Hello, bread week! We meet again. Just after last week's cake week was actually a bread week. To be honest, I made this about a month ago, because I was fooled by the word "plaited" and my own cultural associations. To me, growing up, a "plaited," or, braided loaf was always called challah and it was for Friday night Shabbat dinner. A braided bread was a Jewish thing, always. So, I made this bread in preparation for my mom's annual Vodka Latke Dinner (where you drink vodka and eat latkes, naturally), thinking how cosmic it was that challah week was the same week of my mom's party.
Turns out you can braid a bread without it being a challah. Oops.
So, why is this bread not a challah in spirit, if it is indeed challah in shape? Challah is a type of enriched bread, meaning it has some sort of fat or sweetness added to it, above any beyond the flour+water+yeast that makes bread a bread. Challah has eggs in it. Brioche is a similar enriched bread, but uses butter, not eggs. Both are delicious and both are often used in French toast. Personally, I prefer challah. It may be nostalgia, but brioche is a bit too greasy for me--the butter makes the bread (dare I say) too rich, whereas the eggs gives a better balance of fat, and an altogether better loaf. And it's kosher so like, there's that.
This dough was frustratingly sticky. Not as bad as the rum babas, but definitely not an "easy" bread. And seeing as it was the second yeast-based dish I made in as many days, I was so over it. Tired of cleaning my countertop, of washing my hands. I wasn't tired of eating bread of course (especially with a pad of salted butter), but just of making it. I would have preferred a chocolate cake. Can I test bake wedding cakes again?
But the smell was intoxicating. There is nothing like unwrapping risen bread and the pleasant scent of yeast waft through the air. After coming back into the kitchen and seeing the dough has risen double its size, wanting to burst out of the container, after unwrapping it and smelling how alive the dough is... it's truly magical. At this point, I'm willing to clean my countertop a thousand times to eat such deliciousness.
And enriched breads (though this one is less enriched than a challah or brioche) are especially pliable and soft. If you've never kneaded and squeezed and handled fresh homemade bread dough, you're missing out. I mean, even if your bread turns out like a dense hockey puck, the very act of playing with the dough is so satisfying--doesn't take much to figure out why they named the child's toy Play-Doh.
At this point, we get to the technical aspect of the bread: the plaiting. Now, growing up, we always made the standard 3-strand challah breads, and that's how I learned to braid. I made a 6-strand challah bread once, many years ago, but I cheated a bit and just made two 3-strand breads (one larger than the other), and stacked them with the smaller on top of the larger. This beast, per Paul Hollywood, is an 8-strand plaited loaf, and he has a very specific way to go about it. Which I had to look out. And diagram.
You first start by dividing your dough into 8 roughly same-sized balls of dough. You can use a scale, but you know what? We're not working in a commercial kitchen and we're making a single loaf. So just eyeball it -- nobody's going to care.
The next part can be tedious if your dough is extremely elastic, which happens if it gets warm enough. If your dough starts to shrink back in on itself while rolling it out, throw it in the fridge for a few minutes, but not for long, or the dough will dry out.
You should be fine though, just roll out eight strands, squeeze them all together at the top, and get to braiding.
The braiding is actually fun, once you get in the flow of it. Basically, number the strands from 1-8 from left to right, and move them over and under each other according to a simple pattern. Each time you move one, they all effectively get renumbered (1-8, left to right), so #1 is always the left-most strand. Just take it slow and steady and you'll be fine.
And the results are pretty breathtaking. It will look like a mess until you have it all together and then you'll step back and go "whoa" and revel in your own amazingness.
The taste was delicious. I mean, it's a slightly enriched bread -- it could be better, it could be worse -- but what you're really going for here is less the taste and value of the bread itself, and more the caramelization you get with all of the braided nubs. That's what makes it so delicious and addictive to eat. Despite a clean slice shown below, my inclination when eating a braided loaf is to just grab at the nubs with my hands and rip the loaf apart little by little. Would I have rather had a challah bread than this bread to eat? Yes. But for a special occasion bread that you can just throw together, half-heartedly knead, and be ready in a couple hours, this is acceptable.
