Challah

Now I’m not Jewish, but when I see the freshly baked challah start to come into the market around Hanukkah, I can’t help but get in the kitchen and make one myself. Challah is so deliciously sweet and it makes the kitchen smell wonderful (even more wonderful when there is beef stew simmering in the dutch oven!) Challah is a bit like a brioche in that it’s a sweet bread made with eggs and fat (in this case, oil).

All the recipes I found made 2 loaves, but we can’t eat all of that, so I halved the recipe (the one loaf version is the one I present below). Also, instead of the usual 6 braid challah, I made a very pretty 3 braid round challah. What will make the bread even BETTER is if you have a pizza stone, which is what I baked mine on. It radiates the heat of the oven evenly and creates a bottom to the bread that is so wonderfully and perfectly crispy and a top that is beautifully and evenly browned. I’ll add some notes into the recipe for using the stone.

You’ll need a good chunk of time to make this because there are 3 risings. During one of the risings, I went for a run, but don’t leave to go to mall or anything without sticking the dough in the refrigerator, which is actually a nice thing to do because it really creates a deep, nice flavor. You can leave the bread in the refrigerator for a few hours. If you opt to do this for ONE of the risings, bring the bread back to room temp before working with it.

This recipe is adapted from Joan Nathan. She always says that three risings make for the best breads. And 2 egg washes make for that nice, shiny, slightly crispy crust.

Challah:

2.25 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 tablespoon, plus 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup olive or vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the bowl
2 eggs for dough, plus 1 egg for brushing bread
1/2 tablespoon salt
about 4 cups all-purpose flour (you may use a cup of whole wheat)
1/4 cup raisins per challah, if using, plumped in hot water and drained (I did not use raisins, but they’re a nice addition)

Directions:

1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and 1/2 tablespoon sugar in 1/2 cup, plus 12 tbs lukewarm water.

2. Whisk oil into yeast, then beat in 2 eggs, one at a time, with remaining sugar and salt. At this point, gradually add flour one cup at a time. When the dough starts to hold together, it is ready for kneading. I like to knead by hand, but you can use the dough hook on your stand mixer too.

3. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Clean out bowl and grease it, then return dough to bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until almost doubled in size.  After 30 mins, punch down dough, cover and let rise again in a warm place for another half-hour. When you punch dough down, don’t literally punch the dough, just flatten it lightly with your palm.

4. After 30 mins, you can knead the raisins into the challah, if you’re using them, before forming the loaves. You will make a 3 braid challah. Make 3 equal size balls, roll out to equal length, about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Pinch the tops together. Braid as you would a normal braid. If you’re making a circular loaf, twist into a circle, pinching ends together.

5. Beat remaining egg and brush it on loaf. Keep remaining beaten egg in the refrigerator for later use. Let rise covered for another hour. If using a stone, start preheating at 375 degrees for the final 30 mins of rising time.

6. After 1 hour, brush dough with remaining beaten egg. Take stone out of the oven, if using, and move dough to the stone. Or use a cookie sheet. Put the dough on the middle rack.

7. Bake in middle of oven for 30 minutes, or until golden. If using a thermometer, it should read 190 degrees. Cool on a rack.

And, don’t forget, when the bread gets a little stale, it makes the most amazing French toast!

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