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    Copyright 2008-2018Slow Food Fast. All writing and images on this blog unless otherwise attributed or set in quotes are the sole property of Slow Food Fast. Please contact DebbieN via the comments form for permissions before reprinting or reproducing any of the material on this blog.

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A Closer look at Einstein Bros. Bagels

A few weeks ago I bought a challah from Einstein Bros. Bagels, which had taken over from the Noah’s in my town sometime last fall. Noah’s had supplied my daughter’s school on Fridays and their challah was pretty good for store-bought–this tasted the same. I hadn’t been in the store since the takeover so I didn’t really know what to expect, but other than the name change outside, it looked the same and had more or less the same offerings as ever.

I’m not sure what prompted me to go online and look for their nutrition information sheet, but I wanted an idea of what was in the challah, so I looked. I couldn’t find it on the Einstein Bros. site, but there was a pointer to the Noah’s web site–still up after the takeover, apparently, and that had the challah listed. What I found for the challah itself wasn’t incredibly shocking or anything, ingredients more or less kosher, not too bad on any of the nutritional factors. In fact, it’s probably one of the best bets at our former Noah’s, although you have to order a couple days ahead for Friday morning pickup.

On the other hand, the bagels and other menu items really stood out for sodium–most were over 500 mg per bagel, and some of the “gourmet” varieties of bagels were in the 700-900 range, even without lox. A few sandwiches soared as high as 3500 mg sodium (more than a day’s worth even for today’s average intake, and about two days’ worth according to the CDC and AHA guidelines)–just for a sandwich. Anything with chicken on it was astronomical as well–above 1600. Which sounded like Denny’s or Chili’s to me.

I started to wonder just who designed the food and how “designed” it was. Were we talking mostly bagel joint, or were we talking fast food with a highly engineered, set-in-stone formulation? If I wanted to contact them to ask about lowering the sodium in their dishes, was there a real person I could talk to?

The Einstein’s web site doesn’t have a lot on it other than Flash bells and whistles–the site is extremely corporate as far as information goes. The only thing I found that seemed worth noting here is the management team, and even that–maybe it was the Flash, or maybe there was some programming in the web site, but after three management biographies it failed to load any others. I had to shut my browser, clear my cache, and try again.

What I found surprised me (I’m kind of naïve, I know it). Even with all the evidence to the contrary–my sister once did a comprehensive marketing survey of west coast bagelries and concluded none of them had the real, crackle-crusted thing, it was all just ring-shaped white bread–I still harbor a faint hope that if it’s a bagel shop, it must be Jewish. Especially since the founder of Noah’s is, and Einstein Bros.–well, what would you conclude? But you would be wrong. Continue reading

Rising Expectations for Rosh Hashanah

Just a quick word to say L’Shanah Tova U’metuka! May you have a good and sweet New Year!

Here’s what my daughter and I baked the afternoon before the start of Rosh Hashanah. You can find the basic recipe here.

Crown challah for Rosh Hashanah

Crown challah for Rosh Hashanah

It’s the first time I’ve baked bread since my daughter became diabetic in February, but by now, six months along, we both feel like we have the approximate carb counts down well enough. I tend not to make my challah very sweet anyway, but this year I also left out the raisins, which are about a gram of carb each, to make things a little easier until we were sure we knew how to figure portions. It still came out pretty and tasted good.

Without raisins, we figure, a baked piece of challah is like most other bread, about 50% carb by weight in grams, and it seems to work. Using a simple ratio like this is a lot easier (when we’re home and have a scale handy, anyway) than worrying about exactly how many cups or grams of flour I put in the dough and calculating exact portion carbs–something I still tend to do for desserts and treat foods like berry scones since they’re so variable. Or as our endocrinologist said, “Everyone guesses wrong for birthday cake.” Next time, we’ll try it with raisins and see how it goes.

Challah birds

One thing we like to do with the extra dough–I make sure there is some–is to let my daughter make challah birds. Usually we shape these by making a small 6-inch rope of spare challah dough and tying it into an overhand knot. You can press a raisin into one of the ends for an eye, and the other end becomes the tail, which you can leave alone, stretch out a bit, or score with a knife tip for “feathers”. This year, my daughter went free-form so the rolls came out looking more like bollilos, but she liked them, which is the important thing.

Mine: A lot of people make spiral challahs for Rosh Hashanah with a single thick rope curled around in a turban shape. Tunisians and some other North African and Mizrahi Jews shape the top end into a hand shape. I like to braid my round challahs into a crown, though I admit they’re not always the most even at the joined end. They still seem to even out as they rise to the occasion.

