Here is a 3 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 ? It is soft with a very fine crumb, a bit sweet, rich and absolutely delicious. It is a celebration bread – a bit of indulgence to celebrate the little things in life. To me this rich bread in all its different forms taste simply divine.
Challah is not just any bread, but the bread that has an important place in Jewish celebrations. Religions with histories that span centuries and even millennia are awash with symbolism. Even the everyday acts of cooking, eating , cleaning etc. take extraordinary meanings that leave the uninitiated baffled. Challah falls into this deeply symbolic category. How to prepare the dough, how to shape the loaf and how to serve it and even how to eat it, there is symbolism in all the these. I do not pretend to understand it, but it is indeed fascinating.
Today I am talking about the most traditional Challah with a soft crumb that almost 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 oil.
Over time I have learnt that the way to improve the flavor and texture is in the slow or cold rise of the dough It takes time, but the results in an incredible loaf. The Challah made just like a standard loaf of bread (2 rises of he dough) will still be a delicious.
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.
This dough can be made in the stand mixer or by hand. Since it tends to get a little sticky, I prefer to do most of the mixing in the machine so I can multi task. Either way here are a few points to keep in mind
- Once the all flour is mixed in cover the mix and let it rest for 20 minutes or so before proceeding further.
- If planning to have the dough rise in the fridge you can stop kneading as soon as the dough feels soft.
- If kneading by hand about 10 minutes should be good enough. In the stand mixer, it takes about 3 to 4 minutes .
- Always go by the feel of the dough rather than time.
- Whether following slow rising or not, keep in mind that each successive doubling of the dough will take less time than the previous one , using the same method.
- A braided loaf on the sheet pan has more space to expand than a loaf pan. And this bread usually has a good oven spring. Space the loaves a little farther apart then you would normally do.
- Apply the eggwash twice (explained below).
There are many ways to shape Challah . In the pictures here I have made one of the simplest – the three stand braid . Punch down and divide the dough 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. When ready to bake, brush the top of the braids liberally with egg wash. If topping with seeds,sprinkle seeds on top. Transfer to the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven. By this time the bread has had a good oven spring and you can see light browning on the egg washed portion and light expanded portions. Brush the remaining egg-wash over the bread taking care to cover all the newly exposed areas. You can add more seeds on top at this time as well. Return the loaf to the oven and bake for another 20 to 25 minutes till done .
That was the two step egg wash, it creates an even (well almost) browning of the braids. This is not a mandatory step, you could leave the loaves undisturbed in the oven to finish baking.
- 500 g All Purpose or Bread Flour (4 to 4 1/2 C)
- 160 g Water ( 3/4C )
- 2 Eggs Large
- 1/4 C Vegetable Oil
- 50 g Sugar ( 1/4 C )
- 10 g Fine Sea Salt (1 1/4Tsp)
- 7 g Active Dry Yeast (1 pkt or about 2 tsp)
- 1 Egg
- 1 Tsp Water
- Poppy Seed / Sesame Seed Optional
- 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.
Mix The dough
- Place the flour, remaining sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl. Mix well. Beat the eggs in a bowl. Make a well in the center of the mix, add the eggs to it. Add the activated yeast, oil and half the remaining water to it as well. Gently mix until all the flour is moistened, adding enough of the remaining water to bring the dough together. Cover and set aside for 10 to 20 minutes.
- Uncover and knead gently for 10 minutes until a soft and pliable dough is formed. This dough should be a little wet than normal.
- Form the dough into a ball. Grease a bowl large enough to hold the risen dough ( about 3 times in volume) and place the dough ball in it . Turn to coat all sides of the dough with oil evenly. Cover and place in the fridge for an overnight rise (preferable) or set aside in a warm place to double in volume (about 1 1/2 hours).
- 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 at room temperature or few hours in the fridge.
Shape and Final Rise
- Punch down and divide the dough into 2 equal halves. Take one half and divide into 3 equal portions.
- Roll each portion into ropes of about 12 to 14 inches in length. Braid the ropes together . Transfer to a baking sheet . Repeat with the other half.
- Cover and let rise for 20 to 30 minutes until almost doubled .
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (170°C).
- Break the egg for the egg wash and beat well with 1 tsp water. Brush the top of the braids with egg wash. Sprinkle the seeds on top, if using. Transfer to the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and brush the tops with the remaining egg wash again. Return to the oven and bake for another 20 to 25 minutes till done. At any time if the tops of the loaves start to brown too much cover with aluminium foil.
- When cooked through the bottom of the loaves should sound hollow when patted.
- The bread is done when the internal temperature reaches 190°F.
- Cool before slicing.
- US cup measurements used : 1C = 240 ml.
- Use unbleached unbromated flour.
Important: Values are only estimates. Actuals vary depending on ingredients and serving size.
It is a very versatile bread. 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.