Challah

While I was making this loaf of challah, glancing down occasionally at my son “playing” around my feet (in other words, unravelling a roll of alfoil and emptied a drawer of baking implements), I realised that I hadn’t been making bread recently because breadmaking is a little more difficult with a toddler, or proto-toddler, than it is with a largely inert baby. Needing to make sudden interventions or pick up a grizzling child is hard when your hands are covered in dough. This excuse sounds ridiculous when the kneading part of breadmaking only comprises a few minutes, but for some reason there is always some baby-related disaster during those few minutes. He has a knack for it.

This is Mark Bittman’s recipe for challah, the “traditional Sabbath bread of European Jews”. It is a lovely soft, eggy bread, but is best eaten on the day it’s made, as it gets a bit dry. Second-day-challah is perfect for bread pudding or French toast, both of which are met with enthusiastic proto-toddler approval.

ingredients:
650 grams flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 tablespoon honey
3 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
325ml milk, warmed
poppy seeds or coarse salt for sprinkling, egg for egg glaze

Sprinkle the yeast into the warm milk, and leave it for five minutes, until it’s foamy and active.

Put the flour and salt into a large bowl. Crack the eggs and egg yolk into the middle, add the honey, then pour in the milk and yeast mixture. Mix everything together roughly with a fork, so that it’s mostly sticking together. Mark Bittman says if it’s dry, add in a little bit of milk until it’s wet enough to knead. He claims it is unlikely to be too wet. Mine was too wet, making me presume that I’d done something wrong along the way. Or perhaps Mr Bittman is simply too presumptuous about the state of my dough. (Oh, and obviously if it is too wet to knead, add a little bit of flour at a time until it’s kneadable.)

Check the whereabouts of your baby and hand them a distracting toy, because you’re about to get your hands covered in dough. Dump your rough mass of dough out onto your counter and knead away. It doesn’t need too much, just a few minutes until it’s smooth and elastic under your hands. Clean the bowl, and give it a light coating of oil. Pop the dough back into the bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and leave it for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until it’s roughly doubled in size.

Punch down the dough, and divide it into three similarly sized balls – weighing them if you want a nice evenly braided loaf. Leave the balls of dough to rest for about 15 minutes, then roll them out into ropes – about 36cm long, but there’s no need to be exact about it. You want your loaf to fit onto your baking tray (you should probably find a baking tray and lightly oil it, by the way). You can create all sorts of complicated braided loafs, or you can just plait your three strands like hair, and tuck the ends under. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes while you heat your oven up to 190C. Just before putting the bread in the oven, whisk up an egg and brush it over the loaf. (Generally, recipes call for an egg yolk, or an egg yolk plus a little water, but I’ve never seen the point of seperating an egg. This article on glazing kind of backs me up. Well, not really, but it concludes that many forms of glazing are acceptable.) If you like, sprinkle the glazed loaf with poppy seeds or coarse salt.

Cook the bread for 40 to 50 minutes, or until it’s nicely golden and sounds hollow when you tap the bottom of the loaf. I’m always a bit paranoid about undercooking bread, and I think I left this in a teenst bit too long, judging by the crust.

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