Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bread Baker's Apprentice 6/43: challah

Here's something I learned last week: unexpected landscaping gets in the way of challah baking. And you can take that to the bank.

You see, my neighbors had 12 or so large evergreens in their back yard, which provided an excellent landscape screen that I did not adequately appreciate until it was gone. Sadly, the trees were diseased and they cut them all down last week. Which I totally get; diseased, dead trees = bad. And my neighbors had the courtesy to let me know of their plans. The problem is, our previously blissfully private back porch is no longer quite so sheltered, and my neighbors aren't going to plant anything else to replace the trees they cut down. What they did leave were four gigantic mounds of mulch from the chipped trees, dotting their back yard like gargantuan unsightly ant hills. And a collection of gardening equipment -- stacks and stacks of plastic pots, a plastic shed, a wheelbarrow -- that was previously tucked in behind the tree boughs and is now exposed for all to see. They don't live in the house (they rent it to a lovely family), so I'm thinking that because they don't have to live with it, what do they care?

Being the anal retentive gardener that I am, I immediately embarked on a quest for an aesthetically pleasing screen to block our porch from the slash-and-burn landscape next door. After many trips to several local gardening centers and a few lengthy conversations with landscapers and horticulturalists, I settled on three green giant thuja -- a reasonably priced arborvitae relative that is a little more deer resistant, can tolerate wetter soil and grows fast and thick. I begged Dad to come over with his pick axe to chop through my clay-y soil and plant my new trees. He complained a little, but eventually obliged, which I knew he would because he is awesome. A couple of hours of intense pick axe-wielding and topsoil-hauling later, I had the beginnings of reclaimed privacy. And I can even decorate my new trees with Christmas lights in the winter!

So. What does all this have to do with challah? Challah is the sixth recipe of The Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge, and we were supposed to have completed it by this past Sunday. Seeing as how I spent this past Sunday quizzing arborists on the merits of evergreen arborvitae versus deciduous dawn redwood, I didn't exactly get my bread baked. But you know what? Challah tastes really great no matter when you bake it. So all is forgiven.

Challah is a traditional Jewish celebration bread -- one of Husband's favorites. Reinhart's challah dough started out painfully sticky to knead; in fact, I was pretty certain that something had gone terribly wrong and that this would be my first Bread Baker's fail. But the more I kneaded it, the more it came together into a smooth ball that rose very quickly and evenly, bubbling and expanding right before my eyes. Reinhart offers a fool-proof method for braiding the dough, too: start in the middle and work your way to the ends. Brilliant! The next time I make tsoureki I will follow this braiding method and hopefully end up with a more even braid.

Far from a fail, the challah baked wonderfully into a large, crusty loaf with a soft and tender crumb. I couldn't help but bust into it this morning, slicing off three pieces and slathering them with jam and then eating them in the car on the way to work, crumbs falling all over my lap. Normally I wouldn't be so slovenly, but after my foray into landscaping and my new found dexterity with a pick axe, I figured a little messiness was par for the course.


The Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge asks that we do not post Reinhart's recipes. But you know you want some challah. So put down the pick axe, pick up the book and get to kneading. The recipe begins on page 133.

Also, be sure to check out these excellent challah posts from fellow Bread Bakers:


Laurie Ashton Farook said...

Your challah is lovely! I loved it, too, so much so that it's now at the top of our favourites list. I still need to do my blog post on it, though...

Happy arborvitae growing!

Janice said...

I think I just want to walk around saying, "three green giant thuja" whenever I can drop it in to a conversation! Your bread looks lovely. We don't care when you bake it, as long as you keep on baking with us. Deciduous dawn redwood is pretty fun to say, too!

Pete Eatemall said...

As always love reading your blog...makes me seem so well rounded then next day when I am able to talk about the unique and random things I learned here! The challah looks great too!! Happy baking...thanks for sharing!!

susies1955 said...

Awesome braid. Looks very tasty.
Nice baking along with you,

Dianne said...

Laurie, thank you! And thanks for the good arborvitae wishes! They (hopefully) will grow into a nice green hedge in no time.

Janice, thanks! Glad you're enjoying the alliteration... "deciduous dawn redwood" just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it....

Pete Eatemall, that is SUCH a wonderful compliment. Thank you. You really made my day! Truly.

Susie, thanks! Great baking along with you, too.

Anonymous said...

Hey Laurie,

Thanks so much for mentioning me! Your Challah is beautiful and i will look forward to your next bread post!


Laura said...

Your BBA breads are all turning out beautifully. Mine never look half as nice. And I am impressed at all the summer bread baking, something I can't stand. Hope you got some good french toast out of this. And good luck with your landscaping--we have some trees in front of us that if the neighbors chose to remove I would be upset. So I have planted some maple trees on my side in anticipation of that day.

Dianne said...

Thanks Laura! Yeah, the summer bread baking is rather painful. You know it's bad when you want to go outside to cool down.

Great preemptive tree-planting, by the way! I like the way you think.