apple-filled honey challah

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While I’ve always been more Jew-ish than Jewish, it could be argued pretty easily that I’ve hit an all-time low in tribe allegiance this year.  I quietly threw the notion of keeping kosher for Passover last spring, I didn’t fast for Yom Kippur, and I didn’t even take time off of work – much less set foot in synagogue – a few weeks ago for the High Holidays.  The last remaining vestiges of religion here clearly consist of guilt alone.

This is what "craggy dough" looks like.

Since I’ve never been a religious person, I’m sure my dwindling efforts to maintain what I (perhaps offensively) refer to as my “Jewy Jewy life” are generally more upsetting to my parents than they are to me, although the  half-Jewish boyfriend is 50% more Jew than I’ve ever brought home before, and I’m sure they’ve said a few b’rachas over that.

I do sort of miss the traditions, though, and although I’ve never gotten as much of a kick out of apples and honey at Rosh Hashana as a good Jewish girl should have (I preferred the chocolate Mom whipped out of her purse to break the Yom Kippur fast), when Deb posted a recipe that looked like a hybrid challah and apple cake, I knew this was the future of my “sweet new year” tradition.

Spread the apples over the dough.

I use “tradition” loosely, since Rosh Hashana was weeks ago and these loaves just went into the oven this afternoon, but I’m sure the folks at our weekly House/How I Met Your Mother night will appreciate it almost as much.  Other than braiding challah dough in preschool – which I loved, since let’s be honest, braiding was a hugely marketable skill back then, but which left me a little disappointed because no one had deemed it fitting to include me in the baking process – I’d never made it myself.  After talking shop with a fellow tribeswoman, it was time to make this happen.

Braided and ready for the oven.

This recipe is pretty standard, as egg breads go, except of course for the addition of chopped apples.  Deb has a great tutorial on round challah braids on her website; I’ve tried to duplicate some of that below as well.  One tip: When you’re forming your dough ropes, try to push the apples into the dough as far as possible, even re-appropriating some pieces from the doughier parts of the rope if you need to.  This will make the dough easier to roll.

One for work, one for home. You should never go anywhere without challah.

Apple and Honey Challah

Adapted from Deb

For the bread
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 standard 1/4-ounce packet) active dry yeast
1/3 cup (79 ml) plus 1 teaspoon honey
1/3 cup (79 ml) neutral oil, plus more for the bowl
2 large eggs plus 1 large yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons (8 grams) table salt
4 1/4 cups all-purpose (530 grams) or bread flour (578 grams), plus more for your work surface

2 medium baking apples (I used Granny Smith and Fiji, since that’s what was in my fridge), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks

One large egg

Whisk yeast and 1 teaspoon honey into 2/3 cup warm water and let stand until foamy, a few minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together yeast mixture, oil, remaining honey, eggs, and yolk. Add flour all at once and stir with a wooden spoon until you get a craggy mass of uneven dough. Turn dough out onto a floured counter and knead it into a smooth, elastic dough, about 5 to 8 minutes.  I wasn’t at home when I made this, so I didn’t have my pretty Kitchenaid, but Deb has instructions to make this with a stand mixer as well.

Transfer dough to large oil-coated bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 1 hour, or until almost doubled in size.

Turn dough out onto a floured counter and gently press it down into a flat, oblong shape.  Spread 2/3 of apple chunks over 1/2 of the flattened dough. Fold the other half over the apple chunks and press the dough down around them, flattening dough as much as you can. Spread the remaining 1/3 apple chunks over half the folded dough. Fold the other half over the apples, pressing the dough down again.  Fold the corners under with the sides of your hands so the dough becomes a around. Upend your empty bowl over and set it aside for another 30 minutes.

