Sunday, May 27, 2012


May’s Daring Bakers’ Challenge was pretty twisted – Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood challenged us to make challah! Using recipes from all over, and tips from “A Taste of Challah,” by Tamar Ansh, she encouraged us to bake beautifully braided breads.

I have seen many beautiful Challah loaves on some of my favourite blogs and some great recipe books but being from a non Jewish background and with no Jewish culture nearby I have never tasted this amazing looking bread.

 Our host Ruth from The Crafts of Mommyhood grew up in a traditional Jewish household where this beautiful bread graced the table everyweek but was never home made so she decided to try it out for herself and bring us along for the ride. Ruth gave us three different recipes but pointed out that any recipe for an enriched bread would be fine. The only thing that was mandatory was that the bread should be braided or shaped.

Ruth gave us lots of information and background relating to traditions of Challah. "Believe it or not, the word “challah” does not actually mean bread. Any whole loaves can be used at the Sabbath or holiday table for the traditional blessing. Challah, instead, is the word referring to the portion of bread which, in the days of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, was set aside and given to the high priests. These days the challah portion is taken before the bread is baked, and is ritually burned as an offering. There are specific guidelines concerning when the mitzvah (commandment) of challah is required – it has to do with how much flour is used."

Ruth tells us that - "what makes challah truly stand out is the distinctive braid. There are many ways, though, in which challah can be shaped. While the recipes are important to this type of bread, it really is the shaping which makes it special. Braiding is an intertwining of separate pieces into one combined entity. This is symbolic of the intertwining of the everyday and the holy, and of the coming together of family and friends."

I used the recipe for Honey White Challah that Ruth provided making one plain loaf and one cinnamon swirl loaf. See here for all the recipes and information. 

Challah (Honey White)

(from Tammy’s Recipes)
Servings: 2 loaves
1 ½ cups (360 ml) warm water, separated
1 Tbsp. (15 ml) (15 gm/½ oz sugar
2 Tbsp. (2-2/3 packets) (30 ml) (18 gm) (2/3 oz) dry active yeast
½ cup (120 ml) honey
1 Tbsp. (15 ml) oil (light colored vegetable oil, or olive oil if you prefer)
4 large eggs
1 ½ tsp. 7½ ml) (9 gm) (1/3 oz) salt
5 cups (1200 ml) (700 gm/25 oz) all-purpose (plain) flour, plus more as needed (up to 8 or 9 cups total)
1 egg beaten with 1 tsp. water

1. In mixer bowl/large mixing bowl combine ½ cup warm water, 1 Tbsp. sugar and 2 Tbsp. yeast. Allow to proof approximately 5 minutes until foamy.

2. To the yeast mixture add the remaining water, honey, oil, eggs, salt and 5 cups of flour. Knead (by hand or with your mixer’s dough hook) until smooth, adding flour as needed. Knead for approximately 10 minutes.
3. Transfer dough to a clean, oiled bowl, turn to coat or add a bit more oil on top. Cover bowl with a kitchen/tea towel. Leave to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 ½ hours.

4. Punch down the dough, divide it into two sections. Use one half to make each loaf (shaped or braided as desired).

Making strands: There are two basic methods for forming the strands used to braid challah. The first, and easiest, is to simply roll snakes between your hands like when working with clay or play dough. The second method is to use a rolling pin to roll out a flat disc of dough, then using your hands to roll the disc into a snake, rolling the snake on the counter with your fingers to achieve the length you need. This second method does result in a better rise, but either way works well. Whichever method you use, form your strands such that they are thinner at the ends and fuller in the middle. This will help your challah rise in the center.

Six strand braid: There are traditionally two challah loaves on the Sabbath table. Using the six strand braid, that brings twelve pieces to the table. These twelve strands can be symbolic of the twelve tribes of the Children of Israel. Many also use the twelve pieces to represent the twelve “showbreads” used in the Jewish Temple on special occasions.

Braiding is so much fun!

I was so proud of my first try!

For the cinnamon swirl challah, I rolled each strand out flat, brushed with butter and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. Then rolled up the strand and continued as per the 6 strand braid. 

5. Place loaves on parchment lined or greased baking sheets, cover with a towel, allow to rise 30 minutes.
6. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
7. Brush tops loaves with egg wash. (Sprinkle with seeds or toppings here if wanted.)
 Egg wash is used to enhance the top crust of the challah. It adds shine and crispness, and enhances the beauty of the breads. While a single coat is sufficient, a double coat works beautifully. Brush your beaten egg and water mixture on the loaves directly after shaping, then allow to proof. Brush again just before baking, adding any toppings you were planning to use.

The plain challah was sprinkled with seasame seeds before baking

 8. Bake loaves 30-40 minutes until done.
9. Cool on wire racks.

The cinnamon swirl loaf didn't hold together as well during baking but it was still gorgeous.

This recipe results in such a delicous, soft, fluffy bread.

My family loved the challah toasted for breakfast particularly the cinnamon swirl Challah. I only wish I had been heavy handed with the cinnamon - it wasn't quite as "cinnamony" as I wanted it to be.

