Saturday, February 6, 2010

Challah bread

When I went to diners on the Upper West Side, especially, EJ's on 81st and Amsterdam, They used to make Challah French toast. I always wondered what it was. One day our water was a cute jewish boy who bantered a lot, and he talked me into trying challah. I loved it. He also taught me to pronounce it heh. I had no idea why it was special etc, but I had to learn to make it. So when Israeli friend offered to teach me to bake I said yespleasechallah! With a little help from Peter Reinhardt.

  • 4 cups flour (maida in this case, but can be replaced by half wholewheat. Any more and it won't rise)
  • 2 tbs sugar (you can add more to make it sweeter. I think it would be AWESOME with butter and jam if it were sweeter)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 package instant yeast (Blue bird. 1 1/3 tsp.)
  • 2 tbs vegetable oil (I used sunflower)
  • 2 eggs slightly beaten
  • 2 yolks slightly beaten
  • 3/4 to 1 1/8 cups water
  • egg white to glaze
  • poppy or sesame seeds to garnish
Mix the yeast into warm water. If it doesn't start fizzing, put in a tiny bit of sugar to get it started. Set it aside for about 5 to 10 minutes. In another bowl, beat the eggs and oil. In a third, mix the flour, sugar and salt together. Now, make a well in the flour and pour in the yeast and the eggs, and mix with a spoon. Turn out onto a floured surface, and flour your hands, and knead. Add flour as needed to keep the dough going. Knead for a good fifteen minutes. You can't really knead too much so don't worry. The dough will be elastic and not sticky at all. Form a ball and then flatten the edges and tuck them in so it's a bit like a dome.

Oil a wooden or plastic bowl, and roll the dough in it so it's totally covered. Cover with a clean, dry cloth and set aside for the first rise for about an hour. (Also called the fermentation stage I am told.)

Remove from bowl and punch or press to de-gas it. Knead for a few minutes again and set aside as before, for another hour.

Now knead again for a minute or so and then divide into three. Roll each into a strand and make sure they are all of equal length. To braid the challah, start at the middle. (It was very late, we were very tired, and my hands weren't clean so no photos this time sorry =\) Lay all three strands side by side. Pick up the left one, in the middle and cross it over the middle and under the right. Now take the one in the middle and take it under the one on the left. Repeat till the braid is done. Now do the same on the other side, starting from the middle again. Tuck the ends together under the loaf. Place it on your greased baking sheet. Glaze with egg whites and decorate if you wish. Cover and set aside for about 15 minutes. (Proofing.)

Bake at 175C for 50 minutes. Remember to let the divine smell float through your house. Mine baked at 11pm, and I lay in bed, falling asleep to the delicious smell.

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