Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Kitchen Adventure: Challah

I'd been toying with the idea of a fancy French toast dish for Christmas breakfast, but couldn't decide what kind of toppings would go best with Cinnamon-Swirl or Chocolate Babka bread. So I turned to my favorite source of baking knowledge, America's Test Kitchen, only to stumble across their episode about French toast. They suggested that the ideal bread for the dish was Challah bread. I knew that my Baking Illustrated book (also by the awesome folks of ATK!) had a recipe for Challah bread and well, I am still trying to bake my way through the entire book, so the conclusion was rather obvious.
Adapted from Baking Illustrated

3-3.25 cups (15-16.25 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 envelope (2.25 teaspoons) instant yeast
1/4 cup (1.75 oz) sugar
1.25 teaspoons salt
2 large eggs plus 1 egg separated (reserve whites)
1 stick of unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon room temperature water

1. Combine the flour, yeast, sugar and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the 2 large eggs, 1 egg yolk, butter and 1/2 cup water. Mix thoroughly. Note: Since you're going to need the dough hook for the remaining steps, you can just put it on the mixer now. Less dishes is always better.
3. Add the flour mixture, set the mixer to low and mix until a a ball of dough forms. If necessary, add the remaining flour a tablespoon at a time. This step should take roughly 5-7 minutes.
3a. While the dough is mixing, use a fork and whisk the remaining egg white and tablespoon of water. Cover the container and store in the fridge until ready for use.
4. Lightly oil a large bowl and place the dough in it, gently turning to coat the dough with oil. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm location until roughly doubled in size, 1.5 to 2 hours.
5. Gently punch the dough down to deflate it, cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm location  to rise until doubled in size again, roughly 40 to 60 minutes.
6. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface or a silicone baking mat without flour if you prefer. Divide the dough into two pieces. One piece should be roughly half the size of the other one.  Set the smaller ball aside. Note: My larger ball was approximately 18 oz. and my smaller ended up being about 10 oz.
7. Separate the larger ball into 3 equal pieces and roll each piece into a 16" long rope that is roughly 1" in diameter. Braid the the three pieces and set aside. Repeat this step with the smaller ball of dough, creating ropes that are 16" long and roughly 1/2" in diameter.
8. Using a small amount of egg wash, place the smaller braid atop the larger braid, ensuring that they are centered. Lightly cover the loaf with a piece of plastic wrap and place in a warm, level location for 30 minutes or until it increases in size by approximately a third.  Note: The level part is pretty important unless you want your loaf to look like mine did.
9. Place a rack in the lower-middle position in your oven and preheat it to 375°F.
10. Brush the egg wash all over the loaf. Place in the oven for 30-40 minutes or until the loaf is golden brown and has reached an internal temperature of 190°F.
This is what happens when you allow your third rise to
occur on an uneven surface!
Preparing the cranberry-orange compote
Toasting the slices to remove some extra moisture
As far as bread making goes, this was an extremely simple and easy bread to make. There's no sponge to it, not much kneading and because it's actually quite dry it's easier to handle. I can certainly see why this bread lends itself to French toast with it's lack of moisture. Unfortunately, I didn't allow it to soak up enough egg mixture when I made the French toast, but the cranberry-orange compote made up for it.

Are you a fruit topping or maple syrup lover when it comes to French toast and pancakes? Let me know in a comment down below!