February 04, 2011

How To: 4-stranded braid in 45-seconds

Just keep bringing the outside to the far inside, and only twist the inside pieces. Diagram available via email request.

The Sweet Honey and Saffron Challah bread is a hit. 
My kitty likes it, so it's a keeper. I'd never made a bread using the technique given in the recipe—and I'll probably never do it again—but technique aside, the finished loaf was absolutely delicious. It reminded me of a childhood favorite, Char Siu Bao, baked Chinese Roast Pork Buns. Whenever we go out for dim sum, we order extra bao (buns) to bring home. Who'da thunk a Jewish bread would be the one I've been searching for all these years? Now, I just need to find a recipe for the char siu part. 新 年 快 樂  Mom says that means New Year Good Luck!

Crust-and-Crumb Review
Specialty breads deserve specialty shapes.
So, what was so weird about the epicurious recipe? Aside from the part where it tells you to "sprinkle the top of the cookie with the remaining teaspoon of sugar," it has you shorten the flour by cutting margarine in. But by inhibiting gluten development, the dough didn't have the muscle to push up nice and high, and the baked loaf was a bit squat. The dough needs just a bit more elasticity, for a better rise and for a more breadlike crumb. With a higher rise, the interior would gain some air that would take the crumb from moist-and-tender-but-a-little-dense to moist-and-springy-and-sweetly-ethereal. So next time, I'll skip the part where the recipe says to cut the margarine in.

When baking breads with honey, it is important to choose a honey you like, as flour is not a highly flavored thing and you will taste the honey above all else. Don't use that chestnut honey you found in the back of your cupboard, as it will surely overwhelm the saffron, the most-expensive spice in the world. I used the chamiso honey that was given to me by @GrampasHoney this summer. I hated to kill off my jar, it's such a specialty, but it really was the perfect choice. Sweet with a little smokiness to balance the butter-rich dough.

As for the crust, well, it was pretty much perfect. I don't much like dark breads, so I used egg white only to wash my loaf. What do you think of the color? Do you like your challah dark dark brown?

My only deviation, aside from using butter not margarine, was to shape the loaf into a 4-stranded braid. Specialty breads deserve specialty shapes. The next time I make this bread make it ethereal, and I'll go full out with a 6-stranded braid to produce a more complex-looking crust. Let me know if you want to see a video of that as well.


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