Sunday, 7 August 2011

Another day, another challah!

Challah, baby! by flimbag
Challah, baby!, a photo by flimbag on Flickr.

Refusing to be defeated, I've decided to have another stab at a challah. This time, I'm going the yeasted (*spit*) route, in the hope that once I've mastered it, I'll go back to sourdough.

Using Peter Reinhart's recipe in Crust and Crumb. He's got a later recipe in one of his later books, but this one is for a single loaf, so I thought that would make it easier (given that I didn't want to use a crate of eggs, a sledge of butter and then have to throw it all out again.

Here's his recipe, along with my commentary:

3½ cups (16 ounces) unbleached bread flour
¼ cup (2 ounces) sugar
1 teaspoon (0.25 ounce) salt
2 teaspoons (0.22 ounce) instant yeast
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs (3.33 ounces), beaten
2 large egg yolks (1.33 ounces), beaten, plus 1 yolk for egg wash
¼ cup (2 ounces) milk, at room temperature
½ cup water, at room temperature
Poppy or sesame seeds for topping (optional)
Vegetable oil cooking spray.

1. Combine all the dough ingredients in a bowl and mix to a ball.

2. Pour out onto a floured surface and knead for 12 - 15 minutes until the dough is soft, pliable and neutral to the touch. It should be slightly tacky. If necessary, add flour.

Damn thing ate up a pile of flour. I'm pretty sure this is where I went wrong with my last effort. I just followed the recipe exactly, and yeah, it seemed terribly wet so I just used Richard Bertinet's method for working with wet doughs.

When I started with this I had to use Bertinet's method as well. No other way to get it into a kneadable state otherwise. But I kept on adding flour, until I got a sense of it being slightly tacky but workable. It was a long knead -- almost 20 mins, but I think it's probably impossible to over-knead with Bertinet's method.

Eventually, I got something that felt like a bread dough -- as opposed to a cakey type thing. So I went on:

3. Place in a clean, oiled bowl and cover with cling film. Let it rise for an hour -- until it's about doubled in size.

4. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead by hand for another 5 minutes. Re-oil your bowl, pop the dough back in. Re-cover with cling film. Another rising, another hour, another doubling.

So far, so good. Still needs plenty of flour, but it's workable and does behave like dough. Because of all the oils and fat and sugar, you don't want to be working this with your hands for very long because it does get sticky again quickly. Started off with classical kneading, but soon reverted to the Bertinet method again.

5. Divide the dough into three equal pieces (or more if you're making a more complex plait. I'm gonna try the easy one this week to minimize handling). Mist with cooking oil, cover and allow to rest for 20 mins.

6. Working quickly, roll the pieces into eight inch long cigar shapes -- fatter in the middle, thinner on the ends. Cover each piece as you finish working it.

7. Once you've got your plaits, lay them side by side on a floured surface. Plait the loaf. I'll link to a YouTube video to show how this is done.

8. Put the loaf on a baking sheet that's been lined with baking parchment. Beat a single egg yolk. Use half the beaten egg to glaze the plait. Cover with cling film or a towel and let it rise for another hour or until doubled in size.

Still looking good. I prefer the other method of creating the plaits, in which you roll them out with a rolling pin and then roll them up. It seemed easier to work with them that way. I managed to get the thing plaited up, but it kept expanding as I kept plaiting.

Challah #2 - final prove by flimbag

9. Pop a shelf in the middle and preheat your oven to 190c -- 180c if you're using a fan assisted jobby as I am.

10. Use the rest of the egg yolk to glaze the loaf again. If you're using poppy seeds, now is the time to put them on.

11. Slap the thing in the oven for about 45 mins, turning half way through for even browning. Loaf wants to be about 85c in the centre when cooked. Or, you know, whack it on the bottom and hope it sounds challahw.

Gone into the oven now. This one had definitely doubled in size before it went into the oven -- unlike my previous sourdough attempt, which had just stopped by that point. Gonna be interesting to see how much oven spring I get, but so far, everything followed the recipe, as you'd expect.

12. Get it out, slap it on a rack. Let it cool for an hour. Voila! Or not?

Whoa! Just checked it out after 15 mins and the damn thing is a monster! A challah the the size of a three year old kid! It's a little dark already, so I've turned the heat down, but it's impressive so far.

I'm done. Final pic at the top of the page. Looks like a winner!

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