Braided crown challah rising in the oven for Rosh Hashanah

Braided crown challah rising in the oven for Rosh Hashanah

Challah dough is so easy to put together (2 minutes by food processor, plus cleaning, or 5-7 minutes by hand and letting it rise right in the mixing bowl) that if you get the dough ready in the morning and have a couple of hours in the afternoon free for braiding (10-15 minutes unless you’re having too much fun), the second rise (40ish) and baking (another 40ish), it’s a lot of fun and less expensive than store-bought, and more individual too.

B’te’avon! (bon appétit!)

Challah

Two nights ago I brought a couple of homemade loaves of challah to some friends’ house for Shabbat dinner, which was also the last night of Chanukah. Their mother, a fairly well-known kosher caterer, was there and my jaw dropped when she said she’d never learned how to make this classic bread. Challah looks beautiful once it’s baked even if you’re not a champion braider (I’m definitely not), but it’s not such a big deal.

Challah was the first bread I ever made. I was nearly eleven years old the summer Nixon resigned and a camp counselor asked me to help braid loaves from a huge bowl of dough in the kitchen one Friday afternoon. Later, I made all the challot for my bat mitzvah, baking and freezing them week after week. During my last two years at university, I made challah most Friday afternoons  and whenever I was baking I suddenly got proposals from other students along the lines of “Would you please be my mom?” (gee, thanks) Then I graduated, and I just stopped. I had no oven in Israel (a “WonderPot” doesn’t count), and when I came back I had a lab job with long hours. But every once in a while, for the High Holidays and at odd Fridays throughout the year, I still put my hand to the dough and lately it’s been coming out really well.

There are only a couple of smallish tricks to working with the egg-based dough. As long as you have the time to rise and bake the bread within a day or so of making the dough, the actual work time for a pair of two-foot loaves–kneading, braiding and glazing them with egg–is about half an hour altogether. Everything else is letting it sit and rise, or sit and bake. BUT you should figure about 3 hours for the first rise at room temperature (or overnight in the fridge if that’s handier, but I haven’t tried it personally for challah), and after the braiding, which takes maybe 20 minutes for 2 loaves, about another hour to rise covered and then a little less than an hour for baking.

This dough is not overtly sweet, not salty, and not too heavy on either eggs or oil. I find that the bread is lighter, more feathery, and less like a dried-out dish sponge the next day if you don’t exaggerate the rich stuff and just use water rather than more eggs or oil to make up the difference. So this is a lighter, more home-style challah than the kind you get at the bakery or in your grocery store, and less day-glo yellow too–they use turmeric, the cheats. Also much less expensive–I think the total cost is something like $2 for a pair of loaves, and the most expensive ingredient gram-for-gram is the yeast. Continue reading

A Bowl of Dough in a Book

For anyone who’s read my previous post, A Bowl of Dough in the Fridge, a quick recommendation:

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François, is gaining a big following among people who’ve tried out the recipes. This bread book, developed by an avid home baker and a professional pastry chef, uses the same basic strategy I do, but they’ve worked out quite a number of variations on a couple of master recipes, and they’ve come out with a general formula that works pretty well.

They have a basic white boule with a crunchy crust–something to shape a variety of classic ways, French through Italian, with or without olives or olive oil. They have several whole wheat and pumpernickel and rye versions with a thinner shiny crackled crust. They have challah AND brioche, and they have classic bagels AND Montreal sweet bagels. And they have chocolate babka. And they have demonstration photos and tips at the right points in the recipes to be helpful.

Among the differences between their basic white boule recipe and my typical  dough are much more yeast for the amount of flour and water–they use a packet and a half for 6 cups of flour and 3 of water–and a lot more salt as well–a tablespoon and a half. The initial rise is faster–about 2 hours instead of 5 or so–but I’m not sure what the true effect of the salt is other than taste and reflexive habit–François is CIA-trained, and that school tends to emphasize salt, judging from the chefs who’ve graduated from there and gotten into print.

The other factor that’s different is they don’t call for kneading at all–once you’ve stirred the flour into the liquids and everything’s more or less uniform, that part’s done. Rise and chill.

That’s solid enough for the chewy hard-crusted no-knead bread style of bread, but will it work for challah, which usually calls for extensive kneading to develop the classic long feathery crumb? Inquiring minds want to know.

So I’m going to try their white boule and their challah (though here I’ll cut the salt back for my own taste) and let you know how it goes. I’m looking forward especially to see if the challah crumb can really be achieved without the 10-minute knead and multiple rises.

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