Kabocha (Japanese Pumpkin) Challah

  

Besides the occasional pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, I didn’t grow up eating a lot of pumpkin-flavored dishes. Instead, the women in my Japanese-American family made stewed kabocha (also called Japanese pumpkin) at this time of year. Whenever I see kabocha at the store, it takes me back to the delicious aroma of sweet kabocha stewed with soy sauce.

When I got to college and started cooking for myself, I tried my hand at the pumpkin soups, pies and baked goods I’d see in magazines at this time of year. Each time, I felt disappointed by the relatively mellow and mild flavor. Even the shade of orange was mellow and mild.

This year, I decided to make a kabocha challah for fall Shabbat dinners. The color is beautifully vibrant and the flavor has more depth and is more complex (savory and sweet at the same time!) than that of its sugar pumpkin cousin. You’ll have extra puréed kabocha left over that you can use to make this kabocha soup, which would be perfect on a Thanksgiving table.

Kabocha (Japanese Pumpkin) Challah

Makes: 2 large challahs
Total Cooking time: 5 hours
Active Cooking time: 1.5 hours

Tools:

  • Kitchen Aid mixer with whisk and dough hook attachments*
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Food processor or immersion blender
  • Candy thermometer
  • Plastic wrap
  • Pastry scraper
  • Cookie sheet
  • Parchment paper
  • Small bowl
  • Small whisk
  • Pastry brush

*can be made without Kitchen Aid mixer

Ingredients:

  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1/3 cup white cane sugar
  • 1 egg, at room temperature
  • 6 egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 2 cups kabocha squash purĂ©e
  • 8 cups bread flour

 

Egg wash:

  • 2 egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp. water

 

Toppings:

  • 3 Tbsp. everything-bagel mix
  • 3 Tbsp. white sesame seeds
  • 3 Tbsp. black sesame seeds

 

 

Instructions:

Cut kabocha1. Take 9 eggs out of the refrigerator.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, pour a half cup of the warm water.

4. Using a candy thermometer, check to make sure it is about 110°F. Pour in the two packets of dry yeast and one Tbsp. of sugar (from the 1/3 cup) into the bowl. Stir gently to dissolve everything into the water. Set the bowl aside for 15 minutes.

 

5. Your yeast mixture should look foamy at the end of the 15 minutes. If it does not, you need to get new yeast and start over or your challah will not rise. Better to find out now, rather than later!

6. Now that your yeast is activated, add the remaining lukewarm water to the bowl, then the remainder of the sugar, egg, egg yolks, honey, oil, salt and spices. Whisk on medium speed.

7. Once everything is evenly incorporated, add your kabocha purée and keep whisking.

8. Once the mixture is smooth, thick and bright orange, change out your whisk for a dough hook.

9. Add each cup of flour slowly on low speed. With a rubber spatula, scrape the bottom and sides down with each addition. When you’re on the seventh or eighth cup, the dough will become too thick for your mixer. At this point, you can start to knead with your hands. When you’re done, the dough should be smooth and stretchy but not super sticky. If you need to, add a bit more flour until you reach this consistency.

10. Oil the entire inside of a large mixing bowl with vegetable oil. Place dough in this bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. I like to put my dough in my oven (but not turn it on).

11. After one hour, punch the dough back down to remove the air and let it rise again for another hour.

12. Once it’s risen again for a second hour, punch the dough down again and knead it into a smooth ball on a floured countertop. Cut the ball in half with a pastry scraper.

13. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Beat the egg yolks and water in a small bowl with a small whisk.

14. Now it’s time for braiding! There are many different ways to braid challah, and I prefer the look of the four-strand braid because it’s simple but still looks impressive! I like to use Tori Avey’s Four-Strand Braided Challah tutorial.

15. Preheat your oven to 375°F. Using a pastry brush, generously apply egg wash to each of your challahs. Generously sprinkle them with everything bagel mix, and black and white sesame seeds in sections (see photo). Alternatively, you can also just season them generously with everything bagel mix and let them rise for 30 more minutes.

16. Bake challah for 40 minutes, but set your timer for 30 minutes. At this point, check on your challah to see if it needs to be rotated. If it’s browning quite quickly, you may need to cover it with foil for the remainder of the cooking time.

Shabbat Shalom!

kabocha japanese pumpkin challah

Pecan Pie Babka

  

Indian pudding pecan babka

A babka is like challah dressed up for a black-tie event.  It is rich and glamorous with swirled layers of filling and a syrup-enhanced shine. This Jewish dessert is so decadent that it often only comes out for special occasions. Babka is commonly made with chocolate, cinnamon, fruit or nuts and sometimes a sweet cheese. This babka is filled with the flavors and gooey-ness of pecan pie just in time to start dreaming about your Thanksgiving spread. The dough itself infuses this recipe with the flavors of early Native American cooking from cornmeal and a molasses and maple syrup glaze.

