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Traditional Challah

Photo by: Gentl & Hyers/Edge
Comments: 0
 

Recipe

In all the years I was growing up, I cannot remember a Friday night without a loaf of challah sitting on the table and the long serrated bread knife by its side. Grandma didn’t bake the challah on our Sabbath table, she bought it from a kosher bakery in the neighborhood. I remember it with fondness because of its appealingly plump four-braided symmetry, but the cottony texture was not appealing to me. I would eat one small slice drizzled with a little honey and never wanted more. Usually I ate it out of reverence for the ceremony (I remember the Hebrew prayer for bread to this day). So when I set out to formulate my own challah recipe, it was only that braided appearance I was trying to duplicate. Challah is actually a brioche, with more egg and less liquid and fat. In order to add moistness and extend the shelf life, I replaced the sugar with honey, thinking that since it was so compatible as a topping it might be appropriate as a sweetener for the dough itself. I discovered that not only did it improve the flavor, it also gave it a more golden crumb and a firmer texture. Here then is my idea of a pareve (dairy-free) challah at its best.

Yield: A 14-by-6-by-4 ½ -inch-high loaf (a 3-braid challah will be 17 inches long) 3 pounds, 2 ounces/ 1415 grams

Ingredients

Dough Starter (Sponge):

  • 1 cup/ 5 ounces/ 142 grams unbleached all purpose flour (use only Gold Medal, King Arthur, or Pillsbury)
  • 1 teaspoon/ 3.2 grams instant yeast
  • 2/3 liquid cup/ 5.5 ounces/ 156 grams water, at room temperature (70°F or 90°F)
  • 2 tablespoons/ about 1.5 ounces/ 40 grams honey
  • Scant 2/3 liquid cup/ 5.25 ounces/ 150 grams 3 large eggs, at room temperature (weighed without shells)

Flour Mixture and Dough:

  • 4 2/3 cups/ 23.3 ounces/ 662 grams unbleached all purpose flour (use only Gold Medal, King Arthur, or Pillsbury) plus 2 to 3 tablespoons/ 0.7 ounces/ about 20 grams for kneading
  • 1 ¼ teaspoon/ 4 grams instant yeast
  • 1 tablespoon/ 0.7 ounce/ 19.8 grams salt
  • 6 tablespoons (3 fluid ounces)/ 3.5 ounces/ 100 grams/ 2 large eggs, cold (weighed without shells)
  • 1/3 liquid cup/ 2.5 ounces/ 72 grams corn oil
  • 6 tablespoons (3 fluid ounces)/ 4.25 ounces/ 120 grams honey
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar

Egg Glaze:

  • 2 tablespoons/ 33 grams lightly beaten egg
  • 1 teaspoon water

Equipment:

  • An 18-by-12-inch baking sheet, lightly greased with cooking spray or oil or lined with Silpat or parchment
  • A baking stone OR baking sheet

Directions

Oven Temperature: 350°F

1. Early in the morning or the night ahead, make the sponge. In a mixer bowl or other large bowl, place the flour, yeast, water, honey, and eggs. Whisk until very smooth to incorporate air, about 2 minutes. The sponge will be the consistency of a very thick batter. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and set aside, covered with plastic wrap.

2. Combine the ingredients for the flour mixture and add to the sponge. Whisk the flour and the yeast. Then whisk in the salt (this keeps the yeast from coming in direct contact with the salt, which would kill it). Sprinkle this mixture on top of the sponge. Cover it tightly with plastic wrap and let it stand for 1 to 4 hours at room temperature. (During this time, the sponge will bubble through the flour mixture in places; this is fine.)

3. Mix the dough.

Mixer Method:

Add the eggs, oil, honey, and vinegar. With the dough hook, beat on medium speed (#4 if using a KitchenAid) for about 5 minutes or until the dough is smooth and shiny. Lightly sprinkle some of the flour for kneading onto a counter and scrape the dough onto it. Knead the dough, adding a little flour if necessary so that it is just barely tacky (sticky). (The dough will weigh about 3 pound, 5 ounces/ 1504 grams.)

Hand Method:

Add the eggs, oil, honey, and vinegar. With a wooden spoon or your hand, stir the mixture until the flour is moistened. Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together, then scrape it onto a floured counter. knead the dough for 5 minutes, just to begin to develop the gluten structure, adding as little of the extra flour as possible. Use a bench scraper to scrape the dough and gather it together as you knead it. At this point, it will be very sticky. Cover it with the inverted bowl and allow it to rest for 20 minutes. (This rest will make the dough less sticky and easier to handle.)

Knead the dough for 5 minutes or until it is very elastic and bounces back when pressed with a fingertip. Add a little more flour if necessary so that it is just barely tacky (sticky). (The dough will weigh about 3 pound, 5 ounces/ 1504 grams.)

Both Methods:

4. Let the dough rise. On a lightly floured countertop, round the dough into a ball. Place the dough in a 4-quart dough-rising container or bowl, lightly greased with cooking spray or oil. Push down the dough and lightly spray or oil the top. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap. With a piece of tape, mark the side of the container at approximately where double the height of the dough would be. Allow the dough to rise (ideally at 758F to 80°F) until it has doubled, 1 to 2 hours.

Gently deflate the dough by pushing it down and give it a business letter turn. Return the dough to the container. oil the surface again, cover, and mark where double the height would now be. (It will fill the container fuller than before because it is puffier with air.) Allow to rise a second time until doubled, about 45 minutes to an hour, or refrigerate it overnight.

