The Power of Challah

I bake and give away a lot of freshly baked bread. I’ve been baking bread weekly, sometimes daily, for many moons and my floury perspective has offered insight on what Joe Eater likes best in the bread department. And it’s challah, hands down.

Essentially, we bread lovers eat with our eyes first. Appearances matter.  Just the sight of one of my golden, glossy braids is enough to bring most of my beneficiaries to their knees. Sprinkle on some sesame or poppy seeds (or both) and you’ve got a bagel hybrid that screams for a slathering of cream cheese,  followed by an unabashed crescendo of jam.

“What’s not to love?” my Long Island New York mother-in-law used to ask.

Ethel, of course, would only take a sliver of a slice, knowing full well that the honey, milk, butter and eggs that enrich and enliven challah were the kiss of dietary death for a diabetic like her.  But that wouldn’t stop her from kveln about my challah.

My friend Danny, on the other hand, used to scrunch and contort her mien whenever she came face to face with one of my challahs.

“No! No, you can’t do this to me!” she’d wail, tossing the gift loaf back into my hands like a hot tamale.

Turns out she was an addict.

Then there was Don. He ignited my baking passion and passed the challah gene down to our offspring.

I’d find him drooling and star struck, gazing with deep longing at my just-out-of-the-oven golden, glossy loaves.  I’d start wielding my bread knife, slashing it through the air, marking the end of each word with a vicious swipe   “Don’t you dare” Slash, slash, slash!  “devour it all!”  He’d feign to cower then leave only crumbs in his wake.    

Oh, the allure, the gloss and glimmer of a challah’s golden crust, twisting and turning seductively before our hungry eyes. Blessedly for us bakers, it is a no-brainer of a baking feat. Sure, you need to have the larder well stocked with milk, honey, eggs and butter, but you’ll find the braid an easier dough trick than your average high hydration, Tartine-style boule.

What’s more, this is a bread recipe that will make you a baking icon among friends and family. You don’t have to capture wild yeast for 10 days to make this baby rise and if you practice this just once, you’ll soon be a baking pro worthy of  Zoom coverage at the socially-distanced table.

But before you plunge into this bake, let’s talk flour:  Seriously good flour, that’s local, freshly ground and can be delivered to your door. 1847 Stone Milled Flour  produces a variety of organic stone milled flours in Fergus, Ontario that bring this challah out of the land of white bread and into a world of healthy, rich flavour.

1847 Challah, Sponge Technique

Despite the name, this challah recipe doesn’t date back to 1847. I created it  recently to feature 1847’s Red Fife and Daily Grind, but both of these whole grain flours can be substituted with other brands.


2 cups warm milk

4 eggs  lightly beaten

¼ cup   honey

9 oz/2 cups     1847 Red Fife

4.8 oz/ 1 cup   PC Organic All purpose, unbleached flour

1 tsp                instant yeast

Final Dough

¼ cup               melted unsalted butter

.6 oz/1 TBS      salt

10 oz               1847 Daily Grind (whole grain multi-purpose flour)

12 oz               PC Organic All purpose, unbleached flour

1                      egg, beaten

¼ cup               sesame seeds

Combine all the Sponge ingredients in the bowl of a KitchenAid mixer using the paddle attachment until just mixed. Cover and leave at room temperature for 2 hrs or until the surface is covered with small holes, just like a sponge.

Add butter, salt, Daily Grind and all-purpose flour to the sponge.  Using a dough hook, mix for 8 min or until the dough balls up around the hook. Add a tablespoon or two of flour during the last 2 min of the mix if the dough is not pulling away from the sides of the bowl.

Transfer to an oiled plastic bin with cover for a bulk ferment (or proof) of 2hrs. (Alternately, slow down the ferment and put it in the fridge overnight for 8-12 hrs)

Line two baking sheets with parchment. Place the room temperature or refrigerated dough on a lightly floured surface. Use a dough scraper to cut in half.  Cut each half into thirds. Roll out each piece to create six long ropes. Make two simple braids with three strands each and place on baking sheets. Cover with a clean dish towel or oiled plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Bake in a preheated 350 F oven for 25-30 min or until internal temperature reaches 190 F 

Happy Hens and Fresh Eggs

When I got my copy of Happy Hens and Fresh Eggs by Toronto author Signe Langford I judged it, yes judged it, by its cover. Cute quirky name, I thought, guessing this was yet another cookbook on eating local with a beautifully art-directed cover.



