Another Secret from Greenstein, Jewish Baker September 30, 2009



This is a lovely cheese bread recipe from George Greenstein which I plucked out of his book, Secrets of a Jewish Baker.

Any novice “breadster” can make it.  The recipe won’t jangle your nerves; you simply follow the steps without feeling intimidated that you’re doing something wrong. It’s not a recipe that resembles a calisthenics session in the kitchen (I’ve had my share of recipes that read like an Olympic marathon). Greenstein writes it like you’re both in his kitchen and he’s talking to you as he goes through the steps, minus the mumbo-jumbo. 

In Secrets of a Jewish Baker, Greenstein offers you the choice of doing this bread using either the sponge method or the direct dough method.  I chose the sponge method.  The making of a sponge gives bread that extra soft texture, almost like getting a milky finish.

Greenstein says that this bread recipe is a favorite of many farm families.  That clues you into the kind of bread it is:  homemade, wholesome and farm-tasty goodness.  I used sharp cheddar cheese but he says you can vary the recipe with an assortment of hard cheeses.  Another option is to mix in your shredded cheese with the dough when you’re combining the ingredients prior to kneading; or before the second rising, flatten your dough into a rectangular shape, sprinkle the shredded cheese over it and roll it up jelly style.  Doing it this way gives you that wonderful swirl inside the bread.  Greenstein says he prefers this method because it “has more cheese flavor and added eye appeal.”

The top picture above shows one loaf already brushed with egg wash (I applied the egg wash twice, by the way) with Kraft parmesan cheese sprinkled on top, ready to go into the oven.  The second picture shows the two loaves coming right off the “hot presses.”  The parmesan gives it that appealing crusty look, as if saying, come, sink your teeth in…

At first, I doubted that the swirl would be apparent.  I had made raisin bread before and the cinnamon swirl was very subtle; you could see it but the swirl lines looked anemic.  So when I made this bread, I was expecting to see a similar faint swirl. 

Was I wrong!  Here’s the final product, sliced:


How could I have doubted a master baker like Greenstein?  That rich yellow swirl tickled me pink.

To respect the author’s copyright, I won’t post the recipe here.  If you’re interested, send me at email at I’d be happy to send it to you, although a better alternative would be for you to buy his book (no, I’m not on commission) or else borrow it from your local library.  Title:  Secrets of a Jewish Baker.  Author:  George Greenstein. Recipe title:  Cheese Bread.


Gnocchi, Spinach & Pine Nuts: Budget Meal # 2 September 26, 2009

Filed under: Budget Meals — sotsil @ 11:34 am
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Jackie Mills (MS, RD) contributed this recipe to  It was originally published in the January 2009 issue of Cooking Light.  And light it is, despite the butter.

I call it my budget meal # 2 because I spent only $7.00 and it’s good for two people!  Get the recipe from the link above (it’s still there because I just checked).  The recipe is called Brown Butter Gnocchi with Spinach and Pine Nuts. 

I had never tasted gnocchi before and I love pine nuts so the time was ripe for me to try this recipe.  What I like about it is that it calls for fresh spinach which doesn’t need to be cooked (you just throw it in) and there are only 8 ingredients – which already includes your salt, pepper, garlic and butter.  The only expensive item in this recipe are the pine nuts.  I keep a supply of it because I like adding them to aglio e oglio (poor man’s spaghetti as my sister calls it).  I buy them in a small plastic container from one of my favorite supermarkets – Mourelatos – and they cost about $6.00.  This quantity is good for five cooking sessions of aglio e oglio or five cooking sessions for this gnocchi recipe.

For a step-by-step instruction on how to make this dish, watch the video here:  If this link doesn’t work, go to the first URL above and then scroll down to the section where it says “See this recipe in…”  It’s below the image.  You’ll see the video recorder icon.  In the video, Polly says to add your cooked gnocchi to the mixture so you’ll have to cook the gnocchi before you saute the garlic, pine nuts and spinach in the butter .  Boil water and then put your gnocchi.  Drain them only after they rise to the surface of the water – this takes about 5 minutes, maybe even less.  When you buy your gnocchi, instructions will be on the package.  If you overcook them, they’ll crack!

