On a snowy and blustery day, I like nothing more than to sit back with a hot beverage, the scent of something baking wafting through my little condo.
This past weekend, it was icy, rainy, snowy, then blustery, so I decided to bake bread. For awhile now, I’ve wanted to try Challah, the non-buttery counterpart to brioche. Both are egg breads, but Challah uses oil rather than butter, and water rather than milk (though I’ve been known to use water in my brioche due to that lactose issue). I’m not even going to touch the Jewish law that dictates why this is done, as I will likely get it wrong, and I don’t want to offend anyone. (That said, I’m aware that in the picture my bread is buttered.)
This bread was an absolute pleasure to make. I had just opened a new jar of yeast and had half a bag of bread flour just calling out to me. For the recipe, I turned to Sherry Yard, whose baking recipes rarely fail me; this one was no exception. In fact, the instructions in this recipe could not have been better. Not only are they clear, but I found the timing for the various stages to be spot-on. Perhaps the conditions in my kitchen were perfect that day, but it was rather unusual for me to not have to make any adjustments to a bread recipe.
This recipe is easy to follow, and I would say, great if you’re a novice bread-maker. I don’t often make braided loaves (um…the last time was about ten years ago when I made butter stollen for Christmas – my first yeast bread ever!), and I admit, the end loaf was gigantic. Next time, I think I’ll opt for two smaller loaves; I’ve included instructions for each below.
adapted from Sherry Yard
for the sponge
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup cold water
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup bread flour
for the dough
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons canola oil
for the egg wash
1 large egg beaten with 1 1/2 teaspoons water
instructions for the sponge
Combine the yeast and water in the bowl of a stand mixer; whisk until yeast is dissolved. With paddle, stir in honey and flour to form a batter. Cover with plastic wrap and rest in warm environment (I set my oven to warm and put the bowl on the vent burner) for 20-30 minutes, until just a few bubbles have appeared on the surface of the sponge.
instructions for the dough
Add flour and salt to the sponge, then the eggs and yolks, and oil. Mix on low for 2 minutes with paddle, then switch to dough hook and knead for 8-10 minutes on medium speed, until a smooth ball has formed. Hold on to the mixer during this time! It will jump around, and could vibrate its way over the floor in the moment you turn your back.
Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to this bowl. Turn the dough so it’s coated all around with oil, then cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for an hour; it will almost double in size.
On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough for 1 minute, then return to the oiled bowl. Cover and let rise another hour, until doubled.
Line a baking sheet with parchment. On a lightly floured surface, divide the dough into 3 equal portions (6 if making two smaller loaves). Shape the dough into balls and cover with plastic wrap; let rest for 10 minutes.
Form each ball into a 12 inch rope, thicker in the middle and tapered at the ends. Roll up and down with lightly oiled hands, stretching the dough at the end. Transfer the ropes to the baking sheet and pinch together at one end, then braid and pinch together at the other end. (Repeat if making two loaves.)
instructions for the egg wash
Whisk the egg and water in a small bowl. Brush the surface of the dough with the egg wash. Reserve remaining egg wash.
instructions for baking
Cover the dough with plastic and proof 60 to 90 minutes, until the dough is 1 1/2 times its original size.
Preheat the oven to 350*F and adjust the oven rack to the middle.
Brush the loaf again with egg wash. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 180*F. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.
The cooled loaf can be wrapped in plastic and frozen up to 2 weeks. (Wrap in foil and defrost overnight in the fridge. Refresh in a 350* oven for 10 minutes.)
Tightly wrapped loaves will stay fresh at room temperature up to 2 days.