Difficulty level Moderate
YIELD Makes 1 large loaf
We had two big snowstorms last week that left us with over a foot of snow on the ground. There something about seeing snow come down that makes me want to hit the kitchen and get baking. Seeing as my mother-in-law was coming for Friday dinner, I decided to bake a challah.
I was braising the main course in the oven, and I thought I would put my dough to rise at the back of the stove where it was warm. After an hour or so I checked the dough and was surprised to see that it hadn't risen very much, then I realized why. The back of the stove was far too hot and the bottom 1/4" of the dough had baked, rather than risen. Oops. I turned the dough out onto the counter and cut the cooked part off as best I could and set it back on the stove, but not so close to the vent.
The dough seemed okay when it came time to braid it, so I went ahead. Much to my surprise, it turned out to be an excellent loaf of bread, one of the best I've ever made. I've made lots of challahs over the years, some recipes more successful than others, but this is the one I'm going to go back to. It made excellent toast the next morning too.This recipe called for instant yeast and I use traditional yeast that must be proofed. You do that by putting 1/4 cup of warm water into a bowl and sprinkling a bit of sugar into it and then taking 2 1/4 teaspoons of yeast and sprinkling it over the surface of the water. Set it aside and let it sit for 10 minutes or so, and it should bubble up. I just subtracted the amount of water I used later in the recipe. Read the recipe through carefully first to figure out what to do depending on which yeast you use.
This cookbook is also big on kneading their breads in a standing mixer, which I don't have. In any case, I love kneading bread, it's part of the fun of making it in the first place. You will probably need to add more flour bit by bit if you do this by hand. You want to end up with a dough which is smooth and elastic. I've heard people say it should feel like a baby's bottom or the inside of a woman's thigh, for what it's worth.
|3‑3 1/4 cups||unbleached all purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface|
|1||envelope of instant yeast, or traditional yeast plus 1/4 cup water for proofing|
|1 1/4 tsp||salt|
|2||large eggs plus 1 egg separated|
|4 tbsp||unsalted butter, melted|
|1/2 cup||water at room temperature|
|1 tsp||poppy or sesame seeds|
- In a medium bowl, whisk together 3 cups of the flour, the yeast (if instant), sugar and salt; set aside.
- In a bowl (or standing mixer) mix together 2 eggs, egg yolk, melted butter and 1/2 cup of water. If using traditional yeast add 1/4 cup of water and proofed yeast.
- Add flour mixture. Use dough hook and knead at low speed until a ball of dough forms, about 5 minutes. If kneading by hand, use the heel of your hand, rather than your knuckles, to knead rotating the dough as you go. Add more flour as necessary. It will take about 10 minutes if kneading by hand.
- Place the dough in a very lightly oiled large bowl, turning the dough over to coat with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 1/2-2 hours. Gently press the dough to deflate it, cover again and let rise until doubled in size about 40 to 60 minutes.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into 3 pieces. Roll each piece into about 16-inch long ropes, or until dough is about 1 inch in diameter. Line the ropes up side by side and braid them pinching the ends together. Place the loaf on a pan and loosely cover it with plastic wrap. Allow to rise again in a warm place until it is about 1/3 larger, about 30-45 minutes.
- Heat oven to 375°F. Brush the loaf with the reserved egg white mixed with 1 tbsp of water. Sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds if using. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until it is golden brown. An instant read thermometer inserted into the side of the loaf should read 190°F. I just tap it and listen for a hollow sound. Place the baking sheet on a wire rack. Allow the bread to cool completely before cutting it.
From Baking Illustrated by editors of Cooks Illustrated (2004, America's Test Kitchen)