Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Italian Challah for BBD#46

For Bread Baking Day #46, Noor of Ya Salam Cooking encouraged us to Bake a bread from a place you would love to visit. There are lots of places I would love to visit so I had a hard time deciding which country and what bread to make. I thought about making Irish Scones from Ireland, or a flatbread from the Mediterranean, but I finally settled on Italy and Italian Bread. I love Italian Bread and Italy is definitely one of the places I would love to visit.

This Italian Challah is another bread that’s really easy to make and doesn’t take much time. I like that!  This is the BOM (Bread of the Month) for January for the Artisan Bread Bakers FB Group.  This is a family recipe that was handed down to Anthony, one of the members of the FB group so it sounded like a neat bread to try and fit the bill perfectly for BBD#46.

Instead of shaping this challah in the traditional freeform 3-strand braid, I opted to place it in a loaf pan as the recipe suggested.  I’m so glad I did. I loved the way it turned out. I love braided breads and it’s fun to try different methods.


This bread is made with olive oil instead of butter and only includes a little bit of sugar so it makes great sandwich bread. Another sandwich bread; that makes three this month: Sprouted Spelt Bread, Cuban Bread and this Italian Challah.


Nana’s Egg Bread or Italian Challah


  • 500g all-purpose, unbleached flour
  • 215g warm water
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk*
  • 15g white sugar (I used raw sugar)
  • 15g extra virgin olive oil (added a little extra during the kneading because the dough was too dry)
  • 11g kosher salt
  • 10g active dry yeast (I used instant)
  • 1 large egg (for egg wash) (*I used the leftover egg white for this part)


Equipment Needed:

  • 9"x5" bread pan (optional)
  • Digital scale
  • Cooking spray
  • Plastic wrap



1) Mixing the Dough

Scale out your flour, salt, yeast, olive oil, and sugar into the bowl.


Crack the eggs (separating the one) and add to bowl. Scale out your water (separately in case you mess up), and then add it to the bowl.


2) Kneading the Dough

Use the dough hook on your mixer and mix the dough on the lowest setting for 2-3 minutes until everything pulls together. Depending on your mixer, put it up to the typical speed that you're comfortable mixing bread doughs at. Whatever that is, allows the dough hook to knead it for 15 minutes. (If it strains at all, turn it down a notch.)



3) Bulk Fermentation

When your finished kneading, place the dough in a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap (I sprayed a bit of vegetable cooking spray on it just in case it proofs up and touches the plastic wrap). Allow it to proof until doubled.

Once doubled (dimple test it), remove the dough from the bowl for shaping.


4) Shaping the Challah

You can shape this as a regular pan loaf by rolling it out (whether with a rolling pin or just by hand) to about 1/2 inch in thickness. The width should be no wider than the bread pan you intend to use. Then, roll up the dough tightly and make sure it seals well at the end.

I decided to braid the loaf, then bake the braided loaf in a loaf pan. I began the process by dividing the dough evenly into 3 balls.


Then I rolled each ball into a long rope and placed them side-by-side on the counter.



I overlapped the ropes in the middle of the loaf and braided one end and then switch to the other end to finish the braiding. 



For detailed instructions, including a photo tutorial, on braiding breads, refer Making Braided Bread: Challah.



This braid was the perfect size to fit in a 9”x5”-inch loaf pan.  However, if your braid ends up being a bit too long, just tuck the ends of it under to fit it in the pan.



5) Proofing the Loaf

Cover the braid with plastic wrap and allow it to double in size (should crest nicely above the rim of the pan). This will take 45 minutes to an hour.  If you decided to make a free-form braid, just cover it with plastic wrap and allow it to double on the sheet pan.



6) Preparing the Loaf for Baking

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F and place an empty steam pan on the bottom rack.

Whisk the extra egg (or egg white) and add a couple of teaspoons of water to make an egg wash.

Once the loaf is doubled, and just before placing in the oven, brush on the egg wash. Be sure to get the sides and make sure it's got a nice even coat.



7) Baking the Challah

Add hot water to the steam pan and transfer the loaf to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, turning half way through baking until it's a rich golden brown.

