Challah

IMG_5837

This past weekend was Mother’s Day weekend, and there were so many things that made it perfect. First of all, it was warm… no, hot and sunny all weekend, which meant wearing shorts and t-shirts and having all the doors and windows open and hanging out on the deck. This just never happens in May in Seattle, so it was a gift!

IMG_5794

We dined al fresco.

And every year, Matthew, Mara, and Millie plant flowers for me that I can enjoy practically all year round. It’s the best gift ever.

61083671772__1537C867-A007-4AC4-8A49-6DACBCD9BD7E

And we played “Farkle”, which is super fun. I love family game night.

IMG_5811

And the girls made beautiful cards for me. Notice the pop-up card in the middle is a replica of our kitchen, with cinnamon rolls cooling on the counter.

IMG_5817

I am a lucky mom.

We also watched “The New Legends of Monkey”, which is a new favorite show of ours. We did so many of our favorite things, and we did them together. It felt like the Best Mother’s Day Ever, because I got to spend it with my family. Oh, and one other reason it was the Best Mother’s Day Ever? I made the Best Challah Ever!!!

IMG_5849

Oh my!

On Sundays, Matthew makes french toast for brunch, and he uses Challah for it. Sometimes the stores and bakeries are out of it, so we have to go without. So for a long time now, making my own Challah has been on my list. But I have felt intimidated by it. I mean, the braiding…three-strand, four-strand… six-strand!! So I started out by experimenting with just the braiding part, using the white bread recipe that comes out so nicely.

IMG_5614

White bread with six-strand braids.

This bread came out so beautiful and delicious. But it was not Challah. My work was not yet done. I started doing research, and asking around for friends’ favorite recipes, and looking at a gazillion different blog posts, and checking on all of the Challah recipes in my favorite cookbooks. And I decided to try King Arthur’s Classic Challah.

IMG_5818

There are notes like this all over my kitchen…

The first time I made it, the dough was dense and dry, unlike any other bread dough I had worked with, and I had a hard time kneading it, but it was easy to work with for the braids. And the bread turned out nicely, although just a tad dense. I read all the reviews on the recipe, and a lot of reviewers complained about the dough being too dry, so I took their advice and tried adding more water the second time I made it.

Adding more water did make the dough easier to knead, but then made the braiding part very difficult. It was kind of a disaster, the dough being too soft, and the bread didn’t come out as well. So I went back to the recipe as it was. And watched King Arthur’s Isolation Baking Show with Jeffrey Hamelman, Certified Master Baker, and I quote him here “Challah dough should be a well developed, dry dough”… OHHHHHH!!!! So the dryness of the dough that reviewers were complaining about? It is supposed to be that way!

IMG_5686

It’s supposed to look like this!

So I made the recipe exactly as stated, and ended up with a beautiful, but a tad dense loaf. I weighed all of my ingredients, and even used fancy flour… uh oh. Maybe the fancy flour caused the denseness? So on Mother’s Day, I once again made Challah, but used King Arthur ‘s Unbleached All-Purpose flour. The result? Exactly what I was looking for!!! The dough was easy to work with, and the finished product was soft, slightly fluffy, but not overly so. It was feathery; that’s the only word I can come up with to describe it. Pure perfection.

IMG_5853

We all flipped out when we tried this one.

Here is something that I’ve known for a while now. Flour matters. Maybe that’s why I have at least eight different kinds of flour in my kitchen. While one flour will be magic for one recipe, it can completely ruin another. And here’s the bugger about it: there are differences (sometimes big ones) between all-purpose flours!!!! Yes, I have three different kinds of all-purpose flour right now. So if you are making a recipe that calls for all-purpose flour, and your friend made that recipe and had stellar results, and your results are less than stellar, it might be because of the flour! Of course, there are so many factors involved, but flour is a big one. So here is King Arthur’s Classic Challah recipe. I will include a picture tutorial at the bottom that will include all kinds of details that might be helpful. I have made both the six-strand braid and the four-strand braid.

 

King Arthur’s Classic Challah

(Original recipe here)

Makes two smaller loaves, or one large loaf.

