(Adapted from theKitchn: How to make Challah Bread)
The month of February is possibly everyone's favorite month of the year. The severe chill of harsh winters mellows down to a soft chill in the air. You get more sunshiny days, more holidays and the very soul bursts out in jubilation that its Spring! Spring! Spring!
Winters are always the time to dine well. That is not to say that one does not eat well in summers. Somehow, the winters for me (and my family) are always synonymous with lovely soups, crunchy home-made bread, succulent roasted chicken, and dreamy "oh-so-melt-in-the-mouth" cakes! Ummmmm!
So before the winter finally bids goodbye, I decided to crank up my oven and bake a braided bread that I had bookmarked for a long, long, time. The Bread # 14 February challenge on the We Knead to Bake Group was to bake a bread of one's own choice. All the more reason for me to go right ahead and bake this beautiful braided challah bread.
The challah is basically a Jewish bread that is baked on Hanukkah. For the Jewish high holidays, this bread is wound into a circle after braiding that gives a lovely braided bun. The recipe contains eggs. But this bread does not have any dairy products like milk or butter as per Jewish traditions.
Nonetheless, you will get a super-soft, sweet bread that complements any meat dish. I got the recipe here.
Here is how I made it:
Instant yeast: 2 tsp
Warm water: 1 cup
All-purpose flour: 4 -41/2 cups
White granulated sugar: 1/4th cup
Salt: 2 tsp
1 large egg yolk
Oil: 1/4th cup
One egg white mixed with 1/2 cup water
1. Dissolve the yeast in warm water and add a healthy pinch of sugar. Keep undisturbed for a few minutes. After several minutes, you can see a frothy layer on top of the yeast mixture. This signifies that the yeast is active.
2. Mix flour, sugar, salt in a bowl.
3. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the eggs, egg yolk, and oil. Now start mixing the dough with hands or using the dough hook in a stand mixer.
4. When the dough is firm, smooth and springs back on punching down, it is ready. Place dough in a deep-bottom pan and keep covered with cling film or a kitchen towel in a dry, warm place.
|Dough before rising|
5. After 1 and a half to 2 hours the dough will rise to double its size.
|Dough after rising|
6. Separate the dough into 6 equal pieces. Roll out on a working surface dusted with some dry flour. Each piece should look like a long rope with 1/2 inch thickness.
|3 of the ropes|
7. Gather the ropes and squeeze them together at the very top. If you want to braid a three-strand challah, braid it like one braids hair. For a six stranded challah, visit this link to view the step-by-step process of braiding.
Here are some pictures of the braiding process:
8. Once you finish braiding, tuck the loose ends under the loaf and pinch to seal the edges.
9. Line a baking tray with butter paper. Grease with oil or dust with some dry flour. Place the braided loaf on the tray and cover with a kitchen towel. Keep in a warm, dry place for 20 minutes.
10. After 20 minutes the loaf will rise and appear puffed up. In the meantime, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F or 176 degrees C for about 20 minutes.
11. Sprinkle some sesame seeds on the loaf and apply the egg-wash all over the loaf carefully. Each nook and crevice should be covered with egg wash. Place the loaf in pre-heated oven and bake for 30-35 minutes. You may rotate the tray half-way during baking time, to enable uniform baking.
12. Take the challah out of the oven. If the braided loaf is uniformly brown on all sides, it is done!
13. Cool the loaf to room temperature before slicing. Enjoy!