I’ve noticed that just about every blog I’m following has been making hot cross buns for the Easter bread. that’s cool, I’m loving everything that I’m seeing since I’ve always wanted to make hot cross buns. However, since I’m always the last one to the ‘party’ and it takes me forever to catch onto trends, I decided a while ago that this week on Cooking is My Sport would be centered around another particular recipe/ingredient. It happens to be challah. Which probably means I’ll be making Hot Cross Buns around…oh, probably the Fourth of July. Because that’s just how I am.
I’m sure most foodies already know about it, but for the ‘general’ and likely Non-Jewish reader, I can give an explanation of what it is. Challah is a traditional, braided Jewish egg bread. It’s hollow on the outer top, and light and fluffy on the inside. It’s not as soft and moist as say, brioche. But it’s also not as dense as French bread either. Challah’s religious significance can be found in the way the dough is split into two rounds, then each round is rolled into 6 identical strands that are then braided together. The six strands in each loaf represent the 12 tribes of Israel referenced in the Torah/first five chapters of the Bible. During the meals of the Sabbath- 2 loaves of bread are supposed to be served at the beginning of every meal- thus the 2 loaves of challah. I could go on a little bit deeper, but that’s the basic Judaic symbolism behind challah.
Around the Foodie community, Challah is a recipe that I typically see pop up around this time of year, close to Easter. I actually find this to be pretty ironic/funny, considering that this type of year is also near the Jewish holiday of the Passover. During Passover, unleavened bread is typically eaten (like matzo). Challah, of course, has plenty of leavening agents. But whatever; I’m a non-denominational Christian, so Passover’s not something I celebrate anyway. I made this bread last year at Easter with surprisingly great results for my first time. I knew I wanted to do it again this year, but just bump things up a notch.
So what you guys will be seeing for this, and the next two posts for this week is basically Challah done 3 ways: Regular Challah, a Sweet Challah, and a third recipe with Challah as a main ingredient…because I had to find some way to use all of the above challah up. Today I’m showing you the traditional Challah recipe that I first made about this time last year.
Typically, challah is made as a long, braided loaf and baked on a sheet pan. If you guys read my Cornmeal Dinner Rolls post, then you know how I’m currently feeling about baking yeast breads on sheet pans. Long story short: I’m having ‘technical difficulties’ with that method. And although I did suck it up and do it for my sweet challah variation that I’ll be posting later this week, for my traditional Challah, I decided against it, and did something else. I still used the braiding method for both loaves, but one I braided and tucked into a round circle and placed into one of my 9 inch cake pans, while the other I braided and placed into one of my loaf pans that I usually use for quick breads. I was very pleased with the results. The loaves rose beautifully (take THAT sheet pans), and the bread turned out so fluffy and tender on the inside. My favorite part about challah? That hollow sound it makes when you thump on the shiny, egg glazed top of the loaves that tells you it’s done. It makes me feel like a huge Baking Boss.
(Makes 2 braided loaves)
- 2 1/2 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup honey
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 eggs
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 8 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1. In a large bowl, sprinkle yeast over barely warm water.
2. Beat in honey, oil, 2 eggs, and salt. Add the flour one cup at a time, beating after each addition, graduating to kneading with hands as dough thickens.
3. Knead until smooth and elastic and no longer sticky, adding flour as needed. Cover with a damp clean cloth and let rise for 1 1/2 hours or until dough has doubled in bulk.
4. Punch down the risen dough and turn out onto floured board. Divide in half and knead each half for five minutes or so, adding flour as needed to keep from getting sticky. Divide each half into thirds and roll into long snake about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Pinch the ends of the three snakes together firmly and braid from middle. Either leave as braid or form into a round braided loaf by bringing ends together, curving braid into a circle, pinch ends together. Grease two baking trays and place finished braid or round on each. Cover with towel and let rise about one hour.
5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).Beat the remaining egg and brush a generous amount over each braid.
6. Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for about 40 minutes. Bread should have a nice hollow sound when thumped on the bottom. Cool on a rack for at least one hour before slicing.