The two year anniversary of my first audio conversation with my husband is upon us-or it may have actually passed. The reason for my lack of clarity is that when I received an invite a couple of weeks ago to my friend Amy’s annual Breaking of the Fast-Everyone Loves Breakfast Brinner*, I recollected that Colin first called me while I was breaking the fast I never participate in at her home. Since the Jewish calendar does not align with the Gregorian calendar and I never seem to remember dates such as Birthdays, anniversaries or first dates, I will probably never know the actual date of our iniating interlude, but Saturday night will be a milestone for us, none-the-less!
Because I never like people to show up at my house for dinner empty handed, I always ask what I can bring when I get an invitation like the one I received from Amy! She responded right away to say that she might ask me to bring the Challah, since I live so close to some of the Jewish Bakeries in Denver.
“I’ll bake some Challahs”, I replied as my mind sacheted back 20 odd years ago to the month I spent baking every bread recipe in “Beard on Bread”. As I recalled my lovely egg colored, braided loaves were delish and although I rarely bake bread these days, I do enjoy it.
“Will you make some with raisins?” she responded?
“I’ve never had Challah with raisins.” I admitted.
“They represent the sweetness of the coming year” Amy instructed me. I know my lack of knowledge of Jewish tradition continually amazes her, but I also know that I can more than redeem myself by finding and baking some kick-ass Challah firmly predicting the sweetness of the New Year.
And so my search has begun for the perfect Challah recipe, fully recognizing that I can always resort back to my well worn copy of “Beard on Bread”.
The first recipe that has picqued my interest is from the super yummy food blog, Smitten Kitchen: http://smittenkitchen.com/2011/09/apple-and-honey-challah/ This could be my top contender as it sounds too divine, and I know that I will have to add cinnamon to my apples. But, onward I search.
My search has brought me to http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/4134/traditional-challah-rose-levy-beranbaums-new-recipe. My line of thought was that anyone named Rose Levy Beranbaums must have the consummate kick-ass Challah recipe. To be honest, as I type I have yet to click on the link to the actual recipe, but I am completely bowled over by the beautiful photo’s and I am very tempted to try the pull apart Challah made of twelve rolls.
Having made a fearless and exhausting search, I will conclude my exodus with this recipe from the experts: Jewish Recipes. After all , as a Jewish born Shiksa, I feel compelled to be a mensh. http://www.jewishrecipes.org/recipes/challah/rebbetzin-rachels-challah.html
Later that evening…..
As I forged onward I found quite a few recipes for Apple and Honey Challah, but I have to admit, I felt a loyalty to Deb at SmittenKitchen as she was the first to introduce me to the idea of a Challah made with apples and honey. And so, I chose a simple recipe for the salmon I was making for dinner tonight (pan seared with a glaze made of soy sauce, toasted fresh coriander seeds from a friend’s garden, fresh lemon juice and orange blossom honey) and began the dough, while simultaneously making dinner.
I’m not sure whether I have already shared this with you or not, but one reason I prefer cooking to baking is that I am not an exact measurement kind of girl. So, although I did use a measuring cup to scoop the flour from my 25 pound Cotsco bag, I did not necessarily level said measuring cups. I am operating under the assumption that this was the reason that my dough was exceptionally difficult to knead and quite crumbly.
I feel this challenge was overcome by my continuously wetting my hands and adding just a tad bit of water to my ball as I persevered. About 10 minutes into the full body workout I achieved by throwing myself into my kneading, I achieved:
Having worn myself out kneading this stiff and sticky concoction, I enjoyed a leisurely dinner of glazed line-caught Coho Salmon and organic baby spinach sautéed with lots o garlic and mushrooms, accompanied by a crusty loaf with whole garlic cloves and a yummy zinfandel with my husband, after putting my dough up to rest and rise.
After dinner we settled in and were relaxing on the sofa watching t.v. when I remembered the bread! Jumping up from the sofa and racing to the kitchen I punched that baby down, chopped the two apples called for in the recipe, sprinkled them with cinnamon and lemon juice and then my troubles began.
