Friday, September 10, 2010

Challah


For some reason, every cooking show and blog that features Challah involves a super-corny and overused pun. Heard any of these yet?

“Happy Challahdays”

“All Holla for Challah”

“Happy Challahween”

“Chall I love you, let me count the ways...”


...corny stuff like that.

Do you still have an appetite after reading that? If not, then ponder the glistening eggy wonder called challah bread. The slightly sweet, super-chewy egg bread is as tasty as it is pretty. This is the first one I ever attempted to make and, despite the elaborate-looking braided dough and shiny egg wash, it really is not as difficult as one would think. Even a beginner can do it! All it really takes is time. And affection.

I like to think of baking bread akin to housebreaking a puppy. Both are time-consuming labors of love that require patience and affection, resulting in joyful rewards. Kneading dough with force and brute makes for a tough dough. However, handling dough with affection and gentle coaxing makes for a tender, delicate bite, sure to please any crowd. Treat your dough as you would a cute puppy. That's the secret.

I highly recommend Mollie Katzen’s beautifully hand-illustrated cookbook The Enchanted Broccoli Forest for all the recipes, but especially for her informative chapter on bread baking. It comes complete with step-by-step, hand-illustrated pictures, including one of a fist, punching down a dough after the first rise, with a Batman-like caption of “Thwap!” (That's the only non-puppy comparison. No puppy-thwapping allowed, only dough-thwapping.) :)

Challah
(from Mollie Katzen's The New Enchanted Broccoli Forest)
This recipe makes 2 loaves.

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups wrist-temperature water
1 package (scant Tbs.) active dry yeast
1/2 cup sugar or honey
4 Tbs. melted butter or canola oil
3 eggs (1 for crust)
1 Tbs. salt
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
8-9 cups unbleached white flour
a little oil for the trays
poppy or sesame seeds (optional)

Directions:

1. Place the water in a large bowl. Sprinkle in the yeast. Beat in the sugar or honey, butter, 2 eggs, and salt with a wire whisk.

2. If using, stir in raisins. Then add flour a cup at a time, whisking after each addition. (Start using a wooden spoon as needed.) Knead the dough until smooth, elastic, and no longer sticky. (The recipe says you can do this in the bowl, but I found it much easier on a lightly floured surface.) Cover dough with a clean cloth and set in a warm place for 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in bulk

3. Punch down the dough (“thwap!”) and turn out onto a floured surface. Divide in half, and knead each half for about 5 minutes, adding flour if it gets a little sticky. Divide each half in thirds, roll into snakes about 1 ½ inches in diameter. Line up 3 snakes, and braid starting from the middle, working out. You will end up with one long braid. For a round loaf, as I did, you can form the braid into one large circle, tucking in the end underneath the loaf.

4. Lightly oil two baking trays and place a finished braid on each. Cover with a towel and let rise another hour, until doubled in bulk. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375 degrees.

5. Beat the remaining egg in a small bowl. Brush a generous amount over each braid and sprinkle with seeds, if using. Bake 40 minutes or until the braids give off a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom. Mine took approx. 30 minutes, so check the loaves early. Cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before eating.

 
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