Sunday, 26 May 2013

Sweet Sweet Challah

What can be better than the wonderful smell of freshly baked bread filling the house of a Friday night? A Freshly baked sweet Challah! This luscious sweet bread is traditionally made weekly for Friday night dinner and on special holidays, and last Friday night that is exactly what I wanted to smell.

My excitement about baking happens from first sight. If I surf through the web on a regular weeknight and suddenly come across a picture of delicious seductive sweet Challah like this one above, I know immediately what will be my next post about. I need to fall in love with the idea of eating the baked goods I'm watching before I decide to make it myself. And that is exactly what happened when I saw this Challah recipe, published in "My sweets" (by Chen Shoukroon), when I looked into cheesecakes last week in her blog. I just knew I had to make it! Better yet, I had to make love to it, because bread you make with love or not make it at all.

Now, I know that some people are not comfortable using yeast, it seems complicated or time consuming. But it's actually quite easy and rewarding, especially if you are using dry yeast. The problems that comes up; like dough not rising or ending up with dry, though bread is a thing of the past. Back than we had only fresh yeast to work with, which can be fantastic, but very sensitive so you really had to know how to work with it.

Also a little disclaimer: Some of the recipes I'll bring in these posts are firsties for me. And this Challah is no different, this is my first Challah experience. I love to experiment with new things and try new recipes. I'm addicted to the excitement that comes with discovering new outcomes from my oven. So you will go through the ups and downs of my baking experiences along with me. Having said that, I've been an armature baker since I remember my self. I am experienced in the kitchen and I learned a lot along the years so I always expect the best and so should you. Don't be afraid to try new recipes and most of all don't be afraid working with yeast. 
So here we go on the roller coaster again...
This is what we need to get started!

Sift the flour into an electric mixer bowl. If you don't have a mixer, don't worry you can hand knead your dough, I did so too. Use a large bowl to start with.

Add salt and mix well. It's important to mix the salt well so it won't have direct contact with the yeast when we add it later.

Add sugar and mix again, I used raw sugar.

Add yeast and give it another good mix so it spreads well.

Using a kneading hook, start mixing on low and add the egg and butter. I tried to give it a go with my electric beater but it didn't work so I continued by hand.
Add the milk and then gradually add the water until the mixture becomes dough. 
Important: When the mixture becomes a dough stop adding water, even if you have some left. On the other hand if you are out of water and the mixture is too dry and didn't come together to a unified dough than add more water, little by little until it becomes a dough (I was out of water and added a little more).

Now it's time for the love making. Knead the dough for 10 minutes. If you are kneading by hand, place dough on a lightly floured surface and use the palm of your hand with pushing motions. Don't use too much flour for dusting, the dough should stay a little sticky.

Place dough in an oiled bowl and cover with a plastic bag (not cling film, we need some air to come in) and a tea towel and put aside in a warm place for 1.5 hours until double in size.

After it has risen, cut the dough into 2 equal segments and then each segment into 3 equal parts. Roll the parts into a long strings equal by length and thickness.

Make a braid out of the 3 strings.

Number the strings in your head, 1(far left) 2 (middle) 3 (far right). 3 comes over 2 and "becomes" 2 and then 1 comes over 2 and "becomes" 2 and so on.

I tucked the end bits underneath the challah, to have a rounder shape at the edges. You can roll the edges a bit for a pointy result.

Brush with the egg mixture if using. You can definitely use both egg wash with sesame/poppy seeds, and honey glaze at the end of the baking process to make it sweet and shiny. I did.

Ready for second rising.

Butter is Challah's best friend.

There is no doubt it is best eaten on the day of baking. You could freeze the Challa's or easily half the recipe to make just one Challah if there aren't enough people to share, but...

Once again you should know, once you start there is no turning back! 

Sweet Challah
Beautiful for a special dinner or holidays.
Makes 2 prep: 30min + rising time cook: 30-45min

1 kg        Plain flour (I used 00) 
100 gr     Unsalted butter softened and cut into cubes
3/4 cup   Sugar or raw sugar (150 gr) 
1 tbs       Salt (18 gr)
2 tbs       Dry Yeast (18gr)
1 cup      Warm Milk (240 ml) 
3/4 cup   Warm water (180 ml)
1             Egg

