Fresh baked challah – in a toaster oven?!

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January 18, 2013 by ka101010

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3 challahs: Two 3-strand double deckers and one 4-strand. 2 of them were baked in a conventional oven, one in a toaster oven. Guess which one came out of the toaster oven!

One of my favorite breads is challah. I love the eggy richness, the subtle sweetness and the symbolic beauty of this traditional Jewish braided bread. I’ve experimented with several recipes and have found that butter, as opposed to oil, is my favorite way to enrich the bread. It results in a slightly richer crumb that is very moist. From a production standpoint, it yields a dough that is much easier to shape/braid.

Given its impressive prettiness, light sweetness and soft crust, challah would be a likely hit among Koreans, and my Korean friends do love the challah I make! So I am very surprised that I’ve never seen braided/knotted/turban challah loaves in Seoul. Brioche and brioche à tête, which are quite similar to challah in formulation, can be found at the fancier bakeries. If you’ve found challah at a bakery in Seoul, please share your experience! Or feel free to contact me if you are in Seoul and need a challah (note: my kitchen is not kosher).

Challah is actually a good candidate for toaster oven baking, which is great news for Seoulites who have toaster ovens but lack a conventional oven. Why: Because challah is an enriched bread with a softer crust, it does not require high temperatures, a baking stone, or a steamy environment like lean breads (ie: baguettes require all of this). In addition, it can be shaped into a single braid, which is still gorgeous but flat enough to rise adequately in a toaster oven.

Disclaimer: I do not have a toaster oven in Seoul. But while in Los Angeles visiting my parents, I decided to try baking a loaf in my mom’s relatively standard Cuisinart toaster oven: it goes up to 500F, has a glass door (which does not maintain heat very well, as confirmed by an oven thermometer). Despite the inconsistencies, I decided to give it a go since I have never made anything except toast/cheese melt in such an oven.

Result: completely delicious and pretty loaf! The only modifications are to extend baking by about 10 minutes to achieve an internal temperature of 195F/90C (due to the oven’s temperature inconsistency) and rotate it halfway through baking for even browning. I got nice oven spring and moist crumb. In the recipe below, I have added a small amount of whole wheat flour for flavor and color (to offset the mildness of Korean brand white flour). However, feel free to make this an all-white loaf if you prefer, the eggs, honey, and butter already add lots of flavor.

*Reminder: use Unbleached All Purpose Flour in this recipe (and most recipes posted here). Beksul Hard/bread flour (with pictures of bread on the front) is appropriate. Beksul all-purpose flour (with the cookies on the front) is not recommended due to its lower protein content. Bleached flours are too low in protein to produce successful high-hydration doughs like this (will result in a dough that is really really wet). If you must use bleached flour, you may have to adjust the liquid ratio (in most cases, reduce the liquid) to produce an acceptable product. Check out my previous post for more tips on how to tell which (Korean) flours are appropriate.

The flavor of the loaf will improve if you allow the dough to rest in the fridge for one or two days as opposed to baking it immediately. More importantly, this is a no-knead recipe and the dough stores well over a few days, it looks like a lot of steps but involves VERY little active effort! Just mix, rise, (refrigerate if desired), shape/braid (this step is the most time-consuming, but fun!), rise then bake! If you are really pressed for time, you can shape the dough into an oval and bake in well-greased loaf pan as a brioche, and the outcome is just as delicious. Just make sure the dough takes up only 3/4 of the pan pre-rise, otherwise the pan will overflow during baking.

I’ve given loaves of challah to friends, and many (including my parents) have reported that they eat it with olive oil and/or balsamic. I find this interesting since I equate olive oil and balsamic with lean breads. Challah is a slightly sweet enriched (made with fats like butter, oil, lard, eggs, etc) bread, so I only ever snack on it straight or turn it into french toast/bread pudding. But maybe my friends are onto something…

Have you made challah or other enriched bread in your toaster oven and have some tips? Has anyone used local (light-colored) Korean honey in baking and have some reccs? Feel free to share!

No-knead Challah (with toaster oven instructions)

adapted from “Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day” by Zoë François and Jeff Hertzberg, M.D. Makes two 450g/1lb challah loaves

210 ml lukewarm water

11 grams instant yeast

11 grams kosher salt (reduce slightly if using table salt and/or salted butter)

2 eggs, beaten + 1 additional egg for egg wash

60 ml honey

60 ml melted butter (if using salted butter, reduce table/Kosher salt)

70 grams whole wheat flour (Woorimil 우리밀 brand is appropriate. Whole meal flour = 통밀가루 “tong mil ga roo”)

420 grams unbleached all-purpose flour (Beksul 백설 brand bread/hard flour is appropriate)

Poppy or sesame seeds (optional)

Directions:

Mix yeast, salt, eggs, honey, water, butter in a large mixing bowl (ensure that butter is not so hot that it cooks the eggs). Mix flours together.