In Britain, pudding is the word for dessert. A quick and easy dessert that the English brought with them to America was a hasty pudding, which is a sweetened porridge cooked down and thickened until it can hold its shape. Once in America, the Native Americans taught the English how to plant local crops and the hasty pudding became Indian Pudding sweetened with molasses and maple syrup and thickened with a coarsely ground flint corn instead of flour. Indian pudding is fairly well known in New England whereas the sweet Southern pecan pie is on just about every Thanksgiving table near and far. Indian pudding is our little New England secret. This culinary mash up takes three cultural staples that are all delicious in their own right and creates a delicate, sweet babka that can be enjoyed with ice cream for dessert or with a cup of coffee for breakfast.

When I first decided to try a babka with a nod to the heritage of this country and the annual Thanksgiving feast, I was a little nervous that it would be a complicated bread to make.  It turns out that the actual forming of the babka is quite simple. I also found a few kitchen hacks that make it even easier. This bread smells exactly like pecan pie. As my mom likes to say, “This babka is very more-ish.” (Which means you always need just one more piece.)

Finished babkas

Indian Pudding Babka with a Pecan Pie Swirl
Makes: 2 loaves
Allow dough to rise overnight in fridge.

Dough Ingredients:

If you have a scale, weight measurements are great for any baking but I have included cups as well. Using a stand mixer makes this much easier. My mixer is very old and has a very sturdy whisk attachment. I would recommend a dough hook or paddle if you are using a modern mixer.

  • 3 eggs, ideally at room temperature
  • 2/3 cup of unsalted butter, at room temperature or softened slightly in the microwave
  • 4 cups of all purpose flour (480 grams)
  • 1/4 cup of finely ground cornmeal (50 grams) & an additional 1/2 cup of finely ground cornmeal for rolling out the dough
  • 1/2 cup of granulated sugar (100 grams)
  • 1 packet of instant yeast
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1 tsp. of fine sea salt (not kosher salt. Sea salt has a stronger salt flavor.)
  • spray oil or use vegetable oil to grease pans

 

Pecan Pie Filling Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of pecan halves (chop the pecans very finely. Toasting them first will help bring out the flavor for the pecan pie filling.)
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. molasses
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt

 

Indian Pudding Syrup Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup of water
  • 3 Tbsp. maple syrup
  • 3 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. molasses

 

How to make the dough

1. In a stand mixer bowl add all purpose flour, finely ground cornmeal, granulated sugar, sea salt, and packet of instant yeast. Using a whisk, mix all the ingredients together. Then, put on the dough hook or paddle attachment to continue making the dough.

2. Add in the eggs and water. Let the mixture come together on low, slowly. The water should bring the dough together. If the dough is not coming together at all, add 1 Tbsp. of water at a time until the dough starts to form. With the mixer back on low, add in the butter and mix until you have a uniform dough.

3. Knead with the dough hook or paddle for 10 minutes. Make sure your paddle can handle the weight of the dough. If not, take the bowl off the mixer and knead by hand. The dough will be quite heavy and sticky. Put the dough into a greased bowl and turn it over once. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

How to make the pecan pie filling

Rolling your babka

A thin layer of filling is all you need. Leave extra room on the far end for the filling that gets pushed up as you roll.

1. In a large dry pan, over medium-low heat, toast the pecans. They should be in a single layer and stirred frequently so they do not burn.

2. Put the toasted pecans on a cutting board and chop them finely. You should have about 1-1 1/2 cups of finely chopped pecans.

3. In a small saucepan add the maple syrup, corn syrup, brown sugar, and molasses. Cook over medium heat until the brown sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla. Pour entire mixture into a bowl to cool.

4. Separate the eggs into two bowls. The yolks should go in a small bowl and the whites in a large bowl.

5. Once the sugar mixture has cooled to room temperature or slightly warmer, add in the two egg yolks, whisking quickly. Then, pour in the finely chopped pecans. Stir the mixture together and refrigerate to chill. If you are on day one, then this mixture can chill overnight until you are ready to make the babka on day two.

6. If you are on day two and the dough has risen, you can beat the two egg whites until stiff, but not dry.

7. Fold the egg whites into the chilled nut and sugar mixture.

How to make the babka:

Cut the babka dough

Cutting the dough with scissors makes it much easier than using a knife. Turn the cut side up as you go so that the filling stays in.

How to twist the babka

Keeping the cut side up, carefully place on side on top of the other.

How to make babka

Keeping the cut side up you continue to put one side over the other a few times.

1. Grease two 9″ x 4″ loaf pans with vegetable oil spray or with some oil on a paper towel. Cut parchment so that one piece will cover the bottom and two sides lengthwise. Put a half sheet pan or a toaster oven pan into your freezer.

2. On day two, take your babka dough out of the fridge and cut it in two. Place one of the halves back into the fridge until ready to use.

3. I like to splash a little water on my counter and then lay down some parchment paper on top so it sticks to the counter. Then, sprinkle the parchment with 1/4 cup of finely ground cornmeal. The cornmeal on top of the parchment makes the dough easy to roll out and adds a little texture and flavor to the layers of the bread. Roll the dough 12 inches wide and then as long as you can while keeping the dough not too much thinner than a 1/4 inch. Get a small dish of water and a brush.

