Monday, September 8, 2008

Throwdown :: Challah

Before I give away the results, let me just say that the first official Throwdown:: was a blast. I of course enjoyed the baking, but I especially enjoyed the friendly competition with my good friend Cat and the competitive judging/eating/excuse to get together with friends. I can be a bit on the competitive side, so I am often cautious about competing in events if I don’t think I have a very good chance of winning. I know that’s ridiculous, but it is the truth. It is even the case when I am “competing” against myself – as in trying a new, complicated recipe. I have been known not to try if I feared “defeat”. (This is why Daring Bakers is good for me – forces me, with the threat of public shame to attempt new things that I certainly would not try on my own.)

That said, I had no real fear of losing to Cat – no, not because I thought I was totally going to win – but because I know Cat is a great baker and a wonderful person, so who could be upset losing to those qualifications? Now, that being said (here comes that obnoxious competitive side) let me note that I was in fact the only Jew present at this competition that was, afterall, about Challah-- you know, that traditional braided bread served at Jewish holidays and on the Sabbath?

All hedging aside, and without further ado…I got trounced. The Earhearts, Heath, and my very own wife, all voted for Cat’s Challah - which was quite delicious. Congratulations Cat on a complete domination of what will hopefully be the first of many Throwdowns:: !

When we compared recipes a few things stood out. Her recipe uses butter instead of oil (which of course tastes better, but doesn’t work if you’re having a fleishig meal), and had several more eggs and more sugar (I actually used honey). The increased eggyness and sweetness gave the finished product a very Brioche texture and taste. And who can complain about, or for that matter, vote against, Brioche? I might argue that my bread was a more classical Challah, but there is no way to argue with the fact that Cat easily won this taste test.

After all that, I imagine you would prefer that I list Cat’s recipe instead of mine (she used the recipe from William Sonoma’s Essentials of Baking ), but I'm including the recipe I used as what I still believe is a great recipe for a traditional Challah. The recipe is from the Moosewood series of cookbooks from the famous vegetarian restaurant by the same name in Ithaca, NY. This particular recipe came from Still Life with Menu and you can actually find the recipe by using Google’s book search, so I won’t reprint it here – but I do highly recommend purchasing the cookbook.

The recipe makes two substantial loaves of challah, and ends up incorporating nearly 9 cups of AP flour. Needless to say, this should be kneaded by hand, and not by the woefully inadequate (only for this recipe, I didn’t mean it, really, I love you) 5 quart KitchenAid stand mixer. However, although I fear defeat, I do occasionally like to live on the edge, so I tend to push the mixer's limits a bit. As you continually add flour, the dough starts to taunt the KitchenAid…

…until finally, the dough wins, and you are forced to finish kneading by hand. Something I actually quite enjoy doing, which then begs the question, why did I bother overfilling the stand mixer in the first place?

I have not perfected my braiding skills yet, so I continue to experiment with different techniques. I read somewhere about starting from the middle and braiding out to the two sides in order to get a more uniform shape, but I ended up with an odd, stretched band across the middle. The other loaf was just a little sloppy on my part – too much handling while trying to move from counter to baking sheet, then deciding it should go on a different baking sheet, etc.

My guess, is that the softer texture of Cat’s loaf (on the right) allowed for a little more sideways slide while it baked. Regardless, this here was one fine night of carb loading deliciousness.

We did our best to keep the taste test blind. Torn up, the breads looked enough alike that we were able to plate them on different colored dishes and then have each person taste them side by side.

We did two rounds, and a few voters changed votes in between rounds, but when the vote was made, I was a 4-0 loser. In the end, I had fun baking, I had fun hanging out with friends, and I am looking forward to our next challenge, Throwdown::Chocolate Cake, also with Cat…stay tuned!


Danielle said...

I can't believe it. I won't believe. I shan't believe.

Go Jews!

Catalina said...

Ethan, you're the BEST! This was such a fun night for us. good friends, yummy food and TWO loaves of challah...fabulous. Carb loading is the only good reason I can think to compete. Let's pin a date for chocolate cake! Maybe we can call in some more judges too...anyone...anyone...

Deb said...

Sounds like fun! I can't wait to see who wins battle chocolate cake ;)