Honoring my Jewish friends near and far, I was inspired to try my hand at challah this year. Hannukah drew to a close last evening and I am delighting in the warm, yeasty smell that still pervades my little home.
This was my first time making challah bread. In the past, yeast doughs and I have not been friends. Maybe it was an issue of the weather that day, or my yeast being old, or killing the yeast in process, or maybe just plain ol’ operator error… Who’s to know? It’s all possible. This time. This time was different.
I typically use gluten free cup-for-cup flour in my house due to personal preference, but I have not quite mastered a good gf yeast dough. That said, I bought a small bag, enough for one loaf and kneading, of the regular white flour we all know and love. Also, I used a less-than traditional, yet equally good recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens Bridal Edition Cookbook. This cookbook is one I received when I got married and it’s also one I in turn give many times for wedding gifts. It has a terrific selection of classic recipes we all grew up eating, but slightly updated and fairly taste-adaptable for the modern bride (and groom)! I used the more laborious hand-knead method (because there’s no better way to de-stress than to work over some amazing-smelling dough), but you can click here for a great food-processor method!
I was so excited when the loaf rose not once, but both times! The second rise is when I can usually tell whether magic is going to happen or if I’m going end up with something too dense and too hard to want to claim as my own. The next test was the braiding. You always want your individual pieces/strips of dough to bake together as one while still maintaining the pretty pattern you’ve created. When braiding loaves, many bakers recommend you begin the process at the center of your loaf and braiding outward. I began mine slightly north of the middle, but was still quite pleased with how it turned out.
Another good tip I learned was to freeze your yeast if you aren’t going to use it all right away. I love to bake and sometimes I would buy a three pack for a project and only use one out of the three and the other two would inevitably expire. I learned this tip not too long ago and it has been so useful! I erroneously thought that by freezing the yeast, it would kill it. My mom had a whole jar (!) not too long ago that she wasn’t going to use. I hate waste so instead of her throwing it out, I took it home and froze it. The jar technically lists it as expired, but every time I use yeast out of that jar, I still find it fresh and foamy as if I had just purchased it!
This loaf was a success! Lovely, yeasty, doughy success. We enjoyed our slices with slathers of good salted butter, which I’m sure is not traditional either, but oh was it ever good! We even have plans to buy some extra sharp cheddar slices to make grilled cheese with it! It would also make great French toast. The whole process took about 2-1/2 to 3 hours in total, but it was completely worth it! I just planned an afternoon with a couple of classic Christmas movies and a cup of coffee for it. It was the perfect guilty treat for a laundry night on the couch watching Elf 🙂
What is your favorite holiday baking tradition?