NYT’s Favorite Challah

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I’ve been watching a lot of The Great British Bake Off, and it’s really inspired me to make more traditional bakes, like this six-braid challah you see here. The NYTimes is one of my most trusted sources for recipes, and I decided that my first ever attempt at challah should be based on this Joan Nathan “My Favorite Challah” recipe.

I think this recipe is very beginner-friendly – it doesn’t need any specialty ingredients, you can use all-purpose flour, and you don’t need a machine at all. However, I think there were some additional pointers I had in my brain that were not in the recipe as written that would be helpful for someone entirely new to breadmaking. The recipe also makes two loaves, and I don’t have a family to feed, so I halved the recipe. All my notes and pointers are in the recipe below, so keep scrolling to learn more!

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I was worried that the braiding would have got my knickers in a knot (hey-yo!) but it was quite straightforward. I had to redo the braid because I realized I wasn’t braiding it tightly enough, but I was quite pleased with the finished product. As the bread baked, it filled my apartment with a wonderful smell and I couldn’t wait for it to be done.

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Isn’t the loaf a beauty? The defined braids, the mahogany hue from the double egg wash… It almost looks like a carved wooden pillar. It also was quite large, and the finished product weighed 835 g (or 24 oz). It looked delectable on the outside, but would it taste as good as it looked? I waited for another 3-4 hours so it would cool entirely, and the inside did not let me down.

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The bread was soft and fluffy and moist, but not quite as moist as a brioche or Chinese tangzhong bread might be. It pulls apart easily – nowhere near the tugging a sourdough bread would entail – but still with a bit of cragginess and texture. It was quite a delight to eat on its own.

NYTimes Favorite Challah
Adapted from NYTimes
Makes 1 loaf

3/4 tbsps (or 2 1/4 tsps) of active dry yeast
1/2 tablespoon plus 1/4 cup sugar
14 tbsps (or 3/4 cup + 2 tbsps) lukewarm water
1/4 cup vegetable oil, more for greasing bowl
2 large eggs plus 1/2 of a large egg
1/2 tablespoon salt
4 to 4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
Poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling

  1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1/2 tablespoon sugar in 14 tbsps lukewarm water.
  2. Once the yeast mixture looks slightly foamy (about 5 minutes), whisk oil into yeast, then beat in 2 eggs, one at a time, with remaining sugar and salt. Gradually add flour. When dough holds together, it is ready for kneading. (You can also use a mixer with a dough hook for both mixing and kneading.)
  3.  Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth, for about 5 minutes or so. Be sparing with the amount of flour you use to flour the surface. If the dough starts to become tacky again, you’ve gone too far, so stop kneading.
  4. Clean out bowl and grease it, then return dough to bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size. Dough may also rise in an oven that has been warmed to 150 degrees then turned off. Punch down dough, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour.
  5. Use a cooking spray or a thin spread of oil to grease the surface you’re working on so the dough does not stick. Adding flour to the countertop at this point will add unnecessary flour to your dough and make the finished product stodgy and dense.
  6. To make a 6-braid challah, either straight or circular, take half the dough and form it into 6 balls. With your hands, roll each ball into a strand about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide.
  7. Place the 6 in a row, parallel to one another. Pinch the tops of the strands together. Move the outside right strand over 2 strands. Then take the second strand from the left and move it to the far right. Take the outside left strand and move it over 2. Move second strand from the right over to the far left. Start over with what is now the outside right strand. Continue this until all strands are braided. For a straight loaf, tuck ends underneath. For a circular loaf, twist into a circle, pinching ends together. Place braided loaf on a greased cookie sheet or lined with parchment paper.
  8. Beat remaining egg and brush it on loaves. Either freeze the bread or let rise another hour in refrigerator if preferred.
  9. To bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees and brush loaves again. (If freezing, remove from freezer 5 hours before baking.) Then dip your index finger in the egg wash, then into poppy or sesame seeds and then onto a mound of bread. Continue until bread is decorated with seeds.
  10. Bake in middle of oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden. Cool loaves on a rack for 2-3 hours or until completely cool to the touch.
  11. Store bread in a ziplock bag, or freeze to preserve freshness.

Coconut Cherry Pecan Granola

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I chanced upon this granola recipe from the New York Times; it is originally an Eleven Madison Park recipe. Apparently, after the end of a meal, all diners are gifted a jar of this signature granola to take home. The reviews on the NYT were stellar, and I was intrigued.

I will say that I’ve made a few granola recipes in my lifetime, and this one is the best of them all. It has the perfect balance of sweet and salty with the coarse salt and maple syrup. Coarse salt is so important here, because you get little bursts of savoriness between bites and it’s just delightful.