This cookbook is a keeper.

Continue reading “Happy Hens and Fresh Eggs”

Brunch crunch



S.I.L. defines brunch in this city – but who in their right mind wants to Stand In Line on a chilly weekend morning? Sadly, plenty. Hogtowners waiting for brunch is a Toronto phenom and I feel like the Luckiest Girl in Town when I sidle up to the entrance of Lady Marmalade (898 Queen Street East) or Bonjour Brioche (812 Queen Street East) and there’s no one standing there before me, huffing and gasping un-caffeinated breaths of frustration.

I thought things might improve if I went west. A few weekends ago, I crawled out of my lower Riverdale comfort zone and set my dream compass for Vancouver, where they’ve been bragging about tulips and cherry blossoms for months. But reality set in. I was stuck in my SUV, desperate and grumpy with hunger and reached no further than Bathurst and College, land of graffiti-splashed laneways and more cyclists than our mayor can wave a coke pipe at.

Aunties and Uncles (74 Lippincott Street, at College) is a veritable temple to the dawn-time repast. My Designated Eater and I were both blinded with culinary visions of A&U’s garlicky hash browns ensconced in bacon fat and their soft and pudgy breakfast tacos spiked with chorizo, spilling at the seams with scrambled eggs, pinto beans, cheddar cheese, cilantro and sour cream. But a large crowd of cell-phone-enabled twenty-somethings were already milling about, filling up their outdoor patio like a menacing swarm of tattooed wasps. We knew we were beat.

So we went east again, two blocks, our eyes now fixed on the newly-opened-for-brunch Windup Bird Cafe (382 College Street at Borden). Hail! The entrance contained not a soul – save for a young, pretty server, who rushed up to offer us the unbelievable: one of two free brunch tables on a Sunday in Toronto.

Loaded with windows, Windup Bird Cafe makes morning feel full of promise. IMG_6789-edit2While the spring sun streamed in, we felt caressed by the brunch gods and ordered the basics: Eggs Bennie and simple scrambled eggs. Both broke from the mould, featuring an emerald-green pile of lightly sautéed Swiss chard and kale. (Okay, greens are not everyone’s thing but you-know-who scarfed down one and a half portions long before my third-refill of rich, brewed coffee.)

Our table was wobbly, which our server recognized immediately, sending owner Sang Kim to repair. He came armed with a stack of bookmarks to slip beneath the offending leg. But first, he doled out two of them, leading us to discover that Sang is not only handy, but an award-winning Canadian-Korean fiction author who has collaborated with Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje and dozens of other Toronto literary heads in The Stories That Are Great Within Us, recently published by Exile Editions.

Sang has been described as a serial restauranteur. Windup Bird is his seventh restaurant and he’s consulted on the opening of 27 others. He presently presides over three – sort of.  Seoul Food Co and Yakitori Bar (1 Baldwin Street) is a “two-in-one” resto serving up modern Korean and Japanese food.  At “the Bird”, his chef Yumiko Kobayashi focuses on locally-sourced international cuisine and the lunch and dinner menu changes with the seasons. Like brunch, the emphasis is more on local and healthy, versus highfalutin cuisine. Plates are stacked high with my favourite thing – veggies – and every table contains different and very dainty china and silverware. These vintage settings contrast nicely with the mod, lime-green and orange upholstered booths on the second level. It’s an airy, bright spot warmed up with shiny wood floors and patches of exposed brick.

But back to the food: Sang sources his smoky bacon from Metzger Meat products in Hensall, Ontario and buys his bread from the hottest new artisanal bakery in town: Blackbird, which just opened its retail doors in a vacated Cob’s Bakery at 172 Baldwin Street in Kensington. The bread was sublime: a slice of airy, moist Toronto sourdough and a slice of flaxseed and sesame sourdough containing a mystery herb: Oregano, is that you?

IMG 6970_edit blackbird bread

I’ll happily windup my birds and fly back to this cafe soon. And if you, my dear readers, concur, I have essentially committed brunch hari kari. Chances are this spot will be Lineup City the next time I have a hankering for eggs.