Thursday, April 21, 2011

Adventures with Yeast - Challah

For some reason, despite my apprehension and nervousness approaching the making of a yeast bread, I was convinced that my first attempt at making challah would be perfect, that it would be delicious and flawless. I guess that sometimes optimism is just overconfidence. My results weren’t bad, particularly the second loaf, which was actually quite delicious, but I’m still not completely satisfied and will definitely be making some (rather substantial) tweaks the next time I bake challah, which will hopefully be soon, as my mind is still occupied with thoughts of flour, yeast, and honey.

I had been dying to bake bread all week. It’s almost the end of the semester here and so of course I’m completely stressed out of my mind, because that’s apparently just the way I do things. I knew that working in the kitchen would just melt the stress away, and I was right. Kneading the bread felt therapeutic. The repetitive motion and the satisfaction of seeing the dough coming into shape between my hands did wonders for my mood – and probably my blood pressure too. The tantalizingly delicious smell of baking bread filling my apartment didn’t hurt either.

I did a search of the internet and somewhat randomly chose this recipe. I wanted to bake one loaf that night and the other the next day so my boyfriend could have fresh bread right out of the oven when he came over. I had chosen to make challah for him after all. To make this work, I separated the dough into two parts just before the first rising. I let one rise normally to bake that night, and I stuck the other in the fridge to slow the rising overnight. It worked perfectly. I just took the bowl out in the morning, let it warm, and proceeded from there to the shaping and second rising of the dough.

My first loaf turned out disappointingly dark with a crust that was just too thick and dark. It was okay, and straight out of the oven it was delicious. There’s quite a bit that can be forgiven when bread is at the stage where it’s almost too hot to eat and I ended up eating nearly half the loaf by myself for my dinner that night, for the most part discarding the too-thick crust.

My first attempt. Note the thick crust.

 Because my first loaf turned out darker and with a thicker crust than I wanted I reduced the oven temp to 340° from 375° and set my timer for 30 minutes for the second loaf, eventually taking it out around 35/40 minutes. I was determined to make this work. I also used an egg-white wash on the outside instead of an egg-yolk one like I did on the first. To be honest, I’m still not entirely sure where the motivation came from for that one.

 This loaf turned out much better. No thick crust this time! I found it to be particularly tasty when ripped into chunks rather than sliced. There’s something very satisfying about just grabbing a large hunk of bread and eating it. Despite this improvement, I didn’t feel like I had achieved what I had hoped for when setting out.

A big part of my dissatisfaction with my results is that earlier in the day I had a piece of the absolute best challah I’ve ever eaten. It was sweet and tender, with the perfect flavor of delicate honey. It was one of those things that once you eat it, you become obsessed with and must have again. It is my mission to recreate that bread.

Overall, this was a good place to start, but you’ll see me back soon with my own version, to see if I can get closer to that elusive ideal.

The second loaf straight out of the oven

1 comment:

  1. A beautiful loaf of challah! Hope it tasted as you wished!