Earlier this week, I found myself obsessing over balance.
Specifically, how on earth was I supposed to piggyback one braid of cranberry-walnut dough atop another and expect it to be balanced enough to stay on?
I’d heard of difficulties in this area; I’d even seen one picture of a mutant cranberry-walnut celebration bread in which the top layer of this double-decker braided bread had slipped off, forming an “Alien”-like doughy growth.
But if this weekly baking challenge has taught me anything, it’s that the trying is what’s important.
So I pulled out the bread flour and let the baking begin …
Now, I’d been looking forward to this week’s bread, which is a festive looking braided bread designed for serving during Thanksgiving, one of my absolute favorite holidays.
What’s not to love about a holiday that’s (mostly) about eating?
For this cranberry-walnut loaf, first, you mix together bread flour, sugar, salt and yeast.
Then you add some lemon extract, eggs, buttermilk, butter and a little water to form a pliable dough.
After more kneading, you sprinkle in dried cranberries and chopped walnuts, kneading the dough more to distribute the berries and nuts.
The dough at this point started to look incredibly festive — I began to wonder if I should run out to buy some turkey and stuffing for accompaniments.
Next, after you’ve let the dough sit and ferment for a few hours, you divide it up into six logs — three larger, three smaller.
Then you braid together the three large logs.
And then braid together the smaller logs and place that small braid on top of the first braid. Then you brush both logs with a beaten egg and let it sit for a while more.
I was growing increasingly nervous as the bread sat and grew; I was repeatedly running over to carefully inspect it. Was that a hint of slippage I spotted? Was anything sliding?
I was hoping that the old adage about watched pots applied here–perhaps a watched bread doesn’t slide?
At the end of the resting period, I felt relieved.
After another egg wash, into the oven it went and, when it came out, it was clear the top braid had slid a little during baking and was a little off center.
It looked a little like an alien with a baby strapped on its back. But, other than that, it looked — and smelled — just delicious.
So, what did I learn?
The experience made me think of how I had decided to learn how to ride a bike while in Nantucket recently. Never a master of this “balance” thing outside of the ballet studio as a child, progressing beyond four-wheel bikes had just seemed too daunting at the time.
But on an island filled with long, wending bike paths, the time, it seemed, had come.
When the bikes arrived, however, I chickened out on going solo. So instead, we decided to start the learning process on a tandem bike with me in the back.
After about two terrifying hours of frenzied pedaling, trying to ignore cars whizzing by and clenching the handlebars with a deathgrip as I tried to sit up as straight as possible so I wouldn’t topple over, I patted myself on the back. I felt I’d learned something. (Even if it really had been Mike in the front seat, taking the lead.)
Back in my kitchen, after making this double-braided bread somewhat successfully, I suddenly realized my bike-riding bravery clearly had not been enough.
Sometimes, you’ve just got to take the plunge. Sure, you may slip and topple over. But then again, just maybe you won’t.
Next time there are bikes at hand, I’ll be going solo.