Chefs, I once presumed, stood mid-kitchen, gazed at the ceiling and pronounced: rich, egg-bolstered bread! Then produced a perfect loaf.
Perhaps some are struck by such inspiration. None forgo perseveration. Perfecting a recipe takes trial and error. Over and over. And over and over and over.
Consider egg bread. It calls for eight ingredients (yeast, sugar, water, salt, milk, butter, eggs and flour) and six techniques (proof, scald, knead, rest, shape and bake). Testing every permutation multiplies out to, well, infinity.
Good news, especially if you like a heavy back stock of breadcrumbs, are keen on those leftover staples French toast and bread pudding, or know a pondful of hungry ducks.
I don’t, but still tend to tinker.
My new favorite formula switches to bread flour, kicks up the salt and cuts the eggs down to yolks. It gives the dough a good long knead and many a languid nap. It ditches the old technology of thump-the-loaf for the new technology of use-a-thermometer. The result is a relaxed, happy dough that bakes up into a big, bumpy pull-apart loaf or a neat set of dinner rolls. Double-duty doubles its charm.
The recipe also yields a relaxed, happy home baker who can turn to tinkering with other recipes. That, or try a languid nap.
Pull-Apart Challah (or Parker House Rolls)
Prep: 90 minutes, plus 3 hours rest
Bake: 35 minutes
Makes: One 10-inch pull-apart challah or 15 Parker House rolls
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon plus 1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup warm water
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut up
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 cup whole milk
2 egg yolks
4 to 4 1/4 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened, for bowl
For challah: 1 egg white and 1 to 2 teaspoons sesame seeds, optional
For rolls: 3 tablespoons melted butter and flaky salt
1. Proof: Drop yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer. Test water: A drop should feel neither hot nor cold on the wrist. Pour in water. Let stand until foamy.
2. Scald: Meanwhile, measure remaining 1/3 cup sugar, the cut-up butter and salt into a bowl or 1 quart measuring cup. Pour milk into a medium saucepan. Set over high heat and watch closely. In 2 to 3 minutes, it will bubble, foam and rise up dramatically. Immediately pull pan off heat and pour milk over butter, sugar and salt. Let stand until butter has melted and milk has cooled down. With a fork, mix in yolks, further cooling mixture. You’re after the same tepid temp as in Step 1.
3. Knead: Pour milk over yeast, then drop in 4 cups flour. Mix with a fork until it’s rough going. Snap bowl onto mixer stand, and using the dough hook, knead a full 10 minutes. It will quickly form a soft dough that cleans the sides of the bowl and wraps around the hook. (If the dough looks more like a swamp monster than a ball, sprinkle in the remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time.)
4. Rest: Rub a clean bowl with most of the softened butter. Gently stretch dough and tuck it underneath itself, shaping a ball. Rub with remaining softened butter. Settle ball into bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then a kitchen towel. Let rise until doubled and until a thumb pressed in the center leaves a distinct imprint, about 1 hour. Punch down, reshape and let double again, 1 hour. Punch down.
5. Shape: Divide dough into 16 portions for challah, 15 for rolls. Stretch and tuck each into a ball. For challah, settle balls into a parchment-lined, 10-by-2-inch, round cake pan (one in the center, surrounded by five, surrounded by 10). Let rise until puffy, about 45 minutes. Whisk together egg white, 1 teaspoon water and 1 pinch salt; brush over challah. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, if you like. For rolls, brush a 13-by-9-by-2-inch baking pan with melted butter. Line up 3 rows of 5 dough balls. Let rise until puffy, 45 minutes. Brush with melted butter.
6. Bake: Bake either version at 350 degrees to an internal temp of 195 degrees, 32 to 35 minutes. Bush rolls again with butter and sprinkle with flaky salt. Enjoy warm.
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