I promised you three breads for eating with your butter. Challah is a favorite around here, especially on weekends. We typically make a honey whole wheat version that includes slap-kneaded butter and ends up feeling kind of like brioche – I’m sure it is not even remotely kosher, and it also requires an overnight rise in the fridge. I couldn’t quite get there last week. So this is not ‘my’ challah.
But it’s really, really good.
This super easy, kid-friendly, and prolific recipe comes from Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food, via Emmy at emmycooks.com. If you’re not familiar with Claudia’s books, check one out from the library – though you’ll want to keep it. If you like stories with your food, not just personal stories but real food history and ethnography, she’s your woman – her recipes are also very often wonderful. I knew I liked Claudia, but I had never made this challah. Then Emmy casually mentioned that it made four loaves. And took only a few hours to make.
Four loaves in a few hours vs one loaf in twenty-four hours. Time to try a new challah recipe.
Our friends Brian and Miles were coming over to play, and they were bringing Zachary’s spinach and mushroom over from the east side (yes!). I decided to make a big salad and this four-loaf bonanza. I planned to have them take a fresh-baked loaf home with them. But we got slightly off schedule and then we changed the plans, and they took an un-baked loaf home instead. This sounds terrible but was actually awesome.
A couple things, then – first, note the ENORMOUS rise of dough (above), up out of my bowl – I am not used to all-white-flour recipes, and was expecting a longer rise time! It worked out – it was high-risen, but not over-risen. Second, after we braided the loaves I let three do their second rise, and put the fourth in the fridge. That fourth loaf was eventually wrapped in parchment and sent home with Brian and Miles, where it was dusted with poppy seeds and baked later in the evening – and by all accounts turned out perfectly, “really really good” even. So you can share a fresh-baked loaf with a neighbor, as Emmy suggests, and you can also send your play date home with a loaf to bake themselves. Then their home will get that fresh-baked smell, their better half will get to share the post-playdate joy, and they might even send you a text message that says “It’s really really good!” (Those of you who know Brian realize what an extraordinary show of emotion this is).
One final thing – we never, ever have plain white-flour bread around here. Not even challah. Soon after this was out of the oven, I found J with a huge hunk, ripping out the bread’s insides and scarfing them down. “Were you really hungry for bread?”
“No. I just really like this fluffness!”
2 tablespoons dry yeast
2 1/4 cups warm water (body temperature is good)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
9-10 cups flour
1 beaten egg mixed with a teaspoon water, for egg wash
Dissolve the yeast in the water with the first teaspoon of sugar. Set this aside until it bubbles up (ten minutes).
In your biggest bowl, beat the eggs. Add the salt, sugar, and vegetable oil, and beat again. Then add the yeast mixture and beat one more time. Gradually add flour and let the dough come together. You will need 9-10 cups total; I measured this into a separate bowl, then let J slowly add it while I kept mixing and then kneading in the bowl. Once it was workable dough, I put it on the counter and kept kneading, sprinkling more flour as needed to keep from sticking (I wanted it moist, but not sticky). Knead for about 15 minutes or until it is smooth and elastic. (Dough with no whole grain flour is much easier to knead! Who knew?)
Oil your bowl lightly and replace the dough ball, turning in the bowl so all sides are oiled. Cover bowl and set aside to rise; original recipe says for two to three hours, until doubled, but note that it took my dough not quite two hours to more than double. Punch down and knead again. Divide into four sections (each will become a loaf – a sharp knife and your baking scale make this easy to do evenly). If you’d like to add raisins to a loaf, knead them in now (a couple handfuls, per Emmy – we didn’t try it, but it looked delicious).
To shape the loaves: you can braid them (just like braiding hair!) or spiral them like snail shells. (Note: once the loaves were shaped, I put one in to the fridge to slow the rise and allow me to send it home with our friends – this worked brilliantly). Move the shaped loaves that you plan to bake now to parchment lined baking sheets. Let them rise for 1 more hour, until they have doubled again. Heat your oven to 350 while they rise.
Once they have completed rising, brush loaves with egg wash. Brian recommends that you sprinkle with poppy seeds, though we went plain. Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes until well-browned and hollow-sounding when you tap the bottoms of the loaves.
Beautiful golden crusts, and delicious fluffness inside. What could be better? Oh, right – a little pat of butter on top of a slice. Enjoy :)