I think I've improved on bread baking more than anything else this summer. I still suck at estimating portion sizes of all foods (as you will further discover in this post), and I haven't really sought to make any great strides in combining various spices or in messing with pastry (partly due to a lack of equipment), but I've got a much better feel for what various moisture levels, rising times, and flour combinations will do to a loaf of bread.
This is why I decided it was time to try challah, which relies on a light and delicate interior for much of its appeal. After poring over about 10 recipes, only one of which was not on the Internet, I chose this one for its straightforward directions, superficially appealing egg-to-flour ratio, and once again superficially appealing size.
I mostly made the right choice. This bread has the best texture of any I've ever made. It's fluffy and feathery and has that half-firm, half-chewy crust that I associate with challah. The honey flavor isn't quite as strong as I anticipated, but in the context of how this particular challah was intended to be served, that was just fine, and if I want to make a sweeter bread, it's easy to upregulate the honey and correspondingly downregulate the white sugar.
The real issue here, which I'm going to attribute partially to my error and partially to an unfortunate vagueness of terms in the recipe, was the size of the loaf. The recipe said that it would make "two small" or "one large" loaf of bread. Any time I've run into that term in other recipes, the two small loaves have been, say, small boules, or enough dough to fill a six-inch rather than nine-inch loaf pan. What I feel the recipe should have said is that it makes "two regular loaves or one titan loaf." I tore a chunk out of the center of the bread (the choicest part, of course) before I thought to take a picture, but here's a vague reconstruction, with a fork in the photo for size:
Most of this happened during the second rise, completely eliminating what I thought was rather a nice braid (Pride? You bet I have pride about eking a nice braid out of my artistically disinclined self.). The first rise doubled the dough volume, but no more; the second much more than doubled it. In any case, it will keep us in bread for the next three days.
I originally intended the bread to accompany this avocado soup, but it's clear that the avocado soup accompanied the bread. Sadly, the soup was the first thing I've made all summer that was just not good. I followed the recipe with no alteration other than to reduce the amount of salt a bit, and it still tasted like nothing so much as salty, limey yogurt. That's not bad, per se, if you're going for a savory lassi or some such, but lassi this was not. I choked down a bowl for the purposes of protein and then ate a rather impressive amount of salad and bread to make myself feel better. It's definitely going to be salad, bread, and cheese for lunch tomorrow rather than soup, salad, and bread.