Jessie’s back! And today she’s sharing a recipe for challah, a bread I had wanted to make from scratch ever since starting my Jewish day school job over three years ago. Of course, I was hella-intimidated and never attempted my own until last weekend. Though my challah did not turn out as beautiful as I’m sure Jessie’s professional loaves do, it still tasted incredible slathered with butter and/or jam. And man, was I proud. Earning that HinJew status!
Instead of making two loaves, I made one loaf plus a set of wee hamburger buns. Not to be too self-congratulatory, but *that* was a very good idea (burger recipe coming next week). Should you wish to make two loaves, Jessie has kindly provided a killer dessert recipe to use up your leftover bread; challah that’s a few days old also makes for great French toast.
I’d like to thank Jessie again for the time and energy she devoted to make baking bread seem less intimidating. If you plan to spend some time at home this weekend, might I suggest tackling one of these recipes & then basking in the satisfaction/carbohydrate aftermath?
adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Holiday Baking 2008 issue.
Challah is an enriched bread, which means that in addition to the usual ingredients, it’s made with eggs, butter, and honey (my first chance to use the little jar of Norwegian honey that Jill brought me from her Scandinavian travels!).
Challah is a traditional Jewish bread and is most easily recognized by its braided form–Jessie includes instructions here for the proper braiding technique, but I have to admit that I copped out and did a three-strand braid, which worked just fine. If you are a badass and manage a four-strander, I salute you.
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water (105°F-115°F)
¼ cup honey
1 package active dry yeast
2 eggs, lightly beaten
¼ cup butter, melted and cooled
½ tablespoon salt
4-4 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon water
In a large bowl, combine the ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water, honey, and yeast. Let stand about 10 minutes or until the yeast is dissolved and foamy. *If you do not see foam or bubbles, the yeast is dead and the process must be repeated.*
Using a wooden spoon, stir in the 2 eggs, melted butter, and salt. Gradually stir in as much of the flour as you can.Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough that is smooth and elastic (5 to 7 minutes total).
Shape the dough into a ball. Place in a lightly greased bowl, turning once to grease the entire surface. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double in size, 1 to 1 ½ hours.Punch the dough down (literally). Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rest for 10 minutes.
To shape the loaves, divide dough in half. Working with one half a time and keeping the other half under the towel, divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Roll each piece into a rope about 12-15 inches long. Attach the ends of two pieces together to make one long rope. Attach the ends of the other two pieces together to make another long rope. Forming a cross, fuse all of the attached ends together. Be sure there is one piece pointing towards you and one pointing away from you, one piece pointing to your right, and one pointing to your left.
The mantra of this folding technique is left over right….left over right….left over right. Repeat that to yourself a few times before starting. During the braiding process, if the ends at the top of the braid start to come undone, pinch those together tightly.
Step 1: Hold the two horizontal pieces in your hands, the right piece in your right hand and the left piece in your left. Moving the two horizontal pieces to the opposite sides that they are currently on, cross the two pieces you are holding over the strand pointing towards you, being sure the piece in your left hand crosses OVER the piece in your right. Your left hand should literally cross over your right hand. Lay the two folded pieces horizontally.
Step 2: Now for the vertical pieces–Grasp the top piece in your right hand and the bottom piece in your left hand. Moving these two vertical pieces to the opposite sides that they are currently on, cross these two pieces over the piece pointing to your right (it should cross naturally this way), moving the piece in your left hand OVER the piece in your right. The piece that was pointing away from you should now be pointing towards you, and the piece that was pointing towards you should now be pointing away from you.
Repeat step 1, followed by step 2, until the ends are too small to be braided. Pinch the remaining ends together and remove off a small chunk from both ends to make them less pointy. Braid the other portion of dough.
Place the braided loaves diagonally onto lightly greased or parchment lined sheet trays. Cover and let rest in a warm place until nearly double in size (about 30 minutes). Preheat the oven to 350°F.
In a small bowl, combine the remaining lightly beaten egg and 1 tablespoon of water to make an egg wash. Using a pastry brush or spoon, brush each loaf evenly and completely with the egg wash. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until loaves sound hollow when lightly tapped and are a shiny, deep golden brown. Immediately transfer the loaves from the sheet trays to wire racks to cool.
CREME BRULEE BREAD PUDDING
adapted from Butter, Sugar, Flour, Eggs by Gale Gand
½ a loaf of day old challah bread
2 cups half-and-half
2 cups heavy cream
Pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 cup granulated sugar
Sugar in the raw (for caramelizing the top)
pan: 6 ramekins or a deep baking dish, well buttered
Cut the crust off the bread and dice into one inch cubes. You should have about 3 ½ cups of bread.
Heat the half-and-half, heavy cream, salt, and vanilla in a saucepot over medium heat, stirring occasionally. When the mixture starts to come to a simmer (do not boil), turn off the heat and allow to infuse for 10 to 15 minutes.
Whisk the eggs and sugar together in a large mixing bowl. Whisking constantly, slowly pour the hot cream mixture into the eggs. Do not pour too fast, otherwise the eggs will scramble. Strain into a large bowl to remove any cooked egg and the vanilla bean.
At this point, feel free to include any desired add-ins to the custard: dried fruit, nuts, chocolate chips, coconut, etc. Then add the bread cubes to the bowl, toss well, and let them soak in the egg-milk mixture until it’s all absorbed. Fold the mixture occasionally to ensure even soaking (it’s okay if there’s custard left in the bowl).
Divide the cubes among the ramekins or dump it all into the baking dish and pour any remaining custard over the top. Arrange the ramekins or baking dish in a roasting pan & create a water bath by pouring boiling water into the pan until it comes halfway up the sides of the custard cups or baking dish. (I like to do this while the pan is on the rack in the oven, which I’ve pulled out slightly).
Bake until set and golden brown on top, about 30 minutes for individual puddings and 40 to 45 minutes for one big pudding. Allow to cool before serving. You can make this dish ahead of time, cover & chill in the refrigerator.
Right before you serve the pudding, sprinkle the top evenly with the sugar in the raw. If you happen to have a kitchen torch, caramelize the sugar on top. Otherwise, set the broiler to high and put the pudding(s) on a rack as close to the heating element as you can. Keep a close eye on the pudding(s) and rotate them as necessary as certain parts will caramelize more quickly than others. Remove from the oven and serve.
For a quick sauce, combine confectioners’ sugar with any liquid. I use anything from milk to fruit juice to alcohol or even coffee syrups. Start with a cup of confectioners’ sugar and slowly add my liquid of choice until the sauce is to the desired consistency. If you make it too soupy, add more sugar. Ladle over slices of the bread pudding; you can also garnish with fresh fruit or nuts.