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Homemade Challah Left Its Mark on A Future Baking Queen

Homemade Challah Left Its Mark on A Future Baking Queen

Photo by Jennifer May Photography

Photo by Jennifer May Photography

When the founder and CEO of Hot Bread Kitchen, Jessamyn Rodriguez, was three years old, she had a formative bread experience. Her family lived in rural Ontario, in a small town called Gananoque, hundreds of miles away from the closest Jewish bakery. They still celebrated Shabbat on Fridays and her mother, who was finishing her PhD at the time, made a challah every week for dinner. 
Jessamyn doesn't have many memories from those years, but she can distinctly recall the smell of the dough after rising and how it felt to roll that dough into braids with her little hands. Jessamyn’s love of challah started with those dense, flavorful loaves. 
Home-baked challah is different from the commercially produced, over-yeasted, fast challah that's now ubiquitous in many supermarkets. At Hot Bread Kitchen, her bakers use a minimum amount of yeast, and take time to let flavor develop naturally, and create a nice chewy loaf.
The Jewish Food Society was proud to gift Hot Bread Kitchen challahs to attendees of our latest event. You can purchase the challah online, sign up for a challah subscription, or try making it at home using the recipe that was published in the Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook. All sales benefit programs run by Hot Bread Kitchen, a social enterprise that creates economic opportunity through careers in food by training low-income women from around the world, incubating food businesses and creating jobs in urban areas. 

Hot Bread Kitchen Traditional Challah

Makes: 2 (12-inch/30 cm) Loaves
2 ½  cups/315 g bread flour, plus more for shaping
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons sugar
3 ¼  teaspoons kosher salt
1 ¼  teaspoons active dry yeast
1 ¼  cups/300 g (risen and deflated) pâte fermentée (see recipe below), cut into walnut-size pieces
3 large egg yolks, beaten
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons water, or more if needed
3 tablespoons canola oil, plus more for coating the bowl
2 large eggs, beaten
1. Put the bread flour, sugar, salt, and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the pâte fermentée, egg yolks, honey, water, and oil and mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are completely incorporated (i.e., you can’t see any flour) and the yeast has disappeared into the dough. Add a little extra water if this hasn’t happened in 3 minutes. Increase the speed to medium to medium-high and mix until the dough is smooth, pulls away from the sides of the bowl (and leaves the sides clean), has a bit of shine, and makes a slapping noise against the sides of the bowl, about 5 minutes. Do the windowpane test to check to see if the gluten is fully developed. The dough will look smooth and feel slightly tacky.
2. Coat the inside of a large bowl with oil and transfer the dough to it. Lightly dust the top of the dough with flour and cover the bowl with plastic wrap or put the whole bowl in a large plastic bag. Let stand at room temperature until the dough is puffy and supple, about 1 hour and 30 minutes.
3. Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Flatten slightly and divide it into 4 equal pieces (each weighing about 7½ ounces/215 g). Working with one piece at a time (keep the rest covered with plastic), form a tight log roll. Then, with two hands, give the piece a few rolls on the floured surface so that it forms a thick rope about 18 inches/45 cm long. Repeat to make 4 ropes.
4. Leave 2 ropes loosely covered with plastic. Take the first 2 ropes and form a two-strand braid (see photographs). Form an “X” in front of you with one rope going from the upper right to the lower left on the bottom, and the other on top, going from the upper left to the lower right on top. Fold the top right arm of the X down over the center so it’s now facing down toward you. Fold the bottom left arm of the X up over the center so it’s now where the top right arm used to be. Do the same with the top left arm and the bottom right arm. Keep building your braid in this fashion until you have no dough left to cross. Turn the braid on its side so that what was the base is now one end of the loaf and squeeze the small end pieces of dough firmly together and tuck them under the braid. Set the braided loaf on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and repeat the process with the remaining 2 ropes of dough to form a second loaf. Evenly space the loaves apart on the baking sheet.
5. Carefully brush the challahs with the beaten eggs, reserving whatever egg is left over for a second egg wash. Put the entire baking sheet in a large plastic bag or cover the challahs loosely with plastic wrap, and let them stand at room temperature until they have risen, are supple, and hold indentations when pressed lightly, about 1 hour.
6. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C.
7. Uncover the challahs and gently brush them again with the reserved egg. Bake the loaves until they’re mahogany colored and sound hollow when you tap on the bottom of the loaves, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Insert a thin knife in between the strands to make sure that the dough is firm—it should have the density of a well-baked cake.
8. Transfer the breads to a wire rack to cool completely, at least 1 hour. Store leftovers in a plastic bag at room temperature or freeze.

Pâte Fermentée

Makes about 1 ¼ cups (risen and deflated)/300g
Pâte fermentée is an ingredient in many recipes in the lean and enriched doughs chapters. You need to make it eight to twenty-four hours before you bake your bread. This extra step extends fermentation time and allows you to achieve a light, flavorful loaf with less yeast. Pâte fermentée contains the ingredients of simple French bread dough—flour, water, yeast, and salt—so, in a pinch, you could bake and eat it. Unlike other types of pre-ferments, such as levain, pâte fermentée does not impart a sour flavor to the bread. Instead it adds depth of flavor and extends the shelf life of your bread. If you make bread often, you can save the trimmings from lean doughs to use in your pâte fermentée. For this Traditional Challah recipe, you will mix a batch of the pâte fermentée the day before, then refrigerate it until you are ready to bake.
½ cup plus 1 teaspoon/120 g
Lukewarm water
⅔ teaspoon active dry yeast
1⅓ cups plus 1 tablespoon/180 g bread flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1. Put the water and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, then add the flour and salt. Mix on low speed for 2 minutes until combined into a shaggy dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
2. Refrigerate the mixture for a minimum of 8 hours and a maximum of 24. (There is no need to return it to room temperature before using.)
3. If you’re measuring the pâte fermentée rather than weighing it, be sure to deflate it with a wooden spoon or with floured fingertips before measuring. 

Reprinted with permission from The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook: Artisanal Baking from Around the World by Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez (Clarkson Potter).
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