Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Cordelia Andreas’s Braided Bread

As I read Eleanor Brown’s The Weird Sisters, I got a nagging craving for fresh, homemade bread.  Cordelia, the youngest sister, is pregnant, and when her nesting instincts kick in, she heads for the kitchen and whips up multiple loaves: St. Lucia bread, chocolate bread, Hawaiian bread – you name it.  The passage below will give your cravings “a rise” as well:
            There is nothing that is not beautiful about bread.  The way it grows, from tiny grains, from bowls on the counter, from yeast blooming in a measuring cup like swampy islands.  The way it feels a room, a house, a building, with its inimitable smells at every stage of the process.  The way it swells, submits to a firmly applied fist and contracts, swells again; the way it stretches and expands upon kneading, the warm supple fell of it against your skin.  The sight of a warm roll on a table, the taste – sweet, sour, yeasty on the tongue. (page 286)
Who knew baking bread could be so sexy?  So tempting?

In honor of Cordelia Andreas, the youngest (and my favorite) Weird Sister, I made Braided Bread.  The braided varieties were her favorites because she liked the challenge of getting the strips even, then tying them together in such a way that they were still distinct after baking.  Here’s the recipe:

2 ½ cups bread flour, divided
¼ cup white sugar
1 tsp salt
1 package active dry yeast
2/3 cup milk
2 T butter
2 eggs
2 T butter, melted

  1. In a mixing bowl, add 1 cup flour, sugar, salt and yeast; stir.  Heat milk and butter in saucepan until milk is just warm.  The butter should be soft but not completely melted into the milk.
  2. Add the milk and butter mixture a little at a time to the flour mixture, stirring constantly.  Beat in the eggs and ½ cup flour.  Add remaining flour, ½ cup at a time, stirring well after each addition.  When the dough has thickened, turn it onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 8 minutes (or use a dough hook in your mixer and knead on low speed 8 minutes.)
  3. Put the ball of dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat it.  Cover with a damp cloth and leave it in a warm place to rise, until doubled in volume (about 1 hour).
  4. Punch down the dough and turn it onto a lightly floured surface.  Divide the dough into two portions.  Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.  Roll each portion into a long strip, about 36 inches long and 1 ½ inches wide.  Gently lay one length of dough over the other until you have a “braid” (it’s really more of a twist).  Pinch the two ends together to form a ring.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Place loaf on greased baking sheet and cover lightly with a damp towel.  Put loaf in a warm place and let it rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.
  6. Brush loaf with melted butter, and bake in oven for 50-55 minutes (or 45 minutes, if your oven is hotter than Satan’s ass, like mine.)  Bread should look golden when ready.
  7. Serve at your Weird Sisters book club night, alongside some “Beanery” style gourmet coffee.  (10 servings)

Here is my final result. 

Not exactly the homage to Cordelia for which I’d hoped.  My braid is lopsided – I clearly haven’t Cordy’s patience for getting my strips even.  Plus, it was a little more on the brown side of the golden-brown color spectrum.  Nonetheless, its well-doneness is apropos for the Andreas family.  Mother Andreas was known to wander off in the middle of food preparation on a whim until the smoke alarm brought her back to the task.  I suppose I am more like the mother than Cordy.  I confess: I went to check email and tweets as my bread baked.  I didn’t check on it once, and only took a look when the timer sounded.  If I’d had my mind on the task, I would have taken it out about five minutes sooner. 
Regardless, the braided bread tasted divine.  Sure it was dark, but it wasn’t burnt, and the outer shell was nice and crunchy while the inside was soft and chewy.  I ate about half the thing myself, and now I must punish my body with some high intense cardio – hmm, that sounded like something Bean would say.  Perhaps I’ll go for a run and try to pick up a hottie vicar while I’m out.  Now, if only I could summon Rosalind to my house to clean up the mess of flour and dishes in my kitchen…

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