Divide dough into 4 pieces. Roll and stretch each one as carefully as you can into a rope.  If any apple chunks fall out as you form the ropes or at any other time in the forming of the loaf or risings, just poke them back in with your finger.  Arrange two strands in each direction, perpendicular to each other, like a plus sign. Weave them so that one side is over, and the other is under, where they meet.  Take the four legs that come from underneath the center and move them over the leg to their right, i.e. jumping it. Take those legs that were on the right and again, jump each over the leg before, this time to the left. If you had extra length to your ropes, you can repeat these left-right jumps until you run out of rope. Tuck the corners under the dough with the sides of your hands to form a round.

Transfer the dough to a parchment-covered heavy baking sheet. Beat egg until smooth and brush over challah. Let challah rise for another hour but 45 minutes into this rise, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Before baking, brush loaf one more time with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse sugar if you’re using it. Bake in middle of oven for 40 to 45 minutes. It should be beautifully bronzed; if yours starts getting too dark too quickly, cover it with foil for the remainder of the baking time.


playing catch-up

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Whoooo’s a slacker?

Okay, that might not be true.  I might have gotten two new jobs, found an apartment,  moved my whole life thirty miles southish, and put out sundry fires associated with all of those things in the last month and a half.  Which is cool for me, but maybe not so cool for anyone who was actually expecting some kind of content from this blog.

Also, I’ve been feverish and hacking my lungs out on my boyfriend’s couch for the last week, and what a saint he is for not throwing me out on the street until my apartment opens up.  So there’s that.

Maple brown sugar pound cake

Since we last spoke, there have been Funfetti swirl cookies, a maple brown sugar pound cake, some actually kind of delicious macrobiotic vegan cookies, and a delicious two-layer brown sugar pound cake with dark chocolate ganache (which, unfortunately, was devoured before it could be photographed).

Funfetti swirl cookies

Today, we’ll kill two birds with one stone.  I’m going to direct you over to Peabody’s page for the Funfetti cookies pictured above – which were delicious as well as downright adorable – and write out this very simple vegan cookie recipe.  We have a self-proclaimed “level 12 vegan” in our offices who, in addition to following all of the regular vegan rules, doesn’t eat any processed sugars.  I based this recipe on one I found on Allrecipes, but I’ve printed it here to reflect the changes I made.

I know people turn up their noses at vegan desserts, but I’ll say one thing: they sure don’t get as pissed when you bring them in at breakfast time.

Ugly but rather tasty vegan cookies

Macrobiotic Vegan Cookies

1 cup almonds, toasted

1/2 cup oat flour

3/4 cups oats

1/2 cup maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Pulse almonds in a food processor until they reach desired consistency (coarse or fine meal).  In a large bowl, stir together almonds, oat flour, oats, maple syrup, vanilla extract, and salt until thoroughly combined.

Form mixture into 2-tablespoon-sized balls; flatten slightly.  Arrange on prepared baking sheets.  Bake 12-15 minutes, or until edges are brown.  Remove carefully and cool completely on racks.

chocolate chip oreo graham cracker brownie bars

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I owe you an apology.

All I’ve done the last few weeks is load you down with everything that’s rich and chocolatey, right smack in the middle of the kind of 90-degree weather that makes our cats flop over on the carpet in fuzzy black mirror images of one another.  It’s high time I gave you a nice, light fruit dessert.

What did I give you?  Four cookies in one.  Yes.  Four.

Because as hot as it is outside (and inside, especially since I chose to make tomato sauce and these insane sugar bombs on the same day), I couldn’t resist these.  If one cookie is good, four are better, right?  So I suggest you brave the heat.  Will you have to cook in shorts and not much else?  Possibly.  But it’s a small sacrifice to make for something as beautifully white-trash as these.

 

Chocolate Chip Oreo Graham Cracker Brownie Bars

Adapted slightly from Peabody

For the cookie layer:

1 stick butter

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg

1 1/4 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup chocolate chips

For brownies:

6 ounces chocolate chips

1/2 stick butter

1 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

3/4 cup flour

Oreos and/or graham crackers

Line a 9-inch square pan baking pan with wax paper, then spray with cooking spray.  Preheat oven to 350* Fahrenheit.