4. If you have not done so yet, beat and fold the two egg whites into the pecan pie mixture. Spread half of the mixture on the dough leaving a 1/2 -inch seam on three sides of the dough and a 2-inch seam at the far end. You want a thin layer of the pecan pie mixture.

5. You will now make a 12-inch roll with the dough. Carefully roll the dough from the short end (12 inches wide) with a 1/2-inch seam toward the 2-inch seam. You can also use the parchment to help you with this. Brush water along the seam and pinch the dough together at the seam. It need not seal completely.

6. Freeze the rolled dough for 20-30 minutes. Repeat with the other 1/2 of the babka dough. While the dough is freezing, clean up your work surface, find a pair of kitchen scissors and lay down a new sheet of parchment.

7. Take the babka dough out of the fridge one at a time. Cut the babka dough in half horizontally, carefully turning up the cut sides so that the pecan pie mixture stays inside.Then, overlap both halves, with the cut side always facing up and repeat the overlap at least three or four times. You can gently stretch the dough as you go.

8. Place the dough into the loaf pan, making an ‘S’ shape to fit it all in. If the dough is shorter and doesn’t quite make an ‘S’ that is fine. Repeat with the other part of the dough. Cover both loaf pans with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rise for 90 minutes.

9. Preheat your oven to 375℉. Bake for 30-40 minutes, check after 30 minutes to see if the babka is golden brown. A skewer in the babka should come out clean and should not have any resistance.

10. While the babka is baking, make the Indian Pudding Syrup. Place the water, maple syrup, brown sugar and molasses into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside to cool.

When the babka comes out of the oven, brush each loaf with the syrup. The babka can handle a lot of syrup so continue brushing several layers until glossy. Allow the babka to cool in the pan for about 15 minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack.

Your Indian Pudding Babka with Pecan Pie Swirl can be served with a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream. It can also be served for breakfast and is delicious with a cup of coffee. The hard part is waiting for the babka to cool before cutting into it!

Perfectly baked babka

Roasted Tomato Soup with Ricotta Matzo Balls

  

Ricotta matzo ball soup

It’s been a while since I had fun with a food-culture mash-up and this roasted tomato soup with ricotta matzo balls is probably one of my favorites to date.

I come from a multi-cultural family, as you’ll see over at my blog, The Little Ferraro Kitchen. I love sharing and learning about different cultures through their food, recipes and traditions. I love it so much that I even married an Italian guy from Southern California` to keep things even more exciting. So needless to say, we have an exciting multi-cultural spread of sorts.

My husband Joe and I adopted this fairly new tradition of eating Sunday supper, Italian style. We play Goodfellas in the background and I usually wince at him as I see him slice the paper-thin garlic as they do in the movie. But we create an entire dinner experience and it’s our favorite time of the week.

As the cooler season approaches, matzo ball soup is always on order. But this time, I wanted to combine our heritages and our cultures into one deliciously comforting bowl of matzo ball soup. Tomatoes, peppers and carrots are all roasted together so they get soft, caramelized and sweet. After a quick blend together, stock is added to make a truly simple tomato soup.

But the cheesy matzo balls are the BEST part. I mean honestly…cheese anything is the best part! And even though I will never turn down a simple classic, this Italian mash-up version gets me all kinds of excited. The ricotta makes the matzo balls light and pillowy and the freshly grated Parmesan gives them a wonderful savory flavor.

Roasted Tomato Soup with Ricotta Matzo Balls
Yields 2-4 servings

Matzo ball soup with ricottaTomato Soup Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs. vine or roma tomatoes cut in half
  • 2 red bell peppers (you can also use roasted jarred peppers)
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and stems cut
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • Olive oil
  • 2-4 cups vegetable stock

 

Ricotta Matzo Ball Ingredients:

  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 cup matzo meal
  • ÂĽ cup ricotta cheese
  • ÂĽ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • Fresh parsley leaves, chopped
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • ÂĽ tsp. salt
  • Ground pepper

 

Garnish:

  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, for Parmesan chips
  • Fresh basil
  • Olive oil

 

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 400° Fahrenheit and line a baking sheet with foil. Add tomatoes, peppers, carrots and garlic and toss with salt and olive oil. Roast vegetables until soft and tender, for about 30 minutes. Once done, remove from oven and allow cooling enough to handle. Then remove seeds from pepper and any charred thick skin and discard.

2. Once vegetables are cool enough, add everything to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. You may want to add a bit of the stock to help thin it out, then transfer to a small pot with the rest of the stock and bring to a simmer. Taste for seasoning and adjust.

3. For the matzo balls, whisk all the ingredients together until well combined and form into medium sized balls. Add to boiling water and cook until matzo balls float to the top, about 30 minutes.

4. To make the parmesan chip, leave oven at 400° Fahrenheit and line a baking sheet with parchment or a silpat. Place a heaping tablespoon or two of grated Parmesan cheese and lightly press down so it’s in a circle and replicate with remaining cheese. Bake for about five minutes until the cheese melts and edges are slightly crispy. Once done, remove from oven and allow to cool before removing.

5. Assemble soup by adding matzo balls to roasted tomato soup and garnish each bowl with a Parmesan chip, fresh basil and a good drizzle of olive oil. Buon appetite!