Challah-Back Girl

I don’t think I’ve ever met a Challah I didn’t like. In recent years, this cakey, slightly sweet and ultra-soft egg bread has transcended its status as a Jewish staple, transforming into amazing gourmet varieties that are loved by Jews and Goyim alike. They are so good, in fact, that you might find yourself wanting to celebrate Shabbat, if only to have a guilt-free excuse to eat Challah once a week. Here are a couple of my absolute favorites:

CHALLAH KING BLACK MISSION FIG: Christopher Brugler, founder of Challah King of Beverly Hills and sought-after caterer, has developed ten specialty loaves, in addition to his incredible traditional Challah. They’re all delicious, but our favorite is Black Mission Fig—a grilled cheese made with this bread will change your life. Ships anywhere in the U.S.; order by 5:00 p.m. Monday for Friday delivery.
www.challahking.com

GOT KOSHER? CHOCOLATE PRETZEL: This heavenly Challah made fresh at LA’s Got Kosher? restaurant is amazing on its own—we’ve been known to polish off a 2-lb loaf in one sitting—and unbelievable as the foundation for chocolate bread pudding. Get it fresh on Friday before they sell out.
www.gotkosherinc.com

SO LONG, SUMMER
In a place that is practically “sunny-and-72” all year long, it may seem a bit hyperbolic to throw an end-of-summer party. But there really is something about those warm Santa Ana winds that makes us all want to have one last outdoor to-do in the last days of that golden evening light. For the pizza party pictured here, Hollyflora created beautiful fall color arrangements, despite the lingering 90-degree heat. Having just been gifted with a huge batch of avocado honey, we decided to make good use of it—see below for details. Our go-to pizza guru, chef Louise Leonard, served up a bunch of her signature crispy-charred Neapolitan pies; below is her recipe for one of my favorites.

AVOCADO HONEY
A friend recently brought us a jar of the most amazing avocado honey from a visit to Buckhorn Canyon Ranch in rural Fillmore, California. This honey was so deliciously different—with a rich, mellow and buttery taste—it prompted me to investigate a bit. Here is what I learned: honey flavors can vary dramatically, depending on the type of flower being pollinated. Different regions within the state and across the country produce varieties specific to that area, each with its own distinctive flavor. For example, Tupelo honey is produced exclusively in the Southeast, and is derived from the local Ogeche trees, which only bloom for two weeks out of the entire year!

Avocado honey is culled from the nectar of avocado blossoms, and produced exclusively in certain regions of Mexico, California, Central America and Australia. Avocado trees bloom at the same time as citrus trees, and evidently the honeybees prefer citrus blossoms—making avocado honey a delicacy generally produced in small batches. Ours seemed to go perfectly with EVERYTHING: pizza with Brie cheese and truffle oil, bourbon cocktails and especially homemade vanilla bean ice cream. If you can find some at your local gourmet store, it’s worth a try.

BASIC PIZZA DOUGH

1 packet active dry yeast
Pinch granulated sugar
1 ½ cups warm water, divided
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tbsp sea salt
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing
Semolina flour, for dusting

In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the active dry yeast, sugar and ½ cup of warm water (approximately 110–130 degrees). Let stand for 10 minutes to activate the yeast. You will notice that the mixture will become frothy and double in size. IMPORTANT: If this does not happen, either you’ve got a bad batch of yeast, or the water is too hot or cold. Without the yeast activated, the dough will not rise and your pizza will not pass muster.

Once the yeast is activated, add the rest of the water, flour, sugar, salt and extra-virgin olive oil. Using a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment, mix on low speed 3–4 minutes, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Turn the speed up to medium-high and mix for another 3–4 minutes. Depending on the humidity in the air, you may need to add a bit more flour if the dough is too sticky. It should not be wet, but it should pull away from the sides of the bowl and form somewhat of a clump.

Next, oil the inside of a large bowl with extra-virgin olive oil. Scrape the pizza dough from the bowl of the stand mixer and place it on a floured cutting board. Knead it a few times to bring it together into a cohesive mass before placing it in the oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place (80 degrees is ideal; I put mine next to the stove) for a minimum of 2 hours.

After the dough has risen, transfer it onto a floured cutting board. Using a knife, divide the ball into 4 equal pieces. Oil a sheet pan and place each new ball onto the pan and cover with plastic wrap. Let it rise again for another 2 hours. At this time, you can also put each dough ball into a small Ziploc bag and refrigerate or freeze for later.

Once the dough has risen, it is ready for pizza. Put the dough onto a floured cutting board and pat it into a disc. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 12–14 inch round, making sure it is not sticking to the cutting board. You can also stretch the dough by hand, lifting and rotating it around your knuckles, while gravity does the work. Dust a pizza peel with some semolina flour and place the dough on top.

Top the pizza sparingly with the ingredients of your choice—see recipes for ideas. This dough is meant to be stretched thin and cook quickly, so less is more when it comes toppings. Cook in a wood-fired oven, grill or the hottest setting in your home oven equipped with a pizza stone (which should heat for 1 hour) until crispy. Eat pronto, and enjoy! Makes 4 pizzas (12–14 inches each).

BRIE, TRUFFLE OIL, HONEY & SEA SALT PIZZA

1 pizza dough
2 oz triple-crème Brie cheese
Extra-virgin olive oil, to drizzle
Truffle oil, to drizzle
Honey, to drizzle
Sea salt, to taste

Follow the directions for pizza dough. When you are ready to dress your pizza, start by drizzling the dough with some extra-virgin olive oil. Bake in the oven until the dough sets. Pull it out, add the Brie and put back in the oven until cheese has just melted. Remove from the oven and drizzle with truffle oil and honey. Sprinkle with sea salt, slice and serve immediately. Serves 8.