As I promised on Monday, today I'm sharing the challah I used to make the chocolate mascarpone stuffed french toast. I absolutely loved this loaf of bread. Beyond being delicious, the braided look of the loaf is just so pretty. Shaping bread is one of the hardest parts of making it for me, and frankly, often a deterrent. While this braided loaf may seem complicated, it's honestly one of the easier breads I've made, and yet, still so impressive I think! The loaf is comprised of two separate braids, which are stacked on top of one another and secured with an egg wash. The loaf is baked until the outside is nicely browned; inside it's a pale yellow color thanks to the egg yolks in the dough. It makes fantastic french toast, but you might have to set aside a few slices if that's your plan, because this is the kind of bread that'll have you walking to the kitchen grabbing one slice after another when it's fresh from the oven.
If you haven't made bread before, this one is still very doable. The dough comes together beautifully and is very nice to work with - soft and not too sticky. When I was learning to make bread, I always wondered how to tell when the dough had risen enough, had it doubled in size? They sell buckets with markings on the side so you can see that the volume has doubled, but I don't have one so here's the trick I use: when you think the dough has doubled (using the time estimate provided by the recipe as a guideline), use two fingers to make an indentation in the dough. If the indentation remains, you can move on with the recipe. If the dough springs back and the indentation disappears, your dough needs more rising time. One other tip for this recipe - if you have trouble pinching the ends of the dough together while making your braids, put a little water on your fingertips and try again. Mine weren't sticking together well but the water solved the problem for me.
This bread has a definite wow factor, I hope you'll give it a try. Your friends and family will be impressed and no one has to know it's so easy :)
from America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book
1/2 cup water water (about 110 F)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk (save the white for the glaze)
3-3 1/2 cups (15-17 1/2 oz) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 large egg white
2 tablespoons water
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, whisk together 3 cups of the flour, sugar, yeast and salt. In a 2-cup measuring cup, whisk the warm water, melted butter, eggs and egg yolk. With the mixer on low, slowly add the water mixture and mix until a rough dough forms. Increase the speed to medium-low and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl, but stick to the bottom. If the dough is too sticky, add the remaining flour a little at a time until the proper consistency is achieved. Remove the dough and shape into a ball.
Coat a large bowl lightly with oil, and add the dough. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 1 - 1 1/2 hours.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 2 pieces, one twice as big as the other. For example, my ball of dough weighted 27 oz so I divided into an 18 oz piece and a 9 oz piece. Divide each of those 2 pieces into 3 equal sized pieces. Roll each piece into a rope that is 16 inches long. You'll have three thicker ropes from the large piece of dough and three thinner ropes from the smaller piece.
Grab the 3 thicker ropes. Pinch the ends together and braid the strands by crossing the strand on the right side over the center one and then the one on the left side over the center.
Continue until the strands are braided to the bottom then pinch the ends together. Repeat with the 3 thinner strands to form a second, smaller braid.
Beat the egg white and water together to form the egg wash. Transfer the larger braid to a sheet of parchment paper set in a rimmed baking sheet. Brush the top of the braid with the egg wash then place the smaller braid on top and press gently to secure it. Tuck the ends under on both sides of the loaf.
Cover the loaf with greased plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise until just about doubled in size, about 45-75 minutes. Meanwhile, set a rack in the lower middle position and preheat your oven to 375 F. When the loaf has risen, brush liberally with the remaining egg wash mixture then bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the loaf has browned and an instant read-thermometer inserted in the center registers 200 F.
Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack and let the bread rest for 15 minutes, then transfer the loaf to the rack to cool for about 2 hours before serving.