Sunday Baking

Sometimes I think I spend all week looking forward to Sundays. It is the only day of the week that we spend together, just the two of us and the dogs, doing whatever we want. Sometimes we stay in bed until lunchtime watching the True Movie Channel (Paul jokes that despite my affected intellectuality, I actually prefer this made for TV movies to much more famous ‘good’ movies – he may well have a point). Other days, we decide to go to Subway and split a foot long sub, Club-style. He has mayo and ALL the salad, I have mayo, onion relish and some of the salad (no pickles).
When we’re flat broke (which seems all the time at the moment), we bake. I have come to terms with the fact that I am not one of those London types who shop at Borough Market for their groceries. If only. However, I do know that with just one pair of hands, a bag of flour, some yeast, butter and eggs working together in a mystical alchemy, something magical can happen.
I don’t remember my mum ever making bread when I was a child, although she did bake on special occasions, Christmas, Birthdays. I think that she found (and still finds) cooking to be a chore, a necessity rather than a joy. However, she did enjoy indulging her artistic side by decorating cakes which she doesn’t consider to be ‘cooking’ but rather ‘art’.
I suppose that this is where I first thought that certain tasks in the kitchen, such as baking bread, were for the experts only. It wasn’t until Paul started baking bread, and then I caught the itch off of him, that I realised it is really, incredibly simple. Even soft, sticky dough like Brioche is so simple to make with the most basic of electric hand whisks. The only 'difficult' part of breadmaking is the kneading and with stand-alone mixers (or husbands keen on baking), even this step is easy. However, I enjoy the almost ritualistic kneading of the dough - it is both therapeutic and relaxing.
Usually though, Paul kneads the dough. It is wonderful to see his large bakers hands working the dough until it starts to come to life. He does it so effortlessly and he responds to the bread as much as it responds to him.
Challah was our bread of choice this weekend. I love soft, egg-rich breads like Brioche and whilst browsing several of my baking books, Challah (pronounced Hallah) seemed to be an interesting variation on the sweet egg bread.

Challah is of great cultural importance within the Jewish faith, and it is traditionally served on the Sabbath or special occasions. It has a familiar braided shape which often varies to symbolise, for example Rosh Hashanah (when it is braided into a circle to represent birth-death-rebirth) and other observances of the Jewish faith.

To us it represented another step in our baking history: shaping bread. I had originally planned on making two simple braids (or plaits, as we call them), of three dough strands apiece. Paul decided he wanted to go bigger! So, we ended up with a sort of 4-strand plait shaped into a ring. Once baked to a rich, shiny, dark pine lustre though, it looked stunning and would be a truly memorable loaf to place on your celebratory table (whether you are Jewish or not). The taste is reminscent of soft American dinner rolls, a tender crumb with a satisfying crust. Even the next day, when I had forgotten to put the bread ring away, it felt slightly drier but still tasted delicious with butter and strawberry jam.

If you wanted to omit the artistic element of the bread, I think that this dough shaped into bread rolls, or a more traditional but free-form loaf shape would be just as good, just adjust the baking times accordingly. The proving time is slightly shorter than some breads, 2 x hour long rises, plus a 45 minute 'shaped' rise. I also found that it took a much shorter time to cook than the original recipe states.

n.b. If you prefer a sweeter loaf, reduce the salt by half and add a little more sugar.
This bread also makes great french toast, bread pudding and croutons if you find you have some that has gone stale.
If you want to make Challah, here's the very simple recipe:
CHALLAH - makes one large braided loaf, two small braids or experiment as you wish.
Ingredients:
500g Strong White Flour
2 Teaspoons Salt
20g Fresh Yeast (I used 2 and a quarter packets of instant yeast - about 16g)
200ml Lukewarm Water
2 Tablespoons Caster Sugar
2 Organic Eggs
3oz Melted Butter
1 Egg Yolk mixed with a tablespoon water for the glaze
METHOD:
Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the middle of the flour.
In a small jug, mix together the water, sugar and yeast. Pour into the flour, along with the 2 eggs and melted butter. Stir well with a wooden spoon until it forms a dough and turn out onto a lightly floured board.
Knead for about 10 minutes or until the dough is soft and pliable and feels as though it is coming to life. Effectively it is - the yeast is activating under your touch.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave in a warm room to prove for an hour.
Knock down the dough which will have more than doubled in size, cover again and leave for another hour.
Knock down the dough once more, knead lightly and turn out onto a lightly floured board.
If you are shaping the dough, separate into three or four equal pieces, rolling each one out to about 18" long and 1" thickness. Plait using these directions here.
Place on a lightly oiled baking sheet and leave to rise for 45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 180c.
Brush with egg wash.
Bake your Challah for between 20-40 minutes, depending on how you've shaped it and how efficient your oven is. Our large loaf took less than 25 minutes.
Remove from oven and leave to cool on a rack.

39 comments:

Ash said...

It looks absolutely beautiful. I made bread yesterday, for the first time in ages, and we had it with some leftover moussaka for supper, sort of like a sloppy joe. The bread was still warm from the oven and it was a great meal! I love baking bread.

Little Foodie said...

Looks beautiful! I'm still scared of bread. Much better to leave to husband/children. Eldest made challah buns at school earlier this year when they were learning about Judaism. Yours really does look superb!

Ulrike said...

Wow, looks good!

But so much yeast? I substitute 1/2 tsp. German dry yeast for 5 g fresh yeast! In Germany a package of about 7 g yeast correspond with 25 g fresh yeast, what's yours? That would help to duplicate some British recipes

Lydia said...

The best reason for making challah (and yours is beautiful!) is so that you can make challah french toast the next day! There is nothing that compares with a thick slab of challah french toast. Enjoy!

