When I injured my knee (tore my ACL, MCL, ABCDEFG – CL, meniscus etc), and broke my fibula, I went through over a month of hell – pain, immobility, inabilities galore, wheelchair, walker, etc. To add insult to injury (yes, pun) tack on months and months of all of the above post-surgery over a month later. Utter, complete frustration due to being unable to fend for myself, not to mention, downtrodden, bitchy, and loopy on meds. Basically, you name it, I’ve got it.
I’m still not 100%, so it’s not like I can run the NY marathon! However, I can now do things that seemed far off a short time ago, one of them being standing on my own for longer periods of time, walking a bit without holding onto anything, and as I mentioned in one of my last entries, getting into the kitchen and cooking, all mostly without the brace!
Believe it or not, one of things I missed the most while laid up was bread baking. I’m a bread baking fanatic, but one would never know it looking through this blog because I haven’t posted many bread recipes. In fact, I just so happen to have an over year old sourdough starter that I made using Nancy Silverton’s grape starter method, who’s still thriving (I had my father feed and bake with via a flimsy piece of paper telling him how while I was at the rehab facility for several months, since I didn’t want to lose the poor, abandoned dude). OK, why am I referring to my sourdough starter as if it’s a living, breathing human being or pet?
Well, because HE IS alive. since yeast is a living organism, and damn, he bubbles and gurgles like a baby every time I feed him (Put away the straight jackets, most bread bakers would know I’m not crazy and have yeasty ‘pets’ of their own). I even named him Herbie, and one day I’ll introduce you to him when I start getting into some serious sourdough bread baking again. Plus, I need to dig into Peter Reinhart’s BBA ASAP, among other great books I possess, running the gamut from your basic white loaf to artisan and all kinds of wild yeast breads.
The problem is/was, I need to stand to knead bread. You just don’t get the same result and smooth outcome when sitting. You really need to put your weight into it. Sometimes I succumb to the KA mixer, but I really prefer to take a bread from liquid(s), yeast, and flour(s) to home baked goodness by hand, so I just kind of blew it off until I could do it the way I wanted to.
In any event, this post isn’t about sourdough, artisan or any wild yeast breads, so let’s stop right here. It’s about a bread I couldn’t wait to tackle again once I had the ability to do so, using commercial yeast. It’s called challah, and I’ve been making loaves of these since I was a teenager because it’s what I grew up with and learned by watching my paternal grandmother make it many times.
Growing up, even though we weren’t a very religious family, every Friday night there was a challah at the table. My dad would put a napkin on his head and start chanting and singing in gibberish to make us laugh (I know, shoot us, we made a mockery of the Sabbath) and then we’d all dive in, annihilating that golden brown, shiny, soft braid into one small end piece within minutes. Any body parts in the way and you could kiss them goodbye. We were almost primal in our lust for this bread!
The one caveat is that the challah was always store bought since my mother wasn’t what you would call a kitchen diva, unless it came out of a can or box. Don’t even ask about one of her ‘famous’ recipes called ‘porcipines’ [pronounced poor-key-pines – and ‘poor’ just about sums it up].
Okay, you can ask. MAJOR DIGRESSION TIME!
Once upon a time,when my mother was attempting to cook from scratch, she ordered one of those Betty Crocker plastic recipe boxes they advertised on TV, filled with recipe cards for every occasion! You know, the recipe boxes of the 7-layer salad, sausage balls, and hard-boiled egg stuffed meat loaf.
The infamous ‘porcipines’ were basically meatballs with rice. (‘por-ci (key)-pine was just a cutesy name riff on the famous ‘por-cu-pine’ meatballs. Same thing.). They would have been okay had she cooked the rice PRIOR to rolling them, as the recipe stated. The cooking time wasn’t long enough to cook raw rice inside the meatballs, so they crunched when you bit into them, and I think my dad may have possibly chipped a tooth on one. In fact, they could have been used as weapons if need be. Think of those strange sadomasochistic like balls with silver spikes in them, but smaller.
She may as well have slipped razor blades into them like the crazy, old apple slashing psycho our parents warned us about on Halloween when it came to any apples in our GINORMOUS shopping bags with ghosts, goblins and witches on them. Of course, dear old Dad had to eat some of our candy inspect all candy before we ate it to make sure all razor blades were removed prior to his little girls getting their hands on it. Uh huh.
BUT, to give my Mom some credit, she turned out a kickass egg salad that my friends loved, using that mayo aka salad dressing with the initials MW. However, once I converted to the H mayo, it became too sweet for me.
