Recipe Testing – and Vanilla-Cardamom Challah with Poppy Seeds

It was a weekend filled with baking, as always. Some of my favorite food writers visited our home (or, at least our kitchens via their fantastic recipes). Martha Rose Shulman writes for the New York Times, and her dishes leave one feeling content, nourished and satisfied. She uses a variety of textures and colors and has a focus on nutritious fare, yet not overly so. Her recipe for whole grain blueberry buckle has the most intriguing, tasty quinoa crumb topping and is brimming with seasonal, fresh blueberries. Any seasonal, summer berry would be just delicious in the buckle.

DSC_3509Instead of a standard cake pan, the batter went into muffin cups (using my trusty ice-cream scoop) and the crumble was pressed on top of the batter. This method of baking yields portable (and equally tasty) mini-cakes. The family can enjoy them on-the-go all week long (or, honestly, for about two days; these babies go fast!). The quinoa crumble is out of this world; baked, “fallen crumble” that has departed from the cupcakes is sprinkled over Greek yogurt at breakfast. Honestly, one could simply bake the sweet, rich and nutty crumble topping and enjoy it as granola: it’s that good!DSC_3506 Health tips: We used thick, rich Greek yogurt in place of two tablespoons of butter and agave nectar in place of granulated sugar. When substituting agave in a recipe, scale down the liquid (in this case, buttermilk) in the recipe accordingly. You will not need as much agave as sugar; agave is delightfully sweet. I enjoy baking with agave and found a great tutorial from The Kitchn on how to use it in cookies, cakes and beyond. Another healthful baking tip: coconut sugar has lovely, deep floral notes and a lower glycemic index than granulated sugar; it can be substituted for sugar in equal amounts. DSC_3507Onto my true love: all things cocoa. Cooking Light has a lovely recipe for decadent, moist chocolate fudge cookies. These cookies do not taste “light” at all! Being the Chocolate-Covered-Curls-and-Carrots-Clan, we add 1/2 cup chopped, 73% bittersweet chocolate and 1/4 cup raw, unsweetened cocoa nibs to the batter. This recipe uses a combination of butter and yogurt; I always opt for Greek yogurt in place of the regular, runny stuff when making firm cookie dough.DSC_3477 Health tip: Scale the butter down to 1/4 cup butter and increase the Greek yogurt by 1 Tablespoon plus 1/3 teaspoon. Also, Make sure the batter is well-chilled, and use a melon ball scoop to drop even portions onto a parchment-lined cookie sheets. Our two trays baked in exactly eight minutes! DSC_3483These cookies are soft and luscious, provided they are not over cooked; aim for a wee-bit undercooked. Remember, cookies and brownies continue to cook after they are removed from the oven. This is called “carryover cooking.” Now, muffins, not so much. Err on the side of fully-cooked there! We’ve had a few cases of “bottom is doughy” cupcakes, and that’s a travesty! (“But they looked done!”).

Don’t forget the grand utility of a simple toothpick to check if they are done.DSC_3484Also popular in our house is Ina Garten’s chicken chili recipe. It is a versatile dish. Pretty much any vegetable in season can be used in it. For example, we added roasted, sweet corn and sautéed, purple cabbage to the recipe with scrumptious results. Just scale down the amounts of other vegetables, cup-for-cup.DSC_3516Health tip: Don’t be afraid to add any bean or legume that you fancy for extra protein and flavor. We had some recently cooked lentils and black beans in the refrigerator and added a full 2 cups, along with additional liquid (1 or so cup chicken stock,) to make up for the additional “solids.”

To make her chili vegetarian, you could even use any combination of beans and lentils in place of the chicken itself. The peppers in the dish are rich in vitamin C, which aid absorption of foods rich in non-heme iron, like legumes (beans, lentils, etc.).


Round out the chili with tender, flaky challah and a vibrant, fresh salad. The tender baby greens are married with roasted Brussels sprouts, asparagus and acorn squash; fresh parsley, tomatoes and cucumbers; Midnight Moon aged goat gouda – and a generous sprinkle of sunflower seeds. Toss the mix with your best extra virgin, first cold pressed olive oil and a dash or aged white wine or champagne vinegar – or whip up a double batch Ina’s French Vinaigrette recipe, which is a family favorite. It keeps for ages in the refrigerator and is a simple, classy go-to salad dressing that allows any combination of salad ingredients to shine.

DSC_3476 As for the chicken, Ina cuts hers into large chunks after roasting bone-in breasts. Another alternative is to use ground chicken. I grind organic, free-range skinless chicken thighs in a food processor or meat grinder. Then, they are sautéed in a bit of oil before adding them to the pot of chili. This method ensures a bit of succulent chicken in every bite!

As for the toppings, the world is your oyster. Chopped avocado; fresh, chopped cilantro, basil or parsley; Greek yogurt, freshly grated Manchego or aged cheddar and even roasted, crunchy sunflower seeds work.


