Challah Bread

Sliced challah

My friend Anna is a terrible influence. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about her, usually by her nickname “culinary-school-dropout.” Even though she didn’t finish the program with me, Anna still loves food and loves to cook and is usually the person accompanying me to various small, ethnic restaurants around the city. The other thing you need to know about Anna is that she’s obsessed with buying cookbooks, that’s where the bad influence comes in.

Brush with egg wash

Last week we ate lunch at TAC Quick (the most amazing tom kha soup, by the way). Afterwards Anna suggested going to Borders to look at the cookbooks. I agreed but on the condition that she didn’t allow to buy any (I have plenty, too). After an hour and a half of browsing the cooking section, I was hooked on a new book that I just HAD to have: The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion: the All-Purpose Baking Cookbook. This purchase was a necessity, I didn’t have any good all-around baking books, besides, Anna bought two!

There are many recipes in the book that I can’t wait to try: the blueberry buckle, herbed dumplings, whole wheat loaf, fudge drops, etc. But I decided to start with my sister’s favorite bread: challah.

Challah loaf

Although I’ve made challah before, I didn’t have a recipe I truly liked. The one we followed in culinary school bastardized this enriched bread by adding lemon and orange zestĀ  – ugh. For me, a great challah should be soft, slightly sweet, and void of any add-ins like zest or raisins. And the few other recipes I’ve tried were a little ‘eh.

So, how did the King Arthur recipe compare? For that I’d have to refer you to my sister, the challah expert, who wrote: “It was very good. I only got a few pieces before Jeff managed to eat it all. I really like it and thought it was sweet. It has my expert seal of approval.”

On that note, here’s the recipe, which is truly much easier to make than it may seem:

Challah, from “The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion,” makes 1 very large loaf

Sponge

1 cup (4 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup (8 ounces) water

2 teaspoons yeast (instant or active dry)

Dough

3 1/2 cups (14 3/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 3/4 teaspoons salt

1/3 cup (2 3/8 ounces) sugar

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 large eggs plus 1 yolk

Egg Wash

1 egg white

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon water

Begin by making the sponge: Mix the flour, water and yeast together in a large bowl (I like to use the bowl of a stand mixer) and let it sit for 45 minutes to 1 hour in a warm place.

Yeast and flour Sponge

To make the dough, mix the ingredients with the sponge and knead together with your hands or a mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment. Knead until it becomes silky smooth. Lightly coat the outside of the dough with oil and place in a bowl. Cover with a damp towel and let rise for 1 1/2 hours or until it has doubled in size.

Kneaded dough Deflating the dough

Lightly dust the counter or work surface with flour. Turn the dough onto the counter and fold it over once or twice so it deflates a bit. Divide the dough into three or four equal pieces (I prefer four) and roll each into a long rope about 3/4 to 1-inch wide. On a Silpat or lightly-greased parchment-lined baking sheet, braid the dough in either a three or four-strand braid. (See four-strand braid below.)

Dough strands 4-strand braid

Mix together all the ingredients for the egg wash. Use a pastry brush to lightly coat the bread, reserving at least half of the wash. Lightly cover the loaf with plastic wrap and let sit 45 minutes to 1 hour or until almost doubled in size.

Size of loaf before resting

Size of loaf before resting

Size of loaf after resting

Size of loaf after resting

Preheat the oven to 375F. Brush the loaf a second time with the egg wash and bake 30 to 40 minutes until the challah is lightly browned. Remove the bread from the oven and let cool before slicing.

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  • Culinary School Dropout posted: 27 Feb at 8:45 pm

    I don’t remember having to twist your arm to go to the bookstore (you were the one driving the car, after all). And I seem to recall someone saying to me, “you have to buy a book because I’m buying a book!” I am not a bad influence. You said you needed a baking book, and I recommended one. Just one friend passing on a piece of information to another friend.

    Anyway, the challah looks great, so I would say the book was a worthwhile purchase.

  • Jackie posted: 27 Feb at 10:21 pm

    True, I just felt the need to pass the buck. Although it was you who suggested going to Borders, but yes, I drove.

  • liz hagen posted: 25 Apr at 7:18 pm

    hey,
    met you last night, briefly, at the JUF event. i said a quick hi before i ran out….LOVE all the recipes on your blog!! I’m FOREVER searching for a great challah recipe, so this cold, rainy, dreary day seemed like a great time to try yours! it turned out great, THO, as i often find, it gets really brown on the outside, but is still doughy inside. wondering if you ever split the dough and make 2 loaves?? also, i always seem to have a problem rolling out the strips. dough doesn’t want to stretch out, always seems to spring back as i try to roll it out, between my palms. also, didn’t quite get the 4 piece braid….yours in the pictures looks so gorgeous!!!

  • Jackie posted: 26 Apr at 10:10 pm

    Hi Liz – thanks so much! I haven’t tried splitting the dough but think that’s a great suggestion. I agree you have to be careful when rolling because you don’t want to overwork the dough, it just takes some practice to get the braiding right.


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