1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/2 sticks (6 ozs.) unsalted butter, i.e., 1 stick (8 tablespoons) for dough, 1/4 stick (2 tablespoons) for oiling bowl and baking sheet, and 1/4 stick (2 tablespoons) for basting loaf
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lukewarm water
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) dry yeast, e.g., Fleischmann’s (but not "Rapid Rise" or other "instant")
3 large eggs
About 3 3/4 cups white, all-purpose flour (preferably unbleached)
Poppy seeds for garnish—optional
1. Scald milk in a small saucepan over high heat. Move to a large mixing bowl or work bowl of a standing mixer (e.g., KitchenAid). Cut 1/2 stick of the butter into pats and add to bowl with the salt and the 1/3 cup sugar; mix well with a wooden spoon, or dough hook attachment to mixer, until butter, salt, sugar are all dissolved and mixture is lukewarm. Meanwhile: in a small bowl, stir next three ingredients together well to dissolve yeast; leave 5-10 minutes—until foamy. If it doesn’t foam, yeast is dead; replace yeast before proceeding. Separate one egg: put white aside for later; beat yolk and two whole eggs lightly in a small bowl.
2. Stir or machine-mix yeast into cooled milk mixture. Add eggs and 1/2 the flour; beat to smooth. Add remaining flour, the last 1/2 cup gradually. By hand: When spoon-stirring becomes too arduous, press flour into dough with your fist, turning dough over as needed. By hand or machine: Add just enough flour to make a fairly stiff, but not dry, dough that pulls cleanly away from the sides of the bowl. If too sticky, add a little extra flour; if too dry, drizzle in a little warm water.
3. By hand: Turn dough out onto a very lightly floured surface and knead about 10 minutes. By machine: knead with dough hook for 5 minutes on medium speed, then finish by kneading briefly by hand. Finished dough should be satiny smooth and bouncy. Put in a buttered bowl, turn over so top surface is buttered too, and cover with a clean, non-terrycloth (i.e., low-lint) towel that has been dipped in hot water and wrung out well. Put in a warm place to rise to double in bulk—2-2 1/2 hours. An unheated oven with the light on works well.
4. When doubled in bulk, punch down thoroughly and turn out onto a clean, unfloured surface. Cut into three** pieces; roll each to a rope about 15 inches long. Seal the three together at one end, squeezing bonded part together very hard then turning under. Braid dough ropes together (like braiding hair) and seal second end like first. Use a little water if difficult to bond. (If you don’t wish to braid, shape all the dough into a log; it will taste the same.)** Place on buttered baking sheet and melt the extra 2 tablespoons of butter. Butter the braided loaf with a brush. Leave to rise for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 325 degrees after bread has risen for 40 minutes.
5. Place risen bread on centered rack of preheated oven. Beat retained egg white with a tablespoon or two of water. After baking 10 minutes, brush loaf with egg-white mixture; rotate pan front to back for even baking. Repeat 10 minutes later. Five minutes later, brush with egg white a 3rd, final time and sprinkle with poppy seeds, if wished. Cook 5 minutes more, or 10, if needed—a total of 30-35 minutes—until loaf is golden brown (not dark brown), top creases don’t look or feel raw, and bottom gives off hollow sound if thumped. (Yes, it’s hard to turn on it’s side to thump.) If very top begins to brown too quickly, i.e., while sides, etc. are still quite pale, cover fast-browning part with a strip of aluminum foil. Remove to a rack and cool before slicing.
Makes 1 loaf a little under 2 lbs. in weight
*2 x recipe = 1 dramatically-long loaf; fits diagonally on standard baking sheet. For 2x recipe, use 4 eggs total and same 1 egg white for glazing. Increase butter by 1 stick: 1/2 stick is still enough for oiling bowl, pan, loaf.
**For a triple-braided loaf, best used for a double recipe, see instructions: “Bread, Chalah, To Triple Braid”.
(See recipe, "Bread, Chalah" for basic instructions, substituting below process for #'s 4. and 5. in that recipe. Triple-braided version works best using a double recipe of dough. If doubling recipe, )
4. When dough is doubled in bulk, punch down thoroughly and turn out onto a clean, unfloured surface. Cut in half. Divide one half into 3 pieces; roll each to a rope about 8 inches long, if doing a single recipe of dough, 17-18 inches long if doing a double recipe. Seal the 3 at one end, squeezing together hard to bond, then turning under and squeezing again to further bond the underside to the part that shows. Braid dough ropes together, exactly like braiding hair, and seal 2nd end like the 1st . Use a little water if difficult to bond. Place on buttered baking sheet—on the diagonal if doing a double recipe.
5. Cut 2/3 of the remaining dough into 3 pieces. Repeat above process, but making each strand about 2 inches longer; they will look skinny. The finished braid must also be 2 inches longer than the 1st braid, though dough may try to contract when braided. If this is the case, hold one end of finished braid in each hand and stretch gently. Leave on rolling surface and repeat the process with the remaining 1/3, again making a very skinny braid 2 inches longer than the 2nd braid.
6. Wet the side of your hand (the surface used for breaking stuff in karate) and make a deep, damp depression the length of the 1st, largest braid. Wet your hand more than once if necessary. Place the 2nd braid in this depression but with the direction of the braided pattern reversed. Press down hard to bond, pull ends of 2nd braid out and underneath the sealed ends of the 1st braid, and seal them to the underside of the 1st braid with a little water and quite a bit of pressure. Repeat process exactly with the remaining dough, remembering to reverse the direction of the braided pattern again (so that the 1st and 3rd braids are headed the same way and the one in between goes in the opposite direction). Press firmly at the ends, to seal the 3 braids together; also press down harder than you think you should several times across the entire top of the loaf to weld the 3 braids together. Even if they look ugly at the moment, rising and baking will transform them.
7. Melt the extra 2 tablespoons of butter. Butter the braided loaf with a brush. Leave to rise for 1 hour. Preheat oven to 325 degrees after bread has risen for 40 minutes.
8. Place risen bread on centered rack of preheated oven. Beat retained egg white with 1-2 tablespoons of water. After baking 10 minutes, brush loaf with egg-white mixture; rotate pan front to back for even baking. Repeat 10 minutes later. 5 minutes later, brush with egg white a 3rd, final time and sprinkle with poppy seeds, if wished. Cook 5 minutes more, or 10, if needed—a total of 30-35 minutes for a single recipe, 5-10 minutes longer for a double recipe—until loaf is golden brown (not dark brown), top creases don’t look or feel raw, and bottom gives off hollow sound if thumped. (Yes, it’s hard to turn on it’s side to thump.) If very top begins to brown too quickly— while sides, etc. are still quite pale—cover fast-browning part with a strip of aluminum foil. Remove to a rack and cool before slicing.
Makes 1 loaf a little under 2 lbs. in weight or 1 double loaf of about 3 3/4 lbs.
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