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.

The Artist Formerly Known as Lung Bread

A couple of years ago, TD and I happened across this cool looking exotic bread in Whole Foods.  As I remember it (which doesn’t mean it’s true), we asked the baker what it was. She replied that she didn’t know what it was called, she just bakes it.

Intrigued (by the bread, not the baker’s lack of mysterious bread nomenclature), we bought a loaf.  Lobe-shaped and cut allowing for lots of golden salted crust, TD thought it looked like a lung.  So we called it lung bread.

For years.

Until it showed up as the technical challenge on Season 4, Episode 6 of the Great British Baking Show.  Turns out lung bread is actually called Fougasse.

Lung, leaf, potato, pohtahto.

Fougasse is sort of Provence’s version of focaccia.  Slightly flat, with spring and a satisfyingly chewy texture, this lovely loaf is addicting.

Once I knew what it was, I set about trying to make it.  And, if you follow me on Instagram (@TMHostess), you’ve seen my attempts over the last year or so.

My first attempt was Paul Hollywood’s recipe from the Great British Baking Show.  While the result was visually stunning, the texture was all wrong: short crumb, no chew.

On my second attempt I went more the direction of pizza dough.  Again, looked great, wrong texture.

Like Goldilocks (half head of highlights included), I was determined.  And so when I discovered another recipe in the most recent Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best Baking publication, I chopped up some fresh rosemary and got to work.

The key to good chew, explains the recipe’s author, Andrew Janjigian, is a properly hydrated dough, added flavor from a little whole wheat flour and an overnight fermentation.   Before it rests all night, the bread  goes through a quadruple proof of gentle folds over the course of a couple of hours (according to Janjigian, this method allows the gluten to develop slowly helping to create a light, airy and irregular crumb).

So, was the third time a charm? Oh God yes! This recipe is everything TD and I knew and loved about lung bread: salty, flavorful but mild with that hallmark chew.

Fougasse is not technically difficult, but, it does take some time.  If you have an afternoon (and an evening before to throw together the dough), this is a very enjoyable way to spend it.  As Paul Hollywood advised in the technical challenge, “be patient and remember the shaping.”

No post next week (I’ll be hundreds deep in schweddy balls about this time next Thursday), so Happy Thanksgiving to all!  I’ll see you on the holiday side.


modified slightly from Cooks Illustrated All-Time Best Baking

makes two loaves


  • 1/4 C (1 1/2 ounces) whole-wheat flour
  • 3 C (15 ounces) bread flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp rapid-rise yeast
  • 1 1/2 C (12 ounces) water
  • cornmeal or semolina flour
  • 1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 TBS fresh rosemary or other desired herbs
  • 2 tsp course sea salt


  1. Sift whole wheat flour through fine-mesh strainer into bowl of stand mixer.  Add bread flour and yeast to mixer.  Fit stand mixer with dough hook and knead on low speed until cohesive dough forms and no incorporated flour remains (5 minutes).  Add salt and knead (using hook) for 2 more minutes.
  2. Transfer dough to a lightly oiled large bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rest at room temp for 30 minutes.
  3. Holding the edge of the dough with your fingertips, fold dough over itself by gently lifting and folding the edge of the dough toward the center (see pic above).  Turn bowl 45 degrees, fold again.  Turn bowl and fold 6 more times (2 rotations).
  4. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes.
  5. Repeat folding and rising every 30 minutes 3 more times.  After fourth set of folds, cover bowl tightly with plastic and refrigerate for at least 16 hours and up to 48.
  6. Transfer dough to lightly floured counter.  Stretch gently into an 8 inch round and divide it in half.  Working with 1 piece of dough at a time, gently stretch and fold over 3 side of the dough to create a triangle with 5 inch sides.
  7. Transfer to a lightly floured rimmed baking sheet, seam side down and repeat with remaining piece of dough.  Cover dough loosely with plastic wrap lightly coated with vegetable oil spray and let rest at room temp until Doug is relaxed and no longer cool to the touch (30-60 minutes).
  8. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Put one baking sheet into pre-heating oven.
  9. Transfer 1 piece of dough to lightly floured work surface and, using a rolling pin, gently roll into a triangular shape with an 8-inch base and 10-inch sides, about 1/2 inch thick.  Transfer to a baking-sheet sized piece of parchment liberally dusted with cornmeal or semolina (the sheet can be on the counter or if you have enough, an extra baking sheet).
  10. Using a pizza cutter, make a 6-inch long cut down the center of the triangle leaving about 1 1/2 inches of dough on either end.  Make three 2-3 inch diagonal cuts, leaving a 1-inch boarder on each end of the cuts to create a leaf pattern.
  11. Gently stretch dough toward sides of pan to widen cuts and emphasize the leaf shape (you can add cuts to the edges if you’d like–see photos above).  The overall size of the loaf should measure about 10 X 12 inches.
  12. Cover loosely with plastic wrap coated with oil spray and let rest at room temp until nearly double in size, 30-45 minutes.  Twenty minutes after shaping first loaf, repeat with second half of dough.
  13. Brush the top and sides of the first loaf with 2 TBS olive oil.  Sprinkle loaf with rosemary and salt.
  14. Pull hot baking sheet from oven.  Using the edges of the parchment, carefully lift parchment and shaped dough onto hot baking sheet.
  15. Bake until golden brown, 18-22 minutes, rotating halfway through baking.
  16. Transfer to a wire rack and put hot pan back into the oven to heat for the second loaf.
  17. Allow bread to cool for at least 15 minutes.
  18. Repeat with second loaf.

