I really love making bread. I don’t love it more than anything else, but it is a true exercise in faith. You make it, and then go to bed. When you get up in the morning, you expect the sun to rise and the bread to rise. Having both makes the world seem like it might be OK. It’s true that all the real estate advice talks about making chocolate chip cookies before an open house, because it creates a welcoming aroma second to none. However, I have found that the wafting scent of baking bread causes a kind of drunken happiness that seems like a mix between coming home and the anticipation of a welcome sensory experience of a crunchy, soft, chewy repository for butter or jam that recalls a childhood zenith of satisfaction–even if it wasn’t necessarily your childhood.
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There are a lot of Challah recipes out there. They range from sweet to savory and cover a wide range of origins. Growing up, I found challah to be a somewhat dry and flavorless bread that was usually served with no butter or topping, and very often at the point when I was at my hungriest (it is a tradition to slice a challah at the end of the Saturday morning services) and I would have eaten anything. I never thought too much about it, but as I got older, I was introduced to Challah French Toast, which was a revelation that made me realize I must have challah in the house at all times. This led me to Cheryl Ann’s (of Brookline) challah, which some fans have noted is more like a Mardi Gras King Cake than a traditional challah, as it so sweet, fluffy and eggy.
Challahs from other institutions like Whole Foods are good but have a strange smell when toasted. (This is kind of a turn-off, and I will refrain from my opinions of the smell)
This recipe below is modified from the King Arthur No-Knead Challah recipe, which I have modified slightly over the years. I have also made it Vegan, using Earth Balance, Egg Replacer and Agave. Still pretty good.
The recipe (and tradition) call for the challah to be braided. While I very much enjoyed learning how to do this (the indispensable but short video here), I found that the key to a light and fluffy challah (or any yeasted, baked product) was to handle it as little as possible once it was in it’s near-final form. Since the holiday challahs are round (to convey and celebrate the circular nature of life, etc.) I decided rolling out the dough into a log and baking it in a 9″ round was infinitely easier and resulted in a better final product.
Also, a bread thermometer is a good investment, but I have found that at 35 minutes at 350 degrees, this comes out perfect every time.
- 7 3/4 cups All-Purpose Flour
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons instant yeast
- 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water (plus more, if necessary)
- 4 large eggs
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/2 cup melted and cooled unsalted butter (you can substitute oil or margarine if you need it to be dairy free or kosher, but I have found it has much less flavor).
- 1 egg (any size) beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water
- Poppy seeds to cover (about 1/3 of a bottle).
(I never use the bread mixer attachment on my stand mixer or the like alternative. I always do this by hand).
- Combine your dry ingredients and whisk thoroughly.
- Make a well, and add the wet ingredients.
- Use a spatula to mix the ingredients until you have a cohesive dough; finish with your hands. You should have a craggy, sticky ball of dough. You may need to add water if it’s too dry, or a bit of flour to make it easier to handle.
- Cover the bowl, and let the dough rise for at least 2 hours.
- Refrigerate the dough overnight if possible.
- Remove from fridge and separate into two. (King Arthur says it can be made into three, but I like bigger 9″ rounds).
- Roll into a log and coil into a 9″ inch (Pam-sprayed) round cake pan.
- Allow the challah to rise for about 2 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare the topping.
- With a pastry brush, brush the challah over every visible surface.
- Lay on the poppy seeds, heavy.
- Bake the Challah for 35 minutes. Don’t open the oven. Use a bread thermometer to ensure it’s at 190°F. Once that’s the case, you can put away your bread thermometer, you won’t need it.
Let cool (until you can hold it to slice it), about 15 minutes. Serve warm with butter, hummus, apples and honey or other toppings. Great for toasting, and for making Challah French Toast a few days later.