As I’ve said before, one of the blogs I find inspiration from is Smitten Kitchen. All of Deb’s posts are so beautiful and creative. I have a long list of her recipes I want to try and her honey apple challah was just the one I had to bake right away.
Despite never having eaten challah before, I knew right away that I wanted to bake it. Perhaps it was my inner desire to be Jewish that drew me to this recipe. In middle school, I was invited to a friend’s bat mitzvah. I had never been to one before and knew nothing about Jewish customs except for what I had learned in school (and that Rugrats episode) about Hanukkah. My friend’s bat mitzvah opened my eyes to a new culture. That night, I had so much fun learning about Jewish culture (and dancing) that I developed a secret desire to be Jewish or at least have Jewish kids, so that they could have bat or bar mitzvahs!
In addition to becoming a bit more Jewish, I chose this recipe because it seemed pretty straightforward, yet challenging. It was similar to other yeast bread recipes I had looked at before – simple but still difficult. However, I hadn’t read the recipe very closely when I started and missed the fact that the dough needed to rise three times. Luckily I made this on a Sunday afternoon, so I had time to spare.
The recipes from Smitten Kitchen are very clear and Deb’s notes and photos are very helpful, especially for me who likes to know exactly what to expect. Her series of photos was a great reference as I made the dough, folded in the apple chunks, and braided the loaf. Not sure what happened, but I ended up with enough dough to make two loaves. One was the circular braid featured in Deb’s post and one was a traditional braid.
By the time I got to the step of baking, I was pretty tired. Although I usually find baking relaxing, I felt this time I had bitten off a little more than I could chew. Once I finally put the loaves in the oven, I let out a sigh of relief and relaxed for the 40-45 minutes they baked. I noticed the loaves brown pretty quickly, so you should probably watch them closely when it gets close to 40 minutes. I didn’t want them to brown too much so I took them out before knowing exactly when they were done. Luckily, they baked perfectly, looked absolutely beautiful, and filled my house with the most delicious smell. Baking seems to be one of the best air fresheners for one’s home.
I let the loaves cool overnight and took them to group meeting the next day. The best way to get rid of food is to give it to grad students, so most of my baked goods end up being eaten by my labmates. Since I’ve been regularly baking and bringing in food to lab each week, no one is surprised when another bread or dessert magically appears in lab. Luckily, it hasn’t gotten to the point where they expect me to bring in food each week.
The bread was a little flaky and was easy to pull apart. The top had a nice crunchiness to it and the bread was actually pretty moist, which surprised me a little since I noticed the apple chunks dried up quite a bit. So instead of puddles of apple-y goodness that Deb described, they were more like dehydrated apples. Still, the challah was delicious. It had a sweetness that was noticeable, but not overpowering, which I definitely appreciated. I think my sweet tooth has been fading a bit lately.
Although this honey apple challah was fairly labor intensive and time consuming (you should really give yourself a whole afternoon or make the dough ahead of time), it was definitely worth it. The unbaked braided loaves were already beautiful and they became even more beautiful after baking. After pulling the bread out of the oven, I felt so much satisfaction. It blows my mind that one can make such amazing things from such simple ingredients. Baking is almost like magic, transforming flour, eggs, butter, and milk into beautiful, delicious creations. So what if it requires a little elbow grease and time and effort? The finished product is all worth it. The same goes with anything in life. It’s like my mom always told me when life got tough: the things that require hard work are the things in life that are worth it.
This post has been Yeastspotted.