The bake is on point – no soggy clumps, just crisp toasted oats accompanied by buttery shreds of toasted coconut and nutty pecan pieces. I’ve since made two batches of this recipe, and had it on a near daily basis with Greek yogurt for a healthy snack. I did make some substitutions from the original NYT recipe to make it a little more healthful and more to my tastes, which I’ll share in the recipe below.

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Coconut Cherry Pecan Granola
Adapted from NYT
Yields 5-6 cups of granola

Note: I generally prefer using weight measurements, which I’ve provided below.

2 ¾ cups (200g) rolled oats
1/2 cup (60g) chopped pecans
1/2 cup (50g) unsweetened shredded coconut
1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt (this is very important – it has to be coarse, not fine, or else it’ll be too salty)
1/4 cup (50g) light brown sugar
1/4 cup (50g) maple syrup
1/4 cup (40g) extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup (120g) dried sour cherries, chopped

Preheat oven to 300. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, pecans, and salt.
In a small saucepan set over low heat, warm the sugar, syrup and olive oil until the sugar has just dissolved, then remove from heat. Fold liquids into the mixture of oats, making sure to coat the dry ingredients well.
Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat, and spread granola over it. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, stirring granola a few times along the way. Stir in coconut to granola and bake for another 5 minutes. You want to see the granola looking dry and lightly golden.
Remove granola from oven, and mix into it the dried sour cherries. Allow to cool to room temperature before transferring to a storage container.

Sweet and Salty White Chocolate Peanut Butter Crackers Fudge

I whipped up a quick no-cook fudge made out of three simple ingredients – vanilla frosting, white chocolate chips, and mini peanut butter crackers.

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The end result is a rich and sweet, mouth melting fudge with a lightly sandy/powdery quality that reminds me of fudge I’ve had in the past. The peanut butter crackers add a salty contrast to the sweet fudge.

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Although I used storebought frosting, I imagine you could amp it up by using homemade frosting. I also think the recipe could be infinitely modified by either swapping out the flavors of the frosting, the chocolate, or the crunchy filling.

Examples

  • Vanilla frosting + white chocolate + couple drops of peppermint oil + Oreos = Grasshopper fudge
  • Cream cheese frosting + milk chocolate + graham crackers = Chocolate cheesecake fudge
  • Vanilla frosting + white chocolate + matcha powder + Oreos = matcha Oreo fudge

Since the ingredients are so few, the quality of each will really impact the outcome of the fudge – so choose your ingredients wisely.

Pro tip: If you have trouble smoothing out the top of your fudge, lay a sheet of cling wrap over it and flatten it with your hands like so. Mess-free and easy-peasy!

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Sweet and Salty White Chocolate Peanut Butter Crackers Fudge
Makes a 9×9 inch pan
From Cookies and Cups

1 can (16 oz) of vanilla frosting
12 oz of white chocolate chips
2 cups (6 oz) of mini peanut butter crackers (e.g. Ritz)

  1. Grease or spray lightly a 9×9 or 8×8 pan, depending on the thickness you desire for your fudge
  2. Melt your chips in a double boiler or the microwave.
  3. As soon as they are melted, stir in your entire can of frosting.
  4. Fold in your crackers.
  5. Spread into prepared pan and chill for 30 minutes.
  6. When firm, cut

Salted Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies

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You may think a chocolate chip cookie cannot be improved upon, but what if I told you it could just have a little bit of pizzazz by adding tahini paste? Tahini is sesame ground up, until it reaches a creamy consistency. It adds a bit of nuttiness and savoriness to your standard chocolate chip cookie without a distinct sesame taste.

This recipe should be followed as-is with no substitutions and changes – even the size of the cookie and the timing has been perfectly calibrated to give the cookie a soft, chewy interior. Beware if you use silicone baking mats like I do – your cookies won’t get to a golden brown but they will be done after the designated amount of time.

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Salted Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies
From the NYTimes
Makes 12-18 3-inch cookies

4 ounces/113 grams unsalted butter at room temperature
½ cup/120 milliliters tahini, well stirred
1 cup/200 grams granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons/150 grams all-purpose flour, or matzo cake meal (See tip)
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 ¾ cups/230 grams chocolate chips or chunks, bittersweet or semisweet
Flaky salt, like fleur de sel or Maldon

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, tahini and sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add egg, egg yolk and vanilla and continue mixing at medium speed for another 5 minutes.

Sift flour, baking soda, baking powder and kosher salt into a large bowl and mix with a fork. Add flour mixture to butter mixture at low speed until just combined. Use a rubber spatula to fold in chocolate chips. Dough will be soft, not stiff. Refrigerate at least 12 hours; this ensures tender cookies.

