Challah (Baked in a Barbecue)

April 5, 2012 · 14 comments

It seems like every blog I’ve looked at in the last couple weeks has some sort of naturally dyed Easter egg/leg of lamb/matzoh cookie/pink deviled egg/cherry blossom/gardening/picnic/Peeps/rhubarb reference. Ahh…Spring. I guess it’s finally that time of year. All I know is that our chickens are laying SO many eggs, and we’re having a hard time keeping up. The Corvallis Saturday Farmers’ Market starts up on April 14, and we’ll definitely be sending some of our excess eggs with my mom to sell, but for now, we’re forced to eat our entire egg supply (minus a few dozen that we’ve given away to friends and neighbors).

Because of our overabundance of eggs, I’m trying to add at least a couple to almost every meal. That’s how I got the idea of making traditional challah. Good challah gets its signature light composition and pale yellow crumb from good eggs.

My preferred recipe is loosely adapted from The Book of Bread by Judith and Evan Jones, but I’ve tweaked the ingredients a bit, and as usual, I’ve amended the technique for baking in my gas barbecue.

Challah is traditionally braided, and the aesthetics of the loaf are what I like best about both making and eating this kind of bread. In the past when I’ve made challah, I’ve divided the dough into nine sections of various sizes for three braids that are then stacked on top of each other before baking. That’s all well and good, but then I discovered the Smitten Kitchen method for weaving round loaves of challah, and I was hooked. (In that post, Deb also offers an alternative challah recipe which you might want to try out, too.)

Challah (Makes one large loaf, but the recipe can easily be doubled.)

1 1/4 tablespoons active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 1/2-4 cups white flour

 

Egg wash and Topping:

1 egg yolk mixed with a bit of water
poppy seeds
 

Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water in a large bowl and allow to dissolve. Mix in the honey, salt, eggs, olive oil. Gradually stir in as much flour as the dough will hold, and then turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Knead the dough, adding more flour as necessary to keep it from getting too sticky. When the dough is smooth and elastic, place it in an oiled bowl, cover it with a towel, and set it aside to rise in a warm place.

After the dough doubles in size (about 40 minutes), punch it down and divide it into four equal sections. Roll the sections into ropes about 12″ long and weave them according to Deb’s weaving instructions.

The weaving is so simple, but it makes a pretty fancy looking loaf.

Dust a heavy cast iron pan with cornmeal, place the dough in the pan, and allow it to rise again until doubled (about 25 minutes). If you’re going to bake on the grill, now is the time to preheat your fire bricks or other heat barrier/insulator like I have shown in this past barbecue bread baking post.

After the final rise, brush the top of the loaf generously with egg wash and sprinkle it with poppy seeds.

Place you pan (or pans if you doubled the recipe like I did) on top of the preheated fire bricks in the barbecue and close the lid. Set the heat to “medium”, and bake for 20 minutes. Turn the barbecue down to “medium-low”, and bake another 20 minutes.

(Alternatively, you can bake it for 10 minutes in a preheated 400° oven and then another 35-40 minutes in a 375° oven.)

The egg wash tends to make the crust brown fast and well, but it can also darken up undesirably. In the past, I’ve had trouble with challah burning on the outside while not being cooked through on the inside. During this baking, I opened the lid multiple times, worried that I was going to end up with burned loaves, but I found that if I turned the barbecue down halfway through, I got exactly the outcome I desired.

The large amount of yeast and the added eggs give challah amazing leavening power. The loaves are light and airy on the inside, but the egg wash and contact with the cast iron pan gives it a fairly crunchy crust.

I brought one of my fresh loaves of challah to a potluck at my monthly Marys River Grange meeting last night. (Read more about Marys River Grange here and here and then join!) My fellow grangers were pretty impressed, and the almost spongy slices were perfect for dipping into hearty vegetable soup and sopping up juices from other potluck dishes. Today, I started in on the second loaf and made a pretty rad grilled cheese sandwich with Tillamook cheddar. If there’s any challah left tomorrow, I’m definitely going to turn it into french toast, another favorite egg-heavy recipe.

If you’ve never made challah before, just know that it’s super unfussy and forgiving. It truly is hard to screw up. If you try baking it or any other bread in the barbecue, I want to hear about the results, so report back in the comments below, okay?

