Braided Challah Ring

Is homemade bread ever a bad idea? I don’t think so! Judging from the success of this lovely braided challah that I recently brought to a potluck, I don’t think most other people think it’s a bad idea either! This is a quick and simple homemade bread. If you’ve never thought to bring fresh bread to a potluck, trust me, it’ll go over well. Especially if you bring a little jam and/or butter to go with it. Something different, and impressive, especially if you decide to go for the braided ring like I did here. You can just do a simple braid and leave it in a loaf shape if you prefer, but it’s fun to try something different. Any jam will go well with this rich and eggy bread. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed!


Braided Challah Ring
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Quick Starter

  • 1 cup (120 grams) All-Purpose Flour

  • 1 cup (227 grams) lukewarm water

  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast


  • All of the starter

  • 3 1/2 cups (420 grams) All-Purpose Flour

  • 1 3/4 teaspoons salt

  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar

  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) vegetable oil

  • 2 large eggs + 1 yolk (save 1 egg white for the glaze, below)


  • 1 egg white, saved from above

  • 1 teaspoon sugar

  • 1 tablespoon water

To make the starter: Mix the 1 cup flour, 1 cup water and yeast together in a large bowl or the bucket of a bread machine. Let the mixture sit for about 45 minutes. See "tips," below, for instructions using SAF Gold yeast.

To make the dough: Add the dough ingredients to the starter and mix and knead together — by hand, mixer or bread machine — until a smooth, supple dough is formed. This dough is a pleasure to work with; smooth and silky, it almost feels like you're rubbing your hands with lotion.

Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning it over once to coat it lightly with oil. Cover it and let it rise for 1 1/2 hours, or until it's not quite doubled in size.

To shape the dough: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and fold it over once or twice, to expel the carbon dioxide. Divide the dough into four pieces, and roll each into a snake about 18" long.

On the lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, braid a four-strand braid (see instructions at King Arthur Flour) or fashion a simpler three-strand braid. Form the braid into a circle, pinching the two ends together.

In a small bowl, make the glaze by mixing together the reserved egg white, sugar, and water. Brush the loaf, reserving some for a second application.

Cover the loaf with lightly greased plastic wrap and allow it to rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until it's almost doubled in size. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 375°F.

To bake the loaf: Brush the loaf with the remaining glaze (this will give the finished loaf a beautiful, shiny crust, as well as provide "glue" for the seeds), sprinkle with poppy seeds, if desired, and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the challah is golden brown, slightly firm to the touch, and the internal temperature is 195°F.

Remove the bread from the oven, and cool completely before slicing.

Pistachio Cake with Roasted Plum Buttercream

Last week was big. It was a milestone. It felt a little weird. It was my 30th birthday. I am no longer a 20 year old. I have told myself that I am never going to start dreading my birthday. I'm going to enjoy it, use it as an excuse to go out for dinner, celebrate, and most importantly - eat cake. (And go on vacation! Took a few days off to head up north for some fun, more in a later post!) When I was younger I wasn't always a huge fan of sharing my birthday every single year. However, now I think it's pretty much the best thing ever. I always have someone to celebrate with, someone who is just as excited as me, and someone to help bake a cake with! 

For our 30th birthday we wanted to do something we hadn't tried before, flavor wise. Lara had recently seen a recipe for a pistachio with roasted plum frosting and when she mentioned it to me I thought it sounded wonderful. Not only is it a unique combination, it is also plum season, and I happened to have picked up a pint of black plums at the farmers market the week before and had a few left. It was meant to be!

It was the absolute right decision. The cake turned out amazingly! It was so delicious and fun to share with family and friends. Last year we came up with the idea of decorating our birthday cake with real flowers instead of spending a lot of time trying to decorate with frosting and then not liking the results. Since our birthday coincides with dahlia season, I have a feeling that dahlias are going to be making a fairly regular appearance on our birthday. They are absolutely gorgeous and come in every size and color. Why waste your time decorating a cake when God has already perfected these beautiful flowers. Win-win!


For this cake I had to make a special purchase of pistachio paste. Something I have never actually seen. I found a source online (thankfully I had been looking at birthday cakes the week before my birthday, so I had time to have them ship it to me). In the original recipe, the author gives a recipe for homemade pistachio paste, but I just didn't have any desire to do that, so I "splurged" and bought it online. I was expecting it to be a lot like almond paste which I have used quite a bit and is thick and solid, you can cut it into "slices" if desired. The pistachio paste was very runny, very much like natural almond butter than you might have. It really seemed more like pistachio butter than pistachio paste, but it was sweetened. 

Other than that one ingredient, the cake was a pretty standard butter cake with a little citrus zest (I went with orange) for brightness, and yogurt for moisture. I'm sure you could do sour cream instead if desired. The original recipe called for an Italian Meringue buttercream, but I didn't feel like doing that this year so I just went with a standard American buttercream which is also very delicious. My frosting did not get as purple, or "plum" colored, as the original. Perhaps due to the change in frosting, or maybe because I peeled my plums, which was a little disappointing. I liked the pale purple of the original. But in the end it still turned out wonderful and delicious. 

I decided to try a "naked" cake look this year. Wasn't sure how I would like it, but actually found it really easy. It was nice to not have to worry about crumbs on the side of the cake, and to not have to be a perfectionist trying to get the edges perfectly smooth. A great technique for the lazy cake froster! A few flowers on top and some crushed pistachios and I was done! Another year, another successful birthday cake!


Being goofy!


Went out for dinner the night before our birthday and got to watch the sunset over the lake on an absolutely gorgeous night, followed by ice cream obviously!


Birthday brunch at our favorite place! Croissants and lattes - what more could one want!


So excited to finally dig in!


A beautiful triple layer cake, with a subtle tinge of green. It was dense and buttery and moist and absolutely delicious, just how I like it!


