Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Challah, anybody?

This past weekend I made a whole lot of challah. Well, 5 loaves to be exact. Which in my book was quite a bit, especially since a. I'm not Jewish and b. I've never made, seen, or tasted challah before.

The challah adventure began because I was planning to visit friends on Sunday who just had a new baby and I wanted to bring some sort of baked good (shocker!). Last year there was this braided apple something that was in an issue of Gourmet that I had really wanted to make but never got around to it. And since I didn't save the magazine, I had no clue what it was. Googling "braided apple" didn't bring me any close to finding it, but it did bring up recipes for challah. That was it! I would make an apple challah.

So the hunt for a good challah recipe was on. I love it when I search like this because I always end up discovering great new blogs, and this weekend I came upon Baking and Books. Ari seems to know her stuff when it comes to challah (or I assume so, again, I'm no challah expert).

Her Apple Honey Challah was exactly what I was looking for and I only modified it slightly - after I brushed the loaves with egg and olive oil wash, I sprinkled the top with granulated sugar for extra sweetness. The quantity of dough was perfect for making one large loaf or two medium-sized loaves and is just amazing fresh out of the oven!

As we gave the loaves of challah to our Jewish friends, it was a hit. Everyone seemed to appreciate the homemade challah, and after making the dough over and over again, I believe I have it memorized now. You know, handy for those times I'm challenged to a challah bake off.

Apple Honey Challah
1/2 tablespoon active dry yeast
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
4 1/4 to 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup of warm milk (whole is best, low-fat is ok too)
2 eggs + 1 for the glaze
4 tablespoons of olive oil + 1 teaspoon for greasing the bowl and another for the glaze
3/4 tablespoon dark wildflower honey
1/2 cup diced organic dry apples

In a large bowl using a whisk combine the yeast, sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and 1 cup of the flour. Add the warm milk, 2 eggs, 4 tablespoons of olive oil, then the honey. (Add the olive oil first, then use the same measuring spoon to add the honey - residual oil on the spoon will make the honey slide right out.)
Vigorously mix the ingredients until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl halfway through, about 3 minutes. Add the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time, alternating with the apples, which should be added in handfuls. Switch to a wooden spoon when the dough becomes too thick for the whisk. Continue mixing the dough until it is too stiff to stir.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until soft and springy, about 4 minutes. If the dough is sticky, dust with flour 1 tablespoon at a time - just enough to prevent it from sticking to the surface. The dough is done when it’s smooth and small air bubbles show under the skin. If you press your thumb into it the impression should bounce back. This is a slightly firm dough, which is exactly what you want for easy braiding later on.
Place the dough in a deep container greased with 1 tsp of olive oil. Turn the dough once to coat the top and cover with plastic wrap. Allow it to rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease it with non-stick spray. Gently deflate the dough by pressing your fingers into it, then turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.
Check out Baking and Books for the different ways to braid your loaf (I opted for the classic braid and also the pinwheel.)
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and place the braided dough on your baking sheet, cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise until almost doubled in bulk, 30 to 40 minutes. If you are using a loaf pan, likewise loosely cover your dough with plastic wrap and let rise until almost doubled in bulk, 30 to 40 minutes.
Just before the rising time has finished whisk together 1 egg and 1 teaspoon of olive oil, this is going to be the glaze for your bread. Gently brush the dough with a thick layer of it. If you want extra sweetness, sprinkle with granulated sugar.
Place the dough in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the bread is a deep golden brown and sounds hollow when you thump it on the bottom. If you are using a loaf pan you can test your bread by covering the pan with a clean kitchen towel then, while wearing oven mitts, flipping the pan over so that the bread falls into the towel. Thump the bottom. If it does not sound hollow place the pan back on the bread, flip it over, and put it back in the oven for another 5 minutes or so.
When your bread is done transfer it to a baking rack to cool.


Sarah said...

I made this for Christmas brunch too... freaking fantastic!!!

Tracy said...

I love making challah bread, and have never once shared it with my Jewish friends! Yours looks good -- a unique variation.