Bread week, day 4: Challah
Something about bread week would be amiss without at least one recipe to celebrate my (half) Jewish heritage (and just in time for Shabbat!). Thanks to Heather at Chick n’ Pastry for the inspiration.
This challah is my first real loaf of the week—a braided one at that!—so it took some major chutzpah. Especially during my first few attempts to braid the dough. I was schvitzing like a whore in synagogue, I tell you. Oy vey.
Adapted from A Blessing of Bread
2 teaspoons instant yeast
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 cup warm water (add a little more if the dough isn’t moist enough)
3 large eggs, plus 1 for glazing
1 1/2 teaspoons salt (KOSHER, what else??)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup dark corn syrup (original recipe calls for honey)
Mix your water, yeast and 1/4 cup of the flour in a bowl and let sit for 20 minutes. It should rise slightly and look bubbly. Then mix in your eggs, salt, oil and corn syrup or honey. When all the ingredients are well mixed, add the rest of the flour and mix thoroughly.
Work the dough into a ball. I hand-kneaded this time, as the recipe only called for 5 minutes of kneading. I was skeptical however, because after 5 minutes, my dough wasn’t passing the finger or windowpane test (which another Challah recipe called for).
I stopped kneading. I wrapped the dough in cling wrap to let sit in the fridge overnight. I unwrapped it and poked at it. I kneaded some more. I second guessed myself. I stopped kneading. Dough went back in the fridge. I hemmed and hawed and pulled it out again. I must have looked like a total meshugenah.
Once I’d quelled my O.C.D. (Obsessive Challah Disorder), I let the dough sit overnight in the fridge and proofed it (let it rise) again this morning. You can do this (proofing will take longer after it’s been in the fridge) or you can proof it immediately for about 1-2 hours, or until it’s doubled in size.
Then comes the fun part. And by fun I mean hellishly frustrating.
Separate your dough into six equal portions. Roll out each portion into a strand. The longer and thiner your strands, the longer and thinner your challah loaf will be. If the dough resists, either let it sit under a damp towel for a little or moisten it with a little water.
Now lay three of your strips out parallel to each other on floured parchment paper (this makes transferring the loaves to the pan easier). Pull the right strand over the top of the middle like so:
Then, take the left strand and pull it over the “new” middle (originally the right strand), like this:
Keep it going…
You got it …
Don’t stop now!
OK, now pinch the ends together like this:
Do the other side, and then the next loaf. Let them sit and proof again for about two hours. I put mine in a slightly warm oven (no warmer than 100 degrees or so) with a dish of hot water on the bottom rack and put a wet towel over the loaves to speed up the process (took about an hour). The loaves should triple in size.
Brush them with egg wash and a little salt and put them in a 325 degree oven for about 25-30 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.
This was by far the most labor-intensive bread yet, but well worth it. While my loaves weren’t picture perfect, they tasted pretty damn good—light, fluffy and slightly sweet, just as challah should. Not really sure what happened to the one on the left …
So mazel tov to me on my first challah loaf. Baking these troublesome things should definitely count as a mitzvah.
OK, I’m, done with the yiddish and hebrew …
Now done for real.