Our son, Peter, is one of the bakers of the family. It was he who learned to make biscuits at his grandmother’s side. He also built a brick-lined oven in the kitchen stove, to the consternation of his wife, René. Peter and René and their two daughters visited for a few days from the Bay Area. The girls brought a candle, paperweight, and some art work that they had made. Peter brought a beautiful loaf of challah from a batch of twelve loaves that he had made as holiday gifts for friends and neighbors. It was a beautiful loaf, lightly golden and topped with sesame seeds. I use the term, “was” because it disappeared the first morning, toasted and buttered, along with a cup of tea or coffee. None was left for the excellent French toast it would make. René spent some of her time working on my pronunciation “challah”. Peter says his recipe came from Baking with Julia, Dorie Greenspan, William Morrow and Co., New York, 1996, p 93. The book is the companion of the television show of the same name. The TV baker and recipe author was Lauren Groveman, a cookbook author and life coach. This is my edited version of that recipe.
FOR THE BREAD
- 1½ tablespoons active dry yeast
- ½ cup tepid water
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup whole milk
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2½ teaspoons salt
- 4 large eggs
- 6½ cups all-purpose flour, measured and set aside
- melted butter
FOR THE GLAZE
- 1 egg
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon water
- sesame seeds
- coarse salt
- In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the tepid water. Be sure the water is not so hot as to kill the yeast. Set aside for 5 minutes.
- In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the butter and milk. Stir occasionally until the butter is melted and the mixture is warm. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and add the sugar, honey, and salt. Stir with a large wooden spoon until completely mixed and the sugar and salt are dissolved. Cool if necessary until it is just warm to the touch. (No more than 110°F)
- Stir in the dissolved yeast and the eggs. Then add flour, ½ cup at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon to completely incorporate the flour before the next addition. When you have stirred in about 5 cups of flour and the dough is getting too stiff to stir, turn the dough out on a work surface covered with the remaining flour. Knead for at least 10 minutes until most of the flour is incorporated and the dough no longer sticks to your hands or work surface and is smooth and elastic.
- Wash, dry, and grease the mixing bowl. Shape the dough into a ball, brush with melted butter, and transfer to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place in the kitchen to rise until doubled, about 1½ to 2 hours. When the dough has risen, punch down, cover again, and let rise a second time until doubled, about 45 minutes to an hour.
- Deflate the twice-risen dough and cut in half, setting one half aside, covered, while you work with the other half.
- Divide the dough into three equal pieces. Roll each piece into a rope about 16 inches long, thicker in the middle and tapered at each end. Align the three ropes together. Working from the center, braid the three ropes together, tucking the ends underneath when you have finished the braiding. Turn the loaf around and, again working from the center, braid the three ropes together, tucking the ends underneath the loaf when you are finished.
- Repeat the braiding process with the second half of the dough.
- Transfer the loaves to two baking sheets lined with parchment or a silpat. Cover the loaves with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for about 40 minutes or until nearly doubled.
- While the loaves are rising, whisk the egg, egg yolk and water together, forcing the mixture through a sieve so that it is smooth. Brush the tops of the risen loaves with the mixture; let the loaves sit for 5 minutes; and brush again. Sprinkle the glazed loaves with sesame seeds and coarse salt.
- Bake the loaves in the middle of an oven preheated to 375°F for 20 minutes. Brush the loaves with glaze and continue to bake for 20 more minutes or until browned and sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.
- Transfer to a baking rack and cool completely.
Filed under Food, Recipes
“Open sesame,” was the phrase that the miscreants used to open their cave filled with treasure in the story, “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves”. Popeye said, “Open sez me,” in a cartoon version of the story. It is not entirely clear whether the phrase relates to the spice, sesame, or whether it is a mistranslation of an Arabic phrase. What is certain is that sesame has been used in cuisines throughout the world and throughout history. Some say it is the first spice discovered, and it has been identified in ancient Egyptian tombs.
Say “benne wafers” and you immediately think of Charleston, South Carolina, where they have been part of the local cuisine for hundreds of years. The first time I ever ate one was many years ago in a charming restaurant on Church Street in the middle of that city. In fact, I think that may have been the very best benne wafer I have ever had. It was a crispy little cracker, not unlike lavash, filled with toasted black and brown sesame seeds. The traditional story of how these tasty bites got their name is that the word “benne” is West African for sesame seeds that the black soon-to-be-slaves brought with them, perhaps even sewn into their clothes and subsequently used in their cooking. The sesame-rich foods found their way to the plantation house and soon became embedded in South Carolina cuisine. There are two versions of benne wafers: one that is sweet and one that is savory. I prefer the savory version. Whatever the real story of benne wafers, there is no doubt that the modern versions are delicious.
During a recent visit to Los Angeles, Susan and I paid a visit with Carol to the Surfas kitchen store in Culver City. There I found a bag of black sesame seeds which reminded me of those long-ago benne wafers in Charleston. Brown sesame seeds are, of course, ubiquitous, but black seeds are not as common, so my find seemed like the perfect chance to try my hand. The recipe is actually a version of a pie crust dough, so it is important to keep your ingredients chilled and not over mix the dough to make sure it is crisp and flaky when baked.
- ¼ cup mixed brown and black sesame seeds
- 1 cup flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- cayenne pepper, to taste
- 3 tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter
- 1 egg yolk
- 4 tablespoons ice water
- In a dry skillet over low heat, toast the sesame seeds for 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until lightly toasted and fragrant. Be very careful not to burn the seeds. Cool and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, mix the flour, salt, and cayenne. Work in the butter with your fingers or a pastry blender until the mixture resembles corn meal.
