Challah is one of those things that connects many Jewish families to their Jewish roots, and when it's home baked it's even more special. So while many think they just don't have the time, I can tell you, it's worth the extra effort and once you get the hang of it you'll want to fit it into your busy schedule. (Plus you can always bake it anytime and freeze it— loaves frozen just after cooling taste just as delicious!) And you can ask my family, and they'll tell you.....the smell of challahs baking on Fridays in our home is a family tradition they wouldn't give up easily, nor would they want to forfeit the actual eating of those challahs at our Shabbat meals on Friday night and Saturday morning.
Up to now, I have shared with you most of my tried and true recipes, and at long last, I'm happy to say, I've finally found a moment to share my favorite challah recipe with you, as well as a few important tips.
I should start by saying, that while my challahs were always good, my husband wasn't 100% happy. So I suggested that if he were to buy me a copy of Tamar Ansh's book A Taste of Challah, that maybe I'd find a recipe in there that would suit him. And sure enough Tamar's basic egg-free challah was amazing the very first time I tried it, and I've been using the same recipe (with a few minor adjustments) for about four years. When I suggest to my family that I may change the recipe (namely to make a more healthful whole wheat version), there are some sad faces in the crowd. So, since this is the only white bread that we eat all week, I'm going to stick with this recipe for now, and continue making whole wheat pitas for myself!
Always Perfect No-Egg Challah: basic white flour challah dough
- 16-17 cups freshly sifted white flour (I use 2 kilos)
- 4 3/5- 5 cups warm water
- 1 1/3 - 1 1/2 cups sugar (I use 1 cup sugar and it is plenty sweet!)
- 75 grams fresh yeast or 3 T dry yeast granules
- 1 cup canola oil
- 1 T salt
This is how I've been making challah for years, it is similar to Tamar's technique in A Taste Of Challah, and I highly recommend her book for lots more tips and great recipes.
- If you live in Israel, sift your flour to make sure it is bug free. You can always pre-sift the flour and store it in the freezer until you need it.
- In a medium sized bowl, combine the yeast, a tablespoon or two of sugar and about half a cup of warm water (part of the total amount of water) mix, and set aside. This insures that the yeast is actually working and that it doesn't come in contact with salt which can limit its ability.
- I use a mixer which can handle 2 kilos of flour, so I add the liquids first and then the solids. If you'll be mixing and kneading the dough by hand you add the liquids to the solids in a large bowl, and once you have something that looks like dough, you knead it on your clean counter top.
- So it goes like this— I place in my mixer bowl the oil, the water the salt and the sugar, and to this I add approx one kilo of flour. After this is mixed, I check to make sure my yeast is bubbling and I add this as well, followed by the second kilo of flour. I let my mixer do the kneading for about 10 minutes.
- Once I have dough that is a nice consistency, neither too dry or too sticky, I take the whole amount and place it in a large garbage bag, usually the same one into which I've sifted my flour. Some people like to place a little oil on the outside of their ball of dough, but I don't. I just seal the garbage bag tightly and place it in a warm place on my counter.
- The dough will take at least an hour to rise, and very often you'll find that the garbage bag blows up into a large balloon! If you don't get a balloon just poke the bag to make sure that the dough is very soft.
- Remove the dough from the bag, punch it down, and if you'd like to make the special blessing for baking challah, remove a large egg-sized portion and make the blessing. (You can find that info on google in many places.)
- Using a rolling pin, roll the entire portion of dough out into a large pizza like shape, making sure to pop any bubbles you may see in the dough. Then depending on how you'll form your loaves, and how many loaves or rolls you'll be baking cut this pizza shape into strips.
- Form the strips into balls, and leave on the counter to rest for about 10 minutes.
- Roll those balls out into long snakes for braiding and braid. Most braided loaves look the nicest if you tuck the ends under. For the nicest braided loaves try to make snakes that are fatter in the middle. (tutorial for this in the future!)
- Pre-heat your oven, in my case to 180C. Many people like to bake challahs on a higher temp. like say 200 C for ten minutes and then they turn the oven down for the remaining baking time.
- Set loaves on your baking paper lined oven racks, or in loaf pans, and set aside until loaves have risen and look like the photo above. (Note, I am very fortunate to have a 90 cm oven, so I can bake all my challahs at one time on one rack.) This may take up to an hour or more, but you don't want to leave them too long or your braids will break apart.
- Just before placing in the oven brush on egg white (truthfully I use the whole egg, but most don't.) and sprinkle on the topping of your choice, in our case poppy seeds.
- Bake until nicely browned, and bottoms are hard. I use a convection setting on my oven and baking time is only about 30 minutes, but on a regular setting baking may take up to an hour for large loaves. Rolls of course take much less time, so be sure to watch them!
- Set aside your loaves to cool, and enjoy! And if you have any questions, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org