For the egg wash:
1 Egg
1 tbs Water
Sesame/poppy seeds to sprinkle 

For the Honey glaze:
4 tbs Honey
4 tbs Hot water

Sift flour into an electric mixer bowl, add salt and mix well with a large metal spoon. Add sugar and mix again. Add dry yeast and mix until mixed well into the flour. Using the kneading hook, start mixing on low and add the egg and butter. Knead until you get a crumbly mixture. 
Add the milk and then gradually add the water until the mixture becomes a dough. 
Important: When the mixture becomes a dough stop adding water, even if you have some left. On the other hand if you are out of water and the mixture is too dry and didn't come together to a unified dough, than add more water, little by little until it becomes a dough (I was out of water and added a little more).
Now it's the love part. Knead the dough for 10 min at least until you get a soft and elastic dough. If you are doing it by hand you'll get a bit of a work out. On a floured surface knead with the palm of your hand using pushing motions. Put your body's weight into it and form the dough back every 1-2 pushes. 
Check out this tutorial to get a better idea on how to hand knead your dough:
When done with the kneading process, oil up a clean bowl with a little oil. Form a ball out of the dough, tucking the edges underneath. Roll it a little in the bowl so it will all be covered with oil ending up with the smooth surface on top. Cover the bowl with a plastic bag (not cling film) and a tea towel and put aside in a warm place for 1.5 hours until double in size. 
After it has risen, cut the dough into 2 equal segments (each one will become a Challah). Knead a little one segment to take the air out, and divide it into 3 equal parts. Roll all parts into long strings equal by length and thickness. Make a braid out of the 3 strings. 
Check out this tutorial to get a better idea on how to braid a Challah:
Check out this tutorial to see different types of braiding if you want to try something different: 
Repeat with the second part of the dough to make the second Challah. Place both Challa's on a baking tray lined with a parchment paper. 

If using the egg wash: 
Beat the egg well in a small bowl and mix with the water. Brush the Challa's gently with the egg wash and sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds. Set aside in a warm place to rise again for 30 min. 
In the meantime warm the oven to 180°C. Bake for 25-30 min until the Challah has browned up nicely and risen well. 

If using the honey glaze:
Skip the egg wash part and bake according to the instruction above.
When it comes out of the oven immediately brush with the honey mixed with water glaze.

1. If you want to make the dough a day ahead, you can rise the dough in the fridge overnight. 
2. In my old oven the baking process was well over an hour. So it's a lot more than than the original recipe stated, but as you know, baking time might vary with your oven, check the Challa's after 25 minutes and see if it needs more time.
3. You can freeze the baked challa's if you want to. Wrap properly so it won't get any moisture and defrost in room temperature. warm it up in the oven for a better result. 
4. Freezing the dough itself is not recommended. 

I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Halva and Coffee Cheesecake

One of my favorite holidays is Shavuot. Why? Because this is the time of year to appreciate the fruit of the land and more importantly eat cheese dishes, until you can't cheese no more. Cheese quiches and frittatas, cheese filled pastries, Cheese puffs, Cheese sticks, Feta and goat cheese salads, creamed pastas and potatoes and the highlight of the night, cheesecakes in different colors, shapes, sizes and flavors will be loaded in abundance to the Shavuot dinner table. How can you not love a holiday that encourages you to have as much cheese as you want, and than some more. 

So with cheesy ideas in mind I went on looking for the perfect cheesecake to bring to the Shavuot table. I love all cheesecakes, the lemony ones, the all berries ones and surely the New York baked cheesecakes. But this time I wanted something really special for the holiday, something full of flavor that will stand out of all the cheesecakes anyone had before. And there it was, I found this recipe in one of my favorite sweet sites  "My sweets" (מתוקים שלי) published by Chen Shoukroon. This wonderful, rich, full flavored cheesecake with halva and coffee was everything I was looking for. And so it was my friends, so it was. I changed a few things to fit the local supermarket but I tried to be as loyal as I can to the original recipe. 

Cheesecakes in general you would make a day ahead of the event and this little beauty can wait in the fridge even 2-3 days before you serve it. So it does take some planing, but when it comes to cheesecakes, it's worth the wait. Don't forget to frost the cake only on the day you plan on serving it, and remember to plan ahead.

O.K. here we go...

All excited and ready to go!

 To make the biscuit base, place biscuits in a food processor and process until resembles breadcrumbs. Add melted butter and process for a few more seconds until combined.

Press the biscuit mixture to the base and sides of the pan using a cup or the back of a spoon.

To make the filling, place cream cheese and sugar in an electric mixer. I have an electric beater and it works wonders. So if you don't own an electric mixer don't get discouraged just use what you have.

Beat for a few minutes until combined.

Add the halva and mix well.

Add eggs one at a time and mix after each one until completely incorporated in the mixture.

Add cream and beat until combined.

Add the coffee liquor and mix again until smooth. You can replace the liquor with 2 teaspoons of instant coffee melted in 1/4 cup hot water. Let it cool before adding to the filling.

