Here we go again, gearing up for the challah-days. Continuously bombarded with images of challahs mimicking red velvet cake, multi-colored unicorns and curiously enough, buffalo chicken, I understand; there’s an audience for everything. Personally, I prefer a classic challah, one that is content to simply twist and egg wash, embellished with a little poppy or sesame seed. Today’s challah is a totally different animal, preferring to twist and shout, “Look at me! I’m studded with dark chocolate and bling-y with pomegranate seeds. You can dress me up in tahini and whatever you do, don’t forget the halvah!”
I get it. Eggy bread is another blank canvas hungry for artistic expression. Contemporary challah artists are certainly worthy of applause. But when we’re talking about the High Holidays, it seems appropriate to save room for a classic challah, one with fewer whistles and perhaps fewer strands to weave. We all have our favorite recipes, the ones we all turn to; Joan’s or Marcy’s, Jennie’s or Marian’s, the Ladies of Hadassah; influencers all.
For Rosh Hashanah, the traditional oval-shaped challah is replaced by a spiral, formed from a singular rope of dough. As one who prefers to play with her food, I always opt for a braided loaf, turning it over to tuck in the ends, and turning it once more, nudging it into a circle. Some years it’s a little more lopsided than others, but in the end, round challah is a reminder of introspection, continuity, a fresh start with a date no one can quite remember. (This year it’s 5781.) The entire process requires a substantial part of a morning or afternoon, but the results are well worth the time. Challah teaches patience and attention to detail in the rising of the dough and the weaving of the braid. It also allows for a little reflection during the torturous waiting period between oven exodus, cooling, and slicing.
I’ll keep a watchful eye on the parade of challahs marching through social media this week, but the challah we will slice will not resemble a mythical animal, nor will it be tinted red nor will we serve it alongside celery sticks and blue cheese dressing. We’ll happily slather the thick, egg-rich bread with good butter and try to exercise restraint, saving some for the next morning. While cautiously optimistic, I can make no French toast guarantees.
The last hurrah of peach pie season brings out the cranky in people. Maybe they’re cranky because they just looked at the date on their Apple watch and discovered September started without them. Perhaps they’re a little bitter because this was a highly unusual summer, unlike any we’ve encountered in our lifetime. It’s quite possible that the peach pie hopefuls of this weekend haven’t thought about peach pie since the 4th of July and are now frantically trying to make up for lost time.
Despite its shaky start, summer gained momentum, much like peaches skidding off a meticulously arranged pyramid on a Farmers’ Market table. Some of us dedicate a generous portion of the summer to peaches; peeling, sweetening, and nestling them in deeply crimped pie shells. Weaving a criss-cross of lattice over the stone fruit is a far more entertaining finish than a simple double crust. Peach pie, more than any other stone fruit pie is unique in its ability to capture a season so completely. The goal of a peach pie is to simply taste like summer.
While it’s quite possible that peach pie is on the radar of many summer idlers, they are easily distracted. Caught up in the critical importance of social media, they turn their attention to boozy popsicles or choose to agonize over sourdough discard. Or maybe they dismissed peach pie earlier in the season because they were too busy slathering graham crackers with peanut butter cups and handcrafted marshmallows. Regardless of the reason, here we are, smack dab in the first week of September, with Labor Day just about to turn the corner. The sweet peaches of Summer 2020, the ones best devoured standing over the sink have moved on, making room for the zucchini nobody wants.
Sure, there are freestones to be had, some yellows, some whites, but these peaches are unpredictable, less sweet, often mealy, over-sized and underwhelming. Vacillating between past their prime and desperately seeking time in a brown paper bag, bakers expected to fill pie shells are stuck in a hurry-up-and-wait pie conundrum.
On the home front, we have dipped dramatically low in our peach pie consumption. Surprisingly, it wasn’t until this week that I assembled Jessie’s Cookie Pie Crust with Peaches and Blueberries. This giant, open-faced pie requires little more than the sweetest peaches and the ripest blueberries. It’s easier to assemble than a traditional pie because Jessie didn’t like fuss and didn’t like wasting time. This pie embraces the peaches; skins, pits and all, and needs little time to cool before slicing. The crust is more cookie than pie and doesn’t require a rolling pin. As the humidity sucked the air out of the kitchen, the peach syrup reduced on top of the stove, filling the kitchen with the fragrance of peaches, vanilla, and almond, conjuring sun-filled days. Not the June/July/August of 2020, but summer as I knew it before it was side- swiped by a virus. As for you peaches, until we pie again. And while I’m sorry to see you go summer, I’m really not sorry.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm