Challah

Challah is a lightly sweetened bread with a rich, eggy flavor. It has both a wonderful history and a wonderful taste.

Challah is traditionally used for the Jewish Sabbath or Shabbat, as it is called in Hebrew (I guess the ‘h’ was demoted in the translation to English). The name challah comes from the Hebrew for ‘portion’, referring to the portion of any bread dough that was put aside, as commanded.

I had only had challah once or twice before venturing into it myself and was pleased with the results. The only change I would make would be to braid it tighter next time. I think I was being a little too gentle with the dough and, as the pictures show, it started bursting at the seams…no joke! Other than that, the recipe delivered the promised rich, eggy flavor and light texture.

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 cups bread flour plus extra as needed
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast (about one envelope)
  • 1 cup room-temperature water
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • Egg wash (1 large egg whisked with 2 tablespoons cold milk or water)

Instructions:

1. Combine flour and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add water, eggs, egg yolks, oil, sugar and salt and mix on low speed for 4 minutes. Increase speed to medium and knead for 4 minutes. The dough should be soft but not sticky.

2. Transfer dough to a lightly oiled bowl. Turn to coat and cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until dough has doubled in size, about 60-90 minutes.

3. Fold the dough gently, cover and let rest until dough has relaxed, about 20 minutes. The purpose of folding the dough  is to give the gluten a chance to develop and makes the dough more elastic and resilient. Letting it rest after you fold it develops the open, light crumb of the bread.

4. Divide the dough in 3 equal pieces and transfer to a lightly floured work surface. Stretch each piece into a 6 inch cylinder to pre-shape the dough. Cover and let rest an additional 15-20 minutes.

5. Working with 1 piece at a time, roll the dough into a 12 inch rope by rolling from the center of the dough to the ends.

6. Line up the ropes of dough side by side. Pinch the ends of the ropes together to seal and braid the dough by taking the dough rope on top and laying it over the center rope. Take the dough rope on the bottom and lay it over the center rope. Repeat until fully braided. Pinch the ends together and tuck both ends neatly under the braid. Transfer loaf to a parchment-lined baking sheet.

7. Brush the dough lightly with the egg wash and let rise a second time until it springs back slowly to the touch but does not collapse, 1 hour. Since the dough has egg wash, there is no need to cover it during this rise.

8. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Very gently brush the loaf with egg wash again before baking.

9. Bake until the challah is a dark golden brown, 25-30 minutes. let cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

The source of this recipe was my Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America. This is an excellent cookbook that includes pictures of both the food and the techniques used in preparation.

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