Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Bread Baking Babes Challenge - Challah

If ever there was a feminine bread, it would have to be challah. Formed into soft, doughy bumps and curves it resembles the Venus of Willendorf, icon of feminine bounty.

This is a bread to slow down and enjoy the process. Of sweetness and richness, softy braided like your daughter's hair.

Shed yourself of your shoes and socks. Feel the ground beneath your feet. Put on your favourite Joni Mitchell album and tune in to the cosmic feminine. If your children object to your singing, gently remind them that it is still easier to listen to their mother sing than to pay rent.

It is time to make challah.

Sara of I Like to Cook has chosen challah as the bread to craft this month. I had made it before years ago and was very much looking forward to making it again, especially as my baking skills have improved since then. This recipe did not disappoint. Total time involved is about 3 hours, so the results are fairly quick - and miraculous. It is hard to believe that something so beautiful could come from flour, water, eggs and butter. The recipe does call for powdered saffron, which I didn't have, so I used one teaspoon of cardamom. The scent is heavenly and the flavour matches the pillowy texture of the bread perfectly.

from The New York Times Bread and Soup Cookbook
Makes two loaves

5 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups flour, unsifted
3 TB sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 package dry active yeast
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
pinch powdered saffron
1 cup warm water (120-130'F)
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp cold water
1/2 tsp poppy seeds

Combine 1 1/4 cups of flour, the sugar, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Mix in the softened butter. Stir the saffron into the warm water until it dissolves. Add a little at a time to the flour mixture and blend thoroughly. Beat for 2 minutes with an electric mixer and medium speed, scraping the bowl occasionally. Separate the yolk and white of one egg. Blend the single egg white and the other 3 whole eggs into the batter. Reserve the single egg yolk. Stir 1/2 cup of flour into the batter and beat at high speed for 2 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally. Blend in enough additional flour to make a soft dough. Knead the dough on a lightly floured board about 8 to 10 minutes or until it is smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning it once to grease the top. Cover and allow the dough to rise in a warm, draft free place until double in bulk (approximately one hour).

Flour a pastry board lightly and set the dough on it. Divide the dough into 2 equal portions. Divide each portion into 2 pieces, using 1/3 of the dough for one piece, and 2/3 of the dough for the other. Divide the large piece into 3 equal portions. Roll each of these into 12 inch ropes. Braid the ropes together tightly, using your fingers to press the dough together at the ends. Divide the smaller piece into 3 equal portions. Roll each of these into 10 inch ropes and braid tightly. Place the smaller braid on top of the larger one and seal the ends. Repeat this process to form the second loaf.Place both braided loaves on a greased baking sheet. Mix the reserved single egg yolk with the 1 tsp of cold water and brush the top of the loaves with the mixture. Sprinkle with poppy seeds, and let the loaves rise until double in bulk in a warm draft free place (approximately one hour). Bake in a 400' over for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on wire racks.

Want to be a Buddy to the Bread Baking Babes? Visit Sara's site and bake this loaf, contacting her before October 31st. Timely submissions will be rewarded with a badge of achievement - what could be better than that?