Sunday, January 9, 2011

Butter-based Challah for Shabbat

Yesterday at the assembly, there was some discussion among the ladies after our Shabbat meal on the differing textures of challah bread. I concluded that there were likely two reasons: one, the recipe I make uses butter instead of the traditional olive oil; and two, it could be the bread was "overworked."

There's a Jewish dietary law that does not allow the mixing of dairy with meat products. If you were going to have someone at your dinner table or at your assembly who followed the Jewish dietary laws, you would want to tell them if the bread was made with butter, so they could decide if they would rather eat the bread or the meat ;-) But you could also make challah with olive oil, and there would be no restriction for them. However, you are going to get a very different textured bread if you make it with olive oil. Both kinds are excellent, if you make them right.

Here's the butter-based Challah recipe used by the ladies at the House of David in Gloucester Point, VA (I'll post my olive oil challah recipe at a later date):

Ingredients (for two medium-sized braided loaves)
1/4 c. warm water
1/2 stick butter
1/2 c. milk
1 T honey
2 large eggs, plus two more for the wash
3 1/4 c. bread flour
1 tsp. salt
3 T sugar
3/4 T active dry yeast

Using a small glass bowl, add 1/4 cup of warm water and then whisk in 3/4 of a tablespoon of active dry yeast and a pinch of sugar. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, add 1/2 cup of milk and half a stick of real butter, and heat on low until the butter is melted.

If you're going to use a Kitchen Aid mixer, the rest is done in the mixing bowl for that wonderful tool. But if you're mixing by hand, add the milk/butter mixture to a good-sized mixing bowl and add about a tablespoon of honey. Whisk it with a wire whip until it has cooled off enough to not cook your eggs (the temperature should be no warmer than 100 deg F on a candy thermometer, or an instant read, if you have one).

Crack each egg into a small bowl and check for any blood or other specks of stuff you don't want in your bread. This is especially important if you have roosters or if you buy local fresh eggs. Add one egg at a time to the milk mixture and mix well with the wire whisk.

Next add 3 tablespoons of sugar and a teaspoon of salt to the milk mixture, mixing well, and then add the yeast mixture, which should by now be good and frothy (if it's not, your yeast is bad and needs to be dumped in the toilet if you have a septic, as it's good for the septic system, and you'll need new yeast). Add bread flour a cup at a time until you have three cups incorporated. By now your dough should be very soft and probably still sticky. Keep adding flour about 2 tablespoons at a time and keep working the dough until it's either pulled away from the bowl (if you're using a dough hook on a Kitchen Aid) or until it's able to be handled without sticking to your hands.

Knead the dough no longer than ten minutes. You want to activate the gluten but not so much that it gets overstretched. Place the dough into a buttered bowl, get the bottom side of the dough covered with the butter then flip over the dough and coat the other side. This helps the dough stay soft and not develop any crusting due to contact with the air. Cover the bowl with a towel (I use a flour sack towel as it's light enough to lay on top of the braids as they rise) and set in a warm place until it's doubled in bulk. Punch it down and let it raise another 45 minutes to an hour (you can skip the second rising if you're pressed for time, though your bread won't be quite as light as it would be if you gave it the second rising).

Punch the dough down again and get all the air out of it. Using a sharp knife, cut the ball of dough in half, then each half in thirds, so you can make your braids. Roll each ball into a rope about 12-15 inches long. Lay three out on a clean surface (I use a wooden cutting board) and make your braid. Pinch the ends together. Do the same with the remaining dough. Place the braids on a cookie sheet that's been sprayed with Pam or some such. Cover with a towel and let raise until doubled in bulk.

Using a pastry brush, cover each braid with an egg wash made of 1 egg and 1 egg white and a tablespoon of water that's been whisked thoroughly. Don't forget to inspect the eggs as you did when you added them to the dough. If you like, you can sprinkle poppy seeds on your loaves and then pop them into a hot 350 deg F oven until they're nice and golden brown.

I let mine cool, use one for erev Shabbat dinner, and then wrap the other one in foil to either take to a neighbor or to the Shabbat assembly the next day. If you wanted to put one in the freezer for another time, I'd wrap it first in a layer of freezer paper (make sure the coated side is turned toward the bread) then wrap it in foil and then put it in a plastic bag before freezing it. The longest I've kept homemade bread in the freezer is a couple of weeks, as it's too tempting to leave in there for long ;-) But when you let it thaw, you can take it out of the freezer paper, put it back in the foil and then pop it into a 350 deg F for about 10 minutes and it will be almost as good as the first baking.


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