Sunday, February 27, 2011


My computer broke a few weeks ago so I haven’t been posting lately, but hopefully I’ll be able to make up for that this week. To start, I made some Challah.

My inspiration for making the sweet, chewy bread came from reading The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, a book that details a murder that takes place in a predominantly Jewish city called Sitka, Alaska. The book takes place in an alternate universe where Jewish people were given land in Alaska after WWII, rather than the space currently known as Israel. Food factors heavily in the book, and after following the hard boiled-detective who took it upon himself to sorve the murder eat everything from cheese bluntz to rice pudding to cinnamon sugar donuts, i had worked up quite an appetite for some classic Jewish fare.

I had never attempted Challah before, but all of the ingredients were already in my cupboard. I decided to use a halved a recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and got to work.

I did encounter some issues; the first of which being that once I had mixed the dough I realized that I had used 1 1/2 teaspoons of yeast instead of 1 1/2 tablespoons of yeast. Ack. Then I freaked out. I hoped that the dough would still rise if I waited long enough, but at least for the first loaf, the rising was pretty minimal.

It was a flat Challah indeed.

Also, the book was unspecific about how “long” and how “thin” to make the rods of dough. Mine came out kind of really quite long. And thus, I created a less-than-traditionally shaped loaf of Challah. Oh, and I made this mini one too.

I tried braiding the loaf from the middle, flipping the loaf after doing one end, but it was still rather lopsided. I’m not really sure what happened there.

All of that aside, the loaf came out pretty well. It was a beautiful color, and it had a sweet flavor. Of course, due to the lack of yeast, the crumb was quite a bit denser than a typical Challah, but it still made a great breakfast of French toast.

For my second loaf, I made sure to make the rods shorter so I would get a fatter end product. This one ended up looking a lot more like a nesting doll than Challah, which I thought made it cuter. Also, the second load rose much more nicely, probably due to the extra time in the fridge and on the counter

Note about the measurements: Since I halved the recipe, I converted fractions of tablespoons to teaspoons and weird fractions of cups to tablespoons for ease of use. I should have done this for myself when I made the recipe, so as not to make the yeast mistake that I did, but oh well.

Makes 2 Large Loaves and 1 Mini Loaf

1 cup and 6 tbs warm water
5 1/4 tsp yeast
2 1/4 tsp Kosher salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter
3 1/2 cups flour
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tbs water)
Poppy seeds for sprinkling

Mix the yeast, salt, eggs, honey, and melted butter with the water in in a large bowl or a large tupperware container. Then, mix the flour using a spoon, your kitchen aid (using the dough hook), or a food processor with a dough attachment. Once blended, cover and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and becomes level on top. For me, this took about 5 hours, but it should only take about 2.

Although the dough can be used immediately, it might be easier to work with if you refrigerate it. The dough can be refrigerated for up to five days, or frozen up to one month.

When you want to bake your loaf/loaves, prepare a cookie sheet (I typically use parchment paper). Dust the surface of the dough with flour and shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around the bottom, rotating the dough as you go. Divide the ball into thirds using a dough scraper or knife.

Roll the balls into strands. I found it easier to role the strands between my palms rather than on a table since the dough is somewhat delicate. For a rounder wider loaf, the strands should be about the length of your forearm, or even a bit shorter.

One you have your strands, start from the center and braid your dough. Although I googled some braiding graphics and techniques, I found looking at the photos more confusing than just going on what I remembered about braiding hair/ribbons, so I did not include any here. Once braided, allow the loaf to rise on the cookie sheet for an hour and twenty minutes if you're using refrigerated dough or just forty minutes if you're using fresh dough. Note: If you plan on covering your dough because you have kids/pets/messy roommates in your kitchen, spray cooking oil on plastic wrap before covering to ensure that you don't deflate the loaf upon uncovering.

About twenty minutes before baking time, preheat the oven to 350. If not using a stone, however, your regular preheating time should be fine. Brush or spoon egg wash on bread and throw some poppy seeds on it.

Bake in the center of the oven for about 25 minutes, but be sure to adjust the time if you're making small/large/mini sized loaves. My mini loaf took about 15 minutes. The color of the bread when done should be a pretty golden brown color, and the middle of the loaf should resist pressure.

Eat plain, make a sandwich, or french toast it.

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