LittleJudeonFood

One kid's adventures in gastronomy


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Make this for dinner tonight (part 2)

If you have a bulb of fennel, some tiny tomatoes, and a few shrimp, you can have dinner ready pretty quickly. Mama says that tomatoes and fennel go together very well. I don’t know about that, but I did enjoy what they did to the shrimp. Though I didn’t devour the meal with nearly the gusto that Mama did, I picked out the shrimp, which were a bit tangy and sweet from the sauce. And it’s so much better when dinner is quick because then I get a lot of time to play afterward.

Love, Jude

It all looks so cozy, doesn't it?

It all looks so cozy, doesn’t it?

Shrimp Braised in Fennel-Tomato Sauce

1 small bulb fennel, cored and thinly sliced
A few slices of onion (optional)
½ pint (1 cup) cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced
Dill (or fennel fronds), roughly chopped
Butter
Olive oil
About 3/4 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined (need not be precise on the amount)
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
Few grinds of black pepper

In a large skillet with a big pat of butter, sauté the fennel over medium heat until it begins to soften and take on color. (If you want to use onion, cook it at the same time.) Add the tomatoes and continue to cook, stirring regularly, until the tomatoes become melty and the fennel is very soft. There should be a fair amount of liquid by this point—not soupy, but just wet enough. Add the garlic and cook another minute, until fragrant. Add a good swirl of olive oil to the pan, then add the shrimp, nestling it among the fennel and tomatoes. Cook for just a couple minutes, until the shrimp curls and pinks up. (You may want to turn the shrimp over.) Squeeze some lemon and grind some pepper over, then add the dill or fennel fronds. Serve with a good hunk of bread to sop up all the juices. May also serve over pasta or rice.

Note: Why did Mama use butter and olive oil? Because it’s delicious. If you have a large bulb of fennel and want to use up the entire pint of tomatoes, go ahead and use it all. You can’t hurt this dish.


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¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

In honor of this Mexican holiday, Mama cooked up a Mexican-inspired dinner. We had an appetizer of plantain chips and mojitos (Papa made me a special one with orange juice). Then Mama made corn pudding muffins, rice with black-eyed peas, and tacos. I helped put the tortillas in the pan to heat them up, and I grated some of the cheese. Mama said I had to be careful with the box grater, or I could cut myself. “Like a paper cut,” I said. “Exactly,” she said.

Mama wanted me to write about taco seasoning because making it is just about as easy as opening a packetonly not nearly as bad for you. You can control how much salt goes into it, and you know how fresh your spices are, so there are no preservatives cluttering it up. I like to smell the spices when Mama opens them, and I’m getting pretty good at naming a lot of them. Mama notes that you can use just a few spices and adjust them to your preference, but here is what she used:

1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon Mexican oregano
bunch of grinds of black pepper

Mix it all together then stir into ground beef (or soy crumbles, in Mama’s case) as it’s cooking. This amount is suitable for 1 pound of beef and will make it spicy but not overbearing.

The black-eyed peas and rice are hiding under my tortilla!

The black-eyed peas and rice are hiding under my tortilla!

Even though I sort of deconstructed my taco (it had cheese and avocado on it), I did sample pretty much everything on my plate. And Mama said that was bueno.

Love, Jude


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A Use for Easter Candy

A.K.A., candy Mama doesn’t want me to know about. The Easter Bunny, apparently, left a partial bag of jelly beans in a cupboard. Mama decided the quickest way to get them out of the house was to make a treat for my teachers. We’re calling it Bunny Bark. Isn’t that funny? Bunnies don’t bark!

It’s super simple to make. Mama melted white chocolate chips in something she called a double boiler then spread it out in a baking sheet.

I got to lick the spatula.

I got to lick the spatula.

After a minute or two, we scattered jelly beans over it. (I even retrieved my personal stash of Easter beans to help fill in some gaps.)

Isn’t that pretty? I had fun pointing out the matching ones.

Isn’t that pretty? I had fun pointing out the matching ones.

Once it cooled and hardened, we broke it apart…

I tried to get at least 1 jelly bean per piece of bark.

