Almost 2 years ago I read about Peter Reinhart’s challah bread recipe from Heidi over at 101cookbooks (if you ever get the chance, try her spice-kissed pumpkin pie…DIVINE!). I remember longingly looking at the challah recipe thinking that it would be awesome to make, but obviously FAR above my skill level. So I didn’t. And for the most part, forgot about it.

Fast forward to yesterday, when I got home from work and made phone calls to lawyers and detectives and AT&T and opened my Bread Baker’s Apprentice book. I opened it to the challah recipe, glanced at the ingredients, set out everything I needed, and started making it. Without blinking. While I was on the phone.

Today, while I was munching on my challah at work I was suddenly reminded of Heidi’s blog and my previous apprehension. A small part of me leapt for joy! Hooray! Success! I am becoming a better baker!

Challah bread is traditional Jewish bread, usually reserved for the Sabbath and holiday meals. It’s generally braided anywhere from 3 stands up to 12(!), it’s also seen many times double braided, or double stacked, with a small braided loaf nestled on top of a larger braided loaf. The double braided loaf is to commemorate the manna that fell form heaven when the Israelites were in the desert – in biblical history, God provided manna for the Israelites to gather every day but Sunday. On Saturday he gave a double portion (get it? double stacked bread?) so that they could rest on Sunday. Have I mentioned that this bread is awesome because it combines a part of my faith with food, two of the things in life very dear to me!?

I was pretty excited about braiding the bread, as I had never done that before. I didn’t take pictures with my camera for several reasons (one of which was the craziness of the day, the other is just plain laziness) but I did snap a quick twitpic on my cell phone to commemorate the bread:

Everything was going beautifully, I even remembered to pre-heat the oven a bit higher temperature (400 instead of 350) so I could give it a steam bath a few times in the beginning of the baking process. The only problem was, I forgot to turn the oven back down! So when I pulled the bread out to turn it at 20 minutes (halfway through baking) it was DONE! I debated whether or not to try turning it down low and baking it for a bit longer, but it was SO obviously done that I just took it out and hoped for the best.

In the end, the challah was well-received. It had a nice crumb, a chewy interior and a beautiful golden brown crust. I wasn’t too thrilled with the flavor, I’m sure if it had baked longer at a lower temperature it would have turned out a bit nicer. Part of my flavor preference could have been also been the fault of having such rich breads right before this (brioche and casatiello come to mind).

Next time around I think I’ll do an overnight ferment to develop more flavor (in fact, I might do it again this weekend since I don’t need to buy any ingredients) and maybe add a teaspoon or two of honey to give it a little sweetening. And definitely bake it at the right temperature!!

I love that not only am I baking better bread, but I’m also learning to indentify what I don’t like about particular recipes. Not that there was anything wrong with the recipe, per say, in fact most the people in my BBA group *loved* it. But if I can change it around and make it something that fits my palate a little better… well isn’t that part of what baking is all about?

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