A Not-Quite-Daily Loaf With IPB

My primary love as a baker is bread. For many years I thought myself a highly competent home bread-baker, and when I grew frustrated with hitting what I thought was my ceiling as a self-taught baker, I enrolled in a week-long course at the Culinary Institute of America with the hopes of making myself into a professional-level superstar. Instead I discovered that what had been my ceiling was suddenly my floor. I was, in fact, a really crappy baker in the grand scheme of things. I came home from my well-fed week with a vast new understanding of what I was doing when baking bread, but a far greater cognizance of when things went wrong. I went into a baking funk, and then we moved into stately IPB Manor, where I hated, hated, hated our kitchen. We spent almost two full years in suspended animation wherein I kept assuring Pookie and Boomer that I’d start baking again as soon as the remodel was done. Today, I had to admit it was time to get back in the saddle.

I decided to go with my very favorite bread recipe, specifically the challah from “Baking With Julia”. This recipe is not even remotely kosher, but as my annual bacchanal of Pork suggests, I don’t really keep kosher (there’s a variety of reasons for that, not least of which is that I’m Quaker), so the egg/butter combo doesn’t bother me in the least. There was no small amount of rust on my bread skillz today, though. I discovered at the CIA that I am a chronic under-kneader, so I decided I was going to try to ignore my dough as my mixer was working it until the specified kneading time in the recipe — 8 to 10 minutes — had elapsed. After just five minutes, though, my mixer crapped out, and I discovered my dough was a rock-hard heap of overdeveloped gluten. Whoops! Oh well. I decided since there would be two proofs before even shaping the loaves that it would have time to relax and, feeling chagrined, I slapped the dough into my beloved dough-rising bucket and walked away. An hour and 45 minutes (with one punch-down in the middle) later, it had relaxed, doubled in size twice and was eager to get braiding.

Now, I may have had my confidence shattered at the CIA, but I also learned something magical: the six-strand braid. None of this three-strand crap for me! The enriched dough was silky, soft and elastic, and an utter joy to work with. After another 40 minutes doubling in bulk, I egg-washed these puppies up, sprinkled them with kosher salt, and experienced the thrill that is having two ovens. I baked both loaves at once! Woo hoo!

The end result? Gorgeous.
Challah Loaves

And with the house filled to the rafters with the head-swimmingly delicious aroma of fresh-baked, buttery loaves, we let them cool until they were still just a tiny bit warm and sliced into them. The crumb was satisfactory, if not dazzling. I had a fair deal of compression and swirling where the strands of the braids met, but for the most part I was pleased. The texture was soft and a bit mouthy without being chewy, and the flavor? Well, it reminded me again why I love baking bread so much.
Challah Crumb

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14 Comments

Filed under Baked Goods, Carbo Loading

14 responses to “A Not-Quite-Daily Loaf With IPB

  1. Meg

    Bread is actually one of the things I enjoy baking (my list is short), but I never
    know when I’ve kneaded enough. I’m just at a total loss.

    That challah looks delicious!

  2. Yeah, I used to try to go by the “window pane” test, but I couldn’t ever make it work. At the CIA we kind of learned that it’s all about what the dough feels like. It’s like pornography — you’ll know it when you see it. Which is not really all that helpful.

  3. HG

    I have never made bread. I think I helped my mom make some sort of dinner buns when I was younger but that’s it. In honour of your bread, I picked up a loaf of light rye and one of twisted egg bread. I’m not quite sure what that is but Mr.A assured me I will like it. Since I like all bread, I’m not too worried. One of my dad’s favourite things to do as a child with fresh bread was to slather it with butter and dip it in hot chocolate. Just a lovely image for your Sunday…

  4. HG

    Wait a second… this twisted egg bread is a lot like challah…

  5. I was going to say something about that twisted egg bread sounding very challah-y… :D

    Bread slathered in butter and dipped in hot chocolate sounds DIVINE. A favorite thing I like to do when the bread has gotten a tiny bit peaked is to toast it, slather it in butter, and then slather it further in honey.

  6. HG

    How do you store fresh bread, o wise Schnookie?

  7. It doesn’t keep long. I put it in a big plastic bag, but it won’t stay nice for more than about a day that way. Bread freezes gorgeously, though, so if you want to keep it longer than a day or two, I’d recommend slicing it and freezing it. That way the slices just take a few minutes (or a spell in the toaster) to thaw.

  8. HG

    Gotcha. Thank you!

  9. Wise Schnookie says, “You’re welcome!” :D

  10. That bread looks amazing. I’m with HG, I’ve never made bread. I’ve always been tempted to take a cooking class somewhere professional. I really want to take a pastry course because I could eat pastries and sweets all day long. Have you taken any other classes and do you recommend taking them?

