No, Latino Man and I haven't converted to Judaism between blog posts, char siew and chicharron are much too delicious for that, but we have embraced Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. We've had a bit of a rough trot so far in 2013, so we're taking this opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start over.
Before moving to Colombia, my knowledge of Jewish food was limited to the dairy-free options offered in the Kosher supermarkets. As meat and dairy should never meet on a Kosher plate, Jewish food manufacturers have ingeniously invented many diary-free substitutes of delicious dairy favourites. In my years as a vegan, these supermarkets were heaven, offering dairy-free cream cheese, dairy-free ice-cream sandwiches, dairy-free sour cream etc.
However in the last year, through the tutelage of our Jewish neighbours and fellow artisans, we've been exploring a broader variety of Jewish food, festival by festival. First there was Hanukkah, the amazing feast of latkes. Then Purim, which was celebrated with an afternoon of making Hamentaschen. And, most recently, Rosh Hashanah, our adopted new year, for which I made Challah.
Whilst this braided bread looks quite spectacular, it is deceptively simple to make. I opted for the circular form, representing the continuity of creation, which is traditional for Rosh Hashanah. The lovely dark colour comes from a healthy dose of egg wash, and the yellowish dough is thanks to the addition of eggs, and then some more egg yolks.
I used a Peter Reinhart recipe for the bread, and followed a simple demonstration of Challah braiding I found on YouTube. I feel the result is a fitting start to the coming year of bread baking.
4 cups of bread flour
2 tbs honey
1 tsp salt
1 1/3 tsp dry yeast
2 tbs vegetable oil
2 egg yolks
4/5 - 1 1/8 cup warm water
2 egg whites whisked until frothy for egg wash
Poppy and sesame seeds to decorate
Combine honey, yeast and warm water in a plastic or glass bowl, and let it sit until the yeast begins to froth. In a separate bowl whisk the eggs with the egg yolks, and mix in the oil. Combine the dry ingredients together, then add the wet ingredients and mix until combined. Knead for 6 minutes in a mixer with a dough hook, or for 10 minutes by hand on a floured counter.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl and leave it to rise until it has doubled in size, approximately 1 to 1.5 hours.
Remove the dough from the bowl and knead it again to degas. Place it back in the original bowl, and leave it to proof again until it is 1.5 times it's original size.
Remove the dough from the bowl, and working on a lightly floured surface, divide into four pieces. Roll the pieces out into equal lengths. Let the lengths rest for 5 minutes or so, then roll them out even longer.
Follow the instructions around 1.09 in this video for how to braid a four braid challah.
Leave the braided dough to rise again.
Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit, or 180 degrees Celcius. Brush the dough with the beaten egg white and sprinkle with sesame and poppy seeds. Bake for 45 minutes, turning the pan around at the 20 minute mark to ensure even browning. You'll know the bread is cooked if it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
Yep, that's what they call me. Well, actually my students call me "teacher" but I much prefer the Spanish translation. A couple of weeks ago, my first class graduated from "El Mundo de Chocolate", a subject of their Gastronomy degree at the Universidad de La Sabana.
It is, as the title suggests, the most amazing job ever. Among the many benefits, such as getting paid to discuss the complexitities of the global cacao and chocolate trade, inviting chocolate professionals to speak to my class (and therefore me), and the enormous fun I have in the kitchen teaching my students how to work with this fascinating, diverse and sometimes capricious ingredient, perhaps the greatest benefit is this: when my students want to win the favour of their teacher, they give chocolate!
A caveat before I begin: this is not a how-to guide on running an artisanal food business, it's simply a story of where I am now, where I was a little over a year ago, and some stuff that happened in between. How many parts will there be? I know you're anxious to find out. So, in the theme of this first post reviewing, analysing, and reporting on my first year as an artisanal food entrepreneur, the answer is: as many as I feel like writing.