Here’s the breakdown for this budget meal.  I won’t include the salt, pepper, garlic and butter because these are foods you already have:


Jackie Mills suggests adding bacon bits on top and pairing it with a Sauvignon blanc!

Trivia:  gnocchi means lumps; singular form is gnocco.  It was very popular in northern Italy but Brazilians also love it.  Gnocchi can be made by hand, but you need a truckload of patience, a potato ricer and a gnocchi mold.  I believe the pressure-packed supermarket variety is just as good!

If you look again at the photo above, there’s a cream-coloured handmade doily – that’s from my good friend Gina (a creative woman who comes up with wonderful creations using her hands – and she has fed me many times in the past with her Italian cooking!)


Round Challah: Happy Rosh Hashanah to my Jewish Friends! September 20, 2009

Filed under: Breads — sotsil @ 3:45 pm
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round challah

“I have to learn how to braid bread, no question about it.  If I can learn it without wasting and throwing away flour, I’d be the happiest amateur Challah bread maker this side of North America.”  This was the promise I made early this year when I began the painful journey into yeast breads.  As an absolute beginner and  having spent only two weeks in learning, I was already itching to make Challah.

Funny, you say, for someone who lives in Montreal, you’d think learning how to make a genuine baguette would be # 1 on her list.  Oh no! To me, Challah bread is a far “sexier” specimen!

I admit there are challenges to baguette making – from shaping, to getting an excellent crust, and coming with with a texture that would delight the eyes, nose and taste buds of Monsieur Lionel Poilâne.  He’s le plus célèbre bread maker in the world, according to Peter Reinhart, himself a recognized authority and bread master.  Monsieur Poilâne is known for his miche which he sells in his bakery in Paris’ Latin Quarter.  Mr. Reinhart says that people from all over make it a point to come to rue du Cherche-Midi just to get their hands on a Poilâne bread.  I probably would too, if I get the chance to travel to Paris again.

But for the time being…

Ah yes, I was talking about Challah.  It’s only fitting because today marks the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and I bet all the Jewish delis and bakeries in Montreal and around the world are looking very festive with these delightful braids that always look attractive on bakery shelves.  You almost don’t want to touch them because they look like manna from heaven.

I believe that majority of Challah breads are eaten plain or with something sweet like raisins, laced with a bit of rum or sweet liqueur.  When I made the round Challah above, I was in an experimental mood and wanted to test if the braids would hold diced red pepper and green onions.  I cut my dough into four equal strips and spooned my pepper and onions throughout the length of the strip.  Before that I coated them in butter so that the Challah would remain moist as it baked.

I had to pat myself on the back.  When it came out of the oven and I set it on the rack to examine, I was filled with joy.  I kept staring at it, my smile changing into a wide grin.  I broke out in a girlish giggle.  Who would have thought? Not bad for a first try!  And the taste?  Above average!

Since I’m not Jewish and certainly NOT a Challah expert, I’ll point you to a couple of web sites where you can have a recipe for the bread and a procedure for braiding.  As you learn how to bring in the “ropes” together, you’ll want to try the 3-braid, 4-braid and 5-braid as your confidence grows.  I’ll also post a youtube video on braiding Challah.

A tip for you:  braid the strips tightly and snugly.  Don’t do a lazy braid (the kind that you do quickly with your hair because you’re in a rush), but braid in such a way that there are no holes in between.  Remember that once braided, the bread needs to rise one more time.  If the braids aren’t tight, you’ll end up with a funny, loosey-goosey shape.

This is where I got the recipe (which I modified, by adding the diced red pepper and green onions):  This web site is owned by Sugarlaws, and she has wonderful recipes in there.  She has a special culinary talent, that much you can tell if you visit her web site and linger longer.

This is where I got the procedure for making round Challah:  This is a step-by-step guide.  Note she puts golden raisins inside every strand.

And here’s the youtube video for doing a 5-braid (this isn’t for a round Challah).  It features California chef Tina Lu whose credentials scream “versatile!”  She’s a baker, chocolatier and pastry chef all rolled into one. 


