Monday, March 14, 2005

Mazeltov Monday

I baked Challah for the first time, to take to my Aunt's house for the Shiva, and I must say the bread came out superb, two big golden braids of Jewish love. Memories of my uncle inspired me to take great care. Here is the recipe I used, after reading many online recipes.

Put 3/4 cup of steamy water, 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, 4 tablespoons of honey, and 1/3 oz. of yeast in a bowl. While this activates for 20 minutes:

Whip 3 eggs in a bowl a little bit, and let sit to bring to room temp.

Sift 6 cups of flour and 2 tablespoons of salt in a large mixing bowl.

Push up flour around edges of bowl, basically make the flour pile concave and make it mimic the shape of the bowl. (This will make mixing more consistent.)

Dump yeast mixture, eggs, and another cup and a half of water into bowl. Stir, stir, stir.

When it gets to thick to stir (all the flour will get mixed in and leave almost a completely clean bowl), knead with your hand.

Keep sprinkling in a little flour until it stops getting sticky. You aren't going to add more than about half a cup of flour during this time. Keep kneading. Knead well. Knead for 10 minutes, rest, knead again. I like to pick up the whole flour ball and keep balling it up. How elastic it is helps me judge whether I need a little more flour. The more flour you add, the stiffer it will be. I like the bread to be soft and airy, but not too much so.

Then, grease a tall pot with olive oil. Put dough ball in there. Soak a towel with hot, hot, hot water. Wring out, put over top of pot. Put someplace warm (I put it in my oven without turning it on; the pilot light is slightly warm).

Wait an hour and a half to two hours. Push down dough to get rid of gas. Put a new hot towel on top. Let it rise up again, to maybe double or triple in size.

Push out gas somewhat again.

Cut into two equal parts. Split these two parts into three equal parts. (So you'll have 6 parts).

Now here's how you make the loaves look nice, and this is my innovation which gets the braid strands very nice.

Flatten (one at a time, probably use a rolling pin) the 6 dough balls into pizza circles, and then rolls up the circle into snakes. By making circles, you make the center of the snake lightly puffier, which will make the Challah look like you would expect and buy from a professional.

Braid three snakes into a loaf and tuck ends under loaf.

Put baking paper on a tray and sprinkle with flour and corn meal, and put Challah on this.

Let rise for about 45 minutes-1.5 hour. (All rising times depend on temperature, humidity, and altitude, since PV= nRT applies to baking too!)

Whip an egg a bit in a bowl, add a couple tablespoons of water. Brush this on the loaves, and sprinkle with poppy seeds.

Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes. Half-way through, turn, and rebrush with egg.

When done, the bread will be golden brown and when you tap it, it will sound hollow like a drum.

It is a mitzvah and a blessing to take a piece of the dough and toss it in the oven before baking. This is God's bread, yo. I don't know the prayer that goes with this.

Also, circular Challah is for New Year's, you normally make two Challahs for the sabbath, and for certain occasions you make a big celebration challah that is essentially two Challahs put together.

This really is a pretty way to make bread, and if you don't like eggs, but like the braids, you can just leave the eggs and poppy seeds out and you have Italian-style Challah.

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