A perfect Challah

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Challah is a very special kind of bread. It’s neither sweet nor savoury, it’s perfectly in the middle. It’s a very easy bread to make and at the same time it’s an impressive one to put on the table. I love to eat it with French cheese or to change into French toasts (funny how it works for French stuff ūüôā ). The recipe here is from one of my favourite bread books. I cut it in half, which will make you either one big or 2 normal size challahs. Double it if you want to make someone happy with an extra loaf – trust me, they won’t be complaining.
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If you have a stand mixer making a challah is taking no time (except for the rise of course). If you don’t it’s also OK, there is a really nice technique of kneading that I found lately. It’s very simple and although it might take some time to get it right first time, if you practice you will have a perfect dough in no time. Have a look here and try.

adapted from Jeffrey Hamelan
  • 450 g of flour,
  • 74 g of sugar,
  • 4 egg yolks,
  • 2 eggs,
  • 68 g of sunflower oil,
  • 290 g of water (around 32 C warm, not hottter!),
  • 17 g of salt,
  • 30 g fresh yeast (or 9 g dried),
  • 1 extra egg (for an egg wash),
  • sesame or poppy seeds to sprinkle on top.
  1. Place all the ingredients in a bowl of a stand mixer. Mix for 1 minute with a paddle attachment on the slowest speed (until everything in incorporated). Change for the hook, and mix for another 2 minutes on the slow speed. Switch to a second speed and mix for at least 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic and comes off the sides.
  2. Leave it for 2 hours in a temp of around 25-27 C. After an hour you need to degas it by slightly pressing the dough. It’s ready when it triples in size. You can also put it in the fridge after 2 hours and let it rise slowly overnight. It will make breading easier.
  3. Divide the dough in two and then divide each half into 5 pieces and braid the challah. (or another amount, depends how you want to braid it. You can find most of the techniques described here)
  4. Let it raise again for 1,5 to 2 hours (until doubled in size).
  5. Before baking brush the dough carefully with an egg wash and sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds.
  6. Bake in the middle of an oven at 190 C for about 25 to 30 minutes (keep an eye on it, so that it doesn’t get too dark).
2014-11-07 18.43.00

Brioche Buns with Pears and Walnuts

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I love buying cookbooks. It’s great to have a lot of them around. It’s not only about having amazing recipes at hand, just waiting on a shelf to be made. Form me it’s also about just going through them over and over again, getting inspired, reading tips and trying to imagine flavour combinations. Recently I spend way too much time reading cookbooks, but it’s just so relaxing.¬†I always have a ¬†long list of cookbooks to buy, with almost 3 new coming on it the moment I buy one. I try not to buy too many at the same time, just so that I have time to explore one before moving to another. But this week I went a bit overboard, mostly because there was a great promotion at my favourite local book store..
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First recipe to try are brioche buns. I’ve been experimenting with brioches for a while now. Different recipes have different ration between butter and flour. This one is on of the lower butter percentage. That makes it really easy to make and handle (especially if you have a stand mixer). The most important thing while making a¬†brioche is to give it time to slowly rise overnight in the fridge. You can either make the dough and put it right in the fridge (that’s the method used be Rachel Khoo) or give it 1-2 hours rise at a room temperature, roll it out, stuff with pears and let rise again overnight. I prefer the second option, cause you can have fresh buns for breakfast. And that is always appreciated, especially on a lazy Sunday morning..
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Brioche Buns with Pears and Walnuts
adapted from Rachel Khoo
For the dough:
  • 75 g butter,
  • 50 ml milk,
  • 15 g fresh yeast,
  • 250 g flour,
  • 50 g sugar,
  • pinch of salt,
  • ¬†1 egg,
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract.
For the filling:
  • 2 ripe pears, peeled, cored and cut into thin slices,
  • 50 g of walnuts, slightly crushed,
  • 1 beaten egg for the egg wash.
  1. Melt the muter in warm milk (not warmer than 35 C!). Add fresh yeast and allow them to dissolve.
  2. Add all the remaining dough ingredients and knead a smooth, loose dough (If you have a stand mixer: use a paddle attachment for 1 min on slow to combine everything and then use the hook for 3-5 minutes, until the dough is not touching the sides of the bowl.)
  3. Let it rise for 1-2 hours.
  4. Roll out the dough to 40 by 30 cm on a lightly floured surface (try not to use too much flour).
  5. Put the pears and walnuts on top. Roll it into a rolade and cut into 6 equal pieces.
  6. Butter lightly a 24 cm spring form and arrange the buns inside, leaving 1-2 cm in between. Cover with plastic foil an place in the fridge overnight.
  7. In the morning take it out around 1 hour before you intend to bake it (to bring it to a room temperature). Brush the buns lightly with an egg wash (you can do it twice if you have time, it will taste better).
  8. Bake at 160 C, in the middle of an oven for 30-40 minutes.
Note: In the original recipe, Rachel uses dulce the leche which she spreads on the roll out dough and the adds apples and nuts. I didn’t have any dulce de leche or apples, so used pears (besides I prefer pears over apples anyway). Worked brilliantly!

