Guest post today from Matt Palmer, a.k.a, The Bread Man. He will be talking about Challah and I think this may be my second favorite bread he makes, next to his plain country bread. It’s an indulgent bread made with lots of eggs and sugar and it is amazing with jam or turned into French toast (you better believe that’ll be a future post!) He has flavored the bread with orange zest, honey, vanilla, plain sugar – they have all turned out wonderful. I can’t remember a time he did this recipe and it flopped, and he’s made it a half dozen times! I’ll let him talk about it:
A new bakery opened in town a while ago and I was excited to check it out, because I had heard they had “fresh baked bread.” You’d think that would be common (or even implied) for bakeries, but it seems “bakery” has become synonymous with “cakery” these days. When we visited, I found they indeed did have fresh baked bread: banana bread, corn bread, and other technically-classified-as-bread baked items I can’t remember. I like banana bread, but I think it’s a little misleading to just call it “bread.” Bread is flour, water, salt, and yeast – “the staff of life.” Banana bread is not “bread,” it’s “banana bread.” It’s like how Elvis is Elvis, and Elvis Costello is Elvis Costello.That’s not to say all enriched doughs are inferior – a good brioche is almost as much a work of art as a great baguette. My favorite enriched bread to make though, is challah. It’s easy to work with, fun to braid in all sorts of different ways, and the color is amazing, with a creamy yellow crumb and a rich brown crust.Challah is traditionally a Jewish Sabbath bread, and I think it’s a great weekend activity. You can have a great loaf of bread in just a few hours on Saturday and turn the leftovers into French toast for Sunday brunch.
1 ½ 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
1 tablespoon/21 grams vanilla extract (optional)
7 ½ cups/964 grams unbleached bread flour
2 ½ 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 poppy seeds for garnish
- Combine the water and the yeast in a mixing bowl or the bowl of a 5-quart mixer and whisk together to dissolve. Add the egg yolks, oil, sugar, and vanilla, if using, and whisk together to break up then add the flour and salt.
- Using the paddle attachment, mix the dough for 2 minutes on the lowest speed. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.
- Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium low for 4 minutes.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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 approximately 10 to 14 inches/25-36 centimeters long. Make sure it will fit on your baking sheet!
- Roll each piece to the same length then braid. Place the loaves on sheet pans lined with parchment paper.
- 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.
- Let the loaves rise for another hour until they increase to about 1 ½ times their size.
- 15 minutes before baking, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F./177 degrees C. or 300 degrees F./149 degrees C. for convection.
- 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 degrees F./88 degrees 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.
- Cool on a wire rack for at least 45 minutes before slicing and serving.