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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Challah Bread


Saturday night Official Taster and I got to celebrate the fourth night of Hanukkah with new and old friends. Neither of us is Jewish, so it was a treat to be part of the ritual, the celebration, and, of course, the food. As good guests, OT and I each brought a gift- he brought a six pack of He-brew, and I brought a giant loaf of challah. I've made this once before, last winter, but it's definitely better to prepare for a large group of people to enjoy (or you can freeze half). If there are any leftovers, it makes great french toast or bread pudding!

I originally got the recipe from the New York Times Magazine, faithfully torn out and saved by Mom. Unfortunately, I can't link you to the article because you need to have an account. But if you do, I recommend reading it. Just do a search for "challah revisited," make sure you have the settings to search for all articles (not just the standard past 30 days) and it's the top result. The article was published in December 2008, and there's actually a second challah recipe in there as well.

The dough produces a sweet, light loaf, and the braiding really isn't as intimidating as it might look. Don't be put off by the number of steps, either. There's a lot of space taken up telling you to wait and let it sit for a bit.








I realize that Hanukkah is almost over, but this bread is good enough to make regardless of the season.

L'chaim!










Challah
adapted from NY Times Magazine (originally published in 1976, Craig Claiborn wrote an article for The Times with the recipe from Sarah Schecht of Brooklyn, who immigrated to the US from Poland)

10 C unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional for kneading
4 tsp dry active yeast (or 2 quarter oz. packages)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
4 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 C corn oil
3/4 C plus 1/8 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp sesame or poppy seeds (optional)

1. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the yeast with 1 cup of lukewarm water. Place 6 cups of flour in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Pour the water + yeast into the well, and with a fork, stir gently around the well to gradually incorporate no more than 1/4 of the flour into the yeast mixture. Set the bowl in a warm place and let stand about 45 minutes.

2. Sprinkle the baking powder, cinnamon, and salt over the bowl, and add the vanilla, 3 eggs, oil, and 3/4 cup of sugar. Add 1 1/2 C lukewarm water and stir with a fork. Add 2 more cups of flour, and continue to stir with a fork, and then with your hands. Gradually, add up to 2 more cups of flour, kneading for about 10 minutes in the bowl. The dough is ready when it doesn't stick to your hands. Shape into a ball, cover, and let stand 20 minutes.

3. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and kneed for about 5 minutes. Add a little flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking. Put the dough in a floured bowl (you can use the one you started with), and lightly dust with flour. Cover and let stand for 30 minutes.

4. Turn the dough out and knead briefly. Use kitchen scissors or a sharp knife to cut off 1/8 of the dough, shape it into a ball, and set aside to rest. Repeat with the remaining dough so that you finish with 8 balls of roughly the same size. Using your hands, roll each piece into a 12-15 inch long rope.

5. Align the ropes vertically, side-by-side. Gather the tops together and pinch together, adding one at a time. Braid them as follows: separate the ropes down the center, 4 to a side. Bring the outer right rope over toward the center and place it down so it becomes the fourth rope from the left. Next, bring the outer left rope over toward the center and down so it becomes the fourth rope from the right. Repeat this process until the loaf it braided. You will need to pull and stretch the ropes a bit toward the end. When your braid is done, gather all the bottom ends of the ropes and pinch them together to seal.

6. Generously spray the bottom and sides of a large baking sheet with cooking spray. Carefully lift the braided load and place it on the baking sheet. Cover the loaf with a towel and place in a warm spot until the loaf has doubled in size, about 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Remove the center rack from the oven and place the remaining rack in the lower third.

7. Beat your remaining egg along with 1/8 tsp of sugar. Brush the braid with the egg wash and then you can sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds if you'd like. Bake until puffed and golden, 50-60 minutes.

Notes:
If you have a corn issue, you can use clarified butter instead. I would stay away from olive or other strongly flavored oils because I think they would change the taste of the bread. Learn how to clarify butter here or here.

The original recipe only calls for 9 cups of flour, but my dough was still crazy sticky at just 9. So if yours works with less than 10 cups, great!

It's cold here. So to give my bread a nice warm spot to sit during the rising periods, I turned my oven on for a minute or so, turned it off, and stuck the dough in there.

I didn't use any seeds on top because I didn't have any on hand, and it was great even without them.

Learn how to knead bread here if you're not familiar with the process. It's pretty easy and a good skill to have, unless you plan on making no-knead bread for the rest of your life.
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