challah

 

this post obviously has nothing to do with my grain-restricted diet or belief that wheat is evil.

i simply longed to labor over a very traditional food and serve it to my family.

challah is a slight labor of love. you have to really want to make it to have any success with the bread, especially when it comes to the braiding. challah is a pain, but it is sweet, beautiful, and symbolic.

i sought out an explanation of the tradition and history of challah, but none seemed worthy to reference. get a good book on food history and look for the story on this tasty bread.

brian and i made this 3 times before we had success. maybe it had something to do with reading directions. -that was a sarcastic implication. of course it had something to do with reading directions. it had to do with forgetting half a cup of sugar. and the salt. we waited for the bread to raise. it wouldn’t. the bread was dead. it was useless. what happened the second time is indescribable, and finally the third time was perfect. -oh, except for when the kitten found the covered dough, raising in a warm place… “what a nice bed”, she must have been thinking as she lay down to take her cute little nap on our bread. -this is why i cover everything with plastic wrap. the loaves continue to grow in the oven. the egg lacquer on the top makes them appear to stretch beyond their means, threatening to explode at the next degree of heat.

this recipe seems to be a very common one. i found it at smitten kitten and in the new york times.

i don’t have many tips for this one. just read the ingredients and instructions carefully before you even get the flour out of the pantry. take your rings off before you start this so you can quickly knead as soon as you are inclined. do not overwork the dough or it will result a dense and dusty loaf. add too much flour and your dough will be flaky and dry. too little flour and your dough will melt into itself, rendering the braiding task impossible. make it in the morning and plan on eating a fluffy chunk of warm, sweet bread with your dinner.

send half of a loaf with dinner guests, and put the other huge loaf in the freezer to use as a thank you gift later on in the week. -don’t forget that this makes an excellent french toast with a little jam and cream cheese to top!

this sweet, pillowy loaf was enough to tempt me into grabbing a hand sized chunk and slowly enjoying something i rarely get to do. this alone could have been my meal, and i would have been satisfied by the silky texture and the light sugar taste that the salt brings out.

mom, you can do this one.

this recipe makes 2 huge loaves

ingredients:

1 1/2 tbsp active dry yeast

1 tbsp + 1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup olive oil

5 large eggs

1 tbsp salt

8-8 1/2 cups flour

method: in a large bowl, combine yeast and 1 tbsp sugar with 1 3/4 cup lukewarm water. stir gently and allow yeast to dissolve bloom for a 2 or 3 minutes. now is a good time to prepare and pre-measure the rest of your ingredients.

whisk oil into yeast, stirring quickly, then whisk eggs in one at a time, and finally whisk in the salt and remaining half cup of sugar.

gradually sift in flour, maybe a cup or so at a time. once dough begins to hold shape (after 7 or so cups of flour are added), turn out on a clean floured surface to work with your hands and continue to add flour. knead until a firm ball of dough is formed. dough should be firm and bounce back whence poked with a finger. if outside of the ball is sticky, knead in a little more flour. do not overwork it, though. you don’t want a tough or dusty loaf. you want to keep things stretchy and gooey in there.

place ball of dough into a clean, oiled large bowl and cover with plastic wrap. stick it somewhere kinda warm. might i suggest on top of the dryer, in a water bath, and in front of a heater. let it rise for an hour or so. it will double in size in this time.

after raising for an hour, punch air out of dough. just give it a few good squishes and twists for 2 minutes or so. place cover back on and allow to rise for another half an hour or so. *this second raising can also be done slowly in the refrigerator overnight.

after second raising, prepare to braid loaves by lightly flouring clean counter top and tearing off a large sheet of parchment to place braided loaves onto.

to form loaves, remove half the dough from the bowl and gently squish out any major bubbles. separate dough into 6 similarly sized balls. roll dough balls into strands about a foot long. try keeping them at even width. place the strands in a row and gently pinch the tops together.

to braid, take the far right strand and place it two spaces to the left of it. now take the second strand from the left and move it all the way to the far right. take the outside left strand and move it 2 over. move second strand from right to the far left. start over with the far right strand and continue until loaf is braided.

or you can do what i did. use my improvisational skills and wing it. yeah, maybe that is why my loaves look a little wonky, but no one knew. i truly used some free-form weaving technique that i made up and it worked really well.

 

try to braid quickly so dough doesn’t stick to counter top. once loaf is braided, gently move to parchment paper and braid other loaf. place it 3 inches or so from other loaf.

brush both loaves with a well whisked egg. save this egg wash to use once more before baking. allow to rise for an hour or so. they are gonna grow.

preheat oven to 375f. place racks in center of oven.

brush loaves with egg once more before you gently move loaves to oven, keeping them on parchment.

bake for half an hour.

remove from oven and cool for half an hour before serving. my husband noted that this bread is best torn right off the loaf instead of being cut. this bread is so moist that it does not require butter or oil for serving, however a good dip into oil and sprinkling of salt makes this unbeatable.

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8 thoughts on “challah

  1. I had a very similar experience over the holidays– I made Scali Bread for my boyfriend’s family’s Christmas Eve dinner– I also try to stay away from grains, but I wanted to contribute some traditional Italian bread…I miiiiight have eaten some. There’s just something about freshly baked bread…

    • ugh, i swear i am still paying for my holiday transgressions. i must say, eating my normal, not holiday foods sure have me getting over the daily puffiness i was condemned to last week. was it the several slices of warm from the oven sourdough my sous chef friend made for us? yes. was it the handful of challah i nibbled on after a big dinner? yes. was it the endless (ENDLESS) chocolate cake that i made? yes. thank goodness for a fresh start in the new year!
      and here is to enjoying our breaded slip-ups!
      take care, allie, happy new year!

  2. I was the lucky recipient of a half loaf of challah. Very luscious! I’ll send you a picture of the Creme Brulee French Toast casserole I made.

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