Challah today, French toast tomorrow

(Honey Poppyseed Challah)

The above loaf was double glazed, sprinkled with poppyseeds and slipped into the oven. For forty agonising minutes, there was a gentle scent of warm honey in the air. All I wanted to do was star-wipe to the moment when I would be sitting down to a plate of fresh challah French toast. Soon, soon.

In truth, I don’t eat much French toast or even bake challah very often. But over a bowl of oatmeal the other morning, I found myself fantasising about a pile of fried eggy bread, dripping with honey and sweet blueberries. (Yes, I often think about other foods I’m not eating as I eat. Doesn’t everyone? Some things are a little harder to attain at short notice though.. like a fresh fish breakfast from Tokyo’s Tsukiji market or one of Pierre Herme’s magical Ispahan macarons.)

The general lack of fresh baked challah in our home probably stems from my fear of braids. Having lived most of my life thus far under the same bowl haircut, you could say what was lacking was sufficient childhood braiding experience. For the purposes of this exercise, I used Rose Levy Berenbaum’s traditional challah recipe from her book, which you can also find here. After gravely contemplating instructions for the 6-braid loaf, I wimped out and opted for the simpler 3-braid, which still managed to get screwed up slightly.

But I did learn a few things along the way.

If you prepare the dough the day before and chill it overnight, you can bake it the next day, just in time for morning tea. There are several subtle things you can do to enhance the quality or flavour of the loaf. Substituting honey for sugar makes the baking bread smell *amazing* and the flavour in the end product is really lovely and delicate. Melissa Clark uses orange juice and extra virgin olive oil in her recipe, which I can imagine must also make for a very delicious loaf. If you’re considering making this, go for 6-braids. There’s even whispers of a 9-braid loaf for the most daring.

Do it, and let me know what time I should be over for breakfast.

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Amaranth “Happiness” Candy

(Amaranth “happiness” candy)

A very good friend has been complaining about being single. Her objection to spinsterhood (plus one cat) stems mostly from the fact she feels as though she has done everything expected in life – education, job, own home, own car – and yet there is still one thing that remains so elusive – a relationship. Commit to doing all the right things and happiness will follow? So not true, she grumbled.

I guess I could’ve given her the spiel about how some things take time. That we often place greater value on what we don’t have, rather than what we already have. I could’ve said a million things and sprouted enough catch phrases to fill three self-help books, but it seemed as though this was one of those times where all you’re expected to do is listen. If we’re lucky, age and experience eventually fills in the gaps where advice from friends have failed.

I was once lucky enough to work for an amazing chef whose technique still influences me to this day. There was a piece of advice she gave me out of the blue one day, that really stuck with me (though I didn’t realise it at the time). She said, Never be afraid to ask for what you’re worth. It has taken almost five years for this to sink in. It wasn’t about suddenly gaining a measure of self-worth. I think I finally remembered that I had value.

No one is going to evaluate you like a piece of furniture or a 3-bedroom house. Self-worth is something you have to price for yourself, not forgetting that happiness does not automatically follow.

Incidentally, I know a good looking 30-something female with a steady career and wide circle of friends who is looking for a similar guy with a long term relationship in mind. Know any one suitable? Drop me a line.

Amaranth “Happiness” Candy :
(recipe from My Sweet Mexico by Fany Gerson)

1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans
1/2 cup lightly toasted peanuts
1/2 cup dark raisins
1/2 cup lightly toasted pumpkin seeds [I used sunflower seeds]
8 ounces chopped piloncillo [I used 200g brown sugar]
1/2 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
4 ounces puffed amaranth seeds [I used 120g]

Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Combine the pecans, peanuts, raisins and pumpkin seeds in a bowl and spread on the prepared pan.

Combine the piloncillo, honey and lemon juice in a medium pot over medium heat and cook until the piloncillo has melted and the mixture has thickened slightly, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the amaranth seeds, stirring quickly to mix everything well. Pour into the pan with the nuts and seeds, and carefully press down with slightly damp hands (so you don’t burn yourself) to compact the mixture.

Allow to cool completely, 30 to 40 minutes at least, then invert onto a cutting board. Cut the mixture into the desired shapes with a sharp knife. If it seems to be sticking to the knife, simply dip the knife into hot water, dry, and continue cutting.

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Honey Quinoa Bars

(Honey Quinoa Bars)

Floods and heat waves aside, the year has started pretty well for me personally. In fact there’s almost nothing to complain about unless I need to vent over lacking any material that requires a grumble or two to be lodged on this blog.

I’m loving my new job and have been able to spend marginally more time with the bf. Plus one of my closest friends recently moved across the road and my brother is on the brink of tying the knot with his long-term girlfriend, hence a big family reunion is in the works. In terms of social math, this equates to feeble forays into reviving a near-extinct social life.

So unless butter and egg supplies dwindle, and my physiotherapist moves to New Zealand (oh wait, she did), it appears as though I have nothing to write about!

I’ve been experiencing a health food store kick recently. Mind you, it’s not quite the same thing as being on a health kick, because that would probably mean having to eschew these lovely sweet and chewy bars. A recent visit yielded some interesting ingredients including puffed quinoa and amaranth, black tahini and coconut butter which I used in a Babycakes NYC recipe (more on that in a future post). The puffed quinoa went into some honey bars that we enjoyed as breakfast and midnight snacks for the rest of the week..

The honey quinoa bars started life as..

Honey Hemp Bars :
(from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy by Alice Medrich)

24g puffed rice or millet cereal [I used puffed quinoa]
66g hemp seeds
53g pecan or walnut halves, medium-finely chopped
2 tablespoons black (or white or tan) sesame seeds
47g raw pumpkin seeds [I used sunflower seeds]
2 teaspoons flax meal (ground flaxseed)
2 tablespoons dried currants [I used wolfberries/goji berries]
140g honey
1 tablespoon date paste or mashed dates
rounded 1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 150’C.

In a large bowl, toss the cereal, hemp seeds, nuts, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax meal, and currants to mix.

In a small saucepan, warm the honey, date paste, salt, and vanilla, stirring and mashing until the date paste is dissolved and/or evenly dispersed. Pour the honey mixture over the dry ingredients and fold until all of the ingredients are moistened and sticky. It may seem at first that there is not enough honey, just continue to fold.

Scrape the mixture into an 8 inch square pan (greased and lined with baking paper) and spread it evenly with a fork. Using the back of the fork tines, press the mixture very firmly all over to compact and adhere the ingredients.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the top is barely golden (if in doubt, take it out so that the honey does not get scorched). Cool in the pan on a rack. Lift the ends of the baking paper to remove the bars from the pan. Gently peel off the paper. Use a heavy sharp knife to cut bars or squares. May be kept in an airtight container for 2 weeks or more.

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