Some of my earliest memories are of cooking. Baking batches of chocolate chip cookies or zucchini bread (always with walnuts, thank you very much) with my Grandmother Cecile, I would help every step of the way just for a chance to lick the spoon. She was probably my first influence in cooking and definitely my strongest. I can remember her cooking roast chickens that filled her house with an aroma that can only be described as heavenly.
She was a master of flakey pie crusts and just about anything else, but it was her ability to provide for her family of eight children that was nothing short of amazing. Her loving and caring nature served to inspire not only me but all 21 of her grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren. We have all taken different paths, but we have all sat in her kitchen, even if just to talk for a while. She was always there to lend an ear. There was always a pot of coffee on, and it always came with a warm smile.
My memories of her are some of the fondest held in my heart. As I cook for my three small children, I can only hope that at least a little of her spirit comes through.
This hearty bread is enriched with eggs, butter, milk and sugar. Stands by itself as breakfast when ripped apart and slathered with a little butter, makes next-level grilled cheese when sliced, and the leftovers make the richest French toast you’ll ever eat.
Yields 1 loaf
500 grams (about 3½ cups) white bread flour
8 grams (little more than 1 teaspoon) active dry yeast
30 grams (2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
115 grams (1 stick) fridge-cold butter, cubed
2 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk beaten (reserve the extra egg white for the egg wash)
200 milliliters (little less than 1 cup) whole milk, warmed to about 100°F
Reserved egg white from the dough
15 grams (1 tablespoon) whole milk
12 grams (1 tablespoon) flake salt (optional)
Sift flour into bowl of a stand mixer or other large bowl. Add yeast, sugar and salt; whisk to combine. Add cubed butter, beaten eggs and warmed milk.
If mixing by hand, stir until a loose shaggy dough is formed. Then turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead by hand for 10 minutes, until the mixture becomes smooth. Not all the butter may have incorporated; this is OK at this stage. Place dough back into mixing bowl.
If using a stand mixer, mix on low speed with the dough hook for approximately 7 minutes, until the dough is smooth. Some butter may not be incorporated; this is OK at this point. Remove dough hook.
Cover bowl with plastic wrap for approximately 1 –2 hours at room temperature, or until doubled in size.
After the rise, punch down dough and separate into 3 equal pieces.
Roll the 3 pieces out into long strands approximately 1 inch thick. Connect the strands at one end and form into a braid. Connect the other ends together at the end of the braid.
Preheat oven to 400°F with an oven rack in toward the upper ⅓.
Prepare a parchment-paper-lined glass baking dish, if available. If no glass dish is available, a sheet pan will work but you will likely have to adjust the oven temp to 375°F and pay close attention to the bottom of the bread as it is likely to burn. This can also be baked in a lined or buttered/floured loaf pan at the original 400°F.
Place your completed braid in your desired cooking vessel and cover with plastic wrap for a second rise at room temperature for about 45 minutes to an hour while the oven is preheating fully.
Once risen, prepare egg wash by whisking the reserved egg whites and milk.
Brush egg wash onto the top and sides of your loaf in a thin, even layer. If desired (trust me, you desire it) sprinkle the flake salt evenly over your egg-washed loaf.
Place your loaf into the oven and bake for approximately 20 minutes, rotate the pan 180 degrees halfway through baking for a more even bake.
Bake should be complete when the internal temperature of the bread reaches around 200°F.
Let cool on a wire rack for at least an hour before digging in.