Challah French Toast with Caramelized Bananas and Toasted Almonds

Challah French Toast with Caramelized Bananas
So when Matt made Challah a couple weekends ago, the leftover loaf sat on our counter among other homemade rolls he made.  We ate the rolls, but the Challah just sat there, threatening to mold.  So I stuck it in the fridge to prolong its life and waited for the weekend.  Saturday rolled around and I turned that almost-moldy bread into amazing French toast.  Cinnamon, vanilla bean, a touch of almond extract made the batter extra decadent.  I pan fried some bananas and almond slices in a touch of butter and agave nectar and sprinkled them on top.  It was so good and once again, I got the satisfaction of knowing I didn’t let Matt’s bread go to waste!  

Happy Weekend!  
Challah French Toast
Challah French Toast
batter makes enough for about 8-10 slices of thick toast

4 eggs
2/3 cup milk
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla bean paste or extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
8-10 thick slices of bread – any bread will do, but dense, enriched bread works best
2 bananas, sliced
1/4 cup sliced almonds
Butter for pan
Syrup of your choice – I chose dark amber agave nectar

*Give yourself a 30 minute head start so the bread can soak! Heat your oven to 200F.  

Whisk the eggs, milk, cinnamon and extracts together and pour into a 9×13″ pan.  Arrange the bread till it fills the pan and let it soak on one side for 15 minutes, then flip and let it soak for another 15 minutes, pressing down to soak up more batter.  

Heat a large non-stick skillet or griddle over medium heat and add butter.  When butter starts to bubble, add the slices of bread (work in batches) and cook till golden brown on each side, about 5 minutes per side.  As they finish, put them on a baking sheet and place in the oven to keep warm while you finish the rest.

When you’re done with the toast, wipe the skillet out with a few paper towels and over medium high heat, toast the almonds until brown and fragrant.  Remove and add one tablespoon of butter, a swirl of syrup and the bananas and cook until golden on each side, about 1-2 minutes per side.  Top the toast with almonds and bananas and syrup and serve!



Homemade Challah – a Family Guest Post


Guest post today from Matt Palmer, a.k.a, The Bread Man.  He will be talking about Challah and I think this may be my second favorite bread he makes, next to his plain country bread.  It’s an indulgent bread made with lots of eggs and sugar and it is amazing with jam or turned into French toast (you better believe that’ll be a future post!) He has flavored the bread with orange zest, honey, vanilla, plain sugar – they have all turned out wonderful.  I can’t remember a time he did this recipe and it flopped, and he’s made it a half dozen times!  I’ll let him talk about it:

A new bakery opened in town a while ago and I was excited to check it out, because I had heard they had “fresh baked bread.” You’d think that would be common (or even implied) for bakeries, but it seems “bakery” has become synonymous with “cakery” these days. When we visited, I found they indeed did have fresh baked bread: banana bread, corn bread, and other technically-classified-as-bread baked items I can’t remember. I like banana bread, but I think it’s a little misleading to just call it “bread.” Bread is flour, water, salt, and yeast – “the staff of life.” Banana bread is not “bread,” it’s “banana bread.” It’s like how Elvis is Elvis, and Elvis Costello is Elvis Costello.

That’s not to say all enriched doughs are inferior – a good brioche is almost as much a work of art as a great baguette. My favorite enriched bread to make though, is challah. It’s easy to work with, fun to braid in all sorts of different ways, and the color is amazing, with a creamy yellow crumb and a rich brown crust.
Challah is traditionally a Jewish Sabbath bread, and I think it’s a great weekend activity. You can have a great loaf of bread in just a few hours on Saturday and turn the leftovers into French toast for Sunday brunch.
I followed the recipe from Peter Reinhart and will post pretty much directly from Michael Ruhlman’s blog when he did the hard work and wrote out the recipe for me.
challah fresh out of the oven
Makes 2 large loaves or 4 small ones
2 ½ cups/510 grams lukewarm water about 95 degrees F
1 ½ tablespoons/14 grams instant yeast
8–10 egg yolks or 170 grams depending on weight of yolks
5 tablespoons/71 grams vegetable oil
6 tablespoons/85 grams sugar
1 tablespoon/21 grams vanilla extract (optional)
7 ½ cups/964 grams unbleached bread flour
2 ½ teaspoons/19 grams salt or 4 teaspoons/20 grams coarse kosher salt
1 egg white for egg wash
2 tablespoons/30 grams water for egg wash
2 tablespoons/20 grams sesame or poppy seeds for garnish
  • Combine the water and the yeast in a mixing bowl or the bowl of a 5-quart mixer and whisk together to dissolve.  Add the egg yolks, oil, sugar, and vanilla, if using, and whisk together to break up then add the flour and salt.
  • Using the paddle attachment, mix the dough for 2 minutes on the lowest speed.  Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.
  • Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium low for 4 minutes.
  • Use a floured bowl scraper or floured hands to transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface, sprinkle the top lightly with flour and knead by hand for a couple of minutes until the dough is soft and supple.  It should be tacky but not sticky.
  • Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, or divide the dough in half or in as many portions as you plan to bake,  and place in oiled bowls.  Cover and immediately place in the refrigerator.  The dough should rest at least overnight and can be kept refrigerated for up to 4 days.

