Mastering challah is a big deal to me. I am very proficient at pastry, but not so at bread making. I know good challah when I eat it, but not so much when I'm making it. It took me quite some time to get acquainted with properly making challah and really understanding what made my challah dough work. That is not to say I understand bread dough, because I don't. But what I do know is how to make the perfect challah in a foolproof way.
About my recipe- it yields a light and fluffy dough that is not so sweet and definitely does not taste like cake. It is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. I will convince you that this recipe is better than yours. (I am cocky about it too.)
When I decided I finally perfected this recipe I wasn't sure how to share it. A challah recipe is a big deal for a nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn. In walks major inspiration from Margalit Romano. Nothing to do with challah, she is someone I have had my eye on for some time. She is a self taught, mixed media abstract artist. She has a bachelors in art history but her future is very much in contemporary pieces. Her collections are diverse and filled with vibrant colors. Her pieces line commercial establishments and residential homes in New York and New Jersey. She does not stick to one idea or even one series of artistic pieces. This leads us to the collaboration at hand: she designs challah boards.
A perfect mate for my challah recipe story in pictures. We will be launching an Instagram contest together where the winner will win the board pictured on my table below. Follow me on Instagram @mylifemymenu and @margalitarts to enter and review contest rules. See below for Margalit's info.
So let's get down to business. I will be teaching this as if you are bunch of 3 year olds and don't know how to sit in your spot in circle time. The instructions will be very clear. Let's get started.
1. Keep the kitchen warm. I like to keep a flame on the stove or an oven door open to get the kitchen extra toasty. If it is not warm enough in your kitchen (think short sleeve weather) then your dough won't rise. Crank it up.
2. When the recipe says to use warm or hot water, do just that. But do not use really hot water. If your water is too hot it will kill your yeast. A good gauge is if it is too hot for your hand then it is too hot for the yeast. Try thinking "bath water appropriate for a six month old baby" temperature.
3. Freezing and Storing Options-
Freezing Dough Disks- You could make your dough and stock your freezer with dough disks. So when the recipe calls for you to cut the dough into six equal parts you can then wrap each part well in plastic and then store in a zippered bag in the freezer for up to 12 weeks. To defrost- leave on your counter for 2 hours. Unwrap then cut the disk into 3 and follow directions to braid below. Continue with your short rise and then bake.
Freezing Raw Braids- After you braid each challah and place them in their respective loaf pans, you can wrap and freeze immediately. Make sure to wrap with plastic wrap really well and then use large zippered freezer bags if you have. To defrost- leave on your counter for 2 hours. Unwrap the plastic and brush with your eggs and sprinkle with your seeds. Continue with your short rise and then bake.
Freeze After Baking- Finish baking everything then wrap up anything you will not be using that day and freeze. To defrost, unwrap the plastic and rewrap the challah in aluminum foil. Put the frozen challah in a 200 degree oven for at least 1 hour. 2 hours is best. This is the option I chose because I like to finish everything ahead of time. I don't leave work for later.
4. The Rise- understanding that challah involves Work-Rise-Work-Short Rise-Bake will help you plan your day better. I like to do the first "work" in the morning and then go out during the 3 hour rise. The 3 hour rise can be a 4 hour rise if need be. Not a big deal. Another alternative is to do the "work" at night, and then refrigerate the dough to stall the rise and remove it in the morning to continue the rise. When you remove the dough in the morning, it will need the same 3 hours though. The second short rise can be rushed or eliminated if you HAVE to. Although I do not recommend it on a usual basis.
5. Frozen challahs will last for 4 weeks well wrapped in the freezer without getting freezer burn. Although I have done up to two months, but not for company.
1. Scale- I want you to buy a scale to have in your life. In this recipe it makes for a nice exact measuring of the yeast. Once you own it you will see just how handy dandy it is. This is the cheapy one I use.
2. Huge ass metal bowl- mmmm hmmm. That's right. I don't do my kneading on the table. I do it right in this metal bowl. It is also a great size to let the dough rise in. In fact this bowl is so versatile, I once lent it to someone and I had to go chasing it down to get it back. $20 well spent. You can find cheaper if you take a slightly different dimension too. But you are basically looking for a 20 quart metal bowl that is at least 6 inches deep.