While the bread will stay fresh for a couple of days, it is my humble opinion that it tastes absolutely the best just cooled from the oven.

Take me home, country loaf


As I’ve mentioned before, a few years ago I took a baking course through the New School of Cooking in Culver City.  It was a great course for all levels and the instructor was fantastic (it doesn’t appear she teaches through New School any longer).

With the exception of the laminated doughs, I’d already made nearly everything on the syllabus prior to taking the class.  What I was after were a boost in my technical skills.  For instance, I understood that using butter or oil in baking created different outcomes–I just didn’t know why.  I also didn’t know that in addition to Italian and Swiss, there are also German and American buttercreams.  How great is it to live in a world with so many kinds of intercontinental buttercream?

One of the best recipes (in my opinion) from this course is a simple country loaf.  For this recipe, patience far outweighs technique in creating a chewy, airy crumb.

Three things make this bread really good.  The first is an overnight fermentation of the sponge.  You can do it in an hour (and this is how we did it in class).  However, through my own trial and error I’ve learned that allowing the sponge to develop in a warm kitchen and then throwing it in the fridge for a sleep really develops the flavor.

The second is waiting until the last couple of minutes of kneading to add the salt. Salt and yeast are sort of like Tom and Jerry so you want the yeast nice and developed and protected by lots of flour before you add the salt into the mix.  I now use this method any time I’m making yeasted dough.  Wait to add the salt.

The third is the pan of steaming water.  As I learned in the baking course, many professional baking ovens have a steam function that helps put the “crust” into crusty bread.  A pan of steaming water helps do the same.

If you have any interest in playing with yeast, this is a great fist step.

Country Loaf

New School of Cooking


for the sponge

  • 1 TBS active dry yeast
  • 1 C warm water
  • 4 ounces (1 C) bread flour

for the dough

  • 20 oz (5 C) bread flour
  • 1 1/3 C warm water
  • 2 TBS honey
  • 1 TBS kosher salt
  • cornmeal for sprinkling


for the sponge

  1. Dissolve the yeast in warm water and stir in bread flour.  Cover and let rest for 1 hour, but, best case scenario, refrigerate over night.  Return to room temp before using.

for the bread

  1. In a bowl, combine the sponge, flour, water and honey.  Knead for eight minutes or so.  Add salt during the last three minutes. Return to bowl if you’ve kneaded by hand.  Cover bowl and allow to double in size (about 1 hour).
  2. Sprinkle a liberal layer of corn meal onto a baking sheet.
  3. Lightly flour hands and work surface, dough will be sticky.  Turn out dough and knead lightly.  Rough form it into a ball and place on top of the cornmeal dusted baking sheet. Flour the top of the loaf and cover loosely with plastic wrap.  Let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.
  4. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Place a small pan filled with steaming water on the bottom of the oven.  Place baking tray on lowest rack.  Back 35-40 minutes until the crust is very dark brown and the internal temp is 210 degrees.  If you don’t have a thermometer, flip the bread, and thump the bottom.  If it sounds hollow, it’s done.
  5. Cool to room temp before slicing.

