I looked up recipes from a few sources and noticed that the techniques were different in each. Some were instructions on how to knead the entire thing by hand, some (like the one I ended up using) use an electric mixer. Some had several long rising periods, others had much less rising time. Then they all ended with different ways to present it - a round loaf, a few small loaves, a simple braid or an intricate one.
I think that challah is going to be one of those things that take time to perfect your craft. The end result of the recipe below came out a bit more dense than I usually like in my challahs. And my braid was a bit uneven. Don't get me wrong, it's still delicious, but I will definitely be futzing around with this one and trying alternate recipes to get the perfect airy challah.
Someone was too excited to eat the challah to wait for me to take the picture
This Shabbat is going to be a little extra special with homemade challah on the table. And this weekend we will most definitely be enjoying some challah french toast for breakfast!
Challah (slightly adapted from Arthur Schwartz's Jewish Home Cooking)
1 package (2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (no more than 110 degrees F)
1/3 cup sugar plus 1 tsp for the egg wash
4 1/2 cups bread flour plus more for flouring the board
3 eggs plus 1 more for the egg wash
1/4 cup peanut or canola oil
2 tsp salt
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the yeast and the water on low speed. Mix for a minute or so to dissolve the yeast.
- Add 1/3 cup sugar and mix again for a few seconds, then add 1/2 cup flour and mix again.
- Add 3 eggs. Increase the speed slightly and mix again. Once the eggs are well incorporated, add 1 more cup of flour. On medium-low speed, work in the flour (scraping side of the bowl as needed), then add the oil and salt.
- Turn off the machine and add 3 cups of the remaining flour (a total of 4 1/2 cups). Starting slow and working up to a medium speed, continue to work the flour into the dough, shutting the machine off once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Let the machine knead the dough for 10-15 minutes, making sure to turn off the machine every few minutes to scrape down the sides of the bowl and/or to give the motor a rest (it can overheat while working this dense a dough). If it is still sticking to the sides of the bowl after a few minutes, add a little more flour (one tablespoon at a time). In the end, the dough should be firm, smooth, elastic and only slightly sticky.
- Put the dough into a large, oiled bowl, turning to completely coat it with oil. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean dish towel and let rise until tripled in volume (1 1/2 to 2 hours).
- Punch down the dough and prepare it for it's final shape:
***for a braided loaf: cut the dough into equal strands (as many as you want to work with). Place the strands on a floured board, cover with a clean dish towel and let rise for 30 minutes. Braid the dough (pinching the ends together) and place the loaf on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
***for a round loaf: form the dough into 1 long rope and coil the rope into a road loaf on a floured board. Cover with a clean dish towel and let rise 30 minutes. Place the loaf on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Position an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Make an egg wash by beating 1 egg and 1 tsp sugar in a small bowl. Brush the surface of the loaf with the wash, making sure to glaze the crevices between strands.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes. To test for doneness, tap the bottom of the loaf with your fingers. It should sound hollow. Transfer to a rack to cool thoroughly before slicing and serving.