Mother’s Day, as we all know, is the most important holiday of May. If you disagree, well, I won’t tell your momma. But for this country bumpkin, it’s an important day to recognize …
Mother’s Day, as we all know, is the most important holiday of May. If you disagree, well, I won’t tell your momma. But for this country bumpkin, it’s an important day to recognize all the matriarchs of the family tree and be sure they know they’re appreciated. As I began to plan for each of them, however, it became clear that individual plans for each might exhaust what little time and resources I had available. In response to this, I hatched a plan to utilize a cookie-cutter technique with a personal twist—the twist being in the very nature of the culinary gift that I planned to distribute to the moms in the family. Being a writer, I also couldn’t help but take advantage of the opportunity to exploit an idiom. Since all moms at one point had a bun in the oven, I thought it appropriate to bake some for them for this past Mother’s Day. You might ask how the twist I mentioned comes into play. Well, last year I discovered the deliciousness that is challah bread, which is typically a braided bread, be it one strand, two, three, etc. I’ve seen as many as six strands used to form a golden challah loaf, but I’m sure with a little creativity it wouldn’t be too difficult to exceed even that.
I’m a huge fan of bread recipes and the various flour products from King Arthur Baking Company. The recipes there are very user-friendly to new bakers, and the flour seems to be a more forgiving product to use in varying humidities and, in my opinion, adds just a little extra flavor to your bread. As far as bread goes, its not a difficult recipe if you have a few hours and a sturdy stand mixer. You could hand-knead the dough yourself, but it is a very sticky dough before it has begun to form up, and I personally don’t like losing dough to my hands or work surface. My wife and I have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer with a bread hook that takes the level of effort from hand kneading down to a matter of patience. Another reason I prefer using the mixer is that I can more closely monitor the dough’s elasticity and consistency. It takes a good 10 minutes or more at a medium setting to get it where it should be. I like to see the dough start to climb the hook and cleanly absorb all the flour etc. from the sides of the bowl.
Once you’ve effectively made your dough, the hardest part is the waiting. There’s a short wait time prior to making your dough as you allow the yeast to activate in the starter for no less than 15 minutes, but after you’ve brought the complete dough ball together, it needs to rise under cover for about two hours. Then you can punch it down and cut it into your strand portions before rolling out your ropes and doing the fun part, which is to braid the loaf. If you can braid a string, you can braid dough. Any pattern is fine, and I normally prefer the three-strand pattern like you would use to braid hair. This time, however, I opted to make smaller buns for each of the moms using a single strand, which is basically a half knot that continues to loop through itself a couple times. After braiding the dough, I set them out under plastic on a tray to bench proof (yes more waiting) before brushing with egg wash and baking. You can make lots of variations of this recipe by playing with the proofing time and adding a seed topping or braiding/sculpting the dough to your preference, but in the end, it all comes down to that light golden bread.
Whether you’re baking for your mom or for yourself, challah bread is a great recipe to tuck in your back pocket. The way out here, we take pride in the craft of whatever we do. Even—if not specially—in baking, there are opportunities for our inner artist to do what our moms always told us not to do. Well, in this case at least, it’s a good thing to play with your food. Happy belated Mother’s Day to all the moms reading this.
Courtesy of www.kingarthurbaking.com
1 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 cup water, lukewarm
2 teaspoons instant yeast
Use all of the starter
3 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs and 1 yolk (save 1 egg white for the glaze, below)
1 egg white, saved from dough preparation
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon water
Poppy or sesame seeds, optional
To make the starter, begin by weighing your flour, or measure it by gently spooning it into a cup then sweep off any excess. Mix the flour, water and yeast together in a large bowl or the bucket of a bread machine. Let the mixture sit for about 45 minutes.
For the dough, add the dough ingredients to the starter and mix and knead together—by hand, mixer or bread machine—until a smooth, supple dough is formed. This dough is a pleasure to work with; smooth and silky, it almost feels like you’re rubbing your hands with lotion.
Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning it over once to coat it lightly with oil. Cover it and let it rise for 1 1/2 hours, or until it’s not quite doubled in size.
To shape the dough, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and fold it over once or twice to expel the carbon dioxide. Divide the dough into four pieces and roll each into a snake about 18 inches long.
On the lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, begin braiding.
In a small bowl, make the glaze by mixing together the reserved egg white, sugar and water. Brush the loaf, reserving some for a second application.
Cover the loaf with lightly greased plastic wrap and allow it to rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until it’s almost doubled in size. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
To bake the loaf, brush the loaf with the remaining glaze (this will give the finished loaf a beautiful, shiny crust, as well as provide “glue” for the seeds), sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the challah is golden brown, slightly firm to the touch and the internal temperature is 195 degrees.
Remove the bread from the oven and cool completely before slicing.
Store completely cool bread, well wrapped, at room temperature for several days; freeze for longer storage.