Here is a 4 strand Challah studded with poppy seeds. This is the all time favorite bread for us and made quite often at home. Why do we love it so much ? The reasons are many — it is a tad bit sweet , rich , has a very fine crumb etc. etc., the list goes on. In short it is our celebration bread – a bit of indulgence to celebrate the little things in life. It is lovely as a plain toast , goes great with savory dips and makes beautiful sandwiches. The leftovers can be made into French Toast or Bread Pudding the next day. So if you are ever stumped for a delicious bread recipe for breakfast, or any other meal – try Challah .
Challah is not just any bread, but the bread for Jewish celebrations. Religions that span centuries and millennia are awash in symbolism. The day to day acts of cooking, eating , cleaning etc takes extraordinary meanings that leave the uninitiated baffled. Challah falls into this deeply symbolic category for the Jewish people. How to prepare the dough, how the loaf is shaped and how to serve and eat it, there is symbolism in all the steps. I do not pretend to understand it, but it is indeed fascinating. As one of the uninitiated to me this rich bread in all its different forms tastes simply divine.
Today I am talking about the most traditional Challah with a soft crumb that is feels like a cake. Incidentally Challah is made parve which means that it contains no meat or diary . There is a vegan version or water Challah containing no eggs, more on that another time. This wonderful loaf uses absolutely no diary products and gets its moist cake like texture from eggs and the oil added . Over time what I have learnt is that the slow multiple rises is the way to improve the flavor and texture are the slow multiple rises. It takes time, but the results in an incredible loaf. Of course you can avoid it and make the Challah just like a standard loaf of bread and it will still be a delicious. Here is the basic recipe :
This bread recipe used active dry yeast , and starts in the usual way,by activating yeast in water . Warm 1/4 C water to 110°F or just warm to touch . Dissolve 1 Tbsp Sugar in the water and sprinkle the yeast on top . Set aside to bloom .
Take the flour in large mixing bowl, mix in the sugar and salt . Beat the eggs and set aside . Make a well in the flour mix and add the activated yeast . Add the beaten egg and oil and slowly mix in the flour. Alternately you can break the eggs into the well in the flour and beat them in there are as well . Add just enough water to bring the dough together . Cover and set aside for 20 mins .
After 20 minutes uncover and turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface (or use a large mixing bowl). Knead for 10 minutes , until it becomes soft and very supple. Challh dough is very soft and moist . Take care not to add more flour as you knead . I find that kneading in my mixing bowl to be better here .Form the dough into a ball. Grease a bowl large enough to hold the risen dough and place the dough ball in it . Turn to coat all the sides of the dough with oil evenly . Cover and place in the fridge for an overnight rise (about 8 hrs ).
Remove from the fridge, uncover and punch down the dough . Knead a few times in the bowl , form into a ball and let rise again till almost doubled – 30 mins to 1 hr in room temperature – or few hours in the fridge. The second rise will be faster than the first one .
Now it is time to shape. There are many ways to shape Challah . Here I am describing one of the simplest the three stand braid . Punch down and divide into 2 equal halves . Take one half and divide into 3 equal portions. Roll each portion onto about 12 to 14 inch long rope.
Place 3 of the ropes on the baking sheet side by side . Follow the directions above and braid by starting at the center of the ropes instead of the ends . Taper the ends of the ropes a bit and pinch the ends together and fold under if needed. Cover and let rise for 20 to 30 minutes until almost doubled .
While the braids are rising , preheat the oven to 350°F. Break the egg for the egg wash and beat well with 1 tsp water. Brush the top of the braids liberally with egg wash . Sprinkle seeds on top if using . Transfer to the preheated oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes . Remove from the oven . By this time the bread has had a good oven spring it looks like the first picture above . The darker sheen is where we brushed the eggwash and the white is the result of expansion while baking . Brush the remaining eggwash over the bread and return to the oven and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes till done .
Cool before slicing.