Monday, December 17, 2007

Beth: Seasonal Breads: Challah Recipe

challah loaves

When we were first talking about putting together A Year in Bread I made an innocent suggestion that we each share the first kind of bread we had baked, way back in the dark ages when we started baking. After a long moment of silence on the phone, one of us muttered something about 'whole wheat bricks' while another said something definitively negative. Then I was asked to describe my first, presumably failed loaf.

My first bread was easy to remember. Having grown up in a household where everybody cooked very well, I found myself looking for a specialty with which to distinguish myself just at the time that I moved from Orange County, with easily accessible bakeries and delis, to a small town in the Sierras where the only bakery in town was a pastie restaurant. Interesting but not exactly what a girl raised on bagels and good rye was looking for.

So bread became my 'special thing' for quite a few years. And the first bread I was determined to get a handle on was challah. Because, really, what's better than bread with a backstory you have to explain to your new friends in the FFA.

"Braids? How interesting."

"Did you know that the number of strands has meaning?"

"I know that more than three strands means that I can't braid it!"

"No silly, three strands stands for truth, peace, and justice." (This was close enough to 'peace, love and understanding' to get me a funny look – the tie-dyed shirt probably didn't help.)

I fearlessly plowed on

"Twelve strands is symbolic of the twelve tribes...Sometimes we make it like pull-apart rolls so you don't have to use a knife to cut it. Knives being an instrument of war and all..."

"Uh huh."

"That's the shape I like for when it's going to be thrown, because it's almost like rolls."


"Well, placing bread in someone's hands is usually only done when they are in mourning, so throwing bread is, um, a happy thing."


"Do you make any, you know, regular bread?"

Seriously, braiding aside, this is an extremely forgiving recipe, and a great one for beginning bakers and children to start with. It is essentially egg bread, sometimes almost a light brioche, especially when made my way with the less traditional inclusion of butter and, occasionally milk.

If the braiding is intimidating, simply divide the dough in half and shape into loaves for some excellent egg bread. Once you have mastered simple three strand braids, you can move on to variations.

This recipe is adapted from The New Book of Favorite Breads from Rose Lane Farm by Ada Lou Roberts. It is out-of-print and there are, honestly, better books out there. But this is the first bread book I owned and it holds a special place in my flour-covered heart. If I was buying a book for Challah and other Jewish breads, I'd get Maggie Glezer's A Blessing of Bread: The Many Rich Traditions of Jewish Bread Baking Around the World which has more than a dozen recipes for Challah and instructions for everything from a traditional Croatian Sun to a twelve stranded compound braid.

kitchenMage's not-quite-kosher Challah

In addition to its place on the Sabbath table, challah makes the best French toast ever and is also a great candidate for bread pudding. This recipe, having been developed for non-religious meals, uses butter and, sometimes, even milk; you can make it kosher, however, with a simple substitution.

