I guess I spent the past year focusing on the whole wheat bread recipe I published a few entries ago, because I had forgotten about the surprisingly successful challah recipe that appears in Mr. Ciril "I want to scare off your pants" Hitz' book a few pages later. I decided to make some last Sunday after realizing we were low on bread and out of whole wheat flour (and I was too cold to go outside in the rain and chill to get some more) and despite killing the initial yeast in the sponge, having to add more, and letting it rise for far longer than suggested, it turned out rather delicious! Slightly more dense than the cotton-candyesque challah one can find, but still delicious and fluffy. So that's all to say that Mr. Hitz really won't fail you this time. And you don't have to have a weird steaming tray in your oven.
One begins with a sponge.
1 1/3 c flour
1/2 c 75ºF water
~6 tsp instant yeast
Mix it up and allow it to sit, covered and undisturbed, for a half hour.
At this point it might be good to set out the following ingredients so that everything is ready to go.
Anyway, after a half hour, combine the following:
3 2/3 c flour
1/3 c sugar (I always use brown sugar)
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp 70º water (have more on the ready)
3 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
4 tbsp oil (he calls for vegetable oil, I used olive oil)
Mix it up for a while. He says eight minutes on low speed with your dough hook and another 8 on a faster speed. I used my hands and had to add some extra water and was confused because the yeast wasn't working very well.
Anyway, after it's nicely mixed up, make sure your bowl is coated with a little oil and allow it to rise for 1.25 hours, or until doubled in size. If your yeast was dead like mine, you can always mix up some more instant yeast in some water, add it, and allow it to sit some more. Apparently this is forgiving bread.
After it has doubled, separate the dough into some smaller balls and let them rest for 20 minutes or so. Then, roll them into strands and braid them together. Be creative! Make it look pretty! Have fun! I've made this recipe a few times and have found that I tend to make a very large but compact loaf. I bet that it would work even better, though, and perhaps be lighter and fluffier, if it were slightly more spread. I'll try that next time. Or perhaps some smaller rolls... it makes a lot of bread...
Let it rest for another hour at room temperature, until it doubles again in size. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Before you put it in the oven, brush the loaf with a mixture of the egg whites and some milk and sprinkle with salt/sesame seeds/poppy seeds/other fun and delicious things.
And bake it until it looks pretty brown and puffy. It will probably be 20 to 30 minutes depending on the size of the loaf.
And there you go! It should emerge beautiful and resplendent and bedecked with little sesame seeds or poppy seeds or whatever you decided to put on top.
Just beware: it makes a lot of bread. See the pictures? Ryan and I haven't finished this loaf yet and I made it five days ago. If you're a single person, and particularly a single person who isn't carbo-loading for a marathon, you may want to halve the recipe. Or think of other uses... I KNOW! I need to make French toast!!! Just in time for Canadian Thanksgiving.
In other news, I have succumbed to the same cold that has had Comrade J in and out of bed for the past week it seems (perhaps not that long? but he has been rather ill). I'm trying to fight it off with goldenseal, spirulina, zinc, sage tea, and mental fortitude. However, my nose may have the better of me. We shall see!
And, in closing, an evil basement centipede (medium-sized):
(they get much larger)