Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Tastiest Palindrome

(In the interest of full disclosure, I normally spell it "challah." That's when I'm not trying to capitalize on its being a palindrome, of course).

Today, I am drowning in grainy goodness (I should go get a nice Heffeweisen and round things off). I've finished a hat (matching mitts to come) named after Ceres, the Roman goddess of grain and agriculture. Doesn't it remind you of woven grass? It reminds me of woven grass. Anyway. It's being tested now, and in celebration, I've decided to bake challah, and share the recipe with the masses!

Challah is rather more involved than most bread, and certainly more involved than the delightfully simple no-knead bread that I've very nearly perfected (about which more later). It has more than your typical 2 rises, it must rise in a warm oven and bake at a gradually increasing temperature.

Although I've had great luck baking Challah in a variety of shapes, it is traditionally baked in a nice, braided loaf. Furthermore, my recipe makes four loaves. That's a lotta baking! My understanding is that this is traditionally baked in quantity before the sun sets on Friday, so that there's plenty of challah to break off (not cut) and eat during the period of work-restriction during Shabbat. I could be wrong - I'm not Jewish. I just really like challah!

Today I'm quartering the recipe, and the recipe I'll share with you includes both measurements - numbers not in parentheses are for one loaf, numbers in parentheses are for four. I'll let you figure out the twos and threes and eights as you see fit. :-)

  • 2-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, more for dusting and adding in if the dough is too wet (10 cups)
  • 1-1/2 tsp. salt (2 Tbsp.)
  • 1/8 cup sugar (1/2 cup)
  • 2 level Tbsp. yeast (2 heaping Tbsp.)
  • 1/8 lb. butter, melted (1/2 lb.)
  • 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp. warm water (2-1/2 cups)
  • 2 eggs at room temperature (6 eggs)
  • optional: seeds or dried fruit, about 1 handful total per loaf

1. Preheat oven to warm -- 140 deg. F.

2. Mix the flour and salt in a large nonmetal bowl, making a well in the center. (I tried it once in a metal bowl. The bread started to bake prematurely along the bottom during the rise. This may have been due to a sketchy Russian oven, or it may have been due to an overly conductive bowl. I'm not taking any more chances!)

3. Many people add seeds or dried fruit to their challah. I usually make mine plain, but on special occasions, I'll mix in sunflower seeds and golden raisins. Mix about a handful of your chosen stuff in with the dry ingredients now, if desired.

4. Add 1 Tbsp. (1/4 cup) sugar to the well, cover with the yeast, and top with remaining sugar.

5. Mix the yeast with the sugar in the well.

6. Combine the melted butter and warm water, mixing as best you can.

7. Add the butter mixture to the yeast mixture and work in well with your hands.

8. Separate 1 egg.

9. Add the remaining 1 egg (5 eggs) and white of the separated egg individually to the bread dough, kneading well afer each addition, until all the flour is absorbed, about 10 minutes. As you knead, you may have to add more flour, so have some handy. The dough will be sticky - add flour gradually until it doesn't stick hopelessly to your fingers.

10. Cover the bowl first with waxed paper smeared with butter, then with a towel, and put in the warm oven for 1/2 hour.

11. When the dough has almost doubled in size, punch it down and knead thoroughly and briskly for about 10 minutes. You will soon find that kneading warm bread dough is one of the more pleasurable activities life has to offer.

12. Cover with the greased paper and towel and let rise for 15-20 minutes more in the warm oven, until it is almost doubled again.

13. Remove once more, punch down, knead again for 5-10 minutes. Re-cover and let rise once more for 15-20 minutes in the warm oven.

14. Turn the dough onto a pastry board and knead thoroughly. (If baking 4 loaves, cut the dough into 4 equal pieces using a sharp knife.) Divide each loaf further into 6 pieces. Add a little flour, and knead each portion, and shape it into a ball. Cover the pieces not being worked on with a moist paper towel.

15. With the palm of your hand, roll out the balls into long ropes about 9 inches in length. Continue until all 6 balls are shaped into ropes.

16. Place 6 ropes side by side, touching at one end. Pinch that end to seal well. Bring the extreme right rope over the next three; then bring the extreme left over three. Continue until the bread is completely braided. when no more can be braided, pinch the ends to seal together. Place on a greased and floured cookie sheet. Repeat for as many loaves as you are making.

17. Brush with the remaining egg yolk, making sure you get into all the cracks.

18. Place in warm oven for 20 minutes.

19. Raise the oven temperature to 200 deg. F for 15 minutes.

20. Raise it to 275 deg F for 15 minutes.

21. Finally, raise the oven temperature to 375 deg. F for 10-15 minutes, until the bread is golden brown.

22. Let cool completely before slicing. If you really can't wait and want warm bread, let it cool enough to handle without burning yourself, and break chunks off. Bread really does slice better when it's cooled a bit, but this bread lends itself well to not being sliced.

23. The baked challah freezes well.


  1. Thank you so much for posting this recipe...I appreciate it soo....

    I will be testing it out the later part of next week as I will have a few days off in a row....
    Sheila, NJ