This is a post that is long in coming. I have been making challah regularly for a long time now. For those of you who don’t know, it is a traditional bread that is eaten on the Sabbath. You are supposed to eat two loaves on Friday night and two loaves on Saturday afternoon. They are traditionally braided though at certain times of the year, we shape the loaves into different shapes.
When I was a kid we used to buy challah from the bakery. We were always disappointed with the insubstantiality of the bread itself. You could squeeze a whole slice into a tiny ball the size of a marble. It was also rather bland. So finally my mother decided to make her own challah. My parents’ house is very healthy – whole wheat everything, they only use olive oil, etc. So obviously if she was going to make challah, she was only going to make whole wheat challah. After much experimenting and trying new recipes, she found a nice fluffy whole wheat challah recipe.
When I came to Israel, got married and had my own house, I continued the tradition of making homemade challah. My darling husband, on the other hand, comes from a family where they only buy challah, and not just any challah, water challah. Water challah is a drier form of challah made completely without eggs and has a very flaky crust. I prefer sweeter challahs with lots of sugar and a soft crust. It took a lot of convincing to get Rocker Dude to be amenable to me making homemade challah.
The first few times that I made challah – it was a flop. The dough didn’t rise, it was tasteless and bland. This happened a few times and each time, Rocker Dude gave me a look and said, “Why don’t we just buy challah?” But I persevered. Then he told me that I should call his sister D.B. and get her recipe because her challah is always good. That was a bit of a letdown, but I called her and got her recipe. At the same time, I really looked into the yeast situation here in Israel. I finally figured out that I was supposed to be using a whole pack of granulated fresh yeast for every kilo (2 1/2 lbs.) of flour. I was treating the fresh yeast like the active dry yeast found in the US. So combined with the new recipe and my knowledge about yeast, my challah finally came out good. It was soft and tender, with a fine crumb and delicious taste.
The greatest thing about this challah is that it is so easy. It’s only a few ingredients and then I let it rise all Friday morning and shape it in the early afternoon before baking it.
The challah after it has risen:
Normally I braid the loaves with three strands each, exactly as you would braid hair, but for this post, I made a braid out of six strands. It’s a bit harder and it always takes me a few tries before I remember exactly what to do, but I took pictures, so next time I will remember too!
Here are the six strands, pinched together on top:
Now lift strand number two back, bring strand number 6 across to the left past strand number one, and bring strand number two back down between strands three and four.
Then renumber all the strands again from left to right 1-6. Then do the same step as you did before on the other side. Lift strand number 5 back and bring strand number one across past strand number 6, then bring strand number two down between, strands 3 and 4.
Continue to repeat these two steps until you use up all the dough.
Then pinch the ends together and let it rise for another half hour or so before putting it into the oven.
Here is what it looks like finished:
1 1/4 lbs. white flour
1 1/4 lbs. whole wheat flour
2 cups warm water
1 cup sugar
1 pk. Shimrit granulated yeast or 2 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
1/2 cup oil
1/2 tsp. salt
Proof the yeast in the warm water with the sugar in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer for about 10 minutes. Add the flours, salt and oil and mix on a low speed for about 8 minutes until the dough comes together. Turn into an oiled bowl, cover and let rise for 4-6 hours, punching down once in the middle.
Then knead the dough a bit before you shape it (see directions above). Then let the finished loaves rise in the baking pan while you preheat the oven to 325°F. Make an egg wash of egg an egg yolk and a little bit of water. Brush generously on top of the loaves. Feel free to sprinkle sesame seeds or poppy seeds over the loaves before you bake them.
Bake for 45-60 minutes, let cool on a cooling rack and enjoy!