I love celebrating Shabbat, and of course it wouldn’t be Shabbat without challah! I’ve had to put aside bread baking the last few weeks as job applications and lesson planning ate much of my time. But I leaped at the offer when one of my mother’s friends invited me into her kitchen to learn to make her famous braided loaves. Unfortunately, the second rise took nearly two hours and I didn’t have time to remain for the baking, never mind tasting the results for myself. I’ll have to try this again some time when I’ve got a leisurely day at home.
UPDATE (3/6/15): Finally got around to giving challah another shot today. Turned out a bit dry — I think I incorporated a bit too much flour — but looked, smelled and tasted pretty fantastic! And it took a reasonable amount of time to rise this time around… in fact, it got a bit overproofed since I left it for the first rise while I taught my ESL class, but puffed up nicely in the oven nonetheless. Definitely a luxurious Shabbat treat!
1 1/4 cup warm water
1 package yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup oil or softened butter
2 eggs, slightly beaten
5 to 5 1/2 cups unbleached flour
Egg wash (1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon water)
Sesame or poppy seeds (optional)
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Stir in sugar, salt, and oil. Gradually mix in 4 1/2 cups flour. Gradually add additional flour as necessary to form a stiff dough. Knead on a floured board for about 10 minutes until smooth and elastic, adding flour to prevent sticking. Place in greased bowl and let rest, covered, until doubled.
Deflate dough, knead briefly again, then divide into 5 equal portions. Set one aside and roll each of the remaining four into a tapered 20″ rope. Braid loosely from the center and pinch edges together to seal. Then divide the reserved dough into three equal portion, roll out into 15″ ropes, and braid together from the center. Pinch the ends together to seal and place on top of the larger braid. Cover loosely and let rise another hour or so in a warm place. Using a soft brush, coat braids with egg wash — wipe any drips off of the pan before baking or it will stick. Sprinkle with seeds if desired and bake at 350ºF for 30-40 minutes until golden and sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom. Let cool and enjoy. Shabbat Shalom!
Note: You can also form the dough into a single long braid or one or two circular braided wreaths.