Ok, first off let me say that a good challah recipe is much like a trade secret, and in that regard I am indebted to Amiee for sharing her great-grandmothers winning formula. However since I cannot leave well enough alone I started playing with it with an eye towards making it a little easier and perhaps a bit tastier. Amiee will share her version as well so you have two paths towards a bevy of compliments come Friday evening.
For those of you with a more intellectual bent, it is worth noting that Challah is not actually a style of bread. Rather it refers to the act of pulling off a small amount of the dough and allowing it to burn in the back of the oven as a sacrificial acknowledgment of God’s bounty. Depending on where you are in the Jewish world Challah could look like anything including the Caucus Mountain version that looks much like an overgrown pita. The braided version that most of us know is simply the style that was prevalent in Eastern Europe when people started coming to America. In Israel the challah sold in grocery stores isn’t braided, rather it is molded to look like it has been. If you plan on making for Rosh HaShannah you should make it in a spiral, a symbol of the continuity of creation.
Read on for details
(yield two loaves)
1 lb 14 oz all purpose flour (go buy a digital scale, weighed flour is a much more accurate way to bake and it is used by all serious cooks and bakeries. Failing that figure about 4 cups=1 lb.)
1 tb active dry yeast
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey
1 tb salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large egg yolks
1 3/4 cup warm water
1 additional egg for the wash
Place the flour in the bowl of your stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Add salt and yeast and start the mixer on low. After a minute add the oil and egg yolks, allow to mix in completely. Once the oil has mixed in then add sugar and honey, allow to mix in completely. Add water slowly until the dough takes on a bit of a sheen and seems smooth and somewhat sticky to the touch. You may not use all the water or need a bit more depending on the humidity. Switch to the dough hook and knead for at least 5 min.
Turn dough into a smaller bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a towel then let rise until doubled. I often help my proofing along by setting a the smaller bowl into a larger one (in my case my mixer bowl) that has been part filled with warm water.
Remove dough from the bowl, divide in half and then divide each into thirds. Roll each third out into a long dowel of about 14-16 inches. Take these strands and braid together tucking the ends under and place on a sheet pan. Cover the loaves in plastic wrap and a towel, place in a warm spot (your oven works well- heat it briefly to get the interior temp up into the mid 70’s). When loaves has almost doubled and taken on a full look pre-heat oven to 400 and then brush loaves with your remaining egg.
When oven is hot put loaves in and bake 12 min, reduce heat to 350 and bake another 15-20 min.