- Add the cooled sesame seeds, egg yolk and ice water to make a dough. It should be soft, but not sticky.
- Form the dough into a ball, wrap with plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
- On a floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 12-inch circle. With a biscuit cutter, cut into 2-inch rounds.
- Place the rounds on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake in a preheated oven at 350°F for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on a rack. Makes about 2 dozen wafers.
Brown and black sesame seeds
Toasted sesame seeds (benne)
Baked benne wafers cooling on a rack
A few weeks ago, I bought a loaf of potato-sesame bread from a baker at the local farmers market. It had a nutty flavor, and the crunch of the sesame seeds gave it a unique bite. While waiting in line to pay, I heard the baker tell another customer that the bread was the first he learned to bake when he was in a monastery many years ago.
Later I bought another loaf of the same bread. It had lumps of whole potato – not nearly as good as the first loaf. That made me think that I wanted to bake my own version. I looked in vain for a recipe. There were lots of breads made with potato water, some made with potato sourdough starter, some with instant potatoes, and several with potato flour. There were none with mashed potatoes, which sounded to me like a good beginning.
Then I thought, “monastery – bread”. The only connection I could make was the classic baking book by Edward Espe Brown called The Tassajara Bread Book, Shambhala Publications, 1970. I checked my copy, and sure enough there were recipes for sesame bread and potato bread using mashed potatoes. There was no recipe for potato-sesame bread, though that was alright because I had already begun to work out my own version. The recipe follows. It is an easy bread to make, with a fine crumb and a chewy crust from the enrobement of sesame seeds. Since potatoes contain no gluten, I have added gluten powder to promote rising and good texture.
The finished loaves
- In a medium saucepan over high heat, put the cubed potatoes in plenty of water to cover and bring to a boil. Continue to boil the potatoes until they are done and a sharp fork pierces them easily, about 30 minutes. Do not add salt to the boiling water.
- When the potatoes are done, drain them, reserving 2 cups of the potato water. Pass the drained potatoes through a potato ricer or food mill and set aside. There should be about 2 cups of mashed potatoes. Let the potato water cool enough that it is warm but not hot.
- In a large ceramic bowl, combine 2 cups of potato water with sugar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Then sprinkle the dry yeast on the surface of the mixture and let stand for 5 minutes. Then stir so that the yeast is dissolved.
- Stir in the salt, melted butter, and gluten until well combined.
- One cup at a time, stir in 3½ cups of flour, combining thoroughly after each addition.
- Knead the dough in the bowl for about one minute. Then turn out onto a flat surface covered with the remaining one cup of flour. Knead for about 10 minutes until the extra flour is incorporated and you have a smooth dough. The dough should be sticky. This will make it difficult to work with, but too much flour will make the finished bread too firm and tough.
- Form the dough into a ball, lightly oil the surface, and place it in a covered clean bowl or bread-proofing box.
- Let rise in a warm place until the dough is doubled, about 2 hours. Punch down the risen dough and let rise a second time until doubled, about 1 hour.
- Divide the dough into two equal portions. Shape each into a ball and place in a shallow pan or dish of sesame seeds. Sprinkle additional sesame seeds on the top of each round until completely covered with the seeds, and shape into a rough loaf.
- Place each shaped, sesame-coated loaf in a well-greased 8½ x 4½ inch bread pan. Cover with a clean cloth and let rise for about 30 minutes.
- In the meantime, preheat the oven to 375° F.
- Bake the loaves in the middle of the preheated oven for 45 minutes. Test for doneness by thumping the bottom for a clear sound.
- Turn the finished loaves onto a cooling rack and cool.
Just two more dishes to finish the description of the celebratory meal we had from foods we collected at the Ferry Building Farmers Market. Both are easy to make but surprisingly unique.
The first was a refreshing salad made with amazingly crunchy and green baby cucumbers and fresh salad greens accented with bits of nori and toasted white sesame seeds.
Royal trumpet mushrooms
The second was a delicate sauté of royal trumpet mushrooms with scallions.
Sautéed mushrooms and scallions ready to serve
As a bonus not from the farmers market we had a fresh loaf of home-baked Tartine basic country bread made from the recipe in Chad Robertson’s elegant and detailed cookbook, Tartine Bread, Chronicle Books, Ltd, San Francisco, 2010, pages 41-79. (Yes, that’s a long recipe. I plan to post an abbreviated version soon. That should enable you to reproduce the absolutely best home-made bread I have ever tasted).
Fresh loaf of Tartine-style bread
- 4 small, firm baby cucumbers cut crosswise into ½ inch slices
- 2 Cups mixed baby salad greens
- ½ 7 inch sheet of nori cut into ½ inch squares
- vinaigrette (home-made is the best, but use your favorite)
- ½ teaspoon sesame oil (optional)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 Tablespoons white sesame seeds, lightly toasted
- Combine the cucumbers, greens, and nori in a serving bowl.
- Dress lightly with your favorite vinaigrette. If you like, add the optional sesame oil. Toss.
- Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve immediately.
Should serve four
Sautéed Royal Trumpet Mushrooms with Scallions
- 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil (use EVOO – extra virgin olive oil – if you like)
- 1 small basket (about 2 Cups) fresh royal trumpet mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed
- 1 bunch (6 to 8) scallions, trimmed and cut crosswise into ½ inch pieces, including the green tops
- salt and pepper
- Heat the butter and olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat.
- Add the mushrooms and scallions and sauté until cooked through.
- Correct seasonings with salt and pepper.
- Serve immediately.
Table set with sweet peas
We set the table with the bouquet of multi-colored sweet peas bought from the flower stall, plated up the feast, and enjoyed it while Evan finished his last day at the restaurant.
Ready to eat