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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Orange Challah French Toast

The first time I ever worked with yeast, I decided I was going to make a braided challah. Talk about ambitious. It was in my fourth year of grad school, I had just moved into a new apartment and I was in the mood to cook. My roommate owned a breadmaker and she churned out loaves of bread with minimal effort. The apartment always smelled wonderful and she had warm bread to go with dinner. I thought that if a machine can make bread, then it can’t be that hard. Let’s say I was just a little naïve.

Back at this point in my culinary career I was the proud owner of about ten cookbooks. Leafing through the nearly pristine pages of my Bread Bible, I fell upon a picture of a braided challah. It was gorgeous. Golden, shiny and delicious looking. The instructions also seemed doable, some time to knead, a few rise periods and an egg wash before baking. I could definitely do this.

I just forgot to take a few things into account. First, I had no idea what I was doing. Okay, I guess that isn’t a very good first. Let’s start again… First, my kneading technique consisted of rolling the dough around on the counter, gently nudging it and poking it. This was after I added about one additional cup of flour, the dough just would not pull away from the countertop! Second, I had no idea how to tell when it was kneaded enough, I just went with what the book said, ten minutes. Third, it was winter. Wintertime in Wisconsin is a rather chilly time and our apartment was equally chilly. Gentle breezes also permeated the windows and doors, keeping my dough cool and preventing the proper rise. In the end I wound up with a braided challah. It was edible, but not the light and airy challah I was used to in New York.

My braid went a little crazy in the middle there...
Now, ten minutes of gentle nudging and poking most likely wasn’t enough to develop the gluten necessary for this bread. Lesson learned. Also, bread needs a little warmer environment than I had provided. These days I like to do laundry at the same time as I make bread, it heats up the apartment. Finally, I know to slowly add liquid ingredients, rather than try to bring the dough back with more flour. It’s been four years since my first attempt at braided challah and this recent attempt shows how much I’ve learned.

Orange French Toast
Adapted from Breakfast by Williams Sonoma

While Peter Reinhart’s challah was AMAZING, it is not the recipe I share with you today. If you would like the recipe for the challah, check out this website! The real star of this post is what I did with the challah. This French toast absorbed the custard and took on a creamy texture. With a hint of orange, this breakfast really made my morning.

5-6 slices of your fresh challah, about 1-inch thick
1 cup whole milk
2 eggs
½ tbsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp orange zest
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of sea salt

In a 9x13-inch baking dish, arrange slices of bread flat. In a small bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, vanilla, sugar, zest, nutmeg and salt. Pour over bread slices. Let sit for 3 minutes. Flip bread over and allow to sit for 10 minutes.

Heat a griddle to medium heat. Cook bread for 3 minutes on one side, until golden brown. Flip and cook for another 3 minutes. Serve with butter and maple syrup!
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