I tried to get at least 1 jelly bean per piece of bark. (Use more candy if you like.)

…and bagged it. (No need to store in the fridge.)

I looked for

I counted the number of pieces in each bag so they were all the same.

Not only is this a pretty gift, but it was fun to make (and yummy to eat).

Easy peasy, Easter breezy.

Easy peasy, Easter breezy.

Love, Jude

Bunny Bark

2 12-oz bags white chocolate chips (may also chop white baker’s chocolate)
½–1 cup jelly beans

Melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler (or in smaller batches in the microwave in 20-second intervals). To set up a double boiler, simmer water in a medium saucepan and set a bowl over it (not touching the water). Be careful when you stir the chocolate and remove the bowl, as steam can escape from the saucepan, and it’s hot! When the chips are nearly melted, remove the bowl of chocolate and continue stirring until fully melted.

Pour the melted chocolate onto a jelly roll pan or baking sheet lined with waxed paper or parchment paper; our sheet is about 16” x 13”. Spread out the chocolate and then give the baking sheet a little shimmy or a tap to encourage the chocolate to smooth out. Allow to cool a couple minutes, then sprinkle jelly beans on top—in however dense a manner as desired.

Note: This recipe may be halved. You can use milk or dark chocolate—or swirl white and brown chocolates together. You may also substitute malted chocolate eggs in place of the jelly beans.

Bonus recipe! We made birds’ nests with other leftover candy. For a tutorial, see how this lovely lady does it. Mama melted a bag of mini marshmallows with ¾ stick of butter, then mixed in 2 bags of chow mein noodles. She rubbed a bit of butter on parchment paper so the nests wouldn’t stick and greased up her hands really well before diving in to the gooey mess. (I did all the measuring; she did all the forming.) Have someone else (like a little kid!) place the candied eggs in the nests while the marshmallow is still sticky, so that they stay put. If you miss your chance, then microwave a small cup of marshmallows for 10–15 seconds until they’re melty, then use that as glue to hold them in place. We made 2 dozen nests, and I still had Easter candy left over. (The Easter bunny was very generous with candy this year, as opposed to years past.)

 

We used peanut butter M&Ms and malted eggs, but jelly beans would’ve worked too…if we had any left.

We used peanut butter M&Ms and malted eggs, but jelly beans would’ve worked too…if we had any left.


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Make this for dinner tonight

It’s finally warm(ish) today! Very windy, though. Mama and I had to hunt the neighborhood for our missing decoration from the front of our house. Successful mission, but because of it, we needed dinner fast. Papa and I were hon-gree. And Mama did not keep us waiting long.

Because it feels like spring outside, she figured asparagus and peas were the way to go. She boiled water for pasta, and when it was nearly done, she added the veggies. Meanwhile, in another pan, she cooked bacon, and then made a sauce out of the drippings, veggie stock, and cream cheese. Hear me out: It was creamy with just the right bit of salty, and the veggies were brightly cooked and fun to eat! But as in all things Jude, however, I had to be convinced to try it.

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“Awww… I didn’t want THIS dinner.”

One bite was all the convincing I needed. We even sopped up the extra sauce from the pan with bread. How often does that happen?

"I'm a bacon eater!"

“I’m a bacon eater!”

Love, Jude

Pasta with Bacon and Spring Vegetables

8–12 oz pasta of choice, preferably whole wheat
2–4 strips bacon, preferably uncured
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2–1 cup vegetable or chicken stock
2–3 Tbsp cream cheese (Mama used what was left in a whipped cream cheese container, but use whatever you like)
1–2″ tips from 1 pound asparagus (reserve the stalks for roasting)
1/2 cup (or so) peas (add more if you like; frozen peas are okay)

Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook 2 minutes shy of what the package directions suggest.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium or med-high heat and cook the bacon until nearly crispy. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 30–60 seconds. Remove the bacon to a plate lined with paper towel; crumble when cool enough to handle. Add the stock to the pan. Allow to bubble, then whisk in the cream cheese until thoroughly combined. (It may want to separate, so keep whisking.)

