Challah Bread from the Smitten Kitchen

We were blessed with an overabundance of eggs this week: two dozen from my uncle’s farm and a dozen from our local co-op. I decided to make challah bread, or braided egg bread, from the Smitten Kitchen. In Jewish culture, the Sabbath begins on Friday night, and families traditionally open their first Sabbath meal over two loaves of challah.

This simple recipe requires 5 eggs, and its unbelievably good for French toast.

I began with the ingredients: bread flour, yeast, sugar, salt, olive oil, eggs, and sesame seeds. In a large bowl, I dissolved the yeast in lukewarm water, then added the sugar and salt. I whisked in the oil, then added the eggs one at a time. (Sorry about the picture quality; it was a rainy, dark day.)

ingredients for challah bread  liquids

Time to add the flour. This recipe called for 8 cups, but 7 cups seemed to do the trick – possibly because I used bread flour. The recipe got thicker and thicker, forming the dough.

dough  dough mixed

I kneaded the dough until it formed into a smooth, elastic, heavy ball. After two risings, I cut the dough into two halves. I further divided the halves into six balls each, then rolled them out to form long strands, like breadsticks. I braided the six strands together, using the Smitten Kitchen’s method.

dough kneaded  dough rolled out

I put the two loaves on the baking pan, gave them an egg wash, and let them rise for a third time. After an hour passed, I gave them another egg wash, sprinkled sesame seeds on top, and put them in the oven to bake for 30 minutes.

braided, no rise  dough after risen

Finished product! A perfect way to open the Sabbath.

challah bread just out of oven  challah on cutting board

Do you guys make any traditional dishes for special occasions or holidays?


4-Hour Classic French Baguettes from Farmgirl Fare

Homemade bread is such a treat – the delicious smell when its baking, the crackle of the crust when its cut, and my happiness when I see Eric gobbling it up!

I haven’t made baguettes for a while, but when I went grocery shopping on Monday, I couldn’t pass up a great deal on fresh mozzarella – $1.80 for 8 ounces! Fresh mozzarella deserves fresh bread, so I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.

I used Farmgirl Fare‘s 4-hour Parisian baguette recipe here, which I’ve made before and love. Ingredients are simple: flour, instant yeast, water, and salt. I also used a large mixing bowl, a baking stone (you can always use a baking tray), a plastic scraper (you’ll need it), parchment paper (again, you’ll need it), damp kitchen towels, and ice cubes.

baguettes ingredients

Only four ingredients: flour, yeast, salt, and water

I began by combining bread flour and yeast, mixing it with the scraper, and adding the water. It formed quite a sticky, clumpy mass. I sprinkled the salt over it, gave it a quick mix, and covered it with a damp towel to rest. This allowed the gluten to form, which helps give the bread its shape and texture, and the damp towel kept it from drying out.

dough, before sitting

Bread dough, after first mix

When I came back after 20 minutes, the dough had softened somewhat. I used the scraper for the bits still stuck to the sides of the bowl, then dumped it onto a lightly floured surface.

dough, after sitting

Bread dough, after sitting 20 minutes

I kneaded the bread for ten minutes (here’s a how-to video). I don’t worry too much about technique – as long as you’re manipulating it somehow, it will work. I knew it was done when the dough formed into a firm, smooth, heavy, sticky ball. I put it back in the greased mixing bowl, covered it with a damp kitchen towel, and let it rise for 45 minutes. When I checked on it, it had nearly doubled in size (it was a warm day).

the dough, after kneading

After kneading and first rise

I gave it a quick turn and let it rise for another 45 minutes. The “double-rise” technique is a necessity of bread making, as it develops the gluten structure and prevents so many gaping holes caused by the air in your bread.

bread, after second rise

Second rise

After the second rise, I preheated the oven to 500 degrees with the baking stone and cast iron skillet inside. I shaped the baguettes, using the technique at the bottom of the page of Farmgirl Fare’s recipe. (Sorry, the top baguette is a little lopsided haha.) I formed the couche using the parchment paper and kitchen towels and let the bread sit for another 30 minutes. The couche is essential because your bread will rise and expand, and the couche prevents the baguettes from sticking together and keeps their shape.

baguettes, rolled out

Baguettes, shaped into loaves

Time to bake! I quickly scored the loaves (the knife marks you see) and transferred them onto the baking stone, using the parchment paper. I very carefully stuck a handful of ice cubes into the skillet to create steam inside the oven, which helps the loaves develop a nice crackly crust. Lastly, I turned the oven down to 450 degrees. After 20 minutes, they turned a lovely golden brown.

baguettes on the cutting board platter

Just out of the oven!

The loaves turned out wonderfully. I cut them right away and served them with the fresh mozzarella, basil, cherry tomatoes, balsamic vinaigrette, and olive oil.

baguettes, the whole spread

Our delicious dinner

Yum! They were also just as good the next day.

sliced baguettes

Baguettes with fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, and basil with balsamic vinaigrette and olive oil

Have you guys ever made bread before? What were your experiences?