For cookie layer:  In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter, sugars, and vanilla.  Beat in eggs, then slowly stir in flour, salt, and baking soda.  Stir in chocolate chips, then pat dough into the bottom of the prepared pan.

Layer Oreos and/or graham crackers on top of cookie layer.  Set aside.

For brownie layer: Melt chocolate gently with butter.  Beat in egg.  Stir in salt, cocoa powder, and flour.  Spread evenly over Oreos or graham crackers.

Bake 30 minutes.  Remove from oven; cool completely before cutting.

oreo-stuffed cookies

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Regardless of the shameless hand-wringing that some of you may have been subjected to over the last few weeks, REALLY SUPER AWESOME things are happening.  Day job drama aside, I received an offer to write for HowStuffWorks.com, a subsidiary of Discovery and the host site of some of my favorite podcasts.  That brings my grand total of writing gigs to four, and as an English major, honestly, I should just shut up about this other job stuff now.

As cool as that is and as thrilled as I am, uncertainty still sucks.  But you know what’s a great antidote?  That’s right.  Excess.

Honestly, this sort of absurd anxiety is the only thing that could have motivated me to foist a recipe this ridiculous upon you smack in the middle of bikini season.  If there’s one thing that’s constant right now, it’s that I have some pathetically reptilian cravings for stoner food, and I don’t know if you can get any more “stoner” than cookies wrapped in cookies.  Welcome to my downfall.

Oreo-Stuffed Cookies

Adapted from here and probably lots of other places

2 sticks of butter, softened

1 cup brown sugar, packed

3/4 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

3 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 package Oreos

2 cups chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350* Fahrenheit.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, sugars, and vanilla.  Beat in eggs, scraping down the bowl occasionally.  Gradually stir in dry ingredients, then chocolate chips, if using.  Chill dough 15 minutes.

Take about 2 tablespoons of cookie dough and flatten into a patty.  Wrap as much as you can around an Oreo.  Flatten another bit of dough and wrap around the other side, patching as needed.  Continue until both cookie sheets are filled, then chill wrapped Oreos for another 15 minutes.  Bake 9-10 minutes.  Cool completely on a rack.

snickerdoodles

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I’m busy.

Really busy.  Like doing productive things, sitting at my desk with an iced coffee tapping furiously, cleaning all the surfaces in my house because I just got new cleaning supplies (and maybe because I’m generally overcaffeinated these days thanks to said iced coffee) busy.

Also, possibly making money.  So I really hope you’ll forgive me for just popping in to drop off these snickerdoodles, which were simple, delicious, and a fun activity for the three-year old and eight-year-old who got to help me make them.  You can use all butter, but I’d recommend the mix of butter and shortening I’ve suggested here.  A little hydrogenated fat won’t kill you.

Snickerdoodles

Adapted from here

3/4 cups (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened

1/4 cup shortening

1 1/2 cups white sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 3/4 cups flour

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup white sugar

3-4 tablespoons cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400*F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together butter, shortening, 1 1/2 cups sugar, eggs, and vanilla.  Slowly mix in flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt.  Form dough into 1- to 1 1/2-tablespoon sized balls; arrange on prepared baking sheets with at least 2 inches space between each.  Bake 8-10 minutes.  Cool completely.

oatmeal cookie bars with almond graham cracker crust

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You know what’s a bad combination?  Big life decisions and a nascent iced coffee addiction.  As if I wasn’t already vibrating out of my chair here at my desk trying to soothe the hordes of what might as well be gerbils who’ve gone off their Ritalin squirming up my shoulders from the regular iced decaf – yes, DECAF – I sucked down earlier.  I’m a wuss at the mercy of a completely indifferent universe that is in no way plotting against me, but just has really bad timing.

I need more coffee.

