The Blessing of Bread

"And there was a continual blessing in her dough." So begins A Taste of Challah: A Comprehensive Guide to Challah and Bread Baking, the latest book by Tamar Ansh.

Almost every culture has its own traditional breads. However, there is something mystical and unique about the special Jewish bread called challah. The skill of baking and braiding this item has been passed down through the generations, survival upheavals and migrations, and continues to this day.

Ansh said that she wrote the book to "demystify" the process — "so that everyone, everywhere, can enjoy baking challah and bread."

The book offers detailed, step-by-step instructions about making challah from start to finish, coupled with more than 350 full-color photographs. It also notes the appropriate blessings that go along with the making and eating of bread and bread products.

It wouldn't be fair just to give away her challah secrets, which Ansh insisted are made easy, but here is a sampling of other items added in a chapter near the end of the work.

May you add them to your holiday table!

Cinnabon Cinnamon Rolls


For the Dough:

21/4 tsps. dry yeast
1 cup warm milk (use soy or rice milk if making recipe nondairy)
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter or pareve margarine, melted
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
4 cups flour

For the Filling:

1 cup packed brown sugar
11/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup (2 oz.) cream cheese (if making nondairy, use tofu cheese)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

To make the dough, dissolve the yeast in warm milk in a large bowl.

Mix together the sugar, butter or margarine, salt and eggs. Add the flour and mix well.

Knead this dough into a large ball. Place in a lightly greased bowl, cover it and let it rise for 1 hour.

Punch down the dough and roll it out on a lightly floured surface.

Cut 2- to 3-inch-long strips from the dough. Combine the filling ingredients in a bowl.

Spread the margarine over the dough and sprinkle some of the filling on each strip.

Roll up each strip as a pinwheel and lay it on a lined baking tray to rise.

Preheat oven to 400°.

Let the rolls rise again until double in size, about 30 minutes.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until light-brown on top.

Combine the icing ingredients while the rolls are baking. Beat well with an electric mixer until the icing is fluffy.

Coat each bun generously with icing — while hot! Freezes well.

Makes 12 to 20 rolls.


Traditional Bobka


For the Dough:

1 cup warm water
1 cup orange juice at room temperature
50 grams fresh yeast
11/2 cups pareve margarine
1 cup sugar
8 cups flour
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1 Tbsp. vanilla sugar

For the Filling:

3/4 cup cocoa
11/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsps. vanilla sugar

For the Crumb Topping:

1 cup flour
1/2 cup margarine
3/4 cup sugar

In a small bowl, combine the orange juice with the warm water. Add the yeast and let it bubble up and start to activate. Set aside.

Place the margarine and sugar in the bowl of your mixer, and mix together until it resembles crumbs. Make a well in the center and add the rest of the dough ingredients. Knead together until it becomes slightly sticky.

Cover the bowl and let it rise until double in bulk, about an hour. Punch down and you are "ready to roll."

Combine the filling ingredients in a bowl. Combine crumb-topping ingredients in another bowl. Crumble topping ingredients until product resembles fine crumbs. Reserve for later use.

Divide the dough into four portions for four large bobkas, or seven portions for seven smaller-sized ones. Bobkas have more shape and height if they are baked in loaf pans, so if you have them, then either line them with parchment baking paper or spray them with cooking spray to prepare them for your rolled loaves.

Lightly grease your working surface with some oil. Pour more oil and leave it nearby; you will need this to smear on the rolled-out dough before sprinkling on the filling ingredients.

Divide each piece of dough into two. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to make a medium-sized oval, making sure it is not too thick or too thin. With a pastry brush, brush the dough with a fine layer of oil, from the center outward.

Do not brush oil at the very edges of the dough. Sprinkle the cocoa filling generously all over the oiled dough, up to just before the edges, the same as the oil.

Close up edges of the dough on the shorter sides so that the filling will not spill out; then roll up the dough from the long side, jelly-roll style, and bring the last bit of dough up to meet the roll.

Make two such rolls, then twist them together and place them in the loaf pans you prepared earlier. Leave to rise, slightly covered, for 45 minutes, until double in size.

