This past week I had to tackle an interesting challenge in order to make an absolutely gorgeous Challah loaf. The pictures of this bread from around the internet absolutely intimidated me - sculptured, artisanal, radiant come to mind as a descriptors. Taste is primary, but beauty is a requirement that comes in a close second.
To top it all off, my mother never taught me how to French Braid. My aunt always french braided my hair when she came to visit, so I never learned. And, according to the internet sources a French Braid makes for a beautiful Challah.
What to do when faced with these challenges in life? Try. Fail. Fix. Succeed.
My first failure came when using my bread maker. Instead of using the dough setting, I accidentally used one of the bread settings and then promptly left the house to go shopping for plants. When I returned home, the house was filled with the wonderful smell of baking bread!
Delightful... Taste? Check! Texture? Fair. Beauty? Epic failure.
Round two was a success? I made a couple of modifications to the recipe (I used my new favorite bread blog at King Arthur flour as a recipe framework - they have tons of great tips) and we arrived a delicious and gorgeous loaf.
1/2 c. warm water
7 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (divided 5 & 2)
1/4 c. honey
4 c. all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp dry active yeast
Egg Wash - 1 egg + 1 tbsp cold water
1. Add the liquid ingredients, including 5 tablespoons of EVOO, to the bottom of your mixing bowl. Quickly beat the eggs and add to the rest of the liquid ingredients.
2. Combine the dry ingredients and mix in order to make sure that the salt and yeast are distributed. Then add the dry ingredients to the liquid ingredients.
3. As you mix (either in a mixer or the bread maker on manual / dough program), watch the consistency of the dough. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of EVOO to achieve the soft pliable texture (dare I say gooey goodness?)
4. Allow the dough to rise for 2 hours (covered).*
5. Now here's the braiding part... The part my mother never taught me. Separate the dough into four equal volume cylinders.
6. Then you roll each cylinder into a long rope (20+ inches). The rope should be about 3/4" in diameter. Pinch the top of the four ropes together (you can spray with a tiny bit of water to help the adhering process). Imagine the ropes are numbered left to right 1 through 4.
7. Take the leftmost outside rope (1) and loop it around and under the rightmost inside (3) rope.
8. Take the right-most outside rope (4) and loop it around and under the leftmost inside rope (2).
9. Go back to #7 and repeat 7 and 8 (alternating) until you have braided the whole loaf. (See Mom? It isn't that hard.) Pinch the finished end together.
10. Place the loaf on parchment paper on an insulated cookie sheet. You can cover the loaf loosely by wrapping the parchment paper around it, or use a damp towel, for its final rise (60-90 minutes).
11. Preheat your oven to 365 degrees F (most recipes call for 375 degrees F, but I found 365 degrees F works better in my oven and does not over-crisp the crust)
12. Whisk together your egg wash and brush over the loaf.
13. Place your loaf in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. After the 20 minutes, place a loose tent of foil over your challah loaf and then continue baking for an additional 25 minutes (to ensure that you cook the sides and don't burn the crust)
14. As with other breads, I use the cake tester method to tell that it's done. If my bbq thermometer pulls clean and the temperature is close to 200 deg F, we are ready to eat!Needless to say? Remove from the oven to cool.
Note: Other recipes call for vegetable oil. We don't really keep this on hand in our house and olive oil adds just a tiny bit of extra deliciousness. I used vegetable oil in the first attempt and EVOO in the second attempt with an extra tablespoon for good measure above the 6 tablespoons recommended by KA.
Note 2: I'm a woman on the go, so sometimes I only have so much time but still want to serve a lovely and handmade treat to visitors. You can stop at step 4 either before or after the two hour rise. I've found that I can let the dough rise and then place it in the fridge for up to 3 days. Then I just take it out and resume the forming and then allow a final rise before placing it in the oven. I have also formed the bread and then placed it in the fridge for a long final rise until ready to bake it.