Monday, October 6, 2008

Hollah! (aka Challah)

So there is nothing I love more than fresh baked bread. The smell of yeasty dough wafting through the house will send me running to kitchen, eager to grab the first warm slice straight out of the oven. I am not much of a bread baker, but tried my hand at some challah a couple months ago.

My mom, knowing how much I love challah, pointed me to the New York Times Magazine feature article on this beloved bread. I decided to test it out, to compare to previous recipe I had used. The taste testers would be my beloved friends Natalie, Jenny, Travis at the dinner party Malia and I planned on hosting.

Now I am not the most fastidious person alive, and I failed to read the directions properly. I began mixing the flour and yeast mixture together, and quickly realized that this dry, crumbly mass could not be right. I consulted with my friend Natalie and we agreed I should trash the dough, and start over.

With Natalie's help I began to activate the yeast in warm water adding a 1/4 of a cup of flour from the well. This sat for 40 minutes. Then I added the sugar, butter, eggs, salt, and cinnamon. The rest of the flour was incorporated in small amounts until the dough no longer stuck to my hands.

The dough was allowed to double in size and then kneaded and rolled into long snakes. These snakes were then braided into a loaf.

The challah before it was baked for 40 minutes.

The final product! Pictures can't convey how amazing this bread smells straight out of the oven.
1976 Challah
This recipe from Sarah Schecht of Brooklyn appeared in an article by Craig Claiborne.

9 cups sifted, unbleached (JAM NOTE: I used about 5 cups)flour, plus additional flour for kneading2
(¼-ounce) packages dry active yeast (JAM NOTE: I used 1 package)
½ teaspoon baking powder (JAMNOTE: 1/4 tsp)
½ teaspoon cinnamon (JAM NOTE: 1/4 tsp)
1 tablespoon salt (JAM NOTE: 1/2 tbsp)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (JAMNOTE: 1/2 tsp)
4 large eggs (JAM NOTE: I used 2 for the bread, 1 for the egg wash)
¾ cup corn oil or clarified butter, plus more for greasing (JAM NOTE: I used clarified butter, 3/8 cup)
baking sheet
¾ cup plus 1 1/8 teaspoon sugar (JAM NOTE: 3/8 cup)
1 tablespoon sesame or poppy seeds.

1. Place 6 cups (JAMNOTE: 3 cups) of the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the center. In a small bowl, stir the yeast into 1 cup (1/2 cup) of lukewarm water until dissolved. Add this to the well. Using a fork, stir around the well, gradually incorporating ¼ of the flour (JAM NOTE: make sure to incorporate only some of the flour. I started mixing it all together and had to throw that batch into the trash!) — no more — into the yeast mixture. Set the bowl in a warm place and let stand 45 to 50 minutes.
2. Sprinkle the baking powder, cinnamon and salt over the flour mixture. Add the vanilla, 3 of the eggs (JAMNOTE: 2 eggs), the oil (or butter) and 3/4 cup of the sugar. Add 1 1/2 cups (JAM NOTE: 3/4 cup) lukewarm water and blend again, first using the fork and then your hands. Add 2 cups of flour (JAM NOTE: 1 cup), kneading for about 10 minutes. If the mixture is still too sticky, add up to a cup more of flour (JAM NOTE: Used 1 more cup). The dough is ready when it doesn't stick to your hands. Shape into a rough ball, cover, let stand 20 minutes and then turn it out onto a lightly floured board. Knead well for about 5 minutes, adding a little flour to the board as needed to prevent sticking. Set the dough in a floured bowl and lightly coat in flour. Cover and let stand for 30 minutes.
3. Turn the dough onto a flat surface and knead briefly. Cut off 1/8 of the dough (JAM NOTE: Cut into 1/3 pieces), knead quickly, shape into a ball, flour lightly and let rest briefly. Repeat with remaining 7 pieces (JAM NOTE: remaining 2 pieces). Using your hands, roll each piece into a 12-to-15-inch-long rope. Continue with remaining balls.
4. Align the ropes vertically, side by side. Gather the tops together, one at a time, pinching down to seal. Separate the ropes down the center, 4 to a side. Braid them as follows: bring the outer right rope over toward the center next to the inside rope on the left. Bring the outer left rope over toward the center next to the inside rope on the right. Repeat this process until the loaf is braided. As the last ropes are brought over, pull and stretch them a bit as needed. When braided, gather the bottom ends of the ropes and pinch them together. (JAM NOTE: Made a simple braid using three pieces)
5. Generously oil (or butter) the bottom and sides of a large baking sheet. Carefully lift the braided loaf and transfer to the baking sheet. Cover the loaf with a towel and place in a warm spot until the loaf is doubled in size, about 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.6. Beat the remaining egg with the remaining 1/8 teaspoon of sugar. Brush the loaf with the egg wash and then sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds. Bake until puffed and golden, about 1 hour (JAM NOTE: Baked 40 min). Makes 1 loaf.

This loaf was very large. I can't imagine having made the originally recipe with double the amount of flour and yeast!

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