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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Okay, so this is turning into basically a recipe blog, so here's my recipe entry for this year's Strolling of the Heifers baking competition:

Maple Challah Loaves
By Eva M. Heater

Because I’m a musician by education and trade, I’ve had to do many things to support my music habit. One of them was working in a kosher bakery. I’d find myself braiding challahs at 4 a.m. Friday mornings, and thought I was a badass because I could do the six-braids really fast without even looking, even though I’m a card-carrying member of the goyim.* I learned the many delights of kosher baking back then, especially challah. What a delicious bread! It truly is manna from Heaven.
This recipe is my own adaptation of the large commercial recipe, with the unusual twist in adding maple syrup. It makes two loaves, or many hot cross buns, challah’s close relative. No matter what your personal beliefs, this bread is worth celebrating!

          1 tablespoon SAF yeast, or 1 ½ packages of active dry yeast
          ¾ cup lukewarm water
          1 tablespoon malt syrup
          1 tablespoon bread salt from King Arthur Flour
          ½ cup of your favorite vegetable oil; choose one without a strong taste. I use canola oil
          4 large Pete & Gerry’s eggs, or 3 duck eggs from your neighbor, for extra richness!
          ¾ cup Grade B maple syrup from your favorite local sugar house**
          7-8 cups of King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour, or King Arthur bread flour if you’re using a mixer
          1 more egg and 2 tablespoons water, for egg wash
          1 tablespoon of poppy or sesame seeds for the topping, if you want

*If you’re making this kosher, use kosher ingredients in a kosher kitchen, and I assume you know the drill. My kitchen is excruciatingly not kosher, largely because of shellfish and cheeseburgers and other stuff. Not being Jewish doesn’t help.
**There’s a new classification system for grading maple syrup. Grade B is now called “Grade A dark with a robust taste.” This is difficult to remember and I don’t think it will last long, so I’m still referring to it as Grade B.

Let’s do this thing:
1.    In your favorite large bread bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon of malt syrup in ¾ cup lukewarm water. Let it sit for a couple of minutes to make the yeast happy. Yes, yes, I know that you don’t have to do this with instant yeast, but I do it anyway. Tough.
2.    Whisk the oil into the yeast mixture, then whisk in the 4 eggs, one at a time, then the ¾ cup maple syrup and 1 tablespoon bread salt. Mix thoroughly.
3.    Gradually add the flour, a cup or so at a time, until the dough holds together. If you’re using a mixer, start with the paddle, and switch to the dough hook when the dough gets thick enough. Creating bread, forming a living loaf, is a very personal thing. Use your best judgment about how much flour is enough. I find that the weather affects this noticeably; when it’s raining, I usually don’t need quite as much flour as when it’s dry. Also, more flour is usually needed in winter than in the summer.
4.    When the dough has reached the consistency you want, it’s time to knead. If you’re doing it by hand, turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead until smooth and satiny. If you’re using a mixer, knead for about 5 minutes.
5.    Place the beautiful golden dough into a large greased bowl, flip the dough to coat the top with grease, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, about an hour or so. Punch the dough down, cover, and let rise again for about 45 minutes. The flavor develops more during this second rise, so please don’t skip it. As it rises, you will already be able to smell the maple syrup, in addition to that wonderful yeasty smell that rising bread already gives off.
6.    At this point, you need to make a choice. Challah loaves have traditionally been intricately braided using 6 strips of dough. If you want to do this, and haven’t worked in a kosher bakery, there’s really good instructional YouTube videos that are easy to follow. (Use 6 socks bunched together with a chip clip to practice on, before you try it with actual dough. Trust me.) Or, you can use regular bread pans and not braid them. Divide the dough into two equal loaves, and if you’re braiding, divide each loaf into six equal pieces and have at it. When you’re done braiding, put each loaf on a baking sheet covered with parchment. If you’re using loaf pans, form each half into loaves, and put in the prepared pans.
7.    Cover the loaves with a lightweight kitchen towel and let them rise until almost doubled in size. About 10 minutes before you think they’re ready to bake, pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees. Make an egg wash with the extra egg and water, and coat each loaf thoroughly with egg wash. If you want to add sesame seeds or poppy seeds for topping, sprinkle it on top of the egg wash.

8.    Bake at 375 degrees for 35-45 minutes. Loaves are done when they are a beautiful golden brown, and they “thump” done (a family technique). Use your favorite method for judging done-ness. Cool loaves on a rack. Please try to control yourself and let the loaves cool before you start eating them. The subtle maple flavor makes this bread so very, very special!

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