We eat a lot of bread in our house. Considering the price difference between buying organic bread and making it, I choose to make it. I usually make bread with a mixture of organic whole wheat flour and organic all-purpose flour. Sometimes you just want white bread. This past week, that is what happened to me, but I didn’t want just any white bread. I wanted challah. There are certain breads that, when enriched with eggs, turn out like velvet. The texture is so lovely! And the flavor, no less so. Challah is one of those breads.
I have made challah once or twice in the past, but didn’t like how it turned out. This week I decided I would try some different recipes. I actually tried only two. And I didn’t follow them exactly as stated. Both loaves turned out well, with the velvety texture and rich flavor, but I preferred the second one I made. In the first one, I used organic, virgin coconut oil and organic coconut sugar. In the second one, I used organic extra-virgin olive oil and organic honey. I could really taste the honey in the bread, so make sure you use a honey with a really good flavor. I considered not using honey, since I have read conflicting opinions on whether or not honey should be heated and to what extent. As far as I’m concerned, the jury is still out on that issue, so I went for it.
So if you haven’t made my other bread recipe, and you are still thinking that you can’t make bread, this one is really worth a shot. This one is a little more tricky, but it’s still not rocket science. You too can make really great tasting bread at home. I used to be terrified of making bread. I never thought I would be one to make bread on a regular basis. I’m so glad that I was forced into it at a job I had about 10 years ago, so I came to realize that it really isn’t that difficult. Like most breads, this challah has very little hands-on time. Mostly, there is a lot of rising time, where you can get other things accomplished.
Once the bread is made, and if you don’t eat it all the first day, you can use part of the leftovers to make some of the most delicious French toast you have ever had! I’m going to tell you how to make both. If you make the French toast, and you don’t already have four people living in your house, then be sure to invite people over. They will be impressed and very grateful that you shared!
For the challah you will need:
- 2 tsp. of instant yeast
- 16 3/4 oz. or 3 1/2 cups of organic all-purpose flour
- 2 oz. or 1/4 cup of lukewarm water
- 1/4 cup of organic extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 organic large eggs
- 1/4 cup of organic honey
- 2 tsp. of sea salt
For the egg wash you will need:
- 1 organic large egg
- 1 1/2 tsp. water
- 1 1/2 tsp. organic honey
I used my Kitchen-Aid mixer with the paddle attachment to do this part. You could also do it in a regular bowl and mix with a sturdy wooden spoon or silicone spatula. Preheat your oven to the warm setting. Once it has reached the warm temperature, turn it off. In your mixing bowl, combine the yeast, 1/2 cup or about 2 oz. of the flour and the lukewarm water. Stir to combine. It will still be lumpy. This mixture is called a sponge. Place this sponge in your slightly warm oven for 15 to 20 minutes.
While you are waiting, you can get all of your other ingredients together, if you hadn’t already done that. Combine olive oil, eggs, and honey in a small bowl or measuring cup. Combine the remaining 14 3/4 oz. or 3 cups of flour and 2 tsp. sea salt in a bowl. Also, you will want to have a large bowl oiled and ready for the dough to rise. Once the sponge is ready, add the oil mixture and beat. Next add your flour mixture and beat until well combined. This dough is nothing like the dough of the baguettes from my earlier blog. This dough is really thick and likes to stick to the bowl. Make sure you have a clean work surface to knead the dough a little bit. Put a little bit of olive oil (about a tablespoon or so) on this work surface so that the dough doesn’t stick to it. Scrape the dough out of the mixing bowl onto your work surface. It doesn’t hurt to have a little oil on your hands too so the dough doesn’t stick to them either. I hate sticky dough sticking to my hands! Knead the dough around a bit on the work surface until it sucks up all of the oil. Pick up the dough and shape into a ball. Put it in your oiled bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and put it in your oven for two hours. Set a timer and go find something to do for two hours.
Make your egg wash by beating the egg, water and honey together in a small bowl. Get two cookie sheets, one stacked on top of the other. The double layer will keep your challah from over browning on the bottom. You can either use parchment paper, a silicone mat or just grease your pan really well. When the two hours are up, get your dough. Sprinkle your work surface with a little bit of flour, so it won’t stick. Scrape your dough out onto your work surface. Cut it into three equal pieces. Roll these pieces into three ropes of equal length, not longer than the pan you are going to use to bake it. Put three ends together and pinch them together and tuck the end under. Now, leaving the middle piece straight down the center, take the other two sides and cross them over the top of the center piece. Next, lift up the center piece and cross the two side strands underneath. Continue on crossing over and under until you get to the end. Once again at the end, pinch the three ends together and tuck it under. You should now have a challah braid. Gently lift your braided loaf onto your prepared pan. Now, take a small paint or pastry brush and paint the entire surface of your challah lightly with your egg wash. Poke the surface of the dough all over with a toothpick. This will keep you from getting weird irregular air bubbles that will make your challah look and bake weird. Once again, put your dough into the oven to rise for at least two hours. Now what are you going to do with yourself for another two hours? Watch a movie? Don’t forget to set your timer.
When the two hours are finished, take the dough out of the oven and preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Brush your loaf all over with the egg wash again. This will give your challah a beautiful color and sheen. Once the oven is preheated, put your dough in the oven for 20 minutes. Rotate the pan and put it back in the oven for another 20 minutes. Keep and eye on it. If your challah looks like it is the perfect color, but still has 10 or 15 minutes of baking time left, make a foil tent and place it over your loaf for the rest of the baking time. When it is finished, remove it from the oven and put it on a cooling rack to cool completely. This is a bread that is best a room temperature. In our house, we eat this bread sliced as is with nothing else on it. The flavor and texture is fantastic!
If you have any challah left over, you can make French toast! Here’s how:
Make eight 1/2 inch thick slices of challah and lay them out separately to dry out slightly while you get the rest of your ingredients together. If you have an immersion (stick) blender, use it to combine these ingredients, otherwise use a regular blender or a bowl and a whisk. Blend together the following ingredients and then put them into a large, shallow bowl or pie plate.
- 1 tsp. organic cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. organic nutmeg (I used freshly grated)
- 2 Tbsp. organic sugar
- 4 organic large eggs
- 1/2 cup organic whole milk
Heat a heavy stainless steel skillet over low-medium heat. It’s better to opt for lower heat and not have your challah burn. You can always up the heat later if it isn’t not hot enough. Add a tablespoon of butter to the skillet and let it melt and cover the bottom. Soak two slices of challah at a time in your egg mixture. Flip and soak on the other side. You’ll need to soak each side for at least two minutes. Pick up the slices and let the excess egg drip off. Place the slices in the skillet, put a lid on the skillet and let cook for about two to three minutes. Flip the bread to cook on the other side and put the lid back on. Let it cook another two or three minutes. Use your judgement on the heat, time and toastiness of your bread. You’ll want to make sure it is done all the way through, but not burnt. While you are cooking your French toast in the skillet, have the next two slices of bread bathing in the egg mixture, awaiting their turn in the frying pan. Before long, you’ll have eight slices of beautiful challah French toast. I served ours with maple butter syrup. I just heated up as much organic maple syrup as I thought we would need and melted about a half of a tablespoon of organic butter into it. Pour over your challah French toast and enjoy!!