Pour the mixture gently onto to the prepared pan and shake pan lightly for a smooth surface.

It's time to make the chocolate topping. Make the topping on the day you serve the cake so it wont dry out and crack. Pour hot cream onto the chocolate and stir until completely melted.

Pour chocolate onto chilled cheesecake and swivel around to cover the top evenly.

After chilling in the fridge it's time to decorate the cake with the leftover chocolate.

Warning! This cake is not for the faint of heart.

Once you start there is no turning back!

Halva and Coffee Cheesecake
Decadent rich dessert for a special night. 
Makes 16 prep: 30min cook: 80min 

250 gr      Chocolate or plain biscuits
120 gr      Unsalted butter

For the filling:
1 kg         Cream cheese at room temperature
150 gr      Raw sugar or Castor sugar
4              Eggs at room temperature
350 gr      Vanilla Halva
60 ml       Coffee liquor
125 ml     Thick cream

For the frosting:
150 ml     Thick cream
150 gr      Dark Chocolate
1 tbs        Coffee liquor

Line 24cm spring-form baking pan with baking parchment, bottom and sides.
Melt butter and set aside to cool. Place biscuits in a food processor and process until resembles breadcrumbs. Add melted butter and process for a few more seconds until combined.
Transfer the biscuit mixture to the prepared pan and press to the base and sides using a cup or a spoon. Place in the freezer for 20 minutes.
In the meantime preheat oven to 160°C (Fan is not recommended) 
Place chilled pan in the oven and bake for 10 min. Cool completely.

To make the filling: Place cream cheese and sugar in an electric mixer and beat until smooth. Add the halva and mix well. Add eggs one at a time and mix after each one until well combined. Add the coffee liquor and cream and mix again until smooth. Use a spatula when needed to scrape the edge of the bowl to make sure you have a unified mixture.
Pour the mixture gently into the prepared pan with the chilled base. Bake for 80 minutes. The cake should be light golden on top and still wobbly
Cool in the oven for 10 min with the door ajar. Take out of the oven and cool to room temperature before placing in the fridge overnight.

The next day make the topping: Chop chocolate and place in a heatproof bawl. In a small saucepan heat cream until just reaches boiling point and pour over the chocolate. Put aside for a minute or two and then stir well until smooth. Add the coffee liquor and stir to combine. If too hot let it cool down a little before pouring onto the cold cheesecake. Pour 2/3 of the topping over the chilled cake. Swivel the pan so the chocolate evens out all over the surface. Return to fridge for another hour. Chill the rest of the chocolate in the freezer for an hour or so before transferring into a piping bag.  Use the remaining chocolate mixture to decorate as desired. I used a small round piping nozzle for the edges. For the center of the cake I used the back of  a tea spoon. 

1. For the filling I recommend 500 gr full cream cheese and 500 gr light or even super light cream cheese.Otherwise the end result might be too rich.  
2. In my old oven it took 80 min to golden. The baking time might change with your oven, check the cake after 70 minutes and see if it's going well.
3. Usually cheesecakes are made one day ahead, they just get better the more the stay in the fridge.
4. Wait with the frosting step until the day you plan on serving it.

I'm looking forward to hearing from you. 

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

A Little story about Honey Cakes

When I was a little girl, honey cakes were stocked in the pantry of every household. Moms, grannies and aunties everywhere would buy them in large packets and serve them with coffee, fruits seeds and nuts. Traditionally honey is associated with the Jewish New year which takes place in September. Everything honey goes during holiday season, from honey chicken to apple & honey tarts. But these little honey cakes were always there, you could immerse your teeth into these dense, spiced, sugar coated honey cakes and feel like home all year round.

Just before mother's day I felt like I needed a piece of home. Since my mom past away, mother's day is a bit of bitter sweet day. I love having my little chicken making drawings for me and getting wet kisses for mother's day. I love being her mom and that's the sweet part. But missing my mom, that's the bitter part. I thought about my late mom and needed a good cuddle. Honey cakes can't replace cuddles from mommy but they sure can make you feel better. 

So with this in mind I stormed the web and searched for the best recipe for my little honey cakes. All of that searching, planning, and shopping made me feel like myself again. 

But then again life happens to you when you are busy making other plans. Pulling my back was at the bottom of my list of priorities for mother's day activities, which is exactly what I ended up doing. All weekend I was useless and by the time mother's day came, standing in the kitchen was no option. My comforting mother's day honey cakes were gone. 

The light at the end of the tunnel came after mother's day. I felt stronger, had a free day and decided to go for it. Preparations commenced late morning and excitement was in the air. Beating, mixing, adding and refrigerating were a promise for success. 

