Friday, September 9, 2011

Challah Bread

I had so many egg yolks leftover from the tons and tons (and tons!) of Swiss Meringue Buttercream I made for all the cakes I have been baking lately. I hate for anything to go to waste and I wanted to use the egg yolks in some way other than Hollandaise Sauce (been there) or Creme Brulee (done that) or Flan (over my dead body!). While I do love to cook, baking is my true passion and there is no bread that I adore more than Challah. I love the rich taste of this slightly sweet bread. Slathered with a bit of honey or jam, it is my favorite breakfast to enjoy on a rainy day. My son also enjoys it. No surprise there. The kid will barely touch a piece of meat and would prefer to survive on a steady diet of peaches, bread, and oatmeal. No joke.

Anyway, I remembered a recipe for Challah a little different than my normal. It uses a whopping 10 egg yolks and no whites in the bread in order to create a soft, richly-colored loaf. Egg whites, while providing structure to the loaf, oftentimes can dry out the bread. This recipe comes from Peter know, the bread-making God. It was bound to be good - and it WAS. My loyal sidekick gladly jumped in on the action, helping me knead the dough and cheered me on as I put the braided loaves in the oven. I think he was ready for a snack because he became rather livid when I did not immediately slice into the hot bread. He did not seem to understand my explanation that you lose optimal texture and crumb when you slice into a fresh loaf of bread too early. And the finished project - well, after his patient wait, my little guy consumed half a loaf for dinner. That's my boy.

Peter Reinhart’s Challah

2 ½ cups lukewarm water

1 ½ tablespoons instant yeast

8–10 egg yolks

5 tablespoons vegetable oil

6 tablespoons white sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract (optional)

7 ½ cups unbleached bread flour

2 ½ teaspoons salt

1 egg yolk, for rich egg glaze

1 tablespoon milk or cream

Combine the water and the yeast in a mixing bowl or the bowl of a 5-quart mixer and whisk together to dissolve. Add the egg yolks, oil, sugar, and vanilla, if using, and whisk together to break up then add the flour and salt.

Using the paddle attachment, mix the dough for 2 minutes on the lowest speed. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.

Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium low for 4 minutes.

Use a floured bowl scraper or floured hands to transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface, sprinkle the top lightly with flour and knead by hand for a couple of minutes until the dough is soft and supple. It should be tacky but not sticky.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, or divide the dough in half or in as many portions as you plan to bake, and place in oiled bowls. Cover and immediately place in the refrigerator. The dough should rest at least overnight and can be kept refrigerated for up to 4 days.

On Baking Day, remove the dough from the fridge approximately 2 hours before you plan to bake. Transfer it to a lightly floured surface and cut it into the desired number of braids you want to use or shape into loaves, or dinner rolls.

If you are braiding, flatten each piece with your hand, then roll into cigar shaped lengths. Roll each piece once, then return to the first piece to roll it into a rope. Roll each piece to the same length then braid. Place the loaves on sheet pans lined with parchment paper.

Make the egg wash and brush each loaf with the wash. Reserve the rest of the wash in the fridge, and let the loaves rise uncovered for about an hour. They will not have risen much at this point. Brush the loaves again with the egg wash and sprinkle with poppy seeds or sesame seeds or a combination of both.

Let the loaves rise for another hour until they increase to about 1 ½ times their size.

15 minutes before baking, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F./177 degrees C. or 300 degrees F./149 degrees C. for convection.

Bake for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for another 15 to 30 minutes, until the loaves sound hollow when thumped on the bottom and the internal temp is around 190 degrees F./88 degrees C. in the center. If you used a whole egg wash, the crust will get darker than with the egg white wash, so don’t be fooled into thinking the bread is done until it passes the thump and temperature test.

Cool on a wire rack for at least 45 minutes before slicing and serving.

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