Love ‘Em Sausage Buns! September 15, 2009

Filed under: Breads — sotsil @ 9:09 pm
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sausage buns1

Don’t you just love biting into a freshly baked bun stuffed with sausages  that have been cooked with green onions and some diced red pepper?  They’re certainly better and much more wholesome than “pogos” – that’s what we call the hotdog breads in Montreal that hang precariously on popsicle sticks.

Sausage buns to me are like Chinese steamed buns.  If I were to tell you a story of my childhood, steamed buns would be part of that story – thanks to the pervasive Chinese influence in my country.  I look back with nostalgia to the days we’d take steamed buns to school in our lunchbox.  You remember those metal lunchboxes from the good old days?  They came with a thermos that was held in place with a movable wire so that when you carried it to school, the thermos wouldn’t roll inside and spill whatever liquid it contained.   The front of the lunchbox would have a picture of Cinderella, Hi-Ho Silver or whatever was in vogue at that time.

Then when I transitioned from being a student to an employee, the metal lunchbox gave way to the brown paper bag but the steamed buns stayed with me.   I’d wrap them in aluminum foil and then nuke them in the office microwave at lunch time.  These buns either had pork, beef or chicken.  I call them my “tide-me-over” food because they are filling.

I have the same reverence for sausage buns as I do for my Chinese steamed buns.  They’re one of my favorite comfort foods.  The first time I made them, they were appetizing, so my gut instincts tell me that you’ll enjoy making them as well.  It’s one of those no-fail recipes that you can do even after a few glasses of wine!  And of course, it’s the kind of recipe you can vary a hundred ways.

Sausage filling:

(a)  6-8 long hotdogs, cut into bite-size pieces (see picture for approximate size)

(b)  4 stalks green onions, chopped

(c)  half of a red pepper bell, chopped

(d)  3-4 tbsp of butter


Melt butter in high heat.  When butter is  melted, lower heat and throw in your hotdogs and red peppers.  Continue cooking for 3-5 minutes.  When hotdogs are cooked, add the green onions.  Set aside and let cool.


Sponge ingredients:

1/3 cup water, heated to 100F

1/3 cup all purpose flour

1 tbsp active dry yeast

1 tbsp sugar

Dough ingredients:

1 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup cake flour

2 tsp baking powder (divided)

1 tsp salt

1 tbsp sugar

1-1/2 tbsp margarine (or butter)

1/2 cup milk, warmed up

Procedure for Buns:

Combine all sponge ingredients in a bowl.  Cover and leave until bubbles appear and start to break.

Add the all purpose flour, cake flour, half of the baking powder, salt, sugar, margarine and water.  Mix and blend together.  Transfer to a flat board and knead, about 10 minutes.  Form dough into a ball and coat in oil, leaving it to rest in a covered bowl until it doubles in size – about 2 hours.

Take the dough and knead a little more.  Gently flatten with rolling pin.  Cut circles (about 4 inches in diameter) using a dough cutter.  What I do is I use a dessert plate and cut around the edge.

Fill each dough round with 2-3 tbsp of sausage mixture.  Make sure the round thins out only towards the edges.  Do not stretch the center too much because your sausage filling could protrude.  Once you’ve spooned your filling, gather up the edges and press firmly together.  Turn upside down.  Repeat the same step until all your rounds are filled.

Cover with a damp cloth and put in a draft-free place.  Leave for an hour.

Take out your buns, brush tops with butter (or brush with a beaten egg mixed with a tbsp of water) and then bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 22-25 minutes. 

Here are my buns as they came out of the oven.  You get to peek what’s inside the bun as well!

sausage buns2          sausage buns3


Mushroom Bureau, UK: Great Chili (sans the "Carne") September 11, 2009

Filed under: Meals — sotsil @ 1:30 am
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I got this vegetarian recipe from the Mushroom Bureau of the UK (  It’s a no-nonsense recipe with a hearty and robust taste, proof that you don’t need meat to jazz it up.  Button mushrooms, green bell peppers, and red kidney beans are the main stars of this dish, and I’ve made it three times now.  You can control the spiciness by adjusting the amount of paprika, cumin and the red hot pepper sauce (you can use red pepper flakes if you don’t have the hot sauce).

mayo chili2

Funny how you never tire of chili.  A good platter of spaghetti offers mighty comfort but once you’ve had your second serving, you vow never to eat spaghetti again – at least for the next 60 days.  You don’t get that feeling with chili.  The absence of meat probably explains it.