About 2 minutes before the end of the pasta’s cook time, add the asparagus and peas. When the pasta is cooked and the veggies are bright green, drain everything, then add the pasta and veg to the skillet. Use tongs to coat the pasta with the cream cheese sauce. Serve with bacon crumbled on top.

Note: For added flavor: squeeze a lemon, grind some black pepper, and/or sprinkle freshly chopped herbs over top. Also, you may substitute canola or olive oil for the bacon fat and serve the dish to any carnivores with torn prosciutto instead of crumbled bacon.

 


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Kiss me, I’m Irish! (Part 2)

Mama and I made Irish soda bread today to go along with the corned beef she was braising. I sifted the flour and cut in the butter and mixed in the buttermilk. (I didn’t knead it, though.) We served it with honey butter.
Even the dinos wanted some:

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And here I am enjoying the fruits of our labor:

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I hope you have a great St. Patrick’s Day.
Love, Jude


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Marshmallows and Hot Cocoa

Now that I’ve completely forgotten what it’s like to ever be warm while outdoors, Mama decided to bring back a little bit of summer in the form of marshmallows. She’s made these many times before, but not with me. And because it’s so cold outside, they make the perfect accompaniment to hot chocolate or hot cocoa.

And what’s the difference between these two chocolaty libations?

Hot cocoa is made with unsweetened cocoa powder mixed with milk and some sort of sweetener. The beauty of it—and why Mama tends to make it for me—is that you can control the amount of sugar. She brings the milk to a simmer, then whisks in the cocoa powder, brown sugar, and a splash of vanilla. She tastes it and adjusts the flavor to her liking. If you need a formula, however, The Joy of Cooking pairs 1 Tbsp cocoa with 1 tsp sugar and ¾ cup milk.

Hot chocolate, as its name implies, is melted chocolate, mixed with a bit of hot milk. It’s much richer and silkier than hot cocoa. You can add more sugar or other flavorings to it, but that’s basically all there is to it. When Mama makes it, she brings milk to a simmer and tosses in a combination of finely chopped dark and milk chocolates and whisks it until the chocolate melts. Then she adds a splash of vanilla, and she’s done. This is another one of those recipes that you throw together by taste, and if all you have on hand is chocolate chips, by all means, they’ll work, too.

I'm snacking on marshmallows while sipping my "warm cocoa."

I’m snacking on marshmallows while sipping my “warm cocoa.”

As for the marshmallows, they take a little longer than either hot chocolate or hot cocoa to make. There are many recipes for marshmallows, and the one Mama uses starts with gelatin. We’ve used this before in our panna cottas.

'mallow 'stache

‘mallow ‘stache

While the gelatin is blooming in the bowl of the stand mixer, Mama heats up a mixture of water, sugar, and something called invert sugar, which she says is similar to light corn syrup. It takes a long time for that mixture to get to 240°F, or “soft ball” stage, which Mama says is a candy-making term for when a bit of melted sugar turns into a soft gel-like ball when dropped into water.

The red line of the thermometer is really close to "soft ball." It takes a while to get there, but once it's close, you have to be ready for it!

The red line of the thermometer is really close to “soft ball.” It takes a while to get there, but once it’s close, you have to be ready for it!

What’s left is mixing the hot syrup into the gelatin. It takes about 15 minutes, which is 15 minutes too many!

Once the mallow is properly whipped, all that’s left to do is spread it in a pan to set.

Marshmallow is really sticky. I had to work hard to get it off this spatula.

Marshmallow is really sticky. I had to work hard to get it off this spatula.

We of course had marshmallows in our hot cocoa, but even better: Mama made graham crackers over the weekend, so we had s’mores after all. Toasted marshmallows are the best!

You can't see it, but there's melted chocolate on that graham cracker.

You can’t see it, but there’s melted chocolate on that graham cracker.

Love, Jude


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Breakfast in Bed

Some folks call this “toad in a hole.” Others, like my GeeGee, call it a “bird’s nest.” Either way, I think it’s a funny name for “egg in toast.” Mama keeps my yolk a little runny, so it perfectly soaks into the surrounding toast. Complete with a smoothie and some sausage, this was a terrific way to start the day.

