Saturday, December 26, 2015

T's "Challah (at your girl) Bread"

This post is horribly, horribly delayed. My cousin T came to visit me in February of 2014. I took a day off work, and we baked. She is an excellent baker, and has been covered in many prior posts, I am not. So she took mercy on me and tried to teach me not only to bake, but to BAKE BREAD. The best kind of bread. CHALLAH BREAD. 

For those of you uninitiated in to the ways of Judaism, this is the type of bread traditionally eaten every Friday night/Saturday morning in Jewish homes. It's sometimes referred to as "egg bread" because there are eggs in it. It does not taste like egg, but has a wonderful, light, doughy texture which is sweet, and a perfect vehicle for things like hummus, schnitzel sandwiches, Thanksgiving leftover turkey sandwiches, and also makes delicious french toast and bread pudding. For those of you who have been initiated--this is a GREAT recipe. No joke.

What you will need (makes three medium sized challot):

Note: If you double the recipe, you will end up with four LARGE challot

-2 cups of 105-115 degrees water (to activate yeast) Water is 111. Just right.-1/8 c. Fleishmann's Active Dry Yeast (also known as "yeasties")-1/2 tbsp. white sugar-1/2 bag of King Arthur's flour (2.5 lbs) - 7 cups-1 c. white sugar-3/4 tbsp. kosher salt-3 eggs -3/4 c. Canola oil

Total Prep Time: 3.5 hours (this includes 2.5 hours of proofing time, so you can get other things done)
Total Cook Time: 35 minutes

First step: Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Open the oven door when it gets there. Bonus: If you make this during "actual winter" it will heat your kitchen for you. 

Combine water and yeast in a medium glass or metal bowl. Stir in 1/2 tbsp sugar. The sugar acts as food for the yeast, who are just waking up from their slumber in the glass jar/packet.

Place the mixture on the open oven door and let stand for 10 mins. The mixture should be bubbly, that's how you know you properly activated the yeast. They are now awake and snacking. Turn off oven.

Place flour in a large bowl; remove 1 cup of flour and set aside for other uses. Stir in 1 cup sugar and 3/4 tbsp salt, mixing well. Push the flour against the sides of the bowl, leaving a well in the center.

Pour the yeast mixture, 1.5 eggs (you can mix all 3 eggs together first in a bowl--we will use the rest of the egg later),  and 3/4 cups oil into the well; mix until you can no longer stir it.

Knead the dough with your hands until it no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. The dough should be smooth and springy. If the dough is still very sticky, knead in a small amount of flour until it is smooth.

Fun fact: My cousin has a nice manicure at all times.

Brush the top of the dough with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and a dry towel. Let rise for 1.5 hours in a warm room.  (If your kitchen is cold, preheat your oven to 200 degrees, turn the oven off and allow just enough heat to escape so that the oven isn't hot. Place the dough in the oven to rise).

During this time frame, you can do many things. We were industrious and baked other things, but my vote was for a mid-day Mimosa. You only take a stay-cation once in a while, right?

After 1.5 hours, take the dough out and see what a fluffy monster you've created.

Roll the dough out on to a floured surface and begin to punch the sticky mess down. This is a very therapeutic part of baking. 

We're punching.....
It's beaten. It's cowering.
Now, you divide the dough int the number of challahs you want. We made three, so we had three lumps of dough.

Then, you take ONE lump of dough, and you separate it out in to three long strands.

Then, here comes the part where summer/cheerleading/dance camp will affect your ability to be a master challah baker. The braid.

Yup. You braid that bread. I'm waiting to see an "Elsa Braid Challah" but I'm pretty sure my cousin can manage it. I'm going to one day sponsor a "braid" competition with some carbs. Sounds like a fun competition to me! 

Here's the point at which you have to decide HOW MUCH challah you really need immediately. For example, we decided to bake all three challahs (I think my gluttonous reasoning was something like,  "T, I will not share my challah with you, and I will not share my challah with J. Better we make three challahs so everyone has their own.") But a more prudent decision would have been to make one challah and see how we felt. Two if we were feeling risky. If we had made more prudent decisions, we would have wrapped the doughy challah braids in plastic and foil and frozen. Then we could have thawed and followed the rest of these directions.

Once you have decided you want to BAKE a challah, brush the challah with the remaining egg wash. Everywhere you put the egg, it will turn a delightful golden brown, so make sure you aren't sparse with your egg wash.

Then, you let the challah rise for 45-60 minutes, uncovered. This is another good opportunity for a mimosa.

Now, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and put the challah in for 25-35 minutes. Watch the top, and watch the bottom. When they are golden brown and sound "hollow" if you thump the bottom, they are ready. Let them cool, then serve them and see the amazement all of your guests have when you say "yes, I made this from scratch!"

Thanks T for the recipe and the fun!