It’s September 22nd and as everyone becomes antsy as the year is almost over I get excited. And maybe I’m biased because my birthday is in November, but isn’t it lovely when the smell of freshly baked cookies swarms the house, or savoring a thick slice of freshly craved turkey? Yes, yes, cooking and baking season starts today.
Let me say, I started on the right foot, or so I believe. I baked my first challah bread, the traditional Jewish bread baked for celebrations. I’m a big fan of it because it’s such a beauty; golden brown tones, perfectly braided strands, sweet taste and soft interior.
To be honest, I wanted to try the four-strand braided challah. Truth be told, I wasn’t brave enough and so I just went for the three-stranded one. As some may see I had some troubles, yet I had a lot of fun making it. Who knows, maybe I’ll be baking braided four-stranded challah rounds in no time…
Adapted from the Joy of Cooking
½ cup warm water
1 package active dry yeast
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 eggs, beaten
2 eeg yolks, beaten
3 tablespoons canola oil
3 tablespoons sugar
1 ¼ teaspoon salt
In a measuring cup heat the water until just warm. Dissolve the yeast and let stand until active and bubbly, about 5 to 10 minutes. In a bowl, mix until combined ½ cup of flour, 2 eggs, yolks, canola oil, sugar and salt. Stir in the remaining flour. Using the dough hook, knead the dough until smooth and elastic. Transfer dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic. Let stand in a warm area for 1 ½ to 2 hours, until doubled in size. Punch the dough and knead lightly a couple of times. Return to oiled bowl, cover in plastic and refrigerate from 4 to 12 hours (I proofed it for 24 hours). Remove from the fridge and punch down. Knead lightly. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Place in a greased baking sheet, cover with plastic and let rise for 2 to 4 hours. Roll each ball into a 13 to 14 inch long rope. Grease baking sheet and dust with cornmeal. Place the ropes side by side and braid. Pinch both ends and tuck underneath the loaf. Let rise for 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 375°F. In a bowl beat remaining egg with a pinch of salt. Brush the bread with the egg wash. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until golden and hollow when tapped.
Note. I opted to use the dough hook to knead the dough, though I usually like to go classic and knead it by hand. Either way, the recipe will work. When using the dough hook, you will notice it’s done when the dough no longer sticks to the bowl. Also, a valuable lesson I’ve learned over time in bread baking is that the more you let your bread proof, the more developed the flavor and the finer the texture. Don’t be afraid to let your bread rise for longer than usual!