Challah with Everything Bagel Topping

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Challah Recipe with Everything Bagel ToppingLife never ceases to amaze me.  Blessings come in the most unexpected ways.  Occasionally they even show up in the aftermath of catastrophe.

My sister-in-law Sherry was my inspiration/nudge for starting Sifting Focus.  Over three decades ago, when I first moved to California from Kentucky to date my future husband, Sherry was dating my future husband’s brother, who would soon become her husband.  (Confusing enough?)  I had moved three thousand miles from my family and with four brothers and no sisters in the Weinberg family, I was terribly missing ‘girl connection’. To be honest, Sherry and I were not fast friends.  We were from two different worlds and it took awhile for us to appreciate each other’s differences.  But we did.  And as they say, the rest is history.

Sherry and I have lived hundreds of miles apart for the better part of the thirty-two years we have known each other.  Soon after we each married, she and my brother-in-law moved back East for a number of years and eventually re-located to California’s Sonoma County where they lived and raised their family for the past twenty years.  Five years ago, I shared this post where I wrote about the sadness and frustration Sherry and I felt over living so far apart for so many years.  In the post I wrote:

‘Although we see each other fairly frequently, it’s not the same as living close enough to enjoy the kind of casual visits sisters share at each other’s kitchen tables.   In a perfect world, she would live next door to me and we would constantly be traipsing across each other’s lawns for chats and coffee talk about our husbands and children.’
Challah Recipe with Everything Bagel Topping
There was absolutely no reason to believe that Sherry and I would ever live in the same city again, much less on the same street.  Then, this fall’s Northern California fires happened.  Sherry, my brother-in-law, and their children lost their home to the brutality of nature.  They were visiting us the night of the fire and took refuge in our home for the following few weeks.

There are no ‘silver linings’ that come from such a catastrophe, but there are happy blessings.  As luck/fate would have it, there was a house available for rent just a few doors down from me and Howie, and they soon moved in.  It is far from ‘a perfect world‘ that brought Sherry (and family) so geographically close again.  It’s not a ‘god-send’ or a ‘happy coincidence’, or for any reason that can be spun into a positive.  However, it is wonderful to have them so close again.  This past Friday, we walked a mere few houses to celebrate Shabbat as a family.  I brought the challah.
Challah Recipe with Everything Bagel Topping

The recipe for this Challah is by Cook’s Illustrated and can be found all over the internet, like here, and here, among others sites.  Since I can’t claim this recipe to be mine, I’m choosing to direct you to the recipe, rather than to type it here on my blog.

Here are a few changes I made to the original recipe.  I began with mixing the dough in my stand mixer using the dough attachment but suddenly had the urge to get my hands into the dough and hand knead.  I mixed it for 2 minutes in the mixer, and hand kneaded it for an additional 6 minutes.  I used approximately 1/4 cup additional flour while hand kneading.  I cut the sugar by about 2-3 teaspoons for a less sweet challah.  I used 1 3/4 teaspoons salt – with no regrets.  And for my final seeded flourish, I used  several teaspoons of Everything Bagel Topping.  The bagel topping was well-liked by all, but as my niece pointed out, ‘it wouldn’t be very good for next morning French Toast’.  True, but then again, this challah was so delicious there weren’t any leftovers.

Chocolate Pistachio Sablés

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Chocolate Pistachio Sablés RecipeNow that the hustle and bustle of the holidays is over, I finally have time to bake all the things I pushed to the side when the season’s commitments, far too often, took me out of my kitchen.  These early days of January are quieter and I finally have time to re-visit all the recipes I had ear-marked back in December. The rain began to fall today in Southern California and it made for the perfect weather to bake these chocolatey sablé cookies dotted with vibrant green  pistachios and a flourish of flaky sea salt.
Chocolate Pistachio Sablés RecipeWhat exactly is a sablé?  Well, it is a French cookie that dates back to the mid sixteen hundreds. In French, sablé translates to sand, and in a butter cookie, that is a very good thing.  The French sablé cookie is  similar to the Scottish shortbread cookie.  Whereas traditional shortbread consists of only butter, sugar, and flour, a sablé often includes baking powder/soda (but not always) and either an egg, egg yolk, or egg white in its list of ingredients.  It is to be expected that over time, as is often the case with recipes, there have been great liberties taken with both of these centuries-old cookies.
Chocolate Pistachio Sablés RecipeChocolate Pistachio Sablés RecipeThis recipe makes a lot of cookies.  Bake some now and keep a log or two in the freezer and slice and bake as needed.  (No defrosting necessary.)  Don’t skimp on the quality of cocoa you use in this recipe.  As always, I recommend using  high quality cocoa, especially in this cookie where you want the luscious taste of chocolate to shine through.  There really is a difference!
Chocolate Pistachio Sablés Recipe



Slightly adapted from Bon Appetit/December 2013


Orange Spice Angel Food Cake with Orange Glaze

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Orange Spice Angel Food Cake with Orange Glaze RecipeI have been thinking much lately about ‘things’.  I’m talking about our possessions.  Those things we save, collect, and treasure that fill our homes – and our lives.  I am a collector of many things, be it vintage jelly jars, old cookbooks, wooden spoons (actually spoons of all types), antique and rare kitchen gadgets – just to name a few.  Among my most treasured possessions are my daughter’s baby book, my Grandma’s recipe jar, my Mom’s cast iron skillet, and photos that reach all the way back to my youth.  The list is as long as my arm.  Sitting within feet of where I am typing this post, I spy a glass slipper given to me by a best friend, my Mom’s turquoise encased lipliner, and a hand-thrown pottery jar accented with a bird on the lid made by my daughter.  Yes, my house is filled with items that warm my heart, snuggle me in memories of those that are no longer with me, and of times shared with loved ones.  They bring me joy and comfort. Continue reading

Louisa’s Cake

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Louisa's Cake RecipeDuring this time of year, I tend to keep a variety of apples on hand just in case I want to whip up a Fall dessert on a whim.  Apples keep well when stored properly, and who doesn’t love apples anyway? When I stumbled upon this recipe, I was immediately intrigued by its simplicity.  With apples in my vegetable keeper, and everything besides the ricotta in my pantry, the only ingredient I was missing was ricotta cheese.  Feeling a strong sense that this cake was going to be worth a trip to the market, off I went.  I encourage you to do the same and go grab some ricotta cheese now! Continue reading