Rewinding back to the spring of 2007, I was in the last semester of my Freshman Culinary labs. I was in Professor Peemoeller’s intro to baking lab. In this class we were taught the basics of baking bread, muffins, cakes, cookies and other confections along with how to decorate cakes. Due to the timing of this class being near Easter, one of the breads we were shown how to make was challah bread. This bread may be unheard of by many folks. Challah is traditionally a braided Jewish bread eaten on sabbath and holidays. Challah bread is an egg based bread and also includes water, sugar, flour, and yeast. This bread is similar to brioche in texture and flavor. The only difference is brioche includes butter or milk.
I’m not Jewish but in honor of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which was being celebrated last week, I found an excellent recipe through a blog I follow often in the interest of the food history this blogger writes about, called The Shiksa In the Kitchen. A shiksa if you didn’t know is a term for a non-Jewish woman. For an odd reason I wanted to make Challah bread again. It’s been years since I last made one, and with Rosh Hashanah approaching it was perfect timing. During Rosh Hashanah apples are dipped in honey to symbolize a sweet new year. The addition of apples in this bread makes it even more enjoyable.
Working with Challah dough can be a bit challenging at first if you’ve never done it before. This recipe is a good one to start with if it’s your first time. There are many ways to bread the Challah, some loaves are braided with anywhere between 3 and 6 braids. The shape can vary between being football shaped or round. For the holiday I used the round method to represent the cycle of the Jewish calendar year. Here is a video on how to braid a 4 strand challah dough. The Shiksa included an awesome step by step tutorial with pictures and numbers for braiding that I used. It’s a lot easier than you think. Once you get the first two step down your basically repeating them until you’ve braided the whole dough. Keep in mind this recipe takes a good half of the day to make. You will want to make this when you have a free day. This is not a quick recipe but the end result is definitely worth waiting for!
Active Time: 2 Hours
Total Time: Approximately 5 hours
Recipe Source: The Shiksa in the Kitchen
-1 1/2 Cups warm water (110 degrees Fahrenheit)
-1 Packet Active dry yeast
-1 Teaspoon Sugar
-3 Egg Yolks
-3/4 Cup Honey
-2 Tablespoons Canola Oil
-2 Teaspoons Vanilla
-2 Teaspoons Salt
-7 Cups Flour
-3 Medium Granny Smith Apples
-1/4 Cup Sugar
-1 Tablespoon Cold water
-1/2 Teaspoon Salt
**Please be sure to read the entire recipe and instructions first so you are careful not to make any mistakes!
-Pour 1/4 Cup of the warm water into a bowl. Add in the yeast and 1 teaspoon of sugar, whisk to dissolve. Let sit for 10 minutes. The yeast should be activated meaning it will look foamy and begin to expand.
-Once The yeast is activated add the remaining 1 1/4 Cups warm water along with the egg, egg yolks, honey, canola oil, vanilla, and salt. Use a whisk to thoroughly blend the ingredients together.
-Begin adding the flour to the bowl in half cup fulls. Stir using a wooden spoon. When the mixture becomes to thick to stir, use your hands to knead the dough.
-Continue adding flour until the dough is elastic and not sticky. You may not need all 7 cups. Turn the dough onto the smooth surface and continue kneading a few more times.
-While doing this, bring a pot of water to a boil on the stove.
-Grease a large bowl with oil and place dough in the bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean, damp kitchen towel. Place bowl on the middle rack of the oven. Take the pot of boiling water and place under the bowl on the bottom rack. Close the oven, but don’t turn it on. The pan of hot water will create a warm moist environment for the dough to rise. Let dough rise for 1 hour.
-After 1 hour, take the dough bowl out and punch it a few times to release air pockets. Place it back in the oven and let rise for 1 hour longer.
-During the final rise, fill another bowl with cold water and dissolve 1/2 teaspoon of salt in it. Peel the apples and dice them into very small pieces, place apples in the bowl of water and set aside. When you are ready to begin braiding the dough, strain apples from the water and mix in 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon.
-Remove the dough from the oven, by now It should’ve doubled in size. If it has not fully risen, return it to the oven and allow it to properly rise. Flour a smooth surface and take dough of the bowl. Knead the dough a bit and add flour as needed to keep it from feeling sticky. You will have enough dough for 2 medium sized Challahs.
-Divide the dough into equal halves. Place one half on a smooth floured surface, set the other dough aside. Cut the dough on the floured surface into 4 equal portions.
-Take one of the 4 portions and stretch it out into a rectangle. Use a rolling pin to thin out. Don’t roll too thin because you are filling it with apples.
-Sprinkles some of the sugared apple pieces across the middle of the rectangle. Do your best to shake off the excess liquid before placing the apples on the dough. Leave at least 1/2 inch border alone the sides of the dough clean with no apples.
-Gently pinch the edges together to seal the strand.
-Carefully roll the stuffed strand until smooth using gentle pressure with your hands on the center of the stand moving outward as you roll. Re-flour surface as needed to keep from sticking. If any apples poke through, repair the hole with your fingers.
-At the end of the rolling process, your strand should be about 16 to 18 inches long with tapered ends.
-Repeat the process with the remaining 3 pieces of dough. You will end up with 4 stuffed strands of dough. Now you are ready to braid. Use The Shiksa’s diagram on how to braid. Scroll to the middle of the page where she begins showing you the steps. This diagram is extremely helpful. If you wish you can find a video off youtube and braid a different way.
-When you are finished your braided loaf with look like this:
-After the round has been braided, place it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350. Let the braid rise 30-45 minutes longer. While the Challah rises, you can braid the other half of the dough the same way, or you may choose a different braid.
-Prepare your egg wash by beating the egg in the water with salt until smooth. Use a pastry brush to brush a thin layer of the mixture onto the top of the challah. Reserve the leftover egg wash.
-Each Challah needs to bake for about 45 minutes total. To get the best result, cook in stages.
-Cook for 20 minutes. Take the Challah out of the oven and coat with another layer of egg wash. rotate the loaf and place back in the oven for another 20 minutes.
-Keep an eye of the Challah during this last part of baking, it may brown faster than it cooks. If so, place a tent of foil over the top of the bread and continue baking until ready. Test the bread for doneness by tapping the bottom of the bread. If it makes a hollow sound and is golden brown all over… its ready. Let the Challah cool completely on a wire rack before serving.
**Note: You can use a mixer with the dough hook attachment when forming the dough if you want. I started out that way and found it easier just to form the dough on a clean floured surface.