Friday, November 14, 2008

Classic Challah Bread



I've somewhat recently decided that it's time to enter the world of bread baking.  I'm always so envious of other bloggers who seem to produce loaf after loaf of pure perfection, like Jude over at Apple Pie, Patis, and Pâté, and of course Susan at Wild Yeast.  But man, that lingo!  Never have I felt so intimidated by such a foreign-sounding set of descriptors!  Luckily, I found that when I turned to the now-classic The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart, everything in this recipe was explained, and I could (almost magically) actually understand what I was supposed to do.  For some reason, I just felt safe and well-guided using this book.  And I'm not disappointed with the outcome, either!

Even though my family is not Jewish (or at least, hasn't been for a few generations, I think there's a Jewish branch or two somewhere further back in the family tree) challah bread is something that most reminds me of home.  When I was a kid growing up in Denver (before we moved to the 'burbs), we lived in a predominately Jewish neighborhood and challah always seemed to find it's way to our table.  Of course, it's great for sandwiches and spreads and, let's face it, just snacking on it's own, but one area where challah really shines is french toast.  And whenever my sister or I spotted a loaf sitting on the counter, we knew that's what it meant.  



So I've had challah in the back of my mind for a while now, as something to work up to.  I finally took the plunge last night with, as I said, the help of Peter Reinhart.  The only adjustment I had to make to the recipe had to do with yeast.  Reinhart calls for 1 1/3 teaspoons instant yeast to be mixed in with the dry ingredients, as instant yeast doesn't need to be bloomed before it's added to a recipe.  All I have and all I could find, on the other hand, was active dry, which does need to be activated by warm water before it can work it's magic.  So.  I just replaced the instant with what I had by using 1/4 cup of the warm water that was to be added to the wet ingredients to bloom the yeast.  Then I added the yeast in with the wet ingredients along with the rest of the water.  I may have gotten lucky, but it worked, so I'm giving you the recipe with active dry yeast below.



When recreating this recipe here, I'm going to assume that if you're brave enough to bake bread from the internet, you know what you're doing.  Therefore, I won't go into the detail with which Reinhart presents this recipe.  If you're a novice like me, I would suggest you just get the book and have a read-through.  It will calm all of your fears away!

Challah

Dry:

4 cups unbleached flour (remember to spoon your flour into the measuring cup!)
2 tablespoons sugar (can be doubled for a sweeter bread)
1 teaspoon salt

Yeast:

1 1/3 teaspoons active dry yeast, bloomed in 1/4 cup warm water

Wet:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons room-temperature water

Toppings:

2 egg whites, whisked, for the wash
Sesame or poppy seeds (optional)

Stir the dry ingredients together.  In a separate bowl, whisk the wet ingredients together.  Add the bloomed yeast to the wet ingredients and stir it up a bit.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry.

Mix on low speed (or by hand) with a paddle attachment until the dough forms a ball.  Add additional water, if needed.

Switch to the dough hook, or turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface.  If kneading by hand, do that for 10  minutes.  If using a mixer, mix on medium-low for 6.  Your dough should be soft and smooth, but not sticky.  Add a little more flour if it is.  Once done, it should pass the windowpane test (link coming up).  

Lightly oil a large bowl and form your dough into a boule.  Put the dough in the oiled bowl and turn it so that the dough is coated with oil.  Cover with plastic wrap and allow to ferment for 1 hour.

Kneed the dough for 2 minutes, form it back into a ball and place it back in the bowl.  Cover again with the plastic wrap and allow it to ferment until it's 1.5 times the original size: about 1 hour.

Divide the dough into 3 equal parts, cover with a cloth and allow to rest for 10 minutes on the table.  Next, roll the pieces out to 3 same-size strands and braid them together, starting in the middle.  Place the braided bread on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and brush with the egg wash (keep some aside for the second round of egg-washing). Spray with some spray-oil and cover with plastic wrap for one more hour of proofing.

Brush the challah once more with egg wash and sprinkle with seeds if you like.  Bake in an oven preheated to 350 for about 30 minutes.  Rotate the pan, and bake for another 30.  Transfer to a wrack and cool.



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I'm sending this over to Susan of Wild Yeast for next week's addition of YeastSpotting!

15 comments:

denver native said...

Andrea...that is amazing!!! I can just picture you making your bread - looks gorgeous!

lisaiscooking said...

Gorgeous challah! I can almost smell it from the photo. I've been reading Nancy Silverton's bread book, but I haven't worked up the courage to try making a starter yet. Some day.

Chrissy said...

Wow that is really cool. Looks gorgeous

Vera said...

Beautiful bread, Andrea! I use the same recipe for my challah :) I love Peter's books!

Dana Treat said...

I love challah. I have a recipe from one of the cooking magazines that I can't stray from because it turns out so well. We are on the same wave length from across the country! I posted about a similar bread today!

Sam said...

Great bread! I'm thinking of investing in a copy of this books, when I get paid that is!

Susan/Wild Yeast said...

What a lovely challah! The BBA is a great book for beginners and experienced bakers alike.

Amy said...

I love the Bread Baker's Apprentice, and challah bread, too -- yours is beautiful! You've inspired me to crack the book open and make a loaf this afternoon. Thanks!! :)

toxobread said...

Congratulations on your beautiful loaf of challah! I hope this success will inspire you to continue your adventures in bread baking.

By the way, I first "learned" to bake through the internet and have never looked back. :)

hanne said...

Man, I love that book. It really is a classic. Your challah is beautiful. I bet challah would make great bread pudding, since it's so great as French toast.

croquecamille said...

The Bread Baker's Apprentice is one of my very favorite cookbooks... and one of the ones I miss the most with it being tucked safely away in storage!

Try the pain à l'ancienne - it's very easy and very good. I especially like the variation for pizza crust.

Andrea said...

Thanks Denver Native, for the nice comment!

Hi Lisa, I've heard of Nancy Silverton's bread book and it looks great. I think you should just go for it and then post it so we can see how it went!

Chrissy, you wish you were here, don't you.

Vera, thank you so much! I'm just getting into his book, but I plan to use it much more.

Dana, you made a beautiful bread! Great minds think alike!

Sam, definitely do, it's a great book and he gives both volume and weight. You'll love it!

Susan, definitely, it's a great book. Thanks for the comment, especially since you're one of my "bread idols"

Thanks Amy, it's great how inspiration works like that.

Toxobread, I can safely add you to my list of "bread idols." And you learned from the internet, so there ya go!

Hanne, I bet you're right, bread pudding would be a perfect use. Too bad it's all gone now. Next time I'll save some for that!

Croquecamille, thanks for the tip, I'll definitely check that one out! I have one more recipe I want to make from that book, and then I'll try your suggestion. Thanks!

dhd said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
deb's life said...

The best challah recipe I have used it at smittenkitchen.com. I will try yours next week and see. It's about the same ingredients just different amounts.

Jam said...

Looks warm and soft!this is great!