"Perhaps the most impressive of all the cookbook blogs are the three devoted to the 2004 edition of Gourmet magazine's "The Gourmet Cookbook" -- all 5¼ pounds and 1,300-odd recipes of it. Befitting this culinary Everest, all three writers are overachievers in their professional lives."

--Lee Gomes, The Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2008
"I should have told you before how much I've been enjoying reading your thoughts. You seem like such a great cook."

--Ruth Reichl, Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet Magazine, June 8 2008, comment on "Chocolate Velvet Ice Cream".

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Braided Challah

Ah ha, I thought yesterday. I have the perfect solution to being an impatient bread baker. Rapid rise yeast.

For those of you who don't know, if you're baking bread there are two kinds of yeast you can use, active dry or rapid rise. The latter is apparently a finely milled version of the former, or perhaps a genetically engineered strain of the former depending on where you do your reading. But the point is, it works rapidly.

So when I went to make challah and looked at the time estimation I figured rapid rise yeast would allow me to make it and bake it all in one work shift.

I was unprepared.

Rapid rise yeast creates dough that is like something out of a science fiction movie. It is hungry, it cannot be contained. It doesn't help that this particular recipe creates a dough that is very wet and loose (new for me) so the yeast doesn't have a lot of discipling gluten to keep it in line.

The first rising, which is supposed to take 2 hrs, took under one hour and if I didn't have the plastic wrap tightly on the bowl would have resulted in major overflow in the oven. The second rising took 20 minutes, and I was watching it closely. The recipe then asks you to knead in a little more flour and invert the bowl over it--I couldn't get it to stay under the bowl! I finally had to just press it down and cut little pieces off of it like the Blob.

I didn't have any idea how I was going to braid this unruly dough, but a generous dusting of flour allowed me to work with it. If you've never braided challah before, I'll put a nice little image in your mind, which you can thank my friend Martha for. In a short story she recently submitted to our writing group she likened braiding challah to handling the narrator's husband's flaccid you-know-what. Thank you Martha.

The two resulting loaves were sort of flat and flabby--not at all like the perky challah loaves I've seen at bake sales. They got bigger during their final rising, and bigger STILL during the bake. Usually my bread just sullenly hardens in the oven and refuses to rise any more. And if you're making analogies from the above paragraph, shame on you.

The resulting bread exceeded my expectations for texture and flavor. The crumb was light, airy and moist (and sweet), and it tore off in lovely swathes. In that regard I'd have to say it's the most successful bread I've made. And the whole reason I made the challah was so that it can eventually be transformed into French toast (there are many recipes in the book that call for challah) so I sliced it thick and put it in the freezer.

I did make one other substitution which probably affected the "discipline" of the bread--the recipe called for 7 1/4 cups of bread flour but I only had about 2--the rest was all-purpose. It would be interesting to try this again using active-dry instead of rapid rise yeast and bread flour instead of all-purpose and see what happens. But that's a lot of French toast!

No comments: