However, I do have one hidden hair talent that I perfected in the 80's and people are always amazed by. I can French braid my own hair. In the back. Without a mirror. It's not that hard, it just takes some practice and not obsessing over whether or not it's perfect. But it never fails to produce a gasp of "You can do that yourself?!!"
This month's Bread Baking Babe's project was a lot like that. The Challah loaf is gorgeous and looks like you've slaved over it for hours, but I was surprised at how simple and easy it was to make. And the double braid presentation gives it a spectacular showy quality that will make people gasp in amazement, "You made that yourself?!!"
Plus, as a bonus, this recipe makes two loaves. That's one to enjoy with dinner and one to give away. Or one for now and one to save and have the next day as French toast. It makes fabulous French toast.
So, don't fear the braid. Give it a try. And after you make and post it, send the link to Sara of I Like to Cook, our hostess kitchen of the month, and she'll send you a Bread Baking Buddy badge to proudly display on your site. Your friends will be amazed.
And be sure to check out the spectacular successes of the other Babes (the links for their pages are on the right side of the page).
Thanks, Sara, for such a great recipe!
from The New York Times Bread and Soup Cookbook
Makes two loaves
5 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups flour, unsifted
3 TB sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 package dry active yeast
1/2 cup butter, softened
pinch powdered saffron
1 cup warm water (120-130'F)
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp cold water
1/2 tsp poppy seeds
Combine 1 1/4 cups of flour, the sugar, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Mix in the softened butter. Stir the saffron into the warm water until it dissolves. Add a little at a time to the flour mixture and blend thoroughly. Beat for 2 minutes with an electric mixer and medium speed, scraping the bowl occasionally. Separate the yolk and white of one egg. Blend the single egg white and the other 3 whole eggs into the batter. Reserve the single egg yolk. Stir 1/2 cup of flour into the batter and beat at high speed for 2 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally. Blend in enough additional flour to make a soft dough. Knead the dough on a lightly floured board about 8 to 10 minutes or until it is smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning it once to grease the top. Cover and allow the dough to rise in a warm, draft free place until double in bulk (approximately one hour).
Flour a pastry board lightly and set the dough on it. Divide the dough into 2 equal portions. Divide each portion into 2 pieces, using 1/3 of the dough for one piece, and 2/3 of the dough for the other. Divide the large piece into 3 equal portions. Roll each of these into 12 inch ropes. Braid the ropes together tightly, using your fingers to press the dough together at the ends. Divide the smaller piece into 3 equal portions. Roll each of these into 10 inch ropes and braid tightly. Place the smaller braid on top of the larger one and seal the ends. Repeat this process to form the second loaf.
Place both braided loaves on a greased baking sheet. Mix the reserved single egg yolk with the 1 tsp of cold water and brush the top of the loaves with the mixture. Sprinkle with poppy seeds. Spray two pieces of plastic wrap with cooking spray and lay sprayed side down over the loaves. Let the loaves rise until double in bulk in a warm draft free place (approximately one hour).
Bake in a 400' over for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on wire racks.