Challah

People put themselves in 2 camps.  Cooking and Baking.  Most people choose one and perfect their craft.  Baking requires much more science knowledge, precision and patience in my opinion.  Cooking lends itself to creativity and major knife skills.  There is defiantly an overlap of the 2, and if I were to draw a venn diagram you can make some comparisons.  I like to do both, but I probably started my love in the kitchen with baking.  I like clearing a chunk of time (which is so rare anymore) and whipping up baked goods. My sweet tooth has gone down over the years with being a bit more health conscious, but I still love to bake and give my product to other people.  In the past ten years I have opened my baking skills to bread.  I used to be very afraid of bread and bread like items.  Yeast scared me and it seemed like so many things can go wrong.  Don’t fear the yeast!  It really is just another ingredient, like sugar, baking powder or baking soda that creates a chemical reaction.  The key fact about making bread is that it takes time.  The best thing that you can do when you bake bread is to count backwards.  Decide when you want to enjoy your result and work back from there because there is a lot of down time where you are just waiting around for the next step.

This week began another year on the Jewish calendar.  Rosh Hashanah begins the string of the many Jewish holidays in the fall that generally come in September or October, depending on the year.  Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchah Torah follow after.  If you give a nod to any of these holidays you got to have challah on your table.

Challah is basically an egg based bread, similar to brioche but uses oil instead of butter.  If you ever have some amazing french toast or bread pudding it was probably made with challah.  I always make it around Rosh Hashanah as well as other times of the year.  There are lots of recipes out there and I have used a few different ones before I settled on the one by Deb Perelman over at Smitten Kitchen.  I pretty much follow her recipe exactly, except I do add several globs of honey to mine.  So, don’t fear the yeast my friends, whip up some challah whether you are a jew or not.  Everyone loves it. L’Shanah Tovah! (Happy New Year).

Challah (adapted from Deb Perelman)

Time: about 1 hour, plus 2 1/2 hours’ rising
Yield: 2 loaves

  • 3 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (about 1 1/2 packages, 3/8 ounces or 11 grams)
  • 1 tablespoon (13 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
  • 1/2 cup (118 ml) olive or vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
  • 5 large eggs (divided)
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon (14 grams) table salt
  • 8 to 8 1/2 cups (1000 to 1063 grams) all-purpose flour

1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon (13 grams) sugar in water; set aside for 5 minutes until a bit foamy.

2. Whisk oil into yeast, then beat in 4 eggs, one at a time, with remaining 1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar, honey and salt. Gradually add flour. When dough holds together, it is ready for kneading. (You can also use a mixer with a dough hook for both mixing and kneading)

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3. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Clean out bowl and grease it, then return dough to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap (spray with some nonstick spray), and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size. Dough may also rise in an oven that has been warmed to 150 degrees then turned off. My oven has a bread proofing setting so I use that.

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Punch down dough, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour.

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4. At this point it’s time to braid the challah.  There are lots of ways to braid.  Traditionally a straight braid is used for most of the year and 3 ropes of dough can get that job done.  There are some pretty fancy braids out there that can be 4,5 or 6 strands.  For the High Holidays (Jewish New Year) the loaves are generally round and I used 4 ropes of dough to make my braid. You can see it in action here.   Make a second loaf the same way. Place braided loaves on a greased cookie sheet with at least 2 inches in between.

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5. Beat remaining egg and brush it on loaves. The egg is crucial for a shiny dark exterior.

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6.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees allow the loaves to rise for another 1/2 hour to an hour.  Brush loaves again.

7. Bake in middle of oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden.Mine tend to take about 30 minutes.  (If you have an instant read thermometer, you can take it out when it hits an internal temperature of 190 degrees.) Cool loaves on a rack.

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