Monday, January 29, 2007

Holla! (aka Challah)


Nothing gets me in the mood for baking better than a drizzly, grey day, and Saturday turned out to be one of those lovely gloomy days. Living in Los Angeles, where the sun shines 90% of the year, I embrace rainy days, especially on a weekend. It's no fun spending all day in the kitchen next to a hot oven when it's 85 degrees out, so I was happy to wake up to a cold, drab day. Yay!

Our good friend L recently had a birthday, and we had plans to go to dinner with him and his lovely wife, R, that night. I was plotting the night before about what sweet goodies I could bake L for his birthday present.....cookies, cheesecake, brownies.....perhaps a pear tart? I was digging through my baking books with glee when I decided to ask J what he thought was best. That's when my sugarplum fairy world came crashing down......J said that dreaded sentence: L doesn't like sweets. Oh great. There goes my plan to serve him up some of the best cookies this side of.....the L.A. River. I didn't really want to do the cheddar crackers again since I had just made them, so I wracked my brain trying to think of something savory. Flour tortillas? Naw......since L is Mexican, he probably had many relatives whose homemade tortillas would blow my gringo ones out of the water. A vat of my famous Bolognese? That seemed like the ticket until I realized that his wife doesn't eat meat....so poor L would be eatin' Bolognese every night for a week, alone. I never realized how much harder it is to think of a savory food gift since it's so easy to bake a batch of cupcakes or pack up a bunch of scones in a nice package.

I finally decided to make bread....although I must admit I was a bit nervous. Sure, I had made bread before but I've certainly had my failures....like the time I used old yeast and my dough didn't rise a single centimeter. It was a risky move to put all of the afternoon into making my Bread Present, considering we were going to see the birthday boy that same night. I flipped through my well-worn copy of Baking With Julia and chose challah. Had I ever made this staple of Jewish bakeries before? Nope. Did it matter? I didn't even really stop to think since I saw that I only had about 6 hours before L and R were set to arrive. And in bread baking time, my dear readers, that's nothin! I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.



Thankfully, I had picked up a few packets of yeast on a recent shopping excursion so I knew that part was taken care of. I was sad to see that I didn't have any bread flour, but since the recipe said I could use unbleached all purpose, I figured I'd be ok. I started by pouring warm water over the yeast until it foamed madly....I LOVE the smell of foamy yeast! After starting the mixture of that and flour in my mixer, I took the ball of dough out and kneaded it by hand for a good ten minutes. Talk about a workout! It is actually quite relaxing to knead bread by hand, and I think I was a bit inspired by Cynthia's recent post on the joys of kneading bread. There's been so much talk about a no-knead bread on many food blogs, and hey- I ain't knockin' it- but there is a therapeutic quality to grabbing and pushing around all that dough. You can actually feel it evolving from a sticky mass into something smooth and elastic. It's not a bad way to tone your arms and middle either!

Punched down dough........

After the first rise, I "punched the dough down" which is a part I've always enjoyed. You can hear the "pfffffffff" of the air coming out of the dough- you're actually redistributing the air all over the blob. When the second rise was completed, I took half of the dough and divided it up into three ropes. Now comes the fun part! Although I hadn't braided hair in YEARS, it's sort of like riding a bike....a very squishy bike. I started in the middle as the book instructed and pretty soon, I had a fat, doughy braid. After taking the second half of the dough and creating another loaf, I covered both with towels and let them rise for another 30 minutes.





While I waited for those babies to rise, I made the egg wash with 1 egg, 1 egg yolk and a tablespoon of cold cream. I strained the mixture through a tea strainer to get the globs out, then brushed the now-puffy loaves with the yellow glaze. I decided to put sesame seeds on one and leave the other plain. They both went into a hot oven for 20 minutes, at which point I pulled them out and re-glazed the parts of the loaves that had swelled and exposed more of the internal dough. This was a step I had never read about before but made total sense. After another 20 minutes or so back in the oven, the challah was done! Holla!

Shiny loaves of challah in a row......

Sliced and ready for my tummy.....

Both loaves turned out super shiny and smelling wonderful. I decided to give the sesame one to L since the plain one had cooked a bit too much and was a bit too brown on the bottom. L appreciated the bread, and I was happy to have found a savory food gift that I'll definitely be making again. The best part? J and I enjoyed a breakfast of challah toast and scrambled eggs the next morning. The slightly dense and eggy bread was fantastic with just a smear of butter.

Breakfast!

I'm looking forward to more rainy day bread baking if the weather cooperates!

,

6 comments:

eatdrinknbmerry said...

Anne, seriously what a nice job you did on the braided bread. I love how it looks so shiny. I like shiny things.

deenster said...

Beautiful challah!!! Looks great.

Chubbypanda said...

Well done!

Steen said...

Beautiful! I'm sure your friend was blown away by such a wonderful gift! (My birthday's in August... LOL)

Michelle said...

Challah is definitely one of my favourite breads to make, purely for aesthetic reasons (well, it tastes and smells pretty amazing, too). Yours turned out perfectly, Anne - nice work!

Jess said...

Wow, I am really, REALLY impressed! What a gorgeous challah! Not easy to do. Even as a Jew I have only one friend who's ever made it on a regular basis, and she quit that hobby years ago. Interesting the recipe came via Julia. But she's reliable for everything else, so challah shouldn't be an exception. Well done!