1 - 5 pound bag high gluten flour (I only use King Arthur)
1/2 cup high gluten flour for kneading
1/4 cup high gluten flour for braiding
2 eggs, beaten for washing
sesame seeds, everything spice, poppy seed
1. Pour your 1/2 cup of warm water into a 2 cup size glass measuring cup. Add your yeast and your 1 tablespoon of sugar. Mix with your wooden spoon to combine. Set your measuring cup near a warm place. (aka near your stove that may have a low flame on- but not too close)
2. Crack your 5 eggs into a large pot or bowl. I sometimes use the bowl of my kitchen aid for this. Mix your eggs together with a whisk.
3. In your huge metal bowl, add your sugar, oil, salt and hot water. Remember not to put water that is too hot. I use 3/4 or more of hot water from my water cooler and then add some cool water to balance it. You don't want water that will burn your skin. The point is to dissolve the sugar. Once it is all in the bowl, take your wooden spoon and stir until all the sugar is dissolved and it looks like a clear liquid.
4. Check your yeast mixture. You want it to look super bubbly and puffy. If it is not moving, abandon ship. Stop now- don't waste your time making bread with dead yeast. If you are not sure if it is bubbling look at my photo below. If your yeast doesn't look any different than when it started before proofing, then forget it. It doesn't need to be as bubbly as mine, but as long as it is moving in an upward bubbly direction you are good. Take this bubbly yeast and add it to your egg mixture and mix.
5. Take your hot sugar water mixture and SLOWLY pour it into the pot with the egg mixture, one little bit at a time. You want to continuously whisk while you are pouring to ensure you will not cook the eggs or kill the yeast with your hot water.
6. Add your flour into the large pot in 3 additions, mixing well with a wooden spoon between each addition. By the last addition, I usually switch to mixing with my hand. When the mixture has just about come together, transfer the entire dough to the large metal bowl.
7. Add 1/2 cup of flour to the bowl for kneading, and knead the dough for 10 minutes. I generally knead the dough with my dominant hand and hold the bowl with the other. It's pretty torturous. I hate kneading. The dough should feel sticky on your hand and fingers but should pull away from the bowl pretty cleanly. Cover the big bowl with lots of plastic wrap and then top the plastic wrap with a dish towel. Leave the bowl in a warm place. (On your counter near your stove, or near your oven that is on.) Let the dough rise for 2-3 hours. There have been times when I have accidentally let my dough rise for 4 hours and it turned out fine. If the dough starts to vomit outside the bowl, punch it down and cover the top again.
8. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, or 350 degrees convection. Spray 6 loaf pans with oil spray. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of flour onto a clean surface. Turn your dough out onto this surface. Scrape any bits of dough that stick to the bowl and add it to your dough. Using a sharp knife or dough cutter, divide your dough into 6 equal parts.
9. Making the first challah- Take your first portion of dough and cut it into three equal pieces. Take the first piece into your hands and gently squeeze the air out of it and start to lengthen it. Squeeze and lengthen it in a vertical way. That's basically what I do to create strands for the challah braid. You do not want to make them too thin and long. Keep it short and simple. Lay your three strands down in front of you on your counter surface. Braid your dough and pinch your ends together. Transfer the braid to your tin and tuck the ends underneath. Repeat this for all of your dough. Let rise for an additional 30 minutes.
I pinch the bottom and tuck under. Then I go back and finish the top.
Tuck the ugly ends under.
10. Using a pastry brush, brush on your beaten egg over your challah dough. Then sprinkle on any topping you please. Then bake for about 40 min, uncovered. I say "about 40" because each oven is different. You want a dark look on the outside. Don't be fooled when it looks golden- you do not want to take it out too early, because it could be raw on the inside. A nice brown color on the outside is what we are going for.
There can be lots of challah variations. In the picture below is a challah that I brushed with olive oil, chopped garlic, thyme and rosemary. You can also do a sweet Bobka version and roll out the dough and spread chocolate inside. But all of this is for another day. xoxo
*Margalit Romano is on Facebook at Margalit Arts and on Instagram @Margalitarts. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org for inquiries. Or visit her website to see her work or read about more about her.