Pistachio Cake with Roasted Plum Buttercream
Adapted from A Cozy Kitchen
Pistachio Cake:

  • 2 1/2 cups cake flour, sifted
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups white granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon or orange zest (from about 1/2 orange)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup pistachio paste (I used this product)

Pistachio Buttercream

  • 2 black plums
  • 1/4 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 sticks butter
  • 5-6 cups powdered sugar (575-690grams)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

To roast the plums: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. In a small baking dish, toss together the sliced plums, sugar, balsamic vinegar, salt and water. Roast for 15 minutes, or until the plums are super juicy and a syrup has formed. Set aside to cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Add the plums and its juices to a blender and pulse until completely pureed. Pour through a strainer, into a small bowl. You should end up with about 1/3 of a cup puree. Set aside to cool completely, ideally in the fridge. If it is warm at all when added to the frosting it may melt the butter. 

To make the frosting: In the bowl of a stand-up mixer with the paddle attachment, add the butter Beat for 30-60 seconds, until nice and creamy. Add the powdered sugar and beat for 2-3 minutes until well combined. Add the cooled plum puree and vanilla and beat until well combined. 

To bake the cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour three 8x2-inch cake pans. Line the bottoms with a round of parchment. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of a stand-up mixer add the butter and sugar; cream together until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the zest and then crack in one egg at a time, adding the next egg only when the one before it has combined. Almost lastly, add in the vanilla extract. Turn the mixer down to low speed and add the yogurt and flour mixture in a few batches, alternating between the two. Lastly, add the pistachio paste and mix until properly combined.

Divide the cake batter amongst pans, smoothing out the top with a spatula (the batter will be a little thick so it'll need some help smoothing out). Transfer to the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cakes in their pan for 10 minutes before removing them to cool completely on a wire rack.

To assemble: place the first layer of cake on a cake board or a cake stand. Add about 1/4 cup of frosting the top of the cake layer and smooth it out, pushing it out to the sides. Add the second layer on top and then add a second 1/4 cup to the top of that. Smooth out the top and add a nice thin layer all the way around the sides of the cake. Transfer to the freezer to chill for about 5 to 7 minutes. This is the crumb coat. Add a second even layer on the outside. Transfer to the cake to a baking sheet and decorate however you would like! Slice and serve!

Homemade Ricotta

I don't know if I've made it clear before, but if not, let's set the record straight, I absolutely love cheese. All kinds of cheese, it doesn't matter, I have never met a cheese I didn't like. So of course I've been interested in making my own. Now I know that making any aged cheese takes a lot more work, and is a bigger investment then I want to make right now, so currently I'm sticking to fresh cheeses that are quick and easy to make, and are ready right away.

Homemade ricotta is about as easy as it gets. You don't need any fancy ingredients or tools and it can be ready to eat in less than an hour. All you need to start is some milk and an acid such as vinegar or citrus juice. A thermometer of some kind and a small amount of cheesecloth are the only other tools that you really do need (and you can get by without the cheesecloth if you have too, that's what happened to me the first time!). After you have this all set, all it takes are some heat and a little time and you'll have a bowl of fresh, homemade ricotta, ready for anything you might imagine!

Traditionally, ricotta is actually made from the whey that is leftover from cheesemaking. But since I don't generally have a lot of whey sitting around ready and waiting, this alternative using milk does the trick. I've heard some people complain that this is not actually ricotta then, but in the end I don't really care. Call it whatever you want, but it's close enough to ricotta for me. All I know is that it is easy to make and absolutely delicious to eat! If you've ever been interested in making your own cheese, this is definitely the place to start!

Heating the milk and vinegar over medium heat

You can see some nice curds forming

Straining the cheese in a cheesecloth lined colander 

(or in my case, an old cotton t-shirt lined colander, definitely 

not ideal, but sometimes you have to improvise!)

All strained with the salt mixed in

A beautiful bowl of cheese!

(don't look too closely at the 6 ounce measurement, 

I actually lost some cheese down the drain while I was

straining it :( so you should actually get more than this!)

Ready to eat!

Homemade Ricotta

Adapted from

One Hour Cheese

by Claudia Lucero 


  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar (can also use lemon juice)
  • 6 cups whole milk, not ultra-pasteurized (I highly recommend whole milk, you can use other milks, but they will result in a less creamy final product and a lower yield, whatever you do, don't use skim milk)
  • 1/4 teaspoon flake salt


Pour the milk and vinegar into a large pot and set over medium heat. Heat the milk and vinegar mixture to 190 degrees, gently stirring occasionally to prevent a skim from forming and to prevent any milk from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Don't stir so vigorously that the curds are not broken up. Some curds will begin to form right away, and will begin to form more rapidly as the milk approaches the target temperature of 190 degrees. It should look like thin oatmeal. 

Once the mixture reaches 190 degrees, turn the heat off and take the pot off the burner. Allow the curds to sit undisturbed for 10 minutes. They will release more whey this time. 

While you wait, line a colander with cheesecloth  and either set over a large bowl (if you want to save the whey) or in the sink. 

After the 10 minutes are up, pour the curds and whey into the cheesecloth lined colander. Allow the whey to drain for about 10 minutes, or until you get the creamy smooth texture of smooth mashed potatoes. 

Gather the cheesecloth into a bundle and give it a gentle squeeze to remove the last bit of whey. Place the clothe of fully drained ricotta back in the colander and add the salt. Stir the salt into the ricotta gently until thoroughly mixed. The salt will help release more whey, but air will dry out the cheese so if you stir too long the cheese will become crumbly instead of creamy. 

The ricotta is ready to eat. It will be loose and creamy while warm, but will firm up after being chilled in the fridge. 

Yield: about 7-8 ounces cheese