14 February 2010

what's that in the bread it's gone to my head

That's right I'm quoting Jesus Christ Superstar at you.

Sometimes I get really behind with what's hot in food blogging. I mean this sincerely, not in some kind of "oh, aren't I above it all" manner. I'm really just a bit useless. I've completely missed the waka with matcha-flavoured-everything, have never been brave enough to make macarons, I may never get an SLR lens, and I've only once used the word "umami" with any confidence. And only this weekend did I get around to paying any attention to the no-knead bread trend care of the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day crew. Seriously, people have been going nuts about this posse since about 2007 which is tantamount to forever in blog years. For whatever I lack though, I bet there's not many food bloggers who could keep you abreast of both the local music scene and the non-local musical scene, even if you have no interest in either!

Witness my incredibly complicated bread plaiting skills. I'm not sure if it's even really challah if there's only three strands to your braid. Like mine.

So, the credo of these breadmakers is that you can easily incorporate breadmaking into your everyday life, using their relatively revolutionary no-knead method. It seems so simple that one wonders why we're always told to knead bread in the first place, an almost wilfully difficult move. I came across them while hunting for a recipe for challah, that soft, sweet Jewish bread. Let it be known that I generally ignore Valentine's Day - apart from the fact that it's a bit nauseating and awkward, it seems disloyal to my aggrieved, unvalentined younger self to pretend like I'm accustomed to it now. But I do enjoy surprising Tim with a bit of dramatic baking now and then and blaming Valentine's Day for covering the kitchen and myself in flour seems reasonable. I also anticipated that we could have any leftovers as French Toast for dinner on Monday night. Challah - the non-gift that keeps on giving.

Nigella Lawson, the person I usually turn to like a flower leaning towards the sun, despite repeatedly exclaiming her love of challah has never included a recipe in her books for it. For shame, Nidge. A quick search through Foodgawker and Tastespotting revealed how many, many bloggers were raving about the no-knead method. Now, I actually like kneading. I like the entire bread process. But I also am all for innovation and was curious to see if all this talk was justified. Plus this recipe included a hearty amount of butter, so my trust increased.

Isn't it mountainous? Don't you just want to climb it?

The no-knead method removes the very part of the process that most people aren't keen on. All you do is stir together ingredients, leave them for two hours, shape, leave, and bake. No kneading whatsoever. It felt a little bizarre not plunging my hands into the soft dough but it rose rapidly, was very easy to shape into traditional-ish plaits, and rose almost alarmingly on its second sitting.

No-Knead Challah

Recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, via Mise en Place

To be fair, recipe probably chosen because of the high butter content, not the no-knead concept.

1 1/2 tablespoons (or sachets) instant yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
125g melted butter
1/2 cup honey
4 eggs
7 cups all-purpose flour

In a large bowl, mix together everything except the flour. Then add the flour and stir to make a stiff, soft dough. Cover loosely (don't seal it off) and leave for 2 hours at room temperature till risen and flattened on top. At this point, divide the dough in half and divide each of these halves into three balls. With one set of three dough balls, roll them between your hands to make longer strands and plait them together on a tray lined with a sheet of baking paper. Repeat with the other three doughballs. Cover loosely with foil and leave to rise for a further hour and a half. Brush your loaves with a beaten egg and sprinkle with poppyseeds or sesame seeds if you wish, and bake at 180 C/350 F for 40 minutes.

Seriously, I think I've made breakfast cereal more complex than this. It's every bit as simple as they claim. In terms of deliciousness this bread is off the chain. No mere sweetness pervades this flaky, moist bread - it has a honeyed, layered flavour that somehow cries out for even more butter to be spread across its feathery-soft cut slices. It's just unbelievably good, especially considering the complete lack of effort that went into it.

Oh, baby do you know what that's worth? Ooh heaven is a place on earth.

So, despite the fact that this bread already basically tastes like French Toast, I decided to do the whole breakfast-for-dinner thing again tonight. Slices of challah were dipped into cinnamon-warm, whisked eggs. A couple of precious rashers of bacon were fried in butter and set aside. Into that resiny, salty butter went the eggy bread. Once that was done, the whole lot was drizzled with the tiniest capful of actual maple syrup. It's not something we could afford to eat every day, on too many levels, but it makes for one heck of a special dinner. We hardly ever have bacon (having lofty ideals of purchasing only "happy pig" products is also very expensive) and this is the first time I've ever bought real maple syrup. It was certainly a heady experience - salty, darkly sweet, bacony, eggy, buttery...pretty magical stuff.

The only problem with this bread is that it makes me incredibly drowsy. I can actually feel my body growing heavy and tired after eating it. While growing sleepier I imagine baking a giant challah so I can just slumber on top of it, chewing pinched handfuls when I require sustainance...


Title brought to you by: The Last Supper from Jesus Christ Superstar. I saw this musical in 1994 with all manner of well-known New Zealanders in it - Jay Laga'ia, Margaret Urlich, Frankie Stevens, Tim Beveridge... It affected me greatly - I was into fashion design at the time and can still remember drawing countless, perhaps slightly misguided pictures of Mary Magdalene sitting on a donkey, wearing a plunging burgundy velvet dress, multicoloured shawl, and Janet Jackson-style microphone. if you ever hunt down the cast recording it's so rewarding. By which I mean it's like crack for the ears.

