English Muffins: This Story Will Bore You


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Like bagels, English muffins had always been in the category I call “So easy to buy — why bother making them?”

But for the Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge, I’d already tackled some key standards — challah, cinnamon buns, brioche. So I figured, what’s one more?

And besides, it turned out, making English muffins is easy — so incredibly easy, in fact, that nothing eventful happened.

As I whizzed through the steps, I began to wonder if I should have blindfolded myself or tied one hand behind my back while making them, just to have something fascinating to say about baking English muffins. Oh, the trials that could have happened! The tribulations! The smell of burnt cornmeal filling my apartment again!

Alas, none of that occurred.

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A French Toast To Remember


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People have been asking — what do you do with all this bread you're baking?

To which, I have my own question: Have you seen my behind lately?

But the truth is, I don't eat all, or even a quarter, of my bread. Giving it away has been a sound strategy. And, I have a freezer full of brioche, waiting for the day when a handsome bread pudding recipe comes along.

When I made challah, however, I broke the rules.

The moment I set eyes on my braided loaf, I knew French toast was a must.

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What Ciabatta Taught Me


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This moment, I had known it would come.

The one where I’m sitting on the floor of my smoke-filled apartment, staring at three rock-hard, blackened loaves and thinking, “I am a failure.”

Having never baked bread before, I’d known it was a little insane to sign up for the weekly Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge, where a group of more than 200 amateur bakers around the world bake a bread every week from a recipe in Peter Reinhart’s bread-making bible.

But then my first attempt — bagels — had gone well. And in the ensuing weeks, decent versions of brioche and challah followed.

I started to get cocky — I even promised chef Simpson that I would bring my first stab at ciabatta to his July 4 party. There would be two Italians there — who better to judge the quality of my first Italian bread?

Of course, this was all before the alarming amounts of smoke, the smell of burnt cornmeal seeping into every cranny of my apartment and, eventually, the surfacing of three dark lumps of what could pass for coal but were actually my “ciabatta.”

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Challah: A Lesson Learned


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I was never any good at girlish things as a child.

Not jump rope nor dressing up Barbie. (Or myself, for that matter.) And certainly not the braiding of any hair.

So it would be accurate to say that the notion that someday I'd attempt to make challah, the braided bread traditionally eaten on the Sabbath and other Jewish holidays — no, that never once crossed my mind.

In fact, when I learned last week that challah was on the schedule for the Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge, I instantly planned to sit this one out.

Me? Braiding? Gummy ropes of dough? I was set to say "No thank you" to failure and disappointment and skip ahead to ciabatta, the next bread on the list. But no, my friends wouldn't allow it. "It's easier than ciabatta," said Heather. "Think of the French toast that you can make after," Geri said.

Since "French toast" is high on the list of magic words in my husband's vocabulary, out came the mixing bowls and the challah-making commenced.

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