Nancy Barber (nlbarber) wrote,
Nancy Barber

The weekly challah baking

I've been baking a challah every Friday (when we're all in town) for sister-in-law's Shabbat for quite a while now--I guess since I blogged about the decline in quality of the frozen-dough ones she'd been using. After a couple of experiments, I settled on a recipe I found on the 'Net, called Grandma Rosie's Fabulous Challah, and made it several times after modifying it to use instant yeast, be kneaded in my KitchenAid (I'm not one who finds hand-kneading soothing or stress-relieving), and cut in half. The original made 3 challahs, so this gave me one large challah. After that recipe and technique felt solid, I experimented with adding whole-wheat flour, and then cut the recipe in half again to get to the size loaf we want for 6 people some of whom try to restrict their bread intake.

I'm enjoying this regular bread baking--it gives me a much better feel for how the dough should look, and a better appreciation for the natural variations that humidity, room temperature, and such cause. And we're getting a pretty good challah, in my biased opinion.

The standard is now a mostly whole-wheat challah, braided with 6 strands. I was using 2 3-strand braids, one smaller and stuck on top of the other, but that seems to be a method to make the 3-strand braid look more complex, which is to say, more like a 6-strand braid. And given that my smaller braid would sometimes slide sideways as the loaf was rising, and given that I can now do the 6-strand braid without referring to my notes, 6 strands it is. Next week I guess I'll get to try my hand at a round challah for Rosh Hashanah.

Anyway, here's the current recipe, with notes at the end. One of these days I'll convert this to weights instead of volume for the flours, at least, but for now it's in the units of the source recipe.

Whole-Wheat Challah, a descendant of Grandma Rosie's Fabulous Challah

1-1/4 cups whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (more or less, depending on the humidity)
1-1/8 tsp. instant yeast (1/2 package)
1 tablespoon granular lecithin (optional)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg, divided
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons honey
3 fluid ounces hot water (130 degrees)

Whisk together the flours, yeast, and lecithin. Whisk in salt.

Beat the egg in a small bowl. Reserve 1 teaspoon or so for glazing the loaf. In a large mixer bowl stir together the remaining egg, oil, honey, and water.

Add flour mixture to bowl. Using the dough hook, stir at lowest speed until flour is moistened. Increase to KitchenAid level 4 and knead for 5 minutes. Dough should be cleaning the sides of the bowl. Add more flour if necessary, up to about 1/4 c.

Turn out dough onto floured board and knead for 2 or 3 turns. Put into greased container, cover, and put in warm spot until doubled - about 1 hour. Alternatively, place in refrigerator overnight or for several hours.

Turn doubled dough out onto floured board and knead for 2 or 3 turns to deflate it. Divide dough into 6 pieces and braid tightly so the loaf will hold its shape. Pinch ends together when done and place on parchment paper on a baking sheet. Cover with greased plastic wrap or place in a proofing box.

Let formed loaf rise for about 45 minutes to an hour or until doubled. Begin pre-heating the oven to 350° at least 30 minutes before baking. Dilute the reserved egg with water, and brush the challah gently with reserved egg, being careful to get into the nooks and crannies. Sprinkle with poppy seeds, if desired.

Bake for about 20-25 minutes. An instant-read thermometer will register 180° when the loaf is done. Remove from baking sheet and put on a dish towel or a rack to cool.

Notes: The lecithin is supposed to add moisture and help the bread keep longer. I use it, though I'm not sure I can tell the difference. The smaller challah generally doesn't last long enough to need help keeping moist. I'm using bread-machine yeast that comes in a jar since I'm baking regularly--makes it easier to measure than the "half a package" stuff.

My habit now is to make the dough first thing Friday morning (I don't work on Fridays), around 8 or 9 AM. I may let it sit on the counter a while to start rising, but it soon gets stuffed into the fridge for the day. Around 4 PM I take the doubled dough out, braid the loaf, let it rise, and bake it so it's ready before our usual 6:30 dinner time.
Tags: baking, bread, challah, recipe

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