On being my own boss
The advantages are obvious, especially to an employee who might long for them from the confines of their 9 - 6 work life, and they are awesome. Before Christmas I was working like a crazy woman, at the tempering machine at 6am, working until past midnight to make, mould, dip and package my chocolates. Today on the other hand, luxuriating in the post-Christmas calm, I did just enough work to feel like I could say "I did some work today". Otherwise I spent the day reading, baking bread, making granola and doing a bit of yoga (just enough to say "I did some yoga today"). On a normal day, with a reasonable workload, I can take off mid-morning to go for a long run, or a couple of hours in the afternoon to have coffee with some friends. I just make up the hours later, or earlier, or the next day. I also decide what I do each day, how much is spent on repeated tasks vs working on new products, what portion of my time will be engaged in marketing, website and other communications tasks, or if instead I'll spend the day reading and researching.
Herein also lies the downside of being your own boss. You are employee-you's best ever boss, and comapny-owner-you's worst. Depending on your workload you let yourself procrastinate or you let yourself overwork to exhaustion. You let yourself avoid painful or boring tasks, you never set employee-you deadlines, or if you do, you don't care whether they're met or not. And, instead of kicking yourself out of post-holiday post-wedding or post-slow-period funks, you instead allow employee-you to wallow in them for longer than is healthy for the company's finances.
Still, the idea of a timetable set by a culture, a government, or a company, where one must be at their desk by a certain hour and one must not leave said desk until a certain hour, regardless of that person's productivity, is of course, absolutely ludicrous to me. I work when I want to work which is, not surprisingly, when I'm most productive. (In place of a salary, this scorn for corporate structures and the poor employees who must work within them is the only compensation we self-employed get for the hours upon hours we waste flicking through Vice's Dos and Don'ts.)
On pursuing a passion:
It's almost sacrilege for a late-career-changer to say this, but I still fantasise about many other occupations I could have, as though I'm twenty years old and all options still lay open. According the the classic story, I know I'm supposed to be pursuing chocolate because it is what I have always dreamed of, even whilst working in some pretty great jobs in digital media and advertising, but in fact it is one of many passions I could have followed. I went to study at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy specifcially in search of a food-related right turn in my career. In the course of that year, I fell in love honey, sour dough bread, and chocolate, in that order. I chose to follow the chocolate path because, well, chocolate is awesome, but I still imagine myself becoming a beekeeper or opening a bakery. I also imagine working as a Florist, or marketing Aesop products, or testing recipes in America's Test Kitchen, or designing window displays, or working some not-yet-defined job that let's me travel the world eating great food.
On changing careers:
It is, to put it so very mildly, humbling to start again. Whilst my 12 plus years of work experience have certainly been helpful for my new business, they are no help with the actual task of chocolate making. These years of experience also robbed me of any new-graduate arrogance, because a year ago, with my freshly printed Professional Chocolatier certificate in hand, I knew exactly how much I didn't know.
If I had the patience to wait for Latino Man to design an infographic, I would show you right now what I have discovered is the learning curve for chocolate making. As I have no such patience, I'll describe it instead. Things start out well. The chocolates may not be quite the professional standard you were aiming for, but close enough. Then something happens. A few weeks in, for unknown reasons, things go wrong. Your previously fine tuffles coatings will start to crack, or the surface of your chocolate bars will swirl, even, horror of horrors, exhibit bloom. There is no experienced and wise boss to ask, so it's to the internet you go. Hours of research in chocolate forums, asking questions, reading questions asked by other newbie chocolatiers, plus many more hours of trial and error and many wasted chocolates will solve the problem. Actually, chocolate mistakes have to be really really bad for chocolate to be wasted, there's always someone willing to eat a slightly blemished, cracked or misshapen product, but it is intensely frustrating nonetheless.
On the other hand, starting again usually involves pursuing a career which really interests you. It means learning, not incrementally through the ocassional new book, campaign or project, but in big gulps. There are giant piles of books by your bedside, buckets of new information online, countless new chocolate bars to taste, an unlimited reservoir of recipes to test, huge leaps in hands-on experience, and all of it fascinating because it's about your favourite subject, in this case, chocolate.