Friday, March 30, 2007

Nancy Silverton's Maximum Fuss, Pain-in-the-Ass Challah

Some of you may remember me describing my foodie extremist forays into making my own sourdough bread starter. That adventure was spurred on by my reading "Breads from the La Brea Bakery" by Nancy Silverton. When I first picked the book up, I thought, "Jeez! This lady is a nut! Who would go through all this?!" And the answer is: Me.

It's been years since I've baked anything new out of this book, I've longingly eyed the gorgeous photos of homemade, sourdough bagels, soft-dough pretzels, caramelized onion-kalamata focaccia and challah bread. Well, I finally accomplished the challah the other day. I have to say that these loaves were excellent, rich, eggy, baked to a deep crunchy brown crust. They are the pinnacle of challah. OK? So I give Nancy Silverton her due. Now, on to the kvetching:

1. This is a 2-day recipe. Not that I'm not used to that with the sourdough, but still...after the first night of rising, you knead eggs and more flour into the sponge and then wait another 5-6 hours for another rising. It should be called "Midnight The Next Day Challah". To the right, you see the bread making a run for it only after 3 hours of second-day rising. Imagine what it would have done if I'd waited the whole 5-6 hours!

2. The first day's work includes making your own applesauce by boiling an apple to the mush stage to mix into the dough sponge. Why? The result didn't taste like apples, couldn't store-bought have sufficed? Not that I would know since they don't have applesauce in Italy so I plodded my way through making applesauce. Grrr!

3. 3 types of flour are called for: high gluten (check), semolina (check) and durum flour (che-- wait a minute, isn't that the same thing as semolina?) I just added more high gluten 'cause in my experience, semolina flour loaves are toothsome and rather hard.

4. The braiding is done among 6 ropes of dough. It was so wierdly complicated, I could never get the sequence right. But anyway, it still turned out pretty even if I felt like a moron trying (and failing) to braid the things.

But, like I said before, this DID turn out really well (I gave the second loaf to a nice widowed neighbor downstairs) and it's so far the greatest vehicle for peanut butter and jelly I have ever tasted. So, if you start making this challah now, you'll be just ready for Shabbat!


Blogger J at said...

That looks gorgeous, but I've never attempted ANY homemade bread, so I'll just stick with storebought. Unless I find myself in Italy...then I'll pop by your place. ;)

10:01 PM  
Blogger Beenzzz said...

Challah bread is such a wonderful thing!

10:35 PM  
Blogger Maria said...

Wow- your Challah looks delicious! I've always wanted to try to make Challah, sounds like a true labor of love. I bet your downstairs neighbor really enjoyed your Challah. Mmmm, there is nothing in the world like homemade bread, especially when it's Challah!

10:30 PM  
Blogger Lotus Reads said...

Wow, your challah bread looks divine, Susan!

I thought of you today when I saw this article about the cooking of Milan in the NYTimes. Here's the link just in case you haven't seen it yet:

4:07 PM  
Blogger rowena said...

Heh heh...I thought the same (regarding Nancy) which is probably how my book ended up as a donation to someone else's library. Glad to see that someone else has the grinta to survive Nancy...this looks great!

12:08 PM  
Blogger hellomelissa said...

i leave the challah making to my friend talia. i mayonly get it every few years, but it's better than going to all the trouble myself.

i made a nice dense loaf of toasting bread (with oatmeal in it) yesterday... that's about as adventurous as i get.

12:22 PM  
Blogger Susan in Italy said...

Hi J., if you start making homemade bread, I beg you NOT to start with this one! You'll never bake again!

Hi Beenzzz, Yeah, it's so rich.

Hi Maria, Oh, the neighbor is sooo sad. We don't know him at all but his wife died only very recently. I feel like trying to get him out of the house, to meet people, and stuff like that. I don't think the challah did it for him.

Hi Lotus, Thank you so much! I haven't had time to read the paper much at all these days. I'll check it out.

Hey Rowena. Amen sister. There's no baking with Nancy without cutting out a whole lotta rigamarole.

Hi Melissa, You're right to stick with the oatmeal toasting bread, it's bound to be less hassle and it sounds really good.

3:07 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Beautiful challah! However, I don't think I'll be trying my hand at it any time soon. Thanks for sharing the frustrations as well as the fun.

5:05 PM  
Blogger ML said...

That looks amazing and lovely! I'm sorry it was a pain in the ass, though.

8:52 PM  
Anonymous Pearl said...

lol, I remember getting befuddled and tangled trying to make my first braided egg loaf. Some stretched thin, some chubby but it tasted good just the same.

8:58 PM  
Blogger myriam said...

you are making me laugh. same feeling about that book. but i keep picking it up, i just cant stop! (and sometime replace the biga with fresh yeast... but dont tell anyone ;)

7:19 PM  

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