Challah, Holla!

I must admit, the biggest challenge I’ve encountered with this whole blogging thing is cooking while there’s enough daylight to photograph it. Even here, on a Saturday I still managed to not actually bake my challah bread until sunset. I had to take final photos this morning.

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Challah is, in my mind, as much a craft project as it is a bread project. I enjoy rolling out the strands and then braiding them into something moderately pretty.

This recipe comes from my ever-favorite Alexandra of Alexandra’s Kitchen. The recipe came to her by way of her friend Holly who learned it from a friend of her own. It’s a complicated chain but a delicious, easy peasy one. I was TERRIFIED of challah when I first considered making it, but it’s actually relatively easy and fun.

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After creating the sponge with whole wheat flour and mixing in most of the all-purpose, I opted to experiment with adding a couple heaping teaspoons of vital wheat gluten to improve the texture (i.e. fluff). I’ve noticed that my breads made with any real quantity of whole wheat are always more dense/less fluffy though I didn’t really know how to go about fixing that. A few months back I randomly decided that it would be a good idea to pick up a bag of Bob’s Red Mill Vital Wheat Gluten because I was clearing out the natural foods section of a closing Haggen’s Market and figured that I might someday find a use for it. Low and behold, turns out that vital wheat gluten is very high in protein and improves the texture and elasticity of bread and what not, especially those higher in whole grain flowers.

The answer is yes, I’m happy with my decision making. I may even try adding a little more next time (the recipe for a honey oatmeal bread on the back of the bag called for 2 tablespoons so I should be safe to experiment).

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The easter basket is from my mom, she doesn’t believe in egg cartons.

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Dough after the initial rise for a couple hours. Below is punching it down, which is an unnecessary photo but I had fun which is all that really matters.

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Dough portioned into smaller balls, and below braided with four strands. I don’t know exactly what I’m  doing wrong but every time I braid my challah in three strands I find that it splits down the middle and the final product isn’t as pretty as I would like it to be.

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After the egg (white) wash, and then with black sesame seeds added for aesthetics.

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Ta-daaaa! Also, please tell me you like my salt crock? It’s actually a hand pained sugar bowl that I found at an antique pop up shop yesterday afternoon and I’m in love with a piece of ceramics.

Recipe Time!

Holly’s Challah, adapted from Alexandra’s Kitchen via alexandracooks.com.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3+ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm (not too warm) water
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 heaping teaspoons vital wheat gluten (optional, results in fluffier bread)
  • 2 eggs (a 3rd egg can be used for the egg wash, if desired)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup neutral flavored oil (I use canola which is probably bad)
  • 1+ teaspoons sesame seeds (optional)

Step 1: To make the sponge, combine the whole wheat flour, yeast, and water in a bowl. Stir until smooth, cover with a dishtowel and set aside until it puffs up and small bubbles form. I think I waited an hour or so.

Step 2: Once the sponge is ready, dump in everything else. It’s great, I actually just throw everything else into the bowl and start stirring.

Step 3: Once the dough is combined, continue to add in up to another cup of flour depending on consistency. You’ll know you have enough when you can knead the dough without it sticking like crazy to your fingers. Knead until smooth, then lightly coat your bowl in oil and set the dough to rise, covered with a towel, until about doubled in size (I left this a few hours while I ran errands).

Step 4: Punch down dough, separate into portions (number will depend on your intended braid, I did four). Braid into desired shape, and set on cookie sheet covered in parchment paper to rise another half hour or so. During this time I preheated the oven to 350 degrees (F) and whipped up an egg white I had left in my fridge with a little water and used my fingers to brush over the rising loaf.

Step 5: When the oven is preheated and the loaf has risen sufficiently (50% larger than initial size? I just made it up.) give it another go over with your egg wash (if using) and sprinkle with seeds. I use a great trick I also learned from Alexandra’s Kitchen and bake on parchment paper on two baking sheets stacked on top of one another, this prevents the bottom from burning while baking). Pop the loaf in the oven and bake for about 45 minutes, until golden brown and cooked through. Allow to cool before slicing and eating.

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I’ve already eaten at least three pieces today and we’re having grilled cheese for lunch.

P.S. Aren’t my knife skills on point?

 

Until next time,

Dretta

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