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!