Higher Challah

Somewhere along the way I saw a funny meme that said something like,  ‘well, we finally found out what happens if you take sports away from men, they replace it with baking’ (like most of the stories I retell, the original was better written and funnier in delivery. Mea culpa ).  Setting aside gender stereotypes, it does seem true that in this locked-down, stay at home culture, people (not just the menfolk) have been baking a lot of bread.

This post is more about a technique I learned than an actual recipe (though I’ve linked to a recipe that I like below).  But, since I’ve seen lots of homegrown challah on Instagram, I thought I’d share.

And, if you are considering trying your hand at bread, challah is a great dough for it.  It takes a little time, but, the enriched dough is very easy to work with and forgiving to novice braiders.

So, on to the technique.  Most challah consists of a three-to-many stranded braid. While lovely in any iteration, apparently a critique is that the bread spreads horizontally, not vertically.  To be honest, I’m not real sure why this might be an issue except for maybe making a sandwich?

But anyway, Cook’s Illustrated came up with a solution (of course they did): stack your braids.   That’s right, make a big braid on the bottom.  And then, top if with a smaller friend.

The ratio you’ll want to use for the dough is 1/3 little braid, 2/3 big braid. And, a little egg wash works as your glue.

Cool or what?  If you don’t have a favorite recipe for challah, I like this one from years back: Challah.

Chomely Challah

See what I did there?  Tired of me asking that question?

The weeks we spent on yeasted bread were favorites in my summer baking adventure.  There is something incredibly satisfying about producing a giant, golden, cross-hatched country loaf.  Or baguette.  Or brioche.

The instructor insisted we go old school: no mixmaster, just hands and floured surfaces for kneading.

Chef May’s reasoning was that we needed to understand by touch the difference between dough that is ready to rise and dough that needs more kneading.

Working with my hands is one of the pleasures of baking for me.

Challah was one of the enriched breads we tackled.  Something that’s long been on my list to try, I’ve always been intimidated by the complicated braiding involved.

Beautiful, elegant challah can be a work of art.  Often it is braided with six strands.

As you can see, I struggle with just three.  And this was my second attempt.

As homely as my version baked-off, it was a decided favorite at work.

Once the weather cools down a bit and my kitchen isn’t a rain forrest of heat and humidity I plan to considerably hone my challah-making skills.

Challah

from the New School of Cooking

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 C warm water
  • 1 TBS dry yeast
  • 1/2 C oil (I use grape seed)
  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 3/4-4 C all purpose flour
  • poppy seeds, sesame seeds or 1/2 C chocolate chips
  • 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tsp water

Directions

  1. Dissolve 1 tsp in 1/2 C warm water in a large mixing bowl.  Sprinkle yeast on top and let stand for 10 minutes.  Stir to dissolve.
  2. Combine yeast mixture with oil, remaining water, sugar salt, eggs and half the flour.  Mix well.
  3. Stir-in remaining flour.  Dough will be sticky.
  4. Cover dough and let rest for 10 minutes.  Turn out onto a floured board and knead for 10 minutes, adding flour as needed.
  5. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Allow to proof until doubled.
  6. Punch down.  Divide dough into 3 equal parts.  Shape into strands.
  7. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet and braid loosely.  Fasten ends securely.  Let rise until doubled.
  8. Brush with beaten gold and sprinkle with seeds.  Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes until deep golden brown.