So, I guess I could take this opportunity to take the mystery and magic out of bread. Before I took my baking class in school I was petrified of yeast. I didn't know how to take care of it or that I even needed to take care of it. Then Chef Jay enlightened me and now I know. Yeast feeds off sugars to produce Carbon dioxide and alcohol. The starch in the flour feeds the yeast making it expand and make all those wonderful little bubbles. In the case of challah, sugar provides more food for the yeast.
Another thing about making yeast bread is there are steps in the process that if you remember them or keep them close by while baking makes everything else easy peasy:
- SCALE ingredients
- MIX ingredients
- MAKE UP
- BAKE until internal temp reaches 180*
- STORE only after completely cooled.
Those last two steps aren't actual steps that worry anyone but still a part of the process.After I scale out my ingredients, I start out by pouring my water for the recipe into my mixing bowl and adding the yeast. Since I made challah yesterday I'll be using that recipe for my examples. Then, I add the brown sugar (food for the yeast), the oil and the eggs. Right on top of that I add my bread flour and the salt on top of that. Adding the salt last is very important so that you don't kill the yeast. When they mingle bad things happen. Then, I get to mixing. MIX only until everything comes together, about 2 minutes on a low setting, then take a look. Is it too moist? Is it too dry? Or does it look just right? Fix it now if there is fixing to be had. Then start mixing again and step up the speed. But don't kill your mixer. My mixer can handle bread dough only but so much so I set it on second speed. Mix for about 6 - 8 minutes then check your dough. You should be able to stretch out a small piece and not have it break. And if you can take that small piece and stretch it out really thin without tearing it then you have done everything right up to this point. The gluten in the flour has been worked and kneaded to the point where it has become elastic and stretchy and that's exactly what you want.
Now it's time to let your dough take a nap. Let it REST for about 15 minutes, maybe 30, depending. You can either let it rest in the bowl of your electric mixer or oil up a bowl to let it rest in. I set my timer for 15 minutes then check it out. If it's not ready then I come back in another 15. It should be doubled in volume when ready and when you can poke it with your finger and the dent stays then it's ready. Like so:
Now, it's time to get physical! It's time for PUNCHING! Not as fun as it sounds but I guess if your pissed or frustrated this could help. I take the side of the dough furthest from me pick it up stretching it out and then punch it into the middle. Then I turn the bowl a quarter turn and do it again until each side has been punched. Or you can take the east and west side of the dough stretch it out and punch them in and then do it to the north and south sides of the dough. Whatever. This just gets rid of the bubbles that have formed to this point, redistributes the yeast so they can feed more, redistributes the temperature and relaxes the gluten.
Now, get that scale out. It's time to PORTION and ROUND your dough. My recipe made about 17 4oz. rolls and 1 1lb loaf. But I'll be giving you a scaled down version. If you just want loaves of bread I see no harm in just cutting down your dough into equal portions. Just as long as they are equal. It makes for easier baking. When you've portioned it all out then round them by stretching the dough on one side and pinching it on the other. Set it down pinched side down on some parchment paper or plastic wrap. Leave plenty of time for it to expand, if not they'll grown into each other. Protect them by loosely covering with plastic wrap.
Once again, let them REST for 15 minutes. This resting makes it easier to work with when you MAKE UP the loaves. Which leads us to make up. In my case I rolled out my pieces into one long snakey looking piece then coiled them around and tucked the end piece under. Or you can take your portions and cut them into threes, roll them out and do a simple braid.
Coiled 1 lb loaf
Now it's time to PROOF. I don't have a proofer but I have my ways. I boil some water on the stove and pour it into loaf pans and stick those in the very bottom of my oven and it turns my oven into a proofer. You can let it proof without even doing that, but the steam helps it rise. And depending on what bread you are baking it determines the length of the proof. Here we don't want to proof too much or you'll end up with huge holes in the bread. That's for another kind of bread.
Next, it's time for baking. But you need to egg wash challah bread to give that pretty shiny brown crust. So take one egg (that's all I needed) and beat it to death basically. You don't want to run the risk of having chunks of egg white baked into the crust. Take a pastry brush and carefully brush on the egg and BAKE in a 350* oven. It only took 15 minutes for each tray. But they should be golden brown and shiny. If you want to sacrifice one, check the internal temperature. If they are truly done it should read 180*.
Et voila! Challah bread. I know it was wordy so thank you for hanging in there if you made it this far. Ever since it was lceared up for me I haven't been able to stop baing and now I've turned my daughter into a baking monster. And as a little side story, they were taught Rub a Dub Dub in class today and three kids got to sit in a "tub" and be either a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker. Guess what my daughter was. Yeah, the baker. I thought it was sooo cute.
“The hunger for LOVE is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for BREAD.”
-Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Challah Bread courtesy CIV Bakeshop
- 1/2 c water
- 1/4 oz instant yeast or 1/3 oz active dry yeast
- 1 oz brown sugar
- 3/4 oz oil
- 1 1/4 oz eggs
- 1/2 oz egg yolk
- 3/4 lb bread flour
- 1/8 oz salt