Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Challah, my first bread

Pulling freshly baked bread out of the oven for the very first time was something so incredible, that I will never forget.  While I was anxiously awaiting for it to cool down, I couldn't believe this amazing scent of a busy bakery was spreading around my own house!!! .... Finally after what seemed the longest ten minutes ever of staring at it and rubbing my eyes in disbelief, I could proceed with spreading butter and examining taste and texture of my newest creation.... I took the first bite of my very own homemade loaf...and screamed: Oh... My.... Challah!!!! It was so amazing and so incredible and so this and so that...I was trying to explain to my mother, who immediately took a pen and wrote the recipe down. While I was pulling various jams and marmalades out from the back of my fridge, determined to find a perfect match for my challah, I had already forgotten knuckle and wrist pain from kneading and planed to add more raisins, tad more sugar and vanilla extract next time.

This recipe is adapted from Joan Nathan, who says:
"Several risings make a better loaf, and if you want an especially brioche-like texture, let the dough rise slowly in the refrigerator for one of the three risings. The secret to a glossy loaf is to brush with an egg wash twice, once just after braiding and then again just before baking."
Time: about 1 hour, plus 2 1/2 hours’ rising
makes 2 loaves
  • 1 1/2 packages active dry yeast (1 1/2 tablespoons)
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 8 to 8 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup raisins per challah, plumped in hot water and drained
  • 1/2 Tbsp of vanilla extract
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 4 eggs, one at a time, with remaining sugar and salt. Gradually add flour. When dough holds together, it is ready for kneading. (You can also use a mixer with a dough hook for both mixing and kneading, but be careful if using a standard size KitchenAid–it’s a bit much for it, though it can be done.)
3. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Clean out bowl and grease it, 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, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour.
4. At this point, you can knead the raisins into the challah, if you’re using them, before forming the loaves. To make a 6-braid challah(it's kind of challenging, so I use a little help from this video), either straight or circular, take half the dough and form it into 6 balls. With your hands, roll each ball into a strand about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Place the 6 in a row, parallel to one another. Pinch the tops of the strands together. Move the outside right strand over 2 strands. Then take the second strand from the left and move it to the far right. Take the outside left strand and move it over 2. Move second strand from the right over to the far left. Start over with the outside right strand. Continue this until all strands are braided. For a straight loaf, tuck ends underneath. For a circular loaf, twist into a circle, pinching ends together. Make a second loaf the same way. Place braided loaves on a greased cookie sheet with at least 2 inches in between.
5. Beat remaining egg and brush it on loaves. Either freeze breads or let rise another hour.
6. If baking immediately, preheat oven to 375 degrees and brush loaves again. Sprinkle bread with seeds, if using. If freezing, remove from freezer 5 hours before baking.
7. Bake in middle of oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden. (If you have an instant read thermometer, you can take it out when it hits an internal temperature of 190 degrees.) Cool loaves on a rack.
Note: I let my challah rise slowly in a rather cold kitchen, it takes longer then times given in the original recipe but it yields great texture and excellent, deeply developed flavor.

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