Some of my earliest memories are of my Jewish grandmother setting out a loaf of challah, along with a spread of white fish, cream cheese, lox and bagels. She never made any of these foods herself, but challah still reminds me of her. Recently I developed an interest in making challah bread myself. Thinking about the upcoming holidays, and having my second child, a girl, a few weeks ago, makes me a little more sentimental. That sweet, egg-y bread was just what I was craving.
It took three attempts before I was satisfied with the result (the initial two attempts leading to rather dense, heavy loaves). During this process I scoured the Internet for variations in recipes. Ultimately I went mostly by the recipe in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, although I have to admit, despite their emphasis on not kneading the dough, I did some kneading with my third attempt. The final attempt lead to four loaves of exactly what I expect from challah. It also made some damn near perfect french toast.
Here’s the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day recipe, with my annotations:
Mix together the following in a large bowl:
1 3/4 cup lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup honey (I heated mine up a little)
1/2 cup melted, unsalted butter (several websites mention the option of using a vegetable oil, but I think the flavor of butter is essential)
Add 7 cups of flour, either with a food processor, mixer or by hand (I did the latter). Their general approach is to not knead, since this adds unnecessary time, but I did for about five minutes and am thinking that might have been what made the final product lighter. Below is a photo of the dough before at this stage, before I left it to rise for 2-3 hours.
After the first rising you can cut it up and freeze it, but I was making this for a food swap and so went ahead and formed four little loaves, braiding three strands for each loaf while, adding raisins, as you can see in the photo below. Leave this to rise again for 40 minutes, twice that if you’ve used frozen dough, and then it’s oven-ready. I purchased a pizza stone recently in anticipation of making more pizza and bread (we’re getting there slowly) and let this heat up for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees before adding the loaves. They were ready after 30 minutes.
Challah is a real treat, but it does have a lot of butter in it and this can get a little heavy after a while. We usually eat much healthier bread, so I’m not sure if making challah will become a regular event in our household. It is nice, however, to know that I can make it when we get the nostalgia sets in. I will probably whip out another loaf or two next week, just to keep things festive.