BBA #6: Challah

Challah - whole loaf

Another egg bread?  I know, you must be sick of them.  Seems like the Bread Baker’s Apprentice is front-loaded with enriched breads, a fate cast upon it by the rigors of alphabetical order.  I thought I was tired of egg breads until I sliced into this challah.  I had never eaten challah before, but believe me: I am a convert.  This dough was probably the easiest to handle out of all the recipes so far. It doesn’t use a sponge or soaker.  It’s made in one day.  And the flavor– the flavor is divine.  The bread is sturdy with a nice chew without being tough.  I am already thinking of making this again and shaping it into sandwich buns, because I think it would be wonderful for burgers or filling sandwiches.

While the challah uses four eggs, the dough doesn’t taste as eggy as the brioche recipe.  Four eggs?  Well, challah is an egg bread after all.  It is traditional in Jewish cooking, and was developed so that eggs gathered before the Sabbath could be used up and not wasted– as they could not be harvested during the Sabbath or holidays.  Challah is also pareve, which means it uses neither meat nor dairy and is a neutral food in the kosher kitchen.  So don’t sneak in any butter!

The challah starts out straightforwardly.  Wet ingredients are mixed in one bowl and then stirred into the dry until it forms a balls that pulls away from the bowl.  This can be accomplished by hand easily.  In the case of this loaf, I made use of Reinhart’s suggestion to double the sugar in the recipe, so I used 4 tablespoons.  I really liked the sweetness of the bread, and I could also see using a quarter cup of honey to sweeten it.  Once a ball is formed, the bread is kneaded for 10 minutes (according to Reinhart) until it passes the windowpane test.  This took me about 20 minutes rather than the suggested 10.  The bread became satiny and had silky feeling under the hand.  It made a beautiful boule for the first fermentation.

Challah - before fermentation

You can see in the photo just how uniform and smooth the texture of the dough is.  I placed the boule in a large bowl and let it ferment for an hour.  After an hour, I kneaded it to degas it fully and returned it to the bowl for another hour.  It quickly rose again.  I then removed this boule and cut it into six equal pieces.  I formed the pieces into individual boules and let them rest for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes passed came the hardest part.  I commenced “rolling the pieces into strands, each the same length, thicker in the middle and slightly tapered toward the ends” (p 134).  This sounds very specific until you start to do it.  Then, panic sets in.  How long should the strands be?  What if they don’t want to stretch?  Here’s where you can take a lesson from my book.  I rolled the pieces in strands about 13-16″ long, keeping the three strands for each loaf the same length.  The dough does want to spring back, and it doesn’t hold its shape easily.  So, roll it a bit, then set it aside.  Move on to another strand.  I rotated through all my strands until they were uniform and the length I desired.  They will seem a bit short, but there is more proofing to go, and this bread has a mighty oven spring.
Preparing Challah to Bake

As you can see from the photos, my loaves showed some striation and a few tears in the surface tension.  This was caused purely by impatience, so shape slowly.  Keep the surface of the dough smooth and taut.  Any tears will be visible in the final loaf.  Also, I have seen some images online of challah that fell apart in the oven, and this is caused by broken surface tension on the strands.

I made two 3-braid loaves.  The 3-strand braid begins in the middle.  Lay your strands out as above, then braid one end.  Pinch it off, then braid the other.  When you finish, lay the loaves on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Brush the loaves with egg wash and let them rise another hour, covered with plastic wrap.  After they have risen, brush them with egg wash again and garnish with either poppy or sesame seeds.  I made a loaf of each to figure out my preference.  I think I like the poppy seeds better.

The bread bakes for about an hour in a 350º oven.  I baked both loaves at the same time.  I included a pan of water in the oven while it preheated and misted the interior of the oven with water to promote crust formation.  The bread quickly darkened on top, so I tented it with foil after only 10 minutes.  I baked it until it reached 190º in the center of the loaf.  I removed it from the oven and let it cool an hour.

Challah - heel sliced off

I could wait to slice into the loaf.  The bread has a tight interior crumb and is very sturdy.  This one definitely goes into the rotation, I thought.

Challah - crumb detail

And then I greedily dug in.

A little Challah snack

Where else can you see this challah on the web?

