Challah: A Lesson Learned


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I was never any good at girlish things as a child.

Not jump rope nor dressing up Barbie. (Or myself, for that matter.) And certainly not the braiding of any hair.

So it would be accurate to say that the notion that someday I'd attempt to make challah, the braided bread traditionally eaten on the Sabbath and other Jewish holidays — no, that never once crossed my mind.

In fact, when I learned last week that challah was on the schedule for the Bread Baker's Apprentice challenge, I instantly planned to sit this one out.

Me? Braiding? Gummy ropes of dough? I was set to say "No thank you" to failure and disappointment and skip ahead to ciabatta, the next bread on the list. But no, my friends wouldn't allow it. "It's easier than ciabatta," said Heather. "Think of the French toast that you can make after," Geri said.

Since "French toast" is high on the list of magic words in my husband's vocabulary, out came the mixing bowls and the challah-making commenced.

From the start, challah was a bread after my own heart — unlike others that require you to let the dough rise for many, many hours, sometimes stretching the process over two days, this bread can be made in one day.

First, you mix together some bread flour, yeast, sugar and salt …

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… whisk together some eggs, yolks, vegetable oil and water in another bowl …

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… mix it all together to form a dough.

Then, the kneading starts.

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Like many other breads, it needs to rest for a few hours so fermentation and rising can happen.

This is known as "proofing" — but it could also be termed "catching up on Doctor Who time."

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Hours (and a smidge more kneading) later, you form the dough into three "boules" of equal size.

(Yes, your eyes aren't fooling you. I wasn't quite able to pull off the "of equal size" bit.)

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After more resting, the boules are ready to be rolled out into long strands and prepped for braiding.

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Before I started this, I'd thought the braiding would be the hard part.

But after hours of stirring, kneading and Doctor Who-watching proofing, I was in a zone.

(Also, Peter Reinhart, author of The Bread Baker's Apprentice, offered fantastic step-by-step pictures in his book. The Crispy Waffle blog also has a helpful illustration in its challah-making post. Yeastspotting, too, sometimes has great pictures of braided breads.)

So, before I knew it, there it was … a braid unlike any I'd managed to create before.

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After brushing on a light layer of egg wash and sprinkling on sesame seeds, in the oven it went.

Almost instantly, our apartment was filled with the heady smell of sweet, sweet bread. I began to
picture baking challah right before my next dinner party, envisioning my guests'
eyes growing large as they arrived to this waistline-busting scent.

Too many hungry, hungry minutes later, the challah emerged …

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It would be an hour before we could slice it open for a little taste …

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… but I'd already decided long before that that yes, I'd make challah again.

I'd had no need to be intimidated by braiding, really. As it often is with many other things, with a little guidance, the thing you fear turns out to be a cinch in the end. 

Now, if only Peter Reinhart had written books on jump rope and Barbie-dressing as well.

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20 thoughts on “Challah: A Lesson Learned

  1. My sainted auntie’s recipe has the yeast proof for a (stunning to modern eyes)10-minute soak while the other ingredients are sorted. Makes for the most vital, lively breads I’ve ever baked. Someone…Smitten Kitchen?…can’t remember…has instructions on higher multiples of braid. The seven-braid loaf was insanely gorgeous. I’m craving french toast now, too. Maybe this’ll be the week’s project at home?

  2. Wow — what do you soak it in? Would love a recipe if you can share.
    I did see some instructions on multiple braids but man, the basic one was intimidating enough. I’ll have to work my way up to the seven-strand. A new summer goal … If you make challah this week, send me a pic!

  3. I still don’t have a scale! Need to fix that soon…
    Barbra, the French toast was delicious. (I’ll post something as soon as I have a moment.) Thanks, Donna…this is high praise coming from you. The breads on your blog look mighty pretty.

  4. Gorgeous. Good for you! I have been following this challenge with great interest and think I might try it on my own.

  5. Thanks! Amy, you should do it. I’d never baked bread before and was a little nervous about signing on. But nothing’s been a disaster so far… (That could change with this week’s ciabatta, of course.)

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