I've been on a kick lately - trying new things... Trying things that I would not ordinarily try both in life and in the kitchen. It started this summer with my desire to take my first stab at bread-making. What resulted were the most delicious ciabatta rolls that took longer to bake than to eat!
I couldn't believe how easy they were to bake. The hardest part, I think, was waiting for the dough to rise. I made the dough right in my own mixer and the hook attachment did all the kneading for me. The next part was the most difficult part. I had to let the dough rise! Once it had doubled in size I had to punch it down and let it rise again! Finally I was able to put it in the oven.
Why bake bread? I'm fortunate to live where I do. I have the most wonderful French bakery (Isabelle & Vincent) just down the road and another bakery (Billy's Bakery) a couple of miles away with the most wonderful assortment of freshly made breads. My local grocery stores also have a decent selection of freshly baked breads. But to break into something that you've had your hand at creating, hot and delicious, right out of the oven, is really a treat. Some people claim that they can't bake - that they love to cook but just can't bake. I'm going to tell them, you, that they can... That you can... And it's really simply a matter of following the recipe step by step.
The challah is actually a bit easier than the ciabatta - you only have to let it rise once! As long as you follow the directions step by step you can't mess up. With the challah the hardest part is the braid. You can braid 3 or 6 strands. I'd suggest using the minimal amount - though I messed up when I was separating the dough into even amounts and had 4 strands! I did my best and I think it came out perfectly. After searching around for a recipe that seemed the most simple and straightforward, I decided to use the one found on The Kitchn's website. I made a few changes that I have noted, otherwise the recipe is purely theirs.
How to Make Challah Bread
Makes 1 loaf (about 20 slices)
What You Need
2 teaspoons active dry or instant yeast
1 cup (8 ounces) lukewarm water
4 - 4 1/2 cups (20 - 22 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) white granulated sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk (reserve the white for the egg wash)
1/4 cup (2 ounces) neutral-flavored vegetable oil (*NB We had run out of vegetable and canola oil and used a light olive oil instead. The taste was unaffected and it tasted as it should have. If anything it may have made the dough slightly more yellow in color.)
Optional: We prefer raisin challah and so we added 1 cup of seedless raisins into the mixture.
Standing mixer (optional)
Large mixing bowl
Bench scraper or sharp knife
1. Dissolve the yeast. Sprinkle the yeast over the water in a small bowl, and add a healthy pinch of sugar. Stir to dissolve the yeast and let stand until you see a thin frothy layer across the top. This means that the yeast is active and ready to use. (If you do not see this or if your yeast won't dissolve, it has likely expired and you'll need to purchase new yeast.)
2. Mix the dry ingredients. Whisk together 4 cups of the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer (or in a large mixing bowl if kneading by hand).
3. Add the eggs, yolk, and oil. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the eggs, egg yolk, and oil. Whisk these together to form a slurry, pulling in a little flour from the sides of the bowl.
4. Mix to form a shaggy dough. Pour the yeast mixture over the egg slurry. Mix the yeast, eggs, and flour with a long-handled spoon until you form a shaggy dough that is difficult to mix.
5. Knead the dough for 6-8 minutes. With a dough hook attachment, knead the dough on low speed for 6-8 minutes. (Alternatively, turn out the dough onto a floured work surface and knead by hand for about 10 minutes.) If the dough seems very sticky, add flour a teaspoon at a time until it feels tacky, but no longer like bubblegum. The dough has finished kneading when it is soft, smooth, and holds a ball-shape.
6. Let the dough rise until doubled. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place somewhere warm. Let the dough rise until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
7. Separate the dough and roll into ropes. Separate the dough into three or six equal pieces, depending on the type of braid you'd like to do. Roll each piece of dough into a long rope roughly 1-inch thick and 16 inches long. If the ropes shrink as you try to roll them, let them rest for 5 minutes to relax the gluten and then try again.
8. Braid the dough. Gather the ropes and squeeze them together at the very top. If making a 3-stranded challah, braid the ropes together like braiding hair or yarn and squeeze the ends together when complete. If making a 6-stranded challah, the directions are as follows:
Braiding 6-Stranded Challah - The name of the game here is "over two, under one, over two." Carry the right-most rope over the two ropes beside it, slip it under the middle rope, and then carry it over the last two ropes. Lay the rope down parallel to the other ropes; it is now the furthest-left strand. Repeat this pattern until you reach the end of the loaf. Try to make your braid as tight as possible. Your braid will start listing to the left as you go; it's ok to lift it up and recenter the loaf if you need to. Once you reach the end, squeeze the ends of the ropes together and tuck them under the loaf.
At this point place your loaf is fairly long and skinny. If you'd like to make a celebration ring, stretch the loaf a little longer and pull the ends toward each other to create a circle. You can either squeeze the ends together, or if you're feeling adventurous, braid them into a continuous circle.
If you're making a regular loaf (as pictured), you need to "plump" it a little to tighten the ropes into more of a loaf shape. Place your left palm at the end of the braid and your right palm at the top, and gently push the two ends toward each other, just like plumping a pillow in slow motion. Then slip your fingers under the dough along either side and gently lift the dough while cupping it downwards. (This isn't a vital step, so don't worry if you're not sure you did it correctly.)
9. Let the challah rise. Line a baking sheet with parchment and lift the loaf on top. Sprinkle the loaf with a little flour and drape it with a clean dishcloth. Place the pan somewhere warm and away from drafts and let it rise until puffed and pillowy, about an hour.
10. Brush the challah with egg white. About 20 minutes before baking, heat the oven to 350°F. When ready to bake, whisk the reserved egg white with a tablespoon of water and brush it all over the challah. Be sure to get in the cracks and down the sides of the loaf.
11. Bake the challah. Slide the challah on its baking sheet into the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through cooking. The challah is done when it is deeply browned and registers 190°F in the very middle with an instant-read thermometer.
12. Cool the challah. Let the challah cool on a cooling rack until just barely warm. Slice and eat.