Bagel French Toast

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Indeed, I am fully aware of the fact that this is not a totally novel idea. But what does make it outstanding is this– whipped cream cheese french toast batter. And no, I didn’t snap a picture of that because it’s not the most photogenic thing in the world, but hey, it’s the end result that counts, right? It’s all stupendously easy.

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I’ll let the pictures do the talking here. Ideally, the bagel you use should be fresh or at most 2 days old. I know what you’re all probably thinking– aren’t these guys too dense to soak up enough batter?

Oh, you smart farts. But cutting the bagel into discs which are thin enough ensures the right amount of lovely cream cheese egg batter to be blissfully soaked up into the dense little bread bodies. Eating this was pure joy; think tender, chewy bread chunks, slightly sweet and tangy thanks to the cream cheese and honey, and surprisingly dunkable (I’m talking strong maple syrup game here), because they don’t disintegrate like your typical store-bought white bread slices.

For one person, take one bagel (I used cinnamon raisin here) and slice into discs around 3/4-inch thick using a serrated knife. Preheat a pan on the stove to medium heat. In a shallow dish and with a fork, whisk together one egg, one tablespoon of softened cream cheese, a squeeze of honey and a splash of whatever milk you have on hand. I didn’t use cinnamon because I used a cinnamon raisin bagel, but add a dash of that if you would like. Soak each bagel disc in the egg batter for at least 10-15 seconds on each side, and then flip to do the same on the other sides. To your preheated pan, add a generous pat of unsalted butter, then lay all the discs on the pan. Wait around 30 seconds to cook on the first side, then flip, starting with the disc you first laid down.

Pair your french toast bagel with anything! Lay on the maple syrup, or top simply with icing sugar and fresh fruit.

Chocolate Cinnamon Challah

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I get all jittery and excited when attempting something new, although instinct forces me to revert to the safety net, a quantum of familiarity. Challah was one of those ideas which I wrestled with in my head. I wanted to feel good about turning it into something like french toast/ some flavoured version/lay on the stuffing options, please, that kind of thing. I came across a recipe for double chocolate chip challah quite a while ago but stuffed it in the back of my mental archives; I’m always timid when it comes to doing something old and traditional justice. The first attempt yielded too dry a texture (second photo below), though the taste and crumb itself wasn’t too far off the mark because the cocoa and decent amount of sugar incorporated into the batter made it more flavourful than expected. One does love surprises. So I adjusted the oil quantity to bump up the moisture, took it easy on the flour.

If you wish, you can attempt a chocolate gradient version– to each of the sections in the braid, you can add different quantities of cocoa, then adjust the remaining flour quantity from there. Who wouldn’t hit that stuff with a good knob of butter and honey? Please tell me, do.

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Chocolate Cinnamon Challah (makes one large or 2 small loaves)

600g all-purpose flour

12.5g active dry yeast (1.5 tbsp)

300ml warm water

1 tsp white sugar

35g cocoa powder (Hershey’s Special Dark works wonderfully here)

2 eggs

170g sugar

1 tsp salt

1 tbsp cinnamon

2 tsp vanilla extract

65ml vegetable oil

1 egg (for the egg wash)

pearl sugar (for sprinkling before baking)

In a small bowl, mix together the yeast, sugar and water. Wait 6-10 minutes for the yeast to activate, forming a thick layer of light brown foam on top.

Weigh out the flour and cocoa and put the two in separate bowls. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together 200g of the flour (a little more than 1.5 cups), the salt, sugar and cinnamon. Once the yeast has foamed up, add it to the flour mix and stir in briefly using a wooden spoon. Then, mix in the vanilla extract, eggs and vegetable oil. Add 125g of the remaining flour and stir into the dough. If using a mixer, switch to the dough hook attachment, but otherwise make like Simpleton Alex and use a wooden spoon or your hands to incorporate the flour. At this point, the dough will still be a little wet and shaggy. Almost limp.

Take the dough and roughly divide it into three. I just used my hands and eyes to guesstimate here. If you’re feeling very scientific, you may use a weighing scale for precision. Put each dough third into separate medium bowls (re-use your mixing bowl for one of them). To one of the dough thirds, add half the cocoa powder, a tablespoon at a time, and 60g of flour, give or take. I needed 60g but you might need a little more of less. I say a tablespoon at a time because it really depends how dark you wish to go with your bread. Do the same for another third. To the remaining third of dough, add the rest of the flour, though you might not need all of it. All thirds should have a similar texture after kneading for around 5-10 minutes– smooth, elastic, with a little bounce when you press its surface. Let the dough thirds rise in their individual bowls (greased first) for 2-3 hours.

