Monday, December 22, 2008

What It's All About

Even though the Christmas carols have been blaring and the displays in the stores have been up since late October, the winter holiday season at my house only truly begins when we fire up our ovens. With the first batch of shortbreads comes a bevy of excited planning in all aspects: who's shopping when, where we're going to wrap and hide the gifts (which leads to where the tape/ribbon/bows are - since they disappear every year!), where us kids are going for Christmas dinner and (most importantly!) when the bread is going to be made.

Without the bread on the breakfast table every year, Christmas would cease to be as special for me and my mom. From when I was old enough to stand on a chair next to my mom, the day or two before the "big day" were spent in a pile of flour, yeast, butter and eggs as we made my mom's classic Filled Brioche and Challah. My job would always be to "punch down" the risen doughs, decorate the Brioche with flaked almonds and braid the Challah loaf, and I would often be found hovering over our sink (where my mom would put the bowl of dough in warm water to rise), occasionally poking the dough to watch it spring back and hoping my mom wouldn't see me do it!

Something about the smell of yeasty doughs and slowly toasting shiny crusts seems to make everything in our house feel festive and even giddy... the days of shortbread cookies and breadmaking with my mom and sister are always filled with laughter (okay, hysterics) and singing along to various holiday CDs (usually the source of the hysteria). Yesterday for example my mom brought out the album us kids dread all year - Handel's Messiah - and insisted on playing the whole disc while the three of us made the last shortbreads of the year. To cope with the "aaaaahing" as my sister puts it, Teaghan started making up her own interpretations of the lyrics based on how the choir singing it sounded. Soon I was on the floor in tears as my sister took praises of the birth of Christ and twisted them into "bump the Chinese boy" (okay, I know we aren't a PC family! It was funny at the time though). It was a great cap-off to the pre-Christmas festivities and for the first time in months brought us together again as a family.

We only had time yesterday to make the brioche loaves (recipe here) in between the three batches of shortbreads, and my mom helped me pull together two batches of pie dough for this week too. Andrew braved the stormy weather to bring over candied cherries, cream cheese and butter so we could pull together more of his favourite cookies too - which barely got done before he needed to outrun the flurries! Tomorrow we'll be making our classic Challah braid after a trip to the dentist (how ironic!), and this year we have a new arrival to the breadbasket too! I actually hadn't planned on making another loaf of bread for Christmas (screwing with tradition doesn't usually work out too well in this house!) but when I told my mom about a loaf of Apple Honey Challah I spotted on Baking and Books in August (though the original post is over a year old!) she suggested adding it to the brunch menu. I don't need to be told twice to put on my (oven) mitts! So I grabbed the recipe, saving it on my desktop for safekeeping. This past week I began toying with the recipe on paper, shaping it to incorporate my favourite, richly flavoured Kamut flour (actually of Egyptian origin!), applesauce, and vanilla (from another of Ari's recipes) and on Sunday night, the first night of Chanukah, I pulled it all together.

In the end, a fragrant, golden lobster-tail of a loaf came piping hot from the oven, and though it wasn't as large and didn't rise as much as I expected my mom assured me it would be fine - her Challah recipe has twice the amount of ingredients as this one (a fact I didn't know) so it's to be assumed that mine would be smaller. We haven't cut into it yet, but I can't wait to see what it's like inside on Christmas day. As Bread Baking Day #15 draws near, with the theme of Festive Breads being hosted at Annarasa, I hope you all have a chance to make (and break) bread with your loved ones this holiday in some way... the world can always use the extra love the kitchen brings!

Happy Chanukah to those celebrating, merry Christmas to those going to celebrate, and happy December to everyone in the world!

Vanilla-Apple Honey Challah
Makes 1 loaf, approximately 18 large slices
½ cup warm water
½ tbsp active dry yeast
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 cup warm milk
2 eggs
2 tbsp vanilla
3 tbsp unsweetened applesauce
1 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp honey
2 cups Kamut flour
1 tsp vital wheat gluten (optional)
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
2 cups flour
1/2 cup diced dry apples
1 egg white (for egg wash)
  1. In a large bowl combine the water, yeast, and sugar. Allow to stand 10 minutes.
  2. Beat in the milk, eggs, vanilla, applesauce, oil and honey.
  3. Stir in Kamut flour, followed by gluten, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.
  4. Gradually begin beating in remaining flour, alternating with the apple pieces, until the dough clears the sides of the mixing bowl and is almost too stiff to mix (it will be too stiff if you are doing this by hand).
  5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead about 5 minutes.
  6. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning to coat.
  7. Cover and allow it to rise until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.
  8. Preheat oven to 350F, line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  9. Deflate the dough, and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead briefly and braid as desired.
  10. Place the braided dough on your baking sheet, cover loosely and let rise 1 hour.
  11. Brush the dough with egg white.
  12. Bake for 35 minutes, or until the bread is a deep golden brown and sounds hollow when you thump it on the bottom.
  13. Transfer it to a baking rack to cool.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 146.6
Total Fat: 1.9 g
Cholesterol: 24.3 mg
Sodium: 18.7 mg
Total Carbs: 28.4 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.4 g
Protein: 5.2 g

1 comment :

Annarasa said...

Hi Sarah,
What a lovely bread. I am afraind I did not receive your entry in my mail, but I have added it now:) Thanks for writing.

Apu