Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Happy New Year!

Though the lunar calendar can sometimes seem a little loony (Why is the Jewish new year in September, anyway??), I think it has almost always signified an actual new beginning for me. My birthday is the first week of September, and for the majority of the past 28 years, this time of year has always meant the beginning of something (school, or a new job) in addition to aging another year. This year, as I celebrated Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, I also found myself excited for another beginning: the reigniting of my love of bread baking!

Feeling ambitious, when my mother asked me to bring an apple cake for a Rosh Hashana meal because her oven was (GASP!) broken, I challenged myself to make a perfect challah, too. 

I had made challah in the past, but it just never came out so well that I wanted to do it again. I consulted a food blog idol of mine: Smitten Kitchen (how good!?). Deb had a few recipes for challah on her site, and as much as I thought the filled challahs looked beautiful and delicious, I really enjoy just plain challah. I don't like it with raisins, and I assumed I wouldn't like it with apples, even if the idea was fab for Rosh Hashana. I toiled all morning and by the time came to leave for the 'burbs, Honey Challah was ready!

This recipe turned out to be a real show-stopper. (It definitely made up for my sub-par apple cake, a recipe not to be provided her because it stank!!) I think I ate 6 pieces of this challah for breakfast the next day, just plain.
This recipe did the trick for me in terms of lighting my excitement to start baking bread again, something I eschew in summer months because of the heat. So Shana Tova, and may the fruits of this post inspire you to be creative this new year, too!

Honey Challah recipe, adapted from Smitten Kitchen

.6 oz cake/fresh yeast or 2 1/4 teaspoons dry yeast
3/4 c cool or tepid water (NOT HOT!!!)
1/3 c olive oil
1/3 c honey
2 eggs and 1 yolk
1 1/2 t salt
4 1/2 c bread flour
1 egg (for wash)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, crumble yeast into water. Stir and let sit a few minutes. Mix in oil, honey, and eggs. Attach dough hook and mix in flour and salt. Mix on medium speed, allowing the flour to incorporate and the dough to begin to climb up the hook. After 5 minutes, your dough should be ready. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover. Keep bowl in a dark, warm place, if possible, for about an hour. If your dough does not seem like it's rising (for example, if it's really cold in your apartment...), place bowl on the stove and turn the oven on a low heat just to give it a little certain warmth. Once dough has doubled in size, or stays depressed or rises very slowly when poked, punch it down, reshape into a ball, and allow to rise again, this time for 30 minutes.
At the end of the rise, shape the dough.
Divide dough into 4 sections. Make a 12" rope out of each one. Lay ropes on floured surface or on parchment paper. Lay 2 ropes parallel to each other. Weave remaining 2 more ropes so that they are parallel to each other, but perpendicular to and across or under the first two, making sort of a doubled plus sign (+). Every other limb of dough should be coming from under a piece of dough. Make these pieces lay over piece of dough to its right. Now have each newly covered limb lay over the limb directly to its left. Tuck edges under, and you should have a sort of round. Really, it may be best to consult Deb via the link provided in the title of this recipe, as she has photos and step-by-step instructions for shaping the challah.

 Brush or use your hands to wash your challah with 1 lightly beaten egg. Allow to rise 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 350. At end of last rise, wash challah with egg again. Bake for 30-40 minutes, depending on your oven*. I baked mine on parchment paper but I'm not sure this is necessary. Amazing.

*Also, I think you can freeze the bread once it's baked and just take it out of the freezer 5+ hours before you intend to eat it. 

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