Berry Crisp Ham and Black Pepper Biscuits

I think that this may be the first time ever that I’ve been away from my mom on Mother’s Day. It’s certainly the first time I’ve been over two thousand miles away. Feels weird. I miss her. I wish I was back in the Mitten sometimes, but especially times like now so that I could cook my mom a good meal as a way of showing her that I do love and appreciate her.

For any of my followers that are also far away from their moms on Sunday,  if your mother has passed away, or if you just don’t have the kind of relationship with your mom that you’d like to and the holiday is difficult for you–I’m sorry for that. I hope you can find a silver lining to the day.

Food has never failed to be one for me, so let’s focus on that for the moment.

Today’s recipe was actually the meal that I made for us on Easter. However, I thought it would work this week just as well. It also piggy-backs on last week’s where I shared the second best biscuit recipe I’ve ever had or made. I do hope some of you were able to give it a try like we both know you wanted to. But if you’re STILL dragging your feet and putting it off, maybe this week’s recipe & pictures will finally put the boot in your rear and make you just do it already.

Bargain shoppers know that the closer you get to major holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, the better price you can get for the huge ‘roast’ style cuts of meat like whole turkeys and hams in grocery stores. We haven’t had ham since Christmas and since we do enjoy it,  I knew for sure that I was going to wait until the last minute to buy an inexpensive one to make for Easter dinner. I just wasn’t sure of how and with what else to serve it with.

It didn’t take very long before I made up my mind. I’d been craving breakfast for dinner for a while. Since it’s just the three of us all the way out here I thought that that would be a simple, yet delicious celebratory meal: Easter Brinner.

I for one, just couldn’t imagine having a real ham brinner without the biscuits. So, I didn’t try. I cooked a ham and a batch of the newfound biscuit recipe that I was still swooning over and still wanting more of after they were gone–with some modifications that in my opinion, made it even better.

First off, I loveloveLOVE this ham. The rub I put together is sweet, zesty and with just the right amount of aromatic ‘kick’ from the cloves and nutmeg. It pairs just right with the berry glaze that gets brushed over the ham while it warms up and causes it to form that dark, bark-like, sugary crust on the outside. Using a standard/spiral ham is also pretty impossible to mess up as the thing is already cooked in the first place. So long as you don’t dry it out, which if you follow the baking time, is extremely difficult to do, it should turn out great.

The first time I made these biscuits, I left them plain, without any major seasonings added to the dough outside of some sugar and a tiny bit of salt. They were definitely delicious enough on their own. However, for Easter I did want to try and mix things up and see if they could be improved upon. I was right. They could. Best part was, the only changes I made from the original was the addition of 2 ingredients: black pepper and bacon drippings.

Just two simple ingredients and WHOA. They really did elevate the biscuits in not only flavor but the appearance. Although it’s definitely visibly flecked throughout the dough, the pepper isn’t overwhelming. Promise, it really isn’t: so do use the whole tablespoon. The biscuits also browned more evenly across the top and bottom and the layers were more pronounced than they were the first time I made them. The edges became perfectly crisp while the inside stayed light and fluffy. This  is just how biscuits ought to be.

See this?

Black pepper biscuit, sliced in half. Ham. A fried egg cooked just to where the egg white has set and the yolk is still runny. Smear both sides with the ham glaze. Smash it all together into one. This kids, is the best breakfast sandwich that I’ve ever had, bar none. And it was my Easter Brinner. (Actually, I loved it so much that I ended up having two, but mind your business).

I only wish I was back home so I could make this meal for my mom. I kinda think she’d be pleased with it.

Happy Mother’s Day and Fiesta Friday #171, where I’ll be linking this post up to.

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Berry Crisp Ham and Black Pepper Biscuits

Recipe Adapted from Better Homes & Gardens & King Arthur Flour

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Ingredients

For Ham

  • 8 lb. cooked ham, liquid reserved
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • About 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup seedless raspberry jam
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries
  • 1/2 cup honey

For Biscuits

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 4 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, frozen, plus more for brushing
  • 1 tablespoon bacon fat/drippings (solid or liquid, doesn’t matter)
  • 1 cup buttermilk, plus more if necessary

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small bowl, combine the light brown sugar, cinnamon, coriander, ground cloves, and nutmeg.

Place the ham in a large roasting pan. Using a sharp knife, score the outer skin in crisscross pattern, being careful not to pierce the actual meat. Rub the spice mixture evenly over the skin with your hands. (It may get messy, and it may not all stick to the ham. That’s fine. The excess will form a syrupy sauce in the bottom of the pan as it cooks;  yum.) Pour the chicken broth in the bottom of the pan. Cover with aluminum foil and bake on the bottom rack for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until heated through (inner temp should be near 140 degrees F.)

