As a college freshman, feeling the pressure of my first ever round of finals, and with no kitchen or supplies of any kind, I found myself yearning to bake. It was a distracting, clawing desire, pulling at the edges of my attention as I struggled in vain to study Rousseau or economic specialization or whatever I was learning in my freshman year introductory classes. I had no resources — no microwave, no mini fridge, not even a hotplate — but I also had no choice; I knew studying would not happen until I made something.
After a little bit of research, I gave up on my books and gave into the urge. We had a variety of “markets” near campus — gourmet, high-end, specialty — but not “super.” With a scarf wrapped around half of my face to keep out the Massachusetts cold, I walked the frigid few miles to and from the nearest real supermarket. I stocked up on cake mix (a last resort, under the circumstances) and the requisite supplies. Then, late that night, a friend snuck me into the kitchen in the basement of her dorm so I could bake — and finally study.
Photograph by Hillary Berkowitz Nussbaum
It’s a stunningly simple way to a feel a sense of accomplishment and renewal — pick a recipe and execute it. It’s an exercise in presence, in clearing your mind and committing fully to the task at hand. It’s meditative. Cathartic. Next time you’re feeling restless or anxious, pressured or overwhelmed, try giving yourself over to the rhythms and repetitions of this recipe, and let your stress bake away.
I adapted this recipe from the golden pumpkin challah in Maggie Glezer’s “A Blessing of Bread.” I added the raisins, ginger, cloves and nutmeg, and left out cardamom, which was in the original recipe.
Yields 2 loaves
1 package (7g) yeast
2/3 cup warm water
3¾ cups unbleached white flour (you can substitute up to 1¾ cup with whole wheat flour)
½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup pumpkin puree (homemade or canned)
1/4 cup canola oil
1 egg (+ 1 egg for glaze)
1½ teaspoons salt
1/3 cup raisins (optional)
1) Preheat oven to 350˚ F.
2) Sprinkle yeast into a small bowl and pour the warm water on it. Let stand for 10 minutes, then stir to dissolve.
3) Mix flour and spices in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in yeast/water mixture. Using a wooden spoon, incorporate some of the flour into the water — just enough to form a soft paste. (Don’t try to completely incorporate — there should be quite a bit of dry flour left at this point.) Cover bowl with a towel and leave until frothy and risen, about 20 minutes.
4) In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar, pumpkin, oil, egg, salt and raisins (if using). Add to the risen flour mixture and combine thoroughly. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes until the dough is pliable. (If it’s too wet, keep adding flour in small amounts.)
5) Let dough rest 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, lightly oil the bowl, put the dough in it and re-cover with the towel. Let dough rise in a warm place until it has tripled in size, 2-3 hours. Punch down dough, knead it a bit more and cut it into two equal pieces. Cut each of the two pieces into three equal pieces. (You should have 6 total pieces at this point.) Roll each piece into a straight rope. Braid three ropes together and repeat so that you end up with two braided loaves.
6) Sprinkle baking sheets with a little cornmeal, or line them with parchment paper. Place loaves on the sheets, cover and let rise until doubled in size, about 40 minutes. Glaze loaves with extra beaten egg. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
Photographs by Molly Yeh
If your family is like my family, your Thanksgiving starts with turning on the Macy’s parade, pouring a glass of wine, and toasting a bagel. It doesn’t totally make sense, but when you consider that the parade quickly becomes background noise for a busy day of cooking and “tablescaping,” the wine and energy in the form of noshing on bagels sort of makes more sense.
Because for us, Thanksgiving is as much about the journey of preparing the meal all together as it is about sitting down around a table, gorging on sweet potatoes, and switching between tears and laughter as we all say what we were grateful for this year.
With Thanksgiving recipe planning on my brain right now, stuffing is first. Stuffing is always first. I think I’ve made stuffing with just about every one of my favorite bread-y things: challah, soft pretzels, sufganiyot for Thanksgivukkah… It’s only natural that this year’s stuffing be made with bagels. And what better way to use up bagels leftover from Thanksgiving brunch?
This stuffing pulls from flavors that are present in a classic bagel and lox: red onions, scallions, chives and capers, if you like them. Any savory bagel will do, although I believe that a mix of everything bagels and whole wheat or pumpernickel bagels will give you the most flavor with a pretty mix of color. If you’re down with dairy on the table, you might consider finishing this off with a drizzle of melted cream cheese.
With all the cooking that leads up to Thanksgiving — there turkey to prepare, cranberry sauce, all those pies and don’t forget the gravy — no one, not even the most dedicated cooks, wants to exert that energy all over again for Shabbat the following day. But plain leftovers, in the form of a turkey sandwich doesn’t quite seem fitting for Shabbat dinner either. Fortunately, Thanksgiving leftovers can be turned into a flavorful and special Shabbat meal.
Start preparing your Shabbat meal at the same time as your Thanksgiving. While preparing your Thanksgiving feast, for example, don’t throw away all your vegetable ends and peels. Instead, save those herb stems, garlic and onion skins, celery leaves and carrot tops in a sealable plastic bag in the refrigerator or freezer. When it comes time to clean up after dinner, put your turkey carcass along with those vegetable scraps in a big pot and make a soothing and flavorful stock that can become the base for a delicious turkey matzo ball soup (get the recipe below). Even if you don’t use it right away, homemade stock can be cooled and frozen for later use. I like to freeze it in ice cube trays so I can easily use as much as I want.
As cookbook author Melissa Clark says, “Thanksgiving is just one big excuse to eat lots of stuffing.” For me, stuffing is simply a better way to experience the practice of dunking a piece of bread into a bowl of chicken soup. You get more doughy bready goodness, less of a mess, and in my experience, tons more flavor.
Such is the principal behind the following recipe.
This challah and pastrami stuffing is slightly inspired by one memorable midnight trip to Katz’s Deli where I sat happy as a clam and drunk as a sorority girl, dunking my pastrami sandwich into my friend’s matzo ball soup and making a massive and delicious mess. If only I just had a bowl of this stuffing, there might have been one less sloppy drunk girl on the Lower East Side that night.
The pastrami in this recipe is balanced by the sweetness of honey and dried currants. It is truly a delicious mix of flavors, and I hope it will give you something to be thankful for.