When I was a teenager, nearly every weekend would see me babysitting for a family of three children. I loved the parents, the children were adorable, and generally well-behaved. One of the side benefits was the late evening snacking after the children were asleep. The mom, L, kept a case of Tab and a large package of Chips Ahoy in the fridge for us to share. She also baked Challah every week for the family's celebration of the Jewish sabbath, turning out perfectly braided, golden brown loaves. "There's fresh Challah," she'd say, "enjoy it!" And enjoy it I did - cutting off thick slices of the still-warm bread. L also showed me how she roasted a chicken (I remember it involved sprinkling paprika) and cut cucumber spears for a party (meticulously cutting off the strips of seeds).
So I was excited and just a bit apprehensive about tackling Challah last week (it's the current assignment in the BBA Challenge). Could it possibly live up to L's great bread? I'd braided bread once before, when making Artos, and knew that my technique needed work. I was also interested in seeing how the recipe from The Bread Baker's Apprentice would taste.
Unlike many other enriched European breads, Challah has no dairy ingredients (it contains no milk, and uses oil rather than butter.) What it does have is lots of egg, which gives Challah its distinctive golden hue, inside and out.
- I didn't need much more bread in the house right now, so I made 1/3 recipe which was easy to scale (with the help of my digital scale).
- I used a duck egg, which has a bigger yolk than a chicken's. I reserved some of the white for the egg wash, using 40g of egg total in the dough. I'm guessing this gave me approximately the same proportion of egg-to-white as the recipe specifies for a full loaf.
- This bread was fairly easy to mix in the food processor. As usual, I pulsed the dry ingredients first. After adding the liquid, the dough was crumbly and dry, which seemed really odd. Then I noticed a little puddle of water on the scale and counter - it turns out that my metal bowl had a pinhole in the bottom and some of the water had leaked out. I had no idea how much I'd lost, so I added a little bit of water in small stream while pulsing, until the dough pulled into a ball in the food processor.
- I used olive oil.
- The dough was gorgeous to work with - so supple and satiny.
- After kneading I had about 1 cup of dough, made into a boule (round) shape for the first rise. It easily and quickly doubled.
- I divided the dough and had a bit of a hard time getting the strands to stay the length I wanted them - the dough was very elastic. I'd roll and pull each strandlong and thin and it would snap back to short and fat. In retrospect I should have let the strands rest for a few minutes so the gluten could relax, then stretch them thinner.
- Right after I took this picture (thanks for lending a hand, J.D.E.!), I noticed that the braid strands on the right end had come unstuck and I pinched them back. They kept coming loose and I kept pinching them back. I did everything short of stapling the dough together, but in the oven that one end popped apart again. It actually seemed that the right half of the bread rose more than the left.
- Scrolling down, the bread starts out looking fine, but then you see the whole thing, and realize that it looks exactly like...
a whole chicken, doesn't it?
(Maybe I should have trussed my bread braid like I do my chickens!)
This was delicious bread; refined yet chewy. I think my crumb should have been a little more closed, but we loved it just the same.
I don't think that this bread tasted as wonderful as the mythic Challah of my adolescence, but all the same I was proud that in my own kitchen I was able to produce even an approximation of that egg bread. Even if it did look like a roasted chicken.