Monday, July 07, 2008

Challah! Or, the Baking Cycle of Life and Death

My first attempt at making a loaf of bread was successful, due to a great recipe with crystal clear instructions. I also found the "lessons" at The Fresh Loaf really helpful - I don't think it's necessary to bake the "homework," but the principles listed in these lessons are good for an understanding of what's going on in the dough, and what all this rising and kneading business is all about. For example:

Here, in my little dough ball, the yeast has just been activated by warm water and kneading, and all around it yummy food is to be had: sugar, flour, egg. It's come back to life and is about to eat! It's alive, aliiiiiive.

Only 20 minutes later, the dough ball has puffed up - the yeast has been busy gobbling up the food around it and emitting gas while it eats. Yes, my dough is full of yeast fart now. Mmmmm. I kept punching down the dough every 20 minutes (as instructed) to release the gas. The yeast would keep puffing the dough back up. The longer and more slowly a bread is let to rise the more flavor it develops, because of all that yeast activity.

I've taken 1/3 out of the dough and braided it into a small braid and the rest into the larger braid. This is after 2 hours of rising and punching down.

Lay the braids on top of each other, brush with egg for a nice shiny crust. Now this is the part that seems somewhat cruel (but not really) to me. When I put the dough in the oven, the yeast goes crazy in its growth, because the temperature is so high. This causes the "spring" in a loaf of bread, that makes that great initial puff in its size. But then the temperature is so high that, of course, the yeast then dies. So, the process of baking bread is basically bringing something to life, making it work for you, then killing it off. Then you feed yourself and those around you with this whole cycle of resurrection and death. My question is: who thought this bizarre idea up in the first place?

Ta da!

Challah bread is great because it's nice and rich and stays soft for days.

I made toast out of the challah loaf this morning. And I thought, "I made that toast. I mean, I literally made it!" It's a gratifying feeling for not very much work.


Lucian said...

And it looked and tasted delicious! So proud...

Anonymous said...

Beautiful. I love challah french toast with carmalized bananas on top. Glad to see you online again.


marianevans said...

Thanks! I think challah bread pudding would be luscious. Must try.

Vicki H/T said...

hey there! i had no idea you were such the gourmand, i am quite sorry to say! i had to keep reading to make sure it was really you. fascinating.

years ago some friends and i made candles together at a shop in lincoln park, and i was drawn to the "figuier" scent. little did i know that it would become such a hot perfume. it's delicious, but i would have never identified it.

marianevans said...

Hey Vicki! Good to hear from you :) I must sniff some fig scents.