Wednesday, December 03, 2008

belle's challah recipe

I looked at 20 of them, and my fourth time baking, have finally settled on the right combination of techniques and ingredients for moist, tender, eggy, slightly sweet loaves. Following recipes blindly leads to dry, bland, olive oily bread, and disappointing your Jew-ish boyfriend.

I use a variation of this recipe and use this braiding technique. Yields two large loaves.

Time: about 1 hour, plus 3 hours’ rising
Yield: 2 loaves

1 1/2 packages active dry yeast (1 1/2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon plus 3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
6 large eggs
1 tablespoon salt
7 to 7 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling.

1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water.

2. Whisk oil into yeast, then beat in 5 eggs, one at a time, with remaining sugar and salt. Gradually add flour. Mix. I use a pastry blender, but if you want to send me a dough hook, feel free! Using your hands means getting totally sticky fingers, which makes it hard to add more flour as needed. The goal is not too sticky, but definitely not dry. When dough holds together, it is ready for kneading.

3. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Kneading feels good. I like to say to the dough, "I knead you." Clean out bowl and grease it with oil, then return dough to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size. Dough may also rise in an oven that has been warmed to 150 degrees then turned off. Punch down dough (cathartic!), cover and let rise again in a warm place for another hour.

4. Dump onto floured surface. To make a 6-braid challah, either straight or circular, take half the dough and form it into 6 balls. I cut the dough with a non-serrated chef's knife, and try to get equal sized lumps. With your floured hands, roll each ball into a strand about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Make sure there's plenty of flour on the counter. Place the 6 in a row, parallel to one another. Pinch the tops of the strands together. Follow this woman's braiding video, but try to braid tightly, because it will further expand on the next rise. Braiding fast and holding onto some of the strands (like when you braid hair) makes for a tighter braid, but that takes some practice. It took me till my third time to braid without watching the video, and before that I streamed the video as I was braiding.

5. Beat remaining egg and brush it on loaves. I use a silicon pastry brush, because my Ikea paintbrushes were shedding everywhere, and that's gross.

6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and brush loaves again (second egg wash). Sprinkle bread with seeds, if using.

7. Bake in middle of oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden. I rotate the loaves at 15 minutes. Do not overbake! My electric (if you want to send me a convection oven, feel free!) oven runs hot and 30 minutes is the max for me. Let cool before eating. It is so good slightly warm with salted butter and a cup of tea as an afternoon snack, and then later for dinner with a soup of your choice.

8. Keep one loaf and eat as much as you can for two to three days. Use the leftovers for challah french toast, of which you can only eat a tiny square because it's so rich. Give the other loaf to him to bring to work, because you are like the best shiksa girlfriend ever.

Shalom aleichem!


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