Meanwhile, pour reserved ham liquid, OJ, jam, berries and honey in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and allow to cook for about 15-20 more minutes until syrupy, stirring occasionally. Take off the heat, and brush some of the glaze over the ham as it cooks.

Remove the cover from the roasting pan and crank oven up to 425 F. Allow ham to cook for about 20-35 more minutes until the skin gets crispy, brushing/basting with a bit more of the glaze. Remove from the oven, cover with foil again and allow to stand for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving with the extra glaze.

For Biscuits: Keep oven at 425 Degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, pepper and sugar with a fork.

Using the large holes on a box grater, grate the butter into the dry ingredients and stir a few times to combine. Make a well in the center of the bowl. Add the bacon fat and pour the buttermilk into the well and use a large rubber spatula to stir the mixture together. If it seems a little dry you may add additional buttermilk until it forms a shaggy dough.

Sprinkle a pastry mat, wooden cutting board or wax paper with flour. Turn the dough out onto the surface and pat a few times with your hands until it loosely holds together. (Don’t knead it too much or the warmth in your palms will melt the butter and cause the biscuits to be tough.)

Pat and roll the dough into a rectangle. Take the two opposite ends and fold them together like a business letter into thirds. Flip it upside down and pat & roll it into another rectangle, sprinkling the surface with flour if it gets too sticky. Repeat the folding process two to three more times before patting it into one final rectangle.

Use a bench scraper or very sharp knife to divide the rectangle in half, then divide the halves into thirds or fourths squares (depending on what size biscuits you want).

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and place the cut biscuits on it. Freeze them for about 30 minutes. In the meantime, fill a shallow pan with water and place it on the bottom rack of the oven.

Brush the biscuits with melted butter, then bake in the oven on the middle rack for about 15-20 minutes, until they’re golden brown on top. Remove from oven to a wire rack.

Hot Cross Bun Cinna-Swirl Loaf

Hot Cross Bun Cinna-Swirl Loaf2

Easter Sunday’s in a couple of days. When I was growing up, it was a huge to-do. Me and my sisters all got brand spanking new dresses (most of which were pretty ugly because, 90’s kids fashion) and shoes. I had a great mom who usually made sure we also got Easter gift baskets to wake up to. We’d go to church, where the services were specially centered around the Resurrection.  Then it was back to my grandparents’, or a restaurant where there was a nice brunch or dinner that would give us all food comas for the rest of the day and evening.

Nowadays, things are much… quieter. But if there’s still something I do try to keep going for myself at Easter, it’s good food. That, you never grow out of.

Making Easter bread is something that’s become somewhat of a yearly tradition for me. I do it because there are quite a lot of different types from various cultures and places to try. I do it test and improve my bread making skills. I do it because most of them are really yummy and not too difficult to pull off. I do it because I like it.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve always had a ‘thing’ for hot cross buns ever since I was a kid and heard about them for the first time in a British nursery rhyme. They just looked yummy in the picture and for years, I always wondered what one would taste like. I recently read a comment on another food blog that called them the first and earliest ‘food fad’, which I thought was funny.

It was two years ago I think, when I took my first shot at making Hot Cross Buns for myself. Mine had a slight twist on the original with the addition of chamomile tea to the dough, which gave them a delicious flavor. I decided then and there that it wouldn’t be the last of my hot cross bun baking. This HAD to happen again.

I briefly considered just making plain Hot Cross Buns, but then I noticed a recipe on Williams-Sonoma’s blog that looked very intriguing; Hot Cross Buns translated into a a single loaf of bread.

I don’t know what it is about me, but I have trouble sticking to the ‘script’ of a recipe if I feel comfortable with it. I just can’t leave well enough alone. The original recipe just called for a single rectangle of dough to be rolled up then placed in the loaf pan and baked off to form one swirl.

Yeah, I know. I didn’t do that.

Look guys, I know it looks complicated, but it isn’t. Really.

I started with the one cylinder, then randomly took my bench scraper and split it in half. I then used it to split THOSE halves in half. Then, I just arranged the individual cylinders side by side in the loaf pan with the cut side facing the pan. That’s it. You let the loaves rise and get puffy, then bake them off where they actually rise and get even MORE puffy. Then by the time they’re done and cooled off, BAM. You’ve got a loaf of bread that not only smells amazing, it’ll have everyone you share it with scratching their heads wondering how the heck you pulled this off.

(Which never fails to be great feeling by the way.)

