Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hollah for Challah!

After a short trip to Massachusetts, I’m back up in Vermont.  I was welcomed home with sunny, mild weather this past weekend, and on Monday the thermometer reached unfamiliar heights in the 40 degree range.  Is Spring arriving early this year?

Nope.  It’s back to normal.  It’s 4 degrees.

We all know what that means.  No going outside.  Lots of baking inside.

Fine with me! 

In my constant quest of baking bread to steer away from the overly processed supermarket bread, I recently tried my hand at challah.  I've never gone out of my way to buy challah, but I've always admired the bread from afar for its beautiful braided exterior and glossy sheen.

For those of you not familiar, challah is a bread traditionally baked for the Jewish Sabbath and other holidays.  It is enriched with butter and eggs to form a light, airy loaf.  It is similar in texture to brioche, yet slightly sweeter in taste.  It commonly assumes a braided shape with a dark, glossy surface sometimes studded with sesame or poppy seeds.

I spiced up my challah by sprinkling it with a combination of coarse salt, sesame seeds, dried rosemary and dried thyme.  The result was delicious!  The crunchy, savory crust contrasted beautifully with the soft, sweet bread.

Click below for the recipe and more pics!

Recipe adapted from Baking Illustrated

3 - 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 ¼ teaspoons dry active yeast
¼ cup sugar
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
2 whole eggs, plus 1 separated egg
4 tablespoons butter, melted
½ cup water, plus 1 tablespoon, room temp

sesame seeds (optional)
coarse salt (optional)
dried rosemary (optional)
dried thyme (optional)

1. Whisk together 3 cups of the flour, the yeast, salt and sugar in a medium bowl.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the 2 eggs and egg yolk, butter and ½ cup of water.  Save the remaining egg white for later in the recipe.

2. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients, and knead with the dough hook on low speed until the ingredients form a rough ball, about 5 minutes. If the dough remains sticky and adheres to the side of the bowl, add the remaining ¼ cup of flour until the dough is no longer sticky.

3. Lightly oil a large bowl and place the dough inside.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place until doubled in size, about 2 ½ hours.  Carefully punch the dough down and let rise until double in size again, about 2 ½ hours.

4.  Lightly flour your work surface and place the dough down.  Divide the dough into two pieces, one twice as large as the other.  A food scale is very helpful in getting this exact.  Divide the large piece into three equal pieces and roll each piece out into a 16-inch log.  Line the pieces up, pinch their ends together at one end, and braid the pieces together.  Pinch the ends at the other end of the braid together.  Repeat this with the smaller piece of dough, and place this second braid on top of the first braid.

5. Place the braid on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, and drape plastic wrap over loosely.  Let sit in a warm place until the dough swells and the loaf increases in size by about a third, roughly 1 to 2 hours. 

6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and mix the reserved egg white with 1 tablespoon of water.  Brush the risen challah loaf with the egg white mixture, and sprinkle any combination of seasonings on the loaf.

7. Bake the challah for 30-40 minutes, or until an instant thermometer inserted on the bottom of the loaf registers 190.  Let cool before slicing.



  1. I love challah! Your braiding is perfect!
    We make something similar and call it 'Milibrod' or 'Kozenjak'... don't worry about pronouncing them. :)

  2. Wow, what an incredible braid! I so love challah...yours is beautiful!

  3. Beautiful!! I like your twist on the toppings. Very creative. I made my first Challah in January of this year. Really enjoyed making it!



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