Today we’re baking bread! Rising, resting, kneading, growing, shaping, plaiting, washing, baking, and eating. One of the staples, it is a delicious thing on its own, but is in my opinion, best as a vehicle for any number of sandwich toppings, used in dumplings, puddings, stuffings, crumbing, and baking!
I am a bit of a bread making novice. I’ve used a trusty breadmaker many, many times with success (pour flour, yeast and other things in, press button, walk away, peer in the through the lid, walk away, peer in again, BEEP, have bread!) but have had mixed results with breads made by hand. I think this is down to my lack of ability to put something somewhere and leave it alone. I am forever lifting the teatowel on top on the bowl with the dough in it “just to check” which I’m fairly sure lets out the heat and magic bread air that makes the thing rise so beautifully. So with all that in mind, I was super excited to try bread (and not just any bread, a bread from Deb, our not-so-secret hero) with S-J who has had much more hand-made bread experience and success.
So after much excited recipe perusing and exclamations of our secret food dreams, we came to the decision to make Challah (it beat out tortillas, bagels, soft pretzels and cinnamon scrolls), based on the delicious looking recipe from Smitten Kitchen.
There is something so wonderful about Jewish food. So comforting, warming and magical. This bread, with its pretty braided construction and double egg wash finish is the perfect blend of sweet, mellow, and delicious.
I have to say that I think both of us pretty much had the best time ever making these loaves. There was so much high fiving going on it could have been the Olympics of bread-making, and the smell that filled S-J’s and E’s kitchen tonight has to be one of the happiest smells ever.
To be honest, we pretty much followed the Smitten Kitchen recipe to the letter, with the small exception that we left out the sultanas/currants and S-J topped hers with sesame seeds and I left mine unadorned by any seeds of any kind (seeds on/in/around bread is a sadness that I cannot abide). Seriously though, the loaves are the prettiest baked goods I’ve ever seen.
Adapted from Joan Nathan via Smitten Kitchen
Time: all up about 4 hours for us, but we cooked dinner and baby wrangled too
Yield: 2 loaves
- 11g of active dry yeast
- 13g sugar
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
- 6 large eggs
- 1/2 cup of sugar
- 1 tablespoon table salt
- 8 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (plus more for flouring surfaces)
- Sesame seeds for sprinkling (optional)
In the large bowl of your mixer (if you have one, or any large bowl if you’re using elbow grease), dissolve yeast and first measure of sugar in 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water.
Whisk oil into the yeast mixture, and then beat in 4 eggs, one at a time. Once incorporated, mix the second measure of sugar and the salt in.
Grease the dough hook attachment for your mixer. Replace the bowl with yeast/sugar/egg/salt/water mixture onto the mixer.
With the machine on low/mixing with strong arms, gradually add all of the flour (you may need to stop and scrape the sides occasionally). When dough holds together, it is ready for kneading. (Note: Deb expressed concerns about the dough not fitting into a standard size Kitchen Aid. We used S-J’s Kmix with great success for the mixing and kneading. We oiled the dough hook at the beginning which helps to keep the dough from sticking too much. Stop the mixer and scrape down sides and hook quite often until the dough is smooth and elastic. If it feels sticky, sprinkle in a little more flour)
Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface while you clean out the bowl and grease it with the extra oil, then return dough to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size (our resting place wasn’t very warm so it was a half-hearted rising and pitiful punch down – but the bread was still good, HAVE NO FEAR!). Punch down dough, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour (second rising, we left our bowl in a sink full of warm water – a much better rise).
Now for the best part, braiding the loaves!
To make a 6-braid challah, take half the dough and form it into 6 balls (S-J was excellent and weighed hers out, I am lazy and went the eyeball-it approach). With your hands, roll each ball into a strand about 30 cms long and 4 cms wide. Place the 6 in a row, parallel to one another. Pinch the tops of the strands together. Move the outside right strand over 2 strands. Then take the second strand from the left and move it to the far right. Take the outside left strand and move it over 2. Move second strand from the right over to the far left. Start over with the outside right strand. Continue this until all strands are braided. For a straight loaf, tuck ends underneath. Make a second loaf the same way.
We read the instructions out to each other as we braided and this was a much easier way to do it, there’s no way either of us could read and braid at the same time. TOO HARD! At this point you should stand back, high five your baking partner, then do a little (or big) happy dance around your flour dusted kitchen singing about how amazing challah is.
Once you’ve finished your dance, place each loaf on its own sheet pan lined with baking paper.
Beat one egg and brush it on loaves. Leave the loaves to rise for another hour.
Preheat your oven to 180C and with another beaten egg, brush the loaves again. Sprinkle bread with seeds, if using.
Bake for 30 minutes with one loaf on the top rack and one on the bottom, turning and swapping racks at 15 minutes. Try not to overcook. The loaves will be lovely and shiny and a deep brown.
Cool loaves on a rack.
Nom with great abandon!!