I’m sorry, I’m sorry. It’s not even an original joke, yet I can’t resist.
This is the first in a two-part post, and let me assure you, this challah is going to turn into something that you really want to eat. But first, I wanted to sing the praises of challah by itself. I’ve made it three times now – each time gets a little better – and this goy girl knows that challah is the bread for brunch.
Challah is an enriched yeast bread traditionally served on the Jewish Sabbath. While there are a number of possible variations – you might use milk instead of water, add raisins or poppyseeds, use more or less sweetener, add additional enrichment like butter or oil, etc. – two things seem to hold steady: first, the loaf is always braided, and second, it’s given a good dose of egg wash, which lends its trademark golden-brown crust. Inside that crust, challah has a fine, absorbent crumb, which makes day-old challah perfect for French toast or bread pudding. In fact, there’s some waiting in my freezer for just that purpose right now. It’s also amazing fresh and steaming from the oven with a little butter and jam. Part two, due to arrive later this week, will put this challah to great use.
Adapted from How to Cook Everything with additional instruction from Smitten Kitchen
In the loaf above, I swapped whole wheat pastry flour for 1/3 of the white flour, and used water instead of milk. I’ve made it previously with all white flour using milk, which gave me a richer, yellower loaf. I’ve also fooled around with skimping on rise time, and while I don’t recommend it if you can avoid it, the bread turns out just fine. I’m giving you two rising periods, one of which is in a warm oven for speediness. If you add an additional rising period or slow the rising down on the counter or in the fridge, your bread will be even better. This recipe yields one large or two smaller loaves.
5 cups (1 1/2 pounds) flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/3 cups water or milk, heated to about 70 degrees F
1 tablespoon honey or sugar
1 ounce fresh yeast
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon poppyseeds
Butter for greasing the bowl
Butter a large, ovenproof bowl. Preheat the oven to the lowest temperature your oven will allow.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour and salt. Measure the water or milk into a 16 ounce Pyrex measuring cup and heat as necessary to reach the required temperature. Add the honey or sugar and stir until dissovled. Crumble in the fresh yeast and stir until dissolved.
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine half of the flour mixture, the yeast-water mixture, and the three eggs on low speed. Add additional flour about 1/2 cup at a time, switching to the dough hook attachment when the dough ball gets too big and tough for the paddle to handle. Let the dough hook knead the dough for 5 minutes, or until the dough forms a smooth, elastic ball. Transfer the dough ball to the buttered bowl, butter the top of the dough ball and cover with a towel. Put the bowl in the oven and turn the oven off. Let rise for 90 minutes or until at least doubled in bulk.
Deflate the ball and divide the dough into six equal pieces.* Shape the pieces into balls and let them rest on a very lightly floured surface, covered with towel, for 15 minutes.**
Lightly grease a baking sheet. Using your hands and without adding any additional flour, roll each piece into a snake about 14 inches long and one inch thick. To make two smaller loaves, braid three strands together on the baking sheet. Some recipes recommend starting the braid in the middle; others say to start at one end. I did both, and both were fine. To make one massive six-stranded braid, follow the instructions on Smitten Kitchen. In either case, do not braid too tightly or you may get unsightly stretch marks in the oven. Beat the remaining egg yolk with one-two teaspoons water and brush half of the egg wash over the loaves before letting them rise another hour.***
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Brush the loaves with the remaining egg wash and sprinkle with poppyseeds if desired. Bake 40 – 50 minutes, or until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when you give it a good tap. Cool on a wire rack. Freeze if not eating within 36 hours.