The Hawk commented on my first baking blog post that “Baking rarely allows the beginner to improvise. I assume that is why I avoid it.” I have heard similar comments from family members. The Hawk’s comment made me stop and think about bread – its preparation, a recipe’s variations, and whether or not it is possible to improvise.
Since I got home early yesterday (which is unusual), I had some time on my hands (which is also unusual). I told my wife that I wanted to experiment with a bread recipe, and she said it was a great idea, as long as I made her a loaf of that beautiful challah…she can’t get enough of that. So I agreed. Then it occurred to me – why not use ½ of the challah to make a “dessert bread” which is somewhere in between a Danish and a sweet bread?
Most recipes for breads that are filled with sweet items such as jams, cheese or cinnamon mixtures call for a particular type of dough. On the pastry side of the house, you have Danishes which are basically enriched doughs that are repeatedly folded over and into a mountain of butter. Then you have the coffee cakes, which are drier and typically topped with ingredients.
Challah is a very forgiving type of dough. The eggs provide their own leavening power, supplemented by a richly fed amount of yeast which makes for a puffy rise. The sweetness of challah, typically provided by honey, is a good backdrop for making a dessert bread. Looking through the fridge to get ideas, I came across an 8 oz. package of cream cheese. At that point, the whole thing came together. I decided to use one of Beth Hensperger’s cream cheese braid recipes, but adapt it for the challah dough. Nothing new by any means, but this approach demonstrates that improvisation is possible when making bread!
I started with a classic challah recipe – the one I always like to use. Though not technically necessary with IDY (Instant Dry Yeast), I proofed the yeast for 10m in 113F water with a pinch of sugar. I like this step because it allows you to add the yeast and the salt at separate times, reducing the risk of killing the yeast with the salt.
I started off the challah by mixing 1.5c flour, the eggs, honey, oil and salt on speed 2 of the KitchenAid.
After mixing and adding in the proofed yeast, I blended in 1/3 cup of flour until the dough was pulling away from the sides of the bowl. I then switched to the dough hook and continued mixing and adding flour until the right consistency was achieved.
After mixing for 4 minutes on speed 4, I dumped the dough onto a floured surface and kneaded it until sufficient gluten development occurred. (I always test this by “pulling a window”).
After kneading, I put the dough into the rising bucket and noted it was just under the 2L mark.
After about 90 minutes, the dough was just above the 4L mark, or slightly more than doubled. I folded the dough and let it rise another 45 minutes.
At this point, I divided the dough into two equal portions. One half went back into the bucket (temporarily) and the other onto a floured surface. I rolled the dough out as much as I could.
I then transferred the rolled out dough to a half sheet pan lined with parchment, and reshaped it. It then occurred to me that I needed the filling, so I mixed 8 oz. cream cheese, ¼ cup sugar, 1 tsp vanilla and the zest of one lemon along with about 2 tbsp. of flour. I spooned the resulting mixture onto the center third of the prepared dough.
Using kitchen shears, I clipped out sections on the diagonal and interweaved them into a mock lattice or braid. It looked like a mummy ready to be placed in a tomb!
After covering this one with oiled plastic and setting it aside, I began work on the challah braids for my wife. She swooped in out of nowhere at this point to do the braids herself.
45 minutes later, I mixed in a tablespoon of evaporated milk, 1/4c sugar and some freshly squeezed lemon juice and brushed this over the braided cheese loaf.
Both went into the oven at 350F. The braided challah loaf was ready in 32 minutes. The cheese braid took about 35 minutes.
Since parchment paper will sweat the bottom of the cooling bread, I immediately transferred them to a cooling rack.
From this experiment, I was able to show that it IS possible to improvise when it comes to making bread. I could have just as easily added cheese, pepperoni and other goodnesss to the center of this bread to make a nice stuffed crust Stromboli thing. Or I could have added peaches, blueberries or another other fruit compote. The opportunities for improvisation are limitless!