Jan 02 2011

Happy Challah-Days

Published by at 11:25 pm under Cooking Classes

Jim Dodge, an acclaimed Bay Area baker, came into class before our winter break to teach us all how to make holiday breads. I had been looking forward to it all week, since bread-making has been one of my most favorite subjects we’ve focused on in school. And what happened during our holiday bread workshop was nothing short of a Christmas miracle.

In the spirit of the holidays, my instructor invited us all to choose which bread we wanted to make: Challah, Panettone or Stollen (she usually assigns recipes to us). After watching Mr. Dodge carefully braid his Challah in our demonstration, I knew I had to try it myself. Truthfully, I felt quite confident; I’d been to enough middle school sleepovers to know my braiding skills were above average.

I happily proofed my yeast, broke a few eggs into a bowl and let the machine do the kneading until my dough looked solid. A couple of hours later it had risen and was ready to shape.

It was then that my instructor called out, “Isn’t anyone going to try the six-pleat braid?”

In his demonstration, Mr. Dodge had shown us a three-pleat braid, a simplified version of the traditional bread. All of my classmates who were steps ahead of me had followed suit. But I, being the overly-confident wannabe hairstylist, realized this was a big opportunity.

“I’ll do it,” I said, and seconds later I was staring at a multi-step diagram of complicated twists and turns. No matter; I jumped right in.

That is, until I got to the third step and could no longer tell if I was holding the third rope or the fifth; did it tuck under or over #2? Hm. I cheerfully untangled the strands and started back at square one with a clean slate.

Then at step 4, I faltered again. All around me, students were putting their bread in the oven to bake. I broke out into a sweat and untangled my bread quickly, knowing I needed to pick up the pace. Then I stared at step 1 for a third time, my eyes glazing over and all the pleats beginning to run together. I was officially panicking.

One classmate walked over to check on my progress, which was clearly minimal. She studied the diagram curiously, then looked at me and said, “We need labels.” We hurriedly stuck pieces of tape — labeled one through six — at the end of each strand, moving the numbers every time we lifted a strand. She coached me patiently (possibly fearful of a full-on panic outburst), and what seemed like seven hours later, we were finished.

“You did it!” my classmates said, and I pointed to my heroine: “It was all her.”

And half an hour later, against all odds, I was looking at the most beautiful loaf of bread I have ever created.

See? An egg-washed, poppyseed-topped Christmas miracle.

And I think the Panettone loaves and the sugar-dusted Stollen deserve special recognition, too.

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Happy Challah-Days”

  1. SHon 03 Jan 2011 at 1:18 pm

    I like your “Challah-days” pun!

  2. Sharonon 04 Jan 2011 at 3:07 am

    Thank goodness for middle school sleep overs…….good job…..

  3. billon 04 Jan 2011 at 2:26 pm

    Liv, if that bread is as good as what you baked at home, it had to be DELICIOUS!

  4. […] adding in a few dried cranberries for a Christmas-y effect. It was second in beauty only to the Challah, and it lay in a basket directly next to my mom’s whole wheat banana nut […]

  5. Jaseminon 20 Jul 2011 at 12:17 am

    God, I feel like I sohlud be takin notes! Great work