Saffron Challah for BreadBakingDay #04

Saffron Challah braid and rosette

Manuela of Baking History is our gracious host for BreadBakingDay #04. When she announced that the theme for this month would be “Bread with Spice(s),” I immediately thought of a bread that I’ve had in mind to try for a while now: saffron challah.

I love saffron, I love challah, and I love to shape dough, so I was in my own little heaven with this one. Challah is the most amazing dough –– it starts out so stiff you think the only thing you’re going to be able to produce with it is some sort of weapon… but then darned if it doesn’t ferment its beautiful golden self into the most supple, silky, workable stuff you’ve ever had the pleasure of holding in your hands.

Challah lends itself spectacularly well to a multitude of braided and other shapes. I decided to go with three braids that look intricate but are simple to do. One has two strands, the other two have six strands each. Notes on the shaping follow the recipe.

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Pan de Muerto

Pan de Muerto loaf closeup

The first days of November mark Mexico’s Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos), a lively and rich tradition in which departed loved ones are honored and the cycle of life is celebrated.

Although I have never had the opportunity to visit Mexico during this festive time, I wanted to try my hand at making Pan de Muerto (Bread of the Dead), which is traditionally sculpted in a representation of bones. I adapted this one from a recipe in Diana Kennedy’s My Mexican Kitchen: Techniques and Ingredients, as posted on Epicurious. My changes reflect what I discovered worked best for me in making the recipe twice.

The bread is sweet and eggy, similar in texture to a yeasted coffee cake. This one has no anise seed, although other recipes I have seen include it. I didn’t use orange blossom water, only orange zest, and the result was a subtly citrus-scented loaf. [Read more...]

Tortas de Aceite (Olive Oil Wafers)

Tortas de Aceite (Olive Oil Wafers)

Oh my goodness. When my daughter went to Sevilla, Spain two summers ago, she brought back some tortas de aceite, the crisp, lightly sweet olive oil wafers traditionally made there, and I was in love.

Imagine my delight when, paging through Penelope Casas’ excellent La Cocina de Mama: The Great Home Cooking of Spain, I found a recipe for tortas de aceite that calls for leftover bread or pizza dough. I had that leftover dough! And in short order, I had those tortas. I was in love all over again.

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Grissini (Thin Bread Sticks)

Grissini bouquet

If you think you can’t bake bread (which is probably a false notion, by the way), grissini are a sure-fire way to fast success.

These thin bread sticks could not be simpler to make. If you love playing with dough, you’ll get plenty of opportunity here. And who doesn’t love their eminently nosh-able crunch, not to mention the visual panache a bouquet of these babies adds to the dinner table?

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Rustic Flax Seed-Currant Bread

Rustic Flax Seed-Currant Bread

Flax seed - currant bread slicesIf I’m being honest, I must say that neither flax seeds nor currants make my list of favorite taste sensations. So no one is more surprised than me that this rustic bread freckled with these prosaic little ingredients is nothing short of magnificent.

Nutty and light with an occasional hit of sweetness provided by the fruit, flax seed-currant bread is equally at home for breakfast with a drizzle of honey, sliced horizontally for hearty ham sandwich , or after dinner with fruit and cheese.

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Overnight Ciabatta

Ciabatta Crumb

I often refrigerate my loaves after shaping, letting them finish up their final proof in the fridge overnight, for example, so that they’re ready to bake first thing in the morning, or whenever. This has proven to be a wonderful technique for controlling my baking schedule so I can fit a few other activities in (you know, little things like work and sleep).

If I have more than a couple of loaves, though, that can take up rather a lot of space in the refrigerator. When someone on The Fresh Loaf recently brought up the subject of retarding (refrigerating) the dough during its initial fermentation to save on fridge space, I realized that was a pretty good idea, which I had not considered before, especially for breads that proof in a space-greedy couche (thanks, beenjamming!). Then in my recent class at SFBI, retarding was covered in some depth and it was confirmed that, yes, bulk retarding is a very fine strategy. One of the breads we made to illustrate this was a ciabatta, which recipe I have adapted here by substituting a little whole wheat flour and increasing the water to satisfy that thirsty flour.
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