Fun with the beast of yeast

Last week’s peanut butter and chocolate treats were so easy I felt the need to make up for it.  While my experience with yeasted doughs lies in the advanced beginner range, I find making bread deeply satisfying.

We spent a couple of weeks on breads in the course I took last summer and, with the exception of the supremely sticky brioche, the instructor insisted we hand kneed everything.  She wasn’t masochistic or even particularly old-school.  From a technique perspective, she thought being able to “feel” the dough was important.

So for this recipe, I left my Kitchenad and dough hook in the pantry and went hands on.  It didn’t hurt that with new quartz countertops I could actually work directly on the surface.

After 10 minutes or so, my arms were burning and I admit, I was sweating.  But I had dough.

Studded with raisins and walnuts, the dough nearly doubled during its first proof.

It then was divided, rolled into rectangles, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, rolled and left to proof again.


Because you can never have too much spiced sugar, a hearty layer went on top right out of the oven to create a crackly crust.

I found this cinnamon, crunchy, raisin, walnutty treat a challenge to have around the house and was grateful I had the good sense to freeze the second loaf as soon as it cooled.

Cinnamon Swirl Raisin Walnut  Bread

from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, Peter Reinhart


  • 3 1/2 C, 16 ounces unbleached bread flour
  • 4 tsp, .66 ounce granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 tsp, .30 ounces salt
  • 2 tsp, .22 ounces instant yeast
  • 1 1/4 tsp, .16 ounces ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 tsp, .16 ounces ground cinnamon
  • 1 large egg, beaten slightly
  • 2 TBs, 1 ounce butter, melted
  • 1/2 C, 4 ounces buttermilk or whole milk at room temp (I used buttermilk)
  • 3/4 C, 6 ounces water at room temp
  • 1 1/2 C, 9 ounces raisins
  • 1 C, 4 ounces chopped walnuts
  • 1 large egg, beaten slightly
  • 2 TBs, 1 ounce butter, melted
  • 1/2 C, 4 ounces buttermilk or whole milk at room temp (I used buttermilk)
  • 3/4 C, 6 ounces water at room temp
  • 1 1/2 C, 9 ounces raisins
  • 1 C, 4 ounces chopped walnuts

If doing cinnamon swirl

  • 1/2 C granulated sugar
  • 2 TBs ground cinnamon
  • 2 TBS butter (keep it in stick form for easier spreading)


  1. Stir together flour, sugar, salt, yeast and cinnamon in a mixing bowl.
  2. Add the egg, butter, buttermilk and water.  Stir together with a large spoon until the ingredients come together and form a ball.  Adjust with flour or water if the dough seems too sticky or too dry and stiff.
  3. Sprinkle flour on a work surface and transfer the dough to the counter.  Begin kneading.  The dough should be soft but pliable and tacky but not sticky.  Add flour as you knead if necessary to achieve this texture.  Knead by hand for approximately 10 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle with walnuts and raisins for the last two minutes.  To know if the dough is ready, apply the windowpane test.  To do this, flour your fingers and pinch off about a 1/8 C of dough.  Using both hands, stretch the dough.  If you can stretch it enough to see through the dough without it breaking, you are good to go. If not, keep kneading.
  5. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to it, rolling it to coat entire ball of dough in oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it proof for about 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.
  6. For swirl, mix together sugar an cinnamon.
  7. Divide the dough into two equal pieces.  Roll each dough half into a 8X5 inch rectangle, about 1/3 inch thick.
  8. Sprinkle each half with 1/4 of the sugar mixture.
  9. Starting with the long edge, roll dough up into a tight roll, pinch the ends closed.
  10. Place each loaf into a lightly oiled 8.5X4.5 inch pan.  Mist the tops with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap.
  11. Proof at room temp for 60-90 minutes or until the dough crests the lip of the pan and is nearly double in size.
  12. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place oven rack in the middle of the oven.
  13. Place loaf pans on a sheet pans making sure they are not touching each other.
  14. Bake for 20 minutes, rotate pans 180 degrees for even baking and the bake for another 20-30 minutes.  The finished bread should register 190 degrees in the center and be golden brown on the top and lightly golden on sides and bottom.  The loaves should make a hollow sounds when thumped on the bottom.
  15. Immediately remove the breads from their pans.
  16. Rub 1 TBS butter over the top of each loaf and then sprinkle with remaining sugar and cinnamon.  As the bread cools this will become a crust.
  17. Allow to cool for at least one hour before cutting and serving.