makes one 15" loaf
500 grams (1 pound + 2 ounces) ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR, plus more for dusting
2 1/2 teaspoons ACTIVE DRY YEAST
1 1/2 cups (340 milliliters) (12 fluid ounces) WARM WATER (100F-110F)
2 teaspoons SALT
1 1/2 tablespoons OLIVE OIL
1 large EGG, beaten with a pinch of salt
1. Take 1/2 cup of the WARM WATER and whisk in the ACTIVE DRY YEAST, then leave for 10 minutes to activate -- the mixture should be bubbling and yeasty-smelling
2. Combine the FLOUR, SALT, OLIVE OIL, and yeast/water mixture, and stir to combine
3. Add the remaining warm water and mix until the dough becomes a shaggy dough, then turn out onto a floured surface
4. Knead dough by hand until the dough looks silky and stretches (about 10 miutes)
5. Oil a bowl and place the dough in the bowl, then turn to coat dough in oil, cover in plastic wrap, and leave to rise until doubled in size (about an hour)
6. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead to knock the dough back
7. Divide the dough into eight equal pieces and roll each into a snake of about 16 inches long
8. Lay all the strands out, and pinch one end of all of them together to form a starting point for the braiding
9. Number the strands from 1-8 (left to right) in your head, knowing that every time you move a strand, you will re-number the strands (they are always 1-8 from left to right -- the strand does not retain its number as it moves); braid the strands as follows:
11. Preheat the oven to 400F
12. Brush the loaf with an EGG beaten with a little salt, and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until the dough sounds hollow when tapped
Man, guys, I have been slacking. I took a week off from posting for Christmas, and I baked this particular entry half a month ago. I think I over-baked myself for the holidays, and this recipe (as well as the next one) were dodgy at best. They turned out delicious, but the baking process was enough for me to say "Screw it, just rise when you're going to rise. I'm not going to knead you anymore, and if you turn out terribly, at least Paul Hollywood isn't actually here."
With that, I'll warn you that this cake week was a bread week disguised as a cake week, and next week is real bread week--but two bread dishes in a row is more than my little heart can handle. Throw into the mix that my body hasn't been digesting yeast very well lately, and you have a very frustrated baker.
That said, welcome to season 3! And cake week. But probably the worst cake week ever, because yeast. Don't get me wrong, yeast is a wonderful thing. It's why bread is so chewy, with such a distinct and malleable crumb. I love yeast and yeasted things (hello, donuts; hello beignets), but dealing with a yeasted thing that is also supposed to be sweet and delicate means that thing in progress is going to be sticky.
So sticky, in fact, that the act of kneading really becomes more of a sloshing around on your surface. There was no stretching, no pulling, no folding over of this dough, because it would spread out and stick to literally everything it touched. If I were doing this for myself, I would definitely have pulled out the stand mixer--far easier to knead sticky doughs mechanically. But, I'm doing this for Paul Hollywood and for this challenge, and I know he doesn't quite approve of stand mixers for kneading. But god I wish I could get my hands on the actual video of the bakers in the tent making this, because I have no idea how they managed. I ended up just smushing the dough around my work surface for a minute before sighing and moving on.
The next step make things marginally easier, because a healthy amount of grease keeps things from sticking. But it makes things slippery, so you have a whole other mess of issues. Kneading the butter in is fun (when is working with butter not fun?), but I was so tired from trying to get a smooth ball that I ended up half-heartedly combining the ingredients. I did the bare minimum and went to the couch for an hour wondering where I went wrong and if I just wasted butter (a crime in these parts).
Things were looking up after letting the yeast do what it does, and when I came back an hour or so later, the dough had definitely doubled, and I thought that maybe it wasn't a total loss. But this was for sure not how it was supposed to be. While I was second-guessing this project on the couch, feeling a failure, I looked up videos on YouTube about how to make rum babas--something I normally do before embarking on the recipe--and they all had a more liquidy dough that wouldn't stick as much, but would freely drip from a spatula, which is what was used to mix (not knead) the batter (not dough).
The videos all also easily piped out their batter (again, not dough) into their ramekins, where as I had to force mine out of a piping bag and then smooth it with my fingers, creating another mess and forcing me to clean my surfaces for probably the 20th time to allow me to take somewhat decent pictures.
When they came out of the oven, I was relieved. They had risen, they had browned, they were smelling good, and I saw they were pulling away from the sides of the dishes, meaning they had cooked enough and had not gotten stuck to the sides. I let them rest a few minutes, and then hurried to tip them out (too soon - I had some fallout) to see what the rest of the baba looked like. I was anxious to finish these.
Enter the rum. Neither my husband nor I are rum drinkers. We lean more toward vodka and bourbon, and the occassional (nightly?) Aperol spritz. However, we happened to come into a handle of possibly some of the worst rum on the planet a few months back, as a wedding leftover for some pre-gamers who attended. My associations with Bacardi begin and end with a fateful night as a sophomore in college and a night that started with Mike's Hard Lemonade, proceeded to Goldschlager, and ended with Bacardi 151 in a Gatorade bottle. Ah, to be 19 again.
I wasn't about to go buy an entire bottle of rum for the 4 tablespoons I needed, and I didn't think to run to BevMo and get single serve airplane bottles, so I said "This recipe is fucked anyway, I might as well go whole hog" and whipped out this bottle for my soaking syrup. I heated, poured, and let the cakes hang out covered in the fridge for a day, and I'll say one thing for this recipe: you can make it in advance and store it in the fridge and it only gets better--the rum soaks deeper into the cake and gives you a deeper flavor. I would make this at least one and probably up to three days ahead of when you'll be serving them.
