Friday, March 2, 2007

Snowed In and Baking Challah

This is what winter is all about. Snow Days! The kids were home. Most businesses in town were closed. The coffee shop attached to our local bookstore even told customers yesterday that they would be closed today. I love that kind of planning. Travis and I walked to the end of our street to meet a friend of his- Sal and Sal's Mom Kate. He carried his gear with him for a sleepover. We were all being pelted by prickly little ice pellets and a gusty, cold wind. When we met them on the road, I remarked that this would be a great day to bake some bread. Kate said her daughter had just started some at their house. There's nothing like the aroma of fresh baking bread. I decided that it was about time for Elizabeth to learn how to braid Challah. While the bread was in its first rise- I started some stock with about 4 lbs of bones I had frozen (from various roast chickens and a turkey). The whole house smells SOOO good! It's bubbling away on the back burner right now. When it was time for the Challah to be braided Elizabeth was right there to help. She punched down the dough- and for her the punching down was a slow, flathanded, heymomcanIjustpushdownandtouchthebottom of the bowl???? It was so cute to watch her face as her hand sunk into the soft risen dough. That is one reason we bake bread. The tactile experience of kneading the dough and later, pressing our hands into the risen bulk. It's very satisfying. She did a tremendous job forming the strips and braiding the loaf. We each made one, side by side. It's in its second rise right now. Here is the recipe:

2 loaves
2 Tablespoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup honey
1 Tablespoon salt
6 cups unbleached all purpose flour- I like King Arthur
1 3/4 cups hot water
1/2 cup melted butter
4 eggs, slightly beaten- we had some from my mom's chickens- it always amazes me to see how yellow fresh from the farm eggs can be
Place the yeast, honey, salt and 2 cups of the flour in a large bowl.
Add the water, melted butter and eggs. Whisk vigorously for 4 minutes. Be sure you scrape down the sides of the bowl often.
Add the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time. Stir with a wooden spoon until the dough is too stiff to stir. Turn out onto a floured board and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add more flour a Tablespoon at a time if necessary for the dough to be firm- so it's easy to shape.
Place in an oiled bowl, turning to coat the top completely. Cover with a clean, moistened linen dishtowel. Let rise until doubled in bulk- about 1 1/2 hours.
Deflate dough and cut into six even pieces. Roll or squeeze each piece to make a long strip. Set three strips next to eachother and pinch the tops together. Braid the pieces, pinch the ends together and tuck the ends under. Repeat with the remaining three pieces of dough. Place the braided loaves on parchment or silpat lined sheet pans.
Cover loaves loosely with a barely moistened linen towel or plastic wrap. Let rise until almost doubled. Brush dough with a glaze made from 1 egg beaten with 1 Tablespoon of cream. You can sprinkle poppy seeds, sesame seeds or any other seeds you like.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until a beautiful golden brown. Lift the braids off of the sheet pans cautiously with a spatula and cool on a rack before cutting.
This bread is So delicious with butter and cinnamon sugar. We are having it tonight alongside some yummy chicken noodle soup.
Hope you like it!

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