Challah

yeast slur eggs, honey, oil and yeast slurflour dough

Yeast has always been terribly intimidating, but I think my fears are starting to subside. The no-knead bread was a safe bet, and worth the 1st attempt, there was so little work involved and the kneading can be the scariest part. Not that I’m incapable of working the dough, but the fear was always that I would do it wrong, or for less time than required. I’ve also tried pizza dough, which seemed fail safe, and well, failed, but I couldn’t have a Rosh Hashanah dinner without making challah.

dough challah

I had my fears going into it, I made the same attempt a year ago when I was living in Rome. Called in sick to work so that I could spend the day with the challah and ended up throwing it all away. Something went terribly wrong and it was a sticky liquid mess. Could have been the yeast, could have been the temperature in my apartment. Since there are a number of different types of yeasts on the market, and of course Italy has its own market of yeasts, all of course different than the ones that we have, I am assuming that it was the yeast. My mother-in-law reported that her attempt at the recipe for no-knead bread that I had translated for her was a failure. Either my translation was terrible, even though my husband proofread it, or it was the fact that she couldn’t find the right kind of yeast. This year I used yeast that the recipe called for, closed all of the windows and set the air conditioner and the right temperature to avoid any failure but my own.

challah

It worked!! The challah was just about right, not the best challah I have ever tasted, but I have to give myself some credit here, it was pretty damn good for a 2nd attempt and the first one that met the oven. I went with the traditional round shape for Rosh Hashanah, instead of the braided bread, which I will have to try in the future, now that I have baked a few successful loaves.

challah

Challah from epicurious.com

  • 2 teaspoons (6 grams/0.2 ounce) instant yeast
  • About 3 1/2 cups (475 grams/16.8 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (60 grams/2 ounces) warm water
  • 3 large eggs, plus 1 for glazing
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons (8 grams/0.3 ounce) table salt
  • 1/4 cup (55 grams/1.9 ounces) vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup (85 grams/3 ounces) mild honey or 1/3 cup (70 grams/2.4 ounces) granulated sugar

Mixing the yeast slurry
In a large bowl, whisk together the yeast and 1/4 cup (30 grams/1.1 ounces) of the flour, then whisk in the warm water until smooth. Let the yeast slurry stand uncovered for 10 to 20 minutes, or until it begins to ferment and puff up slightly.

Mixing the dough
Whisk the 3 eggs, salt, oil, and honey (measure the oil first, then use the same cup for measuring the honey — the oil will coat the cup and let the honey just slip right out) or sugar into the puffed yeast slurry until the eggs are well incorporated and the salt has dissolved. With your hands or a wooden spoon, stir in the remaining 3 1/4 cups (445 grams/15.7 ounces) flour all at once. When the mixture is a shaggy ball, scrape it out onto your work surface and knead it until smooth, no more than 5 minutes. (Soak the mixing bowl in hot water now to clean and warm it for fermenting the dough.) This dough is very firm and should feel almost like modeling clay. If the dough is too firm to knead easily, add a tablespoon or two of water to it; if it seems too wet, add a few tablespoons flour.

The dough should feel smooth and very firm but be easy to knead.

Fermenting the dough
Place the dough in the warm cleaned bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. (Or, the dough can be refrigerated right after kneading, them removed from the refrigerator to finish fermenting up to 24 hours later.) Let the dough ferment until it has at least doubled in bulk, about 2 hours, depending on the temperature in your kitchen. (If the dough has been refrigerated, it may take an extra 30 to 60 minutes to ferment.)

Shaping and proofing the dough
Line one or two large baking sheets, depending on how many breads you are making, with parchment paper or oil them. Divide the dough into two 15-ounce(430-gram) portions for loaves, one 1 1/2 pound (680-gram) portion for a large loaf and three small pieces for rolls (the easiest way to do this without a scale is to divide the dough into quarters and use one quarter for the rolls and the rest for the large loaf), or fourteen 2-ounce (60-gram) portions for rolls. To make a New Year’s spiral*, roll each portion into a long, even strand, preferably sheeting it out first.

For each portion:

For a flat spiral, make a very loose spiral of dough on the prepared sheet, starting at the center and winding the dough around, leaving space between the loops, and tuck the end of the strand under.

For a high-rising spiral, wind the dough tightly around on the prepared sheet, without leaving any space between the loops, and be sure that the last loop is bound with a bit of tension. This will force the dough to rise in the center as it is proofing and especially during the oven rise.

If you would like to make the bird’s head, before making a long strand, pull off and shape a small round from the dough. Set the round on the spiral, using a little water to help it stick. When the dough is fully proofed, pinch out a beak shape and use your finger to push in dimples for eyes, or use raisins or currants for the eyes.

Cover the loaves well with plastic wrap. (At this point, they can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours.) Let them proof until tripled in size, about 2 hours (or up to 3 hours if the loaves were refrigerated).

Meanwhile, 30 minutes before baking, arrange the oven racks in the lower and upper third portions if using two baking sheets, or arrange one rack in the upper third position if using one sheet, and remove any racks above them. Preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C/gas mark 3). If desired, you can preheat one or two baking sheets to double with the baking sheet(s) the loaves are in. Beat the remaining egg with a pinch of salt for glazing the breads.

Baking the loaves
When the loaves have tripled and do not push back when gently pressed with your finger but remain indented, brush them with the egg glaze. Bake rolls for about 15 to 20 minutes, the 15-ounce (430-gram) loaves for 25 to 35 minutes, or the 1 1/2-pound (680-gram) loaf for 35 to 45 minutes, until very well browned. After the first 20 minutes of baking, switch the loaves from front to back so that they brown evenly; if the large loaf is browning too quickly, tent it with foil. When the loaves are done, remove them from the oven and let cool on a rack.

challah

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~ by italicious on September 24, 2009.

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