"Bread, you rise from flour, water and fire." -- Pablo Neruda
One afternoon not long ago I was boasting to my mother (who has undoubtedly lectured me many times on how it is not polite to sing your own praises) about how I'd made bread that week. How I'd made it from "scratch" and how great it tasted and how wonderful it had been to have the smell wafting out of my kitchen on a Saturday afternoon as I sat and indulged in a cup of tea. I patted myself on the back and felt myself the truest of true Domestic Goddesses as she nodded and smiled and congratulated me.
After a few minutes of silence, which signaled the completion of my rather immodest behaviour, my mother asked when the last time was that I had baked bread without a bread maker. She mused aloud about how it feels, rising warmly against your hands and how it smells and tastes different when you proof the yeast yourself. She remembered how her own mother had baked bread oh-so-many-years-ago and how she, as a small child had marveled at how it somehow rose in the covered bowl that rested in the warmest spot in the kitchen, next to the stove. She recalled how bread dough, rendered elastic via the process of kneading by hand, tasted better, different, more "real" than dough that had been kneaded by a tiny turn-knob at the bottom of a dough pan in a bread machine.
Pouting, I stammered some worthless excuses about how I didn't have the time, that I was always too tired, that my wrists were always too achy to knead dough. I spoke of the wonder of the bread machine and reminded her that she herself owned one and used it regularly. I even went so far as to claim that my bread tasted just as good because I don't ever cook it in the bread maker. At this she nodded. Yes, a bread maker is a time-, fatigue-and wrist-saver. Yes, she owns one and uses it. Yes, they are wonderful inventions...but the question still remained unanswered: had I made bread recently without one?
I changed the subject. She knew the answer anyway; why else would I praise this invention if I had either the ability or the inclination to bake bread -- god forbid -- without it???
Yesterday I decided to do it: to put aside man-made technology -- as wondrous as it might be -- and make homemade, Challa-style egg bread. Fresh and hot out of the oven, with just salted butter, it was as close to heaven as you can get on a very sleepy, lazy, wet Sunday afternoon.
Challa-Style Egg Bread
5 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water - divided
2 tablespoons liquid honey
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large eggs
4 3/4 cups all-purpose or bread flour
Glaze and Topping:
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon water
1. Mix yeast, 1/2 cup warm (not hot) water and honey in a small bowl. Set aside in a warm place for about 5 minutes.
2. In a larger bowl, whisk together remaining 1 cup water, salt, olive oil, 2 of the 3 eggs, the yeast, water honey mixture and 2 1/2 cups of the flour. Beat until elastic, about 5 - 7 minutes. Gradually stir in about 2 1/4 cups more flour, working flour into dough. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Put dough in a greased bowl and turn to grease top. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
3. Put parchment paper or Silpat on two cookie sheets. Punch dough down, turn out and knead for 1 minute to remove air bubbles. Divide into 5 portions. Roll each with the palm of your hand into long, smooth ropes 1 inch in diameter. Taper at ends leaving the middle thicker.
4. Braid three ropes and place on prepared baking sheet. Twist the remaining 2 ropes, pinching ends together. Centre on the top of the braid and press together gently.
4. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 30 - 45 minutes or until doubled in volume. When the dough has risen, beat together egg yolk and water and brush braid with glaze (you can also sprinkle with sesame seeds at this point).
5. Bake in preheated 375 F oven for 30 - 35 minutes or until braid sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom."