Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Challah: A Delicious Bread for Christmas

Well, the results of writing a novel in one month is that not only do I have a novel, but my brain is completely drained. Happily, not so much that I can't function, but drained of ideas that might be of interest to you all. But I determined this morning that I would add something for Christmas, and that it would be something that I myself am going to make for the family. And that is Challah. I posted this recipe in September, but with the holidays zooming in on us now, I think it would be a good idea to decide if you want it on your menu. The picture is of the challah that I made a couple of years ago for Christmas, and it's both loaves baked together to form one gorgeous loaf! If you compare my loaf  to the more beautiful loaf below, you'll realize that my inexperience is showing. But I was so thrilled that I don't really mind.

I have given my reason for making challah for the first time: I was watching an episode of "Follow that Food," and the host took us to Australia for a real Australian breakfast, which included sauteed mushrooms, onions, and fresh chopped  basil over sliced brioche. It sounded like a delicious recipe, but I didn't want the extra calories of the brioche, which is a French bread, much like cake, with butter, eggs, sugar and milk. I remembered that challah is also an egg bread, but without butter, sugar and milk. It's made with eggs, but with vegetable oil, only 2 tablespoons of sugar, and water. I think it's a very festive bread for the holidays!

And if you're interested in the history of challah, a bread which is made by practicing Jews and eaten every Friday evening in honor of the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt,  click on the link:  http://biblememosfrommimi.blogspot.com/2010/09/challah-traditional-jewish-bread-with.html

This recipe is from my King Arthur Flour Cookbook, which has this to say about it.
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
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 to 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 cut 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 enought baking sheet, it's fun to bake this as one large braided loaf. Increase your baking time by 10 by 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. The loaf in the picture on the left is sprinkled with sesame seeds. And you can add raisins or make it round for a holiday. The round loaf below 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."  Yum!

And for those of you interested, I began working on my novel again to edit it, and perhaps add to it for publication. That is another reason why my brain is still drained! But I'll do my best to add posts as often as possible. Thanks for sticking in there with me!



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