It is my son's eleventh birthday, which I still cannot believe, even though I have typed the words and said it plenty today. Eleven. Wow. Anyway, he loves bread and anything made from it. So for his birthday breakfast, he requested French toast made from Challah bread, the Jewish sabbath bread, which is a pretty much a sweet egg bread, not unlike Hawaiian bread, Portuguese bread or Brioche. Being that we live in the Los Angeles environs, it is not difficult to find a good Jewish deli that could provide said loaf. But because I am a glutton for punishment, I decided to make the loaves from scratch so I would, save my husband the trip. (Just italicizing to emphasize my faulty thinking after clearly too many late nights!!) I had made the bread with success once before, and although it is a lengthy process, no step is particularly complicated....so I thought.
I mixed the dough according to the directions in my Gourmet Cookbook. It was so much sticker that I remembered. Like really sticky. I let it rise, punched it down (it stuck all over my hands) then let it rise for the second time. It was supposed to require an additional 1/2 cup of flour to make it "workable" but it required at least 4 times that. Oh well. The dough was finally the perfect consistency and I divided it in two, braided it and set it aside to rise while the oven preheated. Unfortunately when I baked it, I was so preoccupied with getting the other things ready for his birthday, that I let it go too long in the oven and the bottoms were burnt....black. So then I spent a good 10 minutes or so, scraping the bottom of all that charred crust, blackened crumbs flying all over the kitchen, including into my eye (which is scratched and red because of it). Finally as satisfied as I could be, we went to bed.
When we woke in the morning to make the French toast, I ended up cutting off the bottom crust entirely, because it was too hard. But the end product was delicious and nobody could tell what had happened. Challah makes the best French toast because it is dense, sweet and eggy and absorbs the batter very well, without becoming soggy. You can make it yourself, or you can usually find it in a store. In case you are also a glutton for punishment, here is an adaptation of that recipe. If you have no desire to make a Challah loaf yourself, never fear, just buy the darn thing and move down the page to find the French toast recipe!
Challah (Egg Bread)
2 packages dry yeast (or 5 t)
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup sugar
4 t honey
1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
3 extra large eggs plus 2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon salt
7-8 cups all-purpose flour, approximately
In a jar, dissolve yeast, 1 tablespoon flour and 1 tablespoon sugar in 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water. Let sit for about 10 minutes or until quite frothy. Meanwhile, in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment mix oil and honey with remaining sugar and salt. Spread yeast mixture over the top and gradually add 2 1/2 C flour. Beat well. Switch to a dough hook and add 2 1/2 cups more flour and beat for 10 minutes on low speed, until blisters from on the surface. The dough will be quite wet.
Pour dough out into well-greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours, until almost doubled in size. Dough may also rise in an oven that has been warmed to 150 degrees then turned off. Punch down dough, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour.
Turn the dough out onto a well floured board and knead in enough flour to make dough smooth and pliable, about 2 1/2 C. Let bread rest under an inverted bowl for 10 minutes. Divide dough in half, letting 1 half stay under the bowl. To make a 3-braid challah, take half the dough and form it into 3 balls. With your hands, roll each ball into a strand about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Place the 3 in a row, parallel to one another. Starting in the middle, braid the bottom half of the loaf then flip it around towards you and braid the rest. Pinch the ends together and turn them under. Place each loaf on a greased cookie sheet, about 5 inches apart. Beat another egg with 1 T sugar and brush it on loaves. Let rest for another 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake in middle of oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden. (If you have an instant read thermometer, you can take it out when it hits an internal temperature of 190 degrees.) Cool loaves on a rack.
Birthday Challah French Toast
1/2 C half and half
1 t vanilla extract
2 T sugar
1/2 t salt
1 t cinnamon
1 t orange zest (optional...my kids don't like it, but we grownups think it is pretty swell)
1 loaf Challah bread, sliced
4 T butter
Beat eggs together in large bowl with remaining ingredients except bread and butter. Heat heavy skillet or griddle over medium heat. Melt butter in the pan, then dip each slice of bread in the egg mixture and place on the griddle. Fry for a couple of minutes a side, or until golden brown. Cover with foil to keep warm as you fry the remaining slices. When finished, dust tops with powdered sugar and serve.