The Mushroom Bureau of the UK says that “Mushrooms have a glycemic index (GI) so low that it can’t even be measured.”  If you go to their web site and click on the tab that says “mushroom information” you’ll read about a dozen varieties. 

I was intrigued by the fact that button mushrooms grow in size every 24 hours and  turn into closed cup mushrooms.  They gradually grow to become open cup mushrooms,  their flavour intensifying as they increase in size and mature.

I used fresh button mushrooms (of course) for the first two occasions that I made this dish.  Last week I craved it again and went to the supermarket to fetch the ingredients.  They ran out of mushrooms so I bought canned ones instead. The difference in taste was negligible, but don’t make a habit of using canned mushrooms for this recipe.

Have a look-see into the Bureau’s recipe section.  It has a recipe collection that will tease the food lover in you.  They have one called “mushroom capuccino” – resembling a smoothie drink.  The “mushroom clock” recipe will make the little ones in the family light up with joy.  You use split-up mushrooms to represent the numbers on the clock, and two sausages as the clock’s hands.  Worth making this weekend when the kids are home and doing homework.  If you have three kids, you may want to have more than two sausages to replace the clock’s hands when they’re “dismembered.” Then there’s the Tunisian mushroom dish for something exotic.

This chili dish  is definitely healthy and serving it with brown rice will make your doctor smile.  There’s something about brown rice that turns me off though.  It feels rubbery.  But then I grew up eating long grain white rice and wouldn’t dream of giving it up.  I think this chili dish is more flavorful with white rice!  That or enjoy it with an old-fashioned baguette.  Make that white baguette.


mayo chili3


Mango Bread: from Pulp to Dough September 7, 2009

Filed under: Breads — sotsil @ 9:08 pm
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I did say I like sweet rolls, soft buns and loaves but when I saw this recipe for mango bread, I wasn’t that keen on making it.  “Probably a muffin-type bread”, I said to myself.  But reading the recipe more attentively, I noticed the yeast.  This wasn’t for muffins, I decided, so… why not give it a try?

mangobread1        mango3

I’m glad I did.  Besides, I had left over mango pulp.  When friends dropped by one Sunday, I served them my favorite mango lassi drink with cardamom.  The thing with mango pulp is once you open the can, it will retain its flavor and freshness in the fridge for only three days.   This mango recipe was an excellent way NOT to waste my pulp.

The recipe was intended for the bread machine but I like to pride myself in making bread from scratch so I took the ingredients and tweaked the procedure to make it the old-fashioned way (okay, I confess: I have no bread machine).

 mango bread ingPROCEDURE:

1.  Put yeast and the 2 tbsp of sugar in 1/4 cup lukewarm water and set aside for 10 minutes until frothy.

2.  Mix the rest of the ingredients together and then add the yeast mixture.  The one cup of wheat flour must be added gradually and in small amounts until  the dough reaches the right consistency and texture.

3.  Start kneading the dough – about 10 minutes.

4.  Form dough into ball and place in a greased bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and leave it for 60-90 minutes (until it doubles in size).

5.  Punch down the dough.  Flatten with a rolling pin and knead gently for about a minute.  Shape into an oval.  Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest – about 60 minutes.

6.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  With a sharp blade or knife, cut diagonal lines on the dough as seen in the first picture.  Brush with melted butter.

7.   Bake for 30-35 minutes, turning the dough to other side at half time.

8.   Let bread cool on a wire rack before slicing.

Note:  If you don’t like bread that’s too dense, don’t use the vital wheat gluten.  The next time I’ll make it, I will not include the vital wheat gluten so I can compare the density.

I was pleased with the outcome. The bread was tasty, its texture just right.  If you look at the second picture, you’ll notice some tiny holes in the bread.  I’m not sure what bread experts would say about those holes.  I’ve read posts in forums that say the more holes a bread has, the better; others say the opposite.  Diehard “breadsters” make much ado about holes.  My feeling is that the hole issue applies more to crumb and crust breads instead of to rolls, buns and loaves.

