Friday, January 23, 2015

I Ain't No Challah Back Girl

Happy Friday, everyone! Friday is a special day in Judaism where we celebrate Shabbat (Sabbath). For as long as I can remember, every Friday night my family would gather for a home-cooked dinner, and my dad always made a delicious challah.

Though challah is as well-known to me as Coca-Cola, I know some people may not be as familiar with this delicious, slightly-sweet egg bread. When done right, it is among my most favorite things in the world. And it makes the absolute best French toast the next day.

I've been experimenting with a lot of different challah recipes through the years. This is the one I'm currently using--originally from Joan Nathan. It's got a great texture that is light and fluffy and pulls apart slightly. But, I want it a bit sweeter. Another recipe I've previously used called for honey rather than sugar, but it made the dough very sticky and difficult to work with. If any bakers out there know how to get a fluffy texture with a honey flavor, I am all ears! Please let me know. In the meantime, this suits quite well. The best part is, you can make it all in your mixer!

Original recipe from here

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast (1 1/2 packages)
  • 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 8 to 8 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
  • Poppy seeds (optional)

  • In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast and 1 tablespoon of sugar in the water. I use the bowl from my Kitchenaid mixer.
  • Mix the oil into the yeast, then beat in 4 eggs, one at a time, with the remaining sugar and salt. Add the flour one cup at a time until it holds together. Knead the dough for several minutes until smooth. If using the mixer, use the dough hook for both mixing and kneading. 
  • Take the dough out of the bowl, grease the bowl with oil or cooking spray, then return the dough to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel and let rise in a warm place for an hour, until almost doubled in size.
  • After an hour, punch the dough down, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour.
  • Take the dough out of the bowl. To make two challahs, separate dough in two, then again in three.* You will have six pieces. Roll each ball into a strand about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Pinch the tops of three strands together, then braid the dough. Tuck the ends under the loaf. Repeat for the second loaf.
  • Place the braided loaves on a greased cookie sheet with at least two inches in between.
  • Beat remaining egg and brush it on the loaves. Either freeze the braids or let rise another hour in the refrigerator.** 
  • To bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees and brush loaves again with the egg wash. Then sprinkle the top with poppy seeds. 
  • Bake in the middle of the oven for 40 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a rack.

* I made two smaller challahs and one bigger challah. To do this, split the dough in half, then split one of the pieces in half again. Then follow the directions above.
** Freezing instructions: Place loaves in freezer and leave until slightly hardened. Then, wrap tightly in foil and place in zipped freezer bag. When you are ready to cook the bread, defrost on the counter for several hours (5ish). Add egg wash and poppy seeds and cook as above.

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