Sunday, 28 December 2008

Soft Pretzels

I decided to make my son some pretzels for his birthday. This was my first time making pretzels and they turned out pretty good considering. Soft pretzels would be a nice addition to your New Year's Eve Party or for any special occasion or as a snack, my favorite way to eat them.

Soft Pretzel Recipe

Recipe for these pretzels is courtesy ACH Foods.


  • 4 to 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 envelope RapidRise Yeast
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • Coarse salt, grated Parmesan cheese, poppy seeds or sesame seeds



In large bowl, combine 2 cups flour, sugar, undissolved yeast, and salt. Heat milk, water, and oil until very warm (120°F. to 130°F); Stir in enough remaining flour to make soft dough. I began with a wooden spoon and finished stirring with a Danish Dough Whisk.

Knead on floured surface until smooth and elastic, about 4 to 6 minutes. Cover, let rest on floured surface 10 minutes.

Divide into 14 equal pieces.  Roll each piece to 20-inch rope.  Cover; let rest 5 to 10 minutes until risen slightly.

To shape into pretzels: Curve ends of each rope to make a circle; cross ends at top. Twist ends once and lay over bottom of circle.

Place on 2 greased baking sheets. Brush with beaten eggs.

Bake at 350°F for 15 minutes. Remove from oven; brush again with eggs. Sprinkle with salt, cheese, poppy seed or sesame seed. Return to oven and bake for 15 minutes or until done. Remove pretzels from baking sheets; let cool on wire racks.

The warm pretzels are ready to be eaten. They taste even better brushed with melted butter.


Nutritional Information: Per Serving:

Serving size: 1 pretzel
calories 188; total fat 4g; saturated fat 1 g; cholesterol 32 mg; sodium 270mg; total carbohydrate 32g; dietary fiber 1 g; protein 6g.

Happy Baking!

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Whole Wheat Holiday Loaves

Holiday breads are traditionally made using white flour, sugar and dairy products. These holiday loaves are made with 100% whole wheat and contain no dairy products. The loaves are dark and chewy with an exceptional flavor.

I love making traditional festive breads, but there is a point when you can get too much of a good thing. We get so much sugar and white flour during the holidays, I thought this bread would be a nice change of pace. Of course my teenage sons probably won't eat it so I'll give a loaf to my mom. She's always willing to test my bread creations. In fact, every time she comes over she asks if I have any bread in the freezer. Of course I do!

By the way, this bread keeps very well. It will retain its goodness as long as a week under good storage conditions.

Note: You can shape the dough into two hearth loaves for a pretty presentation or bake it in loaf pans. I'm always looking for a good whole wheat toast for breakfast so I plan to bake them in loaf pans so they can easily be sliced and toasted.

Whole Wheat Holiday Loaves
Makes: 2 loaves
The recipe for these festive loaves is from
The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book: A Guide to Whole-Grain Breadmaking by Laurel Robertson.

  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped (120 g)
  • 1 cup raisins (145 g)
  • 1 cup boiling water (235 ml)
  • 1/4 cup honey (60 ml)
  • 1 cup orange juice (235 ml)
  • 2 tablespoons oil (30 ml)
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast (1/4 oz or 7g)
  • 1/2 cup warm water (120 ml)
  • 5 1/2 cups finely ground whole wheat flour (830 g)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt (14 g)
  • 2 tablespoons grated orange peel (peel of 2 or 3 oranges)


Prepare the walnuts by roasting slightly in the oven. Rinse the raisins and pour the boiling water over them in a pan. Simmer for 5 minutes. Drain immediately, setting aside the raisins and bringing the measure of the water back to 1 cup.

Dissolve the yeast in the 1/2 cup warm water.  Separately mix honey, orange juice, oil, and raisin water. Mix the flour, salt, and orange peel in a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour  and pour in the orange juice mixture.

Combine these ingredients until they are almost mixed and then add the yeast.

Mix to form a dough, and knead five to ten minutes only. Cover and set aside to rise in a warm place. When the dough has risen until your 1/2-inch fingertip remains without filling in.

Knead about 10 minutes more, while you gradually add in the raisins and walnuts.

Let the dough rise again.

Divide in two. Shape the pieces into rounds and let them rest, covered, until relaxed.

Make two pretty hearth loaves, or shape into loaves and place in two 8" x 4" pan loaves. Let them rise again in a warm place.

Things don't always turn out the way they should:

The loaves were rising very nicely until my son turned the oven on preheat to make some pizza rolls. He didn't know there was anything in the oven and I was out running an errand. He was asleep when I left so I didn't mention it to him. He noticed once he opened the oven door, and rescued them as best he could, but they had already started baking a little bit so they didn't completely rise. I decided to share this story because things don't always go as they should. Despite all this, the loaves still taste great!

Then bake in a preheated 350°F oven for about 55 minutes, or until done. Small hearth loaves will take less baking time.  Cool on wire baking rack.

This bread tastes good toasted with butter.

Happy Baking!

Additional festive bread recipes and resources:

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Transitional Whole Wheat Challah

Challah (pronounced hal-la), is the Jewish Sabbath and celebration bread. The traditional version of challah is made from a rich dough of white flour and a combination of whole eggs and additional yolks.

