Things have been really busy around here since Thanksgiving. I’m right in the middle of finals, so writing a final paper on The Picture of Dorian Gray is proving to be much more important than blogging about what silly things I’m trying in the kitchen.
However, I just couldn’t take it anymore, so I decided to take a break and do something I really enjoy: bake bread.
I had all the ingredients I needed to pull off a loaf of Challah, but the question wasn’t ingredients, the question was technique. Bread takes patience, the right temperature and environment to rise, and it takes a bit of intuition to know when to stop kneading the dough. If only I could bake bread for my final grade in my Critical Approaches to Literature class!
Challah is a traditional loaf of braided egg bread served on the Sabbath and on holidays. I’ve tried making challah before, but for whatever reason, it didn’t turn out. This time I was determined.
Okay, so I know my strands of dough are not perfectly uniform, but hey, so what? The smell of bread rising in my kitchen must have clouded my ability to separate the dough into “equal” pieces.
Out of all the different challah recipes I’ve come across, this one had to be the simplest. The rise time was similar to other bread recipes, but because I had other things to do (i.e. write my paper) I wasn’t in the kitchen constantly checking on the rising dough. I think I could have added just a bit more flour to the dough, because when I braided it, it was sticking together and giving me quite a hard time. But I persevered and voilà!
Adapted from The Kitchn
2 teaspoons active dry yeast (or instant if that’s all you have)
1 cup lukewarm water (between 110ºF and 115ºF)
Pinch of sugar
4 – 41/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 large eggs
1 egg yolk (reserve white for egg wash)
1/4 cup neutral-flavored vegetable oil (I used canola) (or melted butter, if you don’t need to keep kosher)
Fill liquid measuring cup with lukewarm water, sprinkle yeast over the water, and add a “healthy” pinch of sugar. Stir to dissolve yeast and let stand until you see a thin frothy layer across the top.
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or large bowl) whisk together the 4 cups flour, sugar, and salt.
Make a well in the center of the flour and add the eggs, egg yolk, and oil. Whisk together to form a slurry.
Pour the yeast mixture over the egg slurry. Mix the yeast, eggs, and flour with a long-handled spoon until you for a shaggy dough that is difficult to mix.
If you’re using a stand mixer, attach the dough hook and knead on low for 6-8 minutes. Or, knead on floured surface (by hand) for 10 minutes. If the dough is super sticky, add flour a teaspoon at a time until it feels tacky, but not like bubblegum. The dough will be ready when it is soft, smooth, and holds a ball-shape.
I started my dough in the stand mixer and let it knead for about 8 minutes. I added about 2 tablespoons extra flour. Then I turned it out on to a floured board and kneaded it by hand until it was smooth. You’ll just have to trust yourself if you think it needs more flour, etc. Don’t overwork it though.
Place dough ball in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place somewhere warm. Let dough rise until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 – 2 hours. I placed mine in the oven and turned the oven light on. The warmth from the bulb was enough to assist my dough in rising.
When doubled, turn out onto a lightly floured board and separate into either three or six equal portions, depending on the type of braid you’re looking for. Roll each piece of dough into a rope about 1-inch thick and 16-inches long. If the ropes shrink while you’re rolling, just let them sit for a few minutes so the gluten will relax and then try again.
Gather the ropes and squeeze together at the very top. If making a three-stranded challah, braid the ropes like you’d braid hair. If making a six-stranded challah like the one pictured above, braid this way:
“Over two, under one, over two.” Carry the right-most rope over the two ropes beside it, slip it under the middle rope, then carry it over the last two ropes. Lay the rope down parallel to the other ropes; it is now the furthest-left rope. Repeat this pattern until you reach the end of the loaf. Try to make it as tight as possible. Your braid might start listing to the left as you go; it’s okay to lift it up and center it as you go. Once you reach the end, squeeze the ends of the rope together and tuck under the loaf.
Plump your loaf a little by placing your left palm at the end of the braid and your right palm at the top, and gently push the two ends together, just like plumping a pillow.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silpat.
Gently lift loaf onto the baking sheet. Sprinkle loaf with a little flour and drape it with a clean dishcloth. Place it somewhere warm and let it rise until puffed and pillowy, about 1 hour.
About 20 minutes before baking, pre-heat oven to 350ºF. When ready to bake, whisk the reserved egg white with 1 tablespoon water and brush it all over the challah. Be sure to get in the cracks and down the sides of the loaf.
Place baking sheet in oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through baking. The challah is done when it is deeply brown and registers 190ºF in the very middle with an instant-read thermometer. My loaf took about 33 minutes.
Let challah cool on cooling rack until just barely warm. Slice and eat.
I had some for breakfast this morning – toasted, with peanut butter and honey. I’m looking forward to challah french toast.