How did they taste? Like alcohol, what did you expect? As I said earlier, my body has been having problems digesting yeast lately, so I only had a few bites, but I brought these to my family's Hanukkah dinner (I told you I'm belated in posting this), and they were a hit. It's actually very cool to see a dessert made with yeast, as normally yeast is saved for savory bread or deep-fried donuts. This was a cake with a texture unlike any other--spongey, but also chewy, though tender because of the moistness brought on by the sauce. But that sauce, with its Bacardi lace, was a bit too strong, a bit too "spirit-forward" for all of us--except my Mom. She's self-proclaimed "not a drinker," but she could not stop talking about how good this dessert was. "Especially the sauce" she made sure to emphasize, alongside with "...and I don't like alcohol!" Yeah, right... lush.
makes four individual rum babas
220 grams (8 ounces) ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR
7 grams INSTANT YEAST
1/2 teaspoon SALT
50 grams (2 ounces) GRANULATED SUGAR (plus extra for lining ramekins)
2 large EGGS
4 1/2 tablespoons (70 milliliters) MILK
100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) (7 tablespoons) BUTTER, softened
250 grams (9 ounces) GRANULATED SUGAR
4 tablespoons DARK RUM
7 fluid ounces (200 milliliters) WATER
WHIPPED CREAM, optional
FRESH FRUIT, optional
1. Place the FLOUR in a large bowl, then the YEAST on one side of the bowl and the SALT on the other side (salt kills yeast, so you can't pile them on one another), then add the SUGAR and stir everything together
2. In a separate bowl, whisk the EGGS and MILK until well combined
3. Add 3/4 of the egg mixture to the flower and combine into a shaggy mess
4. Mix in the rest of the egg mixture and knead the dough until it has come together and is fully incorporated
5. Add in the softened BUTTER and work through the dough until it is completely incorporated and the dough is silky, smooth, and stretchy -- it will still be very sticky
6. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and turn to coat dough in oil, then cover in plastic wrap and set aside to rise until doubled in size, at least an hour
7. Grease and coat in sugar the inside of the four ramekins
8. Turn the dough out of the bowl and knead the air out of it, then place the dough in a piping bag
9. Cut a large opening out of the end of the piping bag and pipe the dough equally into the four ramekins
10. Preheat your oven to 350F
11. Proof dough a second time until the dough has almost expanded to the top, between 45 minutes and an hour
12. Once proofed, bake for 20-25 minutes
13. Take babas out of the oven and allow to cook while you make the syrup.
13. Place the SUGAR, WATER, and DARK RUM in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melting the sugar and warming the liquid -- keep warm
14. While babas are still warm, place them on a rimmed baking sheet and pour over half the syrup, then flip the babas and pour the remainder of the syrup over top
15. Transfer to the fridge to chill, covered in aluminum foil
16. To serve, optionally add a dollop of whipped cream and/or fresh berries
I've been delinquent, I know. I've skipped a week in posting. I hope the handful of people that actually read this (are there a handful?) don't mind. With the holidays, things just got so busy, I couldn't get this written.
So, I'll take a trip down memory lane and talk about this chocolate cake, which I actually made 3 whole weeks ago, and which my co-workers devoured fairly quickly when I brought it in.
The sachertorte is an interesting cake, and not at all what i thought it would end up like when I was baking it. Usually, when you separate egg whites and yolks and do the ol' "stiff peak, fold 'em in" technique, you end up with a light spongue. This cake, however, became a dense, somewhat fudgey cake. Mary Berry said in her recipe that the cake gets better in the second or first day, but perhaps I did something wrong, because when I ate the leftovers, they were a bit dry and needed a heaping of whipped cream or a glass of milk. I think it might be the almond flour weighing the cake down, and possibly too long in the oven (bakers' mistake).
As you know, I sometimes find cleaning a stand mixer bowl and its attachments to be just too much work, and pulling out the stand mixer a feat of strength and maneuvering that is sometimes beyond me in my tiny kitchen. And so, I've learned to love doing things by hand sometimes -- including egg whites. One pro-tip on doing this and keeping your stamina up is to roll up a towel and wrap it under your bowl to stabilize it. Then you can switch off hands and not have to waste the energy holding the bowl and whisking at the same time. Look at me, all about energy efficiency.
Doing things by hand also lets you see all the different stages of whatever you're doing. With egg whites, you can see (and even feel) the difference between raw whites, froth, soft peaks, and stiff peaks. My favorite test, which always, always makes me nervous, is turning the bowl upside down -- if the whites stay in, they're at stiff peaks. If they fall out... you start from square one. The five second rule doesn't apply to egg whites.
