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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Challah - no big deal

I bake challah whenever I can and people make such a fuss you'd think that it was the cooking equivalent of climbing Mount Everest. It's really not difficult at all, you may need to practice once or twice to get the hang of it but once you do it's fun and easy and cheap! You don't even need any special equipment.

This is my Bubby's famous recipe with some modernisha additions added in italics by yours truly. The amounts listed here will make about 2 good sized challos which I consider a waste of time. I usually make 7X this recipe in a huge bowl and freeze the extra challos until I need them (they still taste great). For the first time out though you might want to try it as written or doubled so you can get the feel of it without being overwhelmed.

Cooking Sheet
Large Bowl
Clean Dishtowel
Baking Parchment Paper (you can find this near the tin foil and plastic wrap at the market.)

1 cup lukewarm water
3-4 cups of flour (bread flour is the best, you can also use whole wheat in a 50-50 split with regular or bread flour- yum!)
2 Eggs
1 packet of active dry yeast (you can use rapid rise if you like)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp of salt

Optional - raisins, diced onion, poppy seeds, or sesame seeds

Add 3 cups of flour, salt, and sugar to large bowl and mix well.

Heat water to lukewarm - What is lukewarm you ask? Well if it's warm enough to take a comfortable bath in, it's too hot - if it's room temperature it's too cool. It's very important not to overheat the water or you will kill the yeast. If it's too cool the yeast won't work either so this is a key step.

Add yeast to water and mix well, let this mixture rest for at least one minute.

Create a hole (or well) in the middle of the flour mixture- add the oil, ONE egg, and the water/yeast solution into the well and begin kneading the dough together with your hands. DO NOT USE THE MIXER. No matter how much you paid for your fancy-shmancy mixer with the dough hook attachment it will not come out as well as if you do it by hand- plus it's good for your nerves according to my Bubby.

If the dough feels very sticky you can add a bit more flour.

Cover the bowl with a clean dishtowel and put it in a warm safe place to rise. All things being equal this should take about an hour- this is a good time to start the laundry.
When the dough is double in size punch it down and give it a good kneading again. If you want to add raisins now is the time.

Spread a little flour on the parchment paper (which you should cut to fit your baking sheet) and shape the dough into whatever shapes you desire. Arrange your challos on the baking sheet leaving space between them as they will rise.
Beat an egg and brush the challos with it - now you can sprinkle on the seeds, or onion if you like - I like mine plain. Allow the challos to rise again for about an hour (go fold the laundry) and then put them into a preheated 350 degree oven until they are golden brown (baking time depends on the size of the challos and the calibration of your oven - it's about 15 minutes for rolls and 35 for challos but that's a very rough estimate.

To serve:
Challah is delicious at room temperature but I like to wrap them up in foil and stick them in a warm over right before shabbos so they are nice and warm on Friday night.


About stickiness and flour -- try adding a bit of oil instead. We always used to try adding flour, then a little more water, then a little more flour, etc... until someone suggested a few drops of extra oil instead. Worked like a charm.
Oh that's a very interesting idea!!
Next time I bake I will try that.
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