Preheat the oven to 177C (350F). Remove the dough thirds, which should have at least doubled in size, from the bowls and place them on your work surface. Roll each to at least 12 inches or more in length. If you’re making 2 smaller loaves, divide each in half first before braiding. Press the tops together and start braiding like how you would do with your hair. Left over middle, right over middle, you get the gist. Once you reach the tails, brush the loaf (or loaves) with one beaten egg, and sprinkle with pearl sugar. Let rise for an hour, before baking in the preheated oven. The challah should feel fluffy to the touch, still retaining that bounce. Bake for 25-30 minutes. I took mine out at 17 minutes and it was perfect by then. The top of the chocolate part should be dark and shiny, and the plain part of the braid will be golden-brown. Mmm.

Freeze this loaf and slice whenever you want. It reheats wonderfully in the microwave! 20 seconds straight out the freezer to return to room temperature, then toast for maximum pleasure. Butter and jam/honey. Life is sweet like chocolate and cinnamon.

Maple Pearl Sugar Brioche

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There’s nothing wrong with reverting to the classics. I’m a serious fan of innovation and weird mismatches that actually work (referring to my previous post here), but I was overcome by the staunch determination to conquer something truly ubiquitous, something most of us rely on the real professionals for. I’m only an amateur baker who does all this whizzing, whisking and whipping in the kitchen for pure fun, but knowledge of and experience with the classics is required for any further exploration, right?

I’ve made brioche pretzels before, dived right in the deep end, no basic loaf or anything first, just a ‘ah-how-posh-and-fun’ kind of feel. Even added some chocolate chips and lemon zest to add to the childish fun. However, thanks to underestimation of the proofing and kneading time, I merely scraped by with a pseudo-brioche. Flat, dense, and just a little too hard on the bottom. The inside was fluffy, but the exterior betrayed a better could-be texture. Think I’ve got it this time, but the method I use here is adapted from something a little more unorthodox, whereby it’s all in the hand work, and the kneading time isn’t too horrid. I also used a little less yeast, because the first loaf I got using the original recipe was a tad too yeasty and the rise wasn’t as perfect as could be. Making this bread is actually fun, if you like to get down and dirty. It’s going to be sticky, wet and yellow, but that’s the magic of excess fat, eh? Rich, eggy, sublime.

The crumb is light and tender, with the slightest stretch, though never feeling or tasting under proofed. The final result will look yellow. Easy to freeze, then microwave and cut for whatever you want really, be it toast, topped with good butter and honey or maple syrup, or dunked in freshly whipped eggs for a french toast morning.

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Brioche (makes one standard 9×5-inch loaf, adapted from La Tartine Gourmande)

For the loaf:

210g all-purpose flour

5g instant yeast

78g unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into medium-sized chunks.

2 tbsp white sugar

pinch salt

80ml milk, warmed slightly in the microwave

2 eggs

1 egg for the egg wash before baking

For the maple pearl sugar:

60g white sugar

1tsp maple syrup

The day before you make the brioche or earlier in the day, make the maple pearl sugar. Mix the sugar and maple syrup in a bowl using your fingertips. It should be wet and clumpy. Tip the maple sugar on a plate and flatten using your fingers, about a half-inch thick. Cover the plate with cling wrap and leave in the fridge to set. After 4-6 hours, the sugar will have formed a malleable, solid layer, which can be broken up into smaller chunks, similar to that of pearl sugar. Yum yum. Leave it in the fridge before using.

Now for the brioche. Use a mixer if you wish, but I used my hands for everything. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt and yeast. Make a little well in the centre and, with your hands or a wooden spoon, mix in the warm milk briefly. Work in the butter (I find it easier to use your hands for this part) chunk by chunk, making sure each chunk is mostly incorporated before adding the next. It will be sticky and oily, but don’t fret.

Add in the eggs one by one. Stir the first egg in with a wooden spoon, then use your hands to really work it in. It will look messy and clumpy at first, but keep trying to incorporate the dough and egg together. I ended up working the dough when it was suspended in the air, stretching it then folding it over itself again, like kneading in mid-air. It worked, and I saved myself a lot of clean-up hassle later on. Do the same for the second egg. It will be very sticky, difficult and incredibly wet. That’s exactly what you want.

Once the eggs are worked in, dump the soft, yellow mass of dough into the same bowl and continue to ‘knead’ with a wooden spoon. Beat it with your wooden spoon, mimicking the kneading action in the bowl. Knead for a good 5-7 minutes. The dough will look like a pale baby’s bottom, smooth, taut, flawless, but still very sticky. After kneading, leave the dough in bowl (it’s already greased enough), cover and let the dough rise for an hour. After an hour, put the dough in the fridge and leave for another 2 hours, or overnight.