Music these days:

Electric Wire Hustle, They Don't Want. We saw this super smooth local trio at San Francisco Bath House on Saturday night, and they were very cool. Like, they launched into their encore with a five minute drum solo. Mesmerising stuff.

Lullaby of Broadway from the original cast recording of 42nd Street, which I found at Slow Boat Records this weekend - I think this might have been the first musical I ever saw, in about 1991 with most the fabulous Australian cast - Nancye Hayes, Leonie Page (who I'd go on to see in West Side Story and Me and My Girl), and so on. I distinctly remember Mum saying she wouldn't buy the cast recording it if it didn't have the tap dance sounds on it, luckily for me it did. That cassette got absolutely thrashed, but I can't imagine how they recorded it all. Listening to it again, in all its old-Broadway pomp and circumstance reminds me why I loved this so much in the first place - revival, anyone?


Next time: This week is very busy as we're gearing up for Homegrown this weekend, it's likely to be pretty enormous. I'm going to be working there all day till it's done and it will be exhausting but hopefully pretty rewarding and enjoyable also. But exhausting. So I'd better steer clear of the challah if I don't want to end up fast asleep, snoring softly in a guitar case somewhere. And I will make that vegan banana cake!


  1. Nobody does Broadway and baking like you :)

    (I.... don't know how to loooooooooooooooove him! Also rather fitting as I spent hours today at the Walker Art Gallery looking at depictions of the two Marys in Jesus' life.)

    Also, that challah? Holla!

  2. Mmm I literally have to say to this post 'talk to the hand' or I WILL eat myself into lardy oblivion!

  3. Looks so easy I think I could almost have a go at this myself.

    Would go and see 42nd Street again in a heart beat. Brilliant show.

  4. They say in heaven, love comes first. We'll make heaven a place on earthhhhh! Great lyric. Tasty buttery looking bread. I would love to try this. I usually add sesame to challah bread. Love the herb addition!

  5. A friend who follows your blog put me onto it, when I recently started a recipe blog. Love it!! Love the bread!! Have just made some and it is delicious. Nigella's lucky you're around, or there might be a coup.

  6. Hannah: Ooh, the art gallery exhibition sounds interesting. Notice I so refrained from any Holla-challah puns, so I'm glad you used one here!

    JenniS: "Lardy oblivion" made me laugh so hard, thank you!

    Mum: It is, it is! And yes, 42nd street was wonderful!

    Lauren: I do love that song :) And I actually used black sesame seeds on mine - I didn't mention it in the recipe and I guess they do look like herbs! Got them cheap from a Japanese supermarket :)

    Alana: Welcome! Hope you enjoy the blog. I'm lucky Nigella is around, or there'd definitely be a coup :)

  7. Mmmm, Challah. Never saw J-C Superstar but want to as I love your music/food taste!

  8. Hey Laura,

    You probably dont remember me, but I met you on SB a few years ago... we talked about Artichokes and eggplant and rice crispy treats and other yummy things, I presume. I was reminded of your blog today when I decided to look up the difference between Cupcakes and Muffins. (I was linked to a food blog... reminded me of yours.) And I come back and I see Challah... way to make me hungry.

    Anywho, I came by to say HI! And that I will now be following your blog!


  9. Sadako: I would SO welcome a JSC snark from you.

    Anais: Hi Anais! Glad you found your way back here again. You're making me want Rice Krispie Treats now :)

  10. Excellent Belinda Carlisle reference!

    That looks just wonderful. I also haven't got on the no-knead bandwagon yet. I need the exercise of kneading to justify the kilo of butter that fresh bread deserves.

  11. Hi Laura, (I can't find where to email this.)

    I have a food question for you. I am trying to make a vegetarian sausage and meatballs for a friend of mine who is a vegetarian, and I already know that my late great grandmother had a recipe for the meatballs (which I will get to you. I hear they were fantastic and went faster than the regular meatballs). So, do you know any good recipes for vegetarian sausage? And not breakfast sausage, but like... Italian Sausage. I found this recepie: http://www.everydaydish.tv/index.php?page=recipe&recipe=109 and I want to know if you think it would be any good. Also, how would I make the outside have that crisp that normal meat sausages have, but without the intestines?


  12. Foodycat: Thank you! And good point. I really don't mind the kneading to be honest!

    Isi: Hmmm, have never made vegetarian sausages but there is a recipe in Simon Rimmer's The Accidental Vegetarian which sounds quite fetching. I would try crumbing the outside to make them crisp rather than try and recreate the traditional casing - using panko, breadcrumbs, ground almonds or polenta for example :D

  13. Beautiful bread! No fancy camera required :). Between you and me, I've yet to make macarons!

  14. That whole breakfast for dinner idea looks pretty stellar!

  15. Hey Laura, I know I texted you with excitement but I wanted to make it official, forever locked in the annals of your bloge... I made and LOVED your Challah! It was supremely easy, (having never made bread before) and it turned out fantastically! I put olives across the top and seriously I did not believe that I had made something so beautifully artisan! Thanks for the post, I would never have had so much enjoyment without it! xx

  16. I made this when you blogged about it last year, but had completely forgotten about it. Great to see it alongside your most recent post, definitely making this again, maybe even today!