Challah: Soft, Moist, and Flavorful with Step by Step Photos Part 1

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When I was growing up, we had bakery bought challah every Friday night. I had one piece with honey and then waited til the following Friday night because the next day the challah became too dry for my taste. In recent years, I discovered that the addition of old sourdough starter or easy to make biga significantly extends the wonderful soft texture.

I recently did a side-by-side test of bread dough made with old sour dough starter versus biga and found that the breads made with added sourdough starter and biga were identical in flavor and texture providing the biga is mixed three days ahead of baking, so have incorporated this technique into many of my bread recipes.

Challah is traditionally made with oil so that it can accompaniment a meat meal, however, it also can be made with butter which is still more delicious.

The dough can be made a day ahead of baking but the best rise is when baked on the same day as mixed!

Cushionaire or two stacked pans are needed for this rich sweet dough to prevent overbrowning of the bottom.

Recipe Follows

Oven Temperature: 325°F/160°C, (tent after 25 to 30 minutes)
Baking Time: 35 to 45 minutes
Makes: A 16 inch by 6 inch by 3-3/4 inch high, 30 ounces/847 grams

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My Favorite Challah

Special Equipment: A Cushionaire or 2 large baking pans (stacked), top one lined with parchment; A baking stone or baking sheet

Note: A baking stone serves to maintain the oven temperature when the door is opened. If you don't have one, preheat the oven temperature to 350°F/175°C and lower it to 325°F/160°C after the first 5 minutes of baking.

Dough

INGREDIENTS

MEASURE

WEIGHT

volume

ounces

grams

water

1/2 cups (118 ml)

4.2 ounces

118 grams

firm old starter (or biga, see recipe below)

1/3 cup

2.7 ounces

78 grams

Gold Medal bread flour (other half other brand/half unbleached all-purpose flour

3-1/4 cups (lightly spooned into the cup and leveled off)

15 ounces

424 grams

instant yeast

2-1/2 teaspoons

.

8 grams

fine sea salt

1-3/4 teaspoons

.

11 grams

2-1/2 large eggs, lightly beaten (reserve remaining 1/2 egg for the glaze)

1/2 cup (118 ml)

4.4 ounces

125 grams

honey (see Note below)

3 tablespoons

2.1 ounces

60 grams

corn oil (or unsalted butter, very soft)

1/4 cup (59 ml) (or 4 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons)

1.9 ounces (2.3 ounces)

54 grams (65 grams)


Mix the Dough Into the bowl of a stand mixer bowl, fitted with the roller attachment for an Ankarsrum, or dough hook for other stand mixers, pour the water. Use sharp scissors, dipped in water if it is sticky, to cut the starter into many small pieces, letting them drop into the water. Allow it to sit, covered, for at least 30 minutes.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and yeast; then the salt.

Add the eggs, honey, and corn oil or butter to the mixer bowl. Add the flour and mix on low speed for about 1 minute, until the flour is moistened. Raise the speed to medium-low and knead for 7 minutes. The dough should be just barely tacky.

Let the Dough Rise Scrape the dough into a 2 quart/2 liter dough rising container or bowl that has been lightly coated with nonstick cooking spray. Push down the dough and lightly coat the surface with nonstick cooking spray. (The dough should weigh about 30.3 ounces/860 grams.) Unless putting it in an enclosed area with hot water, cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap. It will be just under 1 quart. Allow the dough to rise, ideally at 75° to 80°F/24° to 27°C, until it has doubled, 1-1/4 to 2 hours to just under 2 quarts. Gently deflate the dough by pushing it down, give it 2 business letter turns and allow it to rise a second time--to 2 quarts/2 liters. (The second rising takes about 35 minutes to 1 hour.)

Glaze

INGREDIENTS

MEASURE

WEIGHT

volume

ounces

grams

the remaining 1/2 egg, lightly beaten and strained

1-1/2 tablespoons (22 ml)

0.9 ounce

25 grams

water

3/4 teaspoon (3.7 ml)

.

.

Optional: poppy seeds

1 tablespoon

.