Check it out on The Dish over at the new site Good Bite!  Good Bite brings together some of the most popular food bloggers on the web to share recipes, participate in relevant round table discussions, provide video demonstrations of blog recipes, collect great articles from blogs, and generate forum discussion – all on one site!

This bread is also being featured on the braiding section of Foodista.  Click here to see more info on their site about braiding bread!

Braiding on Foodista

This is some more yeasty goodness I’m sending over to Yeastspotting.

The Bread Baker’s Apprentice challenge was developed by Nicole of Pinch My Salt. You can see what we’re baking this week at our Flickr group, on Twitter (#BBA), or check out the challenge page.

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45 thoughts on “BBA #6: Challah

    • Thank you! I am a very impatient sort, and I told myself that “surely the oven spring will fix all that.” It didn’t, but the bread still looks good. Definitely getting better at shaping with practice!

  1. wow! beautiful looking! i make challah every week, and your challas would look beautiful gracing our shabbat table- we have two big family meals on shabbat, one on friday night and one on saturday. Going to have try this recipe!

    Leah

      • Hiya!
        Just discovered your site as I was looking for challah recipes. I’d love the recipe. Also, is there a BBA website? I can’t seem to find one. And one more question….I looked at the links suggested for braiding and I can’t find any instructions on them. I’m feeling a litle like a dork…but I’d love to have my Challah have no striations. Can you suggest another link, or might you have some hints?

        Thanks so much for the wonderful site/blog.

        Happy New Year!

  2. challah is usually an impressive bread to behold, and yours is certainly no exception. in addition to eating it, i also enjoy saying the name, clearing my throat while i’m at it. :)

    • You know, we’ve had a lot of fun talking about challah and having the chutzpah to eat another piece. Can’t get enough of that hard H sound. So glad you think it is pretty; it was so fun to make.

    • I thought I had hit upon something brilliant with the sandwich buns, but using it for stuffing is even better! I usually use stale country bread, but I think the texture of this would be as good. The challah is more flavorful, too, and can stand up to more rigorous cooking. Brilliant.

    • I was amazed at the dark, burnished crust that developed. So beautiful. I want to bake more right now, but I’ve got to get that ciabatta out of the way. Maybe next week…

  3. The challah was my fav recipe out of the BBA…it’s probably the one thing I miss as a vegan – just about everything else I can recreate veganized, but with challah..it’s simply not challah if you don’t have eggs…so I’ll just drool at your pics, okay? :) Nicely done Haley!

    • Thanks, Sara! Drool away. I wish there were a good way to sub the eggs, because I rarely use them. But, this will get that little farm up the street some business and probably get me baking huge batches of challah. One of the best in the book by far.

  4. Yes, the next time I make it – and I definitely will – I’ll be trying honey, as well. Your photos made me want some more right now!

    • Yes! I think the honey will be wonderful. I am also wondering about whole wheat flour….honey-wheat challah? Sounds like a winner, but I don’t want to compromise the texture. We’ll see.

    • I have to encourage the baking of this bread. Stunning, really. I thought we attacked the casatiello, but we grew tired of it. Not so the challah – it’s polished off!

  5. Your challahs are beautiful.

    I totally agree with you. This is a wonderful bread. I loved the taste and chewiness too. Mine was gone within 24 hours.

  6. This looks wonderful. I’ve never tried to make challah before, but when I worked for a Jewish charity it showed up in the office from almost every other kitchen! Yours really does look great.

  7. I love how your challahs turned out. I never thought to start braiding in the middle. What a great tip! I too think this dough would be scrumptious for sandwich or hamburger buns but for me with some whole wheat flour and maybe only 1 tbsp of sweetener (maple syrup?).

    • Reinhart gives great instructions for braiding in his book. I was so nervous about shaping this loaf, but it was so easy. I think syrup would be a nice sweetener – honey would be great, too!

  8. GORGEOUS challah. Can there ever be too many egg braids, I mean…really? My motivation to make yeasted breads in warm and sticky weather is at a minimum right now, but this makes me crave homemade challah more than ever. Thanks for sharing!

    -Siri

    • Thanks! I thought I was getting tired of egg breads, but then I made this challah and it totally changed my mind. I’ve been wanting it ever since I finished it. Now, I just need to find the time to make it again. I totally hear you about baking in the humidity; i’ve committed to baking through this book, and it’s about a million degrees outside! We’ll survive it, though…at least I’m not baking in Georgia.

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