Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Bread Fairy: A real life, feel-good, fantasy for the whole family

There's a cliche about how story ideas are pitched in Hollywood:  An eager young writing team goes into a meeting, says, "It's Harry Potter meets Avatar"* or "It's The Hangover meets Wall Street"**, and the next thing you know they have a seven figure movie deal and Will Smith attached to the project***.

Not being in the biz, I have no way of knowing if there is a grain of truth to this idea, but I will confess to you now that this post is, in fact Challah Back, Camelback Girl meets A Really Inspired Kitchen.

Here's the longer pitch:

A carb-addicted blogger goes berserk at a school auction and purchases a bread baking class taught by a culinary master chef.    The impossibly organized and talented hostess guides the group through the finer points of making bread from scratch.   Braiding happens.   There is spontaneous parental bonding over a gourmet lunch, complete with delectable desserts.   Our heroine returns home, stuffed to the gills, bearing a huge tub of dough.   In an inspirational ending, she is seen distributing loaves of warm, golden, yeasty bread throughout the community, engendering feelings of happiness and goodwill from all mankind.**** 

You can send that seven figure paperwork over anytime.

The "goody bowl" for each guest included the bread recipe, a whisk, measuring spoons, and a sack towel.

The counter was loaded down with ingredients...a basket of fresh eggs, bags of bread flour, oil and sugar.  In the foreground is my yeast, proofing in warm water.

Whisking in the eggs and sugar

Our hostess, Leah, demonstrating.  By the way, there was not a speck of anything on that apron at the end of the day.

The whisk is now useless.   The only thing that works is to get in there with both hands and go for it.

This part is pretty fun, actually.

The dough gets a coat of fruity olive oil.  Kind of like a nice spa treatment.

Now resting under a soothing damp towel (told you it was like a spa treatment!), the dough has a little nap. We get snacks.

Cinnamon chocolate chip bread and lemon walnut bread.  I know.  It's just not fair that I was here and you weren't.

Turning out the dough after it has risen.  It is bubbly and airy, almost like a sponge.

A minute later, it's collapsed into a smooth, round ball.

The recipe makes enough to feed a small village for a month.  Leah is cutting the dough into four parts.  Each part will make a full sized loaf of bread, with bonus leftover dough.  Keep reading to see what happens to that!

Making "ropes" for braiding.  Leah's advice is to roll "up" from the center to elongate the dough.  Like everything else about Leah, it works perfectly!

Preparing to braid.  Did you notice there were six ropes?  It's gonna be complicated!

Here's how I remember how to make the right pattern:  The octopus (or in this case, sextopus) is doing calisthenics.   You are his coach.  He folds one arm over to the side  Then he puts his other arm across.  The coach is happy.  Two crossed arms look good to you. But then, the creature reaches to the middle with the first arm.  He's missing a side arm now, so you pull one over for him.  He stubbornly puts the arm that was out to the side in the middle.  You pull over an arm to replace that one.  He defiantly puts the other side arm in the middle.   This is one stubborn sextopus. You repeat this back and forth (side, middle, replace side, middle, replace other side...) until you run out of arms and he's just a fat braided stump.

After the bread has gone back for a second damp towel treatment (all those calisthenics!), we apply an egg wash and toasted sesame seeds

Leftover dough balls are rolled in cinnamon sugar to make decadent breakfast buns.

Or get tied into knots for dinner rolls.  These have a touch of fennel salt on top.

As the house fills with the aroma of baking bread, lunch is served.   Moroccan Lentil Soup with Gruyere Crostini.  Mediterranean Orzo Salad.   Green salad with Pears.  Assorted cheeses. 

...and a bread basket.

Yeah.  She made these, too.  It's just nuts.  The lemon tart, on the right side there, was INCREDIBLE!!!

* Young, hormonal British wizards are sent by train to a school on a distant, lush planet full of beauty, peril, and a wise but dying shrub. They wear striped scarves and are distrusted by the natives. An evil NASA accountant runs amok on earth, wreaking havoc on the ecosystem of the universe. He is thwarted by extremely tall, flying blue people and some insects, but only after the shrub unites the wizards and the natives, and then dies meaningfully. The blue people turn out to be naturals at Quidditch.
** A group of young wall street analysts get blind, stinking, drunk after work and accidentally do a hostile takeover of Microsoft. Hilarity ensues.
*** Thereby neatly illustrating both the industry's complete self-obsession and its utter lack of originality. 
**** I really did go home with my big tub of dough and feed all mankind.  I made two loaves with toasted sesame seeds, three smaller loaves with golden raisins folded into the dough and rosemary sugar on top, and my masterpiece, a large loaf with bittersweet chocolate chips tucked into the braid and alder-smoked salt on top.  When my son's carpool dropped him off after basketball practice, the house smelled incredible.  Three kids and three grown ups dove into the fresh sesame loaf, I sent my friend home with a bag of dough for her family of four, and then I took three warm loaves to a packed board meeting.  I dropped the last raisin loaf off with a friend this morning, and the dog somehow managed to scarf down a handful of dinner rolls that got left on the counter.


  1. Sharon, have I said lately how much I love your blog? You are so, so funny. And, OHMYGOD. The bread and other foods here. Jesus.

  2. P.S. I posted here, then saw this:

    I really think you should submit something, either something you've already posted, or something new. Deadline is 11/29.

  3. Thanks, Deonne! I'll check out the site you mentioned. And I'm loving your new adventures. Maybe you could scamper to LA sometime...