Monday, September 9, 2013

Recipe for Challah Bread

Let cool before slicing...


2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (80 degrees F to 90 degrees F)
1/3 cup sugar
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon honey
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 large eggs
6 1/2 cups high-gluten flour, bread flour, or unbleached all-purpose flour


     Brush a large mixing bowl with some of the melted butter and set aside. Reserve the remaining melted butter for coating the top of the dough.

     Whisk the yeast into the water. Add a pinch of the sugar and let rest until the yeast has dissolved and is creamy, about 5 minutes.
     Cut the butter into small pieces and toss into a small saucepan with the milk; heat until the milk is very warm to the touch and the butter is melted. Pour the mixture into a large mixing bowl and add the remaining sugar and salt. If necessary, let the mixture cool so that it is no warmer than 110 degrees F.
     Add the creamy yeast to the milk mixture, along with the eggs, and stir with the wooden spoon to mix. Stirring vigorously, add the flour 1/2 cup at a time, stopping when you have a dough that cleans the sides of the bowl and is difficult to stir. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead, adding more flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to your hands and the counter, until the dough is smooth and elastic (approximately 10 minutes).
     If you use a mixer with a dough hook, beat on low speed for about 3 minutes, then on medium-low until a soft dough comes clean from the sides of the bowl, add flour if needed.
     Form the dough into a ball and transfer to a buttered mixing bowl. Brush top with melted butter, cover the bowl with buttered plastic wrap, and top with a kitchen towel. Let the dough rise at room temperature (1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled in volume). When the dough is fully risen, deflate it. Cover as before and let it rise until it doubles in bulk again (45 minutes to an hour).

     Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured counter. Cut the dough in half and keep one piece of dough covered while you work with the other. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a rope about 16 inches long. It should be thick in the center and tapered at the ends. Aline the ropes vertically and start braiding it from the center down. When you've reached the end, turn the loaf around so that the braided half is on top. Braid the lower half. Pinch the ends to seal and tuck the ends under the loaf. Transfer the loaf to a prepared baking sheet and cover with a towel. Braid the second loaf, place on a baking sheet, and cover. Let the loaves rise at room temperature for 40 minutes until almost doubled.

Glaze and Topping:

1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon cold water or heavy cream
Sesame seeds (optional)
Coarse salt

Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat to 375 degrees F. Whisk the egg yolk and water together in a small bowl until broken up, then push the glaze through a sieve. Brush the tops and sides of the challahs with glaze; let the glaze set for 5 minutes, brush again. Reserve the leftover glaze for brushing the loaves during baking. Dust with seeds, sprinkle with coarse salt.

     Bake for 20 minutes. The loaves will expand. Brush the newly exposed dough with the reserved glaze and bake 15 to 20 minutes longer, or until the loaves are golden and sound hollow when thumped on the bottom. Let cool before slicing. :)

Once cut, challah should be kept in a plastic bag. It will keep for two days. For longer storage, wrap the breads airtight and freeze for up to one month.

Adapted from Baking With Julia, Lauren Groveman.

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