Recipe #14: Challah

Being in the kitchen for me is not about the act of keeping myself fed, that’s just the benefit. For me it’s the act of creating a dish that brings me joy. Whether it be attempting a new recipe, playing around with new ingredients, or whipping up a dish I know in my sleep. I find cooking and baking one of the most enjoyable activities.

Over the past few months in an effort to take this activity and focus on it to hone my skills and expand my abilities, I have become more adventures, and taken on new challenges. Which is how I found myself in Food52’s facebook baking club and how I ended up taking on Challah.

Each month, members in the club are encouraged to try recipes from a specific cookbook. I am not sure how long the group has existed, it may have begun back in March. And the cookbook they were diving into when I joined was my favorite Dorie’s Cookies. I had so much fun looking through it and picking the cookies to make, which ended up being a total of 4. And with the guidance of the club and seeing everyone’s different experience I knew I would have to try a recipe from this month’s book: Uri Scheft’s Breaking Breads.

Uri Scheft is an Israeli baker who spent his youth in both Israel and Denmark and now lives in the US and Israel. Breaking Breads at first introduces the baker to Israeli breads, what Uri grew up baking, and slowly expands to include breads baked all over the world.

When May begun, someone asked in the group what the easiest bread from the book would be to try. With Challah being the suggestion, I knew that would also be my first attempt. I have very little experience baking bread, so every recipe felt overwhelming, but this suggestion was a good direction.

The recipe, at 3 pages in length, looked very overwhelming. But the length was due to Uri’s detailed description of every part of the process. Including how to roll the dough into ropes. He suggests in the introduction that when making a recipe from his book you should first read through the entire recipe. Following his suggestion, I did just that, feeling confident that with his detailed instructions my Challah could be a success.

The dough came out really well, and the first knead and rise occurred without little problems. That said, I am not 100% sure if I should have let the dough rise a little longer during the first rise.

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Shaping the loaves of Challah was probably the most challenging. There are excellent and detailed photos that accompany the recipe, and these were extremely helpful. But even with the detailed instructions and the photos, I felt that my ropes of dough were not the right shape, and that affected when they were braided together. In the book, the above shot made the loaves appear similar to the shape of the eye, while mine were more loaf like. But hey, this is something that I can work on, and the bread could still taste good.

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After their final rise, taking longer than Uri’s instructed time — which I hear is common when making bread — they were popped in the oven. Once they reached their golden brown color and cooled, I tore off a piece, which came off the loaf in a beautiful way, and it tasted delicious! I have never been one to just want to eat bread plain, but it was incredible. The recipe was also large and made 3 full sized loaves, so I froze 2 for future use.

And the best part about pulling them out of the oven, was that I could tell by how the dough had torn a little, it needed to rise a little more during the second rise. I am not an expert, I lucked out. A few days before I tried Challah, Uri did a Q & A on Food52, and he mentioned that if the dough was underproofed it will tear.

After this attempt of Challah I see more bread making in the future, especially because I was able to tell where I could have improved my approach. And maybe also with more of Uri’s recipes.

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