Challah is for Baking at Home
Challah is for Baking at Home
Here is a bread that is as much a pleasure to look at as it is to eat. Check out that braiding! And the way it practically glows on the table! Tear yourself off a hunk -- or slice it, if that's your preference -- and cherish the pillow-soft interior, simultaneously rich and slightly sweet. Challah is a bread that should be in everyone's repertoire. Whether you're serving it for shabbat dinner or Sunday supper, home-baked challah is going to taste better than any loaf you can buy.
At its root, challah is a very straightforward bread to make. The dough is enriched with eggs and oil, while a few tablespoons of sugar add some sweetness. It doesn't require any fussy techniques and can be made from start to finish in the space of an afternoon.
The real magic comes in braiding the loaf. Even a simple three-stranded braid is impressive, though a four- or six-stranded braid (as shown in the photo) will bring the house down. For major celebrations, such as the Jewish high holidays, you can also coil the long braided loaf into a circle. A simple brushing of egg white is all you need to make that loaf shiny and magnificent.
We all know that leftover challah should go directly into a frying pan to make French toast. I also love it in bread puddings and even for sandwiches. It might sound a little strange, but challah piled high with thin-cut roast beef is pure heaven.
Makes 1 loaf (about 20 slices)
2 teaspoons active dry or instant yeast
1 cup (8 ounces) lukewarm water
4 to 4 1/2 cups (20-22 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) white granulated sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk (reserve the white for the egg wash)
1/4 cup (2 ounces) neutral-flavored vegetable oil (see note)
Standing mixer (optional)
Large mixing bowl
Bench scraper or sharp knife
1. Sprinkle the yeast over the water in a small bowl, and add a healthy pinch of sugar. Stir to dissolve the yeast and let stand until you see a thin frothy layer across the top. This means that the yeast is active and ready to use. (If you do not see this or if your yeast won't dissolve, it has likely expired and you'll need to purchase new yeast.)
2. Whisk together 4 cups of the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer (or in a large mixing bowl if kneading by hand).
3. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the eggs, egg yolk and oil. Whisk these together to form a slurry, pulling in a little flour from the sides of the bowl.
4. Pour the yeast mixture over the egg slurry. Mix the yeast, eggs and flour with a long-handled spoon until you form a shaggy dough that is difficult to mix.
5. With a dough hook attachment, knead the dough on low speed for 6-8 minutes. (Alternatively, turn out the dough onto a floured work surface and knead by hand for about 10 minutes.) If the dough seems very sticky, add flour a teaspoon at a time until it feels tacky, but no longer like bubblegum. The dough has finished kneading when it is soft and smooth and holds a ball shape.
6. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place somewhere warm. Let the dough rise until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
7. Separate the dough into three or six equal pieces, depending on the type of braid you'd like to do. Roll each piece of dough into a long rope roughly 1-inch thick and 16 inches long. If the ropes shrink as you try to roll them, let them rest for 5 minutes to relax the gluten and then try again.
8. Gather the ropes and squeeze them together at the very top. If making a 3-stranded challah, braid the ropes together like braiding hair or yarn and squeeze the ends together when complete.
If making a 6-stranded challah, the directions are as follows: The name of the game here is "over two, under one, over two." Carry the right-most rope over the two ropes beside it, slip it under the middle rope, and then carry it over the last two ropes. Lay the rope down parallel to the other ropes; it is now the furthest-left strand. Repeat this pattern until you reach the end of the loaf. Try to make your braid as tight as possible. Your braid will start listing to the left as you go; it's OK to lift it up and recenter the loaf if you need to. Once you reach the end, squeeze the ends of the ropes together and tuck them under the loaf.
At this point, your loaf is fairly long and skinny. If you'd like to make a celebration ring, stretch the loaf a little longer and pull the ends toward each other to create a circle. You can either squeeze the ends together or, if you're feeling adventurous, braid them into a continuous circle.
If you're making a regular loaf (as pictured), you need to "plump" it a little to tighten the ropes into more of a loaf shape. Place your left palm at the end of the braid and your right palm at the top, and gently push the two ends toward each other, just like plumping a pillow in slow motion. Then slip your fingers under the dough along either side and gently lift the dough while cupping it downwards. (This isn't a vital step, so don't worry if you're not sure you did it correctly.)
9. Line a baking sheet with parchment and lift the loaf on top. Sprinkle the loaf with a little flour and drape it with a clean dishcloth. Place the pan somewhere warm and away from drafts and let it rise until puffed and pillowy, about an hour.
10. About 20 minutes before baking, heat the oven to 350 F. When ready to bake, whisk the reserved egg white with a tablespoon of water and brush it all over the challah. Be sure to get in the cracks and down the sides of the loaf.
11. Slide the challah on its baking sheet into the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through cooking. The challah is done when it is deeply browned and registers 190 F in the very middle with an instant-read thermometer.
12. Let the challah cool on a cooling rack until just barely warm.
Note: You may substitute melted butter for the oil in this recipe if you don't keep a kosher table (or if you do but are not serving meat with the meal).
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Challah is for Baking at Home
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