Monday, September 2, 2013

Ethnic Flavor: The Last Braid of the Year

Welcome back to the land of blogging, us! What, you didn't notice we were gone? Guess we're less important than we thought. 

Rosh Hashanah starts in less than sixty hours. Like all the pre-Purim holidays this year, it's crazy early (the first night of Hanukkah is on Thanksgiving, so get ready for turkey followed by jelly donuts - maybe jelly donuts filled with cranberry sauce?) One of the food traditions for Rosh Hashanah is that for whole month of Tishrei (the month that contains Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah), we eat challah that's round, instead of the traditional braid. This past Friday, I made challah for a nice, quiet dinner with Rachel and our dad, since our mom is in Los Angeles with Rebecca. I didn't have a lot of time to make it because I got home on the late side on Thursday night, so I was really happy to find a recipe that requires a lot less rising time than recipes that I've used in the past. It calls for letting the dough rise in a heated oven, which very much cuts down on the rising time. It's from the beautiful Entree to Judaism, a cookbook my friend Amelia gave me for my birthday, which features Jewish recipes from all over the world. The challah recipe actually was a round challah High Holidays recipe, but I braided it instead.

The other unusual thing about this recipe is that it calls for butter or margarine instead of oil. I used Earth Balance margarine, which is almost indistinguishable from butter, and we could really tell when we tasted the challah! Normally, challah comes in two flavor varieties--water (which is more bread-like) or egg (which is more cake-like)--but with this I think I've discovered a new flavor: buttery! It wasn't brioche-level or anything, nor should it be, but it was still extremely tasty and different. I halved the recipe for one loaf and didn't include the food coloring, but it still came out beautifully, in my opinion. Here's the recipe

7–8 cups bread flour, divided use
2 packages rapid rise yeast
1 1/2 cups water
2 sticks pareve margarine, butter, or 1/2 cup oil and 1 stick margarine
1/4 teaspoon yellow food coloring
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons poppy seeds (optional)
1 tablespoon salt
4 large eggs
1 cup raisins (optional)
Egg wash: 1 egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water


In a large mixer bowl combine 6 cups of the flour and the yeast. Stir to combine.

Heat the water, margarine, food coloring, sugar, poppy seeds, and salt in a saucepan until very warm (140°F). Water should be uncomfortably hot to your finger but not hot enough to burn you. (It will feel like hot tap water.

Add the warm liquid mixture to the flour while the mixer is on low. As the liquid is being incorporated, add the eggs. Mix thoroughly.

Gradually add the remaining flour only until a fairly firm dough is formed. This process should take about 7 minutes whether you are using the dough hook on your mixer or are kneading it by hand. The mixture will be satiny smooth.

Preheat your oven to 400°F for 1 minute. Lightly grease a bowl with some oil, and turn the dough in the bowl to oil all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the turned off oven until doubled in size, about 30–45 minutes.

Punch down the dough and divide in half or in thirds. Roll each piece into a rope about 15 inches long. Hold one end 2 inches above the work surface and wrap the rest of the dough around it to make a large coil. Pinch the ends together to prevent unraveling while baking. Place the formed breads on parchment-lined or greased cookie sheets, and let rise in the previously warmed oven until light and doubled, about 25 minutes.

Remove loaves from oven and reduce to 375°F. Brush the tops of the loaves with the egg wash and bake for 25–35 minutes, depending on the size of the loaves. When the bread is done, it will be golden brown and have a hollow sound when tapped.
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