Tradition doesn't stipulate that it has to be made with white flour. It is the eggs that define challah, not the flour. This version uses a combination of whole wheat flour and white flour to make a beautiful and tender multigrain braid.

During the holidays, it's hard to find time to dedicate to baking bread. This recipe takes a couple days to make from start to finish, but it's really not hard or time-consuming. You can time it to fit in your schedule because most of the time is used for the fermentation. I did a good bit of the preparation during commercials while I was relaxing watching TV.

Transitional Whole Wheat Challah Recipe
Makes: 1 large loaf or 2 small loaves
Preparation: 2 days
The recipe is from Peter Reinhart's
Whole Grain Breads.

Day 1:
Soaker and biga, 20 minutes set up and mix; overnight autolyse

Day 2: 2 hours to de-chill biga; 12 to 15 minutes mixing; 2 to 3 hours fermentation, shaping, proofing; 40 to 60 minutes baking


  • 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour, preferably fine grind
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 3/4 cups unbleached bread flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 7 tablespoons filtered or spring water, at room temperature (about 70 degrees F)
  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten
  • 4 egg yolks

Final Dough:
  • Use all soaker
  • Use all biga
  • 7 tablespoons whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons honey or agave nectar or 2 tablespoons sugar or brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • extra whole wheat flour for adjustments
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water plus a pinch of salt for egg wash
    poppy seeds or sesame seed for topping (optional)



Mix all of the soaker ingredients together in a bowl for about 1 minute, until all of the flour is hydrated and the ingredients form a ball of dough. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours.

Note: If it will be more than 24 hours, place the soaker in the refrigerator; it will be good for up to 3 days. Remove it 2 hours before mixing the final dough to take off the chill.


Mix all of the biga ingredients together in a bowl to form a ball of dough.  Using wet hands, knead the dough in the bowl for 2 minutes to be sure all of the ingredients are evenly distributed and the flour is fully hydrated. The dough should feel very tacky. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes, then knead it again with wet hands for 1 minute. The dough will become smoother but still be tacky.

Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 3 days.

About 2 hours before mixing the final dough, remove the biga from the refrigerator to take off the chill. It will have risen slightly but need not have risen significantly in order to use it in the final dough.

Final Dough:

1. Using a metal pastry scraper, chop the soaker and the biga into 12 smaller pieces each (sprinkle some extra flour over the pre-doughs to keep the pieces from sticking back to each other)

2. Combine the soaker and biga pieces in a bowl with the 7 tablespoons flour and the salt, yeast, honey, and vegetable oil. Stir vigorously with a mixing spoon or knead with wet hands for about 2 minutes, until all of the ingredients are evenly integrated and distributed into the dough. The dough should be soft and slightly sticky; if not, add more flour or water as needed.

Note: You can use a stand mixer for this recipe, I just prefer to do it by hand whenever possible.

3. Dust a work surface with flour, then roll the dough in the flour to coat.  Knead the dough by hand for 3 to 4 minutes, incorporating only as much extra flour as needed, until the dough feels soft and tacky, but not sticky. Form the dough into a ball and let it rest on the work surface for 5 minutes while you prepare a clean, lightly oiled bowl.

4. Resume kneading the dough for 1 minute to strengthen the gluten and make any final flour or water adjustments. The dough should have strength, yet still feel soft, supple, and very tacky. Form the dough into a ball and place it in the prepared bowl, rolling to coat with oil.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for approximately 45 to 60 minutes, until it is about 1 1/2 times its original size.

5. Gently transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface with a plastic bowl scraper (try not to rip or tear the dough). You can make 1 large braided loaf or 2 smaller loaves, or you can cut as many as 16 smaller pieces for dinner rolls.  For braided challah, use a metal pastry scraper to cut the dough into 3, 4, 5, or 6 equal pieces, depending on the type of braid you want to make; do not rip the dough -- make clean cuts.

Roll the pieces into short ropes about 3 inches long.  Cover loosely with a cloth towel or plastic wrap,

Let rest for 5 minutes, then roll each piece into a longer rope, about 10 inches long.

Braid the ropes. I made the 3-braid loaf.

How to make a 3-braid loaf:

Lay three equal strands side by side

Start overlapping one of the outside strands over the middle strand.

Take the opposite strand and lay it over the new middle strand.

Continue this pattern until you run out of dough. Pinch the end closed.

Rotate the loaf 180 degrees and repeat the pattern. The loaf is now ready to pan and proof.

6. Place the braided loaf on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or a silicon mat.  Brush the egg wash on the loaf, mist the top of the dough with pan spray (optional) and cover loosely with plastic wrap, or place the pan in a plastic bag. Let the dough rise at room temperature for 30 minutes.

7. Brush the dough with egg wash a second time, then top with poppy seeds or sesame seeds. Leave the dough uncovered to continue rising for 15 more minutes. Preheat the oven to 400°F.

8. Place the challah on the middle shelf, reduce the heat to 325°F (163°C), and bake for 20 minutes.  Rotate the loaf 180 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes.

