I’VE BEEN BAKING UP A STORM LATELY, preparing breads for the fourth chapter of my cookbook. Although my editor has advised me not to post every blessed recipe online, I couldn’t resist sharing this one for Challah. Why? Because it’s too delicious not to share. And because I’m a blabbermouth.
Challah is a sweet bread, often served on the Jewish sabbath. But we certainly don’t have to wait for sundown on Friday to eat the bread. We can enjoy it at our leisure, either au natural, or topped with good honey or jam. It’s terrific for toasting, too, and, of course, it makes the most divine French toast.
You won’t need any special equipment for Challah-making. The dough is extremely easy to work with. Thus you can knead it entirely by hand, just as I do.
Note: If you make lots of yeast breads, you should probably purchase your yeast in a jar, just as I do. The pre-measured packets, though common, are expensive. Furthermore, they are a pain in the neck to open and empty.
And then grab the green spoon you purchased last week at Zabars in NYC.
*2020 Breaking News: I no longer add flour when kneading dough. There’s no need to dust the work surface with flour.
Please note: I made this dough at 6:15 in the morning.
Oh, the things I do for you.
Okay, I do these things for myself. But still.
Quickly wash out and dry the bowl. Then grease it, baby.
Because I’m making this bread during winter, and because I live in a drafty old Victorian house, the only “warm spot” for dough rising here is a heating pad. You can buy this common device at any two-bit drug store. I set my pad to the “medium” setting.
When the dough has doubled in volume — this can take up to 2 hours — punch it down. Then let it rise again until double, which this time will take only 1 hour or so.
And then, casting all fear aside, braid them! To do this, first repeat the following phrase like a mantra: “over, under, over.”
Repeat the above procedure until the entire loaf is braided, always starting with the strand farthest to the right.
Probably you should open your own bakery.
Repeat the braiding-routine for the remaining dough.
OR, “flash” freeze the second loaf on a baking sheet. When solidly frozen, you can seal it in plastic, and save it for another day. Frozen, it will keep for weeks. Just let it thaw for 5 hours or so before proceeding with the following steps:
Bake until the loaves are brown and beautiful, and when they sound hollow when rapped with your knuckles — about 35 minutes. As they bake, your entire house will be filled with the most glorious aroma on earth.
Let the bread cool on a wire rack for a few minutes before cutting.
And here’s a handy-dandy copy-and-paste version of the above recipe:
Challah (egg bread)
Kevin Lee Jacobs (www.kevinleejacobs.com)
Ingredients for two 12- to 15-inch loaves
1 1/3 cups warm water
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons good quality olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
3 large organic eggs, beaten
5 cups all-purpose flour (plus a little more for dusting the work-surface)
Egg wash: 1 well-beaten egg
Optional toppings: poppy seeds or sesame seeds
1. In a one-quart measure or a medium bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1 1/3 cups of warm water. Let the yeast sit until it foams — about 5 minutes. Then whisk in the sugar, olive oil, salt, and 3 beaten eggs.
2. Pour the flour into a large bowl, add the yeast mixture, and stir with a spoon until all ingredients are thoroughly combined. Then pour the dough onto your lightly-floured work surface, and knead it 50 times. Let rest for 2 minutes to relax the gluten, and then continue kneading for 25 more strokes. The dough is done when it no longer sticks to your work surface, and when its surface appears smooth. Wash out and dry the bowl, and then coat it with a thin layer of grease.
3. Form the dough into a ball, set it in the greased bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume — about 2 hours. Punch down and let rise again until nearly double — about 1 hour.
4. Deflate the dough, then cut it in half. Return one half to the bowl. Cut the other half into 4 equal pieces. Using your hands, roll each segment into a 12-15-inch strand. Place the strands parallel to each other, and then pinch their tips together to seal. Repeating the mantra “over, under, over,” take the strand farthest to the right, flip it over the second strand, under the third strand, and over the fourth. Repeat this procedure until the entire loaf is braided, always starting with the strand farthest to the right. Pinch the lower ends together, and then gently transfer the braided bread to a greased baking sheet.
Repeat the braiding-routine for the remaining dough. Place the loaves 2 inches apart on a greased baking sheet.
5. Brush the loaves with a beaten egg, and then set them in a warm place to rise until nearly double — 30-45 minutes. Then give the loaves a second coating of egg wash, and sprinkle the tops with the optional poppy or sesame seeds.
Bake on the middle rack of the preheated 375° oven until perfectly browned and beautiful — 30-40 minutes. Let cool briefly on a wire rack before serving.
Promise me you’ll try this heavenly Challah some day, okay? Again, the dough is really easy to work with. Plus, you’ll have a great time braiding the bread!
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