A matter of bread

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I love bread. It is the simplest food you can have, but oh how satisfying can it be. Every country has it’s own special breads and those are the ones I always want to eat during holidays. To taste and get inspired. As it happens I live in the Netherlands where the bread culture is not greatly developed to say the least. First couple of months here were tough, but what you cannot get you have to make yourself. What seemed like a big downside of being here in the end helped me to develop a great passion for baking bread. Since I discovered the¬†great¬†variety of flavours you can get with different flours and methods I want to bake bread almost constantly.
I still remember the indescribable joy I felt¬†when I baked my first loaf of bread. Filling the¬†house with the incredible aroma of a freshly baked bread simply makes me happy.¬†I think that bread is often underestimated, not being appreciated enough for what it is.¬†Most of the time it serves as a base for some toppings, which, don’t get me wrong, can be great, but can somewhat overpower the pure taste of a perfect loaf. And it is so easy to make bread.
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There is plenty of great books about bread and I think I read them more often than novels lately. Instead of giving you a recipe for a bread, I want to share with you some of my favourite books.
  1. My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method by Jim Lahey
    This is a great place to start. I mean there is no simpler way to make an incredible loaf at home. There is minimum effort to get some pretty good bread. All you need with this recipe is time. I know it requires some planning, but it is worth it.
    And if you want to give it a try you can find the basic recipe at the website of his Sullivan Street Bakery.  I visited his bakery during my trip to New York. The bread was fantastic. We bought 2 bags of bread (because it is hard to decide which one to take..) and it was all gone in 20 minutes. So good!
  2. Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish
    This is my favourite book lately. It really gives you a good explanation on how to handle the dough to get the best bread possible. The recipes are really simple. Again, some time is required. This is a good book when you want you’re bread to be a little bit more complex in flavour. Also it’s perfect to get your techniques right.
  3. Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes by¬†Jeffrey Hamelman
    This is the first bread book I ever got. It helped me to develop a passion for bread. You will find here so many different types of bread that you will feel lost. I haven’t try all of them yet, but hopefully one day I will. I think this is a really good book after you baked quite some loaves.

Those are my 3 gurus of bread baking. They keep me motivated and inspired. And one thing for sure: once you bake your first loaf it’s going to be hard to go back to the store bought bread..


Buchty with Apricot Jam

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Sometimes you need a bit of comfort. When it comes to food I think there is nothing more comforting than sweet, buttery buns filled with some jam or fresh fruit. I remember when I was a kid my mom used to make us buchty¬†with apricot jam. It used to be one of the only 2 ways we would eat the apricot jam (second one with crepes of course). And we used to have a lot of that apricot jam around. We had 2 huge apricot trees in the garden and it was always a horrible chore to pick them up in the summer. There was so many of them that we would always end up with half a pantry filled with the apricot jam. And it was the least favourite jam for everyone.. It’s funny how much I miss it now.
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Buchty with Apricot Jam
adapted from my mom 
  • 3 egg yolks,
  • 40 g sugar,
  • 50 g butter,
  • 150 ml milk,
  • 20 g fresh yeast (7g if using dried yeast),
  • 280 g flour,
  • 1/2 tsp. salt,
  • zest from 1 lemon,
  • 1/2 jar apricot jam,
  • egg white,
  • powdered sugar.
  1. Beat the egg yolks with sugar until they are pale and the sugar dissolves completely.
  2. Melt the butter and let it cool a bit.
  3. Warm up the milk (to 30-35C) and mix with the fresh yeast.
  4. Add milk and butter to the egg yolk and give it a whisk.
  5. Sift the flour and salt into the bowl with milk and egg mixture. Knead the dough until it’s uniform and elastic.
  6. Let the dough rise until it doubles in size (1 to 2 hours).
  7. Divide the dough into 8 parts. Make a bowl from each piece and flatten it. Put a spoon of the apricot jam in the middle and close the dough around it.
  8. Put the filled balls in a round form, giving them 2-3 cm of space in between. Let them rise for another hour.
  9. Warm up the oven to 180 C.
  10. Before putting them in the oven cover the top lightly with the egg white.
  11. Bake for 20-30 minutes in the middle of the oven.
  12. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.

Taste best served slightly warm. Enjoy!

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