That’s a lie.  I don’t need more coffee.  What I need is to be a grown-up, to be patient, to make a possibly tough choice, and to trust that I’ll be able to make everything okay, regardless of whether things turn out the way that’s easiest for me.  And, like, believe in myself, or some crap.  It’s not that hot, and I’m wearing a cute shirt.  Things can’t turn out too badly!

While I’m tizzying away over here, I’ve left you a recipe.  Remember when I told you about my sort of unsettling lack of restraint when it comes to combining lots of good things into one?  That may or may not be what happened here.  My favorite twin sister, thoughtfully acknowledging my current dearth of funds, requested “something with oatmeal and maybe almonds or hazelnuts and not that much chocolate” for her/our birthday; I went for all of the above plus more.  So while I stew in my own anxiety, please enjoy.

Oatmeal Cookie Bars with Almond Graham Cracker Crust

For bars:

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature

1 1/4 cups brown sugar, packed

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 cups oats

3 cups almonds, chopped

1 recipe graham cracker crust

 

Preheat oven to 350*F.  Grease a 13×9 inch pan.  Pat graham cracker crust into pan; bake 15 minutes.  Remove from oven; set aside.

While crust is baking, stir together flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.  Cream butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer until fluffy.  Beat in eggs and vanilla.  Gradually stir in flour mixture until just combined, then stir in oats.

Evenly sprinkle chopped almonds over baked crust.  Drop batter by tablespoonfuls over, then smooth to an even layer.  Bake 25-30 minutes, or until edges are golden.  Cool completely before cutting.

cookie dough blondies

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I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but it’s summer.  It’s very much summer.  And here in Southern California, that means stifling heat.  Although anything over 85 degrees makes me considerably more grumpy, it’s the unseasonal and decidedly unwelcome humidity that’s been nagging like a pesky little brother at my clammy soul of late.  I’m not sure who signed off on that, but they are not getting any of the delicious cookie dough blondies I’m about to share with you.

before

However, what summer weather doesn’t do for me, it does for the amazing summer fruit that’s been showing up everywhere from supermarkets to parking lots, and I took this opportunity the other day to stock up on a whole bunch of plums and nectarines.  Now, here’s the thing about nectarines.  When they’re good, they’re heavenly.  But when they’re not, they’re mealy balls of tasteless, teasing, would-be fruit.  Adam Carolla sometimes rants about things that do more harm than good – birthday party clowns, water beds, etc. – and I’d like to add stone fruit to that list.  As much as I try to be egalitarian about it, I still approach the fruit bins at Trader Joe’s with trepidation and have vowed to only purchase summer fruits from the poor sweaty souls at the farmer’s market.

after

Know what doesn’t carry that risk?  Butter.  And sugar.  Say what you will about that whole clogging arteries thing, but regardless of season, harvest, temperature, or other added ingredients, these two won’t let you down.  I know; you thought this was going to be some nice, fresh, healthy dessert, didn’t you?  I’m sneaky.

I’ve been making this recipe for years – it’s my go-to “need a quick dessert that will knock everyone’s socks off” recipe, and now I’m sharing it with you so you too can look awesome at parties and around Christmastime.  If you can bear to turn on the oven, I highly recommend churning out a batch of these ASAP.

Cookie Dough Blondies

2 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 sticks (1 cup) butter, at room temperature

1 cup brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup white sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 eggs

2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375* Fahrenheit.  Grease a 13×9 inch pan; set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter with sugars and vanilla until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly and occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl.  With mixer on low speed, gradually stir in dry ingredients until just combined.

Spread batter evenly into prepared pan.  Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly on top.  Bake 3-4 minutes, until chips are soft.  Remove from oven.  With a knife, swirl chocolate in a decorative pattern, being careful not to overdo it (it’ll start looking ugly and muddy).  Bake 25 more minutes, or until edges are golden.  Cool completely in pan before cutting.