Artisan Breads Every Day, challah bread, Easter, egg dying, Egypt, Exodus, Israelites, Manna, Peter Reinhart, poppy seed bread, poppy seed challah, sabbath dinner, sesame seed bread, sesame seed challah, twelve tribes of Israel
Just after getting back from our trip to the States, Easter had arrived!
The husband unit and Mei spent the morning dying Easter eggs with a neat little Sesame Street kit that would allow you to transform the eggs into the main Sesame Street characters – and while it is a kind of cheap kit with cardboard cut-outs that require basically no skill, they still turned out really cute! Last year, we were in the States for Easter and Mei didn’t color any eggs, being all of four months old, but dressed up in a cute little denim dress and watched her cousins run from the sofa to the planters to the door frames, “finding” plastic eggs of varying size filled with anything from change to bits of candy and giggling.
So this year, it was fun for her to watch Daddy dip the eggs into the dyes and once they were dry, help to peel and stick on stickers and set them on their little cardboard platforms and “become” Cookie Monster, Elmo, Oscar, Abby Cadabby and Big Bird! She giggled with delight and enjoyed every step of the process. We had even bought her Elmo shaped Easter eggs to fill and hide but she was more interested in carrying them around and putting them in and out of her toy box then finding them – so we will save that part of Easter for next year.
While they were busy with the Easter eggs, I was busy braiding loaves of challah bread. Challah is a bread made with a large number of eggs and presented in two loaves at the beginning of the three Sabbath meals (Friday night, Saturday lunch, and late Saturday afternoon). The two loaves symbolize when the Manna fell from the heavens when the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years after the Exodus from Egypt. THe manna would fall the day before the Sabbath and each loaf was woven with six strands so that each of the loaves would have twelve bumps that represent each of the twelve tribes of Israel. The loaves are braided to symbolize love, and typically contain three, four or six strands while the loaves braided with three and five strands symbolize truth, peace and justice.
Often, if you are buying challah bread you will see the braided six strand loaves sprinkled with either sesame seeds or poppy seeds. Challah bread can be sweet with extra added honey if you like, or with just a touch of honey, it is just a very nice, somewhat dense loaf that is great for toasting, making into sandwiches or using for french toast. I absolutely love a good loaf of challah bread with almost anything. Today, I took what was left of the loaf and served it as a side to the tortelloni soup we made for lunch – and either which way, it was tasty! It would even make for a great bread for bread pudding!
This recipe requires between 8-10 eggs by weight and more for the two egg washes it endures before being baked. Just for decorative fancy, I chose to sprinkle my loaves with a combination of poppy and sesame seeds and it looked just festive enough to bring a smile each morning when we cut a slice. Even Mei would see us eating a slice of the challah bread and demand a piece for each hand after her morning banana! On any other day, she wouldn’t even bother with whatever we have chosen to have for breakfast, sticking with her banana and Special K cereal.
This is a great everyday loaf, but also great for adorning any holiday table! I chose to make one four braided loaf and a five braided loaf just for kicks and the loaves braid easily and rise quite a bit more than I expected! There is just something exciting about watching your loaves proof, then bake up golden, delicious and filling your house with a very house-warming scent with the first crack of the oven door. Enjoy this loaf, it takes a bit more work to shape, but it is a very impressive looking loaf in the end!
Ingredients: from Peter Reinhart’s “Artisan Breads Every Day”
- 2-1/4 C (18oz /510g) lukewarm water (about 95F or 35C)
- 1-1/2 TBS (0.5oz / 14g) instant yeast
- 8-10 egg yolks (6 oz / 170g), depending on weight
- 5 TBS (2.5oz / 71g) vegetable oil
- 6 TBS (3oz / 85g) sugar or 4-1/2 TBS honey or agave nectar
- 1 TBS (0.75oz / 21g) vanilla extract (optional)
- 7-1/2 C (34 oz/ 964g) unbleached bread flour
- 2-1/2 tsp (0.66oz / 19g) salt, or 4 tsp coarse kosher salt
- 1 egg white or whole egg, for egg wash
- 2 TBS water, for egg wash
- 2 TBS poppy seeds, sesame seeds or combination for garnish (optional)
Combine the water and yeast in a mixing bowl and stir with a whisk to dissolve. Add the egg yolks, oil, sugar, and vanilla and whisk lightly to break up the egg yolks, then add the flour and salt. If using a mixer, use the paddle attachment and mix on the lowest speed for 2 minutes. If mixing by hand, use a large spoon and stir for about 2 minutes. The dough should be coarse and shaggy. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.
Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium-low speed, or continue to mix by hand, using a large, wet spoon, for 4 minutes.
