Thanksgiving Day is one of the food highlights of the year for our family–my sister Janet makes the best turkey, my sister Kathy makes the best corn pudding, Janet’s mother-in-law makes riced potatoes, which are light as air . . . there are Fanny May chocolates from my mom, wonderful, tender pies from sister-in-law Leah, delicious wines. So it’s all good. When Janet asked me to bring bread, she said, “Remember the time you made bread in the shape of a squirrel?” The surprising thing was that I didn’t remember it at all, and I wonder what other interesting episodes of my life I have forgotten. But she had thrown down an irresistible challenge, and Wednesday night I made some challah dough from The Complete Book of Breads* by Bernard Clayton, Jr., refrigerated it overnight, and on Thanksgiving morning set to creating a squirrel. This is harder than it looks, because squirrels actually look a bit like rabbits, especially if you are fashioning them from bread dough. But into the oven it went, and came out plump and brown. Challah bread is beautifully golden and fine-textured, and makes wonderful toast. This recipe is particularly good because it doesn’t go overboard on adding sugar or honey
1 package dry yeast
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup hot tap water
3 eggs plus 1 egg yolk for glaze
In a large bowl mix yeast, two cups flour, sugar, salt and butter. Gradually add water and beat by hand for two minutes. Add the three eggs and beat in thoroughly. Add about three additional cups flour, one at a time until the dough is no longer sticky. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead for about five minutes.
At this point, I put the dough back into the bowl, covered it tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerated it overnight.
The next morning I preheated the oven to 400 degrees, floured a baking sheet, and divided the dough into pieces for the body, tail, head, and arms, plus four very small pieces for the ears, feet, and an acorn. At this point it’s up to you to wrestle, roll, and fluff the dough to create a squirrel. I kneaded cinnamon into a tiny piece of dough to make an acorn, but you could barely see it on the finished squirrel. Place the dough squirrel onto the floured baking sheet. Make a tiny slit with a sharp knife for the eye, and insert a raisin. Allow to rise for about half an hour, until puffy. Mix one egg yolk plus some water and brush over the entire squirrel, and place into the preheated oven. After 15 minutes, briefly remove the bread to reglaze with the egg yolk mixture. The total baking time will be about 30 to 35 minutes. The bread will have puffed up to golden brown magnificence.
I placed the finished squirrel into a basket lined with a clean kitchen towel and oak leaves, for a nice presentation.
*I have the first edition of this book, and it’s wonderful. Every recipe I have made has turned out well. It’s available now at Amazon.com for just pennies, so if you are looking for a good bread book, go for it.