Obviously I like to cook. Hence the food blog. And I like to eat, so that works out well, but I also like to show off what I cook. (Hence the food blog.) Dave and I live hours away from his family and days away from mine, and we haven’t made many friends since we moved two months ago, so my opportunities to cook for people are few and far between.
The last time our best friends visited us, I was so busy getting married that all I managed to do was bake some brownies for intermittent snacking. I even had the bad manners to wake up the morning of the wedding and make myself some breakfast and then tell my friends “um, there’s probably more bagels.”
They’re visiting again in two weeks, and I’d love to make up for lost time. But they’re getting here the same day I get back from a trip to New Mexico to see my new nephew, so it’s going to be tricky. I’m trying to stock the freezer with some goodies. (They’re going to be here for less than 2 days. I’m ridiculous, I know.)
Challah, like all breads, happens to take well to freezing. It also happens to make some excellent French toast, which is (sort of) what I plan to do with this loaf.
This bread is beautiful, tender, and slightly sweet, with a subtle butter flavor. I did put most of it in the freezer, but the one slice I ate was delicious. Hopefully the breakfast I make out of it in a few weeks is just as good.
Challah (from Cooks Illustrated, January 2006)
CI note: We prefer to knead this dough in a standing mixer, but a food processor or your hands can do the job. If using a food processor, place the flour mixture in a processor fitted with the dough blade. Mix together the eggs, yolk, butter, and water in a large measuring cup and, with the processor running, add the egg mixture in a steady stream. Process until a ball of dough forms, about 1 minute. Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for an additional minute, or until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. Alternatively, you can mix the dough by hand in a large bowl with a wooden spoon, until the dough comes together. Then transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead until the dough forms a smooth ball. If the dough remains tacky, add more flour 1 tablespoon at a time. This method will take longer than using a standing mixer, but you will get the same results.
Makes 1 large loaf
3-3 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (15-16 ¼ ounces), plus more for dusting work surface
¼ cup sugar (1¾ ounces)
1 envelope instant yeast (about 2¼ teaspoons)
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (½ stick), melted
½ cup warm water plus 1 tablespoon (about 110 degrees)
1 large egg white (for wash)
1 teaspoon poppy seeds, or sesame (optional)
1. Whisk together 3 cups of flour, sugar, yeast, and salt in medium bowl; set aside. Mix together 2 eggs, egg yolk, melted butter, and ½ cup of water in bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Add flour mixture to wet mixture; knead at low speed until dough ball forms, about 5 minutes, adding remaining ¼ cup flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, as needed to prevent dough from sticking. Whisk reserved egg white with remaining 1 tablespoon water in small bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate.
2. Transfer dough to very lightly oiled large bowl, turning dough over to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place until doubled in size, 1 ½ to 2 hours. Gently press dough to deflate, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled in size again, 40 to 60 minutes.
3. Lightly grease large baking sheet and set aside. Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface. Divide dough into 2 pieces, one roughly half size of other. (Small piece will weigh about 9 ounces, larger piece about 18 ounces.) Divide large piece into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece into 16-inch-long rope, about 1 inch in diameter. Line up ropes of dough side by side and pinch ends together. Take dough rope on bottom and lay it over center rope. Take dough rope on top and lay it over center rope. Repeat until ropes of dough are entirely braided, then pinch ends together. Place braid on baking sheet. Divide smaller piece of dough into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece into 16-inch-long rope, about ½ inch in diameter. Braid together, pinching ends to seal. Brush some of egg wash on top of large loaf and place small braid on larger braid. Loosely drape loaf with plastic wrap and let rise in warm place until loaf becomes puffy and increases in size by a third, 30 to 45 minutes.
4. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Brush loaf with remaining egg wash and sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds, if using. Bake until loaf is golden brown and instant-read thermometer inserted into side of loaf reads 190 degrees, 30 to 40 minutes. Place baking sheet on wire rack. Cool loaf completely before slicing.