When I first started this challenge, I asked some people what they would like to see me make, and one person mentioned Challah. I've made lots of bread before, so I thought, why not? I'll try out Challah and see how it turns out. Worst case, I"ll make french toast a few days later with the left-overs!
Let me just say, this was a lot of work. As I said, I'm used to bread making. But this, seriously, I had to leave the house several times just so I wasn't bothered by the long rises (2+ hours each!). So, in looking for a challah recipe, I turned my trusty Baking cookbook. This was a gift last year from my mother, and I LOVE it. That first night I read it for hours, not wanting to put it down, engrossed in the education it was providing me. This book consists of your basics, as well as several advanced baked goods. The goal of Baking, is to give you the ground-work and let you make adjustments as desired.
So this morning I got out the cookbook, and read through the recipe a few times before getting started. First things first, warm the eggs and proof the yeast. Proofing the yeast is a simple process, mix yeast with some flour and some liquid, just to get it bubbling, and ensure it is still live. It is an important one, and when making yeasted doughs, I recommend. So as my yeast proofed, the eggs sat in a pot of warm water to take the chill from the refrigerator off. This was then all mixed together along with an additional cup of flour and the sugar. And so begins wait #1.
To distract myself I went to the gym. I figured why not? I hadn't been since my birthday in November and I am scheduled to run a half-marathon in May... maybe I should start doing something about that!
Back from the gym, I uncovered the bowl, and in a larger bowl I combined the remaining flour and salt. Then I poured the egg mixture over that and mixed well. The dough 'rested' prior to kneading. I choose the mixer version of kneading instead of the hand method. Once the dough was well mixed, it was time for wait #2. Off to the shower for me, and several loads of laundry
Finally I could start the fun part, forming the traditional braided loaf. I took the dough, and separated it into 3 even balls, then rolled each ball into a long rope. Sounds easy. This took at least an additional 30 minutes. The dough is very elastic, and needs to rest for it to get to the full length. I did manage to take some pictures of this process.
Now time to braid. Getting started was the hard part. once the first few turns were done, it reminded me of braiding my own hair as a girl, and I was able to finish easily. This was transferred to a baking sheet and... wait #3. Once the final rise was complete, I brushed it with an egg wash and put it into a moist oven (pan with water at the bottom to create moisture while the bread was cooking) and baked for about 45 minutes.
Out came a beautifully golden loaf of bread, that I instantly cut into and slathered butter all over it (I did go to the gym didn't I?).
I'm not sure if this loaf will last for breakfast on Christmas (an omelet casserole is scheduled for the left-overs). Needless to say, I'm sure I"ll make challah again, probably just in time for a Sunday morning breakfast of french toast!
Challah (Baking by James Peterson)
5 c flour
1/4 c sugar
1/2 c milk, barely warmed
5 eggs, warmed in the shell
2 egg yolks
1 tsp active dry yeast, proofed in 1 Tbsp warm water and 1 tsp flour
1 tsp salt
butter for pan
in a small bowl, combine 1 cup of the flour with the sugar, milk, eggs, egg yolks, and yeast. Stir lightly with a whisk until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and let ferment for 1 hour at room temperature. In a large bowl, combine the remaining 4 cups flour with the salt. Pour the egg mixture over the flour-salt mixture and mix for about 2 minutes, or long enough to moisten. Cover with an inverted bowl or with plastic wrap and let rest for 20 minutes.
Knead the dough by hand for about 10 minutes or with a stand mixer fitted with the dough hood on medium speed for about 7 minutes, or until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about 2 hours, until doubled in volume.
Punch down the dough and divide it into 3 equal pieces. Roll and stretch each ball of dough into a rope about 24" long. Since the dough is very elastic, you'll need to stretch the dough in several stages, allowing it to rest for 10 minutes between each stretching and rolling. Butter a sheet pan. Braid the ropes and transfer to the sheet pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 2 hours, or until doubled in volume.
Preheat the oven to 400*F and set a sheet pan, about 1/4 full of water, on the floor or bottom rack of the oven. Brush the loaf with egg wash. Put the pan with the loaf into the oven. Turn down the temperature to 375*F and bake for about 45 minutes.