So, I was feeling pretty cocky about challah -- the latest bread in the "Bread Baker's Apprentice" Challenge.
I'd made it a few times before -- to great result. And I figured Peter Reinhart's recipe would set the bar even higher.
Let me remember this the next time I'm feeling cocky.
I'm visiting my parents in Minneapolis this week and decided to make this one with my mom, a total bread newbie, a woman who has never even opened a package of instant yeast before. I figured this would be a perfect way to school her in the wonders of bread making.
Since she doesn't do any baking, she also doesn't have a kitchen scale. Our first problem, I think.
So, we scooped and leveled our flour and dumped the rest of the ingredients in the bowl. Here's mom mixing. (I promised I wouldn't shoot her face since we were challah-ing at 6 a.m. and she didn't have a chance to get ready yet. She gave birth to me; it's the least I could do.)
Right away, though, I could tell the dough seemed too stiff. So, we added a bit more water, plopped it on the counter and started kneading. Here's mom, below, kneading dough for the very first time. A first-time kneader! Pretty exciting, no? And she did a fine job with this crazy-stiff dough, to which I kept adding a little bit more water.
I took over kneading, but I still wasn't very happy with this dough -- even after about 12 minutes. Maybe I should've kneaded longer? Maybe I should've kept adding more water? What would you have done?
After bulk fermenting for a couple of hours, I formed the less-than-workable dough into balls. (Mom had to go to work so I finished the rest of the steps solo.)
Even with the unruly dough, I felt like my braids turned out pretty nicely. I thought my fears about the stiff dough were for nothing. Well, that's what I thought, at least.
I stuck the braids in the fridge to retard while we went out for the day. After I took them out to rise on the counter before baking, I noticed the problem.
The dough was so inelastic that the strands of the braids started to rip as the dough rose. Once baked, our poor Pippi Longstocking braids looked even more disheveled.
I was underwhelmed by the taste as well. Other challahs I've eaten and made (including this outstanding Joan Nathan one posted on SmittenKitchen) have been richer, eggier and more moist. Ours tasted much leaner, almost like French bread. Whether that was my fault or a function of the recipe, I'm not sure.
Everyone else in the house, though, has raved about the challah. And my grandparents were delighted to get a hot-from-the-oven challah delivery last night.
Which just goes to show, even "bad" homemade bread is pretty darn impressive.
Can I get a "challah?"