Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Challah, Pt.2

If you missed my first post about my foray into baking Challah you might want to catch up here.  I believe I left off with a bleak-looking prognosis on the bread baking front.  To my complete shock, I am thrilled to report that in the end, my Challahs (that's right, I decided to make two) turned out to be quite successful! 

Now that I've jumped ahead to the end, I'll take you back to the sponges.  My original plan was to keep only one of the two starters I had made.  I thought that I would have a better chance of actually making bread if I attempted two, assuming that one would be a complete flop.  Of course, having never done this before, I quickly realized that there was no way for me to know which was the better one, so the obvious answer was to make two complete loaves.  Go big or go home, I guess.  Still feeling pretty nervous about the whole 'making Challah' thing, I peeled back the plastic-wrap from the first starter and was immediately hit with a wonderfully warm and invitingly fresh yeast smell.  It was time to begin the dough.  To my complete surprise and elation, the dough felt like, and came together exactly as, the book described.  Things were beginning to look up.  It was time to bake these lovely loaves.  I waited impatiently, unable to sit still.  BEEP, BEEP!  Finally!  I slowly peeked under the foil which revealed perfectly browned, steaming hot loves of challah!  A mini-success!  Why only mini?  I still had no idea how they tasted.  Here's where my stress level rises again:  I had timed my Challah making venture to end just before Friday night dinner at Bubbie's began.  I was about to present two, potentially horrible (one of which was a little on the heavy side.. eep), loaves of Challah to my entire family.  It was a pretty scary prospect, seeing as we have scoured the city for the best Challah, and eaten it most Friday nights.  As you already know, the loaves were a success!  The flavor and texture were great, well at least pretty damn good for a first crack at it.  Surprisingly, the loaf I had made with my experimental starter was even better than the other.

I really love making bread, it's tactile, it's creative, it's methodical and precise.  All the same qualities that draw me towards photography.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Challah, Take One.

I was watching the Tartine bread baking video a couple days ago (which, might I mention, is stunning and inspiring) and since then I can't seem to focus on anything other than the feel of puffy, yeasty, living dough in my hands.  Last night, I pulled out 'The Bread Bible' and decided to attempt a challah.  This is an all time favorite for me and I figured it was time to give it a go.  Attacking this recipe poses a few substantial challenges for me:
  1. Bread baking puts me in the position of facing the prospect of a serious failure, and we all know how little I like the thought of turning out failed baked goods.  
  2. I've never made a sponge starter.  Making one successfully, so I'm told, is a difficult task and often a massive flop on your first few tries.
  3. Facing the fact that I will very likely fail at this task but talking myself into attempting the recipe anyway.
After seriously battling every instinct I had to find something (anything!) else to do to avoid attempting making challah,  I have taken the leap and decided to dive on in.

Here's how my morning's going so far....  Not too well.
I mixed together my sponge to discover that it was runny and not at all like "a very smooth, very thick batter" as the book describes.  After triple checking my measurements, I noticed the date on my recently EXPIRED yeast... blargh!  Thinking maybe that could have had something to do with my soupy starter (but doubting it nonetheless), I ran off to the grocery store to purchase some UN-expired yeast.  With fresh yeast in hand, I attempted starter numero dose.  As I suspected, the yeast had nothing to do with the texture, and once again, I ended up with a very smooth, very thin batter.  At this point frustration was seriously setting in.  Not sure what I was doing wrong, I ran to the all powerful internet to see if I could come up with some kind of explanation.  I found a few fixes for sourdough starters, but this is a sponge and as far as I can tell, a whole other beast.  Feeling impatient and on the brink of giving up, yet determined not to fail, I decided to start adding flour to my third starter, trying to emulate what I believed to be the right consistency.  Now, those of you that know me, know that I am a stickler for 'the rules' when it comes to baking.  Just randomly throwing flour into a recipe is completely against my character and frankly a little stressful.  At this point, I am still fighting the lump in my throat that is pushing me to bail on this project.  If I bail now, I'll never have to know that my bread was a complete failure.  BUT on the flip side, if I bail now I'll also never know if the bread may have turned out to be a success either. 

While I wait on my starters, hopefully fermenting away in their bowls, I'll leave you with a list of what I've accomplished up to this point: One incredibly messy kitchen, three attempts at a starter, and managing to look rather cute in my apron.  Well, I've got a few hours to go before anything else exciting is supposed to happen, so I'll leave you with this and update you as things begin to progress, or fail miserably...

P.S.  If anyone out there has any sage advice, I'd LOVE to hear it!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Adventures in Apple Picking

Last week, I got to spend the afternoon participating in an apple harvest organized by The Ontario Association of Food Banks for The Salvaton Army.  Other than filling about 150 bags, bursting with apples, the most exciting thing for me was getting the chance to collaborate with my sister Robin, who is currently working with the fantastic organization Not Far From the Tree.  Instead of rambling on, I'm going to defer to Robin since she's written a lovely summery of the day's events.  Check out her blog post here and some of my images from the day, below.

Now, what to do with all those apples...  Crumble perhaps?  Stay tuned.