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The Best Challah Yet!

I always love to take on challenges, so when I met my Jewish husband I decided that it would be necessary for me to learn to cook some of the traditional holiday foods. I especially made this a goal when we moved away from his family and wanted to make sure that he was still able to enjoy the dishes he grew up on. Of course it is easy to go to the store and buy many of these foods in easy to make boxed, jarred or frozen versions, but anyone who has placed these “foods” in their mouth knows that they can be down right disgusting and sometimes not even seem edible. So again, it would be a necessity to learn how to make some things from scratch.

Challah is actually one of the items you can find in most bakeries and can be down right delicious when bought from the store. Why wouldn’t I take the easy way out though? I would much rather take on the trial and errors of finding the perfect recipe, even if it does take hours to produce one loaf. Call me crazy, but I live for that sort of thing.

Luckily it seems that it has only taken me two recipes to find a version that we love. Last year I took a stab at Cook’s Illustrated version, which was recommended by Melissa from It’s Melissa’s Kitchen. It turned out great and everyone raved over it. For some reason though I was antsy to try out a different version this year and I turned to Smitten Kitchen. I hadn’t tried any of Deb’s recipes yet, but I had always drooled over them in my Google Reader. So, I decided to give her version a try. Boy am I glad that I did! Although I really enjoyed the Cook’s Illustrated version, I think Deb’s is the new favorite. I enjoyed the texture and consistency of hers a bit more. Not to discredit CI because this is obviously a personal preference and CI has never steered me wrong with anything else. I actually have an amazing cookie recipe coming soon that is one of theirs; so stay tuned for that.

Okay, so back to the challah. I loved everything about this challah, the flavor, the texture and the look. When I brought it to my husband’s family, they all raved over it and said it was better than Publix, so I took that as a good sign as well. The only problem I ran into with this version was the instructions for braiding it. My husband was nice enough to run upstairs mid braiding to find me a helpful video to follow. It made the braiding process incredibly easy and I recommend taking a look at it before you get started.

Oh, and can I mention that there is nothing much better than the smell of fresh baked challah slithering through your home.

challah whole

challah 2nd 3

Best Challah

courtesy of Smitten Kitchen

1 1/2 packages active dry yeast (1 1/2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon salt
8 to 8 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup raisins per challah, plumped in hot water and drained (optional)
Poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling (optional)

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water.

Whisk oil into yeast, then beat in 4 eggs, one at a time, with remaining sugar and salt. Gradually add flour. When dough holds together, it is ready for kneading. (You can also use a mixer with a dough hook for both mixing and kneading, but be careful if using a standard size KitchenAid–it’s a bit much for it, though it can be done.)

Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Clean out bowl and grease it, then return dough to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size. Dough may also rise in an oven that has been warmed to 150 degrees then turned off. Punch down dough, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour.

At this point, you can knead the raisins into the challah, if you’re using them, before forming the loaves. To make a 6-braid challah follow the instructions on this video for the braiding process (I personally did not have success following the written instructions from Smitten Kitchen).

Beat remaining egg and brush it on loaves. Either freeze breads or let rise another hour.

If baking immediately, preheat oven to 375 degrees and brush loaves again. Sprinkle bread with seeds, if using. If freezing, remove from freezer 5 hours before baking.

Bake in middle of oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden. (If you have an instant read thermometer, you can take it out when it hits an internal temperature of 190 degrees.) Cool loaves on a rack.

Note from Deb: Any of the three risings can be done in the fridge for a few hours, for more deeply-developed flavor. When you’re ready to work with it again, bring it back to room temperature before moving onto the next step.

Time: about 1 hour, plus 2 1/2 hours’ rising
Yield: 2 loaves

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Impressing the Bagel Snob

Who doesn’t love a great bagel?? The more important and often debated question is, what makes a great bagel? Some prefer the large, bread like bagels. Others, like my husband, prefer a bagel that has a nice crispness on the outside with a soft interior. This type is usually considered more of a NY style bagel. While I will take any bagel I can get my carbaholic fingers on, my husband on the other hand is a bagel snob. He is from NY and his uncle has been running his own bagel shops for years. Need I say more?

Well, I had been wanting to take a stab at homemade bagels for a while. I did a pretty good job with the Challah bread last year, so it was time to take on a new challenge. Of course I was really hoping to make a bagel my other half would be proud of. After looking over a number of recipes and knowing my reputation was on the line with my husband, I decided to go with the source that usually never disappoints, Cook’s Illustrated.

So the verdict? The bagel snob gave me a thumbs up!! Woo-hoo. He was actually down right impressed. He never expected to come downstairs and see bagels that looked as if I bought them from the local bagel shop. Of course my bagels don’t compare to those you will find in good old NYC, but I think I made the hubby proud.

Bagels

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bagels 4

Plain Bagels

Courtesy of Cook’s Illustrated

4 cups (22 ounces) high-gluten flour (I used bread flour)
2 tsp. salt
1 tbs. barley malt syrup (I used honey)
1 1/2 tsp. instant yeast
1 1/4 cups water (at 80 degrees)
Cornmeal for dusting the baking sheet (I used flour)

Mix the flour, salt, and honey (or barley malt) in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the yeast and water; mix at the lowest speed until the dough looks scrappy, like shreds just beginning to come together, about 4 minutes. increase the speed to medium-low; continue mixing until the dough is cohesive, smooth, and stiff, 8 to 10 minutes.

Turn the dough onto a work surface; divide it into 8 portions, about 4 ounces each. Roll the pieces into smooth balls and cover with a towel or plastic wrap to rest for 5 minutes.