Combine wet mixture and flours with a spoon or stand mixer until all ingredients are fully incorporated. If mixing by hand, you may need to use wet hands to incorporate the last bits of flour into the dough. The dough will seem very wet compared to conventional/kneaded bread doughs, look like a lumpy mass, not too stiff (this is a high hydration dough). Cover bowl with plastic wrap, but allow wrap to remain loose enough for gases to escape.

Allow dough to rise at room temp for 2 hours. Rise will be complete when dough rises and flattens on the top. Place the covered bowl in refrigerator to chill dough. You may use the dough immediately, but it is easier to shape chilled dough. You may bake one loaf at a time, or both if you have an oven large enough to accommodate 2 loaves. Leftover dough can remain in the fridge, covered with plastic wrap, for up to 5 days.

When ready to bake, flour your work surface. For one loaf, take half of the dough from the bowl and lightly dust with some flour. Quickly form into a ball, then gently form dough into a thick log. Divide log into 4 equal parts and cut. Take each of the four chunks and gently roll out into strands approx 30 cm/1 ft long (If your toaster oven is smaller, you may need to slightly reduce the amount of dough for one loaf and/or make shorter, chubbier strands). Careful not to add too much flour to the dough or work surface, this may dry out the dough. Having a slightly tacky surface will help you roll out smooth strands. Finished strands should be smooth with no cracks, thicker in the middle and tapered at the ends (this way, the loaf looks plump in the middle). If the dough keeps snapping back to a shorter length, allow the dough to rest for a few minutes and let the gluten relax a bit, then proceed with shaping.

Once strands are complete, join all 4 at one end and pinch ends together. Starting with the strand on the outer right side, cross this strand over the second strand, then under the third, then over the fourth. Continue this “over, under, over” pattern to braid the loaf. For shaping tips: The Shiksa has some excellent instructions on various challah shapes, much easier than some other methods I’ve seen on Youtube. When the braid is complete, pinch the ends together. Tuck each end under the loaf for a neater appearance. Then gently smush/squeeze the loaf from top to bottom so that braid is tighter, eliminating any tiny gaps. Don’t smush too strongly, otherwise braid strands may stick together, resulting in a less-defined, sloppy braid.

Place braided loaf on a cookie sheet or toaster oven pan lined with parchment paper (you may also grease the pan instead of using parchment). Allow loaf to rest for about 1.5 hours (or 40 minutes if using freshly made, unrefrigerated dough). Increase rising time if your kitchen is particularly cold or decrease rising time if your kitchen is really warm. If you found yourself re-doing the strands, allow additional time for the loaf to rise as you probably knocked a lot of gas out of the dough.

Preheat oven to 350F/175C. I recommend using an oven thermometer to gauge temperature, especially in the toaster oven since heat can escape more easily.

To make egg wash (for a shiny loaf): Beat 1 egg with approx 2 tablespoons water. When the braided loaf has finished rising, brush loaf with egg wash. For extra shine, wait a couple minutes after the first egg wash coating, then coat a second time. Gently absorb any excess egg that accumulates around the loaf with a paper towel.

If you want to add sesame or poppy seeds to the top of the loaf: place seeds in a small cup, and fill a second cup with water. Wet your fingers in the water, then place fingers into seed cup. The seeds should adhere to your fingers and coat them in an even layer. Gently place your fingers on the egg-washed loaf, then retract your fingers in a rolling motion to release the seeds (as if you are being fingerprinted. I know, weird analogy. All of you who have worked in financial services in the US know exactly what I am talking about). Seeds should stick to the loaf in a nice even layer. Continue until you have covered the loaf.

Place loaf in the preheated oven and bake for 25 minutes if using a conventional oven, approx 35 min if using a toaster oven. For toaster oven users: ensure that the racks are positioned so that the loaf has room to rise (a single braid loaf should only need about 3 inches/8 cm of room). Smaller and larger loaves will require adjustments in baking time, as will different toaster ovens. Check on loaf halfway through baking time and rotate if necessary to achieve even baking. Loaf will be done when golden brown and internal temp (as measured with an instant read thermometer) reaches at least 195F/90C.

Cool on a rack for at least 45 minutes (I know it’s difficult to not break into hot bread, but be patient! Cooling allows for proper crumb development, so you don’t end up with a gummy crumb hours later). Enjoy!

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Challah pre-oven. 4-strand braid (my favorite braid). Brushed with egg wash. Placed on toaster oven pan lined with parchment paper.

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Finished 4-strand challah, fresh out of the toaster oven. This is the center loaf in the photo at the top of the page.

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Cross-section of butter-enriched challah. I’ve noticed that oil-enriched challah results in a lighter crumb, the dough tends to spread out more during proofing than butter-enriched. Either way, results are yummy!

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