Throwing Caution to the Wind
December 10, 2007
Yesterday, we hosted Kevin’s family for a Hanukkah dinner. Maybe because I was dreading the latkes (tried them for the first time last year and, well, they were less than a hit), I had a wonderful time putting together the rest of the menu. The meal would be starring Zuni Roasted Chicken, per Kevin’s request, and, while it would be the perfect anchor to the dinner, I’ve made it a million times. So I hunted for a couple of new, fun challenges (latkes, while certainly a challenge, are not my idea of fun). Of the new recipes I selected, I was most excited to make challah. It’s a bread that I find beautiful, with its golden braided strands, but very often dry and disappointing. I was certain I could find a recipe that would make the bread live up to its appearance.
Two small hitches. First, I didn’t have a tried-and-true recipe and I was a little short on time for searching for one (in other words, I couldn’t go to the library or Barnes & Noble to scour the cookbooks in search of the challah authority). No, the Internet would have to do. The one I chose came not from a trusty recipe resevoir, full of reviews and tips, but from a Flickr page. Her picture looked that good.
If you think that plucking a totally unverified recipe off the Internet was reckless, wait until you hear about the second hitch. Not only have I never made challah, but—brace yourself—I’ve never made bread. Oh sure, I’ve made crusts and doughs and quickbreads aplenty, but I’ve never made a loaf of yeasty bread from scratch. Why not start on a day when you are cooking dinner for seven people and should be studying for finals? Great idea.
So, I threw caution to the wind and went for it. And when I pulled these loaves from the oven, I have never felt so vindicated in my life. I’m pretty sure that they are the most gorgeous things I’ve ever made: golden, shiny, swollen. And they are braided. It was almost too much. Before we even tore into them, the scent and texture of the loaves assured me they would be delicious. And they were: a hint of egg from the crust and sweetness from the supple, dense inside. This kitchen risk definitely paid off.
Via Ruthieki’s Flickr Page
Yields: 2 loaves
5 1/2 – 6 c. flour
1 T dry yeast
1/2 c. sugar
1 1/4 t salt
6 T vegetable oil
1 1/2 c water plus 2 t
1. In a small bowl (#1), put yeast, 1 T sugar, 1/4 c water. Mix and let it stand for 10 minutes or until it bubbles.
2. In bowl #2 put all dry ingredients: flour, salt, sugar; mix them well.
3. In bowl #3 put all wet ingredients: water, oil, egg, and the yeast mixture after it’s bubbled; mix them well.
4. Mix everything together to make the dough. If the dough is too sticky, add a little flour until you can handle it. Use your hands to mix and press the mixture until it forms a ball of dough.*
5. Cover with a towel, and let the dough stand in a warm place for an hour or an hour and a half until it doubles in size.
6. Punch the dough to let out the air bubbles (this is the fun part!).
7. Let stand for 10 minutes.
8. For traditional-style challah, separate dough into six even pieces, roll each piece into a snake either between your hands or on the table, and make two braids. Turn the ends under so they look pretty. You may need to keep a little flour out to keep them from getting too sticky. Or, weave them into any design you like. Place them on greased and floured cookie sheets.
9. Beat one egg in a small bowl. Brush both braids with egg. Let them stand half an hour, and then brush with egg again. If you like, sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds after the second egg wash.
10. Let rise for an hour or an hour and a half until the loaves double in size. Be patient!
11. Heat oven to 375F. Bake for 22-26 minutes or until the tops turn golden.
* I wasn’t quite sure what “press” meant. I stirred the ingredients all together until they were cohesive enough to turn out onto the counter. I then kneaded the dough for a couple minutes, because it just seemed like the thing to do. It definitely yielded much more of a “ball” then I would have gotten just pressing the dough together with my hands (like making a snowball).