The whole process of making bread is thoroughly pleasurable: the feeling of the flour, the heady beer-like aroma of yeast, and the dough in its different states of ripeness, from that big pillow of plumpness during fermentation, the resilience one feels during shaping, to the awesome turgidity of its fully proofed splendor. And nothing beats the exhilarating texture and taste of freshly baked bread in the morning!
My interest in bread making began when I was about nine years old. Whenever we would visit my grandparents’ restaurant (which had a bakeshop too), I liked to watch the bakers make meat buns, cinnamon rolls, ensaymada, and pizza dough. My interest in baking came to a head when
I noticed the way the dough would rise during its final proof. The buns looked so round and smooth. One day, I just couldn’t help but give each of those adorable puffy balls of dough a good smacking as I was on my way out of the kitchen. A few hours later, my mother took me aside and showed me the disastrous result of what I’d done—the meat buns had deflated and were wrinkled all over. I, however, felt no remorse, and became curious instead. Why did that happen? How did that happen? Since then, bread and bread making became for me a scientific mystery that needed to be unraveled.
The author teaches breadmaking at the International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management | www.iscahm.com
Today, I teach and train future bakers, experiment with natural starters, and hone my skills in hand-shaped breads. This is where my bread journey has led me. Bread making makes me happy. It has afforded me many opportunities. It has given me good friends and lasting relationships that have deeply enriched my life, and most importantly, it continues to feed my sense of wonder and my need to explore. Indeed, bread is life, and I would like to think that I am a living testament to this.
Challah is one of those “exotic” breads (at least among Filipinos) that you’ll likely fall in love with once you have a taste. It’s meant for occasions: religious ones, holidays, weddings, and celebrations.
Makes 1 large loaf
1 1/3 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 whole eggs
1/3 cup honey
3 tablespoons cooking oil
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons iodized salt
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
all-purpose flour, for dusting
1. In a large bowl, using a wire whisk, combine water, instant yeast, eggs, honey, and cooking oil. Mix well. Add flour and salt. Using a wooden spoon or a large rubber spatula, mix until a dough has formed
2. Transfer dough to a clean work surface. Knead dough for about 8 to 10 minutes until well developed. Round out dough and transfer to a lightly greased bowl. Loosely cover with a plastic sheet and leave to ferment for an hour.
Photos by Ocs Alvarez | Styling by Bel Alvarez
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3. Gently turn out dough and punch it down to remove excess carbon dioxide. Divide into 5 equal portions. Loosely shape each portion into a log and let rest under a sheet of plastic for 10 to 15 minutes.
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4. Shape each rested log into an 18-inch strand with tapering ends.
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5. Arrange the 5 strands as one would for braiding, with the top ends tied together, and with 2 strands on the left and 3 strands on the right. Number the strands 1 to 5, from left to right. There should be a gap between strands 2 and 3.
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6. Starting with strand 5, move it to the left between strands 2 and 3. So there are now 3 strands on the left (1, 2 and 5) and 2 strands on the right (3 and 4).
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7. Move strand 1 to the right between strands 5 and 3. So there are now 2 strands on the left (2 and 5) and 3 strands on the right (1, 3 and 4).
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8. Move strand 4 to the left between strands 5 and 1. So the arrangement is now back to 3 strands on the left (2, 5 and 4) and 2 strands on the right (1 and 3).
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9. Repeat the braiding sequence until the entire length of the 5 strands is braided. Avoid stretching the dough when braiding. This will result in a tight braid which causes the strands to tear and burst while the dough is proofing.
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10. Secure the ends of the strands well.
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11. Once braided, gently transfer the shaped dough onto a greased baking tray. Let rise for about 20 minutes under a towel or plastic sheet. Brush with egg wash (recipe below), coating the top evenly. Apply egg wash twice for a richer and deeper brown color when baked, but remember to apply it thinly to avoid drips. Sprinkle sesame seeds all over the top.
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12. Let shaped dough rise until fully proofed, or has doubled in size, about 45 minutes. In a preheated 350°F oven, bake until golden brown.