I’ve been baking as a hobby for a long time now, since I was eight or so. And it never ceases to amaze me– the transformation that takes place in the oven. My heart still beats a little faster from the excitement as I turn on the oven light to check in on whatever I’m baking. Sometimes I get panicky if I see that something’s overflowing, like a bubbling pie that I forgot to put a tray under, or muffin cups that I’ve eagerly overfilled. Most of the time I can tell that something’s almost done baking… its scent starts to waft through the house.
This challah is a perfect example of that. It came together so fast that I was disappointed it was over already. Literally less than 10 minutes to measure out and combine the ingredients. After that, all the work is done by the mixer to knead the dough, and by the yeast to perform its magic to aerate the dough.
Then you weave and shape the challah– therapeutic, really– and after a transformation in the oven, you’ll quickly be rewarded with a tender, soft, light bread.
In between school, work, baking and the occasional run, I’ve also been trying to meditate on a daily basis. If you told my younger self that I meditate I would’ve thought it totally weird, but why not? They say it’s like an exercise for your mind, and it really is. I find that it forces me to focus and concentrate and it allows my mind to quiet down.
I use headspace, which really, really helps. I don’t think I can do it unguided. What I find hardest about it is a.) I never know if I’m doing it correctly or if this is what meditation is supposed to ‘feel like’ and b.) I can’t find the right balance between consciously thinking about it vs. not thinking about it but being aware of it vs. being on the verge of falling asleep. My mind switches between all these states when I meditate, it’s unpredictable.
Anyway, meditation isn’t really about trying to “clear your mind”, there’s not supposed to be any effort involved. It’s more like stepping back and being aware of your thoughts, and let them pass by you, like watching clouds in the sky.
This challah recipe comes from Deb from smittenkitchen, and her recipes never let me down. My initial thoughts about the recipe, from looking at the ingredients, was that it wouldn’t be rich/eggy enough, which is the kind of challah I had in New York and have been dreaming to recreate. I was tempted to add some egg yolks or replace the water with milk, but I’m glad that I didn’t alter the recipe. It’s perfect as is. Although it’s not eggy or buttery, it’s nice and light and a perfect way to enjoy the flavour of the red bean filling. It 100% reminded me of the stuff you get in Asian bakeries. Except better, because it’s made with love ‘n care 😉
I don’t think you need any more convincing to make it– it’s really a breeze to put together, and nothing beats the feeling of pulling a warm loaf of bread out of your oven.
Red Bean Challah
Slightly adapted from smitten kitchen
- 2 1/4 teaspoons (1 packet — 1/4 ounce or 7 grams) active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup (85 grams) plus 1 teaspoon honey
- 2/3 cup warm water (110 to 116 degrees°F)
- 1/3 cup (80 ml) olive oil, plus more for the bowl
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, or 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
- 4 cups (500 grams) all-purpose flour
Red Bean Filling
- 1 large egg
- pearl sugar, for sprinkling
To make dough with a stand mixer: Whisk the yeast and 1 teaspoon honey into warm water, and let it stand for a few minutes, until foamy. In a large mixer bowl, combine the yeast mixture with remaining honey, 1/3 cup olive oil, and eggs. Add the salt and flour, and mix until dough begins to hold together. Switch to a dough hook, and run at low speed for 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer the dough to an olive-oil coated bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside for 1.5 to 2 hours, or until almost doubled in size.
After your dough has risen, turn it out onto a floured counter and divide it in half. Roll the first half of the dough into a wide and totally imperfect rectangle (really, the shape doesn’t matter). Spread half the red bean filling evenly over the dough. Roll the dough into a long, tight log. Gently stretch the log as wide as possible without it tearing. Cut it in half. Repeat with remaining dough and red bean filling.
Weave your challah: Arrange two ropes in each direction, perpendicular to each other, like a tight tic-tac-toe board. Weave them so that one side is over, and the other is under, where they meet. Take the 4 strands that come from underneath the center and weave them over their adjacent strand, to the right. Take the 4 legs that are now “under” and weave them over their adjacent strand, now to the left. Repeat until the strands are too short to weave. Tuck these strands underneath the dough to form a round.
I found watching this youtube video to be helpful.
Transfer the dough to a parchment-covered heavy baking sheet. Beat egg until smooth, and brush over challah. Let challah rise for another hour, but 45 minutes into this rise, preheat your oven to 375°F.
Bake your loaf: Before baking, brush loaf one more time with egg wash and sprinkle with pearl sugar. Bake in middle of oven for 35 to 40 minutes. Start watching it at the 20-30 minute mark to ensure it’s not overly browned; if it is, cover with aluminum foil. The very best way to check for doneness is with an instant-read thermometer — the center of the loaf should be 195 degrees.
Cool loaf on a rack (if you can), and enjoy fresh and warm!
A neat little trick to try if you want the crust to be soft is to lightly cover it with plastic wrap when it’s almost done cooling. The residual heat will steam the crust a little bit, resulting in a soft crust, which I prefer.