family traditions with a twist
13 December 2009
a few days ago, NPR broadcasted an interview with The Atlantic National Correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg, who commented on the genesis of Utah (R) Senior Senator Orrin Hatch’s new Chanukah composition (watch the studio music video). whatever your religious or political beliefs, i’m taking the high road to say the senator’s effort was a thoughtful gesture, however musically underwhelming.
while my mom and i are more aligned in our political philosophies than in our faiths, i wanted to extend my own heartfelt Chanukah gesture by creating a little dinner (we’d had a rather hefty lunch) reminiscent of her childhood. over the years, she’s shared stories about her father, Julius, who regularly made the family latkes (in fact, i’ve been using his recipe for decades); i knew some kind of potato pancake needed to be part of the plan. her dad served them with applesauce, another natural addition to the menu. finally, to address my mom’s love of yeast-based breads, challah would serve as the complement to our light meal.
the first step: find the right challah recipe. sweet, but not as in a dessert. tender, based on the appropriate amount of eggs and fat content. after culling through my cookbooks, i decided to put my trust in the anal editors of Cook’s Illustrated. after our taste-tasting, i have to report that, while verbose (takes one to know one), the editorial team didn’t lead me astray. for the applesauce, i found a phenomenal oven-roasted recipe on Martha Stewart’s site: it’s simple, with a nice layering of flavors from the combination of spices and the varieties of heirloom apples i used, skins on. i gave the latke recipe a little twist by choosing garnet yams, instead of Yukon golds. of course, my mother thought i was serving her carrots. but i imagine there are few 87-year-olds with 20-20 vision. i’ll be hearing from some opthomologists on that topic.
dinner was a smashing success—once we got past the carrot discussion. i trotted out a few little gifts to combat the frigid Northwest temps, like some toasty, sherpa-lined shoes she can kick around in. and a magenta hat trimmed with black buttons to go with her new black pea coat. who says there’s an age cap on the role of fashionista? certainly not my mother.
a recipe from The New Best Recipe, All-New Edition
makes one large loaf
3 – 3 1/4 cups unbleached organic flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
1 envelope (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 large eggs, plus 1 egg separated (reserve the white for the egg wash)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, melted
1/2 cup water, plus 1 tablespoon, at room temperature
1 teaspoon poppy or sesame seeds (optional)
- in a medium bowl, whisk together 3 cups of flour, the yeast, sugar and salt; set aside.
- in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the 2 eggs, egg yolk, melted butter and 1/2 cup water.
- using the dough hook, add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients.
- knead at low speed until a ball forms, about 5 minutes. add the extra flour 1 tablespoon at a time, only if needed.
- place the dough in a very lightly oiled bowl, turning the dough over to coat.
- cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
- in a small bowl whisk the egg white with the remaining tablespoon of water; cover and refrigerate, until you’re ready to use.
- when the dough has doubled, gently press down to deflate.
- cover again with plastic wrap and let rise again until double, 40 to 60 minutes.
- transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface, and divide dough into 3 equal pieces (the actual recipe has more intricate instruction for braiding, but i kept it simple).
- roll each piece of dough into a 16-inch-long rope, about 1 inch in diameter.
- line up the ropes side by side, and braid them together, pinching the ends of the braid to seal them.
- place the braid on a lightly greased baking sheet, loosely drape the loaf with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until the loaf becomes puffy and increases in size by a third, 30 to 40 minutes.
- adjust oven rack to the lower-middle position, and preheat oven to 375F (my oven tends to run hot, so i chose 350F).
- brush the loaf with the egg wash and sprinkle with seeds, if you’ve chosen to use them.
- bake until golden brown, about 30 to 40 minutes (i cooked for about 20 minutes, and the loaf was done).
- place the baking sheet on a wire rack, and let the challah cool completely before slicing.
- adjust oven rack to the lower-middle position
a recipe from Martha Stewart Living
makes eight 1/2-cup servings
1/4 cup water
6 tablespoons packed light-brown sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
a pinch of coarse salt
2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
3 pounds small assorted apples, about 10, cored (i used a mix of King David, Waltana, Gravenstein and Golden Russet, which created a more tart applesauce…yum!)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
a hefty pinch of ground cloves
- preheat oven to 425F.
- combine water, sugar, lemon juice and salt in a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.
- core apples (the heirloom apples didn’t need to be peeled).
- scatter butter pieces over mixture; top with apples.
- roast until apples are very soft, 30 to 40 minutes.
- working in batches, pass the apple mixture through the medium disk of a food mill and into a bowl. (um, i don’t have a food mill, so i pureed the batches in my KitchenAid blender. alternatively, try a food processor.)
- serve warm, at room temperature or chilled.
the applesauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days.
Juli’s Sweet Potato Latkes
makes 8 latkes
one large sweet potato, grated (ok, not technically; i used a garnet yam)
1/2 small yellow onion, chopped
2 large eggs
3 heaping tablespoons flour
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
- in a medium bowl, combine grated sweet potatoes and chopped onions.
- add eggs and stir until well integrated.
- add flour and mix until well combined.
- add salt and pepper.
- let the mixture rest for about 10 minutes.
- heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
- cook the latkes on each side until golden brown.
- serve warm, with roasted apple sauce and/or sour cream.
challah is soo good!! last february my friend amanda and i went to her mother’s rabbi’s house for dinner and his wife taught us how to make challah. it was so much fun! when mom and i come out to visit we should make some! miss you!
sounds great! we can compare recipes and techniques. looking forward to it!
hooray! i like to hope i inspired you a bit to revisit your favorite challah recipe (after i kept talking about my first attempt at making it)! i’ll have to try yours – it looks lovely. also, sweet potato latkes?! num!
you were, indeed, an inspiration!
deb, first of all, your mother is absolutely adorable! and these challah, applesauce, and latke recipes sound heavenly! I might have to try to make the challah. And also the chocolate babka. of course, i can’t read about babka without thinking of that jerry seinfeld episode.
thanks, a-m! do let me know how the breads turn out!