Friday, July 26, 2013

Honey Whole-Wheat Challah Bread . . . with Dried Cherries

Whoa . . . can't quite believe it's been so long since I last posted. I think I've set a Jane's Sweets non-attendance record. Where have I been? Well, I can tell you I wasn't circumnavigating the globe in a sailboat. And I haven't been languishing in suspended animation in a hospital bed. Nor have I been hard at work on a cookbook destined to take the pastry world by storm, and I most certainly have not just had a baby. Nothing as remarkable as all that.

To be perfectly honest with you, I needed a little break. One that did not involve a laser focus on baking fantastic treats. I've been working, you see, on shrinking off a few pounds and it seemed expedient to lay off the homemade delicacies in order to help facilitate that thorny effort. You might say I temporarily pulled my own baking plug. And joined Weight Watchers in the process.

I mean, let's face it . . . I'm essentially a junkie when confronted with high-quality confections, especially those of my own creation. (Yeah, yeah, I know. A stunning revelation. You never could have guessed that, right?) I realized it was truly necessary for me, literally and figuratively, to back away from the dessert cart for a while in order to regroup. At least I can report that, in this semi-unplugged interim, I've made some meaningful shrinkage progress. Nothing dramatic or jarringly obvious, mind you, but all such progress is relative if you inherited chubby genes like mine.

So, anyway, a couple pounds off here, a couple pounds off there, and it all adds up. More exercise, less sugar and butter, way more veggies. It's a happy development. Progress, at this point, is admittedly slower than molasses, but that's okay. I can live with that. Slow and steady wins the race . . . right? 

What does this mean for me and my beloved blog? It just means I'm baking more selectively, for now at least. And if I do bake something luscious, I need to be darn sure that leftovers won't stick around here to tempt me. Earlier this week, for example, I had to make this big birthday cake for my younger son, who just turned 17. It's a chocolate extravaganza of a cake, and he's requested it every year for his birthday since 2010. Naturally, I was concerned at the idea of it lingering around here; lock me and a chocolate cake in a house together for a few days and the cake doesn't stand a chance. So, after his small celebration here at home on Tuesday night, about three-quarters of the cake remained. I put it in a cake-keeper, relegated it to the basement fridge, and repeatedly encouraged him to take the whole kit 'n' kaboodle away to share with his pals. Wednesday night, thank heaven, that's what he did. Problem solved.

About this recipe . . . 

All that said, I just wanted to share this bread with you while it's still fresh, both in my mind and on my kitchen counter. Adapted from a formula in Simply Great Breads, by bread master Daniel Leader (I love this little book), this is a great variation on traditional challah, with a lovely crust and appealing crumb. Wonderful flavor, too. And it's not something that will completely destroy one's diet, if partaken of judiciously.

What did I change? Well, the original recipe included olive oil and, while I do periodically use olive oil in bread, I didn't want it to compete with the other flavors in this loaf so I substituted the more neutral-tasting canola oil. Also, I fiddled with the flours a bit (Leader uses whole wheat flour and all-purpose; I used mostly whole wheat, then a combo of bread flour and all-purpose). I reduced the amount of honey slightly, and I used chopped dried cherries instead of dried apricots, though I think either one would be tasty. And, of course, I reworded the recipe to reflect exactly what I did. This is a very simple loaf to put together, with a pleasingly soft and pliant dough that's not too sticky to work with easily.

The bread is yummy, even unbuttered. I haven't tried it toasted yet but I'm sure it's divine. Maybe a nice, thin, toasted slice tomorrow morning will be called for.

Honey Whole-Wheat Challah Bread with Dried Cherries

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Yield: One large braided loaf, or two smaller standard size loaves baked in 9"x5" pans

2 cups whole wheat flour (about 8.5 oz)
1 cup bread flour
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 and 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 and 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt or kosher salt
3/4 cup luke warm water
2 large eggs, room temperature and lightly beaten
1/2 cup canola oil
3 tablespoons of honey
1/4 cup of well-chopped dried cherries

For egg wash: 1 large egg, lightly beaten with two teaspoons water (to brush on the unbaked loaf before putting it in the oven)

* * * * *

In the large bowl from your mixer, lightly whisk together the three flours, the yeast, and the salt. Into that, pour the water, eggs, oil, and honey. Using a spatula, stir this up by hand for a few seconds. Now put the bowl back on the mixer and, using the dough hook, mix the dough for about five minutes on the lowest speed, sprinkling in the chopped cherries after about two minutes of mixing. Take the bowl off the mixer and dump the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Flour your hands and finish the kneading by hand, for a couple more minutes, until the dough feels soft, smooth, and spongy. It should be tacky but not wet/sticky.