On Baking Day:

  • Remove the dough from the fridge approximately 2 hours before you plan to bake.  Transfer it to a lightly floured surface and cut it into the desired number of braids you want to use or shape into loaves, or dinner rolls.
  • If you are braiding, flatten each piece with your hand, then roll into cigar shaped lengths.  Roll each piece once, then return to the first piece to roll it into a rope approximately 10 to 14 inches/25-36 centimeters long.  Make sure it will fit on your baking sheet!
    braiding challah
    shaping challah
  • Roll each piece to the same length then braid.  Place the loaves on sheet pans lined with parchment paper.
  • Make the egg wash and brush each loaf with the wash.   Reserve the rest of the wash in the fridge, and let the loaves rise uncovered for about an hour. They will not have risen much at this point.  Brush the loaves again with the egg wash and sprinkle with poppy seeds or sesame seeds or a combination of both.
  • Let the loaves rise for another hour until they increase to about 1 ½ times their size.

rising challah

  • 15 minutes before baking, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F./177 degrees C. or 300 degrees F./149 degrees C. for convection.
  • Bake for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for another 15 to 30 minutes, until the loaves sound hollow when thumped on the bottom and the internal temp is around 190 degrees F./88 degrees C. in the center.  If you used a whole egg wash, the crust will get darker than with the egg white wash, so don’t be fooled into thinking the bread is done until it passes the thump and temperature test.
  • Cool on a wire rack for at least 45 minutes before slicing and serving.

Brown Butter Vanilla Bean Cinnamon Rolls

Brown Butter Vanilla Bean Cinnamon Rolls

RECIPE UPDATED!  I made some changes and they’re even better, now!  Go make these, QUICK!

For the South Plains Fair this year, I decided to enter the cinnamon roll category, if for no other reason than to de-throne my friend, Rod from his previous win in the category.  A little healthy rivalry makes everything more fun and I KNOW his are amazing.  But in the night, right before drifting off, I came up with what I figured would be a wonderful way to make the filling for the cinnamon rolls and the icing.  The dough, I figured, could be altered to fit in with the rest.  So I got kind of excited to embark on the process and after killing the yeast in my dough from boiling hot butter in the first round, I ended up with a good second batch of dough and proceeded with the plan!  I think the secret to anything truly delicious in a baked good is butter.  And I figure everyone knows, but in case you don’t, browned butter is the goodness of butter x 1,000,000.  So at every turn, I turned the butter into browned butter and I formed a paste with the filling instead of doing the traditional method of smearing on a lot of butter and then dumping sugar and cinnamon, which, when rolled up and cut, inevitably dumps out a little on your cutting board.

The paste. was. genius.  I’m not even going to act humble about this.  I browned the butter with two vanilla beans that were split (holy mother that was a great smell) and once browned, I combined the sugar and a little less cinnamon than the original recipe called for and formed this amazing smelling liquid that I let firm up in the fridge a bit so that it would harden up enough to be spread like jam instead of being liquid.  It made the filling so incredibly easy to get perfectly uniform so that each cinnamon roll had exactly the same amount of filling.

And then…The Icing.  I’m definitely not one of those people who says something is “too sweet” when it comes to desserts.  Desserts are supposed to be sweet.  However, the traditional powdered sugar and milk icings for cinnamon rolls can be just SUGAR and nothing else and I thought a cream cheese icing would be too strong a flavor for the delicate brown butter and vanilla beans.  So I used heavy cream, milk, powdered sugar, vanilla bean paste (so it would be pretty and flecked) and THEN I gradually added tiny pinches of kosher salt and stirred after each addition, until the edge of the sweetness was taken off and it was perfect.  I will henceforth salt all my icings.  Just a bit – it MATTERS!  I was amazed at how good these turned out and….

TA-DA!  Blue Ribbon!  I was quite giddy!

