Sunday, November 9, 2008
I've tried making challah twice before. Both times it tasted fine, but it looked ... well, I'm not going to remind you of how it looked. Suffice it to say that if you looked at pictures of my first two attempts, you would advise me not to give up my day job.
I happened upon a group of a dozen or so bloggers who call themselves Bread Baking Babes. Their October project was a challah from The New York Times Bread and Soup Cookbook, a book I don't have but which sounds like a good idea. I think it must be out of print, though, because I've browsed many a book store's cookbook collection, and I don't remember ever seeing it.
October's recipe was from Sara at iliketocook.blogspot.com, and I thank her for this simple, delicious, and apparently foolproof recipe.
It's a shiny, sticky dough, made with a half-cup of butter, four eggs, and a touch of saffron to give it a rich, yellow hue.
It only has to rise an hour or so (I used up my first monster package of yeast mail-ordered from King Arthur on this bread, by the way, and what an economy that turned out to be! Even baking bread nearly every week, it took me two years to go through the entire bag, and, kept in the freezer, it was still going strong after all that time), and Sarah and I had a date to go shopping at the Mall of America. I just put it in the refrigerator to slow it down, and it was ready to braid three hours later, when we came home.
This is where trepidation really set in. Last time I tried challah, I attempted a four-strand braid, but I got so confused I had to keep unbraiding it and trying again. It didn't look pretty. This time I was going to practice with Play-Doh, but that turned out to be unnecessary. This challah is a double-decker version: a bottom three-plaited layer, topped by the same thing, only smaller. It looks fancy, but it's easy.
Brushed with an egg wash and sprinkled with poppy seeds, it looks like someone who knows what she's doing made it, rather than all-thumbs BBC.
After I stacked the layers neatly, I slid the pan in the oven. 18 minutes later, I turned on the oven light, afraid of what I might see. Had the top layer fallen off? Had the whole thing exploded? (I do have an abnormal fear of things exploding, even though, as far as I know, challah is not in the habit of exploding).
Anyway, no and no. It still looked pretty.
Maybe not perfect, but pretty. As a bonus, this recipe makes two loaves of bread. I made the second one without poppy seeds, just to be devil-may-care.
To be perfectly honest, the top layer of the second loaf slid to the side while baking, so it can only be viewed from one angle. From its best side, though, it still looks shiny and pretty. Not to be too pleased with myself, but I do like the way they turned out.
We had the lopsided one for dinner, with a very good beef and wild rice soup with root vegetables. My cameraman forgot to take pictures of the soup, but he ate it up, along with the bread, which he pronounced quite satisfactory.