when i was growing up, toronto may as well have been narnia. it was the land of wonders and riches and captivating talking mannequins. it’s where joe carter lived. it’s hard to describe the working class vibes of just knowing in your bones that it’s not even on the horizon of possibility that you’d ever *go* there, so why even think about it?
wonder of wonders, my cousin won a trip to toronto when i was in the 10th grade. he won it via his paper route with the chronicle herald, and invited my mom & i to go with him & his mom! we were on a 3-day mission to find tamagotchis, after an urban breakfast at the yonge & dundas pickle barrel.
my breakfast appetite became the stuff of family legend. i’d order a fresh fruit platter with frozen yogurt, which seemed like the most exotic luxurious city meal possible. then i’d pleadingly stare at everyone else like a semi-threatening seagull until they surrendered at least one slice of their challah toast. it was beautiful — that glossy top, that weaving, that close-textured velvety dough. this was literally 20 years ago, and i still get teased. idk, i don’t mind. it’s good to be known for something.
anyways. this recipe is a heart-achey lil nod to my dad’s jewish heritage & the jewish grandfather i never knew (oy vey — a story for another post!), how bright-eyed and awed i was by challah that first trip to toronto a zillion years ago, and to nova scotia brown bread. this bread can be found at roadside markets everywhere around nova scotia, and alongside any baked bean dinner at the legion. there are things about it very similar to challah — it omits the eggs but is enriched with milk and butter, sweetened with fancy molasses instead of sugar, and brushed with egg yolks, milk & honey. ith gu leòir! / beteavon!
1. evenly combine all dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer, reserving one cup of the flour. melt the butter, and add the molasses and water. put in the microwave for 30 second intervals, until it feels nice and warm (not hot) to the touch.
2. add the wet to the dry ingredients. with the dough hook for the mixer, set on speed 2 and allow to run for 7 minutes. the dough should be pulling from the side of the bowl, hugging the dough hook. it should be sticky, but not so much that you can’t handle it easily. if it’s still too gooey, add a bit more of the reserved flour until it’s the desired consistency.
3. place into a greased bowl, cover with plastic & a towel, and allow to rise in a warm place for 2 hours.
4. punch down the risen dough. now, i’m not an expert at 6-strand braiding, but i learned how to do it for this via watching this youtube video literally about 20 times. i’m just going to default to the experts here.
5. on a baking sheet lined with parchment, set the braided loaf.
6. make the egg wash: with a fork, whisk together the egg yolk, milk, and honey. brush heartily over the loaf, as this stage will be when the dough is most resilient. sprinkle the egg-washed dough with a tsp of oats, and allow to rise for another hour in a warm place.
7. heat oven to 375f. throw 1/2c of water into the bottom of oven before sliding in the bread — this creates the steam environment needed for it to rise properly. carefully brush the loaf again with the remaining egg wash, then bake the bread for ~22 minutes, until it sounds hollow when you tap on the outside. depending on your oven, it may be a minute or two either side of 22. serve with all the butter in the house.