Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Despite my general avoidance of Baked Goods these days, I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of being able to bake.

Maybe it’s the Appeal of the Unattainable. The baked goods I grew up with almost always came from the local bakery - Lord’s, on Merrick Road in Massapequa, New York was a heavenly place, the aroma of which still lives strongly in my mind - or from the basket of goodies that the Dugan Man would schlep to our back door twice a week as he made his rounds. My mother, a good enough home cook but no Cat Cora by any means, baked exactly one cake in all the years of my childhood; bread and pies were completely out of the question.

Perhaps it’s the chemist and chemical engineer in me. Baking, more than most types of cooking, is more a science than an art, with exact measurements of weight, volume, time, and temperature critical to success.

Regardless, I’ve always felt a certain amount of envy towards the people who know how to handle dough, that mysterious substance that comes of the blending of flour, water, and leaveners.

I baked my first cake when I was in seventh grade, using a recipe that was parenthetically included in one of my science textbooks (there’s that “baking as science” meme again). It was surprisingly good... so I continued to attempt more complex recipes - chocolate! food coloring! - until I managed to start fucking things up. For many years after that I stayed away from baking, only resuming sometime in the early 1980’s when I discovered the books of Maida Heatter.

Bread, though. Bread was always a mystery to me, an unfathomable challenge... for it involved yeast, a living thing, in lieu of physical or chemical leaveners.

Most of my attempts at producing anything bready have, historically, been failures. But now, thanks to the example set by Elder Daughter (a dab hand at making delicious challah bread), I have had a few Good Results. Behold!

Yet Another Challah

It’s ridiculously good. Both Elder Daughter and I have independently tweaked the recipe a few times, and the loaf pictured above is probably my best one yet by popular consensus. It has gotten to the point where I am afraid to make one of these beauties, lest I be tempted to eat the Whole Fucking Thing. Hot out of the oven, it’s impossible to resist the urge to tear off a hunk (the braided loaf is a mighty facilitator of hunk-rippage), slather it with soft butter, and devour it on the spot.

I’ll be happy to e-mail you the recipe - just post your request in the comments or send me a note.

Yesterday, I decided to expand my repertoire (and, alas, my waistline) by making a batch of cinnamon buns. My rationale was that the Mistress of Sarcasm and her friend Aaron, currently visiting us as part of a whirlwind tour of the eastern seaboard, would be able to have something decadent for breakfast... and I could try my hand at giving Cinnabon a run for their money.

The dough, laden with more butter than a challah-style dough, came together beautifully and was easy to handle. The filling was simply a blend of brown sugar and cinnamon, with a dab of cardamom adding its own subtle undertone. There is no better way to give your house the fragrance of a little slice of Bakey Heaven than to stick a pan of these bad boys in a 350°F oven. (I wonder if this is what Martha Stewart’s vagina smells like: a fresh, hot cinnamon roll.)

Iced Cinnamon Rolls

Iced down with the traditional cream cheese goop, they were Pretty Damn Tasty. I’m more than pleased with the results... but to preserve my health and sanity, this is liable to be a Very Occasional Indulgence.


Joseph said...

"(I wonder if this is what Martha Stewart’s vagina smells like: fresh, hot cinnamon rolls.)"

Thanks for that. I'm trying to lose weight and up until that point, this post was starting to make me hungry...

Nor Grebnief said...

Always wondered where the term "love muffin" came from. Thanks to your Martha reference, now I know!

k said...

Of COURSE I would like the Challah receipt!

Elisson said...

Super-duper, k - all I need is an e-mail addy to which I can send it. If you prefer, send me a note at elisson1 (at) aol (dot) com.

Houston Steve said...

Since chocolate babka was such a success, howzabout some cinnamon roll French toast?

Stephanie said...

That looks amazing. I wish I could try that cake.

BobG said...

The bread looks damn good. The only thing I can bake is bread in the bread maker. My wife is the baker in the family; she makes the best pie crust I've ever had.

og said...

I was also thwarted by bread, and then I figured it out. Don't think bread, think pizza dough. I make what I know is a good pizza dough, and then I just don't make pizza out of it. I let the yeast bloom and pour it in the dry ingredients in a food processor until it makes a ball. I'ts so easy it's sinful.

And now I'm not supposed to be eating white flour.

Kevin Kim said...

I was sure I had posted something here, but I either accidentally deleted before posting or the comment was scooped up by the cthonian entities inhabiting the dark corners of cyberspace.

Anyway, my comment was: That challa sure ain't no challaback!

Et il va sans dire que j'aimerais avoir la recette.

InsomniacSeeker said...

I would like the Challah recipe. I will send my address to your email. I love baking and trying out new recipes.


Bou said...

Good Lord does that all look tasty!

Be careful of the bread. I have a friend that bought a bread machine and they put on 10 pounds. I can see how it happened. (I realize that won't happen to you.)

My Dad is the Master of the Bread. We want to send him to that cooking class for King Arthur flour, but they are far away and fill up quickly. For awhile, the ladies on the Fleischman's hotline knew him personally. He had all sorts of yeasty questions for them in search of the perfect yeast/dinner roll. His being an engineer... it is all chemistry. He loves making new breads.