I like to think of recipes like this as yin and yang, and when you bring them together, the whole is greater than the parts. If you were to eat a bit of either the left or right batter, neither would taste good. But once you fold the whites into the chocolate, some sort of magic happens that makes it all palatabe. Sure, you should bake the cake, but were you to be the type to enjoy batter... that is the stage where you would do it.
Looking back at these pictures, you can definitely see where I over-baked the cake. When I pulled it out of the oven, it had shrunk back from the sides just a bit too much, and was cracking on the top from dryness. I would have done and made another one, if there weren't two component left that would save the cake.
Enter apricot jam. What now? Yes, apricot jam. Think it's weird? It is. But the funny thing is... it works. Actually, after tasting a slice, I felt like there wasn't enough apricot jam. I had no idea apricot and chocolate would pair well, but it went along so well, and with a cake that ended up being somewhat dry, the jam was a perfect complement.
Not to mention a healthy layer of chocolate ganache. Everything is better with chocolate ganache. And it really couldn't be easier: hot cream gets poured onto chocolate chips, let it sit 5 minutes, and stir to consisteny. A little goes a long way with ganache, I think. I've seen people frost layer cakes in ganache, and to me that's a bit of overkill. Chocolate is a delicate flavor, and a lot of people go overboard with it when it comes to ganache. If you want to beat someone over the head with chocolate flavor, sure this is one way to do it, but they'll hate you later. The better way is to mix your chocolate sources: some cocoa, some ganache, some whole. That way, you still have that intense chocolate, but it's cut by more interesting textures. Here, it's a thin layer of ganache with a dense chocolate cake.
Part of the fun of the chocolate ganache in this recipe is you pour it over the cake. This gives the cake a very even layer of ganache, which is beautiful, and also leaves a ton of ganache that dripped off as excess. Another "baker's treat" that I enjoyed with a spoon while cleaning up.
makes one 9" cake (serves 12)
140 grams (5 ounces) DARK CHOCOLATE (I use Ghirardelli 60% chocolate chips)
140 grams (5 ounces) UNSALTED BUTTER, softened
115 grams (4 ounces) GRANULATED SUGAR
1/2 teaspoon VANILLA EXTRACT
5 large EGGS, separated
85 grams (3 ounces) ALMOND FLOUR
55 grams (2 ounces) ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR
6 tablespoons APRICOT JAM
140 grams (5 ounces) DARK CHOCOLATE CHIPS
200 milliliters (7 ounces) (2/3 cup + 1 teaspoon) HEAVY CREAM
25 grams (1 ounce) MILK CHOCOLATE
1. Preheat oven to 350F, grease and line with greased parchment a 9" round cake pan
2. Melt DARK CHOCOLATE either over a double boiler, or in the microwave on 15 second intervals, stirring in between, and let cool
3. Beat BUTTER until soft, then add GRANULATED SUGAR and beat until light and fluffy
4. Add melted, cooled chocolate and VANILLA EXTRACT into butter mixture and beat until incorporated
5. Add EGG YOLKS to chocolate mixture and beat until incorporated
6. Fold in ALMOND FLOUR and FLOUR to chocolate mixture
7. In a separate bowl, whip EGG WHITES until stiff peaks form
8. Fold beaten egg whites into chocolate mixture in three stages--the first you can be aggresive and beat in, but the other two stages fold in to keep aeration
9. Pour batter into pan and bake 45-50 minutes, until top springs back when lightly pressend on
10. Cool in pan for a few minutes, then turn out upsidedown onto a wire rack (so the bottom is now the top) to cool completely
1. Push the APRICOT JAM through a sieve to get a smooth jelly, discard chunky remnants
2. Heat jam in the microwave for about 30 seconds to thin it out, and use a pastry brush to brush all 6 tablespoons on the top and around the side of the cake, then let the jam set
3. Heat HEAVY CREAM on the stove or in the microwave until steaming but not boiling, and pour over the CHOCOLATE CHIPS, then cover with a plate and leave for 3 minutes
4. Whisk the cream and chocolate, gently at first, then more aggresively as the chocolate melts, until a smooth consistency is reached (this is ganache) -- don't whisk too much or the ganache will become too aerated, then let cool until room temperature
5. Pour the chocolate ganache over the cake, making sure the entire top and sides are covered -- you can use a knife or spatula to "push" any chocolate to cover the entire cake
6. Melt the MILK CHOCOLATE in the microwave, put in a piping bag or parchment cone and let cool to room temperature, so it's not too runny
7. With the melted millk chocolate, pipe the word "Sacher" on top of the cake, then let cool to set
My husband and I have different ideas on the right way to consume a cake.
A personal challenge to conquer every technical challenge, and select signature bakes, from The Great British Bake Off
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