I am not much of a bread baker. Though I love kneading dough, overall bread making does not thrill me the way other types of baking and cooking do. Plus, I’ve had more than my share of not-quite-successful bread escapades, such as the time I substituted buckwheat for white flour. So, when I saw that this month’s Avid Baker’s Challenge was Abby Dodge’s brioche, I was apprehensive.
Then I had a brainstorm. I noticed that the recipe bore a remarkable resemblance to challah, the eggy and slightly sweet bread traditional for the Jewish Shabbat.
Not all challah recipes use butter and milk as this brioche recipe does. For example, Arthur Schwartz’s recipe (on David Leite’s wonderful site) uses oil and water instead. But many challah recipes do, including this version from DC chef David Scribner and, I suspect, my favorite store-bought challah from DC’s Marvelous Market.
I decided to present the bread as challah and see if it passes the test – Shabbat dinner tonight. (I took only one small detour from Abby’s recipe – adding sesame seeds on top, because we traditionally buy sesame challah.) This could be interesting and the effort would divert me from any apprehensions I might otherwise have about bread baking.
Strong doesn’t begin to describe my favorite taste tester’s allegiance to challah. In fact, if we have more than 1 guest on a Friday evening for Shabbat, he wants 2 challot (the plural of challah) so that we’ll be sure to have enough for Saturday breakfast. Will he accept this homemade braided loaf as challah and what will his reaction be to its taste?
Tune in tomorrow when I return with the exciting update on how it goes. In the meantime, here is the back story. In her book, The Weekend Baker, Abby tells a wonderful story of how she made this brioche by hand when the power went out in a bakery. I do have a stand mixer and power, but I thought that for a labor of love, I should try the old fashioned method. It was fun and even had two practical benefits; the “slap-and-throw” technique that Abby recommends is a great way to work out frustrations and get exercise at the same time.
My efforts prove that if you have the stamina to knead dough for 10 minutes at a stretch (no pun intended when I wrote it, but I had to leave it in) and the confidence to keep working the dough when it is a messy pile of squishy, buttery glop, you’ll be rewarded – and so will anyone with whom you share this bread.
I’m out of practice when it comes to braiding (bread or hair), so working the 3 strands into a loaf was no easy task. When I did manage to do it correctly, I ended up with a knob at one end. Instead of leaving that dough on the loaf, I made it into a baby challah, otherwise known as a roll. I’m munching on it as I write this post, so I can attest that the bread is delicious. Whether or not it is deemed a winner in the challah taste-alike contest I am running, I’ll eat it with pleasure for the rest of the weekend.
My best tip (not included in Abby’s instructions) is about heating the milk to the correct temperature. I used the microwave, which works well if you are careful about timing and power level. Depending on the power of your microwave, you might start with 30-50% power for 1 minute or less, then check the temperature with the instant read thermometer to decide if you need to heat it any more. As too often happens, I got impatient and overheated the milk by a few degrees. With yeast, the liquid has to to be in the right temperature range or the yeast won’t work and the bread won’t rise. I brought the overheated milk down to the proper range by rubbing the outside of the measuring cup with an ice cube for a few seconds. It worked like a charm.
Another note – Abby’s directions say that you can refrigerate the braided dough, covered, for up to 12 hours before baking. I made my bread yesterday afternoon and refrigerated the big and baby loaves for about 16 hours before baking them this morning. The added few hours of refrigeration does not seen to have done them any harm.
The hardest part was figuring out how to take photos while the loaf was in the kneading stage; trying to hold the camera still and shoot with one hand while the other was sticky with dough was quite a trick. But if I was not willing to do a few contortions (and risk ruining my camera) what kind of a blogger would I be?
Update on 2013-09-26 17:51 by motherwouldknow
Did the brioche/challah pass muster?
My taste tester gave the brioche/challah a split decision. (Maybe this was the week for split decisions in more cases than just this one.) On Friday evening, when I asked him to rate the bread as challah on a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 is the best challah he’s ever eaten, he gave it a 3.5. But when I changed the question to how it rated as a bread, not specifically a challah, he gave it a 4.5. (I see a lesson there for those among us who follow polls in this election year.) The next morning he ate the brioche/challah for breakfast and remarked quite happily that it was even better the second day. So there you go.