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Renee April 5, 2012 at 3:17 pm

You are amazing! These are beautiful a worthy of. Being featured in a cookbook!

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Sylvia April 5, 2012 at 11:59 pm

Your challah is beautiful! And very inspiring.
I baked biscuits in my charcoal grill yesterday, just as an experiment. I have a seriously old “smoker” style grill. I grilled chicken first, then moved the pan with the charcoal to the bottom level and put an iron skillet with the biscuits on the top level, and closed the lid. They browned beautifully on the bottom, so I flipped them over and they browned on the top. It took a long time, about 45 minutes I think, and the charcoal leaves a slight taste, so not a complete success, but not a total failure either. I think I’ll try it next with wood as the heat source. I like the fire bricks, that might work for me. Are they special, or will just any brick do?

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Camille April 6, 2012 at 8:54 pm

Good for you! I’ve definitely had some not-quite-successes-but-not-quite-failures in my experiences of baking on the barbecue, too. Our gas grill is nice because I can regulate the heat pretty effortlessly, and it doesn’t add any flavor to the food.

I’ve made biscuits many times in my Lodge drop-biscuit pan . The come out a little crispier on the outside than traditional biscuits, but they’re pretty darn good.

Fire bricks are about half the thickness of regular bricks, and they will withstand high heat and insulate better. In my grill, using regular bricks might prop pans up too high, making in difficult to close the lid especially if I would want to bake two loaves at a time.

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Heidi April 6, 2012 at 7:08 pm

Just curious what size Cast Iron skillet did you use? I made it in a 12′ and it seemed like the pan was too big. So I’m not sure if the dough didn’t rise well or if the skillet was just too big. (I have a 10 inch I’ll try next time) The bread was a big hit. I took it to a dinner tonight and it went very fast. It looked beautiful woven with the poppy seeds on top.

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Camille April 6, 2012 at 8:45 pm

I used a 10″ pan, though I would think (and you sort of confirmed) that it would work with a bigger pan, too. The official recipe from The Book of Bread says to bake the loaves on a cookie sheet, but I use the skillet for extra insulation from the heat of the barbecue. I’m glad your loaf was a success!

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Laura Woodward April 8, 2012 at 6:28 am

Hi Camille,

My husband has encouraged me to comment today, and so here it goes! I really connect with your blog and the resourcefulness of your lifestyle and was drawn to take a look over the last week. I was living in Salem, Oregon for a while as my family are based there but I now live in Tanzania, working with the same organization as Julia and Viggo. So strange that I’ve never met Julia, but when I saw her comment about living in Tanzania, I thought I must know her, as there aren’t a lot of people living and working here like us. Like her, I appreciate that you live simply with limited resources and purposefully, as it is how we live here, too.

All that to say – hello! And thank you for your post on Challah. I’m making it for the first time today and have loved the process (especially of braiding the dough)!

Happy Easter, Laura

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Camille April 8, 2012 at 9:14 pm

That’s so weird and cool. It seems kinda crazy that you needed Oregon blog to hear about someone living so close to you doing what you’re doing. Julia and I are from the same small town and have known each other since way back.

I don’t generally compare my lifestyle to the way other people live, but on occasion I get hung up, coveting someone’s “stuff” or space. That’s when I just try to think of how many millions (billions) of people in the world would consider the way I live extremely extravagant. What we’re doing seems to be working out pretty well for now. I think we’re gonna turn out alright.

Nice to “meet” you, Laura.

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Rachel April 9, 2012 at 1:04 pm

Wonderful photos – upon seeing them, I decided to make 2 challah braided loaves for Easter yesterday. The weather’s been a little on the cool side, so the rising took extra-long… but the results were well worth it. I had the oven already heated for other baking, so I didn’t try baking in the barbecue. The cast iron skillet is a great idea – thank you for sharing.

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Bee Girl April 10, 2012 at 9:34 pm

These are brilliant and absolutely gorgeous! I can’t wait to try this out :-)

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Shauna in Texas April 14, 2012 at 7:56 am

I’ve been following your blog since it started, and I gotta say…this may be one of your best posts. It really made me go “oooh!” The bread is beautiful and this as an easter-related post is so you! I’m so excited to try this out.

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Camille April 15, 2012 at 9:10 am

Thanks!

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