Challah Focaccia

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Introduction: Challah Focaccia

About: Building design/consulting in Vancouver, WA. Resource based problem solver... in other words, I always take a minute to look in construction dumpsters :) ---the way some have to workout everyday... i have to …

The No Recipe Approach

My approach to breadmaking is put together in this earlier instructable. Here I draw on the same approach which is to bake without a recipe. In this how-to I walk through a fairly involved bake but try to show you how to do it so that you'll never need a recipe again.

Thanks for reading!

My Bread Process... like many I started baking bread because it was hard to find... my journey started 15 years ago in New Orleans where there was a lack of good bakeries post-Katrina. The goal for me was to be able to make bread without a recipe. Baking feels 'effortless' when you simply know how to make bread.

Supplies

Basic Baking Ingredients in the next Step.

Optional. Kitchenaid Mixer. We've had this classic model for 20+ years. My wife received it from her mom and we regreased it 5 years ago. Highly recommend regreasing if it starts to sound funny. (can't really follow these amazon prices... every year it shows up at $189 for classic white around the holidays)

Required. Yeast. Won't get far with baking if you don't have Yeast. I was frustrated for years by the high cost in most grocery stores. I now buy it locally from a bulk food but first found Saf-Instant Yeast at a GFS in Michigan. It's sold in 1lb packages. An 8 Dollar pack lasts me 4-5 years baking weekly... store in the fridge.

Step 1: Baking Ingredients

Here I show the bulk ingredients we use for our regular baking. I seemed to leave out the ingredient that helps make a challah... eggs!

Challah Ingredients
In addition to the standards of any bread... flour, water, salt, yeast. Challah also includes sugar and eggs.

Adding Milk?
Traditional Challah wouldn't include milk. There are dietary restrictions that would prohibit it from being apart of most meals. I tend to use milk in a 50/50 ratio to water. It is a natural preservative that helps bread stay mold free for about 4-6 days compared to 2-3 when using only water.

Bread Flour
While not required to use bread flour vs. all purpose it makes everything come out better. Breads made with all purpose lack gluten and tend to be very flat. You hear a lot about how kneading for 10 minutes is important to build up gluten... that may be true. But with high gluten bread flour you can skip the kneading all together. And if you do work the dough it only gets better.

Step 2: Wet Ingredients

Shown in the photos are how I add the oil, salt, water and milk.

  • Oil - add just enough to cover the dimple at the base of the mixer... say 2-4 tablespoons
  • Salt - more than a dash... not too much... if you need a number use 1/2 teaspoon
  • Water - add so that there is liquid in the bowl.... say 1 cup of water
  • Milk - add roughly equal amount as you added water. say 1 cup of milk

The amount of liquid really doesn't matter too much. If you have more liquid you'll add more flour. Maybe a touch more yeast but if you ever don't have enough yeast you can always let it proof/rise again. It may take time but you'll still get bread. The key is not overflowing the mixing bowl. If you fill your mixing bowl halfway with liquid it will over flow.

Step 3: Dry Ingredients + Eggs

Yes, there are a lot of pictures here.

What you'll see is how to incorporate the following ingredients using the 1 speed to slowly work them into a dough. Here's the order I follow.

  • Flour - start with roughly 40-60% of what you expect you'll need for flour. Here I've included the high gluten bread flour and some rye flakes. Bread Flour is on Amazon. You can also find at a GFS in the midwest. Some Costcos still sell but they have limited selection based on your store.
  • Sugar - use about 1/4 cup. You could use less but probably not more for your first challah.
  • Eggs - if you are making a small batch use 1... for a bigger batch add more eggs. if you like to measure say 1 egg per cup of liquid... know that it doesn't really matter.
  • Yeast - ... if you need to measure say 1 teaspoon. See note below.

Yeast Note: I add yeast dry. any package will say to add yeast to water with sugar to make sure it is active... it's always active. The manufacturers just try to cover themselves.... I've only ever messed up the yeast when 'proofing' it in water that was too hot. The extra step adds nothing.

Yeast Note: Amount of Yeast. Technically you couldn't have too little yeast. Yeast divides as it feeds. If you find your dough is rising too slow you need to fold it a few times and give it time... it will get there. Even if it takes a few days. If it does take a few days it will get more flavorful... think sourdough. I never refrigerate the dough. simply leave it on the counter and fold it a minimum of morning and night (every 12hrs).