Ingredient US Volume Metric Volume US Weight Metric Weight

water 1/2 cup 120 ml 4 oz g

sugar 1 tsp 5 ml 1/8 oz 4 g

instant yeast 4 1/2 tsp 23 ml 1/2 oz 14 g

powdered ginger 1/4 tsp 1 ml a pinch 1-2 g

water (or milk) 1 cup 235 ml 8 oz 225 g

bread flour 2 cups 475 ml 9 oz 250 g

sugar 1/4 cup 60 ml 2 oz 50 g

butter, softened 1/4 cup 60 ml 2 oz 55 g

eggs 2 2 2 2

AP flour 3 cups 710 ml 13 1/2oz 375 g

salt 1 tsp 5 ml 1/4 oz 8 g

egg yolk for egg wash 1

Dough EnhancersThere are a lot of things going on when you bake bread and playing chemist in the kitchen can help some of the processes along quite a bit.
One trick that I learned from Ada Lour Roberts is the use of ginger in the yeast slurry. The ginger gives the yeast a bit of a kick in the pants to get it going and also helps keep the bread fresh. The small amount used is undetectable in the finished product but it does make a bit of a difference. Use 1/4 teaspoon per two loaf recipe.
Diastatic malt breaks complex sugars down into malt, which can improve flavor, texture and promote a gorgeous golden brown crust. Use 1 teaspoon per two-loaf recipe.
Ascorbic Acid (vitamin C) is another yeast enhancer with preservative qualities. Use 1/8 teaspoon per two-loaf recipe.
Gluten improves the rise and texture of bread, especially those with whole grain flours. Use 1 tablespoon per two-loaf recipe.
For information on other dough conditioners, check out Dough Enhancers: And How-To Use Them at the Bread Machine Digest.

To make this bread suitable for a kosher meal, you may omit the butter, substitute margarine, or even use olive oil, as Maggie Glezer does. As always, you may need to adjust the amount of flour used.
(These directions are for mixing by wand, err, I mean hand. Parenthetical directions are for those of you who are using a stand mixer.)

Proofing the yeast

Combine first four ingredients in a bowl and set in a warm place to proof. In a few minutes, the mixture will be bubbling nicely. These two pictures were taken about 12 minutes apart.

Mixing the dough

In mixing bowl, stir 1 cup of water and 2 cups of bread flour together and mix to combine into wet dough, about 1 minute. Add yeast mixture and stir to combine into a soupy mess.

Beat the eggs lightly and add them to the bowl, along with the sugar, butter, salt and 2 cups of AP flour. Mix until a shaggy dough forms and turn out onto a counter that has the last cup of flour spread on it.

Knead by hand for 7-10 minutes. (If you are using a machine, mix on medium for ~3-4 minutes, adding some of the last cup of flour if needed, before turning out on floured counter and kneading for a minute or two.) The dough should be smooth and elastic.

Place dough in clean bowl, cover and let rise until doubled in bulk.

Shaping the braids

Turn the dough out on a lightly floured counter and gently knead a few strokes to deflate the dough. Divide dough in half, cover one piece and set aside.

Divide the piece of dough into equal thirds. Roll each third into a rope of fairly even size – it should not taper too much towards the ends – and about the length of the baking sheet. Something like this.

Lay the three pieces of dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet. It is okay if they hang over the end of the pan a little bit, some of the length will be taken up when you braid the loaf.

Starting at one end, braid the ropes together, not too tightly. Pinching the ends together, tucking the ends under neatly.

challah shaping 6

An astute reader will note that, while the text reads "starting at one end..." the pictures show "starting in the middle" – not exactly a match. This is because I was originally going to make a double braid where a smaller braid is placed on top of a larger one. When I make that loaf, I like the look of both ends being braided with the "v" facing outward from the center. This leaves that odd little bit in the middle where the braid reverses, which is, of course, hidden by the top braid. In this case, however, I ended up making two single braids after all so I just undid half of that loaf and rebraided it.

Cover loaves and let rise until doubled in size.


Preheat oven to 375°f/190°c. Beat one egg yolk with a few drops of water and brush the egg wash on the loaves.

Bake bread on the middle rack, rotating pan 180° after 15 minutes. A pair of braids will bake in ~30 minutes, other shapes will vary a bit so watch it. When the bread is done it will be a lovely deep, yet still golden, brown with a nice egg-wash shine. Almost too pretty to eat. But not quite.

Let the bread cool completely before slicing, or if you subscribe to the tradition, tearing off chunks and tossing it across the table. To freeze, double-wrap in saran and placed in a freezer bag. Thaw still wrapped bread and serve as usual.

Complete flickr set on challah


Click here to continue reading the post and comments...

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Kevin: Seasonal Breads — Cinnamon Rolls Recipe

Coffee and newspaper in hand, I stepped out onto my patio and into that strangely orange-gold light that suffuses a clear fall morning. Each season seems to have it's own special brand of light: the harsh, white clarity of a frozen winter morning; the sweet, yellow dance of spring; the somehow round color of summer; and, so, to the particular hue of fall.

