Sunday, July 21, 2013

No Place Like Home for the Challah Days

I was in the mood for a good bread today--the whole afternoon lay before me and I imagined it filled with delicious aromas and flour to my elbows.

Ultimately, this panned out (heh, heh, sorry.) Breadmaking takes a bit more time than your average recipe, even if you don't go the cold fermentation route. It can be extremely taxing on the heart to begin a bread recipe one day and be stalled by the directive: "Refrigerate overnight." Oof! I could not do that to myself. Not on a Sunday. So instead I opted for warm proofing.

But I'm getting ahead of myself!

Challah. An eggy bread similar to brioche. The baking process called for lots of waiting periods as the dough inched its way skyward, and I filled with time with pacing and Veronica Mars episodes.

The complications begin after the dough completes its first couple of rises. Then you must perform the braiding, which isn't that difficult once you have the steps down! I've seen a few methods on the internet, but here is the most straightforward and easiest. Thank you so much, fellow baker!

Simply separate the dough into six balls, then form those balls into strands about 12 inches long and 1 - 1 1/2 inches wide.

Place the strands parallel to each other and pinch them at the top to hold together.

Then braid!

Once both loaves are made, I brushed them generously with eggwash (using my brush to paint with the direction of each braid section), then let them rise for another hour before another eggwashing, followed by a sesame-seed-sprinkling.

Finally time to bake!

And enjoy!

Six-Strand Challah (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
Makes 2 loaves.

1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon, plus 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup olive oil, plus more for greasing bowl and pan
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon table salt
8 cups flour
Sesame seeds for sprinkling

1. In a large bowl (or bowl to stand mixer if using), dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in water.
2. Whisk in olive oil, then beat in 4 eggs (one at a time) before adding 1/2 cup sugar and salt.
3. Slowly add in flour, whisking as you go along. Once all the flour is added, use dough hook attachment of mixer, operating on the lowest speed, for about three minutes until smooth. Turn dough out onto floured surface and form into ball.
4. Clean out mixing bowl, grease the inside with olive oil, then return dough to bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and proof for one hour in a warm area, until dough has doubled in size. (I heated my oven to 150 and then turned it off before placing bowl inside to proof.)
5. Uncover dough, punch down, then rewrap. Return to warm area for thirty minutes.
6. Uncover dough again. Divide dough in half. Starting with first half, form into six balls. Form each ball into a "rope" about 12 inches long and 1 - 1 1/2 inches long. Set strands parallel to one another, then pinch together at the top.
7. Begin to braid the strands. Take the rightmost strand and pull it over two strands, under one strand, then over the last two. Begin again with new rightmost strand. Over two, under one, over two. Continue--using rightmost strand each time--until dough is fully braided. Repeat process with second half of dough.
8. Place both loaves on a greased cookie sheet, at least two inches apart. Beat remaining egg and brush loaves generally with eggwash.
9. Let rise again for another hour. Then brush again with eggwash before sprinkling sesame seeds.
10. Preheat oven to 375. Bake for 30 - 40 minutes, until bread is deeply golden. Let cool on wire rack.

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