Challah

December 13, 2010 § Leave a comment

I want to share a revelation I had about food recently.  This revelation is particularly salient in this post, but it also applies to a few other things I’ve posted (e.g. risotto).  Prior to this summer, I never cooked much, because recipes with a lot of ingredients and a lot of steps scared me.  But since I’ve started cooking a lot, I’ve come to realize that barring, say, traditional French cooking, there are very few difficult recipes: there are just recipes that are more complicated or less complicated, and if you have the patience to get all the ingredients and follow all the steps, you can do so much with food!

So, onto today’s recipe.  Even though I am decidedly not Jewish, I have a soft spot for a lot of traditionally Jewish food.  Challah is no exception.  I had never made the chosen bread before, though I’d often enjoyed the fruits of my friends’ labor, but when I was running out of bread and needed a new loaf, I decided that instead of my standard no-knead loaf (which is super easy and which I will get around to posting here, I promise), I wanted to make challah.  My boyfriend was around for this and wholeheartedly supported this plan.

This bread takes kind of a long time, but honestly the most difficult part of the whole thing is doing the six-strand braid!  And after a few false starts we got that going smoothly as well.  So you should definitely make the effort to try this recipe: it’s incredibly delicious and makes two enormous loaves for double the fun.

Challah
(original recipe here)
1 1/2 tbsp active dry yeast
1 tbsp plus 1/2 c sugar
1 3/4 c lukewarm water
1/2 c olive oil (plus some to grease the bowl)
5 large eggs (yes, FIVE, this is an egg bread)
1 tbsp salt
8 to 8 1/2 c all-purpose flour (we used around 8, I think, and split it approximately evenly between all-purpose and bread flour)
Poppy seeds for sprinkling

A quick note before we get going: this bread requires three rises: 1 hour, 1/2 hour, 1 hour.  Any one of these three can be done in the fridge if you want to slow it down for a bit, so if your schedule needs a little flexibility feel free to do that.  Just make sure you bring the dough back to room temperature before you pick up again.

Now, here we go.

Start by dissolving the yeast and 1 tbsp of sugar in the water.  Whisk in the olive oil, and beat in FOUR of the eggs, one at a time, and then thoroughly stir in the rest of the sugar and the tbsp of salt.  At this point, start adding the flour, one cup at a time, mixing each one in before adding the next.

adding flour

When the dough starts holding together, you can turn it out onto a very well-floured surface and start kneading it.

ready to knead

Knead it until smooth.  A good test for when you’ve kneaded your dough enough is the windowpane test: pull off a small chunk of dough and stretch it out between your fingers.  It should become translucent before it rips, like this:

passes the windowpane test

So, once you’ve gotten here, grease a bowl with olive oil (you don’t need very much), lightly coat the dough, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let it rise for an hour.

Come back to it, “punch” it down – I don’t like that term; don’t actually punch it, just gently knead it a little bit to get some of the air out of it – return it to the bowl, cover it again, and let it rise for about 30 minutes.

Now it’s time to braid.  This makes two loaves, so you’ll want to split the dough in half before you get started.  You can just braid it with three strands if you want, or you can go all-out and do a six-strand braid.  If you do a six-strand, take the first half of your dough and form six equal dough balls.  From here on out, I am going to pull directions verbatim from Smitten Kitchen, where I got this recipe, because I think Deb does a really good job of explaining it.

“With your hands, roll each ball into a strand about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Place the 6 in a row, parallel to one another. Pinch the tops of the strands together. Move the outside right strand over 2 strands. Then take the second strand from the left and move it to the far right. Take the outside left strand and move it over 2. Move second strand from the right over to the far left. Start over with the outside right strand. Continue this until all strands are braided. For a straight loaf, tuck ends underneath. For a circular loaf, twist into a circle, pinching ends together.”

Here is a picture of our half-braided bread.  It looks like Cthulhu!!  We called it Cthallah.

half-braided challah: or, cthulhu!

When you have braided both your loaves, place them on a greased baking sheet with a couple of inches between them (they rise A LOT: ours ran into each other in a couple places during baking).  Beat the fifth egg in a small bowl, and brush egg over the top of the loaves.

braided/egged

Let these loaves rise for yet another hour, and somewhere in there you should preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  After the last rise, you’ll brush the loaves with a second coating of egg.  Sprinkle them with poppy seeds if you choose to use them (which I highly recommend!), and pop them in your oven to bake for 30-40 minutes.  They’ll turn a lovely golden brown color and will be all shiny due to the egg coating.

finished challah

Cut yourself a well-deserved slice while it’s still warm and enjoy with some cheese, butter, or jam (or just on its own!).

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