Aimée said...

Beautiful Challah! My grandmother was Jewish and we we learned to make it at a young age. It's a very rewarding bake! It freezes well, too.

joey said...

I love bread making (yes, even the kneading...I agree that it is therapeutic) and have been wanting to give challah a go...Your's has such a perfect sheen and color!

SteamyKitchen said...

what beautiful bread! I miss Sunday mornings in bed...our toddlers wake us up by 7am!

Gattina said...

your bread is like magnet, I can't take my eyes off from your photoes!!! Oh my... look at that interior of your bread, the gluten is so well developed (good job Paul!)! Gorgeous!

mooncrazy said...

A nice thick slice of Challah makes the best grilled sandwiches. Loved the sub-text in this post.

Julia said...

Ahhh...Sundays, best day of the week. I love them too and they are just MADE for baking bread.

Joyce said...

My mouth waters...how I love homemade bread, still warm from the oven, slathered in sweet butter and pure berry jam!

Thanks for the heads-up re: blogger comments issue. I'm much more proficient at the stove than the PC! I think I've got it fixed.

Patricia Scarpin said...

Freya, can I spend a Sunday with you?? I promise I'll stay in the kitchen (eating the heck out of your food) and won't bother you and hubby while you watch TV. ;)

This bread is sensational!

Kelly-Jane said...

You are so right, that bread round is really celebratory looking - it's stunning!

I like the picture of you both baking together, very idyllic :)

Toni said...

I used to love baking bread when I lived in NM. Now I live a few blocks from a wonderful bakery, so I buy it instead. But I find kneading dough very therapeutic, and the smell of baking bread is heavenly!

Margaret said...

Wonderful bread. Now, I'm sure I can smell it through my computer screen!!

Susan said...

No matter what the state of one's finances, I'm convinced you always eat better at home. This is the proof. (Pun optional.)

Veron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Veron said...

That ... is... one beautiful braided bread! Makes me just want to pull a piece off it smear it with butter and drink some coffee.

sher said...

How beautiful! I think making bread is one of the most pleasing things to do. It really nurtures my soul, smelling the yeast, and feeling the cough alive under my hands. And finally--the taste! Your Challah is just wonderful. The only bad thing is that I can't have a slice. :)

Cheryl said...

Look at that beautiful golden challah, this is one of my favorite breads, and you did it justice.

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Gosh, I need to make this one again. It is such a wow bread. For years we had a tradition of clam chowder and challah on New Year's eve. I guess it stopped when our youngest turned vegetarian.
You've made a beautiful loaf. And yes I do enjoy kneading. Some days I really need to knead!

Nora B. said...

Sundays are lovely! What a beautiful bread. I must admit that I can't live without my bread maker (yes, shame on me), but I mostly use just the dough setting and still shape the bread by hand.

ejm said...

Isn't bread wonderful? And your challah looks stunningly beautiful!! What a great idea to shape the braid into a ring.

-Elizabeth

Lucy said...

Great Challah. It makes the best bread and butter pudding ever.

If there's any left over that is.

Anh said...

Beautiful bread! Challah is my favourit, and I used to get it very often when living in a Jewish area in Mel. Have wanted to make it all along, but too lazy to get things done.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Your Challah looks gorgeous! I love this brioche (see my blog). It's the kind of bread I could eat anytime, because it's so fluffy and wonderful tasting...

Joe said...

So beautiful shaped into a ring like this!

T.W. Barritt said...

I love the wreath - I've never seen that before! Challah is probably my favorite bread - so glossy and wonderful when it comes out of the oven!

Lis said...

Absolutely gorgeous challah, Freya!

I'd like some with a lil butter and blueberry jam, please!!

xoxo

Chris said...

Great looking challah! I love to make bread, but I have only made Challah once, when I was completing my B&P certification. I loved the braiding part.

Shaun said...

Dearest Freya - I miss Sundays, for they were "our" day, too. It is nice of you to share with us, your captivated and True audience, your rituals. I really love challah, and don't worry if it goes dry, for it makes great French toast!

Saffron said...

It's always a big pleasure reaing your posts. I've never made bread, too scared! I promise I will try!
Baci

Passionate Eater said...

I can literally see the steam emanating from that freshly baked challah. And the sheen and glow on the surface of that challah looks as if you didn't miss any spot when brushing the egg wash over that perfect braid of dough. Absolutely gorgeous!

Pip said...

This Challah looks beautiful, I should give it a try someday, I love baking! :)

valentinA said...

Love this challah bread Freya, you're one good baker-cook! Hats off!

Cynthia said...

I am very glad you did this, I now have another bread recipe to test. Thank you.

You may not care to know this but I thought I'd tell you anyway :)

I have a strange relationship with bread. I LOVE to bake bread, a variety of breads and I'm always on the look out for new recipes, BUT and herein lies the rub, I don't generally like eating bread. When I do, it is because I have a craving for it which is not very often. I do enjoy all the sensuous kneading, the smell wafting through the kitchen as it's baking and melted butter on the still warm bread, oh yeah. I eat one slice and that it. I'm done. No more bread until another craving. :)

Kristen said...

I love that the two of you bake together. How sweet can you get?
Challah is my favorite kind of bread. Your beautiful braided loaf looks so good!

Amy said...

Wow that challah looks gorgeous! I'll definitely have to bake one soon!

Jeanne said...

Oh wow - what a gorgeous challah! I am a real bake-o-phobe. But then again, I am also not a huge eater of bread. So either the two go hand in hand, or I'm just a big wuss - the debate could continue for hours! I've seen a lot of challah but never actually eaten it, let alone tried makign it. You make it sound so eminently do-able though - thanks!