Our neighbor moved recently, making us the grateful recipients of a number of food odds and ends that he didn’t want to pack them up and take with him. One of these things was a miraculous loaf of something called “egg bread,” which the husband has fallen in love with. The loaf was a little like bread made from brioche dough, making dangerously delicious grilled sandwiches. Eggy, but also buttery, the bread verged on making our grilled cheese into a pastry sandwich, right on that lovely edge of overkill which is exquisitely tasty.
I immediately set out to find a recipe and recreate this wonder bread. I haven’t found the right recipe yet, but I did manage to make a version of it – a challah braid – that is really quite beautiful:
This is a small braid that I made with just under half the recipe. I made the rest in a loaf pan, because we wanted sandwiches. The dough increases considerably during the last rise and in the oven, so dough looks are deceiving here. You can count on the shaped dough to about double in size between the final rise and the baking.
The dough “ropes” I used for the braid were about an inch in diameter – a little bigger than the rolls I usually make for gnocci. The braiding was very simple (any girl who has ever had a girlfriend knows how to do a three strand braid) – just smash the strands together at the top, braid loosely and tuck the ends together at the bottom. My pre-rise braid looked like so:
This was, unfortunately, not the tasty bread we just had courtesy of our former neighbor. It’s a bit more dense and not at all buttery. So we have some work to do…and we have some sandwiches to eat.
I decided to put this up here with the recipe even though it’s not perfect for a couple of reasons. Reason one – baking is a process. I am often lucky and things just “work out” when I make them the first time. A lot of effort goes into recipes if they are done well, and that is generally why things do work out the first time around when they do. But things sometimes don’t work out, in which case, you need to try again if you’re really determined to make something happen. Since I am determined that the husband will have delicious egg bread for his fried sandwiches I’ll press on and next week we’ll try a recipe with some butter in it and see what happens. It might do the trick, it might not, but by the time I figure out how to make this bread the way I want it, I will have learned a ton about challah and a lot more about baking.
The other reason I’m putting this up there is because it’s Passover and while you can’t eat this bread during Passover if you’re keeping kosher, it is kosher for the rest of the year. I originally thought that is was ok to eat during Passover and then I thought about it for two seconds and realized that it has yeast in it, which is like the king of Passover no-nos. So then I thought, “well how could this be kosher then?” My good friend J, who helps me understand all this stuff, reminded me that of course you can keep kosher and eat leavened breads (duh! Bagels!) but during Passover, no leavening is allowed in remembrance of when the Jews fled so quickly that no bread had time to rise. That’s a lot for my brain to remember, but nonetheless, we’ll see if we can find something else to make that is appropriate for Passover and in the meantime, enjoy some toasted sandwiches.
Kosher Challah from About.com (with notes by me)
In a small bowl, combine the yeast, sugar, and 1/4 cup of lukewarm water. Let it stand for five minutes so the yeast can activate.
In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. In the middle, create a well for the liquids. Pour in the eggs, oil, 1 cup of water, and the yeast mixture. Use your hands to mix all of the ingredients together. Knead the bread with both hands.
Once you have a ball of dough, cover it with an oiled plastic wrap. Let the dough sit in a warm place to rise for about an hour. Punch down the dough a few times, and then let it rise again for about an hour. The dough should be about double its original size.
Lightly flour a rolling surface. Put down the dough and split it into four sections. Three of these will go towards a six-braided challah, and the fourth piece will be for a three-braided challah.
To make a six-braided challah, divide the three parts in half so you have six balls of dough. With your hands, roll the dough into long pieces about 12 inches long. Now you have six strands to braid.
Lay them out in a row and attach them to each other at the top. There are two right pieces, two middle pieces and two left pieces.
There are two sections to the braiding. First, pick up the left center strand and pull it to the top so it’s over the other strands. Second, hold the center right strand and the inner left strand together. Then, pull the outer left strand under those other two.
Now we switch the two center pieces, up and down. Next, take the center right strand and the inner right strand in one hand. Then, pull the outer right strand under.
Continue switching the centers and pulling in the outside strand under until you run out of dough. At the end, bring the strands together and tuck them under the challah.
For a three-strand braid, divide the dough into three pieces. Roll out the pieces into long strands and attach them at the top.
To braid, take the right strand and bring it over the middle one. Then, take the left strand and bring that over the middle. Continue to do this, outside over middle, until you reach the end. Bring the strands together and tuck them under.
Bake the Challah
Once the dough is braided, place them on a greased cookie sheet or loaf pan. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and let the bread rise one last time.*
Finally, beat the egg and completely paint the dough with the egg. This will bring a nice golden color to the finished bread.
Place the sheets into the oven and cook for 50 minutes.** Let the loaves cool on a wire rack, and enjoy!