Last Sunday I had zero plans and the weather was unpleasant. Basically…a perfect bread day.
To be honest, even if the sun had been shining and I only had a few hours, I would have still made time for bread so I could use my King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion Cookbook and dough whisk, both gifts from the KAF Blog and Bake retreat.
I knew I wanted to try another braided bread, so challah was an easy choice. It’s braided, but also eggy and sweet and irresistible.
Challah is a Jewish white bread glazed with egg white. It is traditionally served in braided form on the Sabbath, and in a circle or other elaborate shape on holidays. “Challah” is also a Hebrew term meaning “the priest’s share” – so when challah is being made, a piece is supposed to be cut off and thrown into the fire as an enduring gesture of sacrifice.
I knew I was in good hands with the fabulous King Arthur Flour bakers leading the way. They instructed me to make a quick-starter of flour, yeast, and water. This extra step is helpful for recipes that are high in sugar, because they give the yeast a chance to get going on its own before the other ingredients are added.
After almost an hour, the quick-starter was alive, bubbling and ready.
I decided to try a 4-strand braid. KAF’s method for 4-strand braiding seemed easy enough when I tried it with paper towel strips, but once I had the ropes of bread dough in my hands, I got all tangled.
I ended up doing a different braid, but it still had 4-strands, so I was satisfied. I didn’t do a good job with the real dough photos, so I am going to show you how with candy.
If you know me then you shouldn’t be too surprised by this.
Take your four strands of dough and pinch them together at one end. Take the three left strands and begin a normal braid (strand 1 goes over strand 2, then strand 3 goes over the new strand 2). At this point, stand 4 then gets pulled underneath the new strand 3, and the whole process is repeated until the braid is done. Tuck the ends under to seal the deal.
If you have trouble with your braiding, do what I did…go to YouTube and search for videos of 4-braid techniques. That should do the trick!
Slathered in the eggwash, the bread looked like a slippery white caterpillar. Try not to think about that.
Because when it comes out of the oven…
Inside was a tender, sweet crumb.
Oh, how I love challah. I don’t think there is a wrong way to eat challah, but at the top of my list would be thick-cut french toast with berries and pure maple syrup, or a grilled cheese sandwich. The sweetness of the bread would serve as a lovely contrast to melted cheese, don’t you think?
I brought my challah into work to share, and by far the greatest compliment I received was from my co-worker who told me his nearly four year old son has been asking for buttered challah toast for dessert . That’s success, my friends!
Braided Challah Bread
Adapted from the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion Cookbook
1 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 cup water
2 tsps instant yeast
All of the starter
3 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 3/4 tsps salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs + 1 yolk (save 1 egg white for the wash, below)
1 egg white
1 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp water
poppy seeds (optional)
- To make the starter, mix the 1 cup flour, 1 cup water and yeast together in a large bowl. Let the mixture sit for about 45 minutes.
- Add the dough ingredients to the starter and mix and knead together until a smooth is formed. The eggs and oil make for soft, lovely dough.
- Place the kneaded dough in a greased bowl, turning it over once to coat both sides. Cover it and let it rise for 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled in size.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and fold it over once or twice to break down the bubbles. Do not punch!
- Divide the dough into four even pieces and roll each into a strand about 18 inches long.
- On a lightly greased or parchment-lined sheet pan, braid the strands.
- Once your braid is done, make the wash by mixing together the reserved egg white, sugar, and water. Brush the loaf with half the wash.
- Cover the loaf with lightly greased plastic wrap and allow it to rise again for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until it’s almost doubled in size.
- Brush the loaf with the remaining egg wash, and sprinkle with poppy seeds if desired.
- Bake in a preheated 375°F oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until lightly browned. Your kitchen is going to smell divine.
- Remove it from the oven, and cool completely before slicing.
Yield: 1 loaf, about 16 1-inch slices.
Challah history source: “The Joys of Yiddish” by Leo Rosten