By Ben Nitkin on
- Proofing in an oven dramatically speeds up the rise - from 90 minutes down to around 30. That is, if you oven has a bread proof or keep warm mode.
- The second rise (step 4; after all ingredients are added, but before baking) is optional. You can develop similar flavor by letting the sponge rise for extra time. As the recipe suggests at the bottom, you can even let the sponge (or the dough, if covered) rise in the fridge overnight to improve flavor.
- The recipe calls for one loaf, and suggests two as a variation. I suggest making three loaves - that makes a better serving size.
- The recipe calls for glazing twice - immediately after braiding, and just before baking. Once is plenty.
- The recipe suggests starting braids from the middle and working both ways. It's a little more difficult, but does yield much more symmetrical loaves.
- You can do either an egg or an oil wash - egg gives a shiny brown texture; oil has a matte color. If you use egg, you can decorate with poppy or sesame for extra crunch!
Without further ado:
(Bread Bible, pp 516)
- An 18-by-12 baking sheet, lightly greased with cooking spray or oil
- A baking stone or baking sheet (optional)
Dough starter (sponge)
- 1 cup / 5 ounces / 142 grams: Unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 t / 3.2 grams: Instant yeast
- 2/3 cup / 5.5 ounces / 156 grams: Water
- 2 T / 1.5 ounces / 40 grams: Honey
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
(1) Early in the morning or the night ahead, make the sponge. In a mixer bowl or other large bowl, place the flour, yeast, water, honey, and eggs. Whisk until very smooth to incorporate air, about two minutes. The sponge will be the consistency of a very thick batter. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and set aside, covered with plastic wrap.
Flour Mixture and Dough
- 4 2/3 C / 23.3oz / 662g: Unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 1/4 t / 4g: Yeast
- 1 T / 0.7oz / 19.8g: salt
- 2 large eggs (cold)
- 1/3C / 2.5oz / 72g: Corn oil (or vegetable oil)
- 6T / 4.25oz / 120g: Honey
- 1T: Cider vinegar
(3) Mix the dough
Mixer Method: Add the eggs, oil, honey, and vinegar. With the dough hook, beat on medium speed (#4 if using a KitchenAid) for about 5 minutes or until the dough is smooth and shiny. Lightly sprinkle some of the flour for kneading onto a counter and scrape the dough onto it. Knead the dough, adding a little flour if necessary so that is is just barely tacky (sticky). (The dough will weigh about 3 pounds 5 ounces/1504g)
Hand Method: Add the eggs, oil, honey, and vinegar. With a wooden spoon or your hand, stir the mixture until the flour is moistened. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, just to begin to develop the gluten structure, adding as little of the extra flour as possible. Use a bench scraper to scrape the dough and gather it together as you knead it. At this point, it will be very sticky. Cover it with the inverted bowl and allow it to rest for 20 minutes. (This rest will make the dough less sticky and easier to handle.) Knead the dough for 5 minutes or until it is very elastic and bounces back when pressed with a fingertip. Add a little more flour if necessary so that it is just barely tacky (sticky). (The dough will weigh about 3 pounds 5 ounces/1504g)
(4) Let the dough rise. On a lightly floured countertop, round the dough into a ball. Place the dough in a 4-quart dough-rising container or bowl, lightly greased with cooking spray or oil. Push down the dough and lightly spray or oil the top. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap. With a piece of tape, mark the side of the container at approximately where double the height of the dough would be. Allow the dough to rise (ideally at 75-80 deg F) until it has doubled, 1 to 2 hours.
Gently deflate the dough by pushing it down and give it a business letter turn. Return the dough to the container. Oil the surface again, cover, and mark where double the height would now be. (It will fill the container fuller than before because it is puffier with air.) Allow to rise a second time until doubled, about 45 minutes to an hour, or refrigerate it overnight.
Flatten the dough by pressing down on it gently, so as not to activate the gluten, making it stretchy.
(5) Shape the dough. [I'm going to omit this section, as you know how to braid. She spends about a page going into three-braid and four-braid technique.]
- 2T lightly beaten egg
- 1t water
- 4T poppy seeds (optional)
(6) Glaze the bread and let it rise. In a small bowl, lightly whisk together the egg and water. Brush the loaf lightly with the glaze, and cover it loosely with greased plastic wrap. Cover the egg glaze and refrigerate it. Allow the loaf to rise (ideally at 75-85 deg F) until doubled, about 1 hour. It will be 1 inch longer, 1/2 inch wider,, and 3/4 inch higher.
(7) Preheat the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 deg F 45 minutes before baking. Have an oven shelf at the lowest level and place a baking stone or baking sheet on it before preheating. [This helps brown the underside of the bread.
(8) Glaze and bake the challah. Remove the plastic wrap and brush the challah all over with the egg glaze, going well into the crevices of the braid. Sprinkle the top with the poppy seeds, if desired, tilting the pan slightly so you have access to the sides.
Quickly but gently set the baking sheet on the hot baking stone or hot baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes. Tent loosely with a large sheet of heavy-duty foil and continue baking for 25 to 35 minutes until the bread is deep golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. (An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center should read 190 deg F)
(9) Cool the challah. Remove the pan from the oven and, using a peel or two large pancake turners, transfer the challah to a wire rack to cool completely.
Note: The challah can be baked as two 9-inch loaves instead of one large one. Since there is less dough for each loaf, it will be easier to use the 3-strand braid (roll them to 10 or 11 inches long). Baking time will be 25-35 minutes, and the baked breads will measure 13x5x3 inches.
Note: If you prefer to use sugar rather than honey, use 2/3 cup and increase the water to 3/4 cup.
Pointers for success:
If desired, for maximum flavor development, the dough can be wrapped loosely with plastic wrap, placed in a 2-gallon plastic bag, and refrigerated overnight. Allow it to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before shaping.
To prevent overbrowning, don't use a dark pan for this bread.