Friday, December 04, 2015
Challah with Biga
When I first saw Rose's new, improved recipe for Challah, I got a little defensive on behalf of the original Challah in The Bread Bible. "That was an excellent challah," I said to myself, and didn't need any improvement. But I decided to try the new-fangled challah, and, you know, it was better. Making the bread with old sourdough starter or a simple biga really does intensify the taste. This is a wonderful bread, and it's my new favorite challah too.
Of course, you can't just decide you want a piece of challah and wander out to the kitchen and bake a loaf. No, you'll have to do a little planning, especially if you use the biga, as I did. The biga is just a small amount of flour and water, plus a tiny bit of yeast, left to rise for about 4 hours, until doubled in size and making a few bubbles. Then into the refrigerator for three days. No, not three hours, three days. If it gets pushed to the back of the refrigerator, you may forget that you were making challah.
Assuming you don't forget about the biga, on the fourth day, it's time to mix up the dough. Rose says challah is traditionally made with oil instead of butter so it can be served with either milk or meat meals. But she gives you permission to use butter, so I did, and, of course, that gives you a more buttery flavor.
Braiding is by far the trickiest part of making challah. By far. I looked at a video of Maggie Glezer demonstrating how to braid a six-strand challah, and I couldn't quite bring myself to try it. Instead, I used this little video. It's pretty simple: line up four tapered pieces of dough and braid them. Strand 4 over strand 2, 1 over 3, and 2 over 3. Repeat until you run out of strands.
I confess that the first time I tried numbering the strands, I didn't understand that the strands are numbered by their position. That is, strand 4 doesn't remain strand 4; it becomes strand 2 when it goes over strand 2. If you try to remember which strand started out as strand 4, you'll not only get very confused, you'll also end up with an oddly-shaped loaf of bread. I figure that if I made challah weekly for about two years, I'd get good at braiding.
The dumbest thing I did was to glaze the bread before I proofed it. And the really dumb thing I did was to read the directions four or five times because I was sure that couldn't be correct. And each time I misread the directions in the same way. Oddly, that mistake didn't mess up the final result as much as I thought it would.
The color is so rich and creamy-looking, and the texture is soft but not cottony. The crust is dark brown but there's not even a hint of burned-toast flavor. Sometimes new and improved really does mean new and improved, not just smaller and more expensive.