Dough

  • 1/2 cup (113g) lukewarm water (around 100° or so)
  • 6 tablespoons (74g) vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup (85g) honey
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 cups (482g) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast

Glaze

  • 1 large egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water

To make the dough:

  1. Mix the water, oil, honey, and 2 eggs in a large bowl.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and instant yeast.
  3. Pour the flour mixture into the wet ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon or Danish dough whisk until dough comes together; it will be dense and maybe a bit dry.
  4. Fold the dough in the bowl with a spatula or bowl scraper until dough is workable, then knead by hand in the bowl, rotating the dough after each fold. Continue to knead for about 8 minutes; dough will be smooth and firm.
  5. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise for two hours.
  6. Transfer dough to work surface (can be dusted lightly with flour).
  7. Depending on what kind of braid you are doing, and how many loaves, divide dough into number of pieces you need. I like to make two smaller loaves, so I start by dividing in half, and then into smaller pieces.
  8. Braid loaf (or loaves) and place on parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise for 90 minutes to two hours at room temperature. Loaves will be puffy and almost jiggly. Preheat oven to 375° near the end of the rise time and place rack in lower third of oven. You’ll want your oven to preheat for at least twenty minutes so there are no hot spots.
  9. At the end of the rise time, whisk together one egg and one tablespoon water and brush the glaze onto the risen loaves.
  10. Place baking sheet on a second baking sheet (I turned mine upside down) to keep the bottom of the loaves from burning, and place in lower third of preheated oven.
  11. After twenty minutes, check to see if the loaves are browned enough. At this point, place a sheet of aluminum foil lightly over the loaves to stop the bread from over-browning.
  12. Continue to bake for another 7 to 8 minutes more for two loaves, or 10 to 15 minutes more for one large loaf. Loaf will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom, and instant-read thermometer will register 190°. Don’t over bake!
  13. Remove Challah from oven and let cool on rack.

IMG_5837

And now, some pictures with details!

IMG_5681

Mix lukewarm water, oil, honey, and eggs (I measure and weigh the water and oil).

I like to do all the mixing in a large, wide, shallow glass bowl, because it is easy to get my hand in there later for kneading. Everything stays in the bowl!

IMG_5683

Get your dry ingredients ready (weigh that flour!!!).

IMG_5684

Add dry ingredients all at once (flour, salt, and yeast).

IMG_5685

Stir to combine; dough will seem dry, and that’s okay.

IMG_5686

Now the dough is coming together.

I like to do all the mixing and kneading by hand. It gives me a better sense of the readiness of the dough. I don’t work too hard at it, just a gentle consistent kneading.

IMG_5687-1

Now I start to fold the dough over using this bowl scraper.

IMG_5688-1

The dough begins to firm up as gluten develops.

IMG_5689

Time to start kneading by hand.

IMG_5693

Keep going! 8 minutes! If dough sticks to the bowl, just use scraper or spatula to scrape it back into the dough ball.

IMG_5696

Dough will be strong and elastic. You might even suddenly notice the texture change in your hands.

IMG_5699

Ready to cover and let rise.

IMG_5702

After rising for two hours.

IMG_5703-1

Weigh the dough.

IMG_5704-1

Cut in half for two loaves. I find it easier to make two smaller loaves.

Notice that there is hardly any flour on the work surface. This is important, because you will not be able to successfully roll out the dough into ropes if the dough is sliding around in flour. The original recipe says to work on a lightly oiled surface, but that doesn’t work for me, so I just use a dry surface. The dough has enough oil in it that it doesn’t stick.

IMG_5709

Cover one half of dough. Divide the other half into six pieces. I weight them…

I find that pre-shaping the dough pieces before rolling into ropes makes the rolling out much easier, and the ropes have a very nice consistent shape. There are different ways to pre-shape, but I like this method best.

IMG_5710

Gently pat out the dough. Just slap it a few times.

IMG_5711

Fold top third over and press with fingers.

IMG_5713

Turn piece around and fold over the top third again, pressing with fingers.

IMG_5714

Now fold in half lengthwise and press the seam together.

IMG_5715

Cover the pre-shaped pieces and let rest while you work on the other half.

IMG_5717

Divide into six pieces…

IMG_5718

Pre-shape.

Now you are ready to go back to the first set of six that have been resting. Make room on your work space and get ready to roll ;-).

IMG_5725-1

Start by using one hand and rolling in the middle to desired thickness.

IMG_5728-1

Now switch to two hands and roll and move hands out as you go, lengthening the rope.

IMG_5730-1

Try to get your ropes to the same length, about 14 inches for smaller loaves.

IMG_5731-1

Once ropes are ready, sprinkle the ropes lightly with flour for easier braiding.

IMG_5732-1

Then roll each rope to coat lightly with the flour.

Now, I can’t believe I have pictures for all of this. It kind of makes my head spin, and I’m thinking it will make your head spin as well. Here is the video tutorial I found the most helpful for how to do a six-strand braid. Start watching at about 4 minutes into the video. If you watch from the beginning, you will see that she doesn’t pre-shape her pieces. You might think that is the easier way to go, but trust me. Pre-shaping makes the rolling out so much nicer, and the dough behaves much better. The end result is a beautiful rope without inconsistencies.

