They say when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
I disagree. I say when life gives you lemons, throw them away (or use them to clean your garbage disposal, and then throw them away) and make challah bread.
I’ve been feeling kind of down in the dumps, lately. It might be early onset of the winter blues, or the fact that I still feel like I’m transitioning to life in the cornfields. I know it’s been eight solid months, but I’m not a big fan of change. In fact, I embrace change with kicks and screams and a few breakdowns and temper tantrums. It’s ugly.
After all these years of encountering change, you’d think I’d have it figured out already. Confession: I don’t. I like my cocoons. Once I’ve (finally) settled into them for the long haul and then, suddenly, am pulled away, I react as though this has never happened before. I am stunned. And so I cope. By baking.
Challah is quite fitting for my current predicament, because it’s a loaf traditionally made for holiday celebrations. I’ve made it before in the crown shape, but the braided version is reserved for special occasions. Or for times when you’re feeling sad and, dang it, you just need to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make something delicious.
I think braided breads are beautiful, and they make the room all bright and cheery. After making this challah, in all its sweet, braided, poppy-seeded wonder, my apartment smelled like sugar and butter and happiness. And that was cause for celebration.
P.S. Percy saw his first snow.
Debrief: Not much concern with this loaf. It’s pretty self explanatory. Just be sure to pay close attention to the braiding instructions, because if you don’t, your loaf might look stunning, but not in a good way.
Adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day
Yields: 1 braided loaf
1/2 cup water
1/3 tbsp yeast
1/3 tbsp salt
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp butter
1 3/4 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 egg beaten with 1 tsp water (for egg wash)
poppy seeds (optional)
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine water, yeast, salt and egg. Mix in sugar and butter. Add in flour and mix until just combined. Do not knead. Pour dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours. Cover bowl loosely with plastic wrap and place overnight in the refrigerator. Dough can be refrigerated for up to 5 days at this point.
The next day, remove dough from bowl and roll into a ball, pulling the sides down and under with your hands and rotating a quarter turn as you go. On a baking stone or parchment paper-lined baking sheet and using a bench scraper, divide ball into thirds. Roll each piece into a long, thin rope, about 12 inches long and 1 inch thick.
Braid ropes together from the center outwards and tuck in the ends to ensure the loaf won’t unravel. Let rise on prepared stone or sheet about 1 hour, 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare egg wash and, using a pastry brush, brush onto the loaf. Sprinkle with poppy seeds as desired.
Bake for about 25 minutes or until bread is a deep brown. Allow to cool completely on a cooling rack before slicing.