World Bread Day: Challah

Once again the wonderful Zorra has coordinated a celebration of the World Bread Day, asking bloggers from all over the globe to bake, buy, or photograph bread and blog about it today. World Bread Day is an event created by the UIB (International Union of Bakers and Bakers-Confectioners) in an effort to provide an opportunity to talk about bread and bakers, to find out about their history, their importance, as well as their future.

In the spirit of what World Bread Day is all about, I decided to bake a bread that symbolizes a history and heritage that I am unfamiliar with, in an effort to learn more about it. Challah is a special braided bread eaten by some groups of Jews on the Sabbath and holidays. According to Jewish tradition, Sabbath and holiday meals begin with a blessing over two loaves of bread. This “double loaf” commemorates the manna that fell from the heavens when the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years after the Exodus from Egypt. The manna did not fall on the Sabbath or on holidays; instead a double portion fell before the Sabbath and holidays. See, I learned something new! :)

This was my first experience working with fresh yeast and I held my breath throughout the entire process. Of course I knew that fresh yeast could work – that’s all I have ever seen my grandma use – but I have also heard that it tends to be a bit more temperamental than dry yeast so I was a little nervous. And as the saying goes, there is nothing to fear but fear itself. I think it’s pretty evident that my dough rose! Absolutely no problems whatsoever to report with using the fresh yeast; as you’ll see from the recipe below, all of the ingredients were combined together at one time (no proofing of the yeast).

Not only was I thrilled about such a fabulous loaf of bread, but I was also excited about the opportunity to cross another conquest off of My 100 list. I’m enjoying the adventure of taking on all of these unique challenges. This challah was so flavorful – the crumb has such a rich, sweet and moist texture and when you pair that with a hearty crust enriched with an egg wash, you get something really incredible. I can’t wait to use this for some rockin’ French toast on Saturday morning!

I know I’m raving about a recipe that calls for a whopping 8 egg yolks. And I also know many people will be turned off by the seemingly large amount of waste that this produces. But you don’t have to waste anything – separate the eggs and put the whites in an airtight container and store in the fridge for up to 5 days. Make an angel food cake! Or just scramble some egg whites for breakfast. See? No waste!

A big thank you to my friend Kayte who got me the Martha Stewart Baking Handbook for my birthday this past year. It’s an awesome book and I can’t wait to dig even further into it!

One year ago:Brown Sugar Raisin Bread

Challah

Yield: Makes one 18-inch loaf

Prep Time: 2 hours 30 minutes

Cook Time: 50 to 60 minutes

Total Time: 3 hours 30 minutes

Ingredients:

1½ pounds bread flour (about 4½ cups), plus more for dusting
¾ ounce fresh yeast
¼ cup sugar
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon coarse salt
¼ cup vegetable oil, plus more for bowl, plastic wrap, and baking sheet
1 cup water
8 large egg yolks, plus 1 large whole egg

Directions:

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour, yeast, sugar, honey, salt, vegetable oil, egg yolks, and 1 cup water. Mix on low speed until the dough is smooth and stiff with a slight sheen, 8 to 10 minutes.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface, and knead to make sure any loose bits are incorporated. Fold in the following manner: Fold the bottom third of the dough up, the top third down, and the right and left sides over, tapping the dough and flip it over, seam side down. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with oiled plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Brush an unrimmed baking sheet with vegetable oil or line with parchment paper. Set aside.

Return the dough to a lightly floured work surface, and divide into three equal pieces. Roll each piece into an 18-inch log, and place the logs parallel to one another; pinch the ends together at the top. Weave the three strands into a tight braid, tugging gently as you go. Press the ends together to seal. Place loaf on the prepared sheet. Loosely cover with oiled plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly beat the remaining whole egg and brush gently but thoroughly over loaf, making sure to cover any seams and crevices. Bake until the crust is dark brown, 50 to 60 minutes. The bread should reach an internal temperature of 190°F on an instant-read thermometer, and should have a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom. Transfer the bread to a wire rack to cool completely before slicing. Bread can be wrapped in plastic and kept at room temperature for up to 3 days.

(Source: Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook, pages 306-307)