November 13, 2010

Challah and Challah Swirl

I don't bake bread as often as I used to. Some of that is because I usually choose low-glycemic breads for everyday consumption, and I haven't really got the patience for making flourless breads or sourdough breads myself, or at least not on any sort of regular basis. Challah is really more of a special occasion bread to me, enriched with oil and eggs as it is; not being Jewish, I feel free to take liberties with challah which might or might not be acceptable to some. At any rate, it had been quite a while since I made any, and I felt it was high time.

My challah loaves are usually done in the traditional free-form braid (sometimes, as a smaller braid stacked on top of a larger braid, if I'm feeling fancy, or have a housewarming to go to). This time, however, I felt like making something that would easily fit into my toaster for breakfast during the week, so I crammed my braid into a loaf pan, and split the difference, as it were.

For the second loaf, I wanted something fun. I had contemplated making it into a set of nine cinnamon buns, but laziness won the day, and I settled on rolling it up into a log, and putting that into a second loaf pan.

As you can see, my rolling/shaping skillz are far from "mad". I am rather grievously out of practice, and should probably submit myself to some sort of remedial practice regime until the results are fit to photograph. This one managed to have the swirl quite uneven, as well as rising higher on one end than the other, because I was sloppy about making sure the rolled out dough was even. Quite lopsided. Hmph! Perhaps it was simply depressed by the rather ratty-looking pan that I used for it, next to the pristine loaf pan for the regular challah.

No matter, both loaves were delicious. The swirl was effected by mixing brown sugar with equal parts cinnamon and ground cardamom, a combination which I highly recommend, and which will be repeated the next time I feel the urge to get fancy with my bread. The swirl loaf also toasted up beautifully. I am partial to a slice of strong cheddar on toasted spiced and/or raisined breads, and this combination didn't disappoint at all.

I may have to make it again soon...just for the practice, of course!

The recipe that I use is from Claudia Roden's wonderful The Bood of Jewish Food. I note that she spells it "Hallah", another common spelling, but one I cannot get used to. Her recipe makes four medium-sized loaves, so I cut it in half here, for two loaves or one stacked braid:

Adapted from the Hallah recipe in The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden

1 tablespoon dry yeast
1 cup 2 tablespoons warm water
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten, plus 1 egg for glazing
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
Optionally, sesame seeds or poppy seeds for garnish

Proof the yeast in the warm water with a pinch of the sugar, in a large mixing bowl. Let it stand until it foams. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the rest of the sugar, the salt, the eggs and oil and beat well. When the yeast is foamy, add the egg mixture and stir well.

To the wet mixture, add a cup and a half of flour and beat for approximately 100 strokes in the same direction. The batter will be thin and should become lump free during the process. Add another cup of flour and beat that in, too. Add the rest of the flour gradually, as needed, until the dough becomes a soft, slightly sticky dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter, and knead for about ten minutes by hand, until the dough becomes shiny, supple, and doesn't stick to your hands too much. You can add a little more flour as needed to prevent the sticking enough to be able to knead the dough.

Place the bread dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl, turning the dough so that the top has a thin film of oil over it, and cover it lightly with a sheet of plastic wrap. Place in a warm, draft-free spot, such as the inside of an unlit oven with the light turned on. Let it rise for 2 to 3 hours, or until it doubles in size.

Squeeze the air out of the dough (also called "punching down", but you don't need to be that rough), and shape the bread as you wish, into two loaves or a single, stacked loaf. Place on a greased baking sheet or in a loaf pan, as you will, and allow to rise until just about double, about an hour.

Use a pastry brush to gently brush the beaten egg glaze over the exposed surfaces of the bread. If you want to add seeds, sprinkle them on top of the glaze, so they will stick. Do not skip the glaze - this is what gives the lovely burnished golden brown colour. Your loaves will be pale and incomplete looking without it.

Bake at 350℉ for 30 - 40 minutes for two loaves, 40 - 50 minutes for a big stacked braid. Test them for doneness by tapping the bottom - they should sound hollow.


kickpleat said...

I love challah, but have only had it a few times - definitely special occasion bread for me as well. This looks lovely!

Iza said...

Sounds tasty! I might try this out for one of my holiday get togethers that is coming up.

Dawna said...

Give it a try, Kickpleat and Iza! ! It's very simple, very rewarding, and oh-so pretty.