Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Challah

I have been asked here and there to share my Challah method. It is not my recipe, but I have been using it long enough to make it mine.

In a large bowl, mix 2.5 cups warm water with a scant tbsp of yeast. Add two whole eggs, up to 1/2 cup honey or sugar or combo, 1/2 cup oil or melted butter or combo, and one tbsp salt. If you like raisins in yours, add 1/2 cup or more now. Begin to add flour with a whisk, a cup at a time, until you need to use a wooden spoon. You may use any combination of wheat or spelt flours. All white is indulgent, all wheat is dense and hearty. Generally speaking you will use about 8 cups of flour. When the dough is right you will need your hand to mix it, and begin to knead it, and turn it out of the bowl. Dust it with flour and get it into a nice big ball, and cover it back in the bowl to rise until doubled. Punch down and knead, for about 5 minutes or until the dough is soft and resilient. Now it is time to make loaves or rolls or buns or- our favorite- braids. Braiding is easy. Divide the dough in half and each half into thirds. Make three long snakes a little longer than your sheet pan or stone and lay all three side by side. Braid from the middle and toward one direction, then turn it around and braid out the other way from the middle. Pinch the ends and tuck them under. Then put the loaves aside to rise until doubled again. You may use a third egg, whisked about, to paint the risen loaves carefully. If you like them, poppy or sesame seeds can be sprinkled over the shiny braids before you bake.  I can never say how long to bake, because the idea is with bread you have to know your oven and check on the bread. Typically mine bakes for 35 minutes at 325. Bread is done if a probe measures 200 degrees when poked into the loaf.

My observations: Challah is what taught me to bake bread. It is forgiving and delicious. When you are in need of comfort food this dough, made with butter and honey and white flour, is perfect for cinnamon rolls. An all whole-wheat loaf is the best for dipping in soup or pot roasts. More often than not, I make about 50-50 whole/ white. Leftover challah makes the best french toast. Theleftovers of loaves should be cut into little squares and frozen. Collect them all together to dry out before you stuff a turkey or chicken. My hamburger buns are often from this recipe. And even though it is easy to make, there is nothing more impressive at a potluck than a pair of braided loaves. People think it is magic. Maybe it is!
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