Well, at Whole Foods I asked a baker if it is a problem that my yeast didn't bubble up. She assured me it is a problem, telling me that it means the yeast is "dead." Great.
She suggested I try again, and I told her I tried two different packets of yeast, but she could only smile and shrug. She did tell me how challenging challah is, because of all the eggs and butter. She helped me understand whole process of challah, and by the end of our conversation I wanted to hug her because she'd been so kind. She really was very calm and helpful, and I thought - well, if I hadn't had the "dead" yeast, I wouldn't have met this wonderful baker who makes me feel that the kneading of bread is a spiritual practice in and of itself.
When I got home, I swore my dough had doubled in size. I mean, it was huge or anything, but it was bigger than before, so I decided to go with it and see where it takes me.
I took the dough out and cut it into four pieces and began rolling. I don't know why I think everything should be easy and happen quickly, but I became slightly frustrated with the dough because it wasn't forming into long rolls as quickly as I had anticipated. It actually took a lot of rolling. And then there was the issue of size, since some of my strands were thicker at one end that at the other, an issue I could never seem to resolve.
Well, my daughter was with me, working alongside me, rolling away. Hers was even wonkier than mine, and I realize that it's small and petty of me to compare my bread rolling skills to that of a 5 year old, but it did make me feel a little better that we were both struggling a bit.
Finally, I had four strands of equal size. I tried to braid it. I tried to braid it six times. I read the instructions and looked at the photos on Williams-Sonoma. I finally watched a cooking video off youtube, twice. I kept running upstairs to read/watch another time. I cried at one point - not big, sweeping tears but small little tear-pellets of frustration. I mean, is that homemade or what? Here, enjoy some of my homemade challah moistened with my own tears.
It didn't help that my daughter kept saying, "That's not right. Nope....that's all wrong. Doesn't look good."
I had to take a short break to offer her a lesson in tact and diplomacy that I fear went right over her small head. I suggested she go and watch TV.
I finally got it. It was thrilling. I'm not kidding. To see the braid come together was thrilling. It worked. I didn't have any missing strands. The braid was even and not at all wonky.
Here is a photo:
It might have been a nice braid, but when I laid it out next to the baking sheet, I realized it was far too long (likely because I'd braided it so many times, thus stretching the dough):
So, I took a knife and cut the braid into two.........voila.
I then covered the braids and let them rest for 60 minutes to rise again. I just went and checked on them, and they don't seem to have doubled in size again. Ouch. Oh well. I'm going to bake them anyway and I'll let you know how they turn out. I may be making challah again tomorrow...........sweet Lord.
Quote of Inspiration
I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Atilla and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar