“Holla” bread and it’s Garden Time!!

Eighty-degree weather has officially hit the Northeast, just in time for the Boston Marathon participants to melt into the asphalt during their long slog. As much as I pitied the sloggers, I’m loving the spring flowers and toasty sunshine. Especially since this:

means I can get started with this:

It’s ♫ Garden Tiiiimmme! ♫  (to the tune of Flight of the Conchords’ “Business Time”).
Kale, arugula, and mesclun seeds have already been submerged in the soil, and once the farmers’ markets make their appearance, I’ll have to make the agonizing choice of how to fill the rest of my garden plot. Seriously – I’m like a kid in the candy store with the seedlings at the farmers’ market…I want everything.

As promised, here’s the recipe for challah bread that is most amazing in the bread pudding posted previously. Also known as “Holla” bread (try as you may, it’s disturbingly hard to resist saying “Holla!” when you tell someone you made challah bread), this eggy braid is wonderful with butter and honey, Nutella, jam, salami, cheese…ok, it’s amazing with anything and everything. It’s also incredibly easy to make, and since it looks impressive, it’s a perfect potluck contribution! Remember to make TWO loaves of this with the amounts in this recipe. I made this in college once to bring along on a road trip, and after not having made it in years, I was fooled by the amount of dough (it rises quite a bit in the oven because of the eggs), and just made one loaf. I ended up with a Challah Baby. This thing was massive. Due to the monstrous size, I was unable to fit it in the original container and had to swaddle it in a few dishcloths and hold it for the first leg of the trip – hence the name Challah Baby.  Unless you want one, don’t forget to divide the dough into two!

Challah Bread

Ingredients

1 Tbsp. (1 packet) active dry yeast
½ cup sugar
1 Tbsp. salt
6½-7 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1¾ cups hot water (120°)
4 eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup vegetable oil
1½ tsp. pure vanilla extract

Egg glaze:
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. sugar

Instructions

1. In a large bowl with a whisk, combine yeast, sugar, salt, and 2 cups of flour. Add hot water, eggs, oil, and vanilla. Beat hard until smooth, about 3 minutes. Scrape down sides of the bowl, and add remaining flour ½ cup at a time, switching to a wooden spoon if necessary. Continue beating until dough is too stiff to stir.

2. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface and knead until soft and elastic, about 2 minutes. Add 1 Tbsp. of flour at a time to prevent sticking if necessary. Lightly oil (using vegetable oil, but not olive oil, since it will give the dough an olive-y taste) a deep bowl and place the dough in it. Turn the dough over once so that the top is coated with oil, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature (preferably somewhere somewhat warm) until doubled in bulk, 1½-2 hours.

3. Gently punch dough to deflate it, then turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into two equal portions. Divide one of the portions into three equal parts, and then roll out each into a long rope (about 20 inches).
Press the top ends of the ropes together, and then braid them. Once the braid is finished, press the ends together and place it onto an oiled baking sheet.
Repeat with the other half of the dough (placing it on a separate baking sheet), and loosely cover each braid with a piece of oiled plastic wrap so that the dough does not dry out. If you cover the braid too tightly with plastic wrap, it will not have room to expand, so make sure it’s nice and loose! Let rise 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350° F.

4. To make egg glaze, whisk together egg yolk, vanilla, and sugar in a small bowl. Beat until well blended. Gently brush the challah braids with a thick layer of glaze. Bake loaves in the preheated oven until they’re a deep golden brown, about 40-45 minutes. The loaves should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Lift the loaves off of the pans (I usually use two spatulas for this) and place on a large cutting board or wire racks to cool. Let cool completely before slicing. (This is the best thing to do, but I can never wait! Hot challah bread with butter and honey is just too amazing to resist.)

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