The ingredients included the usual suspects -- wheat flour, eggs, yeast, honey. The dough didn't rise as much as I expected. It might have been the addition of White Whole Wheat flour, but it was easy to mix in the KitchenAid.
After the first rise the dough was weighed into twelve equal balls, enough to make two loaves. Once covered they needed about 45 minutes to rise again and were then rolled into tapered "snakes". Each of us took six strands and smooshed them together at the top. By the way, that's a formal baking term.
Now came the tricky part. With us facing each other, Anna read the instructions one move at a time, from the open book. Basically, each strand has a numbered position 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6. The very clear pictures and instructions from "Inside the Jewish Bakery" directed us to "move #2 over #6", "move #1 over #5", etc. It was a bit like dragon boat racing, we just followed the shouted orders. Pretty quickly we were locked into a rhythm and in a few minutes we were both finished.
So far, so good. We finished braiding at the same time, which meant that both loaves were similar in size and should bake evenly. Next Anna added two coats of egg wash followed by each of us personalizing the seed topping. She opted for sesame and charnushka (small, pungent black angular seeds also known as kolonji). I used poppy seed with a little charnushka for sentimental reasons; historically it was sprinkled on top of rye breads in Russia, home of my parents before they were lucky enough to emigrate.
Because I was using a home convection oven, and the loaves needed separate pans, I had to bake on two shelves. The bottom one was covered with tiles, while the top one wasn't. I reversed the pan direction and shelf positions midway. They were done in about thirty minutes and the room smelled heavenly.
The recipe advises you to wait almost an hour before cutting into the bread. This is generally good advice because you want the moister interior to cool and settle so it doesn't glom together (another baking term) and compress when you cut it, ideally with a serrated knife. I hadn't anticipated how long it would take to complete from start to finish. I cut my loaf after only 30 minutes because we were all anxious for a taste.
You can notice in this picture where the various strands were braided. It was delicious but a little denser than the all white flour challahs I've had in the past. That could also be because our loaves were long and narrow, causing us to knock the air out of the dough while rolling it pretty thin. We tried it with some of my homemade jams and happy "yum-yums" were heard throughout the room.
The result -- a beautiful girl holding her beautiful six strand hand braided Honey Whole Wheat Challah.
Saturday night I decided to take what was left of my challah and try a recipe that I haven't made since the 80's, the Brasserie's Orange French Toast. I knew this type of bread would be firm enough to hold its shape yet soft enough to absorb all of the eggs, milk, orange juice, etc overnight in the refrigerator.
Gently fried in butter, it was as good as I remembered. The Brasserie was a unique bistro style restaurant in New York City back in the day, offering exciting French influenced fare for the casual table.
I didn't bother to slice the orange into supremes (the orange segment cut from between each membrane). Instead, I picked a flower from my garden and added homemade Mango Meyer Lemon Jam. It was a great way to start the day. If you'd like to make some for yourself using Challah or French bread, here is the recipe as it appeared in Florence Fabricant's New York Times column back then.
Brasserie Orange French Toast
- 1/2 cup Milk (or half & half for a richer taste)
- 1 cup orange juice
- 1 orange
- 5 Eggs
- 6 Tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 Medium-sized French breads each about 16 inches long
- Confectioner’s sugar
Beat milk, orange juice, eggs, sugar and vanilla together until well blended. Strain into a large bowl. Grate the zest of an orange (without the white pith) and add to the mixture.
Cut breads to 1 to 1 1/2 inch thick slices on an angle. You should have approximately 18 slices. Do not use the ends. Briefly soak the bread slices in the egg mixture and place them in a single layer on a tray, a large platter or a shallow baking pan. Pour any of the egg mixture not absorbed by the bread over the slices. Cover and refrigerate at least 5 hours or overnight. If possible, turn the slices once during this time.
Peel away all the white pith of the orange and cut the orange into slices to use as a garnish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
Melt butter in 1 or 2 large skillets or a griddle. Fry the bread slices over medium-low heat until nicely browned, turning once to brown both sides. Depending on the type of skillet, you may need a little more butter.
Dust French Toast with confectioners’ sugar, garnish with orange slices and serve.
Yields 6 servings
Florence Fabricant in The New York Times
When I return, after spending the holidays in New York City, Anna & I will continue with the CHALLENGE as we bake POLISH POTATO BREAD on Friday January 6, 2012. It's also the first Village ArtWalk of the new year so I'll have my tent set up in the driveway leading to the TreeHouse at 932 12th Street West, Bradenton. Stop by for a taste Friday night from 6 - 9:30pm or Saturday from 11am-4pm. There can't be an ArtWalk without CHOCOLATE ORGASM COOKIES, so look for them too. Drop me an email if you want to pre-order some ($5 for a package of 4) since we usually sell out quickly on Friday.
MERRY CHRISTMAS HAPPY CHANUKAH HAPPY NEW YEAR
and hugs from the kitchen, Bonni
always available at (941) 746-6647 or firstname.lastname@example.org