Now why in the world would someone believe that when it snows, French Toast should be made? While living in Lancaster, PA, whenever the weather forecaster predicted snow, the supermarkets would be crowded with women buying milk, bread and eggs. Personally, I thought this was strange, so asked several of them, “Why do you Pennsylvania people make French Toast when it snows?” Of course I got a few odd looks, but finally it was explained that it was a “rural living thing” and the habit has simply stuck. There was that time, long ago, where going to the supermarket was very inconvenient during inclement weather, so stocking up was a must.
City living spoils one into believing that anything and everything is within reach at any time. Suburbs were created outside of the cities to give residents more room to move into, more breathing space. As suburbs grew, strip malls and malls developed, so what the residents ran away from (crowded city living) was the new normal. Once again, everything within reach with hardly any inconvenience due to the weather.
Welcome to San Juan County, Utah; designation is “rural wilderness” and while I have met many a city dweller that intensely dislikes the openness of the landscape, I love it! That’s correct, a city born and raised who loves the great outdoors, and to live in it too. However, here is where the “long ago” of those women back in Pennsylvania comes into play; not everything is within reach at all moments in time. Take the recent snowstorms of February 18th to the 22nd; over three feet dumped onto the City of Monticello alone. Shoveling building muscles, but damaging joints; snow blowers roaring; the constant question of, “Where are we supposed to put all this snow!?!” At a few points, Highways 191 and 491 were forced to close down and there were accidents a plenty; going to the store was definitely a hardship.
All the hardships though are being overshadowed by one huge important factor, all this moisture will alleviate the drought. Can I get a Hallelujah!?!
Back to the French Toast thing which basically can be made with any type of bread, but I have two favorites: Challah and Brioche. In New York, making French Toast with Challah is so popular, even the local IHops would use it. My focus for now will be on Challah which is a loaf of yeast-risen egg bread that is traditionally Jewish cuisine and eaten on Shabbat, ceremonial occasions and during festival holidays (except Passover). The word "challah" is also used to refer to the portion of dough that is traditionally separated from the loaf before baking. This is looked upon as an offering or tithe, and the family would receive a blessing; similar to the offering made to the Greek Goddess, Hestia, at every meal. The plural of "challah" is "challot."; there is no dairy in the bread, and most recipes use honey instead of sugar.
Now that I have you in the mood for, what else, French Toast, here’s my recipe for the perfect bread to make it with.
1 packet yeast
1 and ½ cups warm water (between 105-110F)
½ cup sugar or honey
6 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
½ cup canola oil
3 large eggs, beaten; plus 1 egg for glazing
Preparation of the Dough:
In a small bowl, mix together the yeast, water and sugar or honey; set aside to proof (mixture will become bubbly).
Once yeast mixture is proofed, sift into a large mixing bowl, 4 cups of flour and salt. Add the yeast mixture, oil and 3 eggs. Add one cup of flour little by little until dough becomes soft and elastic.
Knead dough for 5 minutes; adding last one cup of flour to board and hands as need; remove to greased bowl for first rising; cover with clean, linen towel.
After two hours, dough will have doubled in size; punch down the dough, re-cover and let rise for another hour.
Preparation of the Loaf:
Remove dough from bowl and divide in half. Take one half and divide into thirds; roll out each of the three between your hands to make thick ropes; lay out these onto a floured surface. Join them at one end and make them into a loose braid. Repeat with second half of dough. Cover the loaves loosely and let them rise at room temperature for a ½ hour.
Preheat oven to 350F; line baking pan with parchment paper; transfer braids to paper. Brush with the remaining egg to glaze. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes; till loaves are a medium-dark brown. (High altitude: add 5-10 minutes to baking time)
Makes 2 loaves.
Note: while many recipes include topping the bread with sesame or poppy seeds, I do not, but that’s a personal taste choice.