Friday, February 1, 2013

I Can Haz Baking?

... oh yes, I can.

Over the weekend, I was feeling... puny. Weak. All around 'not myself'. By the time Sunday evening rolled around, well, I was wiped.

... and then I felt it.

A hankering for a hunk of challah.

If you haven't had challah (pronounced: HALL-uh) bread before, it is a  loaf of yeast-risen egg bread that is traditionally eaten by Jews on Shabbat, on ceremonial occasions and during festival holidays. Slightly sweeter than other breads, it is also a braided bread... meaning anywhere from 2 - 6 'strands' of dough are braided or twisted together to make this Awesome Loaf of Coolness. Or Hotness, if fresh from the oven.

I decided to make a honey and herb challah loaf, because that just seemed like a great idea, and it was. It really, really was. The soft sweetness of the honey melted through the lemony thyme and fragrant dill, and the little bit of sage I added made the entire kitchen smell like a holiday in the woods.

Braiding the dough was surprisingly easy! The hardest part of the process (aside from using a baby's medical thermometer and praying to the Carb Gods that the water for the yeast wasn't over 110 degrees F because, guess what?!, baby thermometers don't go above a 105) was rolling the three lumps of dough into equal strands. That's it. Then it's just a simple game of pinch/braid/repeat!

This was my first time baking bread on my own. I really enjoyed it!

Here's the recipe I used, with my modifications in italics:  

2 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup honey
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 tablespoon salt
8 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons each fresh thyme, dill and sage, chopped

  1. In a large bowl, sprinkle yeast over barely warm water. Beat in honey, oil, 2 eggs, and salt. Add the flour one cup at a time, beating after each addition, graduating to kneading with hands as dough thickens. Knead until smooth and elastic and no longer sticky, adding flour as needed. Cover with a damp clean cloth and let rise for 1 1/2 hours or until dough has doubled in bulk.
  2. Punch down the risen dough and turn out onto floured board. Divide in half and knead each half for five minutes or so, adding flour as needed to keep from getting sticky. Divide each half into thirds and roll into long snake about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Pinch the ends of the three snakes together firmly and braid from middle. Either leave as braid or form into a round braided loaf by bringing ends together, curving braid into a circle, pinch ends together. Grease two baking trays and place finished braid or round on each. Cover with towel and let rise about one hour.
  3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
  4. Beat the remaining egg and brush a generous amount over each braid. Sprinkle with poppy seeds if desired.
  5. Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for about 40 minutes. Bread should have a nice hollow sound when thumped on the bottom. Cool on a rack for at least one hour before slicing.