Round Forty Seven — Braided Challah
They say when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
I disagree. I say when life gives you lemons, throw them away (or use them to clean your garbage disposal, and then throw them away) and make challah bread.
I’ve been feeling kind of down in the dumps, lately. It might be early onset of the winter blues, or the fact that I still feel like I’m transitioning to life in the cornfields. I know it’s been eight solid months, but I’m not a big fan of change. In fact, I embrace change with kicks and screams and a few breakdowns and temper tantrums. It’s ugly.
After all these years of encountering change, you’d think I’d have it figured out already. Confession: I don’t. I like my cocoons. Once I’ve (finally) settled into them for the long haul and then, suddenly, am pulled away, I react as though this has never happened before. I am stunned. And so I cope. By baking.
Challah is quite fitting for my current predicament, because it’s a loaf traditionally made for holiday celebrations. I’ve made it before in the crown shape, but the braided version is reserved for special occasions. Or for times when you’re feeling sad and, dang it, you just need to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make something delicious.
I think braided breads are beautiful, and they make the room all bright and cheery. After making this challah, in all its sweet, braided, poppy-seeded wonder, my apartment smelled like sugar and butter and happiness. And that was cause for celebration.
P.S. Percy saw his first snow.
Debrief: Not much concern with this loaf. It’s pretty self explanatory. Just be sure to pay close attention to the braiding instructions, because if you don’t, your loaf might look stunning, but not in a good way.
Adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day
Yields: 1 braided loaf
1/2 cup water
1/3 tbsp yeast
1/3 tbsp salt
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp butter
1 3/4 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 egg beaten with 1 tsp water (for egg wash)
poppy seeds (optional)
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine water, yeast, salt and egg. Mix in sugar and butter. Add in flour and mix until just combined. Do not knead. Pour dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours. Cover bowl loosely with plastic wrap and place overnight in the refrigerator. Dough can be refrigerated for up to 5 days at this point.
The next day, remove dough from bowl and roll into a ball, pulling the sides down and under with your hands and rotating a quarter turn as you go. On a baking stone or parchment paper-lined baking sheet and using a bench scraper, divide ball into thirds. Roll each piece into a long, thin rope, about 12 inches long and 1 inch thick.
Braid ropes together from the center outwards and tuck in the ends to ensure the loaf won’t unravel. Let rise on prepared stone or sheet about 1 hour, 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare egg wash and, using a pastry brush, brush onto the loaf. Sprinkle with poppy seeds as desired.
Bake for about 25 minutes or until bread is a deep brown. Allow to cool completely on a cooling rack before slicing.
I love this bread. Fine Cooking’s web http://www.finecooking.com/videos/braiding-challah.aspx
site has a video on a 6 braid loaf, it’s pretty easy. You do have evenly divide your dough, a scale works well to do this.
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I love you challa! Thank you for inspiration!
I found your blog from Smitten Kitchen’s Good Reads List; the name of your blog caught my attention, so I clicked on it. I was SO surprised (and delighted) to see you are living in Iowa City! (Me too.) I was even more surprised to learn that you are the writer who does the “eat” section in the GO portion of the Press-Citizen.
And I thought to myself: “Oh my gosh. I read her article just this morning about Christmas Cookies. How weird is this?!”
It’s a small world. Happy Holidays!
Abby — Thanks for the comment! Crazy that you found me by way of SK and that we have some connections (and I’m glad you read my article about the Christmas cookies — I was craving cookies the entire time I wrote that :)). It IS a small world. Happy holidays to you, too!
I made my first challah this year (though I have made brioche before, which is very similar). When you started braiding from the center, did you flip the entire dough loaf over at any point? I read somewhere that challah should be braided from the center out and once you finish one end, flip the loaf over before braiding the other side. Was wondering if you’d heard this or whether it would make a difference.
Hi Jessalyn — You’re right. It’s best to flip the entire dough over once you’ve braided one half of it, and then braid the other half. I, however, forgot to do this when braiding this bread and though the braid looked a little funky, it wasn’t anything too noticeable. But if you want it to look absolutely perfect, it’s best to flip it halfway through the braiding. Thanks for your comment!