The month of March was just not very productive for me in any segment of my life… After shredding a part of my finger early in the month, I didn’t have much desire to cook, bake or type. Lack of sunshine and warmth took its toll… I was so hoping for spring to come and all we got was snow and bitter cold. As I write this it’s still cold out, but the sun is shining, the trees and flowers are budding and it makes such a difference. I also took a few days off from work to spend with my family and to do the things I love – bake and paint.
I really missed getting my hands sticky with dough and having the aroma of fresh baked goods around the house. All I could think of was to bake something good, warm and familiar and nothing sounded better than this challah bread topped with poppy seeds. Every bakery in Bosnia sells this bread. Their sizes range anywhere from a small knot, to an individual size challah to a large family challah. For me, it is an essential part of a good breakfast! It can be eaten just plain or spread with butter, jam, honey, paté or anything you may like. It can be used for a sandwich or for the bread pudding. It looks great on a holiday table!
500 g (4 cups) all-purpose flour (+ flour for kneading)
21 g (0.7 oz) fresh yeast
1 TBSP sugar
200 ml (3/4 cup + 2 TBSP) warm water
50 ml (about 1/4 cup) sunflower or vegetable oil
½ TBSP salt
Milk for brushing
2 TSBP poppy seeds
Place the flour in a mixing bowl. Make a deep indent in flour, add 1 TBSP of sugar and crumble up the yeast. Lightly mixing by hand, add ¼ of the quantity of water. Mix only inside the indent, just to get a small ball of starter. Cover and let it rest for about 10 minutes.
Combine the rest of the water with oil, egg and salt and stir well. Put the flour bowl back on the mixer and mixing at a slow speed start adding the liquid. Switch to medium speed setting and mix for about 3-, rest for about 3- and then mix for 3 more minutes.
Dough will look nice and smooth. Cover it and let it rest for 30 minutes.
Lightly dust your working surface with flour and knead the dough by hand for a few minutes. Divide the dough into 3 or 4 pieces, depending on what you want to make, a three- or four-strand challah.
Shape each piece into a foot long strand. Transfer all the pieces onto a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Braid the strands to form a challah. Cover the bread and let it rest and rise for about 30 minutes.
Brush the bread with milk and sprinkle with poppy seeds.
Bake at 200 C or 395 F for about 35-40 minutes or until challah gets a nice, golden-brown color.
I haven’t baked in a while, partly because the summer calls for the resfreshing, no bake, fruity desserts and partly because I was on vacation and just didn’t feel like doing much except relaxing, painting, shopping, and such… Well, last night I got a huge urge to bake! Without a particular reason, without an occasion in sight I just HAD TO BAKE SOMETHING! Those passionate about baking will understand! 😀
Ideas started forming in my mind while I was still at work – something yeasty, but not too heavy and good for breakfast… Strudel! That’s it! We, Eastern European People love our strudel! I think most of every nation of Eastern (and some of Western EU) has one or the other version of the strudel. I usually make two types of strudel – one with a very thin, phyllo-like dough and the other with the yeast dough. Fillings can vary – from a lighter cherry, apple or jam filling to a richer poppy seed, walnut, hazelnut, almond or cream cheese and raisins filling. More info about strudel here.
4 cups (512 g) all-purpose flour (used King Arthur)
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
A pinch of salt
1 teaspoon lemon zest (if desired)
1 egg (beaten)
1 cup (236 ml)warm water
6 tablespoons (85 g) butter (very soft)
Pour the milk into a cooking pan and let it boil lightly. Add hazelnuts, sugar, vanilla, honey and cinnamon and mix well for a few minutes until the filling thickens. Make sure the filling is spreadable. If is too runny add more hazelnuts. ***You may divide filling into two parts and add 1 tbsp of cocoa or melted chocolate in one half (or add some different flavor to it).
Mix the yeast, 1 tsp sugar and 2 tbsp warm water. Set aside for 5 minutes until becomes foamy.
Combine flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest. Make an indent in the flour and pour in the yeast mixture. Mix lightly, add the egg and then start adding water. When almost combined, work the butter into the dough.
Lightly dust your working surface with flour and knead the dough by hand for about 5 minutes. Grease a bowl with butter and place the dough ball into the bowl. Cover with a kitchen towel and let it rise until double in volume.
Prepare two 5 X 9 inches (about 13 X 23 cm) loaf pans, grease them with butter. Cover your table with a cloth which will be used for rolling the dough. Sprinkle the cloth with flour.
When the dough is ready, divide it in two. Using a rolling pin roll the dough as thin as possible. Make sure it keeps its rectangular shape. The size of my dough was approx. 12 X 20 inches. Spread the filling as thinly as possible. Lift up the cloth and roll the dough as a jelly roll. Do the same with the second piece of the dough.
Shape one roll into “S”, form the other dough into a two-strain braid and place each into a loaf pan. Cover and let is rise for about 1 to 1.5 hours.
Bake at 375 F (190 C) for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 F (175 C) and bake for another 30 minutes. Cool for at least 30 minutes in the pan. Remove from the pan and cool for another 30 minutes, slice and serve.