Kim Porter and Ben Kaplan, What Are You Baking?

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Even if your oven sits cold all year, chances are you're considering firing it up, right about now. As a holiday twist on our "What Are You Eating" feature on Chow Bella and "What Are You Wearing?" on Jackalope Ranch, for the next few weeks we'll be bringing you "What Are You Baking?" Complete with a recipe, so you can DIY.

First up: challah from Ben Kaplan and Kim Porter.

Ben Kaplan is a web developer and Kim Porter is a playwright and playwriting coach. (Oh, yeah, they are married.) Working from home has given them lots of time to explore their bread baking hobby.

What are you baking for the holidays this year?

Lots and lots of challah for ourselves and many of our friends and neighbors. Also apple and pumpkin pies.

Favorite holiday treats?

Ben's favorite is latkes at Chanukah. Kim has a weakness for mincemeat pie, but if she bakes it she has to eat the whole thing herself because no one else can stand it.

Find out if there's anything Kim won't eat and get their recipe for challah after the jump.

Least favorite holiday foods?

Ben hates fruitcake, a sentiment many won't find surprising. Kim will eat his share because she'll eat anything. Kim hates string bean casserole with the dried onions and the creamy soups, but she'll eat it if it's put in front of her because that's the way she rolls.

Any food items on your holiday wish list this year?

Kim would like a relish tray and someone who didn't get all the many tiny pickles and olives they wanted as a child and therefore still approaches them with a sense of novelty, to share it with. Also, fudge. Ben wants a rib-eye steak.

Any food-related New Year's resolutions?

This year Kim wants to learn to cook Indian food.

Ben is resolved to continue on unchanged.

Ben and Kim's Challah

This recipe makes three large loaves.


825 grams of bread flour (one cup is equal to about 125 grams)

4 tbsp sugar

4 eggs

1/8 cup honey

1/2 cup olive oil

1 1/4 cup warm water

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast

a pinch of saffron

Mix water, 1 tbsp sugar, yeast and saffron and set aside.

In a separate bowl mix 3 whole eggs, 1 egg white (saving egg yolk in the fridge for later), 1/2 cup oil, 1/8 cup honey, 3 tbsp sugar and set aside. (You can adjust the sweetness to taste, but we found that too much honey, although tasty, produced too dense a loaf.)

In a separate bowl mix flour and salt and set aside.

When the water/sugar/yeast mixture is quite bubbly (about 5 or 10 minutes) mix everything together into a dough. Hand knead for 15 minutes, or knead in stand mixer with a bread hook on medium for 6 minutes. (If you aren't sure if you are done, try this trick. Take a pinch of dough and stretch it until it becomes translucent but without ripping.)

Place kneaded dough into a large, spray oiled, bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let it sit in a non-drafty place that is preferably warm for an hour or so, or until it doubles in size. If your kitchen is cold and drafty you can put them in your oven and pour some boiling water in a cake pan and close the oven to trap the steam inside the oven with your dough.

Once it's doubled in size push your fist into the middle of the dough (this is called punching it down), then tri-fold it like you would fold a letter in an envelope. Cover it and let it sit for another hour, or until it doubles in size again for the second rise.

After the second rise, take out the dough and cut into three sections. These three sections will make up your three loaves.

You can put them in loaf pans for the third rise, or braid them. Challah is typically braided in a 3, 4, 5 or 6 strand loaf.

To braid the loaves, you'll cut each section up into 3, 4, 5, or 6 chunks depending upon the number of braids you want. Use your palms and fingers roll each chunk out into about a 16 inch strand. (Like making play-doh snakes.) Braid them all together. (There are lots of videos on YouTube showing how to braid if you don't already know how.) Be sure to pinch the ends and tuck them under so the ends look nice and don't unwrap in the rising process.

Place the braided loafs on an oil sprayed cookie sheet or two and cover with plastic wrap for the third rise. Make sure they have a lot of space to spread out. Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees, put the rack in the lower third of the oven, and place a small tin, or cast iron skillet in the very bottom. (If you raised your dough in the oven, you'll already have a pan down there.)

Let your braided loaves doubled in size ( between 30 minutes to an hour).

After the third rise, get the egg yolk out of the fridge. Add a dash of cool water (and an optional touch of honey) and stir it up. Generously brush this egg wash on your three loaves and cover with optional sesame or poppy seeds.

Place the loaves in the oven and dump 1 cup of hot water into the tin or cast iron skillet at the bottom of the oven and close the door quickly. Let this steam for about a minute, then reduce the heat to 400 degrees.

If you have all three loafs in the oven, after 10 minutes, switch the loafs around so they get browned evenly and bake for another 8-10 minutes. Otherwise bake from 18 to 20 minutes at 400 degrees till the crust is a nice golden brown.

When they are done transfer them to a cooling rack and let them cool completely before you eat/serve them.

If you are baking ahead for the holidays you can freeze them in freezer bags after they have cooled completely. They need about 4 hours to defrost completely and if you want them warm, you can reheat them slightly in the oven right before serving.

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