Sunday, November 30, 2008

Challah

Tonight's dinner featured home-baked challah.  This is the first time in a while I've baked bread (although we had home-baked dinner rolls with Thanksgiving dinner) and I must say it turned out reasonably well for being out of practice, making a slightly sweet and very flaky bread with a crunchy crust that serves very nicely with butter.
  • 2 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 package (about 1 tbsp) yeast
  • 2 eggs (room temperature)
  • Water (80 to 100 degrees), about 1 cup
In a mixing bowl, mix flours.  In a glass measuring container, beat eggs and 1/4 cup water; reserve 1/4 cup of liquid and add water to total 1 1/2 cup.  In stand mixer with dough hook combine yeast, one cup of the mixed flours, and half the liquid; blend with dough hook until well-mixed.  Let stand covered about 20 minutes.  Add sugar, salt, remaining liquid, and remaining flour a half cup at a time with mixer on slow, then knead until well-defined dough ball forms, about five minutes.  Raise for one hour or until doubled.  Punch down (by hand or with dough hook), knead into ball, and let sit for ten to fifteen minutes.  Then divide dough into three equal portions.  Shape each portion into a rope (about 14 inches long) and braid ropes.  Brush with reserved egg wash and let rise again for one hour.  Brush again and bake in 400 degree oven for 10 minutes.  Reduce oven to 375 and bake for 10 to 15 minutes more.

This recipe has a lot of "oven bounce"; the dough will double in size or nearly so in the oven.  I baked mine on a Silpat on an airbake cookie sheet, but I imagine just about flat cookware would do.  A baking stone might also be worth a try; unfortunately the only one I have has been used extensively for pizza and likely has baked-in flavors that are not well-suited for non-savory breads. 

The recipe I followed for this also called for 1/4 cup olive oil, which I forgot to add.  The bread was delicious without it, but we'll have to try it with it just to find out which way we like better.  The oil would go in at the same time as the remaining egg-water mixture, I would assume.  I'm also going to try using this recipe, or one very similar to it, to make bread bowls for soup.

Update: Made bread bowls tonight with this recipe but with the added olive oil.  The oil is a definite improvement when used as a bread bowl, but I fear it would diminish the quality of the bread as a "tear-apart" loaf (as one would expect for challah).  It really changes the texture (and to some degree the flavor) of the bread.  You'll have to experiment on your own to see how you feel about it.