Higher Challah

Somewhere along the way I saw a funny meme that said something like,  ‘well, we finally found out what happens if you take sports away from men, they replace it with baking’ (like most of the stories I retell, the original was better written and funnier in delivery. Mea culpa ).  Setting aside gender stereotypes, it does seem true that in this locked-down, stay at home culture, people (not just the menfolk) have been baking a lot of bread.

This post is more about a technique I learned than an actual recipe (though I’ve linked to a recipe that I like below).  But, since I’ve seen lots of homegrown challah on Instagram, I thought I’d share.

And, if you are considering trying your hand at bread, challah is a great dough for it.  It takes a little time, but, the enriched dough is very easy to work with and forgiving to novice braiders.

So, on to the technique.  Most challah consists of a three-to-many stranded braid. While lovely in any iteration, apparently a critique is that the bread spreads horizontally, not vertically.  To be honest, I’m not real sure why this might be an issue except for maybe making a sandwich?

But anyway, Cook’s Illustrated came up with a solution (of course they did): stack your braids.   That’s right, make a big braid on the bottom.  And then, top if with a smaller friend.

The ratio you’ll want to use for the dough is 1/3 little braid, 2/3 big braid. And, a little egg wash works as your glue.

Cool or what?  If you don’t have a favorite recipe for challah, I like this one from years back: Challah.

Easy Summer Fruit Torte

A couple of weeks ago a friend (hi Julia!) texted me asking if I wanted some plums from her parents’ tree.  Of course I did, thinking she’d bring me three of four.

What I found on my doorstep was a bagful of gorgeous summer plums.

I love plums.  Like, LOVE them.  I can’t place the memory specifically, but nothing smells more like summer to me than an almost-too-ripe late summer plum.  Gemstone colored and juicy, one whiff of a plum and I’m back on my boogie board catching waves at Mission Beach or sitting on a towel on the pool deck of my childhood home, waterlogged, smelling strongly of chlorine and letting the sun warm me up.

While I considered taking the challenge,  even I couldn’t eat three three dozen plums (and Tom doesn’t like them).  So, I set out to find something to bake with them.

Not having baked with plums before, I had no idea there was a reigning queen of the plum recipes.  First published in the New York Times in 1983, Marian Burro’s plum torte earned its sovereignty by being the newspaper’s most ever requested recipe.

According to legend (okay, fine, well documented as fact), the recipe was printed each year until 1989 and for many, symbolized summer’s last fete.

Poetry has been written about this recipe.

The recipe itself is simple, as the best summer things are.  It’s equal parts fruit and cake and endlessly adaptable.  While I’ve given the recipe in its original below, I subbed-in some toasted almond flour for the torte pictured above. I plan to try this with whatever fruits come my way in the next few months (and whatever flour I have on hand).

At this writing, we’re only 2/3rd of the way through summer as a season. But, school started this week (well, my school).  And the mornings are darker.  And though it won’t get cooler here in Southern California for at least another couple of months, the danger apples will be ready to pick in a few weeks.  So onward we go.

Original Plum Torte

Marian Burros as published in the New York Times, 1983


  • ¾ C sugar
  • ½ C unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 C unbleached flour, sifted (TMH note: I subbed in 1/4 almond flour)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 24 halves pitted purple plums (any soft fruit will work–peaches, blueberries etc)
  • Sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon, for topping


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, line springform pan with parchment (any size pan will do–mine is larger, 10″–but the original recipe says 8-10 is fine). Grease lined pan.
  2. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. Cream sugar and butter.
  4. Beat-in eggs.
  5. Beat in dry ingredients (yes, beat–no need to be gentle).
  6. Spoon batter into prepared pan.
  7. Place plums (or other fruit), skin-side up on top of batter.
  8. Sprinkle lightly with sugar, and lemon juice.  The sprinkle with cinnamon if desired.
  9. Bake for about an hour (longer than you feel comfortable…trust me).  Remove and cool. Refrigerate or freeze.