Remove the loaf from the pan at the end of 20 minutes and see if the lower crust is browned enough. If it is not browned enough, put it back in on a sheet pan or pizza screen for another 5 minutes.  When I removed the loaf from the pan, it was a bit soft on the bottom so I put it on a baking sheet and placed it back in the oven for a couple of minutes until the bottom sounded hollow when I thumped on it.


8) Cooling and Slicing the Loaf

Allow to cool completely on a rack before slicing.


This bread has been YeastSpotted. Please visit Wild Yeast to view all of the lovely breads in the weekly roundup.


9) Enjoy! 

This egg bread reminds me of Brioche (without all the extra butter). It makes a fabulous grilled cheese sandwich.  I served it with some kosher dill pickles.  Sorry I didn’t take a photo of that part, but I enjoyed it immensely.


This bread probably freezes really well, but I don’t think that will be necessary this time. I’m enjoying it too much! Winking smile


Bread Baking Day #46 (last day of submission February 1st)



Thanks to Noor of Ya Salam Cooking for encouraged us to Bake a bread from a place you would love to visit as the theme for BBD (Bread Baking Day) #46.






I also want to thank Anthony of the Artisan Bread Bakers for choosing this Italian Challah for the January BOM. It’s a wonderful bread!  Thanks for sharing your family recipe!


Happy Baking!


Sunday, 29 January 2012

Drying a Sourdough Starter

Have you ever wondered how to dry a sourdough starter? It’s really easy and fun!


There are a number of reasons why you might want to dry or dehydrate your sourdough starter. For one thing, it makes for easy storage. It can also serve as a backup in case you forget to save some when you use your starter to make bread. Or, if your starter goes bad for any reason, you can restart the dried starter without having to begin the process of creating a new one all over again.

Drying some of my sourdough starter has been on my list for a long time, but I just hadn’t gotten around to it. However, necessity is the mother of invention as they say, and this is what finally led me to try this experiment.

My motivation for going through this process was simply due to the fact that a sourdough culture is more portable/transferrable in the dried state than in the liquid state. It’s not very practical to carry a jar of sourdough around with you, although I must admit I have tried it. Just ask my sons about the time we went to Tybee Island a few years ago and how I kept my starter in the room and fed it everyday. That was an interesting experience, but not very practical.



My journey into the world of drying my own sourdough began a few weeks ago when I attended a get together with one of my hiking groups. I got into a conversation with another bread enthusiast and she mentioned that she liked to make sourdough breads but hadn’t been able to successfully cultivate a sourdough starter yet. I told her about the starters I had cultivated and that I had documented the process on my blog. It occurred to me later that night that I could just share some of my starter with her. So I asked her if she would be willing to be my tester for this project and she agreed.

Thus began my experiment with drying a sourdough culture…

I’ve been working on this experiment for several weeks. I’ve dried and restarted my sourdough starter numerous times to make sure the process and the culture work properly. I’ve got the drying part down so that’s what I’ll focus on in this post.

You can find the process for restarting a dried sourdough here.


How to Dry a Sourdough Starter

Here is the process I used to dry some of my apple starter. I love hiking and this is the starter that I created from the apples I picked when I went apple picking and hiking last Fall.  It seemed only fitting that it should be immortalized in dried form and shared amongst the hiking community.


1) Feed the mature sourdough starter

You want to make sure your starter is active so begin the process by feeding it a few hours before you plan to dry some of it.  There are a couple of ways to do this. One way is to take a couple of tablespoons of the sourdough that you would normally discard and feed it with 20 grams of water and 20 grams of flour.  Then feed the remaining starter using your normal feeding schedule/process.

I found it easier to just discard the amount I usually discard when I feed my starter: 250 grams.  Then I fed the remaining starter with 125 grams of water and 125 grams of sourdough as I usually do.  Once the starter was active, I took the amount that I wanted to dry out of the fed starter and put the remaining starter in a clean jar and placed it back in the refrigerator for use another day. I did this several times so my starter was nicely fed and happy over the past few weeks.



2) Spread the starter out to dry

Once the starter is active and bubbly, take a couple of tablespoons of the active starter and spread it on a parchment-lined baking sheet. I used a pastry brush but you could also use a spatula.  If your starter is too thick, you can thin it by adding a little bit of water to make it easier to spread. I tried it with extra water and without extra water and it worked either way. 

