Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bake The Book: Challah

Challah is a braided loaf traditionally enjoyed at Friday night dinner in Jewish households. Kosher law forbids the serving of dairy with meat, so the classic challah is made with water instead of milk, and the crumb is tenderized with oil instead of butter.

This was really a fun loaf to make and certainly the most beautiful so far. The crumb was slightly more dense with the oil instead of butter and the taste wasn't as rich. But it was still moist and tender.

I loved the looked of the braided loaf. Here it is before baking.



And here it is fresh out of the oven, golden brown from the egg wash I put on it before baking.



Recipe #9: Challah

3/4 cup warm water
2 tablespoons honey
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3 tablespoons neutral oil, such as canola or safflower
2 1/2 cups bread flour, plus more if needed
3/4 teaspoons salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons poppy seeds (optional)

1. Mix and knead the dough: Combine the warm water and honey in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast over the top. Whisk by hand to blend well. Let the mixture sit for 5 to 10 minutes, until the yeast is activated and foamy or bubbling. Add the eggs and oil and whisk by hand until well blended. Stir in the flour and salt. Attach the dough hook and knead on low speed for 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until the dough begins to come together. Turn the speed to medium and knead for 6 to 8 minutes, until the dough is smooth, silky, and elastic. You may need to add a little extra flour, a tablespoon at a time, toward the end. The dough should begin to pull away from the sides of the bowl but still be slightly tacky.

2. Rise the dough (first rise): Lightly oil a tub or bowl, scrape the dough into the tub, and lightly coat the surface of the dough with a little oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until doubled in size, 45 to 60 minutes.

3. Punch down and shape the dough: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Press down on the dough firmly to expel some of the air bubbles, but don't knead the dough again or it will be too springy and difficult to shape. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Work with one piece at a time and keep the others covered to prevent a skin from forming. Using flattened hands, roll each piece back and forth, forming a rope about 15 inches long with tapered ends. You may not be able to stretch each piece to the full length the first time; if that's the case, cover it and continue with another piece. Return to the first piece when you've finished the others and try stretching it a little more.

4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay the 3 ropes on the sheet with the ends facing you. Pinch together the three ends furthest from you. Braid the dough, pinching the loose ends together at the bottom. Gently stretch the ends outward so the center is plump with the ends are tapered. Tuck the ends under just slightly.

5. Proof the dough (second rise): Cover the braid loosely with plastic wrap. Allow the braid to rise until almost doubled in size and looks like it has taken a deep breath, 40 to 50 minutes.

6. Glaze and bake the challah: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and position an oven rack in the center of the oven. Gently brush the entire surface of the braid with a light wash of beaten egg. Take care that there are no pools or drips of glaze. Sprinkle with the poppy seeds, if you like. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the top and bottom are golden brown and the internal temperature registers 190 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Transfer to a rack to cool completely. To serve, slice with a serrated knife.

Source: The Art and Soul of Baking



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