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?