Challah bread. I have yet to be able to pronounce it correctly, but it sure is tasty. I don’t have much experience making breads (although I just made a great loaf of white bread last night, recipe coming soon), but I wanted to attempt a sort of “plain” bread – one that doesn’t have nuts, or swirls, or anything fancy, and could be used for our lunch sandwiches. It had a side benefit of making excellent french toast.
The challah bread wasn’t hard to make, but required lots of resting time. Even rolling out the three separate braids required over a half hour total of resting time so that they would stretch enough to be braided. After braiding I used our brand new pastry brush (yes, the first one I have ever owned) to do the egg wash.
Then, it was time to bake. When I pulled the bread out of the oven, it was golden brown and delicious (sorry, I couldn’t help myself). Plus, it was braided, and it all stayed together! Not bad, right?
Adapted from Baking
by James Peterson
5 c. flour
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. milk, barely warmed
5 eggs warmed in the shell (place them in a bowl of hot tap water for 5 minutes)
2 egg yolks
1 tsp. active dry yeast, proofed in 1 Tbs. barely warm water with 1 tsp. flour (so get a really small bowl or a teacup, put the yeast in, then the water and flour and let it sit for 10 minutes or so – it should get kind of bubbly or foamy.)
1 tsp. salt
Butter for the pan (at room temp.)
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1/2 tsp. salt)
Spray bottle with water
1. Combine 1 cup of flour with the sugar, milk, eggs and yolks, and yeast in a small bowl and then stir lightly with a whisk until it’s smooth. Cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let it ferment for an hour at room temperature.
2. In a large bowl, combine the rest of the flour with the salt and pour the egg mixture over the flour mixture. Mix for two minutes or until it’s moistened. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest for 20 minutes.
3. Knead the dough for 10 minutes by hand or with a stand mixer (use your dough hook) on medium speed until it’s smooth – about 7 minutes. The dough will slap against the sides of the bowl. If you have to, turn the speed up to high to get it to slap. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise for 2 hours, or until it’s doubled in volume.
4. Gently push down on your dough (this is called punching it down, but please don’t actually punch it) and then divide it into 2 pieces. Make each piece into a ball by tucking the ends of each piece under the ball – you’re sort of stretching the top and tucking it under into the bottom to get a nice smooth surface on top. This
is what you want it to look like.
5. Roll each dough ball into a rope about two feet (24 inches) long. Do this a bit at a time, and if the dough isn’t stretching well, let it rest a few times as you’re doing it. So stretch it a bit, and then let it rest for 10 minutes, stretch it some more, rest, etc.
6. Butter a sheet pan that is at least 17 inches long. Bread the three ropes and then put the loaf on the sheet pan (here’s a handy graphic
on how to braid the challah). Or, braid the ropes while they’re on the sheet pan and you don’t have to lift your carefully braided dough onto a sheet pan. Cover the loaf with plastic wrap and let it rest for 2 hours, or until it’s doubled in volume (again).
7. Set your oven racks to as low as they’ll go in the oven. Put a cookie sheet on the lowest rack and fill it with water until it’s half full (the steam will make a nice crust). Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. While the oven is preheating, brush your loaf with egg wash.
8. Put the pan with the loaf in the oven on the higher of the two racks and close the door. Crack open the door and spray water 3 times at 30 second intervals…so spray, then close the door, spray, close the door, spray, close the door. Again, you want a good crust. Turn the oven down to 375 degrees F.
9. Bake for around 45 minutes. The loaf will be deep brown and the internal temperature should be 185 degrees F. If you’re like me and you lack a thermometer to take an internal temperature, I always learned that the loaves were done when they sound hollow if tapped on the bottom. If it’s not done but it’s already really brown, cover it with aluminum foil and turn the oven down to 325 degrees F. When it’s done, let it cool on a rack.
10. Make french toast. Seriously.