Monday, January 3, 2011
Challa, or Jewish Braided Egg Bread
I would never claim to be a baker. I am far too impatient and too imprecise for calculated measurements. Hopefully, when I say that it should give anyone who may feel a little intimidated by baking to know that I have been turning out loaves of challa bread like it's going out of style. For those of you unfamiliar, challa is a traditionally Jewish egg bread that is typically in a braided style. This recipe (adapted from one I had found on AllRecipes.com) appears to be foolproof. It takes a bit of time (mostly unattended), but is unbelievably simple and you will feel so accomplished when you turn out your very own loaves. Since this recipe makes two huge loaves, you can share one as a gift with someone (include a bottle of syrup--day old challa makes unbelievable French toast--and you will have a friend for life!). Push off the New Year's diet for a couple more days and ring in 2011 with delicious, white carbs. You only live once, right?
makes 2 large loaves
2 1/2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup honey or 2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon salt
8-10 cups white unbleached flour (can substitute up to a couple cups of whole wheat flour)
In a large bowl, combine water, yeast and honey (or sugar). Allow to sit for a few minutes (3-5) or until yeast starts to bubble and looks creamy. Beat in 3 of the 4 eggs, and vegetable oil. Once thoroughly combined, stir in salt and flour, one cup at a time, until dough is thick enough to turn out onto a floured surface. Knead, continuing to add flour as needed, until dough is smooth and elastic and no longer sticky (about five minutes). Return to bowl, cover with a clean, damp cloth and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size (about 1 1/2 hours).
After dough has risen, punch down and turn out onto floured surface again. Divide dough into two equal sized chunks and knead individually (adding more flour as needed to keep dough from being sticky, about five minutes each). Divide each half into thirds and roll each third into a long, evenly thick, rope (about 1-1 1/2 inches thick and about 15-18 inches long). Pinch the ends of each of the three ropes together and braid together. Pinch the other ends together. At this point, you can leave as a long braid or curl the braid around in a circle to form a wreath, either shape is nice. Transfer braided dough to a greased baking sheet. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rise for an additional hour Repeat with other half of dough.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. After braids have risen about an hour, beat the remaining egg and brush over the surface of the braids. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes (a lot of recipes I've seen call for much longer baking times, but I have found every time I've made this recipe the loaves are done after about 20 minutes of baking time, so keep a close eye on them after that). The loaves should be a rich golden brown color and make a nice hollow sound when thumped on the bottom.
Ideally, you should let your bread cool completely before slicing, but we can never wait and tear off pieces (and burning our fingers in the process) to eat it almost immediately. Leftover bread makes the best French toast you've ever had...