Sometimes, in the early hours when awake for no particular reason, I plan menus or baking sessions and just recently, my before-dawn preoccupation has been yeast-centred. I appreciate I’m fooling myself that bread products are better for me than cake so no need to put me straight.
Over the years, when our North London friends visit they bring with them, amongst many other goodies, shiny braided chestnut brown challah – of which I am very partial. It’s a central feature of their heritage and one I’d be more than happy to adopt (this webpage explains the symbolism connected to challah). Said friends have been absent recently with very good reason – this week they’re moving house after forty-plus years in the same abode. Knowing these friends like I do, I’m certain the whole process will be an organisational marathon which explains the challah-famine.
So, back to the bread in question. There’s only one thing for it… BIY! – Jewish bakers being in short supply in our neck of the woods. With my library of cookbooks you’d have thought I might have a printed recipe but sadly not, I therefore resorted to our friend the web and so baked my first challah.
I was pretty pleased with the end result – and so were the two others who share the house and table – even though I’d have been happier if the braiding had been tighter.
After sending a photo of the end result to our daughters, Kate asked if I thought I could produce a Gails-a-like marzipan and almond version and like any keen baker, I couldn’t resist the challenge.
For the record, the bread is as tender as a good brioche but without the high fat content. It’s also much quicker to produce and freezes really well too. I used Emma Christensen’s recipe for the basic challah and David Lebovitz’ for the marzipan variation.