Challah

Challah-title

I haven’t  made bread in a long time and I thought I could use the practice. I wanted a bit of a challenge with shaping dough, so I chose challah.

The shape and the size of the challah didn’t turn out as expected, but it was very tasty. I think my recipe failed somewhere in the rising process. Ok, so I didn’t feel like going through the 2-step rising process (I was multi-tasking like crazy while baking and was starting to lose momentum). As a result, my braid over expanded and looked a bit bulbous. I’m standing by the tasty part though.  It was really very good, but now I have to redeem myself  and make this again, following the all of the directions. It’s a fun recipe and definitely worth trying.

Challah

  • Servings: one medium loaf
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(from Shiska in the Kitchen via Bon Appetit)

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups lukewarm water, divided
  • 1 packet active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 1/2 to 6 cups all-purpose baking flour

egg wash

  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon cold water
  • ½ teaspoon salt

optional

  • 1 ½ cups raisins, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and kosher salt as toppings

Method

Pour 1/4 cup of the lukewarm water (about 110 degrees F) into a large mixing bowl. Add 1 packet active dry yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar to bowl; stir to dissolve. Wait 10 minutes. The yeast will look expanded and foamy. Add remaining 1 ¼ cup lukewarm water, egg, egg yolks, honey, canola oil and salt to bowl; whisk to blend. Stir flour into bowl by half-cupfuls.

When mixture becomes too thick to stir, knead mixture with hands. Continue to add flour and knead dough until dough is smooth and elastic, not sticky. The amount of flour you will need to achieve this texture varies; only add flour until dough feels pliable. If adding raisins to challah, add to dough as you knead. Bring saucepan of water to boil. Remove dough from mixing bowl and wash out the bowl. Grease same bowl with canola oil. Push dough back into the bottom of greased bowl, then flip it over so that both sides are slightly moistened by oil. Cover bowl with a clean, damp kitchen towel, then place bowl on the top rack of your oven. Place the saucepan full of boiling water below the oven rack where your dough sits. Close the oven, but do not turn it on. The hot water will create a warm, steamy environment for the dough to rise. After 1 hour, take the dough out and punch it down into the bowl several times to remove air pockets. Place it back inside the oven and let it rise for 1 hour longer. Take dough out of oven.

Flour a smooth surface such as a cutting board. Punch dough down into the bowl a few times, then turn dough out onto the floured surface. Knead for a few minutes, adding flour as needed to keep the dough from feeling sticky. Now your dough is ready to braid. See “How to Shape a round Challah” below. Place braided challah on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, one braid per cookie sheet. Prepare egg wash by beating the egg, salt and water till smooth. Using pastry brush, brush thin layer of egg wash onto the visible surface of your challah. Reserve leftover egg wash.

Cover challah loosely with plastic wrap and let rise 30 to 45 minutes longer. (dough is ready to bake when you press your finger into the dough and the indentation stays, rather than bouncing back.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. remove plastic wrap from challah. Bake challah for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and touch up center of the braid with another thin layer of egg wash. (this area tends to expand during baking.) Turn cookie sheet around, so opposite side is facing front; place challah back into the oven. For this last part of the baking process, keep an eye on your bread—it may brown faster than it’s baking.

When challah is browned to your liking, remove from oven carefully and tent it with foil. Place it back in oven. Bake challah 20 minutes longer (bulkier shapes like round challahs might need more time in the oven). Remove the foil for the last 2 minutes of baking time. Remove challah from oven. Test the bread for doneness by turning it over and tapping on the bottom of the loaf—if it makes a hollow sound, it’s done. Let challah cool on the baking sheet or a wire cooling rack before serving.

How to Shape Challah

Divide your dough into the number of strands you’ll need, making sure each portion is equal in volume. For example, if you’re making a three strand challah, divide your dough into three equal portions. Take one of the portions and roll it out with a rolling pin until it is flat and about 1/4 inch thick. Don’t worry about the shape of the dough, it doesn’t matter. Put the smaller part of the dough towards the top of your rolling surface, with the widest part towards the bottom. Using both hands, put pressure on the rolling surface and pull the dough back towards you, rolling it back into a strand shape. Keep even pressure on the dough as you roll so that no air pockets collect in the strand.

Once your strand shape is created, roll it back and forth with both hands to erase the seams and smooth out the strand. As you roll, angle your hands outward and apply gentle pressure to taper the dough on the outer edges. By doing this, your strand should end up slightly thicker in the middle and thinner on the ends. This will help make your braided challah tapered at the ends, which creates a beautiful shape.

Further taper the strand by grasping one end between your two palms and gently rolling the dough back and forth. Repeat for the other end of the strand.  

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