Chavahh Nagila! Challah!

27Aug08

Mm… Challah bread.

I’ve actually made this bread four times to date. And somehow, I’ve only managed to take one set of photographs of any of them. Negligent on my part? Perhaps.

Anyway, I adapted the recipe for this bread from my FAVORITE baking book (to date, anyway), Baking with Julia. I got it for the unbelievable bargain price of $0.50 at my local library. Heh. I feel like someone got ripped off… but I can’t complain! One man’s trash…

Some background information about challah:

According to the book, it’s like an Eastern European version of brioche, and it’s a very eggy, buttery bread. Delicious, in my opinion. It’s also known as a Jewish bread- something they eat on Sabbath, etc. I’m not Jewish, so I won’t try to butcher the particulars of the significance of this bread, but I do know that you definitely do not have to be Jewish to eat and enjoy this bread!

Challah Bread

Ingredients

1 1/2 tbsp active dry yeast
1/2 cup tepid water
1/3 cup sugar
1 stick (4 oz) unsalted butter (at room temp, plus extra for greasing the bowl)
1 cup whole milk
1 tbsp mild honey
2 1/2 tsp salt
4 large eggs
6 1/2 cups high gluten flower, bread flour, or unbleached all-purpose flour (plus extra for while you are kneading the dough)**

**I’ve been replacing two of the cups with whole wheat flour, but it really doesn’t make too much of a difference, It’s up to you what kind of flour you like to use.

Directions

Mix the active dry yeast and tepid water together with a pinch of the sugar. Let the mixture sit for five minutes until it is frothy.

While the yeast mixture is developing, heat the milk and cut the stick of butter into the milk in small pieces (the small pieces allow the butter to melt quicker). Once the butter has all melted, set the milk aside and allow the mixture to cool until it is no longer scalding. Pour the milk into a large bowl and add the sugar, salt, and honey. At this point, you can also add the yeast mixture and eggs.

Add the flour, one half-cup at a time, mixing thoroughly. At around six cups, you can probably dig your hands in and start squishing around thusly. Once the dough is sufficiently dry, you can begin kneading on a generously floured surface. Knead well for at least ten minutes, then set the dough in a large, buttered bowl. Paint a layer of melted butter on top of the dough, cover the bowl with a layer of saran wrap, and allow the dough to rise for approximately 1 to 1.5 hours, or until doubled in size.

After the first rise, punch out the air, and then allow the dough to rise again for another 45 to 1 hour, or until doubled in size again.

After the second rise, dump out the dough and cut it into however many portions you want to make loaves of. (I usually make four loaves, since it’s easier to handle, but the original recipe called for only two braided loaves) For each of these portions, cut the dough into three even parts, and then stretch them into strips. Braid the strips together, and then place the finished loaves onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Allow the loaves to sit and rise for another 40 minutes, covered.

Ten minutes before the last rise is up, prepare the glaze and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Use the racks in the oven to divide the oven in thirds.

The most recent time I made challah, I actually took a little extra dough to make knot-rolls, just to see how it would turn out.

Ingredients for the egg glaze:
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tbsp water
coarse salt
poppy, caraway, etc., seeds (optional)

Mix the egg and yolk and water together. Strain the mixture through a sieve, and then brush each the loaves thoroughly. Let the egg wash/glaze soak in for five minutes, and then apply a second coat. Sprinkle the bread with the seeds (if you plan to do so), and then with the salt (sprink the salt regardless of whether or not you plan to use seeds).

Put the baking sheets in the oven and allow the bread to bake for twenty minutes. At that point, the bread should have expanded somewhat in the oven, so take the bread out and brush the newly exposed areas with the remaining egg wash, and then replace the loaves in the oven, switching the top and bottom baking pans for even baking. Let the loaves bake for another 15 to 20 minutes.

The loaves should be done once the bread has a hollow sound when you thump on the bottom. Wait until the bread has fully cooled before cutting it into slices, and then… enjoy!

Makes two large braided loaves, or four small braided loaves.

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