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In which a Midwestern/Southern Lutheran girl enthusiastically embraces Jewish bread and refuses to c


Ingredients 500g strong white bread flour 10g salt 25g caster sugar 10g yeast 30g butter, softened 2 medium eggs 50ml milk 180ml water Method

1. Put the flour in a mixing bowl. Add the salt and sugar to one side and the yeast to the other. Add the butter, eggs, milk and half the water. Using your fingers, turn the mixture around in the bowl. Continue to add water until you have a soft, but not sloppy, dough.

2. Lightly flour the work surface and knead the dough for 5-10 minutes. Knead until the dough is soft and smooth. Oil a large bowl and leave to rise, until it's doubled in size, for up to 3 hours.

3. Tip the dough out onto a floured surface and knock back. Divide into 3 pieces and roll into long sausage shaped strands. Join the 3 pieces together at one end, ready to plait. Start with the piece on the right and lift over the middle piece, then lift the left over the middle, then the right over the middle, then the left over the middle and so on until you reach the end. Squeeze the end of the plait to create a neat finish.

4. Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper. Transfer the plait to the tray and leave to prove again for about an hour.

5. Preheat the oven to 180. Brush the plait with beaten egg. Bake for 20-25 minutes. The loaf colours quickly because of the sugar and egg, so keep an eye on it. Leave to cool on a wire rack. (I skipped the egg wash. I don't care for an egg wash.)

When I say that we, as a household, have accomplished nothing this week, I mean it. Oh, I’ve done the regular work that my employment requires because I enjoy having shelter and clean underwear, but that is ALL I’ve done. I’ve done no treadmill training. I’ve done no strength training. I’ve done no baking. I’ve done no blogging.

I’ve done a lot of watching The Americans on Amazon Prime and eating peppermint candies (before self-imposed no-candy March started on Tuesday) while I work.

Also, on Tuesday, someone knocked at our door, and I didn’t check to see who it was because I hadn’t brushed my hair, yet. It was 3 p.m. I was right in the middle of an episode of The Americans and grading papers, and tense spy-TV interruptions just don’t fly with me unless it’s someone bringing me more peppermint candy. (Seriously . . . who's bringing me more starlights? Anyone? They're so cheap! How can I help you to help me to help you get me into this five-pound bag today? (But not until April. It's candy-free March.)

Then, yesterday, I showered.

(My general appearance has been helped a bit this [slothful] week by my hair, which is naturally dry, anyway, but which is even drier since I cut it all off and bleached it platinum. The only way it would look dirty is if I poured cooking oil and topsoil directly on top of it—but my hair would probably LOVE the cooking oil and develop a lovely sheen. I’d look like a sleek, platinum panther. [Now I want a platinum panther.] So, this week, I'm wearing pants with holes in them and mismatched socks like a malcontented hobo, but my hair looks completely normal.)

This is all intended to explain why, even though I made challah bread A WEEK AGO, I’m just now blogging about it. Unlike the week of the Stomach Virus of 2016, I don’t have any appropriate excuses. It isn’t because I didn’t love you, challah bread. Because I did. Oh, how I did!

Obviously, as per usual, I used the recipe for challah (spelled "cholla") bread in Paul Hollywood's How to Bake. Honest to god, I have yet to try a bread recipe in this book that doesn't turn out to be a winner, even when I make a mistake. For bread, they're somewhat forgiving recipes, and this one is no exception . . . as I discovered because I made a huge mistake with one of loaves. Oopsie!

This was the goal:

I wasn't at all nervous about the bread dough, itself, but I was nervous about plaiting it. The recipe calls for the simplest of plaits, which involves only three strands of dough and is just like braiding hair, but I was primarily concerned about handling the dough--getting it to roll out properly, not sticking while I worked with it, etc. Dough-hands are very challenging to deal with productively. I'm pretty sure they're how Spiderman climbs walls, and that is the ONLY way dough-hands can be useful. Otherwise, you end up with all manner of materials stuck to them while you're trying to work--sugar, flour, scissors, small cats. Obviously, I wanted to avoid dough-hands.

The recipe for Paul's challah bread is quite simple but includes a couple of ingredients most of his other bread recipes don't require, namely milk and eggs. So, it's still easy but not as fast to put together as, say, pitta bread dough, which has, like, two ingredients. (It has more than two ingredients, but not many more.) I used the mixer again for the mixing and the kneading, and I do not apologize. It does an excellent job.

However, unlike the mixer, I do a TERRIBLE job, as I added DOUBLE THE WATER to one of the batches/loaves. (I made two challah loaves, one for us and one for our neighbors.) I realized about two minutes after I did it what I'd done, so there was nothing for it but to add more flour until the dough reached a more normal (not soupy) consistency. I had very little hope for the water-logged loaf, no hope at all, but I was determined to do my best to rescue it. It was Rose in Titanic, and I was the door.

Normal dough, pre-rise:

Waterlogged dough, pre-rise:

Normal dough, post-rise:

Waterlogged dough, post-rise:

They both REALLY rose, but you can see that the waterlogged loaf spread a lot more and not just because the bowl is a different shape. It was just a wetter dough.

But, regardless, it was time for the step that terrified me, the rolling out and plaiting.

It was not that difficult! Sure, it could have been neater in appearance, but I felt quite successful, like a short businessman in a movie who realizes that money will win him favor with women.

Normal dough, braided:

Waterlogged dough, post-braid:

The waterlogged dough was a wee bit lumpy and messy, but it DID plait. But how would they prove?

Uh, like gangbusters, apparently. Normal dough, post-prove:

Waterlogged dough, post-prove:

It was GIGANTIC. Both loaves were, but the waterlogged one was particularly impressive. I was glad that they were both being cooperative so far, but, of course, the real test is the bake. I didn't know what in the hell would happen inside the waterlogged loaf.

You're dying to see the results, aren't you? I've built up the waterlogged loaf like a masterful myster writer in the vein of Arthur Conan Doyle. I'm the Edgar Allan Poe of writing about bread dough. Very few people can say that.

Okay, here we go. Normal loaf--it was BEAUTIFUL:

Waterlogged loaf, post-bake--it also was beautiful, just . . . lumpy?

It had a good bake on it, but I was still curious about how it looked inside. It was great! Whew!!

We didn't taste the normal loaf because it was intended for our neighbors, but they said that it was great. We DID taste the weird loaf, and it was delicious. I'd never had challah bread before, so I didn't really know what to expect, although I assumed I'd enjoy it. Who doesn't enjoy a homemade bread?

So, you see, everything turned out okay with my challah/cholla bread bakes, just like Titanic.

(A few days later, I made an eight-plait version, just to see if I could. My husband desperately wanted me to write a blog post about it titled In Which I Bake the Ocho. I will link it here when it's up.)

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