Now, let’s get down to taste. I added a cup of whole wheat flour to the dough, which gives it that hearty, nutty flavor that I personally love. Cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg give it an ‘umph’ of warm comforting spice that will make your kitchen smell like a bakery. The sweetness of the dough’s cinnamon brown sugar filling is also very well balanced from the tartness of the cherries and/or currants and the orange zest. You don’t have to add the icing, but come on: why WOULDN’T you add it? Icing is one of life’s pleasures and don’t you try and say it’s not; no one believes you.

There are so many ways you could eat & enjoy this bread. Plain and all on it’s own. Toasted & smeared with butter & jam. Sliced very thick and used for FRENCH FRIGGIN TOAST. You could even use the leftovers (should there even be any because, I mean, come ON)  as the base for a delicious bread pudding.

Quite simply guys, this bread hits allllll the right spots. Find out which one is yours, asap.

Happy Easter, Resurrection Sunday, Passover & Fiesta Friday #167.

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Hot Cross Bun Cinna-Swirl Loaf

Recipe Adapted from Williams-Sonoma

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Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup dried cherries or currants
  • 1 tablespoons finely grated orange zest

Filling

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar, tightly packed
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon water

Icing

  • 1 cup powdered/confectioner’s sugar
  • A few tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

 

Directions

In a small saucepan melt the butter over low heat. Add the whole milk and white sugar and heat to 110°. Pour this into the bowl of a standing mixer. Sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for about 10-20 minutes, until mixture is frothy and proved.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl combine the flours, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and salt. After yeast mixture is ready, add the dry ingredients to the mixer bowl, and combine using the dough attachment, about one cup at a time.

Add the eggs, cherries and orange zest and continue to allow to mix/knead on medium for about 10 minutes until dough pulls away from the side of the bowl and is smooth. Grease the bottom of the bowl, place dough back inside. Cover with plastic wrap & a damp towel and set in a warm place to rise for 90 minutes to 2 hours. Meanwhile, spray two 9 x 5 loaf pans with cooking spray and line with one wide strip of parchment paper or aluminum foil each; spray the paper/foil as well.

Sprinkle a small amount of flour or powdered sugar on a clean surface. Punch down the dough and divide in half. Keep the other half covered with the plastic wrap while you work with the first. Flour a rolling pin & roll out the half to an 8  1/2 inch rectangle.

Combine the softened butter, light brown sugar and ground cinnamon together in a small bowl and mash with a fork. Divide the mixture in half.

Using a spatula & your fingers, spread and press the half of the sugar mixture over the dough evenly. Starting from the short end, roll the rectangle into a cylinder as tightly as you can, pressing the seam securely to seal. Using a sharp knife or a bench scraper, divide the cylinder in half, then divide each half into four rolls. Place the rolls, cut side up in the bottom of the loaf pan in two rows of four. Repeat the above process with the other half of dough. Cover both pans with plastic wrap and a damp towel. Let rise in a warm place until rise and puffy, 60-90 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350. Place a shallow pan of water on floor or bottom rack of the oven. In a small bowl, combine the beaten egg and the water. Using a pastry brush, brush the mixture over both loaves. Place in the oven and bake for about 35 minutes, covering with foil if browning too quickly on top, until inner temp of the loaves reaches 195°-200°.  Allow to cool in pan for about 5 minutes, then use the sides of the parchment paper or foil to lift out of the pan. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, for about one hour.

Combine the powdered sugar with the milk and vanilla until slightly thick. Use a fork to drizzle the icing over the top of the loaves. Allow to set for about another hour before slicing thick and serving with butter or jam.

Pane di Pasqua {Italian Easter Bread}

Pane di Pasqua9

Much like I do every year around Easter, I’ve spent the last few weeks expecting and even somewhat planning to make either challah or hot cross buns. This has always been kinda funny to me, as when it comes to the traditional religious affiliations with both breads, they’re kinda opposed. but whatever. I wanted to try and make a unique variant to the originals, as I’ve already posted a regular Challah recipe on the blog in past years, as well as a Vanilla Bean Challah. Additionally, last year, my Easter bread were these Hot Cross Buns.

Pane di Pasqua2

I was drawing closer and closer to this weekend and still hadn’t decided on a particular recipe to try. My previous Challahs have only been three-braided ones, so I thought about maybe challenging myself by making a variation that had 4-6 braids and was like, coated in cinnamon sugar or something and calling it “Cinnamon Toast 6 Braid Challah”.

And although I still think that sounds friggin amazing and I really just may try it in time for Passover this year, this particular week, just thinking about trying to pull that off wore me out. It was a no-go.

Pane di Pasqua3

After that idea was out, I considered doing a variation of Hot Cross Buns that were a vanilla overload; a vanilla scented dough, a thin vanilla glaze and a even a vanilla flavored ‘cross’. But that ended up just feeling like meh too. I wanted to do something REALLY unique this year. And pretty. So I started researching other Easter breads to experiment with and lo and behold, I came across something that caught my eye.

