Thursday, September 29, 2011

Challah (Egg Bread)

Have you ever longed to make the perfect bread pudding but it always left you feeling a little bit...meh? Well, look no further because challah is here to rescue you from bread pudding purgatory! Sometimes I make it just so I can have "leftovers" to make bread pudding out of.

In all seriousness, this is one of the most lovely breads you can ever learn to make. Traditionally served on the Jewish Sabbath and other holidays, it will become a favorite in your kitchen and a workhorse in the menu. While it is sublime eaten fresh and warm, it makes incredible french toast and bread pudding. You can use the dough to make cinnamon rolls or caramel apple buns. If you can dream it up using an enriched dough, this is the recipe for you! The honey rounds out the richness of the bread and sends the flavor profile through the roof. And there are few things closer to heaven than the smell of fresh baked challah wafting from your oven. 

Have fun and happy baking!



Traditional Challah

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

  • 1 ¾ c. warm water
  • 1 1/2 packages active dry yeast (1 1/2 Tbsp)
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup oil, plus more for greasing the bowl (I used coconut - olive or vegetable is fine, too)
  • 4 large eggs + 1 more for egg wash
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 3 tsp salt
  • 8 to 8 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup raisins per challah, if using, plumped in hot water and drained
  • Poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling

1.  In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water.  

2.  Whisk oil into yeast, then beat in 4 eggs, one at a time, with honey and salt. Gradually add flour. When dough starts pulling away from the sides of the bowl, it is ready for kneading. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8-10 minutes by hand.  
(Smitten Kitchen says: "You can also use a mixer with a dough hook for both mixing and kneading, but be careful if using a standard size KitchenAid–it’s a bit much for it, though it can be done." Melynda here: I have a Bosch mixer and it can handle a double batch – 4 loaves – with no problem.)

3. Place dough in a well greased bowl, turning once to coat.  Cover with plastic wrap, 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. Punch down dough, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour. (Melynda here: I do the second rising in the refrigerator because it makes the dough easier to handle when making the strands.) 

While the dough is rising, go watch this video: 

Pretty cool, eh? Trust me, you will get the hang of it and when you do, you will feel so accomplished!!!  

4. After the second rising, you can knead the raisins into the challah, if you’re using them, before forming the loaves.

5. To make a 6-braid challah, either straight or circular, take half the dough and form it into 6 balls, approximately 150 gms each.

6. With your hands, roll each ball into a strand about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. 

7. Place the 6 strands in a row, parallel to one another. Starting with the strand on the far right, pinch the tops of the strands together. (Note: The key to following then braiding by numbers is to remember to FORGET THE OLD POSITION NUMBER OF THE STRAND.  Just remember there are six POSITIONS from left to right 1-2-3-4-5-6.)

8. Next, establish the base of the braid:
o   Move the far RIGHT strand all the way over to the right. (6 --> 1)
o   Move the 2nd strand on LEFT to the far RIGHT (2-->6)
o   Separate the middle four strands (2.3.4. & 5) into two sections (2 ,3  and 4, 5)
o   Move the outside LEFT strand over two strands (1-->3)

9. After base is established, repeat the following pattern:

o   Move second strand on the RIGHT to the far left (5-->1)
o   Move the far right strand over to two strand (6-->3)
o   Move the second strand on the LEFT over to the far right (2-->6)
o   Move the outside LEFT strand over two strands (1-->3)

The braiding pattern by numbers is this:
  • Establish base
    • Move strand in position 6-->1
    • Move strand in position 2-->6
    • Split the four in the middle
    •  Move strand in position 1 -->3
  •  Repeat this pattern until strands are braided 
    • Move strand in position 5-->1
    • Move strand in position 6-->3
    • Move strand in position 2-->6
    • Move strand in position 1-->3

10. For a straight loaf, tuck ends underneath. For a circular loaf, twist into a circle, pinching ends together. 

11. Make a second loaf the same way. Place braided loaves on a greased cookie sheet with at least 2 inches in between. 

12. Beat remaining egg and brush it on loaves. Either freeze breads or let rise another hour.

13. If baking immediately, preheat oven to 375 degrees and brush loaves again. Sprinkle bread   with seeds, if using. If freezing, remove from freezer 5 hours before baking.

14. Bake in middle of oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden. (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.