I am seriously behind with my posts about baking class. I promise I’ll catch up soon, but I’m just having too much fun baking and blogging about bread! Several weeks ago, in bread class, we were scheduled to make challah. Unfortunately, work commitments meant that I had to miss that class and I was more than disappointed. I love challah, and I especially love using it for bread puddings and French toast.
It was a stroke of luck then when I noticed that Linda Haynes had included a recipe for challah in her new cookbook, More from ACE Bakery. Excited and eager, I set about making challah for the very first time.
The process began with a starter (called a pÃ¢te fermentÃ©e), which I made the night before I planned to bake the challah. The starter consisted of water, yeast (traditional dry yeast), hard white flour and fine sea salt. Unlike other bread recipes where the yeast has to be developed before adding it to the flour and other ingredients, Haynes’ recipe for starter calls for everything to be combined in a mixer for a few minutes and then allowed to rest for 15 minutes. I was under the impression that only instant yeast could be added to flour in this way, but I guess I’m wrong. After the starter rested for 15 minutes, I kneaded it for an additional few minutes before placing it in a greased bowl to rise in the refrigerator overnight.
The following morning I found a starter that had more than doubled in size and had lovely bubbles and holes all over it. That was a clear sign that it had been fermenting. All those little bubbles represented the gas being created throughout the fermentation process.
To make the challah, I added water, yeast, hard white flour, semolina flour, egg yolks, honey, butter and sea salt to the starter. I mixed everything in the mixer using the dough hook and within minutes, I had a beautiful dough that was smooth and heavy. Once again, I let it rise for a few hours in a greased and covered bowl. At that point, I was ready to form my challah.
Haynes advises that if you’re intimidated of the entire braiding process, you can easily form your challah into rounded loaves. But looking at the braiding illustrations, I felt reasonably confident that I could manage.
I divided my challah dough into 5 equal pieces, which I then rolled into strands. I lined the strands up and joined them at one end. I then moved two strands slightly to the left and the other three slight to the right. Over, across, over, across, repeat, repeat, repeat. I actually ended up with a decent braid! But my one mistake is that I rolled my strands a bit too long. As I braided the strands and struggled to move them out of the way, I inadvertently begin laying them over the edges of the counter. As I did this, the weight of the dough began to pull the strands downward, which meant they were getting longer and longer! Instead of a neat, compact braid, I ended up with a rather longish and skinny one.
I would have gone ahead and baked it that way except I was worried it wouldn’t fit on the baking sheet so I did the logical thing (to me, anyway) and I turned my braid into a braided ring. I brushed the top with egg wash and let the dough rest to rise again for about 30 minutes. Another brush with egg wash and into the oven it went. About 30 minutes later I had a golden, eggy ring of pretty good challah if I may say so myself!
The only problem I had with the recipe was the honey. I don’t think I’ve ever seen challah recipes that call for honey so I was intrigued to see it on the ingredients list. But when I tasted the challah, I found that it tasted predominantly of honey which overwhelmed the buttery egginess that I enjoy in challah. Haynes’ recipe calls for wildflower or acacia honey and I used wildflower because that’s what I had on hand. If I made the bread again, I would omit the honey.
However, one thing bread class has taught me is that many breads require both a sugar as well as a salt. Yeast feasts on sugar so I’m guessing that if I omit the honey, I’ll have to replace it with another type of sugar. Clearly I need to research this further and just keep trying my hand at challah.
It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it!