“Challah is a bread of celebration in Jewish tradition. At a time when white flour was considered a luxury, its use was reserved for either the wealthy or for festive events. In Judaism, the Sabbath is a weekly holiday, and therefore is a festive occasion. It was around the 15th century when Jews in parts of Austria and Germany adopted an oval braided loaf from their neighbors to make the Sabbath special. These fancy shaped loaves made with white flour were seen as a fitting way to honor the Shabbat (Sabbath), symbolized in Jewish culture as a queen, therefore deserving of the finest one can achieve. In honoring the Sabbath as a day of rest, two loaves are traditionally put on the table. This is generally seen as a representation of the double portion of manna provided to the Children of Israel on Fridays during their wandering in the desert after fleeing from Egypt. This double portion allowed them to maintain the commandment to not do “work” on the Sabbath.
Another symbolic comparison to the manna eaten by the Israelites is the fact that challah is traditionally covered with a cloth prior to being blessed and eaten. According to tradition, manna was encased in dew to preserve its freshness. Covering the challah with a decorative cloth serves as another reminder of the special quality of the day of rest. There are other explanations given regarding why the challah is covered. The one which I always liked was that we cover the loaves so they will not be “embarrassed” by having to wait while the wine is blessed first. (A traditional Sabbath dinner begins with a blessing over the wine first, followed by the blessing of the bread, after which the meal is enjoyed.)”
This beautiful description comes from Ruth of The Crafts of Mommyhood, who is the host of the May Bakers Challenge. Growing up in New York I am well acquainted with the challah bread. While my first two boyfriends were jewish, it was the second one who came from a very religious family. Every Friday night his mom would set the candles out for the Sabbath with the challah bread sitting on the table (needless to say she was not too happy about her son dating me- in fact that is an understatement.lol!). This bread has a long history, as well it should, since it is delicious, gorgeous to look at , and makes awesome french toast!
Since my disaster in the kitchen last month, I haven’t has a chance to do much , well, any baking,but since my new oven was delivered last week I have made many loaves of bread. I tried three different recipes for the challah and I highly recommend all of them. The first is Bernard Clayton’s from the New Complete Book Of Breads (I adore this book). It makes two large loaves and is gently scented with saffron, which makes it so unique in flavor. The second time I used a recipe from Beard on Bread. This one was simple, straight forward and delicious. The third time around I tried a pumpkin challah from Martha Stewart. To these loaves I added raisins which had been soaked in butterscotch schnapps. Yumm…
The best part of this is the braiding. There are so many different ways to go with this that only you can decide. I went with the six strand braid, the 4 strand round braid, a braided ring and a turban. At the end of this post will be link to instruct you on different braiding techniques. Well let’s get to it, Bake On!!
Challah (Version 1)
2 Packages (4 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
5 Cups bread or AP flour, approximately
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup hot water (120-130F)
1 pinch saffron (I soaked my saffron in the hot water for a few minutes and added it in at the same time)
1 egg white
1 egg yolk (from egg above, beaten, mixed with 2 teaspoons sugar and 1 teaspoon cold water)
1 teaspoon poppy or sesame seeds
In your mixer bowl (or large bowl if doing by hand) combine the yeast, 2 cups flour, sugar, salt and butter. Slowly add the hot water and beat on medium speed, using the flat beater, for 2 minutes. Add the saffron (disregard this if you added the saffron to the hot water), eggs, and egg white. Beat on high-speed for 3 minutes (the batter will be thick). Change to the dough hook and add the remaining flour, one cup at a time, until the dough is no longer shaggy or sticky. If it is too moist, add some more flour, 1 teaspoon at a time, until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl.
Knead for 10 minutes..
Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
Punch down the dough and divide it in half. These will make your two loaves.
Now comes the fun part! To braid, divide each half into 3 pieces (this is for a simple 3 strand braid).
* Please try out the many variations on braiding when you feel a little brave- they are quite easy once you get the hand of it.*
Once braided,place the loaves on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and brush lightly with the egg yolk mixture .Sprinkle with the seeds. Do not cover the bread for the second rise. they will double in bulk, about 1 hour.
Preheat your oven to 400F about 20 minutes before baking.
Bake until shiny brown, about 30 to 40 minutes. Cool before cutting.
Challah (Version 2)
3 Packages active dry yeast (I thought this was excessive so I used 4 1/2 teaspoons like above)
1 1/3 cups warm water (about 110F)note: I used some whey I had leftover from making cheese
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon salt (I use kosher)
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
5 to 5 1/2 cups AP flour
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon cold water (for brushing)
poppy or sesame seeds
Proof the yeast in the warm water in a mixing bowl with the paddle attachment. Add the sugar, salt, butter, eggs and 5 cups of the flour, one cup at a time.Switching to the dough hook, gradually add more flour if needed, until the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. Knead for 10 minutes or until it is smooth and elastic.
Place the dough into a large greased bowl and cover tightly with wrap until doubled in bulk, about 1-2 hours. Punch the dough down and divide in half. Proceed to form into braids ,place the loaves on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and let rise again, covered, for 1 hour. Lightly brush with the reserved egg yolk and sprinkle with seeds.
Bake in a preheated 400F oven for 35 to 40 minutes. Cool on racks.
Challah (Version 3)
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast, (1 1/2 packages)
1 cup warm water (100 degrees to 110 degrees)
3/4 cup egg yolks, (9 to 12 large eggs), plus 1 large egg yolk for glaze
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons canola oil, plus more for bowl
1/4 cup honey
2 cups homemade Pumpkin Puree, or one 15-ounce can
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice
8 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
Proof the yeast in 1 cup warm water. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine egg yolks with remaining 1/2 cup warm water. In a medium bowl, combine salt, canola oil, honey, pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, and allspice. Replace paddle attachment with dough-hook attachment, and add the pumpkin mixture to the mixer bowl; combine. Add the yeast mixture, stirring until combined. Add the flour, 1 cup at a time, until all the flour is incorporated into dough. Knead the dough for 10 minutes. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, punch down the dough, and then form it into two 8-inch loaves. Place the loaves on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, cover with a kitchen towel, and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.While the dough is rising, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix remaining egg yolk with 1 tablespoon water. Brush the loaves with the egg glaze, and bake until golden brown, about 50 minutes. Cool on wire racks.
Video of basic three strand braid: http://s1075.photobucket.com/albums/w440/tinkrsh/challah%20braiding/?act…
Videos of four strand braids: http://s1075.photobucket.com/albums/w440/tinkrsh/challah%20braiding/?act…
Videos of six strand braids: http://s1075.photobucket.com/albums/w440/tinkrsh/challah%20braiding/?act…
Video of four strand braided round: http://s1075.photobucket.com/albums/w440/tinkrsh/challah%20braiding/?act…
p.s.- I’m submitting this to Susan over at Wild Yeast for the weekly yeastspotting roundup