After the couple of hours, take the dough out of the fridge and the bowl. Preheat your oven to 190C and grease a 9×5-inch loaf tin. Punch the dough down a little, then weigh the dough and divide it into 6 equal pieces. My dough weighed around 450g total, so each piece was 75g. The cold dough is a dream to touch and work with. Roll each piece into a ball and pop into the greased loaf pan. After rolling all the pieces into balls of the same size, you should get a 2×3 row of balls in the loaf pan. Beat an egg and brush the top of the loaf with the egg wash. Finally, take the maple pearl sugar and sprinkle it on top of the loaf. You will get pea-sized chunks as well as normal sprinkles.

Bake the loaf for 30-35 minutes. If you wish, take a piece of aluminium foil and cover the top of the loaf after 15 minutes to prevent over-browning. I used the middle mark and stopped the baking after 33 minutes, and it turned out perfectly.

This loaf can be put in a freeze-safe container and left in the freezer for a couple of months. It can be left at room temperature for 1-2 days and nothing more (especially in this bloody hot weather). Whenever you want a nice, slightly sweet treat, just take the loaf out, microwave on high for 20 seconds, cut with a bread knife, then toast or dunk in egg for… Well, does french toast need any explanation anyway?

Fig, cinnamon and apricot whole grain loaf

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“There is no science without fancy, and no art without facts.”

I’ve lately been fascinated by the whole idea of intellectual promiscuity. I came across it on this Brainpickings article the other day and was intrigued by the term, which basically means not to limit oneself to one academic field, and instead embrace both science and the arts, something I fully agree with after my own educational experience. Two fields which complement and enhance each’s developmental stages, instead of diminishing the importance of one or the other in any way. I’m still young and have much to learn about the world, but the paradox of finding creative genius outside of these constructed stereotypes (just think of Da Vinci– horses and formulas and planes galore!) is something to appreciate.

It’s been rather a long time since I made a loaf. It’s usually something simple and easy to put together like banana bread or a moist orange cake I made at the end of last year. All bing bam boom and poof!, it’s done in the oven within the same hour. However, a few days ago, I thought it would be lovely to indulge in the old-fashioned labour of kneading, of being a little more physical with the ingredients, bestowing them with more TLC if you know what I mean, instead of taking embarrassing shortcuts. I just wanted it to be me, some flour, these hands, and the oven. I came across a gorgeous recipe for cinnamon swirl bread on the Smitten Kitchen blog, run by the most hilarious and passionate lady ever. It was the original inspiration for this recipe, so check it out if you can. After fiddling about with the ingredients and measurements, I came up with my own version. What I love about her method is the kneading-then-wait-then-knead-again method, which sounds horribly tiresome and unnecessary now, but it really helps in developing the gluten, chew and resulting flavour of a good, well-risen loaf.

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I was a little hesitant to add figs, but no regrets existed when they turned into the sweetest pockets of thick goo strewn throughout the cooked loaf. The bread itself is sweet and hearty with the benevolent addition of whole grains, cinnamon and figs, so it’s wonderful toasted on its own, or topped with good salty butter and a selfish drizzle of honey. It’s my favourite way to have it. It tastes almost nutty, since I use ground flax and whole wheat flour (which, by the way, can be exchanged for your classic all-purpose, promise!). The best part without a doubt is the outrageously crackly, hard crust, best relished with even more butter and honey on the side. Thinner and slightly drier than what you would get from a banana bread loaf. It’s what I’ve been looking forward to every morning the past few mornings, if I’m being completely honest. I mean my mind is always filled with thoughts other than food (believe me), but some things are annoyingly irresistible, cutting off sense and sensibility, and this is one of them.

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Fig, cinnamon and apricot whole grain loaf (makes 1 standard 9×5-inch loaf)

For the loaf:

320g whole wheat flour (or a mix of whole wheat and all-purpose)

80g whole grains– I used 15g of ground flaxseed and 65g rolled oats. If you wish, use 80g of either, or try experimenting with oats ground in your food processor.

7g instant yeast

1tsp (7g) fine salt

25g brown sugar

1 egg, beaten

40g unsalted butter, melted in the microwave (use 20-second bursts)

150ml tepid water

150ml milk, microwaved for a while so it’s not fridge-cold

extra flour for dusting work surface

For the filling:

50g white caster sugar

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

half a cup of chopped figs and dried apricots (you can use anything really. If you have nuts/ dried cranberries/ raisins/ currants, then go for it). It should all amount to around 65g.

one large egg, beaten with a splash of water

In a large mixing bowl, combine the water, milk and sugar, then whisk in yeast. Add the egg and butter, and whisk again. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours, oats, flax and salt. Using a large wooden spoon, stir for around a minute. The mix will immediately turn darker but will retain a coarse texture. Let the mix rest for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, mix a little more with the spoon. Just briefly. The dough should look supple, and less ragged. If it’s still obviously wet, add a tablespoon more of flour. Mix more for 3-4 minutes.. and this is where it gets tricky. The gluten really starts to develop here, making the mix more robust and less malleable. 3-4 minutes doesn’t sound long, but the time does get to you when you’re constantly trying to churn power from your two poor biceps. Power through!

Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead a few more times, just twice or thrice, before forming into a ball and placing into your mix bowl. Place a damp towel on top and let rest for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, remove the towel, dough and use your wooden spoon to work the dough again briefly, and leave to rest and cover again for 10 minutes. ‘Kneading’ this way avoids some between-the-fingers mess, and keeps the dough in the bowl. Is that lazy? Ha. Repeat the knead-and-cover process just one more time.

To proof, transfer the dough into a clean and lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a damp towel again and let this proof for an hour. If you’re pressed for time, you can leave the dough in the fridge overnight! If you do it this way, make sure to remove the dough 2 hours before you start working with it again. During the hour or after taking out your chilled dough, mix your filling ingredients– cinnamon, sugar, figs and apricots. After an hour, check to see if it has doubled. If it does not look quite as voluminous, leave in the bowl for another 10 minutes.

Dust your work surface and turn out the bread. Press the dough into 10×5-inch rectangle, then brush the dough with the egg and water mixture. Sprinkle on the filling, then roll from the shorter edge. Nothing careful or meticulous here. I didn’t create a swirl like Smitten Kitchen’s version, however the rolling does make sure that the filling is nicely distributed throughout the body. Press the edges closed, then gently place the loaf (I needed spatulas to help me!) in a lightly greased loaf pan.

Now for the second proof: Cover the loaf pan with a damp towel and let rise for 30-45 minutes. Whilst waiting, preheat your oven to 177C/ 350F. Bake the loaf for 40-45 minutes. Mine took 40 minutes and came out a lovely golden colour.

Moist Banana Bread

Because I can’t have this blog without sharing my favourite banana bread recipe. On Earth. Ever. Bread? Cake? Is there a difference between banana versions of either? I personally just call it banana bread, you dashing BB, because I’ve always associated the teatime stuff with a traditional bread-like texture. More robust, hearty, almost wholesome. Less airy-fairy, but call it a cake if you wish. I think I’ll stick to the former. My favourite sweet and dense bread. There are those who like sticky fruit cakes, the sort you can stick your hand into and it feels like muddy air, and this is no different, except perhaps the bits and bobs of banana will stick lovingly to your fingers, and when you pull them out your hands smell like the best bloody thing in the universe.

The smell of banana bread baking and emerging from the oven, then resting for a while, a solid, plump and golden thing, is my favourite ‘oven smell’ ever. One of the purest joys in life.

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I think there are 3 things which make it brilliant.

1. There’s thick and lush Greek yoghurt in it, for superb moisture and flavour.

2. The whole cup of mashed banana and perhaps more, in some cases where 3 mashed bananas nicely exceed that capacity. If I had to re-label this recipe, it would definitely be ‘double banana bread’.

3. The use of flavourless vegetable oil instead of melted butter, which I think aids in producing a lighter, more tender crumb, and doesn’t mask the natural sweetness or flavour of ripe banana.

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Divine, and so easy that there’s really no other way I make it now. I have serious history with this recipe, and it’s funny how I’m only posting it now. Ridiculous. I’ve tried out so many variations– with and without yoghurt, made with just milk, no oil/no butter… Anyways, here I am and boy am I glad I’m finally spilling the beans.

Moist Banana Bread (makes one 9×5-inch loaf)

Ingredients

3 medium bananas, ripe and mashed (usually amounts to about one cup, and lumps of banana make for better texture)

90g (0.5 cup) light brown sugar

100g (0.5 cup) white caster sugar

2 eggs (sub: 2 vegan eggs made from 2 tbsp ground flaxseed mixed with 4 tbsp water)

40g melted salted butter/vegetable oil

125g yoghurt, or use almond/soy/coconut yoghurt if you’re vegan

240g (1.5-2 cups) all-purpose flour

*note: I’ve made this using half whole-wheat flour and half all-purpose flour, and the end result was just as brilliant. A little less devious, but equally moist and decadent.

1 tsp each of baking powder and baking soda

Optional add-ins: 150g dark chocolate/nuts/a mix of both

Directions

Grease a standard 9×5-inch loaf pan, line with parchment paper and preheat your oven to 162 C (325F).

In a large bowl, whisk together the mashed banana, sugars, eggs, melted butter and yoghurt with a whisk or a fork. In another smaller bowl, briefly mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt with a spoon. Add the chocolate and/or nuts at this point and mix these in well. Add the dry mix to wet mix, and fold briefly until just combined. Lumps are welcome. Pour into the pan and bake for 60-75 minutes. With my oven, I found that the perfect baking time is 70 minutes (1hr and 10 mins). Bask in that smell.