When ready to bake, heat oven to 325 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or nonstick baking mat. Use a large ice cream scoop or spoon to form dough into 12 to 18 balls.

Place the cookies on the baking sheet at least 3 inches apart to allow them to spread. Bake 13 to 16 minutes until just golden brown around the edges but still pale in the middle to make thick, soft cookies. As cookies come out of the oven, sprinkle sparsely with salt. Let cool at least 20 minutes on a rack.

Oatmeal Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies by Ocean Spray

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This is the third oatmeal cranberry white chocolate cookie recipe I’ve posted on my blog, the others being Cooks’ Illustrated and Serious Eats, and I think this one is one of the more successful ones. (Got my coworkers’ stamp of approval!) I usually have little faith in corporate recipes and I don’t believe them to be as rigorously tested as other baking blogs, but I decided to give this one a shot because it had a surprisingly low sugar-to-cookie ratio and it also looked really easy.

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And it turned out great! I loved that it wasn’t too sweet, and it felt almost healthful in certain bites. I feel like most cookie recipes tend to be overly sweet, and I usually have no problems reducing sugar by 1/4 cup or so to no ill effect. The other perk of this recipe is that it bakes at a slightly higher temperature of 375F than the standard 350F, so it didn’t spread out too much, had a crisp edge but still retained a chewy center.

Since it is an Ocean Spray recipe, I found that the 5 oz portion of cranberries that was listed was excessive and I only used about 3 oz, or until the cookie dough looked sufficiently studded with cranberries.

Oatmeal Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies
Adapted from Ocean Spray
Makes approximately 40 two-bite sized cookies

2/3 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 oz dried cranberries
2/3 cup white chocolate chunks or chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Using an electric mixer, beat butter or margarine and sugar together in a medium mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs, mixing well. Combine oats, flour, baking soda and salt in a separate mixing bowl. Add to butter mixture in several additions, mixing well after each addition. Stir in dried cranberries and white chocolate chunks.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire rack.

Homemade Tim Tams

It’s been so long since I last updated my baking blog! But this comeback recipe would be well worth your time – it is a homemade version of my most favorite cookie ever (and I don’t use superlatives lightly) – the Tim Tam!

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Tim Tams are chocolate overloads in a little package. You have a chocolate biscuit sandwich with a malty chocolate buttercream filling, which is then dipped into creamy chocolate. Chocolate3! My next favorite cookie are probably Loackers and I enjoy it for the same reason I do Tim Tams – that textural contrast, mmm. Note that Tim Tams and Loackers are from Australia and Italy respectively. America, can you please step up your cookie game?! Happy to take any recommendations.

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Here’s a close-up cross-section of the cookie. I think what really elevates the cookie is the malted chocolate filling. I don’t even know how to describe the taste of malt. I just spent five minutes Googling it and it looks like the Internet doesn’t know either. To me, it tastes like nostalgia and afternoon snacks composed of Milo drinks and Hup Seng cream crackers.

yummychitchat.com
These guys know what’s up!

Anyway, Whoppers (or Maltesers, for my Commonwealth folk) have a malt interior.

Now that I have expounded upon my love for this cookie, let me nerd out about the recipe I tried. The cookie made surely wasn’t perfect, but I’ve analyzed what exactly to watch out for to ensure utmost approximation to the original cookie.

  • I tried both a dark chocolate and a milk chocolate coating. I used Trader Joe’s Pound Plus Dark Chocolate for the other half batch and I would recommend using more coconut oil than recommended to compensate for the lower fat content in the dark chocolate. The coating on the dark chocolate Tim Tams were more of a crisp shell than a creamy coating, which is not ideal.
  • Use good quality  chocolate to better approximate the high quality chocolate that Commonwealth countries get, i.e. not that sour chalky Hershey crap. I used American-produced Cadbury milk chocolate and that tasted decent.
  • Try as much as possible to roll the cookies to a 1/4 inch. It’ll also help with ensuring cookie crispness. You want that nice contrast between crunchy cookie and creamy chocolate.
  • Dip the cookie sandwiches sparingly into the melted chocolate. Otherwise, the chocolate coating ratio goes all awry.

Enough talk, on to the recipe! I made very minor edits to the source.