Thank you Ruth for introducing me to Challah. I loved learning to braid and with your instructions and video it was more simple than I thought it would be. I will be using this technique many times, I'm sure! 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Tribute on Mother's Day

In 1961, a young Calabrian girl married her sweetheart.
They had met many years earlier during WW11 when his family, in Northern Italy, hosted hers.

Soon after their marriage, this young bride left her big, loving family to embark on a life adventure, joining her new husband in the far off foreign land of Australia.

Life in tropical, northern Australia was a stark contrast to her home in Reggio di Calabria. Strange foods, different cultures and a  foreign language in a harsh, oppressively hot country. At first intense homesickness and the loss of their first child took it's toll. However, she soon found herself being embraced by the small farming community and friendship were cemented. Alongside her husband she worked and toiled the land and kept neat the little home her husband had prepared.

The young couples' joy was increased as their first daughter was born followed a few years later by a second daughter.

She revelled in making her girls' birthdays special with cake and spumante.

Life was simple but good.

With her captivating smile and vivacious personality, she soon befriended many, enjoying the multi cultural aspect of the community.  Teaching a friend a traditional Italian recipe, sharing a joke, days at the beach were her pleasures.

She showered her growing daughters with love and attention.

But within 15 years of arriving in Australia, her life was cut short.

This was my mother.

I was nine at the time and my sister, thirteen.
My mother didn't grace the front cover of a magazine.
My mother wasn't a famous public figure.
My mother wasn't a Pulitzer prize winner in fact, I don't think she ever won anything in her short life.
But, as many young Italian brides who left their family and friends behind to immigrate to Australia for a better life, she had courage and fortitude to overcome what was presented to her.
She made the most of her life and as many people who die young, she seemed to live life to the fullest.
My father never quite recovered and lost the joie de vivre that he had in her company.
My sister and I also lost much.
We lost the unconditional love,
the teachings,
and the traditions a mother passes on.
Our mother was a great cook and baker but as with all women who arrive in this foreign land of Australia, often she reworked the traditional recipes with the ingredients she had on hand.
And so, unwittingly, new recipes were created.

My sister has always hungered for a speciality our mother made.

Fried Ravioli di Ricotta.

Recently we attempted to recreate our mothers' speciality.
It should have consisted of crispy fried pastry filled with sweet orange scented ricotta.
Did it work?
No, it was a major fail!
The ricotta was not firm enough,
The pastry not crispy enough and
the ravioli kept unsealing in the hot oil.
Does anyone know of this recipe?  I'd love to hear from you.

However, all was not lost.
The pastry I had used was the same as the dough for storch.
What is "storch"?
Interestingly, this is the crispy, lighter-than-air fried pastry is other wise known in Italy as crostoli, cenci, bugi, chiacchieri and in some places I am told - stracci. For some reason in our part of the world they became - storch.

This is how I make "storch".

You will need a pasta machine to achieve the thinness required for this recipe

2 cups flour
pinch of salt
30g butter, slightly softened
2 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon brandy
1or 2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
light flavour oil for frying

For this purpose I had doubled the quantity but one quantity will make many.

In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, place the flour and salt.  Add the butter and mix on low until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add in the eggs, egg yolk, brandy, sugar and vanilla. Mix on low until combine. Switch to dough hook attachment and knead for about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. This can all be done by hand, of course. 
Rest the dough for at least an hour.

Cut small portion of dough off the "mother" dough. Flatten the smaller piece and begin to pass through the pasta machine on the widest setting. Fold the dough and keep passing it through the widest setting until the dough is smooth and pliable. Dust with extra flour as required. Begin to reduce the setting until you are at the finest setting. Pass the dough through the finest setting and place the length of dough on to you work surface. Carefully stretch it to ensure it is as thin as possible

Cut the dough along the length into about 5cm or 2 inch strips which will be approximately 10 - 15cm or 4 -6 inches long. This is just to give you an idea but really how you cut is up to you. I make a small cut in the middle of each piece and twist one end through the cut, as you can see above.

I like to shallow fry but you can deep fry. The oil should not be too hot - approximately 180C/375F.
The storch should not colour too deeply.
They will puff and expand.
Carefully turn, if you are shallow frying and remove when you think they are ready.
They will be a little soft but will crispen on cooling. 

Drain on absorbent paper.
Then when cool dust generously with icing (powdered) sugar.

 Today in Australia is Mother's Day and I celebrate with others, the gift of my kind, brave mother.
I ask one thing of you.
Take time today to turn to your mother and tell her how much you love and respect her.
If you can't be with her, call your mother and remember to telephone regularly.
If you have lost her like me, keep her memory alive by talking to your family and friends about her, cook her recipes, keep in contact with her friends.

My mother wrote in my childhood autograph book:-

Tanti amici, fratelli e sorelli
Ma sempre solo una mamma. 

In other words,
You can have many friends, brothers and sisters
But only ever one mother.