I cheated on my challah recipe, and boy, did it pay off. My friend loaned me Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. I am absolutely in love with this book and its recipes. The authors suggest mastering their boule recipe first. However, since challah is what I know, challah is what I started with, figuring it to be the best gauge of the quality of the book. As I said, I am sold.
The basic premise is as follows: you make a dough with a high moisture content, and just incorporate the flour. You let it rise until it falls, and then place in in your refrigerator for up to a week (two for non-high fat doughs). As you need it, you remove a pound of dough at a time, shape it, and bake it. The crumb is perfect, the chew is divine and it was the perfect low maintenance recipe for a day when we were running in circles. 10 minutes of assembly the night before, leave it for two hours, 5 minutes to shape in the morning, 1 hr to rise, 20 minutes to preheat the oven, 25-30 to cook. You simply MUST give this recipe (and the book it's from) a shot.
from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day
1 3/4 cups water, warmed
2 pkg yeast
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup honey (I used sugar with no harmful effects)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
7 cups flour
Poppy or sesame seeds for the top
1. Blend wet. Add dry all at once, and stir until incorporated without kneading. Cover and allow to rise for 2 hrs or until fallen.
2. Use immediately (makes 4 loaves) or cover in a non-air tight container, and refrigerate for up to 5 days. Beyond 5 days, freeze in one pound portions in an airtight container for up to 4 weeks. Defrist frozen dough overnight in the refrigerator before using. Then allow the usual rest and rise time.
3. On baking day, grease a cookie sheet or line with parchment or a silicone mat. Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1 pound (grapefruit sized) piece. Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shapie it into a ball by stretching the suface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quater turn as you go.
6. Divide the ball into the appropriate number of portions for the braid you are making, using a serrated knife or dough scraper. Roll the potions into ropes. Braid. Allow to rest and rise on the prepared cookie sheet for 1 hr and 20 minutes, or just 30 minutes if you';re using fresh, unrefrigerated dough.
7. Twenty minutes before baking time, pregeat the oven to 350 degrees. If you're not using a stone in the oven, 5 minutes is adequate. Brush the load with egg wash and sprinkle the seeds.
8. Bake near the center of the oven for about 25 minutes. Allow to cool completely prior to slicing and eating. Share and enjoy.