Tag Archives: challah

A moment to stop and think

Challah It’s been a long year and this cold, dark winter started early for us here in Europe back in November. Outside the garden birds are twittering as if Spring is only round the corner; 6.30 am, still dark, and they are shrieking their heads off on the last day of the year. I watched the male blackbird triumphantly drag a very long earthworm from the grass yesterday, so relieved to see the earth had melted enough to allow him to practice his artistry once more. He walks around, taps the soil, cocks his head on one side so as to listen and then hearing something I can’t even imagine, taps his head sharply down, stabbing through the short grass and comes up with Worm! So very focussed and quite wonderful to watch.

I drove out to Sandford yesterday, or rather the sat nav took me. Going up and down the Somerset hills, past the airport, through thick fog for a mile, followed by watery sunshine over the brow of another hill, past Barrow tanks, wondering vaguely if any interesting birds were overwintering up on the other side of the steep banks, it was a quiet sort of a drive, in which I had a little time to contemplate how fast life changes and also how slowly.

I visited a sparkly new nursing facility, saw my neighbour who is staying there, getting her confidence back after her hip replacement at the age of 94. She is full of plans and focus:  to get home again she has to be able to walk confidently once more. Her path is clear to her.  It is always good to spend time with people however young or old they are. Other people are a great strength and joy and cherishing others is the basis of all qualities.

So my old year/new year thoughts are very simple, to do more listening with an open heart and be kind. Make that my default and it will be a good year.

If you want to write a little something here, please do, I hope to listen better and this is as good a place to do that as any.  Happy New Year to you all!

The bread?  A challah in the form of the sun; bread magic to help the year to turn once more.

Challah for Mellow Bakers

Journeying through the wonderful collections of breads in Bread by Jeffrey Hamelman, from time to time I come across a bread that simply doesn’t resemble the bread I associate the name with. This challah is a prime example of this. Challah in my childhood was a soft, dense white bread, plaited tightly and tasting of poppy seeds. Whether England was still in the post-war egg rationed mode in the early 1960s, I don’t know. Today’s American challah bread I can only describe as a butterless brioche, light as an angel’s feathers and almost ethereal. I doubt my grandparents would recognise it.

I have put off making this bread. Everytime I looked at the recipe, I thought, hmm, I don’t have enough eggs, or I’m going to have to think very hard about braiding and so it has gone on till this morning, when there were indeed enough eggs and I had thought long enough about braiding.  It’s a bit like when you are learning to drive and it just seems impossible that anyone will ever give you a licence. You just have to look around you and say, “Hey, all those people can do it, it might be difficult, but it can’t be impossible.”

Celia has created a beautiful tutorial showing how to braid a Winston Knot. How could I fail with that guide?   I printed it off and kept it close by while I made the first braid. I almost panicked when at the bottom of page 1, I could only find page 3 –  I squawked and then found page 2 which had got stuck to the back of page 1. Disaster averted but it was close.

So here are the pictures of my challah adventures for Mellow Bakers this morning, not quite as hard as it looks but still required some serious concentration.

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I mixed the dough in a Kenwood mixer. I put the eggs, water and oil in first, added the salt and sugar to that. I added the yeast to the two flours separately and then added the dry to the wet, that’s the way the Kenwood likes it.  I also hand kneaded the dough for about 3 minutes once the Kenwood started rocking about. The dough was left in the fridge for a couple of hours, but there is so much yeast in it that it still had to be knocked down every 40 minutes or so. I am sure one could make this with less yeast!

I made the braids for the Knot 150 grams each and rolled them out to 60 cms long having been forewarned.  This left me with 800 grams of dough for the 6 strand plait so they were smaller at  133 grams each.  Even so both loaves were huge by the time they had proved and baked. I showed them off to my neighbour and then gave her the Winston Knot to take home. Too much bread for us and no room in the freezer for such a monster.

The other bread which was a 6 braided loaf was easy by comparison.

So don’t be afraid, well don’t be too afraid, if a braid-phobic like me can do this, you can too !  This was one of the October breads for Mellow Bakers. Thank you to all those of you who have already baked this, by watching and learning from you all I have gained so much.