Baking bread is a lot like raising children. It starts from nothing, a blend of a few high-quality, simple, basic ingredients and love. One stirs it all up and prays for the best. It is a gentle balance of coddling and kneading, tender pressure mixed with a little force and elbow grease. Press and fold, push and pull as we whisper encouragement, brush the sweat from our brow and try and get the perfect texture, faultless, beyond compare. We do our best to mold it into the desired shape and yet accept its imperfections, patching up its bumps and imperceptibly, gingerly pushing it back as best we can. Then we cover it loosely, just enough to protect it but not so much as to smother it, step back, breathe and wait. Wait. Impatiently even as we are oh-so tempted to help it along, knowing that our help just won’t make it go any faster or change the outcome. We watch. Anxiously. Praying that it goes as planned though knowing now that we have done our job, all that we can do, and now can only watch and wait.
We are at once powerless and all-powerful, having followed our own urges and made the decision to create something of beauty, something to please others while really only trying to please ourselves, yet we can only do what is in our power to do for only so long and then what happens happens. We pray that inside our little baby is soft and tender, fragrant and sweet. We hope that outside our little baby is tough enough to hold up to heat and pressure, protect the delicate goodness inside, crusty, golden, delectable. We would like what we have created to be distinctive, enticing, delightful and, yes, palatable. We take that basic recipe and throw in our own personal mix of pizzazz: nuts, earthy, wholesome and toothsome; chocolate chips or fruit, sweetness oh-so sweet; cheese or meat, smoky, powerful, spicy or subtle yet intriguing. And we serve it up, send it out of the kitchen and into the world to be tasted, eaten and judged and wait, wait some more, for smiles to appear all around, nods of appreciation, applause and kudos, asking for more.
Together with my wonderful friends Lora the Cake Duchess and Lisa of Parsley, Sage, Dessert and Line Drives, we have created Twelve Loaves, a monthly baking challenge – mostly bread in its every form – to get you baking. I have never kept it secret that, although I often buy fresh bread at the boulangerie and the occasional box of cookies at the supermarket, I believe that breads, cakes and cookies are always better homemade than packaged. And if one is baking from scratch then, well nothing beats flour, sugar, butter and milk. While good in a pinch, boxed mixes just don’t come close to the quality, healthfulness and flavor. Baking from scratch can be just as simple while giving better tasting results. So Lora, Lisa and I, three passionate home bakers, have decided to create this little baking challenge every month to inspire and encourage you all to bake from scratch. Just a simple challenge, quite casual, where you are in charge of choosing the recipe you make, as simple or as complicated as you like, but hoping that you are inspired to kick it up every once in a while with new techniques, recipes and creations. Get the creative juices flowing, fill your home with the scent of freshly baked bread and treat yourself and those around you to the wonders of home baking.
Our very first Twelve Loaves theme for the month of August is Bread with Summer Fruit. I have taken a favorite, fabulous, failproof Challah recipe from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day and added my favorite summer fruit: cherries. Deep, dark, sweet with a delicate sourness and pronounced flavor, cherries with a tablespoon or two of tiny chocolate chips will raise the Challah to new heights and take a bread and turn it into dessert. A touch of maple syrup, the crunch of slivered almonds and the bread is complete. This braided loaf is my very own first of my Twelve Loaves.
And yours? Simply bake a bread, yeast or quick bread, loaf or individual, filled, stuffed, studded or topped with your favorite fresh summer fruit or berries. Try this Challah recipe: it is so easy to put together and is practically foolproof. Perfect every time.
What unites Twelve Loaves and all of you? We love baking from scratch because people love eating real bread, real cake, delectable treats right out of the oven. Together we will discover new recipes and learn and master new techniques, discover flavors, textures, new ways to experience bread at the table with family and friends. 12 months, 12 baked goods, 12 challenges... Lisa, Lora and I will each post the new challenge on our blogs the first of every month with our own choice of recipe; feel free to use one of our recipes or choose your own. Just adhere to the theme.
So what are you waiting for? Get baking!
Just follow the rules, it’s as easy as pie:
1. When you post your Twelve Loaves bread on your blog, make sure that you mention the Twelve Loaves challenge in your post and mention and link back to Lora, Lisa and Jamie’s blogs. Please make sure that your Bread is inspired by the theme! This is obligatory if you would like your link to be included!