Traffic is light at 8:00 on a Sunday morning and most people sleep late, so the sounds of bird calls and songs are clear and add a pleasant punctuation to the Telemann sonatas playing faintly on the radio inside. The newspaper rustles reassuringly.

The odor of fresh coffee mixes with dusty scents of the season's change and the fainter smell of paper and newsprint. And then I pick up the first hints of yeast and cinnamon. A promise growing more insistent as the minutes tick by until, mouth watering, the timer calls me back into the kitchen.

I return to the patio with fresh coffee and a cinnamon bun.

I'd made the buns the night before, letting the dough rise, then forming the buns and letting them rise partially again, before placing the pan in the refrigerator. When I got up Sunday morning I pulled the pan out of the fridge and let it warm for an hour before baking the rolls.

Just imagine how good fresh cinnamon rolls would be on Christmas morning.

Click to enlarge

Cinnamon Rolls
Makes 8 rolls.

Ingredient US Volume Metric Volume US Weight Metric Weight
all-purpose flour 4 1/2 c 1060 ml 23 oz 630 g
quick yeast 2 1/4 tsp 12 ml 1/4 oz 7 g
milk 1 c 235 ml 8 oz 225 g
unsalted butter 1/3 cup 80 ml 2 3/4 oz 80 g
granulated sugar 1/3 cup 80 ml 2 3/4 oz 80 g
salt 1/2 tsp 2.5 ml -- --
eggs 3 large
light brown sugar 3/4 c 175 ml 5 5/8 oz 160 g
all-purpose flour 1/4 c 60 ml 1 1/4 oz 3 g
ground cinnamon 1 tbsp 15 ml -- --
unsalted cold butter, cut into pieces 1/2 c 117 ml 4 oz 113 g
half & half 1 tbsp 15 ml -- --
powdered sugar 1/2 cup 117 ml 2 oz 58 g
half & half 1 tbsp 15 ml -- --

Heat milk, butter, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan to about 120F (50C), stirring steadily.

Combine half the flour (2 1/4 cups 530 ml 11.5 oz 315 g) and all of the yeast in a bowl. Gradually stir in the milk mixture then beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Make sure all these ingredients are thoroughly mixed.

Mix and then knead in remaining flour. You’re shooting for a soft, smooth, and elastic dough but it shouldn't be sticky, you may need to add some additional flour.

Shape into a ball and place seam-side down in a greased bowl. Spritz the top of the ball with cooking spray and cover bowl with plastic. Let rise until doubled in bulk — 1 - 1 1/2 hours.

Deflate the dough and place it on a lightly floured surface, cover with a clean towel, and let rest for 10 minutes.

Mix together the brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon in a bowl and cut in the butter with a pastry knife

Roll the dough out into a 12 inch (30 cm) square. Sprinkle the filling evenly over the rolled out dough and roll the dough into a log, pinching the edges to seal. Slice the log into eight equal-sized pieces and arrange in a greased 13 x 9 x 2 inch (33 x 23 x 5 cm) baking pan.

Cover dough loosely with clear plastic wrap, leaving room for rolls to rise.

At this point you can refrigerate the dough for anywhere from 2 to 24 hours. If overnight, allow the rolls to sit out for 20 minutes, then refrigerate. The next morning remove the rolls from the refrigerator, take off the plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.

If you are making the cinnamon rolls immediately, don’t chill dough. Instead, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let dough rise in a warm place till nearly double, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Heat the oven to 375F (190C) and brush rolls with half & half. Bake for 25 - 30 minutes until golden brown.

In a medium-sized bowl stir together the powdered sugar and half & half. The glaze should be thin enough to drizzle over the rolls.


Labels: , , , ,

Click here to continue reading the post and comments...