Chomely Challah

See what I did there?  Tired of me asking that question?

The weeks we spent on yeasted bread were favorites in my summer baking adventure.  There is something incredibly satisfying about producing a giant, golden, cross-hatched country loaf.  Or baguette.  Or brioche.

The instructor insisted we go old school: no mixmaster, just hands and floured surfaces for kneading.

Chef May’s reasoning was that we needed to understand by touch the difference between dough that is ready to rise and dough that needs more kneading.

Working with my hands is one of the pleasures of baking for me.

Challah was one of the enriched breads we tackled.  Something that’s long been on my list to try, I’ve always been intimidated by the complicated braiding involved.

Beautiful, elegant challah can be a work of art.  Often it is braided with six strands.

As you can see, I struggle with just three.  And this was my second attempt.

As homely as my version baked-off, it was a decided favorite at work.

Once the weather cools down a bit and my kitchen isn’t a rain forrest of heat and humidity I plan to considerably hone my challah-making skills.


from the New School of Cooking


  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 C warm water
  • 1 TBS dry yeast
  • 1/2 C oil (I use grape seed)
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 3/4-4 C all purpose flour
  • poppy seeds, sesame seeds or 1/2 C chocolate chips
  • 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tsp water


  1. Dissolve 1 tsp in 1/2 C warm water in a large mixing bowl.  Sprinkle yeast on top and let stand for 10 minutes.  Stir to dissolve.
  2. Combine yeast mixture with oil, remaining water, sugar salt, eggs and half the flour.  Mix well.
  3. Stir-in remaining flour.  Dough will be sticky.
  4. Cover dough and let rest for 10 minutes.  Turn out onto a floured board and knead for 10 minutes, adding flour as needed.
  5. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Allow to proof until doubled.
  6. Punch down.  Divide dough into 3 equal parts.  Shape into strands.
  7. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet and braid loosely.  Fasten ends securely.  Let rise until doubled.
  8. Brush with beaten gold and sprinkle with seeds.  Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes until deep golden brown.


Wavocana Bread

Like any place else, there are certain truisms about growing up in San Diego.  The first week of school is always the hotest.  Dude can be used as a noun, adjective, verb and even the occasional expletive. And, nobody actually buys avocados, oranges, grapefruits or lemons (because if you don’t have one of these trees in your backyard, your neighbor does).  I’m not kidding, I don’t think I consumed a single store-bought avocado until I went to college.

Sadly, the urban jungle in which we currently live is not so generous with its fruit.  Which means I actually have to spend money on this egg-shaped delicacy.  Which also means that I do everything in my power to make sure they do not go to waste.

And that is where this week’s post begins.  I had uber ripe avocados.  I also had super ripe bananas.  And some walnuts.

Well, I say, when life gives you ripe, make wavocana bread.

That’s right, avocado, banana walnut bread.

I was a little disappointed at how subtle the avocado is in this recipe.  Though, it did add fantastic texture.

Moist, nutty and satisfying.  Dude.

Wavocana Bread

adapted from: www.californiaavocado.com/


  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 ripe, Fresh California Avocado, seeded
  • ¼ cup coconut oil in liquid form (can substitute canola oil)
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 very ripe bananas
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • ¼ cup buttermilk


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan with parchment paper, grease bottom only.
  2. Sift together dry ingredients: oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.
  3. Scoop the avocado into a large bowl and mash lightly.
  4. Add oil and brown sugar to the avocado. Cream together using an electric mixer, until light and creamy.
  5. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  6. Stir in bananas, then walnuts and dry ingredients.
  7. Stir in buttermilk and beat just until buttermilk is incorporated.
  8. Pour into prepared loaf pan and bake in preheated oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Wavocanana bread is quite moist and may not pass the “toothpick” test at this point. If you prefer a drier bread, bake a little longer.


Early in our relationship, TD and I established the sanctity of Sunday Supper.  I don’t recall us ever doing this with intention.  I suspect it was the product of a cross-town relationship (code for we rarely saw each other during the week) and really good Sunday night television (Sex and the City, The Sopranos etc.). Twelves years later and Monday dinner may be a scrounged peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but Sunday supper is always special.  It’s never elaborate and cooking with fire is usually involved.