Use a bowl scraper to transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, then dust the top of the dough with flour. Lightly knead for 1-2 minutes, adding more flour as needed to prevent sticking. The dough should be soft, supple, and tacky but not sticky. Form the dough into a ball, place it in a clean, lightly oiled bowl, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Immediately refrigerate the dough overnight or for up to 4 days. It will double in size as it cools. (If you plan to bake the dough in batches over different days, you can portion the dough and place it into two or more oiled bowls at this stage.)
On Baking Day
Remove the dough from the refrigerator about 2 hours and 10 minutes before you plan to bake. Transfer it to a lightly floured work surface and cut it into the desired number of pieces to make strands for braiding, making sure all of the pieces are the same weight. Flatten each piece with your hand, then roll the pieces into a cigar or torpedo shape. Afer doing this with each piece, return to the first one and roll it out into a rope, 10-14 inches long (the bigger the piece of dough, the longer the rope) Make sure each rope is the same length.
You can make braided breads with 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 strands – or more. The most important principle in braiding loaves is to be sure each strand is the same weight and length. If you don’t have a scale, estimate the size as closely as possible. Also, keep in mind that the position numbers refer to the actual position of the strands on the counter, starting from your left, rather than to the particular strands; in other words the number of a given strand changes as it is moved during the braiding process. To form the strands, use the same gentle rocking motion as for shaping baguettes. For all braids, place the prettiest side up when you transfer to the baking sheet, then cover and proof.
2-Braid Loaf: lay two strands of equal weight and length on the work surface, perpendicular to one another and crossed in the center. Take both ends of the strand that’s underneath and cross them over to the opposite sides. Cross the ends of the other strand in the same way. Continue crossing and alternating until you get to the end of the strands, then pinch the tips together at each end to seal off the ends. Lay the braid on its side.
3-Braid Loaf: lay 3 strands of equal weight and length on the work surface, side by side, parallel to one another. Beginning int he middle of the loaf, overlap one of the outside strands over the middle strand, then take the opposite outside strand and cross it over the new middle strand. Continue this pattern until you get to the ends of the strands, then pinch the tips together to seal. Rotate the loaf so the unbraided side is facing you, then repeat the pattern on that end.
4-Braid Loaf: connect 4 strands of equal weight and length at one end, spreading the other ends out with the tips facing you. From the left, number the strands 1, 2, 3, and 4. Follow this pattern: 4 over 2, 1 over 3, and 2 over 3. Repeat until you get to the ends of the strands, then pinch the tips together to seal.
5-Braid Loaf: connect 5 strands of equal weight and length at one end, spreading th other ends out with the tips facing you. From the left, number the strands 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. Follow this pattern: 1 over 3, 2 over 3, and 5 over 2. Repeat until you get to the ends of the strands, then pinch the tips together to seal.
6-Braid Loaf: connect 6 strands of equal weight and length at one end, spreading th other ends out with the tips facing you. From the left, number the strands 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 and bring strand 6 over strand 1 to build up the end of the loaf. Strand 5 has now become the new strand 5, and the old strand 6 is now strand 1. Now follow this pattern: 2 over 6, 1 over 3, 5 over 1 and 6 over 4. Repeat this pattern until you get to the ends of the strands, then pinch the tips together to seal.
Once the loaves are braided, transfer them to a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat.
Make an egg wash by combining the egg white (or a whole egg) and the 2 TBS of water and whisking briskly until thoroughly combined. Brush the entire visible surface of the loaves with the egg wash, then refrigerate any remaining egg wash and let the loaves rise, uncovered, at room temperature for about 1 hour; they won’t rise very much during this time.
Brush with the egg wash again, then sprinkle on the optional seeds. Let the loaves rise at room temperature for about 1 hour, or until increased to about 1-1/2 times their original size.
About 15 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350F (177C) or 300F (149C) for a convection oven.
Bake for about 20 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for another 15-30 minutes, until the loaves sound hollow when thumped on the bottom and the internal temperature is about 190F/ 88C in the center. If you used a whole egg in the egg wash, the crust will get darker than with an egg white wash; don’t be fooled into thinking the bread is done until it passes the thump and temperature test. THe crust of the loaf will seem hard when it comes out of the oven, but it will soften as it cools. Cool on a wire rack for at least 45 minutes before slicing or serving.
** If you want to use whole eggs instead of yolks in the dough, reduce the water by 2 TBS per egg. The yolks are the key to the attractive color and also make a major contribution to the soft texture because they add fat and lecithin, which tenderize the bread. THe whites add protein; while that’s a good thing, they also dry out the bread. Also, feel free to add another TBS or so of honey or sugar if you prefer a sweeter bread.