Challah

Ah, bread! The class I’ve been looking forward to all session! True – I have been looking forward to all the classes, but I am always looking to improve my bread baking skills.

We started off by talking about yeast. Freeze dried yeast and cake yeast are the two types of yeast most commonly available to home bakers. Cake yeast is preferred by bakers because it is much easier to weigh it out when they’re scaling recipes. If you work at a specialty bakery, or bake a lot of bread, you are probably familiar with the third yeast type: wild/organic yeast. Wild yeast is a rather stupid beast and, though it’s sort of a pain to feed it all the time, you will only need water, sugar and flour to catch some. You also need a relatively warm – above 50F – climate, or all the wild yeast will be hibernating. You cannot catch yeast outside in winter in New York. If you’re interested in natural starters, Adam has an extensive set of posts about it, so I won’t go into that right now. Let’s just say that your best bet, in terms of freshness and shelflife (since it’ll last almost forever) is freeze dried yeast. To discern a flavor difference between two otherwise perfectly made loves of bread, one with cake yeast and one with dried, you would have to be a real expert.

Since we had to make three loaves of bread during class, we used active dry yeast for all our recipes. For once, we appreciated how hot is gets in the kitchen because our bread proofed quickly! We made a rustic country loaf, that required a sponge, an olive-rosemary loaf, which I froze to bake at a later date, and challah.

This challah recipe is our instructor’s favorite. It has oil, eggs and sugar without going over the top into brioche-level richness. I had never made challah before and found it to be a very easy dough to work with. A woman who was auditing our class for the day told me that she is currently working as a private chef for a Jewish family and that her challah secret is to sprinkle the baking sheet with cinnamon before you place the braided loaf on it. This gives the challah a particularly wonderful aroma without making it taste like cinnamon. Be sure to grease the baking sheet well if you’re using the cinnamon trick, as it will cause the loaf to stick slightly.

Challah
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup warm (110F) water
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup warm water
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp salt
2 eggs
3 3/4 cups flour (and up to 1/4 cup extra for kneading)

1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tsp water
2 tsp cinnamon (optional)

Dissolve sugar and yeast in 1/2 cup warm water in a large mixing bowl. Let stand 10 minutes.
Add oil, water sugar, salt , eggs and 2 cups of flour to the yeast mixture. Mix unitl smooth, then gradually add remainin flour until dough comes together into a ball and no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. Let dough rest for 10 minutes. Sprinkle reserved flour onto a smooth surface and knead for 8-10 minutes, incorporating any of the reserved flour as needed.
Place dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, 1-1 1/2 hours.
Oil a baking sheet and sprinkle with cinnamon, if desired.
When doubled, flour your hands and gently remove dough from bowl onto a lightly floured countertop. Cut dough into three even sections and gently stretch them out. Starting in the middle, braid them together. Tuck the ends underneath the dough. Set loaf on baking sheet. Brush very lightly with egg wash, you won’t need all of it. Preheat oven to 400F and let dough rise, covered loosely, for an additional hour, until almost doubled.
Bake at 400F for 30 minutes, until deep golden brown.

13 comments

  1. Ahhhh! What a gorgeous loaf. I have wanted to try capturing “wild” yeast for some time now. Thanks for the link! Again, beautiful bread, I can almost smell it!

  2. Challah is one of my favorites. Each Jewish New Year, Jewish bakeries sell them with little candy sprinkles, or dot them with raisins, to symbolize a sweet New Year. That little bit of sweetness is delectable.

  3. I got into baking bread when I was in culinary school. We’d always be on the receiving end of heavenly aromas coming from the baking class. It was only then that I realized how delicious bread could taste.

  4. Never heard of wild yeast before. I use the regular freeze-dried yeast and measure it by the teaspoonful. Don’t think I ever saw the “cake”.

    Anyway, just looking at the picture makes me want to try it. Unfortunately baking bread can only be a weekend thing for me.

  5. Nosheteria – I, too, love challah with raisins. Fortunately there is a great jewish bakery that has it right near my house. And on fridays, they bake loaves with chocolate chips, too.

    Chronicler and Ana – Wild/natural/organic yeast is a really interesting project to start, even though it takes a lot of time. You’ll be amazed at how it tastes just like artisan bakery bread! Some bakeries will sell you some of their starter if you’re nice. ;)

    Lori – Culinary school is great for introductions to new foods and techniques, as well as shedding new light on familiar recipes and ingredients.

  6. what a beautiful loaf of bread! It looks very delicious. Can all-purpose flour be used for your recipe?

  7. Tea – You can definately use all purpose flour. All purpose flour is mostly bread flour, so it’s great for making bread.

  8. What happens when the challah is still doughy in the center, can it still be saved?

  9. I made this yesterday and it was fabulous. Turned out nearly perfect, thanks for sharing!

  10. i just made this. It tasted good but ended up flatter than expected. The braid wasn’t very defined. Do you know why this might have happened?

  11. I just made this. It’s so good! Thanks :)

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