Friday, April 20, 2007

Reiterative Challah-making

I love bread. My favorite food is good bread with good butter(....and then....probably it's mangoes). Unfortunately, I've been so busy in the last couple of years that I haven't had as many chances to bake bread and experiment with recipes as I would have liked. As I am unemployed for the time being, I have seized upon the opportunity to sink my fingers into dry flours, wet slurries, and warm, sighing mounds of fermented dough, always looking forward to the rewarding smell of baking bread that will fill the house.

The pompe a l'huile was yummy and quick but also too rich for everday consumption. I find challah to be one of the most visually pleasing types of bread, its brushed egg-braided form giving such tantalizingly voluptuous, undulating golden curves. Looks nice AND tastes good - who can argue with that? To that end, I have been baking challah reiteratively, starting out with a recipe from my breadbaking class at ICE (recipe by Nick Malgieri...nice, but a tad too sweet), Cooks Illustrated (too dry, instructions to bake at 425F waaaay too hot, and not much flavor), then moving on to the My Challah recipe in Maggie Glezer's fantastic book A Blessing of Bread: the many rich traditions of Jewish bread baking around the world. I picked it up in a used book store at the Albany Farmer's Market last weekend with Lana for under $10. It came out looking lovely, but it was still missing that stretchiness that the best challahs display when you tear a piece off. Here's a picture.

This morning I woke up and while I waited for the tea kettle to boil I started the slurry for Doris Koplin's Sweet Challah. (Teeny bit more sugar, uses bread flour, and 1 more egg yolk than My Challah) It's sunny, so unlike during the rest of this winter, I didn't have to put the dough onto the toaster oven set at 250F in order for the yeast to be happy. It had a nice home on the window sill in a patch of sunlight. Within an hour and a half I was ready to cut and braid. Unfortunately, I suffered a brief loss of my braiding mojo, with the result that I had to braid and unbraid several times before I remembered exactly how. In the meantime, the dough relaxed and stretched, resulting in a longer and less voluptuous braid. Here it is proofing in a spot of sun, with a view of the street below.
It turned out looking OK though.
More importantly, the texture was PERFECT, as you can see here. I got those stretchy strands I wanted. Tasted pretty darned good, too. Maggie Glezer, you rock! Maybe I shall move onto babkas next - she has a gorgeous picture of a double pinwheel chocolate babka in her book....

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