Holes or no holes, this mango bread recipe is a keeper.  It goes well with butter and a cup of mocha or hazelnut coffee, by the way.  My brother says he prefers to eat it without butter so that the bread’s mango flavor hits the palate bang on!


Buckling Down For Buckwheat Pancakes September 3, 2009

Chez Cora is a popular breakfast dig here in Montreal.  Montrealers describe themselves as restaurant hoppers so even in times of an economic recession, restaurants and eateries that enjoy a fine reputation are always full.  Chez Cora is one of them.  It has a successful business model and is owned and managed by Cora Mussely Tsouflidou, a native of Quebec who was born in the Gaspé Peninsula.

Cora studied Latin and Greek in university  but when her first child was born, she had to quit school.  By the time her third child was born, she was on her own.  This was sufficient motivation to open a local canteen which tripled in value, thanks to her hard work and homemaking skills.

It was at Chez Cora where I first ate buckwheat pancakes.  They were served to me in a set of three on a large oval platter; fresh fruits delicately scattered along the edges of the pancakes.  Eaten with Canadian maple syrup, I devoured them with gusto.

Waking up one morning in late August, I felt a slight chill and wondered if winter was going to come early this year.  I looked out the window and was dismayed to find that the street was wet, a steady drizzle caressing my window.  To turn my negative thought into a positive one, I said to myself, “time to make buckwheat pancakes.”  The heavy and “wheaty” texture of these pancakes make them a good match for a chilly wet morning.

I had been reading on the Net that the trick to making buckwheat pancakes is to make the batter the night before and to put it in the fridge.  I don’t know why; those who recommended the overnight method didn’t explain why this was necessary.  Some of the recipes had a long list of ingredients, so on this wet morning, I searched again, this time googling “simple buckwheat pancake recipes.”

You won’t believe this but the recipe I finally chose was from no other than Kentucky Fried Chicken!  I thought KFC was strictly a chicken/roll/coleslaw place.  I certainly never saw pancakes in their menu – at least not here in Montreal.

Here is the KFC recipe (taken from

1/2 cake yeast (I used active dry yeast from Fleischmann’s.  Cake yeast is not sold in my supermarket)
1 quart warm water (105-115ºF)
2 cups buckwheat flour
1 cup white flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup bacon drippings or vegetable oil
pinch of baking soda

Dissolve yeast in warm water separately. Sift flours, sugar and salt together, add to water and make batter. Add bacon drippings or vegetable oil. Set at room temperature for 1 hour. Refrigerate overnight. Add pinch of baking soda the next morning. Cook pancakes on non-stick griddle over medium heat, turn as edges start to dry.

Kentucky Whipped Butter (if you like it) Cut up 3 pounds of butter at room temperature in mixing bowl. Beat until smooth, slowly add 1 cup buttermilk and beat until fluffy. Scrape bowl and continue beating until lump free.

I did not have bacon so I used a few drops of canola oil.  Next time, I will definitely use bacon drippings because they would “perk up” the taste of the pancakes.  This is what my batter looked like prior to refrigeration.


Next morning, the mixture grew in size.  It looked like the yeast was doing its job.


When I stirred the batter, it shrank back to its normal size.  Just a few tips I want to share:

  • use the right size pan.  If you want smaller pancakes, use the appropriate size.  The pan must be non-stick (mine’s a teflon pan that I wiped with a paper towel dabbed in canola oil).  My MISTAKE was using an oversized frying pan so the batter spread out instead of remaining intact.  This was what I ended up with.


  • the pan must be hot (about 2 minutes on high)
  • pour a generous amount of batter (unless you want thin pancakes)
  • wait until there are numerous bubbles before turning the pancake (with pancakes made with all-purpose flour or Bisquick, turning them after a few bubbles appear is fine, but with these buckwheat pancakes, I turned the first pancake too early, destroying the shape).  My 2nd and 3rd pancakes were better (the pan had heated up nicely and I waited for more bubbles to appear before flipping them over)
  • and yes, do use bacon drippings as the Colonel says!