Wednesday, September 19, 2012

It's a Challah-Day!

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I never imagined I would be the type to bake bread. And honestly, after this endeavor, it is going to be a long time before I do it again.  Let's consider it an ambitious start to the new year. The ingredients to make this challah are basic, and the process is straightforward. But mixing the dough is the easy part; then you have babysit the dough ALL day.  Although the total time to make this is about 4 hours, you cannot just make the dough and leave it to rise. This challah recipe requires 3 separate rounds of letting the dough rise.  After all that babysitting, was it the challah of my dreams? Truthfully, no. 

The middle section of the loaf is fantastic- crisp on the outside, doughy and flavorful on the inside. The ends of the loaf, however, were a little dry.  But, I cannot blame the recipe. This challah recipe got 4 out of 4 forks on Epicurious. So what can I do to live up to the ratings? I open the floor to suggestions: Did the fact that I used a hand mixer instead of a standing mixer with a dough hook make a difference? Would a round loaf have better retained the moisture? Could the digital thermometer outside my oven be inaccurate?  Would practice make perfect?

If you are an avid baker or try this recipe out and have different results, please leave us some tips!

First you want to make the yeast. In a small bowl or glass measuring cup mix together:

½ cup plus cup of warm water
2 tablespoons of dry yeast
1 tablespoon plus ¾ cup of white sugar

Let this yeasty mixture sit for 10 minutes – until it gets foamy.  It will start to smell like bread already!

While the yeast is doing its thing, in a separate large mixing bowl, whisk together 5 large eggs. 

Then add in:

¾ cup of vegetable oil
1 teaspoon of salt
¾ cup of white sugar

Take an electric hand mixer and blend mixture until it is a light yellow color and becomes thickened. It took me about 3 minutes. Then add in:

2/3 cup of warm water
Foamy yeast mixture

Using the electric hand mixer, mix it all up until it is fully incorporated. Then, in a separate bowl, measure out 7 ½ cups of all purpose white flour. At my mom’s suggestion, I measured this first so I wouldn’t add the wrong amount later.  She knows how bad I am at math.

Then, 1 cup at a time, add the flour to the egg mixture and blend together. Once it is fully blended, add the next cup. You’ll see the consistency of the dough change quickly. It not only gets thicker but also very elastic.

I had some issues with the dough crawling up the hand mixer. It got a little out of control. Perhaps this was the dryness culprit?

Once all of the flour is mixed in, put the whole ball of dough onto a clean and floured surface and knead it for two minutes.

Here is where the babysitting starts. Take another clean bowl and lightly oil it. Then put the ball of dough into the bowl. Cover the bowl with saran wrap and then a clean kitchen towel. The dough needs to rise for 1 hour. After an hour it will have doubled in size. Punch it back down, cover it up, and let it rise for another half an hour.

Next, put the dough onto a clean and floured surface. Now you get to make the braids! Split the dough into two even pieces. Then split each of those into three separate pieces. SURPRISE! You get two loaves of challah out of this recipe. 

Roll each of the small balls into long cylinders. Because of the elasticity in the dough, they don’t get very long- maybe 8 or 9 inches.

Now take out 2 cookie sheets and coat them with cooking spray. Then place three of the dough cylinders onto each tray, and braid them together. Pinch the ends so it all sticks together.   Seems like we are almost done, right? Wrong! There is still more babysitting to do! Take two clean towels and cover each challah. Let the loaves rise until they double in size, which should take about 30 minutes.

While the dough is rising, preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Then take an egg, separate the white from the yolk and discard the whites. Then mix 1 tablespoon of water with the yolk. Once the loaves have risen, take a pastry brush and coat the outside of each loaf with a thin layer of the yolk mixture. Finally, you are ready to bake!

But don’t go too far.  After the loaves have been in the oven for 10 minutes, turn the temperature down to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Epicurious recommends 35 more minutes or until the loaves are “golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on bottom.” I do not recommend walking away for 35 minutes. Our loaves were golden brown in about 28 minutes. Watch them carefully so they don’t burn.

Once your loaves are out of the oven, let them cool off before you slice them! If you can’t eat both loaves right away, you can wrap the other in plastic to store or freeze for a rainy day.

Stay tuned for my Challah French Toast recipe! 

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