I tested it several times using the parchment-lined baking sheet and parchment-lined cooling racks. Both methods work, but the air seems to circulate a little bit better with the cooling racks.



3) Place the baking sheets in a warm place

I put the parchment-lined baking sheets and cooling racks in the oven with the light on for several hours and then turned the light off.  If the oven got to cold, I would turn the light back on for a little while and then turn it off.  This seemed to aid the drying process without being too hot to kill the yeast spores. It was rainy and damp during a lot of my experiment so it took a couple of days to completely dry the starter on several attempts, but on the last attempt, it only took one day because it was sunny and warm.

When the starter is ready, it should be completely dry and crackly.



4) Grind the dried starter

Once it is fully dried, grind the flakes using a mortar and pestle or place the flakes in a Ziploc bag and use a rolling pin to crush them.  Or, you could even use a food processor.  I tried the mortal and pestle method, but the starter pieces kept jumping out of the bowl so I opted to grind them in my coffee grinder instead. That worked really well.



5) Storing and sharing the dried culture

So there you have it!  A dried sourdough culture that is portable and storable. You can keep it in a Ziploc bag in the freezer and/or share some with your bread-baking friends.

I have two jars of dried sourdough at this point. I put one jar in the freezer and labeled it with the date. The other jar will be divided up and placed in Ziploc bags to give away.  It only takes a couple of teaspoons to restart the sourdough. More on that later…


Now, it’s time to take some of the dried culture on one of my hiking excursions and let my hiking buddy test it for me.  I’ll let you know how it goes.


Happy Baking!



Here are some of the resources I found useful for learning how to dry a sourdough starter:

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Cuban Bread – About as simple as it gets!

If you’re looking for a quick and easy white bread recipe, this Cuban Bread is about as easy as it gets. It contains five simple ingredients: flour, yeast, salt, water, plus a little sugar and can be made in a couple of hours from start-to-finish. Now that’s what I call simple! 

Ilva of Lucullian Delights chose this Revolutionary Cuban Bread for the Bread Baking Babes.  I almost missed out baking with the babes this month, but this recipe is so quick and easy, I was able to make it in the evening even after a busy day in the office.

The final proofing for this bread is done in the oven while the oven is warming up.  You place the loaves in a cold oven with a steam pan of hot water underneath.  This differs from a lot of artisan breads that require preheating the oven during the final proofing of the dough, and then placing the loaves in the warm oven with a steam pan underneath.  I was intrigued by this process and enjoyed watching the bread unfold. The bread literally opened up during the bake like a beautiful flower. 



Cuban Bread Recipe

Makes: Two round loaves

From Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads


  • 700-840g (5-6 cups) of bread or all-purpose flour, I used all-purpose
  • 18g (2 packages or 1 1/2 T) dry yeast, I used instant
  • 15g (1 T) salt, I used Kosher salt
  • 25g (2 T) sugar, I used raw sugar
  • 450g (500 ml/ 2 cups) hot water
  • sesame or poppy seeds for sprinkling (optional)



1) Mix the dough by hand or mixer (15 mins)
Place 4 cups flour in a mixing bowl and add the yeast, salt and sugar. Stir until they are well blended. Pour in the hot water and beat with 100 strong strokes, or three minutes with a mixer flat beater. Gradually work in the remaining flour (using fingers if necessary), 1/2 cup at a time until the dough takes shape and is no longer sticky. I used about 5 cups of flour total.



2) Kneading the Dough (8 mins)
Sprinkle the work surface with flour. Work in the flour as you knead, keeping a dusting of it between the dough and the work surface.



Knead for 8 minutes by hand or with a dough hook until the dough is smooth, elastic, and feels alive under your hands.



3) Rising (15 mins)
Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and put in a warm (26-37°C/80-100°F) place until double in bulk, about 15 minutes.



4) Shaping the Loaves (4 mins)
Punch down the dough, turn it out on the work surface, and cut into two pieces. 



Shape each into a round. Place on the baking sheet. I used a parchment-lined baking sheet.



With a sharp knife or razor, slash X on each of the loaves. I used my new lame.



