There are few things in life better than fresh bread right out of the oven. Baking challah bread and cooking a delicious Jewish shabbat dinner with our friends (and plenty of wine!) has been a major highlight of my last two weeks.
For several months we have been joining our friends Heidi, Matt and Heidi’s daughter Trinity on Friday evenings for sabbath dinner. We haven’t made it every week….especially since Phin’s birth but before he was born in those last months I was so grateful to be able to have the night off from cooking. The last two weeks though I have packed up the boys and headed over mid afternoon to cook side by side with them to prepare a lovely meal.
Now….it should be noted….none of us are Jewish, or trying to be. But we are all interested in the tradition of observing the sabbath as a part of our life and we love fellowshipping with friends and good food. In the pursuit of this effect Heidi has done a phenomenal job in trying lots of new Jewish recipes.
But the part of sabbath dinner that never changes are these beautiful loaves of homemade challah bread. The bread is an egg and honey enriched dough similar in flavor and texture to brioche. But unlike brioche, challah is completely kosher, so even though it tastes incredibly rich it actually has no butter in it. Score for my waistline!
To start you will combine all the ingredients until the dough comes together.
Start with about 7 cups of flour and see if it will come together with that. Add additional flour until it is a dough and can be poured out onto the table.
After working this recipe for several months we have tried a number of variations of flour. Ultimately our favorite flour to use is King Arthur’s Bread flour, followed closely by a combination of freshly milled hard white wheat and the bread flour.
Noah decided that the flour was delicious.
Turn it out onto a floured table and knead it for a good 10 minutes.
Then oil the top lightly and cover. Cozy it up in some toasty corner of your kitchen and let it rise until it has almost doubled in size.
Sampling the rest of the dinner ingredients while you wait is always a good idea.
Beautiful. The smell of rising bread is intoxicating, I am convinced that there really is nothing as therapeutic as making bread.
Punch the dough down.
And portion it out into 12 equal pieces. Each loaf is formed from six strands of dough braided together. It is tradition to always make two loaves for a total of twelve strands to represent the twelve tribes of Israel.
If you are feeling really fancy you could haul out your spiffy little scale and weigh these beauties. Which we probably should have done. But we didn’t. Because we are rebels like that….mmhmm.
Part of the beauty of this dough is that unlike it’s also tasty cousin brioche, it does not need to be chilled and is much easier to handle.
So we rolled out the strands…..easy right? Heidi whips out six strands in like a minute no joke, and then I take over.
She attempted to make my strands look somewhat presentable and the same length and then her hands started flying…
Hello freaky dough octopus.
But really this woman can braid something fierce. Even as she slowed down to explain what she was doing that octopus quickly became a perfectly braided loaf of Challah. Sheesh.
I rolled up my sleeves and jumped in. Let me just say….it was painful but I did it!
I apparently also failed at my Girl Scouts knot tying class because she had to guide me through every step to the end of the loaf and I still only have a vague grasp of what I was doing. This last week Trinity ( age 8 ) braided both loaves in like a minute flat.
Note to self….watch this video on how to braid the bread before next Friday.
I hereby dub this loaf the old granny loaf….I mean seriously do you see the sagginess?
All was right in the world though once it rose again and was brushed with eggwash and sprinkled with poppy and sesame seeds.
Yeast I tell ya….it’s like the botox of bread. Except way tastier and less painful than botox. So ultimately much, much better.
I’ll mark this one down as a success. A beautifully delicious success.
Recipe props to Tammy at Tammy’s Recipes for the Challah recipe.
- 1½ cups warm water
- ½ cup honey
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 4 eggs
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons instant dry yeast
- 7 cups King Arthur bread flour plus additional flour (may take 8 or 9 cups of flour total)
- (If using whole wheat flour ½ whole wheat and ½ bread flour is preferable in flavor)
- 1 egg, beaten
- Poppy seeds or sesame seeds (optional)
- Preheat oven to 325
- Mix all ingredients above line together except flour.
- Add flour cup by cup until the dough comes together enough to start pulling aside from the bowl.
- Pour out onto a floured surface and knead, adding flour as you go to keep it smooth and not sticking to the table.
- Knead for about 10 minutes.
- Cover top of bread lightly with oil and cover. Allow to proof until dough has almost doubled, about 1½ hours.
- Punch down.
- Divide dough in half and then each half into 6 pieces for a total of 12 pieces. Try to make them as even as possible or weigh them to be equal.
- Roll the pieces out til they are about 1 inch in diameter.
- Pinch six braids together at the top and then braid. See Tammy's Recipe Braiding Vide for tutorial.
- Gently transfer the braided challah to a greased cookie sheet and cover with a tea towel. Allow to rise again for about 30 minutes.
- Use a pastry brush to coat the loaves with beaten egg. Top with poppy or sesame seeds if desired.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes.
- *If using active dry yeast instead of instant yeast see Tammy's Recipe for additional tips!