Put the dough into a large, clean bowl that's been oiled/sprayed. Cover it with plastic wrap that's also been oiled/sprayed, and let the dough rise at room temperature for about 90 minutes or up to 2 hours, until it's obviously doubled in size.

On a very lightly floured work surface, dump out the risen dough and deflate it by pressing on it with your palms. Divide the dough into three equal parts (I suggest weighing the dough first; my ball of dough weighed about 35 oz. total, so each of the three dough chunks for the braids weighed a little over 11 oz.). Roll each piece into a rope that's 15 inches long; be assertive and don't worry if the dough tries to shrink back a little as you're doing this.

On a large baking sheet, spread a sheet of parchment paper. Place the three ropes of dough in the middle of the parchment, right next to each other, and pinch the ends together tightly at the top. Proceed to braid the dough snugly (starting from the top with the right braid over the middle braid, then the left one over the center, etc.) until you reach the bottom end; tightly pinch the bottom ends together and tuck the pinched part underneath.

Dust the top of the braided dough with a pinch of flour (the bread flour or all-purpose flour) and cover it with a clean piece of plastic wrap. Let it proof for up to 2 hours, until it looks almost doubled in size. While its proofing, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Just before the bread is ready to bake, whisk together the egg and water to make a wash; brush some of the egg wash generously onto the top of the loaf and lightly down the sides.

Bake the bread for up to about 40 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 200 degrees (use an instant-read thermometer to check if you're not sure), and the color is deeply golden all over. Let the baked bread cool on a rack for a while before slicing.

*If you're baking your bread as two unbraided loaves in standard size (greased) loaf pans, I'd suggest checking them after about 20 minutes in the oven.

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below.)


Anonymous said...

hello , I love all of your bread recipe "just wonderful" instead of 2 1/4 teaspoons of instant yeast can you tell me how much is it in dry yeast?

Anonymous said...

hello Jane , love your breads recipe but can you tell me how is it in dry yeast and thank you so much for taking this time to read me message..

Jane said...

Hi Anonymous/Maggies Cakes,
I would use about one-third more active dry yeast than instant yeast (that's the general rule of thumb I have come to follow, just based on my own experience). So, for this recipe, use slightly over 3 tsp. of active dry yeast (that's more than one packet, but less than two packets) and proof the active dry yeast for a few minutes in some of the lukewarm water from the recipe (to make sure it's alive) before adding it into all the other ingredients in the mixing bowl. Thanks very much for stopping by! Good luck with your challah, and please let me know if you try this recipe and how it turns out for you!
Jane :) said...

Love this bread

Anonymous said...

thank you Jane for your help and for stopping by ..

Julia from Dozen Flours said...

Hi Jane! Congrats on your new lifestyle! I too struggle with baking and eating right. It's really difficult to live in both culinary worlds, don't you think? I find that it's all or nothing when it comes to dessert so I just try to avoid it all together. Much luck to you and feel free to post or share recipes that are healthy! I have lots I can share :)

Unknown said...

Hello. The braiding of the dough looks so amazing in your photo, but when I try it the dough stretches too far or it snaps.

Help, please?

Many thanks,

// Brain Blasterz

Anonymous said...

hello Jane , I have made the "Honey Whole-Wheat Challah Bread with Dried Cherries" and it's just wonderful ..P.S. I'm having a problem with the site trying to down load the picture...thank you.

Jane said...

Hi Brain Blasterz,
Sounds like your dough needs to "rest" a bit before you begin to shape it into the ropes to make the braid. Just let the dough sit, covered and undisturbed, for about 10 to 15 minutes before you actually try to shape the ropes. This should relax the gluten a little and make the process easier.
Thanks for stopping by!
Jane :)

Anonymous said...

hello Jane , I hope that your having the rest of the summer left enjoying it / I have posted the "Honey Whole-Wheat Challah Bread . . . with Dried Cherries" on my googel site and I think that I have fixe the problem ..

Anonymous said...

