Monday, March 10, 2008

Cookbook Series: Challah from Baking With Julia



I've done challah before. I have yet to perfect my technique with it. My past efforts have resulted in breads that were too dry, too glutenous, too moist (that was pretty good, actually). I'd been using the recipe from Labensky and Hause's On Cooking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals, but this time, I decided to try the one from Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

For my generation, cooking legends aren't what they used to be. My mother, however, is a passionate fan of Jacques Pepin, Julia Child, and Madeleine Kamman (known simply as "Madeleine" to Mom). Thank goodness, because I can borrow her cookbooks. Between her books and my own ragtag collection, I am hoping to write a series where I try recipes from various books.

This book is a compilation of recipes featured on Julia Child's PBS show of the same name. The baker who provided the challah recipe is Lauren Groveman.

The recipe calls for high-gluten flour, bread flour, or unbleached all-purpose flour. I had about 4 cups of bread flour left, so the rest was unbleached all-purpose. I am taking a small risk by mixing the flours, but since the recipe wasn't too specific, I figured it didn't have a huge impact on the result. Plus, I had a lot of different flours and I wanted to use as much of my stock as I could.

The yeast is revived in warm water. One thing about yeast: buy a thermometer. Use it. Don't let the tip touch the container, but keep it solidly immersed in the water. This recipe called for 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit and the yeast I had worked best from 90-110 degrees. I have committed yeast genocide by heating my water too hot, so it's best to measure carefully.


I cheat on the kneading by using my stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. I found it's best to not let the machine do all the work or else the bread can be overworked, which makes it tough. I like to incorporate everything with the machine on the "stir" setting, then let it knead until the dough starts to pull from the sides of the bowl. Then, I dump it out on a floured board and finish it by hand.

Challah dough is very moist and sticky. During one of my first attempts, I kept adding flour to dry it out so I could work with it. Needless to say, the bread was dry and tough. Keep the surface and hands floured and it will be fine.

Since the mixer did the majority of the required kneading, all I had to do was give it a few turns with my hands and neatly round out the dough. Look for it to be smooth, elastic, and with a few blister-like bubbles on the surface. Do not beat the shit out of the dough.

After two rises (about 2 1/2 hours total), the dough was ready for braiding. It's partitioned into three equal pieces.

Eyeballing works or one can be really anal and weigh each piece. I tend to be a little off when I eyeball, so one hunk of dough is a little bigger than the other two. Roll each piece into a tube and braid. This recipe offered an excellent suggestion: start the braid from the middle of the tubes. Work to one end, turn the bread around, and finish braiding to the other end.

The one thing that was off about this recipe was the baking time. At least, that was the case with my oven. It said to proof the dough (the last stage where the dough is shaped, then left to rise one last time), brush it with egg wash, then bake for 20 minutes. Take the breads out and brush the expanded dough with more egg wash, then bake for another 20 minutes. I should have halved that second bake time, because after 40 minutes total, the challah was overdone. It was a bit dry, but tasted pretty good.

Cross-section:

It was a bit too dry to eat straight, so we're going to use it for things like toast, paninis, and French toast. Tonight's dinner: paninis with soup and salad.

This week's CSA box had heads of frisee, so I washed the leaves, topped them with a mix of candied walnuts and plain walnuts, then drizzled Newman's Own Raspberry Walnut Vinegarette over it. Fantastic stuff, especially since it's store-bought. D.'s mom E., who introduced us to this salad, adds slices of pear to it, but we didn't have any on hand.

The paninis were filled with ham, sharp cheddar from grass-fed cow's milk, sharp provolone, and havarti. Soup was roasted red-pepper/tomato (Pacific Natural Foods, organic, available in grocery stores and in bulk from Costco) with Trader Joe's smoked corn and teaspoons of dried oregano, marjoram, parsley, black pepper, and onion flakes.

8 bites:

KirkK said...

Hey GF - Look mighty pretty...and tasty!

moowiesqrd said...

Thanks, Kirk!

Kim in the Kitchen said...

I know I've said it before, but you really could be a food stylist! The picture of your panini is gorgeous! I think the salad helps a lot. Maybe that's why my plates look so boring...no colorful veggies:)

moowiesqrd said...

Awww, thanks, Kim! I've been using the macro setting on my camera a lot lately. It really helps bring out the details of closeup shots. Honestly, I've been so inspired by other food blogs and pictures in cookbooks in magazines. Macro setting and funky angles... that's really how I've been doing it.

Nicole from Pinch My Salt has some great links to Food Photography articles.

Food Photography

White On Rice Couple said...

Your series of pictures are so inspiring! Love the ending with the grilled sandwich!

Liz said...

Yum! challah French toast is tasty.

Deborah Dowd said...

I love challah bread and I haven't made it in years. Maybe I'll do some baking this weekend! Thanks for the inspiration!

moowiesqrd said...

White on Rice- Thanks! I'm glad that you liked it!

Liz- I brought one of the loaves with me on vacation and will make creme brulee French toast tomorrow. Love challah as French toast.

Deborah- Awww, thanks! Hope yours turns out fabulously!

8 bites