Sunday, April 22, 2012

What's Baking: Challah and Pain Polka

It's that time again--another What's Baking? post! The challenge this month was to bake something involving yeast. Despite having made pizza dough last night, I decided to bake TWO things with yeast because I just love carbs that much.

And I have a confession to make--despite that love of carbs, I had never eaten challah before today. This presented a slight problem as I was making it--I knew that it was going to be a rich, brioche-like bread, but having never tasted it, I had to just trust in my recipe *gasp* with no intuition for texture. I've also only braided dandelions before, having only ever had fairly short hair, so doing a 4-plait braid took a couple of attempts. But if I can do it, you certainly can!

Without further ado, the recipes:

Recipe from Christine Ingram and Jennie Shapter's The Bread and Bread Machine Bible

1.25 pounds flour (you should use bread flour; I was out of vital wheat gluten so I used plain AP)
2 tsp salt
.75 oz fresh yeast (I used dried and cut the amount down)
1 cup lukewarm water
2 Tbsp caster/superfine sugar (I used normal granulated)
2 eggs
6 Tbsp butter/marg, melted and cooled slightly (I used marg because I'm a cheapskate)

Proof yeast in a bit of the water with the sugar.  Stir the flour and salt together.  If you're doing this by hand, make a well and start adding the liquid ingredients to form a soft dough.  If you're doing this in a mixer, you can just start off with the dough hook (no paddle necessary) and add the yeast-water, eggs, and butter (make sure it's not still hot).  Knead for 10 min by hand or 6 min by mixer (low to medium speed).
Let rise 1 hour, then punch it down and let rise another hour.  This is a good time to go grocery shopping, say, if you used up your last eggs on the dough and need another for the glaze.

Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces (if you're doing a 4-plaited braid; you can do more or fewer if you wish).  Stretch/roll them to about 18 inches in length--I just went by the length of my cookie sheet (smaller than a half sheet); I think they were about 1.25 inches in diameter at this point.

Squeeze one end of each strand together to form the end of the braid.  Now imagine that going from right to left, your strands are A-B-C-D (so D-C-B-A).  Move A over B and C over D.  Then take D (your original D, not the new left-most strand) and pull it over top so that it's between A and B.  Now relabel the strands A-B-C-D (D-C-B-A) and repeat.  Squeeze together the ends of the braid (it's okay if one strand is longer; it brings it to a nice taper) and let proof another 30-45 minutes.

Mix an egg yolk with 1 Tbl water and brush onto your proofed plait.  Sprinkle with poppy seeds if you like and bake at 400 degrees for about 30-40 min, until just browned.  I usually poke my breads with a thermometer to be sure--if they've hit 200 degrees, they're done (99% of the time).  Soft breads like challah and brioche are done at a lower temp.

The verdict?  I'm not sure if this is what challah is supposed to taste like, but it's darned good.  I cut off a bit of the end to check out the crumb, and upon trying said piece, I was surprised to see how light it is.  It's not that much butter in there, and although the crumb looks dense it's quite springy and soft, like a nice dinner roll.  I've heard that challah makes killer French toast, so if there are leftovers, that's where this is going!

Pain Polka
Recipe from Christine Ingram and Jennie Shapter's The Bread and Bread Machine Bible

8 oz leftover dough (I used some leftover pizza dough from last night), divided into pieces
.25 oz fresh yeast (again, I used dried and cut this amount down)
1-1.25 cups lukewarm water (I used just over 1 but my pizza dough was pretty hydrated)
16 oz bread flour (again, I used AP)
1 Tbsp salt

I neglected Christine and Jennie's directions for mixing and just went on the basic "flour + proofed yeast-water + other ingredients," mixed it a bit, then threw in my dough pieces and kneaded for 4-5 minutes in my mixer until the dough became smooth.

Let rise in a bowl for about 1.5 hours, then punch down on a lightly floured surface and shape into a ball.  Place on baking sheet and let rise for another hour until doubled.

Sprinkle flour over the top of the loaf and cut the boule fairly deeply in perpendicular direction. Be careful with your slashing motion to get a consistent depth across the loaf.

Because I didn't.
Let rest for 10 minutes, then bake on a baking stone (if possible) in a preheated 450 degree oven for 20-30 minutes or until browned.  If you have a spritzer bottle, spray the oven several times in the first 15 min of baking.  If you don't you can put a dish with ice cubes/cold water in the bottom of your oven to generate steam.  Using the baking stone cut the time down to about 20 minutes for me. 

You probably noticed that both these recipes come from the same book.  I bought it several years ago (2009 edition) when I started baking bread.  There's a new edition coming out in July which you can preorder on Amazon for $13 at present.   I've only made a handful of recipes from this book as I rarely use cookbooks, but the Georgian Khatchapuri recipe is another one that is to die for--I think I've made it 6 times now.  Disclaimer: I don't know the authors and don't profit personally from the sale of the book or you clicking the link provided.  I just think it's a informative, well-illustrated book with some great formulas in there.