Adapted from 200 Fast and Easy Artisan Breads
Hands-on time: 10 minutes
Rest time: minimum…2 hours on the counter or up to 3 days in a lidded but not air tight container in the fridge.
Shaping and second rising: 40 minutes
Baking time: 40 minutes (since I did it in a spring form pan to retain its round shape, it took at least 20 minutes longer)
Makes 2 large loaves
6 ½ cups unbleached bread flour
2 tbsp instant or bread machine yeast
1 ½ tbsp salt
2 ¾ cups hot water (yes I know they say hot water kills the yeast, but this is to melt the honey so it actually ends up tepid)
1 cup liquid honey
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
More bread flour for dusting and shaping
½ - ¾ cup sultana raisins (optional)
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp water)
To mix & store the dough: I just used a 5 liter/5 quart bowl with a lid and a wooden spoon. No kneading required.
1. Spoon the flour into a measuring cup and level off before adding to the mixing bowl.
2. Add the yeast and salt to the flour and stir with a whisk.
3. In a large glass measuring cup (I like to use a 4 cup one so I can stir easily without spilling any), combine the hot water, honey and oil. Mix until the honey has all melted and then beat in the eggs.
4. Pour the liquid mixture into the flour using a wooden spoon and stir just until it’s all moistened. Beat 40 times with the spoon, scraping the bottom and sides until the dough forms a lumpy, sticky mass. (Trust me, this does not look like your usual bread mixture, but it’s not supposed to).
5. Cover with plastic wrap, or in my case, I just used the lid, and allow it to rest at room temperature in a draft free place until the dough rises about 2 inches from the top of the bowl and has a sponge-like appearance – about 2 hours. You can bake the bread from this state) or let it “rest” in the fridge for up to 3 days before baking.
Baking the bread:
Note: this very delicious, brioche like bread will not stand up to the usual shaping. The first time I made it (without reading the book’s intro), it ended up really looking more like a foccacia. This time I used a 8” spring form cake pan, which worked well, but required longer baking time.
To shape the loaves and prepare for second rising:
1. Dust the surface of the dough with bread flour, (even keeping it in the fridge, it will still be incredibly sticky) and divide in half. (makes one loaf)
2. I did find this step difficult, because the dough was so sticky….the book says to lightly dust your hands, rolling pin and your work area with flour and work as quickly as you can, not to over work the dough. I seemed to need a lot of flour to keep the bread from sticking to everything.
3. Roll the dough into a large rectangle, dusting with flour when necessary.
If you are adding raisins, sprinkle over the rectangle and roll jelly roll style into a long rope and then form a coil. Tuck in the loose end under the loaf and transfer to the lightly oiled spring form pan.
4. Allow the dough to rest and rise, for 40 minutes, and, although it will still not look very impressive, it will continue to rise in the oven.
5. 30 minutes before baking time, place a baking stone (I use my pizza stone) in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C. Place an empty tin broiler or cake pan on the lowest rack in the oven.
6. Just before baking, brush the challah with the egg wash.
7. Slide the pan(s) (I usually make two at the same time) onto the hot stone. Pour 1 cup of hot water into the empty pan under the bread and quickly close the door.
8. Bake for at least 45 minutes. The loaf should be dark golden brown and the best tip of the cookbook….get an instant read thermometer and insert in center of loaf. It will register 190°F/90°C when done. Using the spring form pan meant longer cooking, so I had to place a sheet of aluminum foil over the top of the bread for the last 10 minutes or so, to keep it from going from golden brown to black!
8. Allow the bread to cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes before trying to remove the spring form sides. Allow to become completely cool before slicing
Leftovers are great toasted with a slather of honey or a perfect French Toast (if using raisins, eliminate the thyme).