Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Best Smell in the World


I love making bread. Love it, love it, love it.

Why, you ask? Because there is probably no better smell than freshly baked bread. It starts with the yeast as it proofs--not a strong smell, but if you happen to be standing by the bowl, watching the yeast slowly bloom--as I usually am--then you get a whiff of the promise of a heavenly aroma, and it's glorious.

Then, after you've kneaded and punched down, and kneaded again the large, floury mass that is to become your bread, you place the (in this case) braided loaves in the oven and wait. And in about 10 minutes, it happens. Your house begins to smell INCREDIBLE. That heady aroma can linger for hours, tempting you toward the kitchen until long after the loaf of bread is gone.

I'm strange. I know.

But I made a challah yesterday, because Andy had never tried it before, and, since it was Friday, I figured, why not?

Sidetrack: Challah is a huge part of my childhood. I'm not a religious person--not by any stretch of the imagination. But I'll do Shabbat if it means I get to eat a piece of challah. I learned my honey challah recipe back in 2006 (for the Rosh Hashanah meal I cooked for my roommates at Columbia...), and I feel that I am a more complete person because of it. When I was little, my Oma (that's "grandmother" in Dutch, in case you didn't know) used to make the perfect challah toast when she came to stay with us. I don't know how she did it, but she always managed to char the outside of the bread but keep the inside flaky and soft. And then she'd spread just this much butter on it and cover it with hagelslag (pronounced "hachelslach"). I'm pretty sure that if heaven exists, the angels get to eat this every morning for breakfast.


So the challah turned out really, incredibly, beautifully well. I did end up using more flour than intended, but I think that had something to do with the extreme humidity yesterday. The dough was very sticky and hard to knead.

The first rise went well--the dough rose so much that I had to punch it down just to keep it in the bowl. The second rise, after I braided the bread, yielded two massive loaves. Much more massive than intended, actually.

I brushed the dough with egg and then baked it at 375 for 40 minutes. the intoxicating aroma of fresh challah pervaded the house for hours and hours after I took the loaves out of the oven to cool.

Half a loaf was gone before I even left for rehearsal.

And the best part is: Andy's first piece of challah wasn't just processed, enriched flour, mass-produced bread--it was the real deal...and it definitely got the seal of approval. :D!


PS Please enjoy this awesome picture of my dad trying a piece of challah.
He is adorable:


PPS Happy Independence Day!

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