In case of a long weekend..

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So I thought I was going to have to work this weekend, but it turns out, my prep is way on track because the numbers have been reduced slightly. I’m on to tart #900, with only 250 to go. Naturally I had nothing planned to do in the event of not working. No “In case of Emergency” fun-pack I could break the glass and retrieve.

I woke up this morning and it was so clouded over that I thought it was still 7am even though it was much later than that. It’s suddenly Autumn, even though the trees have yet to shed their leaves and the spiders are still out in force (I walk down the path to the train station every day, with my arms close to my body. I fear their elaborate webs strung across impossible places. Once at 5am, I brushed against one ever so slightly and started doing a manic dance all the way down the street, trying to work the possibility of spider off my bag and self).

This morning as I step outside, I can smell the bacon and eggs from one floor down and across. I love the smell of breakfasts, even though mine is often quite sparing by comparison. I love the lingering aroma in the hallways, of coffee and toast (with butter scraped across it’s surface). The clinking of spoon against cereal bowl. The sound of pulpy orange juice poured into a glass. The flick and crinkle of the newspaper as a page is turned.

In case of an unexpected long weekend, adopt a pony, eat chocolate, go cycling, bake bread.

Susan from Wild Yeast is hosting this month’s BBD and she has picked celebration breads as her theme. In general, breads to not feature strongly in any of my family’s celebrations. I grew up on sliced white bread which got delivered to our door. My sister and I particularly loved this bread because like cereal, it came with an action hero picture card tucked down the side of the plastic bread bag, which of course, we collected. For the celebration theme, I decided to make challah (Jewish egg braid) since I’ve always wanted to make it, and was also inspired by some of the challahs I saw in a BBD event from 2 months back. This recipe from Beth Hensperger’s Basic Bread Book looked promising. Beth says that it comes from a friend’s Russian great-grandmother, and that it was translated for her from cursive Hebrew. You can’t argue with history like that, can you? The bread itself is pretty easy to make and I love the flavour. It’s somewhat like brioche, but not as rich and sweet. I halved the recipe to yield two decent sized loaves and painted my challahs with an eggwash mixed with some spices before baking.

Challah :

about 7 1/2 cups unbleached plain flour
2 1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespooons (2 1/2 packages) active dry yeast
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon castor sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons salt
egg glaze (made by combining 1 egg with 1 tablespoon of milk or water)

In a large bowl, place 6 cups of the flour. Make a well in the center with your hand and pour 1/2 cup of the water into the center. Sprinkle the yeast and 1 tablespoon of the sugar over the water. Stir gently to dissolve (a bit of flour will also be incorporated) and let stand 15 minutes. Add the reamining sugar, remaining water, eggs, oil and salt to the well and mix with a large wooden spoon or your hand with the fingers outstretched until a shaggy mass of dough is formed. Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time. The dough will form a ball and pull away from the sides of the bowl.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead by folding, stretching and pulling until soft and springy, 5 to 8 minutes, dusting with flour only 1 tablespoon at a time, just enough as neeed to prevent sticking. The dough will be smooth and springy but not dry.

Place the dough in a lightly greased deep container. Turn the dough once to coat the top and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until double in bulk, about 2 to 2 1/4 hours. Do not allow the dough to rise over double, as it has a tendency to tear and the baked loaf will not be as full-volumed as it can be. Gently delfate the dough with your fist, re-cover and let rise again until doubled in bulk, about 1 to 1 3/4 hours.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface to deflate. Line 2 baking sheets with baking paper. Without working the dough further, divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Further divide each portion into 3 equal portions. Roll each section under your palms into a rope that is tapered at each end. Gently dust the work surface with flour to lightly coat each rope. Be sure the ropes are of equal size and shape. Place the 3 ropes parallel to each other. Begin brading, starting in the center rather than at the ends for a more even shape. Take on of the outside ropes and fold it over the center rope, then repeat the movement from the opposite side. Continue by alternating the outside ropes over the center rope. When completed, turn the dough around and repeat the procedure from the middle out to the other end. Pinch the ends into tapered points and place the loaves on the baking sheet. Brush the tops with some of the egg glaze. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until the dough is almost double in bulk, about 40 minutes.

Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 175′C. Brush the surface of the loaves a second time with the egg glaze. Place the pans on the center rack of the oven and bake 40-45 minutes, or until the loaves are deep golden brown and sound hollow when tapped with your finger. Remove the loaves from the pans immediately to a cooling rack. Loaves are best slightly warm or at room temperature.

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6 Comments »

  1. Susan said,

    March 21, 2008 @ 2:21 pm

    Best way to celebrate an unexpected long weekend, IMO. Challah looks great and I like the idea of mixing spices into the egg wash — which ones did you use? Thanks for sending this to BreadBakingDay!

  2. Y said,

    March 21, 2008 @ 2:53 pm

    Thanks Susan. It was a spice mix I’ve used before, in other baking episodes. It contains mostly cardamom, ginger and cinnamon, but also tiny hints of rose petal, clove and ginger.

  3. SaraLynn said,

    April 3, 2008 @ 3:28 am

    Your bread looks wonderful! You are much braver than I at the bread making :)

  4. Y said,

    April 3, 2008 @ 9:04 pm

    Thanks :) But actually I think it’s more like, I’m willing to accept failure when it happens (after a lot of cursing and being generally grumpy), and move on, without letting it affect my next attempt at bread making!

  5. W said,

    August 20, 2008 @ 7:58 am

    I bet your spider-dance-freakout was interesting for any distant onlookers…

  6. Y said,

    August 20, 2008 @ 11:37 am

    Thankfully it was still too early in the morning for anyone else to be around to witness the embarassing spectacle :P

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