I followed Deb’s instructions, to the best of my ability, but the tiny apple chunks escaped from my dough no matter how hard I tried to harness the little squares and push them back in. In the end, I probably managed to get one of the two apples into my dough. Colin wanted to know what the screams emanating from the kitchen were and I explained that the apples were quite fresh and bravely carried on.
I managed to divide the dough into four parts, braiding and twisting it into a rather attractive looking round bread, if I must say so myself:
By this time it was about 10pm and my braided masterpiece needed to rest and rise for an additional hour. Thank God for Words With Friends, as now Colin was loosing steam.
At 11pm, with my husband tucked into bed, I slid my bread onto a parchment lined baking sheet and into my pre-heated 375 oven. Deb had warned that the bread might take longer to cook than usual with the apples in the dough and that there was a good chance it might get too dark, so in between Words with Friend games, I made certain to peek inside the oven from time to time.
Deb suggested that the cooking time would run 40-45 minutes and that the perfect way to check for doneness was to insert an instant read thermometer into the center of the loaf and that it should be 195. At 40 minutes I pulled a gorgeous looking loaf out, inserted my meat thermometer, not knowing whether it was instant read or not, but being certain that it was all I had and watched the needle slowly gravitate to the 170 mark.
Back into the oven she went for another few games. About 7 minutes later, I once again removed my baked beauty from the oven and reinserted what I now knew was not an instant read thermometer. This time the needle proceeded to halt at 180 and back in the oven went my bread. As I did not want it to get any darker than it was and I did not have the foil Deb suggested tenting it with, I pulled the parchment paper out from underneath the bread and placed it back on top of it before sliding it back into my oven.
Five minutes later, it had not gotten any darker and the needle on the thermometer landed right at 195! I must admit that my loaf now has a series of three small holes in the center, but hopefully Amy will serve enough wine that no one will notice.
Yom Kippur Morning
Waking up and entering my bathroom I noticed that the ground looked white from my window. Assuming that a film had covered my window overnight, I opened said window to discover a light dusting of snow on the ground. I have lived in Colorado for 7 years now and still can’t get used to the fact that it can be in the 80’s one day and cold enough to snow the next. As I glanced over at our uncovered, heated pool and noticed the cloud of steam over it, I felt a pang of guilt. Apropos I suppose, as this is the Day of Atonement!
I need to make one more Challah to bring to Amy’s tonight and after my evening fighting the Smitten Kitchen recipe (which I take full responsibility for and am certain that it is some kind of operator error), I am tempted to go back to my old standby Challah recipe from Beard on Bread.
I have glanced over Rose’s recipe and the one from Jewish Cooking and may amend my old standby. Stay tuned…..
Ok, so for starters James’ recipe calls for 3 packages of yeast, where Rose calls for 2 ½ teaspoons.
It comes down to this: James is an icon, Rose sounds fairly accomplished, but she is no James Beard.
So here is what I decided to do. I am taking James’ advice and using three packages of yeast, but I am using what I thought was Rose’s suggestion, but upon further review it was actually Rachel Trugman’s submission from Jewish recipes, and adding ¼ cup of brown sugar to the starter so that I can “watch it bubble up”. I am keeping Rose’s picture in this blog because she does look so lovely and I have found her blog quite helpful. I’m certain I will use something from it, as we move along.
For starters, this dough was easier to knead than the one I made last night. That said, the 3 packages of yeast, coupled with the advise that Rose gave to put the bread in the overn with no heat but the light on, caused the dough to more than double in the hour and a half I let it rest.
Rather than the traditional braid, I cut the dough (which was to make 2 loafs) into 12 muffin sized pieces and 3larger chunks. I placed the 12 pieces together in a circle, so that they all touched. Then I rolled the 3 chucks into long tubes, braided them together and encircled the muffin sized pieces with the braid. James said to butter the baking sheet, but I used the Smitten Kitchen method of placing parchment paper underneath it instead.
It was exquisite!!! And rather than puncturing it with a thermometer, I used James method of knocking on the bread and listening for a hollow sound.
My Challah’s were a big hit at the Break Fast, but I must say that Smitten Kitchen’s stole the show. I sliced a few pieces to bring home and made a most delicious French Toast with them this morning. I think I will bake bread more often now!