Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas Presents and Hanukkah Challah!

I am so excited. It is 6 days till I fly home to Cali and 9 days till Christmas!

These last two weeks of work have been and will be good training for me. MB has been training me on polymer synthesis and functionalization. I am rather slow and doubtful with everything I do, so I endlessly ask MB questions. Really, I'm asking for confirmation that I'm doing each and every step correctly. Every time I ask, I feel bad for asking. I know I should not feel this way for making sure I am doing things correctly, but I feel like I come off as confused, childish, forgetful, and slow. As someone who is used to getting things off the bat, slow understanding is hard to get used to. Most of all, due to my personal desire to not be a burden to anyone, I hesitate from asking because I do not want to bother others. This is a learning process, but to be effective, I need to learn to how to open myself to help and asking for help. Nothing is overnight, but I wish I was a bit faster...

Little snippet of my life, but back to fun holiday stuff! That's what ya'll want to read about, right?

So this weekend, I mostly took for holiday present shopping. I'm super excited. I have all my gifts almost ready for my co-workers and boss, and I managed to find some stuff for my family. One cool new thing I'm doing this year is doing glassware painting. I bought some glass cups from Target and a glass paintset from Michaels and will do some cute designs unique to the giftee tomorrow! I hope I have retained some of my painting skills from high school. It's been a while.

After watching "The Hobbit" today (which was very good and much recommended! Only, my eyes were sore after staring at the big screen for 3 hours...), I went home, ate, rested, and then mourned the fact that I was out of bread. I have a professed love for Blue Baker and their amazing baked goods and their half-price day-old breads ($2.25 for an artisan loaf, hellsyeah!), but I actually got tired of forcing myself to eat two loaves of their yummy beer and multigrain breads before they went bad for the past two weeks. So, I decided to make challah.

Challah, if you do not know, is a Jewish egg bread. It is slightly sweet and soft and pillowy. It makes an awesome French toast and goes well with raisins, nuts, or other things mixed-in. You will see it has a nice golden crust and is most often presented as a braided loaf. The special Sabbath and holiday meals begin with two loaves of challah. Each loaf is a braid of six strands, and the two loaves combined represent the twelve tribes of Israel.

The choice of challah was also prompted by the recipe on the side of my bread flour bag. I saw it, read the rise time (1 1/2 hrs) and the fact that there is only 1/4 cup of oil and said, sure! I love making things with less oil and less sugar to try and bake healthy. This was my first time making challah, though, and the process went rather least, up to a point. I made the dough, kneaded it by hand (I'm getting better at this!), let it rise. I punched it down after an hour (an a nap!), kneaded it, rolled out three strands, braided it, and let it rise again. I came back and was super excited. It was rising beautifully and looked gorgeous! But then I realized my mistake. I put it into too small a baking pan so the edges were right up against the side of the pan. Knowing what I would do next would cause some detriment to my risen dough, I quickly shoved/threw the loaf into a larger pan. My loaf immediately deflated. Saddened but not discouraged, I let it rise again. Lo and behold! The loaf rose again, albeit not as high as before, and I finished the preparation and baked it.

The smell was so good throughout the baking process. But then, I noticed the smell was cutting too strongly through the air. The baking time on the bag said 35-45 minutes, and I had put the timer on for only 30 minutes. I rushed to the oven, pulled open the door and saw the unquestionably dark brown crust on my challah. After pulling it out of the oven, I let it cool down and hoped for the best. Luckily, 28 minutes was just long enough to make it harder than desired but not burnt. I sliced off a piece, tasted it and did a little body shake of joy! My challah tasted amazing! For having just 1.5 Tbs of honey, it was surprisingly and satisfyingly sweet. The top crust provided a nice crunch to accompany the soft airy inside. The only things I could tell, was that the bottom crust was too dark and hard for enjoyment, the loaf could have been airier and higher rising had I not deflated the loaf and let it rise for another half hour, and there may be a slight dryness from being baked too long. Other than that, I am super proud of this yeast baking experiment and will probably make another challah loaf again soon!

Challah (adapted from recipe on HEB Bread Flour bag)

2.5-3 cups Bread flour (do not use all-purpose or wheat)
2.25 tsp instant yeast (1 package)
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp turmeric (adds the nice yellow color - no artificial food coloring necessary!)
3/4 tsp organic granulated sugar
1/4 cup oil
1.5 Tbs honey
2 eggs (room temperature)
1 egg + 1 tsp water (for egg wash)
Sesame seeds or poppy seeds for topping (optional)

1. Combine 2.5 cups of the bread flour, the instant yeast, salt, turmeric, and sugar in a bowl. Stir till well-mixed.
2. In a small bowl, beat eggs, then add in oil and honey and beat till combined.
3. Make a well in the center of your dry mix. Pour in the wet mixture and stir with a wooden spoon till just combined.
4. Measure our 1/2 cup of the remaining bread flour and sprinkle some onto a clean surface. Knead the dough (7 minutes by hand, 5 minutes using machine), adding more of the remaining bread flour as necessary to get a smooth and elastic dough.
5. Lightly grease a bowl, place the ball of dough inside, cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let rise till doubled in size (about 1 hour). Punch down the dough and knead till smooth.
6. Separate the dough into 3 (or 6) equal-sized balls and roll each one out into a long rope. Place them next to each other and carefully braid from one end to the other (handle the dough lightly). Pat in the ends to make them nicely rounded and to seal the pieces together. Let rise till doubled in size (about another hour).
7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease and flour a large baking pan.
8. Beat the remaining egg with water. Lightly brush the top of the challah with the egg wash and sprinkle on sesame seeds or poppy seeds, if desired.
9. Bake the challah in the center for 20-25 minutes. The challah is done when you tap the top and it sounds hollow. Let the loaf cool on a rack.
Makes 1 loaf.

I hope you try this easy bread recipe. I think it will get you into yeast baking as it has done for me. It's easier than cinnamon rolls, I think, and tastier than wheat bread loaves. the braiding was not hard at all, either!

In the meantime, don't get too stressed out with holiday shopping, crazy holiday shoppers, and getting things ready for the holidays. Take things easy and remember: this season is about enjoying your time, your life, and your friends and family.

1 comment:

  1. your challah looks wonderful have a great break from school and get the labneh :-)