Challah… with “ch” or with “silent c”? Never can tell…

Every day on my way into uptown Charlotte, I have been passing by the Johnson and Wales baking/cooking labs for the past 4 years. I’ve been imagining what it would be like to cook in those labs everyday… Then I found out that they offer a series of Chef’s Choice classes for people like us, the ones who can not pay the $30+K a year to learn to cook, but who would like to get a taste of it for a day or two. During August, I checked the Johnson and Wales web page every day to see when they were opening their new class schedule. I had heard about the Artisan Bread class offered by Peter Reinhart and wanted to sign up right away, because apparently it sells out within hours! Well, I got in. And I waited two and a half months in anticipation of this 4-hour class.

It was great to meet with Peter Reinhart and listen to him, to watch him as he worked with the doughs and gave tips. But there was a tiny bit of disappointment for me. I expected BREADS!!.. Good ol’ crusty breads with irregular holes in them, Cibbattas, rolls, different shaping techniques, or how to check if the dough was proper with window testing… Instead, we got mostly sweet breads. There was one French bread squeezed in but the class was all about sweet doughs, cinnamon rolls, babkas, challahs…. I like all those but I guess I was expecting something else when the name of the class was Artisan Breads! And it was fast paced and crowded class. Those baking labs, it turns out, are a tad bit small for 20 people, a chef and 4 J&W students helping around.

But it was nice to meet some great people and work with them side by side, share a couple laughs. It is amazing how cooking draws so much attention and so many people from different backgrounds together. And also I got my Bread Baker’s Apprentice book signed by Chef Reinhart… Then came home with LOTS of baked sweet bread and two different doughs to be baked. That was the best part! If you take a class like this, make sure you invite your friends over for brunch the next day, that is a good way to finish all that bread without anything going to waste!

Challah

  • 2 lbs 2 oz (7.5 cups) unbleached bread flour(1/4 to 1/2 cup of extra flour)
  • 16 oz (2 cups) lukewarm water
  • 1-1/2 tablespoon instant yeast
  • 10 egg yolks
  • 5 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 6 tablespoon sugar or 4-1/2 tablespoon honey
  • 2-1/2 teaspoon fine salt or 4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1-1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract (optional)
  • Egg wash: 1 whole egg plus 2 tablespoon water

1. Mix yeast and water. Add the yolks, oil, sugar and vanilla to the yeast-water mixture and stir. (This is from the little book they gave us in the class. I always thought instant yeast should be mixed with dry ingredients first, so go with your best judgment. We mixed everything together at once – as I said, it was a fast-paced class!)

2. Add flour and salt to the liquid mix and combine everything with a spoon. The dough will be coarse and slightly wet. Let the dough relax for 5 minutes and continue mixing for another a couple of minutes.

3. Knead the dough on the floured surface. The dough will be soft but not sticky. Add more flour if it is sticky. Place the dough in a lightly oil bowl, cover and put it in the refrigerator for overnight.

4. The dough can stay in the fridge up to 4 days or so. When you are ready to make the challah, divide the dough into two or four balls. This amount makes two large or four small loaves.

5. For each loaf, you can make 3, 4, 5, or 6 braid. Whichever you choose, divide the dough in equal sections, and roll each one into long ropes. They are supposed to be 10-14 inches long (Bigger dough will require longer rope). Make sure you roll it about an inch longer than you intent to since the dough will spring back and shorten.

6. Braid it according to the directions below. Place it on a baking tray lined with parchment paper.Brush the dough with egg wash and leave the dough uncovered for an hour.

7. After an hour, brush the dough with the egg wash and let the dough rise for another hour.

8. Bake it in a preheated 350-degree F oven for 40 – 50 min, turning the tray around once midway through the cooking time. It should sound hollow when you tap on the bottom of the bread. Measure the temperature in the center of the bread, it should register 190 degree-F when it is done.

Braiding Techniques

1. Put the ropes side by side, bring the tops together, press firmly to combine.

2. Number the braids starting from left to right as #1, #2, and so on.

3. Once you make one step as described below, reset the numbering and renumber them again from left to right and continue with the next step. For example, if you moved #1 over #6, that means, for your next move, the old #2 becomes the new #1.

4. Continue braiding until you run out of ropes, press the bottom firmly to combine.

The picture above is a 5 braid Challah, the picture below shows a 6-braid challah.

4 braid Challah Steps:

  • #4 over #2
  • #1 over #3
  • #2 over #3

5 braid Challah Steps:

  • #1 over #3
  • #2 over #3
  • #5 over #2

6 braid Challah Steps:

  • #2 over #6
  • #1 over #3
  • #5 over #1
  • #6 over #4

9 Comments:

  1. by foodies at home
    8:42 pm
    Nov 11, 2010

    That is some perfectly braided bread! Beautifully done!

  2. by Ilke
    6:15 am
    Nov 12, 2010

    Thanks Charisse! Need a little bit of practice with numbering-renumbering steps since I forget each time.

  3. by Peggy
    8:33 am
    Nov 12, 2010

    So lucky to have met and been taught by Peter Reinhardt! This challah looks beautiful, the braids look perfect!

  4. by Karen
    1:51 pm
    Nov 15, 2010

    Sounds like a wonderful class. Too bad you didn’t get to do different kinds of breads though.
    This challah looks amazing. Great step by step on the braiding…I always wondered how that was done!

  5. by briarrose
    9:55 am
    Nov 16, 2010

    Absolutely beautiful bread.

  6. by Kristin @ delishliving
    8:27 am
    Nov 25, 2010

    I remember you commenting about this on my blog! The bread looks absolutely beautiful, great job! Glad you came out with a few loaves of bread and some good tips, even if you were a tad disappointed with the class!

  7. by Meg (The Red Spoon)
    8:54 am
    Dec 10, 2010

    This looks great! I’ve really been wanting to get into bread making, and this looks like a great recipe to start with. Oh, and I love the braid tutorial, after three ropes I have no idea what to do.

  8. by Ilke
    10:31 am
    Dec 10, 2010

    Thanks Meg. Have to warn you though, this recipe makes two big loaves! But loaves freeze well and makes a great French toast the next day :)

  9. by Calantha @ piecurious
    9:14 pm
    Nov 1, 2011

    Oh, words cannot even describe how jealous I am that you attended a bread course with Peter Reinhart. Only the other day I was on the Johnson & Wales website ogling the bread courses with a mixture of rapture and disappointment–knowing that I cannot afford the trip, but yet still excited by the very idea. I have yet to discover a Canadian Peter Reinhart.. someone within my reach with similar prestige & knowledge. Maybe someday.

    Absolutely lovely challah, and lovely blog! Your photos are delightful and so warm and inviting.

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