This recipe, from The Bread Baker's Apprentice, utilizes the direct method (the yeast is mixed in with the other ingredients). It was easy to put together (until the braiding), and was forgiving of my pouring in too much water and then having to add additional flour (don't mix your dough when you've just woken up from a nap). Because I had added too much water, my dough was stickier than I think it was supposed to be, but when I divided the risen dough into sections to make the strands, I rolled it in some flour to mitigate the stickiness. Problem solved.
I decided to make two small loaves rather than one big one in order to be able to serve "fresh" bread at two different times. Hours apart on the same day. Am I becoming a freshness maniac?
Braiding the loaves was difficult for me (but I'm the same person who had to buy a book when she wanted to learn how to French braid her hair). One of the loaves looked better than the other, but I figured my audience would be forgiving of my braiding goofs. The biggest mistake I made was not tightening the strands in the middle, much like you do when you braid your hair, so the middle of my loaves had poofy strands and the ends had less poofy strands.
Another thing I'll do differently next time is timing when I make the dough. I made the dough one afternoon, and refrigerated the braided loaves overnight until I needed them. Then, forgetting that they do rise in the fridge, I proceeded to let one of them rise (way too much) at room temperature. Several of my loaves developed blisters at the surface where the dough develops air bubbles. I don't know why that is, but I wonder if I'm so enthralled with getting yeast doughs to rise that I'm letting them rise too much.
The other loaf I let come to room temperature and baked it without further rising, and it was the best of the two. Both were delicious, so delicious that M. almost ruined his lunch eating pieces of the second loaf, even after I told him lunch was portobello burgers served on challah. I think it would make fabulous French toast, bread pudding or strata.
When you know as little as I do about working with yeast, every experience is an opportunity for learning, and this one was no exception. I came away with new ideas and better understanding of the bread making process.
I'm very grateful to the Slow & Steady sub-group of the Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge for welcoming me in to their group. It gives me added motivation to keep working through the book, which is truly amazing, and add to my yeast repertoire.