Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Frugal Food: Homemade Challah Bread

One of my biggest reader requests is for my recipes and homemade food tips. Something I make on a regular basis is challah bread. This is a staple for Jewish homes but costs an arm and a leg in my area. So I make it myself. I never thought I would be a homemade challah maker. It seemed like a luxury for SAHM's or those with professional chefs to have those fresh, delicious steaming loaves straight from the oven every week. In high school we were offered ten extra points for making our own challah and bringing it in. I almost never missed a chance for extra credit but was one of the few students to skip this opportunity. I figured I would never use the skill, and was getting an "A" in that particular class anyway. Boy was I wrong.

To avoid the time consuming nature of the bread making proces, I got the quickest recipe I could find and also developed a freezing method so that I only have to go through the proces once every couple of months. It's so good I don't think we could back to store bought.

Note: My recipe is egg free because this is what is considered preferable for bread at the table by our Rabbi. It also happens to have big benefits in terms of having guests with egg allergies.

4 Tbs. live yeast
5  cups of warm water
11 tsp. salt
1 cup oil
1 cup sugar
5 lb's flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the yeast and water in a bowl together and wait until it bubbles (see photo of bubbling yeast). Meanwhile mix the salt, oil, sugar, and flour together. It will form a crumbly mix. When the yeast is bubbling nicely add it to the flour mixture. At this point I knead the dough with the dough hook on my kitchen aid mixer until it forms a ball (about ten minutes). You can also do this by hand.

Leave the dough in a warm location for one hour to rise. I like to cover the bowl with saran wrap and place it on top of the preheating oven.

While we wait for our dough to rise, I'd like to discuss mixer options. All of this can be done by hand but it will take you a bit longer and uses more effort. Some people find the act of kneading bread dough very therapeutic. I would probably knead by hand if I hadn't found my Kitchen Aid mixer for a ridiculously low price 3 years ago on black friday. I have never seen the price for such a mixer go even remotely near that low ever again. If you are short on time or prefer using a mixer you have several options.

Kitchen Aid - To do this recipe (and most recipes that call for 5 lb's of flour) properly you need the 6 quart machine. Do not get the 5 quart, it is not big enough. Even with the 6 quart you will have to split the recipe in two because it can't handle all 5 lbs of flour at once. I just divide the recipe in half, do the batches back to back and combine the resulting doughs at the end. The kitchen Aid is great because you can get attachment pieces for other things - like rolling pasta dough or grinding meat, but those are costly. The mixer also can overheat if you try and do more than one recipe of bread in a short time period. Overall I am happy with mine, but if you are looking for something for purely bread purposes I'd suggest one of the two other options I am listing.

The Magic Mill - These are really designed for bread making and can handle more flour and more batches than a kitchen aid. However, some people find them very noisy. A friend once commented that she has to watch hers or else it will vibrate it's way off her table! So there's more power but more expense and still some kinks.

The Bosch - Bosch is a powertool company so the motor on these things is incredibly strong. It can knead large amounts quickly and with much force. There is a model with a blender attachment to extend the use slightly of the machine beyond bread. This is a highly reccomneded machine when I ask frequent Challah makers their opinions.

Now back to the bread. After an hour you should notice the dough has risen/increased in volume. At this point you get to shape it into whatever size loaves and shapes you prefer. (It is at this point that I take challah). Once I have the loaves all shaped, I take the ones for this week and brush their tops with egg yolk. For extra flavor I sprinkle cinnamon sugar or everything bagel spice on top. Pop those bad boys into your preheated oven and let them bake for an hour.

 Here are before and after photos of the dough, before and after rising. Notice how much it has expanded.

Meanwhile take the rest of the loaves, wrapt them tightly in saran wrap and place them in the freezer. When I need the loaves, I pull them straight out of the freezer, brush them with egg and pop them into the oven. No need to defrost and no need to increase baking time.

The smell as they are baking is out of this world!


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