Hi Jane, Whenever I use whole wheat flour, the little wheat flakes seem excessive and ruin the bread. No one in my family likes it and they won't eat the bread. Am I using the wrong flour, or doing something incorrectly?

~~louise~~ said...

Hi Jane!

Boy am I surprised to "see" you. I popped on over to leave you a note because I hadn't seen any new posts in my side bar and lo and behold, here you are! Now I'm going to have to check that side bar:)

Love the bread but, I am happier to know you had a well needed break and that you are/were concentrating on your health. As we all know, your health is your Wealth and all this food blogging doesn't mean a thing without it!

Stay well, Jane and please keep in touch and let us know how you're doing, Louise

HanaĆ¢ said...

What a beautiful loaf, Jane. I always like to incorporate some WW flour into my bread recipes. I just saw that you graduated from culinary school (I know, only a few months too late!). Congratulations!!! The wedding cake looked absolutely stunning.

Jane said...

Hi Louise,
Thanks so much for that hello! It's so great to hear from you. I'm doing just fine here, and hope to be doing another blog post soon (just have to settle on a good recipe!). All is well in my neck of the woods, and I hope the same is true for yours. I was so glad to see that you returned from your own blogging hiatus! It's so nice to know you're out there again.

Jane :)

Dear Hanna,
Thank you for the congrats! Yep, it was a long time coming, but I finally finished baking/pastry school. I think of that giant cake as my magnum opus, and even if I decide to never whip up another massive cake like that again, it was worth the effort to do it at least once. I visit your wonderful blog whenever I get a chance and love every recipe I see! Glad to know you're still perking along splendidly in all respects.

Your old bakin' pal,
Jane :)

Dear Anonymous,
I think the trick is to use whole wheat flour that is not only nice and fresh, but also to use recipes that require not just whole wheat flour, but a mixture of some non-whole wheat flours as well (unbleached all-purpose flour, and/or bread flour or pastry flour). Bread made from all whole wheat will, in my experience, invariably be dense at the very least. The answer to your dilemma, really, is to back off the amount of whole wheat flour that you use in baking so it's not overwhelming in terms of texture and flavor. One good cookbook you might like is called Good to the Grain; it contains recipes that use combinations of various whole grain flours, along with white flour. My family (even my kids)has liked everything I've made from this book. Don't give up! Good luck to you!
Jane :)

~~louise~~ said...

Hi Jane,

So glad to know everything is just fine in your neck of the woods:) You take as long as you need to search for that "perfect" recipe:)

It really is great to be back to blogging but, every once in a while it is also great to take a break from blogging too. Enjoy your time:) Louise

Melanie Anne said...

oh Jane--this bread looks fantastic!!! Yum! You are one talented baker, my friend:)

Anonymous said...

Hello Jane, I have not see any more of your delicious posts in a while, Ihope that you and your famiy has had a veryMerry Christmas and a great New_Year 2014.......:-)

~~louise~~ said...

Thinking about you Jane and hoping all is well with you and yours, Louise

Cathleen said...

I have been meaning to try challah bread for such a long time! This looks fantastic!

Chloe Pollacco said...

This looks lovely! Ive always wanted to try making braded bread! I am now a follower :D

~~louise~~ said...

Oh Jane!!!!

You absolutely made my day stopping by my blog. I think about you all the time and hope that all is well in your little corner of the world:)

And you couldn't have picked a more perfect day to stop by. It was just one of those days, lol...I'm sure the full moon had something to do with it, lol...

Oh Jane thank you for dropping by:)

As for that egg white thing, I don't know. Really, I'm not happy with the state of food "foodies" mthese days. Things are a changin much to quickly...

Please stay well Jane and do drop by, or perhaps start blogging, again:)

June said...

Hi Jane - It's been such a long time since we've had the pleasure of your company via one of your wonderful blog posts.

Just wanted to say that I miss your blog posts, miss your recipes, and miss you.

I hope all is well with you and your family, and maybe in the not too distant future, you'll return with another inspiring and delicious recipe.

omlet said...

Absolutely gorgeous and recipe looks delish!

~~louise~~ said...

Hi Jane:)
Hope you had a wonderful holiday. Just wanted to drop by to wish you and yours a Happy and Healthy New Year!!! Louise

Candice said...

I consider this bread for breakfast. But it's sweet with honey and dry cherries, kids might like as snacks.

TEfl Training and courses