Form each dough ball into a rope 11 inches long by rolling it under your outstretched palms (I found that dampening my hands made it easier to roll out). Do not taper the ends of the rope. Shape the rope into a circle, overlapping the ends of the rope about 1 1/2 inches. Pinch the overlapped area firmly together, dampening it slightly if the ends won’t stick. Place the ring of dough around your hand at the base of your fingers and, with the overlap under your palm, roll the dough ring several times, applying firm pressure to seal the seam. The dough ring should be roughly the same thickness all the way around. Dust a large baking sheet with cornmeal (or flour), place the dough rings on the sheet, cover lightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight ( 12 to 18 hours).

About 20 minutes before baking, remove the dough rings from the refrigerator. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 450 degrees. Pour the water into a large stockpot to a depth of 3 inches and bring the water to a rapid boil.

Working 4 at a time (or however many will fit in your pot), drop the dough rings into the boiling water, stirring and submerging them with a Chinese skimmer or slotted spoon, until very slightly puffed, 30 to 35 seconds (I let mine go for about a minute). Remove the dough rings from the water and transfer them to a wire rack, bottom-side down, to drain.

Transfer the boiled rings rough-side down to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake until deep golden brown and crisp, about 14 minutes. Use tongs to transfer to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

If you want to add toppings to your bagels, as I did, dunk the dough rings into your choice toppings while they are still wet and sticky (after you have removed them from the boiling water and allowed for draining).

Tips:
*I found that using my oven on convection helped make the bagels brown more evenly.

*I found that I preferred how they baked on parchment paper rather than on my silicone mats.

*This is more of an FYI, but these bagels also tend to hold a lot of moisture, so if you have leftovers and store them in a plastic bag they will most likely get a little moist from condensation. The second time I made these I even tried letting them sit out for quite a while before storing them and they still drew out condensation. It’s not the end of the world though.

*This recipe does give your mixer quite a workout, so keep an eye on it and make sure it doesn’t overheat.

Yields 8 bagels

Approximate Nutrition Facts (according to sparkrecipe.com)
Serving Size: 1 bagel
Calories: 234.6
Total Fat: 0.1 g
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Sodium: 582.6 mg
Carbohydrates: 47 g
Dietary Fiber: 2.5 g
Protein: 8.9 g
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Challah

I know this may seem like a sin, but I had never had Challah bread until I met my husband who just happens to be Jewish. Year’s ago when we started dating, it didn’t take me long at all to fall in love with some of his family’s traditional holiday food. Challah has to be at the top of the list as one of my favorites though.

Since Greg and I have been together for over eight years, I have spent many Jewish holiday’s with his family and traditionally they had store bought challah. When Greg and I moved away for a couple of year’s, I wanted to make sure that he was still able to have his traditional food when the holiday’s rolled around, so I taught myself how to make some of the dishes. When it came to the challah, I bought the frozen dough and made it that way. It was very yummy and it seemed a bit more homemade to me than the store bought version.

Well, this past year I decided that I was going to take a stab at making homemade challah and bring it to his mom’s house for everyone to “hopefully” enjoy. I was able to get a wonderful recipe from the blog, It’s Melissa’s Kitchen. Hers looked beautiful and I was hoping that I would be able to make something that looked at least half as good. So with my fingers crossed I headed into the kitchen for my attempt at challah.

Mine didn’t turn out quite as perfect looking as hers did, but for my first attempt I was pretty impressed and happy with the way that it did turn out! Luckily it tasted great too and was a big hit with the family. His grandmother still compliments me on the challah and how she can’t wait to have it again.

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Fresh Baked Challah

courtesy of It’s Melissa’s Kitchen
3-3 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1/4 cup sugar
1 envelope instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 1/4 tsp. salt
2 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
4 tbs. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup plus 1 tbs. warm water (about 110 degrees)
1 large egg white (for the egg wash)

Whisk together 3 cups of flour, sugar, yeast, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Mix together 2 eggs, egg yolk, melted butter and 1/2 cup of water in bowl of standing mixer fitted with the dough hook (note: I did not have a stand mixer at the time and made this recipe fine without it). Add flour mixture to the wet mixture. Knead at low speed until dough ball forms, about 5 minutes, adding remaining 1/4 cup flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, as needed to prevent dough from sticking. Whisk the reserved egg white with remaining 1 tbs. water in a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Transfer dough to a very lightly oiled large bowl, turning dough over to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Gently press dough to deflate, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size again, 40 to 60 minutes.

Lightly grease a large baking sheet and set aside. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. Divide dough into 2 pieces, one roughly half the size of the other. (Small piece will weigh about 9 ounces, larger piece about 18 ounces). Divide large piece into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a 16-inch long rope, about 1 inch in diameter. Line up ropes of dough side by side and pinch ends together. Proceed to braid the three ropes together, then pinch ends to seal. Place braid on baking sheet. Divide smaller piece of dough into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a 16-inch long rope, about 1/2 inch diameter. Braid together, pinching ends to seal. Brush some egg wash on top of larger loaf and place small braid on top of the larger braid. Loosely drape loaf with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until loaf becomes puffy and increases in size by a third, 30 to 45 minutes.

Adjust oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Brush loaf with remaining egg wash. Bake until loaf is golden brown and instant-read thermometer inserted into side of loaf reads 190 degrees, 30 to 40 minutes. Place baking sheet on wire rack. Cool loaf completely before slicing.

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