Homemade Tim Tams
Adapted from Elizabeth LaBau, originally from The Sugar Hit Cookbook
Serves: 14 Tim Tams
Ingredients
For the Cookies:
  • 4 oz (115 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 4 oz (1/2 cup, or 115 g) granulated sugar
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 1 oz (1/3 cup, or 30 g) unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 5½ oz (1 cup, or 150 g) all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
For the Filling:
  • 4 oz (115 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 4 oz (1 cup, or 115 g) powdered sugar
  • 1 tbsp unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp malted drink powder (like Ovaltine or Horlicks)
For the Coating:
  • 10 oz (280 g) milk or dark chocolate
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil (if using dark chocolate, use 1.5 tbsp)
Instructions
To Make the Cookies:
  1. Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a large stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, and cream until pale and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl, and add the egg and continue beating until the egg is incorporate and the mixture lightens in color. Add the cocoa powder and beat until there are no lumps. Finally, fold through the flour and salt until it is all incorporated. The dough will be very soft.
  2. Scrape the dough out onto a piece of parchment paper. Add a second sheet of paper on top, and roll out the dough between the two sheets until it is a rectangle about ¼-inch thick. Place the dough on a tray and freeze it for 30 minutes, or refrigerate it for 1-2 hours, until firm.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C). Line two baking trays with parchment paper.
  4. Cut the chilled dough into 28 small 1¼ in x 2½ in rectangles. Place them in evenly spaced intervals on the baking sheets and bake for 10 minutes. Let the cookies cool completely on the baking sheet.
To Make the Filling:
  1. Cream the butter until soft, then sift in the remaining ingredients and beat until light and fluffy. Spread a heaping teaspoon of filling on half of the cookies, or transfer the frosting to a piping bag and pipe an even layer of filling on half of the cookies. Top with the remaining cookies, then put in the refrigerator to chill while you make the coating.
To Assemble:
  1. For the coating, place the chocolate and coconut oil in a heat-proof bowl and melt them together in the microwave in 30-second bursts, stirring after every 30 seconds to prevent overheating. Once the chocolate is mostly melted, remove and stir gently until smooth.
  2. Using a fork or dipping tools, dip a chilled cookie in the melted chocolate and place it back on the baking sheet. If you want to create a wavy pattern on top of the cookies, lightly press the tines of the fork or dipping tool to the top while the chocolate is still wet. Repeat until all of the cookies are dipped. Chill in the refrigerator, then devour!

Banana Zucchini Bread with Chocolate and Walnuts

The end of summer is one of the best times to eat seasonally, as plenty of produce are in abundance. While I enjoy sweet juicy summer fruits like peaches and berries on its own, zucchini, a summer squash, needs a little transformation to truly be palatable. My favorite way of consuming zucchini is in the form of a quick bread, like I’ve done before.

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Then 19-cent Trader Joe’s bananas beckoned to me and I thought… how about a banana zucchini bread?! Banana bread is awesome. Zucchini bread is awesome. They should be married together in a happy bread combination!

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I knew I wanted chocolate in my bread, because sweets don’t spell “dessert” to me unless there’s chocolate in it. I started off by looking at banana zucchini bread recipes, and after comparing a few, I used this Allrecipes recipe as a base and made some tweaks. I halved the recipe because I don’t want to be eating banana zucchini bread for days. I also used less sugar, knowing that the banana and the chocolate will add a bit of sweetness. I used less flour as I wanted the bread to be more chunky from half-mashed banana pieces and chocolate bits, and added more zucchini so the bread would be moister.

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And it was perfect. The muffins have a delectably browned muffin top, and the inside is studded with mashed banana, chocolate chunks, and walnut pieces. It’s not quite as sweet as a typical banana bread, yet is still very moist. I love the textural contrast that this moist yet densely packed muffin provides. At 204 calories apiece, I think I’ll allow myself a few more.

Banana Zucchini Bread with Chocolate and Walnuts
Adapted from Allrecipes
Makes 12 muffins or 1 8×4 loaf pan

1 1/2 (73g) large eggs
6 tbsps vegetable oil
1/3 cup (67g) packed brown sugar
1/4 cup (45g) white sugar
1 cup grated zucchini
1 ripe banana, mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups (180g)  sieved all-purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (34g) dark chocolate (optional, can be swapped out for raisins, cranberries, etc.)
1/4 cup (30g) chopped walnuts (optional, can be swapped out for pecans)
Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners. If making a loaf, grease and flour one 8×4 loaf pan.

In a large bowl, beat eggs until light yellow and frothy. Add oil, brown sugar, white sugar, grated zucchini, bananas, and vanilla; blend together until well combined. Stir in the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix in the chocolate and nuts. Divide the batter evenly between the muffin cups.

Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes for muffins, or 50 minutes for a loaf. Allow to cool in the muffin cups or loaf pan on a wire rack before removing and serving.