How To Make Challah
You know what they say: practice makes perfect. That’s why when it comes to making challah, my sister in law is by far the expert. She makes fresh challah from scratch every week for Shabbat (the Friday night Sabbath) so she’s certainly had her share of experience. With her recipe for a sweet and perfectly fluffy challah dough, she showed me six different braiding techniques for making challahs and challah rolls. Now you can learn them too, after the jump!
What is Challah?
Growing up in a Jewish home, attending a Jewish day school, I’ve had a lot of experience with challah, the fluffy braided bread eaten at the Sabbath dinner and lunch tables each week. I would have told you challah was an eggy bread, fluffy and sometimes sweet in nature. I would have told you that challah was delicious dipped in the red wine also consumed at Sabbath dinner tables and that it was hard to keep room in my stomach for the rest of the meal when fresh challah was around.
But until my first experience making challah with my sister in law last week, I never knew that this isn’t actually what the word “challah” means.
As my sister in law taught me, the word challah means “remove” and refers to taking a pinch of dough from your bread’s dough each week and setting it aside for religious purposes. To explain, the purpose of eating challah every week is to commemorate the manna G-d gave the Jews while they wandered in the desert for 40 years. This manna represents sustenance and in order to give thanks and remember this gift, we are supposed to take a piece from our own dough each week. This article from Aish.com has an even better explanation.
Now that you know the basics of what challah is all about, let’s make some!
Start by filling your bread pan with the wet ingredients: water, oil and 5 egg yolks (note the egg yolk separator – we don’t want any egg whites!)
Next add the rest of your ingredients (namely the dry ones). Here we have two kinds of flour (all purpose and whole wheat), brown sugar, salt and yeast.
Put your loaf pan into your bread machine if applicable.
Now set your bread machine to dough cycle. My brother and sister in law have a Breadman Ultimate machine that has a dough cycle that takes 1 1/2 hours.
When the bread machine (or your own hands) has/have finished its magic, the dough should look like this.
Remove the dough onto a floured surface…
Now it’s time to decide how many challahs you plan on making. Cut the dough into sections, 1 for each challah. Next, you’re ready to braid!
My sister in law is what I like to call “the braiding master.” If you look at the photo above, she doesn’t even have to look at her hands to turn out a perfectly braided challah. Here she is doing just one of the three challah braiding techniques she showed me in addition to little challah rolls.
Take a small section of dough and make a knot. You’ve just made a challah roll!
The three braid is probably the most common challah braiding technique I have seen. I went to a Jewish day school when I was younger and we made mini challahs with this method and just about every challah I eat is a three braid. They tend to be longer and narrower, and are comprised of one single braid made with three sections of dough. And sure, it seems easy but before you start, my sister in law has a little trick for you! Don’t start at the end. Begin your braid in the middle so that the end result challah is even at both ends and thicker in the middle. If you start at one end, the dough size will taper off creating an uneven challah. Take her advice – she knows what she’s doing!
Here’s where things get a little complicated (at least for an amateur like me). This time, cut your dough into four sections and connect them at the end. Start your braid as you would a three braid by taking one piece and crossing over the piece to its immediate right. Then, thread that same piece under the next piece and lay it atop the last piece (see top photo in the graphic above). Continue this method for the rest of the challah and pinch the other ends together to connect the sections.
I’ll be honest: I had no idea six braided challahs even existed! What’s next – an eight braid? Well not quite, but here are some instructions on how to complete a six braided challah: Take the left-most piece and cross it over two pieces, thread it under the next piece and then cross it over the last two. Repeat until you have completed your challah and pinch at the ends to keep the sections together. In my opinion, this requires skill. Now we’re ready for baking! Well almost…
Actually, before we set these beauties in the oven we have two steps we need to finish. First, cover the braided challahs with aluminum foil and set them out for 30 minutes to let the dough rise again.
Once they have grown to your desired size, beat 1 egg in a glass to make an egg wash. Take a brush and cover each challah with a layer of egg wash. This will make the challah come out shiny and glossy when it’s done baking.
And into the oven we go! The challah and challah rolls have different baking times but since they’re baking at the same temperature, they can go into the oven at the same time. At 350 degrees, bake challahs for 18-20 minutes, and rolls for 12-15 minutes.
They come out golden, fluffy and delicious! Trust me, I’ve had samples. The whole wheat flour and the brown sugar add some depth to this challah’s flavor. It’s definitely worth trying – my sister in law makes it look so easy and hopefully this blog post does too!
This challah bread recipe comes out sweet and fluffy every time!
1 1/2 C. water
1/3 C. canola oil
5 egg yolks
2 C. whole wheat flour
2 1/4 C. unbleached flour
1/2 C. brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. (bread machine) yeast
1 additional egg, beaten for egg wash
Place wet ingredients (water, oil, and egg yolks) in bread machine pan. Add the rest of the ingredients over the top. Run the dough cycle on your bread machine.
Remove a small piece of the challah dough (the word challah means to remove) and set aside (give this away to someone else as a challah starter if desired). Divide the rest of the dough into 3 or 4 pieces, and then divide each piece to braid. Cover loosely and let rise for 30 minutes. Brush with beaten egg and bake for 18-20 minutes at 350 degrees. For rolls, bake 12-15 minutes.
I would like to submit this post to Yeastspotting on Wild Yeast blog!