One of our favorite Sunday Supper dishes has kind of evolved into being over the years.  The ingredients change depending on the season and what happens to look good a the market.  Sometimes it leans toward the Italian pursuasion.  Others more Greek.  And still others it just does its own thing. It’s an easygoing dish with little in the way of rule following.  We call it panzanella-ish.

Every culture seems to have its way of economizing resources and utilizing leftover starch products in interesting ways.  Panzanella is Tuscany’s.

Let’s start with the tomatoes.  In the heat of summer when it seems like the markets are giving away tomatoes, I like to use beautifully colored heirlooms.  During the off-season, I stick to smaller varieties like grape, cupid or cherry because they pack a little more punch in the way of flavor than the larger, anemic, hothouse varieties.  For panzanella, you want some juice (I don’t seed), but not a ton.  To get to the optimum tomato juice ratio, I cut the tomatoes into bit-sized chunks, set them in a strainer and salt them. Then, I let them sit for about 20 minutes, gently tossing the strainer every five minutes or so to release the juices.  While they are resting, I usually melt in a clove or so of garlic like with my pico recipe.

Oh wait, if you are patient, there is a step before the tomatoes.  My bad.

If you remember to, pour between 1/4 and 1/2 cup  of extra-virgin olive oil in a bowl.  To it, add on large, smashed clove of garlic and desired seasoning (fresh herbs etc).  Let steep for a couple of hours.  This the oil you’ll use to toast your bread cubes.

Back on track.  While the tomatoes are sweating it out, I cut up my sort-of stale bread.  I usually don’t go whole-hog-Thanksgiving-stuffing-stale for panzanellaish.  It’s a personal preference, but we like a little give in the bread.

Also a personal preference, I like to toast the bread on the stove-top.  We aren’t making croutons here and for whatever reason, I tend to forget the bread when I attempt to toast it in the oven.  So, in goes the garlic oil, then the cubes.  Toss to coat and let toast on a couple of sides.

See what I mean?

No matter the persuasion, we always use cucumbers.  Sometimes persian (as I’ve done here), sometimes English, sometimes normal.  Seed them if you want.  We don’t.

This salad needs a little bite to it.  Diced shallot or red onion will do the trick.  Just a little kick.

Herbs are also important.  Remember the Strawberry Shortcake dolls that smelled like their namesakes?  Well, if it was the 80s and I was a strawberry shortcake doll, I’d be Basil Bottechelli.  Mint is lovely too or whatever your favorite combo might be.  When fresh herbs aren’t in season, we toss in some Herbs de Provence (our household’s version of Windex.  Have an issue?  Throw on some Herbs de Provence).

Okay, it’s time to man-up and buy a good hunk of parmesan reggiano.  I’m talking aged at least 18 months (though 24 is better).  It’ll be tough to throw-down upwards of $25 a pound the first time.  But, it will last much longer than you’d expect (even if you are prone to breaking-off hunks with your fork and eating it straight-out as TD and I have become)  And bonus?  The rind is an excellent addition to a soup or tomato sauce recipe.  It’ll change your life.  I swear.  Feta, goat or buffalo mozzarella (think caprese inspired) are genuis in this salad as well.

We microplane.  You could shave with a veggie peeler or grate.  Up to you.

Finish off the salad with some acid, really nice cold-pressed olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.  My favorite acid for this is fresh lemon juice.

Toss everything together and then give it about 15 minutes for the bread to soften just a tad.  Pair it with a protein and beautiful wine and, no matter where you happen to be for reals, you’ll swear you’re in Tuscany.


TMH’s Endless Summer playlist.  Beach boys, 2 Wicky, Norah Jones, Karmin, Frank Sinatra, Grouplove, Foster the People, The Black Keys…to name a few.

Misanthropic Hostess Panzanellaish

In lieu of an actual recipe, I submit this diagram for consideration.  Mix and match as desired, adjust ingredient volume to number of people you are feeding (and then, double to be safe, there will never, ever be leftovers).

You should be able to click on the image for full-page display.


Portuguese (or if you live on the West Coast, Hawaiian) Sweet Bread

Yes, I know it isn’t Thursday.  But, we missed the first Thursday of the month so I’m making up for lost time.  Consider this Saturday school.

