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Homemade Breads for Chilly Days

A great project for school vacation week.

February vacation week can be a tough week for parents; by now you are probably already hearing the refrain “I’m bored!”

But whether you want to get your kids in on the act, or you want an escape of your own, nothing fits the bill like making easy (but amazingly delicious) breads from scratch.

My favorite to make as a family is my Cranberry-Apricot Challah, which makes a beautiful “beehive” loaf and is a great project for beginners; it’s fullproof! For a rich sandwich loaf that will last you a few days, try my Pain de Mie, a classic buttery French square loaf. Either makes a perfect breakfast treat (or French toast!), but you’ll find that your kids will come back hour after hour for another slice.  

The key to both these breads is great butter; has a good variety, but for a few more exotic options (such as Plugra or Kerry Gold) try I use Craisins for the Challah, as well as whole dried apricots which I chop up at home; Stop & Shop has a great selection of dried fruits.

 

Cranberry-Apricot Challah Bread
Makes one large loaf 

Use any combination of dried fruits such as cranberries, golden raisins, raisins, or chopped dried fruits such as dates, figs, cherries, apricots, blueberries or currants to make this your favorite bread.

For the bread:

  • 1/2 cup very warm water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil, plus more for oiling bowl
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 3 cups (or more) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots, diced

For the glaze:

  • 1 egg, beaten

1. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine very warm (but not boiling) water, sugar and yeast. Allow yeast to proof for 10 minutes.

2. In a small bowl, combine eggs, oil and honey.

3. In another bowl, combine flour and salt. Pour on top of yeast mixture.

4. Add wet ingredients. Mix on low speed for 1 minute. Stop mixer and scrape down sides of bowl; continue to knead dough for an additional 10 minutes on medium speed, until dough becomes a smooth ball and cleans side of bowl.

5. Feel dough, and if it is sticky add an additional tablespoon or more of flour and process an additional minute.

6. Place dough into an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rise for 1 hour, or until dough has nearly doubled in size.

7. Punch down risen dough. Cover and set aside to rise for an additional hour.

8. Turn out dough onto large piece (about 30 inches long) of parchment paper. Pat into a horizontal rectangle approximately 12 inches wide by 10 inches tall.

9. Sprinkle fruit onto top 2/3 of dough, leaving a 2-inch area at bottom plain.

10. Roll from top down, jelly roll style.

11. Gently roll filled dough so that it becomes as wide as parchment paper. You should end up with a snake-like dough, approximately 30 inches long and 11/2 inches wide.

12. On a nonstick baking sheet, coil dough into a spiral shape. Tuck end of dough under bread to prevent unrolling while baking.

13. Cover dough with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 1 hour.

14. Preheat oven to 350°F. Place rack in middle position.

15. Uncover dough and brush all over with beaten egg.

16. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until bread is golden brown. Remove and place bread on cooling rack. Cool fully before slicing with serrated knife.

 

Challah French Toast 
Serves 2

 Combine the wet ingredients on a flat plate to make dipping the bread easier.

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 4 3/4-inch slices cranberry-apricot challah or plain challah
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for serving
  • Pure maple syrup, for serving

1. On a large rimmed plate, beat together eggs, vanilla, cream and cinnamon.

2. Place bread slices in mixture to soak it up. Turn over after 1 minute and allow to soak for an additional minute or longer, until most of egg mixture is absorbed.

3. In a large nonstick skillet or pancake griddle over medium heat, heat half of butter until just melted.

4. Place soaked bread on skillet. Cook on 1 side for 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown. Add remaining butter to pan and flip bread over; cook an additional 2 to 3 minutes, until golden brown.

5. To serve, place 2 overlapping slices on each plate. Dust with confectioners’ sugar, if desired, and serve immediately with a small pitcher of warm maple syrup (heat in microwave for 1 minute on medium heat).

 

Pain de Mie (Rich French Sandwich Bread)

Double this recipe if you have a large pain de mie pan. 

  • ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons yeast
  • 3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1. Heat milk and water until lukewarm. Add sugar.

2. Sprinkle yeast into liquid, set aside for 10 minutes.

3. In bowl of standing mixer, combine flour and salt. Make a well and add liquid/yeast mixture, mix until incorporated. 

4. Add butter and mix until blended.

5. Knead for 10 minutes by hand or machine. Form in to a ball and place into

buttered bowl; let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

6. Preheat oven to 400°F.

7. Punch down dough ad form into a loaf shape. Place into a 9” x 5” loaf pan, pushing dough into the corners of the pan. Cover with buttered foil, or use pan de mie pan with cover. Let dough rise 1 hour or until doubled.

8.  Place dough in oven; weigh down with baking sheet to create flat top. Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until loaf is golden. Unmold bread and cool completely on wire rack before slicing as needed.

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