IMG_5733-1

Your set up. Heavy container keeps braid stable.

IMG_5733

Number the ropes (in your mind) from left to right. You’ll start with strands 5 and 6.

IMG_5734-1

5 goes all the way over, 6 goes in the middle.

IMG_5734-2

Now re-number the ropes (in your mind) and use strands 1 and 2.

IMG_5735-1

2 goes all the way over, and 1 goes in the middle.

IMG_5735-2

Renumber ropes (in your mind….).

IMG_5736-1

5 goes all the way over, 6 goes in the middle.

IMG_5738-2

Renumber….

IMG_5739-1

2 goes all the way over, 1 goes in the middle.

IMG_5740-1

5 goes all the way over, 6 goes in the middle.

IMG_5741-1

2 goes all the way over, 1 goes in the middle.

IMG_5742-1

5 goes all the way over, 6 goes in the middle.

IMG_5743-1

2 goes all the way over, 1 goes in the middle.

IMG_5744-1

5 goes all the way over, 6 goes in the middle.

IMG_5745-1

Whew!! Pinch the ends together!

IMG_5746-1

Now pinch top ends together.

IMG_5747-1

Braid is loose – that is good as it allows room to rise without distortion.

IMG_5748

Tuck pinched ends under and “plump” the loaf, in other words, do the opposite of stretching it out.

IMG_5750-1

Carefully place loaves on parchment lined baking sheet and re-plump.

IMG_5751

Cover with lightly greased plastic wrap.

IMG_5752

Top with a lightweight tea towel, just for good measure.

At this point, once you have set your loaves aside to rise, you’ll want to set your timer for 90 minutes. At the 90 minute mark, preheat your oven to 375°. It’s a good idea to preheat your oven for a good twenty to thirty minutes so it doesn’t have any hot spots. Now set your timer for another 30 minutes, so that your loaves will rise for a total of two hours.

IMG_5754

After two hours of rising – WOW.

IMG_5756

Mix egg with 1 Tbsp water and gently brush loaves with egg wash. Get into every crack and crevasse.

IMG_5759-1

Take baking sheet with loaves and set it on top of an upside down baking sheet.

Now you will place the loaves on the double baking sheets and set all of it in the lower third of your preheated oven. Let bake for twenty minutes.

IMG_5829

At the twenty minute mark they might look like this.

After twenty minutes, rotate the pan, and place a sheet of aluminum foil loosely over the tops of the loaves to stop them from over-browning. This is called “tenting”. Just set the foil lightly on top.

IMG_5830

Those loaves are so cute peeking out from under the foil.

Let the loaves bake for maybe another 7 to 8 minutes or so. To test for doneness, tap the bottom of the loaf and it should make a hollow sound.

IMG_5760-1

Place loaves on a cooling rack, and marvel at the result of your handiwork.

Making a four-strand braid is very similar to the six-strand braid, but just easier!

IMG_5800

Four strands! Number them from left to right.

IMG_5801

3 goes all the way over, 4 goes in the middle.

IMG_5802

2 goes all the way over, 1 goes in the middle.

IMG_5803

3 goes all the way over, 4 goes in the middle.

IMG_5804

2 goes all the way over, 1 goes in the middle.

IMG_5806

3 goes all the way over, 4 goes in the middle.

IMG_5807

2 goes all the way over, 1 goes in the middle.

IMG_5808

3 goes all the way over, 4 goes in the middle.

IMG_5809

Pinch ends, tuck under, and plump!

So, I did make the recipe with one very large loaf, and here it is.

IMG_5875

I got impatient, and didn’t let it rise long enough during the second rise, so if you are wanting to make one large loaf, please make sure to let it rise for the full two hours for both rises. You can even go a bit longer on the second rise, just to be sure to get a fluffy loaf. I did the six strand braid, rolling out the ropes to about 20 inches.

IMG_5866

I measure the strands.

I was worried it would be unwieldy, but it wasn’t. I just needed a bit more counter space.

IMG_5868

Getting ready.

And no, I’m not going to show you all the weaving….

IMG_5872

One big loaf…

And after rising…

IMG_5873

It’s big, but I could have let it rise even more!

Add egg wash.

IMG_5874

Oops. A little sloppy, but that’s okay.

And done!

IMG_5875

I will say though, I really like making two loaves. You don’t need as much counter space for braiding, you don’t need to worry about extra long rise time, and you have an extra loaf to give to a neighbor or save for french toast.

IMG_5837

On the left is the six-strand braid, and on the right is the four-strand braid.

I hope you have as much fun making this Challah as I do!

IMG_5849

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This entry was posted in Dairy-free, Fun in the kitchen!, Yeasty Things. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s