Challah

Challah, which I recently learned is pronounced ‘hallah’, is a bread traditionally made for the Jewish Sabbath.  I decided to try making Challah for the first time because the recipe appears to be fairly simple (as far as bread making is concerned) and it’s described so wonderfully in my recipe book. Besides, there’s nothing better than fresh baked bread!

As I roll up my sleeves and start putting the ingredients together, I can’t help but think about the past week of beautiful sunshine in Northern California. I absolutely love the early spring weather! It’s a great opportunity to get my Vitamin D levels back up (as it’s a well known fact that most Americans (and Californians), whether they realize it or not, are vitamin D deficient…in spite of living in sunny Cali)!

So let’s get started on this recipe. Ingredients provided below. The recipe is derived from Lauren Groveman’s Challah recipe in the Baking with Julia cookbook. Pull the eggs and butter out of the fridge as soon as possible to allow them to come to room temperature. I made a couple substitutions that should, if anything, add a nice complexity to the flavor of the bread. I don’t have any milk, so I substituted the milk with lowfat buttermilk. Since buttermilk tends to be naturally ‘salted’, I reduced the salt to 2 teaspoons instead of 2.5 teaspoons. I also used two flours (bread flour and barley flour) instead of the recommended bread flour only as I ran short of the bread flour. I think the barley flour will add a nice ‘beer’ like scent to the bread.

Challah Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons  unsalted butter, melted
  • 1.5 tablespoons active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup tepid water (80 to 90 degF)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon mild honey
  • 2.5 teaspoons salt (sea salt preferred)
  • 4 large eggs, beaten lightly
  • 6.5 cups of high-gluten, bread flour or all-purpose flour

Brush a large mixing bowl with some of the melted butter and set the bowl aside. Reserve the remaining melted butter for coating the top of the dough.

Mixing the Dough: Whisk the yeast in the water. Add a pinch of the sugar and let rest until the yeast has dissolved and is creamy (see picture). About 5 minutes.

Cut the butter into pieces and place in a saucepan with the milk on low heat. When the milk is warm and the butter has melted, remove from the heat. Pour the milk butter mixture into an empty mixing bowl. Add the remaining sugar, salt and honey to the milk butter mixture, stirring until everything dissolves. Allow the mixture to cool if it’s above 110 deg F. Then add the eggs and the yeast mixture.  Finally add in the flour, while mixing with a wooden spoon. Once most of the flour has been incorporated and the dough can be pulled away from the sides of the bowl, turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead. This is the fun part! Knead the dough for about 10 minutes until it’s smooth and elastic. Add more flour as necessary to prevent the dough from sticking to your hands.

First and Second Rise: Form the dough into a ball and place in the buttered bowl. Cover with buttered plastic wrap and leave in a warm, draft free place (e.g. on a towel in the oven) until doubled in volume. This should take between 1 to 1.5 hours. When the dough is fully risen, deflate it and cover it until it doubles in bulk again. This second rise should take 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Shaping and Final Rise: Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Cut the dough in half and keep 1 piece of dough covered while you work.

Divide the piece of dough into three equal pieces. Roll each piece into a rope about 16 inches long; it should be thick in the center and tapered at the ends. Align the ropes vertically, side by side, and start braiding from the center down. When you’ve reached the end turn the loaf around so that the braid half is on top; braid the lower half. Pinch the ends to seal and tuck the ends under the loaf. Transfer the loaf to a prepard baking sheet and gently plump it to get it back into shape; cover witha  towel. Braid the second loaf, put it on a baking sheet and cover. Let the loaves rise at room temperature for 40 minutes, or until soft, puffy, and almost doubled.

Glaze Ingredients:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon cold water or heavy cream
  • sesame, poppy or caraway seeds (optional)
  • coarse sea salt

Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat to 375 deg F. Whisk the egg, yolk and water together in a small bowl until broken up, then push the glaze through a sieve. Brush the tops and sides of the challah with glaze; let the glaze set for 5 minutes and brush again. Dust the tops of the breads with seeds (optional) and sprinkle coarse salt over the loaves.

Baking the Bread: Bake for 20 minutes. The loaves will expand. Brush the exposed inner dough with the glaze. Bake for an additional 15-20 minutes until the loaves are golden and sound hollow when thumped on the bottom. If they start to brown too quickly, cover them with foil (shiny side up). Cool before slicing.

The bread came out heavenly – I will be making this again!

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Ramya says:

    Wow Neeta! This looks yummy… the pics and write up really make me want to try it.

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