If we are calling a spade a spade then I think we would call this milk bun a challah. Do be aware though that, according to the authors of Honey & Co (and creators of this recipe), it is actually a cross between a challah and a brioche, which, sure, if you say so. To be honest “milk bun” is easily the least appetising of those names, so I don’t know why you’d want to lean into that.
Challah was what got me into this mess…two ill-fated attempts to make this Jewish Friday night staple left me irritated enough that I simply had to start-a-blog-and-record-every-bread-I-baked-once-a-week-until-such-time-as-I-felt-myself-to-have-somehow-achieved-an-undefined-goal. I mean, we’ve all been there.
This time around I desperately wanted to return to where it all began and use the same recipe (from Ann Shooter’s very beautiful Sesame and Spice), but as I read it again I felt convinced it still wouldn’t work. With only one 45 minute prove (taking place post-plait) it just seemed unlikely to me (please note this is my seventh bread. I’m an expert.) that the dough would be as risen as it ought. Maybe one day I will troubleshoot and vindicate myself with this recipe, but I decided instead (after gazing rather blankly at multiple challah options) to attempt another Honey & Co special. The main factor was really that this one called for fresh yeast, and I had acquired the stupid stuff already, so I may as well use it.
For some reason I was quite relaxed about this. Maybe because I knew that a challah disaster would be the funniest single bread I could make a mistake with – it would be great to be cursed by challah. And maybe because I was kind of distracted by doing other things at the same time. Either way I think my laid back approach did wonders because it meant I left the bread alone a lot and in my absence it really got down to business.
This recipe creates a small loaf that supposedly serves 4-6. It was my contribution to a dinner that otherwise consisted of barbecued chicken and a salad. Obviously the second it came out of the oven I needed to test it to see if my nemesis had defeated me again. And also obviously I had to share the fruits of my labour with my parents, who had previously endured the horrible Christmas challahs. Less obvious is the fact that by the time dinner rolled around there was one tiny corner of challah left. In a mere two hours, between the three of us we had decimated it. I for one have no regrets – it’s extremely hard to beat fresh, warm challah.
Milk Bun (Challah)
Another winner from Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich’s Honey & Co.
Serves 4-6 regular people or 3 enthusiastic challah fiends
50ml + another approx 60ml milk
20g fresh yeast (or 1 tbsp dried yeast)
250g strong flour (bread flour)
½ tsp salt
1 whole egg
50g soft butter
milk or beaten egg to glaze
poppy seeds or salt OR SESAME SEEDS to sprinkle (optional)
Heat the 50ml of milk until it’s warm to the touch (microwave is fine), then add the yeast and sugar and set aside until it starts to foam.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, egg and butter. Pour in the foaming milk-yeast mixture and mix the whole lot together until a smooth dough forms. You will likely need to add additional milk to get the consistency – what you are after is a really smooth dough. Continue to work it until it goes all shiny, either by hand (not too taxing) or in a mixer bowl with a dough hook. When the dough is super shiny, cover the dough with cling film and leave in a warm place until doubled in size, about an hour.
Once risen, remove the dough from the bowl onto a clean bench top. You may need a little more flour if things are too sticky, but probably not. Roll the dough into a long snake – you are aiming for a whopping 75cm. Although I followed the instruction to roll from the middle outwards, mine still snapped and led to the anaemic strand. Don’t worry! It’s all going to be fine! Because, you really need one 50cm strand and one 25 cm strand. If you manage to roll the full 75cm like a show-off, then cut a 25cm length off.
Once you have the two strands, move them to a lined baking tray and curve the 50cm strand into a “U” and place the 25cm strand in between the two arms of the U, with the top of the strand rest atop the middle of the U. This little knob will be a wee top knot at the end of the finished plait. Now you can start braiding the dough – just like you would with regular hair. If I’ve explained this really badly then just improvise a braid – this is a three-strander rather than the more elaborate 4-strand or 6-strand ones that require a youtube video to help. Don’t braid it too tightly as it needs room to prove. Once braided, cover loosely with cling film and leave to prove in a warm place until doubled in size, around an hour. You can use this time to gaze lovingly at your cat.
Preheat your oven to 220°C/200°C fan.
Remove the cling film (gently) and brush the dough with either milk or beaten egg (I used milk). Then, if you wish, sprinkle with a topping of poppy seeds/salt/sesame seeds/some fabulous combo. If you don’t wish, then don’t.
You’ve got a total baking time coming up of 24 minutes, but there are three temperature stages (word of warning for people like me who read baking instructions badly).
Place the “milk bun” into the oven on the middle shelf and bake for 8 minutes. Then reduce the heat to 200°C/180°C fan, open the door and carefully turn the tray. Give it another 8 minutes, then reduce the heat again to 180°C/160°C fan. Give it another 8 minutes (turn the tray again if you’re so inclined).
Remove from the oven and try not to burn your face by eating the bread straight away. It’s best when still warm, but not face scalding. Apparently it makes great toast the next day, but I can’t vouch for that.
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