Once again, I’ve veered way off topic. Does a post exist in my blog where I do not veer off topic at least 4 or 5 times? Hmm..I will be throwing out some giveaways soon, and that could be the method I use to choose a winner. Skim through my blog and try to find one entry where it’s less than four times in one post.
Alright, that’s it; I’m now sticking to challah; no segues, no rambling about the fact that one of my cats likes Seth Rogan’s voice (another ‘veer off topic’ for another entry, as I think I’ve reached my quota). Last week, I decided it was time to get reacquainted with some yeast and braiding. It was my nephew’s 1 year celebration of life, and I went on a baking frenzy for his birthday party.
Since I really wanted to bake a challah, that was first on my list. I eventually ended up baking three. I’ve been using the same recipe for years and years, yet another recipe gleaned from late Grandmother’s weathered recipe box. I think it’s the best challah in the world, and it’s unique because it uses egg yolks in lieu of whole eggs, giving it a more dense, doughy texture and a little less rise. Although it doesn’t rise as high vertically as your usual challah made with whole eggs, it still produces a huge, gorgeous challah albeit a tiny bit flatter than the norm.
Everybody loves this challah. They beg for it. I’m not joking.
With that said, I wanted to do something different with one of the challahs, like fill it with something that you don’t usually see in a challah, but not only fill it, we’re talking filling each rope of dough with something tasty. I did this by rolling each rope into an oblong and flat shape, then spreading the filling on it, (keeping the sides bare so it will seal), painting the bare sides with a finger dab of water, then rolling it tight and sealing it, as you can see in my photos. Then you take that filled strand and roll into a longer rope, tapering the ends. You do the same with the remaining ropes of dough (depending on how many braids you want) and you braid those filled strands together.
Now, I don’t know how you all braid your challahs, but I prefer the 6-Braid method,
There are two ways to 6-braid a challah, and I prefer this 6-strand braid method. You can also do a 3-strand braid, 4-strand braid using a totally different method than Maggie’s, which happens to be a lot easier, albeit not as dramatic and beautiful as Maggie’s when baked. Technically, this is not a braiding method Maggie came up with, as it’s been used for centuries, but it’s her video I’m sending you to, and she does a great job of it.
Here was the problem..the filling I came up with was a combo of grated semisweet chocolate, cinnamon, sugar, and raisins – kind of like cinnamon spiked Raisinettes. However, I was concerned that my ultimate and favorite Grandma challah recipe wouldn’t bode well with the somewhat heavy filling due to the egg yolks, and it might result in a really flat braid where the filling would amalgamate into one big glob instead of an aesthetically pleasing ratio of bread to filling. This made me look to other recipes, particularly ones using whole eggs and a little less sugar.
I settled on Maggie Glezer’s Chernowitzer Challah, but you can use your own favorite challah recipe for this. The whole point is the filling, rolling and braiding of each strand, and of course you can make up your own filling, sweet or savory. It’s just a unique take on challah that I haven’t seen done before, or at least done using 6 braids. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen basic white braids done this way, but again, never a challah.
Once it was filled and baked, I wanted to get a decent shot of the crumb, hence the similar photos, one after another. As you can see, I didn’t achieve individual concentric swirls of the filling (similar to miniature cinnamon rolls), that I was hoping for, but I don’t think braiding is conducive to concentric circles. Then again, maybe the latter method of the 6-braid, linked below, or a 3 or 4-braid challah might give you something closer to it. Regardless, I was still quite pleased with the eclectic swirl. Furthermore, what matters most is taste, texture and crumb, and all three worked out beautifully. so win-win-win.
Now, of course I need to add at least one more photo, since I’m a visual junkie. Below is my Grandmother’s amazing challah, on top of the Chocolate Cinnamon Raisin Swirl challah. There was one tiny problem, though, if you’d call it that. I like to double glaze my challah with egg wash half way through baking. In other words, glaze the risen challah with egg wash, put it in the oven, and half way through baking, take it out and glaze the areas where the bread rose and split open to insure a nice, even, dark, golden crust, like the Chocolate Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Challah in the photos above.
I forgot to do that with my Grandmother’s challah, so you can see where the bread splits open. No big whoop since I think it gives it a nice rustic look. Plus, it was extraordinarily soft, with a tender, slightly sweet crumb, and super delicious as always. Same could be said of the Chocolate Cinnamon Raisin Swirl challah, since both were gone in minutes! I’ve now been getting requests for a chocolate peanut butter filled challah, reminiscent of a chocolate peanut butter babka we had on the lower east side when I was a kid. What do you think?