Even better, Mama served it to me in bed. But just so you know, if you give a kid breakfast in bed, he’s going to ask for it the next day. And the day after that.

I was able to keep watching a show on the iPad AND eat my breakfast. Win-win.

I was able to keep watching a show on the iPad AND eat my breakfast. Win-win.

Love, Jude

Toad in a Hole/Bird’s Nest

Slices of bread
1 egg per slice of bread
Butter, room temperature
Salt and pepper

Tear out a piece of bread from the center of the slice. (The larger the hole, the more the egg will spread.) Butter the bread, on both sides if desired. Heat a skillet over medium heat. (Mama used a nonstick, just because.) When hot, lay the bread in the skillet, butter-side down, and then crack an egg into the center hole. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, or other seasonings, if desired.

The eggs fit nicely in their little bread nests.

The eggs fit nicely in their little bread nests.

Cook until egg is of desired doneness—break the yolk if you like yours over hard, or “stepped on,” as Mama calls it. Carefully turn over and  finish cooking on the other side. Enjoy!

The buttery bread gets good and toasty.

The buttery bread gets good and toasty.


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Panna cotta? Why notta?

If you looked in our fridge, you’d see sundry dairy products: milk for me and Papa, milk for Mama, milk for mama’s coffee, buttermilk for pancakes… Clearly, we have a yen for the stuff. So when Mama decided to show me how to turn the milk into something you can eat with a spoon, I was intrigued.

Panna cotta, in its simplest explanation, is eggless Italian custard. It’s cream that’s been cooked with a smidge of sugar, combined with gelatin, and allowed to set. What could be simpler? And the “formula” is easy enough for a kid like me to remember:

3 cups liquid to 1 package gelatin

That’s it! Mama chooses to divide the liquid equally between heavy cream and half-and-half. She could divvy it up differently or use regular milk, goat’s milk, or even nondairy creamer. She noted that non-milks such as coconut milk and almond milk don’t have enough fat in them to properly set without further tweaks to the recipe. They’ll come together, but they won’t have the proper texture, which Mama says should be solid enough to sit on a spoon but soft enough to wobble like the backs of her arms when she waves.

Panna cotta, two ways

Panna cotta, two ways

Mama says there’s little reason to fear gelatin (unless you’re talking about those neon-hued sugar-laden varieties or this; then be afraid, be very afraid). While it’s true that gelatin is an animal product, it’s highly processed. So, much like the wasp in a fig, it’s not like you’re eating an actual bone. There are more natural varieties (such as Jensen’s) available, and a vegetarian alternative is agar agar, which is fun to say. Gelatin also comes in sheets, but we’re sticking with the powdered kind. Either variety basically has an indefinite shelf-life, so scrounge in your cupboards for a box tucked away in the back.

Working with gelatin requires a two-step process. First it needs to be bloomed, which has nothing to do with James Joyce and everything to do with coating it with cool liquid.

It starts to get all wrinkly immediately.

It starts to form a skin and get all wrinkly immediately.

Then it needs to be melted by either heating it over a low heat or combining it with a hot (not boiling) liquid. Using a hot liquid to bloom gelatin will impede the blooming process, whereas boiling the gelatin at any point will deactivate its gelling properties. (Though isn’t it interesting that you could melt a batch of finished gelatin and reset it several times?)

Because this recipe involves a lot of hot liquid, Mama did most of the work. She made it just before she cooked dinner (chicken piccata, steamed green beans with toasted almonds, and mushroom rice pilaf), and by the time we cleaned up the dinner mess, it was ready. I love how it jiggles but even more, I love how velvety this is. It’s creamy and subtly sweet. What’s more, it looks fancypants but isn’t.

I especially liked going "Boing! Boing!" on top of the panna cotta.

I especially liked going “Boing! Boing!” on top of the panna cotta.

Love, Jude

Basic Panna Cotta

1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 ½ cups half-and-half, divided
¼ cup sugar (or more, to taste)
1 package gelatin (or 2 ¼ tsp)
Vanilla bean/vanilla extract/other flavorings, to taste

In a medium saucepan, combine the heavy cream, 1 cup of the half-and-half, and the sugar. Set over medium-low heat and gently warm, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is hot and the sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes. Do not boil. (Remove from the heat, if necessary, or turn the heat down to low.)