Yes, chili is nothing without a carb-i-licious side. How about a rich, tender, flaky vanilla-cardamom challah – with a light golden crust, flecked with seeds?


After a few months of recipe development, the perfect challah has arrived! It’s as easy to make as it is to devour.


During the long summer months, baking challah is great activity to involve the kids in (provided you own a good broom to sweep up those poppy seeds!).


The dough is aided by a handy-dandy bread machine for the first rising and kneading. The method is a must for many bakers who work at high altitude. Plus, a no-fail, hassle-free method is welcome for busy home-cooks.



Vanilla-Cardamom Challah with Poppy Seeds

Adapted from the loaf at All Recipes


1 1/2 tsp. bread machine yeast
1/2 cup hot water
1/4 cup local honey
1/4 cup sunflower or canola oil, plus additional to grease the baking pan
1 tsp. vanilla
1 egg, beaten, at room temperature
2 1/4 – 2 1/2 cups organic, unbleached bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cardamom

Ingredients for the egg wash:

1 Tablespoon of water
1 egg, beaten
1-3 Tablespoons poppy seeds


  • In this order: place the hot water, yeast, honey, vegetable oil, egg, 2 1/4 cups flour, salt and cardamom. Select the dough cycle on your bread machine and press start.
  • If the dough seems very sticky after the first mix, add additional flour, one Tablespoon at a time. When a loose, yet slightly wet, ball is formed by the bread machine, you have the perfect amount of flour.
  • Use a paper towel to grease a standard loaf pan with canola or sunflower oil, using about one Tablespoon of oil.
  • When the dough cycle finishes, punch the dough down and allow to rest for five minutes. Divide the dough into three equal pieces.
  • On a lightly floured surface, braid the ropes. Place the challah braid in the prepared loaf pan.
  • Meanwhile, beat the egg and water in a small bowl. Brush the loaf with the egg wash and sprinkle with as many poppy seeds as desired.
  • Mist the loaf with water and cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel. Allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
  • Preheat oven to 425•F. Place the loaf in the preheated oven and immediately lower the temperature to 350•F.
  • Bake the loaf for about 30 minutes, until it is light golden and hollow when tapped. Enjoy with butter, honey or jam – or use the challah for sandwiches and French toast.

©Shanna Koenigsdorf Ward, (2013-2014), unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author, Shanna Koenigsdorf Ward, and/or owner is strictly and completely prohibited.



40 thoughts on “Recipe Testing – and Vanilla-Cardamom Challah with Poppy Seeds

  1. My, what a busy and delicious weekends! I have been working on quinoa toppings, such a nice alternative. Some day in really will get to baking a challah, maybe this week, assuming we find spare time. This swim schedule is grueling for me too! I seem to get more done on the weekends now when hubby is around to distract the boys.

    1. Thanks for the visit. I am not surprised you are also into the quinoa crumble… we are consistently making similar dishes and follow congruent food trends. If we were next door neighbors, I would visit often and pillage your baked goodies… just love the recipes on your blog. Have a great night, Gretchen.

  2. you are a kitchen animal, Shanna! Amazing stuff, all of it. Hope you got your treadmill walk in. Salivating over here from your lovely recipes. Fun that you bring so many great cooks into your kitchen 🙂 Even better, you share with the rest of us. Thanks.

    1. Hi, Liz! Lovely walk with the double stroller around my favorite shady park – which has a park within the park for the kids to play after. 🙂 No public water fountains or bathrooms in Albuquerque parks, which is odd for the desert and the only downside. Have a great day, and thanks for your nice note.

  3. Like I said, I urgently need to be a guest at your house! You totally hit the nail on the head with this challah bread version. And those cookies are something to think about. Congratulations, dear Shanna. You made me drool all over my laptop again!

  4. What a great idea making buckle in muffin cups. The quinoa crumble sounds perfect and another great idea sprinkling the fallen crumble over Greek yogurt. Lovely post with so much variety!

    1. You are so kind in your words. I continue to practice and try to improve. I suppose baking is a learned skill that I’m honing. I admire everything you make – such wonderful technique, patience and creativity in your goodies, Melissa.

  5. What a great spread por la familia! 🙂 I’ve been experimenting with a quinoa crumble and hope to share something soon. I think challah is so lovely, you’ve made it so beautifully. I’ve yet to venture into the realm of bread making, but when I do a lovely braided challah is sure to be on my list of things to try. I just have to get over my intimidation of baking bread.

      1. Thank you for your kind words but a bread maker I am not. One day I will try. There’s just something so warm and wholesome about breaking your own bread. I love it and really hope I can learn. One step at a time I guess. I had one failed attempt. Had to throw it away! and since then I’ve been slow to try again. I will muster the courage to try once more!

  6. Oh Shanna, you’re always able to make such heavenly sweets and breads! you sure could imagine that my favourite are the chocolate cookies 😉

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