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Try these easy Hanukkah recipes

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

And finally today, we know that Hanukkah is a time to celebrate with family and loved ones, but it can also be a stressful time for whoever is in charge of the food. And if you're new to hosting or baking, it can be downright intimidating. Luckily, Claire Saffitz has your back. She is a self-described dessert person and cookbook author. And for Hanukkah this year, she has a beginner-friendly challah bread recipe that requires no fancy tools - just your hands. Claire Saffitz spoke to my colleague Michel Martin about that recipe.

CLAIRE SAFFITZ: So this particular recipe starts with a step called a pre-ferment, and that is basically a step where you take a portion of the liquid and flour in the recipe and you mix it with the yeast. This uses active dry yeast, which you can find at any grocery store. And you let that mixture kind of sit and bubble away. All of the yeasts multiply. And the point of the pre-ferment is that it adds additional flavor, and it improves the texture of the bread. So it's a step you do a couple hours in advance, and you just let it sit at room temperature. Then you mix it with all of the ingredients, just in a bowl. And then knead everything together, again, by hand. If you have a stand mixer and you're an experienced challah baker and you want to throw everything in your mixer with the hook, you can do that. But it's very, very easy to do by hand. Kids can help. It's not a very technical process.

So once it's kneaded, you put it in a bowl, you let it rise. That takes a few hours. Then you punch down the dough, divide it and braid it. So you could just do, like, the regular three-strand braid. But I do have instructions for doing a six-strand braid, which is particularly beautiful and impressive looking. But it's really up to you. I tell people, just do what you're comfortable with. You know, you can't really go wrong. You can even just twist it together if you're - don't have any braiding skills. But that's why YouTube is so great. And then you let it rise again. You brush it with some egg, and you bake it.

MICHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: And now for people who may want to maybe bring something new to the table, you also have a crystallized Meyer lemon Bundt cake. Tell us a little bit about this one, and why do you like it so much?

SAFFITZ: I love this as a Hanukkah dessert because the tradition for Hanukkah is to eat fried or oil-based foods. But especially if you're making latkes, you might not have the energy or appetite to deep fry dessert to make donuts, for example. So I love the idea of an olive oil cake because it's sort of a different way of having an oil-based dessert. And I think everybody loves a lemon cake. And what I particularly like about this cake is it has this glaze on the outside that uses granulated sugar rather than powdered sugar.

So powdered sugar dissolves instantly, and you get a smooth glaze. But when you use granulated sugar, it sort of crystallizes around the outside of the cake and makes this, like, very shiny, almost sparkly kind of finish. So the cake gets soaked in the glaze that also has a little bit of fresh olive oil in it, as well as a ton of lemon juice. So it's a really bright, moist, delicious, kind of surprisingly lemony cake. And I think it's just great for the holidays.

MARTIN: In your world, you've got a lot of people who are really good at cooking. But I'm sure you have friends who aren't. And, you know, you've said - and one of the things you say on your website is that anybody can be a dessert person, right? Anybody can be a dessert person. For people who think, no, I really can't, it's just too hard. It's just too hard. It's too complicated. It's too easy to mess up. It's just better to go to the store and buy it from the professionals. I mean, look, clearly, there's nothing wrong with buying your baked goods, right? That's...

SAFFITZ: Right. Not at all.

MARTIN: ...'Cause we have wonderful, you know, bakeries and people who have an opportunity to buy them. But is there something kind of - you kind of encourage people to try - to try these things at home?

SAFFITZ: You know, one thing I hear a lot from people is that they like to cook, but they're not bakers. People say, I'm a cook, but I'm not a baker. And I like to tell people that it's really not that different, that so many of the skills translate and are even the same. So I have a whole chapter in my new book on stovetop desserts. So these are desserts where you're not putting anything in the oven. Everything is happening right in front of you in a pan or in a skillet. So, you know, I feel like those are the recipes for people who are cooks and like to sort of see the action happen right in front of them. So things like rice pudding and chocolate pudding and other kind of custard - so things like that.

So I - if you are someone that likes to be in the kitchen but you are intimidated by pastry or baking, I would say the stovetop desserts chapter is for you. But if you'd rather sort of spend your time doing something else, buy from the store. That's great. Go to a bakery in your neighborhood. Support a local business. That's great, too. So there's many ways to be a dessert person. You don't always have to make it yourself.

MARTIN: You had me with chocolate pudding.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Well, that was Claire Saffitz. She's a cookbook author and YouTube personality. Her latest cookbook is "What's For Dessert: Simple Recipes For Dessert People." Claire Saffitz, thanks so much for joining us, and happy Hanukkah to you and your family.

SAFFITZ: Thank you so much. Happy holidays.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE MAGIC OF HANUKKAH'S "MY DREIDEL (I HAVE A LITTLE DREIDEL)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Mia Estrada
Mia Estrada is a 2021-2022 Kroc Fellow. She will spend the year rotating through different parts of NPR, including the Culture Desk, National Desk and Weekend Edition.
Tinbete Ermyas