When my little honey cakes were finely out of the oven they looked fantastic, just as they should, nicely cracked and sugar coated. I couldn't wait and had a taste. The texture was nice and crumbly the hint of spice was fantastic, but the unpleasant taste of the self raising flour was overwhelming. My lovely honey cakes did not come out as I hoped and I can't even start to describe how great the  disappointment was. After all my efforts I still didn't get my special Honey Cakes. 

My story today of little honey cakes will not finish with a recipe. However I promise not to give up, and give it another go with a new recipe and better, stronger results which remind me of home. 

Did you ever have a disappointing baking experience before? I would love to hear all about it. Looking forward to hearing from you.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Feta Cheese & Sour Cream Boorekas

These scrumptious feta cheese filled puff triangles, are a traditional street food in Israel, my home country. The best ones will be sold out of a cart or a tiny bakery and will be accompanied by a boiled egg and pickles. Also they are a big part of any celebration and are consumed over the weekend by the kilos. They come in many shapes and fillings like potato, mushroom, and even eggplant, but the most popular ones are the feta cheese or feta cheese & spinach. They are also recognizable with other nationalities such as Turkey, Greece, and the Balkans. 

What I love about them, is that they are very quick and easy to make, suits any occasion and are versatile. I made them yesterday for a light weekend lunch accompanied with fresh vegetables and herbs. 

When it comes to pastry I'm more of a "make it yourself" kind of person, there is nothing like a home made fresh pastry. But when it's puff pastry we are talking about, it's a laborious way to make something very simple. Sure you can't argue with the beautiful crisp outcome of a thousand layers of heaven, but it can be challenging making it work and creating those gorges layers of buttered pastry. So I use good quality store bought puff pastry sheets with butter and take them out of the freezer to defrost 5 minutes before I start.

Cut every sheet into 4 equal squares with a sharp knife. Cut into 9 squares if you fancy, for even smaller party snacks. You will get a mountain of them.

 Mix the Feta cheese with the sour cream and black paper. Make sure the mixture is not too runny or it will be impossible to seal the triangles. Also not too dry or it won't be as pleasant to eat.

 Place a table spoon of the filling in the center of each pastry square.

Fold each square to create a triangle and press edges with fingertips to seal it properly. If the triangles are not sealed well the filling will ooze out of the pastry during baking time.

Press the edges with a fork to create a nice pattern. It's not a must but it looks nice, it take no time and it help making sure the triangles are sealed properly.

Place triangles on the prepared tray lined with parchment paper. You can place them close to each other but not touching because they do tend to stick to one another. Placing them in a square shape will save some room on the tray for baking more at a time.

Beat together egg yolk and milk for a nice wash.

Brush triangles with the egg yolk mixture.

Sprinkle with poppy seeds or sesame seeds, and pop into the preheated oven.

These are best straight out of the oven.

Warning! Do not blink or turn your back on them, they will be gone within seconds.

Feta & Sour Cream Boorekas
Wonderful option for a light meal or entertainment.
Makes 16 prep: 20min cook: 15min 

4 sheet       Puff pastry defrosted
1                Egg yolk
1 tbs          Milk
2 tbs          Poppy seeds or sesame seeds

For the filling:
200 gr        Feta cheese (Greek or danish style)
1/2 cup      Sour cream
A sprinkle of black pepper

Preheat oven to 200°C/180°C fan forced. Line a baking try with baking parchment.
Cut pastry sheets with a sharp knife into 4 equal squares.  
In a medium size bawl break the feta cheese and mash it with a fork. Mix in the sour cream and a sprinkle of black paper. 
Place a table spoon of the filling in the center of each pastry square.
Fold each square to create a triangle and press edges with fingertips to seal it properly.
Press the edges with a fork to create a nice pattern and place on the prepared tray (you might be able to fit 4 -6 at a time depending on the size of your baking tray).
Make the egg wash by beating the egg yolk and milk in a small bawl.
Brush triangles with the egg yolk mixture and sprinkle with poppy seeds.
Pop into the oven and bake in batches for 15-20 minutes or until golden. 

When golden I like to turn them to the other side and bake for 5 more minuets to crisp them up even more.  
As I said before once they are out of the oven keep an eye on them...

1. You can try and play a little with filling, try Ricotta instead of cream cheese or make mash potato's and use that for a filling. 
2. In my old oven it took about 15 min to bake. The baking time might change with your oven.
3. Unfortunately like any other puff pastry products its not the same the next day. 
4. Freezing in not recommended.

I would love to know what you think about my new blog, what you would love to see here and if you bake any of the recipes I put up here please share your experience with me. Looking forward to hearing from you.