November 21, 2009

Challah

The dough is soft, both times that I knead it: it feels the way I hope it will taste, delicate and gentle, golden and sensuously smooth.  When I divide it up into five pieces, ready for braiding, each little ball gets tugged and shoved and squooshed into pillowy mounds of anticipation.

Division was hard--the first separation was light, beautiful--about the size of an orange.  Two more just like it came off the whole in quick succession, and then, lo and behold, the remaining two were grapefruits.  No matter.  I start to roll each ball into ropes, what my four-year-old self would have called a snake.  But rolling the yeasty, stretchy, elastic dough doesn't work: I have to pick it up, pulling on it like you would for taffy, if you still made taffy by hand, extruding the dough from my hand into the right size.

Finally, five ropy, rough strands are ready.  I pinch the ends together and begin to weave them into a loaf, each strand going over-under-over-under and the loaf so long that it must bake diagonally on the baking sheet.  A thin glaze of egg white and it's into the oven.  When I come back twenty minutes later the loaf has swollen, engorged with heat and released gases and puffy, pale.  Another few minutes and I dare to peek, opening the oven to see a beautiful golden color just completing the Maillard reaction that is so essential to caramelized, browned, perfect baked goods.

A quick, hard tap tells me with its hollow report that the loaf is ready.  I wish I could pick it up and tear into it, right then, but I wait instead.  This is not just for me, but for others: we will eat it together tomorrow night, and the instinct--aroused by the softness of the dough, the anticipation of watching the bronzed loaf through the oven window, the delicate scent that says "someone is baking bread!" and the knowledge that out of flour, water, honey, eggs and yeast come a totally new product much, much greater than the sum of its parts--this instinct to tear off a piece and shove it in my mouth must be averted.  Tomorrow can't come fast enough!

1 comment:

Kurt said...

Reading this made me hungry enough to make a trip to the store :P