And then sad, because my husbands absolutely perfect bread didn’t place and my thoughts were that it was too sophisticated and the fair is a veritable sugar bomb.  I think it just depends on what you respect when it comes to traditional bread, and Matt is a purest.  4 or 5 ingredients at the most.  This guy is the most amazing baker I know!  Anyone can make a good bread if it’s slathered in sugar and butter, but only a true baker can make a bread SING with only 4 ingredients.
These were our submissions – Matt submitted his biscuits, baguette and traditional boule.  All perfect and the best I’ve tried, but sometimes in a sea of bundt cakes and chocolate sugar loaves, plain bread doesn’t get noticed. A shame, really.

Brown Butter Vanilla Bean Cinnamon Rolls with Vanilla Cream Icing
makes about 16 rolls, depending on how thick you slice them

For the Dough:

1 cup whole milk
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast (bread machine yeast
1/4 cup sugar
4 TBS unsalted butter, browned and cooled
2 large egg yolks
2 tsp vanilla bean paste
2 3/4 cups AP flour
3/4 tsp salt

For the Filling:
12 TBS unsalted butter, browned with two split vanilla beans
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 TBS cinnamon

For the Icing:
1 heaping cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
2-3 TBS whole milk
a few pinches of kosher salt

Make your Filling first!  Brown the butter in a large, stainless steel skillet (non stick you can’t see the butter browning) with the split vanilla beans, mushing them around as they warm up to release their seeds.  Once browned, remove from heat and stir in your sugar until fully incorporated.  Then add in the cinnamon, stirring to combine.  You can do this a day in advance – you want this paste to be slightly firmed up so put it in the fridge and stir it once in a while until it’s the consistency of wet sand.

For the dough: brown your butter on the stove by swirling it around in the pan over medium heat until solids begin to form at the bottom and it’s giving off a nutty aroma.  Remove from heat and place in a medium bowl and let it cool for a few minutes.  Once cooled (about 5 minutes), add the milk, the egg yolks and vanilla paste.  Whisk to combine.  Then whisk in the yeast.
Whisk the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Make a well in the center and pour in the milk mixture.  Mix on low speed with a dough hook until thick and slightly sticky.  Knead on medium speed until the dough gathers around the hook, adding up to 2 more tablespoons of flour to get a nice, smooth texture.  Don’t beat it to death.

Remove the dough and shape into a ball.  Butter the mixing bowl and return the dough to the bowl, turning to coat in the butter.  Cover with a towel and put it in a warmish place (like on your dryer) for a couple hours until doubled in size.  This is a pretty slow-rising dough.  Don’t lose hope.

Roll out the dough on a floured work surface to a shape of about 10″ x 16″ (about 1/4″ thick all around).  Now comes the fun part!  Spread your filling all over the dough with an offset spatula until completely covered, leaving about 1/4″ all around clean for ease of rolling up the dough.  Starting on the long side, roll the dough up tight and then slice about 1.5″ slices and arrange them on a buttered, double lined rimmed baking sheet (if you don’t have one, you can always stack pans together to form a double wall) and cover with loose plastic wrap and set in that same warm place to rise about an hour until doubled.

Preheat the oven to 325 and bake about 30 minutes, until golden brown (mine were done in about 28 min).  Cool in the pan 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, make the icing by adding the cream to the sugar in a bowl and whisking till smooth.  Then add the vanilla and milk until a nice, smooth texture is achieved.  Then, little by little, tasting along the way, add pinches of salt till it tastes right.  I can’t really tell you how much I added.  Probably two and a half pinches!  Stir till fully incorporated and pour over the rolls!




I read a few chapters out of Exodus this morning in my “Eat This Book” Bible reading plan, and I found it interesting the description of manna that fell from the sky during the Israelite’s time wandering in the desert.  I don’t think I’d ever really remembered this description:

“31 The house of Israel called the bread manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and it tasted like wafers made with honey.” – Exodus 16:31

So I thought, “I am going to make that this afternoon.  It listed my ingredients for me”  So I did.  Looked up a basic recipe for an unleavened cracker, and improvised the rest.  The results were pretty good and my first thought was, “This would be great with some goat cheese” (future blog post) but I wouldn’t recommend eating only this for the next 40 years…

makes enough for at least 10 desert wanderers

2 cups flour (white, wheat or a mix – I used AP white)
1 cup water
1 tbs coriander seeds, crushed fine
1 tbs raw honey
pinch of salt

Combine the flour, pinch of salt and coriander seeds in a bowl until well incorporated.  Stir in the water and honey (I microwaved the honey for ease in pouring) and mix with a fork until fully combined and knead it a few times to form a ball.  Divide the ball into 8 smaller sections.  Roll out each little ball on a floured surface until really really really thin.  Place the strips side by side (they can touch – they don’t spread) and bake at 475F for about 10-12 minutes until browned on top.  While still warm, drizzle more honey on top and place back in the oven until bubbling.  Remove, let cool completely, break apart and eat.