Once the dough has finished the second rise, roll out onto a floured surface and gently knead into a smooth ball. Cut into six equal size balls and roll each one into a tapered snake shape, about 10 inches long each. Arrange the six rolls next to each other in a row and pinch the ends together. To braid, start from the right and go over two, under one, and over two. Tuck in closer and repeat again with the right-most piece of dough repeating until the entire loaf is braided. Set on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

6. Beat the last egg and use a pasty brush to lightly brush over the loaf. Let rise for another hour.

7. When you are ready to bake, preheat your oven to 375 degrees (if you are rising the dough in the oven please be sure to remove it first).

8. Once the oven is ready, brush the loaf again with egg wash and place in the oven to bake for 30-40 minutes or until the top is glossy and golden brown.

9. Cool on a rack and serve.

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Challah

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I’ve noticed that just about every blog I’m following has been making hot cross buns for the Easter bread. that’s cool, I’m loving everything that I’m seeing since I’ve always wanted to make hot cross buns. However, since I’m always the last one to the ‘party’ and it takes me forever to catch onto trends, I decided a while ago that this week on Cooking is My Sport would be centered around another particular recipe/ingredient. It happens to be challah. Which probably means I’ll be making Hot Cross Buns around…oh, probably the Fourth of July. Because that’s just how I am.

I’m sure most foodies already know about it, but for the ‘general’ and likely Non-Jewish reader, I can give an explanation of what it is. Challah is a traditional, braided Jewish egg bread. It’s hollow on the outer top, and light and fluffy on the inside. It’s not as soft and moist as say, brioche. But it’s also not as dense as French bread either. Challah’s religious significance can be found in the way the dough is  split into two rounds, then each round is rolled into 6 identical strands that are then braided together. The six strands in each loaf represent the 12 tribes of Israel referenced in the Torah/first five chapters of the Bible.  During the meals of the Sabbath- 2 loaves of bread are supposed to be served at the beginning of every meal- thus the 2 loaves of challah. I could go on a little bit deeper, but that’s the basic Judaic symbolism behind challah.

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Around the Foodie community, Challah is a recipe that I typically see pop up around this time of year, close to Easter. I actually find this to be pretty ironic/funny, considering that this type of year is also near the Jewish holiday of the Passover. During Passover, unleavened bread is typically eaten (like matzo). Challah, of course, has plenty of leavening agents. But whatever; I’m a non-denominational Christian, so Passover’s not something I celebrate anyway. I made this bread last year at Easter with surprisingly great results for my first time. I knew I wanted to do it again this year, but just bump things up a notch.

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So what you guys will be seeing for this, and the next two posts for this week is basically Challah done 3 ways: Regular Challah, a Sweet Challah, and a third recipe with Challah as a main ingredient…because I had to find some way to use all of the above challah up. Today I’m showing you the traditional Challah recipe that I first made about this time last year.

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Typically, challah is made as a long, braided loaf and baked on a sheet pan. If you guys read my Cornmeal Dinner Rolls post, then you know how I’m currently feeling about baking yeast breads on sheet pans. Long story short: I’m having ‘technical difficulties’ with that method. And although I did suck it up and do it for my sweet challah variation that I’ll be posting later this week, for my traditional Challah, I decided against it, and did something else. I still used the braiding method for both loaves, but one I braided and tucked into a round circle and placed into one of my 9 inch cake pans, while the other I braided and placed into one of my loaf pans that I usually use for quick breads. I was very pleased with the results. The loaves rose beautifully (take THAT sheet pans), and the bread turned out so fluffy and tender on the inside. My favorite part about challah? That hollow sound it makes when you thump on the shiny, egg glazed top of the loaves that tells you it’s done. It makes me feel like a huge Baking Boss.

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Challah

(Makes 2 braided loaves)

Recipe Courtesy of Allrecipes.com

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  •  2 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 8 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

 Directions

1. In a large bowl, sprinkle yeast over barely warm water.

2. Beat in honey, oil, 2 eggs, and salt. Add the flour one cup at a time, beating after each addition, graduating to kneading with hands as dough thickens.

3. Knead until smooth and elastic and no longer sticky, adding flour as needed. Cover with a damp clean cloth and let rise for 1 1/2 hours or until dough has doubled in bulk.

4. Punch down the risen dough and turn out onto floured board. Divide in half and knead each half for five minutes or so, adding flour as needed to keep from getting sticky. Divide each half into thirds and roll into long snake about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Pinch the ends of the three snakes together firmly and braid from middle. Either leave as braid or form into a round braided loaf by bringing ends together, curving braid into a circle, pinch ends together. Grease two baking trays and place finished braid or round on each. Cover with towel and let rise about one hour.

5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).Beat the remaining egg and brush a generous amount over each braid.

6. Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for about 40 minutes. Bread should have a nice hollow sound when thumped on the bottom. Cool on a rack for at least one hour before slicing.

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