One of my goals for the new year is to work my way through Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.  While I bought this book last summer, it sat on the shelf for a couple of months until I was reminded of its genius for last month’s Daring Bakers’ Stollen Challenge.

I don’t have much experience with bread.  But, I like to learn new things. It will just be you, me and a whole lot of yeast.

Because starting at the beginning is just so predictable, my first Peter Reinhart recipe comes from about 3/4 of the way through the book.  If you live near, have traveled on or have ever been within sniffing distance of the 405 freeway, you are most likely well-versed in the delicacy known as King’s Hawaiian Bread.  This eggy, slightly citrusy bread is fairly irresistible.  It’s fantastic with sandwiches, as french toast or as an addition (in roll form) to any celebration from summer BBQs to Thanksgiving dinner.

While plowing through the Bread Baker’s Apprentice, I was delighted to learn that what I know as Hawaiian bread really originated as Portuguese sweet bread.  I was also delighted that this bread would serve as my introduction to sponge.

Sponge is a wet pre-ferment, or levain levure en Francais.  The purposes are multiple but, if we are going for parsimony in description, a pre-ferment basically makes the final product taste better through all kinds of magic that happen between the yeast and flour.

In this recipe, the pre-ferment is quick, only a couple of hours.  It begins by mixing flour, sugar, yeast and some water into something that looks a lot like pancake batter.

You let it rest for an hour or two and the mixture rises and takes on some…wait for it…spongey qualities.

When all seems on the verge of collapse, it’s time to get boogying.  In a separate bowl, sugar and the fats are creamed together.

And then some eggs are added.  Once the eggs are beaten in, it’s sponge time.

To the now sponged-dough, flour and water are mixed in to create a soft dough.

Several minutes with a dough hook later and a lovely smooth dough results.

The dough is formed into a ball and left to rest in an oiled bowl for a couple of hours until it doubles in size.

Then it goes into a pie tin (starting to look familiar isn’t it?) for another nap.

Once the dough reaches the sides of the tin, it’s ready to go into the oven after an egg wash.  Because of the high sugar content, the crust of the resulting bread is dark brown and gorgeous.

And now comes the hard part.  It’s important to wait at least two hours before cutting the bread.  But, it’s worth it.  Soft, and sweet with a tender crust, this bread makes me wish I was Portuguese, or Hawaiian just so I could stake just a little heritage claim.

Portuguese Sweet Bread

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

Peter Reinhart, 2001

Makes 2 round loaves

Note: I used the weighted measurements


  • .5 C (2.25 oz) unbleached bread flour
  • 1 T (.5 oz) granulated sugar
  • 2.25 t (.25 oz) instant yeast
  • .5 C (4 oz) water, room temp


  • 6 T (3 oz) granulated sugar
  • 1 t (.25 oz) salt
  • .25 C (1.25 oz) powdered milk (DMS)
  • 2 T (1 oz) unsalted butter, room temp.
  • 2 T (1 oz) vegetable shortening
  • 2 large eggs (3.3 oz)
  • 1 t  (.17 oz) lemon extract
  • 1 t  (.17 oz) orange extract
  • 1 t  (.17 oz) vanilla
  • 3 C  (13.5 oz) unbleached bread flour
  • about 6 T (3 oz) water, room temp.

To make sponge

Stir together flour, sugar and yeast in a small bowl.  Add the water and stir until all ingredients are mixed into a smooth batter.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and ferment at room temp. for 60-90 minutes or until the sponge is foamy and on the verge of collapse.

To make dough

Combine the sugar, salt, powdered milk and fats into a 4-quart mixing bowl (or bowl of a standing mixer).  Cream together until smooth then add in eggs and extracts.  Switch to a dough hook or knead by hand and mix in sponge and flour, adding in water as needed to make a soft dough.  The dough will be very supple and easy to knead and not wet or sticky.  It will take 10-12 minutes with electric mixer or 15 minutes by hand.  Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer dough to bowl, rolling it to coat in oil.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let proof for two hours, until the dough doubles in size.

Remove the dough from the bowl and cut into two pieces.  Form each of the pieces into a boule (ball).  Lightly oil two 9-inch pie tins and place one boule, seam-side down in each.  Mist dough with oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap.  Proof dough two to three hours or until the dough fills the pans.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, placing racks in center of the oven.

Gently brush boules with egg wash.

