I’ve always loved home made bread. Who doesn’t? I was never good at making it. And just when I thought I was getting the hang of it we moved to Colorado and altitude. Yuck. Altitude and bread do not mix. Well actually they do, but altitude can add some additional problems. Just what I wanted.
So I decided to take a braided bread cooking class. Am I glad I did. The class itself was a little slow in the participation area, but I came away with one nugget of information that’s changed the whole ball game. So now I’m working on making bread again.
So let’s talk homemade challah…
Lesson Learned 1 – Learning how to know when the glutens in the dough have been developed properly: This was the biggest take away for me from the cooking class I attended. I learned you can underdeveloped, develop and overdevelop the glutens in your dough. Underdeveloped glutens will give you a heavy dense dough that may fall in on you when you bake your bread. Overdeveloped and your bread will be too dry.
So how do you tell? Simple. Just take a small piece of dough in your hand and begin to pinch it and spread it with your fingers. You should be able to work the dough so that it is smooth and paper tin without the dough tearing or breaking.
That was a big breakthrough learning for me especially since I live in high altitude and its tougher to make bread in my climate.
Lesson Learned 2 – Pay attention to the humidity the day you make bread: The higher the humidity the less moisture you’ll need in your dough. I know it sounds like a lot of work, but if you pay attention to these two factors, gluten development and humidity, soon you will just be able to tell if your dough is of the correct consistency or not.
Lesson Learned 3 – Most people don’t knead their dough enough: Once I mixed all of the ingredients together I used the dough hook on my machine and kneaded the dough for five minutes. That, on average, is a good time to test the dough for gluten development. If the dough falls apart it will need more moisture, if it is too gloppy (technical term) it will need a little more flour. Once you think you have the correct consistency do the gluten test I refer to above. Chances are you’ll be right on the money.
Lesson Learned 4 – If your dough is completely stuck on your dough hook, stop your mixer and scrape the dough off: Some people think that if the dough is on the dough hook it is kneading the dough. That’s not true. The dough hook as to be working it’s way through the dough in order to be kneading it. Be mindful that you’re just not having your dough spin around in a circle without actually being kneaded.
Lesson Learned 5 – You can separate your dough into as many strands as you want for braiding: I did a traditional 3 strand braid. You braid it just like you braid hair. The picture to the right shows my strands. In hindsight I should have made the bottom one thinner and all the strands more even in size. In the end it really didn’t hurt anything as you leave the braided bread to rest on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet for at least an hour and the dough rises and sort of fills itself in.
I will admit that this recipe is a little more challenging than what I normally post, but hopefully as a fledgling cook you are confident enough in yourself to try something a little more difficult. This was the very first time I ever made challah and it turned out magnificently. But if you’re does not, go back and try it again because once you master the art of making home made bread, you’ll never turn back.
1 1/8 cup warm water
3/4 Tbs. instant yeast
6 egg yolks, one for the egg wash
2 1/2 Tbs. vegetable oil
3 -6 Tbs. sugar, depending how sweet you want your bread
1 Tbs. vanilla extract
3 3/4 cup flour
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. water for the egg wash
Combine the water and yeast in a mixing bowl, whisk and let sit for a couple of minutes. Add the 5 eggs, oil, sugar and vanilla and whisk to break up and incorporate the eggs. Add the flour and salt. If using a stand mixer use the paddle attachment and mix for about 2 minutes. Let the dough rest in the bowl for 5 minutes.
Switch to a dough hook and mix on low speed for 5 minutes (my mixer particularly specifies that whenever using the dough hook do not go above speed level #2. You may want check the directions that came with your mixture to see what they recommend. The speed should not go above medium low).
Use a bowl scraper and scrape the dough onto a floured surface and continue kneading the dough by hand for about 2 minutes. Form the dough into a ball and place it in a clean, lightly oiled bowl. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rise until it doubles in size, approximately 2 hours.
After the dough has risen, transfer it to a lightly floured surface and cut it into the desired number of pieces you will need for your braids – I made 3 braids of 10-14 inches in length. It is important that the braids are all the same length.
Braid the pieces of dough together and transfer the loaf to a parchment lined sheet pan. Make an egg wash by combining the last egg (you can do the whole egg or the yolk) and the water. Brush the entire surface of the loaf, including the sides with the egg wash. Refrigerate the remaining egg wash. Let the loaf stand uncovered for about 1 hour.
About 20 minutes before baking time preheat the over to 350. Brush the bread one more time with the egg wash. Bake the bread for 20 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for an additional 15-30 minutes (I only needed an additional 15 minutes).
Let cool on a wire rack and enjoy the beauty of homemade bread!