A Beautiful Braided Challah is a Delicious Part of Every Jewish Holiday Meal. This recipe goes from the mixer to the table in two hours.
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A Beautiful Braided Challah
A Beautiful Braided Challah is a symbol of a Jewish table. One of the best parts of making your own challah is being there for the fresh-out-of -the-oven moment when the loaf is at its peak flavor. I have been known to ask my children to get me at any time of the day or night so I don’t miss this if they are baking bread. I don’t feel this need for any other baked good. I will wait until morning for cookies, but fresh, warm challah dripping with butter is a pleasure that has a very limited window of opportunity. Toasted challah is delicious, but it is well, toasted, and not exactly the same. Now that my children are grown, challah baking happens in my house only during daytime hours.
The secret to this recipe is fast-acting yeast. I am not sure what would happen if you used regular yeast but I imagine it would be along the lines of something called “Pancake Challah”. That isn’t what we are going for here. ( If someone would like to try this as an experiment, I would very much like to hear about your results.)
Although we are still experiencing hot, sticky weather here in the Mid-Atlantic, before you know it we will be planning for the High Holidays. The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, falls this year on September 10-11, 2018. (As with all Jewish holidays it begins at sundown on the evening before, i.e., September 9th). Our Jewish Kitchen will be offering several versions of challah in the coming posts so that our readers will be ready to develop their holiday menus.
I encourage you to try making challah even if you have never baked bread before.
How do I know when my challah is done?
There are many techniques for determining doneness. The challah should be brown on the bottom, and sound hollow when tapped. This is too vague for me as I will confess I have no idea what sounding hollow really means. I use a thermometer and know the challah will be perfect at 205 degrees. For those of you who have other methods for determining doneness, or who think the challah is perfect at 190 degrees, that is fine with me. After all this is Judaism, where 10 rabbis have 11 opinions. I would love to hear about any challah techniques you may have.
How many strands should I use for braiding the challah?
I use three. That is all I can handle. I think a four or six stranded braid is lovely but although I have tried and tried to follow the instructions for fancy braids, I always lose track. When I try again, I am thinking of marking each strand with a different drop of food color or maybe numbering them with raisins before I begin. The 6-stranded challah in the picture was braided by Elana Israel who is my go-to for fancy braids. If I ever master a fancy braid, there will definitely be a picture, or perhaps a wall poster.
I don’t have a stand mixer. Can I knead the dough by hand?
My daughter was once babysitting two pre-teens and brought them to our house to make challah. They were very excited to use our bread machine and very perplexed when we told them we didn’t have one. They insisted that you couldn’t make bread without a bread machine. Fortunately, challah making preceded the invention of bread machines, stand mixers and dough hooks. They did it by hand and proudly took their challah home to show their mom. To knead the bread by hand, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and put a small amount of flour on your hands. Fold the dough in half, and push it away from you with the heel of your hand. Give it a quarter-turn, then fold and push the dough again. Continue folding and pushing and turning the dough for about 15 minutes, or until the dough is no longer sticky. This is fun to do with children, although I suggest you give them their own separate piece of dough to keep them away from your beautiful loaf. They will be very proud to make their own personal challah.
Tools and products used in making this recipe:
ThermoPro TP03A Digital Instant Read Meat Thermometer Kitchen Cooking Food Candy Thermometer for BBQ Grill Smoker Deep Fry Oil Thermometer
KitchenAid KP26M1XNP 6 Qt. Professional 600 Series Bowl-Lift Stand Mixer – Nickel Pearl
Red Star Yeast Jar Quick Rise
Bellemain Cooling Rack – Baking Rack, Chef Quality 12 inch x 17 inch – Tight-Grid Design, Oven Safe, Fits Half Sheet Cookie Pan
Beautiful Braided Challah
- 4 cups bread flour
- 2-3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour divided
- 4 1/2 teaspoons fast-acting dry yeast 2 packets
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/3 cup canola oil
- 1 1/2 cups water Room temperature or not to exceed 130 degrees
In the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, put the bread flour, 1 cup unbleached flour, yeast, sugar and salt. Stir to combine.
In a small bowl, beat 3 eggs. Add the oil to the eggs and add both to the flour mixture. Stir to combine.
Stir in water and mix lightly.
Turn the mixer to medium speed. As the dough kneads, sprinkle small amounts of the unbleached flour around the bowl to keep the dough on the hook. Continue to sprinkle in flour as the dough kneads. After 5-10 minutes, the dough should be very smooth and not sticking to the sides or bottom of the bowl.
Remove the dough hook. Cover the dough with plastic wrap. Let it rest in the bowl for 20-30 minutes.
Sprinkle flour over the dough and use a knife or spatula to loosen it from the bowl. Turn it onto a lightly floured surface and press it gently into a large rectangle. Using a sharp knife, divide the dough into as many pieces as you will need to braid each loaf. This recipe makes two loaves so you will need at least 6 pieces for both.
Form each piece into a ball and then roll it between your hands to make a rope. Put the short rope onto the counter and roll under your palms until the rope strand is approximately 12 inches. Repeat for each piece.
Coat each strand lightly with flour, shaking off any excess. Attach the strands at the top end, fanning them out. Braid as desired. Turn each end of the loaf under.
Place loaves on a baking sheet covered with a nonstick liner or parchment paper. If loaves are very large, use a second baking sheet so they have room to rise. You may also use nonstick spray on the sheets.
Beat the fourth egg with one tablespoon of water. Using a pastry brush, coat top and sides of both loaves with egg wash.
Turn your oven to 200 degrees. When the oven has reached temperature, set a timer for one minute. When timer sounds, turn oven off immediately. Place the loaves on the center rack of the oven. Close oven door and let loaves rise for 30 minutes.
Leave the loaves in the oven and raise the temperature to 350 degrees. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until brown on top and bottom. An instant-read thermometer should read 190-205 degrees.
Remove loaves from oven and place immediately on a wire rack for at least one hour. Cool completely before storing in a plastic bag.
This recipe was adapted from The New Jewish Holiday Cookbook by Gloria Kaufer Greene.