Preheat oven to 350°.

After loaves have risen, sprinkle the crumb mixture all over the top of each loaf before sliding them into the oven. The topping will fall all over, but that's okay; a lot of it will also stick to the loaf as it bakes.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes for small loaves, and a bit longer for larger loaves, until golden-brown on top.

Leave to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove the bobkas to a wire rack to cool completely.

Freeze for later use or else you won't have anything to put away at all!

Makes 4 large bobkas or 7 small ones.


Sweet Zucchini Bread


3 eggs
2 tsps. vanilla extract
1 cup canola oil
13/4 cups white or light-brown sugar
1 can (8 oz.) crushed pineapple, drained
2 cups shredded zucchini, washed and unpeeled
2 tsps. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1-2 tsps. cinnamon
3 cups flour
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Beat the eggs, vanilla, oil and sugar together until thick. Add the pineapple, zucchini, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.

Add the flour, and on top of that, the raisins and walnuts. (It's always best to add the raisins on top of the flour, as once the raisins are coated with flour, they will not sink down to the bottom of whatever cake or muffin they are in, where they may burn.)

Mix until this is completely blended together and resembles a thick batter.

Pour into loaf pans that have been lined with parchment baking paper.

Bake at 350° for 45 minutes to an hour.

The loaves are done when a cake tester or knife inserted in the middle comes out clean and only very slightly sticky.

These loaves stay moist and slightly sticky inside. Slice and serve, or freeze for later use.

Makes 2 standard loaves or 3 small ones.

Homemade Breadcrumbs

This is a great way to use old challah — by creating your own breadcrumbs.

Spread out pieces of bread on a baking tray, and toast them in a hot oven at 350° for 15 to 20 minutes.

Turn off the heat and allow them to sit in the oven overnight to dry out.

The next day, put dried slices through a food processor and blend them until they become fine crumbs.

Store in an airtight container or zippered storage bag in the freeze until use.


Take slices of day-old challah or bread and cut them into small cubes.

After all the bread has been cubed, place in a large bowl and douse generously with olive oil.

Sprinkle well with granulated garlic, onion powder and parsley flakes.

Toss to coat. Place croutons on a lined baking tray.

Slide into a preheated 350° oven and toast them until they are golden-brown.


Onion Croissants


These are best served warm, and make a great addition to a bowl of hot soup.

For the Dough:

1 oz. (25 grams) yeast
1/2 cup sugar
11/4 cups warm water
3 cups flour
3 cups high-gluten flour
2 eggs
1/2 cup oil
3/4 Tbsp. salt

For the Filling:

2 large onions, diced
1/4 cup canola oil or olive oil
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Place the yeast, some of the sugar and half the warm water in a small bowl. Let the yeast start to bubble and activate.

In the mixing bowl, add the remaining dough ingredients.

Add in the yeast mixture, and knead together until it forms a smooth and pliable dough. Put the dough in a clean plastic bag and allow it to rise until double in bulk, at least 1 hour.

In the meantime, prepare the filling.

Sauté the diced onions in the oil until light golden-brown.

While the flame is still on, add in the breadcrumbs and continue to sauté another few minutes, so that the crumbs also become coated with oil and start to get a little bit crispy.

Turn off the flame. Add in the salt and pepper and toss to coat evenly. Set aside to cool down until use.

Punch the dough down and knead for 5 minutes.

Divide the dough into 4 equal parts. Roll out each section in a large circle and slice it with a knife into 4 or 8 sections, pizza-style. Four sections will make much larger croissants, while 8 will make smaller ones.

Place a heaping tablespoon (or half the amount for the smaller croissants) of the onion mixture into the center of each slice. Starting from the wider end, roll up the slice of dough inward.

After it is rolled, gently shape it into a "U" and lay it down on the baking sheet.

Allow croissants to rise for 45 minutes. They should rise to at least double their size.

About 20 minutes before baking time, preheat oven to 350°. Brush croissants with egg whites.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until croissants are golden-brown.

Makes 16 large or 32 small croissants.


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