Monday, December 13, 2010


Photo by Rachel Dedrickson

I think it is safe to say that challah (Hebrew: חלה) is at the core of traditional Jewish foods. The fresh baked, beautifully braided, egg-based bread can be found on the Shabbat dinner table. It can also be found as part of special Jewish holiday meals.

As far as I know, there is no recipe in my family for challah. We usually only have challah together as a large family on special occasions. Aunt Julie, however, makes Shabbat dinner every weekend and is known to be the bakery guru who’s always on the lookout for local bakeries with fresh, authentic challah for her weekly dinner. She is indefinitely tasked with bringing the challah to our larger dinner celebrations.

But the question that comes immediately to my mind is: why do we not make our own challah? The last memory I have of making this treat is back in Sunday school, when the dough was already prepared and all I had to do was braid. Needless to say, I decided to experiment and construct my own challah this past weekend. Why not?

The inspiration and recipe came from Smitten Kitchen. The recipe required me to face last week’s obstacle of yeast malfunction. And guess what? I hit a home run. I activated just one packet of yeast within my first attempt.

Rolling out the egg dough into twelve-inch ropes and artfully braiding them together into six strand and three strand challah loaves showed me that challah creation is actually very relaxing. Plus, the smell of fresh baked bread from the oven on a rainy Friday night was so cozy – just what I needed.

On Saturday morning, I drove over to Aunt Julie’s and delivered my six-stranded braid of challah. There was no need to hunt down a bakery this weekend! Perhaps there is no need next weekend either.

Best Challah (Egg Bread)
Adapted from Joan Nathan by Smitten Kitchen

The secrets to good challah are simple: Use two coats of egg wash to get that laquer-like crust and don’t overbake it. Joan Nathan, who this recipe is adapted from, adds that three risings always makes for the tastiest loaves, even better if one of them is slowed down in the fridge.

Time: about 1 hour, plus 2 1/2 hours rising
Yield: 2 loaves

1 1/2 packages active dry yeast (1 1/2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon salt
8 to 8 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup raisins per challah, if using, plumped in hot water and drained
Poppy or sesame seeds for sprinkling.

1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in 1 3/4 cups lukewarm water.

2. Whisk oil into yeast, then beat in 4 eggs, one at a time, with remaining sugar and salt. Gradually add flour. When dough holds together, it is ready for kneading. (You can also use a mixer with a dough hook for both mixing and kneading, but be careful if using a standard size KitchenAid–it’s a bit much for it, though it can be done.)

3. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Clean out bowl and grease it, then return dough to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size. Dough may also rise in an oven that has been warmed to 150 degrees then turned off. Punch down dough, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour.

4. At this point, you can knead the raisins into the challah, if you’re using them, before forming the loaves. To make a 6-braid challah, either straight or circular, take half the dough and form it into 6 balls. With your hands, roll each ball into a strand about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Place the 6 in a row, parallel to one another. Pinch the tops of the strands together. Move the outside right strand over 2 strands. Then take the second strand from the left and move it to the far right. Take the outside left strand and move it over 2. Move second strand from the right over to the far left. Start over with the outside right strand. Continue this until all strands are braided. For a straight loaf, tuck ends underneath. For a circular loaf, twist into a circle, pinching ends together. Make a second loaf the same way. Place braided loaves on a greased cookie sheet with at least 2 inches in between.

5. Beat remaining egg and brush it on loaves. Either freeze breads or let rise another hour.

6. If baking immediately, preheat oven to 375 degrees and brush loaves again. Sprinkle bread with seeds, if using. If freezing, remove from freezer 5 hours before baking.
7. Bake in middle of oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden. (If you have an instant read thermometer, you can take it out when it hits an internal temperature of 190 degrees.) Cool loaves on a rack.

Photo by Rachel Dedrickson


Anonymous said...

It was delicious AND gorgeous! Did I pick-up on an upcoming fresh delivery THIS weekend? Would love that! With the recipe posted, I may have to try my hand at it and make a surprise delivery back to Miss Rachel...don't tell! Aunt Julie

Ayesha Kazmi said...

would the poppy/ sesame seeds taste good if u use raisins???? We always get this bread from whole foods with the rasins but i've never seen any kind of seeds on it??? let me know i'm going to try making it this weekend!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...