At the beginning of December my mom and I flew to New York City to close down my apartment and to take a week long Artisanal Bread Course at the French Culinary Institute. During the week we learned how to properly mix, ferment, shape, proof, score, and bake breads. We also learned the critical importance of dough temperatures and techniques for accurate calculation. We made a variety of breads during the week, including baguettes, bagels and flatbread, brioche and challah, viennoiseries and croissants, traditional loaf breads, pizza, focaccia, and ciabatta.
This past week for Chanukah I wanted to recreate one of my favourite breads that I learned in the class, “Challah.” It is rich, slightly sweet, and looks beautiful because of the braids that it is baked in. The braids symbolize the interviewing of the heaven, earth, and mankind with God. It is the perfect bread to serve at a holiday meal and would even be great to eat with honey or jam in the morning.
Recipe from Fundamental Techniques of Classic Bread Baking by the French Culinary Institute
makes 4 three strand braided loafs
964 grams All-purpose flour
289 grams cold water
164 grams whole egg, at room temperature
116 grams egg yolk, at room temperature
39 grams honey
12 grams instant yeast
21 grams salt
67 grams sugar
111 grams vegetable oil
butter for greasing bowls
flour for dusting
1 large egg for egg wash
Combine the flour, water, whole egg, egg yolks, honey, yeast, and salt in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitter with the hook. Mix on low speed for about 5 minutes, or until the dough starts to become shaggy (mixed, but not smooth in texture). Add the sugar, and continue to mix for 3 minutes. Increase the mixer speed to medium and mix for 5 minutes. Decrease the mixer seed to low and add the oil in a slow steady stream, mixing until fully incorporated. Lightly butter a large bowl or container. Scrape the dough into the prepared bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic film and set aside to ferment for 45 minutes.
Uncover, fold, and gently press on the dough to degas. Again, cover with plastic film and set aside to ferment for 45 minutes.
Lightly flour a clean, flat work surface. Uncover the dough and divide it on the floured surface into twelve 150-gram / 5.25-ounce logs for 3 strand braids. Cover with plastic film and bench rest for 15 minutes. Line the sheet pans with parchment paper. Uncover the dough and, if necessary, lightly flour the work surface. Carefully roll each piece of dough into a neat cigar-shaped log about 14 inches (35 centimeters) long. Working quickly to keep the dough from drying out.
To make a 3-strand braid, place 3 strands parallel to each other. Starting at the center, bring one outside strand over the center of the middle strand. Grab the other outside strand and fold it over the new middle strand (noting that the first outside strand has become the middle strand.) Repeat this process until you reach the end of the strands. Pinch these ends together. Flip the braided strands over so that finished section is away from you. Continue braiding as before to completely braid the loaf. Roll each end gently to seal.
To make the egg wash, combine the egg with 14 grams / 1 tablespoon water in a small bowl, whisking to blend.
Place two loaves on each of the prepared sheet pans. Using a pastry brush, lightly coat the top of each loaf with the egg wash. (Do not discard the remaining egg wash.) Cover with plastic and proof for 1.5 hours. About an hour before you are ready to bake the loaves, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Uncover the dough and again, using a pastry brush, lightly coat the of each loaf with the remaining egg wash.
Transfer the pans to the preheated oven. Bake for 35 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and shiny and sides feel firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and transfer to wire racks to cool.