2. Please link your post to the linky tool at the bottom of Lora, Lisa or Jamie’s blog. It must be a bread baked to the Twelve Loaves theme.
3. Feel free to promote the Twelve Loaves by proudly displaying the Twelve Loaves badge in your Twelve Loaves post as well as in your sidebar! It isn't mandatory but is a nice way to get the word out!
4. Have your Twelve Loaves bread posted on your blog and linked to ours by August 31, 2012.
Follow @TwelveLoaves on Twitter and #getbaking
Chat with your hostesses on Twitter: Jamie @lifesafeast Lisa @parsleynsage Lora @cakeduchess
I would also like to share this Challah with Susan of Wild Yeast for her weekly Yeastspotting!
FRESH CHERRY & CHOCOLATE CHIP MAPLE CHALLAH
From Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day by Zoë François and Jeff Hertzberg, M.D.
For step-by-step photo directions please click here.
This recipe makes four 1-lb (500 g) loaves.
1 ¾ cups (300 ml) lukewarm water
1 ½ Tbs (18 g) active dry yeast
1 ½ Tbs (30 g) Kosher or table salt
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup (120 ml) honey (or ¼ cup honey + ¼ cup maple syrup)
½ cup (115 g) unsalted butter (or neutral-tasting vegetable oil)
7 cups (scant kilo) flour
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 Tbs water)
Poppy or sesame seeds for the top, optional
For my Challah:
3.5 – 7 oz (100 – 200 g) fresh cherries, stems removed, cherries pitted and sliced in half
2 Tbs mini chocolate chips
Replace the poppy or sesame seeds with 1 Tbs slivered almonds
1 Tbs maple syrup for brushing the Challah, optional
In a large mixing bowl, stir together the yeast, salt, eggs, honey, maple syrup (if using) and melted butter (warm, not hot) with the water. Stir in the flour without kneading, using a wooden spoon, a food processor or stand mixer. I used the spoon.
Stir and fold just until all of the flour is blended into the wet ingredients and is moist. Cover with plastic wrap (not airtight) and allow to stand at room temperature for 2 hours. The dough should rise then collapse. It may take a little longer depending upon outside conditions.
The dough can now be used but I place the dough in the refrigerator overnight. This allows it to finish rising and become very light and the dough is also muxh easier to work with chilled.
To prepare the Cherry Chocolate Chip Challah:
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the bowl of dough from the refrigerator, dust the surface of the dough, your hands and your dough scraper all with flour, keeping extra flour handy, and scrape the dough down the sides of the bowl. The dough will sink and flatten. Dipping your hands and the dough scraper in flour as needed (the dough is sticky) break off one 1-pound (500 g) piece of dough for each Challah you would like to make and place on a well-floured work surface. Dust the dough with more flour and shape it into a ball.
Flatten one ball of dough into a wide disc on a floured surface and press in about half of the cherries and chocolate chips which have been placed evenly over the surface. Roll up the dough and knead quickly. Flatten the dough once again into a disc and place the rest of the cherries and chocolate chips over the surface as best as possible, fold or roll up again and knead until the fruit seems well ensconced in the dough. Divide the ball of dough into 3 equal pieces and, using your hands, form each piece into a long, thin rope (remember making Play-doh snakes? Same thing: roll between your hands with the rope hanging down and roll back and forth on the table, pulling and squeezing gently as need be.) If the dough resists shaping just let the pieces rest for about 5 minutes and try again. Some of the cherries may slip out and this is okay. The cherries will make the dough a bit wet and rather stickier than normal but just keep working.
Place the ropes of dough lengthwise on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Braid the ropes starting from the middle and working towards one end, tucking the ends underneath the braided dough, then turning the baking sheet and braiding the other half down from the middle to the end, again tucking the ends underneath.
Allow the dough to rest and rise for 1 hour and 20 minutes (only 40 minutes if using freshly made, unrefrigerated dough).
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
Brush the loaf with the egg wash. Sprinkle the surface all over with the slivered almonds. Bake the loaf or loaves for about 25 to 30 minutes until risen and uniformly golden brown. The braids near the center will offer resistance to pressure and the bottom of the loaf will be golden.
Remove the baking sheet from the oven to a cooling rack, stovetop or wooden cutting board and allow to cool until tepid. Brush and dab the surface of the loaf all over with maple syrup. Allow to cool completely before carefully slicing and eating.