Friday, November 06, 2009

Friday Favorites:
Jennifer's Reliable Food Processor Challah Recipe

Challah: Messing with Tradition

Welcome to Friday Favorites, where A Year in Bread readers guest blog about their best bread recipes. If you bake a Friday Favorites bread at home, we hope you'll come back and share your experiences with us in the comments section of that post.

Do you have a great bread recipe you'd like to share? Click
here to find out how you can become a Friday Favorites guest blogger. You'll find links to all the previous Friday Favorites recipes at the end of this post.

This week's guest is Jennifer, a Yiddishe supermama of four in Ontario, Canada who blogs her bread obsessions at Adventures in BreadLand and has actually grown her own poppy seeds for challah. She writes about everything else at Adventures in Mama-Land.

Can I help it if one of my 2-year-old’s first word was "dough?" Actually, that was a few months ago; he’s just now starting to be able to say the harder part: "challah."

As a religious Jew, and as a homeschooler, baking challah with my kids is more than just another fun activity. It's a doorway to non-stop conversations about traditions, customs, holidays.

Think you’ve eaten challah? I guarantee you haven’t.

The word “challah” actually refers to the part that you don’t eat. A law going back to the days of the Jerusalem Temple says to set aside an egg-sized blob for the priests every time we bake bread. The law is still on the books, but today the separated piece, the actual challah, is just tossed into the oven and burnt.

Another misconception: challah is often defined as egg bread, but eggs are not essential. Bakeries here carry “water” challahs, which aren’t sweet, and “egg” challahs, which are richer. I don’t like either one; I make a sweet but eggless challah instead.

So how did the word “challah” come to mean the rich, delicious Shabbat (Sabbath) loaves? I like to think that, just as the lump of dough is set aside, the sweet, special bread is set aside for us as a taste of something spiritual and unique.

Would it taste as good on a weekday? Perhaps, and certainly challah’s many non-Jewish fans seem to love it. But there’s something special about marking the passage of another week by making and eating bread together.

We say a blessing in Hebrew when separating the extra piece after the first rising, before we form the loaves. Except for during the High Holidays, when we use round loaves, I usually braid mine. I like a four-strand braid, rather than the more traditional three-braid. Maybe I just love being able to pick my own challahs out of a lineup. It’s a lot fancier-looking, and my 4-year-old is into fancy. She loves watching me braid.

Braided Loaves: My Daughter's on the Left, Mine on the Right

As for her own challahs, I picked up a great trick a couple of years ago that works with a wide range of ages:

Spray a loaf pan with oil. Break off a small ball of dough and hand it to the child to roll around for a couple of minutes. Then, have her toss it in the pan. Give her a second piece and do the same. You know your own kid’s attention span; keep going as long as you have dough and an interested child, placing each ball in a different spot, preferably touching other balls of dough, in the pan.

After not very long, the pan will be filled with little balls of dough. Rise and bake according to your recipe you’re using. The blobs will merge to create a lovely intricate braided look she’ll be proud to show off, and pull apart for easy consumption at the Shabbat table.

I’ve heard that separating challah is one of three special mitzvot (commandments) given specially to Jewish women. Perhaps that’s because a woman will include her kids in the rituals of breaking off the piece, saying the blessing, sharing out the dough, rolling and braiding it, connecting them to thousands of years of tradition.

Plus, what kid wouldn’t want to mess around with dough and come away with a delicious warm challah loaf?

Jennifer’s Reliable Food Processor Challah
Makes 1 big loaf or 2 small loaves

The WET stuff:
1/3 cup oil
1 2/3 cups water (you probably won't need all of it)

The DRY stuff:
3 Tablespoons “dusting” flour
5 cups flour - a mix of all-purpose and/or bread flour, with perhaps a bit of spelt (I love this with 1 cup of spelt)
1/3 cup sugar (I’ve never had any luck substituting honey, though it works for me in other recipes)
1½ Tablespoons kosher salt
1 Tablespoon instant yeast
¼ cup “spare” flour – set aside, just in case!

1. Combine oil and water in a 2-cup measure. Set aside so oil will rise.

2. Sprinkle “dusting” flour into an extra-large (non-zip) freezer bag. Close bag top, with air inside (it’ll look like a balloon), and shake flour around to coat inside of bag.

3. Add remaining dry ingredients (except ¼ cup spare flour) to food processor and process with steel blade to combine.

4. With food processor running, slowly pour oil/water mixture into dry ingredients (oil will pour first; you probably won’t use all the water).

5. Continue pouring slowly until mixture pulls away from sides of bowl and forms a “ball” that moves around the machine in one clump.

6. Continue processing for 30-45 seconds. One of two things may happen:
a. If mixture gets gloppy & starts clinging to sides – add a sprinkling of flour.
b. If mixture crumbles and doesn’t hold together – slowly add a bit more water.

7. When a nice “ball” texture is achieved, process for an additional 30-45 seconds.

Here's what happens if you're lazy and leave it in the food processor to rise. Messy: don't try this at home!

8. Dump dough into floured freezer bag, knot top and set aside to rise (2-8 hours) OR rest in fridge overnight or longer; bring to room temperature before continuing.

9. Preheat oven to 375°. The longer it’s hot before bread goes in, the better.

10. On floured table, gently divide dough – how many loaves do you want? Do not knead at this point! Try to encourage your kids not to overwork the dough, but don’t go crazy if they want to pound it. They’ll still love the end result.

Round Loaves for Rosh Hashanah

11. Shape each portion into a “loaf”. Be creative: braids, snakes, balls, whatever!

Fancy Six Braids for a Special Recipe

12. Set finished loaves on parchment paper in tinfoil or regular pan best-suited to desired final shape. Sometimes I rise braids in a loaf pan for a formal rectangular bottom. Sometimes I just let them sit on a cookie sheet for a casual look.

13. Spray finished loaves with oil, cover with plastic, and let rise 1 to 1½ hours.

14. Brush loaves with beaten egg if desired.

15. Sprinkle with: poppy, sesame, streusel*, whatever!

16. Bake for 30 minutes at 375°. Large loaves and those in loaf pans may take longer; upend the loaf after 30 minutes and check that the bottom is firm, dry and brown. It should make a hollow “echo” sound when tapped with knuckles.

17. Remove from pan as soon as it’s cool enough to handle and cool on a rack so the bottom doesn’t get soggy.

* Streusel topping: ½ cup flour, ½ cup sugar, add oil and mix until crumbly. Add cinnamon if desired. Perhaps not authentic, but if it looks like streusel and tastes like streusel, it IS streusel.

Previous Friday Favorites:
Anne's Oatmeal Toasting Bread
Marielle's Overnight Bread/Burger Buns/Cinnamon Roll Dough
Kelli's Pain au et Noisettes ou Pacanes for the People
Beth's Fauxcaccia

A Year in Bread Recipe Index

© Copyright 2009, the traditional, yet non-traditional bread baking blog where everything definitely tastes better if it's braided—or coiled into a snake and topped with streusel.



Anonymous Stacey said...

Just beautiful! I especially love how you can see the gluten strands where the braided sections started to pull apart as they rose. I'll definitely be trying this. Thanks for the great post!

11/07/2009 12:14 PM  
Blogger kitchenmage said...

I have a soft spot for braids of bread. Some of my first bread baking successes were lovely eggy braids. Yours are beautiful and, like Stacey, I particularly like the visible gluten strands.

Thanks for contributing to Friday Favorites. We've been having such fun with these posts.

11/10/2009 3:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really want to try this bread, but I do not have a processor. I'm also a bread rookie. Should I give it a whirl or move on? :)

1/20/2010 1:03 PM  
Blogger Farmgirl Susan said...

Hi Anonymous Rookie,
Since you don't have a food processor and are new to bread baking, you might want to start with a 'regular' recipe or two, and then go back to this one and make it without the processor once you're a little more comfortable working with dough.

I would suggest Beth's challah recipe (click here) or my Farmhouse White, which is an easy basic white sandwich bread recipe that can be adapted in all sorts of ways and shapes (click here). Or peruse our Index of Recipes for more yeasty inspiration! :)

1/21/2010 2:38 PM  

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