Ramekins (featuring challah pull-apart rolls)
The client called me just as I pulled up outside of her house.
“Are you almost here?” She had the tight-throated frenzied hostess tone my clients always have when I arrive (on schedule) an hour and a half before the party begins.
“Yes, ma’am. I just pulled up to the back of the house.” The line went dead and out she popped from a side door. She was older, but not old, wearing baggy pants and a tie-dyed boho shirt. The pre-party panic simmered in her eyes, but a wide smile of relief filled her face when I got out of my car. I could tell she smiled a lot, not by wrinkles, but by how easily her face relaxed into it.
I grabbed a couple of heavy bags as she opened the side door of her home for me.
“Don’t mind the mess. We’re reorganizing right now.”
We had stepped into her garage, the floor of which was an ocean of partially completed projects. There were bags of fabric, jars of nails, boxes of tools, 2×4’s, 8×10’s, pipes, rolls of toilet paper, car bumpers and wheels.
“You can set your things down on the floor anywhere,” she gestured to the piles and piles. “I’ll take you upstairs.” There was no floor that I could see, only to-dos.
My bags contained food that wanted refrigeration so I followed her up to the kitchen.
The house was the same as the garage, filled with tchotchkes, floor to ceiling. There were dolls and teacups, framed embroidery and grandchildren art, split-spined books and family photos, uncombed shag rugs and lava lamps, geodes and wood burls. Every surface covered in nouns.
She and her husband had hired me to cater their retirement party and I had no idea what to expect. The last couple of parties I had catered were for very wealthy couples with manicured lawns and spotless homes and I assumed this would be more of the same. There was something in the air that day, fatigue or disinterest, maybe that nasty mercury in retrograde nonsense, which made me think I couldn’t pull it off. I knew the food would be great, it wasn’t that. It was the charm that I didn’t have. The bending over backward; the fussing for the finicky; the stand up straight, suck your stomach in, yes-sir-yes-ma’am nature of my job. I’ve got it ready to go 99% of the time, but on that day, I just didn’t wanna.
So when I saw that living room I exhaled. Thank you, catering gods, for hearing my pleas once again.
“How are you doing, Alison,” the host approached me, hand outstretched. He was a tall older man in a well worn red flannel shirt with rough hands and squinty eyes that said he’d rather be doing anything else than cleaning up for party guests. He’d had a long life here in Oregon, I could tell by his posture and his jam-packed living room. He’d seen fire, he’d seen rain.
“Here’s the kitchen,” he pointed through a doorway into the brightly lit room where two women were standing. I had been warned about these two in the client’s emails. They were helpers from the neighborhood, one of whom had made a crockpot of her “famous” 3-bean chili.
“Nice to meet you!” I bellowed. I hadn’t been introduced but wanted to start out on the right foot. The chili lady was short with an unflattering “blonde” pixie cut that made her face look much wider than it was. She wore a frilly floral apron that contradicted her scowl. She stood at the kitchen island, arms folded tightly across her chest, frowning at me from the second I arrived. I think she thought her chili was the main food event for the night and she was angry to share the stage with another person.
“Who is THAT?” Chili asked the other lady, whose eyes were closing as if she were falling into a deep sleep.
“I guess that’s the caterer,” Sleepy replied.
Chili huffed dramatically and went into the bar area on the rainy sundeck to slam a shot. I might have rolled my eyes, I confess, but the truth was I was thrilled by this chaos. It was very different from my average party. I would not be expected to stand up straight or gently bow to guests. I could do my work without my façade.
I cleared dishes, chili ingredients, and knickknacks off the counter in the corner to create a workspace for myself and got busy.
My staff arrived, food was plattered and put on the table as guests started to show up, a strange sign-up sheet for massages in the back room was placed on the entry table next to the guest book (no, I never saw what went on in that room), and the party got underway. Sleepy continued to nod in and out of consciousness on a chair near the bar. Chili never spoke to me except to complain/brag that she needed to replenish the crockpot because her chili was so popular.
Suddenly, the hostess appeared in the kitchen.
“OH MY GOD, I ALMOST FORGOT!!!”