  11. Oh, and whether this is good for the bread or not, I always store bread in the fridge so it’ll last longer since if I didn’t, then I would never be able to finish a loaf. For bread that I don’t use very regularly, I’ll store those in the freezer.

  12. I’ve taken four classes at the CIA, which is about a three hour drive from here. I’m not really a cooking class kind of person, though, and probably never would have started going up there without a push from my older sister. A few years ago she taught for one year at West Point, which isn’t far from the CIA and decided she wanted to treat me and Pookie to a class there. We took vegetable carving (because neither Kate The Great nor Pookie are avid cooks), and the facility there just blew my mind. Since then I’ve taken three of their “Boot Camp” courses, which are meant as “intensive training” for food enthusiasts. You go there for a week, and basically get coddled in this cradle of top-tier cooking education. The publicity they publish for these classes tells you that you’ll be working your fingers to the bone in all-day cooking sessions, and then you get to eat at night in the CIA’s restaurants with your classmates where you can wearily discuss your stories from the trenches. In reality you show up early in the morning for a lecture from an AMAZING chef instructor, then you get a pastry and coffee break. Then you spend an hour or two watching a demo and then doing production work. Then you eat a lunch from the school’s real classroom kitchen (those lunches were better than anything I’ve eaten in a real restaurant). Then someone else cleans up the classroom for you while you go to a wine/chocolate/bread/beer tasting. Then you nap. Then you eat dinner in the fantastic restaurants on campus (alcohol included). Then you fall into bed, stuffed to the point of explosion, and try to gird yourself for the exact some thing happening the next day. It’s more a week of eating than it is a week of intensive cooking, so probably not a great representative of what most cooking classes are like (although I learned SO MUCH from them, so they may very well be more informative than the average class, too). Anyway, I’ve taken the Baking Boot Camp and the Pastry Boot Camp, as well as a two-day Barbeque Boot Camp. They’re not cheap courses, but they also stand as the best vacations I have ever, ever taken.

    Oh, and learning pastries was AWESOME. Breads are pretty straightforward, and I was a little disappointed when I took the baking class that they didn’t cover much stuff I hadn’t already read in my relatively thorough collection of baking cookbooks. But pastries are a genre I hadn’t had a lot of experience with, and a lot of the techniques are things I appreciated having demonstrated for me rather than trying to figure it out from text or photographs. I now know how to make eclairs! And puff pastry! How cool is that?

    As for regular cooking classes, again, I’m not a very eager enrollee in them, largely because they’re often at night, and hockey’s at night, so I prioritize exactly the way you’d expect me to. I took a Mexican cooking class at my local adult school with my dad when I was in high school and still remember it really fondly. That’s my entire experience, but I think it’s probably fair to say that if you find a class teaching something you’re interested in, and it’s not too difficult to fit into your schedule or too expensive, how awful could it be? The worst thing that happens is that you don’t learn anything, but you get to eat whatever the production from the class is at the end of it! :D

    (Oh, and the CIA taught me that the fridge is actually the worst place for bread. Something about humidity, and that bread will stale up faster in the fridge. I don’t remember all the details, because I’m a terrible student. Anyway, I still do store regular bread I get from the grocery store in my fridge [there are a lot of things the CIA taught me that I can’t be bothered with :D], but bakery loaves or the bread I bake, the stuff without preservatives, I keep in the freezer. But seriously, though, who wants to thaw out their Pepperidge Farm sandwich loaf every time they go to make lunch?)

  13. Thanks for the info on the classes. Sounds very intriguing. I did look up the prices for the boot camps and they are quite pricey and I would have to factor in airfare since they don’t have a SoCal location. I’ll probably look into local cooking schools.

    The bread I store in the fridge is usually the cheapest loaves of bread we can find at the store so it’s not like the bread was good to start with. ;) When I get good bread (as in, my mom gives me a couple loaves she bought somewhere) then I store it in the freezer. It’s just amazing how much longer it keeps in there. But thanks for the tip!

  14. The bread I store in the fridge is usually the cheapest loaves of bread we can find at the store so it’s not like the bread was good to start with. ;)

    Oh yeah, exactly! That’s what I buy for sandwiches, and I think they put chemicals in the cheap-o bread so that it maximizes its lifespan to be refrigerated. I’ve never had a problem refrigerating grocery-store bread, but when I put homemade stuff in the fridge… yuck!

    I can’t wait to hear what local cooking schools or classes you find! I’m trying to open my mind to more cooking education opportunities, since a few friends of mine have lately been having great experiences with one-off classes up in NYC or North Jersey.

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