Challah Bread

We’re one day away from the Oscars and one film away from the final film in this year’s 12 Days of Oscar feature here.  Into the Woods, adapted from the Tony-winning musical of the same name, crosses several of the plots of the characters from Grimm’s Fairy Tales.  The Baker (James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt) are seeking to reverse a curse placed on the Baker’s father by the Witch (Meryl Streep).  They must venture into the woods to obtain a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold.  Along the way, they encounter Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) and her Prince (Chris Pine), Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) and his mother (Tracy Ullman), Rapunzel (MacKenzie Mauzy) and her Prince (Billy Magnussen), and ultimately the Giant’s Wife (Frances de la Tour).  Into the Woods is nominated for three Oscars this year: Best Supporting Actress (Streep), Best Production Design, and Best Costume Design.

Early in the film, Little Red Riding Hood visits the bakery and packs up breads and sweets “to bring to grandma.”  Of course she eats most of the contents of her basket before she encounters the Wolf (Johnny Depp).  As she is packing the things up at the bakery, she is clutching the most beautiful challah bread; making one to tie in with this movie was a no-brainer.  Challah bread is eggy and very slightly sweet (and absolutely the most perfect bread for French toast).  Braiding it can seem intimidating but you really only have to make the braid as fancy as you want.  For this version I made the dough into six even ropes and braided them together but this doesn’t taste any less amazing if you work with a three-strand braid.

challah bread

Challah Bread

Ingredients:

  • 2 tsp. active dry or instant yeast
  • 1 C. lukewarm water
  • 4 to 4 1/2 C. (20-22 oz.) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 C. granulated white sugar
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk (reserve the white for the egg wash)
  • 1/4 C. neutral flavored vegetable oil (or melted butter if you don’t need this to be kosher)

Directions:

Sprinkle the yeast over the water in a small bowl and add a large pinch of sugar.

Stir to dissolve the yeast and let the mixture stand until you see a thin frothy layer across the top.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a large bowl, mix together 4 cups of the flour, the sugar, and salt.

Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the eggs, egg yolk, and oil (or melted butter).

Whisk the egg mixture to form a slurry, pulling in some of the flour from the sides of the bowl.

Pour the yeast mixture over the egg slurry and mix the yeast mixture, egg mixture, and flour mixture together with a long-handled spoon until a dough forms that is shaggy and difficult to mix.

Using a dough hook attachment on low speed, knead the dough for 6-8 minutes.  If you’re not using a stand mixer, instead turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead by hand for 10 minutes.  If the dough is very sticky, add more flour 1 teaspoon at a time until it feels tacky.

Knead the dough until it is soft, smooth, and holds a ball shape.

Put the dough in an oiled bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and place the dough in a warm, draft-free location to rise until it has doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Depending on the type of braid you’d like to make, divide the dough into 3 or 6 equal pieces (the photo above uses 6 pieces).

Roll each piece of dough into a rope that is about 1 inch thick and 16 inches long.  Make the ropes as even as possible.  If the dough shrinks back as you try to roll it into ropes, let the dough sit for 5 minutes and then try again.

Gather the ropes and pinch them together at the top.

For a 3 stranded braid, braid the dough the same way you would braid hair or yarn, crossing the left strand over the center strand, then the right strand over the center strand and so on until the entire length of the dough has been braided.

For a 6 stranded braid, lift the right-most rope and carry it across the two ropes next to it, slip it under the next rope, and then over the last two ropes (over two, under one, over two).  What started as the right-most rope is now all the way to the left.  Pick up what is now the right-most rope and repeat the process.

Continue that pattern until all of the dough is braided, making the braid as tight as you possibly can.  The dough will kind of curve to the left as you go so you’ll need to periodically lift the loaf and re-center it as you go.

For either braid, once all of the dough has been braided, then pinch the ends together and tuck them under the loaf.

To plump up the loaf a little, put one hand at either end of the braided dough and very slowly and gently push your hands toward each other (like plumping a pillow but slowly).

Slip your fingers under either end of the loaf and gently lift the dough while cupping downward (not a required step but it does make for a prettier loaf).

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the loaf on the lined baking sheet.

Sprinkle a little flour over the loaf and then drape a clean dish cloth over it.

Place the loaf to rise in a warm, draft-free place for about an hour.

20 minutes before baking, heat the oven to 350 degrees.

When ready to bake, whisk together the egg white and a tablespoon of water.

Brush the egg white mixture over the challah, being sure to get in the cracks and down the sides.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through baking time.

The challah is done when it is deep brown and the inside registers 190 degrees when a thermometer is inserted in the middle.

Place the bread on a wire rack to cool until it is just barely warm before slicing and eating.

Makes 1 loaf (about 20 slices).

Source: The Kitchn

challah bread pan

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