The common thing among all of us human beings on this planet is that we all sit down at table and break bread together. From the simple breads of the soft, native home-baked breadfruit, to the equisite speciality breads in the storefronts in any city in the world, the families of the world come together to give thanks for the time they have been given together. Or the simple meal shared with one's self.
The Thursday that I attended the Swannanoa School for the Culinary Arts at Warren-Wilson College, we spent the day with our hands in dough. They split us into two groups, each having the chance to bake at the Warren-Wilson kitchen and to visit the French Bakery at Chef Pierre's in Asheville, NC.
For the first program, I went to the kitchens there on campus. On the table were the ingredients carefully measured out on the tables for each particpant. It gave us a chance to put our hands in dough and be creative children again.
We made Challah, a traditional bread for a celebratory meal.
These ingredient came form the School cookbook we were given as part of the course-
3/4 C. warm (110 F) water
2 teasp. instant 'rapid rise' yeast
1 1/2 teasp. salt
4 large eggs
4 2/3 C. sifted flour
4 Tblsp. softened butter (or, when celebrating with Jewish friends, oil)
(1 extra egg for wash, well-beaten)
(poppy or sesame seeds, optional)
Mark the word START down on a sheet of paper, and jot your start time next to it. Add 45 mins. to the start time, and write that down with the word FOLD next to it. Beneathe FOLD, write SHAPE, adding two hours to your start time for this figure.
In a large bowl (large enough to let your dough double, whisk together the first five ingredients very well. Have the softened butter within reach.
Add the flour all at once, roll up your sleeves, and mix thoroughly with your hands until the flour is almost completely incorporated. Add the butter, rubbing it into dough and mixing until well blended. Do not knead. Using a wet, plastic dough scraper, scrape the dough off your fingers and add back into the bowl, then scrape any dough clinging to the sides of the bowl back down into the bowl as well. Cover the bowl well with plastic.
When it is time to FOLD, wet your dough scraper and both of your hands, shaking off excess moisture. Use the scraper to press tightly against the bowl, scooping down and under the dough in order to release it from the bowl. ( Do not punch down.) After releasing the dough from the sides, FOLD the dough by using a motion that is just like kneading, but gentler, until the center 'seam' you are creating with your folding stops sticking to itself. and begins to bloom back open instead. This will take about 30 seconds. Dough should not be at all sticky at this point. Work in some extra flour, a small amount at a time, folding and mixing in well, until dough is smooth. You may do the 'windowpane' test here if you like, for fun. This unkneaded dough will pass easily. The 45- min. 'autolyse' has give the liquid and the flour protein- the gluten- all the time it needs to develop fully on its' own, no kneading necessary. This FOLDing technique can be used on any dough, even bagels, with success.
After the dough has risen for two hours from start time, lightly flour your work surface, also sprinkling some flour around the edges of the bowl and across the top of the dough. (Do not punch down.) Then, using a dry dough scraper, press the scraper tightly against the sides of the bowl, tilting the bowl so as to allow the flour at its' edge drop down with the scraper, and releasing the dough mass form the bowl's sides and bottom. Tip the dough out onto your work surface.
Divide the dough in half, then each half into three equal pieces (for a 3-strand braid), four equal pieces (for a 4-strand braid) or 6 (for a 6-strand braid.) Alternatively, you could make one large loaf. It will an additional 10 mins. (approx.) to bake. Roll each piece by hand about 15 inches long, with the ends somewhat pointly and the center more full. (There will need to be a slight stickiness between dough and counter from proper rolling; mist counter lightly with water as needed.)
For a simple braid, lay the 3 pieces side-by-side, braiding out from the center in each dorection, to the ends of the loaf. Pinch ends well and tuck under slightly. For 4- or 6-piece braids, lay your pieces side-by-side (with enough room between them to lay another piece.) Then, grasping the top inch only of each dough length, bring all other ends together with a good pinch; the remainder of the lengths will be splayed out. Use something heavy to weight the pinched ends to the counter. 'Number' your lengths in your mind, from 1-4, (or 1-6), starting with '1' for the length to your fartherest left. Each time you move and length, it will adopt the number of its' newest position.
Proceed as follows-
4-piece braid- 6-piece braid-
4 over 2 5 over 1
1 over 3 6 over 4
2 over 3 2 over 6
repeat to end 1 over 3
repeat to end
Place your loaves (or loaf) on a sheet pan lined with parchment (the simple braid can also be put into two well-greased loaf pans, if you prefer). Cover well with lightly oiled plastic. Let rise for 2 hours or until doubled, with an indent from your finger remaining after loaf is lightly pressed. Just before popping into oven, brush dough with the beaten egg. Sprinle with poppy or sesame seeds, if desired.
Bake in a preheated 325F oven for 20 minutes, rotate pan(s) and continue baking an additional 15-20 minutes, or until the bottom of the loaf gves a good hollow sound when solidly rapped. Watch for over-brownng, have some foil handy to loosely cover tour breads. (Alternatively, you can test the exact center of the loaf with an instant-read thermometer; your reading should be 200F to 210F within 6 seconds. the method is especially useful for testing doneness if you've chosen to refrigerate your shaped dough before baking. Remove from pans and cool from rack.
Some authors claim you can let a challah rise as long as three days in the refrigerator before baking...