My friend Anna is a terrible influence. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about her, usually by her nickname “culinary-school-dropout.” Even though she didn’t finish the program with me, Anna still loves food and loves to cook and is usually the person accompanying me to various small, ethnic restaurants around the city. The other thing you need to know about Anna is that she’s obsessed with buying cookbooks, that’s where the bad influence comes in.
Last week we ate lunch at TAC Quick (the most amazing tom kha soup, by the way). Afterwards Anna suggested going to Borders to look at the cookbooks. I agreed but on the condition that she didn’t allow to buy any (I have plenty, too). After an hour and a half of browsing the cooking section, I was hooked on a new book that I just HAD to have: The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion: the All-Purpose Baking Cookbook. This purchase was a necessity, I didn’t have any good all-around baking books, besides, Anna bought two!
There are many recipes in the book that I can’t wait to try: the blueberry buckle, herbed dumplings, whole wheat loaf, fudge drops, etc. But I decided to start with my sister’s favorite bread: challah.
Although I’ve made challah before, I didn’t have a recipe I truly liked. The one we followed in culinary school bastardized this enriched bread by adding lemon and orange zest – ugh. For me, a great challah should be soft, slightly sweet, and void of any add-ins like zest or raisins. And the few other recipes I’ve tried were a little ‘eh.
So, how did the King Arthur recipe compare? For that I’d have to refer you to my sister, the challah expert, who wrote: “It was very good. I only got a few pieces before Jeff managed to eat it all. I really like it and thought it was sweet. It has my expert seal of approval.”
On that note, here’s the recipe, which is truly much easier to make than it may seem:
Challah, from “The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion,” makes 1 very large loaf
1 cup (4 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup (8 ounces) water
2 teaspoons yeast (instant or active dry)
3 1/2 cups (14 3/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup (2 3/8 ounces) sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs plus 1 yolk
1 egg white
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon water
Begin by making the sponge: Mix the flour, water and yeast together in a large bowl (I like to use the bowl of a stand mixer) and let it sit for 45 minutes to 1 hour in a warm place.
To make the dough, mix the ingredients with the sponge and knead together with your hands or a mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment. Knead until it becomes silky smooth. Lightly coat the outside of the dough with oil and place in a bowl. Cover with a damp towel and let rise for 1 1/2 hours or until it has doubled in size.
Lightly dust the counter or work surface with flour. Turn the dough onto the counter and fold it over once or twice so it deflates a bit. Divide the dough into three or four equal pieces (I prefer four) and roll each into a long rope about 3/4 to 1-inch wide. On a Silpat or lightly-greased parchment-lined baking sheet, braid the dough in either a three or four-strand braid. (See four-strand braid below.)
Mix together all the ingredients for the egg wash. Use a pastry brush to lightly coat the bread, reserving at least half of the wash. Lightly cover the loaf with plastic wrap and let sit 45 minutes to 1 hour or until almost doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Brush the loaf a second time with the egg wash and bake 30 to 40 minutes until the challah is lightly browned. Remove the bread from the oven and let cool before slicing.