I dodged out of her way as she ran to a drawer next to the fridge. It was jam-packed full of ramekins, from which she removed 6. She opened the refrigerator and hauled out a family-sized (5 pound) tub of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.” When she lifted the lid off the plastic tub I realized she was not treating her guests to bowlfuls of butter substitute, but in fact, CBD gummies! It was full of them, homemade ones, she said, made by a friend whose new CBD business was skyrocketing. She used a small garden trowel to fill each ramekin with the brown gummy fragments that looked more like boogers than bears. 6 full ramekins seemed like a lot for a party of 25, but who am I to judge? Now, of course, CBD isn’t intoxicating. It’s one of the cannabinoids in cannabis but contains no THC so people use it to treat pain and anxiety without getting stoned.
Healthline. com says, “The human body contains a specialized system called the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is involved in regulating a variety of functions including sleep, appetite, pain and immune system response.
The body produces endocannabinoids, which are neurotransmitters that bind to cannabinoid receptors in your nervous system.
Studies have shown that CBD may help reduce chronic pain by impacting endocannabinoid receptor activity, reducing inflammation and interacting with neurotransmitters.”
That being said, if you ate an entire ramekin of CBD gummies at a party, I think you might not be able to get off the couch by the end of the night! It was hilarious. The party was a big, (mellow) success.
And now, during these days of stress and unknowns, what I wouldn’t give for a ramekin of CBD gummies.
Instead, I dream of a day… in the future when I can sit outside with all my friends laughing and sharing the stories of our lives, enjoying the sun and eating homemade delicacies like this pull-apart bread. It’s coming, we just need to be patient.
Baking alieves a great deal of stress for me so I came up with these two separate pull-apart breads. I wanted to create a pull-apart bread that was challah-based, but not dripping in cloyingly sweet icing. I wanted to make a bread that had a lot of flavor on its own with ripples of intense sweetness or savory throughout. In an effort to conserve resources I decided to put them in one pan- sweet and savory separated only by a parchment wall. It worked brilliantly.
The recipe here is for one pan half dusted with sugary cinnamon topping, the other half dusted with a garlic/ fennel/ rosemary topping. If you’d like to make a full pan of either sweet or savory, just double the topping recipe. The bread recipe stays the same for one cake pan full of bread.
Challah Pull-Apart Rolls with Two Toppings
- 1 cup milk
- ¼ cup water
- 6 tablespoons butter
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon yeast
- 4 eggs, 1 of them separated into yolk and white
- 6 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons melted butter to be used during rolling
- Place milk, water, and butter into a bowl and microwave for 1 minute (or place in saucepan and heat on the stove for a few minutes). You want the liquids to heat up but not get too hot and the butter to soften but not totally melt. The ideal temperature should not be above 110 degrees.
- Pour milk, water, and butter into a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the sugar. Stir the yeast into the liquid and let sit for about 15 minutes. It should become frothy.
- Set the 1 egg white in a bowl off to the side for later use.
- Alternately, add the eggs (3 eggs, 1 yolk mixed together) and the flour with a wooden spoon or a dough hook if using a mixer until all the flour and eggs have been incorporated. Add the salt and knead by hand on a floured board or with a dough hook in your mixer for 10 minutes.
- Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour.
- Punch down and recover. Let rise for another hour.
- Make your toppings (see below for recipes).
- Lightly flour a board and separate the dough in half. Roll out one half into a large rectangle approximately 12 inches by 14-16 inches, 1/8 inch thick.
- Brush 1 tablespoon of melted butter onto the rolled out dough and then sprinkle heavily with the sweet or savory topping (you’ll use all of it). Cut the dough in half length-wise (horizontally as you’re looking at the board). Then cut the dough into 7 2-inch strips, 14 strips total.
- Roll each strip and place them in a cake pan. Continue, filling half the pan (or all the pan if you’re just making sweet or just savory bread).
- If you’re doing half and half, use a sheet of parchment (I folded and then cut it and it worked really well).
- On a clean then floured board, roll out the second half of the dough. Using the second tablespoon of melted butter, butter the dough, sprinkle heavily with topping, cut strips, then roll and fill the second half of the cake pan.
- Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 4o minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- Mix the reserved egg white with 1 tablespoon of water and ½ teaspoon of sugar and lightly brush the tops of the raised dough.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes.
- 2 ½ tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Mix together in a bowl.
Rosemary Garlic Topping
- 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped fine
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder (not garlic salt)
- 1 teaspoon ground fennel powder
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Red pepper flakes (I used about 1/8 teaspoon, because I love a little heat, but do as you like)
- Mix together in a bowl.
Take care of each other and STAY INSIDE!