When I bake with a recipe, I like to think about little ways to tweak it, play with it, personalise it. But today, I’ve gone completely rogue on the TWD group. Sorry guys.
Instead of Julia Child / Lauren Groveman’s challah, I made Peter Reinhart’s challah recipe instead.
You see, I was planning to share it with a Jewish friend. Since I didn’t know if he observed dietary laws about separating meat and dairy, I didn’t want to give him challah made with butter. Instead, I made a non-dairy challah.
Reinhart’s challah uses egg yolks to add richness. Lots of yolks. (Apparently egg is neutral under dietary laws) Kneading by hand took longer, but on a leisurely evening, I hand kneaded, and watched the dough change from a sloppy, wet mess to a soft, malleable ball.
The dough proofed in the fridge for 3-4 days, to develop flavour and shape, and become silky to the touch. Then, I learned to braid challah, with 6 braids. (I may have got a little confused in the beginning, and un-braided once, but thanks to clear instructions from Smitten Kitchen, by the end of the first loaf of challah, I was braiding like a pro.)
And the dough became two loaves of lovely, gorgeous-smelling bread. Richly yellow, with a dark lacquered crust. I used ironbark honey from around the Blue Mountains, which has such an alluring smell that permeates the room. The challah also became imbued with the smell and loveliness of the honey. Fresh from the oven, the challah was soft, a little sweet, pulled into strands, and made me want to dive into its sunny yellow depths.
A day later, we had French toast. I had heard that challah makes the best French toast, and it did. It soaked up the egg and milk mixture, and still kept its shape. Coupled with a dollop of thick Greek yoghurt and some home made sour cherry jam, it was an indulgent breakfast.
The real TWD challahs
If you want to see how the TWD bakers (the non-rogue ones) went with the official recipe, please go to the TWD links page here. The recipe is from the book, Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan.
Note: I halved Reinhart’s recipe, and made two smaller loaves.
2 1/2 cups/510 grams lukewarm water, about 95 F./35 C.)
1 1/2 tablespoons/14 grams instant yeast
8–10 egg yolks or 170 grams depending on weight of yolks
5 tablespoons/71 grams vegetable oil
6 tablespoons/85 grams sugar, or 4 1/2 tablespoons/96 grams honey (I used honey)
1 tablespoon/21 grams vanilla extract (optional)
7 1/2 cups/964 grams unbleached bread flour
2 1/2 teaspoons/19 grams salt or 4 teaspoons/20 grams coarse kosher salt
1 egg white for egg wash
2 tablespoons/30 grams water for egg wash
2 tablespoons/20 grams sesame or poppyseeds for garnish (I used sesame seeds)
1-4 days before baking, make the dough
1. Combine the water and the yeast in a mixing bowl or a large bowl of a stand mixer and whisk together to dissolve.
2. Add the egg yolks, oil, sugar, and vanilla, if using, and whisk together to break up then add the flour and salt.
3. If kneading by hand, stir the dough together with a wooden spoon. If using a stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, mix the dough for 2 minutes on the lowest speed. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.
4. If kneading by hand, keep stirring with a spoon for about 10 minutes until the dough comes together. If using a stand mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium low for 4 minutes.
5. Use a floured bowl scraper or floured hands to transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface, sprinkle the top lightly with flour and knead by hand for a couple of minutes until the dough is soft and supple. It should be tacky but not sticky.
6. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, or divide the dough in half or in as many portions as you plan to bake, and place in oiled bowls. Cover and immediately place in the refrigerator. The dough should rest at least overnight and can be kept refrigerated for up to 4 days.
On baking day
7. Remove the dough from the fridge approximately 2 hours before you plan to bake. Transfer it to a lightly floured surface and cut it into the desired number of braids you want to use or shape into loaves, or dinner rolls. (Having made about half the quantity, I cut the dough into two halves, and then cut each half into six braids)
8. If you are braiding, flatten each piece with your hand, then roll into cigar shaped lengths. Roll each piece once, then return to the first piece to roll it into a rope (this allows you to stretch the dough, then relax the gluten, so that you can roll it into a longer rope). Make sure it will fit on your baking sheet.
9. Roll each piece to the same length then braid. Place the loaves on sheet pans lined with parchment paper.
9A. Here are some very clear braiding instructions from Joan Nathan via Smitten Kitchen: To make a 6-braid challah, place the 6 braids in a row, parallel to one another. Pinch the tops of the strands together. Move the outside right strand over 2 strands. Then take the second strand from the left and move it to the far right. Take the outside left strand and move it over 2. Move second strand from the right over to the far left. Start over with the outside right strand. Continue this until all strands are braided. For a straight loaf, tuck ends underneath. For a circular loaf, twist into a circle, pinching ends together.
10. Make the egg wash and brush each loaf with the wash. Reserve the rest of the wash in the fridge, and let the loaves rise uncovered for about an hour. They will not have risen much at this point. Brush the loaves again with the egg wash and sprinkle with poppy seeds or sesame seeds or a combination of both.
11. Let the loaves rise for another hour until they increase to about 1.5 times their size. (Mine really grew during this period – make sure you keep the loaves sufficiently far apart!)
12. About 15-30 minutes before baking, pre-heat the oven to 350 F / 177 C (or 300 F / 149 C for convection ovens).
13. Bake for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for another 15 to 30 minutes, until the loaves sound hollow when thumped on the bottom and the internal temp is around 190 F / 88 C in the center. If you used a whole egg wash, the crust will get darker than with the egg white wash, so don’t be fooled into thinking the bread is done until it passes the thump and temperature test.
14. Cool on a wire rack for at least 45 minutes before slicing and serving.