Flatten the dough by pressing down on it gently, so as not to activate the gluten, making it stretchy.

Three-Braided Challah:

Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

One at a time, roll each piece of dough under your palms into as long a rope as possible, at least 13 inches. (Keep the rest of the dough covered while you work with each piece.) Lift the rope of the dough up at one end with one hand and use the other hand to pull and stretch it gently downward to form a 15- to 16-inch-long rope, flouring your hands lightly if the dough is sticky. Taper the ends so that they are narrower than the rest of the rope, as this part of the dough tends to bunch up and be too fat.

For the most symmetrical braid, start at the middle and braid out to each end, pulling and stretching the dough slightly as you go. Moisten the ends with a little water, pinch the strands together at each end of the braid, and tuck each end under a little, then push the ends in slightly so that the loaf is about 15 inches long and wide in the middle. Place the loaf on the prepared baking sheet.

Four-Braided Challah:

Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

One at a time, roll each piece of dough under your palms into as long a rope as possible, at least 13 inches. (Keep the rest of the dough covered while you work with each piece.) Lift the rope of the dough up at one end with one hand and use the other hand to pull and stretch it gently downward to form a 15- to 16-inch-long rope, flouring your hands lightly if the dough is sticky. Taper the ends so that they are narrower than the rest of the rope, as this part of the dough tends to bunch up and be too fat.

Lay the ropes side by side on the counter, pinch them together at the tops, and braid them, pulling and stretching the dough slightly as you go. Keep pinching the ends together, as they tend to pull apart as you braid; pull the dough more as you come to the end of the braid so that it comes to more of a point. Pinch the ropes together at the end of the braid. Moisten the pinched ends with the little water to help them hold together during rising, and tuck them under a little at each end, then push the ends in a little so that the loaf is about 12 inches long by 3 inches high. Place the loaf on the prepared baking sheet.

6. Glaze the bread and let it rise. In a small bowl, lightly whisk together the egg and water. Brush the loaf lightly with the glaze, and cover it loosely with greased plastic wrap. Cover the egg glaze and refrigerate it. Allow the loaf to rise (ideally at 75°F to 85°F) until doubled, about 1 hour. It will be 1 inch longer, ½ inch wider, and ¾ inch higher.

7. Preheat the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F 45 minutes before baking. Have an oven shelf at the lowest level and place a baking stone or baking sheet on it before preheating.

8. Glaze and bake the challah. Remove the plastic wrap and brush the challah all over with the egg glaze, going well into the crevices of the braid.

Quickly but gently set the baking sheet on the hot baking stone or hot baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes. Tent loosely with a large sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil and continue baking for 25 to 35 minutes or until the bread is deep golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean (an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center will read about 190°F).

9. Cool the challah. Remove the pan from the oven and, using a peel or two large pancake turners, transfer the challah to a wire rack to cool completely.

Ultimate Full Flavor Variation:

For the best flavor development, in Step 2, allow the sponge to ferment for 1 hour at room temperature, then refrigerate it for 8 to 24 hours. If using the hand mixing method, remove it from the refrigerator 1 hour before mixing the dough.

Notes

The challah can be baked as two 9-inch loaves instead of one large one. Since there is less dough for each loaf, it will be easier to use the 3-braid strand (roll them to 10 to 11 inches long). Baking time will be 30 to 35 minutes, and the baked breads will measure 13 inches by 5 inches by 3 inches.

   

If you prefer to use sugar rather than honey, use 2/3 cup/4.7 ounces/132 grams and increase the water to ¾ cup/ 6.2 ounces/177 grams. A 4-braid loaf made with sugar will be 14 inches by 7 inches by 5 inches high.

Time Schedule:

Dough Starter (Sponge): minimum 1 hour, maximum 24 hours

Minimum Rising Time: 4 hours

Baking Time: 45 to 55 minutes

Pointers for Success:

If desired, for maximum flavor development, the dough can be wrapped loosely with plastic wrap, placed in a 2-gallon plastic bag, and refrigerated overnight. Allow it to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before shaping.

The 3-braid loaf is most symmetrical if started from the center.

To prevent overbrowning, don’t use a dark pan for this bread.

Understanding:

You can see from the percentage of water why challah is usually such a  dry bread. The addition of honey and oil and the lecithin from the egg yolk help considerably to add moisture. The texture of this bread is best the day it is made, but, if desired, you can add 1 to 2 tablespoons of granular lecithin to extend the keeping qualities, or freeze any leftover bread. It reheats perfectly and the flavor even seems to improve!

The vinegar both strengthens and relaxes the gluten in the dough, making it easier to stretch into long strands. It also adds a subtle depth of flavor.

This dough needs to be firm enough to hold the braid well. It is best to allow the shaped bread to rise until doubled so that there is less oven spring and, therefore, fewer pale unglazed parts.

The Dough Percentage:

Flour: 100%

Water: 39% (includes the water in the egg whites and honey)

Yeast: 0.9%

Salt: 2.4%

Oil: 12.1% (includes the fat in the egg yolks)


© 2003 Rose Levy Beranbaum
 

Nutritional Information

Nutrients per serving (% daily value)

Nutritional information is based on 20 servings.

221kcal (11%)
14mg (1%)
0mg (0%)
20mcg RAE (1%)
70mg
11mg
6g
7g
1g
37g
60mg (20%)
370mg (15%)
1g (4%)
5g (8%)
2mg (12%)
 

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