If desired, brush or spray with water, and sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds.



5) Baking the Loaves (205°C/400°F; 45-50 mins)
Place the baking sheet on the middle shelf of a cold oven. Place a large pan of hot water on the shelf below, and heat the oven to 205°C/400°F. The bread of course, will continue to rise while the oven is heating. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until the loaves are a deep golden brown. Thump on the bottom crusts to test for doneness. If they sound hard and hollow, they are baked.


6) Cooling the loaves
Cool the loaves on a wire rack for about an hour before slicing if you can.



7) Slicing and Eating the Loaves

Now it’s time to enjoy.  This bread is really good considering the time it takes to make it.  I enjoyed it with peanut butter and just plain with butter.  It’s also good just plain.


This bread has been YeastSpotted. Please visit Wild Yeast to view all of the lovely breads in the weekly roundup.


Since this bread doesn’t contain any fat, it won’t keep very long so you’ll want to eat it right away or freeze it. This bread freezes really well so I froze one of the loaves to enjoy another day.

Happy Baking!


Saturday, 21 January 2012

Tuscan Bean Soup with Kale

I’ve been on a soup kick recently. It’s funny how your tastes evolve as you get older. For the longest time, I only enjoyed a few varieties of soup. Now, it seems I can’t get enough. Every time I see a new soup recipe, I want to try it.

This is one of those recipes. It’s a hearty vegetarian Tuscan Bean Soup that includes cannellini beans and kale.  I haven’t cooked with kale before so this was a good opportunity to try it.

This soup is very satisfying. I really like the flavor. Some of the comments on the original recipe stated that it was bitter. I didn’t find it to be bitter at all, but I made a couple of substitutions. I used balsamic vinegar instead of cider vinegar and added more beans and vegetable broth.



Cannellini Bean and Kale Soup

Serves: 4

Adapted from: Fine Cooking Cannellini Bean and Kale Soup


  • 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (1-1/2 cups)
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and finely chopped (3/4 cup)
  • 2 medium celery stalks, finely chopped (3/4 cup)
  • 1-1/2 tsp. minced fresh rosemary (I used dried rosemary)
  • 2 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced (1 Tbs.)
  • 1 quart homemade or lower-salt vegetable broth (I used 4 cans)
  • 3 15-oz. cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 6 oz. Lacinato kale, center ribs removed, leaves chopped (about 4 firmly packed cups)
  • 1 Parmigiano-Reggiano rind (1x3 inches; optional)  (I didn’t add this)
  • 1-1/2 tsp. cider vinegar (I used balsamic vinegar)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper



Heat the oil in a 4- to 5-quart pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and rosemary and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 6 minutes.



Add the tomato paste and garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 seconds.



Add the broth, beans, kale, and Parmigiano rind (if using).


Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer gently until the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.



Stir the vinegar into the soup and season to taste with salt and pepper.



Enjoy!  I served this soup with a couple of slices of the Five Grain Spelt Levain. Yummy!



nutrition information (per serving, original recipe):
Calories (kcal): 280; Fat (g): 6; Fat Calories (kcal): 50; Saturated Fat (g): 1; Protein (g): 12; Monounsaturated Fat (g): 2.5; Carbohydrates (g): 46; Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 1.5; Sodium (mg): 700; Cholesterol (mg): 0; Fiber (g): 12;

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Sprouted Spelt Bread

The HBinFive Baking Group made sandwich breads this month. Sprouted Wheat Bread is one of my favorite sandwich breads so I decided to continue my experiment with different types of sprouted grains and come up with a new sprouted grain sandwich bread. I used my favorite sprouted bread recipe, but substituted spelt grains for the whole wheat grains and spelt flour for the whole wheat and bread flours. The finished bread is very tasty.


I milled spelt grains into flour and sifted part of the flour twice to remove a good bit of the bran.  I substituted the sifted spelt flour for the bread flour and the unsifted spelt flour for the whole wheat flour called for in the original recipe.

In the photo below, the sifted flour is shown in the top left.  The whole grain flour is in the bottom right and the sifted bran is shown in the bottom left.



