Monday, September 20, 2010

Challah: A Delicious Bread & A Jewish Tradition

MMMMMonday is here! And I seem to share recipes on Mondays. So here goes.

Yes, I made this challah. I made it especially for Christmas, putting two loaves into one. And I'll tell you what made me decide to make it the very first time. I watch Food Network and enjoy a show called "Follow that Food." The food for the day was mushrooms, and the host was in Australia to show us a chef who was making a real Australian breakfast.

It consisted of brioche, a very rich French bread with eggs, sugar, butter and milk. The mushrooms and onions are sauteed together, a little fresh basil is added before putting it over the brioche. It sounded delicious to me, and I wanted to make it, but I didn't want to eat all that rich brioche. I remembered another egg bread that wasn't so rich--challah. Challah is an egg bread, but it is made with water, a little vegetable oil, and eggs. Only 2 tablespoons of sugar. So I looked and found the following recipe in my King Arthur Flour Cookbook and made the dish. I have made it many times since, and it's very good. The cookbook has this to say about challah:

This bread is one whose origins lie deep in Jewish history. It is baked in many Jewish households on Friday night to welcome the Sabbath. The bread itself, while not overly sweet, is rich with eggs which make it golden in color and like the French Brioche, almost cake-like in texture. Because it is contrary to Jewish dietary laws to eat milk and meat together, this bread is usually made with water and a vegetable oil or shortening so it may be eaten with any meal. It is traditionally braided and sometimes sprinkled with poppy seeds.

1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon or packet active dry yeast
5 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
4 eggs
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon salt
wash made of 1 egg mixed with 2 teaspoons water
poppy seeds (optional)

Mixing: Pour the water into a mixing bowl, add and dissolve the sugar and then the yeast. Stir in 1 cup of the flour and let this work until bubbly and expanded, about 15 minutes.

In the meantime, beat the eggs until light. Beat the vegetable oil into the eggs and then add this to the yeast mixture. Blend in the salt and 4 1/2 to 5 cups of flour and stir until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Kneading & Rising: Turn out onto a floured kneading surface and knead for 3 or 4 minutes, adding only enough flour to keep the dough from sticking. Give the dough a rest while you clean out and grease the bowl.

Knead the dough another 3 or 4 minutes, place it in the bowl, turning it so the top is greased. Cover and let it rise until it has doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Braiding & Rising: When you can poke your finger in the dough without it springing back, knock it down and turn it back out onto your floured kneading surface. Knead out any stray bubbles and let the dough rest for about 5 minutes.

Cut the dough in half and each half into 3 equal pieces. Roll these out until they're 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter. You may need to let the dough relax from time to time.

Take 3 strands and braid them together and repeat for the second loaf. Pinch the ends together tightly. Place the braided loaves on a lightly greased baking sheet, cover and let rise for about 1 hour.

Baking: Fifteen minutes before you want to bake your bread, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Brush the surface of the loaves with the egg wash, sprinkle with poppy seeds if you wish, and bake for 35 to 40 minutes.

If you have a large enough baking sheet, it's fun to bake this as one large braided loaf. (Which I did.) Increase your baking time by 10 to 15 minutes and reduce the heat to 325 degrees F. during the last 10 minutes of baking.

As you can see by the pictures, it turns out to be something to celebrate on any day, but on a holiday, it is especially festive. You can add raisins or make it round for a holiday. The round loaf represents the cycle of the year, and with the raisins and a brushing of honey, you'll have a perfect loaf for "a sweet new year." The round loaf in this picture is sprinkled with sesame seeds. Yum!

Today I decided to have two for a personal side and one for the Bible. I'm giving you the recipe for this bread, and I'll be putting more of the history of the bread on my Bible blog: I'm not sure if I'll be able to keep up the two blogs, but I'll see how it goes. I hope you try this recipe and enjoy it as much as I and my family have.


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