The Perfect Challah Recipe and Round Challah Braiding “How-to”

30 Sep

First let me preface this post by saying that hubby and I are about to embark on a 3-month long gluten-free, dairy-free change in diet.  Shedding weight for sweatpants season may not be the norm, but on top of any weight loss that *may* arise, we are hoping that this cleanse will leave us feeling refreshed and ready to face the winter (there is no way I will be lucky enough to have another snowless winter).  I have to confess that we have already agreed to cheat on Thanksgiving (though I will definitely make a gluten free pie or two), but a cheat day here and there has its benefits.

Back to the challah.

I have worked for years to nail this bread.  It had to have the right softness, pull apart layers, a hint of sweetness, a golden crust (that’s still soft), and stay fresh for days.  I cannot count the number of loaves that flopped or the number of times it was almost there.

I finally settled on a recipe that I liked quite a bit, but no loaf has ever met all marks. Until this Rosh Hashanah.

I woke up early and started sleepily pulling ingredients out of the cabinet.  I wanted to get the dough rising before I headed out for one of my eternally-long, marathon training runs. I proofed my yeast and began measuring out the rest of my ingredients. Short on honey, I substituted the other half for granulated sugar. And I had it. The challah was outstanding – soft, pull-apart, and good to the last bite.

If the perfect challah has been stumping you, try out this recipe.

Adapted from Maggie Glezer’s A Blessing of Bread “My Challah”

Makes 4 large round loaves.

Ingredients:

28 grams instant yeast (1 ounce or 4 envelopes)

2.27 kg flour (5 lb bag) all-purpose flour (170 grams or 1.25 cups separated)

270 grams warm water (between 100 and 110 degrees) (1.25 cups)

14 eggs (plus 1 for glazing)

38 grams salt (2.5 tablespoons)

260 grams vegetable oil (1.25 cups)

200 grams honey (5/8 cup)

190 grams sugar (7/8 cup)

Directions:

Whisk together yeast and 170 grams flour (1.25 cups).  Add warm water, making sure it isn’t too hot. (I have an instant read thermometer.  If you don’t the water should feel warm to the touch, but just barely.)  Whisk together until there are no lumps.  Let sit for 10 mins.  This is an ideal time to measure out the rest of your ingredients, if you haven’t already.

After 10 mins, the mixture should be puffed up (doubled in size) and have tons of air bubbles.  If you don’t, your yeast is probably bad (or your water was too hot) and you should start over. If it looks like a swamp with some creature living under it, full steam ahead.

Whisk the eggs, salt, oil, honey, and sugar into the yeast mixture until it is an even consistency.  Add a little more than half the remaining flour and stir with a wooden spoon until combined.  Add the rest of the flour and continue stirring, switching to your hands when this becomes too difficult.  When a ball starts to form, scrape out the mixture and knead until smooth, adding a bit more flour if necessary (or a bit more water). Knead until the dough is smooth and sort of rubbery (think play-dough) – it shouldn’t be more than 5 minutes.

Place dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise until it has doubled in bulk.  This is roughly two hours, but it all depends on how warm/cold your kitchen is – this step has taken anywhere from 1 hour to 5 for me on a given day.

If you want to start your dough the day before, you could stick it in the fridge at this point and then take out the next morning, letting it rise all day, and then finish it off when you get home from work. (It will rise slower since it has been in the fridge and the yeast will slow down.)

Prepare pie plates or baking sheet with oil or parchment paper. Once the dough has doubled, divide the dough in 4.  I weigh and divide the dough evenly, but you can eyeball it if you don’t have a scale.  Then divide each piece into either 4 or 6 smaller pieces and follow braiding instructions below.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until the loaves have tripled in size (again time varies).  You could also put the loaves in the fridge at this stage and then take them out the next morning.

Bake loaves at 325 degrees for roughly 35 mins, turning half way through.  Ideally you will bake these on a baking stone, but if you don’t have one, you can put a baking sheet in the oven while it is pre-heating.  Only the top shelf of my oven works, so I have to bake loaves in shifts.  Only you can know your oven!  If the top starts to brown too fast, tent with foil.

When the loaf has a lovely, golden color (again about 35 mins for this size loaf) take loaf out and tap the bottom. If it sounds hollow, it should be perfect.

Let cool until it can be handled, then gobble it up – or let cool, wrap to give away before you are tempted to eat all 4 loaves.

Round challah is traditional for Rosh Hashanah but it can be made anytime of the year. If you prefer the typical loaf shape, I promise a braiding lesson on that at some point too (perhaps after the gluten free months).

Braiding:

All loaves (technique for creating flaking-pull-apart-layers)

Take one piece and flatten with rolling pin.

Roll into tight coil, removing air bubbles.

Let each tube sit, to relax gluten strands, then roll with hands until it reaches desired length.

4 strand braided loaves

Take 4 equal strands:

Overlap into basketweave pattern:

Take every other strand and put it over the strand to its right (do-si-do your partner):

Repeat with the other strands, this time crossing to the left:

Go to the right again:

and once again to the left:

If you have room to keep going, go ahead.  Otherwise, pinch ends and tuck under:

Place loaf in oiled pie plate or on prepared baking sheet (then follow above directions).

6 strand braided loaves:

Take 6 equal strands (these should be shorter and fatter than the 4 strand):

Overlap into basketweave pattern:

Braid each side:

Tuck braids under:

Place loaf in oiled pie plate or on prepared baking sheet (then follow above directions):

Hope you enjoyed this “gluten-filled” post.  There will be a few more of these over the next months as I catch up on old posts (and maybe my wedding cake) but for the most part, I will be exploring “gluten-free” cooking and baking.

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One Response to “The Perfect Challah Recipe and Round Challah Braiding “How-to””

  1. Big Hungry Gnomes October 1, 2012 at 8:27 am #

    I’ve been wanting to try challah for months and your brilliantly comprehensive post might have just tipped me over the edge and convinced me to actually have a go at baking it. Thanks for sharing

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