Bake the loaves for 50-60 minutes rotating 180 degrees halfway through for more even baking.  The dough will brown very quickly and get darker as the center gradually catches up with the outside.  Remove from tins and place on a rack to cool at least 90 minutes before slicing.

Christmas Stollen: my first Daring Bakers’ challenge

December was my Daring Bakers’ maiden voyage.  Yes, there was champagne and confetti (though this is the way it always is around my house, so, the part about it being my first challenge was just a coincidence).

The Daring Kitchen is an online community of bloggers who “get together” each month and make a challenging baked good.  It’s very cloak and dagger.  Even though we get the recipe at the beginning of the month, it’s all hush hush until the reveal day when everyone presents the challenge via their blog.

The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking.  She chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ to make Stollen.  She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book and Martha Stewart’s demonstration.

My first thought when the challenge was unveiled was, “kowabunga dude!”  My second: wait…stollen?  What is stollen?  And now I’v revealed that I don’t have a German bone in my body.

Stollen is sort of a fruity desserty holiday bread.  Yes, it’s a bread.

Okay fine. It’s fruit cake.  But not the nasty kind.

The yeast-based dough is slightly sweet, filled with fruit, candied citrus peel, slivered almonds and often, marzipan. And, as soon as I got to the citrus zest on the ingredients list, I was a convert.

Citrus zest and spices are added to a basic egg-based yeast dough recipe.

Then the real fun begins.  What goes in to one’s stollen is quite personal.  A quick peek into my pantry revealed that I happened to have dried cranberries and cherries on hand.  I re-hydrated these in some orange juice.  They were then joined by some candied orange peel I’d made the day before and slivered almonds.

Some time with the dough hook and my little bun was ready to proof over night in the fridge.

A day of grading BUAD-495 final papers and a visit to the dentist later, my dough and I were ready to get boogying.  Out of the fridge and another two hours of proofing yielded an impressive and insanely good-smelling bowl of dough.

Traditional stollen is made in loaf form (it is supposed to look like a swaddled baby Jesus).  However, those Daring Bakers’ are a little on the fancy side, so this recipe had the dough going the distance in the form of a wreath.  After a good-natured punching down, the dough was rolled thin.

And I added a rope of homemade marzipan.  I’m not including a link for the marzipan yet because I’m not entirely confident that I’ve mastered the recipe. More to come on my meanderings with marzipan.

Next, my dough and marzipan got tolled up into a big, fat, heavy log.

To get the log into wreath shape, I lined a baking sheet with parchment and placed a heat-proof bowl in the center. Then, I wrapped the dough log around the bowl, pinching the ends together.  This was followed by some snips to further articulate the wreath-shape.

Some more proofing commenced and then, into the oven until the dough was dark-golden.

But, we’re not done yet.  While still hot, I slathered the bread with alternating layers of melted butter and powdered sugar to form a sort of icing/preserver.  Speaking of preservers, the wreath was easily large enough to be utilized as a life preserver.


I wrapped-up the cooled wreath and let it cure for a couple of days (this was very, very difficult to do).  After the 48-hour waiting period, we had arrived at the moment of truth.

If loving fruitcake is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

TD said it tasted like raisin bread.  However, most raisin bread isn’t  blanketed in a layer of crunchy yet tender icing.  This is not a light bread.  It is an eat a couple of pieces and then climb the Matterhorn sort of bread.  But with some patience, it was really fun to make.  A perfect first challenge for this virgin Daring Baker!


Daring Bakers’ Challenge


  • ¼ cup (60ml) lukewarm water (110º F / 43º C)
  • 2 packages (4 1/2 teaspoons) (22 ml) (14 grams) (1/2 oz) active dry yeast
  • 1 cup (240 ml) milk
  • 10 tablespoons (150 ml) (140 grams) unsalted butter (can use salted butter)
  • 5½ cups (1320 ml) (27 ozs) (770 grams) all-purpose (plain) flour (Measure flour first – then sift- plus extra for dusting)
  • ½ cup (120 ml) (115 gms) sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon (3 ¾ ml) (4 ½ grams) salt (if using salted butter there is no need to alter this salt measurement)
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) (6 grams) cinnamon
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) (very good) vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) lemon extract or orange extract
  • ¾ cup (180 ml) (4 ¾ ozs) (135 grams) mixed peel (link below to make your own)
  • 1 cup (240 ml) (6 ozs) (170 gms) firmly packed raisins
  • 3 tablespoons (45ml) rum
  • 12 red glacé cherries (roughly chopped) for the color and the taste. (optional)
  • 1 cup (240 ml) (3 ½ ozs) (100 grams) flaked almonds
  • Melted unsalted butter for coating the wreath
  • Confectioners’ (icing) (powdered) sugar for dusting wreath


Soak the raisins
In a small bowl, soak the raisins in the rum (or in the orange juice from the zested orange) and set aside. See Note under raisins.

