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Who among us has never heard of challah? Yet, unless you're Jewish, who among us knows even a small part of the long tradition this bread enjoys, its religious significance, or the importance attached to the various ways it's shaped? Truly, challah must be one of the world's most revered breads.
Rich with eggs and butter (or oil, to keep it kosher with a meat-based meal), shaped in various braids and coils, and often gilded with a sprinkle of poppy seeds, this bread is a Sabbath staple. Though not quite as rich, it's similar to French brioche; and, like brioche, it makes wonderful toast and French toast.
Challah is usually braided; a three-strand braid is common, but beautiful four- or six-strand braids are almost as popular. It's prepared for the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah; for that occasion, challah is formed into a round coil, symbolizing the continuity of life.
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 cup (8 ounces) water
2 teaspoons instant yeast
All of the starter
3 1/2 cups (15 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup (2 1/4 ounces) sugar
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) vegetable oil
2 large eggs + 1 yolk (save 1 egg white for the wash, below)
1 egg white
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon water
poppy seeds (optional)
Starter: Mix the 1 cup flour, 1 cup water and yeast together in a large bowl or the bucket of a bread machine. Let the mixture sit for about 45 minutes. (This type of quick starter is called for in recipes that are high in sugar, in order to let the yeast get a head start. If you have Fermipan Brown or SAF Gold yeast -- both formulated especially for sweet breads -- this recipe may be prepared as a "straight dough, with all of the ingredients mixed together at once.
Dough: Add the dough ingredients to the starter and mix and knead together -- by hand, mixer or bread machine -- until a smooth, supple dough is formed. This dough is a pleasure to work with -- smooth and silky, it almost feels like you're rubbing your hands with lotion. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning it over once to coat it lightly with oil. Cover it and let it rise for 1 1/2 hours, or until it's doubled in size.
Shaping: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and fold it over once or twice, to expel the carbon dioxide. Divide the dough into four pieces, and roll each into a snake about 18 inches long. On the lightly greased or parchment-lined sheet pan, braid a four-strand braid (see instructions below) or fashion a simpler three-strand braid.
NOTE: How To Make A Four-Strand Braid:Lay the strands side by side, and pinch them together at one end. For instruction purposes, think of the far left strand as #1, next is #2, then #3, and the far right is #4. Take the left-hand strand (#1) and move it to the right over strands #2 and #3, then tuck it back under strand #3. Take the right-hand strand (#4) and move it to the left over strands #3 and #1, then tuck it back under strand #1. Repeat this process until finished.
Make the wash by mixing together, in a small bowl, the reserved egg white, sugar, and water. Brush the loaf with this mixture, reserving some for a second wash. Cover the loaf with lightly greased plastic wrap and allow it to rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until it's almost doubled in size.
Baking:Brush the loaf with the remaining egg wash (this will give the finished loaf a beautiful, shiny crust, as well as provide "glue" for the seeds), sprinkle with poppy seeds, if desired, and bake in a preheated 375°F oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the challah is lightly browned. Remove it from the oven, and cool completely before slicing. Yield: 1 loaf, about 16 1-inch slices.
Nutrition information per serving (1 slice, 63g): 177 cal, 4g fat, 5g protein, 25g complex carbohydrates, 4g sugar, 1g dietary fiber, 40mg cholesterol, 246mg sodium, 64mg potassium, 18RE vitamin A, 2mg iron, 5mg calcium, 53mg phosphorus.
This recipe reprinted from The Baking Sheet Newsletter, Vol. XI, No. 6, Autumn 2000 issue.