Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Challah (3)

This bread was a lot of fun, actually. I already new Laura would enjoy this one, since it has a little added sugar, but I was actually very interested by the cultural and religious significance of this bread to the Jewish people. Peter Reinhart's intro in BBA is helpful in this regard. This is of course, the Sabbath bread of the Jewish faith, and the bread is traditionally eaten at each of the three Sabbath meals (Friday night, Saturday lunch and Saturday late-afternoon). Challah commemorates the manna (bread) that fell from the heavens while the Israelites wandered the dessert for forty years. This is also, apparently, symbolized in the sprinkling of the poppy or sesame seeds over the bread before it's baked.

I had my reservations following the shaping stage, because the bread hadn't risen a lot during proofing, and an elastic, almost pasta-like feel when I was rolling out the strands for braiding. However, it doubled very quickly after shaping, and then had incredible oven spring. You can actually see this in the first picture, where there is a lack of any seeds in between the braids.

The Challah turned out wonderful. Very soft, sweet creamy bread. But of course, my Challah experience is very limited. To really see if I passed the test, we brought over one of the loaves to our neighbour, Mya, who just happens to be Jewish. The first thing she remarked after I told her I brought her Challah, was "on Friday night, how appropriate!" Watching her, her husband and her two sons, aged one and three, dig into the Challah right at the door with their bare hands made me smile! And it was a huge it -- "this is EXACTLY like Challah i'm used to!!," Mya exclaimed. I left with the heart-warming thought that "breaking bread" remains a fundamental expression of our common humanity.

Potato Rosemary Bread (2)

This, the second bread in our BBA challenge, was one of my favorites without a doubt. But I had actually made an error during the mise en place stage, so I'm hoping it still counts :) Essentially, I made the dough with a higher hydration level, since I included too much poolish. The result though, was very informative:

Although the boules collapsed, the crumb was actually incredible. It featured large irregular holes, and was very creamy and full of flavor. As a result of the flattened shape, though, it reached the target internal temperature much quicker and the crust did not have a chance to brown. I'll certainly give this formula another shake though, but overall I was very happy with this bread.

Tartine Sourdough

Alas, I can't take credit for this beautiful, golden-brown sourdough loaf with a wonderful cell structure -- though one day, perhaps I'll be making breads like this in my home. Actually, a few colleagues of mine were attending the optics conference in San Francisco late January, and I had one of them agree to bring me back a full Tartine sourdough loaf. That's right! A sourdough loaf traveled 3600 km in the cabin of an airbus just to get to my dinner table!

My favourite part of the whole ordeal, however, was on the way back home after I had picked it up from a fellow researcher. When I was about 2 blocks from home, I was instructed to pull to the side of the road by a police officer conducting a RIDE program (for those outside of Ontario, this is a random police check to catch impaired drivers). The officer asked the typical question "where are you coming from this evening?" to which I replied, "from a friends house, to pick up a loaf of bread he brought me from San Francisco." The puzzled officer repeated my words, "your friend brought you a loaf of bread form San Francisco?". "Yes," my simple reply. "Carry on."

The loaf of bread was actually incredible, fully living up to the hype that I had built up in my mind. The crust was beautifully done, almost to the point of being burnt, but not quite. As a result the crust had this very earthy taste. The crumb itself was creamy but springy and wonderfully sour. Laura and I devoured the thing pretty quickly though, sharing it with some family members, using it for sandwiches (wonderful fresh steamed pacific salmon salad). It really toasted nicely. Next year, I'll make a special point of attending the SPIE conference, and will bring a suitcase one size larger than usual, so I can pack it full of bread.