9 grams

Shape the Dough, Glaze It, and Let It Rise Dust the counter top with flour and divide the dough into 4 equal pieces (212 to 217 grams/7.5 to 7.6 ounces each). Shape each piece of dough into a small logs. Cover the dough logs with a large plastic box or plastic wrap that has been lightly coated with nonstick cooking spray and allow them to rest for 20 minutes.

Start by rolling one piece of dough on the counter into a 13 inch long rope. (Keep the rest covered while working with one at a time.) Let the dough rest for 20 minutes. Starting at the middle, lengthen the dough rop to about 19 inches. Apply more pressure toward the last 4 inches of each end so that they are tapered.

A four braid challah is the most attractive but a three braid is also beautiful. Start from one tapered end by pressing the ends of the dough together. As you come to the other end of the braid, pull the dough more so that it comes to more of a point. Pinch the strands together at each end of the braid and tuck them under to make sure they don't come apart during rising and baking.

Braid tightly, especially in the middle, so that the dough doesn't spread too much when rising and baking. Push the ends together a little so that the loaf is about 12 inches long by 4 inches wide by 2-1/4 inches high. Place the loaf on the prepared baking sheet. Brush with the glaze and cover with a large plastic box of plastic wrap that has been lightly coated with nonstick cooking spray. Let the loaf rise to 13 by 5 by 3 inches high.

Preheat the Oven: Forty-five minutes or longer before baking, set the oven shelf at the lowest level and place a baking stone or baking sheet on it. Preheat the oven to 325°F/160°C.

Glaze the Challah Brush the challah all over with the remaining egg glaze, going well into the crevices of the braid. Puncture any air bubbles. If desired, sprinkle with poppy seeds, lifting the parchment slightly to have access to the sides.

Bake the Challah Quickly but gently set the pan onto the hot stone or baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. For even baking, rotate the pan half way around.

Continue baking for 15 to 25 minutes (tent loosely with a large sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil after 25 to 30 minutes of baking time to keep the top crust from getting too brown). The bread should be deep golden-brown and a skewer inserted in the middle should come out clean. (An instant read thermometer inserted into the center should read 200°F/93°C--less and it will be a little pasty.)

Cool the Challah Remove the bread from the oven and set the pan on a wire rack. Leave the bread on the parchment as it is very tender. When the challah is no longer hot or completely cool (so that it is firm enough to transfer), slip it off the parchment.

Store Room temperature, 2 days; airtight: frozen, 3 months

Biga
Makes: Almost 1/3 cup/2.7 ounces/78 grams

INGREDIENTS

MEASURE

WEIGHT

volume

ounces

grams

Gold Medal Better for Bread flour (or half bread flour, half half unbleached all-purpose flour)

1/4 cup (lightly spooned into the cup and leveled off)

1.7 ounces

49 grams

instant yeast

1/16 teaspoon

.

0.2 gram

water, at room temperature (70° to 80°F/21° to 27°

2 tablespoons (30 ml)

1 ounce

30 grams


Make the Biga In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and yeast. With a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, stir in the water. Continue stirring for 3 to 5 minutes, or until very smooth. The biga should be tacky enough to cling slightly to your fingers.

Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap that has been lightly coated with nonstick cooking spray (or place it in a 1 cup food storage container that has been lightly coated with nonstick cooking spray and cover it with a lid). Set it aside until almost doubled in volume (to 3/4 cup) and filled with bubbles. At warm room temperature or in the proofer (80°F/27°C), this will take about 4 to 6 hours. Stir it down. Refrigerate it for 3 days before making the dough.

Note: Use standard supermarket clover honey such as Gold Blossom or Sue Bee, as they are pasteurized so the enzymes will not kill the yeast.


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EGGS, HONEY, AND OIL

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THE LIQUID AND DRY INGREDIENTS READY TO COMBINE

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MIXING THE DOUGH

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KNEADING THE DOUGH

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THE FULLY KNEADED DOUGH

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THE STRETCHY CONSISTENCY OF THE DOUGH

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THE DOUGH BEFORE RISING

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THE DOUGH RISEN TO DOUBLE

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STRETCHING AND FOLDING THE DOUGH

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THE SECOND RISE

The Ankarsrum Original is available on this link:
Ankarsrum Original AKM 6220 Red Stand Mixer