From the time I was in first grade through third grade, my family lived in Germany, and during that first year overseas, we lived in Egelsbach, a little German town near the Air Force base where my dad was stationed. I have a lot of great memories from our time there — spaghetti ice from the ice-cream truck, loud squeals from peacocks who lived down the street — but my all-time favorite memories from that year of off-base living were the weekend walks with my dad to a nearby bakery in town.
On Sunday mornings, my dad and I would head out on the short jaunt from our house, down the narrow street and past the barking German Shepherds who scampered up to the gates between what felt like each and every alleyway we walked by. After about 15 minutes of walking, during which time we talked about incredibly important things like who did what in the first grade and what toys I’d been eyeing in the JCPenney Christmas catalog, we’d reach our destination: a small, delicious-smelling local business with a case of fresh-baked treats sure to satisfy all the early-morning callers. I honestly can’t remember what my dad bought for himself, my mom and my older brother each week (though my best guess is a bag full of brötchen — we were crazy for that stuff). What I do remember, however, was the bunny-shaped bread that he always picked out for me. That bunny-shaped bread with raisin eyes was a Sunday specialty at the bakery, and it was the only treat I ever requested.
I take you on this trip down memory lane not to make you yearn for a Sunday-morning bakery run (though that does sound like a nice way to start the morning, doesn’t it?), but because I recently recaptured that distinctively light, sweet, bready flavor that my poor deprived taste buds hadn’t experienced in the 18-plus years since my last raisin-eyed bunny. While clicking through my Google Reader on Monday morning, I came across a new post on Sassy Radish with a recipe for homemade challah, a sweet bread often made for Jewish holidays, like today’s Rosh Hashanah. Not much of a bread maker, I decided to give it a go. Boy oh boy, I had no idea what I was missing all these years. Not only does this bread look absolutely gorgeous when you take it out of the oven, but the taste is also amazing. It’s sweet, it’s light, and every bite feels special. And to top it all off, the flavor is a dead ringer for the beloved bakery bunny from my childhood. So it’s unbelievable flavor wrapped in nostalgia. And there’s nothing in the world quite like it.
From Sassy Radish
• 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
• 1/2 cup orange juice
• 1/4 cup water
• 1/3 cup canola oil (The Sassy Radish recipes calls for olive oil instead, which would be great, but I was looking for a less noticeable flavor.)
• 2 large eggs, room temperature
• 2 large egg yolks, room temperature
• 1/3 cup honey
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• 3 1/4 to 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading dough
• 1/3 cup raisins
In a large bowl, sprinkle yeast in lukewarm orange juice and lukewarm water. Let stand for 5 minutes, until the yeast is frothy. Stir with a fork.
Whisk oil into yeast mixture, then whisk in 1 egg, followed by the yolks, one at a time. Whisk in the honey and salt, then stir until everything is well incorporated.
Gradually add the flour, 1 cup at a time. Check the consistency after 3 cups. When the dough holds together, turn it onto a floured surface, and knead it until smooth. You’re aiming for a moist, slightly sticky dough. It should be elastic, soft and a bit sticky but not so sticky that it’s impossible to work with.
Oil a large bowl, and lightly oil the dough. Place the dough inside the bowl, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let rise for 1 hour, until the dough has doubled inside. Punch down the dough, cover and allow to rise for another half hour.
Knead the raisins into the challah, and divide the dough into three equal parts. Roll out each part into a 12-inch-long rope (make sure to keep them uniform in circumference). Pinch the top of the ropes together, and braid them until you reach the end. For a round challah, bring the ends together to form a round loaf.
Beat the remaining egg with 1 tablespoon of water to make an egg glaze. Brush the egg glaze all over the loaf, and allow it to rise another 45 minutes, uncovered. While the challah is rising for the third time, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F with the rack positioned in the middle.
Gently brush a second coat of the egg wash over the loaf. Bake the challah for 35 to 45 minutes, until it’s a rich golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack before serving. (We’ve been eating ours by the slice with a drizzle of honey. Mmm..)
Do you have any favorite tastes from childhood that you’ve tried recreating recently? Any forgotten flavors that you stumbled upon unintentionally? And for all the bread makers out there, what are your favorite types to bake for special occasions? I’d love to hear about it!