Friday Baking

And now it’s time for this week’s Friday Baking segment! (Which is as much news to me as it is to you, dear reader.)

I already talked about my semester being over – well, now it really is. All of the exams are out of the way, and for the next three weeks I don’t have to put on those damn stiff chef pants. However, I also don’t, even once, get to spend five hours making baked goods in a professional-grade kitchen.

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Stiff. Baggy. Everything falls out of those pockets the second you sit down.
Oh, yeah, and if you stare at them too long you’ll start having seizures.

So, today I want to talk about my favorite recipe from this semester, challah bread. Challah bread is a traditional Jewish bread braided into loaves with twelve knots. Thanks to Wikipedia my exhaustive research efforts, I now know a little bit about the story of why Challah bread is so important. It was the bread that God sent down from the heavens everyday (except the Sabbath and holidays, which he made up for by sending two loaves on the days before) while the Israelites made their famous forty-year-long desert trek.

That’s about the point where I am in the Bible. From what I remember, the Israelites very much doubted that God was on their side at this point. I would be, too, if I had to spend well over half my life walking in the desert. But for what it’s worth, let me say (as a largely non-religious person), if God were dropping this on my head every day, I could probably forgive anything.

It’s so. freaking. tasty.

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And beautiful. Found photo at AllRecipes.com

So here’s the recipe, courtesy of AllRecipes.com (link above):

Challah Bread

Ingredients
2 1/2 cups warm water
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1/2 cup honey
4 tbsp vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 tbsp salt
8 cups all-purpose, unbleached white flour
1 tbsp poppy seeds (optional)

Procedure
1. In a large bowl, sprinkle yeast over barely warm water. Beat in honey, oil, 2 eggs, and salt. Add the flour one cup at a time, beating after each addition, graduating to kneading with hands as dough thickens. Knead until smooth and elastic and no longer sticky, adding flour as needed. Cover with a damp clean cloth and let rise for 1 1/2 hours or until dough has doubled in bulk.
2. Punch down the risen dough and turn out onto floured board. Divide in half and knead each half for five minutes or so, adding flour as needed to keep from getting sticky. Divide each half into thirds and roll into long snake about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Pinch the ends of the three snakes together firmly and braid from middle. Either leave as braid or form into a round braided loaf by bringing ends together, curving braid into a circle, pinch ends together. Grease two baking trays and place finished braid or round on each. Cover with towel and let rise about one hour.
3. Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.
4. Beat the remaining egg and brush a generous amount over each braid. Sprinkle with poppy seeds if desired.
5. Bake at 375 degrees F for about 40 minutes. Bread should have a nice hollow sound when thumped on the bottom. Cool on a rack for a least one hour before slicing.

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Now I am very excited to say that I have some opinions on this Challah recipe. (OK, one opinion.)

It’s about the selection of active dry yeast. If you can find it, use instant dry yeast. It’s just better. First, there’s no chance of getting this weird off quality in the bread because, unlike active dry yeast, 25% of the yeast isn’t dead when you incorporate it into the recipe. Think of that! All that poor, dead yeast, not even getting the chance to feast and release its gases before you pop it into the…

Oh god, there is a hideously inappropriate joke there. So I’m just going to stop myself now before I out myself for the horrible human being that I am.

Ahem. Anyway.

Second, you don’t have to use as much of it. Using about 20% less instant dry yeast than active dry yeast will provide you with the same leavening. Thirdly, you can just incorporate instant dry yeast into the flour. That makes this recipe a ton simpler, because you can just toss all of the ingredients together. Since instant dry yeast absorbs water quicker and more efficiently than active dry yeast, you don’t need to let it sit in the warm water for any amount of time.

I have made challah bread several times this semester (though not with the recipe above), and it has far and away been the favorite thing that I have brought home from class. It’s chewy, eggy, sweet, and soft. I truly believe that it would make marvelous French toast, and I just found a recipe for PUMPKIN Challah – called Golden Pumpkin Challah Recipe – which looks flat. out. freaking. amazing.

So that’s my weekly baking segment. In honor of Hanukkah – whether you celebrate it or not – I would strongly advise you go make this bread. You will never want to stop eating it.
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