Meanwhile, pour the remaining half-and-half in a shallow bowl, then sprinkle the packet of gelatin over the top in an even layer. Set aside to bloom the gelatin, about 5 minutes. When the surface looks wrinkly and there’s no dry powder remaining, it’s ready. (If there’s a lot of dry powder, then gently stir to get it wet.)

Ready to combine. You can see a bit of dry gelatin powder at 12 o'clock. Mama mixed it in before adding it to the hot cream.

Ready to combine. You can see a bit of dry gelatin powder at 12 o’clock. Mama mixed it in before adding it to the hot cream.

Once the cream mixture is hot, stir in any extracts for flavor,* off-heat. Start with ½ tsp and go from there. Taste it. See if it needs more flavor or more sweetness to your liking. Stir in the gelatin mixture with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Stir and stir until all the gelatin is dissolved. (Check the back of the spoon/spatula—you’ll see little globs of unmelted gelatin if they’re there.)

To serve panna cotta in glasses, jars, or dishes, simply pour it into the appropriate vessel. (You might want to pour the finished mixture into a glass measure for easier and neater pouring first.) Do this carefully so it doesn’t splash all up the sides of the glass, which you’ll see once it’s set. Cover with plastic wrap (not touching the surface of the panna cotta) and chill in the fridge until set, 1 to 2 hours. (If your glasses have already been in the fridge, it’ll set a little faster.)

Mama topped this with some leftover pear-poaching syrup. If the panna cotta weren't properly set, the liquid would never sit on top like that.

Mama topped this with some leftover pear-poaching syrup. If the panna cotta weren’t properly set, the liquid would never sit on top like that.

To unmold the panna cotta for a fancier presentation, lightly coat or spray custard cups or ramekins with a neutral-flavored oil (e.g., grapeseed or canola). Divide the finished mixture among them, cover, and chill as above. To serve, dip each mold in hot water for 10 seconds, run a knife around the edge, and invert onto a plate. (It helps to put the plate on the ramekin, and then invert.) If the panna cotta doesn’t easily slip out of the mold, then dip it in the hot water again, making sure the water comes up as high as the panna cotta.

It's just another way to eat it.

It’s just another way to eat it.

Either way, serve it topped with fresh berries, berries made into a sauce, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, crumbled gingersnap or thin-mint cookies, etc. The possibilities are really endless.

Makes 6 1/2-cup servings

*Note: If using whole spices as flavoring, such as the seeds and pod of a vanilla bean or cardamom pods or cinnamon sticks, etc., steep them in the cream as it heats. Remove before adding the gelatin mixture. Also, alternatives to sugar seem to work as well as the white stuff: stevia, honey, agave, even those ghastly fake sugars (but you didn’t hear that from me).

"Yum!"

“Yum!”


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A recipe for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day

First, Happy New Year! (Mama told me it’s a nice thing to say to people.)

We started today’s breakfast last night by making challah bread. We’ve made it before when Mama made angel food cake and used the leftover egg yolks for challah. Last night, we made the challah so that this morning we could have it as egg nog French toast! Mama knows only a little bit about challah’s origin, and she says it’s fitting to make the bread one night and eat it the next day.

When making bread, it’s important to gather all the ingredients first. It’s also helpful to use a scale. Mama’s made bread with standard measures, but if you’re looking to have consistent results every time, then weighing your ingredients is the “weigh” to go. (I don’t know why that’s supposed to be funny.)

The flour, salt, milk, yolks, and oil are in the mixing bowl, and the yeast and water are getting cozy in the measuring cup.

The flour, salt, milk, yolks, and oil are in the mixing bowl, and the yeast and water are getting cozy in the measuring cup.

After you’ve mixed your dough, there’s nothing much to do except wait. And as I wasn’t allowed to stay up to ring in the new year, Mama took the waiting shift as I went off to bed.

But for breakfast, I was all-hands-on-deck. Choose any French toast recipe you like (we usually wing it) and simply substitute the milk or cream for egg nog. (I call it “donut milk” because it’s so yummy.)