Pane di Pasqua4

I first heard of Pane di Pasqua through Allrecipes.com, although the variation I saw there was just a regular braid with drizzled icing and sprinkles on top. I still bookmarked it because I thought it looked pretty and it got great feedback. Then, I read a random article in The New York Times about a famous Italian style bakery that makes the stuff each year that really got my attention. Their variation featured individual loaves of bread that they shaped around dyed Easter eggs.

It was just BEAUTIFUL.

I saw it and I immediately thought,”I gotta try that.”

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So what I ended up doing was taking the recipe I bookmarked from Allrecipes.com and adapting it in the similar style of what I had seen the old Italian bakery guy pull off. The best part is, it really wasn’t as complicated as I thought it would be.  The most time consuming part of the whole thing for me was dyeing my eggs ahead of time, and then shaping the loaves themselves. However, as you guys can see, I made loaves that were filled with the Easter eggs as well as loaves that I decided to leave empty and just sprinkle with the nonpareils. This was partly because after egg number six, I just got tired of dunking them in and out of the pink/yellow dye. It was also partly because I had read accounts from other bakers who had attempted this recipe only to have the dye on their eggs slough off and stain the bread and got spooked. I wasn’t sure of whether or not the dye would stay on my eggs once they were in the oven and so, just to be on the safe side I did it half and half.

Pane di Pasqua5

Well fortunately, I had minimal staining from my egg dye and the overall results if I may say so myself were just PHENOMENAL. These loaves baked up light, fluffy and golden brown with no trouble whatsoever.

And can we talk about the smell that filled my apartment while these were in the oven? It was like being IN an Italian bakery. Which outside of Bath and Body Works candles is pretty much the best aroma that could fill your pad, bar none.

I’m sure you guys notice how I keep rambling on and on just to have an excuse to keep throwing pictures of this bread at you. Sorry. I can’t help myself. I feel like the guy who has the prettiest date at the prom and just wants to show her off to everyone.  Come on, doesn’t just looking at it make you want to try this recipe yourself? OR, at least  just make you crave ALLLLL the carbs?

Pane di Pasqua8

There’s still time to try this recipe before Sunday and I HIGHLY recommend that you do. This is a great tack-on project for after you  finish dyeing Easter eggs with the kids and want an especially fun and gorgeous way to serve them up for dinner.

Happy Easter everyone! Also, Happy Fiesta Friday #112, and a big thanks to Natalie @ Kitchen, Uncorked and Hilda @ Along The Grapevine for being our co-hosts this week.

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Pane di Pasqua{Italian Easter Bread}


Recipe Adapted from Allrecipes.com

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Ingredients

Directions

In a large bowl, combine 1 cup flour, sugar, salt and yeast; stir well. Combine milk and butter in a small saucepan; heat until milk is warm and butter is softened but not melted.

Gradually add the milk and butter to the flour mixture; stirring constantly. Add two eggs and 1/2 cup flour; beat well. Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. (This is where you may need the extra flour; my dough was too wet and I added just enough until it pulled away from the sides of the bowl and was staying attached to the dough hook of my stand mixer. Don’t add the extra all at once; about 1/4 cup at a time until it’s the right consistency).

When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.

Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Pinch off 12-14 small dough balls, then roll them into long, thin ropes about 13-15″ long. (This is going to take some patience. Have a small cup of water handy just in case your dough loses its moistness–it’s easier to roll out when it stays moist.Dip your fingers in the cup of water and rub a little bit of the water over the dough balls before you roll them out. Also, don’t worry about it if the ropes shrink a little bit after you roll them out; it’s not that big of a deal.)

Once you’ve rolled out two ropes at a time (don’t do them all at once) braid them together into 1 segment then pinch the ends together to form a rather close ring/wreath. If you are using dyed eggs, place your egg in the center of the egg. Try to form the ring so that at least some of the egg is sitting on dough. You don’t want the whole thing to be sitting on the sheet pan. Repeat with the other dough balls and eggs. I doubled the above recipe and got 14 rings, but your results may yield less or more than mine depending on the size of your dough balls and rings.

Place your rings on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, cover with plastic wrap, then a clean kitchen towel dampened with warm water. Let rise for about one hour, until the rings have doubled and are puffy.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Beat the remaining undyed egg in a small bowl with the 1 tbsp. water. Using a pastry brush, brush the egg wash over the rings. Sprinkle the nonpareils  over the dough.

Bake in the oven for about 22-25 minutes, until golden brown and inner temp of bread rings is in the 190-195 degrees Fahrenheit range. Let cool completely and voila! 

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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