Check the bread and rotate again if it is baking unevenly. Continue baking for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until the bread is a rich brown all around, sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom, and registers at least 195°F (91°C) in the center.

9. Transfer the bread to a cooling rack and let it cool for at least 1 hour before serving.

I hope you enjoyed learning how to make this festive bread.

Happy Baking!


Sunday, 7 December 2008

Traditional Christmas Stollen

Stollen, a German Christmas bread, originates from Dresden. The bread symbolizes the blanket of the baby Jesus, and the colored fruits represent the gifts of the Magi.
This version of Stollen can be made in a fairly reasonable amount of time, about 4 hours from start to finish due to the strong sponge that leavens the dough at a brisk pace.  The dough can be made into a traditional stollen shape or as a Panettone.
Traditional-Shaped Stollen
stollen 043_thumb[1]

Stollen Recipe

1 large or two small stollen
This traditional recipe is from Peter Reinhart's
The Bread Baker's Apprentice

Preparation: 1 hour sponge; 20 minutes mixing; 2 hours fermentation, shaping, and proofing; 50 to 70 minutes baking

  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 cup golden raisins, plus additional for sprinkling on final dough
  • 1 cup candied fruit mix, plus additional for sprinkling on final dough
  • 1/2 cup brandy, rum, or schnapps
  • 1 tablespoon orange or lemon extract

    *If you prefer, you can substitute regular dried fruit, such as dried cranberries or apricots, for the candied fruit.
  • 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange zest (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 large egg
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • About 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup slivered blanched almonds (or marzipan)
  • Vegetable oil or melted butter for topping
  • Powdered sugar for topping


Make the sponge by warming the milk to about 100°F. Whisk in the flour and yeast. Cover with plastic wrap and ferment for 1 hour, or until the sponge is very foamy and ready to collapse when tapped.

Combine 1 cup each of the raisins and fruit mix, the brandy, and the orange extract. Set aside.**

**To improve the flavor and preserve the bread, it is best to soak the fruit a few days ahead of time. Here's how:

Two days before making this bread, soak the raisins and candied fruit in the brandy, rum, or schnapps and the orange or lemon extract, tossing the fruit a few times a day until the liquid is absorbed. If you'd prefer not to use alcohol, you can double the amount of extract and add 1/2 cup of water. You can also simply add the fruit, without the alcohol, into the final dough and add the extract directly to the dough.

I used raisins and dried cranberries for this recipe since that is what I had on hand. I soaked the raisins and cranberries in orange extract and water for a couple of days which gave them a very nice aroma and flavor.

To make the dough, in a mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer), stir together the flour, sugar, salt, orange and lemon zests, and cinnamon.  Then stir in ( or mix in on low speed with the paddle attachment) the sponge, egg, butter, and enough water to form a soft, but not sticky, ball.

This should take about 2 minutes. When the dough comes together, cover the bowl and let the dough rest for 10 minutes.

Add in the fruit and mix it with your hands (or on low speed) to incorporate.

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 feel soft and satiny, tacky but not sticky.  Knead for approximately 6 minutes (4 minutes by machine). Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Ferment at room temperature for 45 minutes. The dough will rise somewhat but will not double in size.

Shaping the Stollen:

Sprinkle flour lightly on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. If you are making 2 loaves, divide the dough in half. (I'm making one big loaf)

With your hands, form the dough into a thick rectangle, 8 by 4 inches (5 by 3 inches for 2 smaller loaves), and dust it with flour.

Sprinkle the top with slivered almonds and extra fruit.

Take a small rolling pin and press down on the center of the rectangle,

Roll the dough in the center only, leaving 1 inch at both the top and the bottom edges as thick as the original rectangle.

The new rectangle, with its thick top and bottom edges, should be 12 inches wide by 6 inches long (8 by 5 inches for 2 loaves). The interior of the rectangle should be about 1/2 inch thick.

Using a pastry scraper to loosen the dough from the counter, lift the top edge and bring it down and over the bottom edge, going just past the bottom edge. The thin inside part of the rectangle should remain behind the bottom edge.

Turn the dough seam side up and tuck additional slivered almonds and fruit under the dough flap.

Fold the top edge back over the bottom edge and rest it on the thin center section. Tuck more almonds and fruit under the new fold.  The dough should have a folded, layered look, with fruit and almonds peaking out both sides. Gently squeeze the loaf to press it together.

Line a sheet pan with baking parchment. Transfer the stollen to the pan and, as you set the dough down, curl it into a slight crescent.  Mist the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap.

Proof for approximately 1 hour at room temperature, or until the dough is 1 1/2 times its original size. Preheat the oven to 350°F with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Bake the stollen for 20 minutes.

Rotate the pan 180 degrees fro even baking and continue to bake for 20 to 50 minutes, depending on the size of the loaves. The bread will bake to a dark mahogany color, should register 190°F in the center of the loaf, and should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.

Transfer the bread to a cooling rack and brush the top with vegetable oil 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 for at least 1 hour before serving. When completely cool, store in a plastic bag. Or, leave them out uncovered overnight to dry out slightly, German style.
stollen 039_thumb[1]

Happy Baking!


Additional festive bread recipes and resources: