Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Mmmm, challah

Mmmm, Challah. I’m not Jewish, but this recipe makes me wish I was! The history of challah is one rich in religious symbolism and tradition. My history only involves seeing the recipe once and wanting to make it solely based on the beauty of the loaf itself. By the way, it's pronounced halla, not with the soft ch- like I've been pronouncing it. See, I learned something new just in researching for this post!

So, how do you make this awesome loaf? Thankfully, it’s very simple, and only requires and handful of ingredients; stuff you’ll more than likely have on hand. I'll go ahead and post the recipe, and then you can follow along in the instructions. I created this recipe out of an existing one, then adding and changing ingredients to suit my taste. The original recipe called for less eggs and honey, but I knew I liked both in my bread, so I added more.

The traditional way to make challah is two loaves at a time. You can use my recipe to make two loaves, as it was originally intended, but I make one HUGE one, because that's the way I like it. That's what I appreciate about making things at home, you can really "own" them by customizing them to suit your preferences, whether it be a new pair of curtains or a loaf of bread. That's one of the things I love about doing things myself.

1 1/4 cups warm water
1 pkg instant rapid rise yeast
1/2 cup honey, plus 1 tbsp
2 tbsp oil (I use canola)
1 egg, plus 3 egg yolks, saving whites
1/2 tablespoon salt
4-5 cups flour (I use bread flour)
any embellishing toppings you may want including sesame or poppy seeds

In a large bowl (I'm using my stand mixer & bowl here), sprinkle yeast over the warm water. Hand mix in 1/2 cup honey, 1 egg plus 3 yolks, and salt. Add 3 cups of flour and begin mixing with the bread hook, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. When the flour is incorporated well, continue to add in the 1-2 cups more of flour until you get a nice, sticky dough that pulls away from the side of the bowl. Sprinkle the dough with a little extra flour, cover with a damp towel, and place in the oven to rise for 1 1/2 hours. Before putting my dough in the oven, I preheat it on 200F for about a minute, just to get it slightly warm, which helps the yeast multiply and the dough rise well.

Punch down the dough and turn it onto a floured surface (you'll probably go through at least a cup here). Divide the dough in half and knead each piece for 3-5 minutes. Divide each half into thirds, and roll these thirds into long snakes (about 8-10 inches long, or about 1 1/2 inches in diameter). Pinch the ends of all 6 "snake" pieces and braid the 6 strands together any way you like. I try to make it similar to a three piece braid. Pinch the ends together to make a fully braided loaf. Grease a baking tray and place the braided loaf on the pan to rise again (in the slightly heated oven) for about another 45 mins to 1 hour.

Take the loaf out of the oven carefully, and preheat the oven to 375F. With your remaining egg whites, mix in the leftover tablespoon of honey until well incorporated. You will brush the unbaked loaf with this mixture, and it will acheive a slightly sweet, deeply browned crust. This is also the time to sprinkle the loaf with any embellishments.

Bake for 34 minutes, covering with foil after the first 20 minutes. After bread has cooled for about 10 minutes, wrap it in a clean bath towel, and allow it to finish cooling for 30 minutes. This partially steams the bread, resulting in a soft crust. If you want a crisper crust, let it cool on a wire rack.

Voila! You have challah!

I really intended to take a photo of the full loaf, but a hungry family demanded bread!

Tomorrow: We're going to talk about honey, nature's homemade!


The Muse said...

I love challah! I can't wait to have my own house and kitchen to try out all this yummy goodness!

Paige said...

Wow. That is some beautiful bread. I'm forever wanting to know the secret to making an awesome loaf of bread, and I may just have to try this recipe. It looks GREAT! Oh, and I can't wait for the honey post. My husband lives and dies for good honey.

Dana said...

Hi Paige! How are you? Thanks for visiting my blog. The honey post is coming as soon as I can get a minute to savor the goodness of it! :)