Step 4: Kneading

Photos show pretty well how the dough goes from fairly wet to a solid ball of dough.

How long to mix?
The key thing is to keep adding flour to the mixer until it starts to bind up around the dough hook. You'll know this is happening because the mixer sounds like its working harder.

Kneading
Once on the table you just need to fold and move it around on a floured surface. When the dough no longer makes your hands feel a little damp or clammy it's time for the next step.

Note... if you are using all purpose flour instead of high gluten bread flour you can start the 10 minute timer.

Step 5: Cleanup

The best time to clean your surface is before a proof. Simply use the bench scraper to clear the remaining flour and fold it into the dough.

A little more or less flour doesn't hurt. Technically there is a name/recipe for every imaginable ratio of ingredients. You can always modify especially when it makes the process easier.

If you don't have a dough scraper.... dollartree is now selling a stainless one that's the equivalent as this amazon best seller. I'm using the winco wood handle but thing the all stainless is easier to clean.

Step 6: Proofing

Drop the dough back in the mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap.
I simply use a produce bag.

Proofing
You're looking for the dough to 'double' in size. It doesn't have to double... great if it gets even bigger! if it does get bigger than double on the first proof you've added too much yeast (note below).

What you are really doing here is letting the yeast get active. They show that they are present and reproduce. It makes the bread more alive. Plenty of recipes don't require much proofing... though they are usually flat breads.

Go with at least one proof but you can always go for more.

Timing??
Anyone will tell you about 3 hours for the first... That's fine.. more or less also works. If it goes too long it could collapse... if it ever collapses just fold it again and let it grow.

Final Proof - Before you bake you want to allow the bread time to start to rise on it's own before it hits the heat of the oven. The heat ultimately kills the yeast and stops the process. One last rise on it's way to the oven supercharges the rise while it bakes.

Note... if you have ever seen recipes that recommend covering the bowl with a damp cloth... don't. It's terrible advice. Use a plate or a bag. Something plastic. There is no need to wet a cloth. That's what they did before they had plastic. Look in the back of any bakery and you'll see racks of breads proofing in plastic bags.

Step 7: Knocking Down a Proof

Here are photos that take a tough that's just collapsed and turn it back into a nice ball of dough.

I simply spilled it out of the mixing bowl onto the floured countertop.

Step 8: Forming the Fococcia

Alright!!!! now to making the Fococcia.

Roll the Dough. Just need a general shape and a greased baking pan. I used butter. My go to is vegetable shortening. Either are better than oil because it is solid at room temp and holds to the pan.

Flavor. I also salt and add rosemary to the pan. Olive Oil goes on top and bottom!

Pan Material - I'm using glass because I prefer a heavier material... dutch oven > glass > steel/aluminum....Whenever possible used the heaviest material so that it will create a slower rise in temp for the bread and a crispier crust.

Step 9: Proof / Topping / Bake

Proof. Allow time for a first proof... say 40-60 minutes.

Form. Use four fingers to poke holes in the dough... in lines if you like... if not it will still taste good

Top. Add raw onions on top... more olive oil never hurts but isn't necessary

Bake. For all breads assume 425F / 220C. I always start covered and uncover about halfway... say 15minutes for this flat bake. For loaf breads I typically leave it 20-30min. Know that the sugar in challah causes it to brown faster once uncovered.

Proof Timing Note: Timing can always vary... once you've done it a few times you know how to allow for different amounts of yeast and room temp. The main thing is to see that the dough is starting to grow on it's own.

Bake Timing Note: You are looking for it to just start to turn brown. Too much and it starts to get too crisp.

Step 10: Enjoy!

Fococcia comes out incredible!!
The oil makes the bake very forgiving compared to a traditional challah.

Hope this helps you find it easier to jump into bread baking. The goal is to understand the relationship of ingredients. By reason for learning how everything works together and not needing to reach for a recipe is to remove hurdles and make breadmaking a part of your regular routine. And to bake better bread!

Questions or comments welcome!

Enjoy! Jeff

Step 11: Uses for Dough

There are many uses for the challah dough.

Here are a couple shots of other things we put together from this same batch. More to come...

No Recipe Approach
If you found it helpful to see this approach that tries to de-emphasis a recipe. You might like these others.

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