Actually challah bread is totally meat free, no oxen, nothing that walks or has a face, real vegetarian. I remember playing hide-and-go-seek with the neighborhood kids when growing up on “the hill.” I also remember its more violent, rambunctious cousin, kick-the-can. Good times.
I decided it was time to try to make (and braid) a challah. I found this recipe and technique at the Kitchn and it worked beautifully. I am annoyed I was so focused on making the braid, I forgot to photograph the process. Maybe next time. You can see their photo instructions at thekitchen.com.
Challah is an enriched dough bread and is the traditional bread used to welcome Shabbat with HaMotzi (blessing for bread) being recited prior to tearing or cutting the bread and distributing to all in attendance. I find it interesting that two loaves are placed on the table on Shabbat to, perhaps, commemorate the two portions of manna given to the Israelites in the desert during their 40-year wander. Also, the challah is covered with a cloth to,perhaps, represent the dew covering the manna keeping it fresh. There are many reasons why challah is braided. Google it to find the reason(s) you like. I like this rational for 6 braids. Each braid represents a “profane” day of the week (all 6 days except Shabbat) and braiding the, combines those days into a unity which is easier to place behind you to allow the peaceful contemplation and celebration of the sacredness of Shabbat. Or perhaps, two loaves, 12 braids represents the 12 tribes, or perhaps the braids are reminiscent of the structure of DNA, or perhaps it is just custom.
- 2 teaspoons active dry or instant yeast
- 1 cup (8 ounces) lukewarm water
- 4 to 4 1/2 cups (20 to 22 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) white granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 large egg yolk (reserve the white for the egg wash)
- 1/4 cup (2 ounces) neutral-flavored vegetable oil, or butter
- Dissolve the yeast: Sprinkle the yeast over the water in a small bowl, and add a healthy pinch of sugar. Stir to dissolve the yeast and let stand until you see a thin frothy layer across the top.
- Mix the dry ingredients: Whisk together 4 cups of the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer.
- Add the eggs, yolk, and oil: Make a well in the center of the flour and add the eggs, egg yolk, and oil. Whisk these together to form a slurry, pulling in a little flour from the sides of the bowl.
- Mix to form a shaggy dough: Pour the yeast mixture over the egg slurry. Mix the yeast, eggs, and flour with the dough hook until you form a shaggy dough that is difficult to mix.
- Knead the dough for 6 to 8 minutes: With a dough hook attachment, knead the dough on low speed for 6 to 8 minutes. If the dough seems very sticky, add flour a teaspoon at a time until it feels tacky, but no longer like bubblegum. The dough has finished kneading when it is soft, smooth, and holds a ball-shape.
- Let the dough rise until doubled: Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place somewhere warm. Let the dough rise until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
- Separate the dough and roll into ropes: Separate the dough into three or six equal pieces, depending on the type of braid you’d like to do. Roll each piece of dough into a long rope roughly 1-inch thick and 16 inches long. If the ropes shrink as you try to roll them, let them rest for 5 minutes to relax the gluten and then try again.
- Braid the dough: Gather the ropes and squeeze them together at the very top. If making a 3-stranded challah, braid the ropes together like braiding hair or yarn and squeeze the ends together when complete. If making a 6-stranded challah, follow the directions at thekitchn.com.
- Let the challah rise: Line a baking sheet with parchment and lift the loaf on top. Sprinkle the loaf with a little flour and drape it with a clean dishcloth. Place the pan somewhere warm and away from drafts and let it rise until puffed and pillowy, about an hour.
- Brush the challah with egg white: About 20 minutes before baking, heat the oven to 350°F. When ready to bake, whisk the reserved egg white with a tablespoon of water and brush it all over the challah. Be sure to get in the cracks and down the sides of the loaf.
- Bake the challah: Slide the challah on its baking sheet into the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through cooking. The challah is done when it is deeply browned and registers 190°F in the very middle with an instant-read thermometer.
- Cool the challah: Let the challah cool on a cooling rack until just barely warm. Slice and eat.
- For those bakers who are not visual: Making a 6-Stranded Challah Braid
- The name of the game here is “over two, under one, over two.” Carry the right-most rope over the two ropes beside it, slip it under the middle rope, and then carry it over the last two ropes. Lay the rope down parallel to the other ropes; it is now the furthest-left strand. Repeat this pattern until you reach the end of the loaf. Try to make your braid as tight as possible. Your braid will start listing to the left as you go; it’s ok to lift it up and recenter the loaf if you need to. Once you reach the end, squeeze the ends of the ropes together and tuck them under the loaf.
- At this point, your loaf is fairly long and skinny. If you’d like to make a celebration ring, stretch the loaf a little longer and pull the ends toward each other to create a circle. You can either squeeze the ends together, or if you’re feeling adventurous, braid them into a continuous circle.
- If you’re making a regular loaf (as pictured), you need to “plump” it a little to tighten the ropes into more of a loaf shape. Place your left palm at the end of the braid and your right palm at the top, and gently push the two ends toward each other, just like plumping a pillow in slow motion. Then slip your fingers under the dough along either side and gently lift the dough while cupping it downwards. (This isn’t a vital step, so don’t worry if you’re not sure you did it correctly.)