I cracked this egg by myself, and I didn't even break the yolk!

I cracked this egg by myself, and I didn’t even break the yolk!

I insisted on mixing the egg and egg nog.

I insisted on mixing the egg and egg nog.

I used my hands to dip and turn the sliced bread to get it coated in nog mixture. Mama likes to use a fork.

I used my hands to dip and turn the sliced bread to get it coated in nog mixture. Mama likes to use a fork.

The French toast is super golden, which makes it extra yummy.

The French toast is super golden, which makes it extra yummy.

I didn't even need syrup with my egg nog French toast.

I didn’t even need syrup with my egg nog French toast.

I have to say this was a good start to 2014. I look forward to many more surprises like this one.

Love, Jude

Challah Bread

11 fluid oz warm water, 105–110°F (or, just hot enough so you can hold your finger in it without too much discomfort)
2 Tbsp active dry yeast
20 oz bread flour (Mama replaced about 4 oz. with regular whole-wheat flour)
2 tsp salt
2 Tbsp dry milk powder
1 Tbsp oil (canola works fine)
6 large egg yolks
1 egg + splash of milk for egg wash

In a glass measure or bowl, whisk together the water and the yeast until foamy. Set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the remaining ingredients (except egg wash) in the order listed. Pour yeast mixture on top. Mix with the dough hook on low speed for a minute or two to bring everything together, then increase speed to #2 for about 5 more minutes. Test the dough by stretching a small bit between your fingers. If it gives a good stretch before breaking, then you’re set.

Remove the dough to a greased sheet tray, cover with a clean towel, and allow to rest in a warm spot until doubled in size, anywhere from 1-2 hours. (You can shape the dough in to a lovely ball first, but it’ll still proof without the beauty treatment.)

Here's the dough after it's doubled in size. It's smooth and puffy.

Here’s the dough after it’s proofed, or doubled in size. It’s smooth and puffy.

And here’s why Mama loves to make challah: you get to braid it! First, give the dough ball a few good kneads to get out all the air. Divide it into 3 equal pieces, then channel your inner 3-year-old and roll them into ropes (or snakes!).

Roll these out like ropes.

Roll out each piece of dough into a rope, however long you like–just not too skinny. You’ll know when the dough has had enough.

Set the ropes on a parchment-lined baking sheet and pinch together 3 ends.

Pinch together the top of the braid.

Pinch together the top of the braid. This isn’t prom, so there’s no need to make it pretty just yet.

Mama’s left-handed, so she starts the braid with the left strand. Start it with the right if that is more comfortable for you. Gently cross the left strand over the center strand.

Left goes over center.

Left goes over center.

Then the right strand goes over the “new” center strand (the one that was just the left strand).

Now right goes over the center. Braid them loosely because they're going to need room to proof again.

Now right goes over the center. Braid them loosely because they’re going to need room to proof again.

And so on. When you get to the end, pinch the strands together and tuck them under a little bit.

The strands are tight enough to stay together but loose enough to allow the dough room to expand.

The strands are tight enough to stay together but loose enough to allow the dough room to expand.

Because Mama divided her dough a little unevenly when she first separated it into 3, she had one strand that was a bit larger than the other two. So she lopped off a hunk of that dough and made a tiny little challah with it to decorate the bigger loaf. With or without the add-on, now’s the time to make the egg wash and gently brush it on all parts of the bread–really get it in between all those twists.

Egg wash the dough first, then adorn with any embellishments. Egg wash the add-ons, too.

Egg wash the dough first, then adorn with any embellishments. Egg wash the add-ons, too.

Allow it to proof once more, about an hour or so. Have the oven preheating to 350°F.

Good thing there was space between those braided strands.

Good thing there was space between those braided strands.

Egg wash again, if desired. Bake until it reaches an internal temp of 190°F or higher, 20-25 minutes. It should be beautiful and golden.

Golden on the top and light and fluffy on the inside.

Golden on the top and light and fluffy on the inside.

Try as hard as you can to let it cool before diving in. The house will smell wonderful in the meantime.

Makes 1 large loaf or 2 smaller loaves.