To make the dough

Pour ¼ cup (60 ml) warm water into a small bowl, sprinkle with yeast and let stand 5 minutes. Stir to dissolve yeast completely.

In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup (240 ml) milk and 10 tablespoons (150 ml) butter over medium – low heat until butter is melted. Let stand until lukewarm, about 5 minutes.

Lightly beat eggs in a small bowl and add lemon and vanilla extracts.

In a large mixing bowl (4 qt) (4 liters) (or in the bowl of an electric mixer with paddle attachment), stir together the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, orange and lemon zests.

Then stir in (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment) the yeast/water mixture, eggs and the lukewarm milk/butter mixture. This should take about 2 minutes. It should be a soft, but not sticky ball. When the dough comes together, cover the bowl with either plastic or a tea cloth and let rest for 10 minutes.

Add in the mixed peel, soaked fruit and almonds and mix with your hands or on low speed to incorporate. Here is where you can add the cherries if you would like. Be delicate with the cherries or all your dough will turn red!

Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mixing with the dough hook) to distribute the fruit evenly, adding additional flour if needed. The dough should be soft and satiny, tacky but not sticky. Knead for approximately 8 minutes (6 minutes by machine). The full six minutes of kneading is needed to distribute the dried fruit and other ingredients and to make the dough have a reasonable bread-dough consistency. You can tell when the dough is kneaded enough – a few raisins will start to fall off the dough onto the counter because at the beginning of the kneading process the dough is very sticky and the raisins will be held into the dough but when the dough is done it is tacky which isn’t enough to bind the outside raisins onto the dough ball.

Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling around to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
Put it in the fridge overnight. The dough becomes very firm in the fridge (since the butter goes firm) but it does rise slowly… the raw dough can be kept in the refrigerator up to a week and then baked on the day you want.

Shaping the Dough and Baking the Wreath

1. Let the dough rest for 2 hours after taking out of the fridge in order to warm slightly.
2. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
3. Preheat oven to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4 with the oven rack on the middle shelf.
4. Punch dough down, roll into a rectangle about 16 x 24 inches (40 x 61 cms) and ¼ inch (6 mm) thick.

Starting with a long side, roll up tightly, forming a long, thin cylinder.  Transfer the cylinder roll to the sheet pan. Join the ends together, trying to overlap the layers to make the seam stronger and pinch with your fingers to make it stick, forming a large circle. You can form it around a bowl to keep the shape.  Using kitchen scissors, make cuts along outside of circle, in 2-inch (5 cm) intervals, cutting 2/3 of the way through the dough. Twist each segment outward, forming a wreath shape. Mist the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap.

Proof for approximately 2 hours at room temperature, or until about 1½ times its original size.
Bake the stollen for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan 180 degrees for even baking and continue to bake for 20 to 30 minutes. The bread will bake to a dark mahogany color, should register 190°F/88°C in the center of the loaf, and should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.

Transfer to a cooling rack and brush the top with melted butter while still hot.
Immediately tap a layer of powdered sugar over the top through a sieve or sifter.
Wait for 1 minute, then tap another layer over the first.
The bread should be coated generously with the powdered sugar.
Let cool at least an hour before serving. Coat the stollen in butter and icing sugar three times, since this many coatings helps keeps the stollen fresh – especially if you intend on sending it in the mail as Christmas presents!

When completely cool, store in a plastic bag. Or leave it out uncovered overnight to dry out slightly, German style.

The more rum and the more coatings of butter and sugar you use the longer it will store.
The following is for the recipe as written and uses the 45 mls of rum and two coatings of butter and icing sugar
1. Stollen freezes beautifully about 4 months
2. The baked stollen stores well for 2 weeks covered in foil and plastic wrap on the counter at room temperature and
3. One month in the refrigerator well covered with foil and plastic wrap.