Sunday, September 7, 2014

Homemade Challah Bread


Can you be homesick for a person, rather than a place? How about for a feeling? A meal? Someone's laugh? There are times where I get this overwhelming feeling of homesickness - not for my childhood house in the city, or for the first home I created with my husband - it is an intense longing for my mother.

I lost my Mum about four years ago, right around the same time that I became a mother myself. As I tried to wrap my head around my own new role as "mommy", I had the added responsibility of also seeing my own mother go through her much-too-early transition. There are times when it hurts too much to even acknowledge; times where I'll be with my boys, and they have just done something extraordinary, and my first instinct is still to pick up the phone to call her and share my amazement.

My mother gave me many gifts, one of which was my love of food & cooking. As I cook now for my family, it is not only for nourishment, but also to remember her. I see shadows of her own small hands over mine as I fold blintzes. I see her dressed in her traditional "baking black" (for some unknown reason, my Mum always wore black when she was baking - it became a family joke over time!). I see her puffing flour all over herself while making pie dough for a long-ago Thanksgiving. I hear her telling a young me to quit nabbing handfuls of chocolate chips as we bake cookies.

I need to cook sometimes so I can remember the stories for my children. They are usually by my side as I work, more a happy hindrance than helpers at this age, but they are there shadowing me as I shadowed my mother. So, boys, this is how we fold blintzes. And here is how we knead the dough. Watch me; this is how we remember.

Homemade Challah Bread
challah recipe via The Shiska in the Kitchen, Tori Avey.
makes 1 very large loaf or 2 regular sized loaves


This is a beautifully simple challah recipe from one of my favorite cooking blogs, The Shiksa in the Kitchen. Eggy and lightly sweetened with honey, this challah is perfect for breakfast (challah french toast!) or eaten simply with my Honey Vanilla Whipped Butter. This is a bread for making memories in the kitchen.

4 1/2-6 cups of all purpose flour
1 packet, or 2 1/4 teaspoons, active dry yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water, divided
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons canola oil
3 egg yolks + 1 whole egg
1 teaspoon sugar

for the egg wash
1 egg
1 tablespoon cold water
1/2 teaspoon salt


In a large mixing bowl, pour 1/4 cup of lukewarm water. Add 1 envelope (or, 2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast to the bowl along with the 1 teaspoon of sugar. Stir to combine. If the yeast is "active", then the mixture will begin to foam after a few minutes. If the yeast/sugar water mix doesn't foam after 10 minutes, the yeast is too old to use. Active yeast = bread that rises.




While waiting, bring a medium sized saucepan full of water to a boil.

After 10 minutes and confirming you have active yeast, pour 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water to the bowl and add the whole egg, 3 egg yolks, canola oil, honey, and salt. Whisk to combine.




Next, begin to add the flour in 1/2 cup increments. Depending on the size of your eggs, you could end up using anywhere from just 4 cups of flour or all the way up to 6 cups. I generally only need 5 cups for the dough plus more for kneading/rolling.

After each half cup of flour, stir with a wooden spoon. Typically at 4 cups, you will notice the dough start to come together. You want to add flour until the dough stops being sticky and becomes elastic & smooth. Use your hands to stir if mixing with a spoon becomes too difficult.




After reaching the correct texture, dump the dough out onto a sheet of parchment or wax paper. Quickly wash and dry your mixing bowl. Take about a tablespoon of canola oil and grease your bowl. Place the bread dough back into the oiled bowl and push the dough flat to the bottom. Flip, and repeat to grease your dough.



Place the pot of boiling water, uncovered, on the bottom rack of an unheated oven. Cover the dough bowl with a light, damp, and clean kitchen towel. Place the bowl on the middle rack of the unheated oven. You are creating a warm and slightly damp environment for your dough to rise.



Close the oven door and set your oven timer for 1 hour. Do not open the door to peek!

After 1 hour, remove the bowl from the rack and gently punch down a few times to remove the air pockets. Cover once again and return to the unheated oven. Set your oven timer for 1 hour.



After the second hour/second rise is up, remove the bowl from the oven and discard the water & saucepan. Flour a flat surface (I like to use a large cutting board) generously. Punch down the dough once more and dump the dough out. Knead for several minutes, adding small handfuls of flour until the dough doesn't feel sticky.




Next, it's time to braid the challah. I prefer to do a 4 strand large braid, but an easy 3 stand braid is just as lovely! This is the point where you will decide if you are baking 1 large challah (really large!) or making 2 regular sized challahs. If making 2, divide the dough in half and then divide again into the appropriate number of strands per challah (2 challahs with a 3 braid design = 6 portions etc).



I made a 4 strand large challah, but the preparation steps are the same no matter the size.

Divide the dough into 2 pieces and then again into 4 pieces. Taking each piece individually, roll with a well floured rolling pin to an oblong shape. Gently roll the dough up on itself and using your hands, squeeze/snake the dough into a long strip. You want to make the middle of each strand slightly thicker than each end, tapering as it goes out. This technique gives the baked bread a great shape after braiding.




After performing the same steps with each portion, arrange the 4 dough rolls vertically on a floured cutting board. Lightly pinch the tops of the rolls together and start to braid.

1.     Take the farthest right piece and gently fold "over" the second roll, "under" the third roll, and "over" the fourth roll.
2.     Repeat the steps again with the "new" farthest right roll, over/under/over, until you have reached the ends of the rolls. Gently pinch and tuck the ends under the loaf.









If the top of the braid looks a little sloppy, flip the board 180 degrees, and re-braid the top-most portion so that it's tighter. Press the loaf together or press to flatten, to make a pleasing shape.

On a large baking tray (or two, depending on how many challahs you've braided), place a piece of parchment paper. Transfer the challah to the tray.

In a small bowl, whisk 1 egg, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1 tablespoon cold water. Using a brush, gently coat the entire top and sides of the bread with the egg wash. This step will give the challah a great color and sheen.



Reserve the remaining egg wash, you will use it again!

Let the dough rest again for 30-40 minutes, for a third rising. You will know it's ready when pressing a finger into the dough and pulling away, the indentation remains instead of disappearing.

Preheat your oven to 350F, in the meantime.

After the third rising, move the bread to the oven to bake for 20 minutes. Next, remove from the oven and coat with the remaining egg wash, only on the new white exposed bits. As the bread bakes, it tends to expand, exposing areas that weren't egg washed earlier.


Return to the oven and bake for another 20 minutes. Be very watchful at this point for over browning. Once you have reached the correct color, gently "tent" the bread with tin foil. Remove the tin foil for the last 2-3 minutes of baking.

Once the second 20 minute baking has finished, remove from the oven to a cooling rack. Let stand 5 minutes and then transfer the loaf to the rack directly.



Eat plain, with butter, honey, or a little bit of apple or jam! This bread also freezes well. Just wrap in 2 layers of plastic wrap and 1 layer of foil, after completely cooling.





4 comments:

  1. Beautiful bread and beautiful memories of your mom. *hugs

    ReplyDelete
  2. I make my own challah every week! My mom claims she made it when we were kids but I don't remember that. ;) I'm also the youngest so maybe she got tired of it by the time I was old enough. I will try your recipe sometime. Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Baking bread is such a great small pleasure! I always forget just how lovely the house smells with a challah loaf baking in the oven!

      Delete