The Day I Beat Bread

18 Sep

Happy Rosh Hashanah everyone!  I ventured to temple with the boyfriend and his family yesterday (he’s Jewish…you wouldn’t know it by the amount of bacon this boy consumes).  This was my first time at temple, and it went well…I only wish I could read/understand Hebrew.

Alright, so I told you guys I made matzo ball soup for the wrong holiday, but I did make something properly Rosh Hashanah themed when we got home:

Challah is an eggy bread much like brioche, and I do love brioche.  The score though was brioche: 2, me: 0.  Yes folks, I’ve made brioche rolls twice and both times they were delicious, but super dense and looked like biscuits.  I was a little apprehensive about this one.  Honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to it, but I convinced myself the challah looked easy enough to tackle.

I’M SO GLAD I DID!  I can’t even tell you how proud I am of this one.  This honey apple challah looks like it came fresh from a bakery.  It’s perfectly browned, and weaved, and the inside!

It tastes even better than it looks.  Look at those juicy apples and the fluffy center!

And it’s easy!  The only hard part is the waiting.  This dough goes through three rises—1 hour (I let mine go for two), ½ hour (again, I let mine go for an hour), and then 1 hour again.  Then it bakes for 40-45 minutes.  So the total time will be 3.5-4.5 hours.  The good news is the steps in between don’t take long…kneading dough, cutting apples, and braiding the bread (not as hard as you think).  There’s also the yeast…yeast isn’t hard, but it can be finicky, and it always does make me a bit nervous.

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Use fresh/properly stored yeast.  I bought a jar that said to store in the fridge for no more than 4 months once opened, and it has served me well (though I plan to switch it out when the four months is up).  If you don’t bake much with yeast, just buy a single packet.

I swear, I used a thermometer to measure the water temperature the first few times I baked with yeast (105-115 degrees F is standard, I believe).  If you don’t have a thermometer, use your finger.  You want the water to be just hot.  You should be able to hold your finger in there for 5-10 seconds before it gets hot and you want to pull it out.  Think hot tub temperatures.

First dissolve your honey in the water, then recheck the water temperature and reheat if necessary.

Then whisk in the yeast and let sit for 5 minutes or so until quite foamy.  It will look like this:

While your yeast is bathing, whisk together oil, honey, and eggs (measure your oil first, then the honey in the same measuring cup and it will slide right out!)

Then pour in the yeast mixture, flour and salt, and stir until everything comes together.

Pour it onto a lightly floured surface and knead until nice and incorporated, smooth and elastic.  Try not to add too much extra flour during this process or your bread will get dense.  Then scoop it into a large oiled bowl, cover, and let rise somewhere warm (your kitchen counter, etc.) for an hour, or until doubled in size.  The picture below is before the rise.

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To know when your dough is “doubled in size”, dip two fingers lightly in flour, brushing off any extra, and press them right down into the center of the dough. If the hole stays indented and does not spring back, your dough is ready.

Mine was NOT doubled in size after two hours…*sigh* (see picture below).  But the dough stayed indented when I pressed it, so I continued on, though certain the brioche/challah had beaten me again.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface, and flatten it into a more or less circle (I didn’t work the dough much at all…spread it out just enough that you’ll be able to fold it over twice).

Add 2/3 of your chopped apples to half of the dough, then fold it over.

Add 1/3 onto half of this and fold it over again.

Then gently seal the edges and reshape into a roundish blob.

Cover with your bowl and let rise for another ½ hour or so.

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Now for the braid.  Divide your dough into four sections.

Then roll them into snakes about a foot to a foot and a half long.  They’ll still be pretty thick.  This dough is nice and springy, and I kind of squeezed it into snakes more than rolled, but it was really easy (not sticky, very cooperative).

I braided on the greased pizza sheet I baked the dough on, and here’s how:

So pretty!  And veryyy easy.  Now brush it with eggwash, and let it rise for an hour.  Again.

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Give it one more eggwash, then into a 375 degree oven for 40-45 minutes.  Mine started to brown at 30 minutes, so I covered it with tin foil and baked it for 10 minutes more (if you have a quick read thermometer, the center should be 195 F).

Oh my did this rise in the oven!! I was shocked when I pulled it out.  Shocked and excited.

 

It’s so beautiful!

Oh so fluffy on the inside!   The taste of honey is not as prevalent as I hoped, but this bread is nicely sweet, yeasty, and the apples are crunchy and slightly tart.  I won’t say this often, but: if I can do it, you can do it. And you should.  This challah is the best. 

Brioche: 2, Me: 1

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Given my track record with bread, and the fact that I followed her very helpful recipe and tips exactly, I’m directing you to SmittenKitchen for the recipe, and some bread tips.

 

 

 

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