One of the things I've done since I last blogged is....buy a breadmaker and start learning to bake the traditional breads of my childhood so they taste like my childhood memories. Or in this case, even better.
I've learnt that, while it's fun to just put a pile of ingredients into the breadmaker and leave it to do the whole process, the bread that comes out at the end will be very acceptable, good to eat...but nothing like the magical experience of shaping it and baking it into the beautiful objects like the rolls you can see. And choosing your own baking temperature and time means you can get a taste, a texture and a degree of crumb and crustiness that doesn't seem to come from using the bread macfhine to do the whole process.
I baked these on Friday afternoon, and I enjoyed two of them over Shabbos. My childhood challahs were always crusty, whereas even the best shop bought ones in London are always soft. But the taste of these rolls was better than I remembered my childhood ones to be, and the look of the texture was much better; thanks to a tip from one of my favourite Jewish cookery books, I'd put saffron into the water I used, and it gave the crumb a beautiful pale ivory colour, with little streaks of pale orange where the strands of saffron had been.
I'd had the breadmaker for about a month before I discovered this book which inspired me to start trying to bake challah. It's got photograph sequences of how to do the complex braidings which go to make up the most impressive challah patterns-- six braids, four braids, twelve roll clusters and the like. I put the breadmaker on the dough-only cycle, and two hours and twenty minutes later, there was a very respectable looking risen dough without any of the mess or effort that goes into making it by hand. As usual, I tried to run before I could walk and no, I couldn't follow the apparently simple instructions to do the beautiful multi-strand shape for Rosh Hashona. I should have followed the book's advice to use plasticine to work out exactly how to do the shaping before trying it out on the real thing. Still, I did produce two decent looking challohs that tasted good.
But now, I'm producing these rolls that look quite like the ones in the book. I've adapted the basic recipe in the book (16 cups of flour-- about four times the amount the breadmaker could take). I've acquired a ready cup measurer that takes care of US recipes with their how-large-is-a-cup mystery. And by buying an oven temperature gauge, I've discovered that my oven cooks slightly cooler than the temperature says, and that I get the best results from cooking at a higher temperature than the recipes say.
As for the taste: simply fabulous and very satisfying. Half a roll spread with some organic set yoghurt made a wonderful breakfast.
I tried baking bread years ago. It was always too dense, didn't taste too good, and I never felt inclined to repeat the experience. But now, I'm baking myself batches of rolls to have every day....