Challah & Scalloped Potatoes

Challah & Scalloped Potatoes

It’s already goddamn Wednesday morning and I just got did the shopping for the week which means a) we’ve had take out or leftovers since Sunday (I might be part ham at this point) and b) work has been kicking my ass and I’m off my fucking game. This week’s menu will probably include:

  • Phở Gà
  • Roasted cauliflower & sweet potatoes with tahini & a marinated chickpea salad
  • Roast chicken with potatoes & carrots

Yeah that’s only three meals. It’s fine. Sometimes stressful weeks mean I want to be in the kitchen to blow off steam, and sometimes I want to do nothing than stare into space when I’m done working and think about nothing until two whiskeys later.

But! You came here for bread. Or potatoes. I dunno. I’m not your fucking supervisor.

There are a few things I desperately miss about New York — adequate public transportation (yeah, the MTA is fucked, but it’s better than light rail that won’t even come to my neighborhood until 2038, and, even then, not within 2 miles of where I live), pizza-by-the-slice, bodegas (and breakfast sandwiches) and bread.

Oh sure. You can get bread here. Which kind of hard, steam-injected, crusty loaf do you want? That’s all well and good, but like where are the other kinds of bread? I guess sometimes you can spot a lavish buttery Brioche, what of the ryes and challahs and easy availability of real bagels? (And yes, bagels are the new hot shit here, but certainly not in my neighborhood and who the fuck orders bagels in advance? They’re for picking up on your way to the subway to eat at your desk and fling the fallen sesame seeds into the keyboards of your enemies.)

A braided, circular loaf of challah

Anyway, for some reason Easter to me screams for challah bread (even though Easter and Passover are the same this year, this bread is chametz, and come the fuck on, I made a goddamn ham) which is sort of like a brioche, but you can’t use butter in it or it wouldn’t be parve and you’d have to relegate it to the milk plates, so it ends up being a little less rich. I used King Arthur’s classic challah recipe to make this. It’s pretty straight-forward, only the flour was not very thirsty so I had to add about 10-15g more flour to the mixer to get it into a (very wet) dough shape rather than a batter. I actually used the “proof” mode on my new oven to do all the rising for this loaf and I have to say I was pretty impressed. It took only an hour for each rise to get the dough real nice and puffy.

Scalloped potatoes

Even though every time I try to get my oldest to eat anything potato related that isn’t a French fry (and French fries are only acceptable since THIS FUCKING MARCH) he will literally vomit it at the table like he’s trying to feed a family of baby birds. The first few times this happened you’re all “oh it must be a texture thing” and you get worried and nervous I mean your son is gagging and vomiting at the table. (Although you only try to catch it with your hand once. Once.) Then you remember children are fucking agents of chaos.

I would say I’m successful with scalloped potatoes about 1/3 of the time I make them — the bake time is always like WAY longer than I expect it to be so the potatoes tend to be a shade under cooked, and the sauce never thickens enough. This time though I used our good friend science to help me out. I sliced the potatoes on the mandolin and let them sit in a bowl of water for a bit to wash off excess starches. Then I lifted the slices out of the water (if you dump them out, you’ll just throw all that starch back on top.) and put them in a pot with new water, salt and vinegar and slowly brought them up to a simmer. When they were par-cooked (not totally tender), I drained them and let them cool.

While they were cooling I made a béchamel sauce mornay (IIRC it’s called Freedom Sauce in the capital cafeteria) with some 3 cups of dairy (about a 1/2c of left over heavy cream, the rest whole milk), 1.5 oz of flour and butter (by weight) and about 3oz of comte cheese.


You know how to make a white sauce right? One of the French mother sauces? (BTW I can’t see that phrase without hearing Samuel L Jackson saying “French Motherfucker Sauce”). The technique is real straight forward: equal parts by weight of butter and flour (1/2 of each to 1c of dairy), melt the butter, whisk in the flour until it’s all incorporated into the butter, and then start adding dairy, very slowly while whisking. (If you go too fast you’ll get lumps and she’s just in my head.) When all the dairy has been added, bring the sauce up to a low simmer slowly. The flour will thicken around the boiling point, but be pretty loose at first. This is when you add things like shredded cheese to make it a sauce mornay. Or sweat onions when you melt the butter and you’ve got a Soubise! Or some cognac and peppercorns and you’ve got a peppercorn sauce for those steaks! Those wacky French!

But back to the mission at hand. When the sauce was ready, I buttered a glass baking dish, put the potatoes in it (as you can see from the photo I’m not precious about this. You just want them fucking flat. Shingle ‘em if you want, but I’m vaccinated against that shit) and pour the sauce on. I then put a bit more shredded comte on top of it and put it in a 425º until it was golden and bubbly, about 25-30 minutes? It was so fucking good my father-in-law got seconds.