Haul Out the Challah

Challah is supposed to evoke this kind of loveliness. Mine evoked frustration and mania.

A loaf of challah is supposed to evoke this kind of loveliness. Mine evoked frustration and mania.

As an avid baker, nothing gets me obsessed like a recipe that doesn’t turn out quite right. Baking, after all, is a science. There are reasons why certain cookies are chewy, and why some are crunchy. There are reasons why your loaf of bread is dense and gummy instead of airy and chewy. I like baking because of the chemistry, because of the way I can tweak an ingredient and predict the result.

Except when it comes to challah.

I was not intimidated at the thought of baking challah, but maybe I should have been. I’ve baked hundreds of loaves of bread at this point. I wasn’t feeling cocky exactly; but with all that experience, I kind of figured, How hard could it be? Plus, I was enchanted by the photo of the loaf that my college friend had posted on her Facebook page. I had to have it. I needed to make it. I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into a slice of bread that was rich with egg, and possessed of a lovely pull-apart texture. I stared longingly at the strands of buttery dough, then fired off a message asking for the recipe.

I was even (mostly) undaunted by the fact that the recipe was in metric. Featuring weights, not volumes, of ingredients. I pulled out my trusty scale and gave myself a pep talk. But halfway through measuring the flour, the scale malfunctioned.

Panic ensued. Thankfully, we live in the age of the internet, when anything–and I mean anything–can be Googled. So I began to Google challah recipes. From there, I was able to approximate the volumes of the rest of the ingredients. The dough, after it had risen once and been braided, looked perfect. The baking bread, developing an enviable tan in the oven, smelled perfect.

The baked bread, cut into and consumed with perhaps a little too much zeal, was not perfect. My loaf didn’t pull apart to reveal challah-colored cotton candy strands of glorious gluten the way my friend’s did. My loaf, in fact, was a little dry. A bit dense. It had a good flavor, but as I stared longingly at my friend’s loaf once more, I felt that familiar baking feeling: frustration tinged with mania.

And thus began the second round of Googling. Apparently, a somewhat cake-like texture is the norm with this bread. But as I traveled deeper into the wormhole that is the mastery of challah, I discovered that there’s a lot of disagreement out there about what makes the perfect loaf. Some recipes call for honey. Some for sugar. Some are adamant about butter. Others rely on oil. The deeper I got, the more obsessed I became.

Something tells me I’m going to be eating a lot of challah.

5 Things I’m Obsessing About This Week (besides challah recipes): MAY 22, 2013

1. Ellen is my hero. “Fitch, please.”

2. As readers, we should all appreciate these totally insane outlines, made by authors we know and love. As a writer, I’m having a sudden moment of validation regarding the index cards that are taped all over one of the walls in my living room.

3. And while we’re on the subject of writing, here’s something for those days when you feel like the revisions are never going to end. Should I be comforted by this, or alarmed by all the work that is to come? (Either way, I’m obsessed.)

4. It’s feeling like summer here, but I can’t go on vacation–yet. Good thing I found these photos this week. Now I can travel someplace magical…in my mind.

5. And just FYI, once I master the standard loaf, I’m going after this challah recipe. Victory, you will be mine. (You had to know there would be a challah link, didn’t you?)

Happy Wednesday!

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