Happy challah making/braiding/eating!
By the way, so many things you can do with leftover day or more-old challah outside of French toast. I like to sandwich the challah with peanut butter and jelly, cut the sandwiches into pieces, then pour a custard over it and bake for peanut butter and jelly bread pudding! It’s great with brioche too (like French toast)!
Challah Braiding Videos
Cooling time - 10 to 15 mins
- 1 WHOLE recipe Maggie Glezer's Chernowitzer Challah or your favorite Challah recipe that gives you about a 1½ lb to 2 lb loaf *
- ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons grated semisweet chocolate
- ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons raisins
- 2 tablespoons to ¼ cup sugar, depending on how sweet you like it
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 large egg
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 to 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa (optional)
- After it's first rise, divide dough into 3, 4 or 6 equal pieces, depending on the amount of strands you're going to use for the braid. Combine all filling ingredients.
- Roll each piece into a cylinder shape, then place on a lightly floured board and roll out into an oblong, flat sheet of dough, about 14 x 5 inches.
- Divide filling evenly on each sheet of dough, then roll up tightly into a cylinder, making sure none of the filling gets near the edges. Pinch to seal each, then roll the cylinders into about 18-21 inch strands, tapering the ends.
- Braid dough as you like, using the videos above if you need help.
- Place braid on a greased, parchment or silpat lined baking sheet, cover with lightly greased plastic wrap, and let rise for about 1½ hours until doubled in size.
- While the braid is rising, preheat oven to 350 F and combine egg wash ingredients in a bowl or cup until perfectly uniform..no white steaks.
- When doubled in size, remove plastic wrap and brush all over with egg wash. Bake for about 40 to 45 minutes, brushing with more egg wash half through baking, making sure to brush the white parts that opened during oven spring, if you want a more burnished challah like in my photos.
- Let challah cool on baking sheet for about 10 minutes then remove to a baking rack. Let completely cool before slicing.
This challah is different in that it doesn't rise as high as your basic challah. The egg yolks make it dense and doughy in a good way! Everyone raves about it and begs me to make it!
- 3¾ - 4¼ cups bread flour
- 2¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
- ¼ cup tepid water
- ¼ cup of sugar (I add an extra 2 tablespoons, but that's optional)
- 3 egg yolks
- ¾ tsp salt
- A scant ¼ cup vegetable oil
- ¾ cup tepid water
- Egg wash - beat together 1 large egg plus one egg yolk
- In a small bowl dissolve the yeast in ¼ cup tepid water. Cover and let bloom until foamy.
- Place 1 cup of the flour into a large bowl. Make a hole in the middle of the flour and pour the bloomed yeast into it. Mix the bloomed yeast into some of the flour from the sides of the hole, covering lightly with flour. Place in warm place, covered with towel.
- When the batter rises and looks foamy, add oil, sugar, salt, eggs yolks and remaining ¾ water, then mix until batter like. Slowly start to add remaining flour until you get a nice, non-sticky, somewhat firm ball of dough. You may or may not use all the flour, depending on many factors like the weather etc.
- Remove from bowl, and knead on a floured surface for 10 - 15 minutes until smooth and elastic.
- Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a towel and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
- When risen, gently punch/fold down the dough and remove from bowl to a floured surface. Cut into desired amounts of strands, rolling each to about 18-21 inches, tapering the ends, and braid, using one of the videos above if you need help in doing so.
- Place braid on a greased or parchment/silpat lined baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap (I like to lightly grease the plastic wrap prior to placing it on top of the braid) and let rise for about another hour until doubled in size.
- Right after covering braid to rise, preheat oven to 350F.
- Once doubled in size, remove plastic wrap and brush all over with egg wash.
- Bake at 350 degrees about 30-35 minutes until golden brown, brushing with more egg wash half way through baking, if desired.
- Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes, then remove to a baking rack and cool completely before slicing.
I’m submitting this entry to Yeastspotting, a weekly bread showcase hosted by Susan of Wild Yeast. You’ve got to check out her blog, as she’s a baking virtuoso. Her breads and everything else she creates, are beyond outstanding!
I’m also submitting this Challah to zorra’s BBD #22 – Sweet Breads hosted by Hefe und mehr. This my first entry to both Yeastspotting and BBD, and I’m really looking forward to many more in the future!