Sprouted Spelt Bread Recipe

Adapted from The Pleasure of Whole-Grain Breads by Beth Hensperger

Makes: 3 Medium Loaves or 1 Pullman Loaf and 1 Small Loaf*

*The original recipe makes three medium loaves. I decided to make one loaf in my Pullman pan and one loaf in my small loaf pan.  I used about 2/3 of the dough for the Pullman loaf and the rest for the smaller loaf.



  • 1/2 cup (4 oz) warm water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons (1 1/2 packages) active dry yeast
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Pinch of ginger
  • 2 cups (260 g) whole spelt flour
  • 1 cup (85 g) nonfat dry milk powder
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (12 oz) warm water
  • 1/4 cup (3 oz) honey
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • Sprouted spelt berries, chopped (see method below)
  • 4 cups (540 g) spelt flour (sifted once to remove the bran and germ)
  • Wheat germ, for sprinkling (optional)
  • Melted butter, for brushing (optional)



Step 1: Sprouting the Spelt Berries

Duration: 2 to 3 days

Makes: ~2 cups

1/2 cup raw spelt berries

Place the spelt berries in a bowl and add tepid water to cover by 1 inch. Let stand at room temperature for 6 to 8 hours.



Drain the spelt berries and rinse with fresh water. Place in a 1-quart jar. Cover with cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band. Place the jar on its side in a warm, dark place. Twice a day, rinse and drain the berries with tepid water poured through the cheesecloth.



How long should you sprout the berries? Sprout the berries just until the tiny sprout is barely beginning to show and the grain itself is tender – this could take anywhere from 18 hours to 36 hours, depending on the temperature in your house. If the grain sprouts develop long enough for diastatic enzymes to get started, it will make the bread very gooey and it won't bake through. 


Additional posts and helpful information on sprouted bread:


What if you’re not ready to use the sprouts just yet? Refrigerate the sprouts in a plastic bag for up to 3 days. 

I sprouted the spelt berries for a couple of days, then refrigerated them for a few days until I was ready to bake the bread. Just remember, they will continue to germinate while in the refrigerator.



When you’re ready to bake the bread, grind the berries in a food processor or blender. Be careful not to over process; the berries should be chunky.


Step 2: Making the Bread

Pour 1/2 cup warm water into a small bowl. Sprinkle the yeast, sugar, and ginger over the water. Stir to dissolve and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.



In a large bowl using a whisk or in the bowl of your mixer, combine the whole spelt flour, milk powder, and salt.



Add the warm water, honey, and 4 tablespoons butter. Mix by hand or beat in the mixer for 1 minute. Add the yeast mixture and beat 1 minute longer. Add all the spelt berries and the spelt bread flour, 1/2 cup at a time, beating on low speed until a soft dough that just clears the sides of the bowl forms.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until soft and spongy, 1 to 2 minutes for a machine mixed dough and 3 to 4 minutes for a hand-mixed dough, dusting with flour only 1 tablespoon at a time, just enough as needed to prevent sticking.



Place dough in a lightly greased deep container, turn once to coat the top with oil, and cover with plastic wrap.



Let rise at room temperature until double in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.



Grease a Pullman pan and an 8-by-4-inch loaf pan and sprinkle the bottom and sides with wheat germ.

Divide the dough into two pieces.  Use about 2/3 of the dough for the Pullman loaf and the rest for the smaller loaf or divide it into three pieces to make three medium loaves. Shape the dough into balls, cover them with plastic and let them rest on the counter for 10 to 15 minutes.



Shape the large dough ball into a cylinder shape.



Place the cylinder in the Pullman Pan and cover it with the lid.



Flatten the smaller dough ball on the counter and pat it into a rectangle.  Then, roll it up jellyroll style into a loaf shape. Press the seam closed with your fingers and place, seam side down, into the prepared pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until level with the rims of the pan, about 1 hour.



About 15 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and position a rack in the center of the oven. Bake the loaves for 45 to 50 minutes, or until crusty and golden. Remove the loaf from the pans to cool on a rack and brush the top with melted butter (if desired).



Let the loaves cool, then slice and enjoy. I like this bread, it has a great flavor.  It makes a great grilled cheese sandwich and tastes yummy spread with jam.




Thanks for joining me in the bread-baking blog. 


Happy Baking!