Saturday, October 4, 2014

A Lovely Braided Loaf of Challah Bread

I am slowly making my way into the world of bread baking and having seen a few different challah recipes on Smitten Kitchen's blog, I knew that this beautiful braided bread was something I needed to try. I was particularly interested in making this Jewish bread, which is mostly eaten on Sabbath and holidays, because Deb from Smitten Kitchen compares it to brioche in that "it is a slightly sweet bread enriched with both eggs and fat". I was pretty much sold after that.

Braiding the challah dough was super fun and not as difficult as I thought it would be. I looked at different ways to braid the bread online but the easiest way to do it was just to watch this video while I was in the process of braiding. The gorgeous shine from the bread also comes from Deb's suggestion of doing a double egg wash, once after you have braided it, and again right before putting it in the oven. Seriously, this bread is almost too pretty to eat!

I really enjoyed this bread and I loved the slight sweetness to it. We brought some to a light lunch with our friend B and it paired really nicely with the serrano ham she served that day. We also had it with a butternut squash soup. And lastly, I was waiting for the bread to go slightly stale after a few days to make challah french toast. Delicious! Seriously, I love a good breakfast dinner and challah french toast was perfect.

Best Challah (Egg Bread) (slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
Makes 2 loaves

22 g fresh yeast (or 3 3/4 tsp active dry yeast) / fresh yeast is what is most common here
1 tbsp sugar
1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil
5 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp table salt
8 cups flour (might be a little less or a little more)
Poppy or sesame seeds to sprinkle on top

In a large bowl, or in the bowl of your stand mixer, whisk together the fresh yeast, 1 tbsp sugar, and lukewarm water. Whisk oil into the yeast and then beat in the 4 eggs, one egg at a time. Add the rest of the sugar and the table salt and beat again. Gradually add the flour to the wet mixture. When the dough holds together, it is ready for kneading.

In your stand mixer with the dough hook attachment, knead the dough until smooth, about 8 minutes. You can also knead the dough by hand on a floured surface. When smooth, form the dough into a round ball and return to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place for 1 hour, or until almost doubled in size. Once it has completed its first rise, punch down the dough and let it rise for another half hour.

Take the dough out of the bowl and divide it into 2. Divide each half into another 6 strands. Watch this video and braid away! Place the braided loaves on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper with a few inches in between them. Beat the remaining egg and brush it on the loaves. Let the loaves rise for another hour.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375F or 190C and brush the loaves with another coat of egg wash. Sprinkle the bread with sesame or poppy seeds, if using them. Bake in the middle of the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden. The loaves should also sound hollow when you tap it on the bottom if they are ready. Cool the loaves on a rack. Store the bread in an airtight bag